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PART II The Libyan Sybil – Revealing That Which Is Hidden

I am going to compare our Libyan Sybil to another figure, one of the Ignudo figures, one of the twenty naked, muscular figures on the Sistine Chapel. Let’s take a look.


What do you see?

Another androgynous person.

The ignudo is freaked out.


Dreading something.

Really sad.

Feeling hopeless.

Maybe he/she is hearing something scary, feels threatened, and wants to see what it is.

Images are like Rorschach tests. We project our inner life onto outer images. Why else would we all be interpreting what we see differently?

So what are the physical, the visual cues that tell you she’s feeling the way she’s feeling? What do you actually see?

Her eyes of way open, bugging out.

Her eyebrows and forehead are raised up.

Her mouth is open. Maybe she’s gasping for air.

Great. What else. (I say, what else, a lot.)

Her head is tilting back and jamming down into her spine.

Her right scapula looks like it’s bulging out and retracting in toward the mid-line and up a little.

Wow, you guys are getting good!

Now let’s compare the Ignudo to the Libyan Sybil.


The scapula’s moving down and out and around the ribs.

The spine looks long. The neck is not compressed or shortened.

The eyelids are lowered; forehead and eyebrows relaxed.

The mouth is closed.

The head, instead of tilting back, is tilting ever so slightly forward.

Yeah, instead of looking over the shoulder by flipping the head back, the Libyan Sybil is tilting the head forward and rotating around; two ways of looking over the shoulder, but they’re so completely opposite.

Go ahead. Try both ways and see if it changes how you feel emotionally. Do your best to do exactly what they are doing. And once you have them let yourself gently, slowly, softly transition between one and the other.

They get to work. I sit back and watch. Again, getting to know my students. Frank Ottiwell, a wise Alexander teacher I learned much from, once said to me, ‘Bruce, our job is not so much to help our students, but to get to know them.’

So what was that like?

It’s amazing. When I take on the Ignudo, I become scared. I start to panic. And when I become the Libyan Sybil, I grow calm, and I feel mature.

Many heads are nodding in agreement.

Now what Alexander discerned was that when this head poise is happening it has an organizing, integrative influence, a governing influence throughout the entire body/self. And when this head poise is disturbed, disturbance happens throughout the whole body/self.

So lets look one more time.

What do you see happening to the Ignudo figure’s body?


It looks really uncomfortable. The head is looking back to the right, but the right arm and upper torso is twisting to the left, and the pelvis is falling back and looks weak. His body looks stuck, disorganized, and confused.

His head is in front of his torso and his right arm too. And maybe that’s counterbalancing his torso falling back.

He looks really compressed in his chest and belly, and his mid-back looks like it’s pushing back with a lot of force.

When I look at him, I notice I’m holding my breath.

Why do you think I sometimes choose to teach people about the body through art instead of through strictly anatomical drawings?

Because they’re beautiful?

Because sometimes people get a little scared around pictures of skeletons?

For some people who are not academically oriented, it might feel like studying, like it’s going to be difficult, like there’s going to be a test.

They’re images of humans that are not alive, not whole, not living.

Yes. And because I want you, first, to see a person’s beauty. I haven’t seen a person who wasn’t beautiful in 35 years. And usually the more down and out, the more beautiful. And through that beauty I want you next to see a person’s humanity. And only then do I want you to drop down into the physical structure of a person.

Alexander’s work is not, as I understand it, primarily about how we use our bodies. It’s about how we are being in ourselves. So I want you to begin by seeing a person, how a person is, how a person is being, in their entirety. That’s what Michelangelo could do. Profoundly.

Perhaps now you may see why I fell in love with the Libyan Sybil, and why I chose her as our school logo.

It is said she has the power to “reveal that which is hidden.” Perhaps she ‘s turning toward us, opening the great book for us, and inviting us to read, and to learn.


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