Posture vs poise
People who have only heard about the Alexander Technique will often ask, 'isn't that like posture lessons?' or 'yes, my aunt said it helped her posture', or 'I should make myself do it, because i have terrible posture- but I don't think I'd like it'. One student even lamented to me, 'I work really hard on my posture so I'm not sure why my back hurts so much'.
Most of us have strong associations with the word: posture. How often have you been told, cajoled, forced or shamed with the words "stand up straight!". It can evoke memories of Catholic School, or dance class, or piano lessons, or the discipline of military training, or walking with book balanced on your head. And despite our best intentions to maintain this perfect posture, what happens but we start to stiffen and grip. It becomes increasingly uncomfortable and might make us cranky. And frankly, it just feels easier and more comfortable to give into the habit and temptation of slumping.
Alexander Teachers often use poise instead of posture since almost everyone has strong pre-exisiting opinions on the latter. This is a superb piece on it. Poise tends to be a lot less stigmatized. It may seem a little old-fashioned and of out of our everyday vernacular but perhaps there's value in that. We don't immediately recoil or grown weary at the mention of it. Poise tends to have more positive connotations- like "poised for greatness" "displayed great poise under pressure", "poise like a bird on a wire". There is mental aspect as well, a cool-headedness that allows for greater balance- a steadiness without stiffening.
A student once surprised me with this simple distinction. "Posture is how you hold yourself, poise is how you carry yourself." This quite nicely incorporates the Alexander idea of our conscious participation. The mind/body union is integral to finding improved balance for both uprightness and free movement. With poise, there comes confidence, an improved attitude toward one's stature and place on the earth. When we are more self-possessed and inhabit ourselves fully we become more upright.
Next time you hear that nagging voice tell you "stand up straight" why not instead, try on the idea of poise. With little less effort and a little more attitude, you just may feel more balanced, upright, alert, and ready to fly.