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The Top Ten Myths about the Alexander Technique

A fellow Alexander teacher asked if I had a transcript of my little youtube video, Top Ten Myths about the Alexander Technique. It was somewhere in my computer. I found it and tweaked it just a bit. I added a few photos that support some of the ideas. This piece has also been translated into 17 languages. If your native language is other than English, you may find it here.

Feel free to share it. To understand these ideas more deeply, I would encourage you to read, Teaching by Hand/Learning by Heart – Delving into the Work of F.M. Alexander, a book I wrote, published by Jean Fischer at Mouritz Press.

THE TOP TEN MYTHS ABOUT THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE

Hi. My name is Bruce Fertman. I’m the founding director of the Alexander Alliance International.  Here are ten myths about the Alexander Technique that many people believe are true.  After 50 years of dedicated study, and after training 300 teachers, I have come to realize that these ideas are not true.

One.

The Alexander Technique is about posture. That’s a myth.

Reality. The Alexander Technique is about un-posturing. The problem is that we are continually posturing, most often unconsciously. The Alexander Technique is about becoming an un-postured person, that is, unheld, unfixed, flexible, movable, not only physically, but as a person in general.

 

Photo: B. Fertman

 

Two. 

The Alexander Technique is about uprightness. That’s a myth.

Reality. The Alexander Technique has nothing to do with standing up straight.  There is not one straight line in the body, or in the universe for that matter. The Alexander Technique has nothing to do with doing anything right, or correctly. It is about doing what we do well, efficiently, effectively, fluidly, comfortably, and pleasurably.

 

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

 

Three. 

The Alexander Technique is about how we hold our head on our neck. That’s a myth.

Reality. The Alexander Technique is about how we stop holding our head on our neck. It’s about not interfering with inherent balancing mechanisms that do that for us.

 

Photo: B. Fertman – Sherry Stephenson

 

Four.

The Alexander Technique is about the body. That’s a myth.

Reality. The Alexander Technique is about us, about how we are within ourselves, with others, and in relation to the world around us. It’s about the quality of our actions and interactions. It’s about the quality of our experience. It’s about how we are being as we do what we are doing.

 

Photo: B. Fertman

 

Five.

The Alexander Technique is about becoming more symmetrical because symmetry is balanced. That’s a myth.

Reality. Nothing in nature is perfectly symmetrical, including humans. Symmetry is a concept, like a point, or a line is a concept. Buddha might look symmetrical when he’s sitting peacefully on a lotus flower but take a closer look and we see one foot on top of the other, and one hand on top of the other. Look closely at any persons’ face and we won’t find perfect symmetry. We’re after harmony, not symmetry, and harmony is not related to the shape of our body at any given moment.

 

Photo: B. Fertman

 

Six. 

The Alexander Technique is about balance. That’s a myth.

Reality. Balance for humans is impossible. We are inherently unbalanced, and this is what promotes movement. We waver toward and away from equilibrium. This is a good thing. When the wind blows, waves are generated upon the surface of a pond. The wind stops and those waves become smaller, approaching but never attaining stillness. Stillness is a concept, a beautiful one, but within stillness lies motion, however subtle.

 

Lucia Walker: Alexander teacher, Johannesburg, South Africa

 

Seven.

The Alexander Technique is about learning how to breathe correctly.  That’s a myth.

Reality. We don’t breathe. Alexander once said, “At last, I find that when I don’t breathe, I breathe.” I would say it like this. At last, I find that when I don’t breathe, I am breathed. We are breathed by forces deep within us and all around us. Do we breathe when you are sleeping?  Do we breathe when we are eating? Yes, we can take a breath. But breath is not for the taking. It does not belong to us. Breath is a gift from the world. It’s meant to be received. Breathing is responsive. It responds to activity. It is not something we do; it is not an activity, like running up a hill. When we run up a hill, do we first stand there and breathe and get enough air, and then run up the hill? Or do we run up the hill and breathing automatically and faithfully responds to our wishes, without our even having to ask?

 

 

Eight.

The Alexander Technique is about learning how to stand, how to stand on our own two feet. That’s a myth.

Reality. We do not stand on our own two feet. We stand on the ground.

 

 

Nine.

The Alexander Technique is about learning how to relax. That’s a myth.

Reality. The Alexander Technique is about readiness. The Alexander Technique is about preparing for nothing in particular, while being ready for anything that may happen. The Alexander Technique is about effortlessly returning, again and again, to a condition of alert, calm readiness.

 

Photo: Anchan – Alexander teacher: Britta Brandt-Jacobs

 

Ten.

The Alexander Technique is about proper body mechanics; learning the best way to get up and down from a chair, how to walk correctly, how to bend down without hurting yourself, etc. That’s a myth.

Reality. Human beings are not mechanical.  We are not machines. We’re organic.  We’re mammals. The Alexander Technique is about learning how we are best designed to function as Homo Sapiens.  The Alexander Technique is, in part, about questioning cultural, gender, and cosmetic concepts of the body that interfere with the functioning and beauty of our natural design.

 

 

Bruce Fertman

The Alexander Alliance Europe

Teaching by Hand/Learning by Heart

 

 

 

 

 

Living Up to Her Name

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 luxluc- ‘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.

https://www.alexanderalliance.org/greece-2020-join-us

 

40-blue-caves-on-zakynthos-island-3096

 

The Evolution of an Ever Changing Curriculum

Photo: B. Fertman

 

Part One

What Alexander’s Notion of Personal Use Mean for us

 at the Alexander Alliance International

 

Currently, our curriculum is two-fold, personal and professional.

First. Without having spent years integrating Alexander’s work into one’s personal life, it is not possible to become a teacher of his work. Personal transformation is the basis upon which a life as an Alexander teacher is founded. Therefore, I will go into some detail as to what this transformational process entails.

Personal Development

Throughout the entire training, we train somatically, that is, we work on attuning ourselves physically, and we explore the relationship this physical attuning has upon our lives personally, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. Our physical attuning process is founded upon the insights and principles discerned by Alexander as to how we learn to function in accordance to our “original blueprint”, our inherent cognitive-neuro-muscular/fascial-skeletal design. 

Regardless of our personal life situation, we share a common context in which our lives unfold. Alexander’s work attempts to shift for the better, our psychophysical relationship to the contextual framework in which our lives unfold. This shift in how we relate psychophysically to life’s contextual framework, indirectly but significantly, influences the content of our life, the way in which our lives unfold, and how we experience this unfolding. Our training is devoted to this contextual shift.

Our Common Context

Pedagogically, I divide our life context into nine facets: Structural Support, Ground Force, Spatial Freedom, Organ Capacity, Temporal Existence, Respiratory Restoration, Sensory Receptivity, Motoric Refinement, and Social Harmony/Inner Peace.

One. Structural Support

We share a common structure. We are all Homo Sapiens. At any given moment, we are using our structure in a particular way. At the Alexander Alliance, we learn how to respect and treat our structure according to its inherent design. This frees us into our natural support, allowing us to be at once, light and substantial, soft and strong, relaxed and ready, stable and flexible, peaceful and lively, receptive and generous, awake to ourselves, to others, and to the world around us.

Through Alexander’s work our personal relationship to our physical structure, to being consciously and appreciatively embodied changes, for the better.

Two. Ground Force

All of us are subject to gravity. Gravity derives from “gravis” or “gravitas”, and means heavy, weight, serious. For our purposes, gravity might best be thought of as “the law of mutual attraction” which states that bodies are drawn to each other through gravitational attraction. The strength of their attraction is greater if they are close together, and lesser if they are more distant. This force of attraction exists between any two bodies. Or, we might refer to Newton’s third law of motion, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When we sit in a chair, our bodies exert a downward force into the chair, while the chair exerts an equally upward force through our bodies.

These forces are not grave, not serious. They are positive, interactive forces, I dare say, joyful. These forces allow objects, both animate and inanimate, to rest. The more we can rest, the more support we can receive. The more support we receive, the more grace and lightness we experience.

Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to gravity changes, for the better.

Three. Spatial Freedom

We all live in space.

There is space within. We all possess a sense of space, or a lack thereof. Sometimes, we feel trapped, or cramped, that we have no room to move or breathe. Sometimes, we feel open and free, that the future is open to us, that the horizon widens forever, that the sky is the limit, that life is deep and vast, like the ocean. Some of us seem to spread out, some squeeze in, some hold back, some thrust forward, some press down, some pull up. How to be spatially unbiased, spatially balanced, spatially omni-directional?

There is space between, between us and our smartphones, our computers, our steering wheels, our soup bowls. There is space between us and those around us, when on a crowded train, when waiting in line at the grocery store, when sitting at the kitchen table.

There is space all around us, above us, below us, before us, behind us, beside us. Unbeknownst to us, we live with blinders on, zooming in on what is in front of us, narrowing our worldview.

Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to space within, between, and around, changes, for the better.

Four. Organ Capacity

We are all organ-isms, creatures. Even though we have a sense of internal space, in reality, the space within our structural framework is fully occupied; the cranial cavity, thoracic cavity, abdominal cavity, and pelvic cavity. Again, unbeknownst to us, we impinge upon our organs, exert pressure against them, prevent them from moving. We ignore them. Sensing our organs, our organ life, reminds us that we are alive, human beings being, rather than only human doings doing.

Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to our organ life changes, for the better.

Five. Temporal Existence

We all live in time. A second is a second, a minute a minute, an hour an hour, a day a day, a year a year, a decade a decade, and yet our subjective sense of time varies. An hour can fly by in a second, an hour can feel like an eternity, for better or worse. We can find ourselves waiting, a temporal event, for an urgent phone call, for a needed document to download, for the train that is late to arrive. Then again, there is long-term waiting, for the kids to leave home, for the perfect person to come into our lives, or for when we will be earning much more money, or for when we finally retire and get to travel. Or we find ourselves rushing about, worried about being late, meeting deadlines, getting everything done that we have to do. Time pressure. Clock time.

Then, there is biological time. Pacing. Tempo. Right timing. Eating, walking, speaking. Time to think. Time to feel. Time to breathe. Time to let the beauty of the world sink in, into our bones, into our hearts. Biologically, we by nature, mature, age, die. Our lives are temporally finite. We only have so much time, so many breaths. “Number your days”, King David suggests to us in Psalm 90. Don’t waste them. Don’t miss them. Experience them. Enjoy them. Be grateful for them. Live them. Make the most of them. as he did so well. What does it mean to age gracefully? How can we best adapt to our aging bodies? What do we want to pass on, to give away?

Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to time changes, for the better.

Six. Respiratory Restoration

Unknowingly, we often interfere with breathing, without understanding how or why, or even when, we do it. It helps to become aware of the particular ways in which we interfere with breathing. This, it turns out, is not so easy. As soon as we begin to set about studying our breath, this very act of studying it begins to change it. Immediately, we want to breathe right, or well, or fully. Instantly, we superimpose our attempt to breath better, whatever our idea of that is, on top of our habitual way of breathing.

Seeing that breathing defies being studied directly, our only recourse, if we want a way into the mystery of breath, is to study it indirectly. This means looking at the conditions that surround breathing. Breathing responds to pressure of any and all kinds. External pressure, for example, altitude, pollution, over stimulation, under stimulation, danger, as well as safety, comfort, love, a cat resting in your lap.

Breathing responds to internal pressures as well, like exertion, hunger, fatigue, strain, disease, self-imposed standards, time restraints. Breathing responds to the entire gamut of thoughts, sensations, emotions – be they painful or pleasurable.

Breath is not an action; it’s a response. When we decide to run up a hill, we don’t stand there and breathe until we have enough air to make it up the hill. We start running. The air of the world, and our bodies reflexes, without our having to ask, help us to accomplish what we have decided to do. Just like that. Such support. Such kindness. Such faithfulness. And how often do we stop, and say thank you?

Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to breathing changes, for the better.

Seven. Sensory Receptivity

We all are endowed with senses, though some of us do not have all of them. We see, hear, smell, taste and touch. We also have less known, less educated senses that tell us about ourselves, our kinesthetic and proprioceptive senses.

There’s a very simple way of speaking about what happens to our senses. As our motoric activity increases, often our sensory receptivity decreases. The result is that our actions are not as informed as they could be, which often makes our actions less accurate, more effortful, and less effective. To add to this, a diminishment of sensory receptivity prevents us from experiencing how we are doing, what we are doing, as we are doing it, reducing our ability to delight in and appreciate life as we are living it. We don’t want to live an unlived life.

It is as if, within us, there is a doer and a receiver. There is the you who washes your hair, and the you who senses and enjoys your hair being washed, or the you who does not sense it being washed. There is the you who is feeding you a spoonful of soup, perhaps potato leak soup, or miso soup, or lentil soup, or split pea soup, or French onion soup. And then, there is the you who is aware of receiving this soup, tasting it, savoring it, feeling thankful for it, or the you who is unaware of receiving the soup and who is not tasting it. Reawakening the receiver within us, the one who is not putting out, not on output, but the one receiving, on input, keeps us from becoming depleted, allows us to be replenished.

Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to our sensory world changes, for the better.

Eight. Motoric Refinement

We all move. The question is how well, how enjoyably, how appreciatively? The more sensitive, accurate, and reliable our senses become, particularly our intra-senses, our kinesthetic and proprioceptive senses, the more refined our actions become, the more precise, the more efficient, the more effective, the more effortless, the more fluid, and the more beautiful. Everyday movement, everyday actions become interesting and pleasurable; walking up and down steps, riding a bike, folding laundry, cleaning the house, cooking a meal.

Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to moving through our life changes, for the better.

Nine. Social Harmony/Inner Peace

We are all social animals. Existence is co-existence. Even if we choose to live our lives as a hermit far away in a cave, in isolation, it is a social choice we make, a relationship we have with society. Most conflict that we experience happens in relation to other people. Being in social conflict is a physiological event. Fear and anger are physiological events. Everything is a physiological event. Likewise, being in social harmony is a physiological event. Love, kindness, empathy, joy are also physiological events. How we are physiologically, when in the presence of others, can dramatically influence, for better or worse, how we feel about others, and how they feel about us. Peace is a physiological event.

In a very real way, we also have a social relationship with ourselves. Are we our own best friend, and/or our own worst enemy? Do we respect and care well for ourselves, or do we disrespect ourselves and abuse ourselves? Inner peace is also a physiological event.

Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to others and to ourselves changes, for the better.

 

For the Love of Pedagogy

Robyn Avalon and Bruce Fertman

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Language

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

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

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

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

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

Silence

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

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

Observation

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

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

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

Non-Observation

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

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

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

Movement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stillness

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

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

Lao Tzu/Stephen Mitchell

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The inner freedom from the practical desire,

The release from action and suffering, release from the inner

And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded

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

Erhebung without motion, concentration

Without elimination, both a new world

And the old made explicit…”

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

T.S. Eliot: Burnt Norton, Four Quartets

Touch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non-Tactual Teaching

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

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

Sensory Integration

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

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

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

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

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

Systems of Support

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

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

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

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

Bread in the Pockets of the Hungry

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

Mary Oliver

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Constructive Doubt

Photo: B. Fertman – The Rift

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.”

Stephen Hawking

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.

Constructive Doubt

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…

Unafraid.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Review of Teaching by Hand/Learning by Heart by Galen Cranz

Galen Cranz

It is an honor having Dr. Galen Cranz as a member of our worldwide Alexander Community. Professor of the Graduate School in Architecture at UC Berkeley she is a sociologist and designer, as well as a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique.  She studied in San Francisco, but was certified in Thom Lemens’ four-year training course in New York City. Having specialized in how the body meets the environment, she advocates Body Conscious Design.  She is the author of The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body and Design.

Teaching By Hand, Learning By Heart: Delving into the Work of F.M. Alexander

By Bruce Fertman

Reviewed by Galen Cranz

Bruce Fertman was many things before becoming an Alexander teacher: gymnast, swim coach, martial artist (tai chi and aikido), tango dancer, movement educator, and movement artist. He brings those skills to his Alexander teaching, but he himself writes that he has transcended movement teaching to something else. In Teaching By Hand, Learning by Heart, he calls himself a metaphysician who “attends to people’s subjective sense of time and space, to their felt experience of being and becoming.”  He introduces the concept of “movement metaphor” to show that people learn more deeply if they can physically experience a principle. To demonstrate the principle that we make ourselves tense rather than a situation makes us tense, he crowds students into a subway-like space to get them to experience that they tighten their own feet, legs, pelvis, shoulders arms, throat and jaws –and that they have choice about whether or not to continue the tension.

Bruce is a skillful writer, who shows the same poetic artistry throughout his book that I have enjoyed in his blog/facebook essays. This book is not an introduction to the Alexander Technique and its 5 –or 10– basic tenets. Instead, in Part I, “The Work at Hand,” he describes how he uses paintings and the arts in his group classes to show how specific physical traits express emotion. In each short chapter he shows how he creates psychological insight regarding sport, nature, anatomy, sensory life, social biology, theology, mysticism, pottery.

Bruce believes in the importance of emotions in changing one’s physical patterns. He focuses on establishing emotional rapport, or creating emotional well-being in this clients/students before seeking to create structural alignment.

Like other skilled somatic therapists, Bruce emphasizes listening –with hands– and receiving rather than fixing a problem.  Once witnessed, a problem has a way of solving itself. Open, listening hands witness and receive information, and solutions present themselves—in new feelings, images, movements, words, and concepts.

The second half of the book, “Student-Centered Teaching,” offers stories about profound and poignant moments of transformation in his teaching practice. Examples include a frustrated math teacher, a blind singer, a man with ankylosing spondylitis, a woman suffering for her sister, tango partners, a yoga teacher, a 70 year old caretaker learning to ask for help, a child custody hearing in front of a judge, and more.

Bruce has offered story after story of insight, transcendence, hope, and healing that might inspire other teachers.  That is the ultimate measure of the success of this book: does it stimulate and educate other teachers —or is each instance too particular to Bruce or his students, or too local to Japan or Germany or Santa Fe to bring out the best in us? Thanks to one of the teachings in this book, I personally learned to think of freeing not only the top of the neck where it meets the head, but also the bottom of the neck where its muscles connect to the torso, the way a tree trunk has roots. Thus, while his synthesis of philosophy, psychology, the arts, and motor skill is unique, I choose to believe that this book encourages us to develop our own personal signatures in the way we work.

If you would like to purchase, Teaching by Hand/Learning by Heart, and you live in America, write to Jessica Rath. If you live elsewhere, write to Jean Fischer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Introduction to Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart by John Tuite

 

tuite-candid-cutdown

John Tuite

It is so deeply satisfying to know that someone understands me so completely, not just my mind, but my heart.

Introduction 

The writing in this book comes from a level of mastery that is utterly at home with itself, and thus undemonstrative. It is deceptive in the ease with which it integrates and flows. Bruce writes early in the book that becoming an Alexander teacher took him three decades. What could he mean? The formal qualification these days certainly doesn’t take so long. He points to an understanding that being an Alexander teacher is about more than accumulating a significant quantity of knowledge, techniques and students. There is a depth, and a pathway into that depth that must be walked.

You will meet so much life and such a range of people here, all immersed in worlds both difficult and rich in possibility. A blind busker who wants to learn tai chi. A woman who wants to die but is unable to loosen her ailing body’s grip on life. A Korean protester with ankylosing spondylitis. A tango couple who discover something essential about their lives. A yoga teacher who learns to see her students for the first time. You will meet a thirty something woman buried in the ‘cute’ behaviours of her 12 year old self. Two Japanese psychologists, one confronted by a raging patient and the other as imprisoned as the dominating convict with whom she works. There is a terrified divorcee who, before a judge, pleads for custody of her children. A nervous physical therapist, lonely, desperate for connection. And others. In this book, you may find yourself.

Overhearing is at the heart of the book. We find ourselves present inside of lessons and partaking in workshops. We get precise descriptions of where, how and why Bruce uses his hands and his language. We feel the student’s process. We feel the onlooker’s process. And most vividly, we feel the teacher’s process.

Although the book is written very much in Bruce’s voice, (and those of us who have attended his workshops will hear his actual voice clearly as we read), the book is also multi-vocal. There are other voices and presences too. Old teachers, philosophers, students. At two crucial, moving moments we meet Bruce’s father and his infant son.

We meet Bruce’s mentors. Some of the charm of the book is in overhearing invaluable tips given to Bruce by such Alexander luminaries as Marj Barstow. “When we are distorted, we cannot relate well to anything”. (55) We get precise descriptions of the quality of her touch and its impact. We hear the exacting Erika Whittaker: “Bruce, I enjoy listening to your voice, but I don’t want to hear your breathing. Breathing is a shared silence, between you and God.” (73) As we listen in to this first generation of Alexander teachers, Bruce brings the founder almost within touching distance. At the same time, this is an autobiographical work, tracing Bruce’s movement through decades of work. But Bruce tells his story through the stories of everyone else.

The book offers a wealth of invaluable movement metaphors, each conveying a universal principle through movement, leading to an experienced truth, a felt truth. The arm structure is a widening river. Our kinaesthetic sense, a compass. The most consistent and generative metaphor is of the body as moving earth, the Earth as body. There is a wonderful extended metaphor, structuring an entire workshop, on the body as clay in the artistic process of becoming pottery. There is a beautiful, evocative individual lesson in which the body, lying down, becomes a landscape under rain.

The right metaphor or simile can also be the key that opens the door to Bruce’s understanding of a whole person. A psychologists’ movement patterns, while listening to a difficult patient, become understandable only after Bruce sees they are like a boxer dodging punches. Or his sudden realisation that a dying woman’s body was ‘bracing for impact as if she was about to be in a head-on collision’.

For Bruce metaphor is more than an artful way of connecting two ideas together. Metaphor here arises from, and is a way of experiencing, a deep connection to the world, a profound correspondence between all the levels of life. A kinship.

It is not just that the arm structure can be imagined as a widening river, but that both of these express the same principle. They each arise as an expression of a common set of dynamic forces, an aliveness that is the same at its core. And while a good metaphor is hugely useful in the process of teaching and learning, it is this kinship, rather than just a clarifying idea, that Bruce is ultimately inviting us to experience. Living into a rich relationship with the world is what is important for Bruce. We must not just connect these metaphors to our bodies, but we must take time to live into them. In this sense these are sacred metaphors.

Yet, this kinship that Bruce kindles, is not abstract or airy. It’s not an excuse for the spiritual bypassing of our world’s actual problems and divisions. It is grounded and grounding. Bruce asks us to consider the many correspondences between the world we live in and the body we live in. Between the inequalities of attention and tonal energy in the body, and the inequalities of income and empowerment in the world. Between the denigration and denial of the body, and the denigration and denial of manual labour and nurturing work.

Most powerfully, in a world increasingly marked by rigid separation and border walls, Bruce asks us to consider the bioregions of the body, also artificially divided through isolationist thinking. The neck doesn’t stop at the collar. The belt doesn’t actually divide the legs and lower abdomen from the upper body. Our living, vertical musculoskeletal connections, running north-south reveal such constructed horizontal borders to be faulty, mythical mis-readings, resulting in a loss of global unity and wellness. Bruce asks us “Where do we place our false boundaries. Our false borders?” What we have done to ourselves we have done to the Earth, and what we are doing to the Earth we are doing to ourselves. How could it be any other way?”

It is this widening sense of kinship, so damaged by the ways in which we are presently forced to live, that we most long for, and which we respond to in the book, kinship with others and with the world. There is kindness here.

At one moment in the book, Bruce writes about how it is straightforward to teach his trainees about their bodies, and how to use them. Using their hands is more challenging.  But enabling them to ‘see people in their entirety’ has been surprisingly difficult. (129) “I want you to begin by seeing, not a body, but a person, how a person is being in their entirety.” Bruce calls this empathic appreciation of another, ‘beholding’. I might use an unfashionable but vital term and call it an act of solidarity, a joining with another in the shared condition of being human in a difficult world.

How does one read this book? I have read it six times now. Does one read it all the way through, in as few sittings as possible, responding hungrily to the ease and richness with which experience and wisdom are communicated? (I have done that.) Does one take it chapter by chapter, with breaks in between to live into, practice and embody its lessons? (I have done that too.) Or does one take it even slower, sentence by sentence with long gaps in between? (This, I have also done.) The book both pulls you in and pushes you out. You may feel divided between reading on and leaving the page just to look around, to look at people appreciatively, to engage with people in new ways, untried.

My only answer is… all of the above. It is a book to be read as many times as needed.

But a warning! Though you will gain enormously by reading this book, deepen your practice, and your teaching (if that’s what you do), the generative heart of the book may elude you.

There is an understanding in my tradition of Chinese martial arts that, though the teacher may teach you the content, methods and practices of an art, its essence cannot be given. It must be stolen from the teacher. This book is rich with possibilities, ideas, metaphors, examples, and most of all, full of vivid people and encounters. They are all there waiting for you. Waiting to expand your experience of yourself and the world.

But stop a moment and feel your way towards the source of this richness. You will find ‘a little bit of nothing’ (150), a field of generative spaciousness. I believe that, along with kinship, it is this great spaciousness that is the true essence and heart of the book. These two, kinship and spaciousness, are what the writing arises out of and points toward. These two cannot be given to you. These you must ‘steal’. Because, while this is a book to be read, over and over, it is actually, quietly, a book to be slowly, gently, lived. Over time, and through tribulation or triumph, darkness and light. And it is only in the living of the book that its essence will be internalised, or perhaps simply recognised as already gathered in your own heart. Because this is a lifelong process, a path rather than a destination. When people ask me, what was the impact of this book, I am tempted to answer, “It is much too soon to say!”

John Tuite

Founder of the Centre for Embodied Wisdom

London, England

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart

 

A Peek into My Next Book – The Dismantling of the Ego -Somatic Musings Inspired by and in Honor of the Work of Claudio Naranjo

 

“Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self: in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned.”

 Baldwin

 

 

 

 

The Dismantling of the Ego

 Mantle derives from the Latin, mantellum, to “cloak”. So, to mantle the ego is to cover it. Once covered, we do not see it. Our own egos are somehow veiled, enshrouded, hidden from our view. To dismantle the ego is to uncover it, unveil it, to make it visible to us. This is the first step. I use the word ego colloquially. When we say someone has a big ego, or is egotistical, or egocentric we just mean that they are a bit full of themselves, preoccupied with themselves, overly centered around themselves. Once our egos are visible to us, we can take the second step of dismantling the ego. We can begin the process of deconstructing the ego, dissembling it, analyzing it, until we come to a deep understanding of what our ego is and how our particular ego operates.

As we take it apart, and begin to understand it, we find ourselves feeling better. We come to realize, sometimes suddenly, sometimes gradually, that our egos themselves have been serving as a kind of mantle, covering who we really are.

We realize that it is our ego with which we have been identifying and showing to others. It would be as if we thoroughly identified with our clothes and make up and jewelry, that we began to believe that this is who I am, this is me. We make our own “coat of many colors”, and we show this coat to the world. And then we realize that this cloak, this coat, and all these accoutrements are not us, that who we really are lives underneath this attire, in a place that we cannot see, but only sense.

This brings me back to Baldwins’ quote, which I will quote again here.

“Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self: in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned.”

It is best that the garment be loose. But how do we actually do that? How do we loosen the grip our egos have over us? To be able to loosen the garment, the ego, we first must know we are wearing a garment. We must know that we have come to identify who we are with our garment. Without this recognition, we are living a life of mistaken identity. We are not who we think we are. Once we know we are wearing a garment, we can examine it, get to know it in great detail. Only then, can we figure out how to loosen it. Once loosened, we can breathe. Feeling comes back into our bodies.

There is nothing more we really have to do. Everything we need is there, under the garment. Nothing is missing.

All the work involved, and there is a great deal of work to be done, is in learning how to dismantle the ego, learning how to uncover it, learning how to deconstruct it, analyze it, and understand it, physically, psychologically, socially, and spiritually, with the goal of loosening it.

Once loosened the rest, mysteriously, seems to happen by itself. Grace enters into the process.

In no way have I finished my work. There seems to be layers upon layers to the ego, but I can say that some progress has been made. As a teacher, I find myself teaching what I do not know and most need to learn. I am my slowest students. Even when progress has been made, vigilance is required. Best not to rest on one laurels.

Of course, philosophers, psychologists, theologians, and healers have a great deal to say on this subject, but no one I have encountered understood the array of “garments” we wear, the various fabrics, cuts, patterns, weavings, layers, and fashion statements made, more than Claudio Naranjo, hence my dedicating this book to him.

How do we know when we are making progress, when we are living non-egocentrically?

We know when loving becomes more important than being loved, when seeing becomes more important than being seen, when hearing becomes more important than being heard, when appreciating becomes more important than being appreciated, when understanding becomes more important than being understood, when serving becomes more important than being served, when thanking becomes more important than being thanked, when forgiving becomes more important than being forgiven, when blessing becomes more important than being blessed.

But before embarking on this journey toward non-egocentric living, I would like to introduce myself, to tell you how I came to perceive people, first physically, then psychology, and finally, spiritually.

to be continued… 

Trust Thyself

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Since 1986 I have given at least one graduation talk almost every year. Where they come from, I do not really know. An organized person, I am not. I tend not to save things. I just move on from where I am now. But this graduation speech I don’t have to save because, long ago, Emerson saved it for me.

For what I wanted to speak about, self-reliance, I turned to Emersons’ essay on the subject, an essay that inspired me when I was young, and no doubt inspired John Dewey and F.M. Alexander as well.

Here is what I read. I felt these ideas would help accompany my students as they cross over the bridge between being a good student of Alexanders’ work to becoming a good teacher of Alexanders’ work.

Excerpts from On Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Trust thyself. Every heart vibrates to that iron string.

There is a time in our education when we must arrive at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide. We must take ourselves for better, for worse, as is our portion. Even though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to us but through our toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to us to till. The power which resides in us is new in nature, and we alone know what we can do, though not until we have tried.

We should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across our mind from within. Yet, we dismiss without notice our thoughts, because they are ours. We but half express ourselves and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents.

I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. Every decent and well-spoken individual effects and sways me more than what is right. I ought to go upright and vital and speak my truth in all ways. Truth is handsomer than the affectation of love. Your goodness must have some edge to it, or else it is none.

My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, but that it be genuine and balanced, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. What I must do is all that concerns me, not what people think.

You will always find those who think they know what is your duty, better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the worlds’ opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own. But the great person is who in the midst of the crowd keeps, with perfect sweetness, the independence of solitude. The objection to conforming to rules and conventions that have become dead to you is that it scatters your force. Force is withdrawn from your proper life.

So instead, do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself. With the exercise of self-trust new powers shall appear.

Who is the Trustee? What is the aboriginal Self on which a universal reliance may be grounded? The sense of being, which in calm hours arises in the soul, we know not how, is not separate from things, from space, from light, from time, or from others, but is one with them. Here is the fountain of action and thought. Here are the lungs of inspiration. We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which make us receivers of its truth, and organs of its activities.

However, we must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching. But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, it must elevate. Friend, client, child; sickness, fear, want, all knock at once at thy door and say, “Come out unto us.” But keep thy state; come not into their confusion.

The populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a rejection of all standards. But I have my own stern claims and perfect circle. It demands something god-like to trust oneself as one’s taskmaster. High be your heart, faithful your will, clear your sight.

Discontent is the want of self-reliance. It is an infirmity of will. Therefore, let us attend to our work. The secret of fortune is joy in our hands.

Insist on being yourself; never imitate. Do that which is assigned you, and you cannot hope too much, or dare too much. Know that power is inborn, that we become weak the moment we look outward and elsewhere. Abide in the simple and noble regions of your life.

Obey your heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin

Kevin Saunders

It’s difficult for me to grasp that Kevin has died. He was such a careful person who took such good care of himself. No matter how much we try to take control of our lives, there is only so much control that we actually have. When our friends die in what feels to us, before their time, this truth hits home.

Anyone who knew Kevin knows that he was a quiet, solitary man. But, for some reason, he reached out to me and I, in turn, reached out to him. Being a director of a school, I thought Kevin would be good for our school, particularly good for the other students, and I was right. He was. I thought this because he was well read in Alexanders’ work and articulate about Alexanders’ ideas. Clearly, he had already studied a great deal, on his own, and had made Alexanders’ work part of his life. I wanted my other students to have the benefit of knowing a person who was so self-motivated and self-sufficient, who could figure things out by himself, and who was disciplined in applying what he figured out to his life. We all learned from him.

But for being the solitary person that Kevin was, he did reach out to us. In his measured way, he was very generous. I think he loved feeling himself as part of a community who welcomed him. He always offered teaching his yoga classes during our retreats. We enjoyed these classes and learned from the way in which he taught. He was keenly observant, and though he used his hands sparingly, when he did, they were remarkably accurate and effective. He reminded me of that story about the plumber who taps a water pipe twice in one spot, gets the entire system working perfectly, and then charges his customer $600. When the customer asked why so much, the plumber says, “I am only charging you $1.00 for the tap, but $599.00 for knowing where and how to tap. Kevin was precise, like this.

Kevin would have also liked the joke. That was another way he enjoyed reaching out. In performances and at graduations he would allow himself to be quite goofy, in his very British way, which we all loved. There were times when he was truly funny. Sometimes there was a playful bite to his humor, but always it was done with consideration.

I respected Kevin. He had integrity. He was true to himself. He was who he was. He was a friend, and I will miss him.