So I was talking to this hot Sikh at yoga and as I became comfortable, I returned to my normal cutting self, and she told me to watch it or I’d lose “my conversation privileges.” How low have I fallen that I have to watch my P & Qs simply to maintain “conversation privileges” with a hot Sikh? I’d already asked her out and been knocked back weeks before. Now I was in danger of losing the privilege of talking to someone who was paid to talk to people like me. It was like a Ralphs check-out girl knocking me back.Read More
David Deida is one of my favorite thinkers.
He seems to carry a lot of tension in his shoulders.
David: “You can be entirely dysfunctional therapeutically, psychologically and emotionally, you can be a wreck and still be a master yogi.”
You couldn’t say the same thing about an Alexander teacher. A broken-down Alexander teacher is almost a contradiction in terms.
Deida says most artists find their inspiration at “temporary extremes.”
Extremism is a rare trait among Alexander teachers. We tend to be moderate gentle people. We don’t tend to chase extreme highs.
Deida: “For art, you want to create temporary extremes… Like Picasso chain-smoking, abusing women. You’re keeping it out there and that’s how you do art… Drugs, sex and rock’n'roll could be a part of it or just the drama and intensity of life could create good art. If you want to create sexual art, you want to go to extremes. If you want to do good therapy, you want a safe environment.”
“I’ve never found anyone become spiritually open through practice.”
“How many people do you know who are brilliantly enlightened through regular practices?”
As it is impossible to define “spiritually open” or “brilliantly enlightened”, Deida is on safe ground whatever he says here.
I relate to this Deida video because the writer-artist part of me tends to be wild while my profession as an Alexander Technique teacher depends upon my creating a safe environment for my students.
Deida: “If you’re a good artist, you fall on your face a lot. But you don’t want to do that if you’re in a therapy mode. If someone is dealing with issues of deep abuse, you don’t want to go, ‘Whoops, I just ruined your life.’”Read More
A typical yoga teacher has taken a course of about 200 hours, often done in 12-hour stretches on weekends.
An Alexander Technique teacher trains for three hours a day, five days a week, 36 weeks a year, for three years (a total of more than 1600 hours of training).
A massage therapist has training of about 500 hours.
Training to teach pilates requires about 300 hours.
Feldenkrais practitioners train for about 800 hours. Again, much of this training is done in long stretches of eight hours or more. By limiting daily training to three hours, Alexander Technique teacher training is of a different quality than these other modalities. On average, the Alexander teacher spends much more time and money on his education.Read More
Yoga classes frequently presuppose a level of flexibility that most people simply do not have. There’s no way the average bloke will be able to keep up with the following:
This next video is from Yoga Journal:
Elena Brower says: “Sit in a simple cross-legged position.”
This position is going to be far from simple for many people. Most of us will need to sit on cushions to be comfortable.
There’s a lot of tension and compression in the shoulders of this woman. That’s not something you will want to imitate.
Notice how her right arm is held in close to the body while her left arm goes out. Her whole right side is more contracted than her left side.
1:28. While the narrarator says “lift to a flat back,” the model tenses and compresses her neck. Her back is far from flat.
Like most yoga instructions, this video is all about accomplishing postures and it pays no attention to the quality of the movement. From an Alexander Technique perspective, what’s going on with a person at each moment (is there tightening or compression going on or is there expansion and ease) is far more important than accomplishing any position or posture.
If most people in the Western world try to do these exercises, they are simply going to lack the necessary flexibility and strength. They are going to fail much of the time and in the process put themselves at high risk for injury.
Sandra Wind-Carson says: “With every practice, we’re looking for our edges, for our boundaries, that is where we can find the openings.”
It’s also an invitation to injury if you keep seeking your boundaries.
All the instructions here are about what poses to do and there’s nothing about the quality and ease of the movement. Pushing for achieving these postures invites injury and detracts from attention to your own interfering tension patterns.
This video begins with instructions to lie on your back without head support. Thus the neck and torso are compressed and breathing and ease are impaired.
If you’ve made it through my blog post this far, you deserve a reward.Read More
Follow this video and you’re likely to injure yourself!
Yogi Tara Styles says: “This is a routine great for beginners… So go ahead and sit up on your heels.”
It was this very sitting on my heels during my first weeks of yoga in 2009 that stretched ligaments in my feet that caused them to swell a shoe size and to require about $1600 worth of physical therapy.
In many yoga classes, the teacher does not pay enough attention to how performing a particular exercise might injure somebody. Too often in yoga classes I’ve attended and yoga videos I’ve watched, the stress has been on completing exercises rather than on examining how you do them.
From an Alexander Technique teaching perspective, how you do something is often more important than what you do.
To tell somebody to do something that stresses their strength and flexibility is to risk injuring them unless you pay careful attention to how they’re doing the assignment.
This video has a particular end in mind — weight loss. No wonder it has almost 500,000 views.
The Alexander Technique, by contrast, concentrates on means rather than ends. Alexander teachers rarely promise particular results such as weight loss because they can’t know how a student will implement the Technique. Some people are not capable or not interested in doing the cognitive work necessary for progress in the Alexander Technique. You can’t promise somebody increased energy or flexibility if they’re not willing or able to practice the principles of the Technique.
The principles (such as observation, inhibition and direction) of the Technique work but not every student is going to find this work congenial to their temperament.
Because of this, most Alexander teachers market the particulars of the Technique rather than the benefits.
Over Shabbat lunch, I was asked what the Technique was about. “It is a way of noticing how you respond to stimuli,” I said. I was told that I should come up with Alexander Technique definitions that stressed the benefits of the Technique rather than its unsexy mechanics.
That’s what Alexander teachers call end-gaining. You go for a goal and this outweighs the importance of the means of attaining the goal.
The girl in this video move elegantly but the instructions convey few if any principles of easy movement such as freeing the neck and allowing the head to release away from the torso. The average Joe who watches and practices this video is unlikely to come away with any additional knowledge of how he works.
It’s easy to follow these exercises and to just be totally mindless, paying no attention to how you’re doing things and what effect your interfering tension patterns are having on your movement. By contrast, an Alexander Technique teacher such as myself could point out to you damaging habits such as needless compression in the neck and torso whenever you encounter a substantial stimuli (such as challenging yoga positions or chopping vegetables or driving a car).
The following video is billed as “yoga for relaxation.” It has almost 13 million views.
There are no principles you can take away from this video to promote relaxation as you move through life. Instead, judging by the comments, it appears that many guys got quite stirred up by this chubby white girl in a red bikini. Giving in to wanton lust is the opposite of relaxation in my book.
If the average person tried to imitate the exercises in the video, they’re putting themselves at risk for injury. Our yogi provides no instructions on how to do things safely. Rather than spreading enlightenment, every wiggle of this lady’s derriere bangs away at the foundation of the nuclear family.
“My name is Simona. I am a Czech Fitness Girl. Fitness is my passion. I am sharing my passion with you in my videos. I am training in the white, clear transparent beaches of Halkidiki, Greece.”
This sexy bikini workout is fun to watch but it lacks practical information for noticing and letting go of your patterns of excessive tension.
I thought yoga was supposed to be spiritual? I feel so unclean.Read More
According to ExpertVillage: “Cassie Naumann developed the styles of Lyenger, Ashtanga, Viny, and Hatha Yoga.”
Wow! One girl did all that? Sweet!
Cassie is adorable! She’s so fun to write about. Man, at times like this I wish I was not a member of the Alexander Technique teaching priesthood. Then I could really write what I wanted and not care about how my words reflected on my profession. I could just pour out my heart. I could be free. I could soar like a bird on the wings of desire. I could shoot like a rocket into the ozone of purple prose. I could explode my feelings all over my blog like a Fourth of July firecracker.
Anyway, I could watch Cassie Naumann all day and nod my head at her every point because of the pretty way she says things. Yet, because I am a devoted servant of the truth, I must reluctantly disagree with some of her postural prescriptions.
How I long to have coffee with her and discuss some of these weighty issues at greater depth. And to teach her Alexander Technique? That would be very heaven!
Cassie talks about stretching at the office and how this will improve posture. But nobody can stretch for long. To stretch, you normally have to use intention and when that intention goes away, so does the stretch and any postural benefit.
It’s hard to stretch and to work at the same time.
I admit that I stretch myself morally all the time to reach for the supernal gates of righteousness, but that’s a matter for another blog post.
Cassie talks about keeping your hips directly over your shoulders. Normally confined to the rigors of Talmudic thinking, my mind boggles at this image. I’ve not seen many office workers performing such gymnastics on the job.
If she means you should keep your shoulders over your hips, then that is going to lead to increased body tension as you try to align yourself. And the harder you try to align yourself, the more body tension you’ll develop, which will lead to deformed posture in the long run (even if in the short run, it makes you straighter and taller).
Cassie says “you should make sure your legs are at 90 degrees” when you’re sitting down. Again, trying to get yourself in some particular alignment will lead to fixing and tensing and tightening, which will further degrade your posture (as the primary cause of bad posture in my view is unnecessary body tension).
Ms. Naumann advises that your chair be at the right height so that you are not too low or too high. Hmm. As long as your feet can reach the ground comfortably and your hips are not below your knees, I’m not sure there is any right height for your chair.
Cassie says: “You want to keep your pelvis tucked in and your abs pulled in.”
Well, try that. It feels yucky. It constricts your breathing and your freedom of movement by increasing your body tension and compression. In the short term, it appears to improve your posture. In the long term, it makes it worse.
While viewing my first Cassie Naumann video brought on feelings of infatuation, even though I had no idea of her religious beliefs, watching this next neck stretch video propelled me into the murky deep waters of true love.
Cassie is hypnotic. I don’t believe her neck stretch video will do anything for your posture, but its very existence strengthens my belief in an all-powerful, all-beneficent deity running the universe.Read More
I went to youtube.com and put in “yoga” in the search box and looked at what came up.
Here’s the first video:
The video introduces itself thus: “Eager to master the arm balance? Equinox’s Briohny Smyth shows there’s no limit to what the artfully honed yoga body can do.”
This workout would be murder on the bodies of most Westerners. It’s entertaining to watch but it is a horrible model for an ordinary person. You try to become like this if you did not grow up doing yoga and you’ll only do yourself damage.
On Jan. 5, 2012, the New York Times Sunday magazine posted a long essay on the dangers of yoga for those who did not grow up practicing such flexibility:
According to Black, a number of factors have converged to heighten the risk of practicing yoga. The biggest is the demographic shift in those who study it. Indian practitioners of yoga typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses, or asanas, were an outgrowth of these postures. Now urbanites who sit in chairs all day walk into a studio a couple of times a week and strain to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility and other physical problems. Many come to yoga as a gentle alternative to vigorous sports or for rehabilitation for injuries. But yoga’s exploding popularity — the number of Americans doing yoga has risen from about 4 million in 2001 to what some estimate to be as many as 20 million in 2011 — means that there is now an abundance of studios where many teachers lack the deeper training necessary to recognize when students are headed toward injury. “Today many schools of yoga are just about pushing people,” Black said. “You can’t believe what’s going on — teachers jumping on people, pushing and pulling and saying, ‘You should be able to do this by now.’ It has to do with their egos.”
When yoga teachers come to him for bodywork after suffering major traumas, Black tells them, “Don’t do yoga.”
Here’s the second video to come up on youtube for “yoga”:
Again, if an ordinary person tried to follow this, they’d likely do themselves damage.
The instructions list a whole bunch of things to do but there’s no awareness of how somebody might try to follow these instructions. The model certainly carries an excess of body tension.
If the average bloke tried to follow the directions, he’d likely tense and compress his neck and his torso and interfere with himself in numerous ways, raising his likelihood of injury.
Watching these videos and trying to imitate them without a long background in yoga would be like watching NFL highlights and then — without a background in football and the wearing of padding — going out and tackling people.
Here’s a video advertised as yoga for beginners:
Esther Ekhart starts off with some cat cow. She’s filled with unnecessary body tension and pulls her head into her torso, compressing her neck and back. This is a lousy model for anybody to follow. This will make movement and breath more difficult.
It would be much better to have a teacher who can free her neck and think about her head releasing away from her torso as her back lengthens to widen, letting go of unnecessary tension.
You’d also be better off allowing the head to lead the movement instead of the torso as Esther does.
Two minutes in, she advocates pushing the shoulders back and down on to the spine. This will feel lousy and it will constrict the breath and movement. I feel sorry for anybody who follows this teacher.
She advocates pulling the bellybutton in and up. Well, try that and see how you feel. You’ll experience constriction of your breath and of movement and of your emotions and of your availability to life and to yourself and to other people.
It’s tempting to believe that by doing various exercises you are taking care of your body but if you follow this teacher, and many of the other teachers on Youtube, you’ll only tighten up, deepen bad habits, constrict your breath and your movement, and lose your freedom of thought and feeling.
Here’s a teacher (Sadie Nardini) with elegant use and a safe workout:
I just put “Alexander Technique” into the Youtube.com search engine and the first suggested term was “exercises.” People want something to do. It’s so much easier than looking at your habits and learning to undo the habits that aren’t serving you.
The following video is titled “Yoga Exercises and Training : Alexander Technique Yoga”.
This is bizarre. No Alexander Technique teacher would teach in this way. She uses all this talk about holding the shoulders down and other exercises that aren’t part of any Alexander Technique lexicon. We don’t advocate holding positions, we try to teach developing orientations (such as the neck is free, the head is releasing away from the torso and the back is lengthening to widen).
Jennifer Parker owns Fluidity Yoga in Omaha, but I wager she is no Alexander teacher. She mentions none of the fundamental principles of the Technique. It’s weird to watch someone teaching “Alexander Technique” who shows no understanding of Alexander Technique.
At the end of the video, Jennifer urges people interested in the Alexander Technique to go find a professional teacher.Read More
Larry writes: “Luke’s Alexander method sounds like bull****, these folks should just do some TM and some yoga before seeing Luke.”
You can do all the yoga and TM in the world and it is not going to help you change your habits of needless tension and compression.
People often go to yoga thinking it will fix them. That it is doing something positive about their posture. And I watch people hobble into yoga and hobble out with the same tension patterns that they had going in.
If you tip your head back and compress your torso every time you get in and out of a chair and encounter any sizable stimulus, all the yoga and meditation in the world is not going to fix that destructive habit.
I interviewed Alexander teacher Bill Plake a few weeks ago.
Luke: “How popular do you think the Technique can be with the general public? Can it ever be akin to yoga?”
Bill: “I don’t believe it ever will until there’s a radical shift in consciousness in the human race.
“The main reason why I don’t think this will ever be wildly popular is that this demands a responsibility and vigilance that most people are unwilling to adhere to.
“I’d heard of the Alexander Technique 20 years before I took my first lesson. When I took my first lessons, I knew that if I had done this at 28, I would never have gone back to my second lesson. I would’ve said, there is no way I’m going to pay attention like this. I just don’t care.”
“Vigilance was easier for me when I came to it at an older age because I was feeling desperate. I was willing to do anything to keep playing my instrument.”
“Many people just don’t want to do the work. Many of these people don’t mind going to a yoga place. I see them where I teach at the YMCA and I see 20-30 people go into a giant yoga class and they come hobbling out with the same old crippled use that they had going in. But they feel good about it. ‘I went to yoga. My posture is going to be good. And life’s going to be good because I did my yoga.’ Many people don’t mind doing that one-hour yoga class two or three times a week. It’s like taking a pill. You do your yoga or you do your pilates or you go to your physical therapist or you go to your chiropractor and then you feel good about it.”Read More
I did permanent damage to myself in my first enthusiastic weeks of yoga. I stretched out all sorts of ligaments that will never regain their original condition. It cost me about $1600 worth of physical therapy to ease the pain caused by my naive exertions.
Indian practitioners of yoga typically squatted and sat cross-legged in daily life, and yoga poses, or asanas, were an outgrowth of these postures. Now urbanites who sit in chairs all day walk into a studio a couple of times a week and strain to twist themselves into ever-more-difficult postures despite their lack of flexibility and other physical problems. Many come to yoga as a gentle alternative to vigorous sports or for rehabilitation for injuries. But yoga’s exploding popularity — the number of Americans doing yoga has risen from about 4 million in 2001 to what some estimate to be as many as 20 million in 2011 — means that there is now an abundance of studios where many teachers lack the deeper training necessary to recognize when students are headed toward injury. “Today many schools of yoga are just about pushing people,” Black said. “You can’t believe what’s going on — teachers jumping on people, pushing and pulling and saying, ‘You should be able to do this by now.’ It has to do with their egos.”
When yoga teachers come to him for bodywork after suffering major traumas, Black tells them, “Don’t do yoga.”Read More
Joan Arnold is a New York-based teacher of yoga and of Alexander Technique.
Joan tells interviewer Robert Rickover: “Alexander Technique is a way to move more easily. We can use it to refine our movements in daily life and in our yoga.”
“Yoga takes us to the limits of our flexibility and strength. Alexander can help you do that with less injury, more ease, and more enjoyment.”
During my first few weeks of yoga in 2009, I did permanent damage to the ligaments in my feet. It took about $1500 worth of physical therapy for me to lose the pain and the swelling. After that, I did my yoga much more gently and stopped pushing myself to keep up. But it is hard to do that in a yoga class. There’s just so much stimulus to keep up with the teacher and everyone else that it is hard to focus on your use.
After class, many people asked me what I did for a living. I’d mention I was training to teach Alexander Technique. What’s that? It is a way to move more easily and to have better use of yourself. But isn’t that what yoga does? No, not in my view. Somebody with interfering tension patterns is as likely to take these patterns out of his yoga class as to bring them in. If you tend to tip your head back every time you get in and out of a chair, I don’t think any amount of yoga will change that. If you tend to tighten your face and grip with your feet when you speak publicly, I’m not sure yoga will help you release these interfering compression patterns.
Robert Rickover: “Yoga comes out of a tradition where people had more flexibility.”
In cultures where they have little furniture, people have almost no back problems. Living in a culture where the use of the chair is normal, however, is a recipe for all sorts of physical ills.
Joan: “This is not based on research but my gazing on pictures of ayanga and some practicioners in India, it may be that that ethnicity has longer ligaments. They live in more heat than we do. That might have led to a preference for extreme flexibility.”
Robert went to India 35 years ago. “You see people spending a lot of their day in a deep squat, their feet flat on the ground. It’s almost the default non-standing position. You don’t see a lot of chairs. The average Westerner is going to have trouble doing that.”
Joan: “Free hip joints — if there is one — are a fountain of youth. Yoga and Alexander Technique can help you with that. A lot of people spend time sitting at desks in front of the computer… Our culture is oriented to sitting in chairs and in cars [which diminishes hip flexibility].”
“Alexander Technique offers a way to do things. It helps you to manage your body as you move. It’s not a separate thing to do. It’s a thing to incorporate into anything.”
Robert: “You’d want your yoga instructor to move gracefully because you are going to pick up cues from that.”
Joan: “There may be [yoga teachers] who perform postures beautifully who do not take the time to observe their students.”
“Some people are pushed by their yoga teachers and are injured. Sometimes the teacher get sued. Usually the student will just manage the injury and not tell the teacher.”
“When you go to a class, the first thing to look for is whether or not the teacher is looking at the students.”
“If [a teacher] comes over and puts his hands on you, and there’s the slightest discomfort, say something right away. Do not wait.”
“One of the most frequent complaints of my students is that there is not enough warm-up and the class moves too quickly for you to see how to do the movement correctly. Look for a class with the right pacing, careful observation, helpful feedback from the teacher, without any aggressive hands-on instruction. Graceful light hands-on instruction can make a difference… Gentle guidance that encourages the body to shift at its own pace.”
Robert: “When I started teaching 30 years ago, I would run into people who had been to a yoga class and had been forced into some pretty odd positions.”
Joan: “Pleasure is one of the things that Alexander Technique can bring to a yoga class. When you understand poses more easily, when your breath is easier, when you can flow more comfortably from one pose to another, it’s just more fun. It feels better. Your body feels more resilient.”
Robert: “If it’s not easy and fun, chances are you on the wrong track.”Read More