Posts tagged ‘touch’
Rabbi Abraham Heschel said, “You cannot know one religion unless you know two.” I’d say the same when it comes to somatically-based practices as well. I forged a career as an Alexander Technique teacher, but I delved deeply into Tai Chi, Aikido, and Chanoyu. I became able to look at the Alexander Technique not only from the inside out, but from the outside in as well.
Two people I have learned a lot from were both trained in the Rolfing tradition. It so happens they also trained with me. But they went on to synthesize their knowledge in ways that have been illuminating and helpful to me, and to many others. I would like to introduce these two guys to you.
Kan may be the only person in Japan who is a certified Rolfer, Alexander Technique teacher, and Feldenkrais Practitioner. He’s a hidden treasure that few people find. Twenty years ago, I trained Kan to be an Alexander teacher. Now I am happy to say that Kan is my sensei. Every week we exchange work. Every week I leave his studio feeling comfortable and free, full of fresh insights into how my body is designed to work.
Because Kan’s an Alexander teacher, his own coordination is excellent and he knows how to make deep contact without using excessive force. His hands are firm but at the same time very soft. Nonintrusive. Being a Rolfer, Kan gets in there and reorganizes my body into better balance. Then, through his Feldenkrais training, he knows what movement patterns I need to play with to re-enforce my new found integration.
If you live in Japan, and you want to get your body comfortable and back into better balance, and especially if you are an Alexander trainee or teacher, I strongly suggest working with Kan.
I love learning from my students. It’s kind of like a parent who raises a child, and then that child grows up and helps out his parents. That’s how it feels.
Kan is a real gift.
Michael-sensei took a workshop with me some 25 or 30 years ago and could not understand how I got the changes I did in people without using any force. Being trained in Structural Integration, he didn’t know that was possible. He made a commitment then and there to study with me. He would come to a 5-day event, stay for 3 days, come up to me looking overwhelmed, and then leave. For the next six months Michael would assimilate, on his own, what he had learned and then six months later return again for another 3 days. He knew how he learned best. I respected that. He told everyone he wasn’t in a hurry. Said he was in the 20-year program. He was. Twenty years later he emerged as one of my most creative and talented students ever to graduate the Alexander Alliance.
Essentially Michael Mazur figured out how to give Rolfing sessions with people standing up rather than lying down. He learned how to harness gravity and get it dropping beautifully through people’s bones into the ground. And he could do this with hands that no longer needed to use force. He worked from the ground up and not from the top down, which was a revelation to us at the Alexander Alliance. Michael was tapping into ground support by working from the bottom up. When working from the top down, we were tapping into uprighting reflexes and mechanisms that created support through suspension. Both were invaluable.
Michael spends half the year teaching just outside of Amherst, Massachusetts, then in December he heads down to Palm Beach, Florida where he spends the other half of the year teaching, but mostly enjoying himself, which he is good at. Michael is fun. Oh yes, Michael makes his way to Germany once a year and teaches for Alexander Alliance Alumni and for others interested in his way of working.
So if you live in America or Europe I suggest making your way to Michael-sensei. And if you live in Japan, then I’d get on the Hankyu and get off at Nishinomiya Kitaguchi, and introduce yourself to Kan Nishioka.
Drenched To The Bone
The more it receives,
The softer and larger it becomes.
Soaking, Seeping, Saturating.
Gray, Dark, Dim.
How do we know this?
We don’t know how we know this.
We just do.
Lao Tzu seems at once philosopher, pragmatist, mystic, naturalist, political advisor, coach, and the grandfather we always wanted.
Here, within this passage, speaks Lao Tzu, the mystic. He wants to give us a glimpse into the primordial, into the formless, fertile, cosmic culture out of which all life grows and thrives.
This passage may strike some as obscure, but for me it is accurate and real. When teaching well, this is what I touch. My hands contact a person, but then without my exactly knowing how, my hands drop in and there’s something dark, dim, and vital, something fluid, something moving, something without form or structure. My hands are touching and responding to the stuff of life, to life itself, fluid life.
When my hands sink, drop, fall, melt into this fluid medium, instantly my student and I feel it. It is as if before, without knowing it, we were only half alive, and then suddenly, as if someone flicked on a switch, we are wide-awake.
As an educator, I do my best to demystify the work we do. I like to speak simply and practically. I avoid jargon and intellectualism. I ask questions, tell stories, evoke images. But some things remain a mystery to me, and there is nothing to be done about it.
During a workshop, an occupational therapist asked me what I thought about when I touched someone. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to give an honest answer. Did I think? What was I doing? Finally, I said to her. I don’t have a thought in my head. Not thinking is profoundly restful for me, a quiet joy. I’m just water touching water.
During an Alexander Event at our school, Elisabeth Walker, (a first generation Alexander Technique teacher who at that time was 88 years old), was napping after a good morning of teaching. I gently knocked on the door to wake her up for some tea before her afternoon class. She looked tired. “Elisabeth, can I get you a cup of tea?” “No Bruce, I don’t need a cup of tea. I need a student.”
When Elisabeth taught, she touched the stuff of life. She rarely used the term primary control, or primary movement. Sometimes I used the term primary pattern. Elisabeth liked that but once she said to me, Bruce, all we’re really touching is vitality.
That’s why it’s such a blessing to be an Alexander teacher. We get to hold the waters of life in the palms of our hands.
This video is in honor of all the bright, inquisitive, lively students who took my workshops.
It’s a thank you present from me, to you.
I’ll be returning to Japan, my second home, in the beginning of November 2013, and I will live in Japan until mid-April 2014.
I hope to give lots of workshops. And I will be giving individual lessons in Osaka and Kobe too.
I hope I will see many of you again.
Life is better when we’re together.
There’s nothing quite like real life.
Helping people who come to our studio for lessons to become more physically and personally comfortable really does help. Sometimes a lot. It’s a beginning. Helping a person experience this newfound liveliness as they engage in an activity, like playing a violin, or doing the dishes, or working at a computer takes the work beyond the bodyself and into the world of action, and interaction, into life. My teacher, Marjorie Barstow, was masterful when it came to “working in activity” within a group setting. That stands as a major pedagogical contribution. Overtime, for me, “working in activity” evolved, transforming itself into “working situationally.”
It was some years ago, a workshop in Lubeck, Germany, an elementary school teacher wanted to work on teaching. I said, “Sounds good, lets do it. What’s the most stressful moment look like for you when you’re teaching?” She says,” When class is over and the students are running either out the door, or to my desk, while simultaneously, the next class is running through the same door and into the classroom, or toward my desk.” “How’s that feel,” I ask? She says, “ I feel bombarded”, and I observe her as she answers my question, her eyes wide open, her lips apart, her body arching back, her hands springing up in front of her like a shield, her breath held high in her chest.
To the fifteen other people in the room I say, “Okay, let’s make a classroom.” I ask the teacher where the door is in relation to her desk and the students proceed to set up the room, happy to be participating. I watch everyone move and interact. My job is to get to know people, so I sit back and watch as much as I can.
The room’s set up. The teacher is standing in front of her desk. Half the students are in their seats, the other half ready to stampede into the room. Everyone understands that they now are 9 or 10 years old. “Okay, go!” I watch the scene as it unfolds. I see what I need to see.
The teacher’s eyes are bugging out of her head, mouth open, body arching back, hands behind her, elbows locked, hands pressing down against the edge of the desk, knuckles white, body rigid. She’s virtually paralyzed, appearing much like she did when responding to my earlier question, though much more pronounced. I get all the “kids” to pipe down and to prepare for “take two.”
I ask the teacher to sit behind the desk. She wondered why she had not thought of that. Once in her chair, I ask her to pull her chair forward, closer to the desk, and then to sit back, to let herself rest against the back of the chair, to let the chair support her body. I invite her to feel how the chair comes up under her and supports her pelvis and her thighs too. I have her rest her hands in her lap, and her feet on the floor. Gently, I use my hands to help her decompress her spine, I make her aware of her facial tension until she is able to release her jaw, let her tongue rest, which softens her breathing and her ribs. I encourage her to feel the weight of her eyelids until her forehead relaxes. I watch her arms disarm, her legs ungrip.
I tell her, even though a batch of kids may arrive at her desk in the near future, seemingly all at once, that one student will get her attention first. “Turn and look at that student and address only that student as if she were the only person in the room. Give her all the time she needs. When you feel finished, notice the next student who catches your attention and do the same. Just see what happens. You won’t know until you give it a go. Okay?” She says okay. Getting that commitment is important.
I give a nod, the kids flock toward her desk. The questions are coming from everywhere. Resting in her chair she turns her head toward one student and says, “Hi, what can I do for you?” She listens to the child, thinks for a moment, then replies. The other kids are desperately trying to get her attention while she’s living inside of a private world with this one student. She smiles, and tells the child she looks forward to seeing her tomorrow. She turns to another student and says hello. Suddenly, a breeze of silence fills the room. The teacher continues to give her undivided attention to the second child. Gradually the students at her desk decide to leave until only two are left. She finishes, turns to the two other students and tells them she really wants to meet with them and that she’d like to do it after class. They sit down.
Working situationally. If you bring a person’s real life into the classroom, they will more likely be able to bring what they experienced in the classroom into their real life.
That has been my experience.
I confess. I don’t enjoy doing more than one thing at a time. I don’t enjoy waiting on hold for a real person to pick up while I am chatting on Facebook and listening to iTunes. That’s over the top for me. I can do it, but why?
When we are multi-tasking sometimes we are mono-sensing. When straining to read some small print on some chat window at the bottom of the screen that popped up just as I was getting ready to sign off on Facebook, my hearing, touching, and kinesthesia plummeted without my knowing it. When the person finally picks up on the other end of the line after 20 minutes, having forgotten all about them, I hussel through my open windows looking for the very little icon I have to click, not feeling much of anything other than a general sense of panic and that all too familiar tightness in my neck that goes with it. I can’t hear her because iTunes is still playing and a song just came on that reminds me of a really hard time in my life that I’d rather forget. I quickly locate the speaker-off button, push it, and that God awful song in gone as well as the woman’s voice I waited 20 minutes for, the women I need to speak with because yesterday my car insurance expired. I quickly push the speaker-on button and that song returns accompanied by a strange gulping sound meaning someone has just hung up on the other end, like they did on that day I’m trying to forget.
That’s why I like doing one simple thing at a time, like washing dishes. In fact, even doing one thing at a time for me is a lot. Because I am a multi-senser, often happily lost in a world of multi-sensorial experience. I’m washing a bowl. I’m enjoying its shape, visually and tactually. I’m listening to the water, feeling its coolness. (We’re all saving energy here in Japan). The sinks are lower here so I am finding a wider stance and a little more flexion in my leg joints. I feel like an athlete ready to wash a mound of dishes, the more the merrier. We’ve got an assembly line going. I’m washing. Yoshiko’s rinsing, and Masako’s drying. It’s great being with them. Warms my heart.
Maybe sometimes we’re doing more but living less. I don’t know. Maybe so. It’s worth considering.
For Siggi Busch
From A Body of Knowledge by Bruce Fertman
In a rose garden overlooking Yokohama pink, yellow, white, and red roses stood, fully open, their flowery faces turned toward the sun. Next to the garden was a community center where a workshop was taking place.
A woman around 70 was there with her son, around 40, who had what I refer to as an “unconventional” nervous system. There wasn’t anything wrong with his nervous system. It just wasn’t the kind most of us have. He had cerebral palsy. He didn’t look like one of those perfectly symmetrical roses in the rose garden. He was physically challenged but I’ve never met a person who wasn’t, so why bother to discriminate?
When I teach a workshop, I devote time to working individually with people, with their particular problems, literally, in a very hands-on way. You might say I am famous among some circles for the way I use my hands, having been at it for fifty years.
This tiny woman wanted to work on getting her not so tiny son out of his wheelchair and onto the toilet. She’d been helping him do this for a long time. She said it was finally taking its toll on her body, but she needed to be able to keep helping her son.
I spend a lot of time listening to people, and watching them do what they do. I don’t give much advice. I help make people sensitive, and through their newly acquired sensitivity, solutions present themselves.
So I asked this kind woman to show me how she gets her son out of his wheelchair and onto the toilet. I watched as she leveraged him out of his chair, turned him around, and sat him down on a bench. She did it amazingly well. After so many years of practice, she had this down. I was about to tell her there was no way I could help her, then it occurred to me to ask her to do it again, so I did.
I watched. I saw her make a particular movement, and immediately I asked her to stop. She did. I asked her if she had noticed the movement she had just made. She said she was not aware of having started yet. I told her she had started. I told her that, very quickly, she raised her right hand and ran it through her hair, perhaps to get her hair out of the way. I asked her again if she remembered doing that. She said no. I said okay.
I asked her to do that movement again. Moichido kudasai. She did. She said, “I think I do that a lot.” I said, I think you do too. So desu. I said, since you do it a lot lets do it now, but let’s do it consciously. And lets slow it down a tad. Yukkuri onegaishimasu. She did. She looked at me a little confused, as people often do. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind doing it again, please, yet a little slower. Moichido kudasai. Totemo yukkuri desu. She did. I asked her to just keep doing that movement, very, very slowly, over and over again, and to feel the movement every time she made it.
The tears started welling up in her eyes, and then rolling down her cheeks. I told her I made people cry all the time. Nothing’s wrong, I told her. Daijyoubou. I asked her what was going on in there. Do desuka. She said, “I don’t think it is good for me to do this anymore.” I asked, Why not? Naze desuka? She said, “I think it’s too hard on my body.” I said, Tabun. Maybe so.
I asked her, if it wasn’t good for her, then could she think of any other options? I spend a lot of my life asking questions. I don’t have the answers. People have their own answers. It’s a matter of finding the right question. She lowered her head, and didn’t move for about 30 seconds. I just waited. Something else I do a lot. Then she raised her head, looked around and saw her younger son. She asked him if he could help her. He bowed his head quickly, said Hai!, I blinked, and there he was standing next to his mom. He looked happy. This younger brother was not little either. He was solid. Together they helped transfer this good man from the bench back into the wheelchair. As they were lowering him down into his wheelchair, from ear to ear a huge grin spread across the elder brother’s uplifted face. His eyes were shining.
Before me I saw Michelangelo’s third Pieta. Jesus is coming down from the cross. His legs have buckled. They’re twisted inwards, his knees turned all the way to the left. His lifeless left arm’s hanging, the hand rotated inwards all the way to the right. His whole body’s heavy, falling to the left. His head has dropped over to the side, like a dead weight.
Mary is down on one knee, under her son’s collapsed body. She’s right under him, supporting him selflessly, with her entire body. Behind Mary, Joseph is standing there looking at her, his huge left hand spreading across Mary’s back. He’s supporting Mary, supporting her dead son. He’s loving Mary.
But right here in front of me, at this moment, were two sons with their mom, all three alive and well. Everyone was helping everyone. No one sacrificed. No one sacrificing. All I was seeing was a gift being given.
Who would have had any idea, not me, that out of one simple, kindly gesture toward oneself, that much love would be set free?
The workshop ended. Everyone walked out into the rose garden. No one spoke, but in that silence I could hear the roses singing.