Back in 1991, I had my first experience of Body-Mind Centering® on the beautiful Greek island of Skyros. ‘Sense millions of cells in your body….. expanding and condensing in a breathing rhythm all of their own’, said our teacher, Jens Johannsen. Then we basked in the dappled shade of Atsitsa’s Magic Circle as he transported us to the very essence of our cellular being.
After this idyllic start, I continued to encounter BMC® (Body-Mind Centering®) whilst learning and practising Contact Improvisation. I was curious and I enjoyed the experiences but it hadn’t occurred to me that BMC could be applied to yoga, until I read some articles by Donna Farhi in Yoga Journal. It dawned on me that she was using BMC principles in her description of how to do yoga postures. I was intrigued, so when I saw a tiny advert in the back of a 1999 Yoga Journal for a two week Teacher Training with Donna in Vancouver, I took a big leap of faith and decided to go. It was a big leap of faith, because Donna wasn’t widely known in Europe at that time. Her ‘Breathing Book’ had been published but her seminal work ‘Yoga, Mind, Body and Spirit’ was not published until 2000. My gut instincts to do the training were vindicated in those two weeks – my yoga teaching and practice began a transformation and journey that is ongoing still.
One aspect of BMC are the Movement Patterns evident in evolutionary development of the animal kingdom – including us humans. From Donna, I learned the importance of embodying the movement pattern Navel Radiation to provide integrity of alignment in asana. Navel Radiation is movement that we all experienced in utero from about eight to ten weeks after conception. These movements radiate out from where the umbilical cord attaches to the navel, from the placenta. The movement of the foetus is supported by the surrounding amniotic fluid and from within, by the motility of the organs (which are present but not fully formed or functioning at this stage). Muscles as agents of movement do not develop in the foetus until much later – during the last three months in the womb. This means that our early experiences of movement, consist not of muscles contracting actively to move bones but of more fluid movements organised around a centre – the navel – and supported by the organs. The Navel Radiation Pattern can usually be seen quite clearly in a newborn, and during the first two months of life; it becomes less evident, but continues to play an important role in supporting movement, and ultimately locomotion, during the first 14 months of a child’s life.
Practising yoga asana as an adult, you may be aware of a lack of connection between your limbs: arms, legs, head, tail, and your centre. Accompanying this may be a sense that prana is not flowing readily through your body. By re-familiarising your body with the Navel Radiation Pattern and regaining a sense of limbs moving in and out from your centre, asana practice can be transformed.
How to explore the pattern and embody it: Lie supine on a blanket on the floor. Bring a hand to your belly (centre). Begin to feel your breath movement here. Notice if there is ease or any feeling of restriction. Take your time as you allow your breath to move freely in your body. Once you’ve relaxed and settled into witnessing your breath rhythm, begin to notice your breath movement travelling beyond the belly. Can you feel the breath in your chest? Maybe you feel breath movement as far as your shoulders and arms? In the opposite direction – can you feel breath movement into your pelvic region and maybe towards your thighs? See how far from your centre the breath movement naturally travels. Now see if you can initiate the breath movement into these areas from your centre – so you are more active in your intention. Amplify your breath – make your breath bigger – this may make the exploration easier. As your movement develops more intention, imagine yourself as a creature in the sea, fluidly opening out from centre and in towards centre again. If you need a more practical approach, move as if making the first stretches you would do on waking up in bed in the morning. Continue until you feel your movement exploration is done, lie quietly for a few moments and notice how you feel.
Back on your yoga mat, see if you can apply the navel radiation sensations into asana. Trikonasana and Ardha Chandrasana are especially good poses in which to explore the pattern. Aim to include the Yield and Push pattern in your exploration.
Here I’m demonstrating how to come into Trikonasana with support from Navel Radiation and Yield and Push pattern. Happy practising!
Moving into Trikonasana. Feel the breath in centre. Push to straighten your front leg as you open out from centre.