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A Reading: The Lost Procedure – The Gift of Rotation and Spiraling In Walking

“So we saunter toward the Holy Land,

till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done,

shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts,

and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light,

as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.”  

Henry David Thoreau

Walking

08 Swing and Sweep_1 copy (2)

Photo: B. Fertman – Trevi Fountain

 

A Reading by Jenny Quick

Text

LifeWork – Taking the Principles beyond the Procedures – Post Graduate Workshop For Alexander Teachers – Led by Robyn Avalon – Sunday, October 14, 2018 – Zurich

This Post Graduate Alexander Workshop offers tools for teaching Alexander’s Principles inside the reality of people’s everyday lives. It is open to Teacher’s from all styles.

Make the Work more accessible and valuable in people’s lives. Students come with real life, complicated situations – deadlines to meet, non-optimal work or home environments, physical and emotional challenges, and more. You come with the ‘means whereby’ through which they can make a change in their use, their thinking, their lives.

Meet your students halfway. Help your students transition from ‘chair work’ to a pressing situation, like working on a deadline with an overbearing boss. Help them access their ease and artistry, not only within an Alexandrian procedure, but also while playing their instrument in an audition.

 

Take the Principles beyond the Procedures.

This is its own sophisticated and unique study. It requires new and different skills, in addition to drawing upon your deep understanding, clear observations and skillful hands.

In this workshop we will:

  • Learn skills for re-creating their actual environment and teaching within that structure.
  • Learn how to use your hands through all areas of the body to access their fundamental ease and coordination.
  • Learn varied styles of teaching in activities.
  • Learn how to realize the ‘critical moment’ where they know they can access a new choice.

Being able to offer a student the tools to make a conscious new choice inside of their personal and professional life situations literally and figuratively brings the Work to life! Students experience the Work as timely and important. It energizes them and fills them with a desire to study.

We know what we have is priceless, and life-altering. Learn how to let them experience this directly.

About Robyn

Robyn has been a student of FM Alexander’s Work for over 40 years. She is the Founding Director of the Contemporary Alexander School, the USA branch of Alexander Alliance International (AAI), offering Alexander Technique Teacher Training in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Portland, Oregon, as well as being on the Core Faculty of the AAI German and Japan schools since their inception.

In addition to training teachers, Robyn travels the world offering beginner through post-graduate workshops in a contemporary presentation of Alexander’s Principles. Robyn enjoys the direct application of the Principles of the Work into people’s real lives, working with people while they do whatever they do. Whenever possible, she likes to travel to where people work and play, which has provided decades of rich and colorful teaching experiences: on a snowy mountain top with skiers, at a symphony rehearsal, at a dentist’s side, in a potter’s studio, on a football field, in a professional kitchen, at a horse arena, in a meditation retreat, on the Pilates Reformer, in a training for cardiac surgeons, rock climbing in the NM mountains, at the circus, and more.

Robyn is the creator of Living in a Body™: The Quintessential Owner’s Guide to Natural Movement, a body mapping professional certification course offered worldwide as well as a series of post-graduate workshops called Ways of Knowing, which provide tools for accessing and incorporating intuition and imagination in the educational process.

Robyn has an extensive background in professional theater and dance, which she brings to her teaching. Her private practice incorporates a unique blend of Contemporary Alexander, Cranial Sacral, Visceral Unwinding, Deep Imagery, Matrix Energetics®, and a life-long study of varied intuitive skills, to create a unique somatic experience. She enjoys teaching the very young and the very old, the absolute beginners and the masters, and everyone in between.

Workshop Details

Open to Alexander Teachers from all styles. Limited number of participants.

Date: 14.10.2018, 10am – 6pm

Location: Zurich (close to stop «Zürich,Kalkbreite/Bhf.Wiedikon»)

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

Workshop language: English (translation to German possible)

 Individual lessons (CHF 110,-/45ˈ) can be arranged on Thursday, 27.09., Friday 28.09. and Monday 15.10.

Organizer and assistant teacher: Magdalena Gassner

For more information and to register call +41 (0)77 475 50 27 or write to m.gassner@alexanderalliance.de

To learn more about Robyn Avalon and the Alexander Alliance Europe:

www.contemporaryalexander.com

robyn@contemporaryalexander.com

www.alexanderalliance.org

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Thinking Body, Moving Mind – An Introduction to the Work of FM Alexander – Led by Robyn Avalon -Saturday, October 13, 2018 – Zurich

Alexander Work is the study of the quality of your life.

It teaches you how to make profound, conscious, life-altering choices – beyond rules or expectations, beyond both habit and knowledge.

Imagine being able to access both your body’s innate intelligence and your mind’s ability to make new choices, to form a personal tool for creating the quality of life you choose.

Part consciousness & part innate coordination.

Whether you consider yourself a ‘thinker’ or a ‘mover’, or both, Alexander Work provides simple, effective tools for noticing and changing your habitual ways of being in the world – in your job, your family, and your Self.

• Learn to transform excess tension into useful energy.

• Learn to recognize the beliefs that you are literally ‘wearing’ from your past and replace them to fit who you choose to be now.

• Learn to alter habitual responses and behaviors into appropriate reactions.

Alexander Technique, the ‘Work’ based on the principles of F.M. Alexander, is a practical, hands-on study of the principles of coordination, movement, habit, and awareness, which teaches you how to release pain and tension, rediscover excellence, ease, strength, flexibility, grace, and joy, and realize conscious choice in every activity of life.

It is a quintessential tool for living with conscious vitality in today’s world.

This one day workshop is open to all – every body and every mind. You will find something for yourself, whether you are completely new to the Work or a lifelong student of it.

About Robyn

Robyn has been a student of FM Alexander’s Work for over 40 years. She is the Founding Director of the Contemporary Alexander School, the USA branch of Alexander Alliance International (AAI), offering Alexander Technique Teacher Training in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Portland, Oregon, as well as being on the Core Faculty of the AAI German and Japan schools since their inception. In the summers she is on the faculty of the renowned Meadowmount School of Music. In addition to training teachers, Robyn travels the world offering beginner through post-graduate workshops in a contemporary presentation of Alexander’s Principles.

In addition to Alexander Workshops, Robyn offers workshops and trainings that support educators in all fields. She is the creator of Living in a Body™: The Quintessential Owner’s Guide to Natural Movement. This body mapping professional certification course is offered worldwide, with translations available in English, Japanese, German and French. She also offers an ongoing series of post-graduate workshops, Ways of Knowing, which provide tools for accessing and incorporating intuition and imagination in the educational process.

Robyn especially enjoys bringing Alexander’s Work to a wide range of people. With her own extensive background in professional theater and dance, Robyn is most at home when offering the Work to many of the world’s leading orchestras, chamber ensembles, dance, theater, and opera companies, and circuses. But she is equally comfortable teaching in an Olympic equestrian arena, for the Ladies PGA, or at a meeting of the world’s top cardiac surgeons. Her private practice incorporates a unique blend of Contemporary Alexander, Cranial Sacral, Visceral Unwinding, Deep Imagery, Matrix Energetics®, and a life-long study of varied intuitive skills, to create a unique somatic experience. She enjoys teaching the very young and the very old, the absolute beginners and the masters, and everyone in between.

 Workshop Details

No prior experience necessary. People of all ages welcome. Limited participants.

Date: 13.10.2018, 10am – 6pm

Location: Zurich (close to stop «Zürich,Kalkbreite/Bhf.Wiedikon»)

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

Workshop language: English (translation to German possible)

Individual lessons (CHF 110.-/45ˈ) can be arranged on Thursday, 27.09., Friday 28.09. and Monday 15.10.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Organizer and assistant teacher: Magdalena Gassner

For more information and to register call +41 (0)77 475 50 27 or write to m.gassner@alexanderalliance.de

To learn more about Robyn and the Alexander Alliance Europe:

www.contemporaryalexander.com

robyn@contemporaryalexander.com

www.alexanderalliance.org

The Lost Procedure

“So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.”  

Henry David Thoreau – Walking

Marjorie Barstow 1976

Perhaps not lost, not to all but, I fear, to some. It may not be getting the attention it deserves. Few teachers are as confident and accomplished at teaching walking, as a procedure, as they are in teaching chair work or lying down work as a procedure. Marjorie Barstow, one of my mentors, loved this procedure. She took people as much from standing into walking, as most teachers today take people from standing into sitting. And so do I. I like walking because it is the only procedure that clearly incorporates rotational and spiraling motions. Lunge, monkey, and hands over back of the chair, as wonderful as they are, can have the inadvertent side effect of training a person not to rotate or spiral when rotational and spiraling motions are called for, as they are in walking. This creates what I refer to as Alexandrian Artifice, unnaturalness, the exact opposite of what we want, which is naturalness. As we know, stiffness, that is, a certain held stillness, a slightly stayed quality like a beautiful white shirt, over starched and thus uncomfortable can pervade our work. When a person learns to walk well, this insidious artificiality gives way to fluid, powerful motion.

To learn how to walk well requires a working knowledge of the ‘motions of mechanical advantage.’  Here I will list, not all, but some of these motions of mechanical advantage as they apply to walking. I teach them ‘one after the other’ though, of course, the goal is that in the end they are all happening simultaneously, ‘altogether’. We learn them as notes, but ultimately they become chords. We also learn these motions of mechanical advantage from the bottom up and not from the top down. It’s easier this way.

Remember, it is not necessary to ‘do’ anything with force. All that is necessary is to perceive the truth of your anatomical design and what is happening, as it is happening. It is the truth that sets us free, effortlessly. That’s grace.

One. Our feet must learn how to give themselves to the ground. Alexander writes about this clearly in Evolution of a Technique. Most people stand on their own two feet, not on the ground. The way we give our feet to the ground is by allowing our ankles to be loose. In Japanese we call the ankle, Ashikubi, which literally translates, ‘the neck of the foot’.  Once the ankles are loose and free, the back foot, the foot behind us when we are walking, be it our left or right foot, will have a slight tendency to linger in the back. Just perceive it, sense it, and allow this slight lingering to happen. Don’t do it. (A ‘footnote’: remember that the structure of our feet, including the bottom of our feet, are entirely above the ground. Remember that our feet are not like the sole of a shoe. Our feet are more like hiking boots. They have verticality, are also vertical structures, part of our vertical height.) The heels of our feet are low and behind our ankles, and our ankles are forward of our heels and higher than our heels. We don’t stand ‘on’ our own two feet. The ground rises up under our feet and stands us up.

Two. In the Alexander Alliance we teach about the workings of the pelvis, at first, in a simple but very effective way. We teach our students about the “Three Tails,” dog tail, duck tail, and dinosaur tail, as conceived by Robyn Avalon. We have people imagine that they are a dog that did something bad and that their master is scolding them. We get them to put their imaginary tail between their back legs and tuck their pelvis’s under in shame, and then walk around. Then we ask them to keep their dog tails and raise their arms, and then to take a deep breath, and no one can lift their arms over their heads, and no one can take a deep breath. (Try it now.) So we know a dog tail will not help us walk well. But many of us have a bit of a dog tail, and even a little bit of dog tail affects our arms and how we breathe; it  affects everything really. Then we teach duck tail. We have everyone lift their gorgeous tails way up high. Everyone’s chest automatically sticks way out, their necks over straighten, their knees lock back, and again, when asked to raise their arms and then to take a deep breath both again are impaired. So we know that a duck tail does not help us walk. Even a very slight duck tail hampers the freedom of the entire body. Finally, we teach something that is not a dog tail and not a duck tail. It’s a dinosaur tail. A dinosaur tail is huge, grows out of our sacrum and curves behind us down to the ground, where it rests substantially, but lightly and happily. We then walk imagining our dinosaur tail naturally swinging from side to side. We don’t make the dinosaur tail do anything. We just imagine it swinging happily. We want the mind moving the body, not the muscles moving the muscles.

Now we go back to one, get the ankles loose and the feet lingering behind us, add the huge dinosaur tail image, and right away, there will most likely be a lively power coming into our walk. The ground and pelvis are sources of great power.

Three. It is important simply to notice where body parts are, one in relation to the other. We can never figure out where a part of the body is in isolation. We can only know where something is in relation to where something else is. Can you imagine wanting to find Paris and you look at your GPS and there is only one big point on the screen that says Paris? Locating our greater trochanters in relation to our hip joints, what I call our ‘hip pockets’ is important. Sense how much distance there is from greater trochanter to greater trochanter. Then notice where your hip pockets are, how close they are one to the other. Notice how the hip pockets are quite close to the midline, while your greater trochanters are located far out on the periphery of your body. While walking let your knees fall under your hip pockets. This will simply happen, if you let it, because the angle of the femur from the greater trochanter falls diagonally inwards toward the midline of your body, exactly where the knees want to be. Your knees exist close to the midline as do your ankles and your feet, and your spine too. Sense the truth of that.

Add this relational awareness of your wide greater trochanters in relation to what exists and moves close to your midline, i.e., hip joints, knees, ankles, feet, and spine as you allow your ankles to be loose, your feet to linger behind you, and your imaginary dinosaur tail to swing happily, altogether, one after the other. That is, altogetheroneaftertheother. I wish I could say all of those words simultaneously, but I can’t.

One, ankles/feet, two, dinosaur tail, three wide pelvis/ midline joints altogetheroneaftertheother.

Four. It is important to know how huge our rib structure is, how low it is, and how surprisingly high it goes. It’s important to understand how the rib rings become smaller and smaller as they get higher and higher, the top rib ring living just under the clavicles and rising above the clavicles in the back where it inserts into their costovertebral joints. Imagine two people climbing up the sides of your rib structure, your rib ladders. As they get higher and higher, imagine the climbers getting closer and closer together. Imagine them climbing all the way up onto the top rib ring behind the clavicles, and making their way up to where the top ring ribs insert into their costovertebral joints.

One, ankles/feet. Two, dinosaur tail. Three, wide pelvis/midline joints, Four, rib climbers, altogetheroneaftertheother.

Five. Our arm structure, (we don’t have two arms, we have one arm structure), which includes our clavicles and our scapulae hovers above our upper ring rib and is a large, wide structure in relation to our uppermost ring rib, which is small and close to our midline. Shoulders are wide just as greater trochanters are wide. The power of the dinosaur tail sends the pelvis swinging in such a way, (in such a way means in a way too subtle to describe), that sends a rotational spiraling action up the spine, which in turns swings the arm structure, allowing for oppositional motion in walking. It does not help to have dead, hanging, ropey arms. Play with making ‘finger rings’, touching the tip of your index fingers or middle fingers to the tip of your thumbs, creating a slight suspension and circular curving of the arm structure.

One, two, three, four, five, altogetheroneaftertheother. You should now be in ‘four wheel drive’, walking with ease and power.

Six. And of course, for good measure, we invoke within us ‘the true primary movement in each and every act.’  Aristotle speaks of, (I wonder, did F.M. read Aristotle?), the Prime Mover, the Unmoved Mover, a concept which means, ‘that which moves without being moved’ or, the ‘mover of all motion in the universe’. In Metaphysics Aristotle envisions the Unmoved Mover as perfectly beautiful and indivisible.

And so we invoke via our Alexandrian invocation, verbally or non-verbally, out loud or in silence, Let my neck be free, to allow my head to go forward and up, to allow my whole back from head to heel to lengthen and widen, altogetheroneaftertheother, (or whatever slight variation you like), and miraculously all the mechanical parts of the walk transform themselves into one organically logical living whole, at once functional, fluid, natural, beautiful, peaceful and powerful.

Flare your nostrils a few times, feel the coolness of the air as it rises up through your nasal passages. Let the Unmoved Mover breathe you and move you.

One, two, three, four, five, six, altogetheroneaftertheother.

The lost procedure, rediscovered anew.

Seven. All that is left is to see, not only through your eyes, but from your beating heart. Let the world, in all of its glory, enter and fill you.

Say thank you to the forces that be for granting you the ability to walk.

And mean it.

There is more to say about walking and, there is nothing more you need to know.

Gratitude is the ultimate freeing force.

 

Note: Consider recording this essay on your smartphone and listening to it as you take a half hour walk. Pause it when needed. See what happens. When you return home, sit down at your computer and write me a letter telling me of your experience. bf@brucefertman.com. I’d love to know. Thank you.

This Graceful, Practical Generosity Toward The Possible

Post-Congress Musings

In Honor of All Those Doing Their Best to

Train Future Generations of Alexander Teachers

 Part IV

Aszure Barton and Mikhail Baryshnikov – The Contemporary meets the Classical

 

Diversity Within Unity

 “…The orthodox presume to know, whereas the marginal person is trying to find out.

 …To accommodate the margin within the form, to allow the wilderness to thrive in domesticity, to accommodate diversity within unity – this graceful, practical generosity toward the possible and the unexpected… offers reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between rigidity and revolt.”

Wendell Berry from The Unsettling of America

The last paragraph is so beautiful and, I sense, so relevant to our Alexander community at large if we are ever to survive and thrive in society. I have to quote it again.

“…To accommodate the margin within the form, to allow the wilderness to thrive in domesticity, to accommodate diversity within unity – this graceful, practical generosity toward the possible and the unexpected… offers reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between… rigidity and revolt.”

Our Moment of Opportunity

This may be our “critical moment”. That term sometimes makes my students nervous. I choose more often to use the term, which I learned from Meade Andrews, “the moment of opportunity”.

There is no reason to be nervous. There is every reason to be positive and excited about this moment of opportunity now offered to us. Do we have the courage to embrace change, to let go into the unfamiliar, to open up and welcome the unknown, to try something new?

If we are to survive and thrive into the future I believe we need four radically different training structures. Right now we have one training structure that began in 1932 in England. It is still a good and worthy training structure for some trainers, in some countries. For people who wish to become Alexander teachers, this training structure is, for some, possible and wonderful. For others it is simply impossible. What happens to these people who want to become Alexander teachers but can’t due to the limited number of training structures that we as a community offer? Chances are they give up their dream and pursue another one, or perhaps they find a related discipline, like the Feldenkrais Method, which has flexible training models, and more likely one they can do. We then, as a community, lose a person who might have become a great Alexander teacher. I don’t want to even imagine how many great Alexander teachers we have lost over the last 50 years.

Another Time Tested Training Structure

There is another time tested structure of training that also has withstood the test of time, 36 years, that some people know of, but few know in detail, some not at all, and sadly some who harbor untrue ideas about this training structure that has, for a long time, been bringing about many accomplished Alexander teachers. Martha Hansen Fertman and I began experimenting with this model in 1982 in Philadelphia. At the same time, for some 13 years, we ran a parallel weekday structured program and so were able to conduct a longitudinal study, (the only one I know of), as to the pros and cons of these two training structures.

This model, which I refer to as a Retreat model of training, has evolved over the years. It’s gotten better. Here is its current form and the one we use to train teachers at the Alexander Alliance Germany.

In October, March, and July we conduct 9-day retreats.

(165 hours per year).

In between we conduct 3-day weekend retreats.

(90 hours per year).

In April we conduct a 4-day retreat.

(28 hours per year).

Twice a month there is a study group where trainees meet and work with graduates.This right now is a pilot study and so is optional, but most are participating, and so may soon be required. Those not near a group have formed a Skype group. This is important work, not only for the trainees but for our graduates as well because for our graduates it is post graduate training.

(40 hours per year).

Every trainee has a Personal Project that must be presented prior to graduation. (To be honest, I am not sure how much time trainees put into their projects. It varies. This is my guess as to the average number of hours.)

(20 hours per year).

Trainees are required to attend at least one intro workshop a year, and when ready to assist at one workshop a year. For us we consider being able to give an introductory workshop an Alexandrian Procedure!

(12 hours per year.)

Trainees attend a 5th year intern retreat. Here graduates assist a training retreat as supporting teachers.

(55 hours in the 5th year.)

Trainees attend at least one Alexander Alliance International Retreat in another country other than their own. This is optional but almost everyone does this at least once, and some do this every year. We are an intergeneration, multi-cultural, international community/school, so visiting other Alliance schools is part of who we are.

(55 hours).

Of course, everyday trainees are expected to work on their own self-study etudes, given to them by the faculty to explore. We find that trainees have to learn how to study on their own, and so we help them learn how to do this.

This comes to 355 hours of training per year. Adding the 55 hour intern retreat in the 5th year of their training, plus one 55 hour Alexander Alliance International Retreat outside their home country brings the total number of training hours to 1530 hours over a 4+ year period of training.

The Retreat model of training is a great model of training for numerous reasons.

*It gives people for whom a Weekday training model is simply impossible, people who very much love the work and wish to become teachers, a way to become an Alexander teacher.

But there is much, much more as to why people love this model of training.

*We rent a gorgeous retreat center with great food and accommodations and beautiful teaching spaces.

*Everyone gets to leave home and stop working and enter a, I dare say, sacred time when, morning till night their mind, heart, body and soul are devoted to studying Alexander’s work among friends in a nurturing environment.

*A climate of festivity and contemplation fills the air. There is time to be together in fellowship and time for solitude as well, which is so essential for internalizing the work.

*Graduates are welcome to join us free of charge. They become, essentially, lifetime members of our community/school. Some graduates have been returning to the school for over 20 years. This builds community, helps the trainees tremendously, and of course helps our graduates to become the best teachers they can be.

When Martha and I began this training structure we had no idea if it would work. But our intuition told us it would, and we were right. Because we were long-term apprentices of Marjorie Barstow we did not feel obliged to adhere to any particular model of training and felt free, as the educators we were, and are, to experiment. Martha had her Doctorate of Education and I had my Masters of Education and both of us had begun teaching movement when we were eleven years old.

Society has deemed this model worthy and effective and has endorsed it by keeping it alive and healthy for 36 years. We were able to train numerous music, theatre, and dance professors who, without our Retreat training model, would never have become Alexander teachers. Many of them have gone on to be of service to the Alexander community at large, both as members of STAT, ATI, and as organizers of and teachers for our international congresses.

My experience tells me it is possible to design and implement a Retreat model training program that is extensive, intensive, joyful, and effective. This model may be better for certain training directors and/or may work better in certain countries, under certain conditions. It works perfectly in Germany because of Germany’s enlightened extensive paid vacation program.

A Flexible Formula

There is a third model of training that, as yet, has not been tried, and I sense must be if we are to allow more people to become Alexander teachers. (It is one option for Robyn Avalon’s trainees). I call it the Immersion model. The Feldenkrais community has been very successful in finding flexible yet substantial training structures that allow people with varying life/work styles to train. Their flexible training structure also can adapt to different countries, to different social, cultural and economic conditions. They are far, far more successful than we have been in sharing their work with society. Here is their flexible formula:

“All training programs must have a minimum of 800 hours/40 days per year, 160 days over at least 36 months. Programs follow different formats ranging from weekend formats; to 4 two week segments a year; to 2 one month segments a year; to 40 days in a row. These are just some examples of formats.”

Here you can see they have both a Retreat model and an Immersion model. Of course our training is essentially twice as long. Still, we would do well to experiment with models such as these and see if they can work for us.

How will we ever know if we don’t try? What is the worst that can happen? We fail and learn? Is that so terrible? And what happens if it works?

“You can’t do something you don’t know, if you keep on doing what you do know.”

 Who said that? Einstein? Oh yes, I remember now, it was a guy by the name of F.M. Alexander! This was Einstein:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

 Let’s take Alexander’s and Einstein’s advice. Let’s begin thinking differently and do something we’ve never done before.

Brief Eternities

My training with Marjorie Barstow was an amalgamation of all of these models of training, plus one more, and for me, the most important one of all.

Marj’s month long summer events was an Immersion event. Four weeks, 6 days a week, 6 hours a day. For me it was 5 weeks because for many years I directed Marj’s summer events and had to arrive early to open up, and stay on to close up. This before and after time was an essential part of my training and I will say more about this soon. Marj’s winter events in Lincoln were 14 days long and would be what I would call a Retreat event.

When Marjorie came East for two weeks every Fall and Spring I would study with her and assist her up and down the east coast. Something almost magical happened in this time. I was not only studying, not only practicing, not only training. It was more than this. It was a living of the work through being with, through modeling, through absorption. It was what the Buddhists refer to as transmission.

This transmission happened during the times when Marj and I traveled together, in cars, in trains, in planes, when we took walks in Penns Woods in Philadelphia, or played horseshoes on her ranch, or when we went out for ice cream after a long weekend of teaching in Boston. So many meals together, so many discussions and lots of time just spent sitting quietly together. The best discussions took place after a workshop where I’d be there assisting her, after working in Washington D.C. with the National Symphony, with a junior high school choir, with a track team or sculling team, with theatre majors. Without notice individual lessons spontaneously arose when Marj was having trouble explaining something to me and felt the need to use her hands so that I could experience what she meant.

This is what I call the Apprenticeship model. Because of times like these, over many years, I simply internalized Marj. She lived within me, and she still does.

These are hours that cannot be counted. They are uncountable. Not all hours are equal. There is objective time and subjective time. Each hour of our lives has not the same duration. Some hours fly by unnoticed and unlived. Some hours last forever, and change our lives forever. Some hours are brief eternities. They cannot be measured or calculated, but they can be cherished.

Not Marjorie Barstow, but Marjory Barlow in An Examined Life writes, “… I do think the apprenticeship method of training has a lot going for it. After all, some of the greatest teachers learned that way …I have a preference for apprenticeship, and I would love to see it supported wherever possible…the problem isn’t the exact number of years and hours. It’s the quality of the trainers’ experience and devotion to the Technique, and the selection of trainees…”

Let’s Dance!

I am not sure but I suspect that those of us who teach through classical procedures may find that our weekday model of training works best, and maybe not. We will never know unless we experiment.

And perhaps those of us who train through contemporary procedures may find that Retreat, Immersion and Apprenticeship models work better, and maybe not. We will never know unless we experiment.

More and more of our teacher training programs are combining and integrating classical and contemporary procedures. It’s a bit like dance. There are classical ballet dancers who dance beautifully within their chosen style. And then there are contemporary dancers who dance beautifully through their chosen forms. Different forms appeal to different people, and people of different ages, and people from different cultures. And then there are many dancers who are trained in numerous styles and who integrate them beautifully. Think of Mikhail Baryshnikov who danced with American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet, but also with Twyla Tharp, Aszure Barton, and Gregory Hines.

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Twyla Tharp – The Classical meets the Contemporary

The truth we need to embrace, as a community, is that a great dancer is a great dancer no matter their form, and a great Alexander teacher is a great Alexander teacher, no matter their form. Being an Alexander teacher is an art, and art changes and expresses itself differently over time and across cultures.

And so should we.

“… this graceful, practical generosity toward the possible and the unexpected… offers reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between… rigidity and revolt.”

 This could be our moment of opportunity as a community at large, when the classical meets the contemporary. Do we have the courage to seize the moment, to embrace change, to let go into the unfamiliar, to open up and welcome the unknown, to try something new?

Watch Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines in White Nights. If they can do it, maybe we can too.

Let’s dance!

 

 

The Grandfather and His Four Grandchildren

Post-Congress Musings

In Honor of All Those Doing Their Best to

Train Future Generations of Alexander Teachers

Part III

Maybe I will figure this one out before I die. I hope so. I may be getting close. In fact, by writing this very essay I may find my way through to the answer.

Here’s the problem.

People want to join the Alexander Alliance Europe, our community/school, which promotes itself, though not exclusively, as a teacher training program in the Alexander Technique, which means we are responsible for training people who enter the school to become Alexander Technique teachers.

In our website we write:

Who We Are – We are an intergenerational, multi-cultural community / school dedicated to creating a safe and loving environment where, through Alexander’s work, people can learn how to become at once, relaxed and ready, soft and strong, light and substantial, stable and flexible, peaceful and lively, receptive and generous, awake to themselves, to others and to the world around them.

Our Mission – Our mission is to train skillful and compassionate Alexander teachers, which we have been doing ceaselessly and enjoyably for 35 years. Together we learn to free ourselves and our students from stasis, restriction, and fixation. We accompany our students into their fluidity, spaciousness and poise, while ensuring their feet rest comfortably upon common and solid ground. We awaken ourselves and our students to a sensory world full of simple pleasures. Our art is human touch, an inexhaustible resource for education, nurturance, and growth. Our job is to gently un-harness deep, naturally organized patterns of vitality within ourselves and our students. This groundswell of energy strengthens our will to live, love, learn, and work generously and freely.

But here is the rub. How can we know if someone has the ability to become an Alexander teacher? The answer to that question is easy. We can’t. At least I can’t. Do we just accept anyone? Yes, almost. I have seen people walk through our doors who I am quite sure will grow into good teachers, and for one reason or another, don’t. And I have seen people who I predict simply do not have the capacity to become Alexander teachers who become very good teachers. And so I accept anyone into our school who is socially mature, self-motivated, and who loves the Work.

So what happens when four years have flown by and it is time for a person to graduate and I feel, for one reason or another, that they do not have the skill to teach the Alexander Technique? And even more perplexing, what criteria do I establish for determining if someone is now ready and qualified to teach others about Alexander’s work? After all, I am the guy who signs their certificates, which read:

germany-certification1

For 35 years I have been pondering these questions. And now I am close, very close to the answer, not for the entire Alexander community, but for me and for our community/school. The answer is to be found in the word “impart”. Impart means to make known, to communicate, to pass on, to convey, transmit, spread, disclose, to reveal. It doesn’t say to teach. Hmm…

Okay, what are we responsible for imparting? What are the concepts my trainees must understand and which principles need they be able to impart, in some way, to others to merit graduating from the Alexander Alliance Europe?

Here are the basic concepts, which must be understood, and the basic principles, which, to a significant degree, must be embodied to graduate from the Alexander Alliance Europe:

One. Working with a person in their entirety, with body and being, with movement and meaning.

Two. Sensory Consciousness/Appreciation

Three. Use, Functioning, Structure, and Integration

Four. Alexandrian Inhibition, Directionality, and Primary Movement/Organization/Control.

Five. The Means Whereby/ Ends and Means.

Now, through what means do we as Alexander teachers impart these concepts and principles? We impart them through:

Being – how we are being within ourselves and with our students, physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. “The only thing you have to offer another being, ever, is your own state of being.” — Ram Dass

Observation – how we are perceiving ourselves and our students.

Language – how we listen and speak to our students.

Movement – how we move, act, and interact with our students.

Touch – how we physically touch our students.

Let’s put this together now, and in doing so we may just answer our original questions; What happens when four years have flown by and it is time for a person to graduate and I feel for one reason or another that they do not have the skill to teach the Alexander Technique? And even more perplexing, what criteria do I establish for determining if someone is now ready and qualified to teach others about Alexander’s work?

First, I realize that being able to teach the work to someone is one way of imparting the work, but that teaching is not the only way of imparting the work.

If teachers are to be able to impart the work to others via being, observation, language, movement, and touch, do they have to be accomplished at all of these means to be able to impart the work? Based upon my 35 years of training people the answer is, no.

Let me explain why. People enter our community/school with different inherent talents, with different acquired skills, at different ages, and with different life experience. Some are artists, some movers, some healers, and some seekers, or some combination thereof. To use Howard Gardener’s categories, some possess Linguistic Intelligence and are able to find the right words to express what they mean, some possess Logical-mathematical intelligence and are able to quantify things, make hypotheses and prove them, some possess Musical Intelligence and are able to discern sounds, pitch, tone, rhythm, and timbre, some possess Spatial Intelligence and have the ability to visualize the world in 3D, some possess Bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence and are able to coordinate their mind and heart with their body, some possess Interpersonal Intelligence and are able to sense people’s feelings and motives, some possess Intrapersonal Intelligence and have deep understanding of themselves in touch with what they feel and what they want, some possess Naturalist Intelligence and are able to understand living things and can “read” nature, and some possess Existential Intelligence and are able to contemplate questions like who we are, why we live, and why we die. I would add a category, Sensory Intelligence and include Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence within this larger category, thus allowing also for Tactual, Visual, Auditory, Olfactory and Gastronomical Intelligence.

So a student may enter the Alexander Alliance Europe with high bodily-kinesthetic, tactual, interpersonal and existential intelligence and pretty much sail through their training. They find themselves having to work hard to acquire the linguistic intelligence they need, but have enough going for them that makes them able to impart the work to others.

You may have another student who enters our community/school with very low bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, low tactual intelligence, but very high intrapersonal, linguistic and visual intelligence, and so if they become able to impart the work to others they will end up finding a very different way of doing so. They do their best to learn how to move well and develop good tactual skills and they make some progress, which proves very important for them personally, but they still fall well short of becoming a person with high kinesthetic and tactual skills.

So the question becomes, “Does this person have the capacity, in some way, to impart the work to others?”

If a man who graduates our school who takes care of his four grandchildren, and who possesses deep inhibitory power while with his grandchildren, and who is by his very being able to calm them down, and is able to create harmony among them, and if he developed these capacities through the course of his training, is he imparting the work to his grandchildren? I would say yes. I would say that counts. Big time. Is he teaching them? No. Is he modeling the work, embodying the work, passing on the work? I would say yes. Should this man who doesn’t move well, whose posture is not great, who hands are not great graduate? I would say yes.

New questions arise. Should we limit our work to that of a profession? Should we have vocational schools, teacher training programs, and/or should we have Life Schools and think of our work not only as a profession but as  ‘a Way’, as Aikido is a Way? Aikido literally means, the Way of Harmonizing Energy. Sounds familiar.

For me this is the difference between a Teacher Training Program and a Community/School. It comes down to how we define the word ‘vocation’. In the narrow definition of the word, it means an occupation, a trade, a profession, but in the broader sense of the word it means a calling, a mission, a path. A Way. A Way of Living.

I have chosen to create a Life School, a community/school. Perhaps I am not training teachers, but “imparters”. Maybe there is a difference. And maybe that difference makes all the difference. And maybe it is the answer to my question: What criteria do I establish for determining if someone is now ready and qualified to teach others about Alexander’s work? When I change the word teach to impart I believe I have criteria, valid criteria. Can that criteria be measured? Is there a test?

No, I don’t think so. But to witness over four years a students deepening, this maturing into the principles underlying Alexander’s work can be observed and felt by teachers who spend time with their students. A teacher ‘knows’ when their student is now living the work, the teacher knows when their student can impart the work through who they are, through how they are; they know it viscerally; they can feel it in their bones. It is not something that can be measured objectively, only subjectively. Some graduates will be able to impart the work through teaching and through who they are. Others perhaps only through who they are. The world needs both.

I am well aware this is not a popular point of view within our Alexander Community. For those who are fighting so admirably and intelligently to establish our work as a profession; I offer my apologies. I don’t mean to hamper your work.

What I do mean to do is to open a conversation amongst teacher trainers as to what we are really doing, how we want to do it, how we want to frame what we are doing, and on how we want to evaluate what we are doing. I don’t want to see Alexander schools closing. I want to see them full of students eager to learn, as my community/school has been for 35 years. I don’t want to see schools closing. I want to see them opening, and healthy. Opening up this conversation may help.

I welcome your feedback.

The Nine Peas of Progress

Post-Congress Musings

In Honor of All Those Doing Their Best to

Train Future Generations of Alexander Teachers

Part II

Green-peas-in-a-podThe Nine Peas of Progress

As a little girl my daughter loved peas. But she would not merely eat them. First she would arrange them on her plate in pattern after pattern. Then she would eat them, like a raccoon, slowly, one by one.

Why the letter P arose as my letter of alliteration in the attempt to organize my thoughts on how we can save our teacher training programs within our Alexander community from extinction, I do not know.

I do know that the mysterious symbol of the enneagram has on many occasions helped me to organize my thoughts on diverse subjects and difficult processes, and I will use it here as well.

Enneagram_Symbol_-_Simple.svg

My premise is that in order to survive, in order to get off of the endangered species list, we need to think outside the box, to become more creative, more experimental. Our professional societies play an important role but ultimately, it is society at large that gets the final vote; that runs the show. It is the public that ultimately assesses us, recognizes us, approves us, qualifies us and supports us. Or doesn’t.

The survival of our work rests squarely upon the shoulders of our directors of training. Because it is we who train the teachers and it is the teachers who disseminate the work. The buck stops with us. Alexander cannot save us. Our professional societies, as wonderful as they are, cannot save us. Our splendid Alexander Congresses cannot save us. It is up to the directors of training to figure out ways of being successful, of filling up their own schools.

Here are the nine Peas of Progress I think are worth thinking about slowly, thoroughly, and creatively if our training programs are to survive and thrive. They correspond to the points on the enneagram, which I will elaborate on in this hopefully helpful essay.

Point One – Principles

Point One is about principles, standards, dignity and decency. Actually, it is the only point that I feel must be common to all our training programs. In Body Learning, Michael Gelb succinctly articulates what every training program must address.

Use and Functioning

The Whole Person

Primary Control

Unreliable Sensory Appreciation

Inhibition

Direction

Means Whereby

Every training program must have high standards, whether they are the exact standards agreed upon by a professional society, or their own personal and professional standards. Directors, teachers, and trainees must do their best to honor, respect and act benevolently toward one another. Upon graduating new teachers must commit to doing so toward their students.

Point Two – Pedagogy

Point Two is about pedagogy, and love, and service. Pedagogy means to lead a child, that is, to guide a child, to raise up a child. Pedagogy, in my opinion should differ from school to school. Procedures are part of a teachers pedagogy. Which procedures teacher trainers choose to transmit Alexander’s principles through should be up them. How they integrate observation, language, movement and touch should be up to them. Alexander implored us, “Don’t teach how I teach; teach what you know.” Our trainees are not children, but in comparison to their teacher trainers, they are young to the work. They need to be raised up with the love and attention all children deserve.

Point Three – Profit

Point Three is about profit, about having the executive wherewithal to make a living. Many training programs are closing because they cannot make ends meet. Most people who begin training programs are not independently wealthy and need to earn a living. If they can’t, they have no other recourse than to close up shop. Point Three has to do with image, with appearance, with promotion, with being able to sell the work, make it attractive, relevant, appealing. This means beautiful, classy websites full of great images and contemporary language that speaks to people in their own language. It helps to know how to teach in groups and how to appeal to many different populations. Teacher trainers must possess some business acumen or get help from people who do. This may mean designing effective training structures that make it possible for more people to train, as so many universities have done by creating itinerant programs. How directors succeed in making a living should not be the same. Social, cultural, and economic factors must be taken into consideration, and respected.

Point Four – Profundity

Point Four is about profundity, about deep insight, about transformative experience, about getting to the source, to the core of the self. Has our profession reduced itself to the body, to posture, to movement? Is that what the public thinks our work is entirely about? Do they have any idea that our work is more about being than it is about the body, more about meaning than it is about movement, more about how it feels to be alive than about use and functioning, more about the quality of experience than about effectiveness and efficiency? Why are we afraid to speak publically about the spiritual depth of our work? Why are we selling ourselves and the work short?

Point Five – Philosophy

Point Five is about philosophy, and about the love of truth, whether we look for that truth through science, or psychology, or theology or art. We need to be able to think intelligently about the work and to be able to speak intelligently about the work. We have to be able to understand and speak about our work as a unique field of study, as Ted Dimon so eloquently does. We need to become physio-philosophers. We teacher trainers need to continue studying, questioning, learning, experimenting, and not just within our own discipline but across disciplines. David Moore is a good example.

Point Six – People

Point Six is about people and about community. Abraham Heschel writes, “To be is to be with people. Existence is co-existence.” People seek community, a place to belong. I cannot tell you how many Alexander teachers have told me how isolated they are as Alexander teachers. They have no web of support. They graduate and they are on their own. They sink or swim. There is no lifeguard, no buddy system. My experience tells me we need to create not only teacher training programs, but Alexander communities, communities that continue to support their graduates. We need Alexander refuges where teachers feel welcomed and supported, sanctuaries where they can be reinvigorated and re-inspired. What I see is that the schools that survive and thrive are most often the schools that are community/schools and not merely vocational schools.

Point Seven – Planning

Point Seven is about having a plan, a vision, not a narrow vision but an expansive vision, and a joyful vision. It’s about seeing possibilities. It’s about dreaming. And it is about having fun along the way, about not just studying and practicing the work, but celebrating the work. But it is also about planning out how to turn our visions into a reality. Point seven is also about communicating that vision to others. This requires, as Marjorie Barstow once told me, “a little bit of showmanship.” Directors need some charisma. Some pizzazz. They need to put themselves out there. It takes chutzpah. It takes courage, confidence, guts, but without it having a thriving school is hard to make happen.

Point Eight – Politics

Point Eight is about politics in the original sense of the word, about the city and citizenship, and about governance. We teacher trainers need to know how to govern, how to lead. We need the courage to use our peaceful power to serve others. Here is a piece I wrote, now long ago, that still rings true. This is my personal manifesto as a teacher and director of training.

A Teacher Who Doesn’t Teach

Many teachers teach what they know.
Teachers of the Way,
Teach what they do not know, and need to understand.

Some teachers think highly of themselves.
Teachers of the Way,
Think highly of their students.

Many teachers teach to their students.
Teachers of the Way
Study with their students.

Some teachers teach to be the center of attention.
Teachers of the Way
Teach centered in attention.

Many teachers teach to escape.
Teachers of the Way
Teach for entrance into existence.

Some teachers want to be worshipped.
Teachers of the Way
Teach as a way of worshiping.

Many teachers need to prove they are the best.
Teachers of the Way
Teach not needing to prove or reprove.
They approve.

Some teachers teach mainly for money.
Teachers of the Way
Freely choose what is required of them,
Doing so with gratitude and pleasure.

Many teachers teach to be seen as attractive.
Teachers of the Way
Teach because within everyone
There is beauty longing for itself.

Point Nine – Peace

Point Nine is about peace. Peace is the absence of war, but not only the absence of war. In times of peace resources become available for education, for science, for the arts, for social services, for infrastructure, and for recreation. A teacher trainer is responsible for creating a peaceful environment conducive for learning, for research, for contemplation, for fun, for creativity, for maturation and for fellowship.

There You Have It

There you have it, the nine peas of progress. Progress means to walk forward. If we are to walk forward with vitality into the future, as a community, if our teacher training programs are to survive and thrive, we teacher trainers need to rise up to our task, which is a formable one. We need to show up. Big time. Directing a successful school requires much more than a deep understanding of Alexander’s work and the ability to skillfully pass on that understanding. My 36 years of training teachers, of running a thriving community/school tells me that we must know how to create peace and kindness, we must know how to build community, and we must change with the times.

It is worth the effort. I know, because I have had the good fortune of having lived my entire adult life within a creative and caring Alexander community. Looking back, it has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.

May this blessing be bestowed upon us all. And in the meantime, let’s make it happen.