Alexander Technique and YOGA

What do these two pictures have in common? If you asked F.M. Alexander he would tell you how important the alignment of the head, neck and shoulder are and how this then influences the rest of the body.

“ F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) was an Australian actor who began to experience chronic laryngitis whenever he performed. When his doctors could not help him, Alexander discovered a solution on his own. He had not been aware that excess tension in his neck and body were causing his problems, and began to find new ways to speak and move with greater ease.”

” His health improved to such an extent that his friends and several of the doctors he had consulted earlier persuaded him to teach others what he had learned. Over a career span of more than fifty years, he refined his method of instruction. After teaching for over 35 years, he began to train teachers of what has now become known as the Alexander Technique.” Ref: http://www.alexandertechnique.com/fma.htm

There is much literature on Alexander and the technique – one book that is a great read is written by Pedro de Alcantara ;  The Alexander Technique –  A Skill for life (Crowood Press, 2004 ISBN 1 86126 286 8). Below are some wonderful insights to this technique and the relevance to today’s busy lifestyles and the practice of YOGA.

The BLOG picture depicts a cheetah in full motion and Pedro says “The cheetah demonstrates to perfection the workings of the Primary Control, which all vertebrates share. In the brief, the orientation of the head in relation to the body establishes co-ordination of the whole body.” Even when the cheetah moves its head it never allows the weight of its head to contract its neck or to shorten its spine. Children are wonderful examples demonstrating primal control – it is a marvel of evolution but unfortunately in our western culture where we sit a lot and are subject to stress we become disconnected from this inherent know-how, we then become rigid, tense and lose the freedom and ease in our thoughts and movement.

To improve our movement and wellbeing Alexander talks about rebalancing the bodies proprioception, which is an important aspect that allows us to understand and feel our body and its orientation in space which is done through our senses.  Alexander found “….that accumulation of tensions ended up deforming our sensations. The body becomes anaesthetized and we stop feeling its tensions and hindrances – in effect, we start navigating with a false compass. If we do not sense ourselves anymore, how can we listen to our hearts, our bodies and our minds? Indeed, to rediscover harmony and health, we need to tune into ourselves and re-establish the accuracy of our proprioception, which in turn changes our view of ourselves and of reality.” If you have done yoga before then you are likely to have some understanding of this concept as yoga is very much about connecting with self and understanding the body and mind. Just like the yogis, Alexander strongly advocated that there is no separation between the physical and the mental as is tended to be taught in western culture.

Alexander technique establishes “good use of the self” by developing greater awareness and inhibiting behaviours and reactions that are not helpful or in harmony with our true being. For instance you may react to certain situations by contracting their shoulders. A massage may help you feel good temporarily, but it will not alter the root cause of your tensions, which are your own reactions to the world around you. Indeed, you will not succeed in loosening your shoulders and, most importantly, in keeping them loose, until you change the way you react. Alexander would describe this as the way you ‘use yourself. “

“The technique is not a method of relaxation. Rather, it seeks to cultivate right tension – right in quality and amount, in the right places, for the right length of time. Relaxation is a side-effect of right tension”.

It is somewhat difficult to explain exactly what Alexander Technique is – if you are interested in this then it is best to seek-out an Alexander Teacher as this technique works best with hands on guidance and instruction. For a short video explaining this technique go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IoFyr-PSNM, also an interesting video clip with William Hurt  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IoFyr-PSNM

For more information go to http://www.alexandertechnique.com/articles/sheldon/ and http://www.alexandertechnique.com/

Om Shanti

Matt