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Tim Soar’s Review of Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart for STAT News

It has been over 40 years since I first began studying with Marjorie Barstow, and this fact reminds me of a teaching story.

Within the tradition of Chanoyu, Japanese tea ceremony, it is said that for the first 10 years a student should learn to do everything exactly the way his teacher does. In the second 10 years the student should continue to do everything exactly the way his teacher does, but should begin to wonder why his teacher does what he does the way he does it. In the third decade, the student should begin to change ever so slightly how he does what he does to suit who he is as a person.  And in the fourth decade, his way should be a different from his teachers as night is from day.

And so it was and is for me now. I am as different from Marj as night is from day. My vocabulary is not the same. I use my hands very differently. My way of relating to people is as warm as Marj’s way was cool. My pedagogy as a teacher trainer is as formal as Marj’s was informal. And yet, at the same time, there remains something quintessentially Marj inside of me. I pass on her sayings, her spirit, her understanding of Alexander’s work. I do my best to inspire others the way Marj inspired me.

Tim Soar begins his review referencing Michael Frederick’s description of me as “one of the foremost representatives of Marjorie Barstow’s lineage.” He goes on to note that his experience of now-senior teachers who apprenticed with Marjorie Barstow is that they are as diverse in their approaches to the Work as were the first generation teachers who trained with F.M.

marj-bruce-sword

With all do respect and love for Marj, my work is now, for better and worse, only my work. No one else’s. Yes, I am part of the Alexander/Barstow lineage, but I cannot claim to represent Marj’s way of working. How Alexander taught is gone forever, and how Marj taught is gone forever. That is the way of it, and the way it should be.

The work continues.

Here’s Tim’s review. Enjoy.

Review of Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart

Tim Soar

Pubished in STAT News, May 2018

Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart offers the reader a “fly on the wall” view of Bruce Fertman’s very particular way of teaching the Alexander Technique. Michael Frederick’s comment on the back cover describes Bruce as “one of the foremost representatives of Marjorie Barstow’s lineage”, but in my experience the now-senior teachers who trained with Marjorie Barstow are at least as diverse in their approaches to the Work as were the first generation teachers who trained with FM. In any case, although Bruce acknowledges “Marj” as his principal mentor, he points out that he also learned from four other first generation teachers, whose differences he clearly values. Whatever the reader’s previous experience, there is much of value to be found in this book, perhaps particularly for teachers who would like to develop their work with groups beyond the introductory level, towards mixed ability, more advanced, or specialised audiences. Bruce makes the most convincing case that I have come across for the positive advantages of learning the Alexander Technique in a group setting.

Part One: The Work at Hand, sets out the field of enquiry – the subject matter of the Alexander Technique: Choice, Primary Control, Sensory Appreciation, Use, Non-Interference … all presented in Bruce’s own vocabulary. One particularly telling example of which is the idea not of “misusing” oneself, but of “mistreating” oneself, with all the ethical impact of that word fully intended.

Part Two: Student Centred Teaching, leads the reader anecdotally through a large number of individual lessons, either one-to-one or in group settings. Some of these lessons last a whole chapter, others just a few sentences. This format gives a lively “person-centred” way of presenting the almost endless scope of our Work, in a way that hardly ever finds its way into print.

The illustrations are unusual – avoiding the conventional “head back and down”, “head forward and up” illustrations. The nearest thing to that is a photo of a cowboy wrestling a steer (you have to read it …). The other illustrations are split mostly three ways: firstly, very characteristic photos of Bruce working with students in workshop settings; secondly, half a dozen illustrations from Albinus on Anatomy, the series of beautiful, accurate, lively, whimsical-but-layered-with-meaning anatomical engravings published in 1747, which Bruce uses as a primary source for his anatomical and body mapping work, and thirdly, and perhaps most compellingly (the handful of colour-printed pages of the book are reserved for this third category), art illustrations: paintings, sculpture, a thrown pot, landscapes … One of the main ideas here is that we do not tend look at a Renaissance painting, or a sculpture of a human figure in a way that emphasises postural criticism. On the subject of criticism, Bruce quotes Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field; I’ll meet you there”. Instead we see what the figure, through its implied movements and reactions, expresses. Bruce suggests – and this seems to me to be the absolute epicentre of his teaching – that we would do well to learn to look at people as we look at works of art: to see the beauty before the body-mechanics, and to empathise with (and thereby become able to help) a person’s Use by seeing how they express themselves.

Because of the structure of the book as a series of vignettes, a lot of ground is covered quickly, and it is not possible for me to list them all. However, I shall choose three particular themes that seem to me to be characterise Bruce’s understanding of the Work, and which I personally found to be good. Firstly, he does not try to make it easy. He says (in understatement) that the Alexander Technique needs “practice”, that a good teacher has, necessarily, to be “living the work every day”, and that “This road is longer than any one person’s life”. Secondly, he is a dyed-in-the-wool non-dualist. He does not talk about “how we use our bodies”, neither (more subtly) does he talk about the “mind body connection” (which always seems to me like approaching psychophysical unity from an essentially dualist perspective, unnecessarily making a simple thing complicated). Instead he simply and straightforwardly treats each person as a whole. This gives his work access – when appropriate – to a student’s emotional life in a straightforward and unforced way, as a natural aspect of their Use, and very much part of what we, as teachers, are there for. For example, he is likely to ask a student who says that he wants to relax, “How do you know you are not relaxed?” to which the student replies “I feel nervous.” This then opens the way to the psychophysical subject matter of the lesson. It’s as simple (and profound) as that. Thirdly, he places great emphasis on learning to use one’s senses in a skilled and healthy way, asking “What would happen if we were able to go from having adequate tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive senses, to having extraordinary tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive senses?”. “Feeling” is not, for him, a word to be avoided, or the exclusive polar opposite of “thinking”. Right at the beginning of the book he tells us of a conversation with an anaesthetist: “You say to people, you’re not going to feel a thing, and I say to people, you are about to feel everything.” In one chapter Bruce suggests a series of sensory investigations, meditations, Directions – I don’t know what to call them – leading the experimenter towards more subtle and more colourful sensory experiences. An important extension of this thinking is that humans-sensing-other-humans is a vital part of life – “To be means to be with other people.” – and an essential part of the Alexander Technique. Interestingly, for a teacher who does so much of his work in groups, individual hands on work is very central to his teaching. He clearly thinks of Alexander work essentially as partner-work, with all the subtle and paradoxical give and take of leading-in-order-to-follow, and following-in-order-to-lead that subtle partner work always embodies (one chapter tells the story of a lesson with an accomplished Tango couple), and he understands what he sometimes calls “high touch” (exemplified by the best Alexander hands on work) as one of the highest expressions of our shared humanity: “Touch … is our sense of togetherness, of closeness, of intimacy, of union and communion.”

Bruce freely uses stories, autobiography, quoted aphorisms, illustrations, poetic language and a wide range of metaphors to set the scene and to make his points, and this is surely the only Alexander book with a Japanese glossary! In writing such a book, the author is necessarily just guessing at a reader’s connection with a particular image – unlike presenting ideas in a workshop situation where communication is two-way. I imagine that each reader will have their own spectrum of recognition: some points seeming no more than common sense, others interesting and informative, some concepts may be outside their experience, and others still, less attractive – metaphors that simply don’t work for them. That is the risk, consciously taken, in writing a book that seeks to convey the flavour of a very personal experience. For me, it is interesting to think that each reader’s spectrum will, most likely, align itself with quite different themes and images in the book.

The greatest strength perhaps of this new addition to our bibliography is that it clearly and repeatedly shows us (as we as teachers and committed trainees naturally already know) that “Alexander’s work, when it works, can work miracles; quiet, little miracles that can change a person’s life forever.”

 

From The Same Immaterial Fabric

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Photo: B. Fertman/Seoul, Korea

 

A student asks, “What is this inner body of which you so often speak?”

 

The inner body is neither physical nor metaphysical.

Not of the body and not beyond the body.

The inner body lives within the body,

It is the body within the body.

 

The inner body fills the outer body.

Completely.

Each toe, each fingernail, every eyelash.

The inner body assumes the exact shape of the outer body,

It is the outer bodies inner lining.

 

When the outer body looks; the inner body sees.

When the outer body hears; the inner body listens.

 

The inner body cannot feel or express emotions,

Though it does perceive them.

 

The inner body cannot think,

Though it is rational.

Quietly aware, calmly awake,

Below the surface of words, in silence,

It reflects, contemplates, meditates.

 

The inner body cannot act or react,

Though it can observe actions and reactions.

The inner body cannot do anything,

But it can receive everything.

 

The inner body is neither male nor female,

Is of no race or religion, is from no country or continent.

 

The inner body does not age, is not made of time.

It cannot get sick or suffer,

Though it can observe sickness and suffering.

 

The inner body is not cold or callous, nor warm and empathetic.

But because it is made from the same immaterial fabric as love and gratitude,

The inner body does care.

 

Curiously,

Once we bid farewell to our outer body and take up residence in our inner body,

The less needy our outer body becomes,

And the less lonely it feels.

 

If, as the outer body ages, we come to dwell ever more deeply within the inner body,

Then perhaps, when the moment arrives for our outer body to die,

We will be ready and able to take leave of it,

Peacefully, thankfully, and with love in our hearts.

 

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Photo: B. Fertman/Seoul, Korea

 

Stories about the inner body

from my book

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart

 

Sung-ho

It may be beyond my area of expertise. It may be foolish, even unprofessional, even unethical. It may be sheer chutzpah, or profound innocence and, it may not be any of these.

Sung-ho walks into my apartment/studio in downtown Seoul. He clearly has what I like to call an unconventional nervous system, or an exceptional structure.

Having only known Sung-ho for two days, he already feels like a friend. We spent a night together jammed into a packed subway car, talking politics, making our way down crowded streets into the heart of a peaceful, passionate and packed protest with 1.7 million other people.

No matter the circumstances, Sung-ho just keeps up. He doesnt complain. In fact, he directs his attention toward others, making sure everyones comfortable.

He thinks his English is terrible. I am eternally grateful to anyone who can speak any English Sung-ho. I understand everything you are saying.” I want to ask you something,Sung-ho says. In America, what do you call people who are disabled?” “We call them physically challenged. Calling a person disabled sums them up as people who are not able to function properly. We prefer describing their situation. A physically challenged person is a person who is challenged physically. When I watch people like you, I see an athlete, a person who is training for an Olympic event called everyday life.” “I like that,Sung-ho says.

Sung-ho explains his situation to me. Im in pain most of the time. My left hip hurts almost continually. I cant lift my right hand past my shoulder. I cant turn my head at all. My spine doesnt move. Its in a permanent C-shape. Whenever, by mistake, I go outside of my small range of motion its really painful. Im always working hard to move and when I sit down and relax my body hurts even more, so I keep my muscles tight. But Im used to it. Its been this way since I was a kid.

Later I find out Sung-ho, when he was fifteen, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that, for reasons unknown, mostly afflicts young men. Over time this extreme form of arthritis causes the spine to fuse, making the spine increasingly immobile. Ankylosing spondylitis is incurable.

Sung-ho, let me see what you do when you relax.I watch as he presses his shoulder girdle down onto his upper ribs and pushes his chest in. Sung-ho that hurts because that is not relaxing, but we will get to that later. Right now show me how much you can move your head without pain. With your head say yes, no, and maybe,” I say demonstrating. He does. He moves his head about one inch in every direction but that one inch is accomplished by ever so slight bending or rotating movements initiated down around his rib cage. The relationship of his head to his neck is frozen like a block of ice. Good. I want to see you move. Id like you to get up and walk to the closet, put on your coat, then take it off, hang it back up, walk back here and sit down.I just watch, kinesthetically empathizing more than I am analyzing. This familiar aching feeling settles over me, a feeling I often feel when working with physically challenged people, this feeling of guilt. Why them and why not me?

You get around,I say. I make myself do everything,Sung-ho says. An athlete,I say.

Okay Sung-ho. I am going to teach you something that helps me a lot. It may sound strange, and its not scientific, but it allows me to move more easily and comfortably. All it takes is a playful imagination and some practice. Are you willing to try?” “Sure,Sung-ho says.

I like to think of myself as having two bodies, a being body and a doing body. The being body is my inner body and my doing body is my outer body. My outer body is substantial and made of muscle. But inside that body is a body that has no substance. Its weightless. It moves like a gentle wind, like a soft breeze. It moves effortlessly. Its comfortable and its never in pain. The inner body has no bones. Its just space. Sometimes it feels like a friendly ghost body. Deep within you it flies freely.

What I like to imagine is that my inner body, my being body, my ghost body moves my doing body from the inside out. I imagine that my inner body is moving and my outer body just comes along with it. The outer body doesnt do anything, just as your clothes dont move by themselves. They are moved by your body. So your outer body doesnt do anything by itself. It is moved by your inner body.Sung-ho seems to like the idea. Hes smiling.

Sung-ho, can you just sit here now, close your eyes and imagine that who you really are is your inner body and not your outer body?I watch him. I can see hes living inside of his imagination and that is where I want him to be. Sung-ho, that is closer to real relaxation.

Okay, here is a little way of practicing shifting from your outer body to your inner body. Imagine you have a fly buzzing around your face and you want to brush it away. Let your hand just fly up and move the fly away. Thats easy,Sung-ho says. Is it comfortable,I ask? Very.” “Thats your inner body flying around and your outer body just coming along with it. Now brush the fly away by moving your outer body. Whats that feel like,I ask? That harder, heavier, and slower.

Right. I think you move yourself around from your outer body. And I think, with practice, you could learn to move yourself around with your inner body.

Okay, Sung-ho. Lets go back to saying yes, no, maybe with your head but this time let your inner body, your inner head, do the moving and let your outer body, your outer head, just go with it.

I watch. I think I see some actual head movement, but Im not sure. How does that feel, I ask? Its different, but I cant say how,Sung-ho says. Was it comfortable,I ask?, Comfortable,Sung-ho says.

Okay. Lets play with something else. Touch the tip of your nose.I watch and see that Sung-ho does that from his inner body. Thats your inner body,I say. I can feel that,Sung-ho says. Imagine the tip of your nose is a small, very high quality calligraphy brush and write your name in the air with your calligraphy brush.

He does. I see that the tentativeness is completely gone and now Sung-ho is actually, however minutely, moving his head through rotational and pivotal movement in his upper cervical vertebrae. Hows that,I ask? Its wonderful,Sung-ho says. Thats your imagination and your inner body moving your outer body.Sung-ho nods yes even more freely without knowing it.

Sung-ho, do you have memories of yourself and of your body before you developed this condition,I ask? Yes, I do.” “Can you remember how old you were when you were super attracted, sexually attracted to a girl? How old were you,I ask? I was twelve,Sung-ho says. What was her name?” “Mi Kyung,Sung-ho says smiling from ear to ear. Okay Sung-ho. I want your inner body to be twelve years old. You are totally in love with Mi Kyung. Now write her name with your calligraphy brush.

I watch and see Sung-ho move his head three times as far in every direction. Wow,Sung-ho says. Wow is right,I say! You were so in love when you wrote Mi Kyungs name you forgot to be afraid to move your head.

Okay, lets stand up and walk around. I watch Sung-ho stand up. Hes tight. Hes cringing. My left hip hurts a lot when I get up, especially after sitting for a long time,Sung-ho says. I see that but I also see that your ankles, knees and hips have a lot of flexion. I noticed that last night watching you go up steps. Your legs are strong.” “Lets walk around.

Sung-ho throws his pelvis way forward and under his body because if he brought his pelvis back and up on top of his legs, hed be looking straight down at the ground. When he walks his feet are far apart and quite turned out. His knees hardly flex. Yet, he walks faster than I do, almost as if he were in a race.

Sung-ho, I know you can flex your knees more than that because you do when you get up and down from a chair, and when you go up and down steps. So lets imagine that your outer legs are just like a pair of super baggy pants and let your inner legs move around inside your baggy pants. Theres plenty of room in there. And pretend you are on vacation and theres nothing you have to do. The weather is warm and you have all the time in the world.

Clearly, Sung-ho has a powerful imagination and somehow hes able to connect his imagination to his kinesthetic sense, an ability that takes many people a while to learn. Hows that Sung-ho?

It fun. And much easier. And comfortable,Sung-ho says.

Im so glad. Sung-ho. We are going to stop now because you have some real tools to play with. Youve got your very powerful imagination and you have your very free inner body.Hes smiling. Hes moved, holding back tears.

For a second the question flashes through my mind, Was that an Alexander lesson or not? Maybe. Maybe not.” “And maybe it doesnt matter,” I hear a voice inside me saying.

Hey, Sung-ho. I finish teaching at 10 tonight. As your wife is in my class, how about we all meet up after class and go out for a beer?Sung-ho lights up and says, I know a place right around the corner that has Guinness on draft. Do you like Guinness?  A lot, especially when its fresh. See you tonight.

I watch Sung-ho get his coat. His movements are less jerky, longer, smoother. That aching feeling returns and I wonder, If I had Sung-hos body, would I be able to adapt as gracefully to life as Sung-ho?

Grace, its not about how we look, or how we move. Its about who we are.

No Sweat

A man walks in, muscular, not a lean and mean muscularity, but a firm, round, bear like muscularity.  Hes the kind of man that would use his power to protect someone in need, rather than bully someone for the fun of it.

What brings you here, Yasuo-san? Noriko-sensei tells me you are a physical therapist and in your spare time a parachute glider.

Im expecting Yasuo to begin talking about some physical issue. A painful, lonely sadness fills his eyes.

The three of us, Yasuo-san, Masako ,my translator, and me sit together for a good minute in silence, which is not uncommon after I ask someone a question in Japan. Japanese people rarely blurt our their first thought. Its as if they let the question sink down into some place full of unshared secrets.

I want to relax,Yasuo says.

How do you know you are not relaxed?

I feel nervous.

What happens when you get nervous?

I begin to sweat. A lot. It feel embarrassed and ashamed that I am sweating.

When does this happen most?

When I am with people. When I have to talk to people.

Usually when we are with people we are with family, or roommates, or friends, or coworkers, or strangers. Do you have any family,I ask?

Not much. My parents live far away. Im not married. I live alone.

Who are you with, and in what situation are you in when this happens most intensely?

When I meet a stranger. When I have to talk to someone I dont know.

Does it happen more when the stranger is a woman or a man?

Definitely a woman.

I can see a change in Yasuos skin color. Hes becoming pale. The back of his skull has pulled back. I see an image of a horse and the rider pulling the reins back.

Well, Masako is a woman, so why dont you have a conversation with Masako? Youve never met her before. Shes a stranger. Face each other and have a conversation.

Yasuos eyes open wide.

Turn your chairs so youre facing one another. Get a little bit closer. There you go. Thats perfect.

Masako has played these kinds of roles for me in other lessons. Shes a natural. Masako takes on a slightly shy demeanor, looks down, then looks up.

How did you get such a strong body. Do you do some kind of sport,Masako asks?

Yasuo mentions that he does parachute gliding and that the equipment is heavy so it requires a good bit of strength. Masako lights up a bit, crosses her legs and asks him to tell her more about it.

Yasuo takes out a handkerchief, something almost all men and women in Japan carry on them, and wipes his forehead, which is sweating profusely.

Ive got Yasuo exactly where I want him.

Okay Yasuo-san. I see what you are doing that might be making you sweat. Of course, I dont know for sure. But the only way we can find out is if there is some way I can get you to stop doing what I see you doing. Does that make sense?

Hai,Yasuo says. What do you see,” he asks?

What I see is that you are very muscular. It is almost like you live in your muscular system, especially in your large action muscles, like your quads, and abs, and traps, and deltoids, and biceps, and pecs.

When you get nervous and begin to sweat, Im not sure if I am making this up but I think I see your body swelling, as if your large action muscles all at once are becoming hypertonic, even though you are not moving. Its as if your body wants to move, but its frozen and cant. You’re sitting there trying to move and trying not to move at the same time, so your body is working out like mad, and you are breaking out in a sweat.

Ahsokaa I see what you mean,Yasuo says, wondering.

Sometimes I get locked into my muscular system too. Ive got a particular way of getting out of it. Want to learn it?

Hai.

I use my imagination, which is one way of using your mind. I imagine I have an outer body and an inner body. Actually, I do more than imagine it. I pretend, as a child would, that it is absolutely true, that my inner body exists. And I dont only imagine it, I sense it through my kinesthetic sense. Its more like a kimage. Ki in your language means mind, heart, spirit, feeling, energy, and that is exactly what a kimage is made of. So your inner body is not muscular or physical. It lives deeper within you than your muscular body. It lives under your entire muscular body. We think we have lots of different muscles in the body but really its more like we have one unified muscular system, just like we have on circulatory system. This muscular system is a bit like a cylindrical trampoline wrapped around your skeletal system. Deep within you, underneath your muscular system, you have an inner body totally unattached to your muscular body. Id like you to imagine, to ki-magine that your muscular body is like an astronaut suit, but the real you is inside and not physical. Your astronaut suit is not alive, but your inner body is. That is who you are, that is where you live. That is home. That is where you rest. That is where you feel safe.

So can you just sit where you are?  Close your eyes and lean back against the chair. Get support from the chair. Slide your feet way out in front of you, so you cant push down with your feet against the floor. Can you let your belly un-tighten?

I go over, place my hand on his chest until I feel my hand gently sink into him like smoke permeating a sweater.

Drop below your astronaut suit Yasuo-san,I say. I touch the outside of his upper arms, always with this permeating quality, then around his skull, then along the sides of his body, along the sides of his pelvis, on his quadriceps, his calves, his feet. I watch his face. He is no longer sweating. His breathing is slower. He looks like hes about to fall asleep.

Yasuo-san. When I ask you to, I want you to slowly open your eyes but before you do I want you to decide not to push out into your muscles. I want you to decide not to turn your muscles on. Keep your muscle switch off. As your eyes open, if you feel yourself beginning to push into your muscles, just lower your eyelids, turn your muscle switch off, and return to your inner body. Calmly but firmly say to yourself, off..offoffoff, as you open your eyes, until your eyes are open and there you are seeing and resting in your inner body. Then when Masako begins talking to you I want you to say to yourself gently and firmly, offoffoffuntil she is finished speaking. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Yasuo sits. I can see him dropping in below his muscles. He begins to open his eyes but decides to close them again. On the third go he opens them and keeps them open. Hes completely resting in the chair and resting in himself. Masako asks him about his parents, where they live and what they do. I see a slight push into his muscles and then I see him drop back in.

My parents live in Kanazawa, not far from Kenrokuen garden,he says. I watch Yasuo finish speaking and then drop back into his inner body.

How are you doing Yasuo-san?

I can do it. I have control over it. Its like I found that switch in me and when it goes on I can turn it off.

How does that make you feel?

It makes me feel soft and kind and happy.

And you are not sweating.

Im not sweating.

“Yes, inner bodies are not physical, so they don’t sweat. They can’t sweat.”

Yasuo. Weve been working about 35 minutes, and our lesson is supposed to be 45 minutes but I am going to stop here. You learned what you came here to learn. You found your inner body and you found your on/off switch which controls your large action muscles and allows you to rest in your inner body. With a little practice you will be able to do this whenever you want. You know how to sit and rest in your inner body. You have this little meditation you can practice whenever you have time.

Arigatou gosaimashita, I say, bowing. It was wonderful to work with you. I learned a lot from you,” I say, feeling myself at that moment living deep within my inner body, thinking how I am always teaching myself what it is I most need to learn, saying what I most need to hear.

The Working World – Knowing How we are Being as we Do What we are Doing – 29.04.2018, 10am – 5:30pm – Zurich

AS we do what we are doing. That little work as is the challenge. We usually notice how we were being after we did what we did.

“I was so afraid of being late to work this morning that I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off, got to work and was already exhausted.”

“God, I was really killing myself when I was at my computer trying to finish that project on time. My neck is aching and so are my wrists.”

“You know, I was impatient, snobby, and not as helpful as I could have been in that meeting. I feel terrible about it.”

Of course, we also have good days when we are not late, when we don’t kill ourselves working, when we enjoy our work and the people around us. But what can we do for ourselves when we feel out of balance, off our game, out of sync?

Not only possessing psychological and communication skills, but somatic skills as well can help a great deal. This workshop is dedicated to acquiring the somatic skills needed to better handle ourselves in trying situations in the workplace.

Applying the principles found within the Alexander Technique and applying them in our work life, whatever that life is, be it office work, manual work, house work, or looking for work, bring yourself and your stories about your working world to me and get ready to have a thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening time.

Whether you are new to Alexander’s work or currently studying, whether you are training or even if you are a teacher of the technique, I hope you will consider joining me for a day of playing seriously, and seriously play-ing, with the principles underlying Alexander’s remarkable work.

DETAILS

Date: 29.04.2018, 10am – 5:30pm

Location: Technopark Zürich (close to train stop Hardbrücke)

Course fee: CHF 160.- (Students CHF 125.-)

Workshop language: English (translation to German possible)

Individual lessons: (CHF 100.–/45 min.) can be arranged on Monday, 30.04.2018 and Tuesday, 01.05.2018.

Additionally Bruce will give an Alexander Technique workshop entitled «Eradicating Blocks – A Workshop For Performing Artists» on Saturday, 28.04. 2018.

Organizers and assistant teachers: Magdalena and Johannes Gassner

For more information and to register call: +41 77 475 50 27 or write to m.gassner@alexanderalliance.de

To learn more about Bruce Fertman, the Alexander Technique or the Alexander Alliance:

http://brucefertman.com

http://www.alexanderalliance.org/

About Bruce Fertman

In Bruce’s class you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake. His pace and patience, his quiet confidence allows people to unfold and open layer by layer. The superfluous falls away leaving only life’s inner vitality effortlessly expressing itself through you.

He is the embodiment of his work. 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

With 55 years experience as a movement artist and educator, Bruce brings a lifetime of training to his work as an Alexander teacher. For the past 30 years Bruce has traveled annually throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States coaching performing artists and helping people from all walks of life.

Bruce has worked with members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Radio France, The National Symphony in Washington DC, the Honolulu Symphony and for the Curtis Institute of Music. He taught for the Five College Dance Program in Amherst, Massachusetts for 13 years, and for the Tango community in Buenos Aires. For 6 years, he taught movement for actors at Temple and Rutgers University.

In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school, the first Alexander teacher training program inspired by the work of Marjorie Barstow.

For ten years Bruce trained as a gymnast with Olympic coaches, and with Dan Millman, receiving a full scholarship to Penn State University. A professional modern dancer for 12 years, he holds a Master’s degree in Modern Dance and Movement Re-education at Temple University. For 16 years Bruce apprenticed with and assisted Marjorie L. Barstow, the first person formally certified by F.M. Alexander to teach his work.

Bruce studied in New York City at the Shr Jung Institute and in Philadelphia with Cheng man Ching’s six senior American students for 8 years, and also for 8 years with Shuji Maruyama who, as a boy, lived and trained with Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. Bruce was awarded a scholarship to study at the Uresenke School of Tea in Kyoto, Japan, with Iemoto Soshitsu Sen, the 15th generation grand tea master. He studied Argentine Tango in Buenos Aires, Berlin, and Rome. Bruce trained in Kyudo, Zen Archery, in Osaka, Japan where he lives four months a year. Four months a year he is on the road teaching in Europe and Asia, and four months a year Bruce lives in Northern, New Mexico and writes.

He is the author of  Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart.

 

Eradicating Blocks – A Workshop In The Alexander Technique For Performing Artists – 28.04.2018, 10am – 5:30pm – Zurich

You are not here to acquire skills but to eradicate blocks. – Jerzy Grotowski 

It is your music, dance, or theatre teacher’s job to help you acquire the skills you need to be a fine artist. My job is to help you become aware of how you interfere with yourself as you work toward acquiring those skills, and to show you how you can release that  interference. In other words, my job is to teach you how not to work against yourself and against what you are working to achieve.

Often the problem is not that we are doing to little, but that we are doing too much, working too hard, over trying, over efforting, muscling our way through.

“Fluid as melting ice.

Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? 

Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?

Less and less will you need to force things.”

 -Lao Tzu/Stephen Mitchell

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In this workshop we will learn how to become less stiff and more fluid. We will learn how not to push, not to force. Through Alexander’s work we will begin learning how to be at once, relaxed and ready, soft and strong, light and substantial, stable and flexible, peaceful and lively when we are practicing and when we are performing.

This workshop is open to amateur and professional artists alike. Bring what you need in order to do your work, your instruments, your dancing shoes, your monologues. Also, those who do not consider themselves artists but whose jobs entail an element of performance, such as public speaking, lecturing, leading meetings are also welcome to participate.

No prior experience necessary. People of all ages welcome. Workshop size limited.

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DETAILS

Date: 28.04.2018, 10am – 5:30pm

Location: Technopark Zürich (close to train stop Hardbrücke)

Course fee: CHF 160.- (Students CHF 125.-)

Workshop language: English (translation to German possible)

Individual lessons: (CHF 100.–/45 min.) can be arranged on Monday, 30.04.2018 and Tuesday, 01.05.2018.

Additionally, Bruce will give an Alexander Technique workshop entitled «The Working World – Knowing How We are Being as we Do What We are Doing» on Sunday, 29.04.2018.

Organizers and assistant teachers: Magdalena and Johannes Gassner

For more information and to register call: +41 77 475 50 27 or write to m.gassner@alexanderalliance.de

To learn more about Bruce Fertman, the Alexander Technique or the Alexander Alliance:

http://brucefertman.com

http://www.alexanderalliance.org/

About Bruce Fertman

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In Bruce’s class you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake. His pace and patience, his quiet confidence allows people to unfold and open layer by layer. The superfluous falls away leaving only life’s inner vitality effortlessly expressing itself through you.

He is the embodiment of his work. 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

With 55 years experience as a movement artist and educator, Bruce brings a lifetime of training to his work as an Alexander teacher. For the past 30 years Bruce has traveled annually throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States coaching performing artists and helping people from all walks of life.

Bruce has worked with members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Radio France, The National Symphony in Washington DC, the Honolulu Symphony and for the Curtis Institute of Music. He taught for the Five College Dance Program in Amherst, Massachusetts for 13 years, and for the Tango community in Buenos Aires. For 6 years, he taught movement for actors at Temple and Rutgers University.

In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school, the first Alexander teacher training program inspired by the work of Marjorie Barstow.

For ten years Bruce trained as a gymnast with Olympic coaches, and with Dan Millman, receiving a full scholarship to Penn State University. A professional modern dancer for 12 years, he holds a Master’s degree in Modern Dance and Movement Re-education at Temple University. For 16 years Bruce apprenticed with and assisted Marjorie L. Barstow, the first person formally certified by F.M. Alexander to teach his work.

Bruce studied in New York City at the Shr Jung Institute and in Philadelphia with Cheng man Ching’s six senior American students for 8 years, and also for 8 years with Shuji Maruyama who, as a boy, lived and trained with Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido. Bruce was awarded a scholarship to study at the Uresenke School of Tea in Kyoto, Japan, with Iemoto Soshitsu Sen, the 15th generation grand tea master. He studied Argentine Tango in Buenos Aires, Berlin, and Rome. Bruce trained in Kyudo, Zen Archery, in Osaka, Japan where he lives four months a year. Four months a year he is on the road teaching in Europe and Asia, and four months a year Bruce lives in Northern, New Mexico and writes.

He is the author of  Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart.

May Nothing Stand Between Us

 

In the first half of my life I built walls; in the second half of my life I am doing my best to take those walls down.

By believing that the teachers I had chosen to study under were the most gifted, the most astute, the most skilled, by association, made me feel special and superior to others. By believing the disciplines I had chosen to study were the most profound, by association, made me feel special and superior to others.

Others had missed the boat, were not on the bus. They had made the wrong choices, and I the right ones.

I remember with embarrassment, some 40 years ago, defining Alexander’s work in opposition to Ida Rolf’s work, how Alexander’s work was educational, non-manipulative, and wholistic, while Rolf’s work was mechanical, intrusive, and reductionist. I remember hating the Rolfing logo of a man stacked up like building blocks.

T’ai Chi Chu’an and Aikido were superior to other martial art forms. Zen Buddhism and Taoism were more sophisticated than monotheistic religions. Democrats were enlightened and Republicans were greedy. And so it went. Bricks made from hardened beliefs. Mortar made from a muddy mind.

Between the first half of my life and the second half of my life, like a Murakami anti-hero, I fell into a deep, dark well. When finally I dug my way out I was psychologically emaciated. During that time I had gone through a divorce, my kids had left home, the house I lived in and loved for 20 years was sold, I gave up my business, my mother died, and then a year later, my father, who I loved dearly, also died.

The day my father died we were alone. Sitting next to him in an old worn out, saggy leather chair, legs crossed under me, tallis over my shoulders, quietly, I read out loud from my copy of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the psalms;

Even in the midst of great pain, Lord,
     I praise you for that which is.
I will not refuse this grief
     or close myself to this anguish.
Let shallow men pray for ease:
     “Comfort us; shield us from sorrow.”
I pray for whatever you send me,
     and I ask to receive it as your gift.
You have put a joy in my heart
     greater than all the world’s riches.
I lie down trusting the darkness,
     for I know that even now you are here.

I begin feeling cold and decide to get up and put an extra blanket over my Dad who now lay unconscious for three days. Getting up I hear a loud crunching sound. It’s my knee. On the metal guardrail, along side my father’s bed, hangs his old wooden cane. I reach out, take it, and for the next month limp exactly as my father had in the last month of his life.

Emotionally depleted, it was nigh impossible to find my inner structural support. With each passing month my body aged a year. My weakened, painful knee set my body askew and it was not long before my hip and lower back followed suit. I was a mess.

I decided I needed to get help. I made an appointment to have ten Structural Integration sessions, treatments based on the work of Ida Rolf. And wouldn’t you know it, it was just what I needed! It was as if old injuries from gymnastic falls and car accidents were letting me go. I was regaining my inner structural support and becoming comfortable again.

My knee was still unstable. After having practiced Tai Chi every day for 40 years, I woke up one morning and knew I had to see what would happen if I simply stopped doing Tai Chi. And wouldn’t you know it, my knee got better and better with each passing week!

The walls just keep coming down for me. Maybe that is why the second half of my life feels so light, so free. I don’t have any need for walls these days. If I don’t know what is right how can I be wrong? If I don’t have anything to prove who can argue with me? If I have nothing to defend what can I lose? And if I am for everyone where is my enemy?

John Tuite, a dear friend of mine, sent me a photo. It’s a photo of an art installation by Jorge Mendez Blake entitled, A Single Book Disrupts the Foundation of a Brick Wall.

This is my hope. May my little book do its little bit to help bring down walls between the various Alexander lineages. May it make a small contribution to bringing down walls between somatic disciplines. May assumptions, prejudices and false notions become dislodged. May grudges and gossip fall by the wayside. May nothing stand between us.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.”

 Robert Frost

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 Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart

by Bruce Fertman

USA – ANNUAL ALEXANDER ALLIANCE INTERNATIONAL SUMMER RETREAT

Robyn Avalon is, no doubt, one of the most remarkable teachers I’ve had the pleasure to know and learn from. Though once a student of mine, some 30 years ago, Robyn now serves as the co-director of the Alexander Alliance International as well as being the director of her own training program, based in Portland, Oregon. Her school is an Alexander Alliance affiliated school and is called the  Contemporary Alexander School, CAS.

Here in this beautiful documentary, (now about 10 years old), you get a glimpse of Robyn’s indelible spirit, of her joy and exuberance for Alexander’s work. She is unabashedly unconventional while at the same time committed to imparting the essence of Alexander’s work to her students. She is at once lighthearted and serious, spontaneous and disciplined, expansive and grounded.

You also get to feel how Robyn, Sakiko, Midori and I work in concert, all of us directors of Alexander Alliance affiliated schools.

This year, because of the Alexander Congress taking place in Chicago, we will not be hosting our Annual Alexander Alliance Summer Retreat, but will again in 2019. If you would like to know more write to Robyn at robyn@contemporaryalexander.com

Enjoy this video. It’s wonderful. Don’t be fooled by the cover photo. Must see if I can figure out how to change that!

The Voice Of The World (A revision of Singing In the Rain)

I remember a class I took with Marjory Barlow in 1988. She was explaining how at first you give these words, these phrases to your student knowing they will have little or no idea of what you are talking about. But then, gradually, through the subtle and clear use of your hands you give your student an experience of what those words and phrases actually mean. The student mentally and physically couples them together and voilà, when she or he thinks the words, without having to really do anything, the words themselves trigger an effortless response, a response that comes to feel almost reflex-like, a response that is at once supportive, organizing and liberating. It just happens, like typing in a domain name of where you want to go, clicking on search and, presto, there it is, and there you are.

It’s ingenious really, and effective. As one continues to study with teachers, and on one’s own, which is essential, this kinesthetic coupling of the words with this effortlessly revitalizing reflex-like response becomes ever more wedded, ever more precise and powerful, which is why having hands on work through one’s whole life is a good idea, which is why being part of an Alexander community is such a good idea, which is what I have chosen to do, which has been a blessing beyond words.

Alexander referred to these words, these phrases, as directions. He writes, direction is…”the process involved in projecting messages from the brain to the mechanisms and in conducting the energy necessary to the use of those mechanism.”  By mechanisms I assume Alexander is referring to this ever so delicate but dynamic reorganization of the head in relation to the neck, and of the head and neck’s relationship to the entire torso, and of the head, neck, and torso’s relationship, as a flexibly working unit, to the arms and legs.

If you are an Alexander teacher or a long term student of Alexander’s work all of this is old hat. Sorry, but I am going somewhere and need to begin at the beginning.

Now these words are a shorthand, an abbreviation for a complex psychophysical happening within us, and yet they they still strike me as a bit long and cumbersome. Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other. And then there are secondary directions that speak to the limbs as well, to the heels, knees and hips and to the elbows, wrists, and fingers, and to the tongue, (which I see as limb-like; think of a frog.)

It takes a bit of time to stream through these directions, especially at first. When we get proficient, perhaps just a few seconds. Marj Barstow, one of my mentors, once said to a student who was belaboring the process, “I wish I could say all these words to you at the same time, instead of one after the other.” Marj understood that this sequence of instructions had to be played more like a fluid arpeggio on a guitar rather than a separate collection of notes.

The very same day I had a class with Marjory Barlow I also had a class with Wilford Barlow. I loved watching and listening to them both. Wilford deferred to his wife saying, “Now this is just my idea. If you want to know how it really works, ask Marjory.” But I loved Wilford’s ideas, and his hands too. He said something like, (it was long ago), “After a time the words are not always necessary. The change we want can come about without them.” I wasn’t sure but my guess was that after we had for many years used our conscious mind, and with it language to reeducate our kinesthesia we could come to trust it more and more and simply let it work for us. Perhaps our kinesthesia is like a child who for many years needs guidance, but then gradually grows up into a capable and responsible adult who no longer needs looking after all the time.

Years have flown by since then, 30 years to be exact. I’ve had some time to think about this on my own, and so now I will share with you my thoughts on the matter.

Let’s imagine you are on the road, traveling in some foreign country. A cold snap blows in unexpectedly. You decide to buy a scarf and a pair of gloves. You find something you like, a bit expensive and so decide to charge it on your credit card. You open your wallet and notice your Discover card is missing. You pick up your phone and know their phone number because their phone number happens to spell DISCOVER. So instead of having to remember 8 numbers in sequence, you only have to remember one word.

What if I could find one word that could contain for me the full sequence of directions. I decided on the word ‘One’. ‘One’ would now mean for me Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other. The word ‘One’ would now be the verbal trigger for my entire Primary Pattern. After all, the word ‘One’ is in essence just a sound, a sound English speaking people decide means the number between 0 and 2. It is just a sound. The meaning is not inherent to the sound. English speaking people collectively agree on what that sound means. A person for whom English is a second language at some point had to learn what that sound meant. At first, in their mind, they may have said to themselves what it meant in their own language, but over time they no longer had to do that. At some point the word One, the sound One immediately meant to them the number between 0 and 2.

So, I thought, why could I not change the meaning of the sound ‘One’ and have it mean what I wanted it to mean? If for me the sound ‘One’ was coupled with Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other, and if that phrase was kinesthetically coupled with this effortlessly revitalizing reflex-like response, then all three of them were now coupled, like links of a fence.

I played with using the word ‘One’ as my condensed Alexander direction. I liked how fast it was. I liked that it was less wordy. Yes it lacked a bit of the specificity that Alexander’s words had for me. But with practice I got pretty good at it.

Then the thought occurred to me that I didn’t have to use a word at all. That I could just use a sound, given that, in essence, a word is just a sound. I came up with the sound, Paaaah. This worked much better than the word ‘One’. It had something to do with the fact that it had no meaning to begin with and so I had not to de-couple any meaning from the sound. The sound was soft and expansive and seemed never ending. I also had associations with the sound, one being Alexander’s whispered Ah, and the other being the sound Kyudoists, (Zen Archers) use to refer to the moment when the arrow is released from the bow. Paaaah. I didn’t lose much specificity when using the sound Paaaah. It was indeed a better container for Alexander’s directions, at least for me.

I will, however, never throw out Alexander’s directions. They are for me like some song from another era that I still love singing. Those words still move me.

More years went by. I was in Tokyo standing at one of these interminably long red lights. I was end-gaining. I wanted to go but the red light was telling me to stay put. “That’s its collective meaning virtually all over the world, even though it’s a color, not a word, and not a sound. It’s also an object. Gee, I thought, we can pretty much make anything mean anything. It is totally up to us!”

I decided it would probably be a good idea to continue letting the red stop signal mean stop. But I decided that instead of it meaning stop on a superficial level, I decided that it meant stop on a deep level, that it meant to stop everything within myself, to completely stop any unnecessary holding within myself, to completely stop waiting, to enter into a condition of profound Alexandrian inhibition.

There I was at this infinitely long red light in a state of radical non-end-gaining, wide awake, vividly aware of everything around me. When the light turned green and everyone began walking across the street, I didn’t want to go. I was so happy exactly where I was, but then I thought, “better to follow the simple directions”, and so I crossed the street as I had never crossed a street before, as if I were singing in the rain, without the rain.

And then the revelation came. What if instead of using an internal trigger, i.e., Alexander’s words, words that were being produced from inside my mind, what if I projected my mind onto the world around me? What if I had the world speak to me from the outside in, instead of me speaking to me from the inside out? Instead of my mind being inside my body, what if my body was inside of a big, benevolent mind? It was entirely up to me to decide what any word, sound, object or creature meant to me, so what would happen if suddenly everything, absolutely everything  was saying to me, directly, wordlessly, Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other?

Ah, so that was what Gary Snyder meant when he wrote, “The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us.” I got it!

Could it be this simple? Could anyone do it? Not really. First it would be necessary to have learned how to couple Alexander’s Primary Movement to some trigger, and perhaps Alexander’s words were the perfect first trigger because they are so specific and clear.

Again, I returned to my new insight.

What if I decided that everything, utterly everything in the world said to me, “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me. Let your neck be free so that your head can go forward and up so that your back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other.” 

The Voice of the World. The silent, wordless voice of the world saying to me, “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me.” 

Suddenly no words were needed at all. It was as if every object, my coffee cup, my keyboard, my computer screen, the flowers by the chair, the sound of the heater were all saying to me, directly, immediately, wordlessly, just through their sheer existence, “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me. Everything was somehow kinesthetically coupled to my Primary Movement.

What if every person, especially people I struggled with meant “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me.

No longer was there me trying to speak to me from somewhere inside of my body. The entire world and everything and everyone in it was now freeing me, directing me, opening me, awakening me. The Voice of the World was speaking to me and I was listening. Not only was I listening, I was following its direction, taking its good and loving advice.

Why not free myself in relation to everything and everyone?

That must of been it, the meaning of the Flower Sermon given by the Buddha. Sakyamuni gives a wordless sermon to his sangha. He holds up a white flower. No one understands it’s meaning except Mahakasyapa, who smiles.

That simple flower, and the meaning we bestow upon it speaks to us, in silence, inviting us back to who we are.

 

Bruce Fertman

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart