When I first started studying the Alexander Technique, I overdid everything. AT helps students discover unconscious postural habits and then gradually and through a teacher's help, "undo" those habits by not doing them. AT students don't learn to "do" some new thing to correct their habits and they aren't taught how to "fix" their habits, but instead guided to an awareness of said habits as unnecessary actions in the body that they can "simply" stop doing.
If I were to spend part of every day schlumping in a chair, it's likely my back and abdominal muscles would get used to the shape that would result and remember the shape as "normal," returning to it by default even when not sitting in a chair. Imagine this schlumped posture becomes part of my standing posture and my walking gait, and eventually results in back pain. Let's look at two ways to address my condition:
Scenario A - I go to a physical therapist
Using the tools of her profession, the PT would assess the range of mobility in my joints and the strength of my muscles. Likely, she'd discover that my abdominal muscles were short/tight and weak (from disuse and chronic shortening) and my back and outer hip muscles were long/tight and weak (from disuse and chronic lengthening). She'd assign some manner of core strengthening (abdominal + back muscles) and manual release or stretching for the tight spots. She would assign the opposite activity that the muscles were currently experiencing to bring everything back to being able to fully support the spine.
Scenario B - I go to an Alexander Technique teacher
Using the tools of her profession, the Alexander teacher would work through some observations of my posture and movement and response to hands-on guidance. She would point out my habit of pulling my pelvis forward and under and use hands-on to guide my pelvis and spine to as neutral an alignment as would be possible on the first day. She'd likely instruct me not to get attached to the feeling of the new posture (because it will feel weird, not like normal), and help me understand what I'm doing (pulling pelvis under) that I can begin to undo. That would be my homework. As often as possible, observe myself in my habit and then cease doing it. Gradually over time, this undoing would result in a change in my muscles (greater balance in the useable length and strength of all the core/back muscles) and neutral would to come feel normal and be manageable as a conscious choice for long periods of standing, walking, and sitting
But I was born a doer. An introverted do-it-all-by-myself kinda doer, but nonetheless someone who wants to control the change I seek. Needless to say, the "undoing" of AT was a frustrating challenge for me. I struggled with it for months: I could observe my habits, but not "undo" them - instead, I wanted to do what I thought created the "fix" in order to create "correct" posture. This fixing established new patterns of mind-imposed ideas of right and wrong in my body, where AT proposes that ease of moving and being is the "natural" state we return to if unconscious and limiting patterns are removed. To help me learn and embody this lesson of removing patterns through undoing, my teacher suggested that I think of allowing. Rather than doing the undoing (which I had turned into just one more kind of "doing"), allow the undoing to happen. This was pivotal for me. Everything began to fall into place after that, and allowing has been key to my evolution towards self understanding.
Sankalpa is an intention you allow into your living.
Allowing your most essential self/nature to emerge and lead you through life takes a fair amount (ok, a lot a lot) of conscious effort. It's not easy to undo the programming that we acquire growing up, being part of society, and figuring out how to live.
Allowing does not mean just do whatever you feel like doing. Very often urges come out of the trappings of patterns which, though they may be serving us well, may also not be. The trick is that when our behavior stems from habits, they are almost by definition unconscious and it is difficult to tell where they originate from and what they're doing to us.
Allowing means doing the hard work of learning to recognize your patterns. Build awareness and establish practices that undo those unconscious habits to make room for deeper, fuller knowledge of your self --make room for the gradual building of new patterns that fuel rather than confuse your life lived in harmony with this self.
Sankalpa, literally an intention from deep within, uses a somewhat involved meditation to put this clearing out, discovering, and setting yourself on a clear "path" of living (joy)fully into a step by step process that anyone can do. Each new year, Alan and Sarah Finger offer a sankalpa workshop to guide the ISHTA community through this meditation. It's an incredible two hour process that, very much like working through the Alexander Technique, uses movement and kriya to first clear blockages from your energetic system, then employs a deep internal attention to allow a sankalpa (intention) to come up (it doesn't necessarily always do so on one go, sometimes it takes several days of repeating the process for a sankalpa to become clear), and then uses meditation and samyama to plant that sankalpa into your deepest unconscious, so that you can move through the year ahead, living out this intention from a place of allowing rather than doing or forcing.
I've done the workshop three times in the past four years --and the year that I missed, I was still riding the wave of the intention from the year prior-- and there's nothing magical about it. That is, the meditation is completely magical, but not in false or unbelievable way. I have walked away each time moved, humbled, and in awe of the honest simplicity of my sankalpa. Throughout the years past, I have watched my sankalpa unfold into my life, again, not as if by magic, but through my attention to it, an attention that is spontaneous and genuine. And because it comes from a deep desire (not one I've taken on because of magazine ads or peer pressure or family expectations), I can say I've lived out my new year's intentions with great success... by allowing them in.
I hope you discover deep and true intentions flooding into your life this year!
hari om tat sat!