Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Time Travel with the Posture Police II - Alexander Technique Trivia

If you are an Alexander Technique history buff or want to be one, you could win a complimentary or discounted Alexander Technique lesson!
Take a trip back in time and answer these three questions!  The FIRST person to answer all three questions correctly will win one complimentary private lesson with me at my studio in the Flatiron District.  The next nine correct answers will all win $20 off of their next lesson.  You may find some answers or clues on my website:  lindsaynewitter.com  

Post your answers in the comments field below or send them to me in an email (lindsay.n@gmail.com).  Please include your email address so that I can contact you. 
(Any discount obtained from this contest is not valid in conjunction with any other discount.)

Question 1

During what year was FM (Frederick Matthias) Alexander born?

Question 2

What problem did FM Alexander encounter that led him on his path of self-discovery?

Question 3

FM Alexander taught some prominent figures of his time.  All of the following people except for one took Alexander Technique lessons with him.  Which one did NOT take lessons with Alexander?

a) George Bernard Shaw
b) Moshe Feldenkrais
c) Aldous Huxley
d) Sigmund Freud
e) John Dewey

The winners will be contacted Tuesday, November 1, 2011. 

At the beginning of the year, I took this blog on a trip back in time to take a look at me from ages 18 months to 18 years.  Check that one out if you haven't:  http://posturepolice.blogspot.com/2011_01_01_archive.html

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Posture Tips for Dummies: Don't stand like this!

Walking along Lexington Avenue on Tuesday evening, I passed by three ladies in cocktail dresses.  I tried to issue these fashionistas a warning, but they were unresponsive.  They were so nonchalant and all "whatever" that I don't even think they realized I was speaking to them.  I was concerned that they would suffer from herniated disks before even reaching their dinner destination or if they did manage to get there, they were asking for trouble down the road.  After several failed attempts at alerting them to their problematic posture, I stepped back and paused for a moment.  Something wasn't quite right.  The had appeared to have mastered the art of blasé so effectively that they hadn't moved for two solid minutes.  Then I noticed the glass in front of them and discovered that I was talking to a trio of dummies.  I guess I sound like the dummy in this situation, but they just looked so real.  I mean EVERYONE stands like this.  It's become completely normal to be totally slumped and like you know, "casual".  See how the mannequins' necks look like they are sagging down, their shoulders and upper backs rounded and stiff, their lower backs arched and their pelvis' thrust forward?  Apparently if you want to look good in these very expensive clothes, you have to slump and hang back.  It has become fashionable and sexy to slump!  And it's not just a physical thing, but an attitude is certainly being conveyed here - passivity, detachment, apathy.  Posture and how we use our bodies is intimately linked to what we think and our attitude.  So what's the big deal?  Aside from the negative social ramifications of people aspiring to detach themselves, there's some very concrete physical danger here.  Slumping down creates compression in the spine and can cause all sorts of trouble such as back pain, sciatica, and herniated disks. 
So why did I mistake these folks for real people?  Because so many real people stand like this!  And not just fashionistas!  Spend hours in front of a computer and it's easy to become slumped and detached from the world beyond your screen.  The slumping becomes so habitual that we forget how to stand upright without straining.  The Alexander Technique helps you to discover what's gone wrong and to allow for change so that you can stand up straight efficiently, without an unnecessary and uncomfortable effort.  Rediscover how to naturally stand, sit, walk, move and do "like whatever" you do.  Time to get up from my computer and take a walk!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thoughts on Nutrion Provide Parallels to How we Use Our Bodies. Nutrition? Will The Posture Police be fined for going off-topic?

Posture Police:  Hello blog readers!  I'd like to share a book that I just finished reading with all of you.  It's a nutrition book and . . .

Posture Police Police:  Let's not get off topic here.  Please abide by the blog code and stick to the topic of posture!

Posture Police:  Well, I maintained excellent posture as I was reading it. 

Posture Police Police:  Does the content of the book relate at all to the theme of this blog or are you using this blog as a soapbox for book that you happen to like?

Posture Police:  It's thematically relevant.  Trust me.

Posture Police Police:  You are risky a hefty fine by going off topic you know.  Does eating vegetables reduce back pain? 

Posture Police:  I don't know about that.  Will you get down off of my shoulder and please let me get to the point?  Thank you!  Sorry for the distraction!  Hi!  Yes, The China Study is a book on nutrition, more specifically on in-depth nutritional research on the effects of a mostly plant-based diet.  It is called the China Study because one of the major studies discussed was a large-scale study in rural China.  You may be wondering why am I bringing this up on a blog about The Alexander Technique that is focused on how we use our bodies and redefining posture.  Are you about to be convinced of the value of adopting a plant-based diet, you ask?  No.  If you want to be convinced of the benefits of that, then read The China Study

The book points out as flaws in research as well as flaws in how people typically think about nutrition.  I think that these are the same sorts of problems that come up in regards to how we view and care for ourselves in regards to injury and pain.  Campbell (the author) points out that nutrition is often studied one nutrient at a time as opposed to studying the effects of whole foods on our health.  In some cases, the nutrient may differ from one food to another (for example animal protein vs. plant protein).  Also, each food contains many combination of nutrients, all of which interact in your body in such subtle and complex ways that studying individual nutrients doesn't tell the whole story.  Studying each reaction to a particular mix of nutrients in anyone's body at a given time based on the combination of foods they've eaten may be impossible to research completely since there are so many potential combinations and outcomes.  The China Study and other studies of it's kind look in a very practical way how diet patterns affect health.  In this case, the bigger picture seems to give more useful information than the fine details.

In the same way, we tend to divide ourselves up into details and look at knee pain as the result of a knee problem, lower back pain as the result of a lower back problem, wrist pain as the result of a wrist problem, breathing trouble as a result of a breathing problem.  These types of issues often arise from wear and tear on the body based on a general coordination problem, a problem with how a person is using their body in every activity that they do.  Using your body in ways that create compression or excess tension results in strain.  People are often told that they have poor posture, but they may not realize that their poor posture is really a problem in their total coordination pattern that results in lower back pain, knee pain, shallow breathing, or any of a variety of strain-related issues.  Focusing only on specific areas of the body often masks a more general postural coordination issue, just like focusing on only specific nutrients in food masks more general trends in diet, such as the types of foods we choose to eat.

Think about the following:  If you thrust your neck forward and pull your head back (this may feel like sticking your chin out), you are pressing your head back and down into your spine.  If you look in a mirror or watch someone else do it, you'll see what I mean.  Now let your head drop down as if you've fallen asleep on a bus.  Your head is heavy, isn't it?  So, if you are pulling your head back and down into your spine, you are pressing the weight of your head (about 10 pounds) down through your back and legs.  This posture creates compression and distortion all the way down to your feet.  So, releasing your neck up instead of tensing it and pulling your head back will relieve a lot of pressure on your back and even as far down as your knees and ankles.  Most people pull their heads back and down into their spines without even knowing it and take this posture with them into any activity they engage in.  When humans were hunter-gatherers, we probably did this when we suspected there was a predator around the corner.  It's a startle-response and most people are stuck in it unknowingly, creating pressure in their backs and legs, yet trying to address the back and leg troubles by exercising or having surgery on those areas.  Why not address the source of the problem and stop tensing your neck?  The Alexander Technique helps people to address strain issues at the source and really solve the root of the problem.  Like Campbell's findings on nutrition in The China Study, looking at the big picture and at how everything works together will give a person more useful information that addressing fine details out of context.

Want to read more?  Check out the abstract and short video about the 2008 large-scale back pain study that was published in the British Medical Journal.  Chronic back pain sufferers who spent 21 days out of the month in pain reduced their days in pain to three after a series of 24 Alexander Technique lessons.  That's an 85% reduction in pain.  Pretty phenomenal, but not surprising.  When strain-related pain is address within the context of how a person uses their body as a whole, during their daily activities the unconscious habits that are causing the pain become evident and the person is empowered with the tools to change them.  Check out the study . . .http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a884.full

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Time Travel with the Posture Police

Back in Time!

Eleven years ago I was an acting student at New York University.  This was before I had become a "Posture Police" officer (my best roll yet!) and was just discovering the Alexander Technique through an introductory course that was part of my program.   I began to become aware of the terrible way I was using and holding my body and I have been on a path of undoing those bad habits ever since.  Over the holidays, I jumped in my Delorian ("time machine" in case you missed "Back to the Future") and took a trip back in time to see what went wrong and try to figure out why.  Check out the photos that I took along the way.  I made sure to disguise myself adequately during my travels so that I would be unrecognizable to my past self and avoid tearing a hole in the space/time continuum! 

First stop, 1980!

Year:  1980
Age:  18-months

Here I am.  A red-shoed toddler crawling up a flight of stairs.  My head leads.  The rest of my body follows.  I bend at the major joints (hips, knees, and ankles).  I'm alert and aware of my surroundings.  Life is a piece of cake.


Year:  1983
Age:  4

Wow, look at that linoleum!  And here's Lindsay sitting on her sit-bones, upright, straight as an arrow. Head easily balanced on top of the spine.  Shoulders relaxed.  Legs free of tension, smiling.  Sitting up straight and feeling comfortable.    

Year:  1986
Age: 7

Smell the fresh air of that school photo backdrop!  Second grade.  My third year of school.  Shoulders pulling down.  Chest and ribcage sinking down.  Neck poking forward.  Head dropped forward compressing down onto spine.

Year:  1988
Age:  9

This is the summer between third and fourth grade.  Yikes!  Shoulders dropped forward even more.  Visible tension in the neck, upper back and shoulders.  Head locked back and down onto the spine.  Face tense.  No looking so happy here.  I recall experiencing chronic anxiety at this time and developing an obsession with avoiding germs. I was having trouble focusing in school and was tested for Attention Deficit Disorder, which it was determined that I had.  Medication was recommended, but my parents decided against it.

Year:  1988
Age:  9

Same summer as the previous photo.  Having a little more fun here!  I think that this is at Universal Studios in LA and I'm pretending to lift a car that is tilted onto two wheels for just such a tourist photo opportunity.  My faux-lifting reveals severe misuse of the body and demonstrates how I tended to actually lift things.  I'm taking all of the weight into my shoulder, stiffening my torso, tensing my opposite arm, and tensing my thighs. 

Year:  1993
Age:  13

Aloha!  That's a little nicer than that school photo background.  Here I am in Honolulu. Look at those palm trees!  The breeze! 
I'm enjoying this lovely weather and scenery while corseted in a plastic back brace (under my clothes) to treat scoliosis.  I had a 25 degree lateral (sideways) curve in my lumbar spine.  If I look like I'm holding in my abs, it is because th brace is holding them in.  It's hard to breathe like this!  Many cases of scoliosis are idiopathic, meaning that there is no know cause. 

Year:  1997
Age:  18
This is the day that I moved into my dorm as a freshman drama student at NYU.  I'm out of the brace at this point.  Look at my right (your left) side.  See how I'm compressing into the lateral (sideways) curve in my lower back.  My right hip and leg are lifted.  My right shoulder is pulled down.  Still a great deal of shoulder and neck tension and a general sense of disunity and awkwardness.  I generally felt uncomfortable and anxious.  My first two years as a drama student were very difficult.  I was unable to change or even recognize my ingrained physical habits.  

In 1999 I discovered the Alexander Technique in a group class in school and soon began taking private lessons.  I finally started to understand and feel what I was doing that was problematic and how to change it.  I began to excel in my classes, feel more at ease in my body, and focus with less strain.  I was finally enjoying the program I had been so eager to enter.  I felt happier and less worried.  My GPA went up.

So why did I start off so well and succumb to misusing my body so severely?  Was it the pressure of school and sitting still in a chair for hours at a young age?  May it also be related to all of the television that I watched?  Could it have to do with being taught to fear?  Fear germs, other people, traffic . . . 

Here is a photo of my youngest child that illustrates excellent use of the body and posture.  Will she maintain this good use?  How can I help her and her older sister to avoid interfering with good use, good posture, and optimal functioning in a world full of stress and danger?

What do you notice about how you use your body?  Why do you think you do so? Look through your childhood photos and see if you can see the way you misuse yourself developing.

Take a look at what I talk about on my website about Children, Learning, Focusing and School: