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Changing habits: sitting positions

The following article was published in my Chester & Liverpool Alexander Technique Studio newsletter in September 2014:

I would like you to look at three pictures of Mr G, H and Z:

mrG, mrH, mrZ

Mr G is sitting with a very common posture – probably encouraged by a sedentary lifestyle, which can encourage us to become physically lazy! Mr G is slumping back – probably in the hope of resting against the back of the chair; but this way of sitting has become a habit, even when there is no chair back to rest against. This posture may eventually create problems in Mr G’s back, neck or shoulders.

Mr H is in the position into which, as an Alexander teacher, I have readjusted him. Here this man’s alignment is much better because his head is over the centre of his body and directly over his base on the chair seat; this rearrangement of his centre of gravity reduces the effort required by his back muscles to keep him upright.

However, if Mr H is a typically ‘slouchy’ person, this may at first feel very strange and unfamiliar to him. In fact, initially it might even feel quite uncomfortable and really hard work. This is simply because he is not used to it.

The last picture is different: it shows not how Mr Z is actually sitting, but how Mr Z thinkshe is sitting after his posture has been adjusted.


Mr Z‘s habitual shape was identical to Mr G’s which, of course, feels perfectly ‘normal’; he doesn’t realise that in that position he was leaning back slightly. So when his upper body is first adjusted to become upright, he feels he is tipping forwards.

A quick look in the mirror, along with a brief explanation of how our perception can play tricks, is likely to help Mr Z understand what is happening and facilitate the process of postural change.

Problems with changing habits

Mr G, Mr H and Mr Z may each experience a different problem. Mr G’s posture might eventually lead to pain; Mr H’s position is much better but he cannot yet maintain it; and Mr Z is feeling disorientated because his new balance is still unfamiliar.

Each of these problems has a different solution, but it is often difficult for the individual to recognise the particular solution required. This of course is where the expertise of an Alexander teacher is helpful. We are trained to guide each person through an individual journey, depending on a unique combination of ‘pattern of use’, problems or challenges, and stage in the learning process.


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