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The Binding Spell

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

 There is so much to be seen when one reaches the point of being able to see.

F.M. Alexander

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 straightforward. 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. At last I’m figuring it out.

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 to know 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, more importantly, 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, underdog, 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 people hold 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, and profoundly subjective. And very much so, 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 binding 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. As you look at these photos with your eyes, allow yourself to kinesthetically empathize with what you are seeing. Take the image into your 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

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 to people I will often work with a student in front of the other students. This makes most people a little 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.

My job is to transport my 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? How do we bring ourselves into that field? 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. I haven’t seen a person who wasn’t beautiful in thirty-five years. And the more distressed, often the more beautiful. 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. Carl Rodgers, originator of client-centered therapy, knew what it meant to behold someone. Rodgers lived in the field beyond right and wrong.

“One of the most satisfying experiences I know is just fully to appreciate an individual in the same way I appreciate a sunset. When I look at a sunset…I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a little on the right hand corner, and put a bit more purple in the cloud color”…I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch it with awe as it unfolds. It is this receptive, open attitude which is necessary to truly perceive something as it is.”

Look for sculptural bodies in parks, on subways, at airports, in cafes. They are everywhere. If you are a somatic educator the sculptural body is 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.






As a person changes under my hands, the sculptural body changes, and the student’s see it. They see it clearly. They feel it. Often they are emotionally 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 binding spell, cast long ago, lifts, fades, and is no more.

The Dwelling Place – A Contemporary Midrash On Genesis For Children And Grown Ups

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

In Honor of Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi – (August 28, 1924 – July 3, 2014)

There was once a little girl and she was terribly bored. There was nothing to do, and not only was there nothing to do, there was absolutely nothing at all.

On the first day…

Since there was absolutely nothing, the little girl whose name was Shekina, decided quite confidently that the first thing she needed was space. “Nothing is nothing, she thought, but space is definitely something. It’s open and it can be filled.” She was surprised how easy it was to create space. Just like that.

Shekina liked space. It made her feel free. For quite a long while that was enough for her. Then one day she felt the need for something else, something a little more substantial though she didn’t want to lose the sense of space she loved so much.

On the second day…

Shekina created moisture. She was proud of herself for coming up with such a good solution. Her creation still felt infinitely spacious and yet now, it also felt full. She closed her eyes sensing the coolness of the moisture upon her skin, and as she did she saw a darkness as vast and as beautiful as the space she had created. The little girl rested within this moist coolness and safe darkness for a long time. She enjoyed being creative.

On the third day…

Feeling mischievous, Shekina awoke with a sparkle in her eyes. She wanted an adventure. She decided, in one fell swoop, to create the opposite of space though she had no idea what that would be. And so she did. Every thing in the world that ever would be, appeared. She hadn’t realized she had inadvertently created time, and she had no idea of just how many things that would be, but then again she had made a tremendous amount of space. To make sure she had indeed created all the stuff of the world, she made light to shine upon everything she created.

Suddenly there was utter chaos, and it was exhilarating. Some things were moving slowly and some things were whizzing by dangerously fast, so fast that sometimes things would collide into one another, creating loud sounds. She had never heard sounds before.

All this commotion was awesome, a little scary and at the same time wonderful. But after a while Shekina began getting dizzy. Nothing ever stayed in the same place! Something would appear that she loved and then, in a flash, it would be gone, never to be seen again. Or worse, something would smash into what she loved and it would shatter into a million pieces.

On the fourth day…

Shekina was still dizzy. She didn’t want to get rid of anything she had created. She didn’t even know for sure whether she could de-create something. Then she came up with another original idea. She decided to create gravity and the ground and the moment she did everything, literally, fell into place.

She couldn’t believe how good her world now felt. It was as magnificent as her first experience of space. Every thing was sitting comfortably. Every thing was at rest. Every thing was settled and seemed entirely happy exactly where it was, and exactly being what it was. The stars found their place in the night sky. True, there was an occasional star that would without notice dart across the sky and vanish. But for the most part the stars stayed put. There seemed to be a pattern, as if the stars had arranged themselves. The more Shekina gazed at the stars, the more patterns she saw. She wondered, “Were the patterns there to be found, or am I imagining them?” There was a peaceful stillness to the mountains and the rocks. Again it was quiet and she was no longer dizzy. There was some logic to where every thing was, but Shekina did not yet know what it meant for something to be logical.

Even with all the stuff now filling her world there still seemed to be an equally infinite amount of space. And there was still plenty of moisture. In fact, by creating gravity and the ground, some of the moisture had concentrated fallen, making oceans and rivers and waterfalls. The contrast was perfect; the strong, still silence of the mountains and the rocks combined with and the constant motion and comforting sounds of the waves, streams, and waterfalls. Her world was singing its own song. From where she did not know, winds spiraled, moving the clouds and the trees. Her world was dancing its own dance.

Everything looked beautiful to her. Suddenly Shekina realized that, since she had started creating, she hadn’t been bored for a second! It was as if she had discovered the secret to happiness. She was content for what felt like eons.

On the fifth day…

Shekina noticed she had not had an original idea in a long time. And then she did! Out of the blue another idea popped into her head. She wondered where on earth these ideas came from. She thought, “What if I could create creatures who had entirely different ways of perceiving and experiencing this beautiful world I have made?” So she created creatures that could see her world from above, and creatures that could see under the water, and creatures that lived within the ground itself, and creatures that lived in the trees. She created creatures that lived where it was hot and creatures that lived where it was cold, creatures that could see, and smell, and taste, and hear and touch the world she had created, all simultaneously experiencing the same world differently. “Why, she thought, that would be like creating millions of worlds inside of the one world I created! That struck her as quite clever and efficient.

Shekina spent a long, long time watching all these creatures and comparing one to the other. She loved watching all the creatures making their resting places…dens, lodges, lairs, hives, nests, burrows. They were all so original, such creative creatures! “I see. I am like my creatures and my creatures are like me!” Just like them, I’ve made a resting place, a dwelling place, a home. Again she sensed a logic to her world but still she did not know what that meant. Soon this was to change.

What was making her world go round? What made the creatures in the air able to be up there when all the other creatures rested on the ground like everything else? Why did some creatures eat other creatures? Most amazing to her was how these creatures seemed to come and go. New creatures would appear while older ones would disappear. Creatures tended to be small at first and then got bigger, and the trees too. What was that? The questions seemed endless.

Another idea popped into her head, but she was not sure whether it was a good idea or not so she did not act upon it right away, which she thought was very mature. She loved the world so much as it was, even if she didn’t understand it. “My world seems to understand itself, she thought. It knows exactly what to do. Maybe I should stop here. This feels complete. Everything works. It’s beautiful. It’s interesting. Who cares if I don’t understand it?” But the questions kept coming. They were beginning to make her uncomfortable, sometimes even unhappy.

On the sixth day…

Shekina decided to take one of the creatures she had created and make them capable of thinking about her creation. Personally, she did not want to think too much about it. That wasn’t her thing. She didn’t feel very smart, just very creative. Besides, there were just too many questions. The little girl became very serious and thought, “If I were to make every individual creature of this particular kind of creature able to think maybe, eventually, this creature would be able to answer my questions.”

And so even though the little girl felt a funny feeling in her stomach, she went ahead and did it anyway. She thought, “Well, how am I going to find out if this is a good idea or not if I don’t try?” There seemed to be something logical about that too.

She mustered up her courage and made it so this one kind of creature could think and then right away she realized these creatures would need to be able to communicate their thoughts to one another if they were to be able to figure things out together, and so she created a bunch of languages because she thought a bunch of languages would be more interesting than just creating one.

On the seventh day…

Without noticing it, (she had been so, so busy), Shekina was growing older. She had seen a lot, and done a lot. She began feeling tired, something she’d never felt before. “Perhaps it would be good for me to rest a while and spend a little time not creating,” she thought. Shekina spent a long while simply gazing at her creation. “It’s good, she thought, very good.” She loved her world. Sleep was spreading over her as if she were being covered with a soft, warm blanket. She thought, “I think the world will be okay for a little while if I don’t watch it.” Again there was that funny feeling in her stomach, but before she knew it she had fallen fast asleep.

This brings us exactly to where we are now.

Shekina remains asleep. As she sleeps our thinking creatures have been busy trying to figure everything out. They’ve found a lot of answers to a lot of her questions. On this front, they are doing very well, even though there remain far more questions to be answered than the ones they have answered because each answer they come up with seems to create new questions. These creatures may be busy for a long time, maybe forever.

I say maybe forever because it seems that thinking as much as these thinking creatures do brings with it strange side effects, something the little girl could not have predicted. One of the side effects is that these creatures seem not to care very much about the other creatures or, for that matter, about anything the little girl created. The thinking creatures seem so busy thinking and trying to figure everything out they don’t notice how beautiful everything is, how everything works together, how well it all takes care of itself.

As Shekina sleeps, the world continues on its own course without her. It is up to her thinking creatures to be like her, to be creative, and to keep the dwelling place safe and beautiful. I know sooner or later Shekina will wake up, and when she does I wonder what she will find and what she will think about it. I am sure the moment she awakens another idea will pop into her head.

After all, Shekina is a very creative little girl.

Moving Ideas – October 24-25, 2015 – Zürich  

photo by Bruce Fertman

photo by Bruce Fertman

An Introduction to the Alexander Technique

By Bruce Fertman

 The Alexander Technique

Whether we are dancing, hammering a nail, singing a song, working at a computer or walking to the store, we possess an inherent capacity to move freely and naturally. Moving naturally promotes ease, power and expressiveness.

Unwittingly, we often interfere with our inherent design. Poise, grace and ground give way to effort, tension and fatigue. The Alexander Technique gives us practical knowledge of the principles governing human coordination. The Alexander Technique teaches us how to be, at once, relaxed and ready, soft and strong, light and substantial, firm and flexible.

Through study, we become capable of redirecting excessive effort into useful energy. As we become more effortlessly upright, we also find ourselves coming down to the ground, to a place where we can function simply, comfortably and appreciatively.

Who This Workshop Is For

This workshop is for anyone who has a body. If you want to learn how to be more comfortable physically, how to move more easily and pleasurably, then this is a good workshop for you. People who require especially fine coordination also find the Alexander Technique enormously helpful – performing artists, musicians, martial artists, athletes, movement teachers, bodyworkers, physical, occupational, and speech therapists often study with Alexander teachers.

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

About Bruce Fertman

Bruce has been teaching people how to move well for 50 years.

His training is extensive: 16 years of training with Marjorie L. Barstow, the first person certified to teach Alexander’s work; 8 years of study in Tai Chi Chu’an with Cheng man Ching’s six senior American students; 8 years of training with Shuji Maruyama, apprentice to Ueshiba, founder of Aikido; student of the Uresenke School of Tea in Kyoto, Japan under Iemoto Soshitsu Sen, 15th generation grand tea master; studied Argentine Tango with Pablo Vernon and Gustavo Naveira. Currently studying Kyudo, Zen Archery in Osaka, Japan.

In 1982 Bruce Fertman founded the Alexander Alliance, a network of schools devoted to preserving and evolving the work of Marjorie L. Barstow (1899-1995). The Alliance conducts teacher-training programs in the Alexander Technique in Germany, Japan and the USA.

Annually, Bruce introduces the Alexander Technique to people in Europe, Asia and the USA. He is author of Where This Path Begins, Renderings of the Tao Te Ching.

When Bruce teaches, he is the embodiment of his work – attentive, sensitive, beautiful, coordinated, ready, calm, and unified.

His pace, and patience, his quiet confidence allows people to unfold and open, layer by layer. He is a profoundly human man, completely real. In Bruce’s class, you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake.

He works devotedly with his hands, like a loving sculptor. The superfluous falls away, leaving only life’s inner vitality, effortlessly expressing itself through you. His touch is like a butterfly settling down on the very turning point of your soul. And then you know, “That’s who I am, that is who I could be.”

– M. Tueshaus

Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher / Equestrian / Germany

Workshop Details

No prior experience necessary.

People of all ages welcome.

Limited to 20 participants.

Date: 24./25.10.2015, 10am – 6pm

Organizers and assistant teachers:

Magdalena Proyer and Johannes Gassner

Location: Technopark Zürich

(close to train stop Zürich Hardbrücke)

Course fee: CHF 280.- (Students CHF 200.-)

Workshop language: English

(partial translation to German possible)

To register call +41 (0)78 888 16 64

or write to

Individual lessons (CHF 100.–/45ˈ) can

be arranged on Monday, 26.10.2015.

To learn more about Bruce Fertman,

the Alexander Technique and

the Alexander Alliance:

Out On A Limb

01elis copy 2

Photo by: Anchan of Elisabeth Walker

I’m going to go out on a limb here.

Because I love Alexander’s work so much, and because over and over again I have seen people’s inner beauty unveiled through this work of ours, it has saddened me for forty years now to see so few images of Alexander’s work that are strikingly beautiful. When the work is working within someone I see a person who is peaceful and powerful, still and moving, relaxed and ready, light and substantial. But click here at Google Alexander Technique Images and see what you see.

I see that the Alexander Technique is something medical, like chiropractic treatments. Next I pick up something about posture and body mechanics and exercise. Then I see photos of some old, dressed up guy with a smirk on his face. And yes, something about getting up from a chair the right way. That’s about it.

It’s easy to be critical, and it’s another thing entirely to take on the problem and offer something better. That’s what I’ve done my best to do. Whether I have succeeded in the eyes of our profession at large, I don’t know. It’s hard to know how others see. When I look at the photos below I see a dynamic relationship between student and teacher. Everyone is awake and energized. They are not void of emotion. No one looks stiff or unnaturally symmetrical. I see beauty that is not cosmetic. I see beauty that lies within the person and emanates from the person. I see this both in the student and in the teacher. This as one of the hallmarks of our work.

“Moses laying his hands on Joshua may be compared to one candle lighting another, no light is lost to the former.” -Rabbinic Midrash on Numbers 27:18.

Can you see it? The teacher is lit, and the student is lit. They are at once one flame and two flames. This is partner work at its best, be it Alexander work, or Aikido, or Contact, or Tango.

What do you see in these photos? Do they strike you as photos that give you a glimpse into Alexander’s work? It’s pretty much impossible to get photos like these of yourself teaching unless you are skilled at teaching the work in groups and in teaching the work through myriad activities. All the teachers in these photographs either were or are capable of imparting the work in these ways. It’s important to note that Elisabeth Walker and Marjorie Barstow, both first generation teachers excelled in these ways of teaching – both great group teachers, both great at working in activities. Of course one of my obligations as the director of the Alexander Alliance International, and as a ‘young elder’ member of our Alexander community at large, is to insure that these skills are not lost. We all have our jobs to do. This happens to be one of mine.

Perhaps the images that appear when we Google Alexander Technique are exactly the ones the Alexander community at large wants, images that convey a technique that is medical, corrective oriented, definitely about the body, about posture and body mechanics, and apparently a form of exercise, in which case my photos are way off base.

What do you see? What do you want? Tell me. I’d like to know.

lucia-anne copy

Photo by: Anchan of Lucia Walker and Anne Johnson

1 ballet barre1 copy 4

Photo of Robyn Avalon

01 Hands - 13 copy

Photo by: Anchan of Midori Shinkai

Marjorie Barstow

Photo by: Fran EAengel of M. Barstow and B. Fertman

13 copy 2

Photo by: Anchan of Akemi Kinomura

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

Photo by: Yoshiko Hayashi of Anchan

Photo by: Yoshiko Hayashi of Anchan

The Thread – Graduate Talk to German Alliance Graduates 2015


The Thread

This graduation talk might strike you as egocentric, but it isn’t. It may sound as if it’s about me, but it’s not. It’s about you.

If you want to know what I know, you must do what I did. – Mr. Alexander

Let me tell you what I did, just in case you should want to know what I know.

One. I found my primary teachers. I found my Alexander community. You have all done that.

Two. I read Alexander’s books, barely getting through them. The Use Of The Self was the most helpful. Dewey’s introductions to Alexander’s books were thought provoking. As far as Alexander’s own writings, I mainly studied the cliff notes, and for me that was Ed Maisel’s, The Resurrection of the Body, later entitled, The Essential Writings of F. Matthias Alexander. It was Ed Maisel who introduced me to Marj Barstow. But the book that helped me the most was Frank Pierce Jones, Body Awareness In Action, the name selected by the publisher to help make the book sell. Frank wanted to entitle it, Freedom To Change. I had to buy a second copy of Frank’s book because I had underlined the entire first copy, continually, to the point that the pages were in tatters. I wrote in every margin, on every page, throughout the entire book.

But mostly I read philosophy and psychology and theology and poetry looking for Alexander’s principles everywhere, and I found them. Off the top of my head there was, Zen and The Art of Archery by Herrigel, The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot, Discourse on Thinking, Heidegger, I and Thou, Buber, Novalis, Blake, Huxley, The Sabbath by Heschel, On Becoming A Person by Carl Rodgers, The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry, Transactional Analysis, Eric Berne, In and Out of The Garbage Pale, Fritz Pearls, From Frogs Into Princes, Bandler and Grinder, Siddhartha by Hesse, every translation I could get my hands on of Lao Tzu’s, Tao Te Ching, The Way of Chung Tzu by Thomas Merton and pretty much everything else Thomas Merton wrote, Teachings of Meister Eckhart, Heraclitus, Zen and Japanese Culture by D.T. Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Suzuki Roshi, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, and Meditation In Action, by Trungpa Rimpoche,

There was The Natural Way To Draw by Nicolaides, Drawing On The Right Side of The Brain, Edwards, there was Rumi, and Mary Oliver, Emerson, and Thoreau, Gandhi’s writings on non-violence. There was Oliver Sachs. The Diamond Sutra, The Heart Sutra, Sensitive Chaos by Theodor Schwenk, Songlines by Bruce Chatwin , The Book of Tea by Okakura, Sensory Awareness by Selver and Brooks, The Thinking Body, Mabel Todd, Human Movement Potential, Lulu Sweigard, Taking Root To Fly, Irene Dowd, The Hand by Frank Wilson, James Hillman’s, A Blue Fire, John Dewey, Education As Experience, Krishnamurti, On Education. The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori.

Read. And if you are so moved to, study figure drawing. It’s great for developing your eye.

Three. Just as I didn’t only read about the Alexander Technique, I didn’t only study the Alexander Technique. The first time I called up Marj, in 1976, to ask her if I could come to her winter workshop she asked me, ‘What do you do?” I said, “I study the Alexander Technique.” She said, “Is that all? Is that all you do? You must do something else. What else do you do?” “Oh, well, I mumbled, I’m in graduate school majoring in modern dance. I dance with a modern company. I study tai chi, and aikido.” “That sounds more like it. Sure, you can come and study.”

What did I study: Theology: Judaism, Christian mysticism, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Western European philosophy, Chinese and Japanese philosophy, philosophy of esthetics, cybernetics, deep ecology. Psychology: transactional analysis, gestalt therapy, rational emotive therapy, Jungian therapy, psychoanalysis, neuro-linguistic programming, the work of Byron Katie. Community Development. Movement Arts: swimming, diving, gymnastics, ballet, modern dance, contact improvisation, tai chi chu’an, aikido, chanoyu, ideokinesis, Alexander technique, tango.

That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary – go study. – Hillel

Beware of Alexander fundamentalism. Beware of purism. Sure the Alexander Technique has a lot to offer other disciplines, but other disciplines have a lot to offer us. Remain wide open to other Alexander teachers from other branches of our Alexander tree. An open mind is a beautiful mind. Remember the Alexander Technique is not about itself. It’s about living your life.

Four. At some point, I began teaching, prematurely. I wanted to find out what I could do and what I couldn’t do. I had an instinct for teaching. I trusted that.

In the beginning, I taught Movement for the Elderly as part of the Senior Wheels East Late Start Program – a program that took food to poor, elderly people. We had a few community centers in dangerous, destitute parts of Philadelphia for those who could get themselves to a center for lunch and for some classes. Many were ex-mental patients kicked out of an institution and left to try and survive on their own. America. The land of the free, and all that.

I taught an Ideokinesis class at the “Drop In Center,” a free university inside of the university, and I taught a movement class in my living room, based on a movement series I had developed. I assisted my Tai Chi teacher. In the summer I taught dance classes at my university, where I was getting a master’s degree in modern dance and movement re-education.

In everything I did, I used my hands. I tried. I pretended I knew what I was doing. I did my best. I learned as I went along. On the job training. American style I guess.

When in class, no matter how advanced you are, take that class as if you were a beginner. When teaching, no matter how much of a beginner you are, practice as if you were a master. Cheng-man Ching.

Five. I graduated from graduate school, and sent my resume to two hundred schools. I received a hundred and ninety-eight rejections. But I landed a half time job teaching movement for actors at Rutgers University, and a half time job at Temple University, also working with actors. At Rutgers I taught two classes five mornings a week, thirty in one class, fifteen in the other. Three afternoons a week I taught a three-hour class for ten students. I did this for six years.

I used my hands a lot. I was still studying with Marj seven weeks a year.

So I say to you, somehow, find a way to use your hands a lot. Keep your Alexander mind, eye, heart and hands in shape. Love, persistence, and practice are most important. Talent is not that important.

Six. Martha and I decided to adopt our first child and quite irrationally, at the same time, I quit all my jobs, and decided I was going to start my own school. I told my Dad and asked him if he thought I was crazy. He said I wasn’t at all. He said, “You will have to succeed, and you will succeed.” And I did. In part, thanks to him.

I don’t know who you are, but someday I hope some of you will begin an Alexander School, that someday you will also train teachers. Maybe your school will even be an Alliance school. It’s possible. I had no idea when we started our little Alexander School in Philadelphia, comprised of six courageous people, (what a great class – Meade Andrews, Rob and Zoana Gepner-Muller, Glenna Batson, Cynthia Mauney, and Jan Baty).  That we’d now have four schools, one in the USA, in Germany and two in Japan.

Here’s the point. Starting an Alexander school is as much about building community as it is about passing on the work. It’s nigh on impossible to become a great Alexander teacher without the support of an Alexander community. Many of those who became Alexander’s best teachers hung out with him after they graduated, just like some graduates do here. Marj Barstow, upon graduating, assisted and co-taught up and down the northeast coast of America with A.R. Alexander for 8 years in America. Forty years later, I did exactly the same thing with Marj for eight years, up and down the northeast coast. So hang around your teachers for a while. And someday, if the spirit moves you, go and build an Alexander community somewhere, somehow, and if it feels right, stay connected to this one too.

Eight. The Alexander Alliance didn’t just grow by itself. I promoted it. I advocated for it continually. I still do. In the beginning I was a monomaniac. Now I am not, but I love the school with all my heart. I taught everywhere I could possibly teach. I did small workshops, large workshops. I still do. I told everyone about the school.

I was always at work on a brochure for the Alexander Alliance, or for the Annual East Coast Residential Course in The Alexander Technique that Michael Frederick and I co-directed for 20 years. Religiously, every year, I started from scratch, and wrote a new definition of the technique. It was always changing for me. I was continually searching for images that spoke to me of Alexander’s work, images from ancient Greek sculpture, from nature, from athletics, from Japanese Bushido traditions, from Michelangelo or Bernini. Eventually, I found Tada “Anchan” Akihiro, and he began photographically catching the beauty of Alexander’s work and of our school.

Students are not mysteriously going to find you and end up knocking on your door. You are going to have to go out and get them. You’re going to have to socialize and mingle. You have to schmooze. You have to take an interest in them, and then they might become interested in you. You have to like people. You have to express your values and your sense of beauty through your publicity. You want to draw the people toward you who resonate with who you are. You want to express yourself through the work, and you want the work to express itself through you. You have to live the work; the work has to live within you. People will see that, they’ll feel that. You have to believe in yourself and in your work. You have to be fearless.

Be willing to travel. Be willing to go to where people are, and invite them to where you are. There is some truth to the saying, “You can’t be a prophet in your own city.” Even Jesus couldn’t do it. If you travel somewhere people see you as a little special. If they travel to you, they see you as a little special. That’s human nature.

Eight. Everything was going well. The Alliance was growing. I was being asked to teach in lots of countries. And then, when I was looking the other way, I ran into a brick wall. My mom died. My dad died. My kids went off to college. My marriage ended. I left the Philadelphia school, at that time, the parent school of the Alliance. I sold the house I had loved and lived in for 20 years, moved to New Mexico, drove up into the mountains, and entered purgatory, my personal bardo.

William Stafford writes:

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain to them about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

I almost lost my thread. A day came when I decided to end the Alexander Alliance. I had run my course. I was in Germany. A retreat had just ended. Astrid was there, and when she heard of my decision, she said that I did not have the right to do that. She said that the Alliance was not just about me. That other people needed the school. I took hold again of my thread, of my lifeline. And here we are.

Remember, no matter how hard it gets, if this is a thread you are following, don’t let go of it, no matter what. Just keep moving through what you have to move through.

With the help of a lot of people, I resurfaced. I see the light of day as I have never seen it before.

In the words of Goethe, That which thy fathers, (and mothers),  have bequeathed unto you, learn it anew if thou wouldith possess it.

Graduates. Well done. Congratulations.


The End Of The Road

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

I think I’m getting it. The more we, as Alexander teachers go about waking ourselves and our students up to the true and primary movement, the primary control, inherent control, the primary pattern, the integrative pattern, whatever you wish to call it, the better. Whether it’s through Alexander’s procedures, Barstow’s procedures, (she had them), or other ways-etudes-procedures that talented teachers have evolved is not my main concern here. For me the key question is, for what are these procedures for? Imagine someone gives you a new tool; state of the art, top of the line. She teaches you how it works, but neglects to tell you what it’s for. That’s my question. What is Alexander’s work for? What does it offer us? What can it do for us? Why, 40 years later, am I still asking myself this question?

Phase One. We help one of our students, a singer, Maria, become beautifully poised, exquisitely organized. She now stands effortlessly, walks elegantly, and sings like a nightingale. People love watching and listening to her perform. Helping people with postural support, helping people to move well, sing well; it’s great. Phase one.

Phase two. Maria begins to notice how, not only her singing, but many things in her life are getting easier; doing the dishes, vacuuming the floor, riding her bike, opening jars, falling asleep. She’s getting increasingly curious about the technique. She begins to realize what still gives her trouble, what is still effortful; scrubbing out the bathtub; working at the computer, carrying bags of groceries up three flights of stairs, putting in her new contact lenses. You suggest she bring some of these activities into class. You tell her that if she brings her life into class, she will bring what she learns in class back into her life. You suggest having a lesson at her place to work on the site specific activities.  Phase two. As Marj once told me, “Bruce, our job is to help people become sensitive and to make good use of that sensitivity in their everyday life.”

Phase three. Maria comes into class obviously distraught. Her daughter is showing signs of anorexia. She sits at the dinner table and won’t eat. “It’s driving me crazy. I sit there angry, sad, scared. I have no idea what to do. I’m a nervous wreck.” You suggest that there’s no time like the present. “Let’s work on it right now. Remember, bring your life into class and you will bring what you learn in class back into your life. Be brave. I am sure your Alexander friends here will be happy to help you. Maria, what’s your daughter’s name?” “Jody.” How old is she?” ” Twelve.” “Where are you eating and who else is sitting around the table?” “Her sister, Laura. She’s nine.” “Is there anyone here that reminds you even a little of Jody and of Laura?” Maria looks around and finds two people. “Okay, will all of you help get a table, some chairs, go into the church kitchen down the hall and bring back all the stuff we need to set up a dinner table. Don’t dilly dally.” Off everyone goes, and in a flash everything is set up. “Maria where does everyone sit?” “I sit at the head of the table, Jody is on my right and Laura on my left.” “Great. We’re almost ready to go. I need to ask you a couple questions. Tell us what everyone’s day was like before getting to the table. See if you can do it in less than a minute.” Maria sums it up. “I drop off Laura at day care, rush to work, spend most of the day on the computer, pick up Laura, get home, throw together dinner, try to get my kids away from the TV, and sit down. Jody bikes to school, hates her school, comes home, does her homework. She’s super smart. She watches her favorite cooking show, which is funny now that i think about it, and then comes to the table and doesn’t eat.” “Okay. does everyone know who you are and what you are doing, I say to Maria, Jody, and Laura? Take about 30 seconds and just be quiet, and then begin.”

At first everyone is smiling a little but after about 45 seconds it suddenly becomes real. The triggers have gone off. The buttons have been pushed. Jody is curled over herself, sulking. Maria is off looking up to the left, away from Jody, her hands on the table, shaped into fists. Laura is eating as if she hasn’t eaten in a week. You can feel the tension in the air.

And so the work begins. “Maria, don’t move. Just notice what’s going on physically. Start from the ground up until you have a picture of what you look like. Does that position feel familiar?” “Absolutely.” “Now, I’m going to come over and, together, quietly and ever so slowly and gently, we’re going to undue this pattern and see what happens.” My role, primarily, is to be softer than soft. The first impression I want to give Maria is one of nurturance and kindness. This is what she needs most. I proceed how I often do; dissipating the tension in her neck region. Everyone can see what happens. As the neck ungrips, the shoulders drop and spread, the hands unclench, breath enters, and her head turns and she looks at Jody. “Maria, what’s happening?” “I’m getting calmer. I’m really seeing Jody. I can see she’s sad and lonely.” Maria starts crying. Jody looks up. Laura looks up.

And so it goes. The ice breaks. The melting begins.

Phase three, and where I believe Alexander wanted us to go with the work. For me chair work was Alexander’s movement metaphor, a metaphor for what happens to us in our lives. In chair work someone tells you that in a moment you are going to stand up, and you find that your neurological preset for reacting to that stimulus, and the stimulus itself, are coupled together, like two links in a chain. Chair work then becomes about decoupling the stimulus from the response, so that you can unplug the neurological preset which, when successful, creates the option, the possibility of a different and perhaps better response, a new response, a fresh response. As Alexander said, “You are not here to do exercises, (doing chair work), or to learn how to do something right, but to get able to meet a stimulus that always puts you wrong and to learn to deal with it.”

It’s one thing to be able to decouple a stimulus that doesn’t have a lot of charge to it, as in chair work. For sure, it’s a good place to begin. That makes sense. Consider playing with other simple, everyday movement metaphors: opening a door, (entering into a new space), eating an apple, (a famous metaphor, how much do we bite off? Do we swallow things whole or chew them over), tying our own shoes (doing things for ourselves; remember when you couldn’t tie your own shoes?).

But then comes the truly formidable task, the truly humbling task of encountering what Alexander aptly called our habits of life. Until we’re able to discern what triggers our disintegration pattern, every time, and begin to deal with those triggers, be they our critical thoughts about ourselves or others, or our grandiose ones, or our destructive emotions like anger, jealously, envy; or resentment, hatred, and greed, or our fears, we don’t get our black belts, we don’t get into the major leagues. How can we be integrated, how can we be free if we are holding a grudge? How can we be free when we are gossiping? How can we be free when we are busy defending ourselves, or rebelling, or retreating, or panicking? Can we learn to meet a charged stimulus, something that unnerves us, and learn to deal with it in a better, more humane way?

It’s dawning upon me how profound our work can be.

I haven’t been able to stay on every road I’ve begun walking down, but I’m staying on this one. Like Nikos Kazantzakis once said, “At the end of the road, that is where God sits.” And that’s where I’m going, where I’ve been going all along.

Just Shy Of Infinity

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Who would have thought? I mean, who would have thought that when I was 25 years old and utterly convinced that Marjorie Barstow’s approach to teaching Alexander’s work was superior in every way to the stiff, postural, ritualistic procedures that had come to be known as the Alexander Technique, who would have thought, that forty years later, I would not feel that way?

I mean, wasn’t it completely obvious that working in groups was the best way to develop your eye, that it was the best way to get your students working on their own, of weaning them from dependence on your hands? Didn’t everyone know that group teaching was the way to get the work into the larger system of education, where learning happened in groups, like in universities and elementary schools, in dance classes and yoga classes, and in physical therapy colleges? Wasn’t it as clear as day that working in activities was the quickest way to demonstrate to people that the work was eminently practical? And wasn’t is a no brainer that adhering to a 1600 hour, 3 year residential training model as the only possible model for training was absurd? I mean how could one not recognize this training structure as elitist, as out of touch with the needs of everyday working people? Hadn’t they noticed the emergence of night schools, of adult education, of retreat centers, of all the ways society was enabling hard working people, people with families, to study and train and grow?

Those were my beliefs as a twenty something, arrogant, brazen Alexander teacher. Slowly, very slowly, I got off my white horse, I took off my shining armor, I stopped fighting, and I started questioning everything, most importantly, Marj’s work, and my own opinions.

Really, was my use all that great? Was I not physically uncomfortable some of the time? Wasn’t my body still inflexible in certain ways? Wasn’t I still driven, obsessed? Was I really free to respond to situations the way I wanted? Was I able to control my impulsivity, my anger, my defensiveness? No, I wasn’t. So why did I feel like I knew what was best for the entire Alexander world?

It came down to wanting to be right, special, the best. So of course I had to have a teacher who was the best, better than anyone else. How, without having directly experienced all the approaches to the Alexander Technique I was capable of arriving at the irrefutable conclusion that Marj’s work, and therefore my work was the best work out there, I have no idea. But there you have it, the human mind at work in all of its glory.

I see now that Marj, like everyone, had her strengths and her weaknesses. She had a great eye, but she had her blind spots too. I needed to get some distance from Marj, I needed to see her and her work more honestly if I was going see myself honestly, if I was going to see what I knew, and what I didn’t know, which the older I get I see is just shy of infinity.

For example, Marj changed Alexander’s directions from “neck free, head forward and up, back to lengthen and widen” to, “what would happen if ever so delicately your whole head moved slightly away from your body and your whole body immediately followed?” I clearly understand why Marj chose the language she did, but now I also know what she lost by excluding reference to the neck and the back, and to directional language such as forward and up, or lengthening and widening. I can get both ways of directing to work for me, but honestly, I love Alexander’s directions. At this point they work better for me. I’ve also developed other ways of directing and allowing the primary movement to surge through me, but the point is I know now that there isn’t one way that’s right for everyone, forever, all across the board.

You see that’s the thing. When we are getting something new, we don’t see what we’re losing. And when we are holding on to what we don’t want to lose, we don’t see what we could be getting.

My friend Lena Frederick died in her early 50’s. I would have loved to see who she would have become if she had lived into a ripe old age. Lena trained with Walter Carrington, and then went on to study with Marj for many years. I remember her telling me that Alexander’s procedures were too hard for most everyone. She said that it would have been much easier for her if she had first studied with Marj for about ten years, and then went on to study with Walter.

I didn’t understand what Lena meant by that, but I knew Lena was a wise woman, so I decided to take that in, and clearly I did, because 25 years later here I am realizing it’s true. Now I’m ready to work through Alexander’s procedures. And I’m going to find a way to do that.

It’s like Keith Jarrett, for his entire career an improvisational jazz musician, deciding to play classical music, which he did. Or Steve Paxton, originator of Contact Improvisation, as an old man, deciding to choreograph ever so precisely to Johann Sebastian Bach, which he did. I’ve spent my life teaching improvisationally to Alexander’s principles outside of his classical procedures. I know how to do that.

But if I want to keep growing, if we want to keep growing, we sometimes have to leave what we are good at, we’ve got to go forward toward a place unknown, into a place we resist, into a place we feel is wrong, just what Alexander suggested we do.

It’s in that place where we didn’t want to go, that’s where the gift may lie, just what we need, just what we always wanted.


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