Sunday, February 7, 2010

Books: Sensing, Feeling, and Action, by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen

This collection of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen's articles and interviews serves as a kind of exploratory textbook on Body-Mind Centering (BMC), Bonnie's methodology for increasing proprioception and kinesthetic awareness. Though the chapters are culled from 1980s issues of Contact Quarterly, a small dance magazine that's still around, the book is of interest to movement-curious non-dancers (e.g. yogis, marshal artists, athletes, and physical therapists). Unlike the average western orthopedist, Bonnie understands the body as an integrated (or, when things go awry, dis-integrated) set of systems that support each other, so that the muscular-skeletal system is not only not the initial generator of movement, but it is also not always the root of what seems to be a muscular-skeletal malfunction or discomfort.

Bonnie is very well-attuned to developmental patters, and points out that the neurological pathways that instruct our muscles to generate movement are formed very early in life. Any number of factors can interfere with the development of the ideal, most efficient pathway, which can lead to physical problems later in life. Perhaps the best example is that of the infant transitioning from lying on its stomach, to lifting its head using the muscles along the spinal cord, to propping itself up on its arms and developing those muscles, until it is strong enough to push itself back onto its seat. Now, the baby can sit up straight and strong, because it has spent months exercising its neck and back, and those muscles are fully formed. Parents, though, often overzealous and over-valuing precocity, will sit their babies up prematurely, so that the baby slumps over. This will translate to slouching in later life as well. Similarly, pre-mature walking, encouraged by baby-bouncers and walkers and the like, puts the body in a vertical posture before the core muscles have been properly developed, which happens through crawling. Thus, Bonnie might give an adult with poor posture baby exercises. An adult who slumps over should lie on her stomach and, slowly locating the base of her spine, engage those muscles to gently lift her head and look around, the way an infant would. Bonnie might "wake up" certain ineffective muscles by tickling the back of the neck with a feather, which sensation initiates awareness and then encourages the woman to use the more efficient muscular pathway. Similarly, an adult with a weak abdomen and a collapsed lower back, who walks with his shoulders actually behind his pelvis, would be given crawling exercises, to integrate his core and recover his plumb-line.

But this book is not only about correcting movement deficiency. Bonnie writes about the organs, and how we can generate movement from these places, which each have their own tone. She illustrates this with a series of photographs, analyzing people's postures and explaining which organs dominate their postures. She also writes about the fluid systems, the coursing of blood and lymph through our bodies, and has a detailed chapter on the workings of the voice, along with exercises for opening the voice so that it sounds from deep in the body. The exercises are focused on integrating the different systems, for example sounding through different organs, which seems a little kooky, but actually is both freeing and fascinating, once we have moved past our inhibitions.

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