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Posts from the ‘Alexander Alliance Japan’ Category

Etwas Leichtigkeit – Übersetzung: Matthias Liesenhoff

Herr Yamamoto hatte einen langen Tag.

Endlich am Ende angelangt, steigt er auf sein Fahrrad und schlängelt sich durch enge Straßen, gesäumt von alten, staubigen Läden und verwitterten Holzhäusern. Es ist Winter, 18:30 und bereits dunkel. Schwere weiße Schneeflocken fallen in Zeitlupe durch einen indigoblauen Himmel, so wie sie es in Kyoto seit 1400 Jahren tun.

Aus den Nebenstraßen des alten Kyoto taucht Herr Yamamoto auf wie in eine andere Welt; weite Straßen voller vertikaler Neonreklamen, große LED Werbeflächen, Hochhäuser von Finanzinstituten und teure Kaufhäuser. Er hält an vor einem 7-Eleven, schnappt sich ein Bento und eine Packung Butterkekse zum Teilen während der Pause, steigt wieder auf sein Fahrrad und bemerkt, dass er spät dran ist.

Herr Yamamoto ist ein 50-jähriger Mathelehrer an einer Oberschule, der vom Ruhestand träumt. In seiner verschlissenen Leder-Aktentasche, die nun scheinbar erschöpft in seinem Fahrradkorb ruht, sind die Klausuren seiner Schüler, die er später in der Nacht noch benoten wird, denn an diesem Abend wird er selbst an einem Unterricht teilnehmen, einer Klasse für sich selbst.

Herr Yamamoto hofft, mehr über seinen Körper zu lernen. Er möchte mehr Energie haben. Er möchte etwas Spaß haben, sich etwas Gutes tun. Der Empfehlung eines Freundes folgend, hat er sich gegen seine Vernunft angemeldet für eine Reihe von Stunden in Alexandertechnik.

Etwa zwölf Schüler haben sich versammelt, Männer und Frauen, alte und junge, größtenteils Menschen, die sich einfach lebendiger fühlen wollen, ein bisschen leichter, ein bisschen glücklicher.

An diesem Abend habe ich mit den Schülern gearbeitet an Tätigkeiten, die sie im Beruf ausführen müssen; an Dingen, die sie nicht gerne tun. Ich arbeitete mit einem Mann, der Telefonanrufe von verärgerten Kunden annimmt, die sich beschweren über das, was sie gerade kauften und es zurückgeben möchten. Ich arbeitete mit einer Frau, die auf Händen und Knien einen Holzboden schrubbt. Ich arbeitete mit einem Mann, der sich morgens als erstes von seinem Boss anschreien lassen muss.

Nun ist Herr Yamamoto an der Reihe. Er öffnet seine Aktentasche und lässt  den Stapel unbenoteter Klausuren herausgleiten. Er geht hinüber zu einem Schreibtisch in der Ecke, setzt sich hinter den Schreibtisch, wirft den Stapel Papiere auf den Tisch, zieht einen Bleistift aus seiner Hemdtasche, seufzt tief, und beginnt.

Ich schaue nur, fühle was er fühlt, spüre was geschieht durch meinen gesamten Körper, so wie ich seinen gesamten Körper betrachte. Unter dem Tisch sehe ich seine Füße und Beine einwärts gedreht, besonders sein linkes Bein. Sein Becken rollt zurück. Sein Magen ist eng. Seine Brust ist eingesunken. Sein Kopf sinkt und neigt sich nach links. Sein Körper sieht aus, als würde er weinen, aber Herr Yamamoto weint nicht. Dann sehe und fühle ich es: stumme, verzweifelte Resignation.

Herr Yamamoto kritzelt etwas auf die erste Klausur. „Wie hat Ihr Schüler abgeschnitten?“ frage ich. „D. Nicht gut.“ Herr Yamamoto macht weiter. C. D. C+. F. Er schüttelt seinen Kopf. Er altert vor meinen Augen.

„Herr Yamamoto (so nennt ihn jeder), wie wäre es, wenn ich Ihnen ein wenig helfe?“ „Onegaishimasu“ sagt er, sich leicht verbeugend. „Bitte helfen Sie mir.“ Ich gehe hinter ihn, lege sanft meine Hände an beide Seiten seines Nackens und führe sachte seinen Kopf zurück nach oben. Sein Körper steigt, wie ein Mann, der lange unter Wasser war und endlich hochkommt, um Luft zu holen. Seine Brust schwillt, sein ganzer Körper dehnt sich reflexartig in alle Richtungen. „Zen, zen chigau, waaaaa“ sagt Herr Yamamoto mit einem Ausdruck von Ekstase auf seinem Gesicht. Alle lachen. Ich kann fühlen, wie sehr alle ihn mögen.

„Okay, Herr Yamamoto, zensieren Sie weiter ihre Klausuren und wir schauen, was passiert.“

  1. Alle lächeln, bis auf Herrn Yamamoto. B+. Eeeeeeeeh!?, ein aufsteigender Klang, zu hören, wenn Japaner angenehm überrascht sind. Mehr Lächeln und etwas Lachen, aber nicht von Herrn Yamamoto.
  2. A. A+. A. Nun rollen sich alle buchstäblich vor unkontrollierbarem Lachen auf dem Boden. Es ist nicht zu unterdrücken. Herr Yamamoto jedoch bleibt still und ausdruckslos. Ich bin nicht sicher, was er fühlt. Ich tue mein Bestes, bei ihm zu bleiben, aber das ungezügelte Lachen im Raum ist zu ansteckend. Ich falle ein.

Und plötzlich lacht auch Herr Yamamoto. Er lacht so sehr, dass Tränen seine Wangen hinabrollen. „Vielleicht haben diese verrückten Buddhisten recht“, sagt Herr Yamamoto. „Vielleicht ist die Welt nichts als ein großer Spiegel.“

„Mit dieser Bemerkung lasst uns schließen.“ sage ich. Rasch setzen sich alle in einem Kreis auf den Boden, kniend in Seiza, und verbeugen sich tief. Immer noch von Ohr zu Ohr grinsend rufen wir laut „Domo arigato gosaimashita.“ Vielen, vielen Dank. Wir sind dankbar für das Zusammen­sein, dankbar für unser Lernen, dankbar für etwas Leichtigkeit in unserem Leben, dankbar für Herrn Yamamoto.

Herr Yamamoto wirft sich seinen Schal um den Hals, wirft seine Aktentasche in den Korb, und springt auf sein Fahrrad. Die frische Nachtluft füllt seine Lungen. Der Schnee sieht weißer aus. Er wirbelt; er fällt aufwärts.

 

Japanische Wörter und Phrasen

Bento: eine Sushi-Box zum Mitnehmen

7-Eleven: eine japanische Supermarktkette, geöffnet von 7 bis 23 Uhr

Domo arigato gosaimashita: vielen Dank

Onegaishimasu: bitte hilf mir, bitte nimm dich meiner an

Seiza: traditionelle und förmliche Sitzhaltung, auf dem Boden kniend, Beine eng gefaltet unter den Oberschenkeln, Po auf den Fersen

Zen chigau: völlig anders.

 

Original: Bruce Fertman, aus „Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart“ Seite 100, „A Little Lightness“

Übersetzung: Matthias Liesenhoff 2018-10-21

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!

 

 

Available Now – Bruce’s Book!

Another book on the Alexander Technique? Not really. Yes, secondarily it is a book about Alexander’s work as interpreted and expressed through me. In Part One I do lead people into Alexander’s work via different doors. We enter Alexander’s world through sport, ecology, anatomy, sensory life, social biology, theology, psychology, metaphysics, mysticism, and art.

But primarily Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart is a book about people, about liking people, listening to people, seeing people, nurturing people, talking to people and touching people. It’s about teaching without teaching. It’s about how create conducive conditions for learning from the inside out.

Elie Wiesel writes, ‘We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.’

Here I share with you universes and within them secrets, treasures, anguish, and triumphs.

In this book you will find a few of the most popular posts on this blog which, due to publishing rights and regulations, are no longer available on this blog.

For some of you this book will serve as an introduction to Alexander’s work. May it lead you to teachers who will accompany you along your way.

For those of you who have found your teachers, this book may motivate you to take the work ever more to heart, to delve into the depth and breadth of the work.

And for those of you who are Alexander trainees and fellow teachers, may this book embolden you to take the work beyond the body into the realm of being, and beyond movement into the world of meaning.

 

May this book remind you of all that is worth loving inside the work of F. M. Alexander.

I hope you will read this book and then, please, write to me and tell me what it was like to read it, what if anything you learned or understood, how in any way, if in any way it shed light on your understanding of Alexander’s work, on being an Alexander teacher, or most importantly on what it means to be a human being living a life.

A very limited number of hardback editions are available.

For the next two weeks you can buy Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart at a discounted price at:

www.mouritz.co.uk

or you can get it from

amazon.co.uk

Thanks,

Bruce Fertman

 

 

EUROPE – The Alexander Alliance Europe Begins

Once, Paulus Berensohn, a famous American potter, former member of the Martha Graham Dance Company, and a student at the Alexander Alliance in the early ’80s, and I were driving into Center City Philadelphia to teach a Pottery and the Alexander Technique workshop together at Bread Street Studio. He had stopped teaching and dancing and was mostly caring for his mentor, M.C. Richards, author of Centering In Pottery, Poetry, and the Person, a bible at that time for many potters and dancers. To make a living he was painting houses.

“Paulus, but what about your career? I mean, you are an incredible potter and teacher. Why are you painting houses?” Paulus said, “I don’t have a career. I don’t work and I don’t take vacations. I am just a person living my life.”

Those few sentences, and the place from where Paulus said them, changed my life forever, which is to say Paulus changed my life forever. From that day forward I didn’t have a career, never worked, and never took a vacation. I became a person just living my life. I still am.

This new website, is thus not about my work or about my career. It’s about why and how I live my life. It’s a verbal and visual record reaching back into the 70’s when I first met Marjorie Barstow, first fell in love with Alexander’s work, first began making my way into the world as an Alexander teacher. This website that I love reaches forward into the future as well as I now set out to ensure the Alexander Alliance lives on beyond me, that it remains a place where other people who fall in love with Alexander’s work can go to immerse themselves in his work, a community where they can find others who feel as they do about Alexander’s work.

Hopefully, I will still be around for a while, but one never knows. It’s a bit like wanting to give your inheritance away to your family while you are still alive so you can watch them taking pleasure in it.

Our new website means a lot to me because:

One, it has photos of my mentors who I often miss and to whom I feel gratitude toward everyday. I can look at them whenever I need to.

Two, the website has photos of students I have worked with over the last 40 years, of teachers I’ve taught with side by side for 35 years. For me it’s a family album, and for current Alliance students it shows them their extended, worldwide family.

Three, the website takes a lifetime of attempts at explaining, in words, what Alexander’s work is and succeeds more than ever in conveying what Alexander’s work is about, without jargon, in clear and contemporary language. My hope is that my writing may be of some help to our Alexander community at large as it struggles to find words for something well beyond words.

Four, I believe, photographically, I have made some headway in creating a new and contemporary look for Alexander’s work, a look that is more natural, more dynamic, more beautiful, less mechanical, less postural, less stiff, less static, less artificial. More attractive.

Five, the website promotes and honors people I am immensely proud of; my faculty and my graduates.

Six, the website makes it really easy to find and watch videos and read essays that may help to generate interest in Alexander’s work.

And finally, seven, it is one big invitation to visit our community/school. We welcome everyone with open arms.

Years later, Paulus Berensohn and I found ourselves in Hawaii, on the big island, at midnight, under a full moon, walking in Volcano National Park upon swirling, silvery black cooled lava patterns toward a red river of fluid fire with our friends Eva Lee and Chiu Leong; Eva a beautiful, loving modern dancer and Chiu, an exquisite person and potter. We arrive at the molten river, sit down at the edge of a cliff where we witness a waterfall of fire pouring into the sea. White fiery clouds rise up like Chinese dragons.

Fire is how I remember Paulus. His fire within, his passion, his energy for life itself. It wasn’t about being successful or famous for Paulus. It was about turning life into art, one’s own life into something beautiful and useful, and loving.

That’s want I want for my students. Sure, I love when my students are able to make a living teaching Alexander’s work. But what is more important to me, much more important, is their making a life for themselves, a life in which they are awake to the world, to others, and to the fire within. That’s what this new website is all about.

EMS1

Paulus Berensohn

 

 

Recognition Of The Obvious

 

The Alexander Alliance Europe

 

David Mills, a fellow apprentice of Marjorie Barstow once said to me, “Humility is the recognition of the obvious.” I didn’t get it. And then later, I got it.

Learning languages does not come easily to me. Honestly, that is an understatement. I’m hopeless. When a person learns I live in Japan for five months a year he or she inevitably declares, “So you speak Japanese?”, to which I reply, “No, I don’t, not at all.” They find this hard to believe. But it is true. I humbly accept my profoundly limited linguistic capacities when it comes to learning foreign languages. Often I add, “However, I am still working on my English and am happy to report I am making progress.”

I can also humbly say, because it has become obvious to me and everyone else who knows me and knows what I do, that I have a knack for promoting Alexander’s work. As a little kid I was able to teach other kids, through words and touch, how to ride a bike, or hit a ball, or climb a tree, or do a back handspring. It just came naturally to me. So I can humbly say, I am good at talking and writing about Alexander’s work, and also at photographing it.

Of course not everyone likes my writing or what I have to say about Alexander’s work, and not everyone likes my photography, but a lot of people do, and for one reason or another it has worked. For over forty years I have drawn people to Alexander’s work, inspiring them to study.

And so, humbly and happily, I share with anyone who may be interested my new website for The Alexander Alliance Europe. I enjoyed working on the project. Countless times I heard myself say out loud, ‘thank you’ to whomever programmed Wix.

If you are an Alexander teacher, meandering through this website may help you better to verbalize what you do. It may give you ideas about how you want, imagistically, to portray Alexander’s work.

There are some beautiful photographs of my mentors. It saddens me sometimes that most Alexander teachers have only seen photos of Marjorie Barstow after her osteoporosis set in. I loved how Marj looked and moved when she was young, that is, in her seventies! Here are a few photos of Marj when she was spry and powerful.

I wish more Alexander teachers had had the privilege to learn from Buzz Gummere, but at least here you can see the sparkle in his eyes. I cherish the photos I have of my learning from Elisabeth Walker. All of these first generation teachers aged so beautifully, with such grace, and lived for so long! I hope you, like me, find these photos inspiring.

The video page on this website makes it easy to find and watch videos that I’ve made, or have been made about me or the Alexander Alliance. I invite you to take twenty minutes and watch Quintessence, a documentary on Alexander’s work and on the Alexander Alliance. This documentary was made by Renea Roberts, award winning videographer and director of the film Gifting It: A Burning Embrace of Gift Economy, and of Rooted Lands – Tierras Arraigadas.

And of course, there is a lot of information about our school in Germany, as well as information about what we do in and around Europe, Asia, and America.

Feel free to give me feedback, positive or negative; either way it is all positive for me. And if you like, visit us in Germany, or join me sometime, somewhere.

Humbly yours,

Bruce

The Alexander Alliance Europe

Patterns

My eyes can dimly see the pattern of my life and the puzzle that is me.

Patterns by Simon and Garfunkel

We often use the word ‘habit’ in our work. We are usually referring to unconscious habits that don’t serve us well. Our goal is to make the unconscious conscious, the invisible visible. We want to be free to choose what we want to do and how we want to do it. We also want to be free not to do something. We want the control to begin to do something when we want, or not, and we want to be able to stop doing something when we want to stop. Completely.

As Alexander teachers we can easily fall into the habit of looking primarily for postural and movement habits within ourselves and our students. That is fine but if our work is to be about more than posture and movement, if it is to be about how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world, if it is to be about the quality of our lives, then we need to open our parameters to include other types of habits.

Rather than using the word habit, I prefer using the word pattern. People tend to associate habits with being bad, shifting them into the world of right and wrong, a world offering too much judgement and too little information. The word pattern holds less negative charge.

Patterns are good because they are precise and they repeat themselves, making them recognizable to an observant outsider. And they are full of good energy. Patterns, whether helpful or unhelpful, use energy, and as William Blake says, Energy is Eternal Delight. Our energy, when well directed, imbues us with vitality.

When I teach I look for patterns other than postural and movement patterns. Any unconscious pattern, once identified and made conscious, provides us with good material for applying Alexandrian principles and processes. We can use any pattern to exercise our ability to stop, to become conscious, to develop and exercise our kinesthetic and proprioceptive senses, allowing us to see a pattern expressing itself through our entire body from head to toe and out through our fingertips. We can give ourselves the time to understand this pattern physically and emotionally. Then, once we know where we are and what we are doing and how we are doing it, we can choose to see what would happen without it.  Who would we be without the pattern? What would happen if we chose to unplug the pattern, if we left it out, if we left ourselves alone? Where would the energy fueling that pattern want to go, how would it redirect itself?

A person comes to me and I notice they say ‘you know’ a lot, or ‘like’ or ‘ah’ or that every sentence they utter has the inflection of a question. A verbal, vocal, communication pattern.

A person comes to me and as he begins to speak about his frustrations at work, I notice how he drops his hands and slaps them on his thighs in exasperation. A gestural pattern.

A person comes to me and every time they have a new and powerfully positive kinesthetic experience their minds jump into the future saying how they will never be able to do this themselves, or into the past saying how they have been doing everything wrong for so many years. A learning pattern. A thinking pattern.

I ask a person to quickly walk around the room and then to come back and tell me what they’ve taken in. One person says mostly what they saw, another mentions several things they heard, another what they smelled or touched. Sensory patterns.

I notice how a particular person always appears cheerful, optimistic and energetic. Another person’s clothes are always exceedingly neat and always worn too tightly. Another person always looks forlorn, often complaining about others. Another takes up a lot of space, spreads out and is prone to challenging, disagreeing and arguing with me. Another who is always trying to help me, complimenting me excessively. Another who continually cracks jokes. All patterns. Persona patterns.

It’s important for us as Alexander teachers to be able to distinguish between principles, processes, and procedures. Once we have a clear understanding of Alexandrian principles and processes, i.e., sensory consciousness, inhibitory choice, direction and redirection of energy, primary movement/pattern/control, critical moments, what I like to refer to as moments of opportunity, the relationship between means and ends, etc, we can choose, at times, to experiment working outside of Alexander’s classical procedures, i.e., chair, monkey, lunge, whispered ah, etc. and simply improvise with Alexandrian principles and processes within a larger arena, within the ultimate procedure, how we proceed in living our lives.

After eight years of study in Chanoyu, the Way of Japanese Tea, I informed my teacher, Mariko LaFleur, I would be traveling and teaching intensively for a month and would have little or no time to practice. She said to me, “Bruce, that’s fine. Essentially Chado is not about the form. It’s only about how we exist in this world as a guest and as a host. It’s about gratefully receiving what we are given. It’s about how we welcome, receive and serve others. Remember Bruce, the tea room is everywhere. Practice Tea everywhere you go, wherever you are, and with everyone you meet. Enjoy your trip.”

Working within formal structures is assuring, confirmative. It’s familiar. Within them we know the rules, we’re comfortable. We know what to do. We know where we are. We’re home. 

And then there is the wide world, the unfamiliar, unpredictable world where there are no clear cut rules, where we are at times uncomfortable and know not what to do or what to expect. It’s our first time around. We’re continually in a place we have never been and will never be again. 

We meet people along the way.  We want to welcome and receive them, in their entirety, as our guests. We don’t want to reduce our guests to their posture. We don’t want only to watch how they move. We want to see who they are, how they live, so we can discern how we can best serve.

The more we see and understand our students in their entirety, the more our students see and understand themselves in their entirety. And since, ultimately, we are all mirrors for one another, reflections of one another, we come to see and understand ourselves, the puzzle that is us.

The End Of The Road

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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