Embodied Presence

Recently I watched an HBO documentary about an exhibit done by the well-known and controversial performance artist Marina Abramovic held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 2010. The exhibit was called “The Artist is Present” and consisted of  two chairs and a table with Abramovic (“The Artist”) sitting in one chair with the other chair available for anyone in the museum to come and sit across from her. As they sat, no words were exchanged, no signalling, just Abramovic being present with the person for as long as that person cared to sit there. It quickly became obvious that for many people  something significant happened as they met her gaze and became aware of her focused attention on them. Many people had profound experiences whilst just simply being there. And Abramovic was also transformed by the experience, not just from sitting with people at least 8 hours a day nearly every day for 3 months but from the “energy dialogue” as she calls it with over 1500 people.

The experience of watching that dynamic has been with me as I’ve been working with clients. I’ve been aware that a significant component of the work we do with clients is interwoven with our endeavour to be present with clients and model for them how to be present with themselves.

I’m struck by how the study of Ortho-Bionomy cultivates this embodied presence in ourselves and in the therapeutic dynamics with our clients. In fact, the very first principles and techniques that we learn are all about embodiment:

“Practitioner comfort is just as important as client comfort.”

It’s obvious that in order to help someone experience themselves in an embodied way we as practitioners need to model that for our clients. By starting with our comfort as practitioners we can more readily help our clients feel more comfortable. We’ve changed the focus from discomfort to what is easy and already functional. We’re starting from a place of wholeness – within ourselves and with the expectation of finding that within our client.  We’re receptive and relaxed and our task is to find what’s functional within our client and within us as well as.

“Non-attachment to outcome.”

We don’t set out to follow a specific agenda or protocol. Instead we engage in an on-going process which requires us to be even more observant to the responses to our interactions with our client. The advantage is that process allows for openness and curiosity in the course of our exploration of what is going on for our client. There is no requirement that there be a certain way in which a client responds but rather the onus is on us as practitioners to track how the client responds and then interact with those responses. Hence the quality of our attention becomes important.

“Creating space.”

This requires that as a practitioner I need to do more listening than talking or doing. When we create space we invite our client to become present, we support their responsiveness, and we value what the client brings and has to offer in their healing process. By quieting the environment the self-corrective impulses can be recognised and supported. We step back so that the client can step forward.

“Facilitating self-regulating processes.”

For me this is about trust: trust that the body is engaged in an on-going self-corrective process, that we can be present with our client without interfering, and that the “answers”, the functional solutions or healing processes, will emerge.  And because they emerge from our client’s direct experience there is a greater likelihood of being able to respond or act differently.

Engaging from a state of embodied presence we model the state from which change happens – spontaneously and generatively. And thereby allowing the change to be profound and deep.

And not only is our client transformed by embodied presence, so, too, are we.

For more information on Marina Abramovic the documentary on her performance installation check out their website: www.marinafilm.com


Why become an Ortho-Bionomy Practitioner?

As I teach classes I’m frequently asked, “Why should I become an Ortho-Bionomy Practitioner?” Especially if someone is already trained and qualified in another bodywork modality or somatic healing work, what would be the benefit of completing a qualification in Ortho-Bionomy? Wouldn’t it just be another certification to put up on the wall? I’d like to explore these questions in relation to my own training path.

I always go back to when I was first introduced to the work. It was 1986 and I was a client. The practitioner had been recommended to me but I had no idea what Ortho-Bionomy was or how it worked. I was experiencing stress and pain problems in my neck and back, and I also wanted to simply feel better in my body. What transpired during those sessions was truly remarkable for me. The tension and pain resolved quite quickly in that first session, but what really surprised me was the deep sense of wellbeing that I felt after that first session and through all of the subsequent sessions. I was being introduced to a way of understanding how my body worked and how it responded that transformed how I experienced myself. I wasn’t just “getting a treatment”, I was learning a new way of being that was both profound and long lasting.

A couple of years later I decided to learn the work for myself. Partway into the training it suddenly struck me: Ortho-Bionomy isn’t just a form of bodywork that I was learning how to do on people, it’s an inherently transformative therapeutic process.  I wasn’t trying to “fix” my clients. Rather I was helping them to reconnect with their own self-healing and self-evolving capacity. I understood that the Practitioner Training Program which I was pursuing was a process by which I was being directed and supported in learning technical skills and professional tools for helping others while at the same time deeply supporting me in an on-going personal process of self discovery and growth which continues to this day.

I tell workshop participants that the Practitioner Training Programs do more than provide the framework for developing our technical proficiency with the work. The programs bring us to the place where we have:

  • acquired a high level of sensitivity and accomplished palpation skills,
  • greatly enhanced our intuitive capacity,
  • attained a greater understanding of how to access the essential aspects that promote self healing,
  • demonstrated the highest level of technical skill and professional competence in working with clients,
  • completed a process which continues to open up entirely new levels of awareness and understanding of the healing process for ourselves and for others,
  • professional recognition of our accomplishments.

When we work in Ortho-Bionomy we facilitate the processes which enable clients to experience their innate wholeness. Because we learn how to meet our clients on all different levels – structural, muscular, lymphatic, visceral and emotional, to name a few – we are ideally situated to offer them support in ways that are totally unique and tailored for them. We focus on reconnecting clients with their capacity to self correct and self balance so that more can happen. We help them make conscious and unconscious choices which are essential for their experience of “wholeness”.

The Practitioner Training Programs are uniquely designed to allow individuals to embark on a course of study which is tailored to each person’s learning style and training needs. The programs provide trainees with:

  • a structure for completing the training process and maintaining one’s focus,
  • mechanisms for supervision and mentoring throughout the entire training,
  • opportunities for practise and feedback so trainees are able to track their progress and development,
  • a learning process which supports the development of one’s professional skills at a pace which is comfortable and sustainable.

Whether people have studied other healing modalities or not, training in Ortho-Bionomy exacts high levels of proficiency and competence which directly benefit our clients and ourselves. The learning process challenges us to become more sensitive, more observant, more “allowing” and more connected to our true selves. As we increase our embodiment of the principles of Ortho-Bionomy we also amplify the operation of these principles in all aspects of our lives.

The road to becoming an Ortho-Bionomy Practitioner is not a quick “super highway” but a steady path of exploration, self discovery and of a continually expanding understanding and awareness of the world around us and our relationship to it. It’s also a path which is deeply rewarding both for ourselves and our clients. In fact, the Practitioner Certificate signifies much more than the completion of a training program. It identifies that we have embarked on the path of living the marvelous phenomenon called “healing”.

The Power of Non-attachment

For me one of the most amazing aspects of doing Ortho-Bionomy is the practice of “non-attachment”. It certainly doesn’t mean that outcomes in a session don’t matter or that I don’t care about what happens in the session. Instead I believe that it becomes the ultimate form of caring – caring enough to truly allow the self-corrective process to unfold, trusting that the self-organising mechanisms are working, and supporting the body’s ability to function with the maximal amount of ease.

Coming from a place of non-attachment I begin each session without a preconceived idea about what the specific outcome is going to be. I have in mind the general goal of increased comfort, functionality and ease. That may be defined in a few different ways – reduction in pain, increased range of motion, greater postural or structural alignment, or greater relaxation. But it’s the path to getting there that I find really exciting and ultimately the key to success.

I start with what is functional: “Given the injury, stress or imbalance, how has my client’s body identified ways of functioning within the limits of pain and restriction?” So, instead of focusing on the dysfunction or what isn’t working and then trying to “fix” it, I begin the session with the exploration of what IS working. The rest of the session involves expanding that functional capacity and facilitating the resolution of the patterns of imbalance.

What then unfolds is the possibility for greater connection, clarity, understanding and awareness between the client’s body structures and nervous system. But if I approach the session with a preconceived notion of what is supposed to happen in the body or if I try to impose an outcome I very likely can interrupt or divert that restorative process.

Healing and balance come from within the person – it’s not something that can be imposed from the outside. A session then becomes a “healing conversation” and my role as a practitioner is to stimulate and support the self corrective resources within my client. Being open and listening to what my client’s body is saying, observing its responsiveness without judgement or expectation, and gently exploring the territory of physical and energetic patterns allows the body to step up and do what it does best: heal and balance itself.

Can you tell if you’re doing too much in a session?

One of the fundamental principles of Ortho-Bionomy is to do the least amount necessary to facilitate the body’s capacity for self regulation and self balancing. But sometimes we can end up doing too much or what we might call “over working” our client which can greatly reduce the effectiveness of the work or stimulate an exaggerated response.

There are definitely some signals that we may be doing too much in the course of the sessions with a client. Checking in with our client about how they are responding early on can help the session progress smoothly and comfortably.

1. Suddenly the responses in the body seem confused. As we’re working we may notice that the reflexive responsiveness that was clear earlier is no longer feeling coherent. In fact, we as the practitioner may be feeling confused about what is happening when we were feeling on track just shortly before.

2. The client or the body tissues start to feel agitated. Wen the nervous system is receiving too much information for it to process it may go into a state of hyperactivity to try to slow things down. So what was previously comfortable in the session is now feeling irritating or aggravating.

3. Suddenly it feels like the body is “unavailable”. Another nervous system regulating strategy is to simply check out – there won’t be any kind of reflexive response felt in the tissue in the tissues. It’s as if there is simply noone home to respond.

4. The tissues start to feel “waterlogged”. The body responses are no longer feeling crisp but are feeling sluggish instead.

So what can you do when you start to notice that you may be going into the over-worked state?

1. Shift the focus of the work to another part of the body. The area may need to have an opportunity to integrate following the input during the work it received. Working somewhere else can create some space to allow the input from the initial work to integrate and can support changes elsewhere.

2. Start working with self care exercises. Perhaps the amount of change that can happen in a session has already been achieved so it might be better to explore some self care techniques or exercises. I’ll often change the focus to what the client can pay attention to after the session so that the work can continue in the timing appropriate for the client.

3. Re-orient or centre yourself as the practitioner. Sometimes our attention can drift from tracking what is happening for the client and we’re actually no longer following the client’s patterns but our own. By initiating a “state shift” by re-orienting ourselves we can clarify the present time responses with the client.

4. Create more “space”. Perhaps the client is responding to the experience of having too much or too intense a focus. By stepping back and perhaps changing the pacing or timing of the session we can facilitate greater responsiveness with the client.

Usually when we overwork the client’s body is able to regulate efficiently and there are no adverse responses. For those clients that consistently report that they experience a greater than expected short-term exaggeration of symptoms after the session I’ll be more vigilant for signs of overworking. And I’ll also want to get more feedback from my client during the session to make sure that we’re both not missing the signals of nervous system over stimulation.

By noticing the early signs of overworking we can avoid overstimulating the client’s tissue responsiveness and we can efficiently facilitate change within the context of ease.

Welcome to my blog

Welcome to my blog on Topics in Ortho-Bionomy and Somatic Bodywork! My focus will be to explore the fascinating techniques, practice and philosophy of Ortho-Bionomy. I’ll also look at the cutting edge research in the field of Body/Mind studies and share can learn together how to utilise this in our own work and lives.

It’s difficult to describe Ortho-Bionomy as a contained “thing” or modality. Is it therapeutic bodywork, positional release, myofascial work, postural re-education, energy work, self awareness/self development work, neurolymphatic work, somatic/emotional integration, a holistic life practice? It would be great to be able to say that this is a bodywork modality and that was it. But that doesn’t reflect how deeply the work affects us and how we are directed to do what we do in a session.

I reflect back on the first sessions of Ortho-Bionomy I received 23 years ago. Certainly my low back pain and neck stress were quickly alleviated with the work. But there was something more to me than the easing of my body pain. In that first session I had a feeling of being supported, met, understood and appreciated. I had more of a sense of my body feeling connected, grounded and capable of functioning coherently. I was more aware of how I was moving in my environment.

These blog postings will cover some of the “how” and “why” of this work, and I look forward to our ongoing dialog about the amazing power and impact that Ortho-Bionomy has on us personally and professionally.