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Posts from the ‘Byron Katie’ Category

Flying in Formation

Photo by: Miles Orchinik

To My Dear Trainees, Faculty, Grads, and Post Grads,

My childhood friend, Miles Orchinik, now a professor of neurophysiology once told me that, for animals, it appears fear has a real and positive function, whereas anxiety, something apparently unique to humans, does not.

Fear energizes us for action. Michael Gelb once gave a talk at one of our annual summer retreats in the Alexander Technique and said it something like this. “Fear gets all the butterflies flying around in your stomach every which way. It is up to us to know how to get them to fly in formation.”

The sight of a predator, for example, triggers a fear response in the amygdala, which activates areas involved in preparation for motor functions involved in fight or flight. It also triggers the release of stress hormones and the sympathetic nervous system. This leads to bodily changes that prepare us to react to danger more efficiently and successfully. The brain becomes hyperalert, pupils dilate, the bronchi dilate, breathing accelerates. Heart rate and blood pressure rise. Blood flow and glucose to the skeletal muscles increase. Organs not vital in survival such as the gastrointestinal system slow down.

Fear is short-lived, geared toward a clear and present danger, usually a specific danger. Anxiety is another matter. Anxiety is chronic, geared toward an often more diffuse future event. Anxiety promotes excessive caution and makes coping less constructive or successful.

Having worked somatically with so many people, my experience tells me that fear charges the muscles, creating a great deal of potential energy in the thighs, (kicking, running), in the biceps and hand, (punching, etc.) and in the jaw, (biting). Once released and redirected, a person is in a condition or readiness, free to fight or flee or in the case of humans, to choose neither, to just be where we are, not fighting, not running, not freezing, not feigning, not fidgeting, but rather relying on reason, compassion, and cooperation to resolve conflict.

A person suffering from anxiety tends to squeeze their energy toward their midline and up almost appearing tied up with a rope. It in no way prepares the body to fight or flee or be. Yet this pattern can be released as well and redirected more constructively. But first, the mind must stop freaking itself out about the future. The mind must be brought back into present time and into the world as it is now. Often, the immediate reality is less scary than dire possible realities our minds can create for us.

Thoughts that create anxiety for me go something like this…If I get covid-19, I will die. If I die in Japan, I may never see my children again. If the economy crashes, I will lose my entire savings. If covid-19 continues and other pandemics arise, my life as an Alexander teacher who uses his hands will end. If covid-19 and other pandemics arise, travel will be too risky, and my school will close. These thoughts make me anxious and do not help me. I spend very little time entertaining these thoughts because, thankfully, I know how to diffuse them.

This is when the work of Byron Katie becomes very handy. I studied with Katie for quite a number of years. I feel such gratitude toward her and her brilliant work. Her work is an ingenious synthesis of cognitive and meditative processes. You have to think, and you have to drop down deeply into your innermost being for the answers that are there and that will help you live your life, no matter what is going on.

If you do not know about her work, I suggest buying her book, Loving What Is, or going online and learning about what Katie calls, Inquiry.

Here is an example of my using Inquiry.

As an example, let’s take one of my anxiety producing thoughts. After I do this, I encourage you to write down a few of your anxiety producing thoughts and just ask these questions and go through the process. Make sure you write everything down. As Katie says, “All pain belongs on paper.” See what happens.

Here we go. My thoughts are in italics.

If covid 19 and other pandemics arise, travel will be too risky, and my school will close.

Question 1: Is it true? Be still and ask yourself if the thought you wrote down is true.

Of course, I can’t predict the future, but it is good to do your best to arrive at a yes or no answer, even if you have to use your intuition. My intuition says No. I let this answer sink into my body.

Question 2: Can you absolutely know it’s true? This is another opportunity to open your mind and to go deeper into the unknown, to find the answers that live beneath what we think we know.

This for me is definitely a No. I let this sink in. Ah, I can’t know this for sure.

Question 3: How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought? With this question, you begin to notice internal cause and effect. You can see that when you believe the thought, there is a disturbance that can range from mild discomfort to fear or panic. What do you feel? How do you treat the person or the situation you’ve written about, how do you treat yourself, when you believe that thought? Make a list and be specific.

Okay. What happens when I believe this thought is true? I am going to write down the thought again, just so I can really take it in.

If covid 19 and other pandemics arise, travel will be too risky, and my school will close.

 How do I react, what happens, when I believe this thought?

 I feel sad, my chest sinks. It’s hard to inhale. I feel defeated, over the hill, hopeless. Other thoughts arise. All that work I did, for nothing. My work will disappear. I will die in Japan. Life is over.

Question 4: Who would you be without the thought? Imagine yourself in the presence of that person or in that situation without believing the thought. How would your life be different if you didn’t have the ability to even think the stressful thought? How would you feel?

For my Alexander trainees, this is Alexandrian Inhibition with a very creative twist. The stimulus is the stressful thought, in this case an internal stimulus. I react to it as described above. Now, instead of my unplugging the reaction, I am choosing to see what happens if I unplug or drop the stimulus. If the stimulus is no longer there, what is there to react to? 

 If covid 19 and other pandemics arise, travel will be too risky, and my school will close.

 And if I didn’t believe this thought, if I could not think it, if I could let it drop, let it fall?

 My whole body relaxes, widens, my breathing becomes full and smooth. I feel support from my chair. I feel peaceful. Right here, right now, I am okay. I am comfortable. I am fine.

Ah! So what is creating my suffering? Is it reality or is it my thought about reality? If I am no longer suffering when the thought falls away, then it would stand to reason that it is the thought that is creating my suffering, my believing that this thought is true.

Turn the thought around: The “turnaround” gives you an opportunity to consider the opposite of what you believe. We resurface from the meditative process back into a cognitive process. Once you have found one or more turnarounds to your original statement, you are invited to find at least three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true in your life.

Here is an example of a turn around. You pick a statement and turn around only one part of it. For example.

My school will close.

My school will not close. Why might this be true?

  1. I am part of a fantastic team of teachers, all dedicated to the school and to the trainees.
  2. My trainees and grads love the school.
  3. We are all learning how to learn and teach our work online and this will help us strengthen our community and help us as Alexander teachers.

Another turnaround.

My school will open.

  1. Yes, this online way of learning is opening for us.
  2. Alliance students and teachers from Japan, England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, and New Zealand are all getting to meet one another, opening up to one another.
  3. I am writing another book for my students and faculty right now and this will open up new ways for them to think and work as teachers.
  4. My book might be read by people outside of the school and they might become open to visiting or training with us.

 Another turnaround.

 I will close.

 Yes, that is the more important thought to attend to. How do I remain open?

  1. I open my heart to everyone in the world who is struggling and dying.
  2. I open my heart to my family.
  3. I open my heart to all the hospital workers.
  4. I open my heart to my students and teaching team.

Now rather than being anxious, I feel empowered. I feel brave. I feel motivated. My butterflies are flying in formation.

I hope this helps you.

Love to you all,


Bruce

 

 

 

 

Available Now – Bruce’s Book!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

A very limited number of hardback editions are available.

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

www.mouritz.co.uk

or you can get it from

amazon.co.uk

Thanks,

Bruce Fertman

 

 

This Does Not Help

dallasopera-map

I’m not the sort of person who figures things out for myself. When I get lost, which is often, rather than look at a map, (I’ve no smartphone), I will usually ask someone. I enjoy the encounter. I listen, understand, and then a thick fog passes by and I find I’ve forgotten most of what they just told me. I turn and ask someone else for help until, by and by, I get to where I am going. 

I don’t like reading instructions either. This does not help. What I do is ask someone to teach me how to do what I don’t know how to do. I like this. I love having people teach me. I like learning directly from a person. Is that bad? Well it is when you are sitting alone in your kitchen wanting to find a literary agent and you’ve got no idea how to go about it, and no idea of whom to ask.

So I ask the oracle.

Google.

How to find a literary agent, I ask. I am transported to AgentQuery.com. I’m reading. Whosever writing for this company is doing a great job. He or she is so personable I feel like they are right by my side teaching me just what I need to know. (Of course, I have no idea if this is true.) They teach me how to search for a literary agent who might be interested in what I am writing about. They teach me about how to write a query for a work of non-fiction. I decide simply to follow their directions, to follow them to a tee, as is most strongly suggested.

One page. One sentence, referred to as “the hook.” After hooking them, one paragraph to reel them in to wanting to know more about you and your book. A brief, pertinent bio. Thank them courteously and then say goodbye. If they ask you to include some of your manuscript, do so, and if they don’t, do not.

I did it. I followed the simple directions. Here it is – the hook, the reel, the bio, the thank you, and the first 25 pages of what I hope will be a published book that you can actually hold in your hands.

Of course, as my Alexander teachers taught me, I am not holding my breath. It seems unlikely that the first people I send a query to will want to take me on as their client, speaking on my behalf to the most prestigious publishers but, Carol Mann and Tom Miller, I hope you do.

If Carol and Tom should not, I ask all of you who read this for direction, for help. Alert me if you know of a literary agent or a publisher. Offer me guidance if you know your way around this world of books and business. And if you are so moved, let me know what you think of my little project.

To Carol Mann and Tom Miller,

As one who has held in my hands, in my arms, 15,000 people, whose primary sense is touch, who has lived life as a blind man who happens to be able to see, as one who has traveled this world teaching a simple song of physical and spiritual grace, I attempt here to lay the foundations for a theology of touch. 

What is the connection between body and being, between the sensory and the spiritual, between movement and meaning? What does it mean to be tactually literate, to have educative hands? How can we, as educators, as therapists, as parents discern how our students, patients, and children interfere with themselves, somatically and spiritually, so that we might help them suffer less and enjoy life more? Touching The Intangible – Towards A Theology Of Touch tells of the sensibilities and values those of us who teach through touch must cultivate if we are to venture beyond the welfare of the body, and into the workings of the soul. Stories; of an aging mother no longer able to lift her disabled son, of a doctor in a race against time, of an adopted child who cannot eat or smile, of a man who can’t stop blinking, of a woman in search of her real voice, stories of transformation through touch, stories pointing the way toward a theology of touch. 

Biography: Bruce Fertman

  50 years experience as a movement artist and educator. 1982, founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school dedicated to the training of Alexander Technique teachers currently with branches in Germany, Japan, America, and Korea. 30 years traveling annually throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States helping people understand and experience the interconnectedness between physical and spiritual life. A lifetime of disciplined training in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Contact Improvisation, Alexander Technique, Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, (Japanese Tea Ceremony), Argentine Tango, and Kyudo, (Zen Archery). Taught members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Radio France, The National Symphony, the Honolulu Symphony and for the Curtis Institute of Music. 13 years teaching annually for the Five College Dance Program in Amherst, Mass.  Taught the Alexander Technique for the tango community in Buenos Aires. 6 years teaching Movement for the Actor at Temple and Rutgers Universities. 10 years teaching annually for the College of Physiotherapy in Gottingen, Germany. Currently, lives half the year in Osaka, traveling throughout Japan and Korea working with physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, psychologists, dentists, yoga and Pilates instructors, movement research specialists, classical pianists, and with the traditional Korean music and the traditional Korea tea ceremony communities. Lives the other half of the year in northern New Mexico, hiking and writing. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. I believe I have a substantial social platform of support upon which this book could be successfully launched. I include the first 25 pages as requested. I do have a first draft of the entire manuscript ready if you should like to read it.

Gratefully, 

Bruce Fertman

http://www.peacefulbodyschool.com

Touching The Intangible 

Photo: B. Fertman

 

 Towards A Theology Of Touch

By

Bruce Fertman

Epigraph

Being blind I thought I should have to go out to meet things, but I found that they came to meet me instead…

If my fingers pressed the roundness of an apple, I didn’t know whether I was touching the apple or the apple was touching me…

As I became part of the apple, the apple became part of me. And that is how I came to understand the existence of things.

 As a child I spent hours leaning against objects and letting them lean against me. Any blind person can tell you that this exchange gives a satisfaction too deep for words…

Touching the tomatoes in the garden is surely seeing them as fully as the eye can see.  But it is more than seeing them.

It is the end of living in front of things, and the beginning of living with them.

Jacques Lusseyran – from And There Was Light

God is Reality.

Byron Katie

Foreword 

Michelangelo’s Choice

No one knows the story behind Michelangelo’s choice.

What I do know is in the Torah the story goes that God blew the breath of life through Adam’s nostrils. Breath was the vital force. When painting the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo chose not to depict the creation of Adam through this image. He chose touch, not breath. God touches Adam, and Adam begins to live. That’s closer to how it works. Two people embrace. Spermatozoa race toward the ovum. Only one will penetrate the ovum’s protective layer, allowing the genetic material of the biological father to touch, then merge, with the genetic material of the biological mother.

Michelangelo’s depiction of Adam’s creation may be more widely known than the original. Michelangelo re-conceived the creation of man in his own image. He was the ultimate creator of the human form, a man who brought, through touch, the lifeless to life.

No wonder, when I was thirteen and saw for the first time Michelangelo’s Pieta at the Worlds Fair in New York in 1964, I wept. And wept. My mother had no idea why. Neither did I. 

Now I do.

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Was This Book Written For You?

This book is written in honor of and for…

…people interested in the relationship between physical and spiritual grace. 

…people interested in touch, but especially for people who use their hands to help others.

… people interested in the interplay between sensory life and spiritual life. For anyone seeking to live a spiritually embodied life.

…counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists of any kind who want to learn how to better listen, see, and be with their patients.

… body workers who want to learn how not to work on a person’s body, but through a person’s body. For movement artists and educators who better wish to understand how meaning underlies movement.

… all teachers who want to be better teachers, who want to learn how to quickly and deeply connect to students, how to foster trust, how to teach through the telling of stories, through metaphor, and through movement.

… performing artists, actors, musicians, dancers and singers who wish to know more about authenticity, about presence, and about inner beauty.

… people who are interested in Taoism and in the teachings of Lao Tzu.

… people who want a good introduction into what the Alexander Technique is and what it is about. 

… people who are currently students of the Alexander Technique who wish to incorporate the work into their everyday lives, and into their way of being in the world.

… people who are training to be Alexander Technique teachers or who are currently Alexander Technique teachers who wish also to learn how to impart Alexander’s work outside of his procedures, who also wish to be able to teach effectively in groups. For Alexander trainees and teachers who want to take the work beyond the body. For Alexander trainees and teachers who wish to teach more from the heart. For Alexander trainees and teachers who wish to find contemporary language for Alexander’s work. For Alexander trainees and teachers who wish to explore the relationship between Alexander’s work and spiritual life.

This book unfolds from beginning to end, leading you deeply into the work at hand. At the same time, each essay stands on its’ own.  

Table Of Contents

Foreword

Was This Book Written For You?

Part I. The Work At Hand 

Poise

The Way Of It

My Muse

Revealing That Which Is Hidden

The Blueprint

Taking Care Of The People Who Take Care Of People

The Decision

At The End Of The Road

The Hint

Part II. Sensibilities

Our Essential Task

Don’t I Know You?

How Are You?

Seeing People

In This Deep Place

The Lay Of The Land

Jiro’s Hands

Part III. Openings Into Grace

The World In A Dewdrop

One Small Gesture Of Kindness

All In A Days Work

In Blind Daylight

The Walker

In The Blink Of An Eye

The Letter

Sing For Me

A Little Lightness

On Becoming A Person

Two Worlds

Living Until You Die

God In The Palm Of Your Hand

Part IV. Meditations On The Sensory World

Intrapersonal Sensory Intelligence

God Trying To Get Your Attention

Shekina – A Contemporay Midrash On Genesis

Sensus Communis

Without Our Having To Ask

Sauntering

Touching Existence

What You Are Not

Being Fed

Contemplative Anatomy 

The Nameless Song

Why Wait?

Inside The Majesty

V. Living The Work

Softness

Love Runs Downstream

A Real Softy

Drenched To The Bone

Less

You’re Too Much

Kvetching

How To Make A Good Impression

Gravity and Grace

The Place Just Right

A Little Girl And A Little Boy

Plain Jane

The Wind And The Willows

Beyond Right And Wrong

Defenseless

Suicide Bombers

When I’m Right, I’m Right

Begin With Yourself

Where Do They All Come From

The Solution

Barely Squeaking By

Not A Second Too Late

It Cannot Be That Simple

Teaching Without Teaching

Beauty Longing For Itself

Establishing Credit

Non-Doing

Chasing After Your Own Tail

Can’t Stand The Pressure

Don’t Take My Advice

Oneness

Heaven Help Us

A Nameless Song

Me And My Shadow

Essential Goodness

Thoughtless

Unmistakable Signs

Putting Your Foot In Your Mouth

Stopping

Chill

Ready Or Not

Life On The Edge

Readiness

The Imprint

Too Late For You

A Poor Little Old Lady

Space

Out Of Nowhere

Just Between You And Me

A Big Fat Nobody

Change

Deep

Burnt Out

Death Warmed Over

Moms

Afterward 

My Letter Of Resignation

Part I

The Work At Hand

Poise

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman


Poise occurs by itself when we stop interfering with it. The hitch is we don’t know precisely how we are interfering with it because we can’t feel the interference.

What we do feel is the result of the interference, some particular or generalized strain, effort, tension, or fatigue. It’s there. We’re uncomfortable, and we don’t know how to become comfortable. We try to sit up straight, or we stretch for a while, but soon enough this lack of ease, this lack of support returns.

We go back to work with this sluggish sense of weight, this thickness we have to push through to get anything done. Or we go back to work so revved up that we don’t feel a thing for hours until we stop and find ourselves hurting, or totally wiped out.

Poise. It’s elusive. We see very young children, how lightly suspended they are, how lithe, how nimble. They’re not trying to do anything right. They’re just naturally buoyant and springy.

What happened?

Unwittingly, from the inside out, we sculpted “a tension body”, a body made of tension. 

image4

The Awakening Slave by Michelangelo

It takes a lot of energy to keep two bodies going, especially two bodies that aren’t getting along. While our real body is putting its foot on the gas pedal, our tension body is putting its foot on the brake. We feel un-free, enslaved by our tension. This is the opposite of poise.

Poise returns as you begin to distinguish your tension body from your real body. As you become acquainted with your tension body, you can ask it, kindly, to let go of you. As it does, your tension body generously gives you its energy, its very life. The conflict ends. You’re free.

The Way Of It

bulldogging_by_suzie_n-d81j1ps

On this particular day, in Japan, in a hospital, I am with physical and speech therapists. I have two days, fourteen hours. Two professors of Physical Therapy invited me because it has become apparent to them that, when it comes to educating physical therapists, two key elements are missing: how they use their hands, and how they use their bodies when they are doing their work. Physical therapists in Japan get a lot of theory in school. They learn a lot of specific techniques for a lot of specific problems. But they don’t have a class called Touch 101, or Movement for Physical Therapists 202. They just don’t, and these professors are beginning to wonder why. There are about thirty-five therapists in the room, about seven Alexander Technique teachers. That should work. The workshop begins.

I Don’t Know

The Alexander Technique is not a technique, not in the same way you guys learn techniques for working with adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulders or in Japan as it is known, the 50 year old shoulder), or hemiplegia (severe strokes), or dysphagia (swallowing disorders). The Alexander Technique is not a technique for anything particular.

The Alexander Technique is a field of study. It’s an inquiry into human integration, into what integration is, what restores it, and what disturbs it. It’s a foundational study. Integration underlies everything we do. The more of it we have, the easier it is to do what we’re doing.

So what is integration? You PTs help people a lot with strength, flexibility, and coordination, super important for everyone. Integration includes all of these but is, at the same time, something distinct from them. For example, a baby can scream for an hour and not lose its voice. Why is that? Why can’t a grown up do that? A baby will reach for something, but never over-reach for something. They will only extend their arms or legs so far and no farther. Why is that? Babies will work for a long time figuring out how to pick up a pea on their plate but will never distort their hands or bodies while they’re doing it. They just won’t distort themselves. They are somehow prewired, preprogrammed to remain whole, all of a piece, a flexible unit. That’s integration.

So why do we lose it? I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things. How do we lose it? I don’t know that either, but I’ve got a few theories. What I observe is that in the process of our becoming coordinated, something happens. At some point we’ve got to learn how to button our shirt, tie our shoes, eat with hashi, (chopsticks). We’ve got to learn how to speak, how to ride a bicycle, how to write kanji. Did you ever see little kids trying to write kanji? There you can see it. Children disintegrating. Their tongues are sticking out of the corner of their mouths, they’re not breathing, their heads are hanging down, spines bent and twisted, little hands gripping their pencils for dear life. And the more pressure around learning, the more felt fear, the more the body just falls apart. There’s no preventing it entirely, no matter how great your parents are, or your teachers, or your culture. Sooner or later it’s going to happen to everyone, more or less. The fall from grace. Somehow, we’ve got to find our way back to the garden.

Bulldogging

Have you ever been to a rodeo? (I’ve now moved from standing in a big circle with everyone, into the center of that circle.) I haven’t, but sometimes when you walk into a bar in New Mexico, which is where I live when I am not living in Japan, you might look up at the TV and see one. A rodeo’s a contest where cowboys and cowgirls show their skill at riding broncos, roping calves, and wrestling steers. These are practical skills ranchers need in order to roundup cattle, to count them, or brand them. (I’ve chosen this example for the PTs because it’s profoundly physical, strongly kinesthetic. It’s also exotic, and people like that.)

It so happens that Marjorie L. Barstow, the first person formally certified to teach the Alexander Technique, and my mentor for 16 years, took Frank Pierce Jones, a man she helped train to become an Alexander teacher, a classics professor at Brown University, an East Coast intellectual, a man who would never find himself at a western rodeo, except for on this day, when Marj wanted to show him what the Alexander Technique was all about.

Okay Frank, in a minute a big, mean, steer is going to explode out of that gate, and out of the gate next to it, a cowboy on a horse is going to burst out, and that cowboy is going to do his best to lean over, grab that steers horns, dig his heels into the dirt, and take that steer down. And that steer is going to do his best not to let him.

The gates open. Frank watches. He sees the cowboy lean over, take the horns, snap them back, jam the back of the steers skull into his massive neck while twisting that neck to the side and bringing that steers head to the ground. The steer, unable to stay on his legs, crashes to the ground.

What did you see Frank? Not too much, Frank says. Keep watching Frank. They watched, and as they watched, little by little Marj got Frank to see exactly what was happening. You see Frank, the cowboy snaps the steers’ head back, and jams it into his neck. That compresses his entire spine. Now the steer can’t breathe. His front legs begin to buckle. His pelvis tilts under. His hind legs can’t get any power, any traction. That steer’s got nothing left. The man’s in control now.

There’s one last cowboy to go. Looking down at him as he sits on his horse, Frank can see that this cowboy doesn’t look well. He’s slouched back in the saddle, the horse’s head is dropped way down. Maybe he was out late. Maybe he drank more than he should have. The gates swing open, the steer gets the jump on him, the cowboy catches up, leans over, grabs the horns but can’t seem to snap the head back. Rather than the horns going back, Frank sees them rotating slightly forward, the neck looks enormous, the steers’ ribs are widening as air fills his huge lungs. The steers’ body seems to be getting longer, his front legs are dropping under him, his pelvis is out, his tail is up, his haunches powerful, his back hooves driving him forward like a train. Meanwhile, the cowboy looks like a flag flapping in the wind. This time around, the steer’s in charge.

Now that’s the way of it, that’s how it works, that’s what we’re after, Marj says. We’ve got that kind of organized power in us too. We’re just interfering with it all the time. That’s what Alexander figured out.

And that’s what I mean, I say to the class, when I use the word integration. I mean that naturally organized freedom and power that’s in all of us.

I can see I’ve got everyone’s attention. I’ve been telling this story as much with my body as with my words. I see that everyone’s been sitting for a while, so I say, Okay, enough sitting. Why don’t you stand up. The second they start to stand up I tell them to stop and just stay where they are. 

Don’t move a muscle. Where are your horns? I mean, if you had horns. Are they rotating forward or are they rotating backwards? My eyes see one guy whose head is pretty jammed into his neck. I walk over and kneel down on one knee in front of him. I invite everyone to come closer so they can see us. I scoop his head lightly into my hands the way my grandmother would do to me when she greeted me, and I gently tilt his imaginary horns forward. His spine surges up. Everyone can see the power filling his body. That’s the steer, I say. 

I guide his weight over his sit bones, then over his feet, and without any effort, he floats to a stand. How was that, I said? Smiling, dazed, he says, “Zen zen chigau! Totally different! I floated up without any effort.” “Well, I say, that’s what happens when the cowboy gets off your back.”

Now here’s where it gets interesting. We’ve all got a steer inside of us. I call that your mammal body. And we all have a cowboy inside of us. That’s your acquired body. And sometimes our acquired body works against our mammal body. There’s a conflict in there. We’re fighting against ourselves. And it can get dangerous. The steer can get hurt, and the cowboy too.

Now our cowboy can’t take us down by our horns because we don’t have horns, and besides, the cowboy is not outside of us. So how does the cowboy within us bring us down? Well, instead of coming at us from on top of our heads, he comes at us from below our heads, from our necks. It’s like he’s hiding there inside our neck, looking up, reaching up, and pulling our skull back and pressing it down into our spines. That’s not the only place where he hangs out, but it’s definitely one of his favorite places from which to operate.

Here’s what’s very cool. Our mammal body has got a lot of energy in it. And our cowboy body does too. Now if they’re going at each other, they’re using up all of our energy, and that’s the energy we want to be using to get on with our lives. If we can get the energy of the mammal body and the energy of the cowboy body to harmonize, to work together toward a common purpose, if we can get them both working for us, not busy fighting against each other, then just imagine how much energy that would free up.

And that’s why it felt so effortless standing up. Not only was the cowboy off your back, the cowboy was actually helping you get up! So you’re going from having almost no available energy to stand up, to having a surplus of energy to stand up. Now, that’s exciting. Imagine what it would feel like to work with patients with all that organized energy, what it would be like to move through your day like that.

(Glimpses into what it looks like as I work with physical therapists.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vkn2NsuBWiI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAdOjLVztSk

Over the next half hour, I do this with about ten students. I make a point of always catching a person unaware that their horns are pulling back. Don’t move, I tell her. You’re perfect just like that. Okay, I’m going to be the cowboy. I place my hands around her head, but this time I put a slight pressure with my little fingers against the back of her neck and take her more into her “disintegration pattern,” gently getting her throat to bulge forward and down, which immediately tilts her head back, collapses her chest, and tucks her pelvis under.

Now, I’m going to have a change of heart, a conversion. I’m a cowboy who decided to change his ways. My new mission is to free the steer, free its power. Finding the potential spring in her spine, I guide her back into her “integration pattern.” (I don’t use any Alexander jargon. I don’t need it.)

Supporting teachers, I call out!  It’s time to give everyone this experience! I can sense a bit of panic in the air. I know what they’re afraid of. Don’t be afraid of taking people down, I say to them. Do it., but do it slowly and gently. It’s good for them. It’s good for everyone. We want to get springy down there. When you buckle a person’s neck forward and press their heads gently into their spines, it’s an intelligent response for the body to go into a collapse pattern. If the spine is too rigid and can’t do that, there’s a problem. So take people down, softly, and get them to know what’s happening down there. Lead them down in a way that makes their spine springy. Load the spring. Fill it with potential energy. Then take the pressure off it and let the spine spring back up. Get to work. Have fun.

By the end of the first morning we are off to a good start.  Everyone’s got a clear idea of what the work’s about, what the workshop is about. They’re beginning to be able to see what the cowboy within looks like, and what the steer within looks like. They’ve all felt the power of their mammal body when the cowboy is working for it, and the weakness of the mammal body when the cowboy is working against it.

Their Own Story

I want to tell them about their own countries story of the ox and the ox herder, about the boy who finds the wild ox and tries to tame it, and has a real hard time of it, how they both end up exhausted. I want to tell them how, if they just hang in there for forty years, the ox and the ox herder will come to trust one another, like one another. The fighting will stop. But I decide not to go there.

Have a good lunch. Get some fresh air. Move around. Rest a bit. Come back ready to work.

Doumo arigatou gosaimashita, thank you very much, I say, bowing, grateful after all these years to still be teaching, grateful there are young people out there interested in what I know.  Doumo arigatou gosaimashita, everyone repeats, happy and energetic.

zen oxherd picture

Mounting the ox, slowly I return homeward.

The voice of my flute floats through the evening air.

Tapping my foot to the pulsating harmony of the world around me,

In rhythm with the beating of my own heart.

My Muse

If you look closely at some of the large figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you may notice something peculiar. A good number of them have books in their hands. It seems they want to read. Often kids are bothering them. Perhaps Michelangelo also wanted to read but was always being interrupted. 

When I was a modern dancer, I wanted to read too, but I was either in technique class, or rehearsing. I remember seeing a bumper sticker that read, I’d rather be dancing. I knew, straight away, that person was not a dancer. If they were a dancer their bumper sticker would have read, I’d rather be reading.

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There was one figure on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel that mesmerized me, that possessed me, that became my muse, and eventually the logo for my community/school, the Alexander Alliance. She was the Libyan Sybil. When I began using her image as the logo for the Alexander Alliance, students wondered why, why the Libyan Sybil? And as I often do, and did then, I answered their question with a question.

Michelangelo_the_libyan

The Libyan Sybil 

Why do you think?

She’s beautiful.

She’s strong.

She’s poised.

She’s got a great back.

She’s spiraling.

Once I feel my students have seen what they are going to see then, if there is more I want to direct their attention toward, I will.

Notice how Michelangelo figures often appear androgynous. I like this. Often as men undo their culturally acquired masculine holding patterns, they feel more feminine. And as women undo their culturally acquired feminine holding patterns, they feel more masculine. I move people away from their acquired gender bodies and into their mammal body, the body that men and woman share, their human body.

She’s got a beautiful synergetic flexion of the hips, knees and ankles. We want that happening in conjunction with an expanding back that is emanating power through the arms into the hands, and through the spine and into the skull. And the Libyan Sybil has got all that going for her.

Something else I love about the Libyan Sybil is her upper appendicular skeletal system, her arms. They remind me so much of my mentor’s, Marj Barstow’s, arms when she worked with us. Marj’s scapulae were wide. Her shoulders were neither up nor down, more just out and away, one from the other. Her elbows and wrists were articulate. Her elbows were ever so slightly back and out, creating room between her arms and torso, while her wrists were going in slightly toward the mid-line, exactly as you see here as our sybil holds her very, very large book. Marj’s arms always looked natural and elegant. Her hands looked at once easy and powerful. Really, Marj’s arms were just like the Libyan Sybil!

Then there’s that exquisite spiraling throughout her body that you’ve noticed. Let’s look more closely at what is going on there. There’s a descending spiral, and an ascending spiral. The descending spiral begins with the head and eyes. Something’s got her attention; something’s turning her attention away from her book. The descending spiral is primarily concerned with orientation. Your orientation begins to change. You hear something, or you see something, and your orientation to the world shifts. You can see this descending spiral happening in some of our other readers too. Go and take a look.

Now what about the ascending spiral? From where is that initiating?

From her hips.

Lower.

From her left foot.

Lower.

From the ground.

That’s what it looks like to me, from the ground, and then sequentially up through the body. So if the descending spiral is about orientation, what’s the ascending spiral about?

Maybe action. It’s helping her to hold up the book.

Power to do what she’s doing.

That’s how I see it too. Maybe she was oriented more fully toward the book and then something got her attention and Michelangelo caught her just at that moment of transition.

Why would he want to do that?

Because it looks cool.

The cool factor is very important. The Libyan Sybil is a super cool figure. Just imagine how cool the Sistine Chapel was when the first people ever to enter that room looked up and saw these huge three dimensional figures almost falling out of the ceiling. Painting was not Michelangelo’s thing. He was a sculptor. He was forced to paint the Sistine Chapel. So he discovered new techniques for making his two dimensional figures appear three-dimensional.

Michelangelo likes that transitional moment because change is taking place. But you don’t know what she’s really doing or why. It’s mysterious. Is she opening the book or closing the book? 

There’s action. She’s in motion. He’s not just painting form, but motion, coordination, emotion, drama. He’s a motional and emotional anatomist. He’s a storyteller.

Now when you really think about it, there aren’t two spirals. There’s just one. Imagine you are holding a wet towel. Get your scarf, or your coat, or a towel, and try this. Hold it in your hands and turn your top hand gently in one direction as you counter that action by gently turning your bottom hand in the other direction.

Imagine turning it so gently that no water is squeezed out of it. When we wring out a wet towel our spiral turns into a twist. An area is created where both movements oppose one another and stop each other, creating torsion. But if the spiral is gentle enough, and if it moves through the whole towel, there is no conflict, there is no blockage, there’s just one integrated spiraling motion occurring in two complimentary opposing directions.

The Libyan Sybil, for me, is the symbol of a person who can gracefully transition, change direction, change opinion, adapt, without losing poise, without disturbance. Imagine being a parent who is trying to do something, like read, or cook, or pay the bills and your two young children have just started fighting with each other. How are you inside of that transition? How gracefully can you shift your attention? How do you adapt to changing circumstances?

Revealing That Which Is Hidden

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

Ignudo_02_detail_s

What is he feeling, and what specifically tells you what he is feeling?

He’s panicking. His eyes are bugging out. It looks like he’s gasping. Even his hair contributes to this sense of panic.

Worried. Something about how his forehead is raised and her eyebrows are dropping down.

Dreading something. I really don’t know. I feel it through his whole body. Maybe it’s in his back and neck and shoulder. And the way his upper lip is pulled up. Something bad is happening. 

Really sad. It could be the angle of his eyes, or the tilt of his head or the sunken feeling in his chest. 

Feeling hopeless. The chest and eyes.

Feels threatened. It looks like he wants to get away. He’s looking back but his body is trying to go forward. Maybe.

Images are like Rorschach tests. We project our inner life onto outer images. Why else would we all be interpreting what we see differently? Let’s compare the Ignudo to the Libyan Sybil. Tell me what you are seeing and the feeling it creates.

efg_24.197.2_283230_03

The scapula’s moving down and out and around the ribs. It looks strong and graceful.

The spine looks long. The neck is not compressed or shortened. It creates a feeling of balance and elegance.

The eyelids are lowered; forehead and eyebrows relaxed. That makes her look calm and objective and in control.

The mouth is closed. It makes her seem observant, self possessed. 

The head, instead of tilting back, is tilting ever so slightly forward. I don’t know, she feels dignified.

Yeah, instead of looking over the shoulder by flipping the head back, the Libyan Sybil is tilting the head forward and rotating around; two ways of looking over the shoulder, but they’re so completely opposite. There is no fear. She’s quietly confident.

It’s amazing. The figures are completely opposite in almost every way.

That is why I juxtaposed them. You’re beginning to see how I see because you are recognizing the specific physical traits that express, (press out), the emotion (to move outward).

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

They get to work. I sit back and watch. Again, getting to know my students. 

So what was that like?

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

Many heads are nodding in agreement.

Head poise has an organizing, integrative influence, a governing influence throughout the entire body/self. And when this head poise is disturbed, disturbance happens throughout the whole body/self. That is why a head is called a head. It’s in charge. 

So lets look one more time. What do you see happening to the Ignudo figure’s body?

Michelangelo-ignudo

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

His body looks stuck, disorganized, and confused. Caught in the middle.

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

He looks really compressed in his chest and belly, and his mid-back looks like it’s pushing back with a lot of force. And his right scapula is rising up toward his ear.

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

That’s a good one. It is good to kinesthetically feel what you are seeing. That’s what I call embodied seeing. Why do you think I sometimes choose to teach people about the body through art instead of through strictly anatomical drawings?

Because they’re beautiful.

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

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

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

Yes, and because, first and foremost, I want you to see a person’s beauty. I haven’t seen a person who wasn’t beautiful in 35 years. And often, the more distraught the person is, the more beautiful. And through that beauty I want you to sense a person’s humanity. And only then do I want you to drop concern yourself with a person’s anatomical structure.

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

Perhaps now you may see why I fell in love with the Libyan Sybil, and why I chose her as our school logo. It is said she has the power to “reveal that which is hidden.” Perhaps she ‘s turning toward us, opening the great book for us, inviting us to read, and to learn.

Michelangelo_the_libyan

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Again, my thanks for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Bruce Fertman

http://www.peacefulbodyschool.com

 

 

Leaving Myself In Your Hands

Guan-Yin-Close up

Bill Coco

“Show me how to do that?” And I would. I would stop my own workout and teach someone how to do what I had somehow figured out how to do, like a front somersault, or a reverse kip up on the rings, or circles on the side horse. No wonder I missed making the Olympic Team. I was busy coaching. Looking back, it’s clear; I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I was supposed to be learning how to use my hands to guide someone into balance, to indicate exactly from where to initiate a movement, in what direction, and with what quality of impulse; to punch it, or snap it, or swing it, or draw it out, or press it up, or let it go. I was supposed to be developing my ability to use language to facilitate coordination.

Unbeknownst to me, I was supposed to become an Alexander teacher, but when I was twelve, and first began using my hands to teach other kids how to move well, I had no idea what that was. As gymnasts we used our hands to help each other as a matter of course, and sometimes as a matter of life and death.

My first coach, Bill Coco, gave me my first experience of educative/nurturing touch. “Okay Bruce. You’re going to do your first back layout with a full twist. I want you to show me your round off. Remember no more than 3 preparatory steps, one back handspring, block with your feet so you transfer your horizontal power vertically, hands reaching toward the ceiling. Don’t look over your left shoulder until I say, “Look,” then wrap your arms quickly and closely across your chest, and leave the rest up to me. Got it?” “Got it.” My faith in Bill was total.

One step, round off, lightning fast back handspring, block, reach…”Look,” I hear Bill say! I look over my left shoulder, wrap my arms across my chest, and there’s Bill’s big hands, soft, light, around my hips. I’m suspended, my body laid out in an arch, weightless, floating two feet above Bill’s head. I’m ecstatic. Bill’s hands spin me to the left, and the next thing I know my feet have landed squarely on the ground. “There you go Bruce. Your first lay out with a full twist. You did 95% of it on your own. By the end of the week it will be yours.”

I guess that makes Bill Coco my first Alexander teacher. He taught be how to lead with my head and let my body follow. He used his hands exactly where, and only when needed, and only with the amount of force necessary. Bill looked like a boxer, more often than not with a fat, unlit, cigar in his mouth, disheveled, sported a sizable beer belly, seemed like a tough guy, and deep down was the softest, gentlest, hugest teddy bear alive. He died when he was forty. I was fifteen. But he passed on to me exactly what I needed, and no doubt he did for a lot of Philadelphia kids like myself.

Bill Coco

Bill Coco

And so it went. Teacher after teacher, teaching me exactly what I needed to learn to get exactly to where I am now; a person who knows how to use his hands to bring people into balance, a person who knows the language of movement, and pretty much a soft, gentle teddy bear of a person, minus the cigar.

But were my teachers only teachers? What else were they to me? How did they really pass onto me what I needed to learn? There are teachers, coaches, counselors, instructors, educators, professors, rabbis, priests, role models, idols, heroes, and mentors. We’ve got different names for people from whom we learn, people who pass on knowledge and skill to us, who bring out knowledge and skill from us. But what is the name for those teachers who pass themselves onto us?

It’s important for me to know what, and who I am to my students if I am to best serve them, if I am to pass on to them the best in me, if I am to leave myself in their hands. Sometimes I am teacher, father, friend, coach, holy man, enemy, sometimes mentor, advocate, adversary, role model. I am exactly, at any given moment, who my student perceives me to be, and needs me to be. I know I am, in essence, none of the roles I assume. I am the person who assumes them.

Marjorie Barstow

Marj Barstow was many things to me, which is why she made such an impression. Most importantly, she was a mirror into my future. She was the manifestation of my potentiality. I could see in her what was lying latent within me. And so I watched, and I listened as if my life depended on it, which it did.

She was not a holy person, not a guru, not a mother, Boy, did she not mother us. She was not a technique teacher, not a coach. She was an artist who showed us her art, over and over again, a kinesthetic sculptor. Humans were her medium. And sometimes horses. (Marj had trained world champion quarter horses.) Sometimes I think she really didn’t care all that much about us as people. She was not a person-centered teacher, as I am. She was a technique-centered teacher. She used us to work on her technique, on her art. That was okay with us. We benefited from her artistic obsession.

Marj inspired me. Her work was astoundingly beautiful, mesmerizing, like watching a master potter spin a clump of clay into a graceful bowl.

Marjorie Barstow working with me.  1977

Marjorie Barstow working with me.
1977

More than anything in the world, I wanted to be able to do what she did. I watched her work day after day, year after year, but I didn’t just watch her with my eyes alone. I watched her kinesthetically. I watched her with my whole body and being. I developed a kind of synesthesia. I was taking her in, at once, through all of my senses. It was like I was swallowing her whole. I “grokked” her.

When I was in college and read Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, I knew that was how I needed to learn. “Grok” means water. To grok means to drink, to drink life. Not to chew it. Not to break it down to understand it. At the moment of grokking the water and the drinker become one substance. As the water becomes part of the drinker, the drinker becomes part of the water. What was once two separate realities become one reality, one experience, one event, one history, one purpose.

Marj didn’t break things down. Marj didn’t teach us how to use our hands. After we would watch her for a few hours Marj would say something like, “Okay. Let’s divide into smaller groups. Bill, Barbara, Don, Bruce, Martha, and Mio, go and teach for a while. (Or it could have been, Cathy, David, Diana, Catherine, and Pete.) The teaching just happened. We could do it. It was as if we were riding Marj’s wave. We were grokking her.

About a year before Marj died I had a dream. Marj was dying. She was in her bedroom, in her house in Lincoln Nebraska, a room I had never seen. “Bruce come sit next to me.” I did. Then slowly Marj pulled the corner of her bedcover down and asked me to lie down next to her. I was shocked, but I did as she asked and gently slid by her side and covered both of us. Then Marj said, “It’s okay Bruce. Now I am going to breathe you for a while, and she placed her mouth on my mouth and began to breathe into me. I could feel her warm breath entering and filling my lungs. I could feel my breath entering into her lungs. In total darkness, we breathed together for hours.  And then I woke up. I got out of bed, picked up the phone, and called Marj. “Marj, are you okay? I had a dream about you and got nervous.” “Bruce, don’t worry about me. I am fine.” “Okay Marj. Sorry if I bothered you.” “No, you didn’t bother me. Thanks for calling.” “No, thank you Marj.”

I’m still thanking her.

Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

What was he to me, a rabbi, a teacher, a spiritual father? Marj gave me my craft, my art, my vocation. Rebbe Zalman taught me how to teach, how to sit quietly with people, as if they were in my living room. He showed me that it was fine to be silent, that it was okay to take the time I needed to think, and to wait until I had something worth saying. He taught me how to tell a story. He taught me to be unafraid to look into people’s eyes. He taught me how to think metaphorically. He taught me how to listen to my still, inner voice, and follow it. He taught me how to listen to the inner voices of others. He taught me how to bless people, and how to be blessed by them. He taught me that I could never know one religion unless I knew two, and actively encouraged my interest in Zen Buddhism, in the Christian Mystics, and the Sufi Poets, and in the teachings of Lao Tzu.

Rebbe Zalman

Rebbe Zalman

One day Rebbe Zalman entered a classroom at Temple University where I was taking a graduate course on Martin Buber and the Early Hasidic Masters. Rebbe Zalman enters the room, walks across the room to the other side, stands in front of a large window and looks out at the day. After a minute or two he turns around, walks to his desk, sits on the top of his desk, crosses his legs, closes his eyes, tilts his face up toward the ceiling like a blind man, and begins gently rocking from side to side, bending like grass in the wind. He begins singing a niggun, a soft melody that repeats itself and has no ending. At some point we begin singing with him, singing and singing without end, until we feel as if we are altogether in one boat, floating upon an endless melody, down a endless stream. Rebbe Zalman’s voice fades out, and ours with his, until we’re sitting in a palpable silence. Eyes closed, his rocking slowly getting smaller and smaller. And there in the stillness, in the silence, we’d hear, “That reminds me of a story.”

And Rebbe Zalman would begin to tell us a story, and within the story there would be another story, and within that story another story, until we were transported, like children, into another world. And when we’d least expect it, at a particular point, the story would end. No commentary. No discussion. Class was over. We’d leave knowing those stories were about us, about our very lives. Rebbe Zalman didn’t have to give us any homework. He knew those stories would be working within us until next week. Marj Barstow and Rebbe Zalman were transformative educators, par excellence. They knew how to educe, how to lead us in, and then how to lead us out, out of ourselves, into places unknown to us.

A Modern Day Bodhisattva

Many years later I met a woman, another modern day bodhisattva, another person who inspires, who teaches through example, who knows how to bring out the best in people. I spent hours, years, watching her work, watching her lead one person after another out of their confusion; I spent years grokking her, absorbing her through my pores, into who I am now.

11th century Guanyin statue, from northern China

11th century Guanyin statue, from northern China

Again, I see there are no accidents. We meet exactly the teachers we need, exactly at the time we need them, so that we may become exactly the people we were meant to become.

Aaah, but that is another story.

House And Home

handwriting

Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet

Letters To A Young Teacher

Bruce, you write, “Aren’t there more direct, fun, practical, and effective ways to work with how we react to stimuli from within and without besides endlessly getting people in and out of a chair?” My AT teacher at school would probably say: “Chair work will indirectly affect their use in everyday life – let them make the transfer.” So how does that tie in with your take on teaching “activity work”, which to my mind is not indirect, but direct? 

Thank you for your good question. My understanding is that when Alexander spoke of working indirectly he meant that when a person comes to you with a specific problem, let’s say, a frozen shoulder, working directly would be choosing to work immediately to regain range and comfort in the shoulder, through working on the shoulder. A reasonable idea. The approach in Alexander Work, if we are sticking to the principle of working indirectly, is to attend to a person’s overall integration and coordination, and in turn that may, (and may not), resolve the shoulder issue.

It’s a bit like family therapy. Let’s say the whole body is the family, and the hurting child is the frozen shoulder. The parents are fighting, a lot. The kid begins developing asthmatic symptoms. The problem may not lie within the child, but within the family dynamics as a whole. By the parent’s shifting their way of functioning, their child may begin to function differently as well. That, as I understand Mr. Alexander, is what he meant by working indirectly. Indirectly, that is, getting to the part through the whole.

Once you begin to get this idea of working indirectly, you begin to see that Alexander stumbled upon a very big idea, one that, now, everyone understands. If bees are beginning to disappear, or tree frogs, and you start looking for the cause inside the bee world, or the tree frog world instead of backing up and looking at the entire world they inhabit, their larger body, of which bees and tree frogs are an integral part, you won’t see the whole problem, or find the solution.

Alexander discerned an ecology within people, an inner ecology – the study of our inner house and home, in relation to our larger house and home.  (You could say we are the overlap through which our inner and outer environments become one.) Alexander, seen in this light, was a holistic and ecological thinker and practitioner.

As for working through Alexander’s “conventional” procedures, that is, the procedures that have  become the norm within today’s Alexander world, I am not an expert. Yes, I have worked with lots of teachers, including most of the first generation teachers who employed these procedures and, to the best of my limited ability, I have taught through these procedures as well. But I have spent more time learning about Alexander’s work through his less conventional procedures – walking, going up and down steps (lunge work is beautifully woven within this action),  the performing arts, speaking, and everyday activities. These were the procedures that my mentor, Marj Barstow, enjoyed and explored. Consequently, these are the procedures I have taught through most successfully.

Over the years I began to sense that working through Marj’s procedures were, in a way, working too directly, too specifically, but for a very different reason than your teacher might think. I started to see that any activity happened within a larger context, and that I had to zoom both further in, and further out if I was to work holistically or ecologically. That’s why I no longer refer to what I do as “working in activity.” I call it “working situationally.”

For example, a young man is late. He jumps up from his desk, swings on his coat, hops in his car, squeals out his driveway, double parks, runs up three flights of stairs, knocks on his girlfriends apartment door, and waits, standing there, reliving that phone call, the fight they had that morning, feeling like a total jerk, wondering if she will open the door or not, whether she will ever speak to him again, whether she will call off their engagement, and what his parents will say.

Okay. You could work with this poor, distraught young man by taking him in and out of a chair, a la Alexander, or work with him driving his car, walking up steps, and knocking on a door, a la Marj Barstow. Still, are you really going to get to the precise inner and outer stimuli that cause this man to fall apart, to lose his psycho-physical composure, his integrity?

If I am going to work with this man in his entirety, in relation to his inner and outer home, then I may need to address such factors as his relationship to time, how he listens to his girlfriend when she is feeling insecure and starts criticizing him, how he reacts when he starts believing thoughts like his being a total jerk, or what happens to him when he starts caring too much about what other people think about him. But I am going to figure out a way to do this somatically and personally, not psychologically or clinically. I’m going to “stick to principle” and work as the Alexander teacher that I am.

Not our postural habits, nor our movements habits per se, (though they are part of the picture), but our habits of life, these are the habits we are attempting to unearth, and bring into the light of day, to be seen, felt, and known, accepted, and resolved. This is, for me, profoundly humbling work, both personally and as a teacher. Sometimes I wonder if I’m making any progress at all. I wonder if I will ever really be able to live and teach Alexander’s work. Forty years later, I begin to understand Marj when she would say, “I really don’t know how to teach this work.”

I really don’t.

Not knowing has for me become a good thing. It keeps me questioning, as you are questioning. It keeps me experimenting. It keeps the work fresh and alive in my soul, as it is in yours.

Let’s keep going.

Yours,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Spill

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Do not spill thyself; lean forward neither into appearances nor opinions. Receive the light as it shines directly down upon you and through you. Know that this light resides in you, no, that this light is you, that this light dims the moment you begin looking for it out beyond yourself and elsewhere. So perceiving, stop and direct yourself unhesitatingly back upon your own thought. Instantly, without effort, you will stand easily upright, command your own limbs, work miracles.

Emerson inspired passage by Bruce Fertman

One’s Nakedness

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The suit makes the man. And what if the suit becomes too tight? What if the suit begins to wear us; begins to shape us in its own image?

Postural habits are like suits. We become our habits when we identify with them. A habit: a long, loose garment worn by a member of a religious order. Postural habits are made of tension. Tension is frozen movement, frozen feelings, frozen vitality, energy at odds against itself.

If our postural habits, our habitual tensions, could be felt for what they are, superficial, artificial, not us, if we could sense ourselves without them, even for a moment, what would happen?

James Baldwin writes, “Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self: in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one’s robes.”

Through which one’s nakedness can always be felt. Sensing my nakedness, how could I ever fall prey to self-importance? How could I ever lie to someone? How could I ever belittle anyone?

A human being, being human.

 

(photo of a photo by Robert Hupka.)