Saturday, 23 February 2013

On the Importance of Posture

Thing is, you see, I thought I knew all about posture.

When I was in music college, I paid my way by working as a secretary in the School of Dental Hygiene (yep, just as fascinating as it sounds) on weekday mornings, and studying singing the rest of the time.  The sheer psychological / physical effort involved in swapping hats over and over again (as a secretary you are (a) often sitting hunched over a hot keyboard all the time you're there and (b) expected to put yourself aside to make your bosses' lives as smooth as possible; as a singer you need to be upright yet free, and frankly to put yourself first) was not doing wonders for my shoulders, which were often to be found stuck to my ears.

So I took advantage of cut-price Alexander Technique lessons and gained back the physical freedom of childhood (yes, I had to work at it, but my goodness, the work paid off).  The feeling of free and easy bodily balance, both when static and in movement, was so exhilarating that I resolved never to lose it.  Ever since then I have been aware of slight imbalances and tensions, and have corrected them at the first signs, however long it took.

The results aren't bad, either.  It helped my singing a lot, and I often get compliments on my good posture.  Or people thinking I'm a lot taller than I actually am (well I put that down to posture but it could also be my addiction to vertiginously high heels...).

I was even aware of the psychological aspects of posture, especially since having watched this excellent TED video (WELL worth your time to watch, whatever your calling in life).

So basically tootling along feeling pretty pleased with at least that aspect of my existence, and probably looking irritatingly smug about it.


Well, this week has seen the start of the Onegin rehearsals, and I have thrown myself into the challenge of portraying an old lady with the onset of dementia.  From the start I knew that I wanted tension in my fingers, producing slightly clawed "arthritic" hands, and a slight forwards stoop to my shoulders.  I welcomed slightly uncomfortable shoes from the costume department (the designer was rather amused that I asked to be made as shapeless as possible but drew the line at my hopeful request for a bosom drooping down to my knees) and allowed my neck to express a fear of the world around me.  I am experimenting with just how much to slow my movements down.  Subtle things - really trying not to "portray" old age as such; aiming rather to allow the audience to feel the aches and physically sympathise.

I think it's going pretty well, actually.  I mean, I can consistently apply the above and yet still sing freely (ahem, when the Russian words don't fly off into the ether, that is).

EXCEPT - my goodness I really hadn't banked on those small and totally physical shifts having such a pronounced effect on my mood.  Despite enjoying the rehearsals immensely, I could feel misery creeping up upon me virtually by the minute.  And it was a vicious circle; as the insecurity descended, my shoulders stayed stooped even when grabbing coffee with my colleagues in the canteen.  I found myself avoiding eye contact even with friends, and feeling, for no good reason, utterly desolate.

This was just a few days of submissive, beaten posture, worming itself into my psyche and trying insidiously to destroy my confidence.  It really is that powerful.

Very luckily for me, my best friend is something of a yoga expert, and recommended various postures as defence.  I incorporated those into my (shamefully spotty) yoga practice, and felt the results straight away.  For those interested, they were downward dog for quieting the mind, back bends and raised arms for optimism and energy, and various power postures.

So that particular crisis has been averted, and I am left in awe of the sheer power of the mind/body connection, and determined to counteract my bad posture while acting this role with supportive postures before and afterwards.

However as I look around me I see - everywhere - bad posture.  People slumping over computers, slouching tiredly in the bus, scuffing the pavements as they scuttle past me in town...  How much misery around us - and in us - is due to this correlation?

So please, if you haven't done so already, take the time to watch the TED video I linked to above.  Or if things are chronically bad, do search out an Alexander Technique practitioner - or maybe Feldenkrais if Alexander Technique is not for you.

Sorry if this comes across as evangelical, but this week has been something of an eye-opener for me in this regard and I simply want to make as many people as possible aware of the clear and present dangers of bad posture.


Photo is, as always, completely unrelated!  A rainy day coming through the graffiti-enhanced underpass looking out onto the Rhine, with a neon-turquoise-lit cruise ship as focal point.  I like that tunnel!

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