I was working my way through some old photographs and came across the unflattering sort I’d forgotten about. In one I’m caught in profile, tackling a very large sandwich and apparantly getting the upper hand. In another, again a profile shot, my ‘tumpeth’ (a word that may or may not be Welsh in origin but in our house means belly) is almost majestic Is someone trying to tell me something?
I frequently extol the virtues of proper diet, exercise and posture, so to be reminded of my own imperfections is probably no bad thing. After all, without feedback how do we learn from our mistakes and how do we develop?
Posture is one of those issues that I’ve written about previously and in relation to anxiety reduction. As an aside, I also have a longstanding issue with sciatic pain and one of the most effective ways of gaining some relief is through my use of the Alexander Technique. It is something, I believe, that is also a helpful tool for anxiety and depression sufferers, as well as for general wellbeing.
The Alexander technique is a system aimed at helping people regain natural posture, balance and movement. As adults, many of us develop bad postural habits. People who are depressed are often the worst culprits and adopt several. Even once depression has passed there is a vulnerability that follows. Hunched shoulders, for example can be seen as a way of turning inwards like a form of protection. During depression a person can quite literally feel very heavy. It’s not uncommon to see slouched shoulders, bent backs and lowered heads. But, once the worse has passed, if we pay attention to ways that counteract physical bad habits then self-esteem improves, fatigue lessens and we feel better about ourselves.
Unlike some techniques which require us to be the passive recipients of someone else’s manipulations, the Alexander Technique encourages us to be aware of our mind and body. Those moments when you realize your neck or arm is aching from being on the computer is a case in point. It’s not so much the fact we are using a computer that is the problem, it’s the way we are using it. In my own case I use the technique to help straighten my back and remind myself what the correct alignment between head, neck and spine should be. It just so happens that this requires around 20 minutes on my back with a particular book under my head, so I get some relaxation thrown in as part of the deal.
To my knowledge there is no clinical evaluation of the merits of this technique for anxiety or depression. It does however make a great deal of sense in terms of posture. By extension, the self-reports of those who use it suggest it has a number of physical and emotional benefits. Its main purpose after all is to help re-educate our movements towards a healthy normality. There are plenty of excellent articles and video clips that explain the process in more detail. Go forth and explore!
Jerry Kennard, Ph.D., is a chartered psychologist and associate fellow of the British Psychological Society. Jerry’s clinical background is in mental health and, most recently, higher education. He is the author of various self-help books and is co-founder of positivityguides.net.