Yoga, Posture and the Alexander Technique
This is a story of how I found a Yoga study guide to compliment my learning of the Alexander Technique. Almost every Yoga book gives advice on how to improve one’s posture. For example, some books were instructing me to lift my rib cage and pull my shoulders down and back. Other books said to push my chest forward and flatten my upper back. But I knew from my Alexander Technique studies that this was not good advice.
After awhile, I began to think that an Alexander-Yoga book did not exist. But I still wanted a study guide, so I continued my search for the most helpful book. At the local bookstore, there were about 60 different Yoga titles on the shelves. I quickly reviewed each book by looking up a single pose, Tadasana. In this pose, you are standing erect on both feet. If the book instructed me to lift, pull, push, knit, or tuck anything, the book was returned to the shelf. Eventually, I came across a book with the following description:
“Stand in Tadasana, with your feet hip-distance apart so as not to create tension in the lower back and buttocks. Let your arms release down to the side with the shoulders widening. Feel that your head is perfectly balanced between your heels. Allow your weight to flow down through your body, legs and feet into the ground. Do not attempt to ‘pull up’. As you release your weight down you will become aware of the energy flow up through the body and through the back to the crown of the head. Observe this down-up flow of forces.” (1)
I continued reviewing this book and read the following about another series of positions in which the hip joints are taken through a wide range of motion. The author stated the following as a warning:
“In a similar asana, Eka Pada Sirshasana (One Foot Over Head Posture), the foot is drawn to the back of the head to rest against the back of the neck. I practiced and taught this posture for many years, but have never seen it accomplished without compromising the back of the neck and causing the vertebrae to go into extreme extension with the chin and head pushing forward and the upper back rounding. This is one of the most common postural faults found in the West, where we sit at desks and in cars for prolonged periods. It resembles our ‘startle reflex’ – the posture the body automatically adopts when we are startled by a loud noise or sudden movement. As this hunched posture is responsible for so many physical problems, from headaches to poor breathing, and in order to provide the neck with release and lengthening, I have stopped teaching this posture.” (2)
After reading the above passage, I purchased the book: Healing Yoga: A Guide to Integrating the Chakras with Your Yoga Practice, by Swami Ambikananda Saraswati. It seemed too coincidental that the author mentioned the ‘startle reflex’ along with the instructions to let the body widen and lengthen.(3) Two days later, on page 22, I found those reassuring words “. . . the Alexander Technique.” The author gave credit to her Alexander teacher for his assistance.
This was the book I was looking for! This book was not going to tell me to lift, push, or tuck.
My thanks goes to the author, Swami Ambikananda Saraswati, for writing a very unique Yoga study guide, and to my Alexander teacher, Robert Rickover, for his patience and guidance.
(1) Healing Yoga: A Guide to Integrating the Chakras with Your Yoga Practice, by Swami Ambikananda Saraswati, Marlowe & Company, 2001, page 40
(2) Ibid, page 91
(3) The startle reflex is the immediate physical contraction, starting with the neck, that accompanies a sudden, unexpected external event such as a loud noise. Widening and lengthening is a term often used by Alexander Technique teachers to describe the process of releasing tension in the torso.
Mary Albro is an analytical chemist for a company that makes pharmaceutical products for livestock and companion animals. She has used the Alexander Technique to minimize the symptoms of a chronic muscle disorder and to resolve ergonomic issues. She uses Yoga as a way to observe the Alexander Principle in her movements.