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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

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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

Visceral Love

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Gravity. George Clooney was still Up In The Air, but this time he was way, way up in the air, and dressed in a space costume. Saundra Bullock was good, for sure. But it doesn’t matter at all because this film is not about any particular person. This film is not even about special effects. The film wasn’t about any thing, except one thing, one big thing.

For over an hour we vicariously experience what it feels like without the benefits of gravity. It’s not fun, not fun at all. It isn’t until Saundra Bullock, and all of us, reenter the earth’s gravitational pull, which we do not do, fully, until the moment Saundra Bullock drags herself onto the beach. Only then, do we understand what this film is about.

It’s not about the concept of gravity. It’s about the visceral experience of gravity, it’s about deep love, visceral love, the way a breath feels when you’ve been under the water way too long and your lungs are burning, really burning and you’re thinking that this time you may not make it, you see the light shining through the surface high above you, no you are not going to make it…And then you do.

That kind of love.

The film ends. I’m sitting, really sitting, in a chair, that’s on a floor, that’s resting on huge beams that rest on massive walls that extend deep into the earth. I look around. Everyone is Japanese. Right, I’m in Japan. I walk out of the black movie theater, into a modern white shopping complex, through hordes of teenage kids, by blasting, clanging, ringing video game parlors, thinking, of course, Pachinko for children. But none of it makes any real impression. It’s all superfluous, because all I can feel is the ground under my feet, how solid it is, how it’s pushing itself up under me, how substantial I am, how much my entire body and being is drawn to the ground, magnetically attracted. Visceral love. I feel like a glass and someone above me has turned over a full pitcher of water and is pouring that cold, clear water right through me. I feel wet. I feel like a waterfall. I am water falling. I’m a building being demolished, imploding in slow motion, caving in on itself, giving up, surrendering, finally coming down. It’s the avalanche. It’s the great avalanche for which we all long.

Through the endless white shopping mall into the night, down into the subway, into the train, up the steps, back out into the night, into the cold air, I can feel my body breathing like a bellows. I can feel the pressure of breathing, the work, the resistance, the effort the body makes to breathe. Love. Visceral love.

Almost home. The light turns red. I wait. One of those endlessly long red lights. I don’t care. I am in love, in love with gravity, in love with the air. My body is completely comfortable, profoundly comfortable. All is quiet within me. After the avalanche, an infinite silence, infinite space, infinite rest.

On Breathing

A Particular Silence

When we come into this world, we do not take our first breath. The air of the world rushes into our lungs, and we are breathed. Read more