I have used the balanced posture name for my website for many, many years because the word “posture” is easily recognized by people as representing skeletal alignment. Unfortunately, it has
many negative connotations, such as “military posture,” “slumped posture,” and the like. I can’t tell you how many people have come into my office saying sheepishly, “I know I have bad posture….” Already, they have internalized a program along the way that says “I’ve been bad, I haven’t measured up, there is something wrong with my body.”
So, it would be nice to NOT use the word posture at all. F.M. Alexander didn’t like the word, for the simple reason that he didn’t see skeletal alignment as something fixed in space. He preferred
to use the words “use of the self” for the simple reason that, as he discovered, how a person used their body in activity had everything to do with how the skeleton lined up. A much better approach to the body is not to look at the various parts, but rather at an individual’s “coordinated use.” And notice he employed the words “use of the self,” not “use of the body” — an early advocate of the mind-body connection. The above photo of gold-medal Olympian Michael Johnson shows a glorious example of someone whose use is utterly balanced and in sync.
When I was a kid, we used to use the word “coordinated” to praise good athletes or even good artists. Somehow, the parts all functioned together synergistically to create a smooth, even,
efficient approach to movement. If you look at a small child move, especially prior to the confinement of first-grade school chairs, they move in a tremendously coordinated fashion, without stiffness or heaviness. They are so light and springy on their feet, they often jump up and down with excitement without much provocation! So, adults out there, when’s the last time you did that? Been awhile?
There are many different things that determine how you use your body in space, and as a result, how it is configured from head to toe (i.e. “form follows function”). “Use” can be learned: as children, we mimic our parents in movement and that becomes a lifelong pattern that we have to contend with. “Use” can also have genetic components: certainly, we are born with a skeletal pattern that is very deep-seated. (If I went back to my ancestral village in Sicily in the year 1450, the person who walked with the turned-out right foot and the weak left knee might be a relation of mine!) Certainly, repetitive movement performed for your job or hobby can alter the shape of skeleton: musicians and dental hygienists can attest to that.
And you cannot discount the role emotions play in crafting how we move and hold ourselves; for example, if you took on a lot of
responsibility as a young child, you might have a very stiff and possibly hyperextended spine, as you attempted to take on more than your little body could handle and soldier on. That’s just one
example of many adaptations our bodies can take.
The beauty of Alexander work is that it helps us unravel these various seemingly intransigent layers and see them as they are: overlays which obscure the marvelously intelligent balanced
functioning of the body that nature has provided us. Once we get down to how we are actually configured, and how to use that configuration without added self-defeating tensions; and add to
that a strong dose of non-judgmental curiosity and self-acceptance as we journey forward; we might actually feel good enough to jump up and down and enjoy life as we were intended to do.