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Posts tagged ‘Marjorie Barstow’

A Reading: The Lost Procedure – The Gift of Rotation and Spiraling In Walking

“So we saunter toward the Holy Land,

till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done,

shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts,

and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light,

as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.”  

Henry David Thoreau

Walking

08 Swing and Sweep_1 copy (2)

Photo: B. Fertman – Trevi Fountain

 

A Reading by Jenny Quick

Text

The Lost Procedure

“So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and hearts, and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bankside in autumn.”  

Henry David Thoreau – Walking

Marjorie Barstow 1976

Perhaps not lost, not to all but, I fear, to some. It may not be getting the attention it deserves. Few teachers are as confident and accomplished at teaching walking, as a procedure, as they are in teaching chair work or lying down work as a procedure. Marjorie Barstow, one of my mentors, loved this procedure. She took people as much from standing into walking, as most teachers today take people from standing into sitting. And so do I. I like walking because it is the only procedure that clearly incorporates rotational and spiraling motions. Lunge, monkey, and hands over back of the chair, as wonderful as they are, can have the inadvertent side effect of training a person not to rotate or spiral when rotational and spiraling motions are called for, as they are in walking. This creates what I refer to as Alexandrian Artifice, unnaturalness, the exact opposite of what we want, which is naturalness. As we know, stiffness, that is, a certain held stillness, a slightly stayed quality like a beautiful white shirt, over starched and thus uncomfortable can pervade our work. When a person learns to walk well, this insidious artificiality gives way to fluid, powerful motion.

To learn how to walk well requires a working knowledge of the ‘motions of mechanical advantage.’  Here I will list, not all, but some of these motions of mechanical advantage as they apply to walking. I teach them ‘one after the other’ though, of course, the goal is that in the end they are all happening simultaneously, ‘altogether’. We learn them as notes, but ultimately they become chords. We also learn these motions of mechanical advantage from the bottom up and not from the top down. It’s easier this way.

Remember, it is not necessary to ‘do’ anything with force. All that is necessary is to perceive the truth of your anatomical design and what is happening, as it is happening. It is the truth that sets us free, effortlessly. That’s grace.

One. Our feet must learn how to give themselves to the ground. Alexander writes about this clearly in Evolution of a Technique. Most people stand on their own two feet, not on the ground. The way we give our feet to the ground is by allowing our ankles to be loose. In Japanese we call the ankle, Ashikubi, which literally translates, ‘the neck of the foot’.  Once the ankles are loose and free, the back foot, the foot behind us when we are walking, be it our left or right foot, will have a slight tendency to linger in the back. Just perceive it, sense it, and allow this slight lingering to happen. Don’t do it. (A ‘footnote’: remember that the structure of our feet, including the bottom of our feet, are entirely above the ground. Remember that our feet are not like the sole of a shoe. Our feet are more like hiking boots. They have verticality, are also vertical structures, part of our vertical height.) The heels of our feet are low and behind our ankles, and our ankles are forward of our heels and higher than our heels. We don’t stand ‘on’ our own two feet. The ground rises up under our feet and stands us up.

Two. In the Alexander Alliance we teach about the workings of the pelvis, at first, in a simple but very effective way. We teach our students about the “Three Tails,” dog tail, duck tail, and dinosaur tail, as conceived by Robyn Avalon. We have people imagine that they are a dog that did something bad and that their master is scolding them. We get them to put their imaginary tail between their back legs and tuck their pelvis’s under in shame, and then walk around. Then we ask them to keep their dog tails and raise their arms, and then to take a deep breath, and no one can lift their arms over their heads, and no one can take a deep breath. (Try it now.) So we know a dog tail will not help us walk well. But many of us have a bit of a dog tail, and even a little bit of dog tail affects our arms and how we breathe; it  affects everything really. Then we teach duck tail. We have everyone lift their gorgeous tails way up high. Everyone’s chest automatically sticks way out, their necks over straighten, their knees lock back, and again, when asked to raise their arms and then to take a deep breath both again are impaired. So we know that a duck tail does not help us walk. Even a very slight duck tail hampers the freedom of the entire body. Finally, we teach something that is not a dog tail and not a duck tail. It’s a dinosaur tail. A dinosaur tail is huge, grows out of our sacrum and curves behind us down to the ground, where it rests substantially, but lightly and happily. We then walk imagining our dinosaur tail naturally swinging from side to side. We don’t make the dinosaur tail do anything. We just imagine it swinging happily. We want the mind moving the body, not the muscles moving the muscles.

Now we go back to one, get the ankles loose and the feet lingering behind us, add the huge dinosaur tail image, and right away, there will most likely be a lively power coming into our walk. The ground and pelvis are sources of great power.

Three. It is important simply to notice where body parts are, one in relation to the other. We can never figure out where a part of the body is in isolation. We can only know where something is in relation to where something else is. Can you imagine wanting to find Paris and you look at your GPS and there is only one big point on the screen that says Paris? Locating our greater trochanters in relation to our hip joints, what I call our ‘hip pockets’ is important. Sense how much distance there is from greater trochanter to greater trochanter. Then notice where your hip pockets are, how close they are one to the other. Notice how the hip pockets are quite close to the midline, while your greater trochanters are located far out on the periphery of your body. While walking let your knees fall under your hip pockets. This will simply happen, if you let it, because the angle of the femur from the greater trochanter falls diagonally inwards toward the midline of your body, exactly where the knees want to be. Your knees exist close to the midline as do your ankles and your feet, and your spine too. Sense the truth of that.

Add this relational awareness of your wide greater trochanters in relation to what exists and moves close to your midline, i.e., hip joints, knees, ankles, feet, and spine as you allow your ankles to be loose, your feet to linger behind you, and your imaginary dinosaur tail to swing happily, altogether, one after the other. That is, altogetheroneaftertheother. I wish I could say all of those words simultaneously, but I can’t.

One, ankles/feet, two, dinosaur tail, three wide pelvis/ midline joints altogetheroneaftertheother.

Four. It is important to know how huge our rib structure is, how low it is, and how surprisingly high it goes. It’s important to understand how the rib rings become smaller and smaller as they get higher and higher, the top rib ring living just under the clavicles and rising above the clavicles in the back where it inserts into their costovertebral joints. Imagine two people climbing up the sides of your rib structure, your rib ladders. As they get higher and higher, imagine the climbers getting closer and closer together. Imagine them climbing all the way up onto the top rib ring behind the clavicles, and making their way up to where the top ring ribs insert into their costovertebral joints.

One, ankles/feet. Two, dinosaur tail. Three, wide pelvis/midline joints, Four, rib climbers, altogetheroneaftertheother.

Five. Our arm structure, (we don’t have two arms, we have one arm structure), which includes our clavicles and our scapulae hovers above our upper ring rib and is a large, wide structure in relation to our uppermost ring rib, which is small and close to our midline. Shoulders are wide just as greater trochanters are wide. The power of the dinosaur tail sends the pelvis swinging in such a way, (in such a way means in a way too subtle to describe), that sends a rotational spiraling action up the spine, which in turns swings the arm structure, allowing for oppositional motion in walking. It does not help to have dead, hanging, ropey arms. Play with making ‘finger rings’, touching the tip of your index fingers or middle fingers to the tip of your thumbs, creating a slight suspension and circular curving of the arm structure.

One, two, three, four, five, altogetheroneaftertheother. You should now be in ‘four wheel drive’, walking with ease and power.

Six. And of course, for good measure, we invoke within us ‘the true primary movement in each and every act.’  Aristotle speaks of, (I wonder, did F.M. read Aristotle?), the Prime Mover, the Unmoved Mover, a concept which means, ‘that which moves without being moved’ or, the ‘mover of all motion in the universe’. In Metaphysics Aristotle envisions the Unmoved Mover as perfectly beautiful and indivisible.

And so we invoke via our Alexandrian invocation, verbally or non-verbally, out loud or in silence, Let my neck be free, to allow my head to go forward and up, to allow my whole back from head to heel to lengthen and widen, altogetheroneaftertheother, (or whatever slight variation you like), and miraculously all the mechanical parts of the walk transform themselves into one organically logical living whole, at once functional, fluid, natural, beautiful, peaceful and powerful.

Flare your nostrils a few times, feel the coolness of the air as it rises up through your nasal passages. Let the Unmoved Mover breathe you and move you.

One, two, three, four, five, six, altogetheroneaftertheother.

The lost procedure, rediscovered anew.

Seven. All that is left is to see, not only through your eyes, but from your beating heart. Let the world, in all of its glory, enter and fill you.

Say thank you to the forces that be for granting you the ability to walk.

And mean it.

There is more to say about walking and, there is nothing more you need to know.

Gratitude is the ultimate freeing force.

 

Note: Consider recording this essay on your smartphone and listening to it as you take a half hour walk. Pause it when needed. See what happens. When you return home, sit down at your computer and write me a letter telling me of your experience. bf@brucefertman.com. I’d love to know. Thank you.

This Graceful, Practical Generosity Toward The Possible

Post-Congress Musings

In Honor of All Those Doing Their Best to

Train Future Generations of Alexander Teachers

 Part IV

Aszure Barton and Mikhail Baryshnikov – The Contemporary meets the Classical

 

Diversity Within Unity

 “…The orthodox presume to know, whereas the marginal person is trying to find out.

 …To accommodate the margin within the form, to allow the wilderness to thrive in domesticity, to accommodate diversity within unity – this graceful, practical generosity toward the possible and the unexpected… offers reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between rigidity and revolt.”

Wendell Berry from The Unsettling of America

The last paragraph is so beautiful and, I sense, so relevant to our Alexander community at large if we are ever to survive and thrive in society. I have to quote it again.

“…To accommodate the margin within the form, to allow the wilderness to thrive in domesticity, to accommodate diversity within unity – this graceful, practical generosity toward the possible and the unexpected… offers reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between… rigidity and revolt.”

Our Moment of Opportunity

This may be our “critical moment”. That term sometimes makes my students nervous. I choose more often to use the term, which I learned from Meade Andrews, “the moment of opportunity”.

There is no reason to be nervous. There is every reason to be positive and excited about this moment of opportunity now offered to us. Do we have the courage to embrace change, to let go into the unfamiliar, to open up and welcome the unknown, to try something new?

If we are to survive and thrive into the future I believe we need four radically different training structures. Right now we have one training structure that began in 1932 in England. It is still a good and worthy training structure for some trainers, in some countries. For people who wish to become Alexander teachers, this training structure is, for some, possible and wonderful. For others it is simply impossible. What happens to these people who want to become Alexander teachers but can’t due to the limited number of training structures that we as a community offer? Chances are they give up their dream and pursue another one, or perhaps they find a related discipline, like the Feldenkrais Method, which has flexible training models, and more likely one they can do. We then, as a community, lose a person who might have become a great Alexander teacher. I don’t want to even imagine how many great Alexander teachers we have lost over the last 50 years.

Another Time Tested Training Structure

There is another time tested structure of training that also has withstood the test of time, 36 years, that some people know of, but few know in detail, some not at all, and sadly some who harbor untrue ideas about this training structure that has, for a long time, been bringing about many accomplished Alexander teachers. Martha Hansen Fertman and I began experimenting with this model in 1982 in Philadelphia. At the same time, for some 13 years, we ran a parallel weekday structured program and so were able to conduct a longitudinal study, (the only one I know of), as to the pros and cons of these two training structures.

This model, which I refer to as a Retreat model of training, has evolved over the years. It’s gotten better. Here is its current form and the one we use to train teachers at the Alexander Alliance Germany.

In October, March, and July we conduct 9-day retreats.

(165 hours per year).

In between we conduct 3-day weekend retreats.

(90 hours per year).

In April we conduct a 4-day retreat.

(28 hours per year).

Twice a month there is a study group where trainees meet and work with graduates.This right now is a pilot study and so is optional, but most are participating, and so may soon be required. Those not near a group have formed a Skype group. This is important work, not only for the trainees but for our graduates as well because for our graduates it is post graduate training.

(40 hours per year).

Every trainee has a Personal Project that must be presented prior to graduation. (To be honest, I am not sure how much time trainees put into their projects. It varies. This is my guess as to the average number of hours.)

(20 hours per year).

Trainees are required to attend at least one intro workshop a year, and when ready to assist at one workshop a year. For us we consider being able to give an introductory workshop an Alexandrian Procedure!

(12 hours per year.)

Trainees attend a 5th year intern retreat. Here graduates assist a training retreat as supporting teachers.

(55 hours in the 5th year.)

Trainees attend at least one Alexander Alliance International Retreat in another country other than their own. This is optional but almost everyone does this at least once, and some do this every year. We are an intergeneration, multi-cultural, international community/school, so visiting other Alliance schools is part of who we are.

(55 hours).

Of course, everyday trainees are expected to work on their own self-study etudes, given to them by the faculty to explore. We find that trainees have to learn how to study on their own, and so we help them learn how to do this.

This comes to 355 hours of training per year. Adding the 55 hour intern retreat in the 5th year of their training, plus one 55 hour Alexander Alliance International Retreat outside their home country brings the total number of training hours to 1530 hours over a 4+ year period of training.

The Retreat model of training is a great model of training for numerous reasons.

*It gives people for whom a Weekday training model is simply impossible, people who very much love the work and wish to become teachers, a way to become an Alexander teacher.

But there is much, much more as to why people love this model of training.

*We rent a gorgeous retreat center with great food and accommodations and beautiful teaching spaces.

*Everyone gets to leave home and stop working and enter a, I dare say, sacred time when, morning till night their mind, heart, body and soul are devoted to studying Alexander’s work among friends in a nurturing environment.

*A climate of festivity and contemplation fills the air. There is time to be together in fellowship and time for solitude as well, which is so essential for internalizing the work.

*Graduates are welcome to join us free of charge. They become, essentially, lifetime members of our community/school. Some graduates have been returning to the school for over 20 years. This builds community, helps the trainees tremendously, and of course helps our graduates to become the best teachers they can be.

When Martha and I began this training structure we had no idea if it would work. But our intuition told us it would, and we were right. Because we were long-term apprentices of Marjorie Barstow we did not feel obliged to adhere to any particular model of training and felt free, as the educators we were, and are, to experiment. Martha had her Doctorate of Education and I had my Masters of Education and both of us had begun teaching movement when we were eleven years old.

Society has deemed this model worthy and effective and has endorsed it by keeping it alive and healthy for 36 years. We were able to train numerous music, theatre, and dance professors who, without our Retreat training model, would never have become Alexander teachers. Many of them have gone on to be of service to the Alexander community at large, both as members of STAT, ATI, and as organizers of and teachers for our international congresses.

My experience tells me it is possible to design and implement a Retreat model training program that is extensive, intensive, joyful, and effective. This model may be better for certain training directors and/or may work better in certain countries, under certain conditions. It works perfectly in Germany because of Germany’s enlightened extensive paid vacation program.

A Flexible Formula

There is a third model of training that, as yet, has not been tried, and I sense must be if we are to allow more people to become Alexander teachers. (It is one option for Robyn Avalon’s trainees). I call it the Immersion model. The Feldenkrais community has been very successful in finding flexible yet substantial training structures that allow people with varying life/work styles to train. Their flexible training structure also can adapt to different countries, to different social, cultural and economic conditions. They are far, far more successful than we have been in sharing their work with society. Here is their flexible formula:

“All training programs must have a minimum of 800 hours/40 days per year, 160 days over at least 36 months. Programs follow different formats ranging from weekend formats; to 4 two week segments a year; to 2 one month segments a year; to 40 days in a row. These are just some examples of formats.”

Here you can see they have both a Retreat model and an Immersion model. Of course our training is essentially twice as long. Still, we would do well to experiment with models such as these and see if they can work for us.

How will we ever know if we don’t try? What is the worst that can happen? We fail and learn? Is that so terrible? And what happens if it works?

“You can’t do something you don’t know, if you keep on doing what you do know.”

 Who said that? Einstein? Oh yes, I remember now, it was a guy by the name of F.M. Alexander! This was Einstein:

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

 Let’s take Alexander’s and Einstein’s advice. Let’s begin thinking differently and do something we’ve never done before.

Brief Eternities

My training with Marjorie Barstow was an amalgamation of all of these models of training, plus one more, and for me, the most important one of all.

Marj’s month long summer events was an Immersion event. Four weeks, 6 days a week, 6 hours a day. For me it was 5 weeks because for many years I directed Marj’s summer events and had to arrive early to open up, and stay on to close up. This before and after time was an essential part of my training and I will say more about this soon. Marj’s winter events in Lincoln were 14 days long and would be what I would call a Retreat event.

When Marjorie came East for two weeks every Fall and Spring I would study with her and assist her up and down the east coast. Something almost magical happened in this time. I was not only studying, not only practicing, not only training. It was more than this. It was a living of the work through being with, through modeling, through absorption. It was what the Buddhists refer to as transmission.

This transmission happened during the times when Marj and I traveled together, in cars, in trains, in planes, when we took walks in Penns Woods in Philadelphia, or played horseshoes on her ranch, or when we went out for ice cream after a long weekend of teaching in Boston. So many meals together, so many discussions and lots of time just spent sitting quietly together. The best discussions took place after a workshop where I’d be there assisting her, after working in Washington D.C. with the National Symphony, with a junior high school choir, with a track team or sculling team, with theatre majors. Without notice individual lessons spontaneously arose when Marj was having trouble explaining something to me and felt the need to use her hands so that I could experience what she meant.

This is what I call the Apprenticeship model. Because of times like these, over many years, I simply internalized Marj. She lived within me, and she still does.

These are hours that cannot be counted. They are uncountable. Not all hours are equal. There is objective time and subjective time. Each hour of our lives has not the same duration. Some hours fly by unnoticed and unlived. Some hours last forever, and change our lives forever. Some hours are brief eternities. They cannot be measured or calculated, but they can be cherished.

Not Marjorie Barstow, but Marjory Barlow in An Examined Life writes, “… I do think the apprenticeship method of training has a lot going for it. After all, some of the greatest teachers learned that way …I have a preference for apprenticeship, and I would love to see it supported wherever possible…the problem isn’t the exact number of years and hours. It’s the quality of the trainers’ experience and devotion to the Technique, and the selection of trainees…”

Let’s Dance!

I am not sure but I suspect that those of us who teach through classical procedures may find that our weekday model of training works best, and maybe not. We will never know unless we experiment.

And perhaps those of us who train through contemporary procedures may find that Retreat, Immersion and Apprenticeship models work better, and maybe not. We will never know unless we experiment.

More and more of our teacher training programs are combining and integrating classical and contemporary procedures. It’s a bit like dance. There are classical ballet dancers who dance beautifully within their chosen style. And then there are contemporary dancers who dance beautifully through their chosen forms. Different forms appeal to different people, and people of different ages, and people from different cultures. And then there are many dancers who are trained in numerous styles and who integrate them beautifully. Think of Mikhail Baryshnikov who danced with American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet, but also with Twyla Tharp, Aszure Barton, and Gregory Hines.

Mikhail Baryshnikov and Twyla Tharp – The Classical meets the Contemporary

The truth we need to embrace, as a community, is that a great dancer is a great dancer no matter their form, and a great Alexander teacher is a great Alexander teacher, no matter their form. Being an Alexander teacher is an art, and art changes and expresses itself differently over time and across cultures.

And so should we.

“… this graceful, practical generosity toward the possible and the unexpected… offers reconciliation by which we might escape the endless swinging between… rigidity and revolt.”

 This could be our moment of opportunity as a community at large, when the classical meets the contemporary. Do we have the courage to seize the moment, to embrace change, to let go into the unfamiliar, to open up and welcome the unknown, to try something new?

Watch Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines in White Nights. If they can do it, maybe we can too.

Let’s dance!

 

 

The Nine Peas of Progress

Post-Congress Musings

In Honor of All Those Doing Their Best to

Train Future Generations of Alexander Teachers

Part II

Green-peas-in-a-podThe Nine Peas of Progress

As a little girl my daughter loved peas. But she would not merely eat them. First she would arrange them on her plate in pattern after pattern. Then she would eat them, like a raccoon, slowly, one by one.

Why the letter P arose as my letter of alliteration in the attempt to organize my thoughts on how we can save our teacher training programs within our Alexander community from extinction, I do not know.

I do know that the mysterious symbol of the enneagram has on many occasions helped me to organize my thoughts on diverse subjects and difficult processes, and I will use it here as well.

Enneagram_Symbol_-_Simple.svg

My premise is that in order to survive, in order to get off of the endangered species list, we need to think outside the box, to become more creative, more experimental. Our professional societies play an important role but ultimately, it is society at large that gets the final vote; that runs the show. It is the public that ultimately assesses us, recognizes us, approves us, qualifies us and supports us. Or doesn’t.

The survival of our work rests squarely upon the shoulders of our directors of training. Because it is we who train the teachers and it is the teachers who disseminate the work. The buck stops with us. Alexander cannot save us. Our professional societies, as wonderful as they are, cannot save us. Our splendid Alexander Congresses cannot save us. It is up to the directors of training to figure out ways of being successful, of filling up their own schools.

Here are the nine Peas of Progress I think are worth thinking about slowly, thoroughly, and creatively if our training programs are to survive and thrive. They correspond to the points on the enneagram, which I will elaborate on in this hopefully helpful essay.

Point One – Principles

Point One is about principles, standards, dignity and decency. Actually, it is the only point that I feel must be common to all our training programs. In Body Learning, Michael Gelb succinctly articulates what every training program must address.

Use and Functioning

The Whole Person

Primary Control

Unreliable Sensory Appreciation

Inhibition

Direction

Means Whereby

Every training program must have high standards, whether they are the exact standards agreed upon by a professional society, or their own personal and professional standards. Directors, teachers, and trainees must do their best to honor, respect and act benevolently toward one another. Upon graduating new teachers must commit to doing so toward their students.

Point Two – Pedagogy

Point Two is about pedagogy, and love, and service. Pedagogy means to lead a child, that is, to guide a child, to raise up a child. Pedagogy, in my opinion should differ from school to school. Procedures are part of a teachers pedagogy. Which procedures teacher trainers choose to transmit Alexander’s principles through should be up them. How they integrate observation, language, movement and touch should be up to them. Alexander implored us, “Don’t teach how I teach; teach what you know.” Our trainees are not children, but in comparison to their teacher trainers, they are young to the work. They need to be raised up with the love and attention all children deserve.

Point Three – Profit

Point Three is about profit, about having the executive wherewithal to make a living. Many training programs are closing because they cannot make ends meet. Most people who begin training programs are not independently wealthy and need to earn a living. If they can’t, they have no other recourse than to close up shop. Point Three has to do with image, with appearance, with promotion, with being able to sell the work, make it attractive, relevant, appealing. This means beautiful, classy websites full of great images and contemporary language that speaks to people in their own language. It helps to know how to teach in groups and how to appeal to many different populations. Teacher trainers must possess some business acumen or get help from people who do. This may mean designing effective training structures that make it possible for more people to train, as so many universities have done by creating itinerant programs. How directors succeed in making a living should not be the same. Social, cultural, and economic factors must be taken into consideration, and respected.

Point Four – Profundity

Point Four is about profundity, about deep insight, about transformative experience, about getting to the source, to the core of the self. Has our profession reduced itself to the body, to posture, to movement? Is that what the public thinks our work is entirely about? Do they have any idea that our work is more about being than it is about the body, more about meaning than it is about movement, more about how it feels to be alive than about use and functioning, more about the quality of experience than about effectiveness and efficiency? Why are we afraid to speak publically about the spiritual depth of our work? Why are we selling ourselves and the work short?

Point Five – Philosophy

Point Five is about philosophy, and about the love of truth, whether we look for that truth through science, or psychology, or theology or art. We need to be able to think intelligently about the work and to be able to speak intelligently about the work. We have to be able to understand and speak about our work as a unique field of study, as Ted Dimon so eloquently does. We need to become physio-philosophers. We teacher trainers need to continue studying, questioning, learning, experimenting, and not just within our own discipline but across disciplines. David Moore is a good example.

Point Six – People

Point Six is about people and about community. Abraham Heschel writes, “To be is to be with people. Existence is co-existence.” People seek community, a place to belong. I cannot tell you how many Alexander teachers have told me how isolated they are as Alexander teachers. They have no web of support. They graduate and they are on their own. They sink or swim. There is no lifeguard, no buddy system. My experience tells me we need to create not only teacher training programs, but Alexander communities, communities that continue to support their graduates. We need Alexander refuges where teachers feel welcomed and supported, sanctuaries where they can be reinvigorated and re-inspired. What I see is that the schools that survive and thrive are most often the schools that are community/schools and not merely vocational schools.

Point Seven – Planning

Point Seven is about having a plan, a vision, not a narrow vision but an expansive vision, and a joyful vision. It’s about seeing possibilities. It’s about dreaming. And it is about having fun along the way, about not just studying and practicing the work, but celebrating the work. But it is also about planning out how to turn our visions into a reality. Point seven is also about communicating that vision to others. This requires, as Marjorie Barstow once told me, “a little bit of showmanship.” Directors need some charisma. Some pizzazz. They need to put themselves out there. It takes chutzpah. It takes courage, confidence, guts, but without it having a thriving school is hard to make happen.

Point Eight – Politics

Point Eight is about politics in the original sense of the word, about the city and citizenship, and about governance. We teacher trainers need to know how to govern, how to lead. We need the courage to use our peaceful power to serve others. Here is a piece I wrote, now long ago, that still rings true. This is my personal manifesto as a teacher and director of training.

A Teacher Who Doesn’t Teach

Many teachers teach what they know.
Teachers of the Way,
Teach what they do not know, and need to understand.

Some teachers think highly of themselves.
Teachers of the Way,
Think highly of their students.

Many teachers teach to their students.
Teachers of the Way
Study with their students.

Some teachers teach to be the center of attention.
Teachers of the Way
Teach centered in attention.

Many teachers teach to escape.
Teachers of the Way
Teach for entrance into existence.

Some teachers want to be worshipped.
Teachers of the Way
Teach as a way of worshiping.

Many teachers need to prove they are the best.
Teachers of the Way
Teach not needing to prove or reprove.
They approve.

Some teachers teach mainly for money.
Teachers of the Way
Freely choose what is required of them,
Doing so with gratitude and pleasure.

Many teachers teach to be seen as attractive.
Teachers of the Way
Teach because within everyone
There is beauty longing for itself.

Point Nine – Peace

Point Nine is about peace. Peace is the absence of war, but not only the absence of war. In times of peace resources become available for education, for science, for the arts, for social services, for infrastructure, and for recreation. A teacher trainer is responsible for creating a peaceful environment conducive for learning, for research, for contemplation, for fun, for creativity, for maturation and for fellowship.

There You Have It

There you have it, the nine peas of progress. Progress means to walk forward. If we are to walk forward with vitality into the future, as a community, if our teacher training programs are to survive and thrive, we teacher trainers need to rise up to our task, which is a formable one. We need to show up. Big time. Directing a successful school requires much more than a deep understanding of Alexander’s work and the ability to skillfully pass on that understanding. My 36 years of training teachers, of running a thriving community/school tells me that we must know how to create peace and kindness, we must know how to build community, and we must change with the times.

It is worth the effort. I know, because I have had the good fortune of having lived my entire adult life within a creative and caring Alexander community. Looking back, it has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.

May this blessing be bestowed upon us all. And in the meantime, let’s make it happen.

Touching This World – October 7, 2018 – Workshop in the Alexander Technique – Dorset, England by Bruce Fertman

No one seems to know the story behind Michelangelo’s choice. What I do know is that in the Torah the story goes God blew the breath of life into Adam through his nostrils. It was breath that was the vital force. Yet when painting the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo chose not to depict the creation of Adam through breath. He chose touch. Why did he do that? God touched Adam, and Adam lived. Maybe it was because Michelangelo, through touch, brought the lifeless to life. He retold the story of Genesis in his own image.

Theology, to me, is not spiritual; it’s tangible. It’s earthy. It’s physical.

Maimonides, a 12th century Rabbinic scholar from Spain, said God was Reality. For me, reality feels pretty physical. You know, getting up, bathing, grooming, eating, and going to work, or going to look for work. Or on other days, cleaning your house, going shopping for food, stopping at a couple other stores for this or that. Taking your car, if you have one, into the shop for an oil and filter change.

And then, on occasion, there’s a free day. You’re out in the country. A cool breeze brushes against your face. The warmth of the sun sits on your shoulders. You hear the sound of a stream nearby, smell a slight scent of cedar in the air.

Touching This World

Sounds physical to me.

Other people feel God is Love. Kindness is one way we express our love.  Kindness is love in action. Acts of kindness seem physical to me. Doing little things for people. Helping out. It makes sense to think about a theology of touch. Think about giving a baby a bath, or sweeping the snow off the front steps for your grandfather who’s coming over for dinner, or feeding a stray cat. I can’t see accomplishing any of those acts of kindness without touch or without being touched.

But few in this world teach touch. I do.

Please join me.

About Bruce Fertman

 

Photo: Tada Akihiro: Korea

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.”

Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

Bruce has been using his hands, helping people to move well, for fifty-five years. He trained with five first generation Alexander teachers: Catherine Merrick Wielopolska, Marjorie L. Barstow, Richard M. Gummere Jr., Elisabeth Walker, and Erika Whittaker. Bruce brings a lifetime of training as a movement artist and educator to his work as an Alexander teacher, having trained in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Ballet, Contact Improvisation, Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, Argentine Tango, and Kyudo. In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school. Currently director of the Alexander Alliance Germany, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He conducts post graduate training programs in Dorset and Zurich. Author of  Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – Delving Into The Work Of F.M. Alexander.

Workshop Details:

When: Sunday, October 7, 2018, 10:00-17:00.

Fee: £120

Where: Gaunts House, Dorset

http://www.gauntshouse.com/

To register for the workshop contact Ruth Davis at: 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

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.

Hope to see you at Gaunts House!

Bruce Fertman

 

Falling Up/Touching Down – October 6, 2018 – Workshop in the Alexander Technique – Dorset, England by Bruce Fertman

Falling Up

 The way up and the way down are one and the same.

Heraclitus

Forty-five years ago, when I first began studying both Tai Chi Chu’an and the Alexander Technique, my Tai Chi teachers would tell me how I needed to let my chi sink down. They revered the ground and spoke of the importance of the tant’ien, the belly. My Alexander teachers emphasized the importance of the neck and head, and of lengthening up through the spine. “Gravity just keeps your feet from floating off the ground.” one of my Alexander teachers declared. “Up but not held up. Down but not pulled down,” Tai Chi teacher Ben Lo instructed me. “Above but not raised up; below but not depressed,” wrote Hildegard von Bingen.

Needless to say, I was utterly confused. But now I am not. Slowly, I found the solution to this problem, the answer to this somatic riddle.

Touching Down

Join me for a day of study and self-discovery. Experience the interplay between upward and downward forces. As these forces become ‘one and the same,’ we experience what it is like to be calm and clear, soft and strong, light and substantial.

This workshop is for those brand new to the Alexander Technique and for current students of the Alexander Technique. The workshop is also for Alexander trainees and teachers who want to become effective in teaching the Alexander Technique in groups.

And when the slope feels gentle to the point that climbing up sheer rock is effortless as though you were gliding downstream in a boat, then you will have arrived where this path ends.

Dante

About Bruce Fertman

12 copy 3_edited (1) copy

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.”

Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

Bruce has been using his hands, helping people to move well, for fifty-five years. He trained with five first generation Alexander teachers: Catherine Merrick Wielopolska, Marjorie L. Barstow, Richard M. Gummere Jr., Elisabeth Walker, and Erika Whittaker. Bruce brings a lifetime of training as a movement artist and educator to his work as an Alexander teacher, having trained in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Ballet, Contact Improvisation, Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, Argentine Tango, and Kyudo. In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school. Currently director of the Alexander Alliance Germany, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He conducts post graduate training programs in Dorset and Zurich. Author of Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – Delving Into The Work Of F.M. Alexander.

Workshop Details:

When: Saturday, October 6, 2018, 1:30 -8:30.

Fee: £120

Where: Gaunts House, Dorset

http://www.gauntshouse.com/

To register for the workshop contact Ruth Davis at: 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

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.

Hope to see you at Gaunts House!

Bruce Fertman

 

A Meeting Of Minds

Dear Bruce,

My warmest congratulations for your inspiring book. Your view, as usual, honours the work of FM Alexander and its evolution in the most human and poetic way, but also places you in a unique Alexander world. A world that you have created and inspired, making it, thus, for us, your readers, so much easier to imagine, fantasize, dream about.

The links with real, human situations are so powerful. At the same time, the links with Alexandrian notions create such strong parables through which we can expand our understanding of the work. Thank you for this gem.

Dear Bruce, upon re-reading your book, it feels like many haiku lines. Thank you, again, for the inspiration, the revelation and the hope.

Christos,

I am so glad that, through my book, you were able to enter into my world, and hopefully I have entered in some way into yours. It is a gift to feel understood. Thank you for that. Christos, the lines that feel most like haikus to you, would you be kind enough to share them with me? And lastly, may I use your words here to help interest people in my book?

Bruce

Bruce,

Please feel free to use my words – I purchased your book from Jean at Mouritz’s and there is no space for byers’ comments as there is on Amazon, so I would be delighted if I knew it helped potential readers. Now, as to the particular lines, haha, I’ll have to keep notes when I read it through for the third time, but some I can remember as I leaf through it:

Christos,

Thank you. You may just be one of my best students. There is a story of a man who was poor who lived on the third floor whose patio looked out over the courtyard of a tai chi master. The man loved what he saw and did all he could to do what the teacher was doing. He practiced a lot. One day the man was in the park doing tai chi and the tai chi masters sees him, watches, walks over and asks him who his teacher is. He tells the master that he is and explains how he learned from him. The master told him that he was his best student.

You usually start and end your chapters in these (especially in the second half of the book), which I find very enticing and attractive, like on page 211 “Theology to me is not spiritual; it’s tangible. It’s earthy. It’s physical. It’s tactual” and I absolutely love the fullstops. They are so much more musical than semicolons.

I have no training in writing. None. I try to read good writers. That’s all. Maybe this has worked to my advantage in some odd way.

Another one that was striking was on breathing, page 75 “Breath is given”…and later, “And wait without waiting, until you know…It’s not you.”

Simply my interpretation and my wording of Alexander’s quote; “I see, at last, that if I don’t breathe, I breathe.”

On page 102 the way you end Mr Yamamoto’s experience also feels like a haiku together with a bit of Bach….Johann Sebastian Bach used this technique of gradual simplification and decrease of his material like you do in the last paragraph. I had never seen it in writing but it has quite a theatrical effect.

You know, I have felt myself to be an artist in search of his medium. Gymnastics was as close as I could get as a kid. My dance teachers were often impressed by my musicality though I could not read a note of music.

Also the paragraph where you talk about the two bodies (p. 109) is written in prose but with a very musical rhythm.

You see, Bruce, being a musician and having Greek as mother tongue, it is very difficult for me to ignore prose written in English that doesn’t resemble other English writing. And your writing doesn’t feel English to me. It feels international.

That’s funny. I often tell people English is my second language, and I can’t remember what my first one was. Also teaching via translators for so many years has changed how I put sentences together and has also forced me to distill my vocabulary, choosing simplicity over complexity. One can’t run on and on when teaching with a translator. One must be succinct.  

We, the Alexander Alliance Europe are in our planning stages of holding our 2020 Fall Retreat in Greece. Every three years we like to conduct that retreat outside of Germany. I will keep you abreast of the details should you be interested. In the meantime, if you can make your way to our school in Germany you would be free to study with us at no charge if you would share with us your learning from Don Weed. We love having guests.

Hope the book travels through your readers’ hands into at least as interesting places as I have taken it so far.

I hope so too. What an honor for me to have someone let my work in so deeply.

All the best to you.

Christos

And to you,

Bruce

Tim Soar’s Review of Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart for STAT News

It has been over 40 years since I first began studying with Marjorie Barstow, and this fact reminds me of a teaching story.

Within the tradition of Chanoyu, Japanese tea ceremony, it is said that for the first 10 years a student should learn to do everything exactly the way his teacher does. In the second 10 years the student should continue to do everything exactly the way his teacher does, but should begin to wonder why his teacher does what he does the way he does it. In the third decade, the student should begin to change ever so slightly how he does what he does to suit who he is as a person.  And in the fourth decade, his way should be a different from his teachers as night is from day.

And so it was and is for me now. I am as different from Marj as night is from day. My vocabulary is not the same. I use my hands very differently. My way of relating to people is as warm as Marj’s way was cool. My pedagogy as a teacher trainer is as formal as Marj’s was informal. And yet, at the same time, there remains something quintessentially Marj inside of me. I pass on her sayings, her spirit, her understanding of Alexander’s work. I do my best to inspire others the way Marj inspired me.

Tim Soar begins his review referencing Michael Frederick’s description of me as “one of the foremost representatives of Marjorie Barstow’s lineage.” He goes on to note that his experience of now-senior teachers who apprenticed with Marjorie Barstow is that they are as diverse in their approaches to the Work as were the first generation teachers who trained with F.M.

marj-bruce-sword

With all do respect and love for Marj, my work is now, for better and worse, only my work. No one else’s. Yes, I am part of the Alexander/Barstow lineage, but I cannot claim to represent Marj’s way of working. How Alexander taught is gone forever, and how Marj taught is gone forever. That is the way of it, and the way it should be.

The work continues.

Here’s Tim’s review. Enjoy.

Review of Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart

Tim Soar

Pubished in STAT News, May 2018

Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart offers the reader a “fly on the wall” view of Bruce Fertman’s very particular way of teaching the Alexander Technique. Michael Frederick’s comment on the back cover describes Bruce as “one of the foremost representatives of Marjorie Barstow’s lineage”, but in my experience the now-senior teachers who trained with Marjorie Barstow are at least as diverse in their approaches to the Work as were the first generation teachers who trained with FM. In any case, although Bruce acknowledges “Marj” as his principal mentor, he points out that he also learned from four other first generation teachers, whose differences he clearly values. Whatever the reader’s previous experience, there is much of value to be found in this book, perhaps particularly for teachers who would like to develop their work with groups beyond the introductory level, towards mixed ability, more advanced, or specialised audiences. Bruce makes the most convincing case that I have come across for the positive advantages of learning the Alexander Technique in a group setting.

Part One: The Work at Hand, sets out the field of enquiry – the subject matter of the Alexander Technique: Choice, Primary Control, Sensory Appreciation, Use, Non-Interference … all presented in Bruce’s own vocabulary. One particularly telling example of which is the idea not of “misusing” oneself, but of “mistreating” oneself, with all the ethical impact of that word fully intended.

Part Two: Student Centred Teaching, leads the reader anecdotally through a large number of individual lessons, either one-to-one or in group settings. Some of these lessons last a whole chapter, others just a few sentences. This format gives a lively “person-centred” way of presenting the almost endless scope of our Work, in a way that hardly ever finds its way into print.

The illustrations are unusual – avoiding the conventional “head back and down”, “head forward and up” illustrations. The nearest thing to that is a photo of a cowboy wrestling a steer (you have to read it …). The other illustrations are split mostly three ways: firstly, very characteristic photos of Bruce working with students in workshop settings; secondly, half a dozen illustrations from Albinus on Anatomy, the series of beautiful, accurate, lively, whimsical-but-layered-with-meaning anatomical engravings published in 1747, which Bruce uses as a primary source for his anatomical and body mapping work, and thirdly, and perhaps most compellingly (the handful of colour-printed pages of the book are reserved for this third category), art illustrations: paintings, sculpture, a thrown pot, landscapes … One of the main ideas here is that we do not tend look at a Renaissance painting, or a sculpture of a human figure in a way that emphasises postural criticism. On the subject of criticism, Bruce quotes Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field; I’ll meet you there”. Instead we see what the figure, through its implied movements and reactions, expresses. Bruce suggests – and this seems to me to be the absolute epicentre of his teaching – that we would do well to learn to look at people as we look at works of art: to see the beauty before the body-mechanics, and to empathise with (and thereby become able to help) a person’s Use by seeing how they express themselves.

Because of the structure of the book as a series of vignettes, a lot of ground is covered quickly, and it is not possible for me to list them all. However, I shall choose three particular themes that seem to me to be characterise Bruce’s understanding of the Work, and which I personally found to be good. Firstly, he does not try to make it easy. He says (in understatement) that the Alexander Technique needs “practice”, that a good teacher has, necessarily, to be “living the work every day”, and that “This road is longer than any one person’s life”. Secondly, he is a dyed-in-the-wool non-dualist. He does not talk about “how we use our bodies”, neither (more subtly) does he talk about the “mind body connection” (which always seems to me like approaching psychophysical unity from an essentially dualist perspective, unnecessarily making a simple thing complicated). Instead he simply and straightforwardly treats each person as a whole. This gives his work access – when appropriate – to a student’s emotional life in a straightforward and unforced way, as a natural aspect of their Use, and very much part of what we, as teachers, are there for. For example, he is likely to ask a student who says that he wants to relax, “How do you know you are not relaxed?” to which the student replies “I feel nervous.” This then opens the way to the psychophysical subject matter of the lesson. It’s as simple (and profound) as that. Thirdly, he places great emphasis on learning to use one’s senses in a skilled and healthy way, asking “What would happen if we were able to go from having adequate tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive senses, to having extraordinary tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive senses?”. “Feeling” is not, for him, a word to be avoided, or the exclusive polar opposite of “thinking”. Right at the beginning of the book he tells us of a conversation with an anaesthetist: “You say to people, you’re not going to feel a thing, and I say to people, you are about to feel everything.” In one chapter Bruce suggests a series of sensory investigations, meditations, Directions – I don’t know what to call them – leading the experimenter towards more subtle and more colourful sensory experiences. An important extension of this thinking is that humans-sensing-other-humans is a vital part of life – “To be means to be with other people.” – and an essential part of the Alexander Technique. Interestingly, for a teacher who does so much of his work in groups, individual hands on work is very central to his teaching. He clearly thinks of Alexander work essentially as partner-work, with all the subtle and paradoxical give and take of leading-in-order-to-follow, and following-in-order-to-lead that subtle partner work always embodies (one chapter tells the story of a lesson with an accomplished Tango couple), and he understands what he sometimes calls “high touch” (exemplified by the best Alexander hands on work) as one of the highest expressions of our shared humanity: “Touch … is our sense of togetherness, of closeness, of intimacy, of union and communion.”

Bruce freely uses stories, autobiography, quoted aphorisms, illustrations, poetic language and a wide range of metaphors to set the scene and to make his points, and this is surely the only Alexander book with a Japanese glossary! In writing such a book, the author is necessarily just guessing at a reader’s connection with a particular image – unlike presenting ideas in a workshop situation where communication is two-way. I imagine that each reader will have their own spectrum of recognition: some points seeming no more than common sense, others interesting and informative, some concepts may be outside their experience, and others still, less attractive – metaphors that simply don’t work for them. That is the risk, consciously taken, in writing a book that seeks to convey the flavour of a very personal experience. For me, it is interesting to think that each reader’s spectrum will, most likely, align itself with quite different themes and images in the book.

The greatest strength perhaps of this new addition to our bibliography is that it clearly and repeatedly shows us (as we as teachers and committed trainees naturally already know) that “Alexander’s work, when it works, can work miracles; quiet, little miracles that can change a person’s life forever.”

 

The Voice Of The World (A revision of Singing In the Rain)

I remember a class I took with Marjory Barlow in 1988. She was explaining how at first you give these words, these phrases to your student knowing they will have little or no idea of what you are talking about. But then, gradually, through the subtle and clear use of your hands you give your student an experience of what those words and phrases actually mean. The student mentally and physically couples them together and voilà, when she or he thinks the words, without having to really do anything, the words themselves trigger an effortless response, a response that comes to feel almost reflex-like, a response that is at once supportive, organizing and liberating. It just happens, like typing in a domain name of where you want to go, clicking on search and, presto, there it is, and there you are.

It’s ingenious really, and effective. As one continues to study with teachers, and on one’s own, which is essential, this kinesthetic coupling of the words with this effortlessly revitalizing reflex-like response becomes ever more wedded, ever more precise and powerful, which is why having hands on work through one’s whole life is a good idea, which is why being part of an Alexander community is such a good idea, which is what I have chosen to do, which has been a blessing beyond words.

Alexander referred to these words, these phrases, as directions. He writes, direction is…”the process involved in projecting messages from the brain to the mechanisms and in conducting the energy necessary to the use of those mechanism.”  By mechanisms I assume Alexander is referring to this ever so delicate but dynamic reorganization of the head in relation to the neck, and of the head and neck’s relationship to the entire torso, and of the head, neck, and torso’s relationship, as a flexibly working unit, to the arms and legs.

If you are an Alexander teacher or a long term student of Alexander’s work all of this is old hat. Sorry, but I am going somewhere and need to begin at the beginning.

Now these words are a shorthand, an abbreviation for a complex psychophysical happening within us, and yet they they still strike me as a bit long and cumbersome. Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other. And then there are secondary directions that speak to the limbs as well, to the heels, knees and hips and to the elbows, wrists, and fingers, and to the tongue, (which I see as limb-like; think of a frog.)

It takes a bit of time to stream through these directions, especially at first. When we get proficient, perhaps just a few seconds. Marj Barstow, one of my mentors, once said to a student who was belaboring the process, “I wish I could say all these words to you at the same time, instead of one after the other.” Marj understood that this sequence of instructions had to be played more like a fluid arpeggio on a guitar rather than a separate collection of notes.

The very same day I had a class with Marjory Barlow I also had a class with Wilford Barlow. I loved watching and listening to them both. Wilford deferred to his wife saying, “Now this is just my idea. If you want to know how it really works, ask Marjory.” But I loved Wilford’s ideas, and his hands too. He said something like, (it was long ago), “After a time the words are not always necessary. The change we want can come about without them.” I wasn’t sure but my guess was that after we had for many years used our conscious mind, and with it language to reeducate our kinesthesia we could come to trust it more and more and simply let it work for us. Perhaps our kinesthesia is like a child who for many years needs guidance, but then gradually grows up into a capable and responsible adult who no longer needs looking after all the time.

Years have flown by since then, 30 years to be exact. I’ve had some time to think about this on my own, and so now I will share with you my thoughts on the matter.

Let’s imagine you are on the road, traveling in some foreign country. A cold snap blows in unexpectedly. You decide to buy a scarf and a pair of gloves. You find something you like, a bit expensive and so decide to charge it on your credit card. You open your wallet and notice your Discover card is missing. You pick up your phone and know their phone number because their phone number happens to spell DISCOVER. So instead of having to remember 8 numbers in sequence, you only have to remember one word.

What if I could find one word that could contain for me the full sequence of directions. I decided on the word ‘One’. ‘One’ would now mean for me Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other. The word ‘One’ would now be the verbal trigger for my entire Primary Pattern. After all, the word ‘One’ is in essence just a sound, a sound English speaking people decide means the number between 0 and 2. It is just a sound. The meaning is not inherent to the sound. English speaking people collectively agree on what that sound means. A person for whom English is a second language at some point had to learn what that sound meant. At first, in their mind, they may have said to themselves what it meant in their own language, but over time they no longer had to do that. At some point the word One, the sound One immediately meant to them the number between 0 and 2.

So, I thought, why could I not change the meaning of the sound ‘One’ and have it mean what I wanted it to mean? If for me the sound ‘One’ was coupled with Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other, and if that phrase was kinesthetically coupled with this effortlessly revitalizing reflex-like response, then all three of them were now coupled, like links of a fence.

I played with using the word ‘One’ as my condensed Alexander direction. I liked how fast it was. I liked that it was less wordy. Yes it lacked a bit of the specificity that Alexander’s words had for me. But with practice I got pretty good at it.

Then the thought occurred to me that I didn’t have to use a word at all. That I could just use a sound, given that, in essence, a word is just a sound. I came up with the sound, Paaaah. This worked much better than the word ‘One’. It had something to do with the fact that it had no meaning to begin with and so I had not to de-couple any meaning from the sound. The sound was soft and expansive and seemed never ending. I also had associations with the sound, one being Alexander’s whispered Ah, and the other being the sound Kyudoists, (Zen Archers) use to refer to the moment when the arrow is released from the bow. Paaaah. I didn’t lose much specificity when using the sound Paaaah. It was indeed a better container for Alexander’s directions, at least for me.

I will, however, never throw out Alexander’s directions. They are for me like some song from another era that I still love singing. Those words still move me.

More years went by. I was in Tokyo standing at one of these interminably long red lights. I was end-gaining. I wanted to go but the red light was telling me to stay put. “That’s its collective meaning virtually all over the world, even though it’s a color, not a word, and not a sound. It’s also an object. Gee, I thought, we can pretty much make anything mean anything. It is totally up to us!”

I decided it would probably be a good idea to continue letting the red stop signal mean stop. But I decided that instead of it meaning stop on a superficial level, I decided that it meant stop on a deep level, that it meant to stop everything within myself, to completely stop any unnecessary holding within myself, to completely stop waiting, to enter into a condition of profound Alexandrian inhibition.

There I was at this infinitely long red light in a state of radical non-end-gaining, wide awake, vividly aware of everything around me. When the light turned green and everyone began walking across the street, I didn’t want to go. I was so happy exactly where I was, but then I thought, “better to follow the simple directions”, and so I crossed the street as I had never crossed a street before, as if I were singing in the rain, without the rain.

And then the revelation came. What if instead of using an internal trigger, i.e., Alexander’s words, words that were being produced from inside my mind, what if I projected my mind onto the world around me? What if I had the world speak to me from the outside in, instead of me speaking to me from the inside out? Instead of my mind being inside my body, what if my body was inside of a big, benevolent mind? It was entirely up to me to decide what any word, sound, object or creature meant to me, so what would happen if suddenly everything, absolutely everything  was saying to me, directly, wordlessly, Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other?

Ah, so that was what Gary Snyder meant when he wrote, “The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us.” I got it!

Could it be this simple? Could anyone do it? Not really. First it would be necessary to have learned how to couple Alexander’s Primary Movement to some trigger, and perhaps Alexander’s words were the perfect first trigger because they are so specific and clear.

Again, I returned to my new insight.

What if I decided that everything, utterly everything in the world said to me, “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me. Let your neck be free so that your head can go forward and up so that your back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other.” 

The Voice of the World. The silent, wordless voice of the world saying to me, “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me.” 

Suddenly no words were needed at all. It was as if every object, my coffee cup, my keyboard, my computer screen, the flowers by the chair, the sound of the heater were all saying to me, directly, immediately, wordlessly, just through their sheer existence, “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me. Everything was somehow kinesthetically coupled to my Primary Movement.

What if every person, especially people I struggled with meant “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me.

No longer was there me trying to speak to me from somewhere inside of my body. The entire world and everything and everyone in it was now freeing me, directing me, opening me, awakening me. The Voice of the World was speaking to me and I was listening. Not only was I listening, I was following its direction, taking its good and loving advice.

Why not free myself in relation to everything and everyone?

That must of been it, the meaning of the Flower Sermon given by the Buddha. Sakyamuni gives a wordless sermon to his sangha. He holds up a white flower. No one understands it’s meaning except Mahakasyapa, who smiles.

That simple flower, and the meaning we bestow upon it speaks to us, in silence, inviting us back to who we are.

 

Bruce Fertman

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