In my 17 years of studying and 11 years of teaching yoga, I’ve always been in on the lookout for teachings that are simple, honest, practical, useful. There is so much shoddy teaching in yoga. Fuzzy, magical thinking gets laid over very peculiar ideas about the body and the mind and the connection between the two. Even in Iyengar Yoga, the style that I would most identify with, there are directions given that I flat out disagree with. I’m always checking in with myself about what I think yoga is and can be, how the way I practice fits in with that and in what direction it can take. When I cam to Alexander Technique, it seemed to me they were, in some ways, a perfect fit. And where they differed, I increasingly have found that I agree more with AT.
So, with this as a foundation, I had hoped to eventually be able to find ways of integrating AT into Yoga. In many ways, my yoga practice and teaching have a lot in common. Where the two seem to directly contradict each other I have figured out ways of reconciling them. But my intention had been, over the years of the AT training, to go deeper in exploring how the two can connect.
Last week we read from the book “More Talk of Alexander,” edited by Dr. Wilfred Barlow. In his essay “What sort of Alexander Teacher?” he talks about the developmental path of the evolving teacher:
“Why then should Alexander teachers—or any teachers for that matter—vary so much in quality or competence? After seeing the development of many teachers’ stories over the years, there seems to be a series of stages in achieving maturity as a teacher. The first stage will have been one of acceptance of the need to have personal Alexander lessons. The next stage will be one of choosing to become an Alexander teacher and of joining a teacher-training group. It is often not until quite well on in the training that the third stage appears—one of clear commitment to make Alexander teaching the main career and mode of earning a living. This is a commitment which will often last a few years after finishing the actual training, but often in this stage there will be other competing lines of development—an attachment to some other career and way of earning a living. This will be the stage at which the newly-trained teacher is still very excited by the Alexander ideas, but may no longer accept passively the values which his teachers have passed on. He may begin, in this stage, to attempt to shape the Technique to fit in with other skills—an athlete may seek to combine it, say, with running; a musician with piano, voice or violin techniques; a dancer with various movement disciplines or yoga; a naturopath-lover perhaps with various other fringe activities; a devotee of esoteric disciplines such as Gurdjieff or meditation may begin to include some of these modes of “work” and “contemplation” in his ALexander instruction; and so on. Such an experimental phase may be an important one for many teachers but likewise it may prevent full professional development into the next stage. I would of course include in this stage my own early medical assays.”
I can see what he means. With any of these practices you really have to throw yourself into them whole-heartedly or you run the risk of staying at the surface, of being little more than a dilettante. As much as I love AT and Yoga, both need to be taught in very specific ways. As a newbie when it comes to AT, I wouldn’t dream of mixing yoga into an AT lesson. I know that, when I graduate, I am going to have to make a concerted effort for a few years to make teaching AT a priority, maybe even teaching yoga quite a bit less.