Posture and body use - some examples

Seamstresses statue in Trieste, Italy

Seamstresses statue in Trieste, Italy

Many people come to the Alexander Technique for help with posture.  Alexander teachers do this by working to change underlying habitual tension patterns in everyday movement. This is what we call ‘body use’. It’s more dynamic than the idea of posture, which we often associate only with certain positions or activities.

Use underpins everything we do - shopping, driving, sleeping, walking, watching TV or going to the gym. If it’s not something you’re familiar with, I’ve collected some examples to show different ways in which we use ourselves and how that might have a positive or negative effect on our movement and how easily we can breathe.  

The seamstress in the photo above is working on a piece of sewing. The position she’s in is one people often adopt when texting on a mobile phone. Her back and shoulders are narrow and rounded, her arms are held close in to her sides. Rather than lifting her work towards her face, she’s dropped her head down so she can see only what’s in her hands, noticing nothing of the seascape ahead. Her ribcage and breathing are restricted and in the longer term she will no doubt seek relief for back or neck pain.  The overall effect is of rigid narrowing and ‘pulling down’. This is the opposite of the widening, flexible, open and lengthened body use that Alexander Technique teachers are looking for.  

You can see similar patterns in the mannequin below and the statue of composer Gustav Mahler.  Like the seamstress, they are constricting themselves, their breathing and their movement by holding themselves tightly and with unnecessary tension. These same patterns in their body use would be present whatever activity they undertake. 

Statues can also provide positive examples of body use. In the first image below cartographer and explorer Matthew Flinders and his cat Trim are both poised, alert and integrated in their own bodies. They look as if they’re able to change position or move easily and effortlessly at a moment’s notice. Flinders’ head, neck and back are all working together and he’ll be able to breathe naturally and easily. In the second image the figure in Thomas J Price’s sculpture is looking at his phone. Unlike the seamstress he does not need to bring his head down towards the object in his hand, but can look at it in a calm and effortless way with an open palm and a lack of tension in his arm.

If you’re interested in body use, take a look at statues in the area where you live and see what you notice. Or observe people walking in the street, or on the bus or train. And if you’re feeling brave you can even look at old photos of yourself and see if you notice any of your own postural habits.