As a grad student I frequently took gigs playing background music. It was not unusual for a partygoer to stop on the way out and compliment me—on my “amazing posture.” At first I was somewhat bemused that they mentioned my posture instead of my playing, but I soon relished these compliments. They were an indication that all of my work in my Alexander lessons was paying off. I clearly looked different than I did before. At other times people asked me if I was a dancer, or an actress (more evidence that I must have changed the way I move through life, apparently demonstrating grace, poise and presence.)
Many Alexander teachers, including me, are afraid of the word posture because it often seems to imply to people a rigidly fixed position. But as I look at some definitions (from Dictionary.com), I see that the only definition that evokes negative connotations is #3.
- the relative disposition of the parts of something
- the position of the limbs or the carriage of the body as a whole
- an affected or unnatural attitude
- a mental or spiritual attitude
- one’s image or policy as perceived by the public, other nations, etc.
- position, condition, or state, as of affairs
#3 is what I see people do at parties, the instant they find out I teach Alexander Technique. As an Alexander teacher, I perceive what they are doing as an “unnatural attitude”. But they don’t know what they are doing is unnatural. They are doing their best. People consider good posture admirable, they just do not know how to move up without doing it “unnaturally”.
Since definitions of words have evolved over time they point to trends and history in human thought. Looking at the definitions of posture, I am excited by the underlying understanding that they convey.
#1 Yes! I can change the relative disposition of the parts of myself—by not stiffening my neck, allowing my head to go up to lead me into length and width.
#2 The carriage of the body AS A WHOLE! We can learn how to carry ourselves!
#3 Well…enough said.
#4 Wholeness of the self! Mental and spiritual—not just physical!
#5 My image and other people’s perception of me is my posture. Obviously. Sad but true.
#6 Condition and state of affairs are “sufficiently vague” terms that encompass everything we are working on in Alexander Technique.
When someone stiffens into “sitting up straight” when I say I teach Alexander Technique, it means they would like to have good posture, they just do not know how to get there with ease. Perhaps Alexander teachers would do well to reclaim the word. Do I teach posture? Yes! I can help you change your condition and state of affairs!
By Heidi Leathwood
photo of Heidi Leathwood used with permission