Seeing with balance (or how to find your cinema seat)

Display in the  Wellcome Shop  in London

Display in the Wellcome Shop in London

It’s easy to lose yourself (or your balance) in the cinema. Many London cinema seats are now plush, capacious and expensive with a side table for tapas, chocolate brownies or a steaming cup of coffee.

There is no-one to help you find your seat in the dark. On the way in you risk colliding with food and drink. On the way out leftovers litter the floor and it can be hard to pick your way through.

Three of my favourite cinemas

For my first cinema experience I sat huddled under a blanket in the family car. As night fell, silent figures battled through a tropical storm on the giant drive-in screen above me. Tinny voices crackled through speakers clipped to the car. 

In my teenage years I escaped wet Scottish afternoons in The Toledo, a 1930s Spanish-themed picture palace. Then as a Russian student I haunted Parisian fleapits. These showed Soviet films of triumph and happiness, or melancholy love stories I didn’t quite understand.  I tipped the sullen usherette with my last few coins as she dipped her torchlight towards a row of empty and threadbare seats.

Soften your eyes and use your peripheral vision

Now as an Alexander Technique teacher I show people how to move in their daily lives with less muscle tension and effort.  When we strain to look for something, such as a seat in the cinema, we tend to fix our eyes and focus on where we’re going. This creates extra tension in the neck muscles and throughout our body. Our knees stiffen and breathing and balance changes. The more effort we use to look for something, the less we see, particularly with our peripheral vision.

The five tips below will help if you enjoy going to the cinema and want to find your seat with greater poise and balance. They also apply if you’re:

  • entering a crowded room and looking for someone you know

  • finding a seat on a bus

  • spotting a free table in a busy café

Pause, breathe, think up and find your feet on the floor

  1. Pause for a moment as you enter the space.  Allow time to adjust if it’s crowded or the light is poor.  There’s no rush.  You’ll find what you’re looking for more easily if you stop first. Let the light come softly in to your eyes so that you’re open and receptive to what’s around you.

  2.  Become aware of your feet on the ground and notice your surroundings. Unfamiliar or crowded places can be disorientating.  Centre yourself in your body and remember to breathe. 

  3. Notice the layout of the space, any furniture or steps and the gradient of the floor.  Once you’ve seen your destination, pause again.  There might be obstacles on the ground or people in your way. So think up as you start to move and be aware of your feet in contact with the floor as you proceed.  Think of your own balance and let other people move themselves out of your way.   

  4. When you get to a seat, remember to sit on your sitting bones and connect with your feet on the floor. Allow yourself to take up your full space.  

  5. When you’re ready to leave, soften your eyes again so you become aware of everything and everyone around you, not just the exit. Take time to gather yourself and your belongings first.  Think up, breathe and walk away with poise and balance.   

  Photos below from the former Carlton Cinema in Essex Road, Islington, London