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Letters To A Young Teacher – A Heavenly Host

Rilke's Letter To A Young Poet

Rilke’s Letter To A Young Poet

When you first started teaching, did you trust that your hands were directing in the way that they should or could? I am finding myself wondering if my hands are giving the student the experience that I have when my teacher’s hands are on me. I then of course go back to myself, my back and empty hands. But the thought/doubt is there. I’d love your thoughts on trust and the development of our listening hands.

Did I trust that my hands were directing in the way they they should or could? The short answer? No. I knew my hands were not very good. I knew my use was not all that great either. (It still is not great.) I knew I was not giving my students the experience that I was receiving from my teacher, Marjorie Barstow. But as Marj once said to me,  ‘Comparisons are odious.’ And in this case unfair. If you know more than someone else about AT and you have some skill, then you will be able to help them to the degree that you can at this time. You will likely get through, to varying degrees, with some students, and not at all with others, which can be disheartening. When this would happen to me while teaching a group, with other students watching, I would say something like, ‘That’s enough for now, good job. Let’s take a break, watch others, and come back to it again.’  There’s no point forcing things.

It’s humbling when students don’t respond, but it’s good feedback.  It tells you that you need another 40 years of practice. One student is practice for the next. Fake it until you make it. It’s odd, but it helps me not to think about myself so much as an accomplished teacher. (How other people see me is their own business, not mine.)  I choose to see myself as a student who is doing what he loves, studying and practicing. People pay me for the opportunity to study and practice with me,  because of my possessing more experience than they do. Within Jewish communities in Eastern Europe before World War II, being a rabbi was not a profession. A rabbi was someone that the community collectively recognized as a wise and exceptionally learned man, and supported him so that he had time to study and to contemplate, a kind of scholar-in-residence. That’s how I think of myself. I’m a ‘somasopher’, a person with embodied wisdom. People pay for me to meditate on Alexander’s work, which I do a lot.. People pay me to write, (Yes, I know this is a fantasy, but it’s how I choose to frame it), and people pay me to study in the same room with me. No matter the room, no matter the number of people, in my mind, I transform where I am into my livingroom and I welcome people into my home. Because I am at home in the work and with people. That takes the pressure off. I don’t have to be The Teacher who knows everything, or is great at everything, or can solve everything. Why not write your own secret job description, your own personal mission statement?

It’s about relaxing into your practice. It’s about getting thousands of people under your hands, a heavenly host of people with a heavenly host of different life patterns. And having fun. Ask your students what they are experiencing, and not only physically. Ask them to be totally honest, to not worry about pleasing you. Trust their feedback, and then shift how you are working accordingly.

We’re growing into ourselves as Alexander teachers. It’s an organic process. It takes its own sweet time.

As for coming back to yourself, and to your back, and to your empty hands, and to your listening hands. I don’t really know what all that is for you in reality. I would have to see you, and see and experience what your hands are doing and what they are not doing. But I will say that I don’t come back to myself, I include myself. In Judaism there’s a famous prayer called the Shema, and basically it says that God is One. I take this to mean, not two. Our job is to unify, to make things one.

My hands are not only empty, they are full, they don’t only listen, they speak, they communicate, they invite, they welcome, they offer, they lead, they follow, they receive, they give, they promote, they nurture, they love, they read, they explore, they suggest, they comfort, they challenge, they encourage, they praise, they give permission.

So in the beginning it is not about trusting your hands. It’s about using them a lot and getting good at using them, the way anyone with a manual skill gets good at what they do, if they work at it. Then over time, based on experience, you come to trust your hands. Now, my hands know far more than I do. More than I can say.

Have no doubt. Relax into your practice. Enjoy your students.

An Interview for Eye-Ai – Magazine for Japanese Entertainment And Culture

By Karen Riley

By Karen Riley

This post is mainly for the Marketing The Alexander Technique Facebook folks.

You never know.

I was in Santa Fe, admiring an artist’s work that had a bit of a Japanese flair to it. I mentioned it to her, Karen Riley, whereupon she told me she had lived in Japan for some time and still edits for a Japanese magazine. When she found out what I did in Japan she asked if she could interview me.  Basically she pulled a lot together on her own by information she gleaned from my blog and websites. Then together we fine tuned it. It wasn’t difficult. Eye-Ai is the only monthly publication in English devoted entirely to Japanese entertainment and culture. It’s been around for 35 years. It’s a pop culture, youth oriented magazine, very lightweight, not a magazine I thought would be the least bit interested in what I’m doing.

But why not? That’s often the right question to ask. You never know. It goes out to 5000 readers. One reader might be interested. That’s fine. Nothing lost.

Now I have a finished piece and will submit it to the Kyoto Journal and to the Japan Times, both for English readers.

Why not?

https://peacefulbodyschool.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/interview_2.pdfinterview_2

An Alexander Happening

img_7735_kayla_sellers

Sometimes I really wonder about my voice. I don’t know why it’s so high, Atsuko says. Sitting together, eight of us at a Spanish restaurant in Temma, Osaka after a day of study, I notice when Atsuko speaks she looks like a little girl, a cute tilt of the head, sparkling eyes, a happy smile. Who knows, I say. It could be structural. Then again it might not be. What does your voice sound like to you, I ask? It sounds like everyone else’s voice. Just normal, she says.

You know Atsuko, what your voice sounds like really doesn’t matter so much. You’re expressive emotionally, articulate, easy to understand. It’s like your voice is a piccolo, that’s all. When you first hear a piccolo it sounds weird, too high, but then if someone is a good musician they can make beautiful music with that little instrument.

I’m wondering why, to you, your voice sounds like everyone’s else’s. If you hear your voice as the same as everyone else’s voice, you’d have little impulse to change it.  Alexander said, The hardest things to change are the things that don’t exist. Atstuko looks puzzled. You see, your high voice doesn’t exist for you. As far as your ears are concerned, you don’t have a high voice.

Atsuko, sing for me. Sing some little song you like. Without any hesitation, the sparkling red wine having loosened everyone up, Atsuko begins singing Sukiyaki, Ue o Muite Arukou. Astuko, do you know a song that has a fuller range, some lower notes. Mari, sitting next to her, begins singing a song I don’t recognize. Astuko knows it and joins in. Without effort she drops down into the lower notes. Do you hear that Atsuko? She looks surprised and nods yes. Sing it again. She does. There it is again! Did you feel that? That may be your real voice, what your voice sounds like when you’re not holding it up.

We were all relaxing, eating Japanese tasting tapas with chopsticks. The sparkling red wine the restaurant had given us for free to lure us in was now finished and beer mugs had mysterious appeard in front of everyone. I went no further, as captivated as I was by Atsuko’s changing voice. Class was over, but in class I had told several stories of spontaneous Alexander lessons happening to me, when with my teachers, outside of class.

There you go you guys, I said lifting my beer mug.  An Alexander happening. A Bruce story. Whatever. When the moment’s right, use it, pass it on.

Anchan Akihiro Tada – About The Touch

Photo: Bruce Fertman

Photo: Bruce Fertman

“Anchan, I will pay for all your expenses, travel, room and board, training, film, everything, if you travel around with me and take photos.” That’s how it all began, the making of a man able to catch that elusive moment when a person opens up, frees into who they really are, revealing their intrinsic beauty, their fundamental dignity.

That’s not easy. In the first place you have to be able to see, to see people. You have to be able to feel the instant before a person lets go into a space unknown to them. You have to remember what’s most important; to draw the viewers eye to the inner life of the student.

Now videography, something Anchan taught himself how to do, poses formidable challenges. Movement can be distracting, and words too. Photographs have power. Catching a moment, one moment, the moment of transformation, within stillness, within silence, suspended there in front of you with all the time in the world to enter into what you are seeing, and to be moved by it.

Anchan had an idea. He thought, “what if I could make a wordless video that showed not only the transformative moment, but the transformative movement, without losing the beauty and the stillness of photography?” And with that question Anchan made, The Touch.

But Anchan’s much more than a photographer. He’s an Alexander Teacher in his own right. And a good one.  Not only does he have a better eye than most Alexander teachers, he knows how to teach what he knows. It’s moving to watch Anchan with his kids, how he gives them the time and space to figure things out for themselves, and only interjects a suggestion when needed. He knows when and exactly how much encouragement to give, and he knows when it’s not needed. 

Anchan’s always there. He’s ready to serve. He makes things work. He’s generous. He overflows with generosity.

We were young men when we met, and though Anchan is a good ten years younger than I am, we are both decidedly older, no longer young. But rather than growing tired after all these years of dedicating ourselves to making the invisible visible, to making people see the power of touch, the beauty of Alexander’s work, we’re becoming ever more engaged in this undertaking. We keep getting closer, and closer.

In this short video, made by Anchan, entitled The Touchyou get to see how Anchan sees, and what Anchan loves. You get to see what the students are seeing.  And you get to see the students seeing what they are seeing.  See that, and you will see why I have faith in young people. Those students are delighting in the power and beauty of teaching through touch, something Marj Barstow passed onto me, that Alexander passed on to her,  and that I will continue to do my best to pass on to my students for as long as I am able.

I could tell you much more about Anchan, but I won’t. Let The Touch speak for itself.

Watch The Touch.

Tell us your impressions.

We welcome any and all feedback.

https://www.facebook.com/akihiro.tada.5?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/bruce.fertman?fref=ts

www.peacefulbodyschool.com

The Vow

Having taught Alexander’s work for all of five years, just shy of my thirtieth birthday, my workshop at Crosslands Retirement Community had finished.  Putting on my coat, head down, feeling unsure of myself, in grave doubt about my ability to get Alexander’s work across, an elderly man approaches, a soft elegance about him. Upright, tweed sports jacket, bow tie. He extends his hand and says, “James, James Bennett. You might like knowing that fifty-five years ago I received lessons from Mr. Alexander. He used to tell me that, next to John Dewey, I was his worst student. I always took that as a compliment.” “Well,” I said taken aback, “tell me, be honest, how did I do?”  “It moved me seeing you work with my friend Agnes, he said. To see her walking without her walker. How can I say, it was thrilling. You know, I had many lessons with F. M., but they were always individual lessons. I never watched anyone having a lesson. Until now. I could actually see what was happening. You were teaching me how to see. It was enlightening. As for how you did? Have no doubt. You did splendidly. You have that touch.”

That made my day. Actually, that kept me going for years. It affirmed my intuition that Alexander’s work could effectively be taught in groups.  It further convinced me of the importance of being able see Alexander’s work, as subtle as it was. And I felt encouraged to keep cultivating “that touch.”  Early on I had made a vow to myself that I would not quit until my hands were as good as Marjorie Barstow’s hands.  James Bennett made me feel I was on my way.

Forty years after having made that vow,  a 1000 workshops later, 15,000 people-under-my-hands later, I may have made it. I may have gotten there. I may have fulfilled my vow. I will never know for certain, and so best to not stop practicing. I don’t think I could stop practicing. It’s who I am, at my best.

In this short video, entitled The Touch, by Anchan, you get to see what Marj Barstow passed onto me, what Alexander passed on to her, and what I will continue to do my best to pass on to my students for as long as I am able.

Making The Invisible Visible

“Anchan, I will pay for all your expenses, travel, room and board, training, film, everything, if you travel around with me and take photos.” That’s how it all began, the making of a man able to catch that elusive moment when a person opens up, frees into who they really are, revealing their intrinsic beauty, their fundamental dignity.

That’s not easy. In the first place you have to be able to see, to see people. You have to be able to feel the instant before a person lets go into a space unknown to them. You have to remember what’s most important; to draw the viewers eye to the inner life of the student.

Now videography, something Anchan taught himself how to do, poses formidable challenges. Movement can be distracting, and words too. Photographs have power. Catching a moment, one moment, the moment of transformation, within stillness, within silence, suspended there in front of you with all the time in the world to enter into what you are seeing, and to be moved by it.

Anchan had an idea. He thought, “what if I could make a wordless video that showed not only the transformative moment, but the transformative movement, without losing the beauty and the stillness of photography?” And with that question Anchan made, The Touch.

But Anchan’s much more than a photographer. He’s an Alexander Teacher in his own right. And a good one.  Not only does he have a better eye than most Alexander teachers, he knows how to teach what he knows. It’s moving to watch Anchan with his kids, how he gives them the time and space to figure things out for themselves, and only interjects a suggestion when needed. He knows when and exactly how much encouragement to give, and he knows when it’s not needed. 

Anchan’s always there. He’s ready to serve. He makes things work. He’s generous. He overflows with generosity.

We were young men when we met, and though Anchan is a good ten years younger than I am, we are both decidedly older, no longer young. But rather than growing tired after all these years of dedicating ourselves to making the invisible visible, to making people see the power of touch, the beauty of Alexander’s work, we’re becoming ever more engaged in this undertaking. We keep getting closer, and closer.

In this short video, made by Anchan, entitled The Touchyou get to see how Anchan sees, and what Anchan loves. You get to see what the students are seeing.  And you get to see the students seeing what they are seeing.  See that, and you will see why I have faith in young people. Those students are delighting in the power and beauty of teaching through touch, something Marj Barstow passed onto me, that Alexander passed on to her,  and that I will continue to do my best to pass on to my students for as long as I am able.

I could tell you much more about Anchan, but I won’t. Let The Touch speak for itself.

Watch The Touch.

Tell us your impressions.

We welcome any and all feedback.

https://www.facebook.com/akihiro.tada.5?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/bruce.fertman?fref=ts

www.peacefulbodyschool.com

Two Worlds

rushing-where

O mata se. Thank you so much for waiting. I’m really sorry I am so late. You say this, straight away, if you arrive late in Japan. Actually, you say it even if you arrive on time. Because if you arrive on time, you are still late by Japanese standards. You are only not late in Japan, if you are 15 minutes early. Then you can just say hello.

Given this cultural mandate, one can begin to understand seeing a trash collector running to get a trash can, running back to the truck with the trash can, dumping the trash into the truck, running back to return the trash can, running back to the truck and, as the truck is in motion, jumping onto the trash truck only to get to the next house where he jumps off the trash truck and begins running once again, this continuing for roughly 10 hours. 

No wonder my friend Dr. Tanaka who owns and runs a large orthopedic clinic, a gifted and loved doctor, rushes continually. He cannot seem to keep up with the number of people, everyday, who want to see him, people in pain; backs, knees, hips, shoulders, necks, all hurting and in need of attention.

Dr. Tanaka sees me once a year. Knowing he has one session a year, he gives me his undivided attention. Knowing I have only one chance to work with him each year, I give him mine.

Dr. Tanaka asks me to look at him and to tell him what I see.Though I refrain from doing this with most of my students, with Dr. Tanaka, I know it will be fine. He won’t fall into the trap most students do when given such information. He won’t freak out, thinking he’s doing terrible things to his body. He won’t immediately try to correct his dire condition. He’ll just take in the information and begin wondering about it. As will I.

Standing in front of me, I take my first good look at Dr. Tanaka. A little taller than me, a little younger, (both not difficult), he looks healthy; bright eyes, good skin color, excellent muscle tone, not overweight, nice sense of symmetry about him.

You’re looking good Tanaka-sensei. Let’s see what I see from the side. My eye goes directly to the back of his neck, and my hand follows landing on a large, tight muscle. This muscle interests me, I say, gently pinching it between my thumb and fingers so he can feel it. Maybe it’s your trapezius, but whatever it is, it’s working hard. There must be a reason. I see there’s no natural curve in his cervical spine. He looks like he’s just started to bow and then suddenly stopped before his body had a chance to follow, leaving his neck over-extended and stiff. For a second I see the neck of one of those creepy gargoyle drain spouts you see as you walk around Notre Dame. Dr. Tanaka, you carry your head a bit in front of your body in a way that over straightens your neck, so chances are that muscle, and others, have to work to counterbalance the displaced weight of your head.

And your body also inclines slightly forward from your ankles, a little like a ski jumper in flight, but less so. I bend down and feel his calves which, as I suspected, are working hard, keeping him from falling over, as well as his glutes which have squeezed themselves in, and hiked themselves up. I move and place myself in front of Dr. Tanaka, as if I were one of his patients, and suddenly I see a man who looks like he’s been racing to get where he has to be, and once there jams on the brakes, skids to a stop, frozen in the slightest gesture of a bow as if to say, O mata se! Thank you so much for waiting. I’m really sorry I am so late.

Tanaka-sensei. Let’s sit down, I say, pointing to a chair. He sits down. I pull up a chair in front of him and say, I’m your patient. Take my pulse. Being learned in Chinese medicine as well, I know that pulse taking is an important ritual for Dr. Tanaka. It’s his first contact with his patient. True to form, Dr. Tanaka jumps into action. When I sense he’s totally into it, I ask him to just stay where he is, not to move, and sure enough he has clicked into the exact attitudinal expression throughout his body as when he was standing, his particular way of being engaged, of serving his patients. The image flashes through my mind of an invisible witch, black pointed hat, black dress, crooked broom, wart on her big nose, flying overhead and casting a spell over Dr. Tanaka, a ‘now you will turn into a very busy doctor spell.”

Dr. Tanaka, I’m wondering if you have to look at your fingers? You can’t see the pulse, right? Right, he says. So keep taking my pulse, slowly look up a little toward the ceiling, letting your neck go into a comfortable arch, then close your eyes, and just continue reading my pulse. Now, leave your eyes closed, softly rotate your head slightly forward, letting it rest on top of your spine. Roll back ever so slightly on your sit bones and relax your butt muscles because you don’t need them now, and just continue taking my pulse. And you might as well relax your left elbow, so you don’t have to work so hard in your left shoulder.

For the first time since we began Tanaka-sensei looks calm, quiet, and comfortable, not like a busy doctor, but like a doctor for sure. That large neck muscle is no longer protruding. He’s got the natural curve back in his cervical spine. He’s not rushing. He’s not in front of himself, not ahead of himself. He’s within himself, and he’s with me, more than ever. Like the good student Dr. Tanaka is, I can see him drinking in the experience, quietly coming to an understanding about how he does what he does. What he’s most happy about, he tells me, is not how good he feels, but how clearly he can feel my three pulses under his fingers.

Seeing Dr. Tanaka looking so relaxed and attentive reminds me of something I read years ago in the Tai Chi Classics, words of wisdom gleaned over 600 years about the workings of the mind and the body. Dr. Tanaka practices Tai Chi.  My guess is he’ll resonate with what I am about to say.

In the Tai Chi Classics, I say, it’s suggested that you want the mind of a sober man, and the body of a drunk. I call it Matcha Mind and Sake Body. Give it a go. Sit back in your chair and relax into your Sake Body. That appears to be easy for him, but I see his head drifting off to the left as if he’s falling asleep. Tanaka-sensei. Open your eyes and decide that, without engaging your muscles, to use your Matcha Mind.

Muzukashii! That’s really hard, Dr. Tanaka says, surprised. I can’t do it!  That’s because you’ve got working hard and muscle tension paired up, and you’ve got releasing muscle tension and sleeping paired up. Meditation is cultivating an inverse relationship between  tension and attention. The more you increase your mental attention, the more you want to decrease your muscular tension. Saying it this way, I can see Dr. Tanaka gets it.

Okay sensei. I know you want me to watch you playing your shakuhachi, so go get it. Tanaka-sense springs out of  his chair and starts running toward the door. Choto mata kudasai!  Please wait a minute Dr. Tanaka!  I want you to decide, deep inside your body, not to rush. Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. See what it feels like if you don’t rush. Just find out what happens.

Dr. Tanaka calmly leaves the room, is gone for about two minutes. When he returns he’s got a different expression on his face. How was it, I ask? It was really different. I began to see this building, this clinic. I began feeling how long I have worked here, and my father before me, he said. Under the sadness, I could feel the love and gratitude in Dr. Tanaka’s eyes.

Dr. Tanaka. We will get to playing the shakuhachi, I promise. But I’d like to talk to you for a minute. Not teaching. Just tell you something from my heart. Is that okay? Hai, he says.

Look, we are going to die… someday. You could rush and run toward your death, or you could walk toward it the way you just walked to get your shakuhachi. Two different worlds. Which one do you want to live in for the time you have left?

And there it is, the moment, the shift. The shift in a person’s soul.

We did get to the shakuhachi. The usual things happened. Resonate sound. Freer breathing. Better phrasing. More fun. But it didn’t seem all that important, inside of the greater scheme of things.

We thanked each other, many times, as you do in Japan before saying good-bye. Yoi Otoushi wo. Have a happy New Year, Dr. Tanaka.

It’s 5 o’clock and already evening as I walk down a small, empty street toward the train station.  A soft, misty rain is falling.  Most Japanese open up their umbrellas and rush along to wherever they’re going. I don’t mind getting wet. Why run? It’s raining everywhere.

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