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Marjory Barlow & Elisabeth Walker

5-Day Masterclass Workshop

by Kevan A. C. Martin

This workshop took place 24-28 April, 1997 in Basel, Switzerland. Organised by Michael Frederick and convened by Doris Dietschy

The Master (Mistress?) Class given by Marjory Barlow and Elisabeth Walker in Basel was my first opportunity of seeing these two illustrious teachers, with their rich experiences of both FM and AR Alexander, actually teaching in the flesh. The 5 days was a fascinating experience and the interaction of these two doyen with contemporary teachers and teacher-trainees drawn from Switzerland, Germany, France and Israel, produced many engaging moments. What was most significant for me, however, was the emphasis given by the Master teachers to the fundamental principles deduced by 'FM'.

Marjory Barlow kept reminding us of the importance of thinking. "Less doing and more thinking" was her elegant summary. Indeed it was the ideas expressed in Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual that originally drew her into the work. She quoted FM as saying, "Weve got to get to the point where the whole body is informed by thought." One participant asked her where he could find the source of FM's statement that, "You can do what I do if you do what I did." She said she had heard it from FM himself, but that in the retelling the crucial ending was always left off: "...but none of you want anything mental!" Marjory Barlow told us how, from their first lesson, she demonstrated the importance of thinking to her pupils. After their first lesson, she gave her new pupils no homework, but asked them to think of what she'd said and to note that, "you never say "no" throughout the day." It is this training to say "no", to "not-do", to allow time for rational thought and conscious choice, that was so emphasised by both FM and AR, according to Marjory Barlow. She identified it as the single crucial difference that raised the Alexander Technique (head, neck and trunk?) above what she called 'body work'. "If you're banging your head against the wall there is only one cure." Another of the many gems that emerged in the course of the 5 days was Marjory Barlow's reflection that through the work came a "total knowing youre not putting it wrong."

Elisabeth Walker held energetic classes, assisted by her daughter Lucia. She emphasised particularly the importance of allowing the head to be free to lead the movement. In answer to a question about what was 'primary control' she explained, "It is a natural part of our function," and that, "our interference with the function of the primary control is the cause of all our difficulties." We were reminded of FM's encouragement: "You are all quite perfect, except for what you are doing." We cannot do forward and upward. But we can, "stop interference with forward and up" which would then free the head and enable a better functioning of the whole. "Everything in the work is indirect. Specific remedies don't work." Whenever members of the class concerned themselves with anatomical details of which muscle and which joint, Elisabeth Walker reminded us that, "words sometimes get in the way" and that FM had said, "You can't change any part without affecting the whole." In one of the many anecdotes related over the course of the 5 days, we heard that the children at the school run by FM turned out to be particularly good observers of interference in their teachers: "you pulled your head back," they would criticise. We found no such opportunities!

In teaching, both Elisabeth Walker and Marjory Barlow were shining examples. As they had observed with FM, they too approached each individual as an individual. For Elisabeth Walker there were, "no rules about how you go about teaching people." This was particularly relevant to the repeated question from the class as to why FM had not written down verbatim his directions or orders for each activity. And in teaching she, "did not want to make people change too dramatically, because then they focused on the change rather than the whole pattern." For Marjory Barlow, "the whole art is to link up what you are thinking and what the pupil is thinking to an experience." Patrick McDonald's dictum that, "if it goes wrong, its my fault not yours" was repeated several times by Marjory Barlow, but it did not always seem to evoke the desired inhibition in the 'pupils' with whom she was working! "Never work it out mechanically," she admonished them. Both Master teachers explained by example how their experience of the work was continually expanding. Each day their explorations and experiments with the work could bring some new insight.

Both teachers talked about truth in teaching: "This work is absolutely truthful," said Marjory Barlow: "If you think you're wrong, then do it and you will discover. We are afraid to be wrong, but by being wrong we know what to do. Accept that being wrong is your friend, not your enemy." But remember, "if you don't look after yourself first you can't help anyone else." Elisabeth Walkers advice to us was touching and simple: "Collect the truth into yourselves. Don't try and be like anyone else, or like FM. Be yourself as a teacher."

The principal difference between the class and the two Master teachers was quite apparent. Elisabeth Walker and Marjory Barlow exuded from every pore absolute confidence in the principles they had been taught by FM and AR. By contrast the questions raised by the class of contemporary teachers and students revealed a relative lack of confidence that expressed itself as a concern to acquire the techniques of teaching the Technique rather than obtain a clearer understanding of the principles discoverd by FM. Our Master teachers brought us directly (or should that be indirectly?) back to the fundamental principles. Their mastery of the principles discovered by FM has enabled them literally to live the Alexander Technique for their entire adulthood. And together they have contributed over 120 years to the teaching and training of countless pupils in the Technique. Their direct connection to the sources in Ashley Place makes them unique and it was a privilege for us to have enjoyed their care, attention and patient instruction over the 5 days.

At one point in the workshop, Marjory Barlow looked up from her pupil who was lying on the table and said, with her by now familiar smile, "This work makes you happy." The gales of laughter that regularly swept Elisabeth Walker's classes effectively made the same point. Even at the end of a demanding session, both Master teachers continued to radiate us with the joy that the daily practice of FM's principles had brought to them. Truth, and joy too? They confirmed for us what they known for a lifetime. Here is something of immense value.


About The Writer

Kevan Martin is a neurophysiologist working in Zurich on human vision and perception. He travels the world to lecture in between finding time to train as an Alexander teacher.


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