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.
When I first saw her I did not know who she was. She was on stage, alone, dancing. Her movements were unusually clear, articulate, intelligent, lucid. Her phrasing and timing, unpredictable. “Who is that!”, I asked my new friend sitting next to me. “Do you know her name?” “Oh, that’s my daughter, Lucia, Lucia Walker.”
The year was 1994, the place Sydney, Australia, the event, the 4th Annual Congress in the Alexander Technique. Basically, I fell in love with both of the Walkers right then and there. For many years thereafter, Elisabeth and Lucia Walker taught for us once or twice a year at the Alexander Alliance in America.
Lucia Walker. Latin lucidus (perhaps via French lucide or Italian lucido ) from lucere ‘shine’, from lux, luc- ‘light’. She who walks lightly in the world. Lucid; to express clearly, easy to understand, cogent, bright.
That’s Lucia. She is her name. These are the qualities Lucia embodies as she walks in the world, and this is why I am very happy to announce that Lucia Walker will be our guest teacher in Kalamata, Greece this October 10-18, 2020.
To show you what I mean about Lucia living up to her name, here are a few of my favorite photos of Lucia, some taken almost 30 years ago, some taken quite recently. Then, I will tell you much of what she has done in her life as the international Alexander teacher that she is.
Movement is Lucia’s medium. Yet, she is more than a movement teacher. She is a life teacher. Long ago Lucia gave me a book to read entitled, A Life of One’s Own, by Marion Milner. It was one woman’s exploration as to how to live a satisfying life. Marion turns toward her everyday life for answers, discerning ways of being, ways of seeing, and ways of moving that bring joy into life. This is Lucia’s larger vision of the work, which Alexander begun.
Some details: Lucia qualified as an Alexander teacher in 1987, after 3 years of training with her parents, Dick and Elisabeth Walker, in Oxford, England, and spent many years assisting in her parent’s training program. Currently, Lucia teaches in South Africa, England, France, Germany, the USA, Argentina, and Japan.
A fascination in the relationship between vision and movement led to Lucia becoming part of ALTEVI, (ALexander TEchnique and VIsion.) Communication being essential to good teaching, Lucia has trained in Non-Violent Communication. She has been part of the Contact Improvisation community for 28 years. Since 2015, Lucia and Sharyn West have been co-directing Alexander Learning and Teaching Programs in Durban and Johannesburg.
It’s an honor and a pleasure for us to have Lucia join our faculty for our international gathering in Greece., October 10-18, 2020. If you have never studied with Lucia, here is a great opportunity to do so, along with all the directors of training at the Alexander Alliance International.
Very Early Bird Discount available until January 25, 2020.
No one seems to know the story behind Michelangelo’s choice. What I do know is that in the Torah the story goes God blew the breath of life into Adam through his nostrils. It was breath that was the vital force. Yet when painting the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo chose not to depict the creation of Adam through breath. He chose touch. Why did he do that? God touched Adam, and Adam lived. Maybe it was because Michelangelo, through touch, brought the lifeless to life. He retold the story of Genesis in his own image.
Theology, to me, is not spiritual; it’s tangible. It’s earthy. It’s physical.
Maimonides, a 12th century Rabbinic scholar from Spain, said God was Reality. For me, reality feels pretty physical. You know, getting up, bathing, grooming, eating, and going to work, or going to look for work. Or on other days, cleaning your house, going shopping for food, stopping at a couple other stores for this or that. Taking your car, if you have one, into the shop for an oil and filter change.
And then, on occasion, there’s a free day. You’re out in the country. A cool breeze brushes against your face. The warmth of the sun sits on your shoulders. You hear the sound of a stream nearby, smell a slight scent of cedar in the air.
Touching This World
Sounds physical to me.
Other people feel God is Love. Kindness is one way we express our love. Kindness is love in action. Acts of kindness seem physical to me. Doing little things for people. Helping out. It makes sense to think about a theology of touch. Think about giving a baby a bath, or sweeping the snow off the front steps for your grandfather who’s coming over for dinner, or feeding a stray cat. I can’t see accomplishing any of those acts of kindness without touch or without being touched.
But few in this world teach touch. I do.
Please join me.
About Bruce Fertman
Photo: Tada Akihiro: Korea
He is the embodiment of his work. His touch is like a butterfly settling down on the very turning point of your soul. And then you know, “That’s who I am, that is who I could be.”
Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian
Bruce has been using his hands, helping people to move well, for fifty-five years. He trained with five first generation Alexander teachers: Catherine Merrick Wielopolska, Marjorie L. Barstow, Richard M. Gummere Jr., Elisabeth Walker, and Erika Whittaker. Bruce brings a lifetime of training as a movement artist and educator to his work as an Alexander teacher, having trained in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Ballet, Contact Improvisation, Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, Argentine Tango, and Kyudo. In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school. Currently director of the Alexander Alliance Germany, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He conducts post graduate training programs in Dorset and Zurich. Author of Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – Delving Into The Work Of F.M. Alexander.
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.
Buzz died 12 years ago, at the age of 95. About a month before he died my daughter, Eva, and I drove up to Barrytown, New York to visit he and his wife, Peg, (who just died this year at the age of 100).
At breakfast Buzz says to me, “Well, I made it down the steps once again.” Buzz told me he’d rather fall and break his neck than not sleep next to Peg in their own bed. Besides, he liked going up and down the steps.
Before him on the breakfast table lay a row of multicolored pills and capsules. “My doctor says if I don’t take all of these pills in the morning that I’ll be dead by nightfall. So I take them.”
That afternoon John Gummere, Peg and Buzz’s son, drives us to the Hudson River, and Peg, 88, takes Eva and I out on her vintage wooden trimmed sailboat. Peg sits by the tiller, the wind blowing against her uplifted face, through her long, silver hair.
Buzz chose, rather than go sailing with us, to sit and rest under an old oak tree by the river. As we recede from the shore, I watch Buzz grow smaller and smaller. I knew this would be the last time I’d see him.
Five years earlier, when Buzz was a mere 90, he and Peg drove down in their Subaru to JFK airport, caught a plane going to Albuquerque whereupon they rented a Jeep and drove north for three hours to Ghost Ranch, where we were holding our Alexander Alliance Retreat.
On the Ides of March, 2000 the snow came down all morning but by mid-afternoon, under the New Mexican sun, all the snow had melted. We decided to put on some jackets, except for Buzz, and hold class outside.
Buzz wanted to work on his speaking, on giving a talk. Even though Buzz trained with F.M. and A.R. Alexander, and was a certified teacher, public speaking still got him off balance. He wanted me to help him. He wanted to give a little talk on his thoughts about Alexandrian inhibition and just what that was.
Ironically, Buzz had taught me a lot about Alexandrian inhibition via the help he gave me with my writing, writing being something Buzz did very well. He noted I seemed very at ease when I spoke, and he wondered what was getting in his way.
Fortunately, a student taped the lesson, more like the conversation Buzz and I had that day. And Anchan, our school photographer, took a photo of us working together.
Here, I share that day with you, that conversation, and Buzz.
Bruce: I remember, years ago, writing an article in honor of Marj Barstow’s 90th birthday. I gave it to you to read. Directly, you proceeded to remove about half the words.
Buzz: I remember that.
Bruce: You edited it severely. You pruned it way down. I remember rereading it thinking, “That’s not right! That’s not right! That’s not how I write!” I was mad and insulted. I felt misunderstood. I remember defending the right to split every infinitive, because splitting infinitives sounded more expressive, sounded right. To hell with the rules of grammar! I defended my run on sentences too. How else could I capture all the subtleties taking place simultaneously? There was no other way but to try to say everything all at once, within the span of one endless breath.
Buzz: You were used to it, used to it like a bad habit.
Bruce: “That’s not right, listen to how that sounds,” I said to you over the phone, then hung up. I handed your “improved” edition to Martha to read and she said, “Now that’s a lot better! First of all, it’s grammatically correct and secondly, it’s just more to the point. It says what you want to say, and it says it simply, directly, and clearly.”
Painfully, the more I read it, the better it sounded. “Maybe it is better,” I thought. “Maybe it’s better. You know, I think it is better. In fact, I know it’s better.”
Buzz, I’d like to see if, right now, I could return the favor. I’m going to be your editor, not for the way you write, which is exemplary, but for the way you communicate when you are before a group of people.
Buzz: Very good.
Bruce: We’re going to leave words out, sometimes whole paragraphs. It’s likely to feel wrong. You’ll probably get mad at me, the way I got mad at you.
Bruce: Erika Whitaker says, inhibition is decision.
Buzz: That’s true.
Bruce: Inhibition is decision. Even though the talk you are about to give is not memorized word for word, I’d like you to decide that you are only going to let words come out of your mouth that have a direct connection to the main idea you wish to communicate.
Buzz: The main idea. First I have to decide what that is.
Buzz: The title of this talk is A Blink Of The Eye/A Tremor Of The Soul.
Bruce: That’s a beautiful and evocative title. Let me draw you a simple map around that title. Let’s say we have a circle like this, and in the center of that circle is the essence of that title. The only reason you’re going to say what you say is to get people to understand the essence of that title. You are going to keep everyone in that inner circle with you.
Now, let’s put another circle around our most inner circle. When you wonder off into that circle you know you are further away from the essence of your title.
For example, you might ask people if they know the meaning of a certain word you are using. Or you might go into some unnecessary detail about something that’s truly interesting but does not sit in the most inner circle.
Because you know a lot and perceive so many important connections to your theme, sometimes you spin off into a commentary. That commentary can gracefully lead to a commentary on that commentary. Before you are aware of it you’re off track, out of the most inner circle.
I want to see is if you can stay right in your most inner circle. You’re going to have to trust me for about fifteen minutes, and then you can mistrust me for the rest of your life!
I’m going to lightly tap you, like this, when it seems to me you are moving outside the core circle. Trust me to make the call, to do the editing. What do you say? I’m asking you to make a decision, a conscious commitment to yourself, to your material and to your students who clearly love you and value your wisdom.
Buzz: Good, very good.
Bruce: I want you to decide again to remain within your core circle, real close to what is essential about A Blink of the Eye, A Tremor of the Soul.Can you make that decision?
Bruce: Have you made your decision?
Buzz: (After a long pause.) Yes.
Bruce: All right. So be it. Let’s begin.
Buzz: I will try.
Bruce: Hmmm….“Do not try. Do or do not, as Yoda once said.” Stick to your decision. You can always stop and make it again. You can make it as many times as you want. But don’t try to keep your decision. Make your decision. Be that decision. Live out that decision. Or don’t.
Buzz: (Buzz begins his formal talk).
“You can study anatomy and physiology till you are black in the face. You still have this to face – sticking to a decision against your habit of life.” (quote by F.M. Alexander).
Bruce: Take all the time you need. Instead of going into commentary, just be inside the silence. Take all the time you need to connect to what is essential then, say what you want to say.
Buzz:Alexander craved recognition by scientists. The most eminent one to support his ideas was the genial Sir Charles Sherrington. His bold research in physiology started with an intensive study of the knee jerk. You all know what a knee jerk is?
Bruce: Stop there.
Buzz: I’m not supposed to ask them am I?
Bruce: I think it is safe to assume they know.
Bruce: Now decide again. Give yourself a moment. Make your decision.
Buzz: I’ve decided again.
Bruce: Let’s do it this way Buzz. (Bruce addressing the students listening), “Fellow students – if you have a question, feel free to ask Buzz, on the spot. O.K? That’s your job.” (The students nod a collective yes).
Buzz: Very good.
Bruce: Decide again.
Buzz: I’ve got it.
His bold research, at the expense of a small army of laboratory monkeys, carried him along to several major epic discoveries in human physiology, and to a Nobel Prize. Among his discovers was what, in us vertebrates, he referred to as “inhibition.”
Bruce: Now pause there. I just want to say to you, that it’s possible you might be feeling like this is going to be real boring to them, or you may feel you are not entertaining them enough. May I suggest you not worry because I, for one, am finding the content of your talk relevant. So there’s nothing extra that you need to do. Decide again, and stick, cling, adhere, lean into your decision. You’ve made your decision, now trust your material.
Buzz: (Buzz continues his talk).
Now everybody raise one hand. That action took place because, leave your hand up for a moment, because your excitatory nerves went into action. Leave your hand up there. Now you cannot lower that hand without the inhibitory nerves resuming their democratic role in the politics of your coordination. Those inhibitory nerves give you the permission, and the ability, to lower your hand.
I’m leaving out a great deal.
Bruce: That’s okay. We are engaged in an experiment. Just sense yourself leaving it out. Sense as you leave out what may not be essential how you are filling the space with repose. Look, the students are moving towards you. You have them. Whatever falls away, let it fall away. Just wait until what’s essential rises to the surface.
Buzz:In any good legislature, the “excitors” are the ins, and the “inhibitors” are the outs. But everybody knows in a good legislature the outs are “the loyal opposition.” For the Alexander brothers it was civil war. I heard them both say, “The excitors have got the better of the inhibitors!”
Student: Could you say that again please?
Buzz:I’m trying to be British. “The excitors have got the better of the inhibitors!”
Bruce: When you said, I’m trying to be British, you could have left that out. I think that’s your false modesty at play. You are quite good at sounding and looking British. Isn’t that true?
Sir Charles Sherrington knew a lot about excitation and inhibition, as a physiologist. In his younger days, Sherrington did his work in a hospital. When he got bored with his laboratory work, he would climb up to the top of the highest tower of this Victorian hospital building and do parachute jumps.
Bruce: Buzz, when you’re leaving things out, just close your lips very lightly, just very lightly. Give yourself time. People are taking in that image. That’s a great image. Personally, I’m seeing Buster Keaton. You got a little chuckle there. Did you hear that?
Bruce: They are definitely listening and responding to you.
Buzz: Recently an American physiologist named Benjamin Libet has stepped up beside Sir Charles Sherrington as a powerful supporter of Alexander’s ideas. He’s associated with a medical school on the west coast. Libet is studying inhibition while working with patient human volunteers rather than suffering laboratory monkeys.
Bruce: Pause here for a second Buzz, and just come forward like that, away from the back of the chair. Now when you return to the back of the chair, just talk to your lower back for a second. Ask your lower back to un-posture. Just let it gently un-posture. Even more. Great. And then just talk to your shoulders a little bit.
Now, that’s good. There’s going to be a real temptation to want to comment on the strong change in kinesthetic feeling. But forget it because it’s not in your essential circle. See what I mean?
Buzz: I was about to talk about how I felt. I was out of my circle.
Bruce: In a flash you can go right back into your core circle. Go right back.
Buzz:Libet went even beyond Sir Charles by clocking the time we are offered by our system for inhibition. He did it in milliseconds. A millisecond is one thousandth of a second.
Bruce: Take a pause there and let them think about that. And while they’re thinking about it, let this shoulder drop. (Buzz’s right shoulder drops as his back widens dramatically). No comment Buzz, no comment.
Buzz:Dr. Libet found that a human response to a stimulus, any stimulus – a doorbell rings, lightening flashes, you think of how much you’re going to have to pay the IRS, (laughter from the crowd), any such stimulus of the millions of kinds we have, takes 500 milliseconds. Everybody say one, one thousandth.
Students: “One, one thousandths!”
Buzz:That was one second. Cut that in half. That leaves 500 milliseconds. The first 350 milliseconds of that 500 are unconscious. The last 50 are unconscious too. They are the action you begin to put into motion. You hear the phone. You go to answer the phone. How much time is left between the unconscious beginning and the unconscious ending of a response? Anybody?
Student: One hundred milliseconds.
Buzz: Take a ten and go to the head of the class. No, that was outside of the circle. I made a mistake. I could have left that out.
Bruce: Maybe. Maybe not. You sensed that you might have gone outside the circle, and you knew it before you were finished speaking!
Let’s analyze what just happened based upon what you just taught us. The student answers correctly. During the next 350 milliseconds your response is unconscious. We slide into that slender, infinite space of 100 milliseconds. During that micro instant you weren’t quite awake. The power of your decision had weakened just enough to allow the excitors to sneak ahead of the inhibitors. Before you knew it you were into the last 50 milliseconds. Your tongue began to form the word “Take”, “Take a ten and go to the head of the class.” That 100 millisecond window had come and gone.
But you know, Peg used to tell me, I always had another chance. Peg told me that a lot. She knew how hard I was on myself. And Buzz, I know how hard you are on yourself. So, I say to you Buzz, there is going to be a next time. There’s going to be countless opportunities for you to play with being awake inside of that 100 millisecond window.
Let’s continue. Make your decision. Be your decision.
Buzz: Blink your eye; one normal quick blink. That’s a half second, 500 milliseconds.. You should be getting an idea now of “inhibition time” – one fifth of a blink of the eye. Inhibition time. It’s just a hundred milliseconds.
Bruce: Rest in that thought. They are really thinking. Look at them. They are more than thinking – they are meditating on the magnitude of that truth. They’re inhibiting right now. They have stopped thinking about inhibition as they have thought of it before. They are in that space of wondering, of not knowing.
Buzz: What a small window of opportunity. The freedom to decide, the freedom to choose offers itself to us in one-fifth the time it takes for us to blink. Do we remain open to something new and surprising in our response, or do we stay with something old, familiar, predictable?
Bruce: Pause there. Look at these faces. They are hanging on that question. Now, come forward a bit, like that. Have no doubt that what you’re doing, even though it may feel strange and wrong, kind of empty, overly spacious, or too quiet, not funny enough, is working.
Your old habits may be trying to convince you that they know the right way, the time proven way. They want to re-convince you that there is no good reason to do anything any other way but the old way. They’re trying to talk you out of the experience you just had. But I can feel them losing ground.
Look around. Look at the facts. You’ve got an engaged group of people here who are taking you very seriously. Now, we’re going to let go of that lower back. Gently and decidedly un-posture. Undo. Undo yourself. I want to keep those front ribs soft and moving, soft and moving. Now kindly let go of your hip joints a little bit too, so you roll back nice and easy.
Now you’re not going to comment on this at all, you’re just going to use it.
Buzz:Sir Charles Sherrington was the first physiologist to recognize and state that to not do something is just as much of an act as to do something. That bothered a lot of the bustling Edwardians around the turn of the century. But Sherrington proved this experimentally. He published a classic book, “The Integrated Function Of The Nervous System” – 650 pages, weighs about 4 pounds.
I couldn’t resist saying that.
Bruce: I think that was inside your circle, maybe at the edge, but still inside.
Buzz: The central point of Sherrington’s great book is that he glorifies inhibition! For Sherrington inhibition is the source of the command over the entire organism – the muscles and the bones are the servants of the brain and its inhibitory machinery.
Bruce: That’s a powerful thought. Give it some time. Let it have its weight.
Buzz: Now when you enter some Alexander studios what do you see? You see a skeleton. Occasionally you will see in the studio of an Alexander teacher a wall chart of the human musculature. You think you’re in a butcher shop.
What you rarely see is a wall chart of the central nervous system – the servant of the brain. The beautiful filigree of the human nervous system as it spreads and fans out. It’s got its little dendrites and axons fluttering everywhere, like bees coming out in the spring.
The present tendency in promoting the Alexander work, 19 out of 20 leaflets that I’ve seen about workshops in the Alexander Technique, convey the work as body work.
Bruce: Now let them deal with that constructive challenge. This could be one of the most important ideas these teachers may hear about what it means to be a teacher of Alexander’s work. It was for me. Now can you feel my hand touching your back?
Bruce: You’re almost going with me back here, but not quite. You’re pushing against my hand a little bit. Can you give yourself a little time to sense my hand back here and when my hand goes this way, can you go with me? It’s going to feel like I’m taking you into a classic slump. I know this feels strange and wrong.
But what’s happening as you go with me is you are ceasing to pull your upper body back. That’s terrific. This may feel rather un-presentational, like you are just some regular guy sitting, relaxing, saying something you know to these people who are sitting around you, too ordinary, but this kind of ordinary is quietly extraordinary.
(Buzz is listening to the birds that suddenly seem to be singing all around us. Everything is still wet from the snow and sparkling from the sun.)
Buzz: You hear that? Coming from the top of the ziggurat? It’s a voice! It’s got a British accent! There it is! It’s saying, “Inhibition time.”
Buzz takes a bow. Everyone is smiling, a few of us crying a little.
Yeah, I miss Buzz. I miss his intelligence, his energy, his thoughtfulness, his endless openness to learn. What can I do? I have a few photos. I have some writings, some memories. I’ll do my best to learn from his example.
I’ll share him with others when I can, as I have with you.
Having taught Alexander’s work for all of five years, just shy of my thirtieth birthday, my workshop at Crosslands Retirement Community had finished. Putting on my coat, head down, feeling unsure of myself, in grave doubt about my ability to get Alexander’s work across, an elderly man approaches, a soft elegance about him. Upright, tweed sports jacket, bow tie. He extends his hand and says, “James, James Bennett. You might like knowing that fifty-five years ago I received lessons from Mr. Alexander. He used to tell me that, next to John Dewey, I was his worst student. I always took that as a compliment.” “Well,” I said taken aback, “tell me, be honest, how did I do?” “It moved me seeing you work with my friend Agnes, he said. To see her walking without her walker. How can I say, it was thrilling. You know, I had many lessons with F. M., but they were always individual lessons. I never watched anyone having a lesson. Until now. I could actually see what was happening. You were teaching me how to see. It was enlightening. As for how you did? Have no doubt. You did splendidly. You have that touch.”
That made my day. Actually, that kept me going for years. It affirmed my intuition that Alexander’s work could effectively be taught in groups. It further convinced me of the importance of being able see Alexander’s work, as subtle as it was. And I felt encouraged to keep cultivating “that touch.” Early on I had made a vow to myself that I would not quit until my hands were as good as Marjorie Barstow’s hands. James Bennett made me feel I was on my way.
Forty years after having made that vow, a 1000 workshops later, 15,000 people-under-my-hands later, I may have made it. I may have gotten there. I may have fulfilled my vow. I will never know for certain, and so best to not stop practicing. I don’t think I could stop practicing. It’s who I am, at my best.
In this short video, entitled The Touch, by Anchan, you will Marj’s hands within mine and my guess is that Alexander’s were within hers.