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Posts from the ‘Erika Whittaker’ Category

Just A Hunch

on innocence

photo: Bruce Fertman

Just A Hunch

Through the pressure generated between the growing head and the growing heart, the face is sculpted. Three ridges. One will become the brow, one the nose, one the chin.

Then suddenly the unfurling begins. The head floats away from the heart. Organs begin to form in newly available space. Space precedes substance. First there is nothing, then there is something.

The baby enters the world, C-shaped, one simple curve. Over the first few months, through olympian effort, the baby acquires the needed strength to lift its head and look around, gradually forming a flexible and stable cervical curve. The lumbar curve develops as the baby begins creeping and crawling, and fully establishes itself through the herculean task of learning to walk.

The head becomes the center of orientation, the pelvis the center of locomotion.

We grow, we evolve from zygote, to embryo, to fetus, to infant, to baby, to toddler, to child, to teenager, to young adult, to adult, to maturing adult, (young-old), and if lucky to very old adult, (old-old). 

Somewhere between young-old and old-old another spinal transformation begins, as natural perhaps as all the other spinal transformations. In Onsens, Japanese hot springs, I have spent hours studying the shapes of boys and men of all ages, the children with arching lower backs and rounded bellies, with soft, supple necks, their heads balancing loosely atop naturally upright spines. The young men, unbeknownst to them, but evident to me, already foreshadow how they will sit, stand, and walk as old men. And the now old men, some more, some less beginning to wilt, droop, sag.

Its as if the thoracic curve wants to re-incorporate the cervical curve into itself,  making the head, and with it the mind, the eyes, and ears orient inward, away from the outer world, toward the world of in-sight and hindsight.

Its as if the sacral curve wants to re-incorporate the lumbar curve into itself, tilting the pelvis under, making locomotion more difficult, venturing out more trying, increasing the impulse to sit, perhaps to read, perhaps to write, perhaps to listen to the stories of others, or to give counsel.

I have begun to feel the pull of my primary curves wanting to reclaim my secondary curves. Is it natural, inevitable? I dont know. Ive chosen, however, not to give in to this subtle, seductive undertow. I want my head above water. I want to continue orienting outward to the world. I want to walk onto dry land, feel the earth beneath my feet. Perhaps one of the reasons four out of five of my Alexander mentors taught into their mid to late nineties was because they knew how to feed and nourish their secondary curves. Perhaps those curves allowed their eyes to see and to care about others. Perhaps those curves provided more space for their organs, allowing for greater oxygen intake, better blood flow, good digestive motility. Perhaps those curves helped lengthen their legs under them, kept those feet firmly on the ground.

If our primary curves pull us back to the past and our secondary curves beckon us forward into the future, then having a balance between them might bring us into the present.

Yes, perhaps it was their secondary curves that kept them so vibrant, so engaged, so present, so here, here with us, for so long. 

Its just a hunch. But Im going to follow it.

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – London Workshops and Individual Lessons With Bruce Fertman

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Physics and Metaphysics of Touch 

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Photo: Tada Akihiro

For Alexander trainees and teachers, as well as for other movement educators and somatic therapists who use their hands to help others.

To receive everything one must open one’s hands, and give.   

Taisen Deshimaru

Hands close and open, grasp, cling, clench, and release. Hands express. They welcome, warn and inform, and in our case, hands educe. Educative hands lead out that which lies within. Together we will increase our tactual palette, become more tactually literate, learn new ways of using our hands sensitively and effectively.

We understand well the paramount importance of personal use while teaching, and the direct impact our use has on our quality of touch.  As important as good use is, my 55 years of experience using my hands to help people move well has taught me that additional knowledge into the hand’s inherent design can help us acquire hands that are, at once, soft and powerful, light and deep, stabilizing and mobilizing, quieting and energizing. As there are primary colors, so too there are primary touches: push, pull, slide, spin, and roll. In other words, physics.

We will also consider the metaphysics of touch. It’s a disservice to reduce a person to their body. I never touch a person’s body. I only touch a person. Our goal is to touch a person’s being through their body. But to touch a person’s being through their body we have first to be able to see a person’s being through their body, which means we have to be looking at more than a person’s use. There are ways of developing this way of seeing people. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Bringing the Work to Life and Life into the Work 

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For students, trainees, and teachers of Alexander’s work.

Become aware of your habits, because your habits will become your character. 

Become aware of your character, because your character will become your destiny.    

Anonymous 

Have you noticed it’s relatively easy to make good use of Alexander’s work when we are doing well, but nearly impossible when confronted with something truly challenging or threatening? How can we practice sticking to principle under emotionally stressful circumstances, when relating to family members, when encountering problems at work, while coping with physical injury and pain, when overwhelmed by stressful thoughts and emotions?

Working Situationally is a procedure I developed, slowly, over the past 40 years. That is to say Working Situationally is a “way of proceeding,” to teach people how to employ Alexander’s work when under trying conditions and faced with harsh realities.

Being able to work with people this way has been enormously beneficial to me personally. It has brought the work to life for me, and into my life in ways that before were inaccessible.

I love sharing this way of working with other Alexander teachers. And ironically, it’s really fun. 

Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23, 2017

Walking into the World

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Our work on walking will be incorporated into both days of study and relevant to everyone. 

It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.   

Francis of Assisi

Walking, when understood, is the Alexandrian procedure that most naturally integrates rotational and spiraling motions into our upright structure, motions that are conspicuously absent in Alexander’s other procedures, as wonderful as those procedures are. Walking, when taught dynamically, helps dissipate postural holdings, often resulting in a profound sense of freedom and power.

Once when I asked Erika Whittaker what she felt like after working with Alexander, she said, “When the lesson was over, I could have said thank you, and walked out the door, or I could have said thank you, and walked through the wall.”

We’ll spend time learning about the mechanics of walking, as well as how to use our hands to help our students walk naturally, freely, and powerfully.

About Bruce Fertman

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

In Bruce’s class you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake. 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.

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.”

M. Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

For 55 years Bruce has been using his hands helping people to move well. For the past 30 years he has traveled annually throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States helping people understand and experience the interconnectedness between physical and spiritual life.

In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school, the first Alexander teacher training program inspired by the work of Marjorie Barstow. Currently, director of training and senior teacher for the Alexander Alliance in Germany, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He directs the Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Programs in Dorset, England and Zurich, Switzerland.  

Bruce trained with five first generation Alexander teachers; Catherine Merrick Wielopolska, Marjorie L. Barstow, Richard M. Gummere Jr., Elisabeth Walker, and Erika Whittaker. He brings a lifetime of training as a movement artist to his work as an Alexander teacher having trained in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Contact Improvisation,  Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, Argentine Tango, and Kyudo.

He has worked with members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Radio France, The National Symphony in Washington DC, the Honolulu Symphony, for the Curtis Institute of Music, and most recently for Jeong Ga Ak Hoe, a traditional Korean Music Ensemble. Bruce taught for the Five College Dance Program in Amherst, Massachusetts for 13 years, and for the Tango community in Buenos Aires. For 6 years, he taught movement for actors at Temple and Rutgers University. For ten years Bruce taught annually for the College of Physiotherapy in Gottingen, Germany. 

Bruce’s heart centered approach as a teacher rests upon extensive study in psychology and theology, specifically, the work of Eric Berne, (Transactional Analysis), Carl Rogers, (Person Centered Therapy), Frederick Perls, (Gestalt Therapy), Albert Ellis, (Rational-Emotive Therapy), Carl Jung, (Analytical Psychology), and Byron Katie  (Inquiry). Having also studied with Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist scholars, Bruce’s teaching not only transforms people physically; it creates a decided shift in people’s personal lives.

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, an exquisite touch, 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.

A. Turner – Alexander Technique Teacher
Cornwall, England

One of the foremost representatives of Marjorie Barstow’s lineage, Bruce’s work is unique and innovative. Bruce is especially gifted when it comes to teaching in groups. He’s a philosopher, poet and writer who gives voice to what is wonderful about the Alexander Technique.

Michael Frederick – Founding Director of the International Congresses for the Alexander Technique

Workshop Details:

Where:

Alexander Technique
The Walter Carrington Educational Trust
13, The Boulevard
Imperial Wharf
London SW6 2UB

020 7727 7222

http://atiw.org/find-us/how-to-find-us

We are only three minutes walk from Imperial Wharf Station.
Imperial Wharf Station provides a direct link to Clapham Junction (4 minutes) in the South and Willesden Junction in the North. Change at West Brompton (5 minutes) for the District Line or at Shepherds Bush (9 minutes) for the Central Line.

When:

April 20th and 21st private lessons, by appointment.

April 22nd and 23rd. Workshops.

1o:00 – 1:30 morning class.

1:30 – 3 lunch break

3:00 – 5:30 afternoon class

Fee:

£200 for both days of study. £175 early registration.

£120 for each day of study.  £100 early registration.

Half price for all Alexander teachers enrolled in the Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Training Program.

Early registration ends March 20th, 2017.

Note: I will be giving private lessons on April 20th and 21st. The teaching fee is £60 for a 45 minute lesson. If you or anyone you know is interested write to me, or have them write to me at: bf@brucefertman.com

To Register Contact Ruth Davis at:

Email: ruth.a.davis@me.com

Phone: +44 (0) 7590 406267

To Make Payment: 

BACS

(Please reference your payment with your full name.) Sort Code: 40-47-59

Account No: 12037351

Acc Name R Davis

International Transfers via:

IBAN: GB24MIDL40475912037351 BIC:MIDLGB2172

Or send a cheque made payable to:

Ruth Davis 

Sakura,

7 McKinley Road

Bournemouth

BH4 8AG

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write to me, bf@brucefertman.com or to Ruth Davis, ruth.a.davis@me.com. I look forward to meeting you and to working with you.

Bruce Fertman

Letters To A Young Teacher

The thing is I feel alone, in terms of doing the AT work, when I live in Taiwan.

I have heard about this feeling of loneliness and isolation from other Alexander teachers.You spend three years inside a school, then you graduate, and you are on your own. It feels like there’s no support. Life takes over and the work starts to fade away.

Shortly after I met Marj Barstow, when I was 25, I began to organize her summer workshops. There was a great community spirit at her workshops. In 1982, when we began the Alexander Alliance, my vision was to create not just a school, but a community/school. And somehow we did it. It’s now 34 years later and I am still part of an Alexander community. So I have never, first hand, experienced this kind of loneliness of which so many teachers speak.

If there are not other teachers close to you, then there are three things I can think of doing.

Invite people to come to you. I’ve invited over 50 teachers to my school over the last 30 years, some of them for many years, so I could study with them, and my students too of course.

You find a community of people you like and, when you can, you go to them. That’s what I did so I could study with Marj Barstow. I traveled 2000 miles in the winter and spring for ten years, and invited her to where I was every fall and spring.

You begin your own community from where you are. This is not easy and it takes great energy and passion, but it is possible.

It’s probably best to do all of them.

Just make a commitment to begin and you will begin to feel less alone.

Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I feel like I am gradually losing the coordination I had when training at my school. So my question for now is how to avoid losing the skill.

When Marj was 40 she stopped assisting A.R. Alexander in Boston and Pennsylvania, returning to Nebraska to help her father with their large ranch. She told me it was over the next 20 years that she really began to understand Alexander’s work. She said it was mainly through hard manual work on the ranch, and through training horses. She was a kind of cowgirl. She was beautifully coordinated, at 75, when I met her.

Marj working with me in 1976

Marj working with me in 1976

So what I hear in that story is that at some point you’ve got to get very interested in how you are doing the things you do in your everyday life, even that 4 hours of computer work that you are doing everyday at your job. You’ve got to be refining your own quality of coordination, and it’s important to find the pleasure in it all.

Now during those 20 years Marj hardly taught at all. But personally, I think it would help you to teach as much as you can. As you continue to figure out things about yourself and your own use, it really helps if you can share your insights with other people. For me this dynamic really works.

One time I asked Marj what I could do to improve my hands as a teacher. I was not going to see her for about 4 months. She told me to watch how I used my hands in everything I did. Everything. She said if I ever saw that I was distorting my hands, that I should stop for a second and then sense my whole body. She said I would begin to see that if I was distorting my hands I had to be distorting my whole body. Then she said once I knew how I was distorting myself I should free myself, that is, cease distorting my whole body, begin again, and this time find, as I began working, how not to distort my hands. She said if someone took a photo of my hands at any moment they should look beautiful.

Forty years later, I am still practicing this.

Erika Whittaker once told me a story. She said she began training when she was 16. She graduated 4 years later, stayed around for a couple of years assisting Alexander, met a man, got married, moved to Australia, got pregnant, had a daughter, raised the daughter, got divorced and found herself 50 years old. Someone said to her, “Erika, now, you could start teaching. You have plenty of time.” It hadn’t occurred to her. She thought, why not? I’ll give it a go. To her surprise she found herself tremendously better as a teacher than she had been when she was younger.

Erika Whittaker

So the work is working within you, whether you know it or not.

That said, from my own experience I can tell you there is no substitute for teaching and using your hands as much as you can. Never turn down an opportunity to teach the work, and to use your hands. Look for those opportunities. Make them happen.

From some of your photos you look to me to be pretty physical: snorkeling, pilates, climbing, hiking. Tap into those communities. Let them experience what you do.

If you can find a movement form that you really like, a formal study, it can be another way to keep the work going, especially if it’s a form that requires great sensitivity.

I hope these thoughts help you. Let me know.

Yours,

Bruce

When The Child Was A Child

Messengers 

In Wings Over Berlin, two angels, invisible to humans, softly, silently offer comfort, sometimes, but not always, lifting the spell of isolation and despair from suffering human souls.

They touch humans lightly, tenderly. Through their empathic presence an opening, where there had been none, would suddenly appear, a way to go forward now lay before them.

from Wings Over Berlin

from Wings Over Berlin

In Hebrew malach means both messenger and angel. In Greek too, aggelos means messenger and angel.

Messengers send messages. A message is a communication through writing, speech, or signals of some sort. A little like the angels in Wings Over Berlin, we Alexander teachers convey messages through touch. A message can be an underlying idea. It can also be an inspiring or sacred communication.

Now I am no angel. I am hopelessly human. I am not always at peace. I sometimes butt heads with people. I am not a spiritual being. I have no wings. I live on the ground. But I think we can and do serve as messengers for one another. Sometimes, unbeknownst to us, we do something, say something or write something that helps someone. Others sometimes unbeknownst to them, do, say, or write something that helps us, that may even change our lives. We may not be angels, but sometimes we perform our angelic function as messengers.    

from Wings Over Berlin

from Wings Over Berlin

In our Alexander community we refer to teaching through “procedures.” How do we “proceed” to impart the principles underlying Alexander’s work? Some of us use the procedures Alexander developed. Some of us also use procedures other teachers have developed, like Walter Carrington’s saddle work, or Raymond Dart’s developmental movements, or Marjorie Barstow’s working in activity. Others of us use procedures we ourselves have developed. To my surprise, I seem to have evolved a procedure, a way to proceed, that enables people to make use of the principles underlying Alexander’s work under trying conditions and when coping with harsh realities. I call it Working Situationally.

When The Child Was A Child

When the child was a child, it walked with its arms swinging. It wanted the stream to be a river, the river a torrent, and this puddle to be the sea. When the child was a child, it didn’t know it was a child. Everything was full of life, and all life was one. When the child was a child, it had no opinion about anything, no habits. It often sat cross-legged, took off running, had a cowlick in its hair, and didn’t make faces when photographed. – from Wings Over Berlin by Wim Wender and Peter Hendke

It’s not easy growing up. We have all known times when our arms stopped swinging, when the puddle was just a puddle. Times when we’ve felt exhausted, empty, our world shattered. Times when nothing was new under the sun, when we were unable to pick ourselves up from the ground, let alone take off running, when we put on yet another smiling face for yet another silly photo.

“When have you experienced yourself lost, without support, helpless and afraid,” I ask a group of fairly new Alexander teachers? “Can you see where you are, the situation you’re in; can you see what’s going on?”

Michiko, a small, middle aged woman in the back of the room says,“I’m going through a divorce. I have yet another session in court next week where I have to plea for the custody of my children. I am terrified of losing them.”

All eyes in the room lower at once.

“Thank you.” Let’s see if there is a way, through Alexander’s work to help ourselves when we really need it, when we’re feeling threatened, when our life’s hanging in the balance. How can we develop the wherewithal to be how we want to be in these situations, how not only to survive them, but to meet them?”

When The Master Is Home

“Michiko. Look around and see who can help you set up your scenario. Look and see who can help you, and how you can arrange the space.” Everyone springs into action. Seriously playful commotion fills the room. I sit back and watch as the space is transformed into a courtroom.

In the front of the room sits a judge. Michiko’s husband and his lawyer sit to the judge’s left, Michiko and her lawyer to the right. I’ve got a translator behind me, ready to whisper into my ear.

The judge begins. “We are here today to determine who is most deserving of the privilege of caring for your children. As you know I do not approve of divorce. I believe children should grow up with a mother and a father in the same house. But for whatever reasons, both of you seem incapable of doing this. Michiko, what do you have to say for yourself?”

“Judge, I am the parent who has spent the most time with my children. I am the one who cooks for them, who packs their lunches, who takes them and picks them up from school, who helps them with their homework. I am the one who does their laundry and who takes them shopping for sneakers and who gets out of bed at night when they have nightmares. I’m their mom.”

Yamato, Michiko’s husband blurts out, “And I am the breadwinner in this family. I’m the one that pays for the food you cook, who bought the nice car you drive to that top notch private school that I also pay for, not to mention the designer sneakers. I’m the guy that pays for the roof over your very head.” By the end, Yamato’s face is beet red.

It’s working. The scene’s been set up well enough that Michiko’s beginning to cringe from the sound of Yamato’s voice. But I don’t intervene. I want to see where this is going.

“Judge, Michiko says, right now I have 32 private piano students who I see every week. I earn enough money to take care of my own children. My children have already told you they want to live with me, that they don’t want to move to Tokyo, leave their school, and live with their father.”

“And I, the judge says, don’t appreciate your telling me again. I am well aware of what your children want, but they are children and have no idea as to what is, in the long run, best for them. The decision is up to me, not up to them, and not up to you.”

“They have also told you they are terrified of their father,” Michiko adds cowering.

“You liar! You total and complete liar, Yamato yells standing up and throwing his pen across the room, almost hitting Michiko in the face.

Terror. There it is, Michiko’s eyes frozen in fear. As she sits there, glued to her chair, her body looks weak and hopeless.

I quietly enter,  kneel down beside her, place my right hand softly over her shoulders and my left hand over her clenched hands that sit on her lap. “Michiko, let’s just freeze the frame here. Stay exactly as you are in your body and from the bottom up describe to me what you are sensing.” 

Michiko says, “I’m pulling my feet almost off the ground. My knees are touching and I feel like I’m jamming my thighs back into my hip sockets. My stomach is tight. I’m not breathing. The middle of my back is pressing against the back of the chair. My hands hurt. My shoulder blades are hunched up toward my ears, and my head is pressed down between them.” “Michiko, can you see the exact shape your whole body is taking, as if you were looking at a puppet?” “Yes, I can see it,” Michiko says. “Let me ask you, do you want to be like this?” “No, I don’t.” “You are now about a third of the way home.”

“Okay Michiko. If you are the one holding yourself in this position, then you are the one who can let go of holding yourself in this position. Let’s begin by letting your feet come back to the ground. What happens as you do that?” “My legs come down and my knees begin to separate a little.” I place the hand that was over her hands onto her left knee and then over to her right knee suggesting that her knees could release slightly away from her hip joints. I watch more air enter her lungs but say nothing about it. I quietly stand up behind Michiko, place my hands along the sides of her ribs and ask her to let the entire surface of her back spread out against the back of the chair. I feel more air coming into her lungs. I reach around and gently place my index finger onto the top of her sternum and from there gently guide her head back on top of her spine. Her eyelids flutter for a few seconds, followed by two slow blinks. Her eyes appear to settle back into their eye sockets. She’s calm.

“Okay Michiko. Now you are two-thirds of the way home. This next part I can’t help you with. Only you can do it. I want you to find out what would happen it you decided not to fight, not to flee, not to freeze, and not to fidget. Can you make the decision not to fight…not to flee…not to freeze…and not to fidget?” I wait and watch Michiko as she becomes deeply and quietly strong. “Can you sense what happens when you make that decision?”  “Yes I can.” “Good. Now be that decision.” 

I ask Yamato to continue.

Yamato looks at the judge and says. “Judge, my wife is lying to you. She’s a compulsive liar. That is what she does best. My kids don’t hate me.” Yamato turns toward Michiko, glares at her and says, “You wait. You just wait.”

Michiko’s body remains strong and open, her face calm. She’s breathing.“Quietly Michiko stands up, looks at the judge, and says, “Your honor, I’d like to submit for your judgement the evidence just set before you. Thank you for considering it.”

The judge turns, looks at Yamato, then at Michiko, and says nothing.  He appears to be reconsidering, reevaluating the situation.

“Michiko, I say. That is what it feels like when the master is home.”

Teaching Moments

In the Alexander Alliance, when we want to direct our student’s attention to pedagogy, to why we did what we did, or to why what we did worked or didn’t work, we make a T shape with our two hands, as if we were a referee at a football game. This means we are going to stop and step out of what we are doing and move into commentary.

“Okay class, what was Michiko’s goal?” “Not to lose custody of her kids.” “That’s right. That’s what she told us.”

“You can’t practice “the means whereby” unless you’ve got an end. Our work is about ends and means, about how we are being as we move toward our end, whatever that end may be. The idea is not to compromise the means for the end, not to sacrifice our integrity, no matter what happens. That’s the practice. That’s why I don’t like thinking about Alexander’s work as a technique. I think of it as a practice, because it’s hard, and I fail a lot. And sometimes I don’t. It takes practice.”

So let’s see if we can find the means whereby inside of what just happened. Where does it begin?” 

“You stopped everything.” “That’s true, and what is also true is that in real life you can’t stop a situation like that. You can’t say, “Okay judge. This is getting too intense. Let’s just take a pause here so I can calm down.” Here is an idea I want you to understand. Alexandrian inhibition does not necessarily happen just because you stop an action. It only happens when you succeed in stopping your habitual holding pattern within the action. So when I froze the frame, I only stopped the action. Stopping the action, freezing the frame, pausing, is a teaching device allowing me to slow everything down. So, what happened after I froze the frame?”

“You asked her what she was sensing.” “Right. Michiko shifts from being kinesthetically unconscious, to being kinesthetically conscious, which means she can now begin to sense how she is doing what she is doing. Once Michiko knows what she’s doing to herself, she has the chance of undoing it. As Marj Barstow used to tell us, “You have to know where you are before you can make a change.” So because she knew where she was, and because Michiko has had a good bit of training, she could pretty much come out of this pattern with only a little guidance from me.”

“I was sending her messages, I was fulfilling my angelic duty. Alexander called messages, directions. I think of messages as messages in a bottle that drift to the edge of the shore. You pick up the bottle, reach in and read the message. My first message to Michiko was, you are not alone, and then, Michiko, become aware of yourself, and then, come to your senses, and then, you’re one-third of the way home, and then, do you want to be this way, and so on. Messages were being communicated not only through my words, but though how I was in my own body and being, through the quality of my voice, and of course through touch, through her knees, and ribs, and sternum.  I was sending her messages and she made good use of them.

“And next?” “Well, all along you could actually begin to see Michiko’s primary movement emerging. As soon as her legs began to let go I could see her neck begin to free and her head poise returning, and I could see her whole body opening up and the air filling her lungs. But the most impressive change was her face, how the fear fell away.”

So far we have,

One, the goal, the end.

(the employment of freezing the frame, a pedagogical device and not necessarily part of the means whereby.)

Two, kinesthetic consciousness.

Three/Four/Five, Alexandrian Inhibition/Direction/Primary Movement.

In actual time, it’s virtually impossible to separate these. My words, my voice, and my touch helped Michiko let go, that is, neurologically inhibit. Within that letting go, though she likely did not think the words, ‘neck free, head forward and up, back to lengthen and widen, immediately direction was happening, because I was embodying and passing on, to the best of my ability, those directions through touch to Michiko, and because Michiko has had so much training, those directions were wordlessly operating within her primary movement. 

“And then?” You asked her to make a decision not to fight or flee or freeze or fidget. “Right. This is me preparing Michiko for the critical moment, for that moment when she’s going to want to go back to her old way of reacting to Yamato and to the judge. Michiko’s decision is going to have to be incredibly strong. Walt Whitman says it perfectly in Song Of The Open Road when he writes, Gently, but with undeniable will divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.  You can’t say it better than that. Erika Whittaker, when I asked her what Alexandrian inhibition was  answered me in one word. She said, “Inhibition is decision. It’s sticking to your decision against your habit of life.”

“So I’m watching to make sure Michiko is accessing tremendous inhibitory power within herself, and then I tell her, I send her a message, and that message is?”  To be that decision.  “Yes, because Alexandrian Inhibition is not something we can do. It’s only a way we can be.” 

Six, passing through the critical moment.

And then what happened?

Michiko responded to Yamato and to the judge the way she wanted. “And what do we call that in the Alexander world?” Choice? “That’s a good answer.” Freedom. “Another good answer. I have something else in mind.”

“We could call it Primary Control. For me Alexander’s Primary Control is the Great Protector. Imagine babies and toddlers. They are not well coordinated, but more often than not, they don’t get hurt. They scream, but they don’t hurt their voices. They fall, but rarely bang their heads. There is a force at work within them continually integrating them, keeping them whole as they gradually figure out how to coordinate themselves.”

“But as adults we lose touch with this integrative, protective force within us. When Michiko adhered to the means whereby she was protected. She didn’t disintegrate. She could function. She could say what she wanted to say the way she wanted to say it, without hurting herself, without fighting, without withdrawing, and with less fear. She could think on her feet. She could take care of herself, and to the best of her ability, her children.”

“Will she get custody of her children? Will she achieve her end? We don’t know. But we do know she was her best self in that courtroom. We watched her find her integrity, her dignity. We can’t entirely control how our lives unfold, nor the lives of our children. But with training, we can learn to attend to our integrity. And we can let our children see that. 

When the child was a child, it walked with its arms swinging. It wanted the stream to be a river, the river a torrent, and this puddle to be the sea. When the child was a child, it didn’t know it was a child. Everything was full of life, and all life was one. When the child was a child, it had no opinion about anything, no habits. It often sat cross-legged, took off running, had a cowlick in its hair, and didn’t make faces when photographed.

          

from Wings Over Berlin

from Wings Over Berlin

 

In That Deep Place

Member of  Jeong Ga Ak Hoe, Traditional Korean Music Ensemble

Member of Jeong Ga Ak Hoe, Traditional Korean Music Ensemble

Erika Whittaker, the person who holds the record for studying Alexander’s work longer than anyone, almost 90 years, was one bright, honest, and kind woman. Long ago now, Erika said to me;

“I spent four years staring at Alexander’s hands when he worked, seeing precisely where he put them, and what he was doing with them, when all along I should have been wondering what was going on inside his brain. I had this revelation right before I was about to graduate. I decided then and there I’d best stick around for another couple of years. And I did.”

Bill Conable and I spent countless hours watching Marj Barstow’s hands. She was using them all day long, getting stunning results, one person after the other. Bill would lean over and whisper something like, “Marj has her hands, one on either side of his pelvis, to help center him over his hip joints because, as he went to walk, he began to sling his pelvis forward. See, she just felt him come back into his back and over his hip joints, but she sees he’s lowered his eyes and tucked his chin under so she’s going to place her left index finger right in his line of vision, and slowly, like Yoda, raise that long finger of hers up, bringing his gaze up with it, then she’s going to move that finger off to the left and his head is going to turn slightly. See, she’s going to guide his weight over his left foot and send him off for a walk, but just as this guy turns around to come back to her, I bet he’s going to drop down a little and Marj is going to say, “Eh? Did you catch that? Did you notice how you just dropped down a little bit as you made that turn?” And now she’s going to say…and so it went, a running commentary, usually right on the mark.

Bill and Barbara Conable, two of Marj’s first apprentices, taught me in this informal way for years. They could see. They knew what was happening and why, and slowly they helped me to see and to understand what lay behind Marj’s seemingly magical ability to lead people, without any effort, into a powerful and refined way of being and functioning.

For 30 years now, I have been helping my students see and understand why I, and other experienced teachers, use their hands the way they do.

Let’s use the photo at the top of this piece as a way in. Let’s imagine I’m teaching my apprentices, and you are in the class with us.

Okay. Why am I behind my person? (Why, I ask you my reader/apprentice, why would I use the word person rather than student?) Most often I ask my students questions, rarely do I give them answers.)

So why am I behind my person?

“You want the group to be able to see.”

“It makes you kind of invisible, maybe making it easier for her to attend to herself and her instrument.”

“Maybe you are supporting her back slightly with your lower leg.”

Okay? What seems to be working inside of my own coordination and what could be better? (I am the first to tell my students that my use, my level of organization within myself is often not great, that I am my slowest student.)

“Your right arm looks a little retracted, pulled up.”

Yes, thank you. Knowing that helps me. Where are my hands, how am I using them, and what are they doing?

“They’re under her clavicles, right at that place where the clavicles begin to curve up. It looks like you’re catching, kind of scooping up the left side of her body more successfully than the right side. And the fingers on your left side look like they are functioning more independently, each finger saying something distinct, whereas the left fingers look less differentiated. The left looks like a glove and the right like a mitten.”

“Her left hand looks easier than her right hand.”

”Your thumbs are soft and light.”

Good. So you’re seeing how I’ve chosen to orient myself around my person, where my hands are, and how I’m using them. That’s a start. How would you describe the direction I am inviting the person to go?

“It looks like you’re directing her attention in toward her upper ribs and up under her clavicles.”

“And, at the same time, up and out.”

What’s happening as she goes with me?

“Her head is finding its balance on the spine, and it’s almost like her eyes are settling back into her skull, and she looks like she’s looking down on her instrument from up on high.”

“She’s lengthening up the front without shortening down the back.”

“She looks focused and calm and strong, like a Buddha.”

“She looks like she goes to Berkeley and is proud of that.”

So from looking at me, what would you guess I’m thinking about, or feeling, to bring about that change?

“You’re thinking about your own use.”

Good guess, but no, I am not, though maybe I should be. I rarely think about my own use when I’m working. When I’m working I feel more like a musician who is in a live jam. I’ve done my homework. I’ve practiced a lot. But now I am playing music. I’m not thinking about the notes. I’m not trying to play well.

“You’re thinking about her.”

That’s closer. But when I am at my best there is no I, and there is no she. There is only an “us.” I’m not thinking about me, and I’m not thinking about her. We’re inside of one event, one experience. We are in an “overlap.” Our circles are intersecting, and expanding, each into the other, and away from one another. We’re together, inside of that shared space. We’re in meeting. We’re changing together. We’re changing each other.

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

How do you think I am feeling?

“There’s a kindness I’m picking up.”

“Pleasure.”

Yes and yes. You see, I’m “in-forming” her, but at the same time I’m being a nurturer. I’m feeding her, and breathing her, through touch. I’m helping to make her strong and proud and capable. That’s why I like to think about her as my person. Sure, she’s my student, and she’s learning from me. But humans need more than knowledge to grow. Humans need to be nurtured.

On a deeper level, she’s not my student, and I am not her teacher. In that deep place, together, we are growing into ourselves, and at the same time, we are coming out of ourselves.

Can you see that?

.

The Lay Of The Land

Photo: Anchan Akihiro Tada

Photo: Anchan Akihiro Tada

In Japan people work late, often at jobs that have little to do with who they are. They finish work and desperately want to do something for themselves, something they care about. The scene in the Japanese version of Shall We Dance, when the woman rushes in late to her dance class, not having had time to eat, and proceeds to faint, on the spot, from exhaustion is not an exaggeration.

That’s how it was for some of my night students. They’d arrive, and there they were, not really standing, but ever so slightly wavering in the air, on the verge of fainting; famished, weary, drained.

There was no other way to work with them but lying down. My friend Anchan had just made new teaching tables for the Alexander Alliance Kyoto. They were low, about a foot off the ground, so that we could work in seiza. It was easier to work on these tables than to work on the floor. The tables were shaped vaguely like a person, which made sense. They were wider than a massage table at the upper end, providing plenty of room for the arms, while the middle was quite narrow, allowing the teacher to come in close to the student’s torso, making it really easy to reach over to the other side, and the lower end of the table widened out, slightly, for the pelvis, legs and feet. For me, it was perfect.

Our sessions were quiet, meditative, long, sometimes lasting for an hour. Strangely enough, rarely did a student fall asleep. Usually at some point, a student would begin to talk to me, and we, (my translator, Midori Shinkai, and I) would listen. There was little I gave in the way reply. I replied with my hands, helping them to become soft within themselves as they spoke to us of their hardships.

Sometimes, I’d sit there feeling like an old tree providing shade and shelter. Sometimes, I’d become so utterly silent, I could hear the ocean inside them. They would leave, rested and awake, as if they had remembered who they were and why they were here.

But that was years ago. I had fallen out of doing lying down work. I had moved on to other ways of working. For forty years Alexander’s work has led me to where it has wanted me to go, and I have followed like a faithful servant.

Yesterday Yamashita-san arrives, an Alexander Technique teacher.  He specifically requests that I give him a lying down lesson. “I’m so sorry, I say. I hardly ever do table work. It’s not what I am trained in, not what I practice, not what I am good at.” Apologizing is, however, something one practices a lot after living in Japan for a while. “Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu, he says. Please teach me.” I tell him I will do my best for him.

“Okay. Let’s begin.” We open up a standard massage table. “Yamashita-san, without thinking, just lie down on the table any old way.” Like a high jumper, he does a kind of western roll onto the table, ending up on his back, legs outstretched and turned out, head slightly tilted back, his hands resting on his belly.  “That’s great. Don’t move. Don’t correct anything. Don’t arrange yourself. No Alexander Technique. Just hang out and rest.”

‘This may not be the conventional way to begin an Alexander lying down lesson, but entertain  me. I have my reasons, which I will share with you all along the way. I want you to understand my mind, I say, then if you ever want to, it will be easier for you to do what I do.’

“You look comfortable. I like being comfortable too. No point being uncomfortable.” I pull up a fairly high stool, (it’s what’s in the studio I happen to be teaching in), place it at the end of the table, just behind Yamashita-sans head, and sit down.

“Okay Yamashita-san. (Yama means mountain, and shita means under.) Here’s the first thing I do. I look. I look at my student, my person, without any desire to come toward them and help them, without any desire to change them in any way.  At the same time, I don’t pull back away from them and begin critically analysing everything I see. I call the way I practice seeing, beholding, holding a person’s being inside me. Beholding frees me. It’s as if I were far away, high on a mesa, gazing out over a vast, beautiful landscape. Yet, I feel strangely close to what I am seeing, almost touching it with my eyes, while at the same time, receding from it, as if I were on a ship leaving a land that I love.”

“Usually, when we see something the first thing we do is identify it. Our minds quickly name what we see. I look at you and my mind says, man.  And then the mind thinks that it no longer has any more to do. Its job is finished. But years ago, when I first started birdwatching, I read a book written by Donald and Lillian Stokes on bird behavior. They said that if you really want to go beyond identification, if you really wanted to see a bird, to see it’s behavior, how it lives its life, you had to watch it, at the very least, for three minutes. At some point, you begin seeing what is actually going on in front of your eyes, not the name, a red winged blackbird, not the symbol, not the icon of a red winged blackbird, but of what is actually happening in front of your eyes, of reality itself.”

“So that’s what I am going to do with you now, and I will share with you what I am seeing. This will begin to awaken your kinesthetic sense, as you will soon experience. This is important, as you know. You probably also know that when Alexander came to London in 1900, he stood out on a street corner handing out little pamphlets about his work. He didn’t call it the Alexander Technique. He referred to it as Kinesthetic and Respiratory Re-education. So that’s what we’ll be doing for a little while.”

“I begin by looking at the lay of the land. To do that I imagine a strong rain, raining down on the earth, which is you. I watch where it looks like the rain would seep into the ground, where it would collect, and where it would begin to run down, and the path that watercourse would take.”

“When the rain hits your sternum,” touching his sternum in the place I want him to sense, “I see the rain running down toward your left shoulder/boulder, collecting, and then cascading down into the pit, the arm pit.” I slide down his sternum following the incline toward his left arm pit. I return to the ridge of the sternum and slide my hand to the right, along land that I am sure Yamashita-san can feel is level.

“What’s happening kinesthetically, Yamashita-san?” I say, noting he’s wide awake.  “I can sense and see exactly what you are seeing,” he says.  We continue in this way until Yamashita-san has a vivid sense of his body’s landscape; the slope of his forehead, the bridge of his neck, the caves under his hands and feet, the pools of his eyes, his rib tunnel, the pelvic revine, the roll of his legs.

“Now, having awakened your kinesthesia, having got a sense of the lay of the land, I will begin to use my hands. If we extend this metaphor, my hands would play the part of external forces which change the shape of the earth; the sun, the wind, the rains, and time itself.”

As I work with my hands, I not only talk to Yamashita-san about what I am doing, I tell him why I am doing what I am doing, sometimes how I am doing what I am doing, and sometimes from whom I learned to do what I am doing. “That’s from Elisabeth Walker, that’s indirectly from Joan Murray, that’s from Robyn Avalon, that I made up, that too, that’s from Robbin Simmons, that’s from Walter Carrington, that move is from Nica Gimeno, that’s an image from Martha Hansen Fertman, that image is from Ethel Webb, this idea’s from Barbara Conable.”

Along the way I tell Yamashita-san why I don’t work symmetrically, why I don’t have a set routine, why I use myriad qualities of touch, why I work unpredictably, why I don’t talk about breathing, how I get shoulders to widen and settle, wrists to unset, ribs to soften, nostrils to open, organs to move, hip joints to un-grip, legs to balance themselves.

The hour flies by, and yet it’s as if we’ve traveled together for years, hiked up hills, rafted down rivers, climbed up cliffs, slid down slopes, camped out in caves, rested upon rocks.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll get back into table work again someday. Maybe not. It’s not up to me. I’m a servant. I listen to my master.

An Alexander Happening

img_7735_kayla_sellers

Sometimes I really wonder about my voice. I don’t know why it’s so high, Atsuko says. Sitting together, eight of us at a Spanish restaurant in Temma, Osaka after a day of study, I notice when Atsuko speaks she looks like a little girl, a cute tilt of the head, sparkling eyes, a happy smile. Who knows, I say. It could be structural. Then again it might not be. What does your voice sound like to you, I ask? It sounds like everyone else’s voice. Just normal, she says.

You know Atsuko, what your voice sounds like really doesn’t matter so much. You’re expressive emotionally, articulate, easy to understand. It’s like your voice is a piccolo, that’s all. When you first hear a piccolo it sounds weird, too high, but then if someone is a good musician they can make beautiful music with that little instrument.

I’m wondering why, to you, your voice sounds like everyone’s else’s. If you hear your voice as the same as everyone else’s voice, you’d have little impulse to change it.  Alexander said, The hardest things to change are the things that don’t exist. Atstuko looks puzzled. You see, your high voice doesn’t exist for you. As far as your ears are concerned, you don’t have a high voice.

Atsuko, sing for me. Sing some little song you like. Without any hesitation, the sparkling red wine having loosened everyone up, Atsuko begins singing Sukiyaki, Ue o Muite Arukou. Astuko, do you know a song that has a fuller range, some lower notes. Mari, sitting next to her, begins singing a song I don’t recognize. Astuko knows it and joins in. Without effort she drops down into the lower notes. Do you hear that Atsuko? She looks surprised and nods yes. Sing it again. She does. There it is again! Did you feel that? That may be your real voice, what your voice sounds like when you’re not holding it up.

We were all relaxing, eating Japanese tasting tapas with chopsticks. The sparkling red wine the restaurant had given us for free to lure us in was now finished and beer mugs had mysterious appeard in front of everyone. I went no further, as captivated as I was by Atsuko’s changing voice. Class was over, but in class I had told several stories of spontaneous Alexander lessons happening to me, when with my teachers, outside of class.

There you go you guys, I said lifting my beer mug.  An Alexander happening. A Bruce story. Whatever. When the moment’s right, use it, pass it on.