The Alexander technique teaches us to regain natural and efficient use of the body, with the mechanism of “primary control” as the director of a balanced body. Primary control is a phrase Alexander coined to indicate where the sense of control comes from when one is completely present physically and mentally. Buddhism focuses on the sense of being present as the primary factor in learning about one’s self and relation to the world.
To my knowledge, F. M. Alexander never studied Buddhism. He grew up in Australia and moved to Great Britain. Yet he came up with similar principals to the ancient wisdom of Buddhism using a completely different cultural structure. Western thinking tends to rely on the separation of parts to understand the whole. Mr. Alexander instinctively realized the importance of noticing the whole over the parts. The whole body is not a separation of parts, but a relationship between all of them.
Siddhartha (buddha) studied the methods of his time and used that wisdom to develop his own fresh version before becoming enlightened as Buddha. The teachings of Buddhism show a continuation of ideas from the Bhagavad Gita (balance), Yoga (relationship) and the Ascetics (detachment). Detachment as a tool for awareness is not new to Buddhist thinking. Buddha refined the idea to help alleviate the suffering he saw in those who attach too much importance to feelings and desires.
Alexander started from scratch, learning from his own bodily misuse. He observed himself carefully in an array of mirrors and found that only by inhibiting his ingrained habits of body use could he rediscover natural use. However, his detailed and continued observations led him to deeper patterns.
He learned the importance of being present to regain natural body use. Bad habits of body use are the product of lack of mental and physical presence. Going one step further, he found that changing habitual patterns required “inhibition” of those patterns, not just being present while they happened. Inhibiting one’s behavior while observing it takes a certain detachment. For example, when the phone rings the urge to jump and answer it can be inhibited until one consciously chooses to stay present and then move with that presence to answer the phone with physical quality.
So, the basic principals of detachment and being present are mutual to the Alexander Technique and Buddhist practice. Yet each teacher came from a vastly different time and culture. I am sure this subject could be explored more rigorously. But I am putting out a simple version for your interest, and perhaps to spark someone else’s interest in the subject.
I also wrote further thoughts on the subject of detachment in my recent article The Paradox of Detachment.