So, having got over my professional pedantry in the previous blog, this next exercise is so ubiquitous that people actually think that the Alexander Technique is about learning to sit and stand well. Let me say this just once, the Alexander Technique is NOT about teaching you to sit and stand well. Now I've got that off my chest I'll explain why we use this exercise so much. To be honest, it makes life easier for the teacher. We need to find some movement that everyone can perform that doesn't require specific training to do. To be sure, there are Alexander teachers that market niche towards Violin players, runners, swimmers, yoga, horse riding and other activities, but obviously not everyone performs those activities, so we need something common to everyone, vanilla Alexander if you like. As it happens it's a useful contrivance as we do sit and stand routinely through out our day, especially in an office environment, and how you arrive at the chair will affect how you go on and sit on it.
What we're looking for is how you react to, and in, movement, and how that affects your functioning.
And why would your reaction affect your functioning? Consider this, you don't do good posture, you only do bad posture. Good posture is a by-product of not interfering with your innate postural reflexes, the ones you were born with and got you through childhood just fine until the demands of modern life got the better of you.
The universal habitual reaction that you'll more than likely succumb to is that you will tighten your neck muscles, pulling your head backwards off balance from the top of the spine. You won't even be aware that you are doing it, but there is nothing about bending your hips, knees and ankles to lower yourself in space to the chair that requires your neck muscles. You do not sit with your neck! And as mentioned in previous blogs, once your head is off balance your neck and shoulder muscles have to work hard to support it for prolonged period of time. It's also a sign that your nervous system is generally more agitated than it needs to be, leading to over all tension.
If a picture says more than a thousand words, then a video ... so have a look at the video I created for this exercise:
"You are not here to do exercises, or to learn to do something right, but to get able to meet a stimulus that always puts you wrong and to learn to deal with it." F.M. Alexander
Now, I'm going to come clean and make a confession. It may not be readily obvious to you after one viewing, but when I was mimicking the usual reaction of pulling the head back I also collapsed in the torso just a little (0:55). Remember this was an artificial situation, shooting a video does not put me in the most mindful of states! Rabbit caught in headlights comes closer to it, it always amazes me that I come across more comfortable than I feel in front of the camera, I'm an old IT geek, not a TV presenter! Anyway, you can be sure that if an Alexander Teacher can take his eye off the ball you might also want to pay attention to what the rest of you is doing too. It's not only common to collapse the torso, it's even more so to arch the back backwards. In either case, as you notice that you've pulled your head back and down, stop, roll your head back forward and ensure that your spine is continuing to release into length.
Here's some additional considerations :
- Make sure your knees don't collapse in towards each other, allow them to lightly move forward and away from each other as you bend your knees. The hips operate much more freely like this.
- As I've mentioned in another video, the head leads and the body follows, just watch a cat jump! This may make more sense when you go to stand, but the same can be true of sitting, continue to allow your head to lead you into length of your spine as you happen to be bending your legs.
- Don't search for the chair with your bottom! It might help to assume that the chair isn't there at all and plan to go into a full squat. Sitting is squatting but getting thwarted half way down by the chair.
- And as if you haven't got enough to think about already, observe if your breath is being affected. Ideally it won't be, other wise that would be the sign of an unwanted reaction.
So how do you know if you've got this exercise right? Well, it's not about getting things right as such, just preventing unintended results. What we're looking for is a lack of change in your awareness, and quality of mind, whether you're quietly sat, stood or moving from one to the other or choosing to stop in between. It's an embodied mindfulness exercise. Instead of over focusing on your body put some attention into the space around you that you're moving in and out of as you sit and stand. You interface with your external environment, you'll move much better if you are aware of the space you're moving in rather than being concerned with what individual muscles are doing. Catching a ball, for example, is all about external spacial awareness as well as being mindfully present.
A quick detour, If you should decide to stop halfway between sitting and standing, and you've managed to do so fluidly without reaction, still lengthening in the spine, this is what we grandiosely call a position of mechanical advantage, or more colloquially, a monkey. It's a good way to lower yourself in space to pick something up. You can read more about monkeys here, as I don't think I'll be specifically blogging about it later, but you could think of sitting and standing as a series of infinite monkeys.
A great time to give all this a go is just after you've had a lie down in Constructive Rest. And who couldn't do with a bit of rest?
I promise you this is all a lot easier to do when you have an Alexander Teacher giving you hands on guidance.
Come and find out if the Alexander Technique is the solution you were looking for. You've got nothing to lose but your pain!
Please feel free to contact me for a no obligation chat to see how the Alexander Technique can help you too.