There is a moment near the beginning of almost every first Alexander Technique appointment I have with a client when they look down for a moment and their face freezes.
‘I have always had bad posture. I need to work on that.’ they say in a quiet voice. There is an air of shame about the statement.
The idea of good and bad posture is pervasive in our society. Whether its a nun with a ruler or a practitioner who tells you that your chronic pain is caused by not ‘sitting up straight’, we all feel that there is some gold standard of shape that we are all falling short of.
The answer is plainly that there isn’t.
If this answer surprises you, let’s look at the science. A 2012 study of 295 physiotherapists found that vast disagreements exist about what good sitting posture or even a neutral spinal is. What we think of as ‘good’ posture has more of a root in puritanism and military culture than it does in anything anatomical. Often, our idea of what posture we should be adopting has more to do with appearance than health and is tied to the body shaming pervasive in our society.
What is even more disturbing is when posture is pathologized. The shape we hold ourselves in is often blamed for conditions like back and neck pain, but the truth is that there is little evidence to back this up and in fact plenty to the contrary. Studies have found that people of all shapes have pain, while people of all shapes also are pain free, suggesting there is no one-to-one relation between postural shape and chronic pain. Well meaning people can accidentally instill a nocebo (like placebo, but in the other direction) effect and actually make pain worse by perpetuating this myth. (for more about the complexities of pain science, read this excellent article–its an investment but worth it).
In our Alexander Technique lessons, the goal isn’t to mold you into some ideal shape that you’ve been failing at–it is to help you to release habits that have been imposed on your body that are keeping you from living with space and ease and to forge a deeper connection between body and mind. Most often the first habit we look at is this habit of trying to assume ‘good posture’ and why it fails–in trying to twist ourselves into an artificial shape, we use muscles against their design, over-stabilize, and exhaust ourselves.
There is nothing wrong with your shape. It is beautiful. And working together, we can help you to get the most out of it.