Have you ever really thought about your posture or the way you move your body? Does that little voice in your head ever chime in to remind you to stand up straight? Unless you’re an athlete, model, dancer, or actor, it’s unlikely that the positioning of your body is on your mind too often (unless or until you’re actually experiencing pain or discomfort, that is). I never thought much about it, either—until I found out about something called The Alexander Technique (AT).
AT is a method that teaches people to release unwanted muscular tension in their body. It is intended to help people become more aware of their posture, balance, and coordination while they do everyday activities, like sitting, standing, and walking.
AT was developed by an Australian actor, Frederick Matthias Alexander, in the 1890s (stay with me here, ok?). Here’s a little more about how it works:
AT proposes that in order to rid the body (and the mind, which can definitely be affected by muscular tension) of excess tension, we must be aware of and break bad habits, such as slouching or sitting (or even standing) improperly.
The idea is that if you’re able to become conscious of how your body struggles against itself—and if you make some small changes—you can start to feel better. In fact, according to the Journal of Clinical Practices, there is a strong evidence to suggest the effectiveness of AT on relieving back pain.
I’m pretty skeptical when it comes to alternative approaches to wellness—you’re not going to see me at your yoga retreat—but I was intrigued by the possibilities of AT. Like most Americans, I work at a desk, and there are definitely days when my neck gets tight and super-sore. (I also have scoliosis on top of it.) So I signed up for a couple sessions of AT with certified instructor Ariel Carson, AmSAT, who runs Redefining Posture in NYC.
Here’s what I learned from the experience:
Pretty much everyone can benefit from better posture
If you work in an office (like many of us), you probably already know that bad posture leads to increased discomfort and lower productivity. And people in the service industry take on a great deal of strain working shifts on their feet. As Ariel told me, even mundane habits like checking smartphones can lead to tension in the body, particularly the neck (since it’s always pointed down). As she explained, “Posture becomes an ever-deepening exploration of how you respond to any given stimulus in your environment.”
It’s not about doing; it’s about undoing.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from my first AT session. Ariel told me simply to arrive wearing clothes that allowed for freedom of movement. After a brief consultation, she began by carefully observing my movements as I did simple tasks: sitting, standing up, and walking across the room.
In one exercise, Ariel had me lie flat on my back on a massage table, with knees up, feet roughly at shoulder width and flat on the surface, hands on the belly, and head propped slightly up by a thin cushion. I was invited to breathe “all the way down to the hip sockets” and think not about what my body was doing, but rather to allow the surface to support me. She noted how most people unconsciously brace themselves against their environment rather than fitting into their environment.
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The session was akin to guided meditation; as I focused on the space around me and grew aware of how my neck, back, and shoulders tended to tighten and strain, I could gain control of these habits and correct them. It’s something I could feel happening—a wave radiating through the body.
Here’s a video that showcases how to unlearn certain physical behaviors:
THE mind and the body are intimately connected.
AT is about far more than developing good postural habits; it’s a practice that relies on tuning the mind to the body and vice versa. As Ariel puts it, “instead of being trapped by your habits, you can make educated conscious decisions for yourself and your life that uplift and sustain you.” I gained most from the way I was encouraged to reframe my own thinking. After every session, I felt not only more comfortable and relaxed in my own body but sharper and clearer in mind
I try to apply what I learned about AT into my daily life, as the concept of spending some time localizing on areas of tension and “undoing” them resonates with me. In uncertain times, with daily stresses just about everywhere, there’s something genuinely encouraging in the idea that you can make changes that influence every aspect of your life.