Let's Get Psychophysical - Newsletter #15
The Three Approaches to Posture
Hello, it’s Kevin.
Would you like to learn the Principles of Posture?
There have been two general approaches to the posture problem - but they don’t work very well, and merely add to the dis-integration of the modern man.
So here is a “third way” that has worked well for me, and might work for you too.
Here’s The Problem
There is a posture pandemic (too soon?!) and it’s getting worse year after year, with every new technology amplifying the problem and making it harder for each new generation to overcome.
Teenagers are already looking like those “elderly people” road signs. They don’t need a life down the coal mine holding a pick-axe to get there. Smart phones will do.
Not only is the problem getting worse but the solutions don’t seem to be working either. More people are aware of the posture problem today than ever before but nothing seems to work very well. Why? Is it really just because people are more lazy and unhealthy? Can we simply blame new technologies? Or is it something else?
If you are unhappy with your posture, or worried about your future posture, then it means you are out of alignment.
But not just physical alignment. We are thinking, feeling, moving creatures - psychophysical wholes - and if your posture is a problem then that means you think one thing and do another. Your ego is writing checks your body can’t cash!
How do we align our thinking, feeling, moving selves? First need to stop fragmenting ourselves, both as individuals and as a culture. Then we need a solution to posture that engages and integrates all three parts of our being - all at the same time.
The Two Approaches to Posture
Posture is not just “physical.” It is also “mental “ and “spiritual.”
It is impossible to separate these three spheres of life in your daily activity, or to know where one ends and another begins. Hence the scare quotes.
So far there have been two main approaches to the posture problem. But they tend to focus on one sphere only. Neither of them integrate all three spheres of life into a single method - they both leave out something important.
Let’s look at them in turn, and then see if there is a third way that goes beyond both.
1. The “Physical” Way
This way focusses on physical parts.
This involves dealing with physical objects you can see and touch, and what most people would consider objective realities other people can know and manipulate from the ‘outside.’
The idea is that if you work on improving the different parts, through direct physical action in specific places, then eventually this will all ‘add up’ to good posture.
Examples: exercises/weights (face pulls etc), devices (shoulder straps, standup desks etc), surgery (cutting flesh out, screwing metal in) and some types of manipulative bodywork (chiropractic, sports massage.)
The general attitude is “harsh.” The visible, physical world must be manipulated from the “outside in” – and it doesn’t matter what you feel, or what you think. No pain, no gain! You override one set of feelings with a stronger feeling.
The philosophy behind this I will call: Naive Reductionism. The assumption that if you break things down into their component parts then you can understand and control the whole.
The underlying metaphor is: the body is a machine. “Let’s replace those parts and get this car back on the road!”
This is good in that it gets people to look at the mechanics of movements and how the body parts connect to one another. And it encourages people to become more active and move more, which is good.
But there are some problems with the “physical” approach:
The problem is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The whole does things that are nor reducible to the parts. Posture is a complex system. The correct placement of specific parts only makes sense in light of what the whole organism is doing.
Your posture isn’t merely in the body. Your posture includes your: conscious intentions, mental (mis)conceptions, principles and rules, purposes and desires, plus your relationship to unpleasant feeling and sensations. None of this can be reduced to physical parts you can manipulate from the outside.
I have tried different “physical” and “harsh” methods on and off for years but the whole never became aligned - as soon as you stop doing the exercises for a while the old postural habits just reappear. It was all just patchwork.
I’ve seen enough “before and after” pictures of weightlifters to know that you are just adding a layer of muscle over the same basic structure. This is the male version of “lipstick on a pig.”
All this has led me to try the opposite approach to posture - one that focusses on these more psychological aspects to posture, rather than just the physical.
2. The “Psycho” Way
This way focusses on sensory and emotional experiences.
This involves dealing with things you can feel, or sense, or intuit somehow, within your living embodied experience. What most people would consider subjective experiences, which only you can know from the ‘inside.’
The idea is that if you feel the body more deeply, refine your sensory awareness, release tension, create “energies” and develop a greater awareness of the whole, then eventually this will return you to natural good posture.
Examples: yoga, Tai Chi, meditation, some types of “bodywork,” somatic therapies, alternative therapies, nutrition, relaxation methods etc.
The general attitude here is “soft and passive” Your sensory and emotional experiences must be accepted and deepened from the “inside out” – and if you feel better, more at ease and less tense, then you must also be better.
The philosophy behind this I will call “Naive Holism.” The assumption that if you focus on feeling and intuiting the body as a whole, then all the different parts will reorganise and correctly align all by themselves.
The underlying metaphor is: lost paradise. “Feel your body more deeply, be very, very aware of your sensations, and get back to your natural perfect posture!”
This is good thing about this approach is it emphasises the whole, and the relation between your internal states and your physical shapes.
But there are some problems with the “psycho” approach:
It doesn’t actually deal with the whole – the practitioner simply focusses their attention on specific individual sensations and feelings of parts, which flow one after another - moving from objective to parts to subjective parts.
The big error is they throw out the “mind” and reasoning, and just trust to the lower levels only. Yes, we have out of control self-talk and a disconnected mind and body, yes people are out of touch with their bodies, but the problem is not too much reasoning. It is actually not enough reasoning - specially, reasoning applied to your own thinking and movements.
With posture, you can’t trust your “embodied cognition.” Every lesson I have ever given demonstrates that what you feel you are doing is not necessarily what you actually do e.g. you are certain you are leaning to the right side, that is how it feels. I show you the video and you are leaning to the left side. You can’t trust your feelings. Sometimes they are correct, sometimes they are not.
I tried “psycho” approach and “soft” methods like this for many years and was trained as a teacher in one of them. I became more and more aware of bodily sensations and felt the body more deeply. But something was still missing: a conscious understanding of the parts. It turns out that no matter how much you focus on the whole, the parts will NOT organise all by themselves…
I’ve seen enough “mind, body, spirit” types and their posture tends to be either very soft and floppy, or very rigid and uptight. But what made the biggest impact on me was analysing a video of myself, and discovering that although I FELT amazing and truly believed that my posture was better than ever, in reality on ON VIDEO I was shortening my spine, creating a lordosis and falling backwards thinking I was standing up straight!
So it is obvious that the “psycho” approach also splits the whole person.
Towards a New Solution
I was convinced there had to be a third way that doesn’t split the whole person. A method that takes the best of the “psycho” and the best of the “physical,” and which avoids the problems of each.
So at first I tried combining the two methods in a “barbell” fashion. If neither “physical” or “psycho” alone is working then why not do both at the same time? Wouldn’t this then be “psychophysical?
It turns out, no. There remains the same problem: “mind” and “body” and “spirit” are artificially split and not integrated into one method, into one way of being. There is still a gap between each of them.
And worse, we the conscious individuals are still not in charge of the process. We are relying on being knocked around by two external forces and hoping for the best in between.
If you do weight lifting for daily patchwork, to keep the parts in place, and then go to the chiropractor once a month to get your spine cracked into place, then it probably isn’t a solution! In fact, maybe it is contributing to the problem it aims to solve?
Or you wear a shoulder strap while sitting at the desk to fix you in place, and then go for a relaxing massage at weekends. After a few weeks you realise you are slouching even more than before.
Or you buy a “standup desk” at work and set a timer for posture checks throughout the day. But you find you fidget even more when standing and can’t remember to look after your posture for more than a few minutes a day.
I tried many different variations over the years. But this didn’t work either. I still wasn’t integrating the whole of “mind” “body” and “spirit.” My posture felt a little bit better for a while and then quickly reverted back to the way it was. It was all patchwork.
The new combo had slightly different results but at the end of the day it was all just patchwork and trying to feel a little bit better. I knew that I had no conscious control over any of this and was still just a slave to my reactions and habits.
Psycho + Physical ≠ Psychophysical
The truly Psychophysical includes and transcends these categories. And it doesn’t through out our reason and language - it uses them to organise the rest.
So how do we take a truly psychophysical approach?
One that doesn’t throw out one or more spheres of life. And is there a method that trains all three at the same time?
Thinking IN Activity
The answer is what F. Matthias Alexander called “Man’s Supreme Inheritance.” The philosopher John Dewey, one of his private pupils, called his technique “thinking in activity.”
This is unique in approaches to the posture problem. The solution is applied reason in activity. It doesn’t throw out the “mind” or artificially separate it from “body” and “spirit.” It doesn’t just throw off responsibility onto low level sensations and feelings and mechanical parts. It starts with the conscious, reasoning self. The “I.”
You can have neither a greater nor a less dominion than that over yourself.”
Leonardo da Vinci
This is what makes humans different from other animals. Other animals don’t worry about their posture. We do. Our thoughts, words and deeds are not aligned. It’s not just our modern lives and environments acting on us from the outside, it’s also that we are refusing to apply reason to our movements “from the inside.”
Alexander discovered through self-experimentation that for every physical action you have a mental conception of the movements involved to perform that action. It is impossible to separate them.
It’s as if your ideas about posture and movement are subconsciously controlling and restricting your actions like invisible puppet masters.
But if you can change your mental conceptions about posture, then you can change your physical posture.
This won’t just happen by reading about it. You need a technique. You need to understand and APPLY the new principles of posture.
Right where you are sitting now…
3. The “Psychophysical” Way
This way focusses on applying principles and rules - to your movements. Especially through verbal commands and structured self-talk.
This involves dealing with mental objects: conceptual thinking, visuospatial reasoning, geometrical language, mechanisms, diagrams, mental models, logic, kinematics, “if-then” rules etc – all of which are mental conceptions you cannot see or touch or feel. But we can see their effects on your physical structure…
The idea is you learn and understand new principles and rules for movement and anatomy. Then you apply them directly to your posture in everyday movements like sitting, standing and walking. You learn to think physically and move intellectually - just like the Greeks.
Examples include: golf coaches doing slow motion video analysis, some mental techniques like “memory palaces,” computer programming rules, various guild crafts in the middle ages, and most of all the ancient greeks left clues and hints in their sculptures (practice) and their writings (theory.)
The general attitude here is reasoned. The aim is neither to impose harsh self discipline on yourself, or to make yourself feel good. You simply decide what you want to do, and then see if you can do it, no matter how it feels. You then judge the results using the same principles and technique - not on how it felt.
The philosophy behind this is psychophysical unity. In practice this requires an ongoing process of going from the Whole >> to the Parts >> and back to the Whole (now new and enriched…)
The underlying metaphor is self-programming. You apply “mental” rules to your “physical” movements in advance, then you “run the program” to see what happens to the whole, then you analyse the results and make changes to the rules. It’s a constant process of iteration and improvement.
Why This Is Different
All three spheres of life - mental, physical and spiritual - are included within and throughout this process. They become an integrated whole. Nothing is left out.
This is applied reason in activity. There is no “gap” between the theory and practice. You learn how to apply reason to your movements. Learn how to think IN activity - not only before and after, but also during…)
The key to aligning what you think about posture with what your body actually does is by using structured self-talk to organise your movements. The power of the word.
You integrate your whole organism as a psychophysical unity. We start with the whole, then we go down into the parts, then we come back up to the whole - which is now new and enriched.
You are learning how SELF-regulate your posture and gait. You are not relying on something coming from outside, whether a person or an object. You are in charge.
We use video to objectively analyse your posture and movements in order to improve over time. You will learn how to see. If you can see, then you change. We don’t reply on feelings or sensations which are not as trustworthy as they… feel.
In 1-to-1 lessons you learn and practice the technique, with live feedback from a teacher, based on the unique habits and structure of each pupil.
The teacher is necessary to help you overcome the force of habit and can see what you are actually doing (not what your feelings tell you), and show you exactly which movements you need to stop, and which new movements you need to do instead.
Who Is This For?
You just need to have reached the age of reason, be able to move your limbs, and can understand English… especially when it’s in a bit of strange Scottish accent…
You will do this if it interests you, of course, - but here are some reasons:
You have bad posture and you want to improve it quickly.
Your posture isn’t too bad but you want to prevent it getting worse as you get older.
You are a professional who works with the body and looking for the missing piece of posture.
You do meditation or other spiritual practices and want to control your posture, stop fidgeting, and calm your mind.
You are seeking a “mind & body” daily practice that is suited to Westerners, that integrates the wisdom of the Ancient Greeks with our modern experimental method.
Who I help the most:
Most of my pupils are Men 22-40 - but some of the best are well outside of this range! - so it’s never to late or early to start, each has their advantages.
Pupils have included: office workers, construction workers, natural movement practitioners, coders and crypto guys, gym bros, financial specialists, neuroscientists, fighters, dating experts, engineers, weightlifters, meditators, yoga & tai chi practitioners, fitness instructors, entrepreneurs… and various combinations of the above!
So if you are the type of man who likes thinking AND moving and refuses to be fragmented as a person, then you will love this technique which does both at once.
What This Will Do For You
How to SIT comfortably for hours without leaning on the back of the chair, or with elbows on the desk.
How to STAND with better posture, poise and presence - without making a visible effort to hold yourself up.
How to WALK with a balanced gait, more efficient strides and better placement of the feet to benefit from your bio-mechanical “springs.”
How to get TALLER at any age - without having to “stand up straight with your shoulders back!”
How to undo bad habits that are causing you discomfort, pain or injury.
How to connect mind and body in action, and a new way of commanding movements using your inner speech.
How to take conscious control of your inner dialogue by applying it to your movements - instead of negative self-talk, emotional loops, and ‘monkey mind.’
What This Is NOT:
This is not a fitness program or list of exercises that are “good for posture” (but you will apply the principles and technique to any exercise or sport you do.)
This is not a list of general tips and recommendations (although we can discuss these in the context of your specific posture, habits and activities.)
This is not a somatic therapy aimed directly at pain relief or to help you “feel at ease” (although these things often come as happy side effects!)
This is not about watching me or other people and copying them (instead you are learning how to consciously self-regulate your own posture.)
What Happens During a Lesson
We meet on Zoom with video - so I can see your structure from head to toe.
This is a very intense 45 minutes, full of practical procedures and experiments for you to do – it is not a conversation or presentation.
Posture is made of movement – many habitual movements all happening at the same time - but until now they have been habitual and mostly subconscious.
You will learn why “stand up straight with your shoulders back” doesn’t work, and is actually counterproductive to good posture.
We both film the session. The video we make together is the real lesson. You will see what you did and how you reacted to the instructions - and then use this to improve next time. Self-experiments are how you “rewire” yourself.
In your first lesson I analyse your movements and give you a “body audit.” But posture is not merely physical, it is primarily mental — your body simply reveals how you think. You will learn what to stop doing and what to do instead.
Can you translate verbal instructions into actions? Can you command your movements according to conscious reason instead of your habitual feeling? Are you seen on video to do what you intended, or something else? How can we improve next time?
You might experience the frightening and enlightening fact that what you FEEL you are doing is often the complete opposite of what you are actually doing (as seen objectively on video.)
At the end of the lesson you get a daily practice so you can work on yourself without a teacher. If you want more lessons they get more complex until you stop.
Who I Am
I am 41, from the Scottish Highlands, now live in Cyprus, and I teach this stuff full time online. I am not a Gym Bro, or a Nerd, or a ‘Spiritual’ type. I have always been an inbetweener. I was the classic “good all rounder” but excellent at nothing. This used to irritate me when young but now I realise it was necessary for me to do what I do now.
For 10 years I alternated between the “physical” and “psycho” approaches to posture - sometimes one or the other, sometimes both, getting partial results - but i could never quite integrate my “mind” “body” and “spirit.”
The problem is that each approach leaves something important out. And even if they talk about all three, there is always a “gap” between the theory and the practice. We think and feel one thing abvout our posture, but opur body continues to do something else. How to bridge this gap? How to have a solution that doesn’t keep requiring patchwork from outseide to keep things in place.
The solution is the early work of F. Matthias Alexander (but NOT what became known later as ‘the Alexander Technique’ - this is important.) I started learning this version of his technique from Jeando Masoero, a French teacher of the Initial Alexander Technique.
Since then I have been integrating this with the Ancient Greeks who have left us clues to a similar method in their sculptures, art and writings of a certain period (it seems to have degenerated over time.)
At the same time as trying to solve my own posture problem, I was also seeking a “mind, body, spirit” daily practice that didn’t also involve believing weird things and wearing weird clothes (you know what I mean.). But I didn’t expect both problems to have the same solution. They can for you too.
My mission now is to develop this technique of conscious postural control into a “mind & body” practice that is suitable for westerners - something that is our equivalent to yoga, zen, Tai Chi etc in other cultures.
We have dry academic philosophy on the one hand and oiled up “pumping iron” on the other. What if ‘in between’ these extremes we have lost a truly psychophysical approach to posture and movement? What if this is a lost “mind-body” practice suited to westerners and western culture? This is what I believe F. Matthias Alexander (re)discovered in his early work.
The lessons I teach are based on this technique which is what I do in my own daily practice. This technique is now my meditation, philosophy, cognitive development, emotional control, and physical training - all combined into one daily practice. A big claim, yes. Try a lesson and see.
What My Pupils Say
Here is what a new pupil, a software engineer, said after ONE lesson:
Here is Keith, who is an excellent follow on Twitter, always sharing videos of his experiments in natural movement:
Here is a testimonial from Pete, a financial specialist, one of my more advanced pupils:
When I first found Kevin, I had tried many things to combat the pain and inflexibility that I had been experiencing in my 20s and 30s. I sit often at the computer screen and am pretty active as well, but the trips to chiropractors, pain doctors and masseuses wasn’t helping my back, shoulder and leg issues. I was willing to try anything and found Kevin by chance online.
Seeing a posture guy over Zoom was weird, but why not? At our first session, I was surprised to find out how much of how I lived worked counter to allowing my body the stretch, support and balance it craved.
Kevin makes it clear that working with him is not a one time, miracle fix. It’s a life practice that you consciously incorporate consistently to get the results. His methods definitely seemed unconventional and counter to the way I learned to live from books and “experts”, but the proof is that I now stand taller and am stronger with less pain than I’ve had in 20 years. Thank you to Kevin for driving the road less traveled and educating me on how to move correctly.
– Pete Nielsen
How It Works
Learn the “Principles of Posture” one-on-one with me.
This psychophysical technique is based on (a) the almost forgotten, original method of F. Matthias Alexander and (b) the ancient Greeks who left clues to a similar method in their sculptures, art, and writings.
These are one-on-one lessons, via Zoom with video. You will record the session so you can work on your own afterward without a teacher.
You get 45 mins of focussed, intense practical work - this is not a lecture or conversation. So be on time! I will tell you how to setup the room in advance.
You will learn how to self-regulate your postural system - in sitting, standing and walking. More advanced pupils can apply to running, sports and other activities.
You will get a “body audit” and postural analysis based on your movements. I guide you through movement experiments and show you where you fail or succeed.
I give you images, diagrams and models to help you understand and apply the principles immediately - with me there for feedback and to answer questions.
You can have as many lessons as you want. They get more and more complex as you master the technique, and begin to apply it to more than just posture…
The cost for a lesson is USD $75. You can pay after the lesson.
BOOK A LESSON:
Thanks for reading,