Yoga and The Alexander Technique Unite Body and Mind in Practice
When it comes to fitness and exercising, most people have been influenced by a cultural conditioning that emerged in the 19th century, when a new interest in body appearance and health came about during the Industrial Revolution. Europeans enjoying the new affluence of that time traveled and became interested in art. The beautiful bodies painted on Greek pottery turned people’s attention to their own body appearance and bodybuilding developed as the fitness model of choice, making bodybuilders popular in entertainment circles.
At that time, the body was viewed as a machine made of parts that could be used and replaced. This primitive way of understanding and exploring the attributes of the body in Europe influenced the whole world, including India, and found its way into modern yoga. Previously, yoga poses, or asanas, were taught as part of an Ayurvedic treatment, along with meditation, herbs and a special diet. Asanas were not taught in big groups for the purpose of exercise, but were highly individualized.
The modern concept of exercising, as taught by yoga teachers, physical therapists and trainers, has strongly been shaped by the bodybuilding influence. While many can benefit from what they teach or recommend, people may still often end up with lingering body stiffness, discomfort or injuries related to how they use their bodies on or off the mat.
Another school of thought that also appeared in the 19th century is now reemerging. Delsartism, a system evolved from French acting, singing and aesthetics teacher Francois Delsarte, taught an in-depth understanding of the connection between mind, body and soul. The mind and the body are the two sides of the same coin, so when the body and mind are tended to separately, stiffness and injuries can eventually result. This is why it is essential to go back to basics with the mind/body foundation of movement and stillness, which allows us to function at our highest potential.
Fortunately, Delsartism had tremendous influence, especially in America, where it was an integral part of the evolution of movies, and instrumental in the emergence and shaping of modern dance. It’s also the starting point of many integrative techniques still taught, including the Alexander Technique, which offers an integrated understanding of body movement and stillness in which all body parts are working together as a coordinated whole rather than addressed separately as if they were disconnected.
Applied to yoga, the Alexander Technique allows yogis to get the most out of their practice and prevent injuries as they learn to let their innate body wisdom be in charge more than their mind with its pre-conceived ideas about movement. Always listening to the whole body at once helps the yogi be guided by and learn from that wisdom in any pose. The technique offers foundational skills that can bring integrated motion back to the practice of asanas, as well as effortless and sustainable good posture, both on and off the mat.
Yoga teachers that study the Alexander Technique find it elevates their teaching skills and allows them to help their students in a groundbreaking way as they can make more of a lasting impact.
Cecile Raynor is founder and director of Off-the-Mat Yoga, located at 33A Harvard St., Brookline Village. For more information, call 617-359-7841 or visit her blog at OffTheMatYogaBlog.com.