When I first saw her I did not know who she was. She was on stage, alone, dancing. Her movements were unusually clear, articulate, intelligent, lucid. Her phrasing and timing, unpredictable. “Who is that!”, I asked my new friend sitting next to me. “Do you know her name?” “Oh, that’s my daughter, Lucia, Lucia Walker.”
The year was 1994, the place Sydney, Australia, the event, the 4th Annual Congress in the Alexander Technique. Basically, I fell in love with both of the Walkers right then and there. For many years thereafter, Elisabeth and Lucia Walker taught for us once or twice a year at the Alexander Alliance in America.
Lucia Walker. Latin lucidus (perhaps via French lucide or Italian lucido ) from lucere ‘shine’, from lux, luc- ‘light’. She who walks lightly in the world. Lucid; to express clearly, easy to understand, cogent, bright.
That’s Lucia. She is her name. These are the qualities Lucia embodies as she walks in the world, and this is why I am very happy to announce that Lucia Walker will be our guest teacher in Kalamata, Greece this October 10-18, 2020.
To show you what I mean about Lucia living up to her name, here are a few of my favorite photos of Lucia, some taken almost 30 years ago, some taken quite recently. Then, I will tell you much of what she has done in her life as the international Alexander teacher that she is.
Movement is Lucia’s medium. Yet, she is more than a movement teacher. She is a life teacher. Long ago Lucia gave me a book to read entitled, A Life of One’s Own, by Marion Milner. It was one woman’s exploration as to how to live a satisfying life. Marion turns toward her everyday life for answers, discerning ways of being, ways of seeing, and ways of moving that bring joy into life. This is Lucia’s larger vision of the work, which Alexander begun.
Some details: Lucia qualified as an Alexander teacher in 1987, after 3 years of training with her parents, Dick and Elisabeth Walker, in Oxford, England, and spent many years assisting in her parent’s training program. Currently, Lucia teaches in South Africa, England, France, Germany, the USA, Argentina, and Japan.
A fascination in the relationship between vision and movement led to Lucia becoming part of ALTEVI, (ALexander TEchnique and VIsion.) Communication being essential to good teaching, Lucia has trained in Non-Violent Communication. She has been part of the Contact Improvisation community for 28 years. Since 2015, Lucia and Sharyn West have been co-directing Alexander Learning and Teaching Programs in Durban and Johannesburg.
It’s an honor and a pleasure for us to have Lucia join our faculty for our international gathering in Greece., October 10-18, 2020. If you have never studied with Lucia, here is a great opportunity to do so, along with all the directors of training at the Alexander Alliance International.
Very Early Bird Discount available until January 25, 2020.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Healing the Rifts within Our Alexander Community at Large
“Now at first sight, all this evidence that the universe looks the same whichever direction we look in might seem to suggest there is something special about our place in the universe. In particular, it might seem that if we observe all other galaxies to be moving away from us, then we must be at the center of the universe. There is, however, an alternate explanation: the universe might look the same in every direction as seen from any other galaxy too. We have no scientific evidence for, or against, this assumption. We believe it on the grounds of modesty: it would be most remarkable if the universe looked the same in every direction around us, but not around other points in the universe! The situation is rather like a balloon with a number of spots painted on it being steadily blown up. As the balloon expands, the distance between any two spots increases, but there is no spot that can be said to be the center of the expansion.”
A Rift Resolved
At the 11th Congress in Chicago, I decided it was time to apologize to Yehuda Kuperman for what I now perceived as my arrogance at the 4th international congress in Sydney in 1994, and for my having, most likely, offended him at one particular gathering. So, I did. A 68 year old man apologizing to an 81 year old man. It’s not over, until its over.
Watching Yehuda at the 3rd international Congress in Engelberg in 1991, I was impressed with the way he moved, with his naturalness, so at the 11th congress, I encouraged Alexander Alliance students to take his classes, and they did. They were moved by Yehuda and by his work. They invited him to Santa Fe, that they might continue to learn from him. He accepted. He was moved by them, by how open they were to learning. Yehuda invited them to Israel. Robyn Avalon, Margarete Tueshaus, and Roselia Galassi, Alexander Alliance faculty members, accepted and went to Israel to study further, and also to share with them some of the way in which we work. Yehuda was moved. The Alexander Alliance is celebrating its 40th anniversary as a school in October 2020. We invited Yehuda. We hope he accepts. A rift resolved.
The Grand Illusion
I wonder. How did all these rifts within our community at large begin?
Perhaps our 1st generation teachers were each on their own planet, perceiving the illusion that each of them stood at the center of the Alexander universe. This grand illusion was so convincing, perhaps the 1st generation teachers passed their assumption onto their students, and most of their students, assumed, without question, this assumption to be the truth.
Of course, it stands to reason, that if my teacher stood at the center of the Alexander Universe, and if I stood next to them, then I too would be standing at the center of the Alexander Universe. If my teacher was special, then I too must be special. And since there is only one center to the universe, no one else, but us, could be standing at the center of the universe.
This leads to the unverified conclusion that our way is the best way, the only right way. As we know from Alexander’s findings, there is no more rigid position than the right position, no more position as inflexible, dogmatic, blind, and potentially destructive than the right position. Once we have established our position to be the only right position, we hold onto it with great gusto. And if we alone are right, then it seems only logical that everyone else is wrong. Our profession is not alone in this delusional thinking. We see this delusional thinking operating politically and theologically all over the world. We see it in every institution, in every business, in every family, within each and every soul, all over the world.
But even though Alexander recognized this universal problem, he seemed blind to it when it came to how he perceived his own work. In Alexander’s writings, I perceive a sense of superiority, a hubris, self-righteousness, a lack of humility, and I believe that, insidiously, we absorbed this attitude. Somehow, without exhaustive evidence, we continue to see our work as superior to Yoga, Pilates, the Feldenkrais Method, Gyrotonics, the Rosen Method, Somatic Experiencing, BodyMind Centering, and to every other study within the somatic field of education. We’re both inter and intra-professionally snobby. We do not stand on the ground of modesty.
The First Act of War
A person with whom I have had the honor to study with for many years was Byron Katie. Her work goes to the heart of this problem. It’s a powerful tool that cuts through self-inflation, grandiosity, egocentricity, and superiority complexes. It begins with the acceptance of the fact that we all judge other people, groups, professions, etc. The question arises, “Is it possible that our judgements are untrue?” We practice asking questions like, “Can I absolutely know that what I am believing is true is, in fact, true?” Likewise, when people judge or criticize us, we practice asking questions like, “Could they be right?” Do we really want to know the truth, or do we just want to be right?
God exists. Can I absolutely know that is true?
God does not exist. Can I absolutely know that is true?
We are in a climate catastrophe. Can I absolutely know that is true?
We are not in a climate catastrophe. Can I absolutely know that is true?
The Democrats should move to the left to defeat Trump. Can I absolutely know that is true?
The Democrats should move to the center to defeat Trump. Can I absolutely know that is true?
A human life begins at conception. Can I absolutely know that is true?
A human life begins at six weeks. Can I absolutely know that is true?
A human life begins at birth. Can I absolutely know that is true?
We discover that, not offense, but defense is the first act of war. When someone attacks us, there is, as yet, no conflict. Perhaps this could be the idea behind, to turn the other cheek. “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.” The conflict begins when, instead of thinking about what they are saying, instead of inquiring into whether or not what they are saying could be true, we reactively defend our right position. If one person is hard, and we are hard, that person will feel hard. If one person is hard, and we are soft, that person will feel soft. If the bed is hard and our bodies are hard, the bed will feel hard. If the bed is hard and our bodies are soft, the bed will feel soft.
Making room for the possibility that we may be wrong. “Let’s hope something goes wrong,” says Alexander. Immediately, as soon as we allow a little room for doubt, for not being sure, for the I don’t know mind, the body becomes freer and more flexible. We become freer and more flexible.
One of my favorite films is entitled, Doubt. Here is the plot from Wikipedia.
In 1964 at a Catholic church in The Bronx, New York, Father Brendan Flynn, (Philip Seymour Hoffman), gives a sermon on the nature of doubt, noting that it, like faith, can be a unifying force. Sister Aloysius, (Meryl Streep), the strict principal of the church’s parish school, becomes concerned when she sees a boy pull away from Flynn in the school courtyard. She instructs her Sisters to be alert to suspicious activity in the school.
Sister James, a young and naive teacher, receives a request for Donald Miller, an altar boy and the school’s only African-American student, to meet Flynn in the rectory. Donald returns to class visibly upset, and James notices the smell of alcohol on his breath. Later, she sees Flynn placing an undershirt in Donald’s locker. She reports her suspicions to Aloysius.
Aloysius and James confront Flynn. Flynn denies wrongdoing, claiming Donald had been caught drinking communion wine and that he called him to dismiss him as an altar boy. James is relieved by Flynn’s explanation, but Aloysius is not convinced. Flynn delivers his next sermon on bearing false witness and gossip. James later asks Flynn about the shirt he put in Donald’s locker, an observation she kept from Aloysius. Flynn explains that Donald had left the shirt in the sacristy, and that he put it in his locker to spare him additional embarrassment.
Aloysius meets with Donald’s mother regarding her suspicions and is shocked by her seeming disinterest in Flynn’s alleged abuse. Mrs. Miller admits that she would turn a blind eye to the abuse, if it existed, in order to keep Donald in a school that will better his socioeconomic situation and to further protect him from his physically abusive father; Mrs. Miller confesses that she knows Donald is gay, and she fears that his father would kill him if he knew about what happened with Flynn.
Aloysius confronts Flynn and demands his resignation. She claims to have contacted a nun from one of his previous parishes who corroborated her suspicions and threatens to visit his previous appointments and contact parents. Flynn agrees to request a transfer and delivers a final sermon before departing.
Some time later, Aloysius tells James that Flynn has been appointed to a more prestigious position at a larger church. She admits to having lied about contacting a nun at Flynn’s former church, but believes his resignation is proof of his guilt.
She then breaks down in tears, saying to James,
“I have doubts…I have such doubts.”
This last scene is, for me, one of the most powerful moments I have ever seen in film. This moment when, a person who was absolutely sure she was right, and who acted on her rightness, finally realizes she is unsure, very unsure, that she could be completely and utterly wrong, was life changing for her, and for me.
From Generation to Generation
Our 2nd generation teachers are now our elders. Already there are 3rd, and 4th generation teachers, and soon to be 5th generation teachers. Some say, it takes at least three generations for the families of those traumatized by war to recover. Genesis teaches us this as well.
Adam and Eve experience a major trauma.
1st generation. Cain kills his brother Abel.
2nd generation. Isaac and Ishmael reconcile, but never speak to one another.
3rd generation. Jacob and Esau reconcile, and do speak to one another.
4th generation. Joseph and his brothers reconcile, speak to one another, and Joseph invites all his brothers to live with him.
We learn that healing is possible. Family unity is possible.
Blessed are the Meek
Meek, that is, unassuming, soft, pliant, gentle, humble.
We know, as Alexander teachers, that softness, gentleness, and pliancy is not weakness, but strength. Blessed, in old English, means bliss or happiness.
Isn’t this, in essence, what our work is about? Strength through softness. This most delicate and deep refusal to use force? This great and utter undoing. This becoming unfixed, unbraced, unblocked, unmasked, unchained, unassuming, unaffected, unshielded, unforced, unadorned, untied, untangled, unpretentious, unbiased, unburdened, unbroken…
Loving the Work, Living the Work, Teaching the Work
October 10-18, 2020
Join us, the Alexander Alliance International, in celebrating our 40th birthday in Kalamata, Greece!
If you have ever been, currently are being, or would like to be deeply touched by the work we do within our international community/school, we invite you to join us for this extraordinary event.
Anyone who studies, or has studied the Alexander Technique, is welcome to attend: all Alexander teachers and trainees worldwide, all Alexander Alliance trainees and alumni, including alumni from our early incarnations; the Alexander School and the Alexander Foundation. Also, all teachers from our post graduate programs and from our professional development programs. Finally, all people who love and study the Alexander Technique.
Senior teachers from the Alexander Alliance International, Robyn Avalon, Midori Shinkai, Margarete Tueshaus, and Bruce Fertman will be teaching. Learn more about our senior teachers. We are planning to invite other renowned Alexander teachers and will keep you informed of our progress.
We will be on Mediterranean time. Though our teaching schedule will be quite full, we will make sure to have time each afternoon for walks inside the town, or for swimming in the sea.
A native Alexander teacher writes:
“Kalamata, as I’m sure you already know, is well known for its olive trees and the unique olive oil it produces. The local food is to die for. The hotel is a 10min drive from the main town. The sea in Kalamata boasts of some of the clearest waters in the country – you will see for yourself once you swim well away from the beach at approximately 1 mile inside where one can experience the awe of being in the middle of nowhere. It’s magical. A great advantage is that Kalamata is not your average touristy location – more of a preferred site for locals. It is likely to be exactly what you need for a peaceful retreat. I would highly recommend experiencing local olive oil poured on to freshly baked local bread … the purest form of the local natural flavours. Meat and fish for non-vegeterians will be an experience they will never forget. Likewise, the tomatoes, olives, cucumbers and green peppers will also be a flavour that vegans and vegeterians will cherish for the rest of their lives. The local deserts are very dense jams of local fruits and vegetables (there’s the famous aubergine jam!). Herbal teas are unique in Kalamata, with some protagonists being marjoram, sage, camomile and sideritis (known as mountain tea). For coffee lovers, Greece is a paradise.”
Not only will we be in Kalamata, we will be living and dining by the sea at a four-star hotel: The Filoxenia Kalamata. We are providing a PDF (click here) so that you can hold on to all the details about where we will be. Being a family friendly school, students do on occasion bring along family members. If you should decide to do this, let us know and we will help you work out your accommodations.
Now, to return to the content of our Alexander Retreat!
As we will be a gathering of people with different levels of experience, there will be separate classes for students, trainees, and teachers, so that everyone can work and progress at their own level. At chosen times, we will all convene and work together.
Here’s the schedule.
Saturday / October 10th
Travel and Arrival Day
Our first short gathering will begin at 21:00.
Sunday, Monday, Tuesday / October 11th, 12th, 13th
Optional Morning Classes: To Be Announced
Morning Classes: 9:30-13:30
Afternoon Break 13:30 – 17:00
Late Afternoon Classes 17:00-20:00
Evening Events: To Be Announced
Wednesday / October 14th
On Wednesday, we will only have morning classes so that those who wish can take off the entire afternoon and evening to further explore the outskirts of Kalamata. Space will be provided for those who wish to stay at the retreat center and study together informally.
Thursday, Friday, Saturday / October 15th, 16th, 17th
Back to work.
Optional Morning Classes: To Be Announced
Morning Classes: 9:30-13:30
Afternoon Break 13:30 – 17:00
Late Afternoon Classes 17:00-20:00
Evening Events: To Be Announced
Sunday / October 18th
Travel and Departure Day
How much will it cost?
We have done our best to keep our pricing reasonable. We got a remarkable group deal with the hotel, which is why we could hold this retreat in such a luxurious place. Here are the prices, which includes three meals per day.
Triple room: EUR 53,33 per person per night (limited number)
Double room: EUR 67,50 per person per night
Single room: EUR 110,00 per person per night
Additionally, there is a room tax of EUR 3,00 per room per night, which is payable directly upon checkout.
The entire booking will be made by the Alexander Alliance Germany. We had to commit to paying the room and board for everyone, and therefore our cancellation policy is stricter than if everyone were responsible for paying for their own room and board.
Here is how it works: When you register for the retreat, your room and board must be paid in advance to the Alexander Alliance Germany. If you should have to cancel, we can refund your tuition, but we cannot refund your room and board. If you find a person to fill your place in the retreat, then we can totally refund your cost for room and board.
As for tuition.
Alexander Alliance International Trainees:
Very Early Bird: EUR 450 (until 15th January 2020)
Early Bird: EUR 500 (until 31st May 2020)
Late Bird: EUR 550 (registration deadline is 15th September 2020)
Alexander Alliance Alumni, Post Graduate Graduates, and High Touch Graduates:
Very Early Bird: EUR 600 (until 15th January 2020)
Early Bird: EUR 650 (until 31st May 2020)
Late Bird: EUR 700 (registration deadline is 15th September 2020)
Alexander Alliance Self Development Programs and Guests (Alexander Trainees, Alexander Teachers, Alexander Students):
Very Early Bird: EUR 700 (until 15th January 2020)
Early Bird: EUR 750 (until 31st May 2020)
Late Bird: EUR 800 (registration deadline is 15th September 2020)
What are our options for getting to Kalamata and our hotel?
Click on this link for starters, but we are going to make it even easier.
It’s low season, so there are not many direct flights to Kalamata, and they may be a bit more expensive, but it is possible. Flying into Athens, may be the more affordable way to go. We will organize a bus transfer from Athens airport (ATH) to the hotel on Saturday afternoon, October 10th, and also one from the hotel to Athens airport (ATH) on Sunday morning, Oct 18th. Thanks to our 4-star hotel, the price will be quite affordable, depending upon how many of us, ranging from EUR 40 to EUR 15 per way.
We will arrange for the bus to leave on October 10th from Athens airport (ATH) to our hotel in Kalamata around 16:30, and from our hotel in Kalamata to Athens airport (ATH) on October 18th, around 8:00. The drive will take between 3 and 3,5 hours. Another option would be to individually rent a car at Athens airport and give it back in Kalamata.
David Mills, a fellow apprentice of Marjorie Barstow once said to me, “Humility is the recognition of the obvious.” I didn’t get it. And then later, I got it.
Learning languages does not come easily to me. Honestly, that is an understatement. I’m hopeless. When a person learns I live in Japan for five months a year he or she inevitably declares, “So you speak Japanese?”, to which I reply, “No, I don’t, not at all.” They find this hard to believe. But it is true. I humbly accept my profoundly limited linguistic capacities when it comes to learning foreign languages. Often I add, “However, I am still working on my English and am happy to report I am making progress.”
I can also humbly say, because it has become obvious to me and everyone else who knows me and knows what I do, that I have a knack for promoting Alexander’s work. As a little kid I was able to teach other kids, through words and touch, how to ride a bike, or hit a ball, or climb a tree, or do a back handspring. It just came naturally to me. So I can humbly say, I am good at talking and writing about Alexander’s work, and also at photographing it.
Of course not everyone likes my writing or what I have to say about Alexander’s work, and not everyone likes my photography, but a lot of people do, and for one reason or another it has worked. For over forty years I have drawn people to Alexander’s work, inspiring them to study.
And so, humbly and happily, I share with anyone who may be interested my new website for The Alexander Alliance Europe. I enjoyed working on the project. Countless times I heard myself say out loud, ‘thank you’ to whomever programmed Wix.
If you are an Alexander teacher, meandering through this website may help you better to verbalize what you do. It may give you ideas about how you want, imagistically, to portray Alexander’s work.
There are some beautiful photographs of my mentors. It saddens me sometimes that most Alexander teachers have only seen photos of Marjorie Barstow after her osteoporosis set in. I loved how Marj looked and moved when she was young, that is, in her seventies! Here are a few photos of Marj when she was spry and powerful.
I wish more Alexander teachers had had the privilege to learn from Buzz Gummere, but at least here you can see the sparkle in his eyes. I cherish the photos I have of my learning from Elisabeth Walker. All of these first generation teachers aged so beautifully, with such grace, and lived for so long! I hope you, like me, find these photos inspiring.
Why not? Why not allow Alexander Alliance Post Graduate teachers in England to study for free inside of our Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Program in Switzerland? Why not? And why not allow Alexander Alliance Post Graduate teachers in Switzerland to study for free inside of our program in England?
After all, all of them are Alexander teachers sincerely interested in expanding and honing their teaching skills. It’s fun to travel. It’s enriching to meet, work, and make friends with Alexander teachers from other countries.
The Alexander Alliance International is founded upon a vision of an intergenerational, multicultural community/school centered around the work of F.M. Alexander, a vision I had 45 years ago. That vision has become a reality.
Home of the Alexander Alliance Germany
Some Alexander Alliance Post Graduates have also begun participating in retreat trainings at the Alexander Alliance Germany. They get to do that at half the cost because having the post graduates contributes to the training of our trainees. So everyone wins. That’s what we want.
So, if you are considering joining either our Post Graduate Program in England or Switzerland, know that all of this is also available to you.
Email me at bf@brucefertman is you have any questions.
It is one thing to notice yourself and the quality of your ease when you are meditating, having an Alexander lesson, enjoying a sunset, or when taking ‘time out’ to slow down and pay attention to your patterns and choices. But life rarely moves that slowly.
Life happens in real time and in real situations. Every interaction and activity happens in it’s own context, containing the full range of personal history and emotional complexity. There are deadlines and expectations, challenging negotiations and logistical elements beyond your control. Wouldn’t it be useful to have the tools to come back to your center when right in the midst of the storm?
In this experiential workshop you will learn how to use the seeming chaos of the moment to bring yourself back to a state of ease and alertness, ultimately allowing yourself to make clear and conscious choices in any situation. Please think of life situations which you find challenging before attending this workshop and we will work with your material directly during class time.
Who Is This Workshop For?
This class is open to everyone.
If you are new to Alexander Work, this workshop will offer you tools for finding support, both physical and emotional, in trigger situations in your life.
If you are an Alexander Teacher, Trainee, or Student, you will learn how to apply the Work beyond the conscious biomechanics of activities into the complexities of real life.
Robyn is by far the most down to earth visionary I know. Fearlessly and lovingly she constantly pushes borders within herself and others. Her teaching is based on seemingly infinite knowledge and driven by sharp instincts. She creates exceptionally safe playgrounds in which limiting belief systems drop away like worn out clothes. With her everything becomes easy, exciting, meaningful, and definitely more fun. Magically, the impossible becomes possible.
Margarete Tueshaus – Alexander Teacher, ATVD, Tango Teacher, Equestrian
Robyn has been a student of FM Alexander’s Work for over 40 years. She is the Founding Director of the Contemporary Alexander School, the USA branch of Alexander Alliance International, offering Alexander Technique Teacher Training in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Portland, Oregon, as well as being on the Core Faculty of the AAI German and Japan schools since their inception. In the summers she is on the faculty of the renowned Meadowmount School of Music. In addition to training teachers, Robyn travels the world offering beginner through post-graduate workshops in a contemporary presentation of Alexander’s Principles.
In addition to Alexander Workshops, Robyn offers workshops and trainings that support educators in all fields. She is the creator of Living in a Body™: The Quintessential Owner’s Guide to Natural Movement. This body mapping professional certification course is offered worldwide, with translations available in English, Japanese, German and French. She also offers an ongoing series of post-graduate workshops, Ways of Knowing, which provide tools for accessing and incorporating intuition and imagination in the educational process.
Robyn especially enjoys bringing Alexander’s Work to a wide range of people. With her own extensive background in professional theater and dance, Robyn is most at home when offering the Work to many of the world’s leading orchestras, chamber ensembles, dance, theater, and opera companies, and circuses. But she is equally comfortable teaching in an Olympic equestrian arena, for the Ladies PGA, or at a meeting of the world’s top cardiac surgeons. Her private practice incorporates a unique blend of Contemporary Alexander, Cranial Sacral, Visceral Unwinding, Deep Imagery, Matrix Energetics®, and a life-long study of varied intuitive skills, to create a unique somatic experience. She enjoys teaching the very young and the very old, the absolute beginners and the masters, and everyone in between.
No prior experience necessary.
People of all ages welcome.
Limited number of participants.
Date: 23.09.2017, 10am – 6pm
Location: Technopark Zurich (close to train stop Hardbrücke)
Course fee: CHF 160.- (Students CHF 125.-)
Workshop language: English (translation to German)
Individual lessons (CHF 110.-/45ˈ) can be arranged on Thursday 21.09., Friday 22.09. and Monday 25.09.2017.
Additionally, Robyn will give a workshop entitled „Alexander Games“ on Sunday, 24.09.2017. If you are curious, ask for more information!
Organizers and assistant teachers: Magdalena and Johannes Gassner
For more information and to register call +41 (0)77 475 50 27 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Robyn and the Alexander Alliance: