Heather Stegmaier, M.AmSAT

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Tuesday
Aug272013

The Posture Myth

Posture is a weighty word. For some, it conjures an image of sitting up straight with stiffness; shoulders back and head up. For others, posture is an arrogant stance, a commanding posture demanding attention; chest out and head down. 

Posture can also be an elusive existence, something most people wish to acquire but don’t feel they have. For example, I often hear people say things like, “I should have better posture, but…” or “My mother/trainer/spouse says I need to improve my posture, but…” or “My posture is so bad! But…” What usually ends these sentences is: “but I don’t know how to have better posture.” 

The myth about posture is that you must work harder on attaining “good posture” by using more effort in order to fix "bad posture". Let’s put an end to this concept that we have to have better posture! This mindset leads to a never ending cycle of pulling down and slumping which then leads to pulling up, stiffness and holding. By doing that you are layering effort upon effort, which will eventually lead to exhaustion and more slumping. 

The truth about posture is that it is not something you need to acquire—you already have good posture. You were born with it. Do you ever hear people telling healthy two year olds that they need to sit up and have better posture? No! Because toddlers already have beautiful posture. Their head balances perfectly on their neck and their torsos are free and available to all movement. I will call this graceful, natural uprightness poise

As you age, you may acquire habits that get in the way of this natural, beautiful, and organized poise. For example, exhaustion leads to slumping or slouching. Fear and anxiety lead to pulling the shoulders in and down, and the head back while compressing the neck. This downward pull really interferes with your natural state of upright organization. Based on the posture myth, you must “pull up” to remedy this downward pull. 

So the question becomes, is posture really about sitting up straight or not pulling down

The Alexander Technique offers a solution to this posture predicament by giving you tools to stop pulling down on your head, neck, and torso in order to regain your natural poise. 

These tools include:

  • Bringing awareness to yourself and learning about how you move
  • New ways of thinking so that you may stop the habit of pulling down and “turn off” the muscles that are overworking
  • Consciously thinking about your body in space so that you may “turn on” the muscles that are needed to keep you poised and beautifully upright—with ease. 
  • Resting your tired body in a conscious and gentle way

The Alexander Technique offers a better alternative: reclaim your natural poised state by learning how to not interfere with your body’s natural organization. 

I’d love to hear from you: What is your relationship to the word “Posture”? What struggles do you face every day when it comes to being upright? Please leave a comment below.

Friday
Aug092013

No Pain, No Gain: Re-Thinking Daily Activities

As you go about your day, you accomplish millions of physical activities such as standing, sitting, driving a car, picking stuff up, putting stuff down, walking….the list goes on and on.

Do you ever give thought to how you accomplish these activities? Probably not, you know how to do these things easily and can do them in your sleep. They’re ingrained habits. Why would you have to think about it?

The reason is that habitual movement—or moving on auto-pilot— could be contributing to any chronic pain and fatigue that you experience. The way you move affects your organism on a profound level. Thinking about how you do an activity is important and can help you experience less strain and pain throughout the day.

Try this out:

  1. Place an object on the floor. From standing, go ahead and pick it up. (Some of you may even be thinking that picking something up from the floor is no easy task, that’s a long way down! If so, put the item on a chair.)
  2. Try picking this item up a few times, and see how you go about it. Do you experience any strain? Did you contort your body in any-which-way to accomplish the task? Maybe you bent at the waist, locking your knees back; or collapsed in the torso to get lower.

If you experienced strain or imbalance, now multiply that by how often you do these simple tasks all day. That’s a lot of strain and pain just to get the job done!

As you can see, the act of accomplishing a task may happen at the expense of your physical well-being.

We call this End-Gaining in the Alexander Technique. F.M. Alexander wrote that by carrying out an activity habitually, “irrespective of any harmful effects due to misuse of the self during the process,” we are overriding the thinking and reasoning self and relying on vague instinct.[i]

The Alexander Technique gives you the tools to change the way you move by inserting conscious thought and awareness into your daily life. As I said before, the way you move affects your organism on a profound level. If you can relearn how to move efficiently and without strain and stress, you can literally change your everyday experience for the better.

What are some ways in which you move that may be causing you physical stress? I’d love here from you in the comments below!

Click here for a fantastic photo gallery of common activities illustrating better ways of moving with before-and-after pics.

 


[i] Alexander, F.M., The Universal Constant in Living (London: Mouritz, 2000), 11.

Friday
Jul262013

Combat Coping with the Alexander Technique

We all find ways to cope with stress throughout the day. What’s your specialty? A few that come to my mind are:

  • Pretend everything is just fine; meanwhile, your blood is boiling and your jaw is clenched.
  • You are the good worker, always at the ready and working hard all day; meanwhile, your back is killing you and it hurts just to be upright.
  • Your coping mechanism has become such a habit that you don’t even know the difference between your real self and “getting through the day.” Meanwhile, you’re exhausted, at your wit’s end, and possibly have some serious health issues knocking at the door (anxiety, high blood pressure, chronic pain, or worse).

So when is it time to say, “Enough!”? When is it time to take control of the situation, rather than the situation having control over you?

I say the time is now. As in, this moment right now. Even for 30 seconds. Now.

But the question immediately becomes, “HOW?”

That’s where the Alexander Technique comes in. The Alexander Technique is a tool for living. Actually, I will rephrase that. The Alexander Technique is your tool for living. What that means is it gives you actual, real life skills to get through the day. Without coping and—eventually—without chronic pain.

The best part is, it’s all within your reach right now. Try this out:

  1. Bring awareness to yourself. Just check in–what’s going on?
  2. You may become aware of all the sensations that are your coping mechanism: tense muscles, clenched jaw, shallow (or non-existent) breathing, chronic pain… If so, recognize and acknowledge these sensations.
  3. Have a conscious thought to NOT REACT to these sensations. Say to yourself, “I am not reacting to these feelings and sensations I am experiencing.”

Now that you’ve spent 30 seconds or so receiving information about yourself, take 30 seconds to output information by giving yourself these directions:

  1. Think about your feet extending to and connecting with the floor.
  2. Think about your head rising up. Imagine the space above your head and the fact that you have all that space to expand into.
  3. You also have space to expand all over. Take a deep breath and just allow yourself to expand in all directions.
  4. Feet down, head up, back lengthening and widening—it’s all there for you.

Notice a difference? How do you feel after one minute of using these techniques to consciously change your experience of living? Share your experience in the comments below.

This is a brief taste of HOW the Alexander Technique can facilitate positive change in your life.

You deserve to live a life pain-free! It’s all there, right within your reach. The Alexander Technique is simply a tool for you to make it happen.

Stay tuned for more tips and techniques using the Alexander Technique! In the meantime, please share your experience on HOW this brief one-minute experiment changed your day in the comments below. I look forward to hearing from you!

Friday
Jun282013

Stop Stress Immediately: Incorporate These Three Steps

Stress and tension are a part of our daily lives. In fact, it has become the norm in our culture these days. When asked the simple question, “How are you?” a common response is often, “I’ve been so busy! Things have been stressful and crazy!” The stress in our lives creates tension in the body, which can lead to chronic pain.

No matter what type of stress you are under, the tension and pain are very real. Tension and pain are physical symptoms of our stressed out mental state.

I will take this one step further to say that stress is also a symptom. Stress is a mental symptom of our external environment.

So how do we stop this vicious cycle?

The solution lies in choice and conscious thought. When faced with a stress-full experience, situation, or environment follow these steps:

  1. Hit the pause button—before you “freak out” take one second to stop and bring awareness to yourself 
  2. Insert conscious thought—now that you’ve wedged a big old pause in-between your stress and freak out, insert some instructions for yourself by thinking (or saying out loud!), “I am not reacting to this situation.”
  3. Follow through—keep pausing, keep thinking, “I am not reacting…” Continue to bring awareness to yourself and your response to a stress-full situation.

By working on your reaction to stress-full things, you have the opportunity to override your physical reaction to stress. This results in less tension and gaining control over yourself and how you handle stress.

This powerful tool is called INHIBITION in the Alexander Technique. It is a very important step in gaining mastery over your mind and body.

This takes practice! Try it when you’re not stressed out by practicing conscious rest. Then, when you are faced with daily stress, you have a new tool to use.

I’d love to hear from you and how—by following these three steps— you were able to override your stress reaction. Share your experience below in the comments below.

Friday
Jun142013

My Story | Beyond Pain Relief: Discovering a Unique and Special Practice

I discovered the Alexander Technique as a music student in 1997.  I distinctly remember my first experience with the Alexander Technique: I felt as though all the tension in my body was melting away!

A few years later, as a graduate student at the Hartt School of Music, I sought out the Alexander Technique due to severe pain I was experiencing while playing my flute for many hours a day. Every time I played my flute, I would experience pain in my shoulders and neck and numbness throughout my hands and arms.  I would have to stop practicing early due to the numbness. A fellow flutist told me about an Alexander teacher in town and I began taking lessons. 

The Alexander Technique teacher taught me that the numbness in my hands was not isolated to the hands—it was linked to the pain I was experiencing in my neck and shoulders.  I learned to think of my mind and body as one organism—not separate parts—and that the way I use myself can affect my entire being.  The technique made so much sense to me and I was amazed at how much I learned in every lesson.

I knew that I had found a unique and special practice and that I had to make the Alexander Technique a part of my life for the rest of my life. I continued taking lessons for 5 years before committing to a teacher training course in 2006.