Category Archives: Cycling

Rounded shoulders and the relevance of the Alexander Technique – Seán Carey

Biker posture

Biker posture ©Shutterstock

I’m driving slowly along Commercial Street in London’s ultra-fashionable East End when a young female cyclist passes me on the inside. Her expensive-looking bicycle has drop handlebars, though I observe that she is not using her hands to grasp or rest on the lower parts, the curving ends, but the central sections attached to the stem. Nevertheless, I notice that rather than maintaining the length of her spine by leaning forward as a unit from her hip joints, she is curving her back and pulling her head back and down on to her neck as she lifts her face to look forward. She is also pulling her shoulders up and forward so that they appear ‘rounded’. (You can see the same effect in the stock photo attached)

A number of my Alexander students are keen cyclists so I always point out to them that they should think about and organise themselves well if they are to avoid practising unnecessary stiffening while they are out and about on their bicycles. Why? Well, if they are using unnecessary tension and effort to cycle, they are not just adversely affecting their functioning (including breathing, circulation and digestion) but they are also affecting their structure, especially the structure of their spine, rib cage and shoulder girdle, more generally. This can have long-term consequences. In fact, I have been struck over my many years of teaching how stiff in the torso, shoulders, arms and hands almost all my enthusiastic cycling students are.

But it’s not just cyclists who are prone to stiff upper limbs, pushed-forward necks and rounded shoulders. This pattern of mal-coordination tends to affect anyone who uses their arms and hands to touch or manipulate objects. For example, people obliged to sit in front of computers for most of the working day exhibit a similar pattern – postural collapse involving distorting their double-S shaped spine resulting in pushed-forward necks and rounded shoulders. Alas, these poor habits do not magically disappear when someone stands up and goes for a walk or goes down the gym – instead, they become part and parcel of people’s everyday psycho-physical repertoire, affecting everything they do.

Which is why the Alexander Technique is so relevant. Here it’s useful to point out that FM Alexander, the founder of the technique, never made the mistake of thinking of the shoulders as specific entities to be manipulated, but rather he considered them to be part of a total neuro-muscular pattern that required kinaesthetic re-education. That said, he recognised that sometimes the shoulders did require specific attention. In his early years of teaching in the UK Alexander sometimes invited students who were rounding their shoulders to give their ‘orders’ or ‘directions’ for a better integration of the neck-head-back relationship and then add on another order for the shoulders to release ‘back and down’. However, after discovering that this order encouraged most people (no doubt influenced by popular concepts of ‘good posture’) to actively do something rather than simply give their mental directions he then opted to provide the relevant kinaesthetic experience without accompanying words. In short, he decided the less said the better.

Of course, one way of diminishing the amount of unnecessary muscular tension in your body, including undoing rounded shoulders, is to regularly perform Alexander-style lying down – what’s popularly known as the semi-supine position. This involves lying on a firm surface, such as a carpeted floor, with your head supported by a pile of books, your knees pointing towards the ceiling and your feet flat on the floor, comfortably near your pelvis about shoulder-width apart. Your arms can be placed by your sides. Lying down in this way uses gravity to good effect and helps to decompress your spine, and uncurl your shoulders without you having to ‘do’ anything.

For more information on rounded shoulders and the effect of Alexander-style lying down read Seán Carey’s Alexander Technique in Everyday Activity: Improve how you sit, stand, walk, work and run

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