It's so easy to leave the yoga class or your home-mat and take for granted the energy and lightness that we feel after. Maybe by the evening or in the next few days we might start feeling those old pains creeping back and then we jump back onto the mat to re-charge ourselves with the enriching breath and movements of yoga. We can create a strong dependancy on the practice to give us the openness and stability we need, and what we want ideally is to preserve and nourish the expansion we feel in ourselves, for as long as we can. And to do this, we need to continue into our day being natural, grounded and aware. What's interesting about Alexander's approach is that he uses the mind to tell the body how to direct itself energetically hence subtly shifting our postures and movements as we go about doing everyday actions, sitting, eating, driving, playing the violin, playing golf etc. Leaving behind the idea of using our muscles to put us into the perfectly upright position, we use our thoughts to direct our bodies into this place, and our muscles will then find themselves where they are meant to be, in time.
Notice how upright all the children postures are in this picture of F.M. Alexander teaching a class to his students. Even the boys with their feet perched up on the log seem to have an effortless straight back with their heads well positioned above their spines. They give off a sense of confidence and poise which is not that common around children these days perched over their iPads and mobiles. It really wasn't just a 'passé' comment of our parents telling us to sit up straight or being told to walk with books on our heads. Many old teachings held very strong purposes and were brought about from an ingrained knowing in the elders to the 'respectful and obedient' attitude of the children. No need for all the detailed explanations of it's benefits - exactly why, how, where and when pls? Yet, times are always changing and the inquisitiveness of individuals can also been seen as a great asset.
Thinking in activity.
This technique really needs a teacher to guide someone into the right positions. A book is a great reference point, but just as in yoga, the more we have access to a knowledgable and experienced teacher then the better in making our journey smoother. Not having to decipher the many stumbling blocks ourselves. A particularly good exercise is the 'semi-supine position', and Richard Brennan explains it brilliantly. In many ways similar to a Shavasana, placing books under your head, keeping your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Try it out after your practice with the 'thinking directions' listed below.
Brennan's chapters that focus on the direct application of the technique are; Pausing before action, Thinking in activity, and First steps to reducing stress and tension. Just like in cultivating awareness we ideally want to bring ourselves back to the moment we are in, so we can have a better choice of what our next steps should be. A moment to collect ourselves and decide maybe where our tension has build up? Decide how might be the best way to place ourselves on the chair? Of course we do not want to be walking around obsessing over every little movement we make, but it would be ideal to spend a few moments through out the day checking in with ourselves. If we are to bring an intelligent awareness into our morning practice, and throughout some parts of our day, every day, then soon we will really start making very meaningful changes to our crippling habits!
At the still point of the turning world.
Why not try some of these 'mental directions' when you are next in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) or in Shavasana (Corpse Pose) and see what effects they might have for you.
Primary Thinking Directions;
1. Think of allowing the neck to be free, 2. Allow your head to go forward and up, 3. Allow your back to lengthen and widen.
Secondary Thinking Directions;
1. Allow your shoulders to release away from one another, 2. Allow your left shoulder to release away from your right hip, and your right shoulder to release from your left hip, 3. Allow your hands to lengthen away from your shoulders, 4. Think of allowing your hands to widen as your fingers lengthen, 5. Think of not pushing your pelvis forward, 6. Think of not bracing your knees back, 7. Think of your feet spreading on to the ground as your toes lengthen, 8. Think of your lower jaw releasing from your ears.
Remember not to actively 'do' the directions instead of just thinking them, this can result in muscle tension. Be patient, just as in the yoga practice, or any self-development journey constant effort and time is the only the way to reap any worthwhile results :)