Never Stop Sculpting Your Own Statue
The art of posture
Never stop sculpting your own statue.
The technique I teach for consciously controlling your posture is more Apollonian than Dionysian – to borrow Nietzsche’s concepts from The Birth of Tragedy. I give you diagrams, photos, models and sculptures - and you make videos of yourself doing movements to make yourself look more like the model than when you started. You’ll never look exactly like the model, it’s dreamlike, but it’s a useful illusion.
I think most new pupils expect something a more Dionysian, to use Nietzsche’s opposing concept, expect it to be more about feeling and sensing the body more deeply as the path to better posture, stimulating sensations of power and going upwards perhaps, but all in the immediate realm of direct experience – feeling and sensing – but not in the the detached realm of the eyes and sight.
We see other people and their posture, we see our own posture in the mirror to a degree, but we don’t think of posture as a visual problem, it seems more like a feeling problem. I often hear: “I don’t know what good posture should feel like.” I like to surprise pupils by saying the most important sense for posture is not touch, or your kinaesthetic awareness, or proprioception – the most important sense for posture is SIGHT.
There are many level to sight: the teacher looking at you and putting what he sees into words, the pupil looking at his own image in a mirror or still mountain lake in the Alps perhaps, or the pupil analysing himself on video after doing the movement practice - as I teach all pupils to do - and taking a birds eye view, looking from outside and above view of his own posture and movements.
When I first starting using the video method I was shocked at what I saw myself do on the camera – it was not just different than what I thought I was doing, but often the exact opposite to what my sensations and feelings were telling me – sensations and feelings I’d spent hours every day for years, refining and making more accurate – or so I thought. I’d been so deep in the Dionysian view of posture, always on the hunt for the perfect subtle feeling of expanding and going up, always seeking more ecstatic feelings of pleasure and joy in my muscles. I assumed that better feelings meant better posture, if it feels good then it must be good. The thing about sensations and feelings, especially unusual and ‘higher’ feelings, is they feel, well, true.
But what the Apollonian video showed me was not expanding like i felt, but contracting. Not going up and getting taller like i felt, but going down and getting shorter. So I had feelings and sensations saying one thing during the movement, and video and images saying another thing after the movements – which is right? Well, video of course because another person can look at the video and agree with me. All we need to do is put a graph paper behind digital images and compare the distance between certain body parts, it’s all there in a much more objective way than your sensations and feelings - however high and refined they appear at the time - and trying to describe them to another person in words, and hope your are both talking about the same feeling and sensation. But your own feelings and sensations change shape all the time too, don’t they? Is the one you have now the same as the one you had then?
So for me when it comes to posture the Apollonian leads to the best techniques. But the Dionysian sensations and feelings are always there. Apollo and his little brother Dionysus are always play-fighting, and are more intertwined in the practice I teach, than my use of Nietzsche’s dual concepts might imply. In the beginning, a new people doing the movement practice will experience many new sensations and feelings – which are mostly negative and uncomfortable or just weird and feel wrong – but pain and suffering is just as much Dionysian as pleasure and joy. Over time, and indirectly, your feelings and sensations become better, more refined, “higher” in a real sense, but if you aim for this directly it won’t happen for you. I am not anti-feeling ha if this was even possible. I admit I feel better than ever and I never want to go back to the old set of feelings, which felt refined and higher to me at the time, but were according to video which others can agree on in an objective way, not higher at all – in a literal sense not higher!
But there can be something missing in the pure Apollonian – the sense of aliveness and dynamism. I want the ecstasy of movement, and to feel the forces of life drive up from the earth, rush up through my spine, out my head and out towards the sun. I want both! And I want to help my pupils have both. So what is the solution? The Dionysian way of focussing on sensations and feelings and trying to lose oneself in the rush of going up, wanting the new energies to take care of your posture for you, and do it for you, do it to you – they feel great but they don’t work in practice as a method, at least when it comes to posture.
But life is in the Dionysian too and this side of us needs released and stimulated and worked on. So now I am looking for a way to incorporate Dionysian methods - indirectly - not to improve the posture in a direct way but to get the energies flowing and opening up, while setting the Apollonian way alongside to discipline and shape the energy, to take the moving buzzing energy - fire - and shape the flames into something more beautiful. First we start a fire, then we shape the fire.
We cannot use the Dionysian energies for posture, because we get pulled into the strong sensations and try to guide the energy directly - and this means pulling yourself up directly which in everyone I have ever seen means contracting and making themselves shorter, even if it feels like the opposite! So we use the Apollonion to create the framework, a template, for the energies, for when they arrive in their own time in an unknown, unexpected and unpredictable way – almost by definition in my own experience – and so the Dionysian energies will rush in and take the form you have consciously built up in your mind through Apollonion practice.
I haven’t found or decided upon the complementary techniques yet, but they will be used separately I think, not to combine and mix them together but more like a barbell, where the Dionysian needs tended to and will become ripe in its own time, the intoxication of ecstatic feeling, of rising up from the earth and out to the stars, of growing towards the sun, pulling up and away while sending your roots down deeper into the earth, the pulsing joy and sexual energies - the erection of the body.
Go back inside yourself and look: if you do not yet see yourself as beautiful, then do as the sculptor does with a statue he wants to make beautiful; he chisels away one part, and levels off another, makes one spot smooth and another clear, until he shows forth a beautiful face on the statue. Like him, remove what is superfluous, straighten what is crooked, clean up what is dark and make it bright, and never stop sculpting your own statue, until the godlike splendor of virtue shines forth to you….”
So most of your daily practice becomes a dream world – after you have done the movement experiments, which can have a strong Dionysian element during the two second readjustments – you will feel bizarre, scared, out of balance, it can be a struggle, much more like gymnastics than any kind of somatic therapy. But then you move back into the Apollonian realm which is watching yourself on video, taking screenshots and drawing diagrams over your own image, comparing this “shadow” version of you, to the other images and diagrams which form the dream you are aiming at – part of your mind now lives in this mirrorworld that doesn’t exist in one sense, but over time begins to affect the real, sensing, feeling world of everyday life. How do I know this? Because the images and videos you see in mirrorworld begin to change, you are sculpting your own statue.
I think some of the Ancient Greek statues of gods and men, usually from older periods, were intended as “3D diagrams” and mental models of what to aim at in terms of body shape and posture. They were teaching tools encoded with anatomical principles and geometrical rules waiting to be decoded like the great pyramids of Egypt. This might be why they often have structures that normal humans do not - and I am not talking about large muscles, almost a separate issue, and in some cases might even be later degeneration from the ideal forms. There are positions of bones relative to one another that you do not see in modern people, and probably the Greeks were also not born like this and had to consciously train it, and from a young age. In the days of expensive writing materials what would be the most durable and useful ‘diagrams’? Sculptures of bronze and marble. And of course they were made to be aesthetically pleasing and powerful and to invigorate the viewer, and inspire him to emulate what he sees in the ‘diagram,’ in this Apollonion dream world. It did not matter if you were not exactly the same as the god, hero, or perfect athlete – how could you be – the point is it was the Greek Ideal.
So an advantage we moderns have is some of our technologies. We have video and photographs and various tools for measuring and comparing images - images which are reflections in mirrorworld of the Ideal we are aiming at. We also will never reach the ideal – walk towards the horizon and tell me when you get there. I like to bring together these two worlds, Ancient and Modern, during the 1 to 1 posture lessons. I give you images of Greek sculptures with diagrams and rules extracted from them, to offer you a new model of posture, and a new ideal form to aim at, to become. And you will be making videos of yourself from the start, learning how to see, viewing posture as a visual problem for the first time. I show you how to set up these little “controlled experiments” and then you use video to measure and control the results.
What if I am wrong and this is not what the Greeks used these statues for? No matter, it works, and the same method can be used with whatever model of posture you prefer or want to use in your own experiment. Use your illusion. At the moment your posture is at the mercy of another, less useful set of illusions – the fleeting, changing, world of physical sensations and feelings, most movements happening out of awareness, fuzzy flashes of where body parts are ,and if they feel good or bad at the snapshot in time. Sensations might be the spice of life but they are not the tool to transform and re-form your body structure – you can’t feel a whole system of relations between body parts, all at the same time, you must see and understand the whole structure.
This is the Apollonion drive to form and beauty and proportion and harmony. Nietzsche focusses on Apollo as god of the plastic arts, of dream and sculpture. With Dionysus being the god of the art of music, rhythm and dance. But Apollo Phoebus was also a god of music, playing the cosmic lyre, ordering, harmonising and calming the noise and chaos of life. For most people there is only noise and chaos in their sensations of posture – the feelings and twitches and fidgeting of a body that is out of harmony and won’t listen to you. You are aware of posture when it suffers, but not when it is joyful. So you need images, form, beauty to bring your posture to a unity, to make one out of the many, and to synchronise all the movements that create your posture into a a harmonious whole, with the right tuning for each muscle and “plucking” the elastic fascia which connects your entire body from head to toe, and creates a spring loaded structure - once you know the ideal form to aim towards.
So the core technique I teach for consciously controlling your posture is Apollonion. You first need to see what it is you are really doing, and not just feeling. Then you need to see clearly what you would like to be doing, and finally you need to see if you are really doing what you decided and are on the right path. Look up and move towards the light. You might never reach it, but it is better than facing the other way.
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