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Somatics: Yogas of the West

These practices can complement and strengthen your yoga, giving you new tools to integrate mind and body.

By Larry Sokoloff

According to Michele Miotto, a yoga teacher and teacher/practitioner of Body-Mind Centering in Santa Cruz, California, BMC teaches that each body system (e.g., the muscles, the skeleton, the fluids, the organs) initiates and supports movement uniquely. To aid her students in gaining greater awareness of their bodies, Miotto offers yoga classes that incorporate BMC principles. In these classes, she explores how the organs provide a sense of volume and internal support for the musculoskeletal system. For example, to help students connect with their large intestines so they can release more deeply and move more naturally, Miotto may use water balloons as props to simulate the movement and quality of their organs.

Continuum

Continuum's founder, Emilie Conrad, says that its emphasis is on "the body as a process rather than a bounded form." Conrad believes that the teachings of Continuum can help us to explore all the interconnected levels of existence, from the movement of our smallest cell to what she calls "the dynamic flow of a human being," to larger groupings such as society, the planet, and beyond. As Bonnie Gintis, an osteopath and Continuum instructor in Soquel, California, says, "Continuum is more a philosophy of life than an exercise technique."

Since bodies are mostly made up of water, Continuum emphasizes fluidity. The breath is considered the source of all movement. Creating wave motions within the body by using a variety of breaths and sounds is an important component of the discipline. Continuum can help anyone, including yoga practitioners, gain mobility and fluidity. Also, because Continuum can be approached so gently, it can be especially useful in healing from very serious injuries like spinal cord trauma.

Feldenkrais

Moshe Feldenkrais was an Israeli physicist and judo black belt who developed his somatic work to rehabilitate his own crippled knees. After much intensive research and experimentation, Feldenkrais concluded that simply stretching and strengthening muscles wasn't the best way to transform the body. Instead, the nervous system had to be retrained to send different messages to the muscles.

Over decades, Feldenkrais developed not only a hands-on method for this retraining, but also more than 12,000 "awareness through movement" lessons that can be taught to larger groups. By slowly and gently moving the body in the most efficient ways, these lessons allow the nervous system to learn new and better habits of movement and posture.

"Feldenkrais is much less demanding than yoga," says Michael Curnett, a Feldenkrais practitioner in Santa Cruz, California. Curnett thinks yoga students sometimes encounter difficulty in yoga poses simply because they don't understand how to perform one of the needed actions—say, for example, they struggle with Headstand because they can't get a lift through the spine. Because Feldenkrais lessons break down activities into very small components and don't require much muscular effort, they can help yogis learn to integrate the spine into movement one vertebra at a time.

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