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Bruce Fertman
Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart
Delving into the Work of F. M. Alexander.
Hardback. Paperback. 2018. 224 pages.
Published by Mouritz (UK). 205 x 145 mm. ISBN: 978-0995491113
200 mmm x 140 mm. ISBN 978-0995491151
Status: In print. Publisher website mouritz.co.uk/shop
First published 25 February 2018
Publisher's description
Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart is a collection of illuminating stories drawn from Bruce Fertman's teaching of the Alexander Technique over many years. They show how people from around the world, beginners or experienced pupils and teachers, have learned from Bruce's explorative questioning, his suggestions and his use of touch.

Bruce's multi-layered approach to teaching the Technique includes anatomy, imagination, sensory guidance, movement, thinking rather than doing, change of intention, and even the recreation of a difficult situation so as to meet and deal with them differently, consciously and with clear intent.

The stories in this book illustrate the many aspects of the Alexander Technique as it deals with the whole human being. Thinking, feeling, sensing, reacting, wishing, breathing and moving are all simultaneous processes of the whole individual, and Bruce delves into these processes, both singly and in combination, facilitating a fundamental change: a change in the response to a stimulus.

Such a change creates a more unified individual. These stories exemplify the indivisibility of the self. They enlarge our understanding of the many layers through which the Alexander Technique works.

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 D. Frederick, Founder of the International Alexander Technique Congresses

Review by Tim Soar

First published in STAT News, vol. 9, issue 10, May 2018, pp. 27-28.

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

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

Part Two: Student Centred Teaching, leads the reader anecdotally through a large number of individual lessons, either one-to-one or in group settings. Some of these lessons last a whole chapter, others just a few sentences. This format gives a lively 'person-centred' way of presenting the almost endless scope of our Work, in a way that hardly ever finds its way into print. The illustrations are unusual - avoiding the conventional 'head back and down', 'head forward and up' illustrations. The nearest thing to that is a photo of a cowboy wrestling a steer (you have to read it . . .). The other illustrations are split mostly three ways: firstly, very characteristic photos of Bruce working with students in workshop settings; secondly, half a dozen illustrations from Albinus on Anatomy, the series of beautiful, accurate, lively, whimsical-but-layered-with-meaning anatomical engravings published in 1747, which Bruce uses as a primary source for his anatomical and body mapping work, and thirdly, and perhaps most compellingly (the handful of colour-printed pages of the book are reserved for this third category), art illustrations: paintings, sculpture, a thrown pot, landscapes . . . One of the main ideas here is that we do not tend to look at a Renaissance painting, or a sculpture of a human figure in a way that emphasises postural criticism. On the subject of criticism, Bruce quotes Rumi: 'Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field; I'll meet you there'. Instead we see what the figure, through its implied movements and reactions, expresses. Bruce suggests - and this seems to me to be the absolute epicentre of his teaching - that we would do well to learn to look at people as we look at works of art: to see the beauty before the body-mechanics, and to empathise with (and thereby become able to help) a person's Use by seeing how they express themselves.

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

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

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

2018 © Tim Soar. Reproduced with permission.

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This edition © Mouritz 2018. All rights reserved.

Earliest publication date: 25 February 2018