Saturday, May 15, 2010

Guest Post

Jane  Tomkiewicz  discovered the Alexander Technique during her years performing on the downtown and worldbeat music scene.   Jane trained and certified at the American Center for the Alexander Technique (ACAT).  She has taught privately in  Manhattan since 1990, and has been teacher in residence at  the 92nd St. Y’s Harkness Dance Center since 1992.  She currently also teaches at the Feldenkrais Center of Park Slope and "the Art of Posture" at ACAT. Her teaching is also informed by Iyengar yoga and Buddhist philosophy and meditation.  She has worked with many people - performers and non-performers alike - from a great variety of professions and with a great variety of pain management and workplace efficiency or performance goals.  She served as the Executive Director of the American Center of the Alexander Technique from 1996-2008.  Her website is .  The following article appeared in PS 372's INCLUSIONS Spring newsletter in 1999.
A New Way to Look at Sitting up Straight
By Jane Tomkiewicz
Please sit up straight, dear!

Does your child slump while sitting at the computer, watching TV, doing homework, reading or at the dinner table?  Many parents are concerned about repeatedly having to remind a child to “Sit up straight!”.   Parents may be further discouraged that only moments after the reminder their child often returns to the previous slumping position.  Are children being disobedient?  Are they not being conscientious?  Why is sitting up so hard to do?
Our bodies are designed for movement and sustaining any single position can be challenging or fatiguing.  To meet this challenge growing bodies benefit from a great deal of movement and a great variety of movement patterns usually found in structured practice or sports or “free play”.  
City kids may not have the opportunity to simply run outside and play at will as some of us had in the days of yore.  Add to mix the fact that much of our new “entertainment” includes sedentary activities as computer games and television and you have the potential for a lot of slumping! 
But don’t fear.  Children’s postural habits have not yet set and there are ways parents can help give their children helpful directions about finding and maintaining a comfortable sitting posture.
Try the exercise below on your own before trying ti with your child.
Exploration #1Step #1) Please sit how you would sit if you were completely alone and no one was watching and you were not concerned in the least about sitting up straight. Please don’t be embarrassed if this is a slump – for the  majority of people it is.  Take a moment to tune into your sensory feedback – and notice whatever there is to notice about your position. How does it feel?  What feels good about it?  Is it a relief?  Where is the relief?  This could be called your “comfortable position”, your “collapsed position” or your “not straight” position. 
Step # 2) Now “sit up straight”.   Please try to notice and describe as specifically as possible what it is that you do to change your position. Some examples might be “I push my pelvis forward and then my whole body changes”.  Or “I push my chest forward.”  Or “I lift my chest up”.  Or “I lift my face up”. 
Step #3)  Go back and forth between those two positions several times really paying very close attention to whatever efforts you apply and whichever movements you do to make yourself straight.
Note: If there is no difference between these two positions give me a call – it could be you’re in naturally great shape – or you may need some assistance in moving between the different states.
Step #4) Lastly, please notice what it feels like to stay in your straight position for several minutes. Is it easy to maintain this position?   What do you have to do?  Where do you feel it?   Take a moment and jot down your sensory observations.

Many people go back and forth from a collapsed “c” shape curve to an overbracing pushed forward position.  This is the “knee jerk reaction” your child probably does when instructed by a parent, teacher or coach to sit up straight.  Is that what you do?  If so, please try one of the following alternatives to “sitting up straight”.
(illustration goes here…)
Exploration #2Step #5)  Return to your “not straight” position. 
Step #6) Take you hand and rub the muscles along the back of your neck.  To further help the muscles along the back of the neck ease up – nod your head a tiny bit forward and backward, forward and backward.  Now think of your head as a helium balloon and – in your imagination – see your whole head (the back as much as the front)  floating up to the ceiling.  As your head floats away – imagine your spine floating up after it. Imagine that your rib cage dangles off your spine and floats after them both. Your rib cage dangles and your waist falls back.   At the same time that your head, spine and rib cage float away, you feel your feet moving into the floor and your sit bones moving down into the chair.   
Step #6)  Imagine that the top of your head shines like a big flashlight.  See the light shining toward the ceiling.  Rub the muscles along the back of your neck to help them be easy.  Keep seeing the light on the top of your head shine skyward.  As you continue to shine out the top of you toward the sky, sense that another light shines out your navel to the wall behind you.   So your whole torso is “shining up” out your head and your waist shines back toward the wall behind you.  Without looking down, become aware of the contact of your pelvic bones with the seat of the chair. Think of light shining out your “sit” bones down out the seat of the
chair and down into the ground below you..

Whichever variation you choose (balloon or flashlight) continue to think these thoughts for a minute or two and at the end of that time notice how you feel. Has your position changed? Are you sitting differently? Are you sitting more straight? How does it feel to sit straight? Could you comfortably maintain this position?

If thinking these thoughts has resulted in you sitting in a straighter more easeful position, you may be surprised.  It may have been very different from how you normally would have straightened yourself up. It may have been much less physical work involving less pushing, heaving and bracing.

People often wonder how they feel so physically different with so little physical effort.  The answer is that the exercises in spatial thinking tricked muscles that were overworking (and therefore pulling bones closer together - increasing the three curves in your spine) into letting go. You feel different because you have let go of some overworking patterns that caused imbalances and got in the way of the reflexes and the good postural mechanism!   It’s hard to think one thing and do the opposite.
Young children naturally can be engaged to think of their heads as flashlights or balloons.  These ideas can even be worked into imaginary space personalities or other such creations. This kind of spatial thinking can be fun  - at the same time that it can be very  helpful – setting a tone that “good posture” and posture reminders from parents don’t have to be dreaded.  

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