LIBRARY - Reference(s)

Yoga and the Alexander Technique: Review by Colleen Heenan.

AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
Article, essay
Article, citation and copright
Article Text: 
David Moore has been the Director of The School for F.M. Alexander Studies in Melbourne Australia since 1998. He has been teaching the AT for some 30 years in addition to being an 'Alexander Yoga Teacher'. His thoughtful, intelligent text offers the reader an intelligent discussion of the AT and yoga, how to apply the principles of the AT to the practice of yoga plus an exploration of the psycho/physical/spiritual practice of yoga. The points the author makes in the book have been carefully researched and evidenced and he provides us with extensive photographs, illustrations and references. Moore came to the AT after many intensive years of studying yoga and practising Buddhism and Buddhist meditation. He was surprised to find how much having AT lessons helped him in his yoga practice and eventually undertook his AT training. However, some of the 'disconnections' between the two motivated him to explore and develop his yoga practice to incorporate aspects of the AT. The following quote from his text summarises his position: 'Prevention is greatly preferred over cure, and both yoga and the Alexander Technique offer excellent prevention strategies for an exceptionally wide range of ills to which human beings are prone. Both systems also provide means of curing diseases and conditions that have arisen as a result of ignoring the basic laws of healthful living. And both of these aim at bringing the whole person into a state of greater balance and ease.' (p.49)

My interest in reviewing Moore's book arose because I have recently begun to learn Iyengar Yoga. Like many AT teachers, I have been somewhat sceptical of 'body' practices which seem to be at odds with AT principles. However, I also found some chronic muscular difficulties had not improved with the AT and this motivated me to look around for other approaches which might offer help. Pilates' instruction for instance, has helped me to more clearly identify particular muscular weaknesses and areas of over and mis-use. I was then more able to use the principles of the AT along with this increased awareness to improve my 'use of self'; at the same time I learned about other aspects of balance and strength. Iyengar Yoga seems to combine the mindfulness and awareness of AT with the improvement in muscular strength as well as the benefits of muscular stretching. However, I have felt some alarm about how some of the postures challenge some principles of the AT (as I have also felt with respect to Pilates' positions). This book is proving to be of enormous use in not only informing me about yoga, reinforcing aspects of the AT and how to apply its principles to yoga but also reminding me of the need to continually challenge myself to keep learning more.

Moore brings a wealth of not just technical experience but of knowledge and insight to his book which has been carefully compiled. 'The Alexander Technique and Yoga' is a book which is primarily for those whose interest is in yoga but who want to undertake their practice in a more intelligent and informed way; that is, with a clear focus on 'the means whereby'. As the author points out, contemporary western culture's focus on 'end gaining' along with the lack of opportunity to undertake one to one lessons (in most 'body' practices), often results in sketchy, rushed learning, misapplication and at times, injury. Indeed, we often come across AT pupils who are undertaking various types of exercise or body practices for good reason, but whose rushed, unthinking approach has resulted in damage rather than improvement (possibly compounded because many instructors in private or public sports club are teaching activities with barely minimal training).

The book is laid out in four parts. Moore starts by introducing the AT in a general way plus as the principles of hatha yoga. Throughout the book he relates his ongoing development in relation to both. Part Two outlines the history and practice of the AT while Part Four concludes with detailed descriptions of issues to bear in mind while practising yoga asanas (poses). It is Part Three which I found myself returning to a number of times because of the author's comprehensive discussion of matters relevant to both the AT and yoga. My review will focus mainly on the final two parts.

While Moore reminds us how hard it can be to describe the AT in words, his portrayal of the history and practice of the AT in Part Two is comprehensive and clear and thus more than adequate for anyone who may be reading about the AT for the first time - whether a yoga teacher or student. Focusing on 'the means whereby' rather than 'end gaining' is not just essential to the AT but is a crucial part of a mindful yoga practice where the notion of 'bringing the ego into the practice' represents the state of mind of 'end gaining', disrupting the necessary steadiness and ease. Moore also points out that the AT enables us to 're-orientate to the wider picture' in order to 'change and improve the overall use of the self' rather than simply address the specific injury or problem the pupil brings. He suggests that yoga practitioners would benefit from this attitude, taking a 'proper analysis of conditions present and practiced in a way that takes into account the co-ordination of the primary control'.

A glance at the list of chapter titles in Part Three illustrates the range and depth of Moore's coverage of topics: variability, flexibility (hyper and hypo), injuries, breathing, autonomic nervous system, 'tensegrity', movement muscles, postural muscles, energy flow, core strength, neuroplasticity, pain, mindfulness and meditation, pregnancy, constructive rest (the semi supine position). I can only offer a few illustrations of the rich content: for example, the author notes how the massive individual variability in skeletal structure affects our abilities, how people who are very flexible may injure themselves by over-extension of muscles and in turn how we can improve reduced flexibility. I was surprised to be told that we aren't actually 'lengthening' our muscles when we perform stretching exercises over brief periods of time, rather we are 'stretching or re-setting' our neural toleration of this.

The term 'tensegrity' was also new to me: referring to both tension and integrity, this is a way of thinking of 'a structure of mechanical tension through the body that needs to be in a dynamic balanced relationship with each other for the body to be ideally balanced'. The AT is obviously greatly concerned with antagonistic pulls, with muscular elasticity and tone particularly with respect to the head/neck balance and the impact of poor use throughout the body, resulting in pulling down rather than going up. Moore examines the concept of 'core muscles and muscular strength', a term which has become popularised, promoted and 'exercised' in yoga, Pilates and many exercise classes despite being 'a very vague term'. It is helpful to be reminded that the research suggests an 'association' between certain muscular weaknesses and back pain, not a 'cause and effect relationship'. And as the author says in response to the suggestion of ongoing tightening of core muscles as a preventative tactic, 'bracing may be an excellent strategy for an acute situation, but it is not a long-term solution'. There is a comprehensive chapter on Alexander's approach to breathing and a discussion of ways in which some yoga recommendations may not be helpful.

Moore's final chapter covers the basic yoga postures (asanas) with clear, detailed diagrams and instructions as to how we can use what we know from the AT - and from his extensive knowledge of yoga - to help ease ourselves into yoga postures. Moreover, the author is careful to point out particular postures which he advises yoga students to avoid altogether. To conclude, Moore states: 'As with the Alexander Technique, yoga's key insights and conceptual framework arose out of deep self-study and investigation. But the philosophy and conceptual framework of both systems are secondary to the practice, which turns their focus back to the psychophysical processes and the flow of our attention and volition; the processes that underlie the quality of our lives, and over which these practices do give us a measure of control.' (p223).

Copyright © 2016 Colleen Heenan ( Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2016. All rights reserved.