Posture vs. Use

Posture, —n., 1. the relative disposition of the parts of something. 2. the position of the limbs or the carriage of the body as a whole, 3. an affected or unnatural attitude. 4. a mental or spiritual attitude. 5. position, condition, or state of affairs. 6. v.i., to place in a particular position or attitude. 7. to assume a particular posture. 8. to assume affected or unnatural postures, as by bending or contorting the body. 9. to pretend to have or affect a particular attitude: to posture as a friend of the poor.

As we can see, the word “posture” carries with it a lot of different meanings, some of them very appropriate, others very unfortunate and inappropriate, when associated with the Alexander Technique. This is why I have always used that word sparingly in connection with AT.

It would be fine to say that AT produces good posture — except that the unfortunate connotation of pretending or affecting certain positions, or of contorting the body to achieve “good posture,” is exactly what we DON’T want to do when we practice AT.

Per the definitions above, AT really does improve the relative, balanced position of the limbs and carriage of the body as a whole; and (in my experience) this can indeed influence for the better the mental or spiritual attitude of anyone using AT to improve their posture – or “use,” which is the preferred term coined by F.M. Alexander, the originator of the Technique.

The virtue of the word “use” in place of “posture” says a lot about AT itself.

The difference between good and bad “posture” might be described generally in terms of the way the posture looks, or how the person looks in that posture. It is a term that relates almost immediately to questions of esthetics, and consequently of vanity.

The difference between good and bad “use” (vs. “posture”) is that it “use” is understood as more, or less, effective in terms of functioning. Although we can see, to some extent, if someone is using themselves well, how a person looks isn’t the concern of use. It’s about functionality.

If you hold a hammer by its iron head and strike a nail with the wooden handle of the hammer, that doesn’t work very well.  That’s an example of bad use of the hammer, a tool that works very perfectly when one uses it properly. In AT, our bodies and our selves work well, or not so well, according to how we use ourselves.

The other implication of the word “posture” that I find problematic is that it seems to imply a static position (as does the related noun, a “pose”). We don’t strike a pose in Alexander. We are always concerned with “use” in relation to function and activity. We are always adapting our use, in a fluid, moment-to-moment way, to whatever purpose we are applying ourselves to.

If I am sitting at my computer directing myself to have good use in typing a document, as I am doing now, the purpose isn’t to appear poised or graceful while doing so, but to use myself well so that I will both 1) be effective in the activity of typing and 2) be effective, well-balanced and comfortable while sitting in the chair and moving my hands over/striking the keys.

So although it might be considered a sort of jargon, particular to AT, the word “use” is a dynamic and really precise term for what we are after in AT, versus “posture,” which carries with it the implication of “fashion” or “style” of being, i.e., a pretense or pose that looks particularly impressive or attractive in some way.

“Use” is directed toward an ideal of efficacy, and we do our best to use ourselves as well as we can in whatever we do.

Insider language can be alienating, and often isn’t really necessary. But the concept and value of the word “use,” in our AT work, is quite telling and shows us just what we hope to do by practicing AT.

Our aim is to manage ourselves, in all our life activities, in the best possible way, so as to carry out the purpose we intend without compromising our psychophysical integrity with some sort of slouching, stiffening or holding that will, in the end, interfere with our purpose and interfere with our bodies’ best general functioning.

In AT, when carrying out a purpose, there is also a primary aim being served at any time, the aim of using ourselves well. We don’t sacrifice that aim when we choose to do something specific in addition to that. We carry out a task while using ourselves well, both things at once.

Use implies purpose. This means we are always purposeful, even in moments when we do not seem to have an activity before us. Our purpose is to be our best selves.