According to Yoga philosophy, we are each of us fundamentally confused about our true nature. We identify with that which is impermanent and in flux rather than with that which is constant and unchanging. It is that misidentification that prevents us from realizing and embodying our highest natures and finding spiritual freedom from the limitation and anguish of mundane living. In yogic practices—such as postural work, breath work or seated meditation—we focus and refine our attention to the point where we are able to identify the ingrained thoughts and habits that move us away from that freedom and redirect our mental and physical energies into more constructive patterns.
A precondition for the more intense practices is the observance of ishvarapranidhana, or devotion to the ideal Self. In Indian spiritual tradition, Ishvara is the godhead, a supreme deity that is so pure and far removed from human experience that we can never have direct knowledge of it. All the other gods and goddesses act as intermediaries between us and the godhead, in much the same way that the saints intervene on our behalf with the Christian god. In Yoga philosophy, Ishvara is presented as the perfect soul that has never had a physical form and, as such, has never had to deal with the ontological problems that we must all face. Ishvara shows us what is possible and in that capacity, acts as a guide and teacher for us all simply by existing. Ishvarapranidhana, then, becomes a practice in which we rearrange our lives and our intentions in such a way that everything we do takes us closer to the goal of self-realization. With regular and constant practice over a long period of time, coupled with a dispassion towards the challenges and joys of living, the restless mind can be controlled and our true natures revealed.
Alexander Technique and Yoga share the idea that our thinking is fundamentally misguided. With diligent self-observation and sustained thought, we can re-educate our minds, our nervous systems and our psyches, bringing them once more to a place of resilience and adaptability that allows us to meet the challenges of life without compromising our well-being.
Even though there is a large physical component to the Alexander Technique, centered on the head-neck relationship and the way we over-work and compress our bodies, it is fundamentally about thinking. The first two or three years of our lives are a sort of Golden Age in which our awareness and intentions are in balance with our physicality and nervous systems. Our nervous systems then are robust and resilient. Our bodies are supple and malleable as we develop the strength, support and coordination to hold ourselves upright in gravity and interact with the world. We haven’t been around long enough to develop habits, good or bad, and our sensory appreciation still has to negotiate the way we move and generally take care of ourselves, moment by moment. All of those neurological pathways we take for granted in adulthood are still being laid down. Our brains don’t have enough free processing power to allow our senses to get completely absorbed by one object of focus. Fairly soon, however, we become practiced enough in our self-care to the point where we think we need no longer attend to our moment-to-moment wellbeing and habits begin to form, molding our reactions and our bodies, sometimes to the point of ill-health and chronic pain.
The three pillars of Alexander Technique are observation, inhibition and direction. We observe our habits and reactions, inhibiting the ones that compromise our head and neck, bring us down and compress us. With sustained thinking, we redirect our intentions to decompress and allow our bodies, minds and nervous systems to work with optimum efficiency. With regular and constant practice over a long period of time, coupled with a dispassion towards the challenges and joys of living, the restless mind can be controlled and our true natures revealed.