|7. CORRECTING YOUR
the Alexander Method of posture correction, Osteopathy and Chiropractics
can help you to improve your posture. The first two involve learning
to use your body in a better way, while the last two depend on external
Let us however look at the problem from an Engineering perspective.
There are 206 bones in the human body and more than 600 muscles;
these interrelate with one other in complex ways. Clearly, posture
cannot be corrected the way in which you would repair a motorcar.
Since the problem is mechanically very complex it is necessary to
evolve simple principles which will help the body to naturally go
back to its correct alignment.
It is useful to keep in mind, as we attempt to correct our posture
that all humans have precisely the same number of bones and muscles
in their bodies. If one person moves more gracefully than another,
or he looks better proportioned, it may not all be due to any major
difference of equipment, but rather the way in which the equipment
STRATEGY FOR CORRECTING POSTURE:
Fig 7. Correcting posture has three important
- MECHANICAL ASPECT
- MENTAL ASPECT
- BEHAVIORAL ASPECT
The Mechanical aspect can be split as follows:
- PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
- BALANCING POSTURE
We can put together the individual activities and prioritize them:
- PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT
- MENTAL ASPECT
- BALANCING POSTURE
- SOFT SURFACES
- TAKING EXERCISE
And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, where art
thou? And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid,
because I was naked; and I hid myself. And he said, Who told thee
that thou was naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded
thee that thou shouldest not eat?
……….. The Bible, Genesis 3:9,10,11
The instinct to cover the naked body has prompted all cultures
to tie something or the other around the waist. Humans (Proto-humans)
could have started to tie things around their waist as long as 2
Million years ago! Tying anything around the waist will however
prevent proper functioning of the stomach muscles. For girls and
women therefore the best items of wear are frocks and gowns. Skirts
and saris are not advisable unless you can find some way to suspend
them from the shoulders. For boys and men, shorts and trousers,
which are loose around the waist and suspended from the shoulders,
are best. Anything tied around the waist, even loosely, like dhoti
and pyjama will create problems. Pyjamas should also be suspended
using shoulder straps. Elastic used in clothing has the potential
to create problems; children's clothing sholud not have any elastic.
The important thing to remember is that we are not born with our
clothes on and no animal other than ourselves wear clothes.
Clothing should not inhibit movement of the body. If the
musculoskeletal system is inhibited in any way, at any location,
it will upset the postural balance of the whole body.
Improper footwear will cause major problems. The best thing to
wear is leather slippers with thin soles, in which the soles, both
where they come in contact with the feet and where they come in
contact with the ground are perfectly flat. We will find invariably
that slippers available in the market have heels. It is important
to have the heels removed. It is more difficult to find suitable
shoes: shoes may severely restrict freedom of movement of the feet
and thus affect posture. Hawaii slippers provide tremendous freedom
of movement, hence they are recommended – a firm material
such as leather is however better than rubber which provides cushioning.
Proper gait is a complex wave like motion starting at the feet.
Improper footwear will alter this gait.
7.2.3 CHAIR ………..
The thighbones are attached to the pelvic bone by means of ball
joints and actuated by very complex arrangement of muscles. It is
very important to sit in such a way that the freedom of movement
at this joint is not seriously compromised. When sitting in standard
chairs you are effectively sitting on the muscles which move the
thighs, thus severely restricting their freedom of movement, Fig
8a. The problem can be solved by sitting on chairs and benches,
which are lower, or by using footrests, Fig 8b. It is better to
sit on hard surfaces rather than on cushioned surfaces.
|Fig 8a: In a standard chair the thighs make intimate
contact with the chair, inhibiting free movement of muscles.
Fig 8b: By limiting contact of the thighs with the chair the
legs can be made more active and postural balance can be achieved.
Fig 8c: Soft cushions will prevent free movement of muscles.
SOFT SURFACES …………..
Our ideas about comfort are closely associated with soft surfaces.
Excessively cushioned surfaces on chairs, shoes, bed, pillows etc.
however will inhibit use of muscles and prevent them from achieving
postural balance (Fig 8c). Use of hard or firm surfaces will help
to keep muscles active and thus promote good health.
TAKING EXERCISE ………..
Taking exercise and improving posture are basically incompatible.
Small children and animals do not take exercise, they play, they
are active and maintain superb postural balance: they are much healthier
than human adults. When exercise is heavy it is impossible to ensure
that all the muscles will be exercised uniformly: because of this,
different persons doing the same exercise can end up with markedly
different results. Walking is perhaps the best physical activity
to keep us fit; it should not be viewed as an exercise, rather it
should be interwoven in the fabric of our daily life. Exercising
with anything tied around the waist and while wearing faulty footwear
will distort posture. (When exercising or doing heavy physical work
we should also try to be in present space – see below)
SCIENTIFIC BASIS FOR
It is difficult to establish a scientific basis for
taking exercise, especially heavy exercise. From an
engineering perspective, if a structure is distorted
(Fig 6), it is necessary to remove the distortion. You
never load a deformed structure!
Doing exercise with clothing and footwear, which are
likely to distort the muskuloskeletal system, is equally
questionable. In Greece, where the Olympics first took
place, participants did not wear clothes! (Women were
not invited to these events.) Perhaps, they understood
human posture better than we do.
There are 206 bones in the human body and more than 600 muscles,
it is impossible for us to figure out consciously how to hold them
all in a proper way. Only the subconscious mind can accomplish this
difficult task. To improve our posture therefore we have to periodically
move into PRESENT SPACE. Using this principle we can begin to understand
why small children and animals naturally maintain good posture,
and why for human adults it presents a difficult task. Moving into
present space is simply seeing things around you sharply and clearly…
The principle can be explained by a simple experiment, which does
not need any tools. Become fully conscious of your immediate surroundings
by looking at things sharply and clearly – the beautiful painting
on the wall, the floral designs on the curtains, the walls of the
room, the books on the table, the beautiful green of the lawn outside.
Don’t strain to see any particular object – keep the
eyes relaxed by moving gently from one object to another.
Next, while looking clearly at external objects think of something
– anything. Perhaps the pleasant holiday you spent last summer.
Or try to conjure your wife’s / husband’s face. What
happens? When I persuaded a few friends to try this experiment,
not one was able to think in any way when he was fully focused on
his surroundings – it is in effect an animal state, of becoming
one with the environment. If you try to force yourself to think
while holding on to the images of your surroundings, the eyeballs
are put under severe strain as they try simultaneously to turn outwards
(towards the surroundings), and inwards (towards a thought or mental
image). Hence we can form a principle:
YOU CAN’T BE FULLY CONSCIOUS OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS AND SIMULTANEOUSLY
ENGAGE IN A PROCESS OF THOUGHT.
||Fig 9: Experience tells us that animals can occupy
only Present Space, while Humans can occupy Present Space, Thought
Space or a Space in-between.
The concept is explored further in Fig 9. The space in which the
brain can wander (when the subject is awake and alert) can be divided
into two parts, Present Space and Thought Space – the two
separated by a barrier. Observations of animals suggest that they
are always alert to what is happening around them, they are never
‘lost in thought’ in the human sense. Hence it can reasonably
be assumed that they can occupy only Present Space – the construction
of their brain does not permit them to do otherwise. Human beings,
on the other hand, can occupy Present Space, Thought Space or a
Space that is in-between the two. For occupying an intermediate
state a price has to be paid in the form of increased physical tension,
which is first felt in the eye-balls and from there, the rest of
In the Alexander method of posture correction two complementary
principles are used which achieve the objective of bringing the
mind to present space in different ways. The first is the principle
of INHIBITION in which you are advised to inhibit your movements,
that is, let us say you are reaching for a book, you should deliberately
pause for a fraction of a second before you start your movement.
The pause will make you focus on the task at hand.
The second principle is AVOIDING AN END GAINING APPROACH. Let us
say you are driving a car, you are late and in a hurry to reach
the railway station. If you keep worrying about missing the train,
your muscular coordination will automatically become faulty. On
the other hand if you say to yourself OK it does not matter whether
I catch the train or not, your muscular co-ordination will improve,
you will be less likely to involve yourself in an accident, you
will enjoy your drive to the station and probably reach there sooner.
Good posture can be defined only when we are in present space.
When we are thinking our posture will automatically become faulty!
It is important to move into present space at periodic intervals
to keep us healthy and also to improve our mental functioning. Both,
the human body and mind work better in the subconscious state.
IMPROVING PERSONAL RELATIONS
Moving into present space will help improve our personal relations. In this state we can make eye contact, and judgment of others, which vitiate many relationships will be temporarily suspended.
|Fig 10: A balanced system is easy to oscillate
too and fro.
Balancing posture is very similar to balancing weights using a
weighing balance, Fig 10. Discovering how the large number of bones
and muscles in the body are linked is however not easy. To balance
posture we must not lock our bodies externally or internally.
Crossing one leg over the other when sitting down, crossing hands
over the chest and passing the weight of the upper body through
the arms when sitting next to a table are all examples of external
locking of the musculoskeletal system. The body should be held symmetrical
and the weight of the body should be passed to the ground uniformly
on both the legs – the woman in the plaque fixed on the Voyager
spacecraft is striking an attractive pose, but supporting the weight
of the body mainly on one leg is a form of external locking, which
provides poor postural balance. Even using the backrest when sitting
in a chair, which will prevent proper use of a large number of muscle
groups, can be conceived as external locking.
Internal locking is when joints are held at their extreme position.
For instance the knees should always be slightly flexed to keep
all the muscles active. If the knees are moved to an extreme position
many muscles will have no work to do. Just as a shark must swim
continuously in order to breathe, so also, we must balance our posture
continuously to maintain the shape of the body.
When balancing our posture we have to minutely adjust the musculo-skeletal
system to get a feeling of strength and flexibility over the whole
length of the body. We must rediscover the contour of the spine
and we must be able to flex it, somewhat the way in which a snake
slithers on the ground. We must attempt to poise the head gracefully
and strongly over the spine. (Postural balance is easier to feel
out early in the morning in bed, after a good night’s sleep;
make sure your pillow elevates the head by no more than 2.5 cm,
so that the natural curvature of the spine is maintained.
Note: please visit my blog for a fresh perspective on the use
of pillows). The girl in (Fig 11) has good postural balance,
observe that she is very much in present space.
||Fig 11: Child demonstrating good postural balance.
(From The Alexander Principle by Dr. Wilfred Barlow).
Balance is a fundamental concept in Engineering. Many stationary
systems and practically all systems that move must be balanced to
function properly. The concept of balance is important for the following
- Posture can only be corrected by trial and error. By keeping
this concept in mind we can avoid going dramatically wrong.
- It helps explain why 99% of adults will have postural faults.
A concept of balance (lacking in our environment and social interactions)
is required to integrate the musculoskeletal system.
- The concept of balance provides a suitable guideline for the
science of ergonomics. The dress we wear, the footwear and the
design of our physical environment must ensure that we are able
at all times, to keep the whole body in balance.
||Fig 12: Fredrick Matthias Alexander, (1869-1955),
developed the Alexander Method of posture correction, achieving
in the process, deeper insight into the problem of faulty posture
than any one before him. He discovered the very important principle,
USE AFFECTS FUNCTIONING, known as the Alexander Principle.
The Alexander Principle states that ……
USE AFFECTS FUNCTIONING
Because correcting posture is difficult we have to try to maintain
good posture at all times, this is in marked contrast to the concept
of taking exercise, where we exercise for say half an hour and then
use the body carelessly for the rest of the day. Considerable organic
changes have to take place in the muscular system before good posture
can be achieved. These changes will take place in the positive direction
only if we try to maintain good posture at all times.
IN DR. BARLOW’S
Individuals closely associated with the Alexander Movement
have informed me that the Alexander Principle was actually
coined by Dr Barlow, even though he himself calls it
the Alexander Principle.
To commemorate Dr. Barlow’s memory - he has contributed
a great deal to the understanding of Human Posture -
let us agree to call this principle the Alexander/Barlow
(The Alexander/Barlow Principle is a very important concept. It
is a concept we can use in other ways to enrich our lives )
- The musculoskeletal system is enormously complex. If your posture
is already good, you are lucky. If you have to correct your posture
you are taking on a difficult task. It is best to start by paying
attention to your ‘Physical Environment’
- Parents should protect the posture of their children by paying
attention only to the ‘Physical Environment’. Consciously
correcting posture should be delayed till after the age of 20.
- In the process of correcting posture it is likely that you may
feel dizzy at times or you may have a muscle pull (when muscles
not used for a long time suddenly come into play). If there is
any physical distress do not make any sudden movement and move
into PRESENT SPACE. Your subconscious mind will know how to protect
- It is not possible to maintain good posture if you are mentally
agitated. Personal worry should be converted into plans of action
so that you can focus on the work at hand.
- You should feel very comfortable in Present Space, if there
is any feeling of discomfort it will be because of the following
reasons. a) Your mind has blanked out – you are not thinking
of any thing, neither are you focused properly on the surroundings.
This is a very disorienting state. b) You are not able to suppress
your thoughts – if you are worried about something you will
find it difficult to move into present space c) you are trying
too hard – being in present space is a natural state!
- When you are tired your posture will become faulty. Lying down
for 5 to 10 minutes will rejuvenate you physically and mentally.
You can lie down on a mat or rug. If you habitually use a soft
bed it is important to find out what a hard surface feels like!
Slumping in a chair is a bad way to relax.
- Posture should not be corrected consciously for more than a
few minutes at a time – move into Present Space periodically.
Or engage yourself in other activities.