We may think of posture as something which affects the way we look. When we view ourselves in the mirror we may wish our shoulders did not slump, that our back would not cave in so as to make our stomach stick out, or that our legs would not appear that they belong to another body, but quite apart from our appearance our posture can affect the way we feel, what we think, how we move ourselves in ordinary daily activity and even how we sleep. A bad posture can lead to many ills, the most common of which are depression and back pain.
The main cause of a deterioration in our posture over recent years is the increasing amount of time we spend sitting down which starts in Primary School. Any teacher will confirm that it is difficult for small children to remain sitting for long periods of time, they have to be conditioned to do so in order to maintain order in the classroom, and by the time a child reaches his early teens he may spend as much as ten hours a day sitting, a position which almost more than any other places great pressure upon the spine. Also the child will have undergone many changes in size whilst he has been sitting at the same sized standard desk, and accumulated all sorts of habits and twists in order to accommodate any unsuitability encountered.
If the teacher is of a certain age and remembers a time when posture was considered more relevant than it is today, or if her speciality is P.E. and she is only filling in for the English teacher, she may tell the children in her care to sit up straight, but the chances are she will not be able to furnish them with an example of good posture, and as Professor John Dewey, an American Philosopher who took many Alexander lessons himself, illustrates in Human Nature and Conduct published in 1921, mere words and the desire to comply with them are not sufficient in order to bring about a change in this field. Dewey writes :
It is as reasonable to expect a fire to go out when it is ordered to stop burning as to suppose that a man can stand straight in consequence of a direct action of thought and desire. The fire can be put out only by changing objective conditions; it is the same with rectification of bad posture.
Of course, something happens when a man acts upon his idea of standing straight. For a little while, he stands differently, but only a different kind of badly. He then takes the unaccustomed feeling which accompanies his unusual stance as evidence that he is now standing right. But there are many ways of standing badly, and he has simply shifted his usual way to a compensatory bad way at some opposite extreme.
What appears to be a lazy or over relaxed posture, or a stiff unnatural posture is really a question of a lack of central coordination.
During a series of Alexander lessons a pupil is taught to perceive and experience the body’s natural support system not as this or that part but as a dynamic whole.