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The Nine Peas of Progress

Post-Congress Musings

In Honor of All Those Doing Their Best to

Train Future Generations of Alexander Teachers

Part II

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

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

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

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

Enneagram_Symbol_-_Simple.svg

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

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

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

Point One – Principles

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

Use and Functioning

The Whole Person

Primary Control

Unreliable Sensory Appreciation

Inhibition

Direction

Means Whereby

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

Point Two – Pedagogy

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

Point Three – Profit

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

Point Four – Profundity

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

Point Five – Philosophy

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

Point Six – People

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

Point Seven – Planning

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

Point Eight – Politics

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

A Teacher Who Doesn’t Teach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Point Nine – Peace

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

There You Have It

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

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

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

Perhaps the Most Important Question of All

Post-Congress Musings

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

Part I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In MSI Alexander writes:

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

 And in CCC,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of questions; no, lots of problems.

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

And, it is we who are the solution.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Touching This World

Sounds physical to me.

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

But few in this world teach touch. I do.

Please join me.

About Bruce Fertman

 

Photo: Tada Akihiro: Korea

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

Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

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

Workshop Details:

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

Fee: £120

Where: Gaunts House, Dorset

http://www.gauntshouse.com/

To register for the workshop contact Ruth Davis at: ruth.a.davis@me.com

Phone: +44 (0) 7590 406267

To Make Payment: 

BACS

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

Account No: 12037351

Acc Name R Davis

International Transfers via:

IBAN: GB24MIDL40475912037351 BIC:MIDLGB2172

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write to me, bf@brucefertman.com or to Ruth Davis, ruth.a.davis@me.com.

Hope to see you at Gaunts House!

Bruce Fertman

 

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

Falling Up

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

Heraclitus

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

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

Touching Down

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

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

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

Dante

About Bruce Fertman

12 copy 3_edited (1) copy

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

Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

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

Workshop Details:

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

Fee: £120

Where: Gaunts House, Dorset

http://www.gauntshouse.com/

To register for the workshop contact Ruth Davis at: ruth.a.davis@me.com

Phone: +44 (0) 7590 406267

To Make Payment: 

BACS

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

Account No: 12037351

Acc Name R Davis

International Transfers via:

IBAN: GB24MIDL40475912037351 BIC:MIDLGB2172

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write to me, bf@brucefertman.com or to Ruth Davis, ruth.a.davis@me.com.

Hope to see you at Gaunts House!

Bruce Fertman

 

A Meeting Of Minds

Dear Bruce,

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

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

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

Christos,

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

Bruce

Bruce,

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

Christos,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the best to you.

Christos

And to you,

Bruce

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

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

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

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

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

marj-bruce-sword

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

The work continues.

Here’s Tim’s review. Enjoy.

Review of Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart

Tim Soar

Pubished in STAT News, May 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

From The Same Immaterial Fabric

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Photo: B. Fertman/Seoul, Korea

 

A student asks, “What is this inner body of which you so often speak?”

 

The inner body is neither physical nor metaphysical.

Not of the body and not beyond the body.

The inner body lives within the body,

It is the body within the body.

 

The inner body fills the outer body.

Completely.

Each toe, each fingernail, every eyelash.

The inner body assumes the exact shape of the outer body,

It is the outer bodies inner lining.

 

When the outer body looks; the inner body sees.

When the outer body hears; the inner body listens.

 

The inner body cannot feel or express emotions,

Though it does perceive them.

 

The inner body cannot think,

Though it is rational.

Quietly aware, calmly awake,

Below the surface of words, in silence,

It reflects, contemplates, meditates.

 

The inner body cannot act or react,

Though it can observe actions and reactions.

The inner body cannot do anything,

But it can receive everything.

 

The inner body is neither male nor female,

Is of no race or religion, is from no country or continent.

 

The inner body does not age, is not made of time.

It cannot get sick or suffer,

Though it can observe sickness and suffering.

 

The inner body is not cold or callous, nor warm and empathetic.

But because it is made from the same immaterial fabric as love and gratitude,

The inner body does care.

 

Curiously,

Once we bid farewell to our outer body and take up residence in our inner body,

The less needy our outer body becomes,

And the less lonely it feels.

 

If, as the outer body ages, we come to dwell ever more deeply within the inner body,

Then perhaps, when the moment arrives for our outer body to die,

We will be ready and able to take leave of it,

Peacefully, thankfully, and with love in our hearts.

 

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Photo: B. Fertman/Seoul, Korea

 

Stories about the inner body

from my book

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart

 

Sung-ho

It may be beyond my area of expertise. It may be foolish, even unprofessional, even unethical. It may be sheer chutzpah, or profound innocence and, it may not be any of these.

Sung-ho walks into my apartment/studio in downtown Seoul. He clearly has what I like to call an unconventional nervous system, or an exceptional structure.

Having only known Sung-ho for two days, he already feels like a friend. We spent a night together jammed into a packed subway car, talking politics, making our way down crowded streets into the heart of a peaceful, passionate and packed protest with 1.7 million other people.

No matter the circumstances, Sung-ho just keeps up. He doesnt complain. In fact, he directs his attention toward others, making sure everyones comfortable.

He thinks his English is terrible. I am eternally grateful to anyone who can speak any English Sung-ho. I understand everything you are saying.” I want to ask you something,Sung-ho says. In America, what do you call people who are disabled?” “We call them physically challenged. Calling a person disabled sums them up as people who are not able to function properly. We prefer describing their situation. A physically challenged person is a person who is challenged physically. When I watch people like you, I see an athlete, a person who is training for an Olympic event called everyday life.” “I like that,Sung-ho says.

Sung-ho explains his situation to me. Im in pain most of the time. My left hip hurts almost continually. I cant lift my right hand past my shoulder. I cant turn my head at all. My spine doesnt move. Its in a permanent C-shape. Whenever, by mistake, I go outside of my small range of motion its really painful. Im always working hard to move and when I sit down and relax my body hurts even more, so I keep my muscles tight. But Im used to it. Its been this way since I was a kid.

Later I find out Sung-ho, when he was fifteen, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that, for reasons unknown, mostly afflicts young men. Over time this extreme form of arthritis causes the spine to fuse, making the spine increasingly immobile. Ankylosing spondylitis is incurable.

Sung-ho, let me see what you do when you relax.I watch as he presses his shoulder girdle down onto his upper ribs and pushes his chest in. Sung-ho that hurts because that is not relaxing, but we will get to that later. Right now show me how much you can move your head without pain. With your head say yes, no, and maybe,” I say demonstrating. He does. He moves his head about one inch in every direction but that one inch is accomplished by ever so slight bending or rotating movements initiated down around his rib cage. The relationship of his head to his neck is frozen like a block of ice. Good. I want to see you move. Id like you to get up and walk to the closet, put on your coat, then take it off, hang it back up, walk back here and sit down.I just watch, kinesthetically empathizing more than I am analyzing. This familiar aching feeling settles over me, a feeling I often feel when working with physically challenged people, this feeling of guilt. Why them and why not me?

You get around,I say. I make myself do everything,Sung-ho says. An athlete,I say.

Okay Sung-ho. I am going to teach you something that helps me a lot. It may sound strange, and its not scientific, but it allows me to move more easily and comfortably. All it takes is a playful imagination and some practice. Are you willing to try?” “Sure,Sung-ho says.

I like to think of myself as having two bodies, a being body and a doing body. The being body is my inner body and my doing body is my outer body. My outer body is substantial and made of muscle. But inside that body is a body that has no substance. Its weightless. It moves like a gentle wind, like a soft breeze. It moves effortlessly. Its comfortable and its never in pain. The inner body has no bones. Its just space. Sometimes it feels like a friendly ghost body. Deep within you it flies freely.

What I like to imagine is that my inner body, my being body, my ghost body moves my doing body from the inside out. I imagine that my inner body is moving and my outer body just comes along with it. The outer body doesnt do anything, just as your clothes dont move by themselves. They are moved by your body. So your outer body doesnt do anything by itself. It is moved by your inner body.Sung-ho seems to like the idea. Hes smiling.

Sung-ho, can you just sit here now, close your eyes and imagine that who you really are is your inner body and not your outer body?I watch him. I can see hes living inside of his imagination and that is where I want him to be. Sung-ho, that is closer to real relaxation.

Okay, here is a little way of practicing shifting from your outer body to your inner body. Imagine you have a fly buzzing around your face and you want to brush it away. Let your hand just fly up and move the fly away. Thats easy,Sung-ho says. Is it comfortable,I ask? Very.” “Thats your inner body flying around and your outer body just coming along with it. Now brush the fly away by moving your outer body. Whats that feel like,I ask? That harder, heavier, and slower.

Right. I think you move yourself around from your outer body. And I think, with practice, you could learn to move yourself around with your inner body.

Okay, Sung-ho. Lets go back to saying yes, no, maybe with your head but this time let your inner body, your inner head, do the moving and let your outer body, your outer head, just go with it.

I watch. I think I see some actual head movement, but Im not sure. How does that feel, I ask? Its different, but I cant say how,Sung-ho says. Was it comfortable,I ask?, Comfortable,Sung-ho says.

Okay. Lets play with something else. Touch the tip of your nose.I watch and see that Sung-ho does that from his inner body. Thats your inner body,I say. I can feel that,Sung-ho says. Imagine the tip of your nose is a small, very high quality calligraphy brush and write your name in the air with your calligraphy brush.

He does. I see that the tentativeness is completely gone and now Sung-ho is actually, however minutely, moving his head through rotational and pivotal movement in his upper cervical vertebrae. Hows that,I ask? Its wonderful,Sung-ho says. Thats your imagination and your inner body moving your outer body.Sung-ho nods yes even more freely without knowing it.

Sung-ho, do you have memories of yourself and of your body before you developed this condition,I ask? Yes, I do.” “Can you remember how old you were when you were super attracted, sexually attracted to a girl? How old were you,I ask? I was twelve,Sung-ho says. What was her name?” “Mi Kyung,Sung-ho says smiling from ear to ear. Okay Sung-ho. I want your inner body to be twelve years old. You are totally in love with Mi Kyung. Now write her name with your calligraphy brush.

I watch and see Sung-ho move his head three times as far in every direction. Wow,Sung-ho says. Wow is right,I say! You were so in love when you wrote Mi Kyungs name you forgot to be afraid to move your head.

Okay, lets stand up and walk around. I watch Sung-ho stand up. Hes tight. Hes cringing. My left hip hurts a lot when I get up, especially after sitting for a long time,Sung-ho says. I see that but I also see that your ankles, knees and hips have a lot of flexion. I noticed that last night watching you go up steps. Your legs are strong.” “Lets walk around.

Sung-ho throws his pelvis way forward and under his body because if he brought his pelvis back and up on top of his legs, hed be looking straight down at the ground. When he walks his feet are far apart and quite turned out. His knees hardly flex. Yet, he walks faster than I do, almost as if he were in a race.

Sung-ho, I know you can flex your knees more than that because you do when you get up and down from a chair, and when you go up and down steps. So lets imagine that your outer legs are just like a pair of super baggy pants and let your inner legs move around inside your baggy pants. Theres plenty of room in there. And pretend you are on vacation and theres nothing you have to do. The weather is warm and you have all the time in the world.

Clearly, Sung-ho has a powerful imagination and somehow hes able to connect his imagination to his kinesthetic sense, an ability that takes many people a while to learn. Hows that Sung-ho?

It fun. And much easier. And comfortable,Sung-ho says.

Im so glad. Sung-ho. We are going to stop now because you have some real tools to play with. Youve got your very powerful imagination and you have your very free inner body.Hes smiling. Hes moved, holding back tears.

For a second the question flashes through my mind, Was that an Alexander lesson or not? Maybe. Maybe not.” “And maybe it doesnt matter,” I hear a voice inside me saying.

Hey, Sung-ho. I finish teaching at 10 tonight. As your wife is in my class, how about we all meet up after class and go out for a beer?Sung-ho lights up and says, I know a place right around the corner that has Guinness on draft. Do you like Guinness?  A lot, especially when its fresh. See you tonight.

I watch Sung-ho get his coat. His movements are less jerky, longer, smoother. That aching feeling returns and I wonder, If I had Sung-hos body, would I be able to adapt as gracefully to life as Sung-ho?

Grace, its not about how we look, or how we move. Its about who we are.

No Sweat

A man walks in, muscular, not a lean and mean muscularity, but a firm, round, bear like muscularity.  Hes the kind of man that would use his power to protect someone in need, rather than bully someone for the fun of it.

What brings you here, Yasuo-san? Noriko-sensei tells me you are a physical therapist and in your spare time a parachute glider.

Im expecting Yasuo to begin talking about some physical issue. A painful, lonely sadness fills his eyes.

The three of us, Yasuo-san, Masako ,my translator, and me sit together for a good minute in silence, which is not uncommon after I ask someone a question in Japan. Japanese people rarely blurt our their first thought. Its as if they let the question sink down into some place full of unshared secrets.

I want to relax,Yasuo says.

How do you know you are not relaxed?

I feel nervous.

What happens when you get nervous?

I begin to sweat. A lot. It feel embarrassed and ashamed that I am sweating.

When does this happen most?

When I am with people. When I have to talk to people.

Usually when we are with people we are with family, or roommates, or friends, or coworkers, or strangers. Do you have any family,I ask?

Not much. My parents live far away. Im not married. I live alone.

Who are you with, and in what situation are you in when this happens most intensely?

When I meet a stranger. When I have to talk to someone I dont know.

Does it happen more when the stranger is a woman or a man?

Definitely a woman.

I can see a change in Yasuos skin color. Hes becoming pale. The back of his skull has pulled back. I see an image of a horse and the rider pulling the reins back.

Well, Masako is a woman, so why dont you have a conversation with Masako? Youve never met her before. Shes a stranger. Face each other and have a conversation.

Yasuos eyes open wide.

Turn your chairs so youre facing one another. Get a little bit closer. There you go. Thats perfect.

Masako has played these kinds of roles for me in other lessons. Shes a natural. Masako takes on a slightly shy demeanor, looks down, then looks up.

How did you get such a strong body. Do you do some kind of sport,Masako asks?

Yasuo mentions that he does parachute gliding and that the equipment is heavy so it requires a good bit of strength. Masako lights up a bit, crosses her legs and asks him to tell her more about it.

Yasuo takes out a handkerchief, something almost all men and women in Japan carry on them, and wipes his forehead, which is sweating profusely.

Ive got Yasuo exactly where I want him.

Okay Yasuo-san. I see what you are doing that might be making you sweat. Of course, I dont know for sure. But the only way we can find out is if there is some way I can get you to stop doing what I see you doing. Does that make sense?

Hai,Yasuo says. What do you see,” he asks?

What I see is that you are very muscular. It is almost like you live in your muscular system, especially in your large action muscles, like your quads, and abs, and traps, and deltoids, and biceps, and pecs.

When you get nervous and begin to sweat, Im not sure if I am making this up but I think I see your body swelling, as if your large action muscles all at once are becoming hypertonic, even though you are not moving. Its as if your body wants to move, but its frozen and cant. You’re sitting there trying to move and trying not to move at the same time, so your body is working out like mad, and you are breaking out in a sweat.

Ahsokaa I see what you mean,Yasuo says, wondering.

Sometimes I get locked into my muscular system too. Ive got a particular way of getting out of it. Want to learn it?

Hai.

I use my imagination, which is one way of using your mind. I imagine I have an outer body and an inner body. Actually, I do more than imagine it. I pretend, as a child would, that it is absolutely true, that my inner body exists. And I dont only imagine it, I sense it through my kinesthetic sense. Its more like a kimage. Ki in your language means mind, heart, spirit, feeling, energy, and that is exactly what a kimage is made of. So your inner body is not muscular or physical. It lives deeper within you than your muscular body. It lives under your entire muscular body. We think we have lots of different muscles in the body but really its more like we have one unified muscular system, just like we have on circulatory system. This muscular system is a bit like a cylindrical trampoline wrapped around your skeletal system. Deep within you, underneath your muscular system, you have an inner body totally unattached to your muscular body. Id like you to imagine, to ki-magine that your muscular body is like an astronaut suit, but the real you is inside and not physical. Your astronaut suit is not alive, but your inner body is. That is who you are, that is where you live. That is home. That is where you rest. That is where you feel safe.

So can you just sit where you are?  Close your eyes and lean back against the chair. Get support from the chair. Slide your feet way out in front of you, so you cant push down with your feet against the floor. Can you let your belly un-tighten?

I go over, place my hand on his chest until I feel my hand gently sink into him like smoke permeating a sweater.

Drop below your astronaut suit Yasuo-san,I say. I touch the outside of his upper arms, always with this permeating quality, then around his skull, then along the sides of his body, along the sides of his pelvis, on his quadriceps, his calves, his feet. I watch his face. He is no longer sweating. His breathing is slower. He looks like hes about to fall asleep.

Yasuo-san. When I ask you to, I want you to slowly open your eyes but before you do I want you to decide not to push out into your muscles. I want you to decide not to turn your muscles on. Keep your muscle switch off. As your eyes open, if you feel yourself beginning to push into your muscles, just lower your eyelids, turn your muscle switch off, and return to your inner body. Calmly but firmly say to yourself, off..offoffoff, as you open your eyes, until your eyes are open and there you are seeing and resting in your inner body. Then when Masako begins talking to you I want you to say to yourself gently and firmly, offoffoffuntil she is finished speaking. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Yasuo sits. I can see him dropping in below his muscles. He begins to open his eyes but decides to close them again. On the third go he opens them and keeps them open. Hes completely resting in the chair and resting in himself. Masako asks him about his parents, where they live and what they do. I see a slight push into his muscles and then I see him drop back in.

My parents live in Kanazawa, not far from Kenrokuen garden,he says. I watch Yasuo finish speaking and then drop back into his inner body.

How are you doing Yasuo-san?

I can do it. I have control over it. Its like I found that switch in me and when it goes on I can turn it off.

How does that make you feel?

It makes me feel soft and kind and happy.

And you are not sweating.

Im not sweating.

“Yes, inner bodies are not physical, so they don’t sweat. They can’t sweat.”

Yasuo. Weve been working about 35 minutes, and our lesson is supposed to be 45 minutes but I am going to stop here. You learned what you came here to learn. You found your inner body and you found your on/off switch which controls your large action muscles and allows you to rest in your inner body. With a little practice you will be able to do this whenever you want. You know how to sit and rest in your inner body. You have this little meditation you can practice whenever you have time.

Arigatou gosaimashita, I say, bowing. It was wonderful to work with you. I learned a lot from you,” I say, feeling myself at that moment living deep within my inner body, thinking how I am always teaching myself what it is I most need to learn, saying what I most need to hear.