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Posts from the ‘Mobility’ Category

Breakdown


Standing Waves – photo: B. Fertman

Previously we thought body movement was accomplished by a series of ratchets, levers, and pulleys.

Lately, this machine model has begun to break down.

Connective tissue is the ocean within us, and, in fact,

contains the same basic proportions of elements, salts, and carbon compounds found in sea water.

It becomes more fluid the more it is moved; the more sedentary, the more ‘dried out’ it becomes.

We literally moisten ourselves and make more variations of movement and action possible.

The water within us seems to have a sort of mind….

The new model sees the body water itself shaping us.

That is, we do not contain it like a bottle; it holds itself together like standing waves

and shapes our more solid structures around it.

Neil Douglas-Klotz

No Doubt

photo by B. Fertman, Antelope Canyon, Navajo Country.

There is no doubt that the body is a moulded river.

Novalis

The spiraling forms of muscles and bones bear witness to the living world of water.  Through the limbs whole systems of currents stream and the muscle more or less follows them.  Both muscles and vessels speak of streaming movement in spiraling forms.  This movement runs through the sinews into the bones.  The bone has raised a monument in “stone” to the flowing movement from which it originates…the liquid has “expressed itself” in the bone.

… from das sensible chaos by Theodor Schwenk

Beyond Hope – for Alexander Teachers Young and Old

Photo taken by Elisabeth Walker – Botanical Garden, Kyoto, Japan

Beyond Hope

– For Alexander Teachers, Young and Old

As it turns out, I am now older than most people in the world. You know this when once again you do not have to pay as much as normal people to get into a movie theater.

I am now also older than most of the people in our little Alexander world. I was a young whippersnapper and then one morning I woke up, and I was a young senior citizen.

When I was a young whippersnapper, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (http://rzlp.org/), told me there was one way, only one way, to be saved. He said save yourself the way you save stuff in your computer, and then give away what you like and what you think might be helpful, and enjoy doing it.

So when I share my old writings of Alexander’s work, or tell of my experiences as an Alexander teacher, I am writing for all those young, less experienced, wonderful Alexander teachers out there.

I am writing for you when I share my new writings too, like this one. I am over the hill, but that is a good thing. You see, I made it to the top of the hill, and now I am over that! Now I’m coasting. I’m picking up speed. My foot is off the brake. The moon-roof is open, the windows are down and booming out of the speakers B.B. King still sounds as good as ever.

As for my fellow Alexander senior citizens, I won’t be offended if you pass me by. I’ll just wave whether you smile or curse me out. Anyway, I’ve got to watch where I’m going. I’m not the best driver. My kids say they’re giving me five more years, at which time they’re revoking my license and getting me a designated driver.

Right. I was telling you about Reb Zalman. Rebbe Zalman mostly taught through telling stories, stories within stories within stories. That man taught me more about teaching, without teaching.

We were all there waiting like little kids. We were enrolled in a graduate level class in Early Hasidic Masters at Temple University in Philadelphia. Zalman, about five minutes late, walks into the room, crosses the room without looking at us and stands by the window gazing out and taking in the day. He stands there for a minute or so, turned away from us, as we watch him without blinking. He starts quietly singing a Niggun, a simple, wordless melody that repeats itself indefinitely. After about a minute of listening to Zalman’s soft, resonate voice, we shyly join in. Zalman keeps it going until we are no longer self- conscious about singing. My eyes are closed, my head slightly tilted back like Stevie Wonder, and inside I’m spinning around like a Whirling Dervish. Gradually, Zalman’s voice fades out. Our voices, no, our beings, are exactly in sync with Zalman and with each other. We’re sitting in a silence that’s palpable. My eyes open and there is Reb Zalman grinning, sitting on top of the desk that he is supposed to be sitting behind. He sways a few times from side to side, strokes his long salt and pepper beard then, looking at us, no, into us, out of his big eyes, he excitedly says, “That reminds me of a story.” The class has begun.

Now telling stories and gossiping are two different things. When you gossip you hurt three people. You hurt the person you are gossiping about. You hurt the person who has to listen to you gossiping. And you hurt yourself, more than you know.

Good storytelling hurts no one.  It’s an indirect way of teaching.  You’re not giving advice, not telling a person what they should or shouldn’t do. You’re not moralizing. You’re creating another world and a person is slipping into that world. They’re traveling through a world unknown to them, and they are going to come out of that world getting what they were supposed to get. And it doesn’t have anything to do with you.

One summer my family was driving up to Vermont to teach on Jan Baty’s freewheeling Alexander summer retreat. Martha Hansen was reading Hemingway’s, The Old Man and The Sea out loud. We were all in another world, literally. Noah was ten and dreaming about fishing. Eva was 12 and beginning to understand how symbolism worked. I was shaking in my boots realizing I was that old man who caught a fish that was clearly more than I could handle. And Martha, she was doing what she loved doing since she was 5 years old, reading a great story out loud. Then we realized we missed our turn, were in the middle of nowhere and our gas gauge was way, way, way below empty, but that is another story.

Stories are so exciting to me that I can no longer read books about self-improvement. I’m beyond hope. It’s not that there isn’t room for improvement mind you. It’s just that the concept doesn’t make sense to me anymore.

That’s why I read novels. I get lost in other worlds, in other people, in how other people see. And it’s through getting lost, that I find myself.  There I am losing myself in someone else. Losing my self. As an old guy, this is my idea of a good time. I just finished ready Murakami’s 1Q84. It’s a 1000 pages long, and it was too short. I feel terrible,  like I just lost a couple really good friends.

There are some good things about getting older. If you’re lucky you start not caring about what other people think of you. You don’t care if everybody likes you, or your work. You don’t take offence easily, and you’re too tired to defend yourself or try to prove anything to anyone. You’ve been there, done that.  You’re not sure if being accepted or rejected is a compliment or an insult. It’s not personal anyway. You sing your song for all it’s worth and you stop caring about your voice – like Leonard Cohen or Dylan, you sing your truth.

Or like Walt Whitman.

I am larger, better than I thought,

I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me,

I can repeat over to men and women,

You have done such good to me I would do the same to you,

I will recruit for myself and you as I go,

I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,

I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,

Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,

Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.

Blessing others, and receiving blessings when they come my way, and they do, more and more because now I notice them.

That’s it.  All the rest is commentary.

 

Jiro’s Hands – The Sequel

Photo by Tada “Anchan” Akihiro

This is a video of Jiro’s hands as a child. Kind of, sort of. Actually they are the hands of Master Shuhei, my friend’s son. You must watch this video until the end, well, you’ll see why.  You will witness here how a human being actually learns how to use their hands.

When we are little we are not very coordinated. We have to learn how to sit, and stand, and walk, and  how to button a shirt, for example, as you will see here. But the good news is that, when very young, we are inherently integrated, that is, all of a piece. It’s like we are programmed not to distort ourselves. The trick is to get kids to become coordinated without losing too much of their inherent integration.

Thankfully for Shuhei, he has Anchan as a father. I had asked Anchan to make this video for my students.  Anchan picked out a few very challenging manual activities for Shuhei, and then videoed Master Shuhei.  You will see here how patient Anchan is, and how positive. Needless to say my students adored this video.

By the way, Anchan has been my student for many years, and I have been his.  He’s my photography teacher. Now Anchan also is my colleague, as are so many of my students – Alexander teachers who carry on “a tradition of originality” that begins with Mr. Alexander himself.   For 15 years Anchan has photographed, and now also videos, life at the Alexander Alliance – Germany, New Mexico, Italy, Japan, Korea. He has an exceptional eye for the work, and for catching that moment when people let go.

Jiro’s hands – The Sequel.

Jiro’s Hands


Photo: B. Fertman

Jiro’s Hands

Perhaps you have or have not seen the film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you have, what I say here will likely make you want to see it again. If you haven’t, you’ll be trying to find out where and when this film is showing.

Not because it’s about sushi, because it is about Jiro. If you’re an Alexander teacher, or if you are someone who uses your hands in your work, which is pretty much everyone, Jiro has a lot to teach you, a lot to show you.

Jiro is 85 years old. Growing up was difficult, not easy. But Jiro made it. Jiro became the embodiment of Bushido, the samurai code of honor.

Jiro’s hands do not look 85 years old because of the way he has used them in his work for 75 years. Nor does his body. Watch how he stands. Watch how he walks. Watch how he works.

You will see much in Jiro’s hands. You will see how free they are. You will see how there is no distortion in his hands. Most people, half Jiro’s age, already have what physical therapists refer to as “natural hand distortion.” Natural hand distortion may be normal, but it is not natural. Jiro’s hands are natural. When Marjorie Barstow, my primary Alexander teacher, was 92, (the last time I saw her), her hands looked just like Jiro’s hands.

Jiro’s hands often curve in a kind of semi-circle. His fingertips gently curl over as the center of his palm floats back, creating a recess in his hand. His wrists are relaxed, the underside of the wrist, the fair skinned side of the wrist lengthens slightly and opens. When his hands are working they are also resting.

Jiro’s hands are flexible. They assume any shape they need to, without undue effort, as he sculpts his ephemeral works of art to the delight of his patrons. My friend and teacher Erika Whittaker would have loved Jiro’s soft, sensitive, supple hands. No doubt.

Erika began studying Alexander’s work when she was eight years old with her aunt, Ethel Webb. She kept studying for another 85 years. Erika was smart, astute, articulate, unassuming, and truly kind, yet not the least bit sentimental. Her memory was sharp, and she was not afraid to say it as she saw it.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQ_j0ksWRN0

Once Erika told me that the way Alexander taught students how to use their hands, and how Alexander actually used his hands were as different as night is from day. Erika said Alexander hands were strong and flexible, and non-formulaic. She said it looked and felt as if he was sculpting you from the inside out. There was no technique, no method.

Elisabeth Walker, currently our oldest living teacher, and another woman who brims with kindness, once gave me a photograph of Alexander working with a student’s ankle. She wanted me to understand that Alexander didn’t just work with a person’s head and neck. He went wherever he needed to go, did whatever he needed to do. Alexander was not bound by any “technique.” Everyday he just did his work. He worked on his craft, in a state of divine dissatisfaction and deep joy, like Jiro. That’s what masters do.

People who know me well feel my devotion to Alexander’s work. That is exactly the reason why I am, at times, saddened by what I see in the Alexander world. Erika was too. I remember sitting next to Erika watching a room full of lively Alexander teachers working together. She leaned over to me and whispered, “Look at those pancake hands! How are you supposed to be able to feel anything or communicate anything with hands like that?” Erika was a kind person. Obviously Alexander did not have pancake hands. She wasn’t being mean or critical. She was concerned. That’s all. She wanted us to have hands like Jiro.

Early on, 51 years ago, I learned how to use my hands functionally. By ten I defined myself as a gymnast, working out six hours a day, six days a week. As gymnasts we taught each other, and sometimes saved each other’s lives, by using our hands. We knew how to bring each other back into balance. Later, studying Aikido and Tai Chi, I learned more about using my hands functionally and sensitively, ironically so I could lead people off their balance.

But it was studying Chanoyu, Japanese Tea Ceremony, that taught me most about my hands. In Chado you learn how to prepare and serve food, and tea. You learn how to use an array of utensils. Every little movement becomes vital. You learn the simplest, easiest, most functional, and most beautiful way of doing every little thing. You learn how to serve. You learn more about a person through the way they use their hands than you do by looking at their face.

So when I see hands like Jiro’s, I bow deeply. I am moved. I weep without knowing exactly why. Perhaps from my sheer love of beauty, perhaps from witnessing such unwavering dedication.

May we all learn from Jiro, and from his hands, and one day, like Jiro, may our method become no method, our teaching no teaching. And may we become free, like Jiro, through a complete, lifelong, and joyful commitment to our work.

Gambatte. Courage.

Meditations on Physical Life by Bruce Fertman

Chapter III

Oh, I Forgot Something!

from the forthcoming book – The Slightest Shift – Meditations on Physical Life by Bruce Fertman

In Japan, people often have to take their shoes off and put their shoes on, many times a day.  If you have just stepped outside and realized that you forgot something, you can’t just run through the house with your shoes on. No, first your shoes must come off, and quickly. Then upon leaving you must manage, at the same time, to walk and wiggle into your shoes!  This takes many years of practice.  You must get good at this if you want to live in Japan, because people in Japan are on the go, and being late is not good, not good at all.

You would think that everyone would be wearing shoes that are really easy to take off and put on, like clogs, or uggs, but most people don’t. Most people wear shoes with laces, laces you are supposed to tie and then untie. But there is simply no time for such details. This means that the part of the shoe, technically referred to as “the heal collar”, the back rim of the shoe, undergoes severe abuse, especially as everyone tries to get back into their shoes as they are walking, or even running!

Because of this “shoes off” custom in Japan, which I find extremely sensible, you can often see shoes, all in a row, just standing there waiting for their people to come back. It’s easy to anthropomorphize about shoes, because they record how we stand and how we walk, how we put them on, and how we take them off.  Old shoes strike us a very human. In Japan, most of the shoes, standing there next to each other, look pretty sad, wiped out, and beat up.

One day, I saw a particularly unhappy row of shoes.  They looked miserable. I started feeling bad for them. It was as if, for a moment, they were alive and I could feel what their poor bodies felt like, all busted up, battered, and broken.  If they were alive, and if they could talk, and if they had rights, they would all be on their phones calling the domestic violence hotline for battered shoes.

That’s when I had this idea. What if objects could feel?  What if objects had nervous systems? What if objects, every object could feel every little thing we did to them?   To be continued…

第三章

あっ、わすれものしちゃった!

ブルース・ファートマンの近刊予定著書 “The Slightest Shift – Meditations on Physical Life” より抜粋

一日に何度も何度も、靴を脱いだりはいたりしなければならないのは、日本ではよくあることです。ちょうど出がけに忘れ物に気付いたら、靴をはいたままで家の中に走り込むことなどできません。そうです、まず、第一に、靴をぬがなければなりません。それも急いでです。そして、再び家を出る時には、靴の中に足を突っ込みながら歩きださなければならないのです!これができるようになるには、すこしばかりの歳月が必要です。日本に住みたいと思うなら、これが上手にならないといけません。日本では、みんな本当に忙しくてよく動きまわって、おまけに遅刻するのは、絶対にご法度なのです。

もしかしたら、「簡単にはいたり脱いだりできるくつを日本人はみんな使っているんじゃないの?」と思っていませんか?クロッグとか、ソフトブーツとか・・・。ほとんどの人たちは、靴ひもつきの靴をはいているので、しかるべき時にひもを結んだりほどいたりしなければなりません。でも、そんなちまちましたことをしている時間は、はっきりいってありません。靴の、いわゆる「かかと」の部分、つまり足がはいる場所の後ろの淵の部分は、特に、歩きながら、時には小走りの状態で靴をはきなおすときなどは、かなりひどい扱われ方をされます。

この「靴を脱ぎはきする」習慣(私としては、分別があることだと思います)があるために、たくさんの靴が一列に並んで、自分のご主人が戻ってくるの待っている光景によく出くわします。靴は、人に置き換えることができます。なぜなら、靴は、私たちの立ち方、歩き方、靴の履き方、脱ぎ方を記録しているからです。古い靴をみると、老人を思い起こさせます。日本でみかける互いに横並びになって靴の大部分が、憂いを帯び、疲れ果て、くたくたになっているように見えます。

ある日、私はとりわけ悲しい顔で一列に並んだ靴の一団に出会いました。靴達はくたびれきっていましたので、私はかわいそうだなと感じはじめていました。一瞬、私にはまるで靴達が生きているかのように思えて、彼らのかわいそうなからだがめちゃくちゃにされて、ずたずたのボロボロになったときと同じように思えました。本当に靴達に命があり、しゃべることができて、さらには彼らの権利が守られていたならば、全員がぼろぼろ靴専用の家庭内暴力ホットラインに電話をかけまくっていたでしょう。

私には、この出会いのおかげで、思いついたことがあります。

「もし、モノが感じることができたらどうなる?」

「もし、モノに神経組織があったら?」

「もし、すべてのモノが、私たちがする、どんな些細なことでも感じることができたら?」

この続きは次回までのお楽しみに・・・。

Quipping Away At The Truth – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Quipping Away At The Truth 

December Retreat 2011

In

The Work of F.M. Alexander

Santa Fe, New Mexico

USA

 

Anything organic takes its own sweet time.  (A reference made to the learning of this work being an organic process, not exclusively conceptual.)

Student:  What are you looking for?

Bruce:  Nothing.

Your job is not to help your student but to know your student.

You get students curious by being curious.

When you feel for a person (love, care, empathy) that feeling is actually inside your body, inside you.  Getting physically closer does not necessarily get you any closer.

We are bringing touch into the process of learning.  We are not teaching through touch exclusively.  We are integrating touch into the use of other educational tools, into our use of language, and into teaching through example.

What Alexander referred to as “inhibition” is not stopping an action, it is stopping a habit inside an action.

Inhibition is a word that is not useful to the “subjective” experiential self.  If you use words people don’t understand then you are not communicating.  Jargon is not needed when you know what you are talking about.

The way you get control is through surrender.

The way to touch time is through becoming more spacious.  If you want to slow time down, don’t try to slow time down.  You can’t do that. Release into the space within you, and around you.

Awareness, on its own, can change the nervous system.

————————-

(Quoting others.  Some of my favorites.)

You want the mind of a sober man, and the body of a drunk.

Tai Chi Classics

Tension doesn’t happen in places, it happens in patterns.
Barbara Conable

Confidence is the absence of fear.

Krishnamurti

I spent 4 years watching Alexander’s hands, and then I realized I should have been trying to understand what was in his brain.

Erika Whittaker

Innocent Observations – From A Man Who Only Runs When He Is Late

January 15, 2012. Kyoto. Marathon.

Unable to understand what the announcers are saying, having never watched a marathon in my life, I have only my eyes to inform me.

Heads move.  Some heads poised upon soft, supple necks, other heads with chins up, back of skulls pressed down against short, tight necks.  Some heads swinging from side to side, like metronomes, others centered, buoyant.

Shoulders move.  Some shoulders rotate and swing easily, maintaining their horizontality, others move too little or too much, one side more, the other side less, one or the other side dropping down.

Arms move.  With some notable exceptions, not too much deviation among the runners here – occasional hands and forearms that look too low or too high, an over flexed wrist here and there, varying degrees of effort in the arms.

Spines move.  Some spines more rigid than others, especially lumbar spines – when lumbar spines are tighter and compressed, the ribs become over lifted in the front, arching the body back when the runner is attempting to move forward.  It looks good, like mastheads, like those beautiful women carved heroically in front of great ships slicing through the waves, cutting through the wind, forging forward. But my guess is that runners would like to feel that gentle and powerful western wind against their backs.  Some thoracic spines over-rotate, often more to one side than the other, others thoracic spines don’t rotate quite enough.

Whole bodies move up and down.  Perhaps coming up too far off the ground between steps shortens the stride and makes impact upon landing on the front foot heavier.  Sure, a lively spring in the step must be good, but how much spring? Without some loft, without some spring there seems to be a lack of room for the knees to shoot forward and for the lower leg to make its full pendulum swing.

Bouncing like a ball is maybe not the best idea. Perhaps running more like a wheel, which some of the runners seemed to be doing, could be helpful.  Some runners appeared to be gliding along the ground, so strongly supported within their own bodies as to be ever so slightly floating forward. Less impact. More momentum.

Pelvises move.  If the spine is supple and flexible, especially in the lower back, and if the psoases are really doing their jobs, the pelvis will move, creating a gentle rippling up the spine, and a deep, clear flexion in the hip joints. The femurs will incline ever so slightly toward the midline of the body, placing the knees precisely under the hip joints, but the knees will face squarely forward in the exact direction of the feet.

Ankles move.  When the back foot seems to slightly linger and lengthen behind the runner, the ankles opens fully, (relaxed extension), as the knee is beginning to shoot forward, and slightly up, like an arrow.  The back foot then leaves the ground and for a fleeting moment that foot is falling freely, sickle-ing slightly inwards before landing upon the ground exactly how and where it wants to go.

And let’s not forget faces, those beautiful human faces, the expressions of pleasure or pain, fear or peace, effort or ease.  And the more minute details – mouths open more or less, nostrils more or less dilated, jaws tighter or looser.  The eyes, some seeing inward, preoccupied with their thoughts and dreams, with their technique, or with their pain, while other eyes are sparkling and open and seeing the world whirling by through their peripheral vision. More daylight enters the body and being, the face widens, the hint of a smile.

The best, which for me are the most functionally beautiful runners, whether they win or not, seem to exert themselves less, and enjoy themselves more.  They don’t try to run.  They are moved to run, like wild horses along the coastline, like rivers running into the sea.

Working with Three Time Olympian – Minori Hayakari

Working with Minori is like working with a person who is also part greyhound.  She is small and lean and ready to go. She also reminds me of an exquisitely made violin with great tone.  She is precisely and accurately tuned.  She integrated the smallest suggestions I made. They immediately made sense to her.  When working with a great artist or athlete, the smallest changes register as huge and significant.  And for Minori, a change that cuts one second off her time can make all the difference.  We met and worked in Albuquerque, and in a week I will be meeting with Minori in Kyoto, and with her team.  Sugoi!

Coach Manabu Kawagoe was also with us.  He is a famous and much admired coach in Japan, very kind, and he also enjoyed the work we did together.

This video is 11 minutes long.  Don’t miss Minori in the beginning and in the last third of the video.  Beautiful.

Youtubeのビデオは11分あります。ビデオの最初と後半1/3の走りがとてもすばらしいです。是非ご覧ください

知人の紹介で、アメリカ ニューメキシコ州アルバカーキで早狩実紀選手に(アレクサンダーテクニークの)ワークをする機会がありました。初めてのアレクサンダーテクニークにも関わらず、すべての刺激を繊細かつ正確に捉える彼女はさすがオリンピック選手という感じでした!! 内なる動きとともに、しなやかさと力強さを増した彼女の身体はとても美しく映りました。そしてわずかな動きも感じ取る彼女は、身体の中に動きがおこる瞬間瞬間に新たな神経回路を自ら築いていっているようでした。

これからも早狩実紀選手を応援していきたいと思います!! 来年はオリンピックイヤー、皆さんも是非早狩選手を応援してください!!

Great Team of Physical Therapists in Japan – Sugoi!

Physical Therapists are wonderful to work with.  They are comfortable with people, and with touch.  They work long hours, and it is important for them not to hurt themselves.  And that is my job – to take care of the people who take care of people.

We need them.

What is fascinating about this video is how Anchan videoed two short physical therapy sessions .  And in each one, you can clearly see a dramatic change in how these good therapists were first working, and how they were even better after I showed them just a couple ways of working with less effort, and more effectively.

It was a lot of fun.