Yoga Vs Orthodox Judaism Vs Alexander Technique

I tried to be helpful when I entered yoga and helpfully I ran my keytag past the scanner without assistance.

“You just checked yourself into the pregnancy class,” said the woman behind the desk.

Oy.

A lot of people ask me at yoga how I reconcile my yoga with my Orthodox Judaism.

“I don’t,” is my favorite response. I prefer to respect the integrity of the two systems and I don’t bother with integrating them. I have next to no interest in Jewish mysticism and next to no interest in the theory behind the yoga I’m doing.

I don’t take yoga that seriously. I do it because it feels good. It’s a pleasant change from my hovel. Yoga smells good, looks good, is filled with good-looking people, and everybody is nice to me and I don’t feel like a right wally there.

I wish somebody would ask me how I reconcile my yoga with my Alexander Technique. There’s a ripe field for discussion.

In many ways, Alexander and yoga are opposites. Kundalini Yoga, the brand of yoga I practice, is all about breath manipulation aka conscious breathing. Alexander Technique is against breath manipulation. It favors unconscious breathing.

Yoga is significantly about doing while Alexander is significantly about non-doing.

Yoga is about chanting and meditation. You don’t zone out in Alexander. You keep your attention on the present. You keep your eyes open. You look around the room.

Yoga is about postures and exercises. There are no postures and exercises in Alexander Technique.

So how do I reconcile these apparently irreconcilable practices?

Well, I give priority to the practice I spend the most on — and ding! ding! ding! that would be Alexander Technique.

When my yoga and my Alexander Technique collide, my yoga loses 90% of the time. (The ten percent it wins is when there are hardly any people in my yoga class and I feel like it would be rude to the teacher if I did not participate.)

Normally when I go to yoga, I skip 90% of the breath manipulation. I only do about half of the exercises and meditations. The rest of the time, I lie on my back in semi-supine and just enjoy the experience of people knocking themselves out all around me.

“Damn, another one bites the dust,” I think as I see people reinforcing bad habits, tightening and compressing their necks, shoving their spines down into their rectums, gasping for breath, and generally wreaking havoc with themselves.

I’d feel quite superior except for my great humility and lofty spiritual attainments.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about anxiety and fear lately. I’ve read that emotions are only possible with a certain alignment of the musculature. It is a mistake to think of thoughts and emotions as separate from the body. The alignment of the body shapes thoughts and emotions and is in turn affected by thoughts and emotions.

When you suffer fear and anxiety disproportionate to your circumstance it is in part because of horrible things you are telling yourself and in part because you are most likely pushing down, clenching, and tensing your neck.

If I can be conscious when I feel unreasonable amounts of fear and anxiety, I can come back to primary control (my head – neck relationship), I can let my neck be free, I can think up, and I can let go of downward pressure and unnecessary clenching and the stupid irrational things I am telling myself.

I have a good friend who uses gasps as exclamation points in conversations. It makes life more dramatic. I really enjoy her gasps. I enjoy them so much that over the past few months, I’ve started gasping too. Just at the right moments! To punctuate things.

But when I gasp, when anyone gasps, they always go down and tighten their necks. It’s bad Alexander Technique. So I want to give up gasping and other habitual postures. I want to be a light unto the nations. I can’t go around gasping and clenching and tightening my neck and going down.

I have meaningful and positive developments in my life almost every day. The problem? They’re purchased with borrowed money. I feel like I am living on a high level with regular therapy, daily yoga, Alexander Technique teacher training, daily Talmud study and prayer, writing in my journal, doodling on my blog, talking to girlies, but this idyl is largely removed from the stress of earning a living because I am just constantly borrowing money. I fear this is the lull before the storm.

I’ve got one more tasty treat already paid for — LimmudLA. Better make the best of it. I’m headed for the salt mines to pay the piper.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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