Have you ever spent too long bent over your smartphone or your computer screen, or even a paperback book? Suddenly your neck is stiff and irritable, and you just cannot get that crick out.
Improper posture is a real problem for a majority of the population. Whether your malady is hunched shoulders, a rounded upper back, anteriorly or posteriorly tucked pelvis, or a neck that is permanently facing downwards, everyone has something they can improve upon. Not only does this look bad, but improper posture can lead to musculoskeletal diseases later on in life, such as upper or lower cross syndrome, permanently rounded shoulders, and underdeveloped muscles.
A subtle yet effective way of improving your posture and alleviating back pain is by using the Alexander Technique.
What Is the Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique has gained a loyal following as a natural way to improve your posture, manage lower back pain, and reduce stress. Developed by Frederick Matthias Alexander in 1869, it focuses on practicing mindful sitting, standing, breathing, and even resting to naturally correct misalignment in our body and to let go of tension we may not even be aware we are holding.
Numerous studies back the Alexander Techniques’ efficacy, such as these two randomized studies that show the techniques as less expensive but equally effective, if not more than massage and even yoga in dealing with a full range of issues, such as lower back pain.
The following are 5 popular Alexander Techniques you can practice at home to correct your poor posture and feel more relaxed every day.
Alexander Technique Posture and Stress Release Exercises
Exercises in Alexander Technique are unlike common exercises. Within Alexander Technique, you are not focusing on increasing your heart rate, building muscle, or burning fat. Instead, you are internally aware of releasing tension from your musculature. Alexander Technique also focuses on some key movements that people do in their everyday lives — such as sitting down and standing up — but forces the practitioner to become painfully aware of his breath, movement, and posture.
Let’s go through five key exercises that will help to improve your posture:
1. Standing Up
In Alexander Technique, standing up begins with sitting down because the mere thought of standing up tends to produce preparatory anxiety and tension in the body.
First, start by releasing tension in your neck — your head will roll forward, since tension keeps our head up — and then relaxing your spine down into the chair. Feel your body relax into the chair.
Next, to stand:
- Slide your feet closer to your body
- Hinge forward using your hip joints, or the area where the top of your thigh bone attaches into your hip
- Gently put pressure into your entire foot and push off of the floor
- Stand slowly, without any added tension in the spine or neck
Repeat this exercise every single day for at least a year and watch your spine relax more every day.
2. Sitting Down
Sitting down starts with standing. Begin with your knees soft — if they are locked, release the tension from your kneecaps by bending them slightly.
Next, to sit:
- Send your hips backwards and your knees forward
- Gently lower yourself down into a chair
- Do not engage your lower back or your neck
- If you find that they are stiff, stand back up and try again.
For an example video, hosted by Brett Hershey, on the proper techniques for both sitting and standing with Alexander Technique, view the video here:
3. Constructively Resting
Constructively resting is simply lying down on the floor. A bed or a couch would be too soft: try a hard surface, like a carpeted floor, or a yoga mat, so that you can feel the floor beneath yourself. Your head can be supported on either a pillow, towel, or even some soft books or clothes, and your hands should remain at either your sides or gently on your stomach.
Make sure your body is rid of tension before lying down.
Then, to Constructively Rest:
- Lie on the floor on your back with your eyes either open or closed
- Bend your knees gently, keeping tension out of your joints
- Press your feet flat into the floor
- Rid your entire body of tension by letting it settle into the floor. Your torso will expand as it rests
- Focus on your breath — using the Whispering “Ahh” technique (shown below) is a great tactic
- Lay for 10-15min per day
For an example video on the proper techniques of laying down using the Alexander Technique, view the video here:
4. Fingertips Rule
People hold a lot of tension in their hands, especially when they type. The Fingertips Rule teaches you to release tension from your fingertips during the workday.
The Fingertips Rule:
- Start with your hands by your side while either sitting or standing
- Lift your hand by imagining lifting your fingertips only
- Often times we lift with our entire muscles in the back, chest, and shoulder instead of just the joints
- Imagine that you are lifting from the bones, not the musculature
5. Whispered “Ahh”
Whispering “ahh” helps to control your exhale. Against popular belief, your exhale should be longer than your inhale by at least two seconds. In addition, whispering “ahh” helps to reduce daily stress, relax the mind, and calm the body. However, be mindful that the Whispered “Ahh” is a vocal exercise, not a breathing exercise: make sure that your voice is low, even, and calm.
You can use this technique whenever you wish to calm yourself, reduce stress, or have a better night sleep.
To Whisper “Ahh”:
- There is no definite starting point
- When you inhale, gently keep your lips together but your teeth apart
- When you exhale, let your jaw comfortably and naturally open
- There should be no tension in your jaw or neck, and your shoulders should remain down
For an example video, hosted by Ron Murdock, on the proper techniques surrounding the Whispered “Ahh” in the Alexander Technique, view the video here:
If you find that your body hold a lot of excessive tension per day, or that your posture is failing, the Alexander Technique is absolutely worth exploring more. Using Alexander Technique for as little as twenty minutes per day is a great tactic to increase your internal awareness, relax your musculature, and invite greater airflow to your muscles. Combined with certain sitting techniques, and this can greatly help alleviate tension and pain from your back.
If you’re serious about learning more about the Alexander Technique and how to use it to improve your posture and release tension, a great book I recommend is Carolyn Nicholls’ “A new guide to the Alexander Technique“. It features over 100 full color photographs and diagrams to demonstrate how to actually perform the techniques properly for better health.