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Posts tagged ‘hands’

The World In A Dewdrop

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

It’s uncanny. You start working with a person doing some simple activity, like eating an apple. You slow it all down. You give someone a chance to sense how they’re doing what they’re doing as they’re doing it. “Well, what do you notice,” you ask. They say, “I’m biting off more than I can chew.” The bell goes off. There’s nothing you have to say. There it is, his whole life in one action. He gets it.

A person walks to the door, opens it, and leaves the room. Simple enough. I invite her to return. “Well, what did you notice,” I say. She says, I don’t know. I saw the door handle, felt the door open, felt myself leaving. My eyes were cast down. Something sad about the whole thing.”

“Very good”, I say. “You’re waking up.” This time see the whole room you’re in before you leave, and everything and everyone in it. Say to yourself, thank you and mean it. Walk to the door, open it, and as you are crossing the threshold, linger there between two worlds. Sense how leaving is entering. Let your eyes take in the space you’re about to enter. Just this time, don’t look down and see what happens.”

As I make this suggestion to my student, the bell goes off, for me. Yes, every lesson is for me. Every life is my life. Everyone in everyone. The whole world in every dewdrop.

Sometimes movement is just movement, and sometimes movement is metaphor. Sometimes movement means something, something important. Something about our lives and how we live them.

This passage from Where This Path Begins is one example of how I have attempted to convey Lao Tzu’s insights through the workings of the body. The goal? Always, always to get to the heart, to the heart of the matter.

Twenty-Four

You’re Too Much

Arms are limbs for your hands.
Arms fold and unfold.  They raise and lower.
They don’t like to be stiffened or over-straightened.
If something is beyond your reach, get closer, or do without it.
Why strain?

Clutching, grabbing, gripping, grasping.
Why hold on to things so tightly?

Legs are limbs for your feet.
Over-stride and your heels will strike against the ground.
Your back will tire. Your feet will ache.
Why get ahead of yourself?

Puff up your chest, and your lower back will tighten.
Your shoulder blades will narrow.
Your nose will stick up in the air.
Look down on others, and they will not look up to you.

Talk too much and you will lose your voice.
Why over explain?

Too much is too much.

Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

Neck And Neck

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

…from A Body Of Knowledge – Letters To A Young Student

If the wrist is the “neck of the hand”, and the ankles the “neck of the feet”, (the literal translations in both Korean and Japanese for wrist and ankle), and if, in principle, the head leads and the body follows, then does it hold true that the hand leads, and the arm follows, and the foot leads and the leg follows?

It’s not quite that simple. Movement can, and is, initiated from many parts of the body, often simultaneously, and then sequences throughout the body in many ways, with an array of qualities. The head can lead the body, the body can lead the head, and one part of the body can lead other parts of the body. Any good dancer or physical therapist knows this to be true. The expression, “head leads, body follows,” a favorite among many who trained with Marj Barstow means, as I understand it, that your head poise “has a governing influence” over the quality of your coordination. You can see this at work in great figure skaters, or Olympic divers. But this is equally true in the simplest of movements that mere mortals make. If your true and primary movement is operating well and you raise your right hand in the air it will be light and easy and powerful, or it will be however you want it to be. Likewise, if your body’s true and primary movement is nowhere to be found, that same motion will be labored and your degree of control over it will be much less.

That said, when I stumbled upon this idea some 25 years ago, in the same way you did, linguistically, I found that applying the same notion of freeing my neck to freeing my wrists, ankles, and lower back as well, (it being the neck of the pelvis), worked. It felt like nothing short of a revelation. It freed the spheres to which these “necks” related, wrists to hands, ankles to feet, lumbar spine to pelvis. This was about when I started to question whether I could still rightfully consider myself an Alexander teacher. (Still haven’t been able to answer this question.)

When you gaze at the body innocently, without fancy words or concepts to get in the way, you see sphere-like shapes with longer narrow shapes in between these spheres. Vertically you see the head sphere, then a neck, then the rib sphere, then a neck, (the lumbar spine), then you see the pelvic sphere, then a neck, (the femur), then you see the knee sphere, then a neck, (the tibia/fibula/ankle), then you see the foot. The toes actually are not part of the sphere-like arch of the foot, but continue on to make further little spheres and necks. All these spheres and necks are not all stacked one upon the other, but flow together in elegant curves which resemble a meandering river. That’s why at times I refer to this as our Lengthening River.

Looking at our Widening River, we find an equally long river also comprised of sphere-like shapes and alternating long, thin areas, which is one definition for the word neck in English, as in, neck of the woods, or the neck of a violin. For me, the scapula and the clavicle, taken together, make up a sphere-like shape, followed by the end of the scapula, which believe it or not is called the neck of the scapula, followed by the ball of the humerus, followed by the humerus, the elbow and its small spherical joints, the long bones of the forearm and the little bones of the wrist, followed by the sphere-like hand which is one reason hands can catch a ball so well, or hold a rice bowl.

Within our various neck regions are large, powerful muscles. These muscles mobilize or immobilize the spheres depending on what they are up to, good or no good. That’s why having some say over these areas, at least having a vote, helps. And that is one good reason people study the Alexander Technique, though we by no means have a patent on this wisdom.

Circling back to your curiosity about hand leading and arm following. Sometimes it helps to think that way. When a baby wants something it’s not supposed to have, it just sees it and makes a beeline straight for it. It looks like the hand wants what it wants and just goes there, pronto, and the arm helps it get there before their parents have a chance to intervene. Same when the baby brings that object back to its mouth and considers eating it.

But when it comes to walking by leading with your foot and letting your leg follow, I don’t think you will get much mileage out of that one. A baby who wants to stick its toes in its mouth will lead with his foot, but once that baby moves on to crawling, and climbing, and walking other dynamics come into play.

However having a free ankle is really important when it comes to walking.

While there are similarities between the head/neck, ankle/foot, wrist/hand, lumbar/pelvis relationships, there are obvious differences as well. Best to look at both the similarities and the differences if we want to get a more complete picture.

Hope this helps. Great question as usual.

Openings

…an opportunity, a beginning, a celebration, a clearing…

An opportunity to receive individual hands on attention and guidance.

A beginning anew, a dawning.

A celebration of  the Alexander/Barstow tradition. Read more

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 – The Sequel

Photo by Tada “Anchan” Akihiro

This is a video of Jiro’s hands as a child. Kind of, sort of. Actually they are the hands of Master Shuhei, my friend’s son. You must watch this video until the end, well, you’ll see why.  You will witness here how a human being actually learns how to use their hands.

When we are little we are not very coordinated. We have to learn how to sit, and stand, and walk, and  how to button a shirt, for example, as you will see here. But the good news is that, when very young, we are inherently integrated, that is, all of a piece. It’s like we are programmed not to distort ourselves. The trick is to get kids to become coordinated without losing too much of their inherent integration.

Thankfully for Shuhei, he has Anchan as a father. I had asked Anchan to make this video for my students.  Anchan picked out a few very challenging manual activities for Shuhei, and then videoed Master Shuhei.  You will see here how patient Anchan is, and how positive. Needless to say my students adored this video.

By the way, Anchan has been my student for many years, and I have been his.  He’s my photography teacher. Now Anchan also is my colleague, as are so many of my students – Alexander teachers who carry on “a tradition of originality” that begins with Mr. Alexander himself.   For 15 years Anchan has photographed, and now also videos, life at the Alexander Alliance – Germany, New Mexico, Italy, Japan, Korea. He has an exceptional eye for the work, and for catching that moment when people let go.

Jiro’s hands – The Sequel.

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.