A couple of weeks ago I had my first opportunity to learn from Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen* – on a workshop entitled ‘Exploring the Embodiment of our Organs from a Developmental Perspective.’
During those three wonderful days in Liverpool, I caught up with many special and much loved friends – former colleagues from my Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy training, yoga teacher friends from Manchester and many other BMC® friends. But most thrilling for me was getting to meet Bonnie. What struck me most about Bonnie was her warmth and how accepting of everyone she was. This meant we felt comfortable and able to share and learn easily. I feel a big smile inside myself as I remember this aspect of working with Bonnie. Perhaps the following wise words of hers explain a little about how she’s got to a place of such acceptance, she said:
“Sometimes we have to get knocked around a bit to realize why we’re here”.
Appreciation of Bonnie’s ability to accept and have compassion for people seems to have been a common experience of those learning from her. This is what Judith Ginzberg said in an interview published in Currents, the Body-Mind Centering Association Journal:
“ I had never met anyone who was so across the board non-judgmental, so accepting and patient and tolerant of everyone. I have always loved this about Bonnie – for me this was the most powerful teaching I received from her.……. I so felt that this was the way we are meant to be. We are meant to be open to one another and accept one another’s less-than-stellar qualities and not be so ready to pounce on one another….. Even when we think we’re being really great human beings, we are internally judging all the time, and who knows, maybe Bonnie is too, but outwardly she certainly was embracing of everybody. There were always those people who were not embraced by the group. But Bonnie did embrace them. I was very appreciative of that…… For me, sometimes being around her was like having darshan.”
On the workshop we learned fascinating stuff about the formation of the organs in the very early stages of development. The lungs for example: up to week 4, the lungs are just one bud; by 28 days, right and left bronchial buds begin to emerge; by 33 days, secondary bronchial buds start to appear (3 on the right and 2 on the left); by 35 days, there are tertiary bronchial buds; by week 7, there is a trachea, an oesophagus, the lung on the right has upper, middle and lower lobes, the lung on the left has an upper lobe with 2 divisions and a lower lobe. The inferior division of the upper lobe on the left has equivalence to the middle lobe on the right. Having studied the lobes of the lungs through listening to Bonnie and looking at pictures, we then explored them in an experiential way and our learning became embodied.
Back in Harrogate, I continued to explore the embodiment of this work with my students. In class I often encourage my students to feel breath in the back of the body. We usually begin this focus by working in pairs – one person brings hands to the other student’s back. Working with a partner is especially effective because greater awareness can be created through the touch of another. This time we looked at pictures of the lobes of the lungs first and then placed hands on those areas to differentiate awareness in the three lobes/divisions on each side. Then we applied this awareness in asana. There is an especially delicious connection from the lower lobes – experienced in the back of the body through to the back leg and foot in Parsvakonasana.
On the workshop we also learned about the development of the heart and sought to embody that too. Bonnie taught us that in movement, the heart should be gently supported by the lungs. In forward bending moves she encouraged us to experience the lungs swinging forwards and towards each in the front – in this way the heart is gently supported and compression of the heart is avoided. She showed us a kind of Warrior 3 balance with the heart supported by the buoyancy of the lungs in front – ‘flying like Peter Pan’! When we experimented with this concept in one of my classes, a student suggested it could be like having an ‘air bag’ in front – a great image.
In back bending moves, Bonnie believes strongly that pushing the heart forward should be avoided. She said this could compress the pulmonary vessels between the heart and the lungs, therefore stressing the heart. Instead she encouraged us to fold the lungs towards each other behind the heart – “holding it like a baby”. Then she said “the heart can remain soft and calm and the blood flow is open and free.”
After experimenting with this concept in class this week, one of my students emailed afterwards with the following comment:
“Thanks Amanda – I went home….watered my garden feeling very centred and it reminded me that I had recently read that Wi Fi accelerates cell division which is one reason why people are suffering more these days…..but we do depend on it and so finding ways to counter the effects of technology are vital to our own health. When any of us sits at a computer our heartbeat increases…..So last night…..during yoga my heartbeat slowed……my mind settled and trying to breathe behind and in front of my heart helped me to locate where I come from and who I am……I often find that the effect of yoga comes after the practice rather than during it……….and breathing in different ways connects me internally and externally to the important things in life.”
Other interesting stuff we learned on the workshop concerned the kidneys. The fact that we have 3 sets of ‘kidneys’ at approximately 50 days after conception was totally new to me. They are called the Pronephros, the Mesonephros and the Metanephros. The Metanephros become the kidneys as we know them – the other two sets disappear, but an energetic sense of them remains. We sought to sense the subtle pathways for alignment that are a memory of the connection between the Pronephros in the neck and the bladder. The pathways are a way of finding alignment between the head/neck and the rest of the body.
There were three shiatsu practitioners in the group, who said the energetic pathways we were seeking to sense related to meridians in Chinese Medicine and the practice of Shiatsu. It seems practitioners of Shiatsu are therefore working with subtle energetic pathways arising from our embryonic experience.
As we were nearing the end of the three day workshop and our organ explorations, Bonnie made the importance of organ support abundantly clear in her own movement. She assumed the crumpled, collapsed posture of an old woman – without support from the organs. Then she drew on her organ support and began springing buoyantly around the room. Her movement was vital, powerful and mesmerising. As she had said to us earlier:
“If you don’t do your thing, no-one else will”
* Bonnie’s life work is Body-Mind Centering® In a nutshell this involves exploring how mind is expressed through the body in movement.