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The Align Method
5 Movement Principles for a Stronger Body, Sharper Mind, and Stress-Proof Life
Foreword by Kelly Starrett
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Good posture is about more than standing up straight: It can change your mood, alleviate pain, rid your body of stressful tension, and may be the difference between getting that raise you’ve wanted and attracting your ideal mate, or not. But in order to reap all those benefits, the body must be properly integrated. Celebrity movement coach and manual therapist Aaron Alexander offers a revolutionary approach to body alignment to build strength, reduce pain, and put you on a direct path to peak performance that is both fun and accessible.
The Align Method centers on five daily optimizations that can be easily integrated into any workout, mindfulness practice, or daily life activity:
- Floor Sitting
- Nose Breathing
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“Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.”
If you pinned me down and asked me upon pain of humiliation and death what I’m good at—like actually competent at—I’d say, “My ability to see patterns and relationships.” In this miraculous age of information overload, sorting through the noise of advertising, gimmickry, quick fixes, and fads taxes even what I believe to be my meager self-professed super-skill. And I’ve had training and experience—a lot of it. Thinking about restoring and optimizing the human condition is an all-out obsession for both me and those coaches and teachers in what my brilliant business partner and wife, Juliet, calls my “nerd cabal.” So to say that even I sometimes find myself struggling to keep up with the fire hose of often conflicting and always varied health and wellness information out there makes me appreciate the potential Gordian knot that our friends and neighbors face when it comes to taking control over their long-term health.
On the face of it, the simple complexity of the human being is downright overwhelming. The human brain alone is the most sophisticated and complex structure in the known universe. Add that “machine” to the self-healing, tolerant, extraordinary, anti-fragile human body, and it’s hard to know where to even begin. Oh, and we are complex psycho-emotional beings to boot! What I can tell you with 100 percent certainty is that a few pieces of information apply to you:
1. You have no idea of the depth of your physical capacities or resilience.
2. The resting state of the human is pain-free.
3. Your body is designed to function well over a lifetime that could easily last a hundred years.
I’ve spent decades in the trenches of the battle for human performance, and I believe unabashedly in these three statements. And what I’ve come also to believe is that you don’t need a fancy coach, sleep tracker, protein shake, supplement, or degree in bio-hacking to benefit from what is your human birthright and inheritance. On the contrary, you simply need a different framework to see through all the noise and interference. Fortunately for you, you’re holding it in your hands.
We have a saying around our house: “Show me you can be consistent before you are heroic.” Consistency isn’t sexy. Informed simplicity will never be “Insta-famous.” One of the issues of being a modern human is that it’s hard for us to appreciate how long a hundred years really is. Advanced medicine makes it much more likely that, barring catastrophe, most of us will make it to a significantly advanced age. The question this naturally begets is, “How capable do I want to be when I get there?” The flip side to this impending amortality is that who we are and what we do today dictates the experience on the back half of our lives.
Yes, our human physiology is remarkably tolerant, but no, it won’t put up with our crap forever. It’s confusing, I know. I have Olympic gold medalist friends who could eat a whole bag of little chocolate donuts, sneak a cigarette, pull an all-nighter, and still run rings around me on my best day. But I don’t use this as an excuse to believe that my lifestyle doesn’t matter. On the contrary, I take this extraordinary built-in human capacity as a sign that I don’t have to get it right immediately, and that I can afford to not be perfect. It’s never too late to make positive change. At what age again does your body stop healing? Oh, that’s right. Never. The magic of this book is that Aaron has given us a template that we can begin to lay over our lives today, and one that will continue to work long, long into the future.
If you are obsessed with pattern recognition and understanding how things relate, then at some point you have to ask, “What is essential here?” If you talk to any of the greatest minds alive today about what would improve any output of human function and overall quality of life, most would agree that the lessons contained in these pages are the place to start. Most of my “deep nerd” friends would concur that the point of studying sports and human performance is so that we can apply lessons learned to the rest of our “mere mortal” selves and lives. In a not-insignificant twist of ironic fate, we are coming to realize that the first principles of being human aren’t really that complicated or even that sexy: sleep, play, get out in sunlight, eat whole food, foster community, be active in nature, and, perhaps most important, move. Wash, rinse, repeat for the rest of your life.
You see, we tend to treat our health and wellness like a finite game. Such games have clear beginnings and ends, and the rules are clear to everyone. Infinite games, on the other hand, can’t ever be “won.” The rules are unclear (stress, disease, injury, life, children, work), and we aren’t really sure when the game will end. The only way to win is to keep playing, and to play as well as you are able today. Tomorrow, you’ll have a chance to play better. Now, if only you had some kind of primer, some sort of guidebook to make it easier to play your own infinite life game a little better, with more joy and less confusion. Aaron knows your body is extraordinary and he wants you to play beautifully. The game is on.
Kelly Starrett, DPT
“When your body is not aligned ,
The inner power will not come.
When you are not tranquil within ,
Your mind will not be well ordered.
Align your body, assist the inner power ,
Then it will gradually come on its own.”
—Ancient Chinese Guanzi Text (26 BCE)
It’s an ironic experience to walk into an event focusing on wellness and witness thousands of people hunching over their respective chairs, in an air-conditioned box, under beaming artificial lights, alternating between staring down at their cell phones and back up to the expert on stage pontificating on an illusory idea of optimal health. This scene would be confusing at best for our hunter-gatherer ancestors steeped in a more natural lifestyle that Westerners so often attempt to emulate. We are “standing on top of a whale while fishing for minnows,” as Joseph Campbell said, and that whale is the way you move. Your vitality is determined by far more than overpriced supplements, complex dietary dogmas, or the latest fitness trends. The way you move impacts every aspect of your life and can be leveraged to make you feel stronger, more confident, and at home in your body.
The fundamentals of optimizing your life to move pain-free and feel your best are simple and teachable; this book contains the foundational principles for doing so. The collection of ideas within this book represent thousands of years of research from the world’s preeminent thought leaders on all things movement and wellness to form the ultimate guide for physical inhabitance. What does that mean? Physical inhabitance is the way you sit, stand, walk, breathe, look, touch, listen, communicate, and generally occupy your body in any given moment during the day. It’s a choice to either passively allow life to slip by or to actively engage in the ongoing process of growing into yourself. In the coming chapters, you will learn exactly how to leverage each moment of the day to become the strongest, sharpest, and most stress-proof version of yourself.
WHY I’M TELLING THIS STORY
I began my journey in a similar place as many young people: insecure and unsure how to feel confident in my own skin. Growing up with the body of a confused baby giraffe, a set of crooked teeth, and a bowl cut would be challenging for anyone, but things became especially interesting when my home life began deteriorating. Enter compensation in the form of fitness. I worked out relentlessly in a vain attempt to create a strong body to act as a fortress within chaos. When I was around age sixteen, it was no surprise to receive a call telling me my dad had finally been taken to prison on a slew of felony charges ranging from possession of crack cocaine to illegal weapons to prostitution. Before that call, the drugs had wreaked so much havoc that I would relentlessly rehearse in preparation for receiving a much bleaker message, so the news he had been locked up was oddly comforting.
In retrospect, this was the beginning of my interest in the way thoughts and emotions form our physical structures and, reciprocally, the power movement has to influence our mental, emotional, and physiological makeup. After several years of insulating myself with muscle by obsessing over bodybuilding in a variety of unhealthy ways, things finally began breaking down—I started to suffer from dislocating joints, chronic back pain, and an underlying, ineffable sensation of disconnect. My body appeared to be the peak expression of a fit male, yet internally I felt ashamed and out of place. It became clear something needed to change: I had been so focused on pushing for the most impressive-appearing exterior, I hadn’t realized I was grinding myself down while simultaneously pushing others away. I needed to change the way I treated my body and re-form my definition of strength. It was time to stop pushing and start balancing. This eventually became the foundation for my work with clients, assisting them to find ease in their own bodies and gain relationship with themselves by accessing the power of their own movement.
The Align Method represents the tools and practices I’ve encountered over the past sixteen years of professionally seeking physical, mental, and emotional balance for myself and the amazing clients I’ve had the opportunity to work with. It isn’t just reaffirming the traditional definitions of exercise, but rather is about how to merge movement awareness into daily life so each moment becomes an opportunity for greater alignment and vitality. It isn’t a static method as much as it is an approach to life. Bruce Lee said “Set patterns, incapable of adaptability, of pliability, only offer a better cage. Truth is outside of all patterns.” This is a principles-based field manual on occupying your body to burn fat, build muscle, increase energy levels, and move better as you grow older.
Where did the belief emerge that our bodies are constructed to inevitably break down with age? This is simply not true. Yes, these bodies are loaners, and we’ll trade them in sooner or later, but the manner in which you age is a choice based on how you live today. The modern environment no longer naturally forms us into strong, flexible, aligned bodies—we need to pay special attention to lifestyle and movement function to be smarter than the misaligned modern world we occupy.
I’m warning you ahead of time: There will be aspects of the book that won’t seem exactly “normal” or “comfortable.” That’s the whole point. The modern definition of “normal” is, for the most part, a state of imbalance. Long-term success is the product of making more balanced decisions on a momentary basis. Your movement and lifestyle could be compared to a golfer driving a ball: the subtlest of changes upon the moment of contact may not be immediately noticeable over the first few yards, but with time and distance traveled, those initial millimeters are the difference between the ball happily landing on the green or shanking into the rough. The standard club angle of modern culture is slightly askew, and this is an opportunity to readjust using the lessons to come in following chapters. The evolution of our species is dependent on those of us who are willing to be different, so be proud of your pursuit to think and move beyond the pale of normalcy.
Let’s get started.
WELCOME TO YOUR BODY
Stand Up for Yourself—Posture and Personality
“The way you walk through a room is the way you walk through life.”
—Ida Rolf, founder of Rolfing Structural Integration
Your movement is literally an expression of the way in which you think and feel. Have you ever noticed a random guy approach a beautiful girl (or vice versa) in a coffee shop and curiously observed the dynamic? You can tell from across the room if he feels confident in his approach and simultaneously see if she believes he’s a viable mate worthy of sharing her coveted digits with based purely on the dynamics of their movement. Is this because you’ve been endowed with telepathic superpowers, or could it be that you’re reading their body language? A fascinating study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University showed how posture during communication not only informs the way others perceive you, but may even shape your own self-belief.1 They asked study participants to list three positive and three negative traits they possess that would impact their professional performance at a future job. Half of the participants were asked to write these traits while they were in a hunched-over position, while the other half were asked to assume an upright posture during the process.
The results were striking. Their posture not only impacted whether or not they identified with the positive things they were asked to write about themselves, but also affected a participant’s belief in the statements, positive or negative. That’s right: A person’s belief of their own words is associated with their postural position while thinking them. When you’re in a hunched-over position, you may begin to distrust yourself, in the same way others would distrust the level of confidence in your statements.
Along with affecting the way you think about yourself, your postural patterns even impact the filter in which you access memories. A study conducted at San Francisco State University by professor of health education Erik Peper showed that more than 85 percent of the time, students found it easier to access uplifting memories in an upright (aligned) position and, reciprocally, easier to access depressive memories in a slumped posture.2 Peper suggested, “You can take charge of yourself. Put yourself in an empowering, upright position. Remember that our thoughts and emotions are represented in our bodies. And vice versa: Our bodies can change our thoughts.”
Throughout the book, I use “mind” and “body” as two separate words regularly: this is a limitation in language, not the reality of the human experience. In my career, I’ve yet to meet a person whose physical patterns did not relate to their history and personality or whose overall muscular tone did not match their temperament. If you’re feeling tense or anxious, your muscles are tense and anxious. If you feel calm and relaxed, you can imagine the effect on your soft tissues. Here’s a nice insight on trauma expressing itself in the body from one of the seminal books on this mind-body relationship, The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk, MD:
Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of childhood victims are tense and offensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe. In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.3
Let’s repeat that: “Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.” Upon gaining a relationship with your physical experience, you are simultaneously taking steps to gain control of your mental and emotional self.
Your body has an immediate physical reaction to thoughts and experiences. This is a good thing: The problem arises when a traumatic experience causes the body to contract and the afflicted individual lacks the space, resources, or know-how to naturally reset their nervous system back to a baseline of homeostasis.
In the book Waking the Tiger, master somatic therapist Peter Levine discusses the natural responses various animals display after being immobilized by stress: They literally shake it off in a self-soothing process before getting back to their daily grind. Imagine a zebra just barely making it out of the clutches of a hungry lion: The stress of the situation needs to go somewhere after the escape. The tremors following the close call for the zebra are part of the process of discharging stress, a reboot for the nervous system bringing the frightened animal back to a healthy baseline. If the process is interrupted, Levine goes on to write, the stress is not released from the body, health problems will ensue, and the symptoms will not go away until the responses are discharged and the process of releasing the stress is completed.4
Humans, on the other hand, experience stressful “micro-traumas” each day in the form of rejection, noise pollution, minor accidents, the mechanical stress of moving with imbalanced postures, or anything that induces a sense of anxiety or fear in the organism. The short-term solution for many people is to keep pushing on instead of allowing a moment to fully shake off the newfound stress formed in the body, leaving their physiology assuming a lion is still hanging off their backs as they forge forward into the tasks of the day.
Most folks can make it through their lives with a few small lions (imbalanced postural patterns, financial, relationship, or environmental stressors, etc.) continually hanging on and slowly draining energy, but thankfully we have Starbucks (sarcasm) to keep us moving across the savanna (no wonder Americans spent $74.2 billion in 2015 on coffee alone).5 If we don’t pay attention to shaking these hungry carnivores off, they’ll add up, and before we know it our precious bodies begin succumbing to postural collapse, sleep disruption, joint pain, unhealthy food cravings, dis-ease, and a mind partial to negative self-talk.
There’s a solution to this: Shake these daily metaphoric lion attacks from your back as they happen instead of allowing them to add up and compromise your ability to maintain control of your own body. The principles outlined in the coming chapters will offer you the necessary tools to unravel the day’s stressors via simple adjustments to your environment and subtle shifts in your physical inhabitance to shake any clinging lions (stressors) and prevent future attacks.
After something stressful takes place in your day (lion attack of any shape or size), take a beat to reset before entering into your next appointment, conversation, or event of the day. Call a time-out and observe yourself by slowly using this modification of a box-style breathing pattern: Breathe in for four seconds, hold for four seconds, breathe out for six seconds, hold for four seconds. Repeat this pattern six times. I’ve found the extra time breathing out assists in down-regulating the nervous system into a calmer state than the traditional four-by-four-by-four-by-four-style box breathing. Compound the stress-reducing variables by taking a walk outside as you follow the breath practice. For bonus destressing points, feel free to jump, wiggle, vibrate, twist, and turn your body while you’re on your walk.
MOVING YOUR PHYSIOLOGY
“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.”
—Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity
Now, where the conversation gets intriguing is when we realize our postural patterns appear to have deep physiological ramifications. It’s as though our endocrine system is deciphering our postural positions like a person reading braille and actually changing our mood based on the signaling of our movement.
It appears your hormones may act like messengers between your postural patterns and the state you experience. A trio of social psychology professors—Amy Cuddy from Harvard, Andy Nap from Yale, and Dana Carney from the University of California, Berkeley—explored this idea in 2010 when they popularized the idea of “high-power poses,” which were shown to boost levels of testosterone by around 20 percent and reduce cortisol (a stress hormone) levels by 25 percent after spending just two minutes in them. Inversely, the researchers found that “low-power poses” (e.g., hunching over to scroll on your phone) increased cortisol levels and decreased testosterone.6 This study was a testament to the speed at which the body is continually processing postural information into chemical stimuli: Your cells are always listening.
In Cuddy’s TED Talk (at the date of writing, the second most viewed one of all time), she describes the power of “faking it until you make it,” suggesting that you can literally change the way you feel and behave based upon the way you organize your physical body.7 This particular study has gone through an immense amount of scrutiny, in large part due to its popularity. A paper came out in 2017 refuting Cuddy’s findings,8 and then another in 2018 reaffirmed the concept referred to as “postural feedback.”9 At this point, it’s fairly indisputable that the way you move (or don’t) affects the way you feel, and the way you feel is inseparably tied to the expression of your internal chemistry. Envision a weight lifter hyping themselves up before stepping onto a platform or a UFC fighter strutting into an octagon as a display of dominance. Research on these miraculous moments can be challenging because life doesn’t happen in a controlled, double-blind, static, sterile laboratory setting, and thus these debates will likely continue.
An issue with faking a powerful pose does arise when the focus is solely on the upper body—the trick is to find alignment (power) from feet to head. When people pull their shoulders back to pretend a power pose, they typically end up jamming their low back into an unstable hyperlordotic (or overly arched) position that is unfortunately not very powerful at all. It can create the appearance of confident readiness but will not be stable or sustainable without a strong foundation of regular full-body integration—as the body neutralizes back to its habituated posture, the confidence boost you wanted recedes, too. Throughout this book, you will learn the fundamental movement and lifestyle practices to create long-term structural change in your body so there’s nothing to fake, and you can feel strong and confident from the ground up.
If you’re anything like me, you’ll find it a bit funny to stand like Wonder Woman for a couple of minutes contemplating how awesome you are. Instead, try hanging from a pull-up bar, jungle gym, or even a strong tree branch to lengthen your body into the same position. This will give you the gratification of restoring optimal shoulder function (more on this in Chapter 7), while also creating an emotional pick-me-up. Remember, hanging can be playful; if you’re physically able, make a point to climb a tree or jungle gym every now and again. Allow yourself to enjoy a little childlike movement and remember to smile, because that too profoundly improves your physiological state!
DO YOU SPEAK MOVEMENT?
“Our bodies are apt to be our autobiographies.”
—Frank Gillette Burgess
You’ve almost certainly heard the term “body language,” but have you ever really thought its meaning through? Turns out, we communicate with each other nonverbally all the time. UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian coined the famous 7/38/55 ratio of our communication back in the seventies, showing that most of what we say to each other is actually conveyed via our body language and the tonality of our voice rather than the words themselves.10 Mehrabian found about 55 percent of our communication is body language, 38 percent is voice tonality, and only 7 percent is conveyed through the literal words spoken.11
This is obviously difficult to quantify exactly, and Mehrabian himself cautioned that his experiments were limited to feelings and attitudes, particularly when there were incongruences: If the body language and words disagree, one will tend to trust the body. Thus, closely observing what your body is saying is wise if you care about clearly expressing yourself.
Learning to speak more effectively with your movement will not only make you a better orator, it may very well save your life (or at least your wallet) someday.
In a study from 1981, researchers Betty Grayson and Morris I. Stein asked criminals convicted of violent offenses to watch a video of pedestrians walking down a busy city sidewalk and point out who would be a likely target. It only took seconds to point the potential victims out, and the results were consistent among all the convicts. What were the patterns these clueless pedestrians were exhibiting, you ask?
It wasn’t their race, gender, age, or even size—it was the way in which they moved! Researchers determined it was nonverbal cues such as their pace of walking, length of stride, posture, body language, and awareness of the environment. One of the primary precipitators of attracting unwanted attention from a predator is a walking style lacking what researchers called “wholeness”—what we refer to in this book as integration.12 If your body appears disorganized in the way you move, it’s perceived as weakness and makes you more likely to be exploited. That’s why realigning your movement is so important: Balancing your body parts allows you to exude strength and confidence, attracting the right people into your life and dispelling the wrong ones, even when you don’t realize it’s happening.
Move the way you want to feel. This is a three-step process that will take some thinking outside of the traditional box for some.
- On Sale
- Dec 24, 2019
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Grand Central Publishing