Today Alexander Technique is taught at the major dance, music and performing arts schools around the world: Julliard in New York, Royal Academy in London are just a few examples. This class is my modest attempt to introduce Alexander Principles into yoga practice to make it more effective and safe. Being both a CanStat certified Alexander Technique Teacher and a certified yoga instructor for the last seven years I am happy to make both yoga poses and body postures an essential part of this deep exploration.
The inspiration for creating this dynamic sequence has been F.M. Alexander, a pioneer in deep exploration of postural reflexes. In our group classes we will be able to explore Alexander principles and helpful hints. Step by step we will learn to apply them in our yoga practice.
What are the features of this class that make it different from other yoga programs? Feedback is an integral part of every class. It is all about feedback: how to get reliable feedback, interpret feedback and how to incorporate it to bring about a change. I will teach my students how to get reliable feedback and incorporate it in other activities besides yoga. Why is feedback so important though?
For our body to recognize where we went wrong we need to recognize the signal that we went “off course” in the first place. Then, the body can correct “the course” and come to better balance and health.
Indeed, a huge part of this practice is developing sensitivity to feedback. In our everyday lives, we normally don’t make this feedback a priority. That is, until we are in pain or need it for performance as professional athletes. Then it becomes a huge priority. As our nervous system is already overwhelmed by what is going on around us, all those visual and auditory stimuli, we simply block this feedback for our bodily coordination. Unfortunately, with no feedback excessive tension may overwhelm us.
As a result, our subdued senses got skewed and we can’t rely on them anymore. F.M. called this phenomenon “unreliable sensory appreciation”. Unreliable senses are the main culprits in our muscle pains, tension, poor performance and performance anxiety.
We like it to get our senses back revived and revitalized. It is like coming back to ourselves. It is so simple, though many people think that they need to apply themselves too hard to achieve changes, or put their bodies through excessive stress. In fact, quite on the contrary, it is very challenging, if not impossible to make a change at a high level of performance, when too much at stake. For this very reason, in my yoga class the students will learn how to work on coordination skills in simple activities. And then they can apply these skills for more complex activities whenever they need. F.M. emphasized that to make a true change you need to start with simple activities first. Then you can make a change in complex activities.
In this one hour class, we will explore different “small movements”. For example, standing, sitting, bending with or without the feedback of the wall or the floor.
Each class concludes with a longer period of Constructive Rest.
Although not dynamic, it is an essential part of the class. In this resting position we will learn a lot about how the body and mind create what we call “our posture” or “general coordination skills”. In other exercises, so called “silent exercises” we will be working on our internal landscape, not moving much through space. In these “silent exercises” we are letting body find nice even tonus through release of tension and better coordination. Of course, in our class we will explore full range of motion. There also will be some dynamic exercises and yoga poses. They will be gentle though, appropriate for most people.
I would like to emphasize one more distinctive feature of this class — one that makes all the difference from what people had experienced before in other fitness classes. Indeed, we are all used to learn by addition, by adding new knowledge, patterns or skills. We are still going to learn in this class. Yet, here, in this class, our emphasis is on unlearning old and outdated patterns of tension. So, again, we are not trying to impose new patterns on our body, rather shed layers of unwanted tension. Then, in F.M. words, “the right thing does itself”. In other words, this all is about pausing right where you are, suspending your habitual reaction, listening to feedback, waiting, allowing a change.
In fact, only through release of unnecessary tension true alignment will happen. It will be naturally expressed in the process.
I want to teach in my class the difference between “alignment through releasing unnecessary tension” as opposed to “alignment as static holding of body parts in certain positions”. Really, this difference is easy to test because both breathing and moving becomes laborious when we hold stiff postures. Again, too much tension not good for us and has to be relaxed. At the same time, some traditional relaxation approaches also have limitations which we want to address in our classes. Here we are aiming at the core of the issue – habitual patterns of tension. Yes, relaxation might help us with recent tension – of today or this month’s. Yet, it does not get as deep as the very mechanism of how we create tension. Knowing how to work with our patterns of tension will make the whole difference and bring about a true change for us !
As with medical diagnoses, the mere names, labels for patterns, will not provide us with solutions to the problem. For example, we might have scoliosis, lordosis, kyphosis, you name it. What can provide a practical solution is a realization that our coordination skills are always a whole body dynamic experience. We do coordinate ourselves as a whole in movement or rest, in health or disease. What I want to incorporate into my classes is this true holistic approach, encompassing all levels of human existence. It is at the heart of Alexander system which gives enormous inspiration to everybody who gets acquainted with this resource.
Yoga for scoliosis is one of my specialized areas of focus. This is a chronic wide spread condition. We would like to address it from different perspectives. In my practice, I combine the knowledge that I have learned from F.M. Alexander system with 40 years of yoga in-class experience of Elise Browning Miller. Elise is a world-renowned teacher specializing in scoliosis and an author of several books on scoliosis. She studied with B.K.S. Iyengar. In particular, when attending her seminars and completing my practicum on scoliosis with her, I learned how to work with different variations in human spinal curves – from extreme to mild.
I appreciate the opportunity to have studied with Elise. I have learned from Elise how to walk the fine line of balance between courage and caution, even in extreme cases of scoliosis, to be able to help the person experiencing challenges.