You are lighter than you think: getting up from a chair

One of the side benefits of being an Alexander Teacher is my constant search for novel ways to help my students relate to the skills we are teaching. It is no surprise to me that after almost 30 years of teaching, I can still find a new, simpler and more accessible way to describe a common,  habit that gives my students access to an easier, less stressful way to perform a task.

A common habit I have been working on with my students since day one in my teaching career is a tendency to press down onto our legs when we stand up from a chair. I mean increasing downward force far beyond what is mechanically necessary to extend our bent legs after pivoting from our seat to our feet. We move as though we are hoisting an oppressive weight.

A couple of months ago, I was with a student who has been studying for well over two years. He works out with weights, runs and uses a rowing machine. The smoothness and efficiency of his movement, and the improved flexibility in his overall postural and movement tone has consistently grown in efficiency and poise. Still, like me and everyone I know, he still has a tendency to press down onto his feet and legs and then use extra effort to unbend to upright on his way out of the chair.


"It seems like you are bench pressing hundreds of pounds when you stand up."

We explored the trip from sitting to standing so that he could observe how he moved. We characterized what he was doing as thrusting with great force in his legs, as though his body weighed hundreds of pounds. This idea gave him a way to adjust how much upward thrust he deployed as he moved in and out of the chair. We folded this into what I call the "mainframe" attention to his head/neck/back relationship.

I have been using this approach with all my students, and many of them have made immediate changes. The idea is also applicable in a more general way to how much tone/force/effort/bracing we deploy for posture and movement.

Try this:

  1. Stand and sit a few times to get a sense of your experience of the movement.
  2. Think your Alexander directions (I allow my neck to be free, to allow my head to move forward and up, to allow my back to lengthen and widen, to allow my knees to release forward and away*)
  3. Stand and sit a few time with the idea that you do not have to press your head towards your neck, body or the ground.
  4. Add the idea as you move in and out of the chair that you don't have to press your body down onto your legs, or your legs down into the floor.

*Alexander describes in great detail how he developed the directions, and the overall approach to how he did everything he did on the chapter "Evolution of a Technique" in The Use of the Self. It's a great adventure story and I recommend it to everyone!.