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Posts tagged ‘the peaceful body school’

From The Same Immaterial Fabric

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Photo: B. Fertman/Seoul, Korea

 

A student asks, “What is this inner body of which you so often speak?”

 

The inner body is neither physical nor metaphysical.

Not of the body and not beyond the body.

The inner body lives within the body,

It is the body within the body.

 

The inner body fills the outer body.

Completely.

Each toe, each fingernail, every eyelash.

The inner body assumes the exact shape of the outer body,

It is the outer bodies inner lining.

 

When the outer body looks; the inner body sees.

When the outer body hears; the inner body listens.

 

The inner body cannot feel or express emotions,

Though it does perceive them.

 

The inner body cannot think,

Though it is rational.

Quietly aware, calmly awake,

Below the surface of words, in silence,

It reflects, contemplates, meditates.

 

The inner body cannot act or react,

Though it can observe actions and reactions.

The inner body cannot do anything,

But it can receive everything.

 

The inner body is neither male nor female,

Is of no race or religion, is from no country or continent.

 

The inner body does not age, is not made of time.

It cannot get sick or suffer,

Though it can observe sickness and suffering.

 

The inner body is not cold or callous, nor warm and empathetic.

But because it is made from the same immaterial fabric as love and gratitude,

The inner body does care.

 

Curiously,

Once we bid farewell to our outer body and take up residence in our inner body,

The less needy our outer body becomes,

And the less lonely it feels.

 

If, as the outer body ages, we come to dwell ever more deeply within the inner body,

Then perhaps, when the moment arrives for our outer body to die,

We will be ready and able to take leave of it,

Peacefully, thankfully, and with love in our hearts.

 

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Photo: B. Fertman/Seoul, Korea

 

Stories about the inner body

from my book

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart

 

Sung-ho

It may be beyond my area of expertise. It may be foolish, even unprofessional, even unethical. It may be sheer chutzpah, or profound innocence and, it may not be any of these.

Sung-ho walks into my apartment/studio in downtown Seoul. He clearly has what I like to call an unconventional nervous system, or an exceptional structure.

Having only known Sung-ho for two days, he already feels like a friend. We spent a night together jammed into a packed subway car, talking politics, making our way down crowded streets into the heart of a peaceful, passionate and packed protest with 1.7 million other people.

No matter the circumstances, Sung-ho just keeps up. He doesnt complain. In fact, he directs his attention toward others, making sure everyones comfortable.

He thinks his English is terrible. I am eternally grateful to anyone who can speak any English Sung-ho. I understand everything you are saying.” I want to ask you something,Sung-ho says. In America, what do you call people who are disabled?” “We call them physically challenged. Calling a person disabled sums them up as people who are not able to function properly. We prefer describing their situation. A physically challenged person is a person who is challenged physically. When I watch people like you, I see an athlete, a person who is training for an Olympic event called everyday life.” “I like that,Sung-ho says.

Sung-ho explains his situation to me. Im in pain most of the time. My left hip hurts almost continually. I cant lift my right hand past my shoulder. I cant turn my head at all. My spine doesnt move. Its in a permanent C-shape. Whenever, by mistake, I go outside of my small range of motion its really painful. Im always working hard to move and when I sit down and relax my body hurts even more, so I keep my muscles tight. But Im used to it. Its been this way since I was a kid.

Later I find out Sung-ho, when he was fifteen, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that, for reasons unknown, mostly afflicts young men. Over time this extreme form of arthritis causes the spine to fuse, making the spine increasingly immobile. Ankylosing spondylitis is incurable.

Sung-ho, let me see what you do when you relax.I watch as he presses his shoulder girdle down onto his upper ribs and pushes his chest in. Sung-ho that hurts because that is not relaxing, but we will get to that later. Right now show me how much you can move your head without pain. With your head say yes, no, and maybe,” I say demonstrating. He does. He moves his head about one inch in every direction but that one inch is accomplished by ever so slight bending or rotating movements initiated down around his rib cage. The relationship of his head to his neck is frozen like a block of ice. Good. I want to see you move. Id like you to get up and walk to the closet, put on your coat, then take it off, hang it back up, walk back here and sit down.I just watch, kinesthetically empathizing more than I am analyzing. This familiar aching feeling settles over me, a feeling I often feel when working with physically challenged people, this feeling of guilt. Why them and why not me?

You get around,I say. I make myself do everything,Sung-ho says. An athlete,I say.

Okay Sung-ho. I am going to teach you something that helps me a lot. It may sound strange, and its not scientific, but it allows me to move more easily and comfortably. All it takes is a playful imagination and some practice. Are you willing to try?” “Sure,Sung-ho says.

I like to think of myself as having two bodies, a being body and a doing body. The being body is my inner body and my doing body is my outer body. My outer body is substantial and made of muscle. But inside that body is a body that has no substance. Its weightless. It moves like a gentle wind, like a soft breeze. It moves effortlessly. Its comfortable and its never in pain. The inner body has no bones. Its just space. Sometimes it feels like a friendly ghost body. Deep within you it flies freely.

What I like to imagine is that my inner body, my being body, my ghost body moves my doing body from the inside out. I imagine that my inner body is moving and my outer body just comes along with it. The outer body doesnt do anything, just as your clothes dont move by themselves. They are moved by your body. So your outer body doesnt do anything by itself. It is moved by your inner body.Sung-ho seems to like the idea. Hes smiling.

Sung-ho, can you just sit here now, close your eyes and imagine that who you really are is your inner body and not your outer body?I watch him. I can see hes living inside of his imagination and that is where I want him to be. Sung-ho, that is closer to real relaxation.

Okay, here is a little way of practicing shifting from your outer body to your inner body. Imagine you have a fly buzzing around your face and you want to brush it away. Let your hand just fly up and move the fly away. Thats easy,Sung-ho says. Is it comfortable,I ask? Very.” “Thats your inner body flying around and your outer body just coming along with it. Now brush the fly away by moving your outer body. Whats that feel like,I ask? That harder, heavier, and slower.

Right. I think you move yourself around from your outer body. And I think, with practice, you could learn to move yourself around with your inner body.

Okay, Sung-ho. Lets go back to saying yes, no, maybe with your head but this time let your inner body, your inner head, do the moving and let your outer body, your outer head, just go with it.

I watch. I think I see some actual head movement, but Im not sure. How does that feel, I ask? Its different, but I cant say how,Sung-ho says. Was it comfortable,I ask?, Comfortable,Sung-ho says.

Okay. Lets play with something else. Touch the tip of your nose.I watch and see that Sung-ho does that from his inner body. Thats your inner body,I say. I can feel that,Sung-ho says. Imagine the tip of your nose is a small, very high quality calligraphy brush and write your name in the air with your calligraphy brush.

He does. I see that the tentativeness is completely gone and now Sung-ho is actually, however minutely, moving his head through rotational and pivotal movement in his upper cervical vertebrae. Hows that,I ask? Its wonderful,Sung-ho says. Thats your imagination and your inner body moving your outer body.Sung-ho nods yes even more freely without knowing it.

Sung-ho, do you have memories of yourself and of your body before you developed this condition,I ask? Yes, I do.” “Can you remember how old you were when you were super attracted, sexually attracted to a girl? How old were you,I ask? I was twelve,Sung-ho says. What was her name?” “Mi Kyung,Sung-ho says smiling from ear to ear. Okay Sung-ho. I want your inner body to be twelve years old. You are totally in love with Mi Kyung. Now write her name with your calligraphy brush.

I watch and see Sung-ho move his head three times as far in every direction. Wow,Sung-ho says. Wow is right,I say! You were so in love when you wrote Mi Kyungs name you forgot to be afraid to move your head.

Okay, lets stand up and walk around. I watch Sung-ho stand up. Hes tight. Hes cringing. My left hip hurts a lot when I get up, especially after sitting for a long time,Sung-ho says. I see that but I also see that your ankles, knees and hips have a lot of flexion. I noticed that last night watching you go up steps. Your legs are strong.” “Lets walk around.

Sung-ho throws his pelvis way forward and under his body because if he brought his pelvis back and up on top of his legs, hed be looking straight down at the ground. When he walks his feet are far apart and quite turned out. His knees hardly flex. Yet, he walks faster than I do, almost as if he were in a race.

Sung-ho, I know you can flex your knees more than that because you do when you get up and down from a chair, and when you go up and down steps. So lets imagine that your outer legs are just like a pair of super baggy pants and let your inner legs move around inside your baggy pants. Theres plenty of room in there. And pretend you are on vacation and theres nothing you have to do. The weather is warm and you have all the time in the world.

Clearly, Sung-ho has a powerful imagination and somehow hes able to connect his imagination to his kinesthetic sense, an ability that takes many people a while to learn. Hows that Sung-ho?

It fun. And much easier. And comfortable,Sung-ho says.

Im so glad. Sung-ho. We are going to stop now because you have some real tools to play with. Youve got your very powerful imagination and you have your very free inner body.Hes smiling. Hes moved, holding back tears.

For a second the question flashes through my mind, Was that an Alexander lesson or not? Maybe. Maybe not.” “And maybe it doesnt matter,” I hear a voice inside me saying.

Hey, Sung-ho. I finish teaching at 10 tonight. As your wife is in my class, how about we all meet up after class and go out for a beer?Sung-ho lights up and says, I know a place right around the corner that has Guinness on draft. Do you like Guinness?  A lot, especially when its fresh. See you tonight.

I watch Sung-ho get his coat. His movements are less jerky, longer, smoother. That aching feeling returns and I wonder, If I had Sung-hos body, would I be able to adapt as gracefully to life as Sung-ho?

Grace, its not about how we look, or how we move. Its about who we are.

No Sweat

A man walks in, muscular, not a lean and mean muscularity, but a firm, round, bear like muscularity.  Hes the kind of man that would use his power to protect someone in need, rather than bully someone for the fun of it.

What brings you here, Yasuo-san? Noriko-sensei tells me you are a physical therapist and in your spare time a parachute glider.

Im expecting Yasuo to begin talking about some physical issue. A painful, lonely sadness fills his eyes.

The three of us, Yasuo-san, Masako ,my translator, and me sit together for a good minute in silence, which is not uncommon after I ask someone a question in Japan. Japanese people rarely blurt our their first thought. Its as if they let the question sink down into some place full of unshared secrets.

I want to relax,Yasuo says.

How do you know you are not relaxed?

I feel nervous.

What happens when you get nervous?

I begin to sweat. A lot. It feel embarrassed and ashamed that I am sweating.

When does this happen most?

When I am with people. When I have to talk to people.

Usually when we are with people we are with family, or roommates, or friends, or coworkers, or strangers. Do you have any family,I ask?

Not much. My parents live far away. Im not married. I live alone.

Who are you with, and in what situation are you in when this happens most intensely?

When I meet a stranger. When I have to talk to someone I dont know.

Does it happen more when the stranger is a woman or a man?

Definitely a woman.

I can see a change in Yasuos skin color. Hes becoming pale. The back of his skull has pulled back. I see an image of a horse and the rider pulling the reins back.

Well, Masako is a woman, so why dont you have a conversation with Masako? Youve never met her before. Shes a stranger. Face each other and have a conversation.

Yasuos eyes open wide.

Turn your chairs so youre facing one another. Get a little bit closer. There you go. Thats perfect.

Masako has played these kinds of roles for me in other lessons. Shes a natural. Masako takes on a slightly shy demeanor, looks down, then looks up.

How did you get such a strong body. Do you do some kind of sport,Masako asks?

Yasuo mentions that he does parachute gliding and that the equipment is heavy so it requires a good bit of strength. Masako lights up a bit, crosses her legs and asks him to tell her more about it.

Yasuo takes out a handkerchief, something almost all men and women in Japan carry on them, and wipes his forehead, which is sweating profusely.

Ive got Yasuo exactly where I want him.

Okay Yasuo-san. I see what you are doing that might be making you sweat. Of course, I dont know for sure. But the only way we can find out is if there is some way I can get you to stop doing what I see you doing. Does that make sense?

Hai,Yasuo says. What do you see,” he asks?

What I see is that you are very muscular. It is almost like you live in your muscular system, especially in your large action muscles, like your quads, and abs, and traps, and deltoids, and biceps, and pecs.

When you get nervous and begin to sweat, Im not sure if I am making this up but I think I see your body swelling, as if your large action muscles all at once are becoming hypertonic, even though you are not moving. Its as if your body wants to move, but its frozen and cant. You’re sitting there trying to move and trying not to move at the same time, so your body is working out like mad, and you are breaking out in a sweat.

Ahsokaa I see what you mean,Yasuo says, wondering.

Sometimes I get locked into my muscular system too. Ive got a particular way of getting out of it. Want to learn it?

Hai.

I use my imagination, which is one way of using your mind. I imagine I have an outer body and an inner body. Actually, I do more than imagine it. I pretend, as a child would, that it is absolutely true, that my inner body exists. And I dont only imagine it, I sense it through my kinesthetic sense. Its more like a kimage. Ki in your language means mind, heart, spirit, feeling, energy, and that is exactly what a kimage is made of. So your inner body is not muscular or physical. It lives deeper within you than your muscular body. It lives under your entire muscular body. We think we have lots of different muscles in the body but really its more like we have one unified muscular system, just like we have on circulatory system. This muscular system is a bit like a cylindrical trampoline wrapped around your skeletal system. Deep within you, underneath your muscular system, you have an inner body totally unattached to your muscular body. Id like you to imagine, to ki-magine that your muscular body is like an astronaut suit, but the real you is inside and not physical. Your astronaut suit is not alive, but your inner body is. That is who you are, that is where you live. That is home. That is where you rest. That is where you feel safe.

So can you just sit where you are?  Close your eyes and lean back against the chair. Get support from the chair. Slide your feet way out in front of you, so you cant push down with your feet against the floor. Can you let your belly un-tighten?

I go over, place my hand on his chest until I feel my hand gently sink into him like smoke permeating a sweater.

Drop below your astronaut suit Yasuo-san,I say. I touch the outside of his upper arms, always with this permeating quality, then around his skull, then along the sides of his body, along the sides of his pelvis, on his quadriceps, his calves, his feet. I watch his face. He is no longer sweating. His breathing is slower. He looks like hes about to fall asleep.

Yasuo-san. When I ask you to, I want you to slowly open your eyes but before you do I want you to decide not to push out into your muscles. I want you to decide not to turn your muscles on. Keep your muscle switch off. As your eyes open, if you feel yourself beginning to push into your muscles, just lower your eyelids, turn your muscle switch off, and return to your inner body. Calmly but firmly say to yourself, off..offoffoff, as you open your eyes, until your eyes are open and there you are seeing and resting in your inner body. Then when Masako begins talking to you I want you to say to yourself gently and firmly, offoffoffuntil she is finished speaking. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Yasuo sits. I can see him dropping in below his muscles. He begins to open his eyes but decides to close them again. On the third go he opens them and keeps them open. Hes completely resting in the chair and resting in himself. Masako asks him about his parents, where they live and what they do. I see a slight push into his muscles and then I see him drop back in.

My parents live in Kanazawa, not far from Kenrokuen garden,he says. I watch Yasuo finish speaking and then drop back into his inner body.

How are you doing Yasuo-san?

I can do it. I have control over it. Its like I found that switch in me and when it goes on I can turn it off.

How does that make you feel?

It makes me feel soft and kind and happy.

And you are not sweating.

Im not sweating.

“Yes, inner bodies are not physical, so they don’t sweat. They can’t sweat.”

Yasuo. Weve been working about 35 minutes, and our lesson is supposed to be 45 minutes but I am going to stop here. You learned what you came here to learn. You found your inner body and you found your on/off switch which controls your large action muscles and allows you to rest in your inner body. With a little practice you will be able to do this whenever you want. You know how to sit and rest in your inner body. You have this little meditation you can practice whenever you have time.

Arigatou gosaimashita, I say, bowing. It was wonderful to work with you. I learned a lot from you,” I say, feeling myself at that moment living deep within my inner body, thinking how I am always teaching myself what it is I most need to learn, saying what I most need to hear.

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – London Workshops and Individual Lessons With Bruce Fertman

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Physics and Metaphysics of Touch 

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Photo: Tada Akihiro

For Alexander trainees and teachers, as well as for other movement educators and somatic therapists who use their hands to help others.

To receive everything one must open one’s hands, and give.   

Taisen Deshimaru

Hands close and open, grasp, cling, clench, and release. Hands express. They welcome, warn and inform, and in our case, hands educe. Educative hands lead out that which lies within. Together we will increase our tactual palette, become more tactually literate, learn new ways of using our hands sensitively and effectively.

We understand well the paramount importance of personal use while teaching, and the direct impact our use has on our quality of touch.  As important as good use is, my 55 years of experience using my hands to help people move well has taught me that additional knowledge into the hand’s inherent design can help us acquire hands that are, at once, soft and powerful, light and deep, stabilizing and mobilizing, quieting and energizing. As there are primary colors, so too there are primary touches: push, pull, slide, spin, and roll. In other words, physics.

We will also consider the metaphysics of touch. It’s a disservice to reduce a person to their body. I never touch a person’s body. I only touch a person. Our goal is to touch a person’s being through their body. But to touch a person’s being through their body we have first to be able to see a person’s being through their body, which means we have to be looking at more than a person’s use. There are ways of developing this way of seeing people. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Bringing the Work to Life and Life into the Work 

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For students, trainees, and teachers of Alexander’s work.

Become aware of your habits, because your habits will become your character. 

Become aware of your character, because your character will become your destiny.    

Anonymous 

Have you noticed it’s relatively easy to make good use of Alexander’s work when we are doing well, but nearly impossible when confronted with something truly challenging or threatening? How can we practice sticking to principle under emotionally stressful circumstances, when relating to family members, when encountering problems at work, while coping with physical injury and pain, when overwhelmed by stressful thoughts and emotions?

Working Situationally is a procedure I developed, slowly, over the past 40 years. That is to say Working Situationally is a “way of proceeding,” to teach people how to employ Alexander’s work when under trying conditions and faced with harsh realities.

Being able to work with people this way has been enormously beneficial to me personally. It has brought the work to life for me, and into my life in ways that before were inaccessible.

I love sharing this way of working with other Alexander teachers. And ironically, it’s really fun. 

Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23, 2017

Walking into the World

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Our work on walking will be incorporated into both days of study and relevant to everyone. 

It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.   

Francis of Assisi

Walking, when understood, is the Alexandrian procedure that most naturally integrates rotational and spiraling motions into our upright structure, motions that are conspicuously absent in Alexander’s other procedures, as wonderful as those procedures are. Walking, when taught dynamically, helps dissipate postural holdings, often resulting in a profound sense of freedom and power.

Once when I asked Erika Whittaker what she felt like after working with Alexander, she said, “When the lesson was over, I could have said thank you, and walked out the door, or I could have said thank you, and walked through the wall.”

We’ll spend time learning about the mechanics of walking, as well as how to use our hands to help our students walk naturally, freely, and powerfully.

About Bruce Fertman

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

In Bruce’s class you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake. His pace and patience, his quiet confidence allows people to unfold and open layer by layer. The superfluous falls away leaving only life’s inner vitality effortlessly expressing itself through you.

He is the embodiment of his work. His touch is like a butterfly settling down on the very turning point of your soul. And then you know, “That’s who I am, that is who I could be.”

M. Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

For 55 years Bruce has been using his hands helping people to move well. For the past 30 years he has traveled annually throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States helping people understand and experience the interconnectedness between physical and spiritual life.

In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school, the first Alexander teacher training program inspired by the work of Marjorie Barstow. Currently, director of training and senior teacher for the Alexander Alliance in Germany, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He directs the Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Programs in Dorset, England and Zurich, Switzerland.  

Bruce trained with five first generation Alexander teachers; Catherine Merrick Wielopolska, Marjorie L. Barstow, Richard M. Gummere Jr., Elisabeth Walker, and Erika Whittaker. He brings a lifetime of training as a movement artist to his work as an Alexander teacher having trained in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Contact Improvisation,  Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, Argentine Tango, and Kyudo.

He has worked with members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Radio France, The National Symphony in Washington DC, the Honolulu Symphony, for the Curtis Institute of Music, and most recently for Jeong Ga Ak Hoe, a traditional Korean Music Ensemble. Bruce taught for the Five College Dance Program in Amherst, Massachusetts for 13 years, and for the Tango community in Buenos Aires. For 6 years, he taught movement for actors at Temple and Rutgers University. For ten years Bruce taught annually for the College of Physiotherapy in Gottingen, Germany. 

Bruce’s heart centered approach as a teacher rests upon extensive study in psychology and theology, specifically, the work of Eric Berne, (Transactional Analysis), Carl Rogers, (Person Centered Therapy), Frederick Perls, (Gestalt Therapy), Albert Ellis, (Rational-Emotive Therapy), Carl Jung, (Analytical Psychology), and Byron Katie  (Inquiry). Having also studied with Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist scholars, Bruce’s teaching not only transforms people physically; it creates a decided shift in people’s personal lives.

Gone is the straight-lined striving, the stopping and oughting. Instead curiosity, inquisitiveness, and permission to experiment, to play, to open boxes and to climb out of them into a world of possibility – a world both soft and strong. And all this through a quiet power, an exquisite touch, a clarity of speech, and a wealth of wisdom. For me, Bruce’s work is more than exciting; it is important, both to the world and to anyone involved in any way with Alexander’s Technique.

A. Turner – Alexander Technique Teacher
Cornwall, England

One of the foremost representatives of Marjorie Barstow’s lineage, Bruce’s work is unique and innovative. Bruce is especially gifted when it comes to teaching in groups. He’s a philosopher, poet and writer who gives voice to what is wonderful about the Alexander Technique.

Michael Frederick – Founding Director of the International Congresses for the Alexander Technique

Workshop Details:

Where:

Alexander Technique
The Walter Carrington Educational Trust
13, The Boulevard
Imperial Wharf
London SW6 2UB

020 7727 7222

http://atiw.org/find-us/how-to-find-us

We are only three minutes walk from Imperial Wharf Station.
Imperial Wharf Station provides a direct link to Clapham Junction (4 minutes) in the South and Willesden Junction in the North. Change at West Brompton (5 minutes) for the District Line or at Shepherds Bush (9 minutes) for the Central Line.

When:

April 20th and 21st private lessons, by appointment.

April 22nd and 23rd. Workshops.

1o:00 – 1:30 morning class.

1:30 – 3 lunch break

3:00 – 5:30 afternoon class

Fee:

£200 for both days of study. £175 early registration.

£120 for each day of study.  £100 early registration.

Half price for all Alexander teachers enrolled in the Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Training Program.

Early registration ends March 20th, 2017.

Note: I will be giving private lessons on April 20th and 21st. The teaching fee is £60 for a 45 minute lesson. If you or anyone you know is interested write to me, or have them write to me at: bf@brucefertman.com

To Register Contact Ruth Davis at:

Email: ruth.a.davis@me.com

Phone: +44 (0) 7590 406267

To Make Payment: 

BACS

(Please reference your payment with your full name.) Sort Code: 40-47-59

Account No: 12037351

Acc Name R Davis

International Transfers via:

IBAN: GB24MIDL40475912037351 BIC:MIDLGB2172

Or send a cheque made payable to:

Ruth Davis 

Sakura,

7 McKinley Road

Bournemouth

BH4 8AG

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write to me, bf@brucefertman.com or to Ruth Davis, ruth.a.davis@me.com. I look forward to meeting you and to working with you.

Bruce Fertman

From Within And All Around

F. M. Alexander

F. M. Alexander

Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus. But no one will see it that way. They will see it as getting in and out of a chair the right way. It is nothing of the kind. It is that a pupil decides what he will or will not consent to do. They may teach you anatomy and physiology till they are black in the face—you will still have this to face: sticking to a decision against your habit of life.

 F.M. Alexander from Articles and Lectures (white edition), Mouriz 2011, p. 197.

The post office was crowded. Every line seemed equally endless. I chose one, and of course it soon became apparent this line was at a standstill. The teller had just disappeared into the back room, not to return for fifteen minutes.

Standing in lines made me almost claustrophobic. We were required to stand in lines every morning at Pennypacker Elementary School. Standing in neat rows out in the cement yard, we’d wait for the loud buzzer to sound before marching into school. On a particular day, while standing in line, a bee began buzzing around my mouth. Hysterically, I jumped out of line and began dodging, and ducking, and swinging at the bee. A teacher came over, demanded I get back into line, and the moment I did the bee stung me on my bottom lip.

In the meantime, I had just injured myself. We were rehearsing for an upcoming performance until well after midnight. Having hardly slept the night before, I was beat. Coming down from a barrel turn, I landed on the outside of my foot, my ankle twisting under me. A physical trainer did his best to tape it, but after another sleepless night, it was still swollen and throbbing. Standing was difficult. A poor, old kindly man was standing in front of me. His clothes were worn and soiled. There was a strong smell of urine in the air that was impossible to avoid. 

I escaped into my thoughts. Images of a recent fight I got into with my girlfriend surfaced. It was over money. We were living together. The rent was due and we were short about $100. She wanted me to ask my parents for the money. I didn’t want to do that. We ended up  yelling at each other and I heard myself sounding just like my father. I hated that about myself, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to get control over it. I felt like a dog who, when the mailman walked by, had to bark, and basically had to go crazy. Certain situations pushed my buttons, and immediately there I was, barking and going crazy.

About 40 minutes later, I found myself next in line. I had just had an Alexander lesson earlier that week with Catherine Wielopolska, a trainee in Alexander’s first teacher training class back in the early 30’s. “Kitty” was telling me how Alexander’s work was not about physical culture, not about how to get up and down from a chair, but that it was about how we reacted to stimuli from within ourselves and from all around us.  Kitty had begun working with me on speaking. Speaking was a nightmare for me as a child. At six I began stuttering, which meant also dealing with the humiliation and shame that accompanied it. It was clear to me now that this was the source of the fierce habit I still had of jamming the back of my skull down into my neck, which ended up compressing my entire spine right down into my lower back, which all too often was a source of pain.

Consequently, when the time came to ask the teller for a book of twenty stamps I was determined not to go into my old speech pattern of thrusting my head forward. As the teller gave his customer his change and receipt, I stood there doing my best to free myself the way I had been learning to do from my teacher. But just as I stepped forward and opened my mouth to ask for a book of stamps, my head thrusted forward on its own. I no longer stuttered but that old stuttering pattern was still there, seemingly hard wired into my nervous system.

I asked for a particular series of stamps that honored great Black American heroes. The teller told me they were out of them. All that was left he said were the usual stamps with the American flag on them. I said okay. He looked in his drawer and then said he didn’t have anymore books of stamps, only rolls of a hundred stamps. I didn’t have enough money on me to buy a hundred stamps. I heard myself sigh and felt my head press itself even further into my spine. I was tired and frustrated. It seemed I was at the complete mercy of stimuli bombarding me both from within and without. More training, I thought to myself as a hobbled away empty handed.  More training.

I was twenty-three years old. The trying twenties. Little did I know I was embarking on a life devoted to self examination and self reflection. Meanwhile, I had to get some control of myself, and of my life. 

I set about categorizing stimuli in hope of making the whole enterprise more manageable.  We all lived in time and in space. We all had to move. We were always in contact with the world through our senses, whether we knew it or not.  And, whether we were with people or not, we were always with them. If they were not physically around us, they were in our minds or hearts. They were always in our past, and in our futures.

Time. Waiting. Hurrying. Deadlines.

Space. My fears of spatial confinement. My fear of heights. My inability to organize my things, my desk, my clothes. My utter lack of orienteering. 

Movement. My limitations as a dancer and martial artist. My being injury prone..

Senses. Mental preoccupation with my unresolved past, or my fantasies of some utopian future often took me out of my body and out of the real world. How to come back to my senses. 

People. Well, if it were any consolation, people seemed to be an issue for everybody. It was people above all, communicating with people, or rather mis-communicating with people that seemed to be the major source of pain in the world. Communication between husband and wives, parents and children, between siblings, bosses and employees, even between countries.

And then there was the world within, the amorphous world of thoughts, emotions, drives, and sensations.

Thoughts. Comparing myself to other people, being better than them, or worse than them. Thinking too much about myself, about my body, or about how great I was at this or that, or how terrible I was at this or that. 

Emotions. Little control over anger, frustration, or fear.

Drives and Sensations. Physical drives ruled the day; a visceral appetite, culinary and sexual, and an insatiable appetite for new experience. I couldn’t seem to get enough. As for physical pain. My father was a man who, when he woke up in the morning and did not feel absolutely perfect, concluded that something was seriously the matter. I inherited this gene.

I know. I’m beginning to sound like Woody Allen.

Years have passed, 42 to be exact, and after a lifetime of disciplined, and increasingly pleasurable study, I am happy to say I’ve made some progress. Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus, I hear Alexander saying.

Time. Rarely do I rush. I have learned to give more time to things and to people. But then again, I am no longer raising children. When I need to be somewhere and I am running late, I have learned to ask myself if I am late, and if the answer is no, then I stop rushing. And if the answer is yes, then I decide to move lightly and swiftly and enjoy myself.

I rarely wait. When I find myself waiting I simply stop waiting and the world, through all of my senses, returns and entertains me. I still find myself waiting when I want to say the next thing on my mind and my translator is still translating, but less so.  And I still, at times, interrupt people, but less so. I still wait when my computer is not moving as fast as I think it should. But I feel a little less exasperated. 

And yes, sometimes I will awaken from an afternoon nap anxious about dying. It doesn’t last long. Once I get up and start moving, I am fine. Most of the time I feel like I have all the time in the world.

Space. I am no longer afraid of heights. I have not been for years. In Osaka, where I live half the year, I love feeling myself part of the river of people streaming in and out of trains morning and night. I get comfort feeling myself huddled together with others. I don’t mind the middle seat on planes. I like sitting next to people. I have no problem standing in lines. I enjoy not waiting.

Movement. I’ve learned to move well, comfortably and enjoyably. I used to think that movement was the end all and be all. Now, ironically, I move well and I care very little about the way I move. Or about how others move. I care about how I am, and how others are. I’ve fallen in love with stillness. I love sitting quietly and doing nothing.

Senses. This perhaps above all is what I have found through my years of study, the sensory world. The world of lightness and darkness, of sound and silence, of coolness and warmth. Literally, I have come to my senses.

My appetites no longer have the hold on me they once did. My sexual self seems to have fallen in love with the world at large, the wind against my face, the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, the scent of pine in the high country, the sand under my feet, the taste of the ocean in my mouth.

Thoughts. My thoughts no longer harass me. I’m at peace with my past. Most of my future is behind me. I’ve made it this far. I trust I will figure the rest out as I go along. At some point, thanks in large part to Byron Katie, I learned that I am not my thoughts. I’ve learned not to believe everything I think. I know how to question thoughts, how to diffuse them and let them fall. Thank God for teachers.

Physical pain remains a challenge. And I still bark like a dog when the mailman goes by. Something tells me I’m not going to work everything out this time around. But then again, who knows?

During the last few years of my father’s life not once did I see him get angry. Not once. My Dad had evolved into a peaceful man.

In the last weeks of his life, while in the intensive care unit, he began looking like Gandhi. He’d sit in the chair next to his hospital bed, wrapped in a white blanket, his shining bald head and his round wire rimmed glasses looking out from above, smiling, never complaining of pain or discomfort, though his pain and discomfort were considerable.

More training, I say to my self, happily. 

Touching Down

touching-down

 

In my front yard the rufous and ruby throated hummingbirds are heading south. Intelligently so, off to where it is warmer, without crossing time lines. No jet lag. I, on the other hand, am a migrant worker heading west, across time lines. Jet lag, long an occupational hazard. Still, I am a wanderer at heart, at home wherever I touch down.

For those interested, or those knowing of friends or colleagues who may be interested, here is my itinerary. Join me, if you can.

 

A World Of Possibility

Four Master Classes For Alexander Trainees and Teachers

Sept 24-27. New York City

Living The Work

For Alexander Trainees and Teachers

October 1-2. London

Individual Lessons At Studio One

October 3-4 London

The Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Training Program

October 5-7/10-11 Dorset

Prepared For Nothing/Ready For Anything

A Seriously Playful Introduction To The Alexander Technique

October 8-9 Dorset

Joining Hands

L’Estudi Center Technica Alexander Barcelona

And

The Alexander Alliance Germany

October 16-23 Barcelona

In Tune, In Tone, In Time

An Introduction To The Alexander Technique For Musicians

October 29-30 Porto

Prepared For Nothing/Ready For Anything

A Seriously Playful Introduction To The Alexander Technique

November 5 Zurich

A Sneak Preview Into The Alexander Alliance

Post Graduate Training Program

November 6 Zurich

 

38 bruce smiling copy

About

 

KOREA

My kids are Korean. When they were babies, I stared into their eyes and gazed at their faces as they stared into my eyes and gazed at my face. So, I feel I look like them, and they feel they look like me.

When I first landed in Korea to teach, some 20 years ago, I felt right at home. I felt like everyone looked like me. I still feel that way.

Sooyeon Kim – Co-director of the Alexander Technique International School of Korea

Here is a video of me working with gifted Korean kids.

And here is a way to learn about our Alliance school in Korea.

Alexander Technique International School of Korea

 

The End Of The Road

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

I think I’m getting it. The more we, as Alexander teachers go about waking ourselves and our students up to the true and primary movement, the primary control, inherent control, the primary pattern, the integrative pattern, whatever you wish to call it, the better. Whether it’s through Alexander’s procedures, Barstow’s procedures, (she had them), or other ways-etudes-procedures that talented teachers have evolved is not my main concern here. For me the key question is, for what are these procedures for? Imagine someone gives you a new tool; state of the art, top of the line. She teaches you how it works, but neglects to tell you what it’s for. That’s my question. What is Alexander’s work for? What does it offer us? What can it do for us? Why, 40 years later, am I still asking myself this question?

Phase One. We help one of our students, a singer, Maria, become beautifully poised, exquisitely organized. She now stands effortlessly, walks elegantly, and sings like a nightingale. People love watching and listening to her perform. Helping people with postural support, helping people to move well, sing well; it’s great. Phase one.

Phase two. Maria begins to notice how, not only her singing, but many things in her life are getting easier; doing the dishes, vacuuming the floor, riding her bike, opening jars, falling asleep. She’s getting increasingly curious about the technique. She begins to realize what still gives her trouble, what is still effortful; scrubbing out the bathtub; working at the computer, carrying bags of groceries up three flights of stairs, putting in her new contact lenses. You suggest she bring some of these activities into class. You tell her that if she brings her life into class, she will bring what she learns in class back into her life. You suggest having a lesson at her place to work on the site specific activities.  Phase two. As Marj once told me, “Bruce, our job is to help people become sensitive and to make good use of that sensitivity in their everyday life.”

Phase three. Maria comes into class obviously distraught. Her daughter is showing signs of anorexia. She sits at the dinner table and won’t eat. “It’s driving me crazy. I sit there angry, sad, scared. I have no idea what to do. I’m a nervous wreck.” You suggest that there’s no time like the present. “Let’s work on it right now. Remember, bring your life into class and you will bring what you learn in class back into your life. Be brave. I am sure your Alexander friends here will be happy to help you. Maria, what’s your daughter’s name?” “Jody.” How old is she?” ” Twelve.” “Where are you eating and who else is sitting around the table?” “Her sister, Laura. She’s nine.” “Is there anyone here that reminds you even a little of Jody and of Laura?” Maria looks around and finds two people. “Okay, will all of you help get a table, some chairs, go into the church kitchen down the hall and bring back all the stuff we need to set up a dinner table. Don’t dilly dally.” Off everyone goes, and in a flash everything is set up. “Maria where does everyone sit?” “I sit at the head of the table, Jody is on my right and Laura on my left.” “Great. We’re almost ready to go. I need to ask you a couple questions. Tell us what everyone’s day was like before getting to the table. See if you can do it in less than a minute.” Maria sums it up. “I drop off Laura at day care, rush to work, spend most of the day on the computer, pick up Laura, get home, throw together dinner, try to get my kids away from the TV, and sit down. Jody bikes to school, hates her school, comes home, does her homework. She’s super smart. She watches her favorite cooking show, which is funny now that i think about it, and then comes to the table and doesn’t eat.” “Okay. does everyone know who you are and what you are doing, I say to Maria, Jody, and Laura? Take about 30 seconds and just be quiet, and then begin.”

At first everyone is smiling a little but after about 45 seconds it suddenly becomes real. The triggers have gone off. The buttons have been pushed. Jody is curled over herself, sulking. Maria is off looking up to the left, away from Jody, her hands on the table, shaped into fists. Laura is eating as if she hasn’t eaten in a week. You can feel the tension in the air.

And so the work begins. “Maria, don’t move. Just notice what’s going on physically. Start from the ground up until you have a picture of what you look like. Does that position feel familiar?” “Absolutely.” “Now, I’m going to come over and, together, quietly and ever so slowly and gently, we’re going to undue this pattern and see what happens.” My role, primarily, is to be softer than soft. The first impression I want to give Maria is one of nurturance and kindness. This is what she needs most. I proceed how I often do; dissipating the tension in her neck region. Everyone can see what happens. As the neck ungrips, the shoulders drop and spread, the hands unclench, breath enters, and her head turns and she looks at Jody. “Maria, what’s happening?” “I’m getting calmer. I’m really seeing Jody. I can see she’s sad and lonely.” Maria starts crying. Jody looks up. Laura looks up.

And so it goes. The ice breaks. The melting begins.

Phase three, and where I believe Alexander wanted us to go with the work. For me chair work was Alexander’s movement metaphor, a metaphor for what happens to us in our lives. In chair work someone tells you that in a moment you are going to stand up, and you find that your neurological preset for reacting to that stimulus, and the stimulus itself, are coupled together, like two links in a chain. Chair work then becomes about decoupling the stimulus from the response, so that you can unplug the neurological preset which, when successful, creates the option, the possibility of a different and perhaps better response, a new response, a fresh response. As Alexander said, “You are not here to do exercises, (doing chair work), or to learn how to do something right, but to get able to meet a stimulus that always puts you wrong and to learn to deal with it.”

It’s one thing to be able to decouple a stimulus that doesn’t have a lot of charge to it, as in chair work. For sure, it’s a good place to begin. That makes sense. Consider playing with other simple, everyday movement metaphors: opening a door, (entering into a new space), eating an apple, (a famous metaphor, how much do we bite off? Do we swallow things whole or chew them over), tying our own shoes (doing things for ourselves; remember when you couldn’t tie your own shoes?).

But then comes the truly formidable task, the truly humbling task of encountering what Alexander aptly called our habits of life. Until we’re able to discern what triggers our disintegration pattern, every time, and begin to deal with those triggers, be they our critical thoughts about ourselves or others, or our grandiose ones, or our destructive emotions like anger, jealously, envy; or resentment, hatred, and greed, or our fears, we don’t get our black belts, we don’t get into the major leagues. How can we be integrated, how can we be free if we are holding a grudge? How can we be free when we are gossiping? How can we be free when we are busy defending ourselves, or rebelling, or retreating, or panicking? Can we learn to meet a charged stimulus, something that unnerves us, and learn to deal with it in a better, more humane way?

It’s dawning upon me how profound our work can be.

I haven’t been able to stay on every road I’ve begun walking down, but I’m staying on this one. Like Nikos Kazantzakis once said, “At the end of the road, that is where God sits.” And that’s where I’m going, where I’ve been going all along.

Leaving Myself In Your Hands

Guan-Yin-Close up

Bill Coco

“Show me how to do that?” And I would. I would stop my own workout and teach someone how to do what I had somehow figured out how to do, like a front somersault, or a reverse kip up on the rings, or circles on the side horse. No wonder I missed making the Olympic Team. I was busy coaching. Looking back, it’s clear; I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I was supposed to be learning how to use my hands to guide someone into balance, to indicate exactly from where to initiate a movement, in what direction, and with what quality of impulse; to punch it, or snap it, or swing it, or draw it out, or press it up, or let it go. I was supposed to be developing my ability to use language to facilitate coordination.

Unbeknownst to me, I was supposed to become an Alexander teacher, but when I was twelve, and first began using my hands to teach other kids how to move well, I had no idea what that was. As gymnasts we used our hands to help each other as a matter of course, and sometimes as a matter of life and death.

My first coach, Bill Coco, gave me my first experience of educative/nurturing touch. “Okay Bruce. You’re going to do your first back layout with a full twist. I want you to show me your round off. Remember no more than 3 preparatory steps, one back handspring, block with your feet so you transfer your horizontal power vertically, hands reaching toward the ceiling. Don’t look over your left shoulder until I say, “Look,” then wrap your arms quickly and closely across your chest, and leave the rest up to me. Got it?” “Got it.” My faith in Bill was total.

One step, round off, lightning fast back handspring, block, reach…”Look,” I hear Bill say! I look over my left shoulder, wrap my arms across my chest, and there’s Bill’s big hands, soft, light, around my hips. I’m suspended, my body laid out in an arch, weightless, floating two feet above Bill’s head. I’m ecstatic. Bill’s hands spin me to the left, and the next thing I know my feet have landed squarely on the ground. “There you go Bruce. Your first lay out with a full twist. You did 95% of it on your own. By the end of the week it will be yours.”

I guess that makes Bill Coco my first Alexander teacher. He taught be how to lead with my head and let my body follow. He used his hands exactly where, and only when needed, and only with the amount of force necessary. Bill looked like a boxer, more often than not with a fat, unlit, cigar in his mouth, disheveled, sported a sizable beer belly, seemed like a tough guy, and deep down was the softest, gentlest, hugest teddy bear alive. He died when he was forty. I was fifteen. But he passed on to me exactly what I needed, and no doubt he did for a lot of Philadelphia kids like myself.

Bill Coco

Bill Coco

And so it went. Teacher after teacher, teaching me exactly what I needed to learn to get exactly to where I am now; a person who knows how to use his hands to bring people into balance, a person who knows the language of movement, and pretty much a soft, gentle teddy bear of a person, minus the cigar.

But were my teachers only teachers? What else were they to me? How did they really pass onto me what I needed to learn? There are teachers, coaches, counselors, instructors, educators, professors, rabbis, priests, role models, idols, heroes, and mentors. We’ve got different names for people from whom we learn, people who pass on knowledge and skill to us, who bring out knowledge and skill from us. But what is the name for those teachers who pass themselves onto us?

It’s important for me to know what, and who I am to my students if I am to best serve them, if I am to pass on to them the best in me, if I am to leave myself in their hands. Sometimes I am teacher, father, friend, coach, holy man, enemy, sometimes mentor, advocate, adversary, role model. I am exactly, at any given moment, who my student perceives me to be, and needs me to be. I know I am, in essence, none of the roles I assume. I am the person who assumes them.

Marjorie Barstow

Marj Barstow was many things to me, which is why she made such an impression. Most importantly, she was a mirror into my future. She was the manifestation of my potentiality. I could see in her what was lying latent within me. And so I watched, and I listened as if my life depended on it, which it did.

She was not a holy person, not a guru, not a mother, Boy, did she not mother us. She was not a technique teacher, not a coach. She was an artist who showed us her art, over and over again, a kinesthetic sculptor. Humans were her medium. And sometimes horses. (Marj had trained world champion quarter horses.) Sometimes I think she really didn’t care all that much about us as people. She was not a person-centered teacher, as I am. She was a technique-centered teacher. She used us to work on her technique, on her art. That was okay with us. We benefited from her artistic obsession.

Marj inspired me. Her work was astoundingly beautiful, mesmerizing, like watching a master potter spin a clump of clay into a graceful bowl.

Marjorie Barstow working with me.  1977

Marjorie Barstow working with me.
1977

More than anything in the world, I wanted to be able to do what she did. I watched her work day after day, year after year, but I didn’t just watch her with my eyes alone. I watched her kinesthetically. I watched her with my whole body and being. I developed a kind of synesthesia. I was taking her in, at once, through all of my senses. It was like I was swallowing her whole. I “grokked” her.

When I was in college and read Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, I knew that was how I needed to learn. “Grok” means water. To grok means to drink, to drink life. Not to chew it. Not to break it down to understand it. At the moment of grokking the water and the drinker become one substance. As the water becomes part of the drinker, the drinker becomes part of the water. What was once two separate realities become one reality, one experience, one event, one history, one purpose.

Marj didn’t break things down. Marj didn’t teach us how to use our hands. After we would watch her for a few hours Marj would say something like, “Okay. Let’s divide into smaller groups. Bill, Barbara, Don, Bruce, Martha, and Mio, go and teach for a while. (Or it could have been, Cathy, David, Diana, Catherine, and Pete.) The teaching just happened. We could do it. It was as if we were riding Marj’s wave. We were grokking her.

About a year before Marj died I had a dream. Marj was dying. She was in her bedroom, in her house in Lincoln Nebraska, a room I had never seen. “Bruce come sit next to me.” I did. Then slowly Marj pulled the corner of her bedcover down and asked me to lie down next to her. I was shocked, but I did as she asked and gently slid by her side and covered both of us. Then Marj said, “It’s okay Bruce. Now I am going to breathe you for a while, and she placed her mouth on my mouth and began to breathe into me. I could feel her warm breath entering and filling my lungs. I could feel my breath entering into her lungs. In total darkness, we breathed together for hours.  And then I woke up. I got out of bed, picked up the phone, and called Marj. “Marj, are you okay? I had a dream about you and got nervous.” “Bruce, don’t worry about me. I am fine.” “Okay Marj. Sorry if I bothered you.” “No, you didn’t bother me. Thanks for calling.” “No, thank you Marj.”

I’m still thanking her.

Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

What was he to me, a rabbi, a teacher, a spiritual father? Marj gave me my craft, my art, my vocation. Rebbe Zalman taught me how to teach, how to sit quietly with people, as if they were in my living room. He showed me that it was fine to be silent, that it was okay to take the time I needed to think, and to wait until I had something worth saying. He taught me how to tell a story. He taught me to be unafraid to look into people’s eyes. He taught me how to think metaphorically. He taught me how to listen to my still, inner voice, and follow it. He taught me how to listen to the inner voices of others. He taught me how to bless people, and how to be blessed by them. He taught me that I could never know one religion unless I knew two, and actively encouraged my interest in Zen Buddhism, in the Christian Mystics, and the Sufi Poets, and in the teachings of Lao Tzu.

Rebbe Zalman

Rebbe Zalman

One day Rebbe Zalman entered a classroom at Temple University where I was taking a graduate course on Martin Buber and the Early Hasidic Masters. Rebbe Zalman enters the room, walks across the room to the other side, stands in front of a large window and looks out at the day. After a minute or two he turns around, walks to his desk, sits on the top of his desk, crosses his legs, closes his eyes, tilts his face up toward the ceiling like a blind man, and begins gently rocking from side to side, bending like grass in the wind. He begins singing a niggun, a soft melody that repeats itself and has no ending. At some point we begin singing with him, singing and singing without end, until we feel as if we are altogether in one boat, floating upon an endless melody, down a endless stream. Rebbe Zalman’s voice fades out, and ours with his, until we’re sitting in a palpable silence. Eyes closed, his rocking slowly getting smaller and smaller. And there in the stillness, in the silence, we’d hear, “That reminds me of a story.”

And Rebbe Zalman would begin to tell us a story, and within the story there would be another story, and within that story another story, until we were transported, like children, into another world. And when we’d least expect it, at a particular point, the story would end. No commentary. No discussion. Class was over. We’d leave knowing those stories were about us, about our very lives. Rebbe Zalman didn’t have to give us any homework. He knew those stories would be working within us until next week. Marj Barstow and Rebbe Zalman were transformative educators, par excellence. They knew how to educe, how to lead us in, and then how to lead us out, out of ourselves, into places unknown to us.

A Modern Day Bodhisattva

Many years later I met a woman, another modern day bodhisattva, another person who inspires, who teaches through example, who knows how to bring out the best in people. I spent hours, years, watching her work, watching her lead one person after another out of their confusion; I spent years grokking her, absorbing her through my pores, into who I am now.

11th century Guanyin statue, from northern China

11th century Guanyin statue, from northern China

Again, I see there are no accidents. We meet exactly the teachers we need, exactly at the time we need them, so that we may become exactly the people we were meant to become.

Aaah, but that is another story.