What is "Good Posture"?
Take the Posture Test!
by Lindsay Newitter, AmSAT-Certified Alexander Technique teacher

The Alexander Technique is often spoken about in connection with posture.  People often pursue  Alexander Technique lessons in order to improve their posture.  So, is the Alexander Technique really a method for improving posture?  Let's find out!
Poor posture is a symptom of an underlying coordination problem involving the total patter of how you use your whole body.
What does that mean???
Let's put that idea aside for a moment and come back to it.  
Now take a moment and answer this question for yourself:  What is good posture?    Do you define good posture as standing or sitting up straight?  Most people do.  I did.
Do the following . . .
For the purpose of the experiment, let's say that good posture is standing up straight.  Now, try the following.  Find a mirror in which you can see yourself from at least the hips to the top of your head.  Turn so that you see yourself in profile and pretend that someone has just asked you to stand up straight!  Now stand up straight.

And now two questions about how you are standing:

1) Are you actually standing up more straight?  If you do what most people do, you arch your lower back and thrust your chest forward.  Take a close look.  If you are doing what I am presuming in order to straighten yourself, you are actually pulling yourself down (back and down that is).  You are exaggerating the lumbar curve (in the lower back) and decreasing your height.  It's slumping, but slumping backwards!

2) How do you feel?  I am guessing that you probably feel uncomfortable.  Perhaps you are holding your breath or your breathing has become more shallow.  If standing up straight is so good for you, why does it feel so terrible?
Now for part two of the experiment . . .RELAX!  Relaxation is good for you too, right?  Just like good posture is good for you?
What happened when you relaxed?  Did you slump forward?  Did you arch your lower back?  Did you poke your chin forward?  And now try to sit up straight again.  Are you again arching in your lower back and stiffening so much that your breathing is constricted?  Most people pull themselves down and collapse in on themselves when they "relax". 

Most people fluctuate back and forth between collapsing down on themselves and stiffing to do what they think is "relaxing" and sitting or "standing up straight".  Neither of these states is natural.  Our bodies naturally support themselves with their postural support muscles (for example the muscles that run along either side of the spine.)  You don't need to do any exercises to make those muscles work.  If you learn to get out of their way, they will support you and you'll put an end to the uncomfortable and perhaps painful flipfloping between holding yourself up and pulling yourself down.

So, what is "good posture"?  Instead of defining "good posture" as standing up straight, let's call it getting out of your own way and allowing yourself to come to your full height.

What does "Getting out of your own way mean?"  What is "your full height?
Many people overuse the muscles in their shoulders and upper back, resulting in a "hunch" forward.  If they stop overusing those muscles, then tone will be redistributed to the back and the legs, which will allow for more release in the shoulders and then more tone in the back and legs.  This give and take over a period of time results in a much more balanced distribution of tone (without doing any dedicated excersizes).  An indirect result of this redistribution of tone will be that the person finds themselves standing up straight without extra effort because the muscles that are well-suited for postural support are doing their job properly.    For most people, coming to their full height will look like standing up straight.  For others, coming to their full height may not equal looking completely straight . . .

Here is in example as to why someone might not stand straight, but still have excellent posture:
I have scoliosis in my lumbar spine.   In the past, I alternated between collapsing into the curve and willfully holding myself up so that I wouldn't look crooked.  I caused myself great discomfort by engaging these habits.  Through practicing the Alexander Technique, I learned how to become aware of and stop what I was doing and to allow my postural support  muscles to do the work of supporting me.  I can now come up to my full height without unnecessary tension and discomfort.  It's unlikely that the lateral curve in my spine will completely straighten out, so my "full height" includes an extra curve in my spine. 

Good Use vs. Good Posture
Alexander Technique teachers, through hands on, kinesthetic re-education, teach people how to become aware of habits that prevent them from standing, sitting, moving, and breathing naturally.  F.M. Alexander, who developed the technique, referred to these habits as the way in which we "use" ourselves.  The way in which we use ourselves affects everything that we do.   

If you improve your use, you will come up more to your full height.  What we call "poor posture" is not a condition.  It is something that we do to ourselves by using ourselves poorly.  People who study the Alexander Technique note improvement in their posture, but not by directly trying to fix it.  If you use yourself well  you'll likely come up to your full height . . . and receive many compliments on your improved posture!
If you understand what I've said and you're trying to apply it on your own and find that you're not making progress, that is very normal.  Most peoples' sense of how they are holding themselves and is not accurate.  What feels right is often what is habitual.  A quick and efficient way of breaking long-held habits (habits so deeply ingrained that you may not be able to feel them) is to have a new experience.  Alexander lessons will give you a new experience, which will tune you into your old habits.  Once you become aware of your old habits, you can start to change them.  How can you change something that you aren't aware of?
And one more thing . . . the "new" experience of improved posture, balance and coordination that people have when studying the Alexander Technique isn't really new.  It's a restoration of your oldest experience.  It's what you were likely born with and embodied as a young child, but had long forgotten! 

This blog examines the subtleties of how we use our bodies and the day-to-day choices that we make that effect how we use our bodies and in turn our posture.0

For more information regarding the Alexander Technique, visit my website or email Lindsay at