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Posts tagged ‘erika whittaker’

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

 

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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

 

Available Now – Bruce’s Book!

Another book on the Alexander Technique? Not really. Yes, secondarily it is a book about Alexander’s work as interpreted and expressed through me. In Part One I do lead people into Alexander’s work via different doors. We enter Alexander’s world through sport, ecology, anatomy, sensory life, social biology, theology, psychology, metaphysics, mysticism, and art.

But primarily Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart is a book about people, about liking people, listening to people, seeing people, nurturing people, talking to people and touching people. It’s about teaching without teaching. It’s about how create conducive conditions for learning from the inside out.

Elie Wiesel writes, ‘We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.’

Here I share with you universes and within them secrets, treasures, anguish, and triumphs.

In this book you will find a few of the most popular posts on this blog which, due to publishing rights and regulations, are no longer available on this blog.

For some of you this book will serve as an introduction to Alexander’s work. May it lead you to teachers who will accompany you along your way.

For those of you who have found your teachers, this book may motivate you to take the work ever more to heart, to delve into the depth and breadth of the work.

And for those of you who are Alexander trainees and fellow teachers, may this book embolden you to take the work beyond the body into the realm of being, and beyond movement into the world of meaning.

 

May this book remind you of all that is worth loving inside the work of F. M. Alexander.

I hope you will read this book and then, please, write to me and tell me what it was like to read it, what if anything you learned or understood, how in any way, if in any way it shed light on your understanding of Alexander’s work, on being an Alexander teacher, or most importantly on what it means to be a human being living a life.

A very limited number of hardback editions are available.

For the next two weeks you can buy Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart at a discounted price at:

www.mouritz.co.uk

or you can get it from

amazon.co.uk

Thanks,

Bruce Fertman

 

 

Recognition Of The Obvious

 

The Alexander Alliance Europe

 

David Mills, a fellow apprentice of Marjorie Barstow once said to me, “Humility is the recognition of the obvious.” I didn’t get it. And then later, I got it.

Learning languages does not come easily to me. Honestly, that is an understatement. I’m hopeless. When a person learns I live in Japan for five months a year he or she inevitably declares, “So you speak Japanese?”, to which I reply, “No, I don’t, not at all.” They find this hard to believe. But it is true. I humbly accept my profoundly limited linguistic capacities when it comes to learning foreign languages. Often I add, “However, I am still working on my English and am happy to report I am making progress.”

I can also humbly say, because it has become obvious to me and everyone else who knows me and knows what I do, that I have a knack for promoting Alexander’s work. As a little kid I was able to teach other kids, through words and touch, how to ride a bike, or hit a ball, or climb a tree, or do a back handspring. It just came naturally to me. So I can humbly say, I am good at talking and writing about Alexander’s work, and also at photographing it.

Of course not everyone likes my writing or what I have to say about Alexander’s work, and not everyone likes my photography, but a lot of people do, and for one reason or another it has worked. For over forty years I have drawn people to Alexander’s work, inspiring them to study.

And so, humbly and happily, I share with anyone who may be interested my new website for The Alexander Alliance Europe. I enjoyed working on the project. Countless times I heard myself say out loud, ‘thank you’ to whomever programmed Wix.

If you are an Alexander teacher, meandering through this website may help you better to verbalize what you do. It may give you ideas about how you want, imagistically, to portray Alexander’s work.

There are some beautiful photographs of my mentors. It saddens me sometimes that most Alexander teachers have only seen photos of Marjorie Barstow after her osteoporosis set in. I loved how Marj looked and moved when she was young, that is, in her seventies! Here are a few photos of Marj when she was spry and powerful.

I wish more Alexander teachers had had the privilege to learn from Buzz Gummere, but at least here you can see the sparkle in his eyes. I cherish the photos I have of my learning from Elisabeth Walker. All of these first generation teachers aged so beautifully, with such grace, and lived for so long! I hope you, like me, find these photos inspiring.

The video page on this website makes it easy to find and watch videos that I’ve made, or have been made about me or the Alexander Alliance. I invite you to take twenty minutes and watch Quintessence, a documentary on Alexander’s work and on the Alexander Alliance. This documentary was made by Renea Roberts, award winning videographer and director of the film Gifting It: A Burning Embrace of Gift Economy, and of Rooted Lands – Tierras Arraigadas.

And of course, there is a lot of information about our school in Germany, as well as information about what we do in and around Europe, Asia, and America.

Feel free to give me feedback, positive or negative; either way it is all positive for me. And if you like, visit us in Germany, or join me sometime, somewhere.

Humbly yours,

Bruce

The Alexander Alliance Europe

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 summer 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

Give Me Two Good Reasons Why…

Read more

Remembering What I Frequently Forget

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From a new student at the Alexander Alliance Germany upon finishing her first Retreat…When I read letters like this I suddenly remember what I frequently forget. I remember why I first began studying, why I first began teaching.  I remember that I have a job in this world, no matter how modest a job, something given to me, of value, to be given to others.

(Replies below, in italics, are mine.)

It has been a very intense week for me and I am very, very grateful for everything I experienced.

I now understand what you mean by “voice work”.   I had a more technical understanding of voice work, resulting from my singing lessons. Somehow it clicked in when you were talking about it in another context, as you speak of  “hand work”.

Yes, I mean it in the most basic way. Humans seem particular inside of the animal kingdom in four ways – our uprightness, our brains, our  extremely articulate and versatile hands, and our extremely articulate and versatile voices. It turns out that Alexander Technique is about what is distinctly human. Humans use their voices primarily to communicate, and that means in social situations. So working with the voice is my way of entering into how we function socially. Social situations, relationships or the lack of them, are when we most often disturb ourselves, get ourselves off balance. So learning how to deeply dwell within ourselves as we interact and empathize with others, for me, is a big part of our work. 

I’ve joined a workgroup which meets regularly on Mondays to practice and discuss everything we have learned in the school. That’s great and I enjoyed this first meeting very much.

I am so glad and moved that you guys do this. What a great bunch of students at the Alexander Alliance.

I have started observing myself and other people. Concerning myself, I now realize how much additional work I do in every day things like brushing my teeth, kitchen work, using the telephone and much more. I didn’t realize this ever before. It’s, on the one hand, surprising to realize what I have been doing for years to my body, and on the other hand, good to know that I can change it now.

This is perfect. It’s exactly what is supposed to happen. Suddenly you begin to notice all the little movement and actions that make up everyday life. You wonder why you never really noticed these things before. You start to sense them, become curious about them. This is what I mean by the Sensory World. You are not just going through the motions of life unconsciously, you are now consciously sensing your life, the little things, which collectively make up the majority of your time on earth. What could be more important? Felt existence. Experienced existence. Lived life. Letting it all in. 

Concerning others, I am seeing them with different eyes. For the moment I often observe how they walk, stand, and move. That’s so interesting. I could spend hours just on this…

For me seeing is one of the great pleasures of the work. That’s why I studied Figure Drawing for some years. I just wanted to be able to look at someone for three hours until I began to see them, really see them. I would come home from those classes, after such a long day, full of energy, so exhilarated because my eyes were opening. My eyes were beginning to touch what they were seeing. Marj Barstow and Erika Whittaker both felt that watching people, not critically, not judgmentally, but just beholding them was an important practice for an Alexander teacher. When I sit in a train station, or at an airport and do this I begin to love everyone I see. I don’t know why. It just happens. You begin to see the precise relationships between a person’s emotional being and their physical expression. You begin to really see what they are doing physically – how they are holding themselves, how they move, where they hurt, how they gesture. It’s like you are beginning to study homosapiens. Oh, this is what we humans do! 

I am also thinking about the question ‘What would the body be without the word body?”  That reminds me of a book I read about Constructivism during my linguistic studies at university. I’ll let you know when I have come to a conclusion.

I don’t often come to conclusions! My life seems perpetually unfinished, in process, sometimes in limbo. So any conclusions would be most welcomed. Yes, I think language is very powerful for humans. We construct whole worlds out of words. Sometimes these words help us to better see the real world, but so often they can prevent us from seeing the world as it is. I look forward to learning more from you about language, and I hope you will share your insights with all of us at the school.

I hope you are having a good time in Japan.

I am. Thanks. And thanks for your good letter. Stay in touch. I love hearing from my students.

Yours,

Bruce

Just Between Us

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

It’s crowded. The waitress finds us a corner table. I watch Erika quickly size up the situation. She sees there’s not a lot of room around the table and proceeds straight away to slide through a rather small space into one of the chairs, no small feat given Erika is in her mid-eighties.  I squeeze, not quite as gracefully, into the chair next to Erika. Some pretty big, jovial people live in Australia, and a few of them happen to be sitting at the tables next to us. Still, we’re happy to have gotten what appears to be the last table.

Christine’s looking around too, but it seems she’s looking for where there is the most space. Sure enough she sits down in the one chair that is not butting up either against the wall nor next to a chair occupied by one of our large, husky fellows. Barbara takes the remaining chair.

Christine still feels as if she hasn’t enough space. She moves her chair back, further away from the table and proceeds to sit on the very edge of the chair, legs apart, perfectly upright, as if she’s about to begin meditating. Christine’s an Alexander Technique teacher, and a very skilled one at that. In fact, all of us teach Alexander’s work, Erika having begun studying with Alexander when she was eight years old.

In contrast to Christine, I notice that Erika’s chair is drawn up almost as close to the table as possible. She’s comfortably leaning back into the chair. Rather than taking the most space, Erika created the most space around her as possible.

Four tall glasses of water balance precariously upon a tray which a shy, young boy is carrying over  to our table. He’s not sure how to get around Christine’s chair. He decides to cut left around the table, doesn’t see the leg of Christine’s chair sticking out, trips, miraculously managing to prevent the shaky glasses full of water from toppling. He feels terrible about it. I get this feeling it’s his first day on the job. He apologizes profusely. Erika praises him on his stunning recovery, coaxing a slight smile from his sweet face.

Christine pauses for a split second, perturbed that this boy had interrupted her account of an Alexander lesson she had recently given.

My eye catches Erika’s eye. She smiles at me.  Silently, I thank Erika for her exemplary way of teaching without teaching.  She heard it, I’m sure.

Commentary.

In the Alexander Work we sometimes speak of the relationship between parts of the body, the relation of the head to the neck, or the relation between the ribs and the arm structure, or the relation between the hips joints and the sacrum.

As Alexander teachers we rarely ask a person to notice a part of their body in isolation. We teach our students how to perceive themselves “relationally.” We’re after a harmonious orchestration of parts into a symphonic whole. This “unified sound” is the product of a myriad of instruments all attuned one to the other.

What if our work extended beyond our “little body”, into the world, into our “big body.” What would happen if we perceived our body/self as just one little part of a larger body/self? What would the operational principles be for integrating into the larger body/self? How do we help make our big body/self comfortable, peaceful, and lively? How can we distribute support and freedom equally throughout the entire body/self, so that no one part is given less attention than any other?

It might be worthwhile to extend Alexander’s concept of “use” beyond our individual selves. What if we were attending to our collective use, our immediate social body, as was Erika during our dinner together? Isn’t the waiter as important as anyone else? Wasn’t he part of who we were that evening?

Our souls dwell where our inner world and the outer world meet.  Where they overlap, it is in every point of the overlap.  The soul is found, not within, but between. 

Novalis

More Than The Eye Can See

A photo/essay on touch. Touch is my primary sense. I live like a blind man who just happens to be able to see.  When teaching  Read more

Jiro’s Hands


Photo: B. Fertman

Jiro’s Hands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gambatte. Courage.