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By Jeffrey Glazer

Recently I was watching a video on YouTube about Patrick Macdonald, a prominent first generation teacher of the Alexander Technique. The video portrays his training course in the 1980’s. I love this video, as I always learn something new when I watch it.

I decided to peruse the comments section, and I saw several comments about Macdonald being hunched, and people asking why that is. Since, among other benefits, the Alexander Technique claims to help with one’s posture, it is totally understandable why people would question why such a distinguished teacher appears slumped.

Thinking about it, I recalled a conversation I had with Daniel Singer, one of the Senior Teachers at ACAT (The American Center for the Alexander Technique). Daniel took lessons from Macdonald for many years, and was profoundly influenced by his approach, especially when he started teaching. I remember Daniel explaining how Macdonald was born with some of his vertebrae fused together, and that he had a terrible prognosis from when he was a young child. Daniel also said the following:

“What people see in the older (Macdonald) videos particularly is a bit of a medical miracle.  It is uncanny that he was able to manage such a rare, profound and overwhelming condition so effectively due to his Alexander Technique “thinking in activity.”

After clarifying the details on Macdonald, I added the following comment on YouTube…

Regarding some of the comments about posture and why Macdonald is hunched, I think there is a misunderstanding. At 2:54 in part 1, it mentions that Macdonald had a congenital curvature of the spine, and later in the video (part 2, 6:50), Macdonald says that the technique saved his life. I spoke to an Alexander Teacher who took lessons from Macdonald for many years, and he told me that Macdonald was born with 5 thoracic vertebrae fused together, and he had early onset idiopathic scoliosis, with a strong forward pull as well as a twist. That type of scoliosis is severe and can even be life threatening. Despite Macdonald’s poor prognosis, his Alexander Technique skill and thinking helped enable him to overcome the most harmful effects of his condition, as he miraculously lived so long and vigorously with such a structural condition.

And only as his overall strength declined due to whatever other aging factors appeared to weaken him, did the conditions of his structured stoop (which was imprinted into the structure of his body from birth) become visibly worse. It is likely that the reason Macdonald said the Alexander Technique saved his life is because with his condition one can end up bent over 90 degrees with the face and chest facing the ground, and the result of those pulls can compromise the space needed for organs to function properly. So, while it is true that most Alexander Teachers and experienced students stand upright and have what many would call “good posture”, sometimes there are underlying conditions or other factors that are at play.

So, here is the moral of the story…

  1. Sometimes there are underlying conditions that affect the spine, and consequently, posture. While such conditions can prevent one from fully standing up straight, this does not mean they cannot benefit from the Alexander Technique. Without the Alexander Technique, Macdonald would likely have been hunched over in much more dramatic fashion. Indeed, Marjorie Barstow, another renowned first generation teacher, developed severe osteoporosis later in life, and has many YouTube videos where she is hunched. She also taught into her 90’s, and just like Macdonald was able to so at a high level of energy and vitality.
  1. One must be careful not to judge too quickly, whether it is posture, or anything else.
  1. The idea of posture as some sort of fixed upright shape is not really adequate. Posture is dynamic, as we are constantly moving about and adapting different positions to do what we need. It is more important to learn to move with less tension and without compressing the spine, so that there is greater ease and coordination in all activities.
  1. In addition to being about movement, the Alexander Technique cultivates a high level of awareness around one’s thinking and reaction patterns. This results in the ability to think more clearly and respond more constructively to whatever one is doing. When we learn to slow down, it can also help to calm the nervous system, which, in today’s society, is a much needed component of overall health.

Finally, here are links to the Macdonald video, which is broken up into two parts:

Part 1

Part 2

Watch, learn, and enjoy!