Posture

Alexander Technique lessons are a great way to improve your posture. 

I always had terrible posture until I started taking Alexander lessons in 2008, at age 42, and within a month, my friends could see a big difference in how I looked, how I felt about myself, and how I related to others. 

How you carry yourself has a profound affect on how you feel. People who move awkwardly tend to be awkward throughout their lives. A stiff neck often leads to stiff social interactions. Tight shoulders often cause tight thinking. A bad back often leads to a bad life. Distorting muscle tension leads to — and results from — distorted emotions, distorted thinking and distorted movement.

The point of Alexander Technique lessons, by contrast, is to learn to do everything we want to do more efficiently, effectively and easily. 

Naomi Sharagai, a teacher of Alexander Technique and a psycho-therapist, writes:

Poor use can also profoundly change our capacity to assess reality, think clearly, and make constructive decisions.

With rigid use and tight muscles, one’s thinking becomes increasingly narrow and rigid as well. There is less mental space available to reflect and to allow for new and creative thoughts. The tendency becomes to repeat thinking in a less constructive manner.

In the same way that poor use leads to inefficient movement, it also leads to inefficient thinking. When solutions are not found and thoughts seem to overwhelm the individual rather than offer new alternatives, anxiety can develop.

With poor use, individuals find it difficult to manage feelings. They can either be overwhelmed by them (not knowing how to unwind) or out of touch with their feelings.

Alexander teacher Joan Arnold writes:

Though you may not realize it, what you do and how you do it affect the shape, tone and feel of your body. We are constantly in motion, even while sitting, and posture is like a still photograph of the way we move. By changing the way you perform ordinary activities with the Alexander Technique, your posture naturally improves — not from artificial, external stiffening, but from ease and inner expansion. You can change your posture. By refining your overall body awareness with the Alexander Technique, you start to recognize when your alignment is out of balance.

I charge $100 per lesson (which usually lasts 45 minutes or longer). Bring a friend or two at no extra charge. Call me at 323-528-5814 or email me at lukeisback@gmail.com. I am located a block from Beverly Hills. 

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Jane Brody writes in the New York Times Sept. 6, 2016:

Poor posture can have ill effects that radiate throughout the body, causing back and neck pain, muscle fatigue, breathing limitations, arthritic joints, digestive problems and mood disturbances. It can also create a bad impression when applying for a job, starting a relationship or making new friends.

Poor posture can even leave you vulnerable to street crime. Many years ago, researchers showed that women who walked sluggishly with eyes on the ground, as if carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders, were much more likely to be mugged than those who walked briskly and purposely with head erect. I can’t prove posture was at fault, but this is indeed what happened to a Brooklyn neighbor on her way home one night.

We live in a gravitational field, and when our bodies are out of line with the vertical, certain muscles will have to work harder than others to keep us upright. This can result in undue fatigue and discomfort that can outlast the strain that caused them.

In a study of 110 students at San Francisco State University, half of whom were told to walk in a slumped position and the other half to skip down a hall, the skippers had a lot more energy throughout the day.

Any repetitive or prolonged position “trains” the body’s muscles and tendons to shorten or lengthen and places stress on bones and joints that can reshape them more or less permanently. Just as walking in high heels can shorten and tighten the Achilles’ tendons and calf muscles, slouching while sitting hour after hour can result in a persistent slouch, while standing and walking while slouched can lead to permanently rounded shoulders and upper back.

Although early humans spent most of their waking hours walking, running and standing, today in developed countries, 75 percent of work is performed while sitting. Most people sit going to and from work and while relaxing after work. The longer people sit (or stand) without a change in position and movement, the more likely they will be to develop a postural backache, according to a report in The Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics.

“Text neck,” a term coined by a Florida chiropractor, Dean L. Fishman, is a repetitive stress injury resulting from hours spent with the head positioned forward and down while using electronic devices. This leads to tight muscles in the back of the neck and upper back. And those who lean forward while sitting may be inclined to clench their jaws and tighten their facial muscles, causing headache and TMJ — temporomandibular joint syndrome

Leaning forward or slouching can also reduce lung capacity by as much as 30 percent, reducing the amount of oxygen that reaches body tissues, including the brain, according to Dr. Rene Cailliet, a pioneer in the field of musculoskeletal medicine who died in March.

Additionally, slouching or sitting in a scrunched position compresses the abdominal organs and may reduce peristaltic action that is important to normal digestion and bowel function.

One of today’s most troublesome activities, especially for children and adolescents whose bone structure is still developing, is carrying extraordinarily heavy backpacks to and from school and often throughout the school day. The weight forces them to bend forward, with potentially the same consequences as slouching.

Before Alexander Technique, I tended to tip way back from my hips and to compress my lower back. I still have this habit, it’s just not as severe. Here I am in October of 2007 — before Alexander lessons — interviewing actress Charley Chase:

Here is my story with the Technique.

September, 2010

“What’s the matter, Luke?” asks the hostess at the end of the meal. “You haven’t said anything inappropriate all meal? We even have two single women here.”

I am at lunch with friends. I’m usually the king of inappropriate, but these days I’m different. I’m calm. I’m poised. I’m at ease. 

“Two years of Alexander Technique,” I say. “I used to be easily triggered. I was stuck in startle response and when I’d get a stimuli, I’d go into fight or flight. My habitual reactions didn’t serve me well. I could shut up with great effort or I could interact from a disturbed place. Those were my choices. Because my head-neck relationship was disturbed, my whole self was disturbed. Now I’ve found freedom and poise.”

When I was a kid, people said I looked like a Holocaust survivor. I was that depressed.

Even after years of therapy, I was still off.

Through lessons in the Alexander Technique, however, I learned to let go of many of the unhelpful ways I responded to life. I’m no longer stuck in a 24/7 pattern of fight or flight. I’m not compressing myself, not shoving all my organs and frustrations together in a downward cycle of needless tension and reduced functioning. Because I am more competent and graceful with the tasks of daily life, I’m not as angry with myself and with others.

Because I am more at ease, I pick fewer fights and I don’t need my fists as much.

These days, I’m OK with myself. I’m OK with the way I walk and talk, sit and stand, blog and blunder. I no longer pull down when I feel awkward and hence my feelings of dis-ease are reduced. I rarely stiffen my neck these days and thereby cramp my entire body (there are more joints in your neck than any other part of your body, hence if you tighten there, you will wrap your body in a straight-jacket of bad habits).

I’ve learned to let go of the layers of unnecessary tension that cramped me for decades and consequently I enjoy more freedom and poise, peace and joy.

***

I think I was about nine years old when my father started telling me to sit up straight. I must’ve been slumping pretty badly.

I think the problem began at age eight when I entered school (second grade) and fell in love with books. I’d slump over a book much of the day.

“Other people won’t bother to tell you this,” my father would say over the next decade, “but you need to stand up straight.”

I’d try to stand up straight, sit up straight, but this effort never lasted long nor made any permanent change in the way I used myself.

I also had voice trouble in my childhood. My father is an accomplished public speaker but he could never communicate to me how he could effortlessly project to an entire room.

Here are some TV clips of me prior to the Technique (Entertainment Tonight in 1999, 60 Minutes in 2003, ABC News in 2007):

On May 27, 2008, the day before my 42nd birthday, I bought (Rules of the Game) by Neil Strauss, author of the best-seller The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists.

On page 28 of The Stylelife Challenge, Neil Strauss writes: “Because posture is key not just to your confidence and appearance but also to your health, I’ve prepared an extra-credit video tutorial [that] provides the basics on Alexander Technique, a school of movement that improves not just the way you stand, walk, and sit but also the way you speak and feel about yourself.”

That sold me. I started taking Alexander lessons and in 2009, I began three years of daily training to become an Alexander Technique teacher. 

In June 2012, a friend told me that he noticed in my old photos, I rarely smiled or looked happy. Now, even when giving a difficult performance, I’m at ease. I can find the humor in the absurd and embarrassing. Consequently, I feel less shame, less need to compress and to contort myself, and I feel less need to hide from life, from other people and from my best self. That shows in my posture, in my speech, and in my energy.