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Patterns

My eyes can dimly see the pattern of my life and the puzzle that is me.

Patterns by Simon and Garfunkel

We often use the word ‘habit’ in our work. We are usually referring to unconscious habits that don’t serve us well. Our goal is to make the unconscious conscious, the invisible visible. We want to be free to choose what we want to do and how we want to do it. We also want to be free not to do something. We want the control to begin to do something when we want, or not, and we want to be able to stop doing something when we want to stop. Completely.

As Alexander teachers we can easily fall into the habit of looking primarily for postural and movement habits within ourselves and our students. That is fine but if our work is to be about more than posture and movement, if it is to be about how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world, if it is to be about the quality of our lives, then we need to open our parameters to include other types of habits.

Rather than using the word habit, I prefer using the word pattern. People tend to associate habits with being bad, shifting them into the world of right and wrong, a world offering too much judgement and too little information. The word pattern holds less negative charge.

Patterns are good because they are precise and they repeat themselves, making them recognizable to an observant outsider. And they are full of good energy. Patterns, whether helpful or unhelpful, use energy, and as William Blake says, Energy is Eternal Delight. Our energy, when well directed, imbues us with vitality.

When I teach I look for patterns other than postural and movement patterns. Any unconscious pattern, once identified and made conscious, provides us with good material for applying Alexandrian principles and processes. We can use any pattern to exercise our ability to stop, to become conscious, to develop and exercise our kinesthetic and proprioceptive senses, allowing us to see a pattern expressing itself through our entire body from head to toe and out through our fingertips. We can give ourselves the time to understand this pattern physically and emotionally. Then, once we know where we are and what we are doing and how we are doing it, we can choose to see what would happen without it.  Who would we be without the pattern? What would happen if we chose to unplug the pattern, if we left it out, if we left ourselves alone? Where would the energy fueling that pattern want to go, how would it redirect itself?

A person comes to me and I notice they say ‘you know’ a lot, or ‘like’ or ‘ah’ or that every sentence they utter has the inflection of a question. A verbal, vocal, communication pattern.

A person comes to me and as he begins to speak about his frustrations at work, I notice how he drops his hands and slaps them on his thighs in exasperation. A gestural pattern.

A person comes to me and every time they have a new and powerfully positive kinesthetic experience their minds jump into the future saying how they will never be able to do this themselves, or into the past saying how they have been doing everything wrong for so many years. A learning pattern. A thinking pattern.

I ask a person to quickly walk around the room and then to come back and tell me what they’ve taken in. One person says mostly what they saw, another mentions several things they heard, another what they smelled or touched. Sensory patterns.

I notice how a particular person always appears cheerful, optimistic and energetic. Another person’s clothes are always exceedingly neat and always worn too tightly. Another person always looks forlorn, often complaining about others. Another takes up a lot of space, spreads out and is prone to challenging, disagreeing and arguing with me. Another who is always trying to help me, complimenting me excessively. Another who continually cracks jokes. All patterns. Persona patterns.

It’s important for us as Alexander teachers to be able to distinguish between principles, processes, and procedures. Once we have a clear understanding of Alexandrian principles and processes, i.e., sensory consciousness, inhibitory choice, direction and redirection of energy, primary movement/pattern/control, critical moments, what I like to refer to as moments of opportunity, the relationship between means and ends, etc, we can choose, at times, to experiment working outside of Alexander’s classical procedures, i.e., chair, monkey, lunge, whispered ah, etc. and simply improvise with Alexandrian principles and processes within a larger arena, within the ultimate procedure, how we proceed in living our lives.

After eight years of study in Chanoyu, the Way of Japanese Tea, I informed my teacher, Mariko LaFleur, I would be traveling and teaching intensively for a month and would have little or no time to practice. She said to me, “Bruce, that’s fine. Essentially Chado is not about the form. It’s only about how we exist in this world as a guest and as a host. It’s about gratefully receiving what we are given. It’s about how we welcome, receive and serve others. Remember Bruce, the tea room is everywhere. Practice Tea everywhere you go, wherever you are, and with everyone you meet. Enjoy your trip.”

Working within formal structures is assuring, confirmative. It’s familiar. Within them we know the rules, we’re comfortable. We know what to do. We know where we are. We’re home. 

And then there is the wide world, the unfamiliar, unpredictable world where there are no clear cut rules, where we are at times uncomfortable and know not what to do or what to expect. It’s our first time around. We’re continually in a place we have never been and will never be again. 

We meet people along the way.  We want to welcome and receive them, in their entirety, as our guests. We don’t want to reduce our guests to their posture. We don’t want only to watch how they move. We want to see who they are, how they live, so we can discern how we can best serve.

The more we see and understand our students in their entirety, the more our students see and understand themselves in their entirety. And since, ultimately, we are all mirrors for one another, reflections of one another, we come to see and understand ourselves, the puzzle that is us.

Just A Hunch

on innocence

photo: Bruce Fertman

Just A Hunch

Through the pressure generated between the growing head and the growing heart, the face is sculpted. Three ridges. One will become the brow, one the nose, one the chin.

Then suddenly the unfurling begins. The head floats away from the heart. Organs begin to form in newly available space. Space precedes substance. First there is nothing, then there is something.

The baby enters the world, C-shaped, one simple curve. Over the first few months, through olympian effort, the baby acquires the needed strength to lift its head and look around, gradually forming a flexible and stable cervical curve. The lumbar curve develops as the baby begins creeping and crawling, and fully establishes itself through the herculean task of learning to walk.

The head becomes the center of orientation, the pelvis the center of locomotion.

We grow, we evolve from zygote, to embryo, to fetus, to infant, to baby, to toddler, to child, to teenager, to young adult, to adult, to maturing adult, (young-old), and if lucky to very old adult, (old-old). 

Somewhere between young-old and old-old another spinal transformation begins, as natural perhaps as all the other spinal transformations. In Onsens, Japanese hot springs, I have spent hours studying the shapes of boys and men of all ages, the children with arching lower backs and rounded bellies, with soft, supple necks, their heads balancing loosely atop naturally upright spines. The young men, unbeknownst to them, but evident to me, already foreshadow how they will sit, stand, and walk as old men. And the now old men, some more, some less beginning to wilt, droop, sag.

Its as if the thoracic curve wants to re-incorporate the cervical curve into itself,  making the head, and with it the mind, the eyes, and ears orient inward, away from the outer world, toward the world of in-sight and hindsight.

Its as if the sacral curve wants to re-incorporate the lumbar curve into itself, tilting the pelvis under, making locomotion more difficult, venturing out more trying, increasing the impulse to sit, perhaps to read, perhaps to write, perhaps to listen to the stories of others, or to give counsel.

I have begun to feel the pull of my primary curves wanting to reclaim my secondary curves. Is it natural, inevitable? I dont know. Ive chosen, however, not to give in to this subtle, seductive undertow. I want my head above water. I want to continue orienting outward to the world. I want to walk onto dry land, feel the earth beneath my feet. Perhaps one of the reasons four out of five of my Alexander mentors taught into their mid to late nineties was because they knew how to feed and nourish their secondary curves. Perhaps those curves allowed their eyes to see and to care about others. Perhaps those curves provided more space for their organs, allowing for greater oxygen intake, better blood flow, good digestive motility. Perhaps those curves helped lengthen their legs under them, kept those feet firmly on the ground.

If our primary curves pull us back to the past and our secondary curves beckon us forward into the future, then having a balance between them might bring us into the present.

Yes, perhaps it was their secondary curves that kept them so vibrant, so engaged, so present, so here, here with us, for so long. 

Its just a hunch. But Im going to follow it.

Still Life

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Pare it down and youve got two things left: ground and space.

Ground is any object in the universe that has mass. Any object that has mass exerts a gravitational pull, or force, on every other mass. As far as gravity is concerned, humans are objects right along with refrigerators, and cars. Its all a matter a perspective.

Walking one day around New York City, I saw a Peregrine falcon perching atop a tall, swanky apartment building. To that falcon, that high rise, high status apartment building was but another cliff, another lookout, and a place to rest ones wings.

In New Mexico weve got these giant anthills. Some of them come up to my knee caps. To those ants traveling along their ant ways, that anthill is Manhattan.

But to me its just a clump of sand with some ants in it.

Looking around, what I notice is that every thing is touching some other thing. Look around. See for yourself. Nothing on earth is floating around, not even a speck of dust. The air to a speck of dust is like the ocean to some deep water creature, and when that speck of dust touches down, that creature is just resting on the ocean floor.

Continue looking at the objects around you. But do more than look at them. Sense them. Empathize with them. Objects excel at resting and receiving support. Objects know how to sit. They know how to meditate. They know how to be still and balanced, and often silent.

Objects dont try to be what they are not. They dont try. They dont rush. They dont wait. Theyre not neurotic, not over-emotional, not irrational. Sometimes they stop working, they wear out, they break down, but thats not a problem for them. They accept reality. Aging is not an issue. Nothing is.

When feeling distressed, look around. You are surrounded by peace, and stillness, and silence. Just let it in.

Space is everywhere where there are no objects. Theres a lot of it, much more space than ground. But ground, that is, every object that has mass, is made of atoms, but atoms are more than 99.9% space.

Quantum physics aside, even to the human eye, when we look around most of the time we see more space than substance. Just look around. What percentage of what you see is space and what percentage ground?

In New Mexico, where I live, about 99% of what I see is space. Basically, we live in the sky. One day I took a group of Japanese students on a hike up Kitchen Mesa at Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian Retreat Center in Northern New Mexico. Its a good hike, a couple hours of pretty steep climbing. But the view is literally awesome. One of my students sat down and wept. She had spent most of her life living in Tokyo. Shed never seen so much space, so much openness. She was overwhelmed. There is so much confinement in a megalopolis like Tokyo, physical and social. So many rules and expectations. It was as if a lifetime of confinement, suddenly, fell away.

Where does the sky begin and where does it end? We look up at the sky and it looks like the sky goes on forever. But as we look down from the sky, all the way down to our very feet, at what point did the sky stop being the sky? Not until it meets the ground. The sky always comes all the way down to the ground. The sky not only meets the mountain tops. It meets the top of our shoes as well.

I call it heaven on earth.

Peaceful Body Practice

Sit on a chair, scoot your pelvis back, so that you can recline slightly and receive a light support from the back of the chair. Let yourself be easily and comfortably upright. Allow there to be a bit of room around your legs and let your feet rest on the ground.

There are two fontanelles on a baby’s head and they vary slightly in size. The soft spot on the back of a baby’s head is called the posterior fontanelle. It’s usually smaller than the other fontanelle and triangular in shape. The fontanelle on the top of a baby’s head is the anterior fontanelle.

Imagine, if you still had your anterior fontanelle, your soft spot that you had on top of your head when you were a baby. Toward the back of that spot, (go and google an image of that if it would help), imagine warm sand being finely poured through the soft spot. Imagine it falling down and forming a little pile on the ground under your chair. As the fine sand continues to fall, slowly but surely the small pile turns into a small mound, which turns into a small hill, rising through your body and spreading ever wider around you in all directions. Let it continue until the point of the hill is about a foot above your head.

Sense the angle of repose, the angle at which the hill all around you slops when all the sand rests and finds its stability.

Thats ground. Enjoy being ground for as long as feels good.

Then imagine that the centuries go by and winds gradually blow the mountain away from the top all the way to the bottom, so that nothing remains except space. Enjoy that for as long as feels good.

Then slowly open your eyes only as far as they want to open by themselves.

Ground and space. Thats all there is, and all that will ever be. 

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – London Workshops and Individual Lessons With Bruce Fertman

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Physics and Metaphysics of Touch 

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Photo: Tada Akihiro

For Alexander trainees and teachers, as well as for other movement educators and somatic therapists who use their hands to help others.

To receive everything one must open one’s hands, and give.   

Taisen Deshimaru

Hands close and open, grasp, cling, clench, and release. Hands express. They welcome, warn and inform, and in our case, hands educe. Educative hands lead out that which lies within. Together we will increase our tactual palette, become more tactually literate, learn new ways of using our hands sensitively and effectively.

We understand well the paramount importance of personal use while teaching, and the direct impact our use has on our quality of touch.  As important as good use is, my 55 years of experience using my hands to help people move well has taught me that additional knowledge into the hand’s inherent design can help us acquire hands that are, at once, soft and powerful, light and deep, stabilizing and mobilizing, quieting and energizing. As there are primary colors, so too there are primary touches: push, pull, slide, spin, and roll. In other words, physics.

We will also consider the metaphysics of touch. It’s a disservice to reduce a person to their body. I never touch a person’s body. I only touch a person. Our goal is to touch a person’s being through their body. But to touch a person’s being through their body we have first to be able to see a person’s being through their body, which means we have to be looking at more than a person’s use. There are ways of developing this way of seeing people. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Bringing the Work to Life and Life into the Work 

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For students, trainees, and teachers of Alexander’s work.

Become aware of your habits, because your habits will become your character. 

Become aware of your character, because your character will become your destiny.    

Anonymous 

Have you noticed it’s relatively easy to make good use of Alexander’s work when we are doing well, but nearly impossible when confronted with something truly challenging or threatening? How can we practice sticking to principle under emotionally stressful circumstances, when relating to family members, when encountering problems at work, while coping with physical injury and pain, when overwhelmed by stressful thoughts and emotions?

Working Situationally is a procedure I developed, slowly, over the past 40 years. That is to say Working Situationally is a “way of proceeding,” to teach people how to employ Alexander’s work when under trying conditions and faced with harsh realities.

Being able to work with people this way has been enormously beneficial to me personally. It has brought the work to life for me, and into my life in ways that before were inaccessible.

I love sharing this way of working with other Alexander teachers. And ironically, it’s really fun. 

Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23, 2017

Walking into the World

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Our work on walking will be incorporated into both days of study and relevant to everyone. 

It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.   

Francis of Assisi

Walking, when understood, is the Alexandrian procedure that most naturally integrates rotational and spiraling motions into our upright structure, motions that are conspicuously absent in Alexander’s other procedures, as wonderful as those procedures are. Walking, when taught dynamically, helps dissipate postural holdings, often resulting in a profound sense of freedom and power.

Once when I asked Erika Whittaker what she felt like after working with Alexander, she said, “When the lesson was over, I could have said thank you, and walked out the door, or I could have said thank you, and walked through the wall.”

We’ll spend time learning about the mechanics of walking, as well as how to use our hands to help our students walk naturally, freely, and powerfully.

About Bruce Fertman

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

In Bruce’s class you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake. His pace and patience, his quiet confidence allows people to unfold and open layer by layer. The superfluous falls away leaving only life’s inner vitality effortlessly expressing itself through you.

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

M. Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

For 55 years Bruce has been using his hands helping people to move well. For the past 30 years he has traveled annually throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States helping people understand and experience the interconnectedness between physical and spiritual life.

In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school, the first Alexander teacher training program inspired by the work of Marjorie Barstow. Currently, director of training and senior teacher for the Alexander Alliance in Germany, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He directs the Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Programs in Dorset, England and Zurich, Switzerland.  

Bruce trained with five first generation Alexander teachers; Catherine Merrick Wielopolska, Marjorie L. Barstow, Richard M. Gummere Jr., Elisabeth Walker, and Erika Whittaker. He brings a lifetime of training as a movement artist to his work as an Alexander teacher having trained in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Contact Improvisation,  Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, Argentine Tango, and Kyudo.

He has worked with members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Radio France, The National Symphony in Washington DC, the Honolulu Symphony, for the Curtis Institute of Music, and most recently for Jeong Ga Ak Hoe, a traditional Korean Music Ensemble. Bruce taught for the Five College Dance Program in Amherst, Massachusetts for 13 years, and for the Tango community in Buenos Aires. For 6 years, he taught movement for actors at Temple and Rutgers University. For ten years Bruce taught annually for the College of Physiotherapy in Gottingen, Germany. 

Bruce’s heart centered approach as a teacher rests upon extensive study in psychology and theology, specifically, the work of Eric Berne, (Transactional Analysis), Carl Rogers, (Person Centered Therapy), Frederick Perls, (Gestalt Therapy), Albert Ellis, (Rational-Emotive Therapy), Carl Jung, (Analytical Psychology), and Byron Katie  (Inquiry). Having also studied with Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist scholars, Bruce’s teaching not only transforms people physically; it creates a decided shift in people’s personal lives.

Gone is the straight-lined striving, the stopping and oughting. Instead curiosity, inquisitiveness, and permission to experiment, to play, to open boxes and to climb out of them into a world of possibility – a world both soft and strong. And all this through a quiet power, an exquisite touch, a clarity of speech, and a wealth of wisdom. For me, Bruce’s work is more than exciting; it is important, both to the world and to anyone involved in any way with Alexander’s Technique.

A. Turner – Alexander Technique Teacher
Cornwall, England

One of the foremost representatives of Marjorie Barstow’s lineage, Bruce’s work is unique and innovative. Bruce is especially gifted when it comes to teaching in groups. He’s a philosopher, poet and writer who gives voice to what is wonderful about the Alexander Technique.

Michael Frederick – Founding Director of the International Congresses for the Alexander Technique

Workshop Details:

Where:

Alexander Technique
The Walter Carrington Educational Trust
13, The Boulevard
Imperial Wharf
London SW6 2UB

020 7727 7222

http://atiw.org/find-us/how-to-find-us

We are only three minutes walk from Imperial Wharf Station.
Imperial Wharf Station provides a direct link to Clapham Junction (4 minutes) in the South and Willesden Junction in the North. Change at West Brompton (5 minutes) for the District Line or at Shepherds Bush (9 minutes) for the Central Line.

When:

April 20th and 21st private lessons, by appointment.

April 22nd and 23rd. Workshops.

1o:00 – 1:30 morning class.

1:30 – 3 lunch break

3:00 – 5:30 afternoon class

Fee:

£200 for both days of study. £175 early registration.

£120 for each day of study.  £100 early registration.

Half price for all Alexander teachers enrolled in the Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Training Program.

Early registration ends March 20th, 2017.

Note: I will be giving private lessons on April 20th and 21st. The teaching fee is £60 for a 45 minute lesson. If you or anyone you know is interested write to me, or have them write to me at: bf@brucefertman.com

To Register Contact Ruth Davis at:

Email: ruth.a.davis@me.com

Phone: +44 (0) 7590 406267

To Make Payment: 

BACS

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

Account No: 12037351

Acc Name R Davis

International Transfers via:

IBAN: GB24MIDL40475912037351 BIC:MIDLGB2172

Or send a cheque made payable to:

Ruth Davis 

Sakura,

7 McKinley Road

Bournemouth

BH4 8AG

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write to me, bf@brucefertman.com or to Ruth Davis, ruth.a.davis@me.com. I look forward to meeting you and to working with you.

Bruce Fertman

Letters To A Young Teacher

The thing is I feel alone, in terms of doing the AT work, when I live in Taiwan.

I have heard about this feeling of loneliness and isolation from other Alexander teachers.You spend three years inside a school, then you graduate, and you are on your own. It feels like there’s no support. Life takes over and the work starts to fade away.

Shortly after I met Marj Barstow, when I was 25, I began to organize her summer workshops. There was a great community spirit at her workshops. In 1982, when we began the Alexander Alliance, my vision was to create not just a school, but a community/school. And somehow we did it. It’s now 34 years later and I am still part of an Alexander community. So I have never, first hand, experienced this kind of loneliness of which so many teachers speak.

If there are not other teachers close to you, then there are three things I can think of doing.

Invite people to come to you. I’ve invited over 50 teachers to my school over the last 30 years, some of them for many years, so I could study with them, and my students too of course.

You find a community of people you like and, when you can, you go to them. That’s what I did so I could study with Marj Barstow. I traveled 2000 miles in the winter and spring for ten years, and invited her to where I was every fall and spring.

You begin your own community from where you are. This is not easy and it takes great energy and passion, but it is possible.

It’s probably best to do all of them.

Just make a commitment to begin and you will begin to feel less alone.

Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I feel like I am gradually losing the coordination I had when training at my school. So my question for now is how to avoid losing the skill.

When Marj was 40 she stopped assisting A.R. Alexander in Boston and Pennsylvania, returning to Nebraska to help her father with their large ranch. She told me it was over the next 20 years that she really began to understand Alexander’s work. She said it was mainly through hard manual work on the ranch, and through training horses. She was a kind of cowgirl. She was beautifully coordinated, at 75, when I met her.

Marj working with me in 1976

Marj working with me in 1976

So what I hear in that story is that at some point you’ve got to get very interested in how you are doing the things you do in your everyday life, even that 4 hours of computer work that you are doing everyday at your job. You’ve got to be refining your own quality of coordination, and it’s important to find the pleasure in it all.

Now during those 20 years Marj hardly taught at all. But personally, I think it would help you to teach as much as you can. As you continue to figure out things about yourself and your own use, it really helps if you can share your insights with other people. For me this dynamic really works.

One time I asked Marj what I could do to improve my hands as a teacher. I was not going to see her for about 4 months. She told me to watch how I used my hands in everything I did. Everything. She said if I ever saw that I was distorting my hands, that I should stop for a second and then sense my whole body. She said I would begin to see that if I was distorting my hands I had to be distorting my whole body. Then she said once I knew how I was distorting myself I should free myself, that is, cease distorting my whole body, begin again, and this time find, as I began working, how not to distort my hands. She said if someone took a photo of my hands at any moment they should look beautiful.

Forty years later, I am still practicing this.

Erika Whittaker once told me a story. She said she began training when she was 16. She graduated 4 years later, stayed around for a couple of years assisting Alexander, met a man, got married, moved to Australia, got pregnant, had a daughter, raised the daughter, got divorced and found herself 50 years old. Someone said to her, “Erika, now, you could start teaching. You have plenty of time.” It hadn’t occurred to her. She thought, why not? I’ll give it a go. To her surprise she found herself tremendously better as a teacher than she had been when she was younger.

Erika Whittaker

So the work is working within you, whether you know it or not.

That said, from my own experience I can tell you there is no substitute for teaching and using your hands as much as you can. Never turn down an opportunity to teach the work, and to use your hands. Look for those opportunities. Make them happen.

From some of your photos you look to me to be pretty physical: snorkeling, pilates, climbing, hiking. Tap into those communities. Let them experience what you do.

If you can find a movement form that you really like, a formal study, it can be another way to keep the work going, especially if it’s a form that requires great sensitivity.

I hope these thoughts help you. Let me know.

Yours,

Bruce

When The Child Was A Child

Messengers 

In Wings Over Berlin, two angels, invisible to humans, softly, silently offer comfort, sometimes, but not always, lifting the spell of isolation and despair from suffering human souls.

They touch humans lightly, tenderly. Through their empathic presence an opening, where there had been none, would suddenly appear, a way to go forward now lay before them.

from Wings Over Berlin

from Wings Over Berlin

In Hebrew malach means both messenger and angel. In Greek too, aggelos means messenger and angel.

Messengers send messages. A message is a communication through writing, speech, or signals of some sort. A little like the angels in Wings Over Berlin, we Alexander teachers convey messages through touch. A message can be an underlying idea. It can also be an inspiring or sacred communication.

Now I am no angel. I am hopelessly human. I am not always at peace. I sometimes butt heads with people. I am not a spiritual being. I have no wings. I live on the ground. But I think we can and do serve as messengers for one another. Sometimes, unbeknownst to us, we do something, say something or write something that helps someone. Others sometimes unbeknownst to them, do, say, or write something that helps us, that may even change our lives. We may not be angels, but sometimes we perform our angelic function as messengers.    

from Wings Over Berlin

from Wings Over Berlin

In our Alexander community we refer to teaching through “procedures.” How do we “proceed” to impart the principles underlying Alexander’s work? Some of us use the procedures Alexander developed. Some of us also use procedures other teachers have developed, like Walter Carrington’s saddle work, or Raymond Dart’s developmental movements, or Marjorie Barstow’s working in activity. Others of us use procedures we ourselves have developed. To my surprise, I seem to have evolved a procedure, a way to proceed, that enables people to make use of the principles underlying Alexander’s work under trying conditions and when coping with harsh realities. I call it Working Situationally.

When The Child Was A Child

When the child was a child, it walked with its arms swinging. It wanted the stream to be a river, the river a torrent, and this puddle to be the sea. When the child was a child, it didn’t know it was a child. Everything was full of life, and all life was one. When the child was a child, it had no opinion about anything, no habits. It often sat cross-legged, took off running, had a cowlick in its hair, and didn’t make faces when photographed. – from Wings Over Berlin by Wim Wender and Peter Hendke

It’s not easy growing up. We have all known times when our arms stopped swinging, when the puddle was just a puddle. Times when we’ve felt exhausted, empty, our world shattered. Times when nothing was new under the sun, when we were unable to pick ourselves up from the ground, let alone take off running, when we put on yet another smiling face for yet another silly photo.

“When have you experienced yourself lost, without support, helpless and afraid,” I ask a group of fairly new Alexander teachers? “Can you see where you are, the situation you’re in; can you see what’s going on?”

Michiko, a small, middle aged woman in the back of the room says,“I’m going through a divorce. I have yet another session in court next week where I have to plea for the custody of my children. I am terrified of losing them.”

All eyes in the room lower at once.

“Thank you.” Let’s see if there is a way, through Alexander’s work to help ourselves when we really need it, when we’re feeling threatened, when our life’s hanging in the balance. How can we develop the wherewithal to be how we want to be in these situations, how not only to survive them, but to meet them?”

When The Master Is Home

“Michiko. Look around and see who can help you set up your scenario. Look and see who can help you, and how you can arrange the space.” Everyone springs into action. Seriously playful commotion fills the room. I sit back and watch as the space is transformed into a courtroom.

In the front of the room sits a judge. Michiko’s husband and his lawyer sit to the judge’s left, Michiko and her lawyer to the right. I’ve got a translator behind me, ready to whisper into my ear.

The judge begins. “We are here today to determine who is most deserving of the privilege of caring for your children. As you know I do not approve of divorce. I believe children should grow up with a mother and a father in the same house. But for whatever reasons, both of you seem incapable of doing this. Michiko, what do you have to say for yourself?”

“Judge, I am the parent who has spent the most time with my children. I am the one who cooks for them, who packs their lunches, who takes them and picks them up from school, who helps them with their homework. I am the one who does their laundry and who takes them shopping for sneakers and who gets out of bed at night when they have nightmares. I’m their mom.”

Yamato, Michiko’s husband blurts out, “And I am the breadwinner in this family. I’m the one that pays for the food you cook, who bought the nice car you drive to that top notch private school that I also pay for, not to mention the designer sneakers. I’m the guy that pays for the roof over your very head.” By the end, Yamato’s face is beet red.

It’s working. The scene’s been set up well enough that Michiko’s beginning to cringe from the sound of Yamato’s voice. But I don’t intervene. I want to see where this is going.

“Judge, Michiko says, right now I have 32 private piano students who I see every week. I earn enough money to take care of my own children. My children have already told you they want to live with me, that they don’t want to move to Tokyo, leave their school, and live with their father.”

“And I, the judge says, don’t appreciate your telling me again. I am well aware of what your children want, but they are children and have no idea as to what is, in the long run, best for them. The decision is up to me, not up to them, and not up to you.”

“They have also told you they are terrified of their father,” Michiko adds cowering.

“You liar! You total and complete liar, Yamato yells standing up and throwing his pen across the room, almost hitting Michiko in the face.

Terror. There it is, Michiko’s eyes frozen in fear. As she sits there, glued to her chair, her body looks weak and hopeless.

I quietly enter,  kneel down beside her, place my right hand softly over her shoulders and my left hand over her clenched hands that sit on her lap. “Michiko, let’s just freeze the frame here. Stay exactly as you are in your body and from the bottom up describe to me what you are sensing.” 

Michiko says, “I’m pulling my feet almost off the ground. My knees are touching and I feel like I’m jamming my thighs back into my hip sockets. My stomach is tight. I’m not breathing. The middle of my back is pressing against the back of the chair. My hands hurt. My shoulder blades are hunched up toward my ears, and my head is pressed down between them.” “Michiko, can you see the exact shape your whole body is taking, as if you were looking at a puppet?” “Yes, I can see it,” Michiko says. “Let me ask you, do you want to be like this?” “No, I don’t.” “You are now about a third of the way home.”

“Okay Michiko. If you are the one holding yourself in this position, then you are the one who can let go of holding yourself in this position. Let’s begin by letting your feet come back to the ground. What happens as you do that?” “My legs come down and my knees begin to separate a little.” I place the hand that was over her hands onto her left knee and then over to her right knee suggesting that her knees could release slightly away from her hip joints. I watch more air enter her lungs but say nothing about it. I quietly stand up behind Michiko, place my hands along the sides of her ribs and ask her to let the entire surface of her back spread out against the back of the chair. I feel more air coming into her lungs. I reach around and gently place my index finger onto the top of her sternum and from there gently guide her head back on top of her spine. Her eyelids flutter for a few seconds, followed by two slow blinks. Her eyes appear to settle back into their eye sockets. She’s calm.

“Okay Michiko. Now you are two-thirds of the way home. This next part I can’t help you with. Only you can do it. I want you to find out what would happen it you decided not to fight, not to flee, not to freeze, and not to fidget. Can you make the decision not to fight…not to flee…not to freeze…and not to fidget?” I wait and watch Michiko as she becomes deeply and quietly strong. “Can you sense what happens when you make that decision?”  “Yes I can.” “Good. Now be that decision.” 

I ask Yamato to continue.

Yamato looks at the judge and says. “Judge, my wife is lying to you. She’s a compulsive liar. That is what she does best. My kids don’t hate me.” Yamato turns toward Michiko, glares at her and says, “You wait. You just wait.”

Michiko’s body remains strong and open, her face calm. She’s breathing.“Quietly Michiko stands up, looks at the judge, and says, “Your honor, I’d like to submit for your judgement the evidence just set before you. Thank you for considering it.”

The judge turns, looks at Yamato, then at Michiko, and says nothing.  He appears to be reconsidering, reevaluating the situation.

“Michiko, I say. That is what it feels like when the master is home.”

Teaching Moments

In the Alexander Alliance, when we want to direct our student’s attention to pedagogy, to why we did what we did, or to why what we did worked or didn’t work, we make a T shape with our two hands, as if we were a referee at a football game. This means we are going to stop and step out of what we are doing and move into commentary.

“Okay class, what was Michiko’s goal?” “Not to lose custody of her kids.” “That’s right. That’s what she told us.”

“You can’t practice “the means whereby” unless you’ve got an end. Our work is about ends and means, about how we are being as we move toward our end, whatever that end may be. The idea is not to compromise the means for the end, not to sacrifice our integrity, no matter what happens. That’s the practice. That’s why I don’t like thinking about Alexander’s work as a technique. I think of it as a practice, because it’s hard, and I fail a lot. And sometimes I don’t. It takes practice.”

So let’s see if we can find the means whereby inside of what just happened. Where does it begin?” 

“You stopped everything.” “That’s true, and what is also true is that in real life you can’t stop a situation like that. You can’t say, “Okay judge. This is getting too intense. Let’s just take a pause here so I can calm down.” Here is an idea I want you to understand. Alexandrian inhibition does not necessarily happen just because you stop an action. It only happens when you succeed in stopping your habitual holding pattern within the action. So when I froze the frame, I only stopped the action. Stopping the action, freezing the frame, pausing, is a teaching device allowing me to slow everything down. So, what happened after I froze the frame?”

“You asked her what she was sensing.” “Right. Michiko shifts from being kinesthetically unconscious, to being kinesthetically conscious, which means she can now begin to sense how she is doing what she is doing. Once Michiko knows what she’s doing to herself, she has the chance of undoing it. As Marj Barstow used to tell us, “You have to know where you are before you can make a change.” So because she knew where she was, and because Michiko has had a good bit of training, she could pretty much come out of this pattern with only a little guidance from me.”

“I was sending her messages, I was fulfilling my angelic duty. Alexander called messages, directions. I think of messages as messages in a bottle that drift to the edge of the shore. You pick up the bottle, reach in and read the message. My first message to Michiko was, you are not alone, and then, Michiko, become aware of yourself, and then, come to your senses, and then, you’re one-third of the way home, and then, do you want to be this way, and so on. Messages were being communicated not only through my words, but though how I was in my own body and being, through the quality of my voice, and of course through touch, through her knees, and ribs, and sternum.  I was sending her messages and she made good use of them.

“And next?” “Well, all along you could actually begin to see Michiko’s primary movement emerging. As soon as her legs began to let go I could see her neck begin to free and her head poise returning, and I could see her whole body opening up and the air filling her lungs. But the most impressive change was her face, how the fear fell away.”

So far we have,

One, the goal, the end.

(the employment of freezing the frame, a pedagogical device and not necessarily part of the means whereby.)

Two, kinesthetic consciousness.

Three/Four/Five, Alexandrian Inhibition/Direction/Primary Movement.

In actual time, it’s virtually impossible to separate these. My words, my voice, and my touch helped Michiko let go, that is, neurologically inhibit. Within that letting go, though she likely did not think the words, ‘neck free, head forward and up, back to lengthen and widen, immediately direction was happening, because I was embodying and passing on, to the best of my ability, those directions through touch to Michiko, and because Michiko has had so much training, those directions were wordlessly operating within her primary movement. 

“And then?” You asked her to make a decision not to fight or flee or freeze or fidget. “Right. This is me preparing Michiko for the critical moment, for that moment when she’s going to want to go back to her old way of reacting to Yamato and to the judge. Michiko’s decision is going to have to be incredibly strong. Walt Whitman says it perfectly in Song Of The Open Road when he writes, Gently, but with undeniable will divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.  You can’t say it better than that. Erika Whittaker, when I asked her what Alexandrian inhibition was  answered me in one word. She said, “Inhibition is decision. It’s sticking to your decision against your habit of life.”

“So I’m watching to make sure Michiko is accessing tremendous inhibitory power within herself, and then I tell her, I send her a message, and that message is?”  To be that decision.  “Yes, because Alexandrian Inhibition is not something we can do. It’s only a way we can be.” 

Six, passing through the critical moment.

And then what happened?

Michiko responded to Yamato and to the judge the way she wanted. “And what do we call that in the Alexander world?” Choice? “That’s a good answer.” Freedom. “Another good answer. I have something else in mind.”

“We could call it Primary Control. For me Alexander’s Primary Control is the Great Protector. Imagine babies and toddlers. They are not well coordinated, but more often than not, they don’t get hurt. They scream, but they don’t hurt their voices. They fall, but rarely bang their heads. There is a force at work within them continually integrating them, keeping them whole as they gradually figure out how to coordinate themselves.”

“But as adults we lose touch with this integrative, protective force within us. When Michiko adhered to the means whereby she was protected. She didn’t disintegrate. She could function. She could say what she wanted to say the way she wanted to say it, without hurting herself, without fighting, without withdrawing, and with less fear. She could think on her feet. She could take care of herself, and to the best of her ability, her children.”

“Will she get custody of her children? Will she achieve her end? We don’t know. But we do know she was her best self in that courtroom. We watched her find her integrity, her dignity. We can’t entirely control how our lives unfold, nor the lives of our children. But with training, we can learn to attend to our integrity. And we can let our children see that. 

When the child was a child, it walked with its arms swinging. It wanted the stream to be a river, the river a torrent, and this puddle to be the sea. When the child was a child, it didn’t know it was a child. Everything was full of life, and all life was one. When the child was a child, it had no opinion about anything, no habits. It often sat cross-legged, took off running, had a cowlick in its hair, and didn’t make faces when photographed.

          

from Wings Over Berlin

from Wings Over Berlin

 

From Within And All Around

F. M. Alexander

F. M. Alexander

Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus. But no one will see it that way. They will see it as getting in and out of a chair the right way. It is nothing of the kind. It is that a pupil decides what he will or will not consent to do. They may teach you anatomy and physiology till they are black in the face—you will still have this to face: sticking to a decision against your habit of life.

 F.M. Alexander from Articles and Lectures (white edition), Mouriz 2011, p. 197.

The post office was crowded. Every line seemed equally endless. I chose one, and of course it soon became apparent this line was at a standstill. The teller had just disappeared into the back room, not to return for fifteen minutes.

Standing in lines made me almost claustrophobic. We were required to stand in lines every morning at Pennypacker Elementary School. Standing in neat rows out in the cement yard, we’d wait for the loud buzzer to sound before marching into school. On a particular day, while standing in line, a bee began buzzing around my mouth. Hysterically, I jumped out of line and began dodging, and ducking, and swinging at the bee. A teacher came over, demanded I get back into line, and the moment I did the bee stung me on my bottom lip.

In the meantime, I had just injured myself. We were rehearsing for an upcoming performance until well after midnight. Having hardly slept the night before, I was beat. Coming down from a barrel turn, I landed on the outside of my foot, my ankle twisting under me. A physical trainer did his best to tape it, but after another sleepless night, it was still swollen and throbbing. Standing was difficult. A poor, old kindly man was standing in front of me. His clothes were worn and soiled. There was a strong smell of urine in the air that was impossible to avoid. 

I escaped into my thoughts. Images of a recent fight I got into with my girlfriend surfaced. It was over money. We were living together. The rent was due and we were short about $100. She wanted me to ask my parents for the money. I didn’t want to do that. We ended up  yelling at each other and I heard myself sounding just like my father. I hated that about myself, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to get control over it. I felt like a dog who, when the mailman walked by, had to bark, and basically had to go crazy. Certain situations pushed my buttons, and immediately there I was, barking and going crazy.

About 40 minutes later, I found myself next in line. I had just had an Alexander lesson earlier that week with Catherine Wielopolska, a trainee in Alexander’s first teacher training class back in the early 30’s. “Kitty” was telling me how Alexander’s work was not about physical culture, not about how to get up and down from a chair, but that it was about how we reacted to stimuli from within ourselves and from all around us.  Kitty had begun working with me on speaking. Speaking was a nightmare for me as a child. At six I began stuttering, which meant also dealing with the humiliation and shame that accompanied it. It was clear to me now that this was the source of the fierce habit I still had of jamming the back of my skull down into my neck, which ended up compressing my entire spine right down into my lower back, which all too often was a source of pain.

Consequently, when the time came to ask the teller for a book of twenty stamps I was determined not to go into my old speech pattern of thrusting my head forward. As the teller gave his customer his change and receipt, I stood there doing my best to free myself the way I had been learning to do from my teacher. But just as I stepped forward and opened my mouth to ask for a book of stamps, my head thrusted forward on its own. I no longer stuttered but that old stuttering pattern was still there, seemingly hard wired into my nervous system.

I asked for a particular series of stamps that honored great Black American heroes. The teller told me they were out of them. All that was left he said were the usual stamps with the American flag on them. I said okay. He looked in his drawer and then said he didn’t have anymore books of stamps, only rolls of a hundred stamps. I didn’t have enough money on me to buy a hundred stamps. I heard myself sigh and felt my head press itself even further into my spine. I was tired and frustrated. It seemed I was at the complete mercy of stimuli bombarding me both from within and without. More training, I thought to myself as a hobbled away empty handed.  More training.

I was twenty-three years old. The trying twenties. Little did I know I was embarking on a life devoted to self examination and self reflection. Meanwhile, I had to get some control of myself, and of my life. 

I set about categorizing stimuli in hope of making the whole enterprise more manageable.  We all lived in time and in space. We all had to move. We were always in contact with the world through our senses, whether we knew it or not.  And, whether we were with people or not, we were always with them. If they were not physically around us, they were in our minds or hearts. They were always in our past, and in our futures.

Time. Waiting. Hurrying. Deadlines.

Space. My fears of spatial confinement. My fear of heights. My inability to organize my things, my desk, my clothes. My utter lack of orienteering. 

Movement. My limitations as a dancer and martial artist. My being injury prone..

Senses. Mental preoccupation with my unresolved past, or my fantasies of some utopian future often took me out of my body and out of the real world. How to come back to my senses. 

People. Well, if it were any consolation, people seemed to be an issue for everybody. It was people above all, communicating with people, or rather mis-communicating with people that seemed to be the major source of pain in the world. Communication between husband and wives, parents and children, between siblings, bosses and employees, even between countries.

And then there was the world within, the amorphous world of thoughts, emotions, drives, and sensations.

Thoughts. Comparing myself to other people, being better than them, or worse than them. Thinking too much about myself, about my body, or about how great I was at this or that, or how terrible I was at this or that. 

Emotions. Little control over anger, frustration, or fear.

Drives and Sensations. Physical drives ruled the day; a visceral appetite, culinary and sexual, and an insatiable appetite for new experience. I couldn’t seem to get enough. As for physical pain. My father was a man who, when he woke up in the morning and did not feel absolutely perfect, concluded that something was seriously the matter. I inherited this gene.

I know. I’m beginning to sound like Woody Allen.

Years have passed, 42 to be exact, and after a lifetime of disciplined, and increasingly pleasurable study, I am happy to say I’ve made some progress. Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus, I hear Alexander saying.

Time. Rarely do I rush. I have learned to give more time to things and to people. But then again, I am no longer raising children. When I need to be somewhere and I am running late, I have learned to ask myself if I am late, and if the answer is no, then I stop rushing. And if the answer is yes, then I decide to move lightly and swiftly and enjoy myself.

I rarely wait. When I find myself waiting I simply stop waiting and the world, through all of my senses, returns and entertains me. I still find myself waiting when I want to say the next thing on my mind and my translator is still translating, but less so.  And I still, at times, interrupt people, but less so. I still wait when my computer is not moving as fast as I think it should. But I feel a little less exasperated. 

And yes, sometimes I will awaken from an afternoon nap anxious about dying. It doesn’t last long. Once I get up and start moving, I am fine. Most of the time I feel like I have all the time in the world.

Space. I am no longer afraid of heights. I have not been for years. In Osaka, where I live half the year, I love feeling myself part of the river of people streaming in and out of trains morning and night. I get comfort feeling myself huddled together with others. I don’t mind the middle seat on planes. I like sitting next to people. I have no problem standing in lines. I enjoy not waiting.

Movement. I’ve learned to move well, comfortably and enjoyably. I used to think that movement was the end all and be all. Now, ironically, I move well and I care very little about the way I move. Or about how others move. I care about how I am, and how others are. I’ve fallen in love with stillness. I love sitting quietly and doing nothing.

Senses. This perhaps above all is what I have found through my years of study, the sensory world. The world of lightness and darkness, of sound and silence, of coolness and warmth. Literally, I have come to my senses.

My appetites no longer have the hold on me they once did. My sexual self seems to have fallen in love with the world at large, the wind against my face, the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, the scent of pine in the high country, the sand under my feet, the taste of the ocean in my mouth.

Thoughts. My thoughts no longer harass me. I’m at peace with my past. Most of my future is behind me. I’ve made it this far. I trust I will figure the rest out as I go along. At some point, thanks in large part to Byron Katie, I learned that I am not my thoughts. I’ve learned not to believe everything I think. I know how to question thoughts, how to diffuse them and let them fall. Thank God for teachers.

Physical pain remains a challenge. And I still bark like a dog when the mailman goes by. Something tells me I’m not going to work everything out this time around. But then again, who knows?

During the last few years of my father’s life not once did I see him get angry. Not once. My Dad had evolved into a peaceful man.

In the last weeks of his life, while in the intensive care unit, he began looking like Gandhi. He’d sit in the chair next to his hospital bed, wrapped in a white blanket, his shining bald head and his round wire rimmed glasses looking out from above, smiling, never complaining of pain or discomfort, though his pain and discomfort were considerable.

More training, I say to my self, happily.