A common source of
skepticism confusion when talking about the Alexander Technique, is the question of how it can be helpful in so many ways that don’t seem to have anything to do with how we move.
“After all, isn’t the Alexander technique just a way of helping people improve their posture?”
The easiest answer is “Yes”. The Alexander technique is a way of helping people improve their posture (I take issue with the ‘just’), but none of us are here for easy answers…
So instead of stopping there, let’s go a step further and think about what we actually mean by posture. That’s where things get interesting…
When people talk about posture, they usually mean the alignment of the body with gravity. A straight back, shoulders which aren’t pushed forwards or pulled upwards, a head which is lightly balanced on top of the spine, which in turn is balanced on top of the pelvis. All of these things are hallmarks of good posture because they mean that the body is efficiently aligned with gravity. The body can deal with the stress gravity causes with a minimum of effort, which in turn minimises strain on the muscles and joints.
This by itself is great, and if this was all we stood to gain by improving posture it would be pretty compelling. But there’s more.
One of Alexander’s most important insights was that the body and mind aren’t just affected by each other, they’re indistinguishable from each other when considering a person’s overall state. And though it’s true that gravity is a constant source of stress on us physically, a far greater and more consistent source of stress is our mental and emotional reactions to life.
To make this a little clearer, let’s consider our friend Gary.
Gary doesn’t seem to be having a great day. His forehead and mouth are tense, his spine is hunched. Just look at how the way Gary’s neck is aligned forces him to support the weight of his head with his hand.
While none of these things are an issue by themselves (unless they’re things Gary is doing all the time), they are all hallmarks of bad posture, or to put it another way, of an excessive amount of tension. We put the pieces of this particular set of tensions together and come to one conclusion. Gary is sad.
Here’s the important bit; if Gary were standing up straight (with his arms relaxed and his spine properly aligned with gravity), the mismatch between his facial expression and the rest of his body wouldn’t make sense to us. If his physical posture was less deformed, we would naturally infer that his “mental posture” must be too.
Posture then, isn’t just a representation of how we are dealing with the stress of gravity, but how we’re dealing with all stresses. Internal and external, emotional and physical.
Improving it isn’t about forcing ourselves to sit up straight or constantly worrying about holding ourselves in set, anatomically correct positions. Nor is it something we can permanently improve by getting a massage or doing a set of strengthening exercises. It is about learning to change the way we interact with the world by improving the level and quality of attention we pay to ourselves.
So to return to our earlier question, the answer is still “Yes”. The Alexander technique is just a way of helping people to improve their posture. But though improving posture, we can free ourselves from pain, reduce stress and anxiety, and overcome bad habits. We can become healthier, calmer, more confident versions of ourselves. We can learn to take more control over the way we approach life.
 It might seem that Gary should be using less tension in this position because he’s slouching, but slouching actually takes more effort than being aligned with gravity. This is because the body needs to be held up by muscles rather than the correct balance of the skeletal structure. ↩︎
 There’s an important detail to note here. If Gary were to try to fake a more upright posture, we’d be able to detect that too. There’s a big difference between the natural change we’d expect in his posture as he began to feel better, and a forced change. He might convince us that he wasn’t sad with this change, but we’d still feel that something was off, because we’d see a different form of tension instead. ↩︎