Often when I say that I teach the Alexander Technique the response is something like ‘Oh, that’s about posture, isn’t it?’ It could be said that the Alexander Technique does indeed improve posture, but that could imply that learning the technique results in better fixed positions – for example ‘standing tall’ or ‘sitting up straight’ – in other words that the Alexander Technique can ‘fix you’! I prefer the word ‘poise’ for what the Alexander Technique can help improve, so I thought I’d write a little bit about the difference between Posture and Poise.
But first, some quotations:
“The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in the storm” [Confucius]
“The stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life. ” [Lao Tzu (from the Tao Te Ching)]
Next, some meanings [taken from the Cambridge English Dictionary]:
The meaning of Posture (noun):
The way in which someone usually holds their shoulders, neck and back, or a particular position in which someone stands, sits, etc.
Synonyms for Posture include:
Attitude, bearing, holding, deportment, pose, position
The meaning of Posture (verb):
To behave in a way that is intended to attract attention and interest, or to try to make people believe something that is not true
The meaning of Poise (noun):
Calm confidence in a person’s way of behaving, or a quality of grace (= moving in an attractive way) and balance in the way a person holds or moves their body.
Synonyms for Poise include:
Balance, equilibirum, grace, presence
What you will notice from considering the above meanings is that Posture has implications of stiffness, rigidity, inflexibility and inability to adapt. Also the verb Posture means to pretend or to put on a show, so there is a false quality to posturing or adopting a posture. Hence the meaning of ‘posing’.
Poise, on the other hand, has connotations of balance, calmness, grace, yielding, flexibility and a willingness to adapt.
We could also associate Posture with being cold and Poise with being warm; Posture with being tense, Poise with being relaxed; Posture closed, Poise open.
Another way of looking at the difference between the two is that Posture is fixed, while Poise is concerned with movement.
Are you really ever completely still? Even when you are standing in one place, or are sitting quietly reading or watching telly, there is movement within the body and there is shifting and rebalancing going on. If you force yourself to be totally still you have to make yourself go rigid. Very soon this becomes uncomfortable. If you were ever told to sit up straight as a child you will remember this feeling.
In learning and using the Alexander Technique we are concerned much more with Poise than with Posture. We learn to release ourselves from unnecessary tension and to be balanced, calm and flexible in movement but also in ‘positions’ such as standing, sitting and lying down.
The technique helps strengthen and enliven the body and mind so that you feel relaxed and prepared for anything. It is the opposite of being ‘muscle-bound’.
It can be seen that confidence comes from flexibility and ability to adapt, rather then from rigidity and adopting a fixed position.
We may even find ourselves being more flexible in our worldview, being able to listen to other people’s experiences and take their viewpoints into account. This is a sign of strength rather than of weakness; of Poise rather than Posture.