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Posts tagged ‘the Alexander Technique’

Etwas Leichtigkeit – Übersetzung: Matthias Liesenhoff

Herr Yamamoto hatte einen langen Tag.

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.“

  1. 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.
  2. 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“

Übersetzung: Matthias Liesenhoff 2018-10-21

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.

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

 

May Nothing Stand Between Us

 

In the first half of my life I built walls; in the second half of my life I am doing my best to take those walls down.

By believing that the teachers I had chosen to study under were the most gifted, the most astute, the most skilled, by association, made me feel special and superior to others. By believing the disciplines I had chosen to study were the most profound, by association, made me feel special and superior to others.

Others had missed the boat, were not on the bus. They had made the wrong choices, and I the right ones.

I remember with embarrassment, some 40 years ago, defining Alexander’s work in opposition to Ida Rolf’s work, how Alexander’s work was educational, non-manipulative, and wholistic, while Rolf’s work was mechanical, intrusive, and reductionist. I remember hating the Rolfing logo of a man stacked up like building blocks.

T’ai Chi Chu’an and Aikido were superior to other martial art forms. Zen Buddhism and Taoism were more sophisticated than monotheistic religions. Democrats were enlightened and Republicans were greedy. And so it went. Bricks made from hardened beliefs. Mortar made from a muddy mind.

Between the first half of my life and the second half of my life, like a Murakami anti-hero, I fell into a deep, dark well. When finally I dug my way out I was psychologically emaciated. During that time I had gone through a divorce, my kids had left home, the house I lived in and loved for 20 years was sold, I gave up my business, my mother died, and then a year later, my father, who I loved dearly, also died.

The day my father died we were alone. Sitting next to him in an old worn out, saggy leather chair, legs crossed under me, tallis over my shoulders, quietly, I read out loud from my copy of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the psalms;

Even in the midst of great pain, Lord,
     I praise you for that which is.
I will not refuse this grief
     or close myself to this anguish.
Let shallow men pray for ease:
     “Comfort us; shield us from sorrow.”
I pray for whatever you send me,
     and I ask to receive it as your gift.
You have put a joy in my heart
     greater than all the world’s riches.
I lie down trusting the darkness,
     for I know that even now you are here.

I begin feeling cold and decide to get up and put an extra blanket over my Dad who now lay unconscious for three days. Getting up I hear a loud crunching sound. It’s my knee. On the metal guardrail, along side my father’s bed, hangs his old wooden cane. I reach out, take it, and for the next month limp exactly as my father had in the last month of his life.

Emotionally depleted, it was nigh impossible to find my inner structural support. With each passing month my body aged a year. My weakened, painful knee set my body askew and it was not long before my hip and lower back followed suit. I was a mess.

I decided I needed to get help. I made an appointment to have ten Structural Integration sessions, treatments based on the work of Ida Rolf. And wouldn’t you know it, it was just what I needed! It was as if old injuries from gymnastic falls and car accidents were letting me go. I was regaining my inner structural support and becoming comfortable again.

My knee was still unstable. After having practiced Tai Chi every day for 40 years, I woke up one morning and knew I had to see what would happen if I simply stopped doing Tai Chi. And wouldn’t you know it, my knee got better and better with each passing week!

The walls just keep coming down for me. Maybe that is why the second half of my life feels so light, so free. I don’t have any need for walls these days. If I don’t know what is right how can I be wrong? If I don’t have anything to prove who can argue with me? If I have nothing to defend what can I lose? And if I am for everyone where is my enemy?

John Tuite, a dear friend of mine, sent me a photo. It’s a photo of an art installation by Jorge Mendez Blake entitled, A Single Book Disrupts the Foundation of a Brick Wall.

This is my hope. May my little book do its little bit to help bring down walls between the various Alexander lineages. May it make a small contribution to bringing down walls between somatic disciplines. May assumptions, prejudices and false notions become dislodged. May grudges and gossip fall by the wayside. May nothing stand between us.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.”

 Robert Frost

JorgeMendezBlake_01 2

 Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart

by Bruce Fertman

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

 

 

 

 

My Grandfather’s Eyes

 

Isaac Fertman

Once upon a time a rabbi told me that once upon a time, being a rabbi was not a profession. That a rabbi, technically, was not a teacher but rather a student. People in a community would select a person they felt possessed a deep understanding of the torah and the talmud to help them learn how to be good Jews. They supported this rabbi and his family so that this rabbi had time to study on his own, and also to study together with them. Judaism is basically a book club. Jews read this one book, every year, year after year, (and a few others), and delve into its ideas as deeply as possible.

When my trainees graduate from the Alexander Alliance I tell them there is no need to be nervous about being an Alexander teacher. If nervous, I suggest they continue thinking of themselves simply as Alexander students, students who happen to have completed a training program, therefore possessing a deeper understanding of Alexander’s work than most people.

When people pay you, I tell them, they are not paying you to teach them, they are paying you so that you can study Alexander’s work on your own, and with them. Your students pay you to study along with you, to join you in study.

It is not your job to teach them. It is your job to create conducive conditions in which they can study and learn. It is their job to learn. It is your job to learn along with them. It is not your job to entertain them. It is your job to entertain yourself, and their job to entertain themselves. It is everyone’s job to be kind, respectful, and to do one’s best.

My grandfather, Isaac, on my father’s side, told me now long ago, when I was a little boy, that I should be proud of being a Kohen, a member of the priesthood, a far distant descendent of Aaron, brother to Moses. I had no idea what he was talking about but it sounded cool. I also had no idea why, when I looked into his beautiful eyes, I could see him holding back tears. He told me how, because he was a Kohen, his shtetl saved money and paid for him to go to school in a nearby town where he learned Hebrew. At sixteen, alone, he got on a ship and made his way to America.

Now I am the age of my grandfather when he told me I was a Kohen. Here I am, supported by others to study on my own, everyday, to write, to think out loud, to create opportunities where others can study along with me. I don’t think of myself as a professional, as having a career. I just have a life. I am paid to live my life as a student, to do research and to share my findings. Baruch Hashem.

Bruce Fertman

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart