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The Alexander Technique 2: Posture Release Imagery

July 19, 2012

John Appleton’s Posture Release Imagery was invented “to help us out of the all-too-common world of unnecessary discomfort, pain, fatigue, and other posture-related body dissatisfaction.”

Appleton’s bio describes the beginnings of this Posture Release Imagery:

“I was giving a lesson in the Alexander Technique to a young theatre student. I was working with him seated in a chair and having difficulty getting him to “lighten up.” When my verbal suggestions and light (but still novice) hands-on cues failed to produce change, I happened to suggest that he imagine that he is a cheetah looking over a savannah for prey. Being a suggestions (an image) I had heard from a teacher before, this image obviously worked for him in a way that my earlier approaches had not. He “shot up” in stature (without leaving the chair). This event of providing a student with “colorful” direction marked the beginning of years of experimentation with imagery… and numerous new levels of excitement and understanding in my work as well as pain relief and freedom within myself.”


Posture Release Imagery is a mental form of posture exercise, but it becomes quite physical in effect. It promotes more naturally graceful movement. It was inspired by the principles of the Alexander Technique, evolutionary theory, and a theory of personality types.

This unique form of imagery is a new way of exploring the healthy use of our bodies and, with time, it can be utilized during virtually any activity. As you develop the ability to do the mental exercises well, you will unleash hidden lightness, stability, and gracefulness within yourself.

These images, correctly imagined, call upon the sensory wisdom of our “right brains,” that part of our thinking that is visual and holistic as opposed to verbal and linear. The exercises are largely based on illustrations of a the simplest version of a four-legged creature, what I call an “archetypal tetrapod.”

This creature represents a “map” of our own body surfaces—and our evolutionary history—simplified. The exercises provide a challenging but ultimately rewarding way to experience the body. If practiced with diligence, the use of Posture Release Imagery can result in a much improved posture and a more graceful yet sturdy sense of ourselves.

PRI is both therapeutic and educational. I consider it a valuable tool for overcoming posture and habit generated pain but also for increasing understanding and empathy for others with postures and habits quite different from your own. The imagery alters habitual response. Some of the imagery is visual in nature, some of it is related to the senses of the surface of our body (tactile/kinesthetic or somatosenses), and some is a combination of both.

The development of the imagery initially began as a result of my effort to describe the Alexander Technique through illustration to people unfamiliar with it. Musing on my own drawings of simplified evolution brought about my first new principle, which relates to the appropriate relationship between the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the body). This principle partly sprang from contemplating a portion of a principle of the Alexander Technique, which was “… back to lengthen and widen.” From there grew an awareness that imagery could provide new knowledge and additional principles of healthy posture and body use. The usefulness of specific imagery for students and myself later became apparent while teaching lessons in the Alexander Technique, and, as a result, the imagery evolved considerably beyond the generally accepted scope of the Alexander Technique. People without lessons in the Alexander Technique can benefit from these ideas and exercises.

The type of imagery proposed here is “whole-body.” It entails imagining visual and sensational changes to the entire body surface.

How Imagery Works:

Our “self-image,” for instance, may be quite unavailable to our consciousness and yet it can be shown to be of major importance to our well-being. Posture Release Imagery demonstrates this assertion. It does so by temporarily changing the body and its posture and tonus pattern from what had been the “self-image.”

Imagery has been written about, experimented with, and classified. But, from my perspective and for the purposes of this book, it is simply “colorful thought.” To direct movement in a healthy graceful manner, linear thoughts (as in, “do this and then do this…”) alone are insufficient. Appropriate kinesthetic sensations are necessary… and they can come from the more complete and immediate assistance of non-linear, holistic images that provide us the full direction required in activity… if we want to break our constrictive habits.

We normally think of sensations as the result of the body’s and the environment’s influences. That may be frequently true, but it will be shown through your experimentation here that sensations, though they are the results of events, actually cause our bodies to react as they do and that promoting proper sensations can eliminate the pains and dysfunctions we habitually experience.

Images are part of our every movement though, of course, we are most often unaware of their presence. It is when we suffer pain and unsatisfying posture and movement qualities that a solution is called for. The imagery here… replaces the dysfunctional images you are unaware of with specific archetypal ones.

There is a degree of imagery in all disciplines for promoting greater health, of one sort or another, within us. Examples are in tai chi, yoga, zen, all of the religions, sports and exercise regimens, the Alexander Technique, other mind/body and psychology disciplines and therapies. I consider the specific imagery introduced here as an approach that more directly and simply alters sensation, then posture, and then potentially onward to attitude and outlook. I am not suggesting that it replaces all of the disciplines I have mentioned… but it can enhance/support them.

The illustrations on this page indicate the locations of the dorsal (white) and ventral (dark gray) surfaces on us all. They are invisible on us and their more precise locations have not been previously indicated anywhere that I am aware of… on body maps or illustrations. Perhaps earlier there was insufficient value in more precisely identifying their locations, but there certainly is now! I have discovered that it is beneficial to be familiar with where each surface is, sometimes rather precisely, and to understand how they can be opposingly sensed to produce a healthy, light, sturdy, and pain-free body. Much of the experimenting with Posture Release Imagery that follows depends on this familiarity.

We have all seen the highly simplistic fish-to-human illustrations of evolution. The first illustration above is something similar, and also very simplified, but has the specific purpose of suggesting how the dorsal and ventral surfaces have evolved and come to be located on humans. The positions of the dorsal and ventral surfaces have gone through some big changes through evolution and that should be noted. The dorsal surface of early organisms faced upward and the ventral surface was on the underside. As evolution has progressed, that has changed… though not entirely.

The simpler caricatures of evolutionarily earlier creatures, acting as map surfaces for displaying body tonus and other qualities, are useful for describing many of the new and refreshing kinesthetic experiences to come.

This small illustration here represents a simple or “archetypal” form of a tetrapod with an upper dorsal surface and lower ventral surface. It is as basic as it can be and still indicate the major attributes of a four-legged, or orignally four-legged, vertebrate animals. This and other caricatures of various simplified creatures are used throughout this book to indicate how you might imagine yourself to be, though your own body is considerably more complex in appearance

Dorsal-Ventral Relationship – in relation to gravity:

Healthy and efficient support of our structure (and that of probably all land-bound tetrapods) comes from the appropriate relationship of the dorsal and ventral surfaces. In relation to gravity, the entire dorsal surface gently expands upward and outward and the entire ventral surface gently contracts downward and inward. This response is the general neurological model for the proper positioning of the skeletal system with the least effort by means of the muscular system.

In addition, the healthy ventral relationship to the earth is enhanced by sensing its total contact with the earth… if necessary, by imaging it so.

The images rest on the notion that something significant, though not necessarily conscious, comes to us from our distant past. Can it be that we maintain our continuity and control our support against the force of gravity in the same way as do all land-bound creatures (terrestrial tetrapods)? Could the relationship of the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the body be key to appropriate support or posture of all these creatures? Are there common principles in movement control and movement execution that all creatures have… and we frequently manage to ignore? With PRI experience, the answer to these questions and others seems to be yes.

Dorsal-ventral relationship- in relation to the self and other, independent of gravity:

The dorsal surface should generally be felt as expanding in relation to a ventral surface that is sensed as contracting… even without respect to gravity

The functional segments– the director, motor, and rudder:

The body consists of functional (though invisible) segments that can be viewed (through imagery) as somewhat independent from each other… in order to promote optimal postural health. The locations where the segments are separated can be usefully thought of as balance “pivot points” and “borders” between functions.

There are three basic functional parts of the body that most determine posture and movement. I have simply named them the “director,” “motor,” and “rudder” segments. These segments have distinct functions in support and movement. All three segments in the horizontal creature are obviously horizontal, but only the middle “motor” segment is vertical or “upright” in the third and fourth upright examples. Imagining sharp distinctions between the segments and their orientation is another tool for attaining healthy structure. Experiences of more graceful posture and movement, as well, are attained when these segments are felt and imagined to be substantially free of each other in order to carry out their separate functions.

The functional segments – the additional segments:

It is important for the left and the right sides of the body to be free of cross-body tensions in order to do many things well. More graceful movement is attained when these segments are felt or imagined to be substantially free and independent of each other. One side can be felt to influence the other, but not to control it.

The dorsal “roof” or “cover” and the ventral “floor” have separate functions suggested by the names I have given them here. They also make up the most basic of body segmentation and can be usefully imagined as separated. These special segments are described more fully in the dorsal-ventral relationship above and their point of separation, what I call the “dorsal-ventral seam” is discussed separately below.

The body is made up of additional functional segments and locations for sensing greater freedom which improve structural sturdiness and strength as well as graceful movement (shown on the right as “YES”).

All of the sensed locations of splits or extra freedom are healthy… in contrast to the linguistic and subconscious way that we tend to mentally divide the body into the body parts – arms, legs, head, neck, eyes, ears, nose (nostrils), “body,” and “tail” section (shown on the left as “NO”). Healthy support and movement comes from a whole body flow of neurological impulses originating from organisms older than the body parts we tend to be fixated on.

The functional segments– where freedom and strength are the same:

The locations where the body can be usefully thought of as segmented are the same locations where we can carrying loads with the least strain. Merely imagining carrying large weights at these locations is, in addition, an actual strengthening (of structure) activity.

The dorsal-ventral seam:

The border area between the dorsal and ventral surfaces of the body is of prime importance in both perception and locomotion. (This borderline is shown here in red on simple archetypal four-legged creatures but is illustrated on human-like figures elsewhere.) Most perception and movement originates along this border or “seam.” Subtle and graceful expression and movement responses begin here. When some tension or increased tone is necessary in the body, as when doing work, it is healthiest when the tension is felt to be closer to these border areas (as well as to the ventral surface) than when in the core of the body. Imagery of changes along this zone is very useful to attaining greater grace in movement and expression, as well as to improving perception of the world outside.

Posture, locomotion, and emotion:


There is a meaningful and historical connection between posture, elemental locomotion, and elemental emotion. (This assertion is made by others as well. However, included in this book are some illustrations that begin to suggest how more precisely it is true.)

The evolutionary waves in graceful movement:

Early organisms’ methods of locomotion (whole-body peristalsis, lateral undulation, and dorsal-ventral undulation) became the model for neurologically directing graceful and efficient movement of appendages (limbs or wings, for example) in higher life forms. (This idea is not new, perhaps, but its implications can be more valuable to our health and use than is generally understood.) It is more valuable to think of easy or graceful movement as being the consequence of body surface flow rather than just the sense of muscle contraction and release.

The double or repeating waves:

Muscle tonus patterns in the head, neck, and front portion of the shoulder and arms are, in undisturbed function, repeated in the rest of the body. This assertion is made toward the bottom of my list but may be the most important. It suggests that the tonal patterns of the face, head, neck, and the front portion of the shoulder and arms (light gray area on the archetypal creatures illustrated here) repeat themselves below, in all the wave forms, through the remainder of the body (dark gray area).

“Neck free, head forward and up…”

“Neck free, head forward and up…” is imaginarily illustrated in the upper drawing. But the same general instructions are shown in this other illustration as well. The differences show in the tilt of the “freed” portions can be significant in the results of the basic image. This difference can be experiencially valuable. If you tried the universal image version of this exercise and “experienced” the basic image that has no tilting body segments, then next try, with some diligence to experience the four versions illustrated below… the four types. If you have not worked with the universal image version of this exercise, it may be best for you go to the universal imagery page, read the short description and instructions, and do that one first.

The effect upon you of these various forms may well be different than the illustrations imply. That could be good. It means that you have imagined, and not actively imitated the variations and allowed its effect to travel all through your body. The effects of this exercise on the lower portions of the body are not illustrated here and can be quite significant.


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