The iHunch Blues
Take note of this recent article in the New York Times by Amy Cuddy: “Your iPhone Is Ruining Your Posture – And Your Mood.” EGADS, that wily machine!!
Cuddy, a Harvard Business School professor, has skyrocketed into the dialectic with her theories on confidence correlating to assertive stances. Here, she posits that slouching over devices actually makes people depressed: studies show that if you are in a collapsed posture, you also feel emotionally bad. Slumping may manifest in depression, or lack of assertiveness, or habitually taking a negative point of view. Because people in their teens and 20s are using devices the most, major posture problems are now showing up in supposedly spry young people, not just wizened older folks. (Bonus: the article introduced me to some great new terms: the “iHunch” and “iPosture!”)
Every Alexander teacher I know who saw this article said something to the effect of “Well, YEAH!!” I don’t mean to sound glib, it’s just that we see the negative results of mindless device use every day, and often encounter students who want help with how to better sit at their desks or use their smartphones, because they are starting to experience issues related those daily tasks. The Alexander Technique can be described as “embodied mindfulness” – cultivating mind-body connection, bringing awareness to HOW you are using your self as you do whatever activity you do, so it’s ideal for people who want to address their particular work/life habits. We don’t give you something new to do, or take away activities you enjoy. We simply give tools to bring a “practical intelligence to what you are already doing” (to borrow Frank Pierce Jones’ elegant phrase.)
I found the comments on this article quite telling – many people felt that the author was somehow attacking their lifestyles, wanting to return us to the pre-digital age. The level of defensiveness the article inspired surprised me. A number of people responded “oh, we probably shouldn’t read books either!” and “why is Apple always the culprit?”
My personal takeaway from this article has nothing to do with whether a device is good or bad for you. Simply: there are costs to bad postural habits. They can harm your body, harm your mind, harm your spirit and outlook – yep, they can make you feel baaaaaad all over. But it’s not all “out with your iPad!”: you can use all the latest gadgets BEAUTIFULLY by just giving a moment’s thought and awareness. How heavy IS that phone, actually, and why are you bending yourself around it? How ARE you sitting right now – balanced in the two halves of your body and well supported by the chair or ground, or are you leaning or scrunching to one side? As you read, ARE you breathing?
As you let your held breath out, stale carbon dioxide is released and fresh oxygen is triggered to rush in to replenish your whole system. As you let in the support of the chair or the ground beneath you, you don’t have to work so hard to hold yourself up. As you release excessive muscular effort to balance your 4 ounce phone (that’s right, it’s only a quarter of a pound!), and soften through your wrists, let your fingers spread instead of curl and untighten your bicep – well, that’s not too bad either. As you read, let the words on the phone come to your eyes, and, if need be, bend your elbow to raise the phone closer to your face, rather than getting sucked down into the tiny screen. And there you go! You, this breathing, expansive, balanced person who is using technology: master of your phone!