Some like it slow, some like it with flow, some like it tough while others like it gentle and the varieties go on and on. How do you like it? Do you practice yoga to relax, to stretch and strengthen, or to restore? Do you use props or no props? Do you stand for naked yoga, or against it? Do you travel to practice yoga on every beach you can get your feet to or do you like the regularity of going to your yoga studio?
Yoga has become a popular trend and yoga studios are still flourishing everywhere. On some level, it makes sense, different body types, different personalities, different awareness levels, so attraction to different forms of yoga! It certainly has also become a lucrative business for many. Yet, on a deeper level, it seems like people are missing something in their everyday life and they are searching that missing thing in yoga and its community. It is an amazing phenomena and it is beautiful in many ways to witness this drive some have to satisfy their deep yearning. And it is wonderful when it becomes a family activity that brings families doing something positive together.
However, in most adult classes, there is also some confusion in the teaching and practice of yoga due to various historic factors but most recently, due to the influence of the core strengthening and muscle stretching language which has created unfortunate pitfalls.
In most yoga studio, whether students are encouraged to do this slowly or fast, you can hear instructions relating to body parts to be controlled in one way or the other: pull your shoulders back, roll your shoulder blades down, lift your chest, tuck your chin or tuck your pelvis, squeeze your legs together, position your feet this way or that way, push this and hold that. This way of practicing yoga is made up of numerous muscular adjustments imposed on various body parts.
If you add to the equation that most teachers have their own understanding of what those instructions mean and all students in a class have their own interpretations and corrupted translations, how is it even possible to teach without expecting trouble sooner or later? It is a way of working that has presented definite benefits but lots of unnecessary challenges as well which were not part of the original intention of yoga.
Most people in this picture stick their neck forward in an effort to do a pose they are not ready to do in a healthy way.
Yoga postures as described by Patanjali are meant to be a balance between steadiness and comfort. Steadiness in various poses encourages your body to build up strength. Comfort allows for your strength to remain flexible. Yoga postures are all about this balancing act. However, our sense of balance and coordination, our ability to move fluidly and to enjoy good postural balance is the job of our postural mechanism which works with the body as one whole coordinated entity when not interfered with. For more info about this, go to: https://offthematyogablog.com/2013/12/18/what-are-postural-reflexes/
Neuroscience along with disciplines like the Alexander Technique also understand body functioning as a coordinated whole, where each part affects the whole and the whole is connected to each part in a synergy of its own for each individual. That is why in countries where people use themselves in a more natural way, you won’t find pulled shoulders and tucked bellies, you witness ease of movement and flexible strength with a smile!
So for yoga lovers to get the most out of their yoga practice and prevent injuries, there has to be a change in the way language is used in the yoga class. Developing an understanding of how the postural mechanism functions to make it part of every stretch and every strengthening practice is an amazing way to turn things around in a fairly easy way. Yoga teachers instructed in this way of teaching have reported clear changes for the better in their own practice and in their students practice.
Like these teachers and students, you can discover how to build body strength without building body stiffness in the process. You can learn to trust your innate body wisdom instead of second guessing it and working against it with unnecessary muscular control. It can transform not only your yoga practice but your daily level of well-being. How do you go about it? Look for an Alexander Technique teacher, preferably one with yoga experience so they can speak your language (although any good teacher can help you with this).
The Alexander Technique seems like the perfect tool to negotiate this balance successfully within each pose, and best of all it translates into less muscular tension, improved posture and better coordination On and Off the mat. For more info about this, go to: http://www.alexandertec.com/what.htm
More details coming up in Part 2 and maybe 3.
In the meantime, to learn more about how to use the Alexander Technique as applied to yoga to get the most out of it and prevent injuries on and off the mat, find an Alexander Technique teacher in your neck of the woods or if in the Boston area, sign up to Cecile’s workshops and classes or keep reading her blogs. You can also, follow the blog to receive tips of the week right to your inbox!
Cecile, I think this is so beautifully and clearly explained. As an Alexander teacher I often have to clear up these linguistic misunderstandings. “Core strength” and “relaxation” are the two I most often have to grapple with.
One thing – at the end, where you have the notes contrasting “doing vs being”, “inhibition vs release”, etc, which are you suggesting is the better alternative?
Thanks Rob for your feedback. The truth be told, I have lots to say about core strength and relaxation, doing vs being and inhibition vs release. These notes were meant to me but I will expand on them in Part 2 soon.