Here are some notes from a recent workshop about combining Yoga with Alexander technique.
Point 1: No right position
From an Alexander technique perspective, working on your posture is not so much about achieving the right position but more about how you support any position you are in. For this reason, we like to talk about postural support rather than just posture. In any position, you can ask yourself: Are you open? Free? Grounded? Are you breathing? Do you have a feeling of liveliness, and joy? Or are you forcing it, stiffening, and overworking?
This approach turns the tables for some yoga practitioners, especially the beginners (like myself) who can’t resist forcing their body into the “right” position and just expecting that all the good stuff will just result from holding this position for long enough. Even if our yoga teacher encourages us not to force things, many of us still can’t help it.
Exercise 1: During your next yoga class notice how often your attention shifts from keeping your body open and free to forcing yourself into the “right” position. See what happens when you let go of forcing the right position and turn your attention to how you are supporting yourself.
Point 2: Don’t get pulled down towards your goal
We tend to pull ourselves toward the goal of any activity, thus tightening our neck and shoulders. For example we pull our head to our phones, our heads and shoulders to the computer, we even pull our head forward and down when we go to walk. I describe this habit for computer work in detail in this blog .
Exercise 2: Notice throughout your day how often you are pulled towards your goal (computer, phone, conversation, book, direction of walking). When you are, take a moment to calm yourself. Then think of letting the goal come to you – bring the phone to your ear while keeping your neck free, let the information from the computer come to you as you keep your neck and shoulders open and mobile, notice your surroundings and the vertical when you walk rather than looking at the ground or losing your thoughts.
Point 3: Practice finding the vertical and 3 dimensions while walking.
Because of points 1 and 2 we often totally lose sense of where “up” is where we are in space. The following exercise is something you can practice on your own.
- Stand in a quiet place and notice the space all around you. Notice even that there is space behind you. Think of a horizontal “wheel of attention” that surrounds your body.
- Now notice that you form a vertical line in this space – the “axis of the wheel”.
- Keep noticing the space and your vertical line without trying to change anything about your body.
- Walk around a bit as you maintain this state of attention.
- Now put your fingers just under your ears and find the top joint of your spine.
- Move you head on this axis a few times to get a feel for where your head is. Put your hands to your sides and repeat.
- Now think of that top joint being very free – think of space in the joint, movement, etc. without moving it. As you continue to think of it as free, think of the head rising up along the vertical that you found in step b.
- As you think of the head rising, think of the body opening to follow the head, like a crumpled piece of paper unfolding as you gently pull on the ends of it. Try to remove all stiffening as you continue your thought of the rising head free on the top of the spine.
- Try to combine a, b, c, g, and h as you take a walk. Walk slow and fast and change directions when you feel like it. Try not to lose the vertical, the sense of space, the thought of up with the head, the thought of the body opening as you continue to walk. Try not to let yourself get pulled forwards in the activity as described in Exercise 2.
- Repeat all as you think of the hips, knees and ankles releasing and opening.
Point 4: Practice raising an arm while widening your shoulder without losing your back
When people raise an arm, be it in everyday life or in yoga, they often fix the shoulder to the trunk in a way that makes them pull the trunk with the arms. For example, when you put your hands on a keyboard and type, the front of the trunk gets pulled forward and down slightly towards the keyboard and the shoulders get pulled in. Over time, this tightens the whole front of the body.
One of the great things about yoga is that you take your body into all sorts of crazy shapes. In so doing it becomes familiar with all sorts of relationships, including widening the shoulders while fixing, extending, side bending, or twisting the spine.
Here is a simple exercise that we did that breaks down the act of reaching up with your arm in such a way that the shoulder releases away from the spine before the spine bends.
- Stand as in exercise 3 with the thought of spatial awareness and lengthening up with the head free on top of the spine.
- Once you have a good sense of the upward lengthening, lift your right arm above your head. Stop when you feel any resistance in the shoulder.
- In order to lift the arm further up, start thinking of a flow along the front of the right side of the chest through the shoulder and along the whole right side of the back, from the bottom up through the back of the shoulder. See if you can get more openness and release to take the arm higher.
- Continue to think all of the thoughts in exercise 3 and 4c as you think of more space in the elbow, wrist and fingers to get more of a lift.
- To take the arm even higher, slightly bend the spine away from the arm, continuing to think of lengthening along the curve of the spine.
- Finally, you can rise up on your toes to get the full lift up.
Point 5: Applying to yoga practice and daily life
Try to apply all of these concepts you your yoga and to your daily life:
- Not getting physically pulled towards an actvity
- Thinking length without losing head freedome
- Staying present in your 3d space
- Freeing the shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, and ankles
To do so, you will need to inhibit your natural tendency to focus on the goal of the activity (pushing the body into a yoga pose for example) and turn your attention instead to the concepts of postural support described above.