Standing with Ease Using the Alexander Technique
In Alexander lessons, we really can learn how to feel comfortable when we stand for long periods of time, rather than ending up with back pain.
When we allow ourselves to balance on our feet in a coordinated manner without bracing and locking our legs and backs, we can support the weight of our upper body whilst using far less effort. In so doing we reduce the downward pull of gravity – and we are less likely to sag.
I often used to have an aching lower back even when a child, as I trailed around shops or art galleries. Despite being trained in ballet, I still used to sink down into myself and put pressure into my lumbar spine. This would be worse when I was tired, or bored, or when I was trying to look shorter than I really was. Thankfully I changed these habits when I learned the AT, so I stopped getting that heavy back ache – and art galleries are far more enjoyable now!
This sinking down into oneself is graphically shown in a sculpture by Francesco Messina. Many people will just see a curvaceous young woman called Maria but I see a familiar distorted pose, with the body’s weight mainly taken on Maria’s left foot, which throws her off balance and displaces her pelvis. Her weight is pushed down into the lumbar area of her back which over-arches (Lordosis) and cannot properly support her upper back and head, so thrusts her neck forwards and curves her upper back, making a pronounced ‘S’ shape (which could develop into Kyphosis)
Maria Grazia by Francesco Messina – Lugano
This posture of sinking down onto one hip is frequently used, particularly by women. Standing on one foot may look non-threatening, even vulnerable and is sometimes thought of as feminine. ( But do many women want to look vulnerable these days? )
If we just move briefly through this sort of off-balance position, little harm will be done – but if this is a habitual posture, we will probably end up with hip and lower back pain and problems such as Sciatica. By changing our habits in AT lessons, we can often avoid contributing to such conditions.
When we have to stand for long periods of time, as I have to as an Alexander teacher, it does make a huge difference to our general well-being to be able to stand freely and easily, sharing the body’s weight on both feet, with the head balanced on the neck, creating an alignment through the whole body from the ears right down to the ankle joints. In this way we can fine tune our balance, adjusting to even small changes in our body as we stand and move.
This balanced way of standing and using the body may be seen in the photo of an artist’s wooden model. I had fun trying to make it stand do so was when everything was in alignment and balanced. It underlined for me just how much we as humans pull ourselves and our skeleton off balance with our poor body-use, so that our muscles have to work extra hard in order to let us stand up at all.