The Posturality of the Person - Conceptual Foundations [TARGET ARTICLE]



001 The 22 statements below—published originally as 'Posture, Postural Education, and the Alexander Technique' (AmSAT News 81, Winter 2009), and subsequently as Chapter 2, 'Conceptual Foundations', of my The Posturality of the Person: A Guide to Postural Education & Therapy (Atlanta, GA: Posturality Press, 2013)—aim to articulate a logical, comprehensive, and workable theory of normal (by no means, common) posturality. To the concept of 'posture', the suffix '-ity' adds, according to Webster, the idea of 'state or quality'. Therefore, 'posturality' means 'the state or quality of one’s posture'. Although it has been said (Robert Roaf, Posture, Academic Press, 1977) that 'its [posture’s] exact definition remains elusive', yet I have captured a quite specific but sufficiently general definition of it that may be read below at §1.

002 As I wrote in a letter to AmSAT Journal (Spring 2014):

Taken together, these foundational statements delineate the necessary concepts and conditions for any full and valid approach to postural education. Relative to any approach other than ours [the Alexander Technique, of course], the Conceptual Foundations provide a prescription for, but for the Alexander Technique they already constitute a description of, if in perhaps unfamiliar terms, such an approach.

003 I do not mean to imply with these conceptual foundations a complete theory of the Alexander Technique—such a theory would have to include an account of the moral apart from the postural dimensions implicit in the concept of 'use'.  But I do claim that, in most instances where Alexander speaks of 'use'—satisfactory or otherwise—'posturality'—normal or otherwise—may be substituted without loss of meaning and indeed with greater clarity. I also claim that, for a 21st-century 'scope of practice'—as opposed to credo—for the Alexander Technique, these Conceptual Foundations fill the bill.

Conceptual Foundations

§1. Posture comprises the flow through space and time of all activity of bodily support and movement in the course of living. [[Original]

§1. Posture comprises the flow through space-time of all activity, including both reflex and voluntary contributions, of bodily support and movement in the course of living.[Amended April 30th 2017]

§2. The effect of posture as response to gravitational stress on bodily functioning is constant (stress as in Mechanics—'an applied force or system of forces that tends to strain or deform a body').

§3. Support and movement do not exist apart from each other in the living person; all support involves movement, all movement involves support.

§4. Neither do body and mind exist apart from each other in the living person; rather, these terms refer to different aspects of one unified process. Posture must be viewed inclusively as support-movement, body-mind, or psycho-physical activity.

§5. A comprehensively valid approach to posture must recognize and take into account in its theory and practice this constant, unified, psycho-physical process.

§6. Posture is not fixed from biological inheritance but evolves as a learning process from its genetic and developmental base; posture is a function both of innate factors (reflexes, broadly speaking) and of habit (acquired and more-or-less stereotypical behavior).

§7. Because the innate and the acquired aspects of postural development proceed continuously and simulta­neously from birth onwards, only in very general terms can a clear distinction be made in the living person
between the two.

§8. Generally, the acquired or habitual aspect of posture develops contingently (by learning) rather than systematically (by training), as a function of the individual’s conscious and unconscious responses to the physical, emotional, and cognitive demands of the particular life as actually lived.

§9. To the extent that postural habit is learned, it can through conscious effort be re-learned or modified.

§10. All the foregoing, especially the contingency of postural habit as acquired (§8), imply an issue of quality in the individual’s posture, i.e., to what extent this particular posture that has developed is a factor for better or worse in terms of overall functioning.

§11. Where quality is an issue, assessment is relevant; postural quality can be assessed.

§12. Postural quality varies from moment to moment; the assessment of postural quality, whether by an outside observer or by the individual in question, is always conditional relative to the present moment. Assertions about stable postural quality (“I have good/bad posture”) are thus undue generalizations, subject to further observation and assessment. “Right now” is the only available time for such assessment.

§13. The assessment of postural quality by an outside observer implies comprehensive knowledge of posture as here delineated combined with experience in applying this knowledge to individual variability.

§14. Ultimately, the assessment of postural quality may be accomplished only by the self-aware individual, through comparing manifest action in real time with a sufficiently valid subjective criterion of postural quality. 

§15. Psycho-physically, this criterion is termed 'accurate proprioceptive perception'.[1]

§16. Accurate proprioceptive perception gives a sense of manifest posture corresponding to the actuality of that posture: disparity between perception and reality can occur because postural habit conditions postural perception. For example, the individual with a clearly observable head tilt does not necessarily perceive it as such because visual mechanisms compensate to maintain an upright or “straight” visual field, leading to an unconscious and often-inaccurate postural self-assessment. Many examples of this association between postural habit and proprioceptive perception could be cited; clinical experience indicates that inaccurate proprioceptive perception is not only common but also detrimental to normal functioning in varying degrees among so-called normal as well as symptomatic individuals.

§17. The development of accurate proprioceptive perception is thus the main purpose of postural education.

§18. This educational process provides direct experiences in real time of correct or normal posture: correct ex­periences condition the individual toward correct and accurate perception.

§19. The individual's appropriation of this process necessarily involves intercepting habitual responses perceived to be counterproductive, in order to implement different responses acknowledged to be superior. [Amended 5th June 2019][3]

§20. Posturality is normal when the individual's bodily movement and support are carried out with the skeleton in general and the spine in particular at optimal struc­tural dimension. Minimizing structural stress and pre­venting strain require that the jointed bodily structure be mechanically well-organized over the base of support. Statically, this organization is usually termed 'align­ment'; dynamically, there appears to be no descriptive term other than the generic 'movement'. Both static and dynamic aspects of bodily organization can be incorporated in a practical process called 'lengthening'.[2]

§21. Conceptually, lengthening means that in standing, sitting, walking, bending, or any activity whatever, one must prevent both unnecessary muscular effort and undue distortions of the natural curves of the spine; full appropriation of lengthening, however, comes only through experience.

§22. Posturality is sub-normal when, through incomplete response to the gravitational challenge and/or unduly contracted musculature, the individual is not lengthening.

§23. 'Lengthening' by whatever name is the required principle that unifies the theory of posture as both support and movement. In practice, this principle enables the competent teacher-therapist to assess postural quality reliably and, through the employment of manual and verbal cues and without arbitrary physical exercises, to provide experiences of a normal posturality leading to accurate proprioceptive perception.


[1] Proprioception is 'the normal ongoing awareness, mediated by the action of proprioceptors, of the position, balance, and movement of one's own body, or any of its parts'; a proprioceptor is 'a receptor [nerve cell that in proprioception responds to stretch, pressure, or displacement] located in muscle, tendon, joint, or vestibular apparatus, whose reflex function is locomotor or postural' (Blakiston's Pocket Medical Dictionary, Fourth Edition). Kinesthesis (movement sense) is not synonomous with but actually is a subset of proprioception.

[2] To the best of my knowledge, the concept of lengthening to characterize the integration of support and movement in human posture was originated by F. Matthias Alexander in his Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual and expanded upon in The Use of the Self (1923 and 1932, resp., various editions and reprints).

[3] The text was originally supplied by Ron in December 2017.