Just to remind you that our Early Bird rate ends before September 14th. If you know you would like to take this course, best to register now.
If you do not know about this course offering, take the time to read this material slowly and let it sink in, then you will know if this course if for you. If my words speak to you, if they move you, consider studying with me. If you have any questions, write to me. I am not going anywhere!
“In Bruce’s class you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake. He is the embodiment of his work. 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. And then you know, ‘That’s who I am, that is who I could be.’”
Margarete Tueshaus – Alexander Teacher, Equestrian, Germany
Gone is the 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, 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.
Annie Turner – Alexander Technique Teacher, England
Having done so for 30 years, Bruce continues to teach annually in Europe, Asia, and the United States helping people to understand and experience the interconnectedness between physical and spiritual grace.
In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school, now with programs in Germany, Switzerland, Austria, England, Japan, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and America.
Dieses Buch war lange überfällig – das einzige AT Buch, das mir begegnet ist, in dem das Potenzial an menschlichem Reichtum, Tiefgang und Kontakt, welches in unserer Arbeit zu finden ist, voll zum Ausdruck kommt.
Marcus Sly – Alexanderlehrer – West Sussex, UK
Meisterhaft. Diese glänzende, erkenntnisreiche Sammlung von Essays ist eine anmutige und freigiebige Schilderung Fertmans eigener Erfahrungen im Lernen und Lehren der Alexandertechnik. Fertman besitzt die Gabe, die feinen Nuancen und erhebenden Tiefen der Alexander-Praxis herauszuarbeiten. Der Band ist überaus fesselnd und mit bemerkenswerter Verständlichkeit geschrieben, und die große Empathie des Autors gegenüber seinen Schülern ist durchweg zu spüren. Sehr zu empfehlen – eine echte Schatzkiste.
Anonymer Amazon Kundenkommentar
Bruces Art des Schreibens ist voller Emotion – Liebe, Friede, Freude, Traurigkeit, Neugier; dabei ist es bemerkenswert, wie tief und schön und ohne Sentimentalität er diese Emotion ausdrückt. Er schaut hinter die profane Ansammlung von Köpfen, Hälsen und Körpern, mit denen die Alexandertechnik beginnt; hinter die nächste Schicht, wie die Schüler ihre Lebensentscheidungen treffen; genau auf den innewohnenden emotionalen Wesenskern des Schülers. Seine Geschichten und Bilder nehmen uns mit in seinen Unterricht, unversehens lernen wir an der Seite seiner Schüler. Ein Buch zum genießen und sich daran ergötzen.
Karen Evans – Alexanderlehrerin – Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, UK
Dieses Buch ist voller Menschen, voller Leben. Bruces Lehre ist zum Ausdruck seines Wesens geworden.
Jacek Kaleta – Alexanderlehrer – Tychy, Polen
Ich liebe Bruces Buch – jede Seite ist eine Lektion. Dabei wirkt es wie ein Zwiegespräch, das macht es so lebendig und persönlich für den Leser. Dies ist das erste Buch, das ich meinen Schülern nicht nur empfehlen, sondern sogar mit ihnen durcharbeiten möchte.
Annie Davenport Turner – Alexanderlehrerin – Mere, Wiltshire, UK
Just out. I can’t read it. Please share with those who can.
Might make a good holiday present!
Available in hard and soft cover.
Please order this book by writing to Lara Weidmann at:
It is an honor having Dr. Galen Cranz as a member of our worldwide Alexander Community. Professor of the Graduate School in Architecture at UC Berkeley she is a sociologist and designer, as well as a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. She studied in San Francisco, but was certified in Thom Lemens’ four-year training course in New York City. Having specialized in how the body meets the environment, she advocates Body Conscious Design. She is the author of The Chair: Rethinking Culture, Body and Design.
Teaching By Hand, Learning By Heart: Delving into the Work of F.M. Alexander
By Bruce Fertman
Reviewed by Galen Cranz
Bruce Fertman was many things before becoming an Alexander teacher: gymnast, swim coach, martial artist (tai chi and aikido), tango dancer, movement educator, and movement artist. He brings those skills to his Alexander teaching, but he himself writes that he has transcended movement teaching to something else. In Teaching By Hand, Learning by Heart, he calls himself a metaphysician who “attends to people’s subjective sense of time and space, to their felt experience of being and becoming.” He introduces the concept of “movement metaphor” to show that people learn more deeply if they can physically experience a principle. To demonstrate the principle that we make ourselves tense rather than a situation makes us tense, he crowds students into a subway-like space to get them to experience that they tighten their own feet, legs, pelvis, shoulders arms, throat and jaws –and that they have choice about whether or not to continue the tension.
Bruce is a skillful writer, who shows the same poetic artistry throughout his book that I have enjoyed in his blog/facebook essays. This book is not an introduction to the Alexander Technique and its 5 –or 10– basic tenets. Instead, in Part I, “The Work at Hand,” he describes how he uses paintings and the arts in his group classes to show how specific physical traits express emotion. In each short chapter he shows how he creates psychological insight regarding sport, nature, anatomy, sensory life, social biology, theology, mysticism, pottery.
Bruce believes in the importance of emotions in changing one’s physical patterns. He focuses on establishing emotional rapport, or creating emotional well-being in this clients/students before seeking to create structural alignment.
Like other skilled somatic therapists, Bruce emphasizes listening –with hands– and receiving rather than fixing a problem. Once witnessed, a problem has a way of solving itself. Open, listening hands witness and receive information, and solutions present themselves—in new feelings, images, movements, words, and concepts.
The second half of the book, “Student-Centered Teaching,” offers stories about profound and poignant moments of transformation in his teaching practice. Examples include a frustrated math teacher, a blind singer, a man with ankylosing spondylitis, a woman suffering for her sister, tango partners, a yoga teacher, a 70 year old caretaker learning to ask for help, a child custody hearing in front of a judge, and more.
Bruce has offered story after story of insight, transcendence, hope, and healing that might inspire other teachers. That is the ultimate measure of the success of this book: does it stimulate and educate other teachers —or is each instance too particular to Bruce or his students, or too local to Japan or Germany or Santa Fe to bring out the best in us? Thanks to one of the teachings in this book, I personally learned to think of freeing not only the top of the neck where it meets the head, but also the bottom of the neck where its muscles connect to the torso, the way a tree trunk has roots. Thus, while his synthesis of philosophy, psychology, the arts, and motor skill is unique, I choose to believe that this book encourages us to develop our own personal signatures in the way we work.
If you would like to purchase, Teaching by Hand/Learning by Heart, and you live in America, write to Jessica Rath. If you live elsewhere, write to Jean Fischer.
It is so deeply satisfying to know that someone understands me so completely, not just my mind, but my heart.
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!”
Endlich am Ende angelangt, steigt er auf sein Fahrrad und schlängelt sich durch enge Straßen, gesäumt von alten, staubigen Läden und verwitterten Holzhäusern. Es ist Winter, 18:30 und bereits dunkel. Schwere weiße Schneeflocken fallen in Zeitlupe durch einen indigoblauen Himmel, so wie sie es in Kyoto seit 1400 Jahren tun.
Aus den Nebenstraßen des alten Kyoto taucht Herr Yamamoto auf wie in eine andere Welt; weite Straßen voller vertikaler Neonreklamen, große LED Werbeflächen, Hochhäuser von Finanzinstituten und teure Kaufhäuser. Er hält an vor einem 7-Eleven, schnappt sich ein Bento und eine Packung Butterkekse zum Teilen während der Pause, steigt wieder auf sein Fahrrad und bemerkt, dass er spät dran ist.
Herr Yamamoto ist ein 50-jähriger Mathelehrer an einer Oberschule, der vom Ruhestand träumt. In seiner verschlissenen Leder-Aktentasche, die nun scheinbar erschöpft in seinem Fahrradkorb ruht, sind die Klausuren seiner Schüler, die er später in der Nacht noch benoten wird, denn an diesem Abend wird er selbst an einem Unterricht teilnehmen, einer Klasse für sich selbst.
Herr Yamamoto hofft, mehr über seinen Körper zu lernen. Er möchte mehr Energie haben. Er möchte etwas Spaß haben, sich etwas Gutes tun. Der Empfehlung eines Freundes folgend, hat er sich gegen seine Vernunft angemeldet für eine Reihe von Stunden in Alexandertechnik.
Etwa zwölf Schüler haben sich versammelt, Männer und Frauen, alte und junge, größtenteils Menschen, die sich einfach lebendiger fühlen wollen, ein bisschen leichter, ein bisschen glücklicher.
An diesem Abend habe ich mit den Schülern gearbeitet an Tätigkeiten, die sie im Beruf ausführen müssen; an Dingen, die sie nicht gerne tun. Ich arbeitete mit einem Mann, der Telefonanrufe von verärgerten Kunden annimmt, die sich beschweren über das, was sie gerade kauften und es zurückgeben möchten. Ich arbeitete mit einer Frau, die auf Händen und Knien einen Holzboden schrubbt. Ich arbeitete mit einem Mann, der sich morgens als erstes von seinem Boss anschreien lassen muss.
Nun ist Herr Yamamoto an der Reihe. Er öffnet seine Aktentasche und lässt den Stapel unbenoteter Klausuren herausgleiten. Er geht hinüber zu einem Schreibtisch in der Ecke, setzt sich hinter den Schreibtisch, wirft den Stapel Papiere auf den Tisch, zieht einen Bleistift aus seiner Hemdtasche, seufzt tief, und beginnt.
Ich schaue nur, fühle was er fühlt, spüre was geschieht durch meinen gesamten Körper, so wie ich seinen gesamten Körper betrachte. Unter dem Tisch sehe ich seine Füße und Beine einwärts gedreht, besonders sein linkes Bein. Sein Becken rollt zurück. Sein Magen ist eng. Seine Brust ist eingesunken. Sein Kopf sinkt und neigt sich nach links. Sein Körper sieht aus, als würde er weinen, aber Herr Yamamoto weint nicht. Dann sehe und fühle ich es: stumme, verzweifelte Resignation.
Herr Yamamoto kritzelt etwas auf die erste Klausur. „Wie hat Ihr Schüler abgeschnitten?“ frage ich. „D. Nicht gut.“ Herr Yamamoto macht weiter. C. D. C+. F. Er schüttelt seinen Kopf. Er altert vor meinen Augen.
„Herr Yamamoto (so nennt ihn jeder), wie wäre es, wenn ich Ihnen ein wenig helfe?“ „Onegaishimasu“ sagt er, sich leicht verbeugend. „Bitte helfen Sie mir.“ Ich gehe hinter ihn, lege sanft meine Hände an beide Seiten seines Nackens und führe sachte seinen Kopf zurück nach oben. Sein Körper steigt, wie ein Mann, der lange unter Wasser war und endlich hochkommt, um Luft zu holen. Seine Brust schwillt, sein ganzer Körper dehnt sich reflexartig in alle Richtungen. „Zen, zen chigau, waaaaa“ sagt Herr Yamamoto mit einem Ausdruck von Ekstase auf seinem Gesicht. Alle lachen. Ich kann fühlen, wie sehr alle ihn mögen.
„Okay, Herr Yamamoto, zensieren Sie weiter ihre Klausuren und wir schauen, was passiert.“
Alle lächeln, bis auf Herrn Yamamoto. B+. Eeeeeeeeh!?, ein aufsteigender Klang, zu hören, wenn Japaner angenehm überrascht sind. Mehr Lächeln und etwas Lachen, aber nicht von Herrn Yamamoto.
A. A+. A. Nun rollen sich alle buchstäblich vor unkontrollierbarem Lachen auf dem Boden. Es ist nicht zu unterdrücken. Herr Yamamoto jedoch bleibt still und ausdruckslos. Ich bin nicht sicher, was er fühlt. Ich tue mein Bestes, bei ihm zu bleiben, aber das ungezügelte Lachen im Raum ist zu ansteckend. Ich falle ein.
Und plötzlich lacht auch Herr Yamamoto. Er lacht so sehr, dass Tränen seine Wangen hinabrollen. „Vielleicht haben diese verrückten Buddhisten recht“, sagt Herr Yamamoto. „Vielleicht ist die Welt nichts als ein großer Spiegel.“
„Mit dieser Bemerkung lasst uns schließen.“ sage ich. Rasch setzen sich alle in einem Kreis auf den Boden, kniend in Seiza, und verbeugen sich tief. Immer noch von Ohr zu Ohr grinsend rufen wir laut „Domo arigato gosaimashita.“ Vielen, vielen Dank. Wir sind dankbar für das Zusammensein, dankbar für unser Lernen, dankbar für etwas Leichtigkeit in unserem Leben, dankbar für Herrn Yamamoto.
Herr Yamamoto wirft sich seinen Schal um den Hals, wirft seine Aktentasche in den Korb, und springt auf sein Fahrrad. Die frische Nachtluft füllt seine Lungen. Der Schnee sieht weißer aus. Er wirbelt; er fällt aufwärts.
Japanische Wörter und Phrasen
Bento: eine Sushi-Box zum Mitnehmen
7-Eleven: eine japanische Supermarktkette, geöffnet von 7 bis 23 Uhr
Domo arigato gosaimashita: vielen Dank
Onegaishimasu: bitte hilf mir, bitte nimm dich meiner an
Seiza: traditionelle und förmliche Sitzhaltung, auf dem Boden kniend, Beine eng gefaltet unter den Oberschenkeln, Po auf den Fersen
Zen chigau: völlig anders.
Original: Bruce Fertman, aus „Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart“ Seite 100, „A Little Lightness“
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.
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.
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?
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:
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.
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, andif 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.
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:
This makes me nervous, but I now send you my finished manuscript.
It is complete. Nothing missing. Nothing extra.
This is what I think the book does.
Part One communicates to people, no matter their level, from beginners to teachers, what AT is about in ways contemporary, understandable, relevant, and meaningful. Broadly and specifically. In Part One a lot of time is spent on primary movement/pattern/control, on inhibition and direction, on freedom and choice, though often not in that language. Now, with the two pieces added this month to Part One, it also speaks at length about sensory appreciation, and it includes some thoughts on breathing that relay Alexander’s unique orientation toward the subject. Part One now makes sense to me. A person should finish reading Part One and should be clear as to what AT is about. If the reader is an AT teacher he or she should come away with a lot of new and useful language, metaphors, images, and ideas and perhaps with more courage and desire to teach the work in groups.
Part Two then gives the reader an animated, heartfelt idea of what it looks like and feels like when I work with people on all the material introduced in Part One. The reader gets to see, and almost experience, what happens when a person sticks to principle. “Stick to principle and it will all open up like a great cauliflower,” as A.R. so aptly put it. Part One is about the principles. Part Two is about the cauliflower! Yes, plain, healthy, natural beauty.
The book as a whole also introduces me to the readers, not just my ideas, but who I am as a person and as an Alexander teacher, the two inseparably intertwined. In this way it is very much autobiographical, spanning a 55 year career. It is my hope the book may be, in part, inspirational to some younger AT teachers.
It is satisfying to have completed it. It’s a bit like finishing a long, good novel, having read the last page and closed the book. There’s a gentle sadness and a deep joy. Yes I did it. I finished it. I like it. Now it’s forward into a free future with open arms and an open heart.
Jean, thank you for your continual support. The ball is now in your court. Obviously, it takes a village to write a book, and you are the Mayor!