Physical Alchemy is an system of transmutation of the physical body and growth of the human being. It concerns itself with researching, developing and disseminating potent methods of physical body transformation alongside practicing and studying methods that provoke moksha [ मोक्ष ](Awakening).
It is an exploratory method that educates the practitioner seeking self-knowledge related to the body and physical reality. Much of the unique flavour is the result of an unquantifyable anomaly occurring whence trying to combine the methods of my first three teachers into my own craft. Practically the method at this stage of its development combines physical cultivation methods, re-patterning exercises and specific training based upon studies, training and experience over the last 16 years.
The 21st century is a weird and wonderful place, full of chaos and information overload. Tuning the physical body to survive and thrive in this chaos and complexity requires we train along a number of lines simultaneously.
One must be able to pragmatically and skillfully extract and combine information from multiple physical training systems, the sciences, contemplative and spiritual training and at the same time escape the trap of the net of abstractions – becoming a living current of the training.
It sometimes requires a leap of faith to do this. What the planet needs is more people to take this leap and the training provided is aimed at systematically building and gathering the resources to do this.
For this expedition deep into the uncharted territory of the body you will need accurate maps, a working compass, sharp tools, and if you can find one – a guide. For there are many paths in this dark woods but some are pleasant side-paths leading nowhere, whilst others start true but double back upon themselves. Guides can also be useful across certain terrain, but not others. We must keep a keen eye.
The deeper work of Physical Alchemy is to create humans who are themselves a living paradox – they embody paradox. This starts with training the physical body and proceeds into behavioural options. Having meet a very small number of people who do this to certain degrees, I have found they are the best and most interesting people I know and one of the core principles of Physical Alchemy is finding ways to become your own version of such a being. As such, much of the teaching is tailored to suit the individual.
But: before we do all this we may as well get the physical body in working order!
It has far more practical value to most peoples lives and can actually be a huge amount of fun to do – particularly in groups of like-mined humans. We are a tribal creature, after-all.
[*] Physical Cultivation [Motion, Muscle, Health]
“A child-like man is not a man whose development has been arrested; on the contrary, he is a man who has given himself a chance of continuing to develop long after most adults have muffled themselves in the cocoon of middle-aged habit and convention.“ – Aldous Huxley
We want to do more with our training than simply ‘work out’. The guiding principles of this work are explicitly not those of fitness, performance or ‘wellness’ – though any and all of these may occur as beneficial collateral. Cultivation in its 17th century usage connotates “improve by labor or study, devote one’s attention to” Regular training of physical methods of sufficient potency can produce changes in the adult physical form that counteract the biological aging of the body and open many more options for spontaneity – ‘child-like’ in our new impressions and creative responses. We are a play and movement deprived peoples – we have much to learn from children.
In this branch of the work we view the body as a ‘connective tissue retort’* of bone, muscle and fascia support the nervous system, visceral organs and fluid systems (blood, lymph, etc). All of this is ameniable to training and subject to plasticity (either in a positive or negative direction in relation to health in response to your habits of body, mind and emotion).
As each year rolls by we increase in knowledge of the potential for exercise to improve our health in many ways – but not all exercise is equal and some negates one aspect as it cultivates others. The aim is to find the best fit of training for each particular persons life, stresses and goals. The training should fit naturally in with the person.
Strength. Flexibility. Agility.
Training can also be for the simple joy of it! To bathe in the wonder of being physical incarnate. To enhance the capacities of the body. To play more actively with your children and set a good example for them. To enhance ones life by exploring any of the many traditional or modern physical arts – martial arts, dancing, performance, etc.
Quality training enhances all aspects of one’s life – enchanting the ordinary and buffering against misfortunes and koans of life. Through training mobilization of ones’ frozen resources beings to occur. You never asked for the blizzard to descend, and yet here it is and you cannot actualise your life. Even without getting too esoteric – simple, humble physical training done well and carried over time can (and does) produces wonders. With training the seed of one’s life can begin to germinate and grow.
At Physical Alchemy I have been seeking and studying the best training methods to be found and have all been blessed to study with – and know personally – some truly exceptional teachers in deep traditions and methods. Even though we are interested in plasticity of the whole of the physical body, many of the classes currently offered have a specialisation in the neuromuscular and connective tissue systems by virtue of the methods I spent the most time studying so far (others are in development).
Luckily, I know many world class trainers and teachers both locally and globally – some of which I am lucky enough to call dear friends and colleagues. Each has their own specialties which are different than mine so the ‘blanks’ can be filled in terms of education, or the flavour of teaching may better suit that individual.
Variety is the spice of life, they say.
[ see ‘People’ section ]
[*] Physical Re-patterning Work [Sensation, Amnesia, Structure]
“[Ida Rolf] was not interested in curing symptoms; she was after bigger game. She wanted nothing less than to create new, better human beings. The ills would cure themselves; the symptoms would melt as the organisms became balanced. Curing symptoms led you in for an endless chase around the body.“ Rosemary Feitis on Ida Rolf (Ida Rolf Talks: about Rolfing and Physical Reality)‘Physical Re-patterning Work’ is the second of two ‘outer shell’ aspect of Physical Alchemy. Many layers of inhibition, sensory amnesia and faulty movement patterning have seeped into our bodies and minds; into our nervous system and connective tissue architecture. Our bodies have become riddled with unnecessary tension. The maps of our internal world: forgotten; fragmented and missing whole continents.Observe people: how their bodies are often collapsed, hunched, distracted, uncoordinated, weak, physically restricted. Observe: how their minds are entranced in thought, faces wearing masks of familiar gestures, postures betray familiar emotions. Where are the ones who embody joy? Outside of a few children, they are almost a myth. We can relearn to embody this and other positive experiences in adulthood. We can train to be open, graceful, strong, coordinated, supple, agile and aware.
We as a people have armored against sensitivity and creative expression. Moreover, most are either unaware of this reality or rigorously deny that any of this is happening at all. Our development has been arrested along various lines throughout our lives. It has snuck up on us. Few see this – accept it – and acknowledge the fact they can change it; then proceed to doing something about it. We are at one of the best times in history to do something about it, individually.. if we choose to.
To have a modus operandi of utilising physical methods to repattern ‘disenchanted patterns’ from oneself calls for a new paradigm. Some pioneering practitioners and teachers have been employing for years already – despite it still being relatively unknown on a wider scale. Oftentimes methods employed bare more than a passing resemblance to those used within performance or therapeutic modalities but the differing intentionality and internal cuing means that the usage and outcome is often completely different. Within Physical Alchemy many new exercises have been created, or existing ones modified, to enhance the repatterning aspects. The goal at of this syllabus is to gain as full a sensory map of the physical body as possible to complement the movement pattern and raw physicality developed in the physical cultivation syllabus.
Sensation. Aliveness. Integration.
Just as the alchemists heated plant and mineral substances in their alembics in processes of transmutation, so to do we heat the connective tissue retort of our bodies with the ‘fires’ of stretch, pressure, breath and awareness. And just as metals release impurities upon heating, so to does the re-patterning of one layer of dysfunction and amnesia give rise to old patterns and stagnation that bubble up to the surface to in turn be interrogated via the flame. [Solve et coagula]
Physical repatterning work is best viewed as a way of using physical cultivation practices and movement exercises to cultivate specific qualities. The intention is in the direction of self-knowledge and aliveness in every aspect of life – not just the training, is paramount. Once enough bodily intelligence is developed we work on freeing ourselves from unconscious and habitual patterns of motion, speech, behavior, gesture and posture – and forge onward into the unknotting of habitual patterns of breathing, mind and emotion.
Undertaking the unwrapping of the many layers of conditioning around the spontaneous and nature functioning of the human being is primarily (within Physical Alchemy, at least) for collective reasons – for planetary ecology reasons. The individual benefits are certainly cultivated and celebrated but the direction of the undertaking is more powerful when it is a deep ecological one.
[*] Physical Alchemy [Awareness, Breath, Embodied Paradox]
“ It can be said that there is one general rule for everybody. In order to approach this system seriously, people must be disappointed, first of all in themselves, that is to say, in their powers, and secondly in all the old ways…In the meantime remember one thing only: A man must be sufficiently disappointed in ordinary ways and he must at the same time think or be able to accept the idea that there may be something – somewhere.” Gurdjieff.
Unlike the embryo in utero that experiences one birth, the adult human being in the world can undergo multiple births and deaths. Cycles of solve et coagula. After each step has stabilised the reality inhabited can be so radically different that one is forced to reevaluate what was essentially “me” and what was simply patterning and habit. Often difficult, sometimes painful – nevertheless what is happening each time is alchemical. A transmutation. More than a ‘gaining’ it is the incineration of illusion within the flame of training and awareness.
If one changes profoundly enough in an auspicious direction the experience is that the view of one’s previous incarnation (our self before the change) is one of only being partially alive – embryonic. And with these insights one can begin to see things that remain to most, unseen – subliminal. Physical Alchemy in its second shell involves a process of sustainably and systematically unlocking perception to some ‘below threshold’ processes.
This is very useful in teaching others and cultivating some deeper qualities in one’s own training. It also opens up perception on human relationships with each other and the world. This makes life far more interesting – but comes at a price in that it increases new fascinating and horrifying impressions simultaneously. There is a need for an embodied physical form to handle sanely and smoothly some of the perceptual changes that occur within the work. If one has the resources to accept this the boon to creativity and non-linear optionality is – in my (totally biased) opinion – worth the hard work.
As with all training of this nature it is difficult to define in the conventional vernacular. Physical Alchemy as an art has a branch of the Zen tradition within its rich heritage, and as such the ‘beyond words’ or indescribable are perfectly acceptable. Nevertheless a ‘neo-green language’ has been created for this part of the work as it has a different metaphysics and produces different results than the outer shell work. This is necessary as there is a ‘confusion of tongues’ to do with the description and discussion of the states, experiences and process around this type of work. Possibly because English lacks the words but also because people mistake something they have for something they have not. There is a one-way opacity that has to be skillfully navigated.
So come along, become part of the development of a new ‘physical education’ far more auspicious than what you were taught in school. Physical Alchemy is one pocket of the reform happening around the world and it is exciting times and quite a profound thing to play some small part in.
We are slowly piecing together an ‘operation manual’ for a human being, starting with the physical body. Many things on an outer level are refining and coming together and yet, even now deep into the 21st century, there are still things arcane about the body and what we can do when we wake it from its dormancy.