COMPANION

Standing

Standing is one of the most fundamental human activities, and one of the most basic activities the Alexander Technique is applied to. Alexander addressed the issue of standing principally in pre-1910 articles and in MSI, often criticizing the ‘stand-at-attention’ position adopted.

The application of the Technique to standing is first mentioned in a 1908 flyer, where Alexander says that a pupil cannot assume himself a certain standing position due to his defective perceptions and sensations. He emphasises that a standing position is not the same for each individual:

It is the teacher who should have the responsibility of certain detailed orders, the literal carrying out of which will ensure for the pupil what is then the correct standing position for him. I emphasize this last, because no one stereotyped position can be correct for each and every pupil.[1]

He repeats this sentiment in his 1909 pamphlet where he writes:

. . . There can be no such thing as a ‘correct standing position’ for each and every person. The question is not one of correct position, but of correct co-ordination (i.e. of the muscular mechanisms concerned).[2]

There are several references to standing in MSI. One describes the misuse of a pupil standing in detail:

. . . in the standing and walking positions the hips were held too far forward, the knee joints were pressed too far back, and the angle of the torso from the hips was harmfully inclined backwards, with a general tendency, as we say, to narrow the back.[3]

There is a long passage in answer to a reader’s question: ‘What is the correct standing position, and the position of mechanical advantage?’ in MSI.[4]

Alexander writes he cannot describe it in detail and therefore shows the picture below. This recommended position of the standing shown (one foot slightly in front of the other) was changed over the years. Marjory Barlow:

By the time we were on the training course he’d given up a lot of the stuff he’d written about in earlier editions of Man’s Supreme Inheritance. . . . He’d come to realise that he could get the co-ordination perfectly well with the feet level.[5]

Picture: FM showing standing position first published in Man’s Supreme Inheritance Addenda, 1911, p. 12, but stating that the photos were first published 22nd October 1910 especially for the purpose of showing ideal standing position.

In CCC Alexander uses the example of standing when engaging in an activity unconsciously:

The point of interest for us is the consideration of the means whereby he remains standing, and of which he is not and never has been conscious.[6]

Dewey, inspired by his lessons in the Alexander Technique, took the example of standing to illustrate the nature of habit, in his Human Nature and Conduct (1922):

A man who has a bad habitual posture tells himself, or is told, to stand up straight. If he is interested and responds, he braces himself, goes through certain movements, and it is assumed that the desired result is substantially attained; and that the position is retained at least as long as the man keeps the idea or order in his mind. . . . Of course something happens when a man acts upon his idea of standing straight. For a little while, he stands differently, but only a different kind of badly. He then takes the unaccustomed feeling which accompanies his unusual stand as evidence that he is now standing right. But there are many ways of standing badly, and he has simply shifted his usual way to a compensatory bad way at some opposite extreme.[7]

Alexander quoted part of this in UCL.[8]

Later Writings

The position of standing is frequently discussed in introductory books to the Alexander Technique. The standing position is often used in therapeutics for postural assessment, and Dr Wilfred Barlow used it for measuring postural faults in some of his papers on the Technique, see his collected papers.[9] Dr Wilfred Barlow also describes correct standing, using leaning against a wall as an aid, in his 1973 article ‘The Alexander Principle’.[10]

  • ‘Human standing: Implications for working with your hands’ by Ian Lyon considers the mechanics of standing and maintaining freedom in standing while engaged in hands-on work.[11]

See also Chair work, Monkey, Going up on the toes.

References

[1] Why “Deep Breathing” and Physical Culture Exercises do More Harm than Good’, in Articles and Lectures by F. Matthias Alexander, edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 1995), p. 74.
[2]  ‘Why We Breathe Incorrectly’ in Articles and Lectures by F. Matthias Alexander, edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 1995), p. 93.
[3] Man's Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), p. 164.
[4] Man's Supreme Inheritance by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 1996), pp. 168-175.
[5] Alexander Technique: The Ground Rules by Marjory Barlow, Seán Carey (HITE, 2011), p. 78.
[6] Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual by F. Matthias Alexander, (Mouritz, 2004), p. 172.
[7] Human Nature and Conduct by John Dewey (Henry Holt & Co, 1922), pp. 27-29.
[8] The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), p. 46 fn.
[9] Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014).
[10] ‘The Alexander Principle’ by Wilfred Barlow in Vogue, 1 April 1973, no. 3, vol. 130, reproduced in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), pp. 239-240.
[11] ‘Human standing: Implications for working with your hands’ by Ian Lyon in STATNews vol. 10, no. 5 edited by Jamie McDowell (STAT, May 2020), pp. 12–14.