Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Book Review of The Posturality of the Person: A Guide to Postural Education and Therapy by Ron Dennis

Posture, as Ron Dennis defines it, “comprises the flow through space and time of all activity of bodily support and movement in the course of living.” A study of posture in this dynamic sense leads not only to a descriptive understanding of the state of any person’s posture, but also to prescriptive guidelines for assessing theposturality of the person”, the term Dennis has coined for the quality of postural use and the title of this important book. Dennis, a veteran teacher—and teacher of teachers—of the Alexander Technique of postural education, received the 2012 Certificate of Merit from the American Society for the Alexander Technique. His incisive yet brief book (112 pages) is worth multiple readings—but not just for students and teachers of the Alexander Technique. Although the influence from his study and teaching of the Alexander Technique is certainly not negligible, this book is not specifically about that well-known approach to 'posture' and 'movement'. Rather in the notion of posturality, Dennis connects and extends the core concerns of Alexander Technique teachers to those of physical therapists, physicians, chiropractors, personal trainers, psychotherapists, as well as contemporary movement scientists and other students of human physiology and behavior, including students of Korzybski's general semantics (GS)—but more on that connection shortly.

After his opening "Introduction" which outlines the aim and content of the book, Dennis' Chapter 2—"Conceptual Foundations"—provides a list of "22 foundational statements" on "the physiological and developmental issues relevant to the approach of posturality being advocated." The remainder of the book does not thoroughly cover all of these premises, which would require a much larger book or even multiple encyclopedic volumes. Instead, Dennis focuses his remaining chapters on statements 19 through 22, which deal with the notion of "lengthening", the process of arriving at an "optimal structural dimension" of the skeleton, especially the spine, for the least amount of unnecessary strain in movement and support. Subsequent chapters on lengthening include: "Length and Lengthening"; "Why Lengthen?"; "Good Grief, How Do I Lengthen?"; "Dynamic Posturality ~ Moving with Length"; "Breath as Postural Process"' and "Where Do We Go from Here", which surveys various manipulative, exercise, and awareness-based approaches to musculoskeletal health, seen through the lens of posturality. The final chapter 9, "Bibliographic Essay", provides valuable recommendations for further reading, including Science and Sanity and my wife's and my book Drive Yourself Sane: Using the Uncommon Sense of General Semantics. Three appendices follow including a case report by Julie Orta, who describes how—through her work with Dennis—she resolved her personal problems with chronic debilitating neck and shoulder pain; and two articles written by Dennis: "Poise and the Art of Lengthening", and "Muscles and Mentals: How We Get Tense".

The relevance of Dennis' notion of posturality to Korzybski's GS seems clear in Dennis' sharp denial of dualism. Korzybski formulated the problem of dualism in terms of what he called "elementalism", unconsciously dividing up what we don't find divided in the non-verbal, process world. In performing this unconscious isolation of related elements, we are likely to thereby neglect important relationships, contexts, and connections. Our language use can express such elementalistic evaluating by suggesting false-to-fact, static, isolated structures. Dennis, who has studied Korzybski's work, demonstrates throughout the book his consciousness of this problem and resolutely and explicitly emphasizes the relatedness of 'support' and 'movement', as well as the non-separability of 'mechanical'/'physiological' factors from our 'emotional'/'intellectual' life. Dennis' "non-elementalism" is also apparent in his emphasis, following scientist-epistemologist Michael Polanyi, on the importance of personal, phenomenological experience in the study and correction of posturality. In so doing, Dennis suggests the need to resolve the radical split between 'objectivity' and 'subjectivity', which has long remained at the center of Western assumptions about human knowledge. Korzybski, who had F. M. Alexander's books in his personal library, definitely considered the relevance of 'posture' to his own work: clearly expressed in his development of the technique of "neuro-semantic relaxation" (See Korzybski: A Biography, pp. 344, 414-415, 646).

In conclusion, The Posturality of the Person will reward those with professional and theoretical interests in musculoskeletal health as well as general readers looking for a sound, clear and practical basis for dramatically improving their own postural use. As psychologist Kurt Lewin suggested, there is nothing so practical as a good theory. Dennis shows that the split between the 'theoretical' and 'practical' can and must be bridged. Although short and simple, this is not “Posture for Dummies”. Wise up and get The Posturality of the Person

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