On Good Form

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

The word ‘form’ is often on my mind, these days. All human movement can be made effectively or ineffectively. That’s all 'form' means, really. For example, it’s better form and most efficient to hold a heavy box close to your body than at arms’ length; otherwise arms and back are under unnecessary strain.

People often learn about the consequences of poor form when exercising. It’s the task of gym instructors, physios and sports coaches to educate them about the importance of good form and what it consists of, for any given activity. And it’s as important to know what not to do as it is to know what to do. If you try deadlifting 100kg without understanding a little about form, you and your chiropractor will likely soon know about it.

Mr. Alexander of the Alexander Technique would say ‘use’, rather than ‘form’, but they’re in the same ballpark. He focused much of his work on simple, everyday movements; because the same principle of ‘good or poor form’ applies to things like sitting or walking. Again, people don’t tend to think about their form/use until something starts hurting. So, an Alexander teacher’s job is to help them learn for themselves how to move in the easiest, most efficient ways.

It's a bit different with injury or disease. In my own case, scoliosis and a consequently wonky pelvis had led to one worn hip and two worn knees, and when the joint surfaces started deteriorating very quickly, decent form became increasingly difficult. Even for the simplest tasks, it became impossible not to use compensatory movements, chiefly involving my back. I knew what I wanted to be able to do, but painful osteoarthritis prevented it. The Alexander Technique sadly can’t fix diseases and injuries; though it can help immensely, in ameliorating further damage and doing the best with what you’ve got.

So, the AT was helping, but I was still on a downward spiral. Pain is exhausting. Either you move – inefficiently, because you can’t do otherwise, and you cause more pain and potentially further injury – or you don’t move, and lose fitness. Not much of a choice. My mental health also took a bashing, and I confess to losing trust and faith in my body and my abilities.

Well on the other side of bilateral knee replacements in 2020, my form is finally on the up. I can walk up and down steep hills again, nip up and down stairs, and squat down to get a saucepan out of a low cupboard without overtaxing my intervertebral muscles.

Joint replacements really are the last resort no one relishes, opting for them is a really huge decision to make, and the process is tough. I also know that at some point, my prosthetic joints will fail, necessitating revisions which won’t be as good, and that’s a weird sword of Damocles to live with. HOWEVER, the quality of life, and continually improving form, fitness, and health I can enjoy these next (hopefully 15 or more) years would simply not have been available to me without new knees.

There’s an awful lot written in the wellbeing industry about how joint replacements represent a terrible failure to stay healthy. I’ve read a lot of that. But let me tell you that on the other side of that coin, they can be a tremendous part of a healing journey and facilitate a return to good health and fitness.

My journey has deepened my understanding of the distinction between self-responsibility for things we can do to help ourselves, and self-compassion for things we can’t. I also have deeper appreciation of the impact of ‘use’. Form matters!

If any of this resonates, and you would like to talk about how the Alexander Technique can help you get the best out of yourself; whether alongside medical treatments you might need if you have an ongoing injury or chronic disease, or whether you’re fighting fit but would just like to improve your general form in everything you do, I’ll be delighted to hear from you.