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Posts from the ‘F.M. Alexander’ Category

This Graceful, Practical Generosity Toward The Possible

Post-Congress Musings

In Honor of All Those Doing Their Best to

Train Future Generations of Alexander Teachers

 Part IV

Aszure Barton and Mikhail Baryshnikov – The Contemporary meets the Classical

 

Diversity Within Unity

 “…The orthodox presume to know, whereas the marginal person is trying to find out.

 …To accommodate the margin within the form, to allow the wilderness to thrive in domesticity, to accommodate diversity within unity – this graceful, practical generosity toward the possible and the unexpected… offers reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between rigidity and revolt.”

Wendell Berry from The Unsettling of America

The last paragraph is so beautiful and, I sense, so relevant to our Alexander community at large if we are ever to survive and thrive in society. I have to quote it again.

“…To accommodate the margin within the form, to allow the wilderness to thrive in domesticity, to accommodate diversity within unity – this graceful, practical generosity toward the possible and the unexpected… offers reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between… rigidity and revolt.”

Our Moment of Opportunity

This may be our “critical moment”. That term sometimes makes my students nervous. I choose more often to use the term, which I learned from Meade Andrews, “the moment of opportunity”.

There is no reason to be nervous. There is every reason to be positive and excited about this moment of opportunity now offered to us. Do we have the courage to embrace change, to let go into the unfamiliar, to open up and welcome the unknown, to try something new?

If we are to survive and thrive into the future I believe we need four radically different training structures. Right now we have one training structure that began in 1932 in England. It is still a good and worthy training structure for some trainers, in some countries. For people who wish to become Alexander teachers, this training structure is, for some, possible and wonderful. For others it is simply impossible. What happens to these people who want to become Alexander teachers but can’t due to the limited number of training structures that we as a community offer? Chances are they give up their dream and pursue another one, or perhaps they find a related discipline, like the Feldenkrais Method, which has flexible training models, and more likely one they can do. We then, as a community, lose a person who might have become a great Alexander teacher. I don’t want to even imagine how many great Alexander teachers we have lost over the last 50 years.

Another Time Tested Training Structure

There is another time tested structure of training that also has withstood the test of time, 36 years, that some people know of, but few know in detail, some not at all, and sadly some who harbor untrue ideas about this training structure that has, for a long time, been bringing about many accomplished Alexander teachers. Martha Hansen Fertman and I began experimenting with this model in 1982 in Philadelphia. At the same time, for some 13 years, we ran a parallel weekday structured program and so were able to conduct a longitudinal study, (the only one I know of), as to the pros and cons of these two training structures.

This model, which I refer to as a Retreat model of training, has evolved over the years. It’s gotten better. Here is its current form and the one we use to train teachers at the Alexander Alliance Germany.

In October, March, and July we conduct 9-day retreats.

(165 hours per year).

In between we conduct 3-day weekend retreats.

(90 hours per year).

In April we conduct a 4-day retreat.

(28 hours per year).

Twice a month there is a study group where trainees meet and work with graduates.This right now is a pilot study and so is optional, but most are participating, and so may soon be required. Those not near a group have formed a Skype group. This is important work, not only for the trainees but for our graduates as well because for our graduates it is post graduate training.

(40 hours per year).

Every trainee has a Personal Project that must be presented prior to graduation. (To be honest, I am not sure how much time trainees put into their projects. It varies. This is my guess as to the average number of hours.)

(20 hours per year).

Trainees are required to attend at least one intro workshop a year, and when ready to assist at one workshop a year. For us we consider being able to give an introductory workshop an Alexandrian Procedure!

(12 hours per year.)

Trainees attend a 5th year intern retreat. Here graduates assist a training retreat as supporting teachers.

(55 hours in the 5th year.)

Trainees attend at least one Alexander Alliance International Retreat in another country other than their own. This is optional but almost everyone does this at least once, and some do this every year. We are an intergeneration, multi-cultural, international community/school, so visiting other Alliance schools is part of who we are.

(55 hours).

Of course, everyday trainees are expected to work on their own self-study etudes, given to them by the faculty to explore. We find that trainees have to learn how to study on their own, and so we help them learn how to do this.

This comes to 355 hours of training per year. Adding the 55 hour intern retreat in the 5th year of their training, plus one 55 hour Alexander Alliance International Retreat outside their home country brings the total number of training hours to 1530 hours over a 4+ year period of training.

The Retreat model of training is a great model of training for numerous reasons.

*It gives people for whom a Weekday training model is simply impossible, people who very much love the work and wish to become teachers, a way to become an Alexander teacher.

But there is much, much more as to why people love this model of training.

*We rent a gorgeous retreat center with great food and accommodations and beautiful teaching spaces.

*Everyone gets to leave home and stop working and enter a, I dare say, sacred time when, morning till night their mind, heart, body and soul are devoted to studying Alexander’s work among friends in a nurturing environment.

*A climate of festivity and contemplation fills the air. There is time to be together in fellowship and time for solitude as well, which is so essential for internalizing the work.

*Graduates are welcome to join us free of charge. They become, essentially, lifetime members of our community/school. Some graduates have been returning to the school for over 20 years. This builds community, helps the trainees tremendously, and of course helps our graduates to become the best teachers they can be.

When Martha and I began this training structure we had no idea if it would work. But our intuition told us it would, and we were right. Because we were long-term apprentices of Marjorie Barstow we did not feel obliged to adhere to any particular model of training and felt free, as the educators we were, and are, to experiment. Martha had her Doctorate of Education and I had my Masters of Education and both of us had begun teaching movement when we were eleven years old.

Society has deemed this model worthy and effective and has endorsed it by keeping it alive and healthy for 36 years. We were able to train numerous music, theatre, and dance professors who, without our Retreat training model, would never have become Alexander teachers. Many of them have gone on to be of service to the Alexander community at large, both as members of STAT, ATI, and as organizers of and teachers for our international congresses.

My experience tells me it is possible to design and implement a Retreat model training program that is extensive, intensive, joyful, and effective. This model may be better for certain training directors and/or may work better in certain countries, under certain conditions. It works perfectly in Germany because of Germany’s enlightened extensive paid vacation program.

A Flexible Formula

There is a third model of training that, as yet, has not been tried, and I sense must be if we are to allow more people to become Alexander teachers. (It is one option for Robyn Avalon’s trainees). I call it the Immersion model. The Feldenkrais community has been very successful in finding flexible yet substantial training structures that allow people with varying life/work styles to train. Their flexible training structure also can adapt to different countries, to different social, cultural and economic conditions. They are far, far more successful than we have been in sharing their work with society. Here is their flexible formula:

“All training programs must have a minimum of 800 hours/40 days per year, 160 days over at least 36 months. Programs follow different formats ranging from weekend formats; to 4 two week segments a year; to 2 one month segments a year; to 40 days in a row. These are just some examples of formats.”

Here you can see they have both a Retreat model and an Immersion model. Of course our training is essentially twice as long. Still, we would do well to experiment with models such as these and see if they can work for us.

How will we ever know if we don’t try? What is the worst that can happen? We fail and learn? Is that so terrible? And what happens if it works?

“You can’t do something you don’t know, if you keep on doing what you do know.”

 Who said that? Einstein? Oh yes, I remember now, it was a guy by the name of F.M. Alexander! This was Einstein:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

 Let’s take Alexander’s and Einstein’s advice. Let’s begin thinking differently and do something we’ve never done before.

Brief Eternities

My training with Marjorie Barstow was an amalgamation of all of these models of training, plus one more, and for me, the most important one of all.

Marj’s month long summer events was an Immersion event. Four weeks, 6 days a week, 6 hours a day. For me it was 5 weeks because for many years I directed Marj’s summer events and had to arrive early to open up, and stay on to close up. This before and after time was an essential part of my training and I will say more about this soon. Marj’s winter events in Lincoln were 14 days long and would be what I would call a Retreat event.

When Marjorie came East for two weeks every Fall and Spring I would study with her and assist her up and down the east coast. Something almost magical happened in this time. I was not only studying, not only practicing, not only training. It was more than this. It was a living of the work through being with, through modeling, through absorption. It was what the Buddhists refer to as transmission.

This transmission happened during the times when Marj and I traveled together, in cars, in trains, in planes, when we took walks in Penns Woods in Philadelphia, or played horseshoes on her ranch, or when we went out for ice cream after a long weekend of teaching in Boston. So many meals together, so many discussions and lots of time just spent sitting quietly together. The best discussions took place after a workshop where I’d be there assisting her, after working in Washington D.C. with the National Symphony, with a junior high school choir, with a track team or sculling team, with theatre majors. Without notice individual lessons spontaneously arose when Marj was having trouble explaining something to me and felt the need to use her hands so that I could experience what she meant.

This is what I call the Apprenticeship model. Because of times like these, over many years, I simply internalized Marj. She lived within me, and she still does.

These are hours that cannot be counted. They are uncountable. Not all hours are equal. There is objective time and subjective time. Each hour of our lives has not the same duration. Some hours fly by unnoticed and unlived. Some hours last forever, and change our lives forever. Some hours are brief eternities. They cannot be measured or calculated, but they can be cherished.

Not Marjorie Barstow, but Marjory Barlow in An Examined Life writes, “… I do think the apprenticeship method of training has a lot going for it. After all, some of the greatest teachers learned that way …I have a preference for apprenticeship, and I would love to see it supported wherever possible…the problem isn’t the exact number of years and hours. It’s the quality of the trainers’ experience and devotion to the Technique, and the selection of trainees…”

Let’s Dance!

I am not sure but I suspect that those of us who teach through classical procedures may find that our weekday model of training works best, and maybe not. We will never know unless we experiment.

And perhaps those of us who train through contemporary procedures may find that Retreat, Immersion and Apprenticeship models work better, and maybe not. We will never know unless we experiment.

More and more of our teacher training programs are combining and integrating classical and contemporary procedures. It’s a bit like dance. There are classical ballet dancers who dance beautifully within their chosen style. And then there are contemporary dancers who dance beautifully through their chosen forms. Different forms appeal to different people, and people of different ages, and people from different cultures. And then there are many dancers who are trained in numerous styles and who integrate them beautifully. Think of Mikhail Baryshnikov who danced with American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet, but also with Twyla Tharp, Aszure Barton, and Gregory Hines.

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Twyla Tharp – The Classical meets the Contemporary

The truth we need to embrace, as a community, is that a great dancer is a great dancer no matter their form, and a great Alexander teacher is a great Alexander teacher, no matter their form. Being an Alexander teacher is an art, and art changes and expresses itself differently over time and across cultures.

And so should we.

“… this graceful, practical generosity toward the possible and the unexpected… offers reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between… rigidity and revolt.”

 This could be our moment of opportunity as a community at large, when the classical meets the contemporary. Do we have the courage to seize the moment, to embrace change, to let go into the unfamiliar, to open up and welcome the unknown, to try something new?

Watch Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines in White Nights. If they can do it, maybe we can too.

Let’s dance!

 

 

The Grandfather and His Five Grandchildren

Post-Congress Musings

In Honor of All Those Doing Their Best to

Train Future Generations of Alexander Teachers

Part III

Maybe I will figure this one out before I die. I hope so. I may be getting close. In fact, by writing this very essay I may find my way through to the answer.

Here’s the problem.

People want to join the Alexander Alliance Europe, our community/school, which promotes itself, though not exclusively, as a teacher training program in the Alexander Technique, which means we are responsible for training people who enter the school to become Alexander Technique teachers.

In our website we write:

Who We Are – We are an intergenerational, multi-cultural community / school dedicated to creating a safe and loving environment where, through Alexander’s work, people can learn how to become at once, relaxed and ready, soft and strong, light and substantial, stable and flexible, peaceful and lively, receptive and generous, awake to themselves, to others and to the world around them.

Our Mission – Our mission is to train skillful and compassionate Alexander teachers, which we have been doing ceaselessly and enjoyably for 35 years. Together we learn to free ourselves and our students from stasis, restriction, and fixation. We accompany our students into their fluidity, spaciousness and poise, while ensuring their feet rest comfortably upon common and solid ground. We awaken ourselves and our students to a sensory world full of simple pleasures. Our art is human touch, an inexhaustible resource for education, nurturance, and growth. Our job is to gently un-harness deep, naturally organized patterns of vitality within ourselves and our students. This groundswell of energy strengthens our will to live, love, learn, and work generously and freely.

But here is the rub. How can we know if someone has the ability to become an Alexander teacher? The answer to that question is easy. We can’t. At least I can’t. Do we just accept anyone? Yes, almost. I have seen people walk through our doors who I am quite sure will grow into good teachers, and for one reason or another, don’t. And I have seen people who I predict simply do not have the capacity to become Alexander teachers who become very good teachers. And so I accept anyone into our school who is socially mature, self-motivated, and who loves the Work.

So what happens when four years have flown by and it is time for a person to graduate and I feel, for one reason or another, that they do not have the skill to teach the Alexander Technique? And even more perplexing, what criteria do I establish for determining if someone is now ready and qualified to teach others about Alexander’s work? After all, I am the guy who signs their certificates, which read:

germany-certification1

For 35 years I have been pondering these questions. And now I am close, very close to the answer, not for the entire Alexander community, but for me and for our community/school. The answer is to be found in the word “impart”. Impart means to make known, to communicate, to pass on, to convey, transmit, spread, disclose, to reveal. It doesn’t say to teach. Hmm…

Okay, what are we responsible for imparting? What are the concepts my trainees must understand and which principles need they be able to impart, in some way, to others to merit graduating from the Alexander Alliance Europe?

Here are the basic concepts, which must be understood, and the basic principles, which, to a significant degree, must be embodied to graduate from the Alexander Alliance Europe:

One. Working with a person in their entirety, with body and being, with movement and meaning.

Two. Sensory Consciousness/Appreciation

Three. Use, Functioning, Structure, and Integration

Four. Alexandrian Inhibition, Directionality, and Primary Movement/Organization/Control.

Five. The Means Whereby/ Ends and Means.

Now, through what means do we as Alexander teachers impart these concepts and principles? We impart them through:

Being – how we are being within ourselves and with our students, physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. “The only thing you have to offer another being, ever, is your own state of being.” — Ram Dass

Observation – how we are perceiving ourselves and our students.

Language – how we listen and speak to our students.

Movement – how we move, act, and interact with our students.

Touch – how we physically touch our students.

Let’s put this together now, and in doing so we may just answer our original questions; What happens when four years have flown by and it is time for a person to graduate and I feel for one reason or another that they do not have the skill to teach the Alexander Technique? And even more perplexing, what criteria do I establish for determining if someone is now ready and qualified to teach others about Alexander’s work?

First, I realize that being able to teach the work to someone is one way of imparting the work, but that teaching is not the only way of imparting the work.

If teachers are to be able to impart the work to others via being, observation, language, movement, and touch, do they have to be accomplished at all of these means to be able to impart the work? Based upon my 35 years of training people the answer is, no.

Let me explain why. People enter our community/school with different inherent talents, with different acquired skills, at different ages, and with different life experience. Some are artists, some movers, some healers, and some seekers, or some combination thereof. To use Howard Gardener’s categories, some possess Linguistic Intelligence and are able to find the right words to express what they mean, some possess Logical-mathematical intelligence and are able to quantify things, make hypotheses and prove them, some possess Musical Intelligence and are able to discern sounds, pitch, tone, rhythm, and timbre, some possess Spatial Intelligence and have the ability to visualize the world in 3D, some possess Bodily-kinesthetic Intelligence and are able to coordinate their mind and heart with their body, some possess Interpersonal Intelligence and are able to sense people’s feelings and motives, some possess Intrapersonal Intelligence and have deep understanding of themselves in touch with what they feel and what they want, some possess Naturalist Intelligence and are able to understand living things and can “read” nature, and some possess Existential Intelligence and are able to contemplate questions like who we are, why we live, and why we die. I would add a category, Sensory Intelligence and include Bodily-kinesthetic intelligence within this larger category, thus allowing also for Tactual, Visual, Auditory, Olfactory and Gastronomical Intelligence.

So a student may enter the Alexander Alliance Europe with high bodily-kinesthetic, tactual, interpersonal and existential intelligence and pretty much sail through their training. They find themselves having to work hard to acquire the linguistic intelligence they need, but have enough going for them that makes them able to impart the work to others.

You may have another student who enters our community/school with very low bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, low tactual intelligence, but very high intrapersonal, linguistic and visual intelligence, and so if they become able to impart the work to others they will end up finding a very different way of doing so. They do their best to learn how to move well and develop good tactual skills and they make some progress, which proves very important for them personally, but they still fall well short of becoming a person with high kinesthetic and tactual skills.

So the question becomes, “Does this person have the capacity, in some way, to impart the work to others?”

If a man who graduates our school who takes care of his five grandchildren, and who possesses deep inhibitory power while with his grandchildren, and who is by his very being able to calm them down, and is able to create harmony among them, and if he developed these capacities through the course of his training, is he imparting the work to his grandchildren? I would say yes. I would say that counts. Big time. Is he teaching them? No. Is he modeling the work, embodying the work, passing on the work? I would say yes. Should this man who doesn’t move well, whose posture is not great, who hands are not great graduate? I would say yes.

New questions arise. Should we limit our work to that of a profession? Should we have vocational schools, teacher training programs, and/or should we have Life Schools and think of our work not only as a profession but as  ‘a Way’, as Aikido is a Way? Aikido literally means, the Way of Harmonizing Energy. Sounds familiar.

For me this is the difference between a Teacher Training Program and a Community/School. It comes down to how we define the word ‘vocation’. In the narrow definition of the word, it means an occupation, a trade, a profession, but in the broader sense of the word it means a calling, a mission, a path. A Way. A Way of Living.

I have chosen to create a Life School, a community/school. Perhaps I am not training teachers, but “imparters”. Maybe there is a difference. And maybe that difference makes all the difference. And maybe it is the answer to my question: What criteria do I establish for determining if someone is now ready and qualified to teach others about Alexander’s work? When I change the word teach to impart I believe I have criteria, valid criteria. Can that criteria be measured? Is there a test?

No, I don’t think so. But to witness over four years a students deepening, this maturing into the principles underlying Alexander’s work can be observed and felt by teachers who spend time with their students. A teacher ‘knows’ when their student is now living the work, the teacher knows when their student can impart the work through who they are, through how they are; they know it viscerally; they can feel it in their bones. It is not something that can be measured objectively, only subjectively. Some graduates will be able to impart the work through teaching and through who they are. Others perhaps only through who they are. The world needs both.

I am well aware this is not a popular point of view within our Alexander Community. For those who are fighting so admirably and intelligently to establish our work as a profession; I offer my apologies. I don’t mean to hamper your work.

What I do mean to do is to open a conversation amongst teacher trainers as to what we are really doing, how we want to do it, how we want to frame what we are doing, and on how we want to evaluate what we are doing. I don’t want to see Alexander schools closing. I want to see them full of students eager to learn, as my community/school has been for 35 years. I don’t want to see schools closing. I want to see them opening, and healthy. Opening up this conversation may help.

I welcome your feedback.

The Nine Peas of Progress

Post-Congress Musings

In Honor of All Those Doing Their Best to

Train Future Generations of Alexander Teachers

Part II

Green-peas-in-a-podThe Nine Peas of Progress

As a little girl my daughter loved peas. But she would not merely eat them. First she would arrange them on her plate in pattern after pattern. Then she would eat them, like a raccoon, slowly, one by one.

Why the letter P arose as my letter of alliteration in the attempt to organize my thoughts on how we can save our teacher training programs within our Alexander community from extinction, I do not know.

I do know that the mysterious symbol of the enneagram has on many occasions helped me to organize my thoughts on diverse subjects and difficult processes, and I will use it here as well.

Enneagram_Symbol_-_Simple.svg

My premise is that in order to survive, in order to get off of the endangered species list, we need to think outside the box, to become more creative, more experimental. Our professional societies play an important role but ultimately, it is society at large that gets the final vote; that runs the show. It is the public that ultimately assesses us, recognizes us, approves us, qualifies us and supports us. Or doesn’t.

The survival of our work rests squarely upon the shoulders of our directors of training. Because it is we who train the teachers and it is the teachers who disseminate the work. The buck stops with us. Alexander cannot save us. Our professional societies, as wonderful as they are, cannot save us. Our splendid Alexander Congresses cannot save us. It is up to the directors of training to figure out ways of being successful, of filling up their own schools.

Here are the nine Peas of Progress I think are worth thinking about slowly, thoroughly, and creatively if our training programs are to survive and thrive. They correspond to the points on the enneagram, which I will elaborate on in this hopefully helpful essay.

Point One – Principles

Point One is about principles, standards, dignity and decency. Actually, it is the only point that I feel must be common to all our training programs. In Body Learning, Michael Gelb succinctly articulates what every training program must address.

Use and Functioning

The Whole Person

Primary Control

Unreliable Sensory Appreciation

Inhibition

Direction

Means Whereby

Every training program must have high standards, whether they are the exact standards agreed upon by a professional society, or their own personal and professional standards. Directors, teachers, and trainees must do their best to honor, respect and act benevolently toward one another. Upon graduating new teachers must commit to doing so toward their students.

Point Two – Pedagogy

Point Two is about pedagogy, and love, and service. Pedagogy means to lead a child, that is, to guide a child, to raise up a child. Pedagogy, in my opinion should differ from school to school. Procedures are part of a teachers pedagogy. Which procedures teacher trainers choose to transmit Alexander’s principles through should be up them. How they integrate observation, language, movement and touch should be up to them. Alexander implored us, “Don’t teach how I teach; teach what you know.” Our trainees are not children, but in comparison to their teacher trainers, they are young to the work. They need to be raised up with the love and attention all children deserve.

Point Three – Profit

Point Three is about profit, about having the executive wherewithal to make a living. Many training programs are closing because they cannot make ends meet. Most people who begin training programs are not independently wealthy and need to earn a living. If they can’t, they have no other recourse than to close up shop. Point Three has to do with image, with appearance, with promotion, with being able to sell the work, make it attractive, relevant, appealing. This means beautiful, classy websites full of great images and contemporary language that speaks to people in their own language. It helps to know how to teach in groups and how to appeal to many different populations. Teacher trainers must possess some business acumen or get help from people who do. This may mean designing effective training structures that make it possible for more people to train, as so many universities have done by creating itinerant programs. How directors succeed in making a living should not be the same. Social, cultural, and economic factors must be taken into consideration, and respected.

Point Four – Profundity

Point Four is about profundity, about deep insight, about transformative experience, about getting to the source, to the core of the self. Has our profession reduced itself to the body, to posture, to movement? Is that what the public thinks our work is entirely about? Do they have any idea that our work is more about being than it is about the body, more about meaning than it is about movement, more about how it feels to be alive than about use and functioning, more about the quality of experience than about effectiveness and efficiency? Why are we afraid to speak publically about the spiritual depth of our work? Why are we selling ourselves and the work short?

Point Five – Philosophy

Point Five is about philosophy, and about the love of truth, whether we look for that truth through science, or psychology, or theology or art. We need to be able to think intelligently about the work and to be able to speak intelligently about the work. We have to be able to understand and speak about our work as a unique field of study, as Ted Dimon so eloquently does. We need to become physio-philosophers. We teacher trainers need to continue studying, questioning, learning, experimenting, and not just within our own discipline but across disciplines. David Moore is a good example.

Point Six – People

Point Six is about people and about community. Abraham Heschel writes, “To be is to be with people. Existence is co-existence.” People seek community, a place to belong. I cannot tell you how many Alexander teachers have told me how isolated they are as Alexander teachers. They have no web of support. They graduate and they are on their own. They sink or swim. There is no lifeguard, no buddy system. My experience tells me we need to create not only teacher training programs, but Alexander communities, communities that continue to support their graduates. We need Alexander refuges where teachers feel welcomed and supported, sanctuaries where they can be reinvigorated and re-inspired. What I see is that the schools that survive and thrive are most often the schools that are community/schools and not merely vocational schools.

Point Seven – Planning

Point Seven is about having a plan, a vision, not a narrow vision but an expansive vision, and a joyful vision. It’s about seeing possibilities. It’s about dreaming. And it is about having fun along the way, about not just studying and practicing the work, but celebrating the work. But it is also about planning out how to turn our visions into a reality. Point seven is also about communicating that vision to others. This requires, as Marjorie Barstow once told me, “a little bit of showmanship.” Directors need some charisma. Some pizzazz. They need to put themselves out there. It takes chutzpah. It takes courage, confidence, guts, but without it having a thriving school is hard to make happen.

Point Eight – Politics

Point Eight is about politics in the original sense of the word, about the city and citizenship, and about governance. We teacher trainers need to know how to govern, how to lead. We need the courage to use our peaceful power to serve others. Here is a piece I wrote, now long ago, that still rings true. This is my personal manifesto as a teacher and director of training.

A Teacher Who Doesn’t Teach

Many teachers teach what they know.
Teachers of the Way,
Teach what they do not know, and need to understand.

Some teachers think highly of themselves.
Teachers of the Way,
Think highly of their students.

Many teachers teach to their students.
Teachers of the Way
Study with their students.

Some teachers teach to be the center of attention.
Teachers of the Way
Teach centered in attention.

Many teachers teach to escape.
Teachers of the Way
Teach for entrance into existence.

Some teachers want to be worshipped.
Teachers of the Way
Teach as a way of worshiping.

Many teachers need to prove they are the best.
Teachers of the Way
Teach not needing to prove or reprove.
They approve.

Some teachers teach mainly for money.
Teachers of the Way
Freely choose what is required of them,
Doing so with gratitude and pleasure.

Many teachers teach to be seen as attractive.
Teachers of the Way
Teach because within everyone
There is beauty longing for itself.

Point Nine – Peace

Point Nine is about peace. Peace is the absence of war, but not only the absence of war. In times of peace resources become available for education, for science, for the arts, for social services, for infrastructure, and for recreation. A teacher trainer is responsible for creating a peaceful environment conducive for learning, for research, for contemplation, for fun, for creativity, for maturation and for fellowship.

There You Have It

There you have it, the nine peas of progress. Progress means to walk forward. If we are to walk forward with vitality into the future, as a community, if our teacher training programs are to survive and thrive, we teacher trainers need to rise up to our task, which is a formable one. We need to show up. Big time. Directing a successful school requires much more than a deep understanding of Alexander’s work and the ability to skillfully pass on that understanding. My 36 years of training teachers, of running a thriving community/school tells me that we must know how to create peace and kindness, we must know how to build community, and we must change with the times.

It is worth the effort. I know, because I have had the good fortune of having lived my entire adult life within a creative and caring Alexander community. Looking back, it has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.

May this blessing be bestowed upon us all. And in the meantime, let’s make it happen.

Perhaps the Most Important Question of All

Post-Congress Musings

In Honor of All Those Doing Their Best to Train Future Generations of Alexander Teachers

Part I

It is no secret that many teacher training programs in the Alexander Technique have closed their doors or are struggling mightily to keep them open. It seems that only a few programs are actually thriving. Why is this and what can we do about it? Having just returned from the Congress in Chicago, having had such a wonderful time, having been inspired by so many, I wish more than ever to help Alexander teacher training programs survive and thrive. But where to begin?

Perhaps we teacher trainers can learn something from Abraham Maslow, the famous humanistic psychologist and author of Toward a Psychology of Being and Motivation and Personality.

Maslow decided to study mentally healthy people instead of people suffering from serious psychological issues. He studied what he called, ‘self actualizing people.’ Basically, this is what he found.

Self actualizing people exhibit certain traits. What if our directors of training exhibited these same traits? Might we too begin to actualize ourselves and our training programs?

Here is a list of nine traits found in self-actualizing people.

One. Self actualizing people know how to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. They are flexible, they can change; they adapt. Self actualizing people embrace uncertainty and ambiguity. They do not cling to the familiar.

Questions arise. Are we teacher trainers enjoying the journey? Are we flexible, able to change and adapt? Or are we clinging to what is familiar to us?

In MSI Alexander writes:

“…That rigid routine we refer to as habit, this rigid routine being the stumbling-block to rapid adaptability, to the assimilation of new ideas, to originality.”

 And in CCC,

“…Boldly to make the necessary change, should he find that the fundamental principles concerned are defective; and to make the necessary adjustments which are essential to the acceptance and assimilation of new and approved knowledge whilst going on with his job.”

Two. Self actualizing people accept themselves with all of their flaws, and others with all of theirs. They know they are not perfect. They accept imperfection in themselves and in others.

Questions abound. Are we teacher trainers willing to admit that our teacher training structures may not be perfect, that we may not be working inside the one and only absolutely ideal model? Are we willing to admit that our teacher training structures could be improved upon? While we are at it, are we willing to admit that the Alexander Technique is not perfect, that the procedures through which we teach the principles are not perfect, nor the teachers with whom we trained perfect?

Three. While inherently unconventional, self actualizing people do not seek to shock or disturb. They are neither conformers nor rebels. They resist enculturation. They are free thinkers, able to think outside the box, self-starters. They take responsibility for their own destinies.

Are we teacher trainers taking responsibility for the success or failure of our teacher training programs, or are we coming up with excuses as to why our schools, if they are not thriving, are not thriving? Are we blaming our failure on society? If our schools are not thriving are we afraid to think outside of the box, to trust our own instincts?

Four. Self actualizing people have an endless desire for personal growth.

Are we teacher trainers still growing, or are we just doing the same old thing year after year? Have we long ago decided on the best way to train teachers? Are we still studying, still learning from others? Are we improving?

Five. Self actualizing people are passionate; they have a mission in life, a calling that, in some way, serves others.

Are we teacher trainers still truly passionate about the work? Is the work still new, still fresh? Are we still in love with the work? Is our love for the work still contagious? Is it overflowing into the world?

Six. Self actualizing people can see the forest through the trees. They don’t get hung up on petty details. They impart a sense of serenity.

Do we teacher trainers have a vision for our schools, our own vision, a unique vision that expresses who we are and what we care about? Can we give voice to this vision? Are we thinking in years, or are we thinking across generations? If the work is working in us then we will not be overcome by fear or worry, but will walk into class modeling that which we wish to impart.

Seven. Self actualizing people are full of gratitude, full of wonder. They are at once realists and optimists.

Are we teacher trainers being realistic? That is, are we meeting reality as it is now? Are we attuned to how life is for people now, within the countries, cultures and economies in which we live? Are we being realistic about what is possible for people as far as training is concerned? Are there people out there who would love to train with us but cannot because of the realities of their lives? Are we feeling hopeless about our teacher training programs, pessimistic, bitter, or are we taking the challenge and meeting it with courage and conviction, with passion and energy? Are we full of gratitude for the work and for the task of passing the work on to others?

Eight. Self actualizing people nurture deep relationships with a few people, but at the same time they feel affection toward all people.

Do we teacher trainers love the people with whom we work, our co-directors, our co-teachers? Do we nurture these relationships? Do we feel real affection for our trainees? Do we like people? Do we truly wish to serve?

Nine. Self actualizing people are humble, with no sense of entitlement. They exude quiet confidence.

Are we teacher trainers humble? Do we harbor the need to feel that we are better than our colleagues, that our way of working is right, is best and everyone else’s way is inferior or wrong? Do we speak ill of people within our profession, do we gossip, do we hold unfounded prejudices? Or do we see ourselves as one piece in a beautiful puzzle, no more, no less? Can we get to that place within ourselves where we no longer have to defend our work, to that place where we have no enemies because we wish everyone well, want everyone to succeed, to that place where there is no side to take, but only one loving sphere in which we all live and work? Can we open ourselves to receiving help from others?

If we wish to be a healthy, vibrant, self-actualizing community, a community full of healthy trainees and teachers, a community full of healthy, vibrant and successful teacher training programs, perhaps Maslow is offering us the map.

Ultimately, the success or failure of a teacher training program rests squarely upon the shoulders of its director/directors. If our teacher training program is failing it serves no one to blame society, the economy, our trainees, our faculty, or our professional society, if we should belong to one. We must begin with ourselves.

To summarize, according to Maslow our directors of training and our training programs need to be flexible, that is, ready, able and willing to change as opportunities arise. If our training structure is not working are we willing to experiment and do what is necessary to make it work? Are we willing to accept the fact that our training structure could be improved upon? Are we taking full responsibility for how our training program is doing? Are we afraid to think outside the box if it isn’t doing well? Are we still growing personally? Are we modeling what it means to be a good student, a good teacher, a good person? Is the work still new, still fresh for us, and if not what can we do about it? Do we have a personal vision of the work? Can we give voice to that vision; get our vision out into the world in a way that is powerful and beautiful? Are we being realistic, or are we living in the past? Are we able to, as Alexander says, free ourselves from our rigid routine, the stumbling block that prevents us from adapting rapidly, assimilating new ideas, and being original? Is there enough love in our hearts for the work, for the people with whom we work, and for the people for whom we work, perhaps the most important question of all? And finally, if we are on our high horse can we get off it and stand on common ground along with all our fellow teacher trainers, no matter the lineage, no matter the political affiliation, and help one another?

Lots of questions; no, lots of problems.

Abraham Heschel, a famous rabbi, once said that questions have answers, but problems have solutions. He believed that man was a problem, a problem to be solved. It is we who are the problem.

And, it is we who are the solution.

Let’s commit to solving our problems, alone, deep within ourselves, and together, through generous acts of kindness and goodwill toward one another.

Touching This World – October 7, 2018 – Workshop in the Alexander Technique – Dorset, England by Bruce Fertman

No one seems to know the story behind Michelangelo’s choice. What I do know is that in the Torah the story goes God blew the breath of life into Adam through his nostrils. It was breath that was the vital force. Yet when painting the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo chose not to depict the creation of Adam through breath. He chose touch. Why did he do that? God touched Adam, and Adam lived. Maybe it was because Michelangelo, through touch, brought the lifeless to life. He retold the story of Genesis in his own image.

Theology, to me, is not spiritual; it’s tangible. It’s earthy. It’s physical.

Maimonides, a 12th century Rabbinic scholar from Spain, said God was Reality. For me, reality feels pretty physical. You know, getting up, bathing, grooming, eating, and going to work, or going to look for work. Or on other days, cleaning your house, going shopping for food, stopping at a couple other stores for this or that. Taking your car, if you have one, into the shop for an oil and filter change.

And then, on occasion, there’s a free day. You’re out in the country. A cool breeze brushes against your face. The warmth of the sun sits on your shoulders. You hear the sound of a stream nearby, smell a slight scent of cedar in the air.

Touching This World

Sounds physical to me.

Other people feel God is Love. Kindness is one way we express our love.  Kindness is love in action. Acts of kindness seem physical to me. Doing little things for people. Helping out. It makes sense to think about a theology of touch. Think about giving a baby a bath, or sweeping the snow off the front steps for your grandfather who’s coming over for dinner, or feeding a stray cat. I can’t see accomplishing any of those acts of kindness without touch or without being touched.

But few in this world teach touch. I do.

Please join me.

About Bruce Fertman

 

Photo: Tada Akihiro: Korea

He is the embodiment of his work. His touch is like a butterfly settling down on the very turning point of your soul. And then you know, “That’s who I am, that is who I could be.”

Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

Bruce has been using his hands, helping people to move well, for fifty-five years. He trained with five first generation Alexander teachers: Catherine Merrick Wielopolska, Marjorie L. Barstow, Richard M. Gummere Jr., Elisabeth Walker, and Erika Whittaker. Bruce brings a lifetime of training as a movement artist and educator to his work as an Alexander teacher, having trained in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Ballet, Contact Improvisation, Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, Argentine Tango, and Kyudo. In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school. Currently director of the Alexander Alliance Germany, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He conducts post graduate training programs in Dorset and Zurich. Author of  Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – Delving Into The Work Of F.M. Alexander.

Workshop Details:

When: Sunday, October 7, 2018, 10:00-17:00.

Fee: £120

Where: Gaunts House, Dorset

http://www.gauntshouse.com/

To register for the workshop contact Ruth Davis at: 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

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.

Hope to see you at Gaunts House!

Bruce Fertman

 

Falling Up/Touching Down – October 6, 2018 – Workshop in the Alexander Technique – Dorset, England by Bruce Fertman

Falling Up

 The way up and the way down are one and the same.

Heraclitus

Forty-five years ago, when I first began studying both Tai Chi Chu’an and the Alexander Technique, my Tai Chi teachers would tell me how I needed to let my chi sink down. They revered the ground and spoke of the importance of the tant’ien, the belly. My Alexander teachers emphasized the importance of the neck and head, and of lengthening up through the spine. “Gravity just keeps your feet from floating off the ground.” one of my Alexander teachers declared. “Up but not held up. Down but not pulled down,” Tai Chi teacher Ben Lo instructed me. “Above but not raised up; below but not depressed,” wrote Hildegard von Bingen.

Needless to say, I was utterly confused. But now I am not. Slowly, I found the solution to this problem, the answer to this somatic riddle.

Touching Down

Join me for a day of study and self-discovery. Experience the interplay between upward and downward forces. As these forces become ‘one and the same,’ we experience what it is like to be calm and clear, soft and strong, light and substantial.

This workshop is for those brand new to the Alexander Technique and for current students of the Alexander Technique. The workshop is also for Alexander trainees and teachers who want to become effective in teaching the Alexander Technique in groups.

And when the slope feels gentle to the point that climbing up sheer rock is effortless as though you were gliding downstream in a boat, then you will have arrived where this path ends.

Dante

About Bruce Fertman

12 copy 3_edited (1) copy

He is the embodiment of his work. His touch is like a butterfly settling down on the very turning point of your soul. And then you know, “That’s who I am, that is who I could be.”

Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

Bruce has been using his hands, helping people to move well, for fifty-five years. He trained with five first generation Alexander teachers: Catherine Merrick Wielopolska, Marjorie L. Barstow, Richard M. Gummere Jr., Elisabeth Walker, and Erika Whittaker. Bruce brings a lifetime of training as a movement artist and educator to his work as an Alexander teacher, having trained in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Ballet, Contact Improvisation, Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, Argentine Tango, and Kyudo. In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school. Currently director of the Alexander Alliance Germany, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He conducts post graduate training programs in Dorset and Zurich. Author of Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – Delving Into The Work Of F.M. Alexander.

Workshop Details:

When: Saturday, October 6, 2018, 1:30 -8:30.

Fee: £120

Where: Gaunts House, Dorset

http://www.gauntshouse.com/

To register for the workshop contact Ruth Davis at: 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

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.

Hope to see you at Gaunts House!

Bruce Fertman

 

A Meeting Of Minds

Dear Bruce,

My warmest congratulations for your inspiring book. Your view, as usual, honours the work of FM Alexander and its evolution in the most human and poetic way, but also places you in a unique Alexander world. A world that you have created and inspired, making it, thus, for us, your readers, so much easier to imagine, fantasize, dream about.

The links with real, human situations are so powerful. At the same time, the links with Alexandrian notions create such strong parables through which we can expand our understanding of the work. Thank you for this gem.

Dear Bruce, upon re-reading your book, it feels like many haiku lines. Thank you, again, for the inspiration, the revelation and the hope.

Christos,

I am so glad that, through my book, you were able to enter into my world, and hopefully I have entered in some way into yours. It is a gift to feel understood. Thank you for that. Christos, the lines that feel most like haikus to you, would you be kind enough to share them with me? And lastly, may I use your words here to help interest people in my book?

Bruce

Bruce,

Please feel free to use my words – I purchased your book from Jean at Mouritz’s and there is no space for byers’ comments as there is on Amazon, so I would be delighted if I knew it helped potential readers. Now, as to the particular lines, haha, I’ll have to keep notes when I read it through for the third time, but some I can remember as I leaf through it:

Christos,

Thank you. You may just be one of my best students. There is a story of a man who was poor who lived on the third floor whose patio looked out over the courtyard of a tai chi master. The man loved what he saw and did all he could to do what the teacher was doing. He practiced a lot. One day the man was in the park doing tai chi and the tai chi masters sees him, watches, walks over and asks him who his teacher is. He tells the master that he is and explains how he learned from him. The master told him that he was his best student.

You usually start and end your chapters in these (especially in the second half of the book), which I find very enticing and attractive, like on page 211 “Theology to me is not spiritual; it’s tangible. It’s earthy. It’s physical. It’s tactual” and I absolutely love the fullstops. They are so much more musical than semicolons.

I have no training in writing. None. I try to read good writers. That’s all. Maybe this has worked to my advantage in some odd way.

Another one that was striking was on breathing, page 75 “Breath is given”…and later, “And wait without waiting, until you know…It’s not you.”

Simply my interpretation and my wording of Alexander’s quote; “I see, at last, that if I don’t breathe, I breathe.”

On page 102 the way you end Mr Yamamoto’s experience also feels like a haiku together with a bit of Bach….Johann Sebastian Bach used this technique of gradual simplification and decrease of his material like you do in the last paragraph. I had never seen it in writing but it has quite a theatrical effect.

You know, I have felt myself to be an artist in search of his medium. Gymnastics was as close as I could get as a kid. My dance teachers were often impressed by my musicality though I could not read a note of music.

Also the paragraph where you talk about the two bodies (p. 109) is written in prose but with a very musical rhythm.

You see, Bruce, being a musician and having Greek as mother tongue, it is very difficult for me to ignore prose written in English that doesn’t resemble other English writing. And your writing doesn’t feel English to me. It feels international.

That’s funny. I often tell people English is my second language, and I can’t remember what my first one was. Also teaching via translators for so many years has changed how I put sentences together and has also forced me to distill my vocabulary, choosing simplicity over complexity. One can’t run on and on when teaching with a translator. One must be succinct.  

We, the Alexander Alliance Europe are in our planning stages of holding our 2020 Fall Retreat in Greece. Every three years we like to conduct that retreat outside of Germany. I will keep you abreast of the details should you be interested. In the meantime, if you can make your way to our school in Germany you would be free to study with us at no charge if you would share with us your learning from Don Weed. We love having guests.

Hope the book travels through your readers’ hands into at least as interesting places as I have taken it so far.

I hope so too. What an honor for me to have someone let my work in so deeply.

All the best to you.

Christos

And to you,

Bruce

Tim Soar’s Review of Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart for STAT News

It has been over 40 years since I first began studying with Marjorie Barstow, and this fact reminds me of a teaching story.

Within the tradition of Chanoyu, Japanese tea ceremony, it is said that for the first 10 years a student should learn to do everything exactly the way his teacher does. In the second 10 years the student should continue to do everything exactly the way his teacher does, but should begin to wonder why his teacher does what he does the way he does it. In the third decade, the student should begin to change ever so slightly how he does what he does to suit who he is as a person.  And in the fourth decade, his way should be a different from his teachers as night is from day.

And so it was and is for me now. I am as different from Marj as night is from day. My vocabulary is not the same. I use my hands very differently. My way of relating to people is as warm as Marj’s way was cool. My pedagogy as a teacher trainer is as formal as Marj’s was informal. And yet, at the same time, there remains something quintessentially Marj inside of me. I pass on her sayings, her spirit, her understanding of Alexander’s work. I do my best to inspire others the way Marj inspired me.

Tim Soar begins his review referencing Michael Frederick’s description of me as “one of the foremost representatives of Marjorie Barstow’s lineage.” He goes on to note that his experience of now-senior teachers who apprenticed with Marjorie Barstow is that they are as diverse in their approaches to the Work as were the first generation teachers who trained with F.M.

marj-bruce-sword

With all do respect and love for Marj, my work is now, for better and worse, only my work. No one else’s. Yes, I am part of the Alexander/Barstow lineage, but I cannot claim to represent Marj’s way of working. How Alexander taught is gone forever, and how Marj taught is gone forever. That is the way of it, and the way it should be.

The work continues.

Here’s Tim’s review. Enjoy.

Review of Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart

Tim Soar

Pubished in STAT News, May 2018

Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart offers the reader a “fly on the wall” view of Bruce Fertman’s very particular way of teaching the Alexander Technique. Michael Frederick’s comment on the back cover describes Bruce as “one of the foremost representatives of Marjorie Barstow’s lineage”, but in my experience the now-senior teachers who trained with Marjorie Barstow are at least as diverse in their approaches to the Work as were the first generation teachers who trained with FM. In any case, although Bruce acknowledges “Marj” as his principal mentor, he points out that he also learned from four other first generation teachers, whose differences he clearly values. Whatever the reader’s previous experience, there is much of value to be found in this book, perhaps particularly for teachers who would like to develop their work with groups beyond the introductory level, towards mixed ability, more advanced, or specialised audiences. Bruce makes the most convincing case that I have come across for the positive advantages of learning the Alexander Technique in a group setting.

Part One: The Work at Hand, sets out the field of enquiry – the subject matter of the Alexander Technique: Choice, Primary Control, Sensory Appreciation, Use, Non-Interference … all presented in Bruce’s own vocabulary. One particularly telling example of which is the idea not of “misusing” oneself, but of “mistreating” oneself, with all the ethical impact of that word fully intended.

Part Two: Student Centred Teaching, leads the reader anecdotally through a large number of individual lessons, either one-to-one or in group settings. Some of these lessons last a whole chapter, others just a few sentences. This format gives a lively “person-centred” way of presenting the almost endless scope of our Work, in a way that hardly ever finds its way into print.

The illustrations are unusual – avoiding the conventional “head back and down”, “head forward and up” illustrations. The nearest thing to that is a photo of a cowboy wrestling a steer (you have to read it …). The other illustrations are split mostly three ways: firstly, very characteristic photos of Bruce working with students in workshop settings; secondly, half a dozen illustrations from Albinus on Anatomy, the series of beautiful, accurate, lively, whimsical-but-layered-with-meaning anatomical engravings published in 1747, which Bruce uses as a primary source for his anatomical and body mapping work, and thirdly, and perhaps most compellingly (the handful of colour-printed pages of the book are reserved for this third category), art illustrations: paintings, sculpture, a thrown pot, landscapes … One of the main ideas here is that we do not tend look at a Renaissance painting, or a sculpture of a human figure in a way that emphasises postural criticism. On the subject of criticism, Bruce quotes Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field; I’ll meet you there”. Instead we see what the figure, through its implied movements and reactions, expresses. Bruce suggests – and this seems to me to be the absolute epicentre of his teaching – that we would do well to learn to look at people as we look at works of art: to see the beauty before the body-mechanics, and to empathise with (and thereby become able to help) a person’s Use by seeing how they express themselves.

Because of the structure of the book as a series of vignettes, a lot of ground is covered quickly, and it is not possible for me to list them all. However, I shall choose three particular themes that seem to me to be characterise Bruce’s understanding of the Work, and which I personally found to be good. Firstly, he does not try to make it easy. He says (in understatement) that the Alexander Technique needs “practice”, that a good teacher has, necessarily, to be “living the work every day”, and that “This road is longer than any one person’s life”. Secondly, he is a dyed-in-the-wool non-dualist. He does not talk about “how we use our bodies”, neither (more subtly) does he talk about the “mind body connection” (which always seems to me like approaching psychophysical unity from an essentially dualist perspective, unnecessarily making a simple thing complicated). Instead he simply and straightforwardly treats each person as a whole. This gives his work access – when appropriate – to a student’s emotional life in a straightforward and unforced way, as a natural aspect of their Use, and very much part of what we, as teachers, are there for. For example, he is likely to ask a student who says that he wants to relax, “How do you know you are not relaxed?” to which the student replies “I feel nervous.” This then opens the way to the psychophysical subject matter of the lesson. It’s as simple (and profound) as that. Thirdly, he places great emphasis on learning to use one’s senses in a skilled and healthy way, asking “What would happen if we were able to go from having adequate tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive senses, to having extraordinary tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive senses?”. “Feeling” is not, for him, a word to be avoided, or the exclusive polar opposite of “thinking”. Right at the beginning of the book he tells us of a conversation with an anaesthetist: “You say to people, you’re not going to feel a thing, and I say to people, you are about to feel everything.” In one chapter Bruce suggests a series of sensory investigations, meditations, Directions – I don’t know what to call them – leading the experimenter towards more subtle and more colourful sensory experiences. An important extension of this thinking is that humans-sensing-other-humans is a vital part of life – “To be means to be with other people.” – and an essential part of the Alexander Technique. Interestingly, for a teacher who does so much of his work in groups, individual hands on work is very central to his teaching. He clearly thinks of Alexander work essentially as partner-work, with all the subtle and paradoxical give and take of leading-in-order-to-follow, and following-in-order-to-lead that subtle partner work always embodies (one chapter tells the story of a lesson with an accomplished Tango couple), and he understands what he sometimes calls “high touch” (exemplified by the best Alexander hands on work) as one of the highest expressions of our shared humanity: “Touch … is our sense of togetherness, of closeness, of intimacy, of union and communion.”

Bruce freely uses stories, autobiography, quoted aphorisms, illustrations, poetic language and a wide range of metaphors to set the scene and to make his points, and this is surely the only Alexander book with a Japanese glossary! In writing such a book, the author is necessarily just guessing at a reader’s connection with a particular image – unlike presenting ideas in a workshop situation where communication is two-way. I imagine that each reader will have their own spectrum of recognition: some points seeming no more than common sense, others interesting and informative, some concepts may be outside their experience, and others still, less attractive – metaphors that simply don’t work for them. That is the risk, consciously taken, in writing a book that seeks to convey the flavour of a very personal experience. For me, it is interesting to think that each reader’s spectrum will, most likely, align itself with quite different themes and images in the book.

The greatest strength perhaps of this new addition to our bibliography is that it clearly and repeatedly shows us (as we as teachers and committed trainees naturally already know) that “Alexander’s work, when it works, can work miracles; quiet, little miracles that can change a person’s life forever.”

 

May Nothing Stand Between Us

 

In the first half of my life I built walls; in the second half of my life I am doing my best to take those walls down.

By believing that the teachers I had chosen to study under were the most gifted, the most astute, the most skilled, by association, made me feel special and superior to others. By believing the disciplines I had chosen to study were the most profound, by association, made me feel special and superior to others.

Others had missed the boat, were not on the bus. They had made the wrong choices, and I the right ones.

I remember with embarrassment, some 40 years ago, defining Alexander’s work in opposition to Ida Rolf’s work, how Alexander’s work was educational, non-manipulative, and wholistic, while Rolf’s work was mechanical, intrusive, and reductionist. I remember hating the Rolfing logo of a man stacked up like building blocks.

T’ai Chi Chu’an and Aikido were superior to other martial art forms. Zen Buddhism and Taoism were more sophisticated than monotheistic religions. Democrats were enlightened and Republicans were greedy. And so it went. Bricks made from hardened beliefs. Mortar made from a muddy mind.

Between the first half of my life and the second half of my life, like a Murakami anti-hero, I fell into a deep, dark well. When finally I dug my way out I was psychologically emaciated. During that time I had gone through a divorce, my kids had left home, the house I lived in and loved for 20 years was sold, I gave up my business, my mother died, and then a year later, my father, who I loved dearly, also died.

The day my father died we were alone. Sitting next to him in an old worn out, saggy leather chair, legs crossed under me, tallis over my shoulders, quietly, I read out loud from my copy of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the psalms;

Even in the midst of great pain, Lord,
     I praise you for that which is.
I will not refuse this grief
     or close myself to this anguish.
Let shallow men pray for ease:
     “Comfort us; shield us from sorrow.”
I pray for whatever you send me,
     and I ask to receive it as your gift.
You have put a joy in my heart
     greater than all the world’s riches.
I lie down trusting the darkness,
     for I know that even now you are here.

I begin feeling cold and decide to get up and put an extra blanket over my Dad who now lay unconscious for three days. Getting up I hear a loud crunching sound. It’s my knee. On the metal guardrail, along side my father’s bed, hangs his old wooden cane. I reach out, take it, and for the next month limp exactly as my father had in the last month of his life.

Emotionally depleted, it was nigh impossible to find my inner structural support. With each passing month my body aged a year. My weakened, painful knee set my body askew and it was not long before my hip and lower back followed suit. I was a mess.

I decided I needed to get help. I made an appointment to have ten Structural Integration sessions, treatments based on the work of Ida Rolf. And wouldn’t you know it, it was just what I needed! It was as if old injuries from gymnastic falls and car accidents were letting me go. I was regaining my inner structural support and becoming comfortable again.

My knee was still unstable. After having practiced Tai Chi every day for 40 years, I woke up one morning and knew I had to see what would happen if I simply stopped doing Tai Chi. And wouldn’t you know it, my knee got better and better with each passing week!

The walls just keep coming down for me. Maybe that is why the second half of my life feels so light, so free. I don’t have any need for walls these days. If I don’t know what is right how can I be wrong? If I don’t have anything to prove who can argue with me? If I have nothing to defend what can I lose? And if I am for everyone where is my enemy?

John Tuite, a dear friend of mine, sent me a photo. It’s a photo of an art installation by Jorge Mendez Blake entitled, A Single Book Disrupts the Foundation of a Brick Wall.

This is my hope. May my little book do its little bit to help bring down walls between the various Alexander lineages. May it make a small contribution to bringing down walls between somatic disciplines. May assumptions, prejudices and false notions become dislodged. May grudges and gossip fall by the wayside. May nothing stand between us.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.”

 Robert Frost

JorgeMendezBlake_01 2

 Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart

by Bruce Fertman

The Voice Of The World (A revision of Singing In the Rain)

I remember a class I took with Marjory Barlow in 1988. She was explaining how at first you give these words, these phrases to your student knowing they will have little or no idea of what you are talking about. But then, gradually, through the subtle and clear use of your hands you give your student an experience of what those words and phrases actually mean. The student mentally and physically couples them together and voilà, when she or he thinks the words, without having to really do anything, the words themselves trigger an effortless response, a response that comes to feel almost reflex-like, a response that is at once supportive, organizing and liberating. It just happens, like typing in a domain name of where you want to go, clicking on search and, presto, there it is, and there you are.

It’s ingenious really, and effective. As one continues to study with teachers, and on one’s own, which is essential, this kinesthetic coupling of the words with this effortlessly revitalizing reflex-like response becomes ever more wedded, ever more precise and powerful, which is why having hands on work through one’s whole life is a good idea, which is why being part of an Alexander community is such a good idea, which is what I have chosen to do, which has been a blessing beyond words.

Alexander referred to these words, these phrases, as directions. He writes, direction is…”the process involved in projecting messages from the brain to the mechanisms and in conducting the energy necessary to the use of those mechanism.”  By mechanisms I assume Alexander is referring to this ever so delicate but dynamic reorganization of the head in relation to the neck, and of the head and neck’s relationship to the entire torso, and of the head, neck, and torso’s relationship, as a flexibly working unit, to the arms and legs.

If you are an Alexander teacher or a long term student of Alexander’s work all of this is old hat. Sorry, but I am going somewhere and need to begin at the beginning.

Now these words are a shorthand, an abbreviation for a complex psychophysical happening within us, and yet they they still strike me as a bit long and cumbersome. Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other. And then there are secondary directions that speak to the limbs as well, to the heels, knees and hips and to the elbows, wrists, and fingers, and to the tongue, (which I see as limb-like; think of a frog.)

It takes a bit of time to stream through these directions, especially at first. When we get proficient, perhaps just a few seconds. Marj Barstow, one of my mentors, once said to a student who was belaboring the process, “I wish I could say all these words to you at the same time, instead of one after the other.” Marj understood that this sequence of instructions had to be played more like a fluid arpeggio on a guitar rather than a separate collection of notes.

The very same day I had a class with Marjory Barlow I also had a class with Wilford Barlow. I loved watching and listening to them both. Wilford deferred to his wife saying, “Now this is just my idea. If you want to know how it really works, ask Marjory.” But I loved Wilford’s ideas, and his hands too. He said something like, (it was long ago), “After a time the words are not always necessary. The change we want can come about without them.” I wasn’t sure but my guess was that after we had for many years used our conscious mind, and with it language to reeducate our kinesthesia we could come to trust it more and more and simply let it work for us. Perhaps our kinesthesia is like a child who for many years needs guidance, but then gradually grows up into a capable and responsible adult who no longer needs looking after all the time.

Years have flown by since then, 30 years to be exact. I’ve had some time to think about this on my own, and so now I will share with you my thoughts on the matter.

Let’s imagine you are on the road, traveling in some foreign country. A cold snap blows in unexpectedly. You decide to buy a scarf and a pair of gloves. You find something you like, a bit expensive and so decide to charge it on your credit card. You open your wallet and notice your Discover card is missing. You pick up your phone and know their phone number because their phone number happens to spell DISCOVER. So instead of having to remember 8 numbers in sequence, you only have to remember one word.

What if I could find one word that could contain for me the full sequence of directions. I decided on the word ‘One’. ‘One’ would now mean for me Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other. The word ‘One’ would now be the verbal trigger for my entire Primary Pattern. After all, the word ‘One’ is in essence just a sound, a sound English speaking people decide means the number between 0 and 2. It is just a sound. The meaning is not inherent to the sound. English speaking people collectively agree on what that sound means. A person for whom English is a second language at some point had to learn what that sound meant. At first, in their mind, they may have said to themselves what it meant in their own language, but over time they no longer had to do that. At some point the word One, the sound One immediately meant to them the number between 0 and 2.

So, I thought, why could I not change the meaning of the sound ‘One’ and have it mean what I wanted it to mean? If for me the sound ‘One’ was coupled with Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other, and if that phrase was kinesthetically coupled with this effortlessly revitalizing reflex-like response, then all three of them were now coupled, like links of a fence.

I played with using the word ‘One’ as my condensed Alexander direction. I liked how fast it was. I liked that it was less wordy. Yes it lacked a bit of the specificity that Alexander’s words had for me. But with practice I got pretty good at it.

Then the thought occurred to me that I didn’t have to use a word at all. That I could just use a sound, given that, in essence, a word is just a sound. I came up with the sound, Paaaah. This worked much better than the word ‘One’. It had something to do with the fact that it had no meaning to begin with and so I had not to de-couple any meaning from the sound. The sound was soft and expansive and seemed never ending. I also had associations with the sound, one being Alexander’s whispered Ah, and the other being the sound Kyudoists, (Zen Archers) use to refer to the moment when the arrow is released from the bow. Paaaah. I didn’t lose much specificity when using the sound Paaaah. It was indeed a better container for Alexander’s directions, at least for me.

I will, however, never throw out Alexander’s directions. They are for me like some song from another era that I still love singing. Those words still move me.

More years went by. I was in Tokyo standing at one of these interminably long red lights. I was end-gaining. I wanted to go but the red light was telling me to stay put. “That’s its collective meaning virtually all over the world, even though it’s a color, not a word, and not a sound. It’s also an object. Gee, I thought, we can pretty much make anything mean anything. It is totally up to us!”

I decided it would probably be a good idea to continue letting the red stop signal mean stop. But I decided that instead of it meaning stop on a superficial level, I decided that it meant stop on a deep level, that it meant to stop everything within myself, to completely stop any unnecessary holding within myself, to completely stop waiting, to enter into a condition of profound Alexandrian inhibition.

There I was at this infinitely long red light in a state of radical non-end-gaining, wide awake, vividly aware of everything around me. When the light turned green and everyone began walking across the street, I didn’t want to go. I was so happy exactly where I was, but then I thought, “better to follow the simple directions”, and so I crossed the street as I had never crossed a street before, as if I were singing in the rain, without the rain.

And then the revelation came. What if instead of using an internal trigger, i.e., Alexander’s words, words that were being produced from inside my mind, what if I projected my mind onto the world around me? What if I had the world speak to me from the outside in, instead of me speaking to me from the inside out? Instead of my mind being inside my body, what if my body was inside of a big, benevolent mind? It was entirely up to me to decide what any word, sound, object or creature meant to me, so what would happen if suddenly everything, absolutely everything  was saying to me, directly, wordlessly, Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other?

Ah, so that was what Gary Snyder meant when he wrote, “The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us.” I got it!

Could it be this simple? Could anyone do it? Not really. First it would be necessary to have learned how to couple Alexander’s Primary Movement to some trigger, and perhaps Alexander’s words were the perfect first trigger because they are so specific and clear.

Again, I returned to my new insight.

What if I decided that everything, utterly everything in the world said to me, “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me. Let your neck be free so that your head can go forward and up so that your back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other.” 

The Voice of the World. The silent, wordless voice of the world saying to me, “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me.” 

Suddenly no words were needed at all. It was as if every object, my coffee cup, my keyboard, my computer screen, the flowers by the chair, the sound of the heater were all saying to me, directly, immediately, wordlessly, just through their sheer existence, “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me. Everything was somehow kinesthetically coupled to my Primary Movement.

What if every person, especially people I struggled with meant “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me.

No longer was there me trying to speak to me from somewhere inside of my body. The entire world and everything and everyone in it was now freeing me, directing me, opening me, awakening me. The Voice of the World was speaking to me and I was listening. Not only was I listening, I was following its direction, taking its good and loving advice.

Why not free myself in relation to everything and everyone?

That must of been it, the meaning of the Flower Sermon given by the Buddha. Sakyamuni gives a wordless sermon to his sangha. He holds up a white flower. No one understands it’s meaning except Mahakasyapa, who smiles.

That simple flower, and the meaning we bestow upon it speaks to us, in silence, inviting us back to who we are.

 

Bruce Fertman

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart