I thought I was tuned in to my body after more than two decades of yoga practice. But since I was introduced to Alexander Technique in 2005 I have changed my yoga practice radically, on and off the mat. Well, maybe I have only changed my approach to my yoga practice. Learning Alexander Technique (with a qualified therapist) has highlighted the relationship between my beliefs and attitudes and how I use my body. With these new tools I can re-direct and re-align the use of my muscles, joints, and the organisation of my bones for a more ‘uplifted’ posture. As I redirect the use of my limbs I expand the possibilities in all the joints of the body, including the cranial plates, and hence my mind! I am taller, wider, steadier, and more available for life. Really.
What else have I discovered through this exploration of body/mind? Over-efforting exhausts me. Enough pushing, no more trying, no more striving! Exhaustion narrows creative possibilities. It keeps me from being present and zaps my joy. So much programming to unlearn! Here’s a simple metaphor to consider when you eat your lunch tomorrow:
When it’s time to eat my soup I pick up my spoon. I already know how to hold the spoon evenly as to not spill the liquid and direct it into my mouth. I finish the soup. I put down the spoon. Even in between bites, I put down the spoon. I don’t wait with spoon in hand while I cook the soup, nor continue to hold the spoon after the bowl is empty. The same applies to all the muscles, joints and bones of the body. When I am doing down-facing-dog for example, I don’t need to grip with my fingers and toes but rather allow the spaces between the fingers and the spaces, between all the metatarsals, to widen. This in turn increases my grounding and naturally lengthens the spaces between my ribs. Now there is more room to breathe, the most important aspect of any yoga practice!
But some of these spoon-holding-type grips are purely habitual. Where is my tongue in this ardha mudra bhangasana? Is my jaw soft and chin relaxed? Am I gripping my sacrum and fixating my tailbone? Has my cranium tightened in response to my fixed gaze at the floor?
Instead of reaching for the floor in a backbend, or pushing the floor away, I can let the floor rise up to me, fill the spaces between my fingers and the inner and outer arches of my feet. I trust the Great Mother Earth to reach up to me, meet me, support me, or send me on my way. I allow the space beneath my back to float me rather than create a vacuum. In Warrior II (Virabadrasana II), my extended arms are cushioned by the very same upwards force that holds up thick horizontal branches on hundred year old fig trees. Instead of fearing the ground I welcome her upward force.
‘With the Alexander technique there is no such thing as one correct way of doing an asana. The most important consideration is working with our unique condition – with our own flexibility, strength, structural issues and habitual movement patterns, mental and emotional state we bring to the activity. That is we don’t try to conform ourselves to an idea of the correct form of the posture, but rather use the asana intelligently as a means of openness, expansion and freeing, and adapting the posture to ourselves. We want to work the body as a coordinated whole, paying particular attention to the length of the whole spine and the balanced relationship of the head, neck and back.’-David Moore via http://www.alexander school.edu.au
The beauty of this practice/technique is that it translates into my approach to life. I realise that I no longer need to expend energy on habitual responses, physical or mental: I lengthen and widen, free my neck to release my head forward and up. I trust Grace, the upward force at least equal to gravity. (Some might call it anti-gravity, but it is not busy opposing gravity, it is an equally magnetic upward force that draws up blades of grass, all plants and animals into their upright postures.) Allowing Grace removes my human arrogance, that I have to make things stand up, make these bones stay upright, choose to enter a tormenting battle with the demon suck of gravity, or forever resign myself to it, believing shrinking is inevitable. OR I can re-direct Alexander style! I need as much effort as the leaves on the trees use to be green, or as much effort as a rock needs to be still. .
Without occupying myself with a dominance over nature I am free to receive, receive the colours and shapes of life through my eyes, receive the imprint my foot makes in the sand, receive the life force running through my veins and prana inhaled in my nostrils. Here I am. I am welcoming life. I am available to participate, to respond, the fight is over. Hallelujah! There is much more room to breathe, more freedom in my lower ribs in Trikonasana, my sacrum sails in a gelatine like substance , my wings spread wide from my shoulder blades. I am balanced and grounded.
As I deepen my understanding of Alexander Technique I have come to recognise this body/mind practice as a very spiritual modality. To trust in the aliveness of the Mother Earth, in the human form itself, based on the premise that there is ample space, within and without the body. There is Grace. The mind and body are tools designed to enhance and support humans to recognize our experience of life as sacred and connected to the same gravity, prana, and Grace that governs all living things. We have come full circle, back to the heart of the Sacred Feminine.