‘The stupidity of letting children go wrong is that once they go wrong, their right is wrong: therefore the more they try to be right, the more they go wrong.’
Brita Forsstrom, a qualified teacher with The Society of Teachers of The Alexander Technique (STAT), gives us some insights into the importance of good posture habits from birth, and how you can play a part.
The newborn baby
A newborn human baby, unlike other mammals, does not have immediate muscular control of its body. Each individual child will learn at their own rate, but all go through the same sequence learning to sit, crawl, stand, manipulate objects, walk and run in a specific order where each step is important for developing the neuromuscular skills required for the next. Babies growing up in a supportive environment will learn these skills on their own through a process of trial and error.
Baby’s first play is a play with gravity and balance
The Alexander Technique is a method to learn how to use our bodies with greater awareness and consciousness - you could say it is technique for developing the ‘thinking body’. Central to the Technique is the proper use of the head in relation to the rest of the neck and spine as a primary coordinator of the use of ourselves as a whole. The early learning process develops the proper functioning of this head/neck/back relationship and the anti-gravity mechanisms which enables us to maintain upright poise with ease.
Basically the baby is playing with gravity and balance, refining its balance until it achieves its goal of being upright. First she learns to use her neck muscles to support the head, and then to use her back muscles to sit unsupported. Next comes crawling, which develops the coordination of the arms and legs. She will begin to pull herself up on furniture, naturally and gracefully going up and down between standing and squatting. Eventually she is able to stand unsupported and takes her first steps.
At their own pace
It is crucial not to force or try to instruct babies, but to let them learn at their own pace. For example it is important that the baby is not encouraged to stand and walk until they can sit and crawl. The way we use our musculature is a total pattern so poor coordination in early years will determine our postural patterns when we become adults. If we interfere with or disturb the natural development, the baby might miss vital stages and have problems of coordination, movement, lack of cross patterning in walking, balance problems etc. for life.
An example of this is pulling the baby up by the arms before she can support her head in sitting making her drop the head backwards and round her back – she learns to slouch with the shoulders up around the ears. I see the result of this in adults when they come to me for Alexander lessons complaining of things like aching shoulders and neck, their shoulders up around their ears at the computer and RSI.
Set a good example
The very best way to ensure your babies grow up with good use is of course to let them learn by example. It is well recognised that one of the primary way babies learn is by imitation. Thirstily soaking up everything that comes their way, children learn by the examples presented to them. They will mimic manners, posture, movements, facial expressions, breathing and the sound of the voice. This ability to imitate lets them learn language, habits and manners of the family and culture, but also posture and movement.
What is perhaps less generally understood is that they also ‘learn in their muscles’ – that is to say they pick up tension from the person handling them and learn to use their own musculature in a similar way. Therefore if you are tense, hunch your shoulders, slump or make a stiff effort to stand up straight that is what they will learn to do as well! If your voice is tight with anxiety and fear, or anger or sadness they will learn that too. Conversely, if you are at ease, balanced, coordinated, with a calm, happy and ‘open’ voice you will teach your baby to be like that as well.
Get off to a good start with Alexander Technique
One of the best gifts to your baby would be to have some Alexander lessons for you, to help you improve the way you use your body and mind. The Alexander Technique also teaches you to touch sensitively. Babies will sense if they are being held confidently or nervously, with love or with rejection. A baby held in a confident yet gentle way will feel more secure and become calm and content.
Essential do's and don't's
How to look after baby goes in different trends and fashions, but how to develop good use of our bodies well doesn’t so below are some do's and don’ts to get you started.
Do let babies sleep on their back on a flat surface
Don’t leave the baby sleeping in the car seat when you get home – it rounds the back
Do let babies lie on their fronts when awake – she might make a complaining noise, but it’s just the sound of her ‘working out’
Don’t leave her on her front if she cries a lot
Do carefully support the babies head until she has developed proper control of her neck muscles
Don’t leave the baby sitting up for long periods until she is 6 months or so and can hold her head up when sitting unaided – many babies have developed a sideways curvature in their back by the time they are one year old
Don't carry the baby in a sling facing outwards - she will be hanging in a slouchy manner and is in effect learning to slouch and potentially will develop a weak back.
Do carry her facing you – snug and close to you and well supported - and better for your back too.
Don't use baby walkers – they will learn to walk badly and might develop a twist or curvature in the spine.
Do let your baby crawl about and pull herself up on furniture to develop natural good coordination in legs and back.
Don't use baby bouncers - or at least not until the baby can walk by herself – same reason as above.
Do play with her and let her teach you a thing or two about good body use.
Don't pull the baby up by the arms – it teaches her to hunch her shoulders up around the ears.
Do let her pull on your fingers when she is lying on her back, but let her determine how far she can go - wait until she can pull herself up with the head and back together at the same time.
Do book some Alexander lessons for you – to help your back and to give your baby the best start in life.
This article was written especially for ThinkBaby, © Brita Forsstrom, April 21st 2008. www.alexandertechniquecity.co.uk
To book Alexander lessons with Brita email her firstname.lastname@example.org and to find you local teacher visit www.stat.org.uk or call 020 7482 5135.