The Alexander Technique: It's Not Just About Standing Up Straight

meerkatby Brooke Lieb When people hear that I teach Alexander Technique, they often comment "Oh, that's about standing up straight", or say something apologetic or sarcastic. Then they inevitably pull themselves up into their version of "Good Posture".

The good news is that gravity is not what's getting you down. It's actually your own muscles, over contracting, working inefficiently and pulling you down. When you learn to allow lengthening to occur throughout your musculature, weight falls more efficiently through bones and joints, leaving you more balanced on your skeleton.

Hours spent sitting at a computer, studying, driving a car and other such sedentary activities contribute to being habitually shortened through the muscles on the front of the body. Because we are so used to this shortening, it doesn't register in your feeling sense as active muscle work. In fact, it probably feels effortless and maybe even comfortable. Fortunately, when you learn to release this excess effort, the natural outcome is more evenly distributed muscle tone, lengthening and more upright alignment through your spine. You can get better results with less effort when it comes to posture.

I have a couple who've studied with me since Fall of 2000. He reported gaining a full inch in height at his last check up; and she went from a 1/4" to a 1/8" correction in her orthotics for a leg length discrepancy.

Studying the Alexander Technique can help you look taller and feel lighter and easier in upright posture.

I leave you with this quote:

"I am putting into gear the muscles that hold you up, and you are putting them out of gear and then making a tremendous effort to hold yourself up, with the result that, when you ease that effort, you slump down worse than ever." F. M. Alexander

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]N. BROOKE LIEB, Director of Teacher Certification since 2008, received her certification from ACAT in 1989, joined the faculty in 1992. Brooke has presented to 100s of people at numerous conferences, has taught at C. W. Post College, St. Rose College, Kutztown University, Pace University, The Actors Institute, The National Theatre Conservatory at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Dennison University, and Wagner College; and has made presentations for the Hospital for Special Surgery, the Scoliosis Foundation, and the Arthritis Foundation; Mercy College and Touro College, Departments of Physical Therapy; and Northern Westchester Hospital. Brooke maintains a teaching practice in NYC, specializing in working with people dealing with pain, back injuries and scoliosis; and performing artists.[/author_info] [/author]

Why What "Feels Right" Can Be The Wrong Thing To Do

skeletonby Witold Fitz-Simon Every one of us has a "sixth sense." Unfortunately, it's nothing fancy. It's not telepathy, or the ability to see ghosts, or anything supernatural like that. It is pretty cool, in its own way, even though most of us take it completely for granted most of the time. Our sixth sense is a "feeling" sense made up of information we get from our bodies.

Kinesthesia and Proprioception

This feeling sense, called either proprioception or kinesthesia, works a little differently than our other five senses. Each of the traditional five senses, has its own sense organ: sight has the eyes, sound has the ears, etc. The feeling sense is different.

Instead of getting all its information from one source, your brain takes information from organs in different parts of your body and knits it together into one sense. It compiles information from your muscles, joints, tendons and your inner ear to give you an awareness of movement, effort and the position of your joints and limbs. This awareness, your proprioceptive sense, becomes the foundation for the way you sit, stand, walk around or work at the computer. It informs everything you do.

Why it "Feels Right"

Last week on the blog we looked at habits and how hard they are to break. In an nutshell, this is because our brains take complex behaviors and reduce all the different parts that make them up into a single behavioral chunk. This chunk then gets imprinted into our brains with a positive reinforcement mechanism that includes the chemical dopamine. The way we use our bodies, and the proprioceptive memory associated with that use, is part of that chunked behavior. As a result, it feels good or "feels right" to do the habit in a particular way.

Why "Feeling Right" Can Lead You Wrong

Just because a way of doing something has that feeling of "rightness" to it, that doesn't mean it is necessarily your best choice in any given moment. Your proprioceptive or kinesthetic sense often feeds you bad information. The sense receptors in your muscles, tendons and joints register change. If you raise your arm, for example, they tell you that the position of your arm has changed from one place to another. They tell you that the muscular effort expended by the muscles in your shoulder has changed from one amount to another, as well as the rate at which that change took place. After a while, if there is no more change happening, they reset themselves to this new state. They no longer send information to your brain.

This can lead to two problems. If you do the same thing wrong the same way over and over, after a while your proprioceptive sense will no longer register it. Say you tense your neck all the time you are sitting at your computer, your proprioceptive sense will begin to tune it out. This will begin to carry over into other activities. The misuse will get folded in with all your other behavioral patterns and will begin to feel right. You will only be reinforcing the bad habit.

This, then, leads us to the second problem. In order for your sense receptors to pick up any new information, you will have to create change. If you try and "feel out" a part of your body, perhaps to learn more about it or fix it, you will most likely be adding more effort to that place.

Do the Right Thing

So what's the solution to this awkward situation? Change your relationship to your proprioceptive/kinesthetic sense. Rather than getting caught up in the sensations of your body, open your awareness out to include the space around you as well as the information you get about yourself. Rely on that visual and spatial awareness instead. Staying connected to your other senses and the space around you will give your system the message to be a little less compressed, a little less effortful, a little more expansive.

Better still, try taking an Alexander Technique lesson with a certified teacher. They can show you a whole new way to relate to your body that will help you identify and release your bad habits. They will show you how to repattern the way you use yourself to a more efficient and easeful standard.

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]WITOLD FITZ-SIMON has been a student of the Alexander Technique since 2007. He is certified to teach the Technique as a graduate of the American Center for the Alexander Technique’s 1,600-hour, three year training program. A student of yoga since 1993 and a teacher of yoga since 2000, Witold combines his extensive knowledge of the body and its use into intelligent and practical instruction designed to help his students free themselves of ineffective and damaging habits of body, mind and being.[/author_info] [/author]

Fishing For Our Body's Wisdom

Japanese-fish by Dan Cayer

I can remember trying to ‘feel’ the swampy mess of bodily sensations and emotions I felt trapped inside me. What were these squeezings in my chest and throat, this panicked gripping in my abdomen? I knew there was wisdom in the body and that if I could relate with it, I might feel less stuck in my life and more able to make decisions. Yogis and meditators had written luminously about the wisdom we have inside us.

So I sat very silently and very still. Like a fisherman with my line in the water, waiting and listening for something to surface. I sat and bent my ear low, trying to divine the meeting of every little stirring. Is this anxious squeezing in my throat related to my childhood? To creativity? Yet like a deer at the edge of a meadow, the more I approached, the more these sensations retreated or froze up.

The framework of me needing to intellectually understand physical-emotional pockets proved to be stifling. Too much to ask for. It was best to see what bubbled up on its own, bringing its unconventional intelligence to the situation at hand.

Over years, I’ve come to relax my judgments, analysis, and pressure on the body to hand over all its secrets. Now it’s more like relating joyfully with my 19 month old daughter – genuine communication that doesn’t require language or agenda. There are simply waves of presence going back and forth between us.

I see now that the bodily feelings – wise, scared, and finicky – are always transmitting. They may not meet my expectations of solving problems or telling me what I should do with some difficult choice. Nonetheless, what my body offers is beautiful, wet and real; the fish jumping into my boat before I even can prepare the line.

This post was originally published at

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]DAN CAYER is a nationally certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. After a serious injury left him unable to work or even carry out household tasks, he began studying the technique. His return to health, as well as his experience with the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of pain, inspired him to help others. He now teaches his innovative approach in Union Square, Carroll Gardens and in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He also teaches adults to swim with greater ease and confidence by applying Alexander principles. You can find his next workshop or schedule a private lesson at[/author_info] [/author]