Fill in the Gap
"I often begin with breathing to get a student in touch with her body," Eliot says, "because the work is going to unfold as a dialogue between us, not as me doing something to make her feel better. What I'm looking for is a way that I can begin to connect with her, and help her connect with her own body. Breathing is a great way to do that because it's something that people have control over."
Elliot explains that the breath can help move the body from solidity to fluidity. When most of us think about how to initiate movement, we approach it from an awareness of bones and muscle. But the body is 70 percent water.
"If you think about the interfaces between the organs and soft tissues and functional joints," she says, "then there's a lot more possibility for movement at many levels. Oftentimes we have a concept of certain parts of ourselves, even unconsciously, as being glued together. If you can infuse those places with a consciousness of the potential of fluid movement, that actually helps things unglue."
At one point, both Elliot and I wind up on the floor in an attempt to help me understand some of the more subtle BMC principles, such as awareness of the inner organs. I think of the story of the yogi from India who could stop his heart at will. My hope is that we'll start with something a little less indispensable.
Elliot begins by demonstrating a basic twist, first by initiating movement from the more obvious structural sources (bones and muscles), then contrasting this with movement initiated from within the actual organs themselves.
"The mind of each organ is different from the mind of muscles," she says. "Not that one is better or worse. If I always use one way of movement, the other avenues atrophy because they're not getting use."
When it's my turn, Elliot attempts to guide me in search of my liver by placing her hands over my diaphragm and on my back. She reminds me that twisting poses are excellent massages for all the internal organs. Now, however, the idea is to access the "mind" of just one organ and to initiate movement from it.
My liver is obviously part of my shadow, and my shadow is eluding me. In fact, I have no sense of my liver at all. All I can summon is the image of that lifeless slab of meat my mother used to bring home from the butcher.
When I mention this to Elliot she laughs good-naturedly. She does this occasionally throughout our session, usually after some deeply esoteric explanation. Perhaps she understands that to most people, the idea of communicating with each of our cells or the idea that the liver has some kind of intelligence sounds a bit, well...esoteric.
Part of the challenge in learning Body-Mind Centering, says Elliot, "is that it's an actual value not to engage cognition right away. If you approach movement with your conscious mind and nervous system, you tend to be looking from the place of what you already know. It's very hard to actually have a new experience from that place. So part of the method is to go into the depths, into the shadows. One of our maxims," she adds with a laugh, "is that the mind is the last to know."