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In a stepwise fashion: The joy of a step-by-step reasoned process

Updated: Apr 14


A new term of yoga starts this coming week! Join me Tuesday 16th April, 9-10am a Scout hut 6388, BS7 9BJ or Wednesday, 8-9pm 17th April at Yogafurie, BS7 9DD.


Over the holidays I've been reflecting on the joy of following a step-by-step reasoned process for reaching a goal - and as a guiding process for both learning and teaching. In this article I look at why this step by step progress is so effective - both applied to the Alexander Technique, and through the Vinyasa Krama style of yoga.

 

Last week I once again had the pleasure of teaching lessons at Trinity College on a weekend jamboree at the current Alexander Technique teacher training.

 

I am also currently reviewing my own teacher training course (which was recorded for this purpose) which is giving me a great overview of the course.

 

It is year three (out of four) of the current training course and WOW the trainee teachers are really flying. Taking on new ideas with curiosity and learning new 'use of hands' techniques easily and well, in preparation for starting to teaching their own lessons next year.

 

The success of the course and the trainees on it, is not by chance. Luck, after all, is just “opportunity meeting preparedness,” according to Deepak Chopra.

 

Chopra is one of the authors we read on the course, but he’s not the only author in the course literature who examines the concept of luck.

 

This weekend trainees were, alongside the practical anatomy work, studying The Luck Factor. Written by Richard Wiseman, the text examines what makes people lucky and puts forward the idea that luck, like success, is actually a skill anyone can develop by following certain processes.

 

What struck me this weekend was just how elegantly the training course has been designed.  The whole four years is a module-by-module, step by step process, which covers all the ground needed, in a well-considered sequence which has been, tried, tested and refined over many years.

 

Just at the point trainees are getting ready to ask a certain set of questions the next module comes along to answer them.

 

The whole training course is a demonstration of some of the basic ideas and principles which we follow in using FM Alexander’s work.

 

One of these is to keep the focus on the process. This doesn’t mean that there isn’t an end to reach in mind, there is a clear end and standard of knowledge to be reached, but the focus is on following a step by step process, making sure each part is addressed in sequence while keeping the whole in mind. This also means that the process can be refined in real time.

 

This refining of the plan was demonstrated beautifully by the course leaders as they observed trainees and how they were progressing and adapted the timetable as they went to make sure everything ran smoothly and most importantly, everyone had a chance to learn the necessary skills before moving on to the next.

 

Watching the teachers do this reminded me of another key principles: That of only asking students to do something when they are ready. This is a teaching principle that FM himself suggested:

 

“One of the greatest factors in human development is the building up of a form of confidence which comes as a the result of that method of learning by which the pupil is put in possession of the correct means-whereby he can attain his end before he makes any attempt to gain it.”  FM Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual

 

It’s a principle that I found particularly comforting when I was taking the course. It meant that if a tutor asked you to do something, they believed you could do it.


The trust and confidence that this imparted was immense. Especially when approaching something new. If people believe in you, I find, it’s much easier to believe in yourself.

 

And that belief grows even more when you succeed - and of course you do most likely succeed or they wouldn’t have asked you to try!

 

“Confidence is born of success.” FM Alexander tells us, also in Constructive Control of the Individual.

 

Imagine if you keep trying and keep failing to climb up the mountain, unless you have some exceptional grit you are much more likely to give up than if you succeed. 


Here's where breaking things down into steps helps us again: we don't try to climb the mountain all at once, we take small steps and succeed in a small way many times to build our confidence and progress along our path at the same time.

 

The current trainees are just beginning to learn about how to use their hands to interact as teachers. This only happens now, three years in, because before any hands-on work can happe the ground must be prepared. The small steps must be taken.


In the previous years, as I did before them (and I am still doing!), trainees have read FM Alexander’s books and, through these texts, learnt about the about the principles that guide and make up his technique - and the pitfalls on the journey to learn and teach the work. They have learnt about the Interactive Teaching Method and the rational and truths that support the methodology behind its development, they have learnt about human movement, structure and function, anatomy & physiology, how the nervous system works, and because we work on the belief that thinking causes movement, they have studied some basic ideas about how people think and how their ideas about themselves and the world drives their behaviours.


With all of that in mind, it becomes clear that the reason the course is going so well is not down to luck!

 

This principle of working in a step by step way is also applied in the style of yoga teaching I practice “vinyasa krama.”

 

Vinyasa Krama is a Sanskrit term which is used in modern yoga to indicate a wise step-by-step progression to a certain goal with a focus on maintaining and leading with your breath. In the goal might be any aspect of your yoga practice: asana (postures), pranayama (breathwork), mudra (gesture in movement or sound) and mantra (sound).

 

To give a little more explanation of the Sanskrit words:

 

Vinyasa = is the principle of synchronising movement with the breath

Krama = which wise steps or stages

 

This approach to yoga basically means that in class we work from simple to more complex.

 

We prepare the ground before taking the first step and before taking the next.

 

We have an end in mind but we don’t go directly to it. Instead, we follow a reasoned process through which we give ourselves time to consider the challenges, decide the best way to get there, practice, gain confidence, refine our process if need be.


This means we take into consideration the end we wish to reach, the conditions around us and within each person individually. When it comes to asana it means we might discuss the parts of the body we'll need to move, how they work best and what they do, then we moving through the ranges of movement we’ll be needing later, in simpler forms. In this way we prepare our mind and body to move into the more advanced or complex “peak pose”and find ways to develop strength and flexibility for that end.


It means we don't try for the end pose until we are ready. For breathwork this might mean starting with very simple breath practices before attempting anything like longer breath holds or more complex breath patterns. For mantra it might be discussing the meaning of the Sanskrit and reading through a new chant, or breaking down complex sounds before adding the rhythm or speed.

 

Working in this way, it doesn’t actually matter if your reach the "end" that day or that month, or even this decade, you are making progress, you are building strength and flexibility, you are learning about yourself, what you need next, and how to get there.


With this in mind we see that there is no need to push into a pose that is beyond us that day and risk injury. As FM said:


“No matter how many specific ends you may gain, if in the process of reaching them you have destroyed the integrity of the organism.”

 

This way of working is why I can confidently say that this class is open to all levels because you always have the option of stopping at the level you can currently work safely within and repeating that instead of moving onto the next stage or step.

 

The journey matters. The process matters. This is not about the goals but acquiring the skills and applying the reasoning processes to get there when you are ready.

 

I’d love to see you in class!


Come to an Alexander Technique introduction evening to learn more about how this brilliant work can help you find more ease in movement: 2nd May 6.30-8pm, at The Family Practice, 116 Gloucester Road. It’s a great way to find out more about the technique before committing to a course of lessons. Have an introduction, the chance for a lesson and plenty of time to ask questions Cost £10 BOOK HERE


Join the next Alexander Technique 6-week course: Six Thursday nights, 6.30-8pm, 6th June - 18th June all levels welcome from beginners those who know the work and want to come for a series of lessons. £130 for all sessions. Book by paying your deposit HERE.  15% discount available for musicians and actors: email me for your code!


No idea what the Alexander Technique is all about? Read more about the Alexander Technique sessions on my website or in the latest blogs.


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