I recently got back from four days up in Portland, studying the Reembody Method with founder Kevin C. Moore. It was an immersive experience, complete with understanding what we were looking at and experiencing the work on ourselves and each other.
To embody means to be personify or realize; from a physical perspective, to embody is to realize your physical self. To re-embody means to return to an embodied state. This is more than a physical idea, one which requires feeling how your body moves, establishing a connection between the mind and the body.
It also requires support. Throughout the four days, Kevin repeatedly pointed out the importance of social harmony. We are social creatures that evolved to pick up on social cues and to interact with each other and the environment in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, certain cultural norms affect our holding patterns (“Chest up!” “Shoulders back”). We learn to limit movement in our hips and pelvis to prevent unwanted attention. We become so busy trying to control how we are perceived we forget about actually interacting with each other. Some may argue they are the same thing, but I don’t think they actually are.
In order for change of our physical selves to take place, we need to feel safe. Have you ever walked into a social situation and felt really awkward? How do you respond? Does your chest constrict or do you puff it out? Do you try and make yourself smaller so nobody sees you or do you hold your head high in an effort to look intimidating? We all have specific ways of holding ourselves when we feel uncomfortable, whether we are aware of our body position or not. It’s as much a reflection of our mental state as it is our mental state. Now imagine trying to change your posture in this situation by lengthening your exhale, letting your eyes gaze forward and letting your legs relax.
If you truly put yourself in the above situation, you probably found it difficult to achieve a sense of relaxation in your imaginary self. Feeling socially awkward is not conducive to a sense of safety (part of the reason public speaking is fear inducing for so many people- there is a fear of how we are perceived by our peers which immediately causes a tightness in the chest, slightly increased respiration, and a general sense of anxiety).
Let’s alter the situation. Imagine you walk into a situation you think is going to be full of strangers, only to find your three favorite people sitting in the room. Would you be able to consciously find a more relaxed way of holding yourself now?
Support creates a sense of safety and feeling safe is how new patterns can be created and new habits can be formed. There is a reason massage therapists often have relaxing music and the scent of lavender diffusing through the air. It creates an air of calm, which equates to an environment where you don’t feel threatened.
To take this a step further, creating an environment that is non-threatening requires a teacher/coach/practitioner that welcomes feedback and is willing to ask questions. Relationships require give and take; if you as a practitioner never ask the other person what he is experiencing, while you are giving instruction, you aren’t listening. And being heard is a powerful source of connection between two people.
The two way communication that occurs between practitioner and client allows the client to begin observing. The ability to observe or notice one’s sense of self in space is actually extremely personal when you think about it. The feeling of the physical self can cause all kinds of emotions to well up, including frustration, elation, and sadness.
Reembody believes in sensing, which worked out well for me because teaching sensing is a huge part of what I do. Teaching sensing requires patience on both the practitioner’s and the client’s part, which can be challenging if the practitioner isn’t ready for it.
We live in a culture where we are taught feeling is a sign of weakness, so we ignore our physical feelings until they well up, too loud to be ignored, creating a sense of panic. As a result, the sensation of physical pain is one which is common and seemingly expected across generations, activity levels, and socioeconomic class. The old adage, “I think, therefore I am,” sometimes seems like it should be changed to “I think, therefore I hurt.”
However, things don’t need to be this way. This isn’t to say that occasionally, something will feel a twinge or bones won’t break. Accidents happen and we are mammals with nervous systems that will once in a while go a little hay wire. But chronic pain does not have to be the norm. And isn’t it curious that when we begin to sense and feel more of our physical selves, the chronic pain tends to quiet down, often times disappearing completely?
We are not perfectly symmetrical beings. We tend to favor one side over the other, a concept Kevin has thought a lot about and one which drives how he views the human body. If one side feels safe and the other doesn’t, why would you spend time feeling unsafe? We evolved to perform low level physical activity hours a day, with the occasional burst of high intensity activity to save ourselves or a member of our family. This kept us fit and using both sides of our bodies if not equally, then at least in a more equal way than we do in today’s world. What we consider exercise is often high intensity activity that drives the sense of fight or flight followed by long periods of sitting. We aren’t hunting, gathering, or building. And so we become out of touch with the feeling of both sides of ourselves. Often, when I work with people that aren’t used to sensing specific areas, clients describe body parts with curiosity, as though it isn’t really theirs,. But it is all us, none of it is foreign, and the more we learn to identify it as ours, the more efficient we become. We become able to self organize in a way that our bones support our structure and the muscles support the bones, rather than the other way around.
The lack of safety we feel in certain positions boils down to a fear of falling. Walking, he explained, is simply a series of falls with gravity pulling us down towards the earth with each step. If we aren’t comfortable with the transition between steps, we brace to prevent ourselves from falling forward.
The first source of connection with the ground is the foot, and so many techniques we learned focused on the feet and how they moved. If the foot is only used to receiving the ground, the mobility needed in to the forefoot and rear foot is limited. Conversely, if the foot is only used to propel us forward, different strength and mobility issues arise.
From a movement perspective, many of us know intuitively that the best place to start people experiencing either fear or pain is on the floor. The floor provides sensory feedback, allowing the brain to recognize more of the body. The risk of falling is as slim as you can get, and the sense of security people feel on the ground is immediately recognized. Teaching people how to trust the floor, giving their weight to it in a full and complete way, can lead to a sense of relaxation and improve general proprioception.
But at some point, people have to learn to manage their bodies in an upright position because that’s how the world works. Learning to transfer weight becomes important, and allowing the pelvis to move as pendulum provides support for the transition between legs.
In order for the pelvis to move, there needs to be freedom in the rib cage, which comes from breath. The exhale allows the clavicle, ribs, and sternum to move down and in. The inhale allows the pelvis to posteriorly tilt and the ribs to fill. Breathing causes a slight undulation, allowing movement through the spine and viscera.
Once the breath becomes more relaxed and the pelvis becomes free to rotate both ways, learning to fall becomes easier. A sense of safety develops as the structure feels more supportive.
The last reading we did for the course was from a chapter in the book “Being Mortal,” by Atul Gawande. In it, an 87 year old woman meets with a geriatrician to discuss her health. Partway through the discussion, the doctor gently requests to look at the woman’s feet. When she tries to demure, the doctor kindly explains that care of the feet tell you about a person’s mobility and general health. The compassion he showed her palpable.
Effective movement philosophies share common characteristics. They improve proprioception, require joint differentiation, alter a person’s movement habits by offering alternatives, and calm down the nervous system, opening the door for improved strength and mobility to be acquired in a pain free, easeful way (because when the structure is well organized and the nervous system is calm, you feel a bit like Wonder Woman or Superman. It still surprises me). What Reembody has done is delivered a system that addresses all of those things in a way that fosters connection and community. It is not meant to be a practitioner’s only way of doing things; rather, it’s meant to support the work the practitioner is already doing.
At the end of the day, it all boils down to this: provide kindness and compassion for the person in front of you in an effort to support change. Listen to the person, observe movement in a nonjudgmental way, and let your intuition be part of the solution, because an entirely systematic, rote protocol ignores the individual. The brain loves novelty; when a supportive practitioner offers a new movement option, either through tactile touch or in a non-threatening way, the client will thrive.
For more about Reembody, check out: https://reembody.me