Relaxation is a state of body and mind sought by many people. One of the most common reasons that people tell me that they are coming for yoga or Alexander lessons is that they are too tense and wish to relax. In fact I am not very interested in relaxation. If people are tense it is the result of a whole approach to life and manner of using themselves, and it is only when these areas are dealt with that "relaxation" is a possibility. Otherwise whatever method or technique we may choose to do, it will only be dealing with the symptoms of the problem. There are many ways in which people can be taught to "relax." One of the most common is the Yoga Nidra, in which a person lies on their back in the corpse pose and goes through all the muscle groups of the body, releasing them (or sometimes tensing and then releasing them.) We can also find relaxation by listening to music, smoking a joint or having a drink.
Tension manifests as negative mental states, usually accompanied by obsessive thought patterns, bodily pain, discomfort and miscoordination and impaired breathing. From an Alexander perspective, it is mistake to try to go directly for "relaxation." The question that we should always ask ourselves if we are tense is "What am I doing to myself to be in this state?" A constructive solution to the problem of tension and relaxation can only come out of a state of inquiry. It is quite possible to use our relaxation or yoga practice exactly as we use a joint or a drink, to temporarily calm or mask the results of a whole way of life and patterns of use which need to be questioned. This questioning is of course the last thing we would prefer to do. Wouldn't life be so much simpler if there was a magic pill (Prozac?) which we could take and all our troubles would be over!
F.M. Alexander, after who developed the technique was an actor who lost his voice. Alexander first went to have medical treatment and remedial exercises to try to regain the use of his voice. All of us will first of all go looking out there for someone or something that has the solution to our problem. Or even worse we project the cause as being something or someone "out there." You can divorce your wife, change your job, change your city or country, but you still take yourself with you and you may well find that with your next wife, job or country the same problems and stresses reappear. Sooner or later we have to come to the rather chastening realisation that the problem lies must closer at hand than we ever realized. When Alexander realized with absolute clarity that it was what he was doing with himself that was causing his problems he says, "I realised that self - accusation must replace self - pity." And he set out to change what he was doing with himself.
There is a Buddhist parable about three types of horses. The first horse will run by simply seeing the shadow of the whip. The second horse will only run when the whip strikes it's skin. And the third horse is only prepared to run when the pain reaches the marrow of its bones. Hopefully we can initiate a process of inquiry and change before the pain reaches the marrow of our bones! We have to begin a process of change within ourselves - and of course we would all prefer for that change to happen while we still do exactly what we have always done. As we begin the process of change within ourselves, we may also change the external circumstances of our life, but this change arises out of wisdom rather than delusion.
Here is what Sheila Kitzinger has to say about relaxation in her book, The Experience of Childbirth. "A French psychologist has said that 'relaxation is not simply learning at the level of muscular tone, but involves a maturing of the body image. In other words we cannot think of relaxation as a more or less specialized form of gymnastics, but must see it as an emotional experience involving a human being as an existential whole (embracing past present and future)" (p97) "The relaxation that is needed in labour is the kind that is required to perform any sport, to dance, to play the piano, to drive a car or to ride a bicycle. That is, all unnecessary tension is eliminated, everything that is not required for the task in hand." (p.118)