My Alexander Technique teacher training began at a run today. After a round of introductions, we grouped up and went straight to work. There was the main teacher, Brooke, and an assistant teacher, Ina, working with us. While the teachers laid hands on two of the groups, the third lay on the floor with their heads together and guided themselves through constructive rest. In the groups working with a teacher, two would be observing while the third was being worked with. This meant that I did a lot of observing.
As part of my job as a yoga teacher, I’ve trained myself to look at a student in a very specific way (I even teach the skill to my yoga teacher trainees). When observing a student, I see the relationships between the different parts of the body in terms of holding and release, in terms of balance between the different plains and surfaces, the falling of weight. I see asymmetries and compensations, areas of tension and lines of pull. And then, as an almost instantaneous second layer, I see the actions and directions that might be necessary to bring openness, balance and release.
All of this is in the context of very large and uncommon movements. The postures of yoga are designed to take the body beyond normal ranges of motion, to stretch out the plains of the body, the muscles and the joints, to penetrate and bring awareness to the inner cavities of the torso, head and limbs. AT (Alexander Technique) is concerned with much simpler movements. There are only three or four “poses”: standing, sitting, “monkey” (a standing half-squat), walking around, lying with the feet flat and the knees up, sitting or standing with the hands on the back of a chair in front of you. All of these replicate habitual daily actions.
Whereas in yoga there are hundreds of different possible directions to get you into and out of a yoga pose, in AT there are only four main ones:
- “Neck free,” to keep the skull balancing softly and freely on the top of the spine.
- “Head forward and up,” to counter the downward pull of the head onto the neck we all do without realizing it, every second of the day.
- “Back long and wide,” to counter the many tiltings, tuckings, slumpings and pushings we perform with the spine that compress the torso and organs, and limit the breath.
- “Knees forward and away,” to keep us from jamming the knees back, pushing the thighs up into the hips and disconnecting the torso and spine from the support of the feet on the floor.
To observe these directions in another, the eye still needs to see in the same relational terms, its just that the change is potentially subtler and happening in smaller, simpler movements. I can see that the reference points are different, and that a different manner of looking is going to be necessary to catch the changes. Right now all I can see is in yoga terms, not in terms of the four main directions. I feel like a detective who has all the clues in front of him but the solution to the crime still eludes him.