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Posts from the ‘Hands’ Category

A Grace of Sense – Where Our Inner World and Outer World Meet – Part I – A 10 Week Online Course with Bruce Fertman – October 3rd – December 6th, 2020

Already people have registered to partake in, A Grace of Sense – Where Our Inner World and Outer World Meet, from Scotland, England, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Iran, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and United States. That is why I decided to teach two classes, as to accommodate all of our different time zones. Usually, I have to trek around to world to get to people from so many different countries, but this way I can do so leaving a much lighter carbon footprint.

Yes, I cannot be with you in person. I cannot work with my hands as a way of helping you to access this material. But, at the same time, as I acclimate to this new medium I find, there is a surprising amount that I can successfully communicate visually and verbally.

Eventbrite makes it very easy for you to read about and register for this course. If you give yourself the time to read this material slowly and let it sink in, then you will know if this course if for you. If my words speak to you, if they move you, consider studying with me. If you have any questions, write to me. I am not going anywhere!

There is a handsome saving if you register by August 15th.

A Grace of Sense – Europe

 

Photo: B. Fertman

 

A Grace of Sense – Asian Pacific

 

Photo: B. Fertman

 

A Grace of Sense – Americas

 

Navajo Woman – Photo: B. Fertman

About Bruce Fertman

“In Bruce’s class you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake. He is the embodiment of his work. His pace and patience, his quiet confidence, allows people to unfold and open layer by layer. The superfluous falls away, leaving only life’s inner vitality effortlessly expressing itself through you. And then you know, ‘That’s who I am, that is who I could be.’”

Margarete Tueshaus – Alexander Teacher, Equestrian, Germany

Gone is the straight-lined striving, the stopping and oughting. Instead curiosity, inquisitiveness, and permission to experiment, to play, to open boxes and to climb out of them into a world of possibility – a world both soft and strong. And all this through a quiet power, a clarity of speech, and a wealth of wisdom. For me, Bruce’s work is more than exciting; it is important, both to the world and to anyone involved in any way with Alexander’s Technique.

Annie Turner – Alexander Technique Teacher, England

Having done so for 30 years, Bruce continues to teach annually in Europe, Asia, and the United States helping people to understand and experience the interconnectedness between physical and spiritual grace.

In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school, now with programs in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, England, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and America.

Author of  Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart, Delving into the Work of F.M. Alexander, Bruce currently lives and works in Osaka, Japan and Coyote, New Mexico.

 

 

For the Love of Pedagogy

Robyn Avalon and Bruce Fertman

 

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”  – Anonymous

Robyn Avalon and I, being the co-directors of the Alexander Alliance International, and collectively having taught for over a century, are joyfully obsessed with pedagogy, to the point where I think we would proudly pronounce ourselves as pedagogical nerds. We love continually experimenting, figuring out, and endlessly fine tuning how we can help people move toward an embodied understanding of what we now know, while giving them the tools to help others to do the same.  We are hoping some of them become nerdy pedagogues like us. We are true blue educators. We don’t so much train people to become teachers, like people train horses or dogs, as impressive as that skill is. Conditioning and education may overlap, but are not the same. We educe, that is, we draw out the bodily, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual clarity within our students. We inspire them to study together, and most importantly, to study on their own. Out of our love and enthusiasm for the work, we generate love and enthusiasm in our students. It’s contagious. As the years go by, our students train themselves.

Both Robyn and I were trained dancers, Robyn, a former professional tap dancer, and I, a professional modern dancer. We spent lots of time in well structured classes that created beautifully kinetic and kinesthetic educational experiences.

This was invaluable for both of us, as the Alexandrian pedagogues we were to become. I also learned a great deal about beautiful kinetically and kinesthetically structured classes through taking countless classes in Ballet, Tai Chi, Aikido, Chanoyu, Tango, and Kyudo. There are a lot of masterful teachers out there to be found. Robyn too studied modalities, too numerous to mention, within the healing professions.

Take the basic structure of a ballet class. You come early and warm up. My ballet teacher, Stella Applebaum, would lock the door at 8am sharp. Warming up was not a social event. The ballet studio was what I would call a sacred learning space.

Classes began at the barre, with plies, of course, our morning prayers. An organically logical barre sequence unfolded until we were pliant and centered, much like how a potter prepares their clay, by wedging it, putting it on the wheel, and bringing it up and down, until it is in a perfect condition to be thrown. In dance, the dancer is both the clay and the potter, both the dancer and the dance, whirling into existence a piece of non-material, ephemeral art, not for the keeping.

Then, class moved into the center of the space, where we now integrated many of the movements practiced at the barre, using them in combinations, much like how writers integrate their vocabulary into sentences, phrases, and paragraphs.

Then, an adagio sequence followed. Slower is not easier; it is harder, just like all my musician friends tell me when it comes to playing instruments. Balance, line, precision, strength, fluidity is all challenged.

Next, allegro. The body is now finely tuned, strong, centered. Time to work on small, rapid movement, and big movement, movement that gets us high into the air. And finally, these rapid, large, powerful, airborne movements are practiced moving boldly through space.

Finally, there was reverence; bowing, circling back to prayers of gratitude for ballet, for the accompanist, for our teacher. I’ve been in classes where after the group reverence we would get in line and approach our teacher individually, bow, and listen to particular criticism or praise, in preparation for the next class. Usually we’d leave class feeling great physically and emotionally, much better than when we walked in, energized, exhilarated and in love with dance.

Figuring out how, as an Alexander teacher, to structure an individual lesson, a 3-hour class, an 8-hour teaching day, a 9-day, 50-hour retreat, and 100-hour professional development program, a 200-hour post graduate training program, and a 4-year training program, is Robyn’s and my idea of a good time. How do we get our students, in the end, be it after a class, or after a 4-year training program to feel great physically and emotionally, much better than when they first walked in, leaving them feeling energized and exhilarated and in love with Alexander’s work?

It’s important to know of the pitfalls to structuring a good Alexander experience. One can do too much of something, or too little, or leave important things out entirely. One can make things too hard, or too easy, cover too much material, or too little, go too fast, or too slow, etc. What follows are some of the elements I consider important to track as an Alexander teacher when structuring and offering an Alexander experience.

Language

It is fatal to talk too much in a class. At the same time, if you don’t explain what you are doing and why you are doing it, your students walk away mystified as to what is going on, and this too is fatal.

I attempt never to use jargon. I search for simple words, common words, everyday language and expressions, understandable images and metaphors. Simplicity, clarity, succinctness, only speaking about what is pertinent to the subject at hand. Avoiding tangents. (Challenging for me.)  Rarely do they help. Stay on point.

Get your students to write about their experiences. Encourage them to read and search for Alexander’s principles within Alexander’s books, in books written about Alexander’s work, in books written about related somatic fields of study, within science, psychology, theology, literature and poetry.

Invite them to ask questions. Encourage them to express themselves in their own words, so that you can get to know who they are, how they think, how they perceive the work and the world. Include some time for students to talk inside of a large group, in small groups, and in pairs. Alexander teachers must be articulate, not just physically, but linguistically, not just physically fluid, but linguistically fluent.

Well timed humor is also partly a linguistic skill and priceless when it comes to teaching.

Silence

Sound arises out of silence and returns to silence. Alexander work is more about nothing than something. It’s more about what is going on in the background than the foreground. “All I want is to show you a little bit of nothing. You are all doing something, and that something is your habit,” I can hear Marj Barstow saying to us. If the silence within us and around us is deep and beautiful then, when we do speak, we will be heard. Silence before a sentence, and after a sentence. Using commas and periods when we speak. Not rattling on and on.

Allow for times when the whole room is working in silence, or when everyone is alertly resting together in silence. Ideas, sensations, new experiences often settle in at such times. Making time for reflection, contemplation, meditation.

Observation

Years ago, I was too full of myself as a teacher. I liked to talk, to expound, to embellish. I liked demonstrating, showing off a bit. When it was time for my students to do something, I often did it with them, and talked them through it, which meant I was not really seeing my students. But no matter. I would say things like, “Good, very good. That is coming along.” But honestly, I was not watching anywhere nearly close enough.

Fortunately, that changed. At some point, I decided to speak less. Now I demonstrate, making sure everyone is  watching only me, not doing anything with me. Then I sit down, (that is important), and sit back, close my mouth, relax my tongue, and do absolutely nothing but watch my students, each and every one of them. Then, I say the one thing they need to hear next, stay on point, answer a question succinctly if asked. I demonstrate once again, having everyone watch, in silence. I sit back down, lean back, and watch again. And so on.

Observation. Teaching people how to see. Find out what they see. Listen to them. Find out what they are not seeing. Teach them how to see what a moment ago they could not see. I remember Marjorie often saying, “Did you see that?” In the beginning, I didn’t. After some years, I did. It’s important for students to see themselves, for students to watch a teacher, for the teacher to watch the students, for the students to watch one another, and for teachers to watch other teachers. Teachers watching fellow teachers is an important element in Robyn’s and my pedagogy. At least once a year, all the directors of Alexander Alliance trainings will be in the same room together with all the students in the school, and we will watch each other lead the group. In this way, we see and appreciate how each of us is skilled in particular ways. We also see each other’s blind spots and can fill them in for one another. We become stimulated and inspired by watching each other. New ideas bubble up when we are team teaching. We are like a jazz ensemble who have been improving together for decades. We also encourage our students to team teach.

Non-Observation

There’s a time for not observing your students, a time for not looking over their shoulders, as we say. We want our students to become conscious of themselves without becoming self-conscious. In Marj Barstow’s summer retreats, which were large, Marj would sometimes break the participants into smaller groups, assigning each group to one of her apprentices. Then, Marj would casually make the rounds, poking her head in for a minute and then be on her way. Mostly, we were on our own. That was important learning time. It’s like raising kids. Sometimes you have to trust them and let them do things and figure out things on their own. Let them make their own mistakes, let them learn through their own successes and failures. After all, we want them to become self-reliant.

Cheng Man-Ching, my Tai Chi teachers’ teacher, used to tell her, (Maggie Newman), “When you come to my class, no matter how much you know, no matter how long you have studied, come to class like a beginner. And no matter how little a student may know, no matter how briefly they have studied, tell them that when they practice on their own, to practice as if they were a master.”

And, though much of the Alexander world disagrees with me, (That’s okay. I don’t take it personally.), I believe there is a time for us to lower our eyelids, quietly, softly, and drop inwards, which for me is like being part of the night sky, resting within my own inner planetarium. There’s a time to turn out the lights, to learn to see in the dark, to see what cannot be seen, only known. In-sight.

Movement

A class needs to keep moving. It can’t run out of gas. It can be beautiful to slow a class down, to even allow it to come to a stop, but the motor must still be running, the car must still in gear, never in park, alway humming, ready to move.

Too much sitting. Too much standing. Too much lying down. Too much watching. Too much talking. Too much listening. Too much of the same movement, over and over again, too much time in the same gear, going at the same speed, down the same road. Too much is too much.

Movement is how we stir the soup. How we keep a class fluid and flowing, so that stasis does not set in.

Not just mobility of body, but mobility of mind, of which Alexander spoke. Not only the students’ body, but the students’ mind and imagination must remain engaged. The heart also needs to be opened and moved. Tapping into the student’s inner child, into their sense of play, helps a great deal.

Posture is the antithesis of movement. It is frozen movement, movement under a spell.  How to give an Alexander experience that is truly a moving experience and not a postural experience. No small task. It has taken me a lifetime to figure this one out. I have made profound progress, but honestly, I am still not quite there.

Tragedy is when in the pursuit of something, we arrive at its opposite. Oedipus wants not to kill his father and marry his mother. Traveling toward Thebes, he encounters Laius, his father, who provokes Oedipus. Oedipus kills him. Continuing on his way, Oedipus finds Thebes plagued by a Sphinx, who has put a riddle to all passersby, destroying everyone unable to answer correctly. Oedipus alone solves the riddle. The Sphinx kills herself. As a reward, Oedipus receives the throne of Thebes and the hand of the widowed queen, his mother, Jocasta.

We want to free ourselves and our students into their inherent, naturally and fluidly organized coordination and support, and sometimes we end up with just the opposite, feeling bound, unnatural, artificial, and stiff. Just what we don’t want.

It’s not easy being an Alexander teacher. Marj used to say to us, “This work is too simple for you.”  She said simple. She didn’t say easy. True simplicity is more difficult than sophisticated complexity.

Stillness

And, there is a time to stop stirring the soup.

“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?  Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?”

Lao Tzu/Stephen Mitchell

 

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;

Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,

But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,

Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,

Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,

There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.

And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.

The inner freedom from the practical desire,

The release from action and suffering, release from the inner

And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded

By a grace of sense, a white light still and moving,

Erhebung without motion, concentration

Without elimination, both a new world

And the old made explicit…”

(Erhebung: rising, uplift, ennoblement, elevation.)

T.S. Eliot: Burnt Norton, Four Quartets

Touch

Within our Alexander community at large, we have teachers who don’t use their hands when they teach. We have teachers who are physically in touch with their students through an entire lesson.

We have teachers that rarely talk, rarely explain, who choose to work in silence and let their hands do the talking.

We have teachers who rely a great deal on observation and language. Teachers who rely a great deal on movement. Teachers who work with people mostly in stillness, for example when giving a table lesson. We have teachers who teach through classical procedures, and others who work through what I would call modern or post-modern procedures. We have teachers who teach through writing about the technique, through just sharing their ideas. We have teachers who incorporate technology into their teaching, videoing and online teaching, and we have teachers who don’t. We have teachers who use mirrors and teachers who never use them. I had a ballet teacher who, four days a week, drew the curtains over the long wall of mirrors, allowing us to use them only on Fridays. He said there were no mirrors on the stage.

Personally, I have come to see this variety of teaching pedagogy within our profession as all good. When I was younger, and more foolish, and arrogant, I was convinced that certain ways of working were right and others wrong, some ways superior and other ways inferior. But now, I see it all as worthy research. After you have been around for a century of teaching, as Robyn and I have, you have seen people do all of the above well, and finally the heart and the mind open up to their being many doors into the holy city.

Our way, our research at the Alexander Alliance, (we consider ourselves, not a conservatory, but a research school), is to see what happens if we work for an integration, a beautiful and effective braiding of language and silence, movement and stillness, observation and non-observation, and tactual and non-tactual teaching. What happens if we work with the entire spectrum, the whole palette?

I see these ways of teaching as different channels through which we can receive and impart information, information absolutely unique to each channel.

What I will say here about touch, is that I am so grateful that Alexander began using his hands to teach, and that Marj too was masterful with her hands. She loved using her hands and did so morning till night for the many years that I studied with her. Yet, ironically, perhaps because she did not spend a lot of time teaching us how to use our hands, and because we spent so much of our study time watching her work, and describing what we saw, we got very good at seeing the work and speaking about the work.

But I was enthralled with Marj’s touch, with what she could bring about through her hands. I vowed to myself to have hands like hers, and to pass on this part of her work. And now, some 43 years later, I can say, this vow, I kept.

We live in a western world that for thousands of years has separated and ranked, from top to bottom, the spirit, mind, heart, and body, in that order. Working with one’s hands, manual work, is somehow beneath mental work. Part of what Alexander began to do was to reintegrate these aspects of ourselves into a non-hierarchical working whole. How apt that he began to touch people, that he developed and elevated touch, a touch that promoted healthy development, a touch full of knowledge and nurturance.

Non-Tactual Teaching

What Robyn and I often do first, is to see how much a person can do on their own. We observe. We then might make verbal suggestions, and then watch some more. Once we are clear on how their “kinesthetic compass” is off, once we can discern how they are kinesthetically a bit flat or sharp, we can help fine tune them, tactually, only as much as is needed. Then, it’s back to watching and seeing how they are doing on their own.

So, there is this weaving back and forth between working tactually and non-tactually. After all, we want people to be able to bring about all of these positive changes, without our help. They must learn how to work from the inside out, how to use their own minds to change their own bodies, they need to find their “inner hands”, their hands that guide them from within.

Sensory Integration

Part of our job, as I understand it, is sensory integration. For me, this means integrating our intra-senses, the senses that grant us awareness and information about ourselves, kinesthesia and proprioception primarily, and our inter-senses, that grant us awareness and information about our world, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching. As intra-senses integrate with inter-senses, we become increasingly able to be simultaneously aware of ourselves in relation to our environment, that is, we learn to appreciate how we are being within ourselves and within the world as we are living our lives. Hildegard von Bingen said it like this. “Within, but not enclosed, Without, but not excluded.”

Tracking this integration of the senses throughout the course of a class, or through the course of a training, is important. We want our students leaving class with an expanded and unified field of attention. We want them not only more aware of themselves and the world; we want them to feel that they are within the world, and that the world is within them. This is what I mean by a unified field of attention. Ramana Maharshi’s deep understanding of this unified field is apparent when he was asked, “How should we treat others.” He replied, “What others.”

My experiences of sensory integration happened most often, and most dramatically, after a three-hour Chanoyu, or Japanese Tea Ceremony class. A tea class is centered around the making and serving of tea. So, scent and taste are part of the experience, the taste of Japanese sweets and matcha tea, and the scent of very faint incense evoking the freshness of pines and the feel of the forest. Movements are very specific; how one walks, bows, how one cleans, carries and uses objects. Great attention is given to moving easily, fluidly and clearly. There is much to see; kimonos, tea bowls, flowers, a hanging scroll, the play of light and shadow, steam rising out from the top of the iron kettle. And, much to hear, feet sliding along tatami mats, doors gliding within their wooden grooves, the whisking of vibrant, green matcha, the sound of hot water boiling reproducing the precise sound of the wind through the pines. Chanoyu is a pre-technological, multi-sensorial experience practiced and enjoyed by millions of people.

As I left that magic tea space and entered back into the world from which I had come, I found the world totally altered as if someone had cleaned it, put it into high resolution, and into finer focus. Also, it was as if the stereo system had been radically upgraded. I could hear omni-directionally and more distinctly. I could hear the different sounds that the wind made through different trees. I could feel the ground rising up under my feet. I could feel the beating of my heart. A harmony of the senses, another element to track in the creation of a good Alexander experience.

Indeed, there is much to track in order to teach a well-balanced Alexander class: the balance between language and silence, observation and non-observation, movement and stillness, tactual and non-tactual teaching, and intra and inter-senses. Still, there is one more element that I think important and would like to mention.

Systems of Support

One of my secrets for avoiding the tragedy of Alexandrian artifice, of postural stiffness, starchiness, crustiness, is to balance what I call, “tensegrity support”, the hallmark support system found within Alexander’s work, with other forms of support, namely, ground, spatial, and organ support. When this balancing of support systems appears, Alexandrian artifice disappears. We’re being supported from the inside out, and from the ground below, and from the world around us, so there is no need for a postural exoskeleton. It falls away. We molt.

I find, if and when I bring into an Alexander experience a balance of these support systems, my students leave the lesson or the class, or the program, or the school un-postured, with an embodied understanding of inherent organizational forces that are “in process and not super-imposed”, to use Alexander’s words.

To be able to do this, of course, you have to know what these systems are, and be able to access them in yourself, and know how to access them in others. That is a subject for another time, and best learned via a teacher well versed in all of them.

Glenna Batson, who graduated from our school, and who taught for our school for many years, once told me that, for her, composing a class was like writing a poem. She felt that the writing of the last line was often so difficult, and so wonderful when you found it.

Bread in the Pockets of the Hungry

“Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

Mary Oliver

And so should an Alexander experience be, like a poem, not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

This Does Not Help

dallasopera-map

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

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

So I ask the oracle.

Google.

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

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

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

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

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

To Carol Mann and Tom Miller,

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

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

Biography: Bruce Fertman

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

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

Gratefully, 

Bruce Fertman

http://www.peacefulbodyschool.com

Touching The Intangible 

Photo: B. Fertman

 

 Towards A Theology Of Touch

By

Bruce Fertman

Epigraph

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacques Lusseyran – from And There Was Light

God is Reality.

Byron Katie

Foreword 

Michelangelo’s Choice

No one knows the story behind Michelangelo’s choice.

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

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

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

Now I do.

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Was This Book Written For You?

This book is written in honor of and for…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table Of Contents

Foreword

Was This Book Written For You?

Part I. The Work At Hand 

Poise

The Way Of It

My Muse

Revealing That Which Is Hidden

The Blueprint

Taking Care Of The People Who Take Care Of People

The Decision

At The End Of The Road

The Hint

Part II. Sensibilities

Our Essential Task

Don’t I Know You?

How Are You?

Seeing People

In This Deep Place

The Lay Of The Land

Jiro’s Hands

Part III. Openings Into Grace

The World In A Dewdrop

One Small Gesture Of Kindness

All In A Days Work

In Blind Daylight

The Walker

In The Blink Of An Eye

The Letter

Sing For Me

A Little Lightness

On Becoming A Person

Two Worlds

Living Until You Die

God In The Palm Of Your Hand

Part IV. Meditations On The Sensory World

Intrapersonal Sensory Intelligence

God Trying To Get Your Attention

Shekina – A Contemporay Midrash On Genesis

Sensus Communis

Without Our Having To Ask

Sauntering

Touching Existence

What You Are Not

Being Fed

Contemplative Anatomy 

The Nameless Song

Why Wait?

Inside The Majesty

V. Living The Work

Softness

Love Runs Downstream

A Real Softy

Drenched To The Bone

Less

You’re Too Much

Kvetching

How To Make A Good Impression

Gravity and Grace

The Place Just Right

A Little Girl And A Little Boy

Plain Jane

The Wind And The Willows

Beyond Right And Wrong

Defenseless

Suicide Bombers

When I’m Right, I’m Right

Begin With Yourself

Where Do They All Come From

The Solution

Barely Squeaking By

Not A Second Too Late

It Cannot Be That Simple

Teaching Without Teaching

Beauty Longing For Itself

Establishing Credit

Non-Doing

Chasing After Your Own Tail

Can’t Stand The Pressure

Don’t Take My Advice

Oneness

Heaven Help Us

A Nameless Song

Me And My Shadow

Essential Goodness

Thoughtless

Unmistakable Signs

Putting Your Foot In Your Mouth

Stopping

Chill

Ready Or Not

Life On The Edge

Readiness

The Imprint

Too Late For You

A Poor Little Old Lady

Space

Out Of Nowhere

Just Between You And Me

A Big Fat Nobody

Change

Deep

Burnt Out

Death Warmed Over

Moms

Afterward 

My Letter Of Resignation

Part I

The Work At Hand

Poise

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman


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

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

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

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

What happened?

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

image4

The Awakening Slave by Michelangelo

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

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

The Way Of It

bulldogging_by_suzie_n-d81j1ps

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

I Don’t Know

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

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

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

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

Bulldogging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Their Own Story

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

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

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

zen oxherd picture

Mounting the ox, slowly I return homeward.

The voice of my flute floats through the evening air.

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

In rhythm with the beating of my own heart.

My Muse

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

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

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

Michelangelo_the_libyan

The Libyan Sybil 

Why do you think?

She’s beautiful.

She’s strong.

She’s poised.

She’s got a great back.

She’s spiraling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

From her hips.

Lower.

From her left foot.

Lower.

From the ground.

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

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

Power to do what she’s doing.

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

Why would he want to do that?

Because it looks cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revealing That Which Is Hidden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeling hopeless. The chest and eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what was that like?

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

Many heads are nodding in agreement.

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

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

Michelangelo-ignudo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because they’re beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michelangelo_the_libyan

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

Bruce Fertman

http://www.peacefulbodyschool.com

 

 

Nothing Else To Say

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Words. They’re important. They’re worth thinking about. It’s worth taking the time and finding the precise word or words that express your truth. It’s worth visiting those words over and over again, as your understanding of what is true changes, and then changing those words, once again, until they express your truth as it lives within you now.

Certified. This word lacks beauty for me . Certified US Beef. Certified mail. Certified gluten free. Perhaps it has something to do with my having grown up in Philadelphia, a city founded by a Quaker, William Penn. It remains the only state where you don’t need a priest or a rabbi, or a government to certify that two people are married. What you need is a community. It’s your community that knows you, who recognizes you, and who cares about you. And it’s your community that supports you. A marriage has little chance of surviving in a vacuum. And so does an Alexander teacher.

Thirty five years ago, when Martha and I first founded the Alexander Alliance, we chose to award graduating students by giving them a document called a Statement Of Recognition. The words had meaning. The words matched what was happening. A person who had studied deeply, who had made a real commitment, was being recognized by their teachers, their colleagues, and their students. Perhaps most importantly, by the students they had begun to teach. The reason why I say most importantly by their students is because, ultimately, it’s your students who decide whether you are a teacher. No students. No teacher. If anyone certifies a teacher, it’s their students.

Marjorie Barstow didn’t certify us. She didn’t believe in certifying us. She didn’t believe it was necessary. She would say when asked if she certified teachers, “No, I don’t, however, some of my students have gone on to become excellent teachers of Alexander’s work.” She wanted us to know when we were ready to teach. Yes, there was a day when Marj said to me that she thought it would be good for my learning, if I began to teach more. But that was a suggestion. The decision was mine to make. Yes, she did write a letter saying I was a good Alexander teacher, but that was simply a letter of recommendation for a position I was applying for in a university theatre department.

And so it was, in this spirit, in Marj’s spirit,  that I chose the words I did for the document Martha and I gave to our graduating students.

Years have gone by. Almost three hundred people have graduated from the Alexander Alliance International. I felt it was time to look again at our Statement Of Recognition, and surprisingly, the words still rang true. But something was missing. In the original document I ended by saying that the graduate was “capable of imparting Alexander’s work to others.” I have changed this to, “and has made a commitment to imparting Alexander’s work to others, respectfully and benevolently.” Knowledge is not enough, not in our work. In Judaism we speak of possessing a “heart of wisdom.” That’s what I want to see from my students; that their knowledge of Alexander’s work emanate from the heart.

Soon another crop of students will graduate from the Alexander Alliance Germany. Their Statements of Recognition will read:

Germany Certification

Graduates. Open your hands and give. Really, there’s nothing else to say.

 

 

 

Leaving Myself In Your Hands

Guan-Yin-Close up

Bill Coco

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

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

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

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

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

Bill Coco

Bill Coco

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

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

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

Marjorie Barstow

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

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

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

Marjorie Barstow working with me.  1977

Marjorie Barstow working with me.
1977

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

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

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

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

I’m still thanking her.

Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

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

Rebbe Zalman

Rebbe Zalman

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

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

A Modern Day Bodhisattva

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

11th century Guanyin statue, from northern China

11th century Guanyin statue, from northern China

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

Aaah, but that is another story.

Letters To A Young Teacher – A Heavenly Host

Rilke's Letter To A Young Poet

Rilke’s Letter To A Young Poet

When you first started teaching, did you trust that your hands were directing in the way that they should or could? I am finding myself wondering if my hands are giving the student the experience that I have when my teacher’s hands are on me. I then of course go back to myself, my back and empty hands. But the thought/doubt is there. I’d love your thoughts on trust and the development of our listening hands.

Did I trust that my hands were directing in the way they they should or could? The short answer? No. I knew my hands were not very good. I knew my use was not all that great either. (It still is not great.) I knew I was not giving my students the experience that I was receiving from my teacher, Marjorie Barstow. But as Marj once said to me,  ‘Comparisons are odious.’ And in this case unfair. If you know more than someone else about AT and you have some skill, then you will be able to help them to the degree that you can at this time. You will likely get through, to varying degrees, with some students, and not at all with others, which can be disheartening. When this would happen to me while teaching a group, with other students watching, I would say something like, ‘That’s enough for now, good job. Let’s take a break, watch others, and come back to it again.’  There’s no point forcing things.

It’s humbling when students don’t respond, but it’s good feedback.  It tells you that you need another 40 years of practice. One student is practice for the next. Fake it until you make it. It’s odd, but it helps me not to think about myself so much as an accomplished teacher. (How other people see me is their own business, not mine.)  I choose to see myself as a student who is doing what he loves, studying and practicing. People pay me for the opportunity to study and practice with me,  because of my possessing more experience than they do. Within Jewish communities in Eastern Europe before World War II, being a rabbi was not a profession. A rabbi was someone that the community collectively recognized as a wise and exceptionally learned man, and supported him so that he had time to study and to contemplate, a kind of scholar-in-residence. That’s how I think of myself. I’m a ‘somasopher’, a person with embodied wisdom. People pay for me to meditate on Alexander’s work, which I do a lot.. People pay me to write, (Yes, I know this is a fantasy, but it’s how I choose to frame it), and people pay me to study in the same room with me. No matter the room, no matter the number of people, in my mind, I transform where I am into my livingroom and I welcome people into my home. Because I am at home in the work and with people. That takes the pressure off. I don’t have to be The Teacher who knows everything, or is great at everything, or can solve everything. Why not write your own secret job description, your own personal mission statement?

It’s about relaxing into your practice. It’s about getting thousands of people under your hands, a heavenly host of people with a heavenly host of different life patterns. And having fun. Ask your students what they are experiencing, and not only physically. Ask them to be totally honest, to not worry about pleasing you. Trust their feedback, and then shift how you are working accordingly.

We’re growing into ourselves as Alexander teachers. It’s an organic process. It takes its own sweet time.

As for coming back to yourself, and to your back, and to your empty hands, and to your listening hands. I don’t really know what all that is for you in reality. I would have to see you, and see and experience what your hands are doing and what they are not doing. But I will say that I don’t come back to myself, I include myself. In Judaism there’s a famous prayer called the Shema, and basically it says that God is One. I take this to mean, not two. Our job is to unify, to make things one.

My hands are not only empty, they are full, they don’t only listen, they speak, they communicate, they invite, they welcome, they offer, they lead, they follow, they receive, they give, they promote, they nurture, they love, they read, they explore, they suggest, they comfort, they challenge, they encourage, they praise, they give permission.

So in the beginning it is not about trusting your hands. It’s about using them a lot and getting good at using them, the way anyone with a manual skill gets good at what they do, if they work at it. Then over time, based on experience, you come to trust your hands. Now, my hands know far more than I do. More than I can say.

Have no doubt. Relax into your practice. Enjoy your students.

JAPAN – The Vow

Having taught Alexander’s work for all of five years, just shy of my thirtieth birthday, my workshop at Crosslands Retirement Community had finished.  Putting on my coat, head down, feeling unsure of myself, in grave doubt about my ability to get Alexander’s work across, an elderly man approaches, a soft elegance about him. Upright, tweed sports jacket, bow tie. He extends his hand and says, “James, James Bennett. You might like knowing that fifty-five years ago I received lessons from Mr. Alexander. He used to tell me that, next to John Dewey, I was his worst student. I always took that as a compliment.” “Well,” I said taken aback, “tell me, be honest, how did I do?”  “It moved me seeing you work with my friend Agnes, he said. To see her walking without her walker. How can I say, it was thrilling. You know, I had many lessons with F. M., but they were always individual lessons. I never watched anyone having a lesson. Until now. I could actually see what was happening. You were teaching me how to see. It was enlightening. As for how you did? Have no doubt. You did splendidly. You have that touch.”

That made my day. Actually, that kept me going for years. It affirmed my intuition that Alexander’s work could effectively be taught in groups.  It further convinced me of the importance of being able see Alexander’s work, as subtle as it was. And I felt encouraged to keep cultivating “that touch.”  Early on I had made a vow to myself that I would not quit until my hands were as good as Marjorie Barstow’s hands.  James Bennett made me feel I was on my way.

Forty years after having made that vow,  a 1000 workshops later, 15,000 people-under-my-hands later, I may have made it. I may have gotten there. I may have fulfilled my vow. I will never know for certain, and so best to not stop practicing. I don’t think I could stop practicing. It’s who I am, at my best.

In this short video, entitled The Touch, by Anchan, you will Marj’s hands within mine and my guess is that Alexander’s were within hers.

 

Making The Invisible Visible

“Anchan, I will pay for all your expenses, travel, room and board, training, film, everything, if you travel around with me and take photos.” That’s how it all began, the making of a man able to catch that elusive moment when a person opens up, frees into who they really are, revealing their intrinsic beauty, their fundamental dignity.

That’s not easy. In the first place you have to be able to see, to see people. You have to be able to feel the instant before a person lets go into a space unknown to them. You have to remember what’s most important; to draw the viewers eye to the inner life of the student.

Now videography, something Anchan taught himself how to do, poses formidable challenges. Movement can be distracting, and words too. Photographs have power. Catching a moment, one moment, the moment of transformation, within stillness, within silence, suspended there in front of you with all the time in the world to enter into what you are seeing, and to be moved by it.

Anchan had an idea. He thought, “what if I could make a wordless video that showed not only the transformative moment, but the transformative movement, without losing the beauty and the stillness of photography?” And with that question Anchan made, The Touch.

But Anchan’s much more than a photographer. He’s an Alexander Teacher in his own right. And a good one.  Not only does he have a better eye than most Alexander teachers, he knows how to teach what he knows. It’s moving to watch Anchan with his kids, how he gives them the time and space to figure things out for themselves, and only interjects a suggestion when needed. He knows when and exactly how much encouragement to give, and he knows when it’s not needed. 

Anchan’s always there. He’s ready to serve. He makes things work. He’s generous. He overflows with generosity.

We were young men when we met, and though Anchan is a good ten years younger than I am, we are both decidedly older, no longer young. But rather than growing tired after all these years of dedicating ourselves to making the invisible visible, to making people see the power of touch, the beauty of Alexander’s work, we’re becoming ever more engaged in this undertaking. We keep getting closer, and closer.

In this short video, made by Anchan, entitled The Touchyou get to see how Anchan sees, and what Anchan loves. You get to see what the students are seeing.  And you get to see the students seeing what they are seeing.  See that, and you will see why I have faith in young people. Those students are delighting in the power and beauty of teaching through touch, something Marj Barstow passed onto me, that Alexander passed on to her,  and that I will continue to do my best to pass on to my students for as long as I am able.

I could tell you much more about Anchan, but I won’t. Let The Touch speak for itself.

Watch The Touch.

Tell us your impressions.

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