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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

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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.

The Space Within, Around And Between

photo: B. Fertman

photo: B. Fertman

Within but not enclosed, without but not excluded.
Hildegard von Bingen

The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us.
Gary Snyder

Our souls dwell where our inner world and the outer world meet. Where they overlap, it is in every point of the overlap.

I don’t paint what I see. I paint what is between me and what I see.

All I’m trying to show you is a little bit of nothing.
Marjorie L. Barstow

The Alexander Technique is as much about the metaphysical as it is about the physical, as much about the mind as it is about the body, as much about the spirit as it is about the senses, as much about stillness as it is about movement.

Good postural support and moving well are wonderful, but they’re not, essentially, what the Alexander Technique is about. They’re perks.

The Alexander Technique is about space, space deep within us, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It’s about presence through absence. It’s about the space all around us, beside us, behind us, before us. It’s about the space between; it’s about closeness through distance.

In this workshop you will learn, practically, how to bring greater spaciousness into your body and being. It may very well change the way you relate to yourself, to others, and to the world at large. It’s not difficult.

Whether you are new to the work, studying the work, training to become an Alexander teacher, or an Alexander teacher, I invite you to join me for a day you likely won’t forget.

Bruce Fertman

Founding Director Of The Alexander Alliance International

Naturalness And The Alexander Technique


photo by Bruce Fertman

photo by Bruce Fertman

When an investigation comes to be made, it will be found that every single thing we are doing in the work is exactly what is being done in nature where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously. – F.M. Alexander

There lies the rub. Conscious naturalness is virtually a contradiction in terms. As soon as we become conscious of our breathing we immediately begin interfering with it. Consciousness is a double-edged sword. It can free us, and it can stifle us. In our attempt, as Alexander teachers, to understand, embody and impart naturalness to our students we sometimes, unbeknownst to us, begin manifesting certain artificialities.

We can, at times, become a bit stayed, crusty, overly starched and pressed, like the beautiful white shirts my grandfather once wore. Sometimes, rather than simply occupying ourselves, we be become preoccupied with ourselves. Giving so much attention to the subtle relationship between our head, neck and back, we can become top heavy, losing our full ground support.

Inadvertently, in our quest for poise, symmetry, and calmness, we can hamper our spatial, gestural, and emotional freedom. It’s not easy being consciously natural. It’s understandable that sometimes we fail. In this workshop we’ll take a look at what some of the antidotes might be for countering these unwanted side effects.

If you are an Alexander student, trainee or teacher I hope you will join me.

Bruce Fertman

Founding Director of The Alexander Alliance International

Something To Consider

Richard M. Gummere, Jr.

Richard M. Gummere, Jr.

Once I asked a man what he did for a living and he said, “I’m an anesthesiologist. And what’s your job,” he asked? “I’m a esthesiologist. You say to people, ‘You’re not going to feel a thing.’ And I say to people, ‘You are about to begin to feel everything.'”

My mom wanted me to be a doctor, and my dad thought I’d make a great rabbi. So, in my attempt to satisfy them both, I became a metaphysician…of sorts. In Greek, meta can mean, after, along with, beyond, among, or behind. I’m not equipped to know what lies after or beyond the physical, but I have given an enormous amount of time considering what accompanies the physical, what lives “among” and “goes along” with the physical, and with what dwells “behind” the physical.

I am not an academic metaphysician, though I did bumble through as an undergraduate Philosophy major, studying primarily western European philosophy, my favorite characters being Heraclitus, Plato, Heidegger, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Merleau-Ponty, William James, Emerson, and Buber. No doubt, some of their ideas sifted down somewhere into my unconscious.

I’m a metaphysician by trade. I’m a clinical, personal metaphysician. My work centers around changing people’s subjective experience of time and space, of what it feels like to be, and to change. It’s about the practical relationship between mind and matter, about how we perceive and interact with the stuff of the world. My work is about shifting people’s sense of self, encouraging them to question their sense of identity. In a nutshell, my work revolves around improving a person’s quality of experience. And given that life is but an accumulation of experiences, one streaming into the next, Alexander’s work, Marjorie Barstow’s work, and now my work, becomes about improving the quality of people’s lives.

If we were only physical, then we would not have come up with the words, mind, heart and soul. Instead of saying, mind your own business, we’d be saying body your own business, or body your manners. The title of that Dean Martin song wouldn’t be Heart and Soul; it would be Body and Body.

You see, we are not merely physical; we’re metaphysical. Sure, we can physically reduce ourselves down to oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus. But we don’t go walking around feeling like oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus. That’s not our experience of who we are. That’s what we are.

When I first started out as an Alexander teacher, I was predominately movement oriented. My mentor, Marj Barstow, was too. She used to talk about life as movement. She’d say it’s all about movement. No movement. No change. I get that as a philosophy of life. We can’t stand still. Life comes to pass, not to stay. But I think many of us who studied with Marj, especially those of us who were athletes and martial artists and dancers, took her literally. The work became about movement, about the quality of our coordination, about physical grace, comfort and clarity. We all knew it was about something bigger but, technically, pedagogically, most of us ended up focusing on the physical dimension of the work.

Buzz Gummere served as the historian and philosophical advisor to the Alexander Alliance for 25 years. Buzz studied briefly with John Dewey. He trained with F.M., A.R., and with Marjorie Barstow. He trained along side of Frank Pierce Jones. He was super smart, could finish the New York Times crossword puzzle faster than any man alive. Like Frank Jones, Buzz taught Greek and Latin. He helped found Hampshire College, was the Dean at Bard College, and a career counselor at Columbia. Why he came almost every month, year after year, to the Alexander Alliance I don’t know. He loved our community, and we loved him. And we learned from him, continually. Maybe that’s why.

After one of my classes Buzz came up to me and complimented me on my class. “You really got everyone organized and moving so well. You’re a great movement teacher.” That should have felt like a compliment, but it didn’t. Why didn’t Buzz say I was a great Alexander teacher? Like Socrates, Buzz had his way of throwing me into a state of constructive doubt.

At the end of a retreat we were saying our goodbyes, and I asked Buzz, as I did often, “Do you have a question for me, something to consider?” He looked at me for a moment, quite sternly, and said, “What’s the difference between a movement teacher and an Alexander teacher?” Then he smiled and laughed and thanked me, as he always did.

I think, after 30 years, I can answer that question. Our work is only secondarily about movement and postural support. They’re perks. As Alexander clearly said, the work’s not about endlessly getting in and out of a chair. It’s not a form of physical culture. Our work is primarily about how we choose to respond to stimuli from within us, and all around us. How do we choose to respond to our own thoughts and emotions, to sensations within our own bodies, sensations of appetite, sexuality, discomfort, fatigue, and pain? How do we choose to respond to criticism, to praise, to deadlines, to the wind? How do we interact, how do we adapt, how do we relate, how do we receive, how do we play the game?

Now I am almost the age Buzz was when we first met. I want to tell him my answer, like some little kid in school who finally solved the problem. I want him to see I’ve grown, changed, matured; that I’m finally an Alexander teacher. I want to know what he’d say in response to my answer.

“But Bruce, why do you want to know what I think,” I hear him saying through his severely loving eyes, suddenly smiling and laughing, thanking me as always, turning and walking away into the white, cloudy distance.

Summer of 2000 - Buzz Gummere, at 90, and Bruce Fertman

Summer of 2000 – Buzz Gummere, at 90, and Bruce Fertman


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