The comprehensive system of Yoga has evolved over many centuries, so what can a technique that has existed barely one hundred years contribute to a system as ancient and as developed as yoga?
In the Western world, many people who begin to practice yoga are extraordinarily ill-equipped both mentally and physically in coordination terms, independently from their initial flexibility, and thus will find the positions and exercises proposed in yoga sessions too exacting and will therefore be unable to benefit fully from them. Also to remain immobile and attentive is an extremely difficult task and often this difficulty is underestimated.
The Alexander teacher will work with a pupil in order to teach him to avoid excessive tension in preparation for an asana. Simply thinking of movement is enough to trigger usual limiting or painful muscular tensions. Using his hands to monitor the coordination of the pupil’s body, the Alexander teacher will help him to learn to start a movement without these unnecessary tensions, in order to create a neutral state of coordination, from where he will be able to built and discover his potential.
The Alexander Technique is concerned with reeducating the basic neuromuscular patterns underlying every human movement or response. In addressing these patterns it can help the yoga practitioner to become aware of the imperceptible tensions which place constraint upon the asanas or impede their proper performance.
Furthermore, as the Alexander Technique can be applied at any time and to every activity, the pupil will learn to address any difficulty during the remainder of the day, since a demanding discipline like yoga will be bound to reveal faults that are also present in the simple movements of daily life.
As far breathing is concerned, which is an essential aspect of any movement, the Alexander technique does not set out to add new breathing exercises, but to simply teach pupils to rediscover a normal, natural, unaffected way of breathing, this being an essential prelude to any venture into more advanced and complicated breathing techniques in yoga. In the Alexander Technique’s perspective, the breathing function depends on the general state of the body and improvements in breathing are not going to be possible therefore unless one looks at what is happening in the rest of the body and organism.
The Alexander procedures used seek to remove any tensions interfering with a person’s breathing and to create in the body a state of greater ease. This is achieved by improving the dynamic relationship between the neck and the head as well as the flexibility of the spine and the combined effects will be to release energy that can be put to use by the yoga practitioner. Without this template for sound breathing and without a natural, unimpeded rhythm, it is even risky for certain people with weak breathing to go straight into more complex breathing exercises.
Nevertheless, there is no question that in traditional yoga instruction, where teacher and pupil are linked in a special one-to-one relationship, the pupil will progress at his/her own speed under the watchful eye of the master. This approach, which constitutes a true path and way of life, is not always the main aim of western yoga practitioners who practice yoga in a group, and this is why the Alexander Technique can be a useful aid to consider.