A lot has changed since I re-met Sir Robbie Coker; subsequently met Dave Wardman – and began studying the art of what is now called ‘Physical Alchemy’. Exactly how many years this whole experience spans is hard to say. The perception of time has a tendency to become more and more misty and fluid with this type of work. I am reasonably confident – however – that I can trace it back 6 years … give or take.
Dave – and what is being created within Physical Alchemy – has had such a dramatic effect on the trajectory of my life that describing how this curious thing came about feels for me an essential place to begin. This article will be somewhere in between a ‘class testimonial’ and Frederik Beck’s excellent piece of writing detailing the experience of his apprenticeship in Physical Alchemy – “Meetings with an Auspicious Man”*
It is not within the scope of this article to explain what ‘Alchemical Stretching’, Physical Repatterning Work’, or Reenchantment for that matter IS – some of this has been done, much more concisely already. Some is awaiting release. It is worth going over if one has not already. You can do that here**.
Looking back on what at the time seemed like interesting coincidences in the genesis of this now seem like occurrences that were much more obviously, as some might say: ‘auspicious and opportune’..
Back we go…
I met the man formerly known as Robert Coker at an Ido Portal workshop in Melbourne circa 2012. We did a few drills together during the morning session and sat together on the same table at lunch. Humorous for me now is that I remember being more interested in talking with the other guy on the table – he had an interesting name, ‘Dave Davey’ – he had also been picked out by Ido to demonstrate a number of drills, being crowned as having “the feet of a real mover”.
Fast forward 6-9 months and I am at a work function at an establishment in Hornsby (which up to that point, I had never frequented). From across the bar a long-haired-gypsy-bard-looking fellow appears. Materialising next to my seat he is wanting to know if I was the very same person he had met at a ‘Melbourne Workshop’ – Sir Robbie!
We quickly decided that we should get together regularly and do some training. It didn’t take long before our weeks were beginning in the most virtuous of ways.
For us Monday meant indoor rock climbing and bouldering, playing with handstands, coffee, delicious food and more coffee. There was a sly kind of added virtue to the fact that while we were doing this most of the people around had the common kind of ‘Monday Blues’. Robbie was also occasionally doing a Stretch Therapy class in a studio in the city taught by the wonderful Cherie Seeto. Naturally, wanting to make our Monday even more cromulent we intended to add this class to the mix. An afternoon of stretching you say?
However, as it turned out the Monday class was taught by ‘Dave’- a suspicious character to us both, me especially.
Robbie had at least met Dave before having taken one or two of his classes in the past. I had never met him. Robbie suggested I text him to make sure it was okay to drop in to a class as I hadn’t done this kind of stretching work before. And so I did.
I cannot recall the initial exchange word for word. I do remember however, along with asking about doing the class I was apologizing for contacting him on his ‘day off’ – it was Sunday after all. Dave’s reply was somewhat of a paradox – he thought it was funny: “he didn’t think of what he was doing as a ‘job’ or ‘work’ but also that he had almost no ‘“days off’” it was more of a ‘work of art and passion’. Not the type of response that I was accustomed to hearing.
Entry to class was granted. The whole interaction sparked a strange type of interest.
Thusly it began.
The next strange occurrence happened after several weeks of attending Dave’s classes.
I had paid for some of the sessions with ‘imaginary number transfer’ (bank card) and noticed that it was being debited from the same suburb that I was living in. I mentioned this to Dave and found out that he was in-fact living on the same street as me, less than 5 minutes walking distance away.
This very quickly began the next stage of things. Tinkering began with ‘long-class’ style stretching sessions at Casa-de-Wardman with Sir Robbie and whoever else happened to be around and interested (though normally just us three amigos in the foundational phase). Regular physical cultivation sessions of all sorts occured in my own training space known fondly as the ‘Dungeon of Gains’. It was an all-round deeper ‘immersion style’ learning into the outer shell of Physical Alchemy.
It was around this time I was coming to the end of my studies in a Masters degree in Physiotherapy. After my Undergraduate degree in Health and Exercise Science I worked for a number of years as an Exercise Physiologist before deciding to return to University. Rehabilitating people with chronic illness, I was about to begin delivering physical therapy to humans and it was fascinating to stumble across such a raw and potent method of working with and on the flesh. One that was, on purpose, not ‘therapeutic’ in any way. There was life in this method.
A lot has changed with Physical Alchemy since I first began attending the Pitt Street classes with Robbie. The continued research into Repatterning as a framework for studying and teaching physical methods, ‘Alchemical’ stretching and the Re-Enchantment syllabus has heralded an entirely new way of delivering the regular stretching classes. A different style of ‘long classes’ are happening as well as direct transmission apprenticeship style learning for the reenchantment work. The core group of humans involved has also changed. New faces have appeared and others have been temporarily cast back to their home land. To return again at a future time.
[*] The Class Experience.
And the changes continue.
Craig has returned and is running his own classes as well as regularly assisting and participating in most of Dave’s sessions. Some of the classes have shifted to a new physical location at Umbilico in Roseberry, Inner South Sydney. This is a beautiful movement space. As I write this, some of the strongest impressions around what is involved in a Physical Alchemy stretching class are coming directly from the experience of the most recent ones, held here. Wooden floors, Persian rugs and unique handmade equipment set an auspicious atmosphere. Deeper and more regular breakthroughs into the hallowed ‘Alchemical Stretching’ territory. The feeling is that the essence of Physical Alchemy is coming through very strongly now.
What is being created here is a true physical ‘neo-alchemical’ laboratory. Exploration and investigation into the sensory landscape of the body is just the beginning. The tool of choice currently is multiple partner stretching performed in a certain unique manner but other effective methods of inquiry are also used. When most people think about ‘stretching’ they tend to think about attempting to make the body more flexible; the acquisition of new ‘Ranges of Motion (ROM)’ and such. If taught and practiced well (a rare thing in itself) this can and should occur. Even for adults. But in this method of stretching flexibility is NOT the primary focus. For one, stretching is used as a vector to look into the body. To light up into awareness structures that are asleep, dormant, and not able to be felt. Dark pockets of the body that have been ‘beaten into submission by the cultural hammer of disenchantment’.
Since the hierarchy of focus is on the quality of sensory impressions coming from the area being worked different variations are required for different people. The feeding on these impressions needs to be at a level that allows adequate digestion. Stretches do not always need to be multi-partnered highly experimental positions. In contrast, people relatively new to Physical Alchemy classes do not always need to spend a great deal of time with only ‘beginner’ positions if they are able to digest more. How a stretch or position looks does little to confer to the onlooker the actual experience of what is occurring inside. Stretches can be impressive looking and provide very little in the way of new impressions. Or they can look simple and be highly virtuous – if the dialing of various factors is correct.
The classes offer an opportunity to go inside, find connections, experience the effect of intelligent touch. Explore what it’s like to feel very strong sensations that are not ‘painful’ through the body, and … see what happens. And many things do happen, in fact [!!] A lively atmosphere is created around the group of people being guided into this unfamiliar territory.
[ “Aurum nostrum non est aurum vulgi” + “Nonnulli perierunt in opere nostro”
= Attain the Golden State of Mind or die trying! ]
For myself the classes are becoming much more experimental as the ability to feel what is happening inside the body slowly (sometimes very slowly) becomes clearer. The intuitive placement of a hand or foot (or knee) can change a stretch from a diffuse, generalised feeling into a highly localised sensation that can then be worked on directly. A clearer picture would be something like this: Dave creeps over while you’re bent backwards over a giant Leviathan whale (a specialised apparatus for passive backward bending and breathing repatterning). His fingers ready to probe the area where the diaphragm attaches to the ribs, or experiment with what it feels like to apply an entirely novel spiral vector through the front line of the body – muttering something about offering to buy you a pizza if you re-experience your birth while in the middle of a stretch.
There is something about working within this method that is evoking changes in me at a level far deeper than any other physical work I have done and much remains unexplored. Up until very recently the bulk of my physical training was taken up by Ido’s online training program. On top of this there is tinkering and personal practice. Which could mean up to 5 or 6 hours of physical training in a day, 6 days out of 7. What I am describing above, this other type of directed bodily learning done in a Physical Alchemy long class, is different. The ‘Sea of Proprioception’ combined with ‘Body Tessellation’ modifiers to stretches seems to work the nervous system in a way that I have not felt with any other type of training. The re-patterning effects and post-class impressions last for days or weeks and are unique in my personal experience, at least at this moment in time. They also start to interface with the experience of Life in a way I have not seen elsewhere.
[*] ‘The Knowing Hand’ (or heel, or foot, or head …)
I first saw this collection of words in a Tom Myers article. It was in relation to the experienced application of bodywork. It’s funny looking back on this now – Tom had written his short piece in response to an article written by one of the more authoritative figures in the fields of ‘Pain Science’/Biomechanics and Physical Therapy. The gentleman in question was ‘calling out’ some of Mr Myers’ work – a new ‘scientism’ battling over semantics and claims that were or were not ‘evidence based’. As well as not being overly relevant to this article, I have no interest in adding to the discourse. I have included the link*** for those who wish to know more about it. These three words fit well here so I will use them to talk briefly about at the concept of intuition or creativity. This is something that is becoming more and more interesting for me in these sessions as I am slowly able to ‘feel’ these effects in my own body, more often. Of course this is best explored by actually experiencing it within a Physical Alchemy class.
Let me describe an experience. This one relates to ‘The Gondola’ an advanced variation in the ‘deep pressure’ syllabus. One person is lying supine in a relaxed position, leg supported with bolsters and the knee at 90 degrees. The partner uses the heel of their foot to sink deep pressure into the fleshy parts of long and short adductors. I especially like this variation because there are some gnarly restrictions in my right groin. One might call them “physical deposits of disenchantment”if one was so inclined.
These restrictions respond well to this deep pressure exercise and application of skillful force: The effect is multiplied by an unknown factor when the heel in question is attached to the body of Dave. This tends to happen a lot with him. Regardless of the fact that these ‘pockets of heightened sensitivity’ in my adductors can vary their position depending on any number of factors, Dave is able to ‘find’ these immediately. Occasionally a very small amount of palpation (heel-pation?) is required, but more often than not the place that is chosen to begin is exactly the spot where the pressure needs to be applied.
This might sound like an odd way to describe a type of physical intuition. But it is exactly this ability to ‘in the moment, by instinct, move in a direction that will enhance the stretch or experience in a way that provoke entirely new impressions to appear’ that we are talking about.
As described above with ‘The Gondola’ this can more obviously be felt when one is being assisted by someone who has this capacity. Their ability to place a hand; apply pressure or a vector of force in a way that enhances the experience of the person that is being stretched. This is observed more tangibly in class when Dave, Craig or certain other students come up with creative variations to stretches on the fly – asking for assistances never before attempted intuitively; applying assistance in a way that is exactly what the body in question requires at that time.
In order for this type of capacity to be evoked certain habits of physical, emotional and mental patterning that act as blocks to this process need to be dissolved from the person. And once they are these types of occurrences tend to happen more frequently. Dave has a huge body of material upon the lore, ‘signs and symptoms’ and patterns involved with the freeing of these three centres of intelligence from their binding by the forces of disenchantment and how this bridges the ‘repatterning’ and ‘alchemical stretching’ chasm. Indeed he is writing a revolutionary tome about this at this very moment.
Speaking personally, as you depart the known world of repatterning stretching (and even this world must be learned as it itself is far removed from fitness, ‘yoga’ and mobility work) you find yourself feeling and spontaneously doing things with no thought involved in the process: Eruptive vocalisations; Bovine noises; parrots cawing; cackling, unrelenting laughter; sadness; the arrival of ‘Mr Giggles’; gibberish in the form of an ancient Viking language. All this in response to very deep stretches or pressure.
The Alchemical Stretching classes do not account for the removal of these blocks in their entirety. Much of the ‘other’ side of Physical Alchemy is involved in melting these blocks but the probing of the physical body in this way is an extraordinary catalyst and a valuable adjunct to what is happening in the deeper layers of this work. And you do get more flexible, too. If that’s your thing.
‘Trying’ to be creative in this way, as is common place these days, blocks this very type of creativity from occurring.
It has to be allowed to happen. Talking or intellectualising about creativity, or merely thinking up new movement situations or games for a person to participate in does nothing to evoke this capacity. Certain practices are better at dissolving physical tension and restriction that can then allow new expression. Certain methods are superior when it comes to the specific investigation and incineration that is required for these intuitive and emergent capacities to develop within a human and they are happening more frequently here. Dave has mapped something completely new in the Alchemical Stretching work. I have studied many types of stretching training and none of it provokes the same capacities to emerge.
And this is to say nothing of the Reenchantment work that goes far deeper into ‘uncharted territory’ that most people are only dimly or not at all aware of. To adventure this far into dark and mysterious woods you need a map and a compass for the expedition. And this map I was given so slyly I pretty much found it sitting in my jacket pocket. The already unique work of the Alchemical Stretching syllabus only forms an entry point into the living current that is the Reenchantment work itself.
As well as the compass and the map, when seeking to escape dark woods a person needs a guide. One with a keen eye, is even more useful. When you come to realise how dark the woods actually are, the shock to the system can be horrifying. This insight leaves people vulnerable to maps that lead nowhere; or lead completely in the wrong direction; or to choosing guides who may have come across good maps but haven’t travelled the road themselves and mistake it for the territory. Yes, people use these analogies, but the reality of being presented with a good map and keen-eyed Guide is so startlingly different from what the speakers of such analogies say it makes you never want to speak another analogy in the whole of your existence. Dave has a way of guiding that has a crafty subtlety to it – right up until the point where you can digest the huge shocks of ‘not at all subtle’ that appear.
Alchemical Stretching as it is being taught by [DW] and practiced currently by the PA crew is totally unlike anything else being practiced in the realm of physical training – even if it bares passing resemblance to other material. The Reenchantment work is farther still removed from the mundane. And as such deeper discussion will be left for a future article. The work leads into the subsequent phases in an indirect and arcane way – stretching, body terrain and linguistics, physical intuition, atmospherics, ‘Alchemical stretching’, Reenchantment.
[*] Physical. Alchemy
This is living work. Constantly changing and mercurial. The postures used hold reference to other systems and styles but what people cannot see or feel is that the essence within the art of Physical Alchemy is completely different. Totally different. The alive nature of which spills over into conversations and non-physical occurrences within the training but is also enhanced and catalysed by the training. Physical. Alchemy.
People do not realise what is occurring here. Many of them don’t want to. Currents of ideas, images and form hold the sway of people’s attention. Far deeper than the physical work the essence of Physical Alchemy lays hidden and it is metamorphosing at an exponential rate.
I thought I had got something of its measure and shape in my 6 years of training in it. But just as I was writing this piece, this ‘knowledge’ went up in smoke and a startling revelation showed me many things that had been occurring the whole time that I was not aware of. Dave was there smiling at me as I had this thick veil torn from my view. These were critical features to the method that I had only just encountered. I don’t feel too bad though; almost no one is aware of these critical features and that is the key point. That I could have easily lived out my life without seeing these features of reality is a truly sobering and horrifying prospect to entertain. No… 6 years was not at all a high price to pay for this – quite possibly the bargain of a lifetime!
If you are lucky enough to find a stream of living work – dive into it! Don’t dab your fucking toes in and out, and in and out of stagnant pools. What people are seeking for exists but it doesn’t look the way that you have decided it should look. And so is easily missed.
I had always thought what Dave was doing with Physical Alchemy was different. Powerful. Now I know it is. I can feel its shape more fully now – in a way i have not been able to access before. This capacity has not completely stabilised. The experience of it was like a sledgehammer to the back of the head. A force strong enough to dislodge both the intoxicating hold and the cleverness of the intellect. There is much more work to do of course. But now I know it’s the kind of work I can actually do. Now. So I will.
‘The Alchemist Discovering Phosphorus’ by Joseph Wright
‘Myrddin’ by Anna Marie Ferguson
‘Owl’ by Unknown
‘Beneath the Surface’ – Julie Dillon