Improve Your Posture During Rush Hour - Alexander Technique on the Train


Did you find yourself, tired and sinking down or tense and impatient while waiting for your train?  Want to make the most of your subway ride?  Improve your posture and breathing and feel more relaxed as you ride. 

You burst onto a morning rush-hour train and snagged the last seat just before the other person rushing toward it.  Whether you're feeling proud of yourself or slightly ashamed (yet relieved to have a chance to snooze) here's an alternative to snoozing or playing Candy Crush.  Do a bit of seated constructive rest.

 Aside from becoming more mindful and proactive about how you use your body throughout your day, this is one daily practice that you take time out for and it's is considered a staple of making progress in improving your posture with The Alexander Technique.  It is usually done in the semi-supine position, lying on the floor with the knees bent and the feet flat.  Turn this position 90 degrees and you have something close to sitting.  It's not a replacement for the lying down version, but you can also use your time on the subway to do a modified version that might bring you into a meeting, interview, rehearsal, whatever is on the other end of your ride, in a more relaxed and energized state (not to mention appearing more upright, present, confident, and alert to the people you interact with).  

-Start by sitting all the way back in your seat

-Notice the feeling of the back of the seat on your back, the bottom of the seat on your bottom, and your feet on the floor.  

-Bring your attention to the top of your head (scratch it lightly if you aren't sure your attention is there, then take your hand away and notice where you feel the sensation of having scratched your head).  Imagine the top of your head aiming up toward the ceiling.  Just imagine this.  It may seem like you are not doing anything and you might be tempted to lift your chin or press your chin toward your chest or tighten your jaw.  Instead, just allow your head and neck to stay still and neutral and imagine your head aiming up.

-Bring your attention back to your points of contact with the seat and the floor and if you've pulled away from them at all, gently allow yourself to make more contact again.

-Use the contact with the back of the seat as a stimulus for your back to widen.  Remember that your back ribs should move as well as your front ribs when you breathe.  Don't try to manipulate your breathing, but instead see if you feel more relaxed and get fuller breaths if you allow your back to widen as it contacts the seat.  

-Imagine your legs releasing away from the creases in the fronts of your hip joints out toward your knees.  A helpful image can be thinking of water flowing along the tops of the thighs out to the knees.

-Imagine space between your sides and your inner arms.  Even if you're squeezed in between two people, imagine that there is space there.  

-Notice your hands and feet and whether or not you are tensing them.  Place your hands, palms down, on the tops of your thighs and think (just think) of your fingers relaxing out toward the finger tips and your hands releasing away from your wrists.  Allow your feet to contact the floor more without pushing them down.

-Now go back to the thought of the head releasing up toward the ceiling and start that thought at the very base of your spine and think of aiming the head up along the spine from that point so that the spine supports the head, rather than the head dragging it down.

You can stop here, go through the steps again or mix them up a bit.  Make sure that you aren't gripping anywhere or holding your breath to think the directions laid out here.  Stay alert as you go through it, keeping your eyes open.

And after your ride home, lie on the floor and check out my constructive rest audio guide.

Check in next month on The Posture Police Blotter for some tips for the days when you're slow to grab a seat or there are no seats left to grab.  

10 Reasons for which I am Grateful for Teaching the Alexander Technique

Following up on a blog post from 2 years ago on why I am grateful for the Alexander Technique, here's why I'm grateful for the opportunity to teach it.

Happy Thanksgiving!

1. I meet interesting people - My students have ranged in age from under ten to over eighty, are a pretty even gender split, and have interests and professions that run the gamut from a construction worker on the original World Trade Center, to actors and fine artists, business executives, educators, entrepreneurs and librarians.  They come for various reasons such as improving their posture to alleviate back, neck, and shoulder pain, reduce stress, improve confidence, stand tall on their wedding day, become active again following an injury, to avoid strain during pregnancy, or because of scoliosis.  They all have one thing in common, which is the desire to change in a way that will stick.

2. Recognizing that common problems can have simple solutions - Most adults and even older children and adolescents have developed habits that lead to postural imbalances, leading to pain, discomfort, shallow breathing, and sometimes they feel ungrounded and awkward.  The list of problems that may be tied to poor posture could go on and on.  It takes some practice, but the simple solution of coordinating the body in an integrated way, starting with undoing compression in the head, neck, and back is groundwork for resolving any issue related to poor posture, compression, and strain in the body.

3. Cool (and festive) socks - No special attire necessary when you come for Alexander Technique lessons, but I do ask my students to take off their shoes for the portion of the lesson that involves lying on a table.  It's a rare opportunity to show off your coolest socks that would otherwise be hiding in your shoes all day, invisible to your co-workers.  So break out your snow flakes, jingle bells, and Santa Clauses.  

4. It improves my posture and feels good - Shhhhhh!!!  It's a secret.  Teaching the Alexander Technique means practicing it yourself.  If I've taught a lesson well, my posture should improve and I should feel more relaxed, energized, springing, and present after teaching a lesson.  Teaching a lesson should feel very similar to having a lesson (but you didn't hear it from me!)

5. I'm a better explainer - How do you explain an experience to someone that might seem new and unfamiliar?  During lessons, I'm helping students directly with my hands, so that I can show them how to coordinate their body differently, but I'm also engaging their thinking by talking and my goal is to connect the verbal instructions I'm giving to something that is familiar to them.  I never give the same first lesson or first class, because there's no cookie-cutter way of explaining the same thing to two people or groups of people.

6. I no longer feel like I want to fix everyone's posture on the street, Thanksgiving dinner - This one is for all of my students who have asked me if it drives me crazy to look at peoples' poor posture all day.  Am I not just itching to fix it?  No, I'm not, but I understand the question.  When I first started taking lessons and I suddenly started noticing how most people were holding themselves, it was like putting on glasses for the first time.

7. I don't lift weights, I lift legs - Nothing wrong with lifting weights if you do it without compressing your lower back.  After a full day of lifting legs (not my own, other people's), not only do people say that their legs feel longer and their hip joints freer, but I've saved myself a gym membership.

8. Seeing the same thing in a billion unique ways - What really got me interested in the Alexander Technique from the get-go was that it was about addressing common issues by looking at it from point of view of how we function as vertebrates.  I address how the body functions in a unified way and how poor posture interferes with that functioning.  I'm looking at the same fundamental concepts with all of my students, but each of their lessons may seem very different because each person manifests a rather universal human issue in very different way.

9. Witnessing the discovery - There is usually a moment or many of them during a lesson or between lesson when people who study the Alexander Technique reach some sort of "Ah-ha" that leads them to see that things can be different ... that they don't have to always be in pain sitting at their desk, in discomfort when walking or that they don't have to tense their shoulders and neck every time they speak in a meeting.  It is possible to do the things that we do every day without strain.

10. Guiding the journey to trade in habit for choice - It's our habits that get us into postural trouble and sometimes my students realize what their habits are.  Sometimes they don't.  Regardless, they usually don't know how to change them and through lessons they learn how to.  What they learn becomes a skill that they can take into everything they do.

Texting is a Literal Pain in the Neck: Posture Check-List for Using Your Devices

Meg Meg.jpg

If we thought that we were developing back, neck and shoulder pain sitting at a desk in front of a computer, we now don't even get a rest from our technology-induced postures when we are on the go. The good news is that using a device does not have to be synonymous with strain.

A recent study shows that texting is damaging to the spine.  To help avoid placing “long-term strain on your neck, a New York doctor recommends The Alexander Technique.  Scientifically proven to reduce back pain by 85%, it gives people the know-how to use their smartphones smartly and understand how not to strain.  

As an AmSAT-Certified Alexander Technique instructor, I help people to do everyday things with less strain.  Here are a few tips that you can put to use right now to start being nicer to your neck when you are using your portable devices:

1. Move down, don't drop down - Typing on a smartphone or tablet usually involves holding it far from your eyes and looking down at it. What causes strain is when you collapse down toward the thing that you are looking at. Resist the urge to push your chin forward and sink down into your chest. Instead of collapsing down, move down. Start by looking at your device by first only moving your eyes, then let your head tilt by moving your brow first, not your chin.

2. Lift your device higher - This may seem obvious, but it is commonly ignored. Move your device closer to your face with your hands so that you don't have to move down as far to see it. Make sure that you don't lift your shoulders or pull your shoulder blades together as you lift.

3. Less "work" doesn't mean less strain - Touch screens and the soft keyboards on laptops hardly require any effort to use . . . hardly any effort for the finger that is touching them, that is. The low impact-typing that is required can actually be more of a strain than a relief. The keys on ergonomic keyboards are designed like the old-school keyboards from the 80s and 90s. You actually have to exert some effort to press the keys down and that effort demands that your arms, back, and even your legs be engaged in a very positive way. When softer pressing is required, it begs very little support from the rest of the body.

Now you can start texting your way to better posture!

My Posture Made Me Spill My Coffee On The Subway

I hope that this post will provide you with some comic relief as I recount an embarrassing mishap that befell me last week.  “Befel” me is really the wrong word as I take complete responsibility for what unfolded, or perhaps shared responsibility with the subway conductor who just may have been timing closing the mechanical jaws, sometimes referred to as doors, making an example of me as a reminder to riders not to enter the car after we are asked to “stand clear”.

Backing up a bit...I was in a rush to get into Manhattan from Brooklyn, in a bad mood and hungry.  I approached the subway station carrying a bag containing a sandwich from a local deli and a large coffee with milk in the other hand.  As I neared the stairs, I could hear the ruble of a train.  I scrambled down the stairs and as I shot through the turnstiles I could hear the female recorded voice on one of the newer models of the R train explaining “This is a Manhattan-bound R train”.  I scrambled down another set of stairs as the male recorded voice cheerily warned, “Stand clear of the closing doors please.”  I was in front of the doors on “please”.  At that moment, I could have stood back, but I knew I was pretty much guaranteed an on-time arrival if I boarded that train, so I went for it with a leap.  I don’t know if the conductor saw me and essentially bit me with the doors, or if he/she didn't notice me at all.  It’s a smaller, local station and the conductor car is right by the stairs.  They’ll usually wait if it’s not too busy and crowded if someone is running down toward the platform.

Anyhow, I’m not even sure exactly how this happened but I managed to get in the train as the doors closed, but the jarring slam of the doors popped the lid off of my huge coffee cup and sent the coffee spewing all over the car...a fountain of caffeine, much to the shock of the other passengers.  Luckily it was about 12pm on a weekday and there weren't too many people traveling at that time.  I was in shock.  They were in shock.  My first thought was that they all hated me and were harshly judging me for having leaped onto the train with coffee in my hand and that they were all drenched.  (By the way, I think it’s technically against subway rules to eat/drink on the trains, probably for reasons exactly like this one!)  I just stopped for a minute, realized that by some miracle most of it had landed on the floor, except for a few drips on the slacks and folded hand-truck of a guy who nervously blotted at them for several minutes straight with one very tiny tissue.  I unfroze when someone kindly handed me a pile of napkins.  I began the process of cleaning up the floor and then someone else began helping me.  I managed to mop up most of it with napkins, and then sat down next to the guy whose pants and cart I’d spilled coffee on, surrounded by everyone who had witnessed the scene.  I felt oddly calm and surprisingly unembarrassed. 

I decided to write about this event in my blog because it’s really about posture.  If we think of posture as a state of being, rather than simply body positioning, I might say that it was my posture at that moment that got me into the predicament.  F.M. Alexander said that most people do something that he called “end-gaining”, which simply means, getting ahead of yourself and not being present and in the moment.  In our bodies, the pushing ahead manifests itself as jutting the chin forward or sticking the chest out.  It feels like a sort of forward pushing that creates a downward accordion-like compression throughout the body.  Sometimes it happens for a moment, but we can get stuck there and let it define us.  The Alexander Technique gives us skills so that we can define ourselves and make choices rather than enslave ourselves to our habits and the postures that result and then in turn feed more end-gaining behavior.

I end-gained to get on the train and coffee went all over the place.  I end-gained by assuming that people were angry, but as I became more present, I realized that they were sympathetic and that the situation, though problematic, certainly, was easily resolvable and I calmly enjoyed the rest of my subway ride.

Improving your state of being includes changing how you hold your body and it’s not about being perfect all the time, but rather being able to regain a sense of presence and to come back to neutral in ourselves when things sometimes go awry.

Have you had a similar experience?  If so, share below.

Near . . . Far . . .

Today’s post is a follow up on the last one about the eyes and that the way we use our eyes effects the neck and back.  Whether we are straining to look at a computer screen or simply shifting focus from near to far, there are muscles working to make this possible.  If those muscles are overworking, then tightness in the neck and upper back will likely result.  If you tried out the exercise at the end of the last post, you may be able to feel your neck and upper back responding to your eyes shifting focus from a near to far distance, and vice versa.

If you’ve ever seen any classic Sesame Street, you might be familiar with the segment involving Grover demonstrating the difference between “near” and “far”.  To demonstrate “near”, he runs closer to us.  To demonstrate “far” he runs farther away from us.  If our eyes weren’t able to change focus, we’d probably be doing a lot of that just to see, which might be Grover’s experience, given that he’s a muppet and his eyes seem pretty fixed and locked in one position.

We can learn something from Grover though.  If you are straining to see something with your eyes, then you are probably, for better or for worse, taking your head and neck along for the ride.  Want to avoid straining your eyes, head and neck?  Stop reaching with them and move closer to what you are looking at.  Set up your desk so that you can sit all the way back in your chair and comfortably look at your computer screen without straining forward.  Bring your phone up higher when you text instead of looking lower.  The head and neck like to follow the eyes and if you tend to overwork them, Alexander Technique lessons can help with that, but whether you are taking Alexander lessons or not, you can make looking at things (especially screens) a little easier on yourself by simply bringing what you’re looking at closer to you.

Thank you Grover!

Space . . . The Posture Frontier


Take a moment to think about the various spaces that you spend your day in both indoors and outdoors.  Are they vast?  Confined?  Cluttered?  Open?  Some combination of some or all of these?

The spaces that we frequent have an effect on our well-being and I’m sure quite a bit could be said on this topic from a variety of perspectives.  I’m going to look at it from the perspective of posture, specifically relating to how the eyes are affected, and in turn the rest of the body and the mind.

Living in a large city, I encounter a fair number of relatively confined spaces, or at least spaces that are more confined compared to what I became accustomed to as a child growing up in the suburbs.  Sitting in Prospect Park in Brooklyn looking out on a vast (for New York!) open lawn and then back at my blank screen, thinking about what to write, feeling a little stumped, this topic came to mind as I gazed back across the lawn.  Spending time in a space that is more open than what I’m used to gives me a sense of taking up more space.  One thing that I note in particular is the effect that the expanse before me has on my eyes.  Being able to gaze far ahead feels like an opportunity to give my eyes a rest.  It’s  relaxing and has a softening effect on the muscles in my neck, back and shoulders.  Softening those muscles helps me to decompress and release up to my full height and width and to breathe more fully.  I feel like have more space to think and to think differently, perhaps more creatively.

This experience leads me to recall a vacation that I took about 10 or so years ago.  I was living in Paris at the time and visited some friends in Switzerland.  I was doing a lot of play-writing and had my notebook with me with me, in which I was working on my next project.  Sitting outside and looking out much farther than I had been on a daily basis in the city, I found myself suddenly inspired to complete the basic structure and story-line of the play.  Softening the focus of my eyes helped me to release chronic tension, which helped me to think more clearly.  Chronic holding and compressing in the body is distracting and takes us out of the present moment and may perhaps be a source of what is commonly referred to as “writer’s block”.

You may have heard that it’s helpful to look at a distance far from your screen from time to time throughout the day, if you spend most of your work day at a desk.  Keeping the eyes from fixing on one point at close proximity can help your whole body to expand, improving your posture.  You’ll relax your body, and in turn your mind. 

Try this quick exercise to feel how your eye muscles are connected to your neck and back muscles.  Hold an object, such as a book about six inches from your face.  Focus on it.  Next, quickly move your book and focus on the next closest thing, whether it be a wall, window, building, or trees across a field.  Do it a few times and notice the ripple effect that the adjustment of the focus of the eyes has on your neck, back and your whole body.   Please feel free to share your experience in the comments below.

Surfing 101: How to Mindfully Wipe Out

- Urban Dictionary

- Urban Dictionary

A few weeks ago, I was in the LA area attending an Alexander Technique conference and decided to take a leap a sign up for a surfing lesson.  I say take a leap because I've been doing a bit of obsessing over surfing for the past two years or so.   I'm adding a 3rd line to the Urban Dictionary's definition of kook: 

3.  No practical experience with surfing other than "surfing" (no hands) on crowded subways while reading books about surfing to fuel theoretical obsession with said sport.

The most useful thing about having done a bit of reading was that I had no delusions that it was going to be easy . . . and it wasn't!  Friends who knew I was going for the lesson asked me how the surfing was and my response was. . . Surfing? Wiping out about 30 times in a row  was an educational experience.  I managed to squat for about a second a couple of times, but it was mostly paddle, start to get up, loose my balance, do it again, until the lesson had finished.

Embarking on learning a new skill with such a steep learning curve highlighted two things for me, the first being that my kinesthetic awareness when I'm rushing and not present seems to be next to none despite 15 years of study of The Alexander Technique.  The second point is that taking extra time to process the information and stay present leads to quicker absorption of the new information and in turn, increased progress.  These lessons aren't new to me, but when faced with barreling toward the shore on an unstable foam board and understanding that the goal is to go from lying on my belly to standing before I hit sand, my initial inclination was to panic and focus only getting to my feet, but completely ignoring how I'd get there.  How was I to go through the steps to get up that the instructor had just shown me with so little time in such conditions?  F.M.  Alexander called this type of behavior end-gaining (trying to get to a goal without sticking with the process).  When I rushed in this way, I forgot about what I had learned just a moment ago on the beach about how to stand up and maintain my balance.  I had no idea what my body was doing and was shocked when the instructor told me that I was lifting up my feet and sliding forward on my knees, something she'd never seen anyone do.

Being a student and teacher of the Alexander Technique, I realized what would help the situation.  Give up on the goal and stick with the process.  What lead me to panic was that sunce the board was moving so quickly, I wouldn't have enough time to stand up before I reached the shore.  I stopped trying to stand up and instead focused on the steps that I had learned to lead me to keep my balance as I moved onto my feet.  Slide one knee forward, bring the opposite foot around so that I'd be standing on both feet facing to the side.  Stay on the center part of the board.  Keep both hands on the board the entire time until my feet are planted and I'm in a squat.  Relatively straight forward, but not so easy on a 2-foot-wide floating, slippery surface.  I concentrated on actually stepping through all of  the steps as I'd learned them and my goal was simply to get as far as I got in the sequence by the time I reached the shore.

Many times I ran out of time, but by repeating the actions, I was creating a kinesthetic memory of the sequence for myself, and a few times I managed to get to a squat before loosing my balance or hitting sand.  I didn't get there by committing myself by standing up, but rather by committing myself to follow through on as many steps as I found time for between hearing the instructor shout "stand up" and reaching the beach.

The expression, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again", doesn't necessarily work if you keep trying what your doing in the manner that initially didn't work.  F.M. Alexander said, "When at first you don't succeed, never try again – at least, not in the same way".  Or more applicable to surfing, to reference the late 90s smash single by Chumbawamba . . . instead of  "I get knocked down, but I get up again", how about "I get knocked down . . . and focus on all of the steps, so that I can eventually get up again and again."

Have you had a similar experience learning a new skill?  Share in the comments below!


The Quality of Nothing

Drawing of William Shakespeare running by my daughter, Robin Eloise Mazzanewitter.

Drawing of William Shakespeare running by my daughter, Robin Eloise Mazzanewitter.

F.M. Alexander, founder of the Alexander Technique, loved Shakespeare and made his initial discoveries while working on solving a vocal problem that occurred when he performed public recitations of Shakespearean texts.  There are Shakespeare quotes here and there that highlight quite nicely some aspect of the technique and when I recently saw King Lear at Theatre For a New Audience in Brooklyn, a phrase in the play struck me.  It got me thinking about a common way of talking about the technique, in particular about the idea of "doing nothing", so in this post I will talk about nothing.

The word "nothing" appears throughout King Lear in the contexts of bravery, cunning, despair, and likely others that I'm not thinking of at this moment.  At one point The Earl of Gloucester speaks of the quality of nothing in a conversation with his son, Edmund.   This statement has particular meaning within the scene, which I won't go into here, but will rather discuss what we can glean from the phrase on it's own and how it relates to posture and how we use our minds and bodies.

Alexander Technique teachers often suggest to their students that they do nothing and when students are on the right track, they often report that they feel like they are doing nothing.  Can we really do nothing or is this suggestion more of an encouragement to do less?  Students are told to think rather than do, but will they succeed in changing their postural habits if they think in the same way that they think about a grocery list or mathematical computations?  What is meant by "thinking"?

Gloucester talks about the "quality" of nothing, but can nothing really be a lack of anything if it has a quality?  The way I think about it is that "nothing" in terms of Alexander Technique is relative to whatever we're accustomed to doing.  What might feel like nothing (ie no effort to stand, for example) in lesson #2 may feel like quite a lot of effort in lesson #10, simply because the student is aware of another layer of extra habitual holding or compressing (ie "doing") that they previously weren't aware of.  The thinking that we learn in Alexander Technique lessons replaces the excessive doing, but it's the quality of thinking that's what counts.  It's a tuned-in, conscious, embodied thinking with an intent.  You know where up is, for example, and so you decide to go up to your full height and you have a clear sense of what that means.  You don't have to make it happen, you just allow it to happen.  

Having gotten into a regular exercise routine, I've been thinking about the relationship between exertion, putting more demand on ourselves, and simultaneously heightening this quality of nothing through directional thinking.  I feel stronger, I'm building muscle, and I'm exerting myself, but I feel even more like I'm doing nothing.  Nothing in the sense of less excess effort to hold myself upright and to move.

When we "do nothing", we allow for something quite substantial.  We expand and take up all of our space.  Our backs become elastic, flexible, and strong.  We can use our limbs without hurting our backs.  We're more dense and grounded and at the same time, light and full of breath.  We feel present, alert, and confident and simultaneously quiet and observant.  Through this practice, what at first seems like nothing becomes something quite extraordinary . . .or incredibly ordinary . . . depending on how you look at it.  In any case, certainly natural.

Posture Check-List for Using Your Devices

If we thought that we were developing back, neck and shoulder pain sitting at a desk in front of a computer, we now don't even get a rest from our technology-induced postures when we are on the go. The good news is that using a device does not have to be synonymous with strain.

The Alexander Technique, scientifically proven to reduce back pain by 85%, gives people the know-how to use their smartphones smartly and understand how not to strain.  

As an AmSAT-Certified Alexander Technique instructor, I help people to do everyday things with less strain.  Here are a few tips that you can put to use right now to start being nicer to your neck when you are using your portable devices:


1. Move down, don't drop down

- Typing on a smartphone or tablet usually involves holding it far from your eyes and looking down at it.  What causes strain is when you collapse down toward the thing that you are looking at. 

Resist the urge to push your chin forward and sink down into your chest. 

Instead of collapsing down, move down.  Start by looking at your device by first only moving your eyes, then let your head tilt by moving your brow first, not your chin.  

2. Lift your device higher

- This may seem obvious, but it is commonly ignored.  Move your device closer to your face with your hands so that you don't have to move down as far to see it.  Make sure that you don't lift your shoulders or pull your shoulder blades together as you lift.

3.  Less "work" doesn't mean less strain

- Touch screens and the soft keyboards on laptops hardly require any effort to use . . . hardly any effort for the finger that is touching them, that is.  The low impact-typing that is required can actually be more of a strain than a relief.  The keys on ergonomic keyboards are designed like the old-school keyboards from the 80s and 90s.  You actually have to exert some effort to press the keys down and that effort demands that your arms, back, and even your legs be  engaged in a very positive way.  When softer pressing is required, it begs very little support from the rest of the body.

Now you can start texting your way to better posture!

Preparing for Success: Power Posing and Accessing Your Inner Clown

Have you ever seen the TED talk by Amy Cuddy called "Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are"?  Based on her research, she demonstrates that we can change our behavior from the outside in.  In her experiment, she asks participants to do what are called "power poses" in preparation for a job interview.  (One example of a power pose is standing with the feet apart and hands on hips - a superhero pose.)  The results of the study measured hormone levels of testosterone and cortisol and showed that cortisol (a stress hormone) went down and testosterone went up.  Participants who held these poses felt more relaxed and confident and the interviewers were more interested in hiring them.  Others who were asked to adopt more closed off the positions prior to the interviews showed an increase in cortisol and a decrease in testosterone.  The interviewers were much less interested in hiring this group.  Ms. Cuddy takes a variation on the idea of "fake it 'til you make it" through power posing and rather suggests, "fake it 'til you become it".  Through changing how you hold your body, you can change how you feel and prepare yourself for success.

Alexander Technique lessons help students to change from the inside out, but the technique helps them to "become" it without any faking.  Regardless of body position, people can experience a sense of expansion in themselves.  At first more open positions may facilitate this inner expansion, but just as it is possible to physically expand outward in a folded-in position, it's also possible to contract in while in an open position. 

Regardless of position, we can think about allow for space within ourselves.  A suggestion I often offer is to imagine clementines in your armpits, not that you are holding them there with effort, but that you are allowing for space and expansion and freeing up the inner arms, which often get chronically tight.  Experiment with standing in a superhero pose and see if you can allow for more space in your armpits.  Just think about it.  Imagine the clementines.  There's no need to actually move your arms.

On the topic of confidence, something else that I would add that can help us stay fully present in ourselves and in the environment around us is to judge ourselves less and keep going when we make mistakes.  I took a clowning workshop earlier this year, which I found enlightening.  The art of clowning is based on celebrating and being present with errors and what we might call imperfections.

Before your next job interview, talk, performance, or meeting, experiment with taking a couple of minutes before hand to power pose, but allow for space in yourself in that pose and sense the space around you.  Let the pose open you up and energize you.  Make a decision to embrace your inner clown and go with whatever happens, even if it's not exactly what you have planned, you trip over your words, or drop something.  True confidence is about presence rather than perfection - and don't forget the clementines!

Amy Cuddy's TED Talk:

Running Backwards? April Fool or Better Posture?

As I'm getting myself back into a running routine after shying away from the cold this winter, I happened upon a phenomenon called backwards running.  At first read, I wondered if I was being April Fooled, but further research validated that this is something that people are doing and there has even been a study demonstrating the benefits of backwards running.  The study showed that though running backwards is less efficient and prevents runners from taking advantage of the natural ability of the leg muscles to spring-load, that there is less pavement pounding, and less likelihood of injury.  I have a theory that improved posture is a likely contributor.

I often suggest to my students that they practice walking backwards a few steps and see how it feels different from walking forward.  Clearly the mechanics are different, but something else is at work.  They generally start to notice that they feel lighter and more fully aware of their bodies and the space around them.  Walking backwards is less habitual and we have to rely more on our kinesthetic sense since we can't see directly in front of us.  Our attention becomes more three-dimensional, and we start using our bodies more three dimensionally.  Our posture is determined by how we are reacting to the stimuli around us and when we have to pay attention, it often improves.  One of my regular students has found that his posture, breathing, and general feeling of presence improves greatly when he's playing soccer regularly.  The attention placed outside of himself and all around him, gives his body a signal to expand out into the space, rather then contract into itself.

Based on my research, it seems that "rennurs" (backwards runners) look back as they run backwards, but nonetheless they can't rely on their vision as much as they would when running forward and their heightened kinesthetic awareness in all directions likely helps to bring them into a more natural alignment, resulting in safer running (in terms of strain injury - maybe not in terms of bumping into things!)

Have you experimented with walking or running backwards?  Any "rennurs" out there?  If so, share your experience below.

Also, what other things (that you do all the time) could you do in a different way that might help to bring you out of your habit, out of compressing in on yourself, and expanding out into the word? 



How the Alexander Technique Can Help Your Belly Look Slimmer

I am not about to propose a miracle pill to get rid of belly fat or even a particular exercise to do on a daily basis.  Many people spend most of their day holding in their belly to hide that it sticks out.  Holding in the belly can become so habitual that a lot of folks forget that they are doing it.  Yes, diet and exercise (or lack thereof) certainly contribute to whether or not a person carries around excess weight, but whether or not your belly sticks out can also depend greatly on your posture. 

If you are compressing your body from the top down and from the sides in (what most adults do), this will most likely result in you leaning back when you stand and exaggerating the lumbar curve in your lower back.  What's on the front side of your lumbar curve?  Your belly!  So if the back is going in, then the front must be sticking out. 

The problem with "fixing" this issue by sucking the belly in is that it doesn't solve the problem, it just masks it visually and creates other problems such as shallow breathing as the diaphragm is prevented from descending completely and the lower ribs become rigid.  Your digestion may also be negatively impacted.  Also, holding in the belly may start a chain reaction leading to further compression or too much tension in other areas such as the thighs.

Instead of holding your belly in, how about learning how to stop sticking it out?  When you take Alexander Technique lessons, you learn how to stop compressing down on yourself so that your whole body lengthens and you reach your true full height.  As you stop essentially squishing your whole body, three things happy with the belly:

1)  The belly naturally comes in

2)  Your belly can move in and out, your lower ribcage can expand fully, and your back ribs can expand, resulting in fuller, more relaxed breathing.

3) You'll actually tone your abs more (and your whole body) just doing normal things because you are using your body efficiently and breathing efficiently.  If you continue to use your body in this way when you exercise, then you'll get more tone in the "right" places when you exercise because you won't be holding yourself up with muscles that should be working to move you and for breathing.

When I was taking Alexander lessons about 13 years ago, before I had even trained to become a teacher of it, I remember telling one of my teachers during a lesson that my abs felt tight.  She informed me that they weren't tight and I actually had very little tone in my belly.  She said that my belly was instead compressed.  Now 13 years and two pregnancies later, I have more ab definition than I've ever had, whether I'm working out regularly or not. 

Do you feel tempted to hold your belly in?  Do you ever do habitually without noticing it?  Share your experience in the comments below.


Don't Just Read the Signs. Look Around. (Journeys Part 2 of 2)

Regardless as to whether or not you've traveled using the NYC subway system, you've likely followed signs in your own city's mass transit system or on the road.  These days, you may spend more time listening to your GPS.

This is Part 2 of The Posture Police journey series.  Two weeks ago, I talked about paying attention to the small journey that add up throughout the day.  Now let's take a look at the instructions we follow along our bigger daily journeys and how we might learn something new if we look beyond the signs and driving directions.


I'll tell my story and you can relate it to your own commute.  My "car" is the NYC subway system and when transferring from one train to another or looking for a station exit, I typically follow the signs and arrows in the station until I get where I'm going.  I find that these directions generally do get me where I intend to go.  Something was bugging me though at the Times Square station.


About a year ago, I noticed when I followed the signs to the line that I take from Manhattan to Brooklyn (The N train), I was lead to a long flight of stairs.  I'd start up the stairs and look over to my left and see an escalator.  If I was tired I'd wish I was on the escalator and even if I wasn't, I'd think that I could get where I was going more quickly if I could walk up the moving escalator.  The trouble is that the escalator begins at the level below where the stairs begin.


One day I decided to ignore the signs and instead of walking in the direction of the N train, I looked at the escalator and decided that it must start on the 7 train platform, which was just below me.  I took a short flight of stairs down, and sure enough, there was the bottom of the escalator.  I hopped on and rocketed up to the same place where the stairs would have taken me, but much more quickly.

I found a faster route by ignoring the signs and observing my surroundings.  Ignoring the signs felt strange.  I seemed wrong at first that I should go to the 7 train platform with no intention of boarding the train.  Changing habits often feel strange or wrong.


Maybe if everyone takes this short-cut the 7 platform will become overloaded, going against the intended flow of foot-traffic at the station, so the Metropolitan Transit Authority may be relying on passengers following the signs!

Think about signs and directions that you've followed.  Have they ever been wrong and you ended up finding your way by looking around?  Think about how you move your self around throughout the day.  We're constantly directing ourselves in space.  At the core of things, it's our intention that keeps us upright.  How clear are you about your intention to stay upright?  Might you be pulling yourself down at the same time?  Maybe you are and you don't even know it.  We create our own directional signs within ourselves that we follow unconsciously and without questions.  These are called habits.  Many habits serve us and others don't.

The Alexander Technique has helped me become aware of my habits and determine which ones I want to change or clarify - such as the intention to stay up.

Another sweet little metaphor can be extract from my subway story.  I figured out that I needed to get to the bottom of the escalator in order to ride it up.  We as humans stay upright because we interact with gravity.  In order to stay up, we must connect with that downward force and use it like a spring to rocket us up to the tops of our heads!

Invisible Journeys Revealed ("Journeys" Part 1 of 2)

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What is a journey?  Before reading further, take a moment and think of what comes to mind.  Did you imagine a vacation?  A pilgrimage?  Moving to a new town or city?  Chances are that what you thought of was more epic that what you likely experience in your day-to-day.  Would you call your commute a journey?  Journeys are so often associated with epic travel, that it may sound silly to call your commute a journey.  What about walking across a room?  Picking up a pen?  Sitting in a chair?  Even sillier? 

Let's change perspective for a moment and imagine that every little thing that we do is a journey - a trip from point A to point B.  If we think about posture as a way we carry ourselves around throughout the day and a shape that we make of our bodies based on how we live, act, and react to all of the stimuli around us, those little journeys add up and become of epic importance if we truly want to change our posture for the better.  The first step to change though is to become aware of what you're actually doing.  An Alexander Technique teacher can help you feel that, but then when you're out on your own and using the technique in your daily life, these little journeys start to become more conscious.

When we become habitual about living, much of the space and time that we move through becomes invisible.  We're aware of point A and point B, but the in-between becomes blurry, an invisible journey.  During these invisible journeys, we may be intently focused on getting to point A and what will happen there, hung up on what just happened at point A, or off somewhere else completely (aka spaced out). 

What was your body doing when you drove, took the train, or walked to work today?  Were you compressing down to move forward or furrowing your brow and tightening your neck to think?  Did you notice your surroundings?  Were you on autopilot? 

When you sat down at your computer or lifted your smart phone did you strain to do so?

Part of a typical Alexander Technique lesson involves simply moving in and out of a chair without tightening your neck, compressing your spine, lifting your shoulders, or gripping your thighs.  For new students this experience is often like turning on a light in the corner of a dark room.  The journey from standing to sitting becomes habitually associated with strain, but is at the same time invisible and then suddenly the light goes on and it's visible.  We're present during that moment that previously felt blank.

It's likely that you sit and stand hundreds of times per day and that changing how you do that can positively affect your posture.  Aside from that though, the act simply becoming aware of the space and time existing between point A (in this case, standing) and point B (sitting) can be a huge revelation and open a door to becoming more present and alert in many other life journeys both small and epic.  You may learn that "there is something very exciting about going on a journey", and the small ones may be bigger than you think.

I spent about a half-hour looking for an image to go with this blog post until I turned and looked at Snoopy on my planner that was right next to me the whole time. 

Keep an eye out for Part 2 of "Journeys" in two weeks:  "Journey to the N Train at Times Square".

Core Strength

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"Hey, apple, that's your stem lifting that weight, not your core."

Are you using your core muscles to do core strengthening exercises or are other muscles getting in the way?

Let's rephrase that question.  Are you allowing  your core muscles to work or are other muscles getting in the way? 

Your core muscles are really deep.  From the perspective of the Alexander Technique, we would call them "postural support" muscles.  These are muscles that you don't have a lot of direct control over in terms of using them to mover your self around.  If you're staying upright, they are working.  They could probably work better.

What's getting in the way?

Habits of overusing more exterior muscles, such as the muscles in the back of the neck, the shoulders, the armpits, and inner parts of the upper arms, and the fronts of the thighs prevent the deep core muscles from doing their job.

Those exterior muscles are better-suited for moving you around and feel strained and sore if they are working all the time to hold you up.

Why would you use those other to hold yourself up then?

Because of what we tend to do when . . .

We're sressed

We sit all day using a computer

Stand all day

Slump over a smart phone

And lot's of other stuff that I'm sure you can add to this list

Then when we go to exercise we bring those habits with us and even if you really want to strengthen your core, you may have a lot of trouble not engaging those habits and overusing those other muscles. 

We get used to our habits and it can feel like that's all we know.  That's where Alexander Technique lessons can come in really handy.  There's a teacher guiding you to feel something new.  To experience being in your body, standing, sitting, moving around, and doing the things you like to do in a way that feels different.

You'll learn to sense what you learn in lessons more and more on your own, so that when you want to strengthen your core through exercise, you know how to get out of it's way and let it work and the icing on the cake is that if you are using your body in a more natural way, you'll also strengthen your core just by going about your day.

The Shampoo Bottle that Injured a Man's Back

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David worked out regularly at the gym, appeared toned and fit, and at a glance didn’t seem to have particularly poor posture.  One day David reached down in the shower to pick up a shampoo bottle and herniated a disk in his lower back.  When subjected to chronic compression of the spine, the inter-vertebral discs (the squishy disks that provide the padding and shock absorption between the vertebrae) can bulge.  Herniated disks can be quite painful. 

If David appeared to be in such good shape, how did he injure his back?  David habitually and unconsciously compressed and narrowed his lower back.  As many people do, he overused the muscles in his upper back, neck and shoulders.  Overuse in the neck/upper back/shoulder area usually results in downward compression into the lower back.  Since the habits described were unconsciously being engaged all the time, they would become exaggerated even more when he would lift weights.  To further the problem, he would build muscle in his upper body, but his lower back would remain compressed and unengaged in the activity of lifting, so instead of becoming more elastic and strong during his exercise routine, David’s back would become further compressed.  Also, the muscle weight that he was building in his upper body would intensify the compression in his lower back and in turn intensify the problem in general, even when he wasn’t working out. 

Eventually the downward pressure became so strong that the simple action of lifting a shampoo bottle was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” and David suffered injury. 

He began visiting an osteopath who suggested that he take Alexander Technique lessons.  David has since learned how to undo and avoid compressing his upper back and shoulders back and down and has alleviated pressure on his lower back, which has allowed his lower back to become more elastic and strong.  In turn, his lower back better supports his upper body.  He takes what he has learned into his workout and is more aware of how his is using his whole body when working out, instead of concentrating only on a specific area in which he wants to build muscle.

The key to protecting the lower back when working out is not to try to engage the lower back muscles directly or do lower back exercises, but instead to release upper back, neck, and shoulder tension and compression, which is typically the source of a lower back problem.  People tend to throw off their balance from the top down by creating excess tension and compression that essentially makes them top heavy.  Addressing the lower back directly doesn’t solve the problem.  I just shifts the tension around.  Addressing the source (tension and pressure from above) resolves the problem.  David’s pattern of how he habitually used his body is common and often unconscious. 

Whether you are a walker, runner, golfer, swimmer, or work out at the gym, you can benefit from learning to undo your potentially harmful habitual patterns.  Not only will you avoid injury, but you’ll play/run/work out at your best!

Good Posture Means Wearing Your Own Hat, Not Someone Else's

In some of my recent posts, I've talked about the flip-flopping effect of slouching and then attempting to correct the slouch by pulling the shoulders back and lifting the chest.  Slouching isn't so great, but lifting the chest and pulling the shoulders back is slouching too.  It's slouching backward.  When truly standing up straight, we're neither forward nor backward.  Instead, we're balanced in the middle, comfortable and breathing effortlessly.  Recently, I ventured into to one of my favorite subway stations to try on some hats and further investigate this phenomenon.

Let's take a look at the photos below and make some sense of the title of this blog, "Good Posture Means Wearing Your Own Hat, Not Someone Else's".  

Welcome to the 23rd Street N/R stop in Manhattan, where the walls of the station are decorated with tile-composed hats similar in style to hats worn by various prominent figures (the name of the person printed below each hat).  The hats have been placed on the walls at levels that correspond to the heights of the people who would have worn them.  Here I am trying on hats.  Let's see what I discovered about my posture . . .   


Endeavoring to place my head under this hat belonging to someone shorter than I am, I tipped my head back and down and adopted a slouch.  I'm shortening myself here and clearly will not succeed in inhabiting my full height while wearing this hat.  It's also not very comfortable.  I feel compressed and lack energy.  My breathing feels shallow.


Let's find a higher hat.  How about this one?  It might be a little too high, but maybe I can fit into it if I stand up really straight!  

The problem here is that in my effort to stand up straight, as predicted, I slouch backwards and actually move farther away from the hat.  I'm lifting my chest and pulling my shoulders and head back, which leads me down in the opposite direction from the slouch, but I'm still aimed down, compressing my spine and rib cage.  I feel rigid, uncomfortable, and short of breath.


How about I put on my own hat and stand up at my own height instead of trying to fit into these other hats.  That feels better!  I'm standing much more upright than when I tried on those other two hats.  I feel relaxed, energized, and I'm breathing more fully without extra effort.


I used flip-flop between slouching forward and backward all the time and I wasn't even aware of it.  The Alexander Technique helped me figure out what it feels like to stand up at my full height . . . and wear my own hat!

If you'd like to read another Posture Police Blotter post inspired by NYC subway tile art, check out this one at

Prince Street Station


Will New Sensor Device Help You with Your Posture?

The following article and video about LumoBack appeared in yesterday's Wall Street Journal.  LumoBack is a new, wear-able posture-sensing device. It's promoted as a digital "Mom" reminding you to sit up straight. 

This device will remind you of how long you've been sitting, will count your steps and inform you of your sleep habits and it will tell you about how you are positioning yourself when sitting and standing.  It buzzes when your posture is off and gives you more detailed feedback on the phone app, which include illustrations of correct posture. 

All of this information could be very useful as we spend more and more time sitting and computing.  On the topic of body position, an alert may tell us that we are slouching or leaning to one side or the other and will show us a stick figure sitting up straight on our smart phone screens.  What it won't show us is how to physically sense our body position accurately.  This sense is called proprioception or kinesthesia.  There are proprioceptive nerves in our muscles that tell our brain what our body position is. 

Try this:  put your hand in back of you out of your frame of vision, but not touching any other part of your body.  Do you sense where your hand is?  That's your proprioception at work.

Proprioception is a sense that we rely on it all the time, but through repeated habits of holding ourselves a certain way, we distort this sense and train our brains to think that we're standing up straight when we're actually not. 

Imagine that you have a proprioceptive compass that likely pointed north when you were a small child and as you've become accustomed to poor postural habits, your compass stopped pointing north.  When you receive an instruction to sit up straight from Mom, from a friend, from yourself, or from a sensor device, you body responds to the idea, using a distorted compass as its guide.

The writer of the Wall Street Journal article tried out the Lumoback and reported that the device helps you know how to adjust your sitting or standing position. But it's unrealistic to constantly look at a screen to check your posture so most of the times I felt these vibrating nags, I had to guess how to improve my posture.

It is unrealistic for us to trust our own judgement regarding our body position, unless we've had some training to help us realign the compass that makes these judgements.  If people rely on old habits, they will most likely attempt to imitate the images by stiffening, which may not be any more comfortable or sustainable than slouching.  The writer also says:

I know it's good for me, but I don't necessarily enjoy it, says the writer.

Truly "good" posture should feel relaxed and comfortable.  It should feel "good" and lead to what ever you are doing feeling more enjoyable and sustainable.  If you retrain your body to sense your position accurately, improving your posture will feel like a breath of fresh air, rather than a chore.

Referring to a typical "momism", the writer goes on to say, LumoBack or no LumoBack, your mother will probably still bug you about your posture. So save her the trouble: Keep your shoulders back.

Nearly all of my students explain to me that someone has told them to keep their shoulders back.  Most people have the idea that a military sort of posture of lifting the chest and pinning the shoulders back is the proper and healthy way to sit, stand, and counteract slouching.  To combat the fear of slouching forward, most people actually end up "slouching" backward.  Most peoples' idea of how to straighten up is incorrect and leads to additional problems.

Take a look in the mirror at yourself from the side.  Hold your shoulders back will pin your shoulder blades together and down, causing tension in the upper and lower back, restricting the movement of your back ribs for breathing and also compressing the spine.  When my students stop correcting in this way, they typically report relief of pain or discomfort in their backs, that it's easier to breath, and they feel more relaxed. 

Here's an example of what I'm describing:


Here I am bending a plastic knife.  The first photo mimics what we typically call "slouching" (dropping or pulling forward and down into the chest.)  

The bottom photo mimics pulling the shoulders back.  It looks like the same image, just flipped around with the "slump" in the opposite direction.

Though I think that Lumoback may help people become more aware of their posture and of how much time they spend sitting and walking it doesn't change help people with the kinesthetic confusion that often goes hand-in-hand with years of developing poor postural habits.

The purpose of the Alexander Technique is to re-educate the body to sense itself accurately, to get rid of the kinesthetic confusion and get the sensory compass pointing north.  If used in tandem with Alexander Technique lessons, users of the Lumoback would be able to respond to the alerts from the device using an accurate sensory gauge.  They would no longer have to "guess about how to improve their posture," as the writer of the article said she had to do when using the device. 

Some of my Alexander Technique students say that they find it difficult to remember to remind themselves of what they've learned during their lessons when they are busy, especially when at work.  I may mention this device to students who feel that they need an added reminder.

Have you tried the Lumoback device?  If so, share your experience in the comments below.

The Up Side of Tension


As I was just looking through some photos I took of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge yesterday, I thought I'd write a post in support of my good friend, tension, because I get a lot of support from him/her . . . it.                     

Tension gets a bad rap.  Relaxation = good.  Tension = bad.  Tell that to this bridge!  Suspension bridges maintain their support and structure through tension and balance and so do we.  You may associate tension with stress, when in fact, it's tension that keeps us upright.  You wouldn't be sitting at your desk or standing and holding your smartphone, walking, running, jumping or doing anything at all without tension.  

So, what happens when we get stressed?  We end up tensing muscles that we shouldn't be tensing, muscles that are intended for movement instead of postural support.  These muscles are only supposed to work in short bursts and fatigue quickly.  This chronic tensing of muscles that shouldn't be tense all the time often feels uncomfortable and results in strain and pain.  Because of this misplaced tension, our postural muscles, the muscles that should be holding us up all of the time,lose tone.  Postural muscles work to hold us up without any conscious effort on our part.  If you have the intention to stay standing or sitting, they'll work to hold you up without you having to tighten or move them, but they don't work so well if other muscles are doing the work for them.

Then what's the problem here if it isn't tension?  The problem is balance.  Your muscle tone throughout your body gets out of balance when you react to stress by overusing muscles that shouldn't be working so hard all the time.  If you are stressed and straining at your desk all day, holding your shoulders up or pressing them down, tensing your neck, arms, and your thighs, then you will train your muscles and brain to understand that this state is normal and is how you should hold yourself up.

Alexander Technique lessons help people feel that what they are doing normally isn't necessarily natural and may be the source of discomfort and pain.  If you learn to react to stress differently and not tense your moving muscles all day, then you're postural muscles will tone up and sitting and standing can feel comfortable.  We have our own suspension system and if any area is too slack or too tense,the whole structure becomes distorted and tends to pull down and in on itself.  Return to balance and you'll expand up and out, reducing strain on any particular part.  That's the "up" side of tension. 

Good thing that bridges don't have desk jobs!

Mind or Body? Duck or Human?


Yesterday evening I was humbly enlightened by one of my children.  She and her sister presented me with two similar drawings pictured above.  When speaking of the creatures they had drawn, I described one as featuring a human head and duck body and the other as featuring a duck head and human body.  Upon receiving my description, my daughter replied, "A head

is a part of a body."  I laughed at myself and agreed with her, stating that I disagreed with my initial take on the drawings.

This conversation may come across as a debate in semantics, but I think it's much more than that.  The language we use reflects our thoughts, beliefs, and habitual ways of living. People often talk about being stuck "in their head", which keeps them from feeling present and fully embodied.  We often think of exercising our minds and bodies separately as if they were disconnected parts of us.  A split is created between mind and body that weakens our ability to accurately feel what our bodies are doing and makes us more prone to strain and injury.

It's easy to get the idea that since with your head you think, listen, see, hear, smell, taste, that the rest of you, your "body" just takes you around and gets you places and you exercise it so that it will look good.

There's a lot going on cognitively and in terms of our senses in our heads, but our heads are just as much a part of our bodies as everything below.  The more we live as a whole person, the more present we feel.  We feel more integrated and lively, less likely to strain or injure ourselves when working out, and more likely to be aware of our posture when we're tapping away on our electronic devices.

One of F.M. Alexander's books on the Alexander Technique is titled "The Use of the Self".  "Self" gets around the division unifies mind and body.  When learning the Alexander Technique, people learn to use themselves well.  Sometimes the tune of "using yourself" rings oddly to the ear, which makes sense.  It's not something often said if we think of mind and body as separate.

So here's the big question that you can feel free to answer in the comments below . . . Would you rather have a human head and duck "rest of body" or a duck head and human "rest of body".  :-)