freedom for life

The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Friday, 19 April 2013 07:01

Being Free In Your Tensions

There is a common misconception about Alexander Technique that it is about standing up straight. This is often associated with the common misconception that it is about posture. It is about neither, although posture improves and people do often end up being more upright and therefore straighter. One has to be very careful here in using both upright and straighter. When people try to straighten themselves they often succeed by physically bracing themselves and shortening in stature rather than allowing themselves to lengthen to occupy more of their full height. This is something I sometimes see at parties, if someone asks me what I do for a living and I tell them that I teach the Alexander Technique. To demonstrate their knowledge of the Alexander Technique they shorten, hold their breath and do the very thing that Alexander Technique recommends not doing!

Lengthening is required for people to straighten up. It lessens the ways that they twist themselves out of shape by inhibiting the distortion that comes with pulling down in the use of themselves. The judgement of this, in our felt sense of ourselves, is usually woefully inaccurate. Alexander told a story about teaching a young girl who was badly twisted out of shape. Once he had helped straighten her out by getting her to lengthen, she had the impression that she was now twisted! Another problem is that action and use is spiral not linear in its nature. Linear thinking, which is common leads to puling down and introduces rigidity and distortion into the frame, as well as stiffness in movement interfering with both poise and fluidity of movement.

Poise and lengthening, like straightening, is never a direct aim. It is an outcome of the aim to find a way to be free, so that the breathing is released. From that everything else follows. So it is important not to try and directly lengthen or straighten up, which is what the people above are doing at parties. What is important is to inhibit this and then find the tensions where one is shortening and narrowing and release them so that the work for standing up upright begins to fall where it should on the extensors and deep muscles of the back. That way lengthening starts to occur, as well as straightening up. It may still leave someone twisted - straightening up is not always structurally possible - but it will leave them free, with their breathing released, within their particular and necessary muscular tensions. Being free within your tensions of whatever kind is what Alexander Technique and Conscious Control are all about.

Published in Lessons from the Chair
Friday, 25 January 2013 20:03

Posture – A Radical Change

Old solutions to problems that persist, reappear, rebranded, as wholesome technology. The promise is of effortless relief, with little or no demands on people’s powers, intellectual or physical. Of course, from the Alexander perspective, separating the intellectual from the physical, the mind from the body, is a category mistake that divides what is unified in the psycho-physical. The need is to repare a separation that arose in practice and thought many hundreds of years ago.

The habit of separation, hardened to the point where mind, body and soul became seen as separate substances, not part of a single unified whole, continues to inform solutions that miss and ignore the facts of our corporeality and embodiment. Our ability to act is compromised in being bypassed by misunderstandings that have developed over centuries. 

This can be seen in the return of the fashion for corsetry, this time for men, as well as women. A guinea-pig reporter in today’s Independent finds himself ‘almost breathless and strangely upright’ in a T-shirt that promises ‘Zonal core muscle compression’ that ‘sculptures, shapes and slims the torso,’ according to the maker’s website. The problem with this approach is expressed succinctly and accurately, in the second comment, at the foot of the article – ‘Yeah- that's what your own muscles are meant to do!’

Well said Anne! Corsetry, artificial supports, are rarely helpful, weakening what needs to be strengthened, strengthening what needs to weakened, putting an over reliance on something external rather than using the rather wonderful support and mechanisms that evolved for keeping us upright and breathing. It is the use of that support and those mechanisms that is fundamental to Alexander’s work. To use them requires a consciousness of them that is usually lacking; a consciousness that only develops in practical experience and can be gained quickly and easily in Alexander lessons. Where the emphasis is not on posture as a static holding, but as a dynamic preparedness for action, which is poised, balanced and alert, to the possibilities of a situation. 


This shows itself rather differently to the sculpted form of corsetry; it is free and easy, dynamic and related in its form, aesthetic in the ease of movement, poise and balance. It relies on the muscles deep to the spine to support us, as they evolved to do. It relies not on a direct effort to hold ourselves up, but goes the indirect way, inhibiting where we pull ourselves down, where we pull ourselves out of shape, so that the work falls naturally and easily on to the muscles that evolved to support us, give us shape, grace of movement, lightness on our feet, lightness in our being.


Posture as preparation for action, which is maintained in action, is a radical departure from common perceptions of posture. It is one that is concerned with the ’co-ordination of parts within the whole’, or physiology as Claude Bernard defined it, that respects the integrity of the organism within the frame of action. Where Alexander radicalizes this even further is in taking it from the realms of theory into the realms of practice, making it available to everybody, as a ‘constructive conscious control’, that is practical, simple, and available to all. 

Published in Lessons from the Chair