Already people have registered to partake in, A Grace of Sense – Where Our Inner World and Outer World Meet, from Scotland, England, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Iran, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and United States. That is why I decided to teach two classes, as to accommodate all of our different time zones. Usually, I have to trek around to world to get to people from so many different countries, but this way I can do so leaving a much lighter carbon footprint.
Yes, I cannot be with you in person. I cannot work with my hands as a way of helping you to access this material. But, at the same time, as I acclimate to this new medium I find, there is a surprising amount that I can successfully communicate visually and verbally.
Eventbrite makes it very easy for you to read about and register for this course. If you give yourself the time to read this material slowly and let it sink in, then you will know if this course if for you. If my words speak to you, if they move you, consider studying with me. If you have any questions, write to me. I am not going anywhere!
There is a handsome saving if you register by August 15th.
“In Bruce’s class you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake. He is the embodiment of his work. His pace and patience, his quiet confidence, allows people to unfold and open layer by layer. The superfluous falls away, leaving only life’s inner vitality effortlessly expressing itself through you. And then you know, ‘That’s who I am, that is who I could be.’”
Margarete Tueshaus – Alexander Teacher, Equestrian, Germany
Gone is the straight-lined striving, the stopping and oughting. Instead curiosity, inquisitiveness, and permission to experiment, to play, to open boxes and to climb out of them into a world of possibility – a world both soft and strong. And all this through a quiet power, a clarity of speech, and a wealth of wisdom. For me, Bruce’s work is more than exciting; it is important, both to the world and to anyone involved in any way with Alexander’s Technique.
Annie Turner – Alexander Technique Teacher, England
Having done so for 30 years, Bruce continues to teach annually in Europe, Asia, and the United States helping people to understand and experience the interconnectedness between physical and spiritual grace.
In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school, now with programs in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, England, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and America.
A fellow Alexander teacher asked if I had a transcript of my little youtube video, Top Ten Myths about the Alexander Technique. It was somewhere in my computer. I found it and tweaked it just a bit. I added a few photos that support some of the ideas. This piece has also been translated into 17 languages. If your native language is other than English, you may find it here.
Hi. My name is Bruce Fertman. I’m the founding director of the Alexander Alliance International. Here are ten myths about the Alexander Technique that many people believe are true. After 50 years of dedicated study, and after training 300 teachers, I have come to realize that these ideas are not true.
The Alexander Technique is about posture. That’s a myth.
Reality. The Alexander Technique is about un-posturing. The problem is that we are continually posturing, most often unconsciously. The Alexander Technique is about becoming an un-postured person, that is, unheld, unfixed, flexible, movable, not only physically, but as a person in general.
Photo: B. Fertman
The Alexander Technique is about uprightness. That’s a myth.
Reality. The Alexander Technique has nothing to do with standing up straight. There is not one straight line in the body, or in the universe for that matter. The Alexander Technique has nothing to do with doing anything right, or correctly. It is about doing what we do well, efficiently, effectively, fluidly, comfortably, and pleasurably.
Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman
The Alexander Technique is about how we hold our head on our neck. That’s a myth.
Reality. The Alexander Technique is about how we stop holding our head on our neck. It’s about not interfering with inherent balancing mechanisms that do that for us.
Photo: B. Fertman – Sherry Stephenson
The Alexander Technique is about the body. That’s a myth.
Reality. The Alexander Technique is about us, about how we are within ourselves, with others, and in relation to the world around us. It’s about the quality of our actions and interactions. It’s about the quality of our experience. It’s about how we are being as we do what we are doing.
Photo: B. Fertman
The Alexander Technique is about becoming more symmetrical because symmetry is balanced. That’s a myth.
Reality. Nothing in nature is perfectly symmetrical, including humans. Symmetry is a concept, like a point, or a line is a concept. Buddha might look symmetrical when he’s sitting peacefully on a lotus flower but take a closer look and we see one foot on top of the other, and one hand on top of the other. Look closely at any persons’ face and we won’t find perfect symmetry. We’re after harmony, not symmetry, and harmony is not related to the shape of our body at any given moment.
Photo: B. Fertman
The Alexander Technique is about balance. That’s a myth.
Reality. Balance for humans is impossible. We are inherently unbalanced, and this is what promotes movement. We waver toward and away from equilibrium. This is a good thing. When the wind blows, waves are generated upon the surface of a pond. The wind stops and those waves become smaller, approaching but never attaining stillness. Stillness is a concept, a beautiful one, but within stillness lies motion, however subtle.
Lucia Walker: Alexander teacher, Johannesburg, South Africa
The Alexander Technique is about learning how to breathe correctly. That’s a myth.
Reality. We don’t breathe. Alexander once said, “At last, I find that when I don’t breathe, I breathe.” I would say it like this. At last, I find that when I don’t breathe, I am breathed. We are breathed by forces deep within us and all around us. Do we breathe when you are sleeping? Do we breathe when we are eating? Yes, we can take a breath. But breath is not for the taking. It does not belong to us. Breath is a gift from the world. It’s meant to be received. Breathing is responsive. It responds to activity. It is not something we do; it is not an activity, like running up a hill. When we run up a hill, do we first stand there and breathe and get enough air, and then run up the hill? Or do we run up the hill and breathing automatically and faithfully responds to our wishes, without our even having to ask?
The Alexander Technique is about learning how to stand, how to stand on our own two feet. That’s a myth.
Reality. We do not stand on our own two feet. We stand on the ground.
The Alexander Technique is about learning how to relax. That’s a myth.
Reality. The Alexander Technique is about readiness. The Alexander Technique is about preparing for nothing in particular, while being ready for anything that may happen. The Alexander Technique is about effortlessly returning, again and again, to a condition of alert, calm readiness.
Photo: Anchan – Alexander teacher: Britta Brandt-Jacobs
The Alexander Technique is about proper body mechanics; learning the best way to get up and down from a chair, how to walk correctly, how to bend down without hurting yourself, etc. That’s a myth.
Reality. Human beings are not mechanical. We are not machines. We’re organic. We’re mammals. The Alexander Technique is about learning how we are best designed to function as Homo Sapiens. The Alexander Technique is, in part, about questioning cultural, gender, and cosmetic concepts of the body that interfere with the functioning and beauty of our natural design.
What Alexander’s Notion of Personal Use Mean for us
at the Alexander Alliance International
Currently, our curriculum is two-fold, personal and professional.
First. Without having spent years integrating Alexander’s work into one’s personal life, it is not possible to become a teacher of his work. Personal transformation is the basis upon which a life as an Alexander teacher is founded. Therefore, I will go into some detail as to what this transformational process entails.
Throughout the entire training, we train somatically, that is, we work on attuning ourselves physically, and we explore the relationship this physical attuning has upon our lives personally, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. Our physical attuning process is founded upon the insights and principles discerned by Alexander as to how we learn to function in accordance to our “original blueprint”, our inherent cognitive-neuro-muscular/fascial-skeletal design.
Regardless of our personal life situation, we share a common context in which our lives unfold. Alexander’s work attempts to shift for the better, our psychophysical relationship to the contextual framework in which our lives unfold. This shift in how we relate psychophysically to life’s contextual framework, indirectly but significantly, influences the content of our life, the way in which our lives unfold, and how we experience this unfolding. Our training is devoted to this contextual shift.
Our Common Context
Pedagogically, I divide our life context into nine facets: Structural Support, Ground Force, Spatial Freedom, Organ Capacity, Temporal Existence, Respiratory Restoration, Sensory Receptivity, Motoric Refinement, and Social Harmony/Inner Peace.
One. Structural Support
We share a common structure. We are all Homo Sapiens. At any given moment, we are using our structure in a particular way. At the Alexander Alliance, we learn how to respect and treat our structure according to its inherent design. This frees us into our natural support, allowing us to be at once, light and substantial, soft and strong, relaxed and ready, stable and flexible, peaceful and lively, receptive and generous, awake to ourselves, to others, and to the world around us.
Through Alexander’s work our personal relationship to our physical structure, to being consciously and appreciatively embodied changes, for the better.
Two. Ground Force
All of us are subject to gravity. Gravity derives from “gravis” or “gravitas”, and means heavy, weight, serious. For our purposes, gravity might best be thought of as “the law of mutual attraction” which states that bodies are drawn to each other through gravitational attraction. The strength of their attraction is greater if they are close together, and lesser if they are more distant. This force of attraction exists between any two bodies. Or, we might refer to Newton’s third law of motion, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When we sit in a chair, our bodies exert a downward force into the chair, while the chair exerts an equally upward force through our bodies.
These forces are not grave, not serious. They are positive, interactive forces, I dare say, joyful. These forces allow objects, both animate and inanimate, to rest. The more we can rest, the more support we can receive. The more support we receive, the more grace and lightness we experience.
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to gravity changes, for the better.
Three. Spatial Freedom
We all live in space.
There is space within. We all possess a sense of space, or a lack thereof. Sometimes, we feel trapped, or cramped, that we have no room to move or breathe. Sometimes, we feel open and free, that the future is open to us, that the horizon widens forever, that the sky is the limit, that life is deep and vast, like the ocean. Some of us seem to spread out, some squeeze in, some hold back, some thrust forward, some press down, some pull up. How to be spatially unbiased, spatially balanced, spatially omni-directional?
There is space between, between us and our smartphones, our computers, our steering wheels, our soup bowls. There is space between us and those around us, when on a crowded train, when waiting in line at the grocery store, when sitting at the kitchen table.
There is space all around us, above us, below us, before us, behind us, beside us. Unbeknownst to us, we live with blinders on, zooming in on what is in front of us, narrowing our worldview.
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to space within, between, and around, changes, for the better.
Four. Organ Capacity
We are all organ-isms, creatures. Even though we have a sense of internal space, in reality, the space within our structural framework is fully occupied; the cranial cavity, thoracic cavity, abdominal cavity, and pelvic cavity. Again, unbeknownst to us, we impinge upon our organs, exert pressure against them, prevent them from moving. We ignore them. Sensing our organs, our organ life, reminds us that we are alive, human beings being, rather than only human doings doing.
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to our organ life changes, for the better.
Five. Temporal Existence
We all live in time. A second is a second, a minute a minute, an hour an hour, a day a day, a year a year, a decade a decade, and yet our subjective sense of time varies. An hour can fly by in a second, an hour can feel like an eternity, for better or worse. We can find ourselves waiting, a temporal event, for an urgent phone call, for a needed document to download, for the train that is late to arrive. Then again, there is long-term waiting, for the kids to leave home, for the perfect person to come into our lives, or for when we will be earning much more money, or for when we finally retire and get to travel. Or we find ourselves rushing about, worried about being late, meeting deadlines, getting everything done that we have to do. Time pressure. Clock time.
Then, there is biological time. Pacing. Tempo. Right timing. Eating, walking, speaking. Time to think. Time to feel. Time to breathe. Time to let the beauty of the world sink in, into our bones, into our hearts. Biologically, we by nature, mature, age, die. Our lives are temporally finite. We only have so much time, so many breaths. “Number your days”, King David suggests to us in Psalm 90. Don’t waste them. Don’t miss them. Experience them. Enjoy them. Be grateful for them. Live them. Make the most of them. as he did so well. What does it mean to age gracefully? How can we best adapt to our aging bodies? What do we want to pass on, to give away?
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to time changes, for the better.
Six. Respiratory Restoration
Unknowingly, we often interfere with breathing, without understanding how or why, or even when, we do it. It helps to become aware of the particular ways in which we interfere with breathing. This, it turns out, is not so easy. As soon as we begin to set about studying our breath, this very act of studying it begins to change it. Immediately, we want to breathe right, or well, or fully. Instantly, we superimpose our attempt to breath better, whatever our idea of that is, on top of our habitual way of breathing.
Seeing that breathing defies being studied directly, our only recourse, if we want a way into the mystery of breath, is to study it indirectly. This means looking at the conditions that surround breathing. Breathing responds to pressure of any and all kinds. External pressure, for example, altitude, pollution, over stimulation, under stimulation, danger, as well as safety, comfort, love, a cat resting in your lap.
Breathing responds to internal pressures as well, like exertion, hunger, fatigue, strain, disease, self-imposed standards, time restraints. Breathing responds to the entire gamut of thoughts, sensations, emotions – be they painful or pleasurable.
Breath is not an action; it’s a response. When we decide to run up a hill, we don’t stand there and breathe until we have enough air to make it up the hill. We start running. The air of the world, and our bodies reflexes, without our having to ask, help us to accomplish what we have decided to do. Just like that. Such support. Such kindness. Such faithfulness. And how often do we stop, and say thank you?
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to breathing changes, for the better.
Seven. Sensory Receptivity
We all are endowed with senses, though some of us do not have all of them. We see, hear, smell, taste and touch. We also have less known, less educated senses that tell us about ourselves, our kinesthetic and proprioceptive senses.
There’s a very simple way of speaking about what happens to our senses. As our motoric activity increases, often our sensory receptivity decreases. The result is that our actions are not as informed as they could be, which often makes our actions less accurate, more effortful, and less effective. To add to this, a diminishment of sensory receptivity prevents us from experiencing how we are doing, what we are doing, as we are doing it, reducing our ability to delight in and appreciate life as we are living it. We don’t want to live an unlived life.
It is as if, within us, there is a doer and a receiver. There is the you who washes your hair, and the you who senses and enjoys your hair being washed, or the you who does not sense it being washed. There is the you who is feeding you a spoonful of soup, perhaps potato leak soup, or miso soup, or lentil soup, or split pea soup, or French onion soup. And then, there is the you who is aware of receiving this soup, tasting it, savoring it, feeling thankful for it, or the you who is unaware of receiving the soup and who is not tasting it. Reawakening the receiver within us, the one who is not putting out, not on output, but the one receiving, on input, keeps us from becoming depleted, allows us to be replenished.
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to our sensory world changes, for the better.
Eight. Motoric Refinement
We all move. The question is how well, how enjoyably, how appreciatively? The more sensitive, accurate, and reliable our senses become, particularly our intra-senses, our kinesthetic and proprioceptive senses, the more refined our actions become, the more precise, the more efficient, the more effective, the more effortless, the more fluid, and the more beautiful. Everyday movement, everyday actions become interesting and pleasurable; walking up and down steps, riding a bike, folding laundry, cleaning the house, cooking a meal.
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to moving through our life changes, for the better.
Nine. Social Harmony/Inner Peace
We are all social animals. Existence is co-existence. Even if we choose to live our lives as a hermit far away in a cave, in isolation, it is a social choice we make, a relationship we have with society. Most conflict that we experience happens in relation to other people. Being in social conflict is a physiological event. Fear and anger are physiological events. Everything is a physiological event. Likewise, being in social harmony is a physiological event. Love, kindness, empathy, joy are also physiological events. How we are physiologically, when in the presence of others, can dramatically influence, for better or worse, how we feel about others, and how they feel about us. Peace is a physiological event.
In a very real way, we also have a social relationship with ourselves. Are we our own best friend, and/or our own worst enemy? Do we respect and care well for ourselves, or do we disrespect ourselves and abuse ourselves? Inner peace is also a physiological event.
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to others and to ourselves changes, for the better.
Loving the Work, Living the Work, Teaching the Work
October 10-18, 2020
Join us, the Alexander Alliance International, in celebrating our 40th birthday in Kalamata, Greece!
If you have ever been, currently are being, or would like to be deeply touched by the work we do within our international community/school, we invite you to join us for this extraordinary event.
Anyone who studies, or has studied the Alexander Technique, is welcome to attend: all Alexander teachers and trainees worldwide, all Alexander Alliance trainees and alumni, including alumni from our early incarnations; the Alexander School and the Alexander Foundation. Also, all teachers from our post graduate programs and from our professional development programs. Finally, all people who love and study the Alexander Technique.
Senior teachers from the Alexander Alliance International, Robyn Avalon, Midori Shinkai, Margarete Tueshaus, and Bruce Fertman will be teaching. Learn more about our senior teachers. We are planning to invite other renowned Alexander teachers and will keep you informed of our progress.
We will be on Mediterranean time. Though our teaching schedule will be quite full, we will make sure to have time each afternoon for walks inside the town, or for swimming in the sea.
A native Alexander teacher writes:
“Kalamata, as I’m sure you already know, is well known for its olive trees and the unique olive oil it produces. The local food is to die for. The hotel is a 10min drive from the main town. The sea in Kalamata boasts of some of the clearest waters in the country – you will see for yourself once you swim well away from the beach at approximately 1 mile inside where one can experience the awe of being in the middle of nowhere. It’s magical. A great advantage is that Kalamata is not your average touristy location – more of a preferred site for locals. It is likely to be exactly what you need for a peaceful retreat. I would highly recommend experiencing local olive oil poured on to freshly baked local bread … the purest form of the local natural flavours. Meat and fish for non-vegeterians will be an experience they will never forget. Likewise, the tomatoes, olives, cucumbers and green peppers will also be a flavour that vegans and vegeterians will cherish for the rest of their lives. The local deserts are very dense jams of local fruits and vegetables (there’s the famous aubergine jam!). Herbal teas are unique in Kalamata, with some protagonists being marjoram, sage, camomile and sideritis (known as mountain tea). For coffee lovers, Greece is a paradise.”
Not only will we be in Kalamata, we will be living and dining by the sea at a four-star hotel: The Filoxenia Kalamata. We are providing a PDF (click here) so that you can hold on to all the details about where we will be. Being a family friendly school, students do on occasion bring along family members. If you should decide to do this, let us know and we will help you work out your accommodations.
Now, to return to the content of our Alexander Retreat!
As we will be a gathering of people with different levels of experience, there will be separate classes for students, trainees, and teachers, so that everyone can work and progress at their own level. At chosen times, we will all convene and work together.
Here’s the schedule.
Saturday / October 10th
Travel and Arrival Day
Our first short gathering will begin at 21:00.
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday / October 11th, 12th, 13th
Optional Morning Classes: To Be Announced
Morning Classes: 9:30-13:30
Afternoon Break 13:30 – 17:00
Late Afternoon Classes 17:00-20:00
Evening Events: To Be Announced
Wednesday / October 14th
On Wednesday, we will only have morning classes so that those who wish can take off the entire afternoon and evening to further explore the outskirts of Kalamata. Space will be provided for those who wish to stay at the retreat center and study together informally.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday / October 15th, 16th, 17th
Back to work.
Optional Morning Classes: To Be Announced
Morning Classes: 9:30-13:30
Afternoon Break 13:30 – 17:00
Late Afternoon Classes 17:00-20:00
Evening Events: To Be Announced
Sunday / October 18th
Travel and Departure Day
How much will it cost?
We have done our best to keep our pricing reasonable. We got a remarkable group deal with the hotel, which is why we could hold this retreat in such a luxurious place. Here are the prices, which includes three meals per day.
Triple room: EUR 53,33 per person per night (limited number)
Double room: EUR 67,50 per person per night
Single room: EUR 110,00 per person per night
Additionally, there is a room tax of EUR 3,00 per room per night, which is payable directly upon checkout.
The entire booking will be made by the Alexander Alliance Germany. We had to commit to paying the room and board for everyone, and therefore our cancellation policy is stricter than if everyone were responsible for paying for their own room and board.
Here is how it works: When you register for the retreat, your room and board must be paid in advance to the Alexander Alliance Germany. If you should have to cancel, we can refund your tuition, but we cannot refund your room and board. If you find a person to fill your place in the retreat, then we can totally refund your cost for room and board.
As for tuition.
Alexander Alliance International Trainees:
Very Early Bird: EUR 450 (until 15th January 2020)
Early Bird: EUR 500 (until 31st May 2020)
Late Bird: EUR 550 (registration deadline is 15th September 2020)
Alexander Alliance Alumni, Post Graduate Graduates, and High Touch Graduates:
Very Early Bird: EUR 600 (until 15th January 2020)
Early Bird: EUR 650 (until 31st May 2020)
Late Bird: EUR 700 (registration deadline is 15th September 2020)
Alexander Alliance Self Development Programs and Guests (Alexander Trainees, Alexander Teachers, Alexander Students):
Very Early Bird: EUR 700 (until 15th January 2020)
Early Bird: EUR 750 (until 31st May 2020)
Late Bird: EUR 800 (registration deadline is 15th September 2020)
What are our options for getting to Kalamata and our hotel?
Click on this link for starters, but we are going to make it even easier.
It’s low season, so there are not many direct flights to Kalamata, and they may be a bit more expensive, but it is possible. Flying into Athens, may be the more affordable way to go. We will organize a bus transfer from Athens airport (ATH) to the hotel on Saturday afternoon, October 10th, and also one from the hotel to Athens airport (ATH) on Sunday morning, Oct 18th. Thanks to our 4-star hotel, the price will be quite affordable, depending upon how many of us, ranging from EUR 40 to EUR 15 per way.
We will arrange for the bus to leave on October 10th from Athens airport (ATH) to our hotel in Kalamata around 16:30, and from our hotel in Kalamata to Athens airport (ATH) on October 18th, around 8:00. The drive will take between 3 and 3,5 hours. Another option would be to individually rent a car at Athens airport and give it back in Kalamata.
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.“
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.
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“
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.
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.
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…”
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.