Fundamental Problems

“It goes with a view of life which is narrow and limited, since it represents an attempt on man’s part to gain an immediate “end” without consideration of larger issues .”

—F.M Alexander

Last year I had a couple of wonderful opportunities to teach in a corporate environment. As an ITM Alexander Technique teacher I am deeply aware of how “counter culture” our work is and was looking forward to share our different point of view with a new group of students.

About halfway through one of my introductions, the HR liaison interrupted me and said: “This is not what we want. All these people have “bad backs” and they want instruction on how to sit properly to solve their problems.”

I asked how many people in the room had been told how to “sit properly”. Everyone put up their hand and there were murmurs in the room….”proper screen height…..pull in your core….don’t slump….sit on a ball…draw in your chin”.  I asked how many of them have tried to implement that information. Everyone put up their hand. I asked how many people had improvement as a result of doing so. Not one hand went up.

People are not idiots. This was a room full of intelligent, well meaning people who wanted to help themselves. If there were a “proper” way to sit, stand, live, we would all be doing it.

But the uncomfortable truth is that the whole concept of “a right way to sit” does not exist, does not work, and even worse, is damaging to anyone who tries to put it into action.

Obviously, we have a problem in our culture. Millions of pounds are wasted every year on back pain, stress induced illness, RSI and tension headaches. Even greater is the human cost of people forced to live their day to day lives with little satisfaction and without knowing the deep joy and wellness available to them as human beings in possession of a mind and body.

Millions of pounds are made by people offering solutions to these problems. Solutions that don’t work. Which is why we still have people traipsing around offices giving new and ever more nuanced instructions on how to sit properly. These people instruct you on how to “hold” your head, where to put your body parts to have “good posture”, what to pull in and what to push out, where to set your computer screen and mouse, what surface to sit on and what stretches and exercises you must do.

Why don’t these solutions work? Because they are being created by the same thinking that caused the problem in the first place.

You see, the reason we have this epidemic of problems is not because we don’t know “how to sit properly”. It is not because we lack “core strength”. It is not because we are “lazy” and slump all the time. It is not because we “forget” to follow instructions. It is not because we have “bad” chairs. It is not because we need to learn some new stretch or exercise to relieve our problem.

The reason we have these problems is because we are operating on fundamental misconceptions about ourselves and we don’t have any understanding of the processes that govern human movement and function and how to direct them to our benefit.

And unfortunately, solving these problems is not a “quick fix”, it can’t be done with “5 easy tips” and it won’t be solved by the well meaning guy coming to your office with clear instructions on how to sit at your desk. I can’t write a short blog that will solve your problems.

It is a fundamental problem that requires fundamental solutions. In the ITM Alexander Technique, everything we do in a lesson is designed to help you solve those fundamental problems.

And, after twenty years of study and witnessing many miracles, I can say: It works. Unlike anything else. But only if you are willing to put in the time, do the work required and question what you believe and how you behave in a fundamental way.

Not only does it work, but by learning how to make these fundamental changes in how you see yourself and operate in the world you will gift yourself with a freedom you can’t even imagine.

So I am not sorry that I can’t in good conscious acquiesce to the HR liaison’s requests to give those participants tips on how to sit properly at their computer. And while I wish all those people in that office did not have back pain, I know that if it was what brought every single one of them into contact with this extraordinary work on that day, it may be a huge blessing in their lives.

So after being interrupted I went right back to doing my job: sharing the information and tools necessary, modelling and encouraging the kind of thinking skills that those people can use to make these fundamental changes in themselves. I know, without a doubt that is how I can be of the highest service to everyone in that room.

The good news? One of the participants took on the challenge. Instead of being preoccupied with his expectations of what the workshop would be about, he listened to my lecture with an open mind. He really heard my message that our bodies are not meant to be “held” in any particular way. He considered the concept that we live in a dynamic and flexible system that is in constant movement. He considered that the only way a muscle will contract is if you send a message from the brain to the muscle in question and that you can elevate this process to a conscious level. In a very short lesson he understood that he could simply “stop” creating some of the tension in his own body that was causing his discomfort. So he did, and it was awesome! And so can you.