Learn how I stopped cringing at videos of myself! Workshop for Women on Posture & Communication

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I used to hate seeing video recordings of myself.  I would think, "That's me???"  I could hardly look, because the recording never looked like what I felt I was doing.  It was really embarrassing even if I was the only person watching the video!

Has this ever happened to you?  Were you surprised to see how you moved, stood, spoke, breathed, held your hands, or fidgeted?  What you thought you were doing in that moment isn't what you're seeing on the video.  Yikes!

What you're most likely seeing on the video or in the photo someone took when you weren't paying attention (that may make you cringe) are your unconscious habits. 

In order to change our habits, we have to start actually being able to sense what we are doing with our bodies from the inside out, not trying to fix them by observing how they look from the outside in. Examples of the outside-in approach are holding a "power pose" or choreographing particular gestures.

When I first took Alexander Technique lessons, I was a 20-year-old acting student.  I noticing a lot in my body, but it was mostly discomfort.  I was a shy kid and was generally tense in social situations and at school.  I have scoliosis and wore a back brace for five years as a teen, which trained me to do some very inefficient and harmful things to hold my body up.  I felt both physically uncomfortable and awkward.

Despite being an introvert, I always wanted to act and I was accepted into the undergraduate drama program at NYU, where I quickly found I was having trouble doing almost anything that was asked of me.  My voice was wrong, my movements were wrong, my breathing was wrong.  I wasn't grounded.  I was trying very, very hard, but my teachers would just shake their heads. 

I thought I was no good.  I already lacked confidence and my inability to do what the teachers were asking in acting school made things worse.  I didn't feel my peers respected me and I felt bad for the other people who had to rehearse scenes with me.

In my third year of drama school something changed when I started taking an Introduction to the Alexander Technique class.  It was like a lightbulb came on.  Someone was actually showing me how I was suppose to feel standing, sitting, moving, and speaking.  I was given the experience of the FEELING I was supposed to have when my posture was good, I was moving well, and when I was breathing and speaking.  And I felt so much BETTER! 

The clear guidance from the teacher's hands and carefully selected words helped me to start to feel what was right.  I was learning how to sense my body position and movements  internally (not from the outside by observing in a mirror or blindly trying to follow instructions).

This experience made me feel at last that I wasn't hopeless, that I could learn and change...that I could be an actor and that I could be different in the world.  I became much more conscious of my movements, voice and breathing on a moment to moment basis.  I was no longer locked into habit and the benefits spread into many areas of my life.

I began to feel more confident socially and when meeting new people.  My introvert tendencies typically lead me to hide under a rock when I met new people.  I've learned to overcome that...not by holding a power pose, but by being more self-aware (not self-conscious). 

And I'm not just more aware of myself, but I'm aware of how conversations are living interactions and of how having a centered presence can benefit someone else.  It's a key to getting in the zone where things feel easy and like they're just flowing

Here's one of my favorite examples of what I'm talking about.  If I was at work or in school and if someone came up to me looking upset or anxious, I would freeze and automatically assume it was my fault and that I had to get anxious with them and frantically try to fix the problem.  Meanwhile, I got myself in such a tizzy that I could barely think straight and would forget what they said to me a moment later, leading to me to agitate them further by asking them to repeat what they'd said. 

One day I had a revelation when I was working as an administrative assistant.  Someone came up to my desk frantically needing something.  I just paused for a moment and realized that was their anxiety not mine and that my state in my body didn't have to match their state.  Actually the best way to help them would be to stay calm, center, and simply see what they needed.  That moment was life-changing.  It could be described as a change in mind-set, but I got to that mind-set change through my new awareness of how I felt in my body.

I teach and speak publicly, at times in front of large groups, without fear.  I didn't stop being an introvert, but I learned how to hone my tendencies and not let them overwhelm me, even at parties!  :-)  Also, I'm turning 40 this year, a time when people often say they are starting to feel run down and I feel so much better than I did 20 years ago when I was in college felt uncomfortable or in pain pretty much all the time. 

And going back to the original topic of watching ourselves on video...when I see myself on video now, I am neither surprised or horrified.  What I see is what I expect to see.  It's what I feel I'm doing.  Isn't that amazing that this is possible? 

I'm launching a new workshop for women called Posture Under Pressure:  Command Your Presence for Effective Communication for women of all ages who want more to be more effective and find more joy in interacting at work, when giving presentations, or in social situations

This workshop will be especially appreciated by women who would describe themselves as ambitious introverts...highly motivated, but easily stressed out or exhausted.

I'll addresses how we use our bodies and voices when we communicate and interact.  It will help you become more aware of your postural, movement, breathing, and vocal habits in work and social situations and give you tools for how to trade in your unconscious habits for the ability to come across in the way you'd like to and to be able to do it in the moment.  

What I'll be teaching is all based on the Alexander Technique, my experience as a performer, presenter (and introvert) and nearly 12 years as an Alexander Technique teacher working with clients on the nuances of posture and communication.

You'll gain tools to feel more balanced, centered, and present.  You'll learn how to be effective by accessing your power without having to "try hard" to be powerful

What to expect from this workshop:

  • This course is ideal for people who enjoy group learning and setting aside some time to really focus on getting feedback and making a change.  Also, if you would like to work with me, but don't have time in your weekly schedule, this is a good opportunity to learn a lot in one chunk.

  • You'll leave this course having had a new experience of moving, speaking and being in your body and what's happening when you converse with people.  

  • When the workshop is finished, you won't be on your own!  You'll have resources to help you practice and I will schedule 2 follow-up online sessions with all participants in the following weeks.

Check this video of me talking about the course.

This is a 3-day workshop on June 7 (6:30-8:30pm), June 8 (10am-5pm), and June 9 (10am-3pm) in NYC at The Balance Arts Center (151 West 30th Street, 3rd Floor).

To celebrate the launch of this course, I'm offering an extended early bird rateof $450 through May 15.  After May 15, the rate will got up to $600.

6 things NOT to do to fix your posture

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Have you been trying to fix your posture?  Have you found it frustrating?  

Postural problems come from getting stuck in habits of how we hold ourselves up and move.  Often what people do to try to fix their posture actually creates worse posture and more discomfort.  

Here are some tips that you can put into practice right now so you can actually start improving your posture while you stop trying so hard to "fix" it.  

1. DON'T pull your shoulder blades back or lift up your chest - A cultural fear of slouching has developed.  Though slouching is a problem, holding yourself in the opposite position doesn't solve it.  If you pull your ribcage and shoulders back, you'll just end up stuck in another position and not a very sustainable one.  Have you ever tried to hold yourself this way?  Not very comfortable, right?  You might feel tense.  Your breath may feel shallow.  All signs that you're just holding another position.  I like to call this position "backward slouching" because when you do it you end up leaning back and creating a lot of tension and pressure into the lower back.  It's ok to move your shoulder back to open the fridge, start the lawnmower, do a pulling exercise at the gym, or hold a yoga pose, but these are movements and movements are temporary and not a way to hold yourself up effectively.

2.  DON'T try to not to stay perfectly still - What is the first thing people tend to do when they think of good posture?  After they've pulled their chests up and their shoulders back, they usually try not to move.   It's actually impossible to stand perfectly still and it's not good for your body to try and do so, unless there's a mountain lion in the bushes!  We are always balancing and rebalancing even when we think we are still. 

If you feel out of balance, try my audio guide for a floor exercise that helps you to  reconnect to the feeling of being in your body and to let go of some of the stress and tension you've been carrying around.  See if you feel a little more relaxed and balanced. When you get up, can be a little more upright and still without having to stiffen?

3.  DON'T hold your belly in - Sometimes people mistake holding their gut in for maintaining "core" strength.  Not only is holding your belly in not engaging your core, but it interferes with maintaining good relaxed posture, prevents you from breathing properly, and may adversely affect your digestion.  Good posture and staying active helps promote core strength, not simply tightening your tummy. 

And BONUS, improving your posture can make you look slimmer...not by clenching your belly, but maintaining length in your body and avoiding an overly swayed back (swayed back = belly forward).  Here's what one of my clients had to say on that topic:  

After 10 or so lessons, several people who hadn’t seen me for a while thought I had lost weight. It was simply the better posture that made me look slimmer and taller! - Katri Touri, Global Accounts Manager

4.  DON'T forget your head - Often "fixing" posture is thought of as having something  to do with adjusting the ribcage and pelvis.  The ribcage and pelvis are, of course, relevant, but what's way up on top of them is the head and the head is HEAVY!  And we tend to pull and drop our heavy heads around at our desks, on our phones, rushing on foot or driving through traffic. 

See if you can notice during your day if you're pushing your face forward to look at a screen or dropping your head down.  When you strain to look at something your probably tense your neck, which pulls on your heavy head and puts a lot of pressure down through your body affecting the ribcage, pelvis, and everything below.  And here are 2 easy ways to start changing these habits...

- Let what you're seeing come to you.  Don't strain toward what you're looking at.  If you're having trouble seeing what you're looking at (ie. your computer screen), move it closer to you are adjust the font size.
- Scratch or tap the top of your head from time to time.  This will help you be aware of the top of your head and just that sensation helps people sit and stand taller and more comfortably.

5.  DON'T forget your feet - Feet are easily ignored, but your feet are your base of support and although they may be touching the ground, they may be quite stiff and not making good contact with the ground.  Try to wear shoes that allow your toes to spread out, keep your feet on the floor as much as possible at your desk, and bring your attention to your feet from time to time.  Just that attention, can help you feel more grounded and supported and like you can better relax your upper body.

6.  DON'T forget to breathe - This is the fool-proof test of your posture.  If your breathing is shallow, you're either collapsed or stiff in your body.  (Remember #2...Don't try to hold still.  Breathing is a form of movement.)  Also, sometime people actively hold their breath to concentrate or when they feel stressed, which sets off a chain reaction of postural issues.  If you are trying to change your posture by stiffening and you're breathing feels restricted, then re-evaluate your approach.

Walk Yourself to Better Posture

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Are you ready to hit the ground walking? 

I'm just back from a fabulous and intense 6-days of continuing education on feet and walking gait in Santa Cruz, CA.  I typically work with everyone on walking to some extent, but I'm now making it an more integral part of my teaching as it's even clearer to me just how much how you walk affects your posture.  How you sit and stand affects how you move and how you move also affects how you sit and stand.

When I ask new clients when they are most aware of the changes they are making with their posture, one of the most common replies is, "When I'm walking...", usually because they're not distracted by work.  Let's make that productive walking time (in terms of your posture) even more productive.

Spending some time being a student again last week was great and here were my big takeaways....My toes can make more contact with the ground and my left hip can move more when I walk.  (And wow, does that feel great!) Yes, your big toe can be a big deal...but you might not notice that the toe is fully kissing the floor until you actually feel it doing so.  Why?  Because we adapt to our habits and what we get used to feels normal until we have a contrasting experience. 

Metaphor for habit (referencing the photo above):  If the lighthouse is tilted and I'm tilted too, I'll probably never notice that the lighthouse is tilted.  It will look straight from my perspective unless my perspective changes.  What does that mean?  Start to change your posture and change your walking and you'll notice that it feels different from how you usually do it, which will open the door for CHANGE. 

You can get started now.  Start by just noticing where you feel the most pressure on your feet when you stand.  Is it on the heels or the balls of the feet?  More on one foot than the other?  On the inner or outer edges?  The more information you observe about yourself, the more ready you'll be to improve your posture and you'll have a baseline from which to observe contrast and improvement.

New Year's Guide to Sitting - Day 7 - Sitting on the Floor

To kick off the new year, I’m sending out a daily email this week, focusing each day on a different type of chair or way we sit.  

Today I am launching my new audio guide for sitting!  Click here to try it out!

How we sit is more important than what we sit on, but...if your seating is working against you, you’ll be on a uphill battle to sitting better.  

Each day this week I've talked about a form of seating, some common issues with each one, and suggested simple solutions to help with the most common problems.  Thanks for following along!  If you missed the previous days, check them out here on my blog

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If you have a lot of trouble with slouching, you might not want to start with this position, but if sitting on your floor or bed is your default, here's how to set yourself up for success with your posture.  

By the way, I love working sitting on the floor!  I don't by any means consider this position a no-no.  You just have to know how to do it.  Here are the main points and check out the photo of me above.

1.  Sit on some pillows or a bolster - This will make your pelvis slightly higher than your knees, which reduces strain in the hips and lower back.

2.  Place your lap top on something to raise it up - a coffee table or some kind of low furniture like what you see me using.

3.  Use an external keyboard - If you're doing a lot of typing, reaching up to your keyboard will likely strain your shoulders.  Attach an external keyboard and place it on your lap.

4.  Stay balanced - Just tip your chin like you see me doing if you are looking a bit down at your screen.  If looking down at all leads you to slouch, then place your laptop on something a bit higher.

This is the last installment in my series on sitting this week!  I hope you've found this helpful and please reply to this email if you have any questions or would like to share your experience with trying out anything I've suggested.  

And don't forget to be one of the first to try my new free audio guide on sitting that I launched today!  Click here to listen to it.

New Year's Guide to Sitting - Day 6 - Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

To kick off the new year, I’m sending out a daily email this week, focusing each day on a different type of chair or way we sit.  At the end of the week, I will launch my long-requested audio guide for sitting!  

How we sit is more important than what we sit on, but...if your seating is working against you, you’ll be on a uphill battle to sitting better.  

Each day this week I’m talking about a form of seating, some common issues with each one, and suggest simple solutions to help with the most common problems.  If you missed the previous days, check them out here on my blog

Day 6 - Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Today's topic is transportation.  I'll start with some suggestions for the local folks here in New York City (and other city dwellers) where many of us spend a lot more time on trains than the rest of the world.  Then I'll move on to cars and airplanes. 

Subway trains
In NYC, the seats tend to fall into two categories...

1 - The ones with the annoying dip/indent in part you sit on. (the orange and yellow ones)
2 - The seats with the bump on the back. (the blue ones)

The bump on the back is a sort of lumbar support, which I find very comfortable because, lucky me, the bump his my back in just the right spot, but heights and proportions vary so much that I hear more often than not from my clients that the bump hits their back in the wrong place.  The  other seats (the ones with the dip) are the ones that drive me crazy because I find my bottom keeps sliding forward.

What to do?  On the seats with the dip, I spend some time leaning back and then I switch to sitting on the edge of the seat for a little while and go back and forth.  I make sure to keep both feet flat on the floor to help prevent sliding. 

In regards to the seats with the bump on the back...If the bump hits your back in the wrong place, you could try sticking a scarf or sweatshirt behind you to fill any gaps.  If you don't mind carrying one, you could even bring a little cushion with you.  A cushion on the back is also helpful to reduce the depth of the seat if your feet don't touch the floor when you lean all the way back.

In the car
Car seats come in various shapes and sizes, as do we, so I'll just focus on a few main points...
1.  Leaning back on the headrest is fine, but make sure that it's not positioned in such a way that it's pushing your head and neck forward and down. (for drivers and passengers)

2.  Make sure you adjust the seat so that you can look straight ahead to see, you can reach the pedals comfortably, and hold the steering wheel without tensing/lifting your shoulders.

3.  Consider a seat or lumbar cushion if you find your lower back rounding.  A seat cushion like this one can help support your pelvis and lower back.

On the plane
When flying coach, many folks I know prefer the aisle seat for ease of getting up without disturbing your sleeping neighbor.  I do advise you to get up and move when in the air, but an advantage to the window seat is that even if the sit you're sitting on seems like it was purposely designed to be as uncomfortable as possible, you have the option of propping up a pillow and leaning against the wall.  I'll let you decide what to prioritize, but I just wanted to float that idea out there!  Otherwise a neck pillow, can help keep you more comfy when sitting up, especially when you fall asleep.

A few hours into a flight, I often start to feel some discomfort in my lower back and a feel an urge to move it around and fidget.  The fidgeting doesn't do much to help my lower back, so instead I do the following.  It's like a little meditation.  Your eyes can be open or closed.
1.  I sit all the way back in the seat with my bottom in the corner where the seat meets the back.  (Reclining the seat is fine.)
2.  Bring my awareness to the top of my head, to make sure that my head isn't slumping down.
3.  Place my feet flat on the floor
4.  Bring my attention to both of my hands and both of my feet.  Keep my attention on my hands and feet for about 10 minutes.  I make sure I'm not holding my breath and that I'm just putting my attention on the hands and feet.  I'm not tensing or moving them.  
5.  I relax and breath while maintaining this focus and resist the urge to fidget and move my lower back.
6.  Eventually I feel more relaxed and the discomfort dissapates.

Try it and see if it works for you!

Tomorrow I'll talk about sitting on the floor and I'll be launching my audio guide for sitting!

New Year's Guide to Sitting - Day 5 - The Couch

To kick off the new year, I’m sending out a daily email this week, focusing each day on a different type of chair or way we sit.  At the end of the week, I will launch my long-requested audio guide for sitting!  

How we sit is more important than what we sit on, but...if your seating is working against you, you’ll be on a uphill battle to sitting better.  

Each day this week I’m talking about a form of seating, some common issues with each one, and suggest simple solutions to help with the most common problems.  If you missed the previous days, check them out here on my blog

Day 5 - The Couch

Your living room couch may seem to be far from the ideal ergonomic workstation, but given the portability of devices, you probably spend a fair amount of time sitting on it if you work on a laptop.  Here are two ways to set yourself up for avoiding strain.

1.  Lean back and relax, but really lean and scoot all the way back so your bottom is where the seat of the couch meets the back.   You can put a pillow behind you for extra support or to keep your back supported if you want to lean back at an angle.  Sitting all the way back against a pillow or the back of the couch avoids the downward slide where you could end up practically sitting on your lower back (ouch!).  It may feel comfy at first, but after awhile, sitting on your lower will likely cause strain. 

Also, make sure you're really letting your shoulders relax back onto the couch.  If you tend to pull your shoulders forward when you type, see if you can type while simply keeping your shoulders leaning back on the couch.  Don't pull them back, just let them relax back as much as you can.

If you're laptop is on your lap, you'll have to look down a bit to see it.  Instead of dropping your head and upper body forward and down, gently tip your chin and just slightly nod your head.  

2.  Lie down and prop your upper back and head up with some pillows.  If you like working in this position, I highly recommend investing in a "Chill Desk".  You can use it if you work on your laptop lying in bed as well and it can also be used to turn your desk or a table top into a standing desk.  Check out this video on the chill desk here.

Tomorrow I'll talk about sitting in transit.  And stay tuned for the launch of my audio guide on sitting coming up on Saturday!

And check out what further topics to expect this week:
Seating in planes, trains and automobiles
The floor 

New Year's Guide to Sitting - Day 4 Backless Seating - The stool and the ball

To kick off the new year, I’m sending out a daily email this week, focusing each day on a different type of chair or way we sit.  At the end of the week, I will launch my long-requested audio guide for sitting!  

How we sit is more important than what we sit on, but...if your seating is working against you, you’ll be on a uphill battle to sitting better.  

Each day this week I’m talking about a form of seating, some common issues with each one, and suggest simple solutions to help with the most common problems.  If you missed the previous days, check them out on my blog.

One of the questions I'm asked most often is, "What about sitting on a ball?  Isn't that supposed to be good for your posture?"  The answer isn't a simple yes or no.

The ball is a great way to practice "active sitting" (ie. sitting upright without something to lean on)...but you actually have to sit actively, like this for it to be effective.  The ball can be especially effective because it moves.  Seating that's a little unstable makes you have to work a little harder (in a good way) and get the right muscles to engage to hold you up properly.

You could also end up sitting like this on a ball if you get tired and forget about your posture.  Slouching on the ball defeats the whole purpose!

So, what's the take-away here? 

1.  If you had never run more than a block or two to catch the bus, would you go out one morning and suddenly run five miles?  Probably not...or at least you'd think twice about it.  It's a similar idea with the ball.  If you're not used to actively sitting, you need to practice and start by doing it well for short periods of time.  When you get tired, stop and switch to a chair.  It's like couch to 5K for sitting.  Work up to it!

2.  Postural education is very helpful so that you know how to sit on the ball well (ie. take some lessons or classes) and so that you recognize the warning signs when you've been on the ball long enough.  

Take the same advice for sitting on a stool or on the edge of your chair.  I love sitting and working on my computer on a stool.  But even with all of the posture practice I do, I might get tired after an hour or so and want a little more support or at least a change of position.  

And check out what further topics to expect this week:

The couch
Seating in planes, trains and automobiles
The floor 

New Year's Guide to Sitting - Day 3 - Cafes and Restaurants

To kick off the new year, I’m sending out a daily email this week, focusing each day on a different type of chair or way we sit.  At the end of the week, I will launch my long-requested audio guide for sitting!  

How we sit is more important than what we sit on, but...if your seating is working against you, you’ll be on a uphill battle to sitting better.  

Each day this week I’ll talk about a form of seating, some common issues with each one, and suggest simple solutions to help with the most common problems.

Day 3 - Cafe and Restaurant Seating

This topic is something of a wild card as you may not have much say in the matter...although I admit sometimes I will gravitate to a particular cafe if I'm going to sit and work because I like the chairs there!

Then there's also the issue of when you're actually eating at a restaurant and trying to have a conversation...especially if it's loud.

Cafe Chair Problems: 
- Can't adjust height
- Back tilts too far
- Seat too hard, too soft, too deep
- Seat designed for lounging, not working
- It's a pain to carry around a bunch of accessories when you're out and about, especially if you live in a city and don't drive.  You also might not want to show up to lunch toting a cushion.
- I'm sure you can come up with many more!

Solutions:
Don't carry around a bunch of accessories.  Be creative with a coat, scarf, or sweatshirt to make your chair "just right".  Seat's to hard?  Sit on it.  Too deep?  Roll it up and place it behind your back.  See the green scarf behind my back in my cafe selfie above?  Filling in that space makes a big difference.  Depending on the size/shape of your bag or backpack, you could also place that behind you for more support while you reduce the depth of the seat.

Chair too soft?  This one's a bit trickier, but you might find that turning your coat or a sweatshirt into a cushion turns a softer seat into a firmer one as well.

Is the seat just too loungy?  Then just lounge.  If you're working on a laptop, lean back and put the laptop on your lap.  No use fighting to sit up tall on a lounge chair.  Leaning back is fine.  Just make sure you're all the way back in the chair and not sliding down.  Ideally your feet will still be on the floor.

A laptop stand can raise your screen up if you can't adjust the height of the chair, and they can be very portable like this one, for example.  Don't make it too high or else you'll be reaching to type.  You can bring a wireless keyboard with you and put it on your lap to get more of a desk away from the office effect...if you don't mind carrying one more thing with you.  There are light-weight keyboards that fold up like this one.

And for when you're out socializing (and when you're working as well), do your best to keep your feet flat on the floor.  When we're conversing, especially in a loud place, we tend to want to lean in.  This can lead to slouching down into your soup, especially if the seating isn't very supportive.  Keeping your feet planted will help you stay balanced!  Also, do more hinging at the hips to move forward rather than just pushing your face forward.  This applies to chatting and eating the soup!

Tomorrow's topic is the infamous yoga ball and other back-less seating.  Should you be able to sit without a back?  Yes and no!  Stay tuned...

And check out what further topics to expect this week:
No back - stools and the yoga ball 
The couch
Seating in planes, trains and automobiles
The floor 

New Year's Guide to Sitting! Day 2 - The Kitchen/Dining Chair

How we sit is more important than what we sit on, but...if your seating is working against you, you’ll be on a uphill battle to sitting better.  

Each day this week I’ll talk about a form of seating, some common issues with each one, and suggest simple solutions to help with the most common problems.

Day 2 - The Kitchen/Dining Chair

Do you or your family members use your dining room or kitchen table as a desk?  Don't be embarrassed...this may not be as bad as you think! 

In small NYC apartments, the kitchen table often is THE desk, especially for kids doing homework.  They may start like the first image and eventually end up like the second one.  The third option, offers a quick and inexpensive middle ground.

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Benefits to the kitchen/dining chair: 
-Many kitchen and dining chairs have flat, firm seats, which can be fine on their own and can easily be adapted with a seat cushion.  The chair above is a $25 wooden Ikea chair, which I find much more comfortable than some "fancy" office chairs.

-The back is usually relatively straight, which may make it easier to add a back cushion.  Despite the bells and whistles touted my many office chairs, a very simple kitchen chair can in many ways be quite adaptable.

Problems:  
- Seat is too deep
- Chair is too hard
- Height isn't adjustable causing you to reach up to type.  This can lead to strain
- Some kitchen chairs dip in the middle of the seat.  It may look trendy, but it's not ideal for sitting, especially if you're working. 

Solutions:
Go for the wedge!  As suggested in yesterday's email, try sitting on a seat wedge if you'd like a bit more padding and it will help angle you more forward and make you less likely to slouch and it will give your sitz bones a little more cushion.

Seat too deep? Grab a cushion off of your couch and stick it behind your back so you can be closer to your work and still lean back.

If your chair dips, this product works really well to fill in the space. 

Use a wireless keyboard if you're typing on a laptop.  Place the keyboard on your lap or on top of a pillow or book on your lap.

Do you work on the go and often find yourself sitting on less-than-ideal cafe chairs?  Or maybe  you find yourself slouching while you socialize during lunch....Check out my email tomorrow on the topic of cafes and restaurants.  And check out what further topics to expect this week:

Seating in restaurants and cafes
No back - stools and the yoga ball 
The couch
Seating in planes, trains and automobiles
The floor 

New Year's Guide to Sitting! Day 1 - The Desk Chair

Happy 2019!

To kick off the new year, I’m sending out a daily email for the next week (only for the next week!), each day focusing on a different type of chair or way we sit.  At the end of the week, I will launch my long-requested audio guide for sitting!  

How we sit is more important than what we sit on, but...if your seating is working against you, you’ll be on a uphill battle to sitting better.  

Each day this week I’ll talk about a form of seating, some common issues with each one, and suggest simple solutions to help with the most common problems.

Day 1 - The office chair - common problems and low-cost solutions

Problem:  Back of chair tilts back and/or seat is too deep

Some chairs do have an option to fully straighten the back, but more often than not, desk chairs angle back at the top, so to make contact with the back of the chair you have to be slightly reclined. 

Many people naturally want to sit up as they work, but could use a bit of support from the back of the chair.  Without a straight back, you’ll likely find yourself inching toward the screen or leaning way back and sliding down the back of the chair.  This problem becomes compounded when the seat is too deep for the person sitting on it.

Solution:  Add a cushion

Back Cushion:  You could try one that straps around the chair, but on many popular chairs with slippery, tapered sides, the strap slides down and won’t stay in place.  A cushion from your living room couch, or rolled up towel might be a more effective back support.  You could also try placing  yoga meditation bolster like this one behind your back.

Bolsters are designed for sitting on (on the floor), but they can also work well as a firm, upright back support.

Seat Cushion:  I recommend a wedge or other seat cushion to angle you slightly more forward.  Here's an example of a wedge cushion.  I also like this seat cushion by BackJoy They help to lift your pelvis and place more weight on your feet, which takes pressure off of you hips and back.  You'll feel more perched and ready to work. 

There may be times when you choose to recline, but the changes suggested above can help you feel more balanced and supported when you are most actively working on your computer without completely replacing your chair.

Do you eat and work at your kitchen dining room table?  Check out my email tomorrow on the topic of the dining chair.

An check out what further topics to expect this week:

The dining chair
Seating in restaurants and cafes
Stools
The yoga ball
Seating in planes, trains and automobiles
The floor 

Is it Ever OK to Slouch?

Me, age 9

Me, age 9

Is Slouching ok...ever?

This is a question I get a lot and I wonder if people think I'm the Posture Police or something!  

And the answer is...yes, it's ok if you slouch...sometimes.  

I was thinking about this yesterday after Thanksgiving dinner when I was quite tired and I slouched a bit and crossed my legs.  (Check out my blog post on leg-crossing to find out ore about that.)   This wasn't a problem because it was only for a moment, I was aware of it, and I wasn't getting stuck there.  In the photo above of me at age 9, I'm pretty sure I was slouching out of habit.  It was unconscious and as I became and adult, I realized that it wasn't serving me.

Slouching is a way that our bodies can move.  It's a way we can choose to be at a given moment.  If you're tired and slouch for 10 minutes, that's different from slouching over your computer 5 days/week for 8 hours...but lots of people slouch over their computer for 8 hours or more per day.

I help people get unstuck from their habits, so they can choose how they want to hold themselves up or move at a given moment and not be stuck in the way they've been doing it for years just because it's what they're used to.  What your used to can start to feel like "what is", but it's possible to change. 

Alexander Technique lessons help you to become more aware of how you're holding yourself up and bring on lasting change in your posture and movement and you can start to make a change now while you're reading this email. 

As you're looking at your screen, see if you can let your eyes soften a bit.  People often strain their eyes and in turn tense their necks and shoulders by pulling themselves toward what they are looking at.  Just see if you can let the image/words come to you. 

If you reach for your mouse, keyboard, or to type on your phone, don't reach with or tense your shoulder(s).  Just move your arms/hands/finger. 

These are first steps toward better posture and feeling more balanced and relaxed in your body and for laying the groundwork in your day-to-day habits to avoid ongoing, habitual slouching...and if you slouch a little after a long day or big dinner...no big deal!

Stand Out from the Crowd with Good Posture!

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Do sometimes you feel awkward or uncomfortable in your body and out of place or even invisible?

One time I was waiting in the small lobby of a theatre in New York City’s East Village, having just watched a performance and waiting to congratulate the performers.  I was in a cramped space, hungry, tired, and didn’t know the people around me who all seemed to know one another.  In that moment, I felt awkward and out of place and if I hadn’t wanted to say a quick hi to the performers, I would have quickly exited.  As I was waiting, a woman standing in front of me was having a conversation with the person next to her and backed up right into me.  She turned around, looking confused and stunned and said that she had no idea anyone was standing there.  Maybe she wasn’t paying attention, but I also think that my lack of presence and sense that I wanted to blend in with the walls actually sort of made me blend in with the walls.

In this situation, I could identify why I felt invisible at that moment and whenever I feel a bit awkward, I’m aware of how my body is responding to the situation in.  I’m aware of changes in my posture, breathing, or of not feeling grounded.  It’s specific and related to the moment and I know that I can change these things if I want to, but I wasn’t always able to change them.  

I used to feel invisible a lot of the time and I thought that was just how I was…like if Charlie Brown thought the paper lunch bag on his head was just part of his being.  If you’re familiar with Charlie Brown, you’ve probably seen him with a paper bag over his head, or a rain cloud following him around.  In “It’s Magic Charlie Brown”, his own dog literally makes him invisible.

To reference another cultural icon known for invisibility, Harry Potter makes invisibility cool with his invisibility cloak.  The cloak allows him to sneak around unseen in order to solve mysteries and eventually save the day.  Harry makes invisibility a choice that serves him. 

Once I was in an elevator at a conference and I realized that a colleague who I would have greeted had I noticed him was standing right behind me…and presumably right in front of me…when I enter the elevator.  I apologized sheepishly for not having notice him.  He smiled calmly and said, “I was making myself invisible.”  He seemed happy to blend in with the walls at that moment and was choosing to do so.

Are you now wondering what Charlie Brown, Harry Potter, invisibility and social awkwardness have to do with posture?

Your posture has to do with where you focus your attention and your body awareness.  

Here’s an example of this that is relevant to many of us…

Focus on a screen all day and you might feel like your body has gone on vacation (your internal awareness of it, I mean) like it’s invisible…Your physical awareness has been made more invisible to you due to your focus on a screen.

After a bout of screen time, you may participate in a meeting, go to dinner, or prepare to give a speech still be partially stuck in your habitual “screen mode”. Not only are your social habits influencing how you feel in social situations, but your screen habits could be too.  (See slightly over dramatized image at the top of this email!)

Posture doesn’t just reflect our emotional states; it can also cause them. In a study published in Health Psychology…Shwetha Nair and her colleagues assigned non-depressed participants to sit in an upright or slouched posture and then had them answer a mock job-interview question, a well-established experimental stress inducer, followed by a series of questionnaires. Compared with upright sitters, the slouchers reported significantly lower self-esteem and mood, and much greater fear. Posture affected even the contents of their interview answers.

- NY Times 2015, Your iPhone Is Ruing Your Posture and Your Mood

In order to develop sustainable “upright posture” though, it’s not as simple as just sitting up straight.  Alexander Technique lessons help people sense their bodies so they they can change their habits.  That’s why I’m so aware of mine.  I used to think I was innately awkward, insecure, and not very outgoing.  Now I see how much of that was simply a physical reaction to situations that I felt uncomfortable in.  

Improving my body awareness and habits helped me immensely by giving me a sense of having command over myself and not being the subject of my habits.  Despite being an introvert and inherently a bit shy with a preference for one-on-one conversations, I can choose to be present and engaged in a group.  As technology has evolved I’ve developed good habits so that my phone doesn’t interfere with being upright, present, and visible and if I want to blend in with the walls, it’s a choice.

You can start changing your habits right now by simply noticing where you head is and where your feet are.  

  • Pick up your phone or do some work on your computer and set an alarm to go off every 5-10 minutes and notice where your head is.  is your face glued to the screen?  Move your chair closer, sit back and try not to pull your face forward toward the computer.  

  • Are you legs or feet crossed or pulled back?  Try putting them flat on the floor and see if you can sense the floor as you type or read.  

  • If you’re holding a phone, don’t drop your head and torso down toward it.  Just tip your head a bit.  

  • Avoid tensing your arm and shoulder to hold your phone.  Notice the feeling of your feet if they are on the floor.

  • Make sure that you are breathing comfortably and not shallowly

Notice if you feel different in your other activities and interactions with if you stay more present when you’re interacting with a screen.  Do you feel more fully present and visible to yourself?  If so, then you will likely be more visible to others.

Leg crossing...Is it bad for your posture?

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Is crossing your legs bad for your posture?  This is one of the most common questions I am asked by clients.  The simple answer is yes it’s bad, don’t do it.  The more nuanced answer is that people usually do it in a way that makes their posture much worse and gives them little hope of improving.  

There’s also conflicting information out there about the effects it has on your circulation and blood pressure and whether the habit can lead to varicose veins, spider veins, or nerve damage.  There was even a study that showed that crossing legs improved posture by creating more stability in the pelvis.  My nuanced question regarding “stability” in the pelvis is “What kind of stability?  Stability by gripping in the legs and abdomen, making you stiff and breathing shallowly?” 

Simply being straighter or more stable doesn’t necessarily mean that you are exhibiting natural, good posture.  People who succeed in improving their posture learn to change their habits making nuanced adjustments to how they are sitting, standing, and moving.

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In my observation, when people cross their legs they tend to end up doing the following:

  • Tightening the thighs and locking the hip joints

  • Shortening the inner leg muscles encouraging the knees to go in (which can spell trouble and possibly injury when walking and running)

  • Shifting their weight to one side, throwing the pelvis off balance and likely loading the discs of the spine more on that side

  • Either holding the upper body rigidly so that they can hardly breathe or collapsing down into a slump, which also impinges breathing

  • Throwing the head off balance.  The head weighs 10-12lbs, so that weight coming down, just makes everything else more extreme.

Do all of these things have to happen when you cross your legs?  No.  Will they likely?  Yes.  Can you change them?  Yes, but it’s generally harder to start effectively changing your posture in a cross-legged position.  You can fast-track your success by just not crossing your legs and putting your feet on the floor with your knees a little bit apart pointing over your toes (not falling in).  If this feels difficult or your feel restless (aka you can’t stand it) your legs may be quite tense. 

You can start by giving yourself a reasonable goal of sitting without your legs crossed for 5 minutes and keep practicing for longer and longer periods of time.  Think of your feet felting toward the floor and your knees aiming forward, away from your hip joints.  This is a fancy way of saying “relax, but stay balanced”.  Alexander Technique lessons help people to have a direct experience of feeling relaxed and balanced.

Now let’s move onto why.  Why do people cross their legs? Here are some reasons I’ve come across:

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  1. Fatigue (I’m guilty of this):  To stay upright crossing legs creates extra effort to hold you up.

  2. Lack of postural support (what some might call core strength):  Crossing the legs helps stabilize to make up for poor posture and just becomes a vicious cycle.  I’ll also note that developing core strength has a lot to do with what you do in an Alexander Technique lesson.  It requires coordinating your body better (aka improving your posture), not doing lots of sit-ups…though you’ll do sit ups more effectively if you improve your posture.

  3. Cultural expectations and "aesthetics":  Sometime my women tell me that they were taught that keeping the legs together or crossed is proper and feminine.  Is back pain proper and feminine?  I encourage women to take up their own space.  It projects presence and confidence and improves posture (ie. is better for your back).

  4. Lack of confidence:  Some people cross their legs to feel more secure and in effect make themselves smaller, exhibiting less effective body language.

  5. Wardrobe:  There is some cultural expectation in here, but I think it’s safe to say that most people wearing a skirt or dress aren’t interested in flashing the folks sitting across from them on the train or at a meeting.

  6. Conversational angle:  I’m being quite literal here.  If you’re talking to a friend on a bench, it might seem quite natural to cross your leg and turn to them.  

Do you relate to any of these reasons?  Can you think of others?

So, we can make the choice to cross our legs, but here are some alternatives for crossing your legs at the knee (the main culprit) that are less likely to throw you off balance.  And the trick is to make it a choice, not a habit and not to do it unconsciously all day.

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  • Cross your ankles.  Just keep one foot on the floor for support.

  • Place one ankle on the opposite knee with the knee that’s up pointing to the side.  It’s a more open position and makes it easier to stay balanced side to side.

  • Switch it up.  Vary how you cross your legs.

    If you do want to make a choice to cross your legs as described above or even at the knee, do it like this (or come for some Alexander Technique lessons to get some expert guidance)

    • Don’t pull to one side.  Stay evenly balanced on both sits bones. 

    • Be conscious of the one foot that is on the floor and make sure you’re really letting it connect to the floor.

    • Aim the flat part of the top of your head up to the ceiling without straining.  Try to stay relaxed upright.

    To summarized here, the main points to remember so you can start changing your leg-crossing habit and improving your posture now are:

    1. Cross your legs less or not at all - place your feet on the floor.

    2. When you catch yourself crossing your legs, consider why you might be doing so.  This may help you notice when you’re doing it again and understand the habit better.

    3. When you must cross your legs, vary how you do it and do it in as balanced a way as possible.

    4. Don't cross your legs all day.  Pick your moments, ie 20 minutes at a cocktail party...not for 8 hours at work.  Even if you cross your legs for cultural or aesthetic purposes, your legs may not even be visible under your desk!

    How bad something is for your posture depends not just on what it is, but how you do it, and how long you do it for.  Practice keeping both feet on the floor more often and make leg-crossing a choice not a habit.

Don't Stand At Attention...Instead Pay Attention

Alm'as Posture Medal from P.S. 131 in Queens, 1949

Alm'as Posture Medal from P.S. 131 in Queens, 1949

My client, Alma, told me a great story about how she won a posture medal in elementary school in 1949 at P.S. 131 in Queens, New York.  She illustrates through her description of the posture test that she had to do in class that using a lot of effort to stiffen, straighten, and hold yourself up doesn’t improve your posture and may create more problems (though I do advocate for dividing loads evenly when you’re carrying things!)

Here's Alma:

I got the medal because I didn’t think anyone else wanted it.  I actively campaigned for it. I told all of my teachers that I hoped to get it.  I also divided my books in to equal loads on each arm whenever we walked through the hall between classes.  In hygiene class, we were old to do that to improve our posture.  In that class we had to stand with our backs against the wall while the hygiene teacher tried to slide her hand in between the small of our back and the wall.  This was supposed to cause us to suck our tummies in, but what it did, in my case anyhow, was to cause me to round my shoulders and stick my pelvis forward, an unfortunate physical habit that I’ve worked very hard to reverse.

It’s very common to think that you have to hold yourself in a certain way in order sit and stand up straighter involving pulling your shoulders back, lifting your chin, or sucking your belly in.  Do these things now as an experiment.  Do you feel relaxed or comfortable?  Can you breath easily?  Probably not.  If you’re stiff and you can’t breath easily, you’re posture is not good.  In fact, you may be causing more problems than if you did nothing to fix it at all.  Instead of adding more stress and tension to the problem, it's better to pay attention and deal with what’s causing the problem in the first place.  

This starts with simply noticing where your attention is and what your body does in turn.

Where is your attention now?  Odds are it’s probably on a screen.  Are you dropping down toward the screen?  Are you straining your neck to look at the screen?  If so, stop doing those things.  They are completely unnecessary for you to do in order to see your screen.  If you’re holding your phone, you may want to raise it up a bit (Not really high.  Just bring it a closer to your face without lifting your shoulder.)  Instead of dropping your head down or craning your neck, just gently nod your chin toward your chest (gently nod, don’t pull your chin in or over-straighten your neck).  

That wasn’t too hard right?  Trouble is, that screen likes to pull your attention toward it, so you might be back to the old thing in 2 minutes.

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I’m writing this on a train and I am leaning all the way back in the seat as I type on my laptop.  I feel the seat on my back…an extra reminder not to pull forward as I type.  I’m relaxing my back and shoulders on the seat and just letting my fingers do the work of typing.  Do you ever tighten your shoulders as you type?  Try sitting all the way back in your chair, relaxing, breathing, and not pulling your shoulders forward.  Also, keep your feet on the floor as much as possible.

Improving your posture is a lot about noticing your habits and then not doing them.  Notice where your attention is drawing you and where your body goes when it’s on autopilot.   

Yes, you might have to remind yourself over and over for awhile to get the new habits to stick.  Just like it takes time and practice to learn a musical instrument, it takes time and practice to change postural habits. 

Now let’s get a little more subtle…we’ve looked at some things that you can start to change about your posture when using your computer and phone, but let’s look at what you can do more generally.  Here it goes…Scratch the top of your head. (The center of the flat part on top, not the back of your head.  Look in the mirror from the side if you’re not sure).  Now take your hand away and notice the top of your head.  The sensation of having just scratched there should help you.  Bring your attention up to the top of your head often.  Just your attention.  Don’t stiffen, hold your breath, or tighten your jaw.  Just be aware of where your top most point is and be aware of it often.  

Often after I explain this to people (about the top of the head), they ask me what they should be doing on their own to work on their posture…and I say that what I just showed them about the top of the head is what they should start with.  People are often skeptical.  They think they should do more.  There must be a way to hold and tuck yourself, but holding and tucking won’t improve your posture.  Moving your attention up will help keep your from slumping down.

Instead of trying to force yourself into an unnatural upright position, change the habits that are pulling you down and making you tense.  Do more thinking and less pulling and tucking.  Your mind tells your body where to go, so find out where you attention is going and use your attention to tell your body where to go.

From Hopeless Teenager to Posture Coach

Me slouching at age 9

Me slouching at age 9

That's me on my first day at New York University, age 18.  Hips and shoulders visibly out of alignment from scoliosis

That's me on my first day at New York University, age 18.  Hips and shoulders visibly out of alignment from scoliosis

People tend to assume that I've always had good posture and that it's just easy for me.  That couldn't be further from the truth.  At age 9, I was diagnosed with scoliosis.  Scoliosis is when the spine curves to the side.  The spine has normal curves that go front to back and act as natural shock absorbers. but a lateral (sideways curve) creates an imbalance.  Severe scoliosis can lead to more serious issues or more extreme treatment, such as surgery.

Following a growth spurt at age 13 that caused my scoliosis to worsen, I began wearing a back brace until I stopped growing to help prevent further curvature.  I didn't finish growing until I was 17, so I spent 5 years wearing a hard, plastic brace that fit tightly around my torso and made it hard to breath and eat.  The brace also prevented torso from naturally supporting itself...what we might call core support, causing a lot of extra work to go on in other places, such as my neck and shoulders...not to mention that the brace was extremely uncomfortable.  Te brace may have prevented my scoliosis from worsening, but it wrought havoc on my posture.


In 1997 at age 18, I began my undergraduate degree in theatre at New York University.  I was thrilled to be there, but I quickly learned that my body was, well, dumb from the poor postural habits I'd developed.   It had a mind of it's own and didn't seem to do what I wanted it to do.  I got all sorts of helpful instructions in acting classes and voice classes and I really had no idea how to put them into practice.  Trying harder lead to nothing more than feeling embarrassed and frustrated.  I even felt uncomfortable socially and lacked confidence because I knew that my classmates knew that I just wasn't "getting" what I was supposed to be learning.  I was very discourage and assumed that I simply wasn't very talented.

In addition to the learning and social difficulties I was experiencing from feeling "dumb" in my body, I was pretty much uncomfortable all the time.  I felt restless and it was hard to sit or stand still for more than about a minute.  I really had no idea what was wrong or what I could do.  One day, my voice teacher suggested that I push my shoulders down (my shoulders were up to my ears).  I tried it and it was so painful that I was in tears.  This wasn't the solution.  But what was?

Me this past year, age 38 and standing tall, offering a corporate workshop

Me this past year, age 38 and standing tall, offering a corporate workshop

In my third year at NYU, the students in my drama program had a required class in something I'd never heard of called The Alexander Technique.  Walking into the class, I really had no idea what I was going to be doing.  Was it a stretching or movement class?  Would we be doing script analysis?  Was Alexander a playwright?

The class ended up being none of these things.  It was about postural habits and it was life-changing for me.  When the teacher worked with me, I could actually start to feel what my body was doing.  Before the class, I had a vague sense of not feeling well, feeling tired, stressed, stiff or restless all the time, and generally just not together.  The amount of change that I got from just the first few classes was so significant that I started taking weekly private lessons.  I started to feel as if a lightbulb, a kinesthetic lightbulb, had been turned on.  I could feel what my habits were and I was learning to organize or coordinate my body in a different way so that everything was working more in unison.  It felt like my body's mind was my mind.  I was driving the ship.

These changes made a huge impact on my ability to focus and learn and quickly make progress in my acting a voice classes.  I could follow instructions much more easily now because I felt in control of my body.  Learning new skills is something I feel more and more confident with.  I enjoy exercise and have taken up running, whereas I used to just get tired and sick if I worked out.  The Alexander Technique helped that constant restless, tired, and stressed feeling go away.  I can sit and stand still and upright and feel very comfortable.
 

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think of posture?  What is your "posture" exactly?  How do you improve it effectively without feeling uncomfortable and stiff?

Here are two definitions of posture from the Merriam Webster Dictionary:

1 - The position or bearing of the body whether characteristic or assumed for a special purpose

2 - a conscious mental or outward behavioral attitude

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The first thing that I noted about these two definitions is that, neither of them describes posture as “standing up straight”.  When I work with people they do learn stand up much straighter, but not by holding themselves up stiffly or in a locked position.  Maintaining one perfect position isn't the key to improving your posture.  Instead, your posture is the way you hold yourself in any position or movement.  It’s how you hold yourself when you, check your phone, walk, eat soup, sit at work, and have a conversation.  It’s not the actual position or movement itself, but how you are holding yourself while doing it.  

Often the way we stand and sit is “characteristic” or habitual.  When things are habitual, our experience of them can get warped...meaning that the way that we feel that we’re standing, sitting, and moving doesn’t always reflect how we are actually doing these things.  Have you ever been surprised or horrified about your posture in a photo or video of yourself having had no idea as to how you were holding yourself when you were in that moment?

Most people see that horrifying photo and then try to change their posture by physically moving in to a new position to try and make themselves appear straighter.  The result is generally stiff, uncomfortable, and unsustainable.  This isn’t good posture.

So what is?

Posture is how we hold ourselves in any position or movement and it’s something we can improve.  That’s part of the story.  The other part is that it’s more holistic than simply a physical stance.  The way we hold ourselves is part of our general behavior and attitude.  It’s physical reflection of how we are feeling and reaction to all sorts of things, examples being stress at work and home, crowded trains, social situations, sitting in one spot and staring a screen for hours…to name a few.

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Another key point is that although your improved posture will likely feel more balanced and easeful, it also may just feel plain strange and wrong until you get used to it.  You also may have to face the situations you find most challenging during your day to make the greatest change in your posture - like rushing to meet a deadline, giving a presentation, spending hours on your computer or phone, or having to interact with someone you find difficult to communicate with.  Learning to be aware of your posture in these situations is key to making lasting changes.

Alexander Technique lessons give you skills to be able to change your posture for the better by becoming more aware of hold your body and to be able to change your postural habits in various situations.  It’s a process that works best with a bit of time a repetition and requires you to practice what you’re learning.  

In my next post, I’ll tell my story and talk about how I went from being in almost constant discomfort, shy, awkward, and struggling in acting school to feeling comfortable in my body, confident, and purposeful.  Stay tuned!  

Changing Postural Habits at Any Age

The Alexander Technique helps people to become more mindful in their bodies so that they can approach activities with skill, confidence, and comfort.  It makes it easier to learn new things, improve on how you go about your day to day activities, and do the things you love to do with less strain and pain.

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Sometimes having confidence that we will be able change habits that seem to be ingrained (like our posture) can be challenging.  Many of my clients in their 20s, 30s, and 40s arrive for their first lesson and ask me if it’s really possible to improve their posture or if they are just too old.

Enter Mary Russell, a client who took a series of lessons with me a couple of years ago.  Within the first few minutes of meeting her, I knew that she would catch on quickly.  She essentially said, “I’m almost 80, I have scoliosis, I’m not in pain and I don’t want to be, and I’m planning on starting a yoga practice”.  She saw her age as a good reason to improve her body awareness and change her postural habits, not a barrier.  She was motivated and it seemed perfectly natural to her that with some work and attention she could change long-ingrained habits.  The combination of her mindset and motivation were very encouraging.    

I recently interviewed Mary about her experience taking Alexander Technique lessons and how she’s been using what she learned since to help with her yoga practice and other aspects of her life.

Lindsay:  How about we start by talking about your yoga practice and why you first took Alexander Technique lessons?

Mary:  I think you have to go back to my age because when I was approaching 80.  I thought, I’ve been doing regular yoga for years.  Yes, I’m fine, but it really hasn’t made me feel that much better except I’m flexible, so what can I do?…and I realized I have to pay more attention to what I’m doing and how I’m doing it.  So I go to the “yellow pages” and these days it’s Google.  I find this teacher in midtown and decided that I would start Alexander lessons because I had done it once before at the 92nd Street Y and it was difficult.  It was extremely difficult…thinking of your body as you were moving and being conscious of it.  I thought I’d try it again, but this time not a group lesson.  Instead I would go individual and that’s how I came upon you and I think I went three months straight, a basic package for 3 months, and it was not easy until I figured out that if I listened to you and paid attention to what I was doing without a terrible amount of effort, my whole body went up and my head actually went up too and I think the added benefit to being in a room with you and having you put your hands on my back…and you saying “Think up”, “Think tall”, and then you would say, “I can feel it, I can feel it in your spine…and that gave me an enormous sense of confidence.

Lindsay:  And you started the yoga after the Alexander lessons, right?

Mary:  I started the yoga after.  And the first day I got into the Iyengar lesson (they had it in levels, so I was in level one, basic)…the instructor went into, “Now, put your mind into where your body is going to go.”  That was a basic premise of Iyengar Yoga…attention, intention, be conscious of what your doing as much as you can because it’s not easy.  The Alexander lessons gave me the mindset for it and it’s not just an artificial mindset, I mean I really got it.  And if you really get it, then you’re not home free, but at least you’re over that hump.

Lindsay:  Can you explain what you mean by “really get it”?

Mary:  Yeah, you’re mind and your body have to mesh like clasped hands, so that when you are standing up, for example, you’re thinking about it.  I mean some of standing up is routine, but you’re training your body, it’s a kinesthetic training, so you’re training your body so that after awhile, your body is doing it and then you’re not thinking about it.  It’s happening.  But before that can happen, you have to have the mindset to want to do it because you know it’s going to work.  You need the motivation…

Lindsay:  And what did you find difficult about it?  You said that it wasn’t easy.

Mary:  I have the attention span of a gnat.  You know, something’s bothering you….makes sounds of a gnat flying around. It’s too easy to go off in the great beyond.  At the same time I was reading some of the Buddhist teachings, so that was fitting into it too, how you really just come back to what you’re doing, you don’t let it distract you and then you really get into mindfulness, but really it’s just about paying attention to what you’re doing rather than what you’re going to be doing next or what you did before.

Lindsay:  So being present.

Mary:  Being present, but you know another thing…I was thinking about this…It has something to do with a greater acceptance of your body.  Too often we grow up, or I grew up either starving my body, making it do something, work 12 hours, don’t get enough sleep.  It was almost like my body was “them” and “me” was trying to make it go along with what I wanted to do and this might be too esoteric, but I don’t think so.

Lindsay:  No

Mary:  The Alexander started on and the Iyengar has pushed me along to a greater acceptance of who I am physically, what my limitations are.  I’m in a yoga class with 20, 30, 40 year-olds…a whole wide range of ages.  I can’t do half of the things that some of them can do, but it doesn’t matter because I’m pushing myself to some extent to do more and usually when you get to be older, say 70 or 80, people are saying “can I help you?”  Can I hold the chair for you?  It also helps you get out of that mindset that people can put you in.

Lindsay:  Would you say that Alexander has helped make this Yoga class more accessible?

Mary:  The Alexander Technique helped me learn my body more and be more neutral about what it can do instead of admonishing all the time.  I think the Alexander Technique was part of a broader approach for me, but the basic premise that I took away from my practice with you was really that the mind came together with the body.  There was a motivation.  I could see and I could feel the difference, plus I walked better.

Lindsay:  Do you feel like when you’re getting instructions in the yoga class that it’s easier to sense that you’re following instructions accurately because of your experience with the Alexander Technique.

Mary:  Absolutely, absolutely.

Lindsay:  And do you feel that it’s easier to do things without too much effort or the wrong type of effort?

Mary:  This is just where I am now.  I’ve been putting in a considerable amount of attention into incorporating more lightness and ease into my yoga practice rather than grunt.  The other thing that I like, Lindsay, is the fact this technique isn't the type of thing where you say...“Do this and it works and you’re home free.”...It’s the process more than anything.  It’s just something you keep working on.

Lindsay:  I think some people find that idea of something being process-oriented disappointing or daunting because they think they’ll “never get it”.

Mary:  I think it’s more about some principles that you take with you and apply.  And you could take some of the concepts of the Alexander Technique and apply it to life.  I’ll never forget when you sent out one picture in one of your blogs.  It was of a woman on a computer, bent over with her neck craned on the phone and now I notice people who do that and then you had a picture of a friend at a conference looking at a phone and it was perfect, perfect position.  It’s really being conscious of your body and putting it at ease and if you’re like this (demonstrates slumping), you’re not at ease.

Lindsay:  And are you aware if you are at ease as you go about your day?  Like let’s say you’re making lunch or walking down the street.

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Mary:  It’s on my mind, but it’s not 100% what I’m thinking about.  When I’m chopping something for dinner, I think that I’m leaning on one hip and I have scoliosis and I’m conscious of that.  In 2014 when I began gardening in Carl Schurz Park, I was a wreck.  And it did not help that my zone was on a hill. So it was not just bending but bending at an angle.  Three years later, a big difference.  I attribute it to my daily practice which incorporates both Alexander and Iyengar techniques.

Lindsay:  So you’re able to have it as a kind of background awareness.

Mary:  It’s a background awareness

Lindsay:  Which is what I hope people get out of it.  I don’t want them to have to think really hard all the time.

Mary:  I think in the beginning, it is hard because it’s a different way of paying attention.  I just think it pays off.  But there’s nothing in life that’s a one-stop, go on a diet and you assume the perfect body type for ever and every.  Something happens…you eat too much, you get pregnant.  Life is still hard, but it makes it easier…

Lindsay:  Keeping your balance…

Mary:  That’s very good cause that’s principally what it helps you do, and if you live long enough, life throws you off balance a lot.

Lindsay:  So it’s not about holding a perfect position all the time.  It’s about being able to bounce back and find your center.

Mary:  And think about it…our little world is always moving…we’re not in a stationary environment.  Things are moving.  What’s the most constant thing in life?…change.

Lindsay:  We’re just finishing up. Anything you’d like to add?

Mary:  I think aerobics and pilates are wonderful for you at certain times of your life, but the whole principle for me as your body moves on is paying attention to what it’s saying to you, respecting it, and being mindful of it.  

Let Gravity Be Your Friend

Hi there, friend!

Hi there, friend!

Happy New Year! 

How about ringing in 2018 by making some positive changes in a very important relationship that you've had for your whole life...you relationship with gravity.

Have you ever thought gravity was to blame for you postural problems?  How about considering that gravity might actually be good for your posture.  Gravity is simply there, challenging us.  When an infant first lifts it's head it begins to figure out how to interface with gravity.  Rolling, crawling walking, bending, dropping things, and pulling things over are all ways that the young learn about gravity.  Children are supervised and educated and homes are child-proofed to make sure that their experiments learning about gravity don't go awry. 

But what about adults?  Many adults and even teens and older children are not interfacing with gravity safely and aren't benefitting from supervision and education!  Most know not to walk to close to the edge of the train platform or that dropping a 20lb weight on their toe will likely involve a trip to the hospital, but one of our biggest dangers in regards to dealing with gravity has nothing to do with anything high or heavy and has much more to do with what you are likely looking at right now as you read this page...your device.  

When you look at your phone, tablet, or computer, where is your body sinking?  Does your head pull back or drop down?  Do your drop or tense your shoulders?  If you're standing, are you sinking into one hip?  Are you aware of the sensation of your feet on the floor and where you feel your weight on your feet?  Are you aware of your body much at all when you're reading or typing on you device?

Gravity isn't really a problem for our posture.  We need it and natural learn to use it well as children and become light, springy, and upright.  Gravity doesn't change.  We do...but poor posture is not inevitable and you don't have to get rid of your phone or quit your job.  It's possible to learn to be more conscious in these everyday activities and to learn how to guide yourself into better posture...and to physically learn what good posture is so you're not holding yourself up straight uncomfortably.

Here's a challenge:  For the next week, simply notice the feeling of your feet on the floor when you're standing and sitting and especially when you pick up your phone.  Don't over-focus on it or try to do anything about (other than placing your feet back on the floor if you've moved them).  Just notice that the ground is there supporting you.

You can also try out my constructive rest audio guide and learn how to increase awareness and use gravity to help let go of everyday tension while lying on your back.

Gravity will be your friend, if you allow it to be!

 

Is that what my posture looks like?!?!

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The first question that I ask a new client is why they've come to see me.  They've come to improve their posture, obviously, but why?  Are they in pain?  Do they want to look and feel more confident?  Move more efficiently in order to improve their workout?  Many people take Alexander Technique lessons with me for these reasons, but there's another very common one...their mom, husband, girlfriend, brother, best friend, boss, director, soon-to-be in laws, or the person they went on a date with last Friday night told them that their posture is terrible.  Worst part is that they are hardly aware of their terrible posture until it's become beyond terrible or they see themselves in a mirror, window, or photo, which sends them into an embarrassed state of shock.

Folks who fall into this category usually arrive for their lesson panicked.  They think they are a hopeless case that can't be fixed.  First, I usually end up assuring them that their "terrible" posture isn't quite as terrible as they think it is.  Then they want to know what they have to do to fix it.  I then shift the conversation a bit to the topic of awareness.  The biggest problem with this person's posture is that they are unaware of it and most people who come in for any of the above reasons are in some significant way unaware of their body position.

So, why are so many people so unaware of how they are holding their bodies???

The answer is proprioception, our 6th sense.  I'm not talking about psychic abilities, but rather our ability to sense body positioning.  Proprioception is actually it's own sense and has to do with nerves in your joints telling your brain where you are in space.  If you put your hand behind you, can you still sense where it is?  Can you touch your nose with your eyes closed?  (If you do it before the glass of eggnog.) That's your proprioception at work and it mostly works pretty well for most people, even if your posture isn't great, but we tend to adapt to our habits and so does our brain...so your compressed down, squeezed in positioning may actually feel normal or straight even when it's not. 

Here's an example...

When most people come in for a first lesson and they show me what they think is standing up straight, they are actually leaning back.  When I help them align themselves so that they are actually more straight and centered, they feel like they are leaning forward...like they're on a ski slope...and they look at me, helpless again, swearing that they will never be able to maintain this more natural way of standing.  After a few lessons, they start to realize that they can and that what felt new and weird now feels more normal and the old "bad" posture is harder to go back to because it doesn't feel right anymore.

I used to dread seeing myself on video because how I looked seemed so foreign compared to how I felt I looked from the inside.  The Alexander Technique helped me make my proprioception more accurate.  How I feel like I'm standing and moving is more often what I'm actually doing.  I'm not shocked and I don't feel like I want to hide when I see myself on video or take a selfie.

Posture and Awareness - Sensing Space

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An effective and fun way to work on your posture is to begin to notice how it is influenced by the space around you.  One of my clients who commutes daily to New York City through Grand Central Station, has learned to use her sense of this vast space to her advantage.  Improving posture could be described as more fully taking up all of your own space, so it can be interesting and useful to notice how we relate to external environments, what helps us feel expanded, compressed, contained, heavy, light, and so on.  Walking through the station helps her to feel expanded, especially in an upward direction.  She imagines the top of her head aiming toward the ceiling 125 feet (84m) above as she passes through the main concourse., which lends itself especially well to this experiment.  

Now let's change scenes and enter a different sort of space that she frequently inhabits...a corporate environment.  One day she arrived at her lesson after a day of work, which she had finished up in her cubicle on a phone call.  As her call came to a close, preparations for an office relocation were beginning to unfold (literally around her).  As she sat in her cubicle, the panels of the other workstations were coming down and her cube gradually became an enclosed little island in a vast office space...almost like working in a little pod in the middle of an empty main concourse at Grand Central.

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Cubicles divide up large, open office spaces to cut down on distraction, to help us focus, and offer some privacy while working.  Add in a screen, a phone, and a deadline though and you might become so focused that you literally forget where you are.  When you forget your body, you are probably compromising your posture and creating a lot of tension and strain by jutting your chin toward the screen, slumping, pulling your shoulders forward, lifting your chest, or tensing your legs and feet.  I'm not suggesting that you take down your cubicle walls, but you could simply use your awareness and attention to bring some of your focus out into the broader space above you, behind you and out to your sides.  Listen to the sounds around you to help bring your focus out.  Get creative with it and think about how the room would feel if the cubicle walls were removed.  Imagine you're in your cubicle in the middle of Grand Central Station!  Even if you're in a open-layout workspace, you can use your awareness and focus to help you stay centered and balanced in your body.  Try it out for yourself!