New research highlights some of the problems caused by a belief in the desirability of ‘trying to stand up straight’ (like the guy in the photo, it’s hard work!). The study is by researcher and Alexander teacher, Rajal Cohen and her team . It tested the effect of hearing three different types of verbal instruction on the balance ability of young adults while they were standing on an uneven surface.
One set of verbal instructions was based on the commonly held ‘stand up straight’ idea of posture and included ’Activate your core muscles to pull yourself up to your full height…..Lift your chest and pull your shoulders back’; Another set was based on ideas of relaxing and included: ‘Let your head feel heavy…your shoulders are relaxed hanging heavy….feel your breath in your belly’; And the final set of instructions was based on the Alexander Technique and included: ‘Your head is easy and light at the top of your spine…..Your shoulders and chest are open and wide’.
The study showed that the balance control of the young people was worst when they thought the ‘stand up straight’ type of instruction. In other words, making an effort to stand ‘tall’, impairs your balance.
The study follows on from Dr Cohen’s previous research that tested very similar sets of instructions given to older adults . Again, the belief that upright posture is effortful (i.e. ‘trying to stand up straight’) made balance worse. Instead, when using Alexander-based thoughts, the older adults were able to stand upright more easily, including being more stable when standing one-legged.
When first beginning to learn the Alexander Technique, it can be hard to believe that simply changing the way you think will lead to completely different ways of being in the world. These studies give one small example of the power of our thinking.
If you would like to read more about these studies, the one in older adults is free to view.
- Rajal Cohen, Johanna Hocketstaller. Postural instructions affect postural sway in young adults. Gait & Posture 2023;100:193–195.
- Rajal Cohen, Baer JL, Ravichandra R, et al. Lighten up! Postural instructions affect static and dynamic balance in healthy older adults. Innovation in Aging 2020;4(2):igz056. doi: 10.1093/geroni/igz056. eCollection 2020.