Reflections on Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

Article added January 23, 2012

Written by Aino Klippel.

An Alexander Teacher’s reflections on Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga in the tradition of Pattabhi Jois.

“The experience you want is in the process of getting it…”

In this essay I describe how to teach the basics of the Alexander Technique in a way that would be approachable to a student of ashtanga yoga. Yoga, especially ashtanga, has become a popular pastime (Singleton, 2010, p.211) and my questioning of the teachers of the Alexander Teacher Training School reflected that popularity. All of them told, they had pupils who were involved with yoga, while some had negative experiences of working with yoga teachers. I will point out similarities and differences between the two disciplines, with a purpose of providing tools of communication to Alexander Teachers unfamiliar with the conventions of yoga.

In 1997 I started to practise yoga while training as a clarinettist, and took on ashtanga and the Alexander Technique almost simultaneously in 2003. Alexander Technique and ashtanga seems to be a challenging combination, prejudices prevailing in both disciplines. My approach to yoga is one of practical exploration and I write here about the philosophy of yoga in a simple form that is easily understandable for Alexander teachers. Writing this essay has demanded me to look carefully at my yoga practice, in order to see how the principles of the Alexander Technique have become part of it.

The essay will start with reflections on the shared history of the Alexander Technique and yoga. This is followed by general remarks about teaching ashtangis, persons who practise ashtanga yoga. In order to cover all the essentials, the remaining text is structured around the five items that Patrick Macdonald was listing as the features that together “make the Alexander Technique unlike any other” (Macdonald, (1989) 2006).

During the process of writing I found myself weighing some of Alexander’s key concepts that are not in Macdonald’s list. These include the polarities of ‘end-gaining’ versus ‘means-whereby’ and ‘mind-wandering’ versus ‘concentration’, as well as psycho-physical unity and positions of mechanical advantage. Because of the all-embracing nature of the Alexander Technique, I was able to weave those concepts, as they apply to an ashtangi, into the text. At the end, there is a listing of books and articles that may be of interest.

Alexander Technique and yoga – a short history

“I may have been unlucky, as may F. Matthias Alexander before me, in having pupils who came to me after incorrectly studying yoga. They were rigid both in neck and brain…”
P. Macdonald, Alexander Technique teacher ((1989) 2006)

“A good use and healthy alignment is the natural state of the body. Connecting to this innate state unravels habitual patterns and untangles energy, enhancing well-being, vitality and effortlessness.” T. Feldman, ashtanga yoga teacher (2008)

Alexander himself being a performing artist, the Alexander Technique became well established among musicians and actors. Performers are generally grateful for achieving a more efficient way of working. A yoga student may look at their practise as an exercise that should be difficult, and perceive lessening of effort as cheating. Ashtanga yoga teachers can also be wary about combining other disciplines with ashtanga, because mixing approaches might confuse the student as well as affect the authenticity of the yoga practise. Authenticity refers to the idea that yoga is an ancient tradition passed through generations from teachers to students (Räisänen, 2009 p. 17-19). From a yoga teachers point of view the Alexander Technique is a minor discipline, with only a hundred years of history.

Some Alexander teachers think that Alexander didn’t like yoga because of the challenges presented by asana, the practise of yoga poses. It was although only after Alexander’s time that yoga in London became largely associated with performing asana (Singleton, 2010, p. 5). Alexander did not comment asana practise, either. He actually used the case of an Indian Yogi who was able to stop his heart beat to demonstrate the extend to which conscious control could eventually be applied. Naturally, he was advising his readers not to seek out this sort of “dangerous trickery” ((1910)1957 p.56). In Man’s Supreme Inheritance Alexander also reveals his keen interest in acrobatics: ”Continual readjustment of the parts of the body without undue physical tension is most beneficial, as is proved by the high standard of health and long life of acrobats” ((1910) 1957 p.167).

At the beginning of the 20th century there was a trend of teaching breathing exercises for children at schools. Alexander was working against this trend. Considering the photo of a boy demonstrating “deep breathing” in Man’s Supreme Inheritance, it is unlikely that any ashtanga yoga teacher would disagree with Alexander about the potential harm of the drill the boy was doing (Alexander, (1910) 1957).

One of the hallmarks of ashtanga yoga is that breathing exercises (pranayama) are generally not being taught. With the words of P. Jois, the late ashtanga guru: “According [to the] Ashtanga Yoga method, pranayama teaching [is] some[what] difficult. Difficult means that primary postures and intermediate postures, asanas are perfect, after advanced postures a section perfect. After I will take it teaching pranayama.” (Donahaye, 2008) and “If you want to practice the correct breathing system, you must have a straight spine” (Anderson, 1994). Alexander also observed that “deep breathing” is usually done by hollowing the lower back and pulling the chest out. He was not against respiratory re-education, but he pointed out that general malconditions like breathing difficulties, should not be mistaken for a specific defect (Alexander, (1923) 2000 p.194).

The first popular yoga breathing manual in English (Atkinson, (1903) 2003) was published the year before Alexander arrived to London (Rosen, 2010). It was not written by an Indian yogi but the questionable origin does not prevent it from influencing yoga students who attempt to do it’s exercises. Even today the book is advertised by the Ashtanga Yoga Shop in Helsinki as “the indispensable guide to everyone interested in first-rate breathing.” (Astangakauppa, 2010, my translation). This book could be the source Alexander is referring to as the “well-known system of breathing practised and taught by [the yogis]”, which he thought was “not only wrong and essentially cruel, but also exaggerating the defects of which people suffer in the 20th century” (Alexander, (1910) 1957).

It is common for yoga teachers who have heard about the Alexander Technique to know that it has something to do with a free neck. According to the positive or negative image they have of the Technique, they may ask their students either to avoid or to exaggerate the movements of the head. Also bending or not bending the knees in certain postures can be a question of principle, as the Alexander Technique is being associated with bending the knees. This posture orientated view of the Alexander Technique probably stems from Alexander teachers having advised pupils to modify asanas in order to achieve greater mechanical advantage (Moyer, 1987). When teaching yoga teachers one needs to bear in mind that they might pick up anything from the lesson and attempt to teach it forwards to their own students.

When the number of somatic methods has risen, Alexander Technique is often being compared in yoga magazines with an array of bodywork. If this is done properly, it can actually help people to get a better picture of what makes the Technique unique (Knaster, 2000).

How to teach Alexander Technique to ashtangis?

“Teach what is inside you, not as it applies to you, but as it applies to the other”. T. Krishnamacharya, P. Jois’ guru (Arora, 2004)

“’Yogas chitta vritti nirodhah.’ This means that yoga is control over the modifications of the mind.” Patanjali 1.2, translation P. Jois (Anderson, 1994)

For yogis, it will make sense to emphasise the concept of psychophysical unity and the attention Alexander paid to breathing. Also, Alexander was using his reasoning to recognise and systematise universal laws of human behaviour. He didn’t set out to develop a new technique but had to learn to think independently, because even the best available teachers and doctors were not able to help him to recover his voice (Alexander, (1932) 2001). Becoming aware that how one understands instructions is dependent on their way of perceiving them can be a new discovery for a yogi. Yoga being an ancient tradition, students may feel they have to follow instructions without engaging their own ability to think (Balk, 2007, p.27).

Sometimes Alexander teachers resort to convenient short-cuts: we talk about a free neck or a strong back, when actually meaning the whole person. When teaching practitioners of ashtanga yoga, the teacher needs to be clear that it was not only a disembodied, idealised free neck, Alexander found himself misusing. It is easy for an ashtangi to assume that someone who can’t put their leg behind their neck does not understand how much the whole body is involved in their practice. Therefore it can be practical to speak in terms of reactions, rather than starting by explaining terms like ‘inhibition’ or ‘directions’.

When Alexander started to observe his reciting, he first didn’t notice anything special, but when he compared normal speaking to reciting, the difference was obvious (1932) 2001). What he noticed was his reaction to the stimulus of speaking. A parallel to this experiment for an ashtangi could be to stand normally, compared to standing on their mat before practice.

The stiffening of the neck is the key factor of a total pattern which includes pulling every part of the body into it’s nearest joint. This is a problem for someone who is trying to move their joints. Alexander’s reaction to reciting was to pull the head back and down, to compress the larynx, to gasp for air, to pull his chest out and to over-arch the lower back. He also grabbed the floor with his feet, which was “exerting the most harmful tension over the whole body” ((1932) 2001). For a yogi a this list of Alexander’s habitual reactions will help to grasp the idea of a total psycho-physical pattern, and it will provide a point of reference when learning the classic Alexander directions.

The Alexander teacher should not get too much involved in their pupil’s yoga. The ashtanga yoga “practise” is like playing through a musical composition: the movements have to follow the rhythm of the breath and one has to keep warm in order to stretch safely. Just like an Alexander teacher would not tell a musician to change the awkward notes Mozart wrote, it does not help to criticize details of an asana practise without understanding them in their context. If I am asked how to do an asana “the Alexander way”, I let the yogi tell what they think they are doing, and feed back what they actually do. This method helps me to avoid stepping on the toes of their yoga teacher.

Often grown-up persons start to practise and teach ashtanga with little experience of exercising and not much psycho-physical awareness (Mikkonen, 2008). Nevertheless they consider themselves as specialists in their field, and an Alexander teacher will probably look in their eyes like somebody not very flexible. Even if ashtangis are quick to recognise an Alexander Teacher’s habits of stiffening, they would benefit from a concept of alignment that includes the whole person, mind and body.

Because yoga teachers are working with their hands-on, they might need help to realize that teaching the Alexander Technique is not just a matter of learning where to put their hands. The Alexander teacher’s touch is delicate, placing an untrained hand in such a sensitive area than a person’s neck can have the opposite effect than intended. The best way for a yoga teacher to transmit the benefits of the Alexander Technique is to look after themselves, while teaching yoga the idiomatic way. It is simple to give a demonstration on how it is the quality of touch that really matters, by placing hands on different parts of the yoga teacher’s body, while moving them.

Attention to breath makes a direct link between Alexander’s discoveries and an ashtangi’s daily practice. Alexander was developing his Technique to enable him to recite Shakespeare, which requires remarkable breath control. Running out of breath means not just problems with the voice, also muscle tone and the brain’s ability to think are impaired when there’s not enough oxygen.

Ashtangis appreciate smooth and even breathing through the nose. Alexander took pride of being able to recite without gasping air through the mouth (Alexander, (1932) 2001). Later he was known as “the Breathing Man” because his teaching was based on the discovery that improved breathing is connected with balance and overall coordination. Instead of trying to manage breath directly by breathing exercises, he paid attention to the conditions that enable breathing to happen naturally. “Guruji divided the breath into two categories: ‘free breathing’ and ‘stiff breathing’.” (Garrigues, 2010a)

Recognition of the force of habit

“It’s easy to teach complete beginners but hard to teach experienced students that have deeply ingrained faulty habits.”
G. Maehle, ashtanga yoga teacher (Morales, 2010)

“The experience you want is in the process of getting it. If you have something, throw it away. It’s getting it not having it what you want.” F.M. Alexander (2000)

The habits that the Alexander Technique is designed to change can be described as “both permanent and unrecognised”(Alexander, (1910) 1957), and as “reactions to any given activity.” (Alexander, (1941) 2004). Good habits from the Alexander Technique’s point of view are those that are conscious and that can be changed by choice. When a person becomes used to react in a certain way, it starts to feel normal and right. Even with reasonable discomfort, it can feel more of an effort to stop and change a habit than to keep going the usual way. The stronger the stimulus to do something right, the bigger is the temptation to stick with a familiar response (Alexander, (1941) 2004 p.76).

Ashtangis repeat a challenging exercise up to 5-6 times a week. In an enthusiastic and ambitious yoga environment, determination is needed in order to not get driven away with the class energy. Regular practising does not only improve a yogi’s aptitude to perform asana, it will also make the ashtangi to exaggerate habitual miscoordination that is not so pronounced in everyday life. Sometimes in yoga, end-gaining takes the form of being so non-attached that the yogi is hardly practicing anything demanding at all. As people often do their asana practice before going to work, there can also be an element of haste in their practice.

There is a force even behind habits that are generally considered to be good. Waking up early and practising daily starts to feel normal, if the routine is repeated regularly. As a person gets accustomed to a certain level of exercise, there is more room for considering the means of how to perform it. The postures in ashtanga might seem exhilaratingly difficult for someone who is not familiar with them, but for more seasoned practitioners a real challenge is to “prevent the familiar from becoming mechanical” (Balk, 2007).

Ashtanga yoga, like any sportive activity, bears a risk of overstraining (Mikkonen, 2008). It requires a high level of sensitivity to notice something going wrong during practice, since tiredness and the heat produced by rigorous movement can mask symptoms of poor coordination. The Technique not only increases sensitivity, it also empowers the Alexander pupil with an ability to use their kinaesthetic sense to enhance coordination. It is altough possible for an Alexander teacher not being able to perform asanas that their pupils can do. Even if the Alexander Technique generally helps to prevent injuries, it can in some cases give a false sense of security. One should bear in mind that learning the Technique is not a substitute for regular practicing.

Working with asanas by paying attention to the process of learning them, enables the ashtangi to accurately modify the level of practice according to the situation.When one knows the means whereby an asana has been learned, the habitual way of doing it can also be retraced, if one realizes having gone wrong after all. This can help when recovering from injuries, or when the yoga student experiences plateaus, where the familiar expression of an asana seems to be the only possible. Rather than just trying to grasp for something that is not quite at reach yet, the yogi will have tools to unravel their harmful, habitual reaction patterns.

While the solid structure of ashtanga yoga is giving opportunities to recognise habitual reactions, the Alexander Technique is providing concrete means of getting into terms with them. One way of dealing with a challenging yoga routine is to take a calm moment before the practise, and make a decision about what to practice and where to stop.

What Alexander wrote about posture in general, can be readily applied to yoga:“A correct position or posture indicates a fixed position, and a person held to a fixed position cannot grow, as we understand growth. The correct position today cannot be the correct position a week later for any person who is advancing in the work of re-education and coordination.” (Alexander ( (1923) 2000 p.174). This attitude is in line with the description of asana in the yoga sutras of Patanjali:

”Sthirasukhamāasanam (Patanjali Yoga Sutra 2.46) Sthira means perfect. Sukha means happiness. That posture you sit and very happy you, don’t anyone pain: That is Sthira Sukham. That is called asana. You can understand.” translation P. Jois (Donahaye, 2007).

Inhibition and non-doing

“Don’t you see that what you call the impossibility never arises unless you do the thing you are not supposed to do?” F.M. Alexander (2000 p. 41)

“Don’t hurry, this practice take time, the more you try to rush it, the more you will miss what it is actually about…” S. Rangaswamy, ashtanga yoga teacher and P. Jois’ daughter (2008)

The Alexander Technique is not about learning to do things right. Rather it brings attention to the ways a person interferes with the natural, free functioning of mind and body. We are all the time reacting to life, both to what comes from the outside and to our own inner thoughts (Alexander, (1923) 2000). This happens whether an individual is aware of it or not. If these reaction-patterns are automatic and unconscious, it is not possible to choose an appropriate way of responding to situations in life.

Non-doing can be confused with doing nothing. Alexander’s directions are essentially preventative, encouraging one not to do what is harmful. This does not mean, a person should never challenge themselves. Alexander put it nicely in the term ”satisfactory use”. As long as we are able to maintain a satisfactory level of coordination we have hope of increasing our capacities. Satisfactory for me in this connection means, that the way a person is practising is helping them to become more aware of their habits. An Alexander student can also have a habit of worrying too much about their coordination.

In ashtanga, the asana practice consists of a dynamic exercise followed by lying down on the back. It is although very difficult to just lie down, and many ashtangi’s are struggling to rest efficiently during the five to ten minutes of lying-down after their practice. The Alexander Technique can help an ashtangi to find more quietness in activity, and to rest without drifting into sleep or mind wandering, thus bringing these two extremities closer to each other’s. “Practice means choosing, applying the effort, and doing those actions that bring a stable and tranquil state”. Patanjali 1.13 (Bharati, 2008)

By allowing time for Alexander thinking before and after yoga can reduce over-straining in asanas. A yogi needs to avoid imposing the Alexander Technique on top of their practice as one more set of rules to be followed. Ideally, the Technique is used to bring a person back to a state where they can do yoga in the way they intend to do it.

Recognition of faulty sensory awareness

“Identifying with thought patterns translates into me reacting to sensations and experiences in automatic and habitual ways rather than with receptivity, flow, and with what is appropriate at this very moment.” D. Garrigues, ashtanga yoga teacher (2010b)

“He gets what he feels is the right position, but when one has imperfect co-ordination he is only getting a position which fits his defective co-ordination” F.M. Alexander (2000)

Observing a yoga class it always strikes me, how different peoples practices are. Even if everyone is following the same precise sequence of asanas, each breath connected with a designated movement, their interpretations vary. This becomes more obvious when students react to the touch or instructions of the teacher. While Alexander teachers explain their pupils how they want them to respond, this is not usually the case in a yoga class. Yoga teachers may not even be clear that their manner of being has a profound impact on their pupils.

The manifestations of faulty sensory awareness can be divided into two categories. Firstly a person might be using more effort than needed to perform a task, for example by making themselves feel strong and in control by tightening all over the body. Secondly they might be doing something completely different than they think. A common case would be someone trying to get a foot into lotus by collapsing their weight into the hip joints, thus diminishing the range of movement in the legs.

For serious yoga practitioners it can be hard to face the possibility of actually not knowing what they are doing. This can be a very sensitive issue; a yoga teacher may have developed a high level of skill in performing asanas, despite not using themselves efficiently. Being able to endure strain and pain can also be a cause of pride, and the Alexander Technique perceived as a threat which undermines all the hard work they have been doing. Relying on how an asana should feel can be misleading: there will be no room for allowing greater ease, since the level of perceived effort becomes the norm according to which the asana should be performed. The familiar can thus be the standard by which the yoga practice is judged as right or wrong (Balk, 2007 p.39).

An approach that does not take faulty sensory awareness into account tends to concentrate on the outer form while ignoring sensory information that is not perceived to be relevant to the correct performing of an asana (Barlow, 1978 p.1078). Petri Räisänen makes a distinction between the shapes oriented “Western” yoga, and the “Indian” yoga that is concerned with the “flow of energy inside the asana” (2007, my translation). In the former approach the form of an asana has become more interesting than the manner of use of the person performing the pose.

Alexander went to length in explaining the extend to which the phenomenon of faulty sensory awareness affects the human population ((1923) 2000). It is not just the physical performance; also thinking and feelings are affected by the standard of perception. For example a person who is trying to concentrate, will be not only tightening and staring, but also undermining their reasoning. They might be judgemental towards an other person, because of the awareness of both their inner and the outer world has been distorted. “Sensory appreciation conditions conception – you can’t know a thing by an instrument that is wrong”. (Alexander, 2000)

The ashtanga practice has in-built feedback mechanisms to reduce the impact of faulty sensory awareness. It is just a matter of learning to use them. An ashtangi can gather feedback of their manner of use from their ability to keep looking out towards a gazing point. The act of seeing is often accompanied by moving the head with the eyes, which tells the degree of freedom in the neck. The sequencing of the asanas contrasted with repeated simple movements between asanas, give information about the yogis ability to maintain the good working of the primary control during an increasingly challenging series of postures. Ashtanga teachers are frequently communicating with their touch. Even if ashtanga teachers with a profound touch are rare, in a difficult pose it can help to have contact with a person who is being in a mechanically much more advantageous position.

The “ujjayi-breathing” in ashtanga yoga is related to the “whispered Ah”. The whisper on the out breath enabled Alexander to hear his voice while putting minimal strain on it. The sound a person is producing is giving feedback about their use: including muscle tension, emotions and the quality of thinking. It is not uncommon that ashtanga yogis become hoarse due to the way they breathe during their practice, although some develop a beautifully resonant voice. It is vital for an ashtangi to make a connection between breath, voice and use.

Sending directions

“ ‘What is this direction,’ I asked myself, ‘upon which I have been depending?’ I had to admit that I had never thought out how I directed the use of myself, but that I used myself habitually in the way that felt natural to me.” F. M. Alexander (1932 p.22)

“People imagine that their bodies are disobedient and unreliable in carrying out their wishes, whereas nothing could be further from the truth.” W. Carrington, Alexander Technique teacher (1994)

In an ashtanga yoga class, verbal instructions tend to be scarce and position-oriented: typically telling where to place the hands and the feet, and which way to look. A skilled teacher will then give the right experience with their touch. Alexander’s directions are supporting this method of teaching because they are targeted to liberate postural reflexes, and the practitioner doesn’t have to know, how the body is sorting out all the details. While most yoga manuals are filled with photos of “correct” postures and minute explanations of how they should be achieved, keeping directions simple is practical in ashtanga where the asanas are performed in flowing sequences, rather than static postures.

Telling myself where I want the hands and feet to be while the eyes are looking out, allows me to let go of trying to control the body by contracting it. Often just asking ”Am I shortening myself in order to reach better?” is working wonders. Occasionally I need to remind myself about the orientation of the body. For example up is opposite the floor, not opposite the feet, when going into an inversion. In asanas that are likely to trigger a strong reaction, I use more specific directions. For example to keep not pulling the knees into the hips, when the challenge is increasing.

It can be discouraging for an Alexander student to find out, that it is impossible to maintain the same level of ease during a session of yoga than during an Alexander lesson. Sometimes Alexander Teachers use this phenomenon as proof of yoga being too big of a stimulus for them and their pupils. I find it helpful to take a non-judgemental approach. If I notice myself making too much effort, it is because I have an experience of doing less. Not so many years ago, I interpreted feeling heavy as me not being strong enough. Somewhat later I realized the feeling was connected with the way I was using myself, and nowadays I find myself increasingly able to work through that heaviness, not to sink deeper into it.

In a way it is easier to apply the Technique in movement. There is no time to start feeling out if the directions are working. I’m often surprised by the effectiveness of just noticing misuse patterns and not trying to change anything. The awareness itself, supported by an understanding of what I don’t want to do, seems to be nurturing my practise and allows me to enjoy it. I find the skill of directing myself in activity getting stronger with practise.

Introducing the classic Alexander directions too early can be confusing for a yogi. They will ask how the neck can be free, if they put a leg behind it, or how to apply directions like ”… to let the head go forward and up”, when the head is actually moving back and down in space. Some yoga teachers are convinced that the back should be shortening and narrowing when bending backwards, and the knees should be pushed together.

Alexander used the terms primary and secondary directions. The primary being the preventative ones that support optimal coordination, and the secondary being the directions to actually move in space. When put into words, the primary and the secondary directions can sound like they are contradicting each others, even if any combination of them can be performed simultaneously.

While practising yoga one frequently needs to think in terms of what I call absolute and relative directions. These are originally musical terms: the absolute ear denotes the “perfect pitch” way of listening, and the relative hearing a way of orientating according to the relationships between the notes. The absolute up is always the opposite direction of gravity, the relative being where the crown of the head is pointing at. When the head is not pointing up, one needs to know where the absolute up is in order be organised in terms of gravity. The relative up would then be to let the head release away from the feet, through the body, in a way that does not interfere with the breathing. This will generate a lengthening and widening regardless of the shape the body is taking.

In this connection it is helpful to clarify the preventative nature of the Alexander directions. For example in a back bending “to let the neck be free, to let the head go forwards and up…” can simply mean not starting the movement by actively pulling the back of the head into the shoulder blades. The directions will be growing in accuracy and meaning, when they are being practised. Bending backwards can be a good learning experience when a pupil starts to be able to discriminate between harmful and beneficial patterns. In this movement it is easy to notice how heavy the head becomes, when it is pulled out of balance – and how light it feels, when it is left balancing on top of the spine.

The primary control

”… In this method you must be completely flexible and keep the three parts of the body – head, neck, and trunk – in a straight line. If the spinal cord bends, the breathing system is affected…”. P. Jois
(Anderson, 1994)

“…the person who learns to use himself properly by relying upon the correct employment of the primary control of his use of himself will breathe to the best possible advantage…”
F.M. Alexander
( (1941) 2000 p.144)

Ashtangis can be overly focused in their flexibility or lack of it. Introducing the idea of primary control will give them a measure of improvement that is not related with increased flexibility. Primary control refers to the idea that looking after the relationship between the head, neck and back can control human movement. With the back Alexander teachers mean the torso or a bigger entity, not just the backside of the spine.

In small children the primary control is usually working beautifully, and some cultures are better than others in preserving their people’s ability to maintain a balance in their coordination. When we lose the optimal working of the primary control, partial patterns of the limbs start to dominate over the head, neck and back relationship.

A good working of the primary control is characterized by smoothness and ease in movement. There is a spring in the muscles, and the body can seamlessly apply the optimal amount of effort to any given activity. This is accompanied by a sense of enjoyment and alertness. If the primary control is not able to work efficiently, movements become jerky or sluggish, sometimes over quick. There is a feeling of heaviness or not being grounded – even dizziness – accompanied by too hard concentration or mind wandering. Balancing becomes a matter of muscular effort, of holding rather than releasing. Restoring the functioning of the primary control is hard work. A yogi might feel more tired, fragile and emotionally vulnerable when practising with improved coordination, even if moving is effortless and enjoyable.

Ashtanga yoga encourages practitioners to use their full range of movement. There are constant demands to reach with the arms, the head and with the legs, as well as focusing with the eyes to certain gazing points. If the ashtangi is not careful about their overall coordination, they will forget about the central importance of the head, neck and trunk. Trying to do an asana at any cost is not an unknown phenomenon in an ashtanga yoga class. By applying the Alexander Technique, each asana can become an opportunity to research habits of end-gaining. Instead of just doing lots of postures, the practise starts to reveal more delicate details. There are phases of critical moments, and there are moments of stillness.

January, 2011. Aino Klippel is an Alexander Teacher who graduated from the Alexander Teacher Training School, (ATTS).

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