Lighten up

Combining the Alexander technique with your yoga practice can set the body free.by Sue White

If you’re after better posture, a long, tall spine, or sharpening your observation skills, your first port of call may be a yoga class. But while yoga can help with all the above, you may also want to consider the Alexander technique.

The Alexander technique was developed in the early 1900s by Tasmanian F.M. Alexander. The simple, subtle practice involves mindfully approaching mundane actions such as sitting, standing or walking, in order to unlearn some of the postural habits that often leave us in pain.

Those with a tight shoulder, or who experience pain when sitting at a computer could use the Alexander technique principles to make almost imperceptible changes and ease tension. The key is to think about being “up” by softly elongating the body and taking time to think before you stand, sit or react.

“Alexander technique helps guide us into good coordination, producing ease and comfort in our bodies,” says Kate Morris, who integrates the practice into her Melbourne-based yoga classes.

It’s not common to find the two techniques overlapping, which is why Morris and Brisbane teacher Karyn Chapman (also trained in both areas), recently published a book, Yoga and the Alexander Technique.

Morris’s yoga classes always start with a mini Alexander session. “Students lie in silence in semi supine, and I hold each person’s head and ask them to let it rest in my hands, trust the ground to hold them, and allow the shoulders to be free,” she says.

It may seem subtle, but it works. A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2008 found significant long-term benefits for back-pain sufferers who used the method. It’s also popular with singers (wanting to avoid straining their vocal chords), and dancers (looking for grace and ease in movement). For all, the key is in not forcing, and, beyond that, not trying.

“It’s about feeling free and light, and trusting the ground a bit more,” says Morris. The mantra for Alexander technique success goes something like this: allow the neck to be free, the head to move forward and up, to lengthen and widen the back.

While Chapman and Morris’s book is an excellent guide, this is an experiential practice. If you’re not in Brisbane or Melbourne (where it’s possible to experience both yoga and Alexander technique together), you may wish to find a local Alexander technique teacher, book a session and feel how tiny, feather-light adjustments can redirect the head, neck and back into balance. “The spine feels like a spring, with the head fully buoyant on top. It’s your body’s true potential,” says Morris.

Yoga and the Alexander Technique is available at www.backschool.com.au.

How to use the Alexander technique in your yoga practice:

• In every pose, allow your neck to be free.

• Avoid strain. Instead, look for length and freedom of the spine.

• Less trying, more observing. Let change arise through practice, not pushing.

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