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Looks Like Love To Me

Alexander Technique teachers could learn a lot from these physical therapists. They’re unafraid to get physical, unafraid to touch, unafraid to use their whole bodies to do their work. They don’t hold back. It looks like love to me. Yano-sensei, Kenji-sensei, Sakiko-sensei, Yoko-sensei, Anchan-sensei, Shiho-sensei, Araki-sensei, Yoshiko-sensei, Doumo arigatou gosaimashita.

Everyday

 

Marj and Bruce

Marj and Bruce


I will never write an autobiography.

But if I did I would entitle it,

Leaving Myself In Your Hands

Marj Barstow lives inside of my hands, inside of my heart.

Everyday.

 

 

The Great Unlearning

 

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Unafraid, unashamed, unaffected.

Unassuming, unarmed, unanalyzable.

Unbound, unblocked, unbraced.

Unburdened, unbridled, unbiased.

Unchained, unclogged, uncorked.

Unclassified, unconventional, unconditional.

Uncovered, unclenched,

Uncertain.

Undisguised, undistinguished, undone.

Unguarded, unhurried, unhinged.

Unmasked, unraveled, unreal.

Unpretentious.

Unselfish, unsophisticated, unspoiled.

Untied, untangled.

Unveiled.

Unwritten.

All In A Days Work

 

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

There’s the man that, when he talks, nervously looks up and to the right, blinking rapidly. Why, I’ve no idea. I don’t bother to try and find out. I ask him to tell me what’s difficult about his job. He begins to speak. I tap his arm the instant he begins to look up, which he is doing about every 3 seconds. He can’t believe he looks up so much. Soon he’s sensing it every time. As soon as you notice your eyes up and to the right, stop everything, don’t move, don’t speak. Just ask yourself, “What would happen if I simply ceased looking up? He begins speaking. His eyes snap up and to the right. He stops. I can almost hear him asking the question. Immediately, on their own, his eyelids lower, his eyes begin to water, settling back in his eye sockets, while his entire body relaxes and he begins to breathe like a man just resuscitated. I continue asking him questions, and for the next two minutes, he looks at me and speaks without once looking up. Not once.

There’s the woman whose eyes are too big, too open. She was told, since she was a little girl that her eyes were beautiful. I ask her if she can remember a time before anyone told her that her eyes were big and beautiful. She thinks for a long time, a long time, and then says, no, I can’t. It is as if she was only born the moment people began to tell her how she looked.

There’s a mom stooped over her child in an effort to help balance and protect her son as he walks unaware that, when she stands fully upright, her hand rests beside her son’s head, and that her son’s arm is fully capable of lengthening freely and easily well above his head. That all her little son needs, and really wants, is to lightly hold her index finger. She takes my suggestion, stands up, offers her index finger, her son looks at it, takes it, and smiles.

There’s the man who’s uncomfortable stretching. He appears to be simultaneously stretching and keeping himself from stretching. I have him sense the difference between moving without producing a stretch and with producing a stretch. I ask him to go into a stretch, slowly, letting it begin as a movement, and to continue that movement for as long as he can without producing a stretch. I have him do this several times. I suggest he begin to make movements in other directions, to make other curving or spiraling movements through his whole body without creating a stretch. I silently walk behind him, placing my hands almost imperceptibly on his arms, just above his elbows, following his movements, all the while educing an effortless release through his whole body. His movements become beautiful, free instead of constricted. His range has noticeably increased. How do you feel, I ask? I feel loose and awake, he says. That’s what we’re after when we stretch isn’t it? Yes, he says, slightly bewildered.

There’s the singer singing, gasping for air at the end of each phrase, her chest dropping out from under her, her shoulders curling forward, her chin lifting up, the back of her skull pushing into the back of her neck. You can hear her sucking in the air. She begins to sense what she’s doing, begins to hear how she gasps. It’s a beginning.

There’s the business executive that says “eh” (our um), in between every sentence, who when he leaves “eh” out becomes crystal clear to understand, is filled with real confidence, thinks more clearly, and who immediately wakes up everyone in the room.

There’s the man who likes to hike who has trouble putting on his backpack. He simply has not noticed that he could loosen one of his straps and then initiate a slight swing that allows the pack to almost slide onto his back by itself.

A 30 something woman is possessed by childish cute-isms that she cannot stop. She’s thirty something, but moves as if she is a nervous 12 year-old. Knowing that I often use my hands when I teach, she’s warns me she’s acutely ticklish. I nod. I ask her to walk over to me. Immediately what I refer to as a “cute-ism” begins, quick cute expressions like tilting her head and smiling with one hand covering her mouth, turning her right foot in, innocently blinking her eyes. She walks over. I ask her to walk back to where she was. After first producing a few unconscious cute-isms, she does. Without being the least bit cute or nice, but not mean, I tell her precisely what she is doing. The truth. I tell her to decide, emphatically, to leave them out, entirely, and just walk over. The smile comes off her face. She stands there for about 10 seconds, and then walks over. For five minutes, I have her leaving out her cute-isms and walking to different parts of the room. Throughout the entire weekend she looked and conducted herself like a mature woman. By the end of the workshop she seemed to forget she was ticklish. She accepted my touch, just like everyone else. I said nothing about it. Nor did I say anything about the disappearance of her cute-isms. There was no need. She had done her work.

There’s the tai chi teacher whose tai chi form is already exquisite, and who gets even better when I suggest she not look down, that she first look in the direction where she is going, and then go there.

There’s the nurse who feels she has to bring her head and eyes close to her patient to show she cares when, in fact, it’s makes her patient uncomfortable. The nurse discovers that when she simply stands where she is, and looks at her patient while allowing her eyes to be above her upright spine, and speaks to her patient from there, instills real trust and safety, exactly what she wants to do.

There’s the toddler falling asleep on his mother’s lap. The child is leaning back upon the mother’s chest, his head fallen back, mouth open. The mother has her hands around the child’s belly. The mother’s shoulders are curled forward. There’s some tension in her hands. Her knees are pressing one against the other, firmly closed, her feet turned in, her heals held up off the ground.

Not to wake the child, I quietly pull a chair up directly behind the mother. I sit down, in tandem, with her. Softly placing my hands, one on either side of her neck, her neck tension releases, her head floats up atop her spine, and in rapid succession, her shoulders widen, her hands relax, appear larger, her thighs unbrace and rest on the chair, knees part, heals drop to the floor as her feet turn out ever so slightly.

At the same time, the baby’s mouth closes, and he too regains his head poise. I look around the room. Several people are crying. I’m not sure why. I lean around the mother so I can see how she’s doing. A ray of late afternoon light has entered through a window and is falling onto the mother’s face. She looks like a Madonna and Child.

My work is done for the day. I will go out, like so many working people do in Tokyo, with some friends, eat dinner, have a cold beer. I won’t be watching how people move or speak. I won’t be thinking about how they could do this or that more easily. I’ll be sitting back, fading into the woodwork, happy not to be the center of attention. There’s nothing for me to do now but love people, exactly the way they are.

The Four Questions

passover-5

One. Why is this night different from all other nights?

No, no, not the four Passover questions, the four Alexander questions.

Here are my Alexander questions for the Alexander community.

If we all know Alexander’s work is not about getting in and out of a chair, if we all know it’s primarily about how we react to stimuli from within and without, then why do we, as a community, do so much getting people in and out of chairs? (1) Stimuli from within are thoughts, emotions, and sensations. Sometimes tough thoughts, self deprecating thoughts, or judgmental thoughts, emotions like anger and fear, sensations like pain. Stimuli from without is stuff like, an audience that you are about to perform for, or five black belt aikidoists who are poised to simultaneously attack you, or a cranky boss, or your computer crashing, or a kid that won’t stop crying, etc. Aren’t there more direct, fun, practical, and effective ways to work with how we react to stimuli from within and without besides endlessly getting someone in and out of a chair?

We all know that Alexander would not be crazy about how much we, as a community, spend our time working with students lying down on a table, but we are doing it anyway. Why is that? (2)

And we know that Alexander’s work is not about movement for movement’s sake yet, as a community, we have been quite focused on how we move. Once my mentor, Buzz Gummere, a man who trained with F.M and A.R., with Marj Barstow, and with Frank Pierce Jones, told me I had become a great movement teacher, and then he asked me a pointed question, which was his job as my mentor, “But Bruce, does that make you a great Alexander teacher?” That question haunted me for many years, which was Buzz’s intention I am sure. So why are we so preoccupied with how we move? (3)

Now, I am not saying all this is wrong. Things change, and thank God. And I have been alive long enough to know that I usually really need that which I most resist, so some really good table work and chair work is probably exactly what I need now. Really.

The fourth question. This one is the big one for me.

Sometimes I get Alexander teachers coming to me for lessons. That’s an honor. I notice that many of them move self-consciously. They sit down perfectly, in the prescribed manner, and something in me cringes. I tell them straight away that I never watch a person get in and out of a chair, so not to worry. Usually they look at me wide eyed, and then laugh out loud. I can’t always do it, but if I’m lucky I can sometimes get an Alexander teacher out of this trap. If I can get it across to them that our job is to free ourselves, and that it is our bodies job, via increasingly accurate, reliable, and refined kinesthesia, to figure out how to move itself around comfortably and enjoyably, and spontaneously, without over deliberation, then something shiftsI tell them it is not our job to choreograph our movement life down to a tee, no matter how precisely and perfectly we can do it. A three year old kid with a healthy, conventional nervous system, moves so well and so spontaneously and so unselfconsciously, and that’s why it’s such a joy to watch them.

So my last question is, how do we learn to move, and more importantly, live consciously but not self-consciously? How do we occupy ourselves without becoming preoccupied with ourselves? (4)

Thanks for taking the time to think about these questions with me.

Bruce

Prayer

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

It’s happening. With my daughter in Korea, then in Japan, visiting temples and shrines, lighting incense, ringing gongs and bells, bringing our palms together, bowing in unison, saying thanks, making wishes. Finally, my mind sees only the people I love: my wife, my children, my friends, my students, and there I am, wanting nothing, but for them to be well, and safe. Rivers of people flooding into my heart: people asleep on trains, sitting in restaurants, standing behind counters, running in parks, lying in hospitals. I’m praying for them all. For how long, I don’t know. “Come on Dad!”  I look up at the golden 35 foot Buddha before me. He nods his head slowly, and smiles.

Daughter’s waiting. Time to go.

Seeing People

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Because I often do my work in groups, my trainees get to watch me work with lots of people. They see I‘m not working solely with a person’s body. They see that, at heart, I am not a body worker.  They see a person who works with people’s beings through their bodies. They want me to teach them how to do that.

Teaching my trainees about their bodies, and about how to move well, is fairly straight forward. Teaching my trainees how to use their hands effectively is more challenging, but doable. Teaching my trainees how to see people has been surprisingly difficult. But it is getting easier.

When I was nine years old my friend asked me, “Why do you stare at people?” I said, “I don’t stare at people; I look at them.” He didn’t agree. There was no way of knowing I would become a person who made my living staring at people. I prefer to think of it as beholding people, holding people’s beings in my eyes and heart. That’s a big part of my job.

How does one behold a person? Here’s what I do. And what I don’t do.

Just as some psychiatrists have devised terminology for different psychic forces, i.e. Freud’s ego, id, and superego, or Berne’s parent, adult, and child, or Perl’s, top dog, under dog, my observations tell me there are also physical forces worthy of their own names. Once you know the names for these physical forces, I refer to them as “bodies’, you can begin to see these different “bodies” at work within a person’s physical body. Eckhart Tolle’s “Pain Body” is a good example. Once you can see these bodies within the body, you begin to understand why a person holds themselves the way they do, why they move the way they do, and sometimes why they feel and behave the way they do. Suddenly you are no longer only seeing a person’s physical body. You are seeing a person.

Many somatic oriented educators first see what I call “the postural body.” When looking at the postural body we look for the relationships between parts of the body, one to the other: the relationship between the head and the neck, the ribs and the arm structure, the spine and the pelvis, etc. We look for hypertension and hypotension, we look for asymmetries, curvatures, twists and torcs. We look for how people are pulling themselves down, lifting themselves up, pressing themselves in, pushing themselves out, holding themselves back.

All well and good, but this is not where the act of beholding begins. Beholding is not observing; it’s not that objective. Beholding is personal, felt, empathetic, intuitive, profoundly subjective. And esthetic.

I begin esthetically. It may sound odd, but initially I look at people as if they were living sculpture, frozen in time, under a spell.  I behold their sculptural body. When we look at sculptures of humans we don’t look at their posture. We see expression. Expression means the visible manifestation of thoughts and feelings. To express literally means to “press out”; thoughts and feelings are somehow pressed out from within, onto the physical body. We sculpt ourselves from the inside out.

Let’s practice seeing the sculptural body right now. Here are photos I took of human sculpture. I love human sculptures, because human sculptures let me stare at them for as long as I want. When you look at these photos immediately you will see the sculptural body: thoughts and feelings pressing out into the body, the body frozen in time, under a spell. And immediately you will know the difference between seeing the postural body and seeing the sculptural body.

Photos Of The Sculptural Body

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Seeing the sculptural body is easy. It comes naturally to us. Unconsciously, we do it all the time. It’s only a matter of learning to do it consciously.

When I introduce the Alexander Technique, or The Peaceful Body to people, I will often work with a student in front of the other students. This makes most people nervous. Most people do not like people staring at them. They feel people are criticizing them, finding fault, judging them. They may feel people don’t like them, or reject them. That’s why, as a teacher my first task, before I begin using my hands, is to create a space that feels profoundly safe. I do that by teaching everyone how to see sculpturally.

As Alexander teachers, our job is to transport our students out of the world of right and wrong. As Rumi so beautifully said, “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field; I’ll meet you there.” But how do we bring a person into a field beyond right and wrong? To what field is Rumi referring?

The sculptural body lives within the realm of art. There is no right and wrong art. It’s a thoroughly subjective world. I get my students to see, right away, that people, no matter what they are doing, no matter what they look like, sculpturally, are esthetically beautiful. There is composition, proportion, perspective, contrast, balance, color, light, shadow, line, texture, structure, ground, space, shape, depth. It’s a matter of learning how to see esthetically.

Esthetics means to appreciate. It also means to feel. That means esthetics is really another word for beholding. Once my students have entered this world of beauty, this field, the feeling in the entire room shifts. You can almost hear it. Safety all around.

As a person changes under my hands, the sculptural body changes, and the student’s see it. They see it clearly. They feel it. They’re moved. They are no longer seeing people’s bodies. They are seeing people, people they suddenly feel they know, because they are beginning to know them, because the person they are beholding is emerging, as if through a fog. A spell, cast long ago, lifting, evaporating, gone.

Practice seeing the sculptural body on subways, at airports, in cafes. If you are a somatic educator, consider the sculptural body as a good place to begin. The postural body lies within the sculptural body, but now it can be seen in context, as a physical manifestation of something much more significant, and much more beautiful.

There are myriad bodies within bodies. It’s a matter of learning their names, and how to see them. They’re all beautiful, each and every one.

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