Article Written by Anne Finlay, IYTA and Martin Finnegan
What has the Alexander Technique got to offer the student of Yoga?
As you are no doubt aware, Yoga is a complete system, so why would anyone seek to add something else to it? The answer to that question is simple. The Alexander Technique doesn’t seek to add anything to Yoga, nor does it attempt to tell the Yoga practitioner how to perform an asana or any other practice. What the Alexander Technique does is to meet the Yoga practitioner on common ground. That commonality is the psycho-physical mechanism – or yourself, call it what you will.
The technique works on Universal principles of movement, so that students who have studied Alexander are in a much better condition to begin and continue with Yoga and are able to look after themselves more effectively during their practice. Many westerners have a little difficulty at first, adapting to a discipline like Yoga and one of the reasons is often that our habitual poor ‘use’ of ourselves, has left us in a less than flexible condition. So not only are they asking their bodies to attempt feats that they are not adequately prepared for, but in their attempts to perform asanas and so forth they will be using the very same habitual poor use that got them into trouble in the first place. As F.M.Alexander said ‘You can’t do something you don’t know, if you keep on doing something you do know.’ And the thing we do know is our habit!
Many of the Yoga asanas have evolved from nature and the student is practicing to gain the grace and poise we see in animals and the environment. However we will never attain that poise if we are using excessive muscular tension to try to achieve it. In applying the Alexander Technique to Yoga the Alexander Teacher will work with the student’s basic coordination before they make any attempt at an asana. This is done through the guiding hands of the Teacher so that the student can start to experience a different way of moving without the habitual tension that feels so ‘right’. The instruction toward the asana may be given as the student maintains their basic coordination. This coordination, or lack of interference of one part with another, is the primary aim, not the asana. This is the essential difference when using Alexander to help with our practice. We are interested in process not the end result, for it is in the process that we find what we are looking for. F.M.Alexander said ‘The experience you want is in the process of getting it. If you have something, give it up. Getting it, not having it is what you want.’
There is also some interesting parallels between the Alexander Technique and the Yamas and Niyamas – codes of conduct and personal disciplines. Yama means restraint, self control, preventing or curbing, particularly in connection with the mind (MMW). For example Ahimsa means nonviolence or harmlessness in actions, thought and speech. This restraining, curbing or preventing is very similar in concept to "Inhibition" in the Alexander work ‘Prevent the things you have been doing’ Alexander said ‘and you are halfway home’. In practice this means stopping the habitual response -curbing or restraining it, so that a new and more conscious response can manifest. Alexander’s concepts of ‘non-doing’ and ‘giving up’ of ends and staying with the process or ‘means whereby’ also have familiar Yoga parallels to them. These examples only go to illustrate how well the Technique and Yoga work together, as many Yoga Teachers have discovered.
F.M. Alexander was originally known as "the breathing man" and working with the breath is a common factor between the Technique and Yoga. Alexander once berated a student exclaiming ‘This isn’t breathing: it’s lifting your chest and collapsing’. Learning to breath again in a natural, easy way is often a necessary first step before exploring the profundities of more advanced techniques such as Pranayama. This practice in Yoga helps to release energy; the dynamic quality of being enlivened is experienced during appropriate practice under the guidance of a teacher. The Alexander Technique works a little differently with breath using procedures to assist the natural process of breathing to occur, unhindered by unnecessary tension. Working with the head, neck and spine the Alexander Teacher assists the student to release constricting tension and allow an easy mobility throughout the body. This head, neck and spine mobility frees up the Ida and Pingala, two of the subtle energy channels associated with the spine. It is this coordination of the head, neck and spine that will bring about a natural, spontaneous breath rhythm. Having established this rhythm, different and more advanced techniques can then be introduced.
By applying the Alexander Technique to the practice of Yoga, impediments to progress can be quickly observed and overcome, the student’s practice is enriched and the work toward wholeness of body, mind and self can be greatly enhanced.
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Anne lives in West Ryde, Australia with her family. Her interest in the Alexander Technique was initiated by her ongoing curiosity with freeing with freeing habitual movement patterns. She has been practicing and teaching yoga for many years. Anne’s teaching room is at West Ryde were she holds group classes and private lessons. She also works with groups at their work place and at community centres. Email: [email protected]
Martin’s interest in the Alexander Technique initially came about due to his own recurring lower back problem. After realizing that the Technique was not only a practical and effective method of self care based upon sound principles, but also a powerful tool for personal development, he decided to train as a teacher. He has a long-standing interest in music, martial arts and philosophy and had lived in the Ryde District of Australia for the last 12 years with his family. [email protected]
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