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Alignment in History and Art

This is an excerpt from Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery-3rd Edition by Eric N. Franklin.

Our perspective on the origins of alignment as it relates to the human body cannot be complete without a glance at the civilization of ancient Egypt more than 4,000 years ago. As depicted by drawings and sculptures representing pharaohs as serene and magnificently aligned, posture was paramount. Sitting or standing, the pharaohs had to be models of good posture—strong, yet calm and in control, ready to create order out of chaos (figure 1.1), such as would have been experienced with the Nile River’s frequent muddy overflow demolishing crops and land. Order, as exemplified by perfect postural alignment on the part of the leadership, was therefore a way to assure the population that things were in fact under control, despite any appearances to the contrary.

Figure 1.1 An example of good Egyptian alignment.
Figure 1.1 An example of good Egyptian alignment.

The pyramids, too, were aligned with uncanny perfection, quite a feat without modern measuring tools. The following is a wonderful image from my notes on a lecture by Robert Thomas on March 13, 1995: Only twice a year, at the temple of Abu Simbel, formerly on the banks of the Nile, a streak of sunlight passes precisely over the eyes of four figures (situated 60 meters within the mountainside!). To create such stunning architecture, you must have great imagination and visualization skills.

Moving to the other side of the Mediterranean basin, we find that memory techniques involving mental imagery (or mnemonics, named after Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory) seem to have been invented by the Greek poet Simonides (556-468 BC), at least according to the Roman orator Cicero (106-43 BC). The Greeks and Romans were said to have used imagery to remember their speeches. Posture and bodily attitude played an important role in ancient Greece and Rome and were signs of societal status. The Uffizi Gallery in Florence contains row upon row of Greek and Roman busts and sculptures demonstrating posture as a key feature. The Renaissance elaborated on many of these themes. Michelangelo’s (1475-1564) sculpture David (1504), on view at the Accademia in Florence, is a superb example of relaxed, centered, and expressive alignment.

Another cultural example of precise alignment might be seen in images of African and Indian women carrying loads on their heads as a means of transport. Contrary to popular notions, this is not necessarily more efficient than carrying loads on the back, nor is it effortless. Unless alignment is near perfect, it can harm the cervical spine (Lloyd et al. 2010). But I will never forget watching Indian women climb a slippery embankment with their freshly washed clothes packed in metal containers on their heads. Surely, this can be done only with fine-tuned control of alignment, which seems entirely natural to these women (figure 1.2).

Figure 1.2 Indian women demonstrating good alignment by carrying loads of clean clothes on their heads.
Figure 1.2 Indian women demonstrating good alignment by carrying loads of clean clothes on their heads.

More Excerpts From Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery 3rd Edition