by Ellen Bierhorst ~
Can I really communicate the significance?
Halfway through my fourth year as an Alexander Technique teacher, my fortieth year as a psychologist, I took a wild, extravagant notion to attend the Alexander Technique Workshops International six-day workshop in Malibu with Michael Frederick, Giora Pinkas, Lynn Charleson Klein, Frances Marsden, Carol Prentis, and special guest Rome Roberts Earle. I’d never given myself such a lavish treat. I had no idea what I’d be getting into; had some vague ideas of a kind of six-day AGM. Not at all!
I had no understanding of what it could do for me to be with twenty-five-plus other teachers and students in an intimate retreat setting with six master teachers. It was a more concentrated infusion of Inhibition and Direction than even my training course experience. The setting was a quiet and exceedingly beautiful sanctuary, the Serra (Franciscan) Retreat Center overlooking the blue Pacific. Comfortable bedrooms, good food; congenial, supportive Alexander people all around. The spirit of the group was what only our community knows: mutual respect and appreciation for the earliest beginner, humble modesty in the most lauded senior teacher. In such an ambience of comfort and safety, learning can flourish best.
Snapshot: A surge of hope and joy as Giora teaches squatting technique, effective even for all those who think they can’t squat. Maybe after all these arthritic hips and knees can once again learn to squat.
The program, honed over some 34 years by Michael Frederick, was varied, rich and interesting, from a “Wake up with Awareness” with Meade Andrews morning group movement time, through the after-breakfast “Walkabout” where all participants had the opportunity for a two-minute standing and walking lesson with each of the master teachers; on through an hour and a half “home group” session with a handful of attendees and two faculty, followed by individual 20-minute lessons. Then lunch, a 90 minute free time, more private lessons, an afternoon offering of two special topics, like “spirals” or “working with groups,” dinner, and then an evening diversion such as watching videos from the 1986 First International Congress.
Snapshot: Seven A.M. doing my morning meditation on the beautiful walk lovingly built by the Franciscan Friars, practicing Whispered Ah overlooking the lush garden– in the background, the Pacific Ocean.
The spirit of the group was so much more psychologically safe, supportive, accepting and jolly than any community normally encountered, that the fatigue and tension of ordinary life melted more every day.
Snapshot: Lingering over after-lunch coffee in a tete-a-tete with Rome Roberts Earle, hearing about her being an 18 year old trainee in F.M.’s course at Ashley Place.
Against this backdrop of beauty and love, the message from the teachers’ hands became louder and clearer than I have ever experienced before. Returning home, I have been surprised at the sense of new power within myself as a teacher and as a human being. Each lesson I teach brings more awareness of how much I have learned.
It really seems to me that this retreat format, so different from weekend seminars or workshops, offers a precious deepening of both learning and skill. I had no idea such a thing existed!