Keeping It Simple: Judith Stransky and Rome Earle

AmSAT Journal is pleased to bring you the following edited excerpts from a transcription of the panel held at the 2014 ACGM on Friday June 13, 2014. The panel was moderated by Carol Prentice.

      

Carol Prentice: The theme for this ACGM is “Keeping it Simple.” I was wondering if each of you could speak to what that has meant to you throughout your years of teaching. Rome, would you like to start?

Rome Earle: Keeping it simple. It is simple, and there’s a great tendency to complicate it. I would say the thing that struck me, after failing at many things, was having a lesson with Alexander, and the feeling I got was: “Oh, I understand this. Maybe I am all right, after all.” And that is such a very simple message.

[To Judith] Why don’t you go next?

Judith Stransky: Okay. Actually, I have quite a lot to say about “Keeping it Simple.” I even made notes, because I thought I might have some senior moments and not remember everything I want to say, but I assure you it won’t be an hour-long lecture. Maybe after a while Rome will say some more.

Rome: Sure.

Judith: I believe in making the work simple, predominantly for the student, but when we make it simple for the student, it’s easier on us, also.

However, it isn’t always easy to make it easy. It does require some patience and some tact, listening to the student, heeding what the student says. I like to start in my very first phone contact with the student: I like to answer all their questions briefly and to the point, and not go on and on, ad infinitum. I ask immediately: What is the reason that you want Alexander lessons? And then I address that. I give a very brief explanation on the phone of the Alexander Technique, I keep it as simple and as clear and direct as possible, and try to relate it to the reason they want to come.

I don’t know how much this has to do with keeping it simple, but I always tell them immediately that I can never promise relief from any ailments. I do spell out what I can promise—which you all know––we can promise improvement in alignment and more freedom in the body, etc. I don’t need to tell you what the work does. I tell them what it can do and that I cannot promise relief from ailments, but that it has happened with so many people that there would be a very good chance that it would happen for them, also.

Now, a lot of what I’m saying are things I’ve developed over the years. I didn’t do it this way when I was a new teacher. Over the years I learned that there are easier and better ways to approach the student. One thing I found by accident, actually, was that if I give an explanation first of what I do in a lesson, then the person responds much more rapidly and easily in the first lesson.

I’ll tell you a little story here if I may. When I was a brand new teacher in New York, I did not give an explanation ahead of time. Once I had a very attractive English gentleman come for lessons; he was very British, tall and slender, in his 30s, wearing a nice tweed jacket and twill pants and suede shoes. The lesson started out on the table, and I was explaining things as I was working on him, as I usually did. As I was explaining, he was saying: “Oh, yes, I see. Oh yes, I see.” I went on explaining, and he kept on saying: “Oh yes, I see. Oh yes, I see. Oh yes, I see.” Finally I said, “Do you really see?” And he said, “No, not at all!” [The audience and Rome laugh.]

That wasn’t actually the point at which I realized that it’s better to explain things first; that did come later. But there was an example of how I used to do it.

Now, what I do in the service of trying to make it easier for the student is to schedule a double session for the first appointment. The first session is a free consultation. Then I give the first lesson. I charge only for the lesson. In the consultation, the first thing I do is discuss with the student what their issues are, even if they have told me on the phone. I ask again when I see them, and I find almost invariably that all kinds of new issues come out when I’m talking to them face to face, as compared to what they told me on the phone.

I do want to say here that I find that most people don’t want the teacher to talk a lot. They come to feel better. That’s why my aim—I don’t always succeed––but my aim is to keep it brief when I talk to them and explain the work. But they love to talk about themselves and their issues and what’s going on. So many of them have not been able to talk satisfactorily to others about the pain and the issues going on in their bodies. Their friends and family don’t want to hear about it. The doctor doesn’t believe they have pain.

One lady came to me after back surgery, a very wealthy woman who had been to the best orthopedist in California. She was in agony. I could see it as she sat, as any of you would; she was very uncomfortable. I said to her, “I can see you are in pain.” Tears came into her eyes. She said, “When I go to my doctor and I tell him I’m in pain, he holds up my X-ray and looks at it and says, ‘But we did surgery on your spine. It’s absolutely perfect now, and you shouldn’t be in pain.’”

As I say, when most people talk about their pain or discomfort, it’s falling on deaf ears. So I am immediately making a good rapport when I listen to their stories and encourage them to tell me everything that is uncomfortable.

I took a course in neurolinguistic programming—some of you may have also—and they said the three cardinal rules of success are: rapport, rapport, rapport. That’s what I like to establish on the phone and in the first appointment. I talk to them, I address their issues, I tell them how the Alexander Technique could help them.

Another thing I do, which I actually learned from Judy Leibowitz, because she did it with all her students, is, with the permission of the student—I always ask the student for permission to do this before I actually start the first lesson—I ask if they would like to stand in front of the mirror, and I will give an evaluation of their alignment. Most of them agree to that. Occasionally someone says, “No, I hate looking at myself in the mirror.” So we skip it. When I do this with someone, I start out by saying, “Now everything I say to you that is out of alignment is going to be improved with the Alexander Technique; otherwise, there’s no point my pointing it out to you.” Rome, would you like to say something now?

Rome: Yes, it’s really interesting listening to Judith. Some of the things she does, I do also, but a little differently in some ways. I very often sit down with new students and ask them why they’ve come and what is troubling them or why they think they want to have lessons. She mentioned rapport. This is very much what I find myself doing. I also share about myself, so they have some idea why I came to it and why I found it helpful.

When I worked at a pain clinic in Oxnard, we had a whole hour and they were there because they were in pain. A lot of them had a fear of being touched. What was I going to do? It was really helpful to just sit with them and contact them, and have them talk to me, and me to them. By the time I put my hands on them, they weren’t so frightened. And I would experiment to see where I could touch them without it hurting.

I learned the hard way. I started off working on them on the table and learned afterwards that they hurt dreadfully. You know, I thought I had done such nice work with them, and they had responded and so on. I learned about doing less and less and less. Part of having them respond and be comfortable was: The less I did, the more they were able to respond.

Generally, I do like to just have a conversation, and I always bring myself into it, so I’m not just the teacher, but that they know I’m helping myself—I’m working on myself when I work with them.

It’s fascinating to work with different people and learn about them. Often, they are people who are very educated, highly intelligent. I could be intimidated by them, but they want something from me, and I can give it to them in a very simple way. Of course, a lot of performers are motivated to have lessons: musicians, actors, and so on. I also very much enjoy working with other students, like stay-at-home moms who have got kids, really don’t have very much time, and just get exhausted—and somebody has told them maybe the Technique would help them. I really enjoy all that, because my life has been so mixed with doing different things.

I feel that it’s important for us to help anybody who is interested and to make it as simple as possible. I don’t tell them too much at first. Usually we just work, you know? I feel my way with them, and I see how they respond. I want to be encouraging. It’s enough just to get a little bit to start with, and then we can get on more seriously to explanations. I mean, it’s a fairly simple thing to say, “Well, you’re standing on the floor, and your head’s up here, and that’s the way we were made.” I make it very, very simple, and not too technical to start with.

Judith: A very important thing in making it simple and easy is to make the student comfortable. That is something I consider really a priority. If a person is lying on the table—well, it’s a hard wooden table, so I have a couple of pads of comfortable foam under them so that they’re comfortable. I learned to do that from experience, because when I had my first lessons with Judy, she had one foam pad on the table, and I would get up from the table with lower backache, in the first two lessons. After that, I didn’t have it anymore. Then when I was a teacher, I found some people would say, “My lower back is aching on the table.” So I would put an extra little pad underneath. Then finally I said to myself, “Why don’t I put an extra pad on the whole table?” Ever since then, I found it is very rare that a person says their back is aching when on the table.

Also, if they can’t keep the knees bent easily, I prop their legs up with pillows, with cushions. I do whatever I can to make them comfortable, which makes it easy. In chair work, if a person is short, I put a footstool under the feet. In fact, I recommend footstools to everybody, because that promotes lengthening. When I make it easy, the person responds more rapidly and is more willing to continue lessons.

I have occasionally met people who said to me they had Alexander lessons with other teachers, and they said, “The Alexander Technique is so difficult.” I don’t think any of my students would say that, because my aim is to make it easy, and it pays off. Because when students are more responsive, then it’s easier for me as a teacher to give them lessons. So I make them comfortable as much as I possibly can. If chair work isn’t easy for them, I give them just table work until eventually chair work is easy for them.

A very important thing I do is to ask my students to say the directions, the words, the basic three phrases. But I tell them right away that the work is non-doing, and non-doing means effortlessness. There is to be no effort, neither mental effort nor physical effort. I tell them, “I’m going to be saying three brief phrases out loud, and the only thing I ask of you is to say those words silently to yourself. But I don’t want you to make an effort to memorize them. Please don’t try to memorize them; you just get to know them with time from hearing them so often.”

I say to them that they are to leave everything up to me; I will do everything for them; they are to do nothing, and leave it up to me. I remind them of that in the early stages. After the early stages, they don’t need reminding anymore. But I do ask my students to say the directions to themselves when they’re on their own. This is how I was taught by Judy Leibowitz, and it was extremely effective.

In fact, one day I remember she said to me, “Judith, are you saying the directions to yourself?” I thought she was being critical. I said, “Yes, I say them very frequently. I say them when I walk in the street. I say them when I sit in the office working”—I was a secretary in those days—“and I say them very often.”

She said, “The reason I asked you was your progress is so rapid, I wondered if you were saying them a lot.” She wasn’t being critical at all; she was actually attributing my rapid progress to the fact that I was saying the directions to myself frequently.

I do tell my students I don’t want them to say the words non-stop; then it becomes laborious. But to just say the words lightly, freely, playfully—just throw them out into the air, just say them every now and again very lightly and playfully, as if they didn’t have a care in the world.

I teach them after a while that they can abbreviate the words; they don’t have to say all the words, they can just say: “free” or “up” and it triggers the whole response. Eventually, they don’t have to say the words any longer.

Now, in a lesson if I feel it helpful to add additional directions, particularly with athletes or dancers, but also with some others, I explain that it’s very important in daily life that it be very easy and very simple. They don’t have to interrupt what they’re doing to say the words; they are just to say them very quickly, very lightly, every now and again. I really don’t want them to say more than the three basic directions, or abbreviations of them, because I feel that’s a burden, and I want them to feel free in daily life.

There are exceptions, though. I mean, I had a student with severe, advanced multiple sclerosis, who fell down every few steps. I gave her more directions to help her with her walking. And it was successful. But generally speaking, I ask students to keep it very simple and very easy. Thank you.

Rome: That’s great. There is one thing I would like to add and it is about stopping. What has always helped me, still helps me, is just to stop and be quiet. I use my hands to give that message, too. Most people today are rushing around from one thing to another, so just the idea of pausing and noticing where they are can help. I don’t come out with inhibition right off—it’s a pretty heavy word, and seems to have a lot of emotional connections, even if we do want it to address our emotions as well. Sometimes just looking in a mirror, just to stop and see. Not to be critical. Not looking to see, oh my hair’s in the wrong place and I didn’t button up my shirt right, not that kind of thing. If they can just pause….

And when they’re outside, just to stop and notice what’s around them, to be aware of life around them and notice how they react. How do they react if they live in a city or how they feel if they climb a mountain? This affects us—to be aware of how we are reacting to things all the time. To me, that kind of stopping and awareness goes along with the Technique very much, and I would just like to add it to all the wonderful things Judith said.

[Carol reads pre-written questions.] For Rome: Please tell us about your impressions of FM and your memories of lessons with him.

Rome: He just made me feel all right. But it was extraordinary. That really is my best description of how I felt. I felt like he made me me, in a sense, and I was able to experience that that was good. You know, I always loved to dance and to move in that stage of my life—I still would if I could—and it was just so very meaningful to be put back into myself, especially when I’d had rough things happening to me. I had a few more private lessons with him, you know, it was sort of like this: [She gestures his moving her.] He moved you around until you really were there.

It’s a long time ago. There’s one memory of the training course I still have very much with me. Of course, we were supposed to say the directions. We sat there like zombies and inhibited and inhibited and inhibited. We gave our directions: neck free, head forward and up, back lengthening and widening to get up—no, don’t get up, because you hadn’t really done your inhibiting properly. One time he came around giving turns, and it was my turn—we had short turns, but they were very meaningful. I knew that I must be directing myself while his hands were on me. When I got to getting up, I just started to get up, and I felt him stop me. It was like he was reading my thoughts: At that moment, I wasn’t really giving the directions that I knew to give, and I was going to get up. So he talked with his hands and with his experience. That moment was very, very clear. I always remember that.

Carol: For Judith: What drew you to the work in the first place?

Judith: I was in a very small Feldenkrais class in Israel in 1958 and ’59 held in the home of friends of mine. There were only four of us in the class, doing the Feldenkrais movements on the floor. The teacher was Lydia Macoush—we called her Lee. Feldenkrais had had Alexander lessons in England with FM and Carrington, and then later with other teachers. So Lee would repeat to us wonderful things that Feldenkrais used to say in class about the Alexander Technique, and she gave us a book to read on it. All four of us wanted to take lessons, but there was nobody teaching in Israel at the time. The first Israeli teacher, Shmuel Nelken, was in training at Ashley Place, but he hadn’t come back yet.

And just for a little amusement, I’ll tell you that the book that she gave us to read was called Inside Yourself by Louise Morgan. Louise Morgan wrote about the Technique, and at the back of the book there was a diary of lessons by a woman Louise Morgan knew who had kept a diary of her lessons with FM. That was fascinating—reading how Alexander worked with this lady. The book was called Inside Yourself. Later on I learned that Louise Morgan had written two other books: Inside your Kitchen and Inside your Garden. [Audience laughs.]

So that’s how I came to it. I didn’t immediately think I wanted to teach the work. I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and I was an executive secretary in order to earn a living. It actually was a very interesting job at a cultural program at the American Embassy. The people who had the class in their home were friends of mine, Daniel and Esther Doron. We used to go to the beach on weekends and do Feldenkrais on the beach, reminding ourselves of things we had learned during the week.

One day Daniel said to me, “Judith you’ve come to love this work so much, and you’ve become very apt at it. You ought to teach it.”

I gasped and said, “Gee, I didn’t think of that myself, but that’s exactly what I want to do, and I also want to teach the Alexander Technique.” Even though I had never had a lesson, I knew I also wanted to teach the Alexander Technique.

Carol: That’s great. Thank you.

Judith: May I tell a little story about pausing? It relates to Paul Newman, and I thought that might interest you. [She laughs.] I think you all know, because it’s been written, that he came to me for lessons, and Joanne Woodward came as well. Paul Newman came for lessons because his back ached when he stood, even for a few minutes, and he would be in quite a lot of agony. Joanne had no aches or pains, but she realized she could enhance her whole being and improve her posture by taking lessons. They came together the first time.

I started out with table work—and one thing I find is that when people get serious in the work, their direction just goes dead. The body doesn’t respond. I guess being serious is like what Alexander called “concentration.” So we don’t want people to concentrate, and I don’t want people to get serious. When I see they’re getting serious, I say, “Oh, you don’t need to be serious about this; just say the words playfully.”

Anyway, Paul Newman was on my table, in my hands [laughs], and he was getting serious. I was about to say: “Oh, you don’t need to be serious about this.” But I paused, just as Rome talked about; I like to pause before saying the next thing or going on to the next thing. I absolutely agree with what Rome said.

I paused, and I took my hands off him, as I walked along the table from his head to the feet. This was his first lesson; he had had only a few minutes of table work and had only just learned about the directions, and I felt so much direction oozing out of his body, it was unbelievable. I wrote in the interview(AmSAT Journal No. 5, Spring 2014) that I felt more direction from Paul Newman than from anybody else I ever worked with, even from other teachers; it was quite remarkable.

I was very glad that I paused and didn’t say to him, “Let’s not be serious.” It was clear to me that it was his way of processing, and it was very, very effective.

Then, a little later in the lesson, I started chair work. He was on the chair, and Joanne was sitting there watching the lesson, and he was very serious the whole time. Then I stood him up, and normally I would have continued with the chair work, but I felt like pausing. I paused, and he stood there. And then he turned to Joanne, and he said, “Joanne, I could stand like this for half an hour.” Then he looked ahead, and again, I felt like pausing instead of putting my hands immediately on him again. Some little voice said to me, “Just pause.” I paused, and then a big smile came on his face, and he turned to Joanne, and said, “Joanne, I could stand like this for four hours.”

Carol: The beauty of Inhibition. [Carol asks for questions from the audience.]

Ruth Rootberg: Rome, do you have any memory of the most common way FM would put hands on you and the other students, and if you would like, and if Judith were willing, could you demonstrate so we could get a visual of that?

Rome: That question makes me remember suddenly what happened in Frank Ottiwell’s class one time. It was quite a big class. We talked about different teachers, you know: You start with one teacher and adapt to how that teacher works, and then you go to another teacher, and wonder if they are doing the Alexander Technique. And everybody thinks that only their training class, really, did the Technique, and what’s this other person from another school doing? [She laughs.]

We were talking about things like that, and I was playing around, semi-demonstrating how different teachers taught. Suddenly a young man said, “Okay, well, now, be Alexander.” [She laughs.]

The first thing that I found myself doing was that famous way he had [goes away from microphone to put hands on Judith] where he would have his hands up here and––he was masterful––he would kind of just get your head in the right spot; I don’t think I’ll do it. [She laughs.]

Judith: Oh, that was good! Thank you! [Audience laughs.]

Rome: You see, she does it; she doesn’t need any help at all.

Judith: Could you tell us what his hands felt like?

Rome: His hand felt like he was right through your spine, down to the bottom. And then he knew where to press to get you to come up. It was just the result. Down goes up, which is so much more…. [Rome moves away from the microphone to use both hands to demonstrate with Judith.] I just don’t have enough hands! [Rome indicates that she needs two hands for the work and one for the microphone.] He connected you; I think that was what he was doing.

Judith: It felt that way particularly when you had one hand up here on my head and one hand down here on my lower back: The whole thing was connected.

Jo Gray: Rome, there were quite a few years between your training with FM and when you returned to London to train with Patrick—

Rome: 20 years.

Jo: 20 years. Did you feel that, you’d lost some of the training or did you feel like you could just pick up right where you left off? Did you feel that after 20 years, some of the teaching had faded?

Rome: Well, you know, I found Judith, and she did some work with me. That was wonderful. She got me started doing what we called student teaching in Santa Barbara, and it’s amazing how people can like what you do as long as it’s half way all right. [Audience laughs.] Really. I was loving it.

Then Patrick came and stayed with Judith. I went up to have some lessons with him. It was great. Then he went back to London and wrote a letter: “Very nice to see you again, Rome. But just don’t call what you’re doing the Alexander Tech-nique.” [Audience laughs.] I think it was the day before Christmas. [Audience laughs.] I knew he was right. So I found a way to go study with him in England, and I think I did 10 months with a summer vacation in between.

I’ll never forget my graduation. We had parties and there were so many Israelis there and they made the most wonderful food. And, of course, Patrick had his homemade beer. I thought he forgot that I was supposed to get my certificate. [She laughs.] I said something like, “Do you think I’ll maybe have my certificate?” He went to his desk and said—I found later I was not the only one he said it to—he said, “Of course, you’re not really ready. Here’s your certificate.”

I tell you, he had really good beer. I drank that beer and went down to the underground very happy. [She laughs.] I forgot what the question was. [Audience laughs.]

[Judith reminds her—whether she had forgotten the work during the 20 years between training.]

Rome: No, inside of you, I don’t think you do forget. I was very pleased to be doing the best I could, but when Patrick worked with me, I knew it. And that happens to me again and again. When I left Alameda and came down here, I was able to work with Giora Pinkas, and that saved me many times. I had that quality of teaching again at Frank’s school and, when his school closed down, I thought, “This is going to be terrible, I won’t have all of those teachers around me to support me.”

I went to Los Angeles and my life has—John Nicholls talked about repeating the little tracks––I have repeated them many times. This time it was cancer, and I had to have surgery again, and right after that, I gave a talk in Los Angeles, and I met Alice Olsher. I didn’t know her. I didn’t realize what a fabulous teacher she was. But when I went to her and she worked with me, it was another “Aha…Carrington” moment, and the direction came through her hands. I realized I could learn again. And that just goes on and on for me all the time.

I keep having gaps when I disappear up into the mountains or have a child or do some crazy thing. And then I come back and re-find it, and it’s just so important…the real stuff. Thank you.

Brooke Leib: Judith, I would love to hear you tell about what your training was like when Judy Leibowitz trained you as a teacher.

Judith: I’ll answer that in a minute, but I just want to first say something, a couple of things I’ve heard about FM’s hands.

I asked Judy Leibowitz what it was like to take lessons with FM, because she had lessons with him the last two summers of his life, and one of the things she said was that his hands were soft as butter. Some years later at a Congress, I met—what is her name, Erika Whittaker—and we bumped into each other in a corridor, and she started talking to me about what it was like to have lessons with FM. She said, “He was very firm with his hands; he really took your back back and up.” And she did it on me, she really did it—back and up, very, very firmly, and with superb direction. She only did it for a minute or two, and I felt that direction in me all day long for the rest of the day, until the next day, and maybe even the next day.

So it seems that some people experienced his hands as soft as butter and some experienced them as very firm.

That reminds me of Patrick, also, when he came to New York the first time. One of the trainees told me that she was accustomed to a very delicate touch in the Alexander work. She told me Patrick was working on her on the table, and he had a very firm touch, and it was a shock to her—a terrible shock. She said she felt she was being violated. She said something to Patrick, and from that moment on, he worked on her with a very light touch, very delicately.

One time I was in the room when Patrick was asked why he sometimes used a light touch and sometimes a firm touch. How did he determine which to use? His answer was something like this, I’m paraphrasing, “You can do whatever you like, as long as you do it with good direction. You can even use your big toe, if you use it with direction.”

My training with Judy: I’ll share with you my first experience. I had had about a hundred Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement® lessons, not the individual work, but I hadn’t had any for two or three years when I went to Judy. It took a long time before I discovered that there was an Alexander teacher in America. I was living in Chicago, and when I learned that Judy was in New York and that she trained teachers, I gave a month’s notice to my boss, went to New York, and started my work with Judy.

My first lesson was on the table, and it all felt very weird. It just seemed very strange, what she was doing. When I got up off the table, I said, “Oh, this feels very nice, this feels just the same as after a Feldenkrais class.” Judy had been beaming, and when I said that, her face dropped. [Laughter.] I mean, she had never heard of Feldenkrais until I came and told her about it, because it only existed in Israel at the time. Only Feldenkrais and his disciple Lee.

Then I had my second Alexander lesson, and again it was only on the table, and again it felt just as weird and strange as the first one, but I got up off the table said, “Oh, this is incredible. This is the most wonderful feeling I’ve ever had in my life.” So in my second Alexander lesson, I experienced more than I had ever experienced before.

Now I think that if I hadn’t had all the Feldenkrais work, I was not likely to have felt as much in my second lesson; it probably would have taken a little longer. But I did want to share that with you.

Judy told me I’d have to take lessons twice a week for a while and then she would tell me when I was ready to be trained. You must realize, there was no training in the United States, or, as far as I remember, no training outside of England, so there weren’t all these rules and regulations.

She had trained a few people before me, but I was the only one she was training at that time. Ilana Rubenfeld was also being trained by Judy, but on a much less intensive basis. She took much longer, and we really never met each other, until towards the end of my training. Judy arranged two or three times for us to be together and work on each other under her guidance. So that was how I met Ilana, towards the end of my training.

I was going twice a week for lessons, and one day Judy said to me, “Now, I’m ready to train you, and you need to come five times a week. You continue taking two private lessons a week, and three times a week will be your training sessions.”

That’s how we did it. I actually went to her three times a week. Twice they were double sessions: a private lesson and a training session, and then the third appointment was just a training session. We did that until one day she said to me: “I’ve taught you everything I know. You can now call yourself an Alexander teacher and charge for lessons.”

That’s how it was done. Years after that we founded the American Center for the Alexander Technique and started the training school, and then we had the same regulations as they had at STAT in England for conducting the training school: 1600 hours over three years.

Rome: I just want to say that I met Frank at Judith’s. I remember he came; he stayed with you or something?

Judith: He stayed probably when Patrick was there.

Rome: Yes, that’s right.

Judith: Frank would come down from San Francisco.

Rome: Yes. I was there one of those times. I think Judith wanted to demonstrate how much I had learned, so, I nervously put my hands on Frank. I remember him saying, “Well, put them there!” I was being so careful. Anyway, we managed to hit it off.

Judith: I’d like to say something also, because of Rome having said that. Different teachers either feel different or even maybe are doing things differently.

When we founded the Alexander Center (American Center for the Alexander Technique) in New York, there were five teachers who were the founders and Directors of ACAT, and Judy asked me to come to the meetings and take minutes, because nobody else had secretarial skills. [Laughs.] I was prized for my secretarial skills.

I went there and took minutes, and this went on for a long time—there were a lot of meetings—it took a long time before the Center was actually formed. I took everything down in steno, went home, transcribed everything, typed it up, handed the pages to Judy, made copies of them, and she gave a copy to everybody. I was doing all this work. After a long time, maybe a year or so, I said, “Do you think I could get some compensation for all the time and work I put in?”

Well, nobody could afford to pay me, but they all offered to give me lessons. I was thrilled, because I was dying to have lessons with all these other teachers and experience their work. I had only experienced Judy’s work.

I did the rounds [laughs] over a period of many months. I first took a few lessons with one teacher and then a few lessons with another, and so on. There were four teachers whose work was new to me, because Judy was the fifth one. Out of the four, three felt very different from Judy. One felt the same as Judy, and I can’t remember who it was, and the other three felt very different. It would take me one or two lessons before I felt I could adjust to the way they were working. Two things were different: One was the way the hands felt, and the other was the way they talked about the work during the lessons. Each one had a different way of talking about it or guiding me. It took some adjustment with three out of the four of them.

Anyway, after we founded the center, Walter and Dilys Carrington came on a visit to New York, and we invited them to give us directors (by this time I was a director) a workshop at our center for the weekend, and they did. They didn’t do any training with us, but they worked on all of us. Amazingly, it didn’t take any adjustment with them. They did feel different. They felt much firmer than what I had been accustomed to; they took the head far more forward and up than I had been accustomed to, so there definitely was a difference. But immediately I was in their hands and doing whatever they wanted. It took no adjustment.

The following weekend Patrick was in Boston and I went to Boston. And the same thing happened. It took no adjustment on my part, either to what Patrick, Walter, or Dilys were saying, or to what their hands felt like. They were absolutely masterful. Masterful. I really can’t say I’ve experienced anything else as masterful as that.

Of the New York teachers, Debby Caplan felt the most like Walter. She had been trained by her mother (Alma Frank) at the age of 16, and she felt much more like Walter than any of the others.

Alice Olsher: I just wanted to say “Thank you” to Rome, because when she came to San Diego, I was living there, and Dilys said to me, “You have to start a class, if you’re not coming home. Who’s in San Diego?” I said, “Rome’s in San Diego.” And she said, “You’ll be all right, then, if Rome is there.”

I just wanted to ask Judy, do you think you can speak a bit about all the places, where you grew up and…?

Judith: Very quickly. I was born in Slovakia. At the age of two we fled from the Nazis and got to England and lived there until I was 11. We lived in London, Oxford, and Wales; we were always moving around. In those 9 years, we had 13 different addresses. After the War, we moved to Australia, then to New Zealand, this was with my parents. Then we moved to New York. Then I went on a visit to Europe and Israel. I was in Israel for two months and decided to stay because it was November, and I couldn’t bear the thought of being in a New York winter when the weather in November in Tel Aviv was like Southern California weather.

I got that two-year job at the American Embassy and lived there for more than two years. Then I came back and lived in Chicago for a while. When I heard about Judy being in New York, I moved back to New York.

After I had been teaching for five years in New York, I moved to Santa Monica. Actually, I went there for two months and stayed 41 years, and somewhere in that time I got married and my husband and I lived in China for two years; he was the Science Counselor at the American Embassy in Beijng. After two years, we came back to California. Five years ago I officially retired and moved to Palm Desert. Now I’m officially retired, but I give lessons to anyone who wants lessons. [Audience laughs.]

If I may, before we finish, I’d just like to say two more things with regarding to “simplify.” May I?

All right. Anybody who has studied neurolinguistic programming has learned that we process in three different ways: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. I realized after a while with the Alexander Technique, that the visual was hardly there, except for working in front of a mirror. Judy Leibowitz worked in front of a mirror, and I do, too. In fact, I put more than one mirror up in my room. I use the mirrors for people to see their good use from different angles, as they are not always aware of their improvements in chair work.

So to give more visual input, I started to point with my finger. I would say, “Lengthening up; widening out; head forward and up” with gestures. It made a huge difference. People responded very rapidly.

Even before that, I found an interesting thing when I was meeting with a person for the first time, explaining the Technique and demonstrating the difference between sitting like this [she slumps] or sitting with length and talking about length and telling them the words. Right in front of my eyes, as they’re sitting opposite me, they are lengthening, and I haven’t even laid hands on them. I saw that people respond even when you’re just talking to them about it, and pointing makes a huge difference.

I had a professor of math come for lessons. He was a very rigid guy, an Israeli, a bachelor in his 40s. In the summer, he always used to go back to Israel and take Alexander lessons with Israeli teachers. But despite all that, he was extremely rigid. That’s when I started doing the pointing and I would say, “Oh, you’re lengthening up.” He started to respond more, making breakthroughs. Then in the summer, he went back to Israel and when he came back in the fall, he resumed lessons with me. He said he had been back to his teacher in Israel and she remarked on the enormous change in him. He said, “I told her that you point! And no other teacher has pointed.” That made such a difference to him. That’s what I wanted to share with you. You simplify by making it easier.

The last thing I want to say is, to quote Patrick, “If at first you don’t succeed, never try again—the same way.” [Audience laughs.]

I apply that in my teaching in order to make it easy for the student. If something isn’t working, I leave it alone and do something else or I might think of something different to say—a different thought, a different idea—and see if that reaches them. After all, this is a mind-body approach, and we reach them through the mind. I explain to the students that I’m not teaching them to change the way they move; I’m teaching them to change the way they think. The muscles respond to the way you think. I usually rely on thought and if something isn’t working, I see if I can come up with a different thought. If it still isn’t working, I do something else. Then I come back to it later, and usually it works when I come back to it later.

I do the same thing when a person is responding very well, let’s say in Monkey. I might do Monkey once or twice when they are responding very well, but I don’t keep on doing it over and over again. The thing is to leave them with a very good experience that will linger with them. If they are responding beautifully in Monkey, I do that a couple of times, and then go on to something else. When I come back to Monkey, it’s still working beautifully. I don’t keep doing things over and over and over again, regardless of whether they are having a good experience or a not-so-good experience.

Another thing is the words we use. It is so important to use positive words. I’m very pragmatic and very down-to-earth, so I’ll give you a down-to-earth example. Let’s say I’m working with a student, and the right leg feels tighter than the left leg. I’m not going to say, “Oh, your right leg is tighter than your left.” Instead, when I’m at the left leg, I say, “You feel how free your left leg is.” And if the person says, when I’m at the right leg, “Oh, the right leg doesn’t feel as free” or “It feels tighter,” I’ll say, “Well, with time it will feel just as free as the left leg.”

I prefer to focus on what is free, what feels free, what is easy, using those words, and not using negative words. Because I think that as soon as we use a negative word, there is a very subtle tightening in the body, so I try to find ways of saying things in a positive way.

Making it easy isn’t always easy. It takes some patience and some thought, and listening to the student, and pausing, knowing how to stop. By the way, it took me a long time to come to these realizations. I didn’t have all these realizations when I was a new teacher.

Carol: Yes.

Judith: Thank you. Thank you very much for listening to me. I really feel honored that you asked me to come here today, and I want to thank the organizers very much for inviting me.

Rome: Ditto, ditto.

Carol: Thank you both for coming. I really enjoyed your insights and hearing about your history in the Alexander Technique.



Rome Earle had her first lessons as a teenager with Marjory Barlow and F.M. Alexander, which led her to begin teacher training. However, she left to study dance professionally, but after a back injury, she returned to the training course 1949–51. She left before finishing the course and in 1952 moved to the United States. After 20 years of life-changing incidents including marriages, divorces, and children, she returned to the Alexander Technique, first studying with Judith Stransky and then completing her training with Patrick Macdonald in 1974.

Rome has taught privately in Ojai and Santa Barbara, California, at the Pain Clinic in Oxnard, and on several training courses, including 19 years at ATI-San Francisco with Frank Ottiwell, at Don Burton’s Alexander Technique Associates in London, the Alexander Educational Center in Berkeley with Giora Pinkas, and the Alexander Teaching Center with Alice Olsher in San Diego. Rome gave the AmSAT AGM Keynote Address in 1993 and the F.M. Alexander Memorial Address in 2006. She is the last practicing teacher to have received any training from F.M. Alexander.

Judith Stransky certified with Judith Liebowitz in 1964 as one of the first handful of Alexander Technique teachers in the United States, and then did postgraduate training with Patrick Macdonald and with Walter and Dilys Carrington. She trained with Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais as a Certified Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement® teacher (1972–73).

Judith was involved in foundingand subsequently became a Co-Directorof the American Center for the Alexander Technique (ACAT). In 1968 she moved to Santa Monica, California, as the first full-time Alexander teacher in Southern California. She was co-founder and co-Director of ACAT WEST and also of ATI-LA (Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles). Judith taught at the University of Southern California, the University of California Los Angeles Extension, and was Director of Movement at the Academy of Stage and Cinema Arts in Hollywood. She is author of The Alexander Technique––Joy in The Life of Your Body (Beaufort Books, 1981). Judith officially retired in 2009. She is a Certified Member Emeritus of AmSAT and a Life Member of the Feldenkrais® Guild.

Carol P. Prentice certified as an Alexander Teacher at ATI-San Francisco in the mid 80s and also studied with Marjorie Barstow, Walter and Dilys Carrington, and Marjory Barlow. Carol is also a Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist and graduate of the California College of Ayurveda, where she has been a faculty member since 2008, and a yoga teacher, having completed a 500-hour teacher  training program at the Healing Yoga Foundation. She teaches in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

 

© 2015 Rome Earle and Judith Stransky. All rights reserved.

The panel was transcribed by Ruth Rootberg.

Photographs of Rome Earle and Judith Stransky by Stephen J. Parker.

 

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