Self-Imaging: Every Body Has A Story to Tell
An experienced movement practitioner sheds some light on how to connect to your body through personal imagery, and how that connection can foster positive change in all aspects of your life.
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August 31, 2007
Self image—an authentic sense of self—is enhanced most deeply and truthfully through images that occur to one’s self, not through forced imagery. Telling someone what to do most often isn’t viable, especially if it’s put forth, as “You should do as I do,” or “This has worked for me.” People resist being told what to do, and this resistance creates tension in the body.
I have discovered as a teacher of movement and spinal support that I cannot tell you anything that you do not already know or sense on some level in your own body. It is my job to guide you to the utilization of your own imagination in order to create changes that better support the spine and changes that better support your life on many levels: confidence, ease, empowerment.
Using images is essential to a mind-body process. My job as a mind-body practitioner is to invite, encourage, and enable your imaginative process, and to guide you through exercises in which you realize that your thought process is a bodily thing.
Sparking someone’s own imaginative process is different than feeding images. Who hasn’t watched a movie after reading the book and been disappointed? What we imagine while we read is not just different than what the moviemaker decides to show, but more detailed and fluid than any outside source can produce.
For example, in a recent lesson, I was guiding a woman in performing arching movements of the upper spine. I instructed her to drop her shoulder blades in order to access the powerful muscles below the blades. Then, I guided her into an arch suggesting her to feel that her head moves not from the neck, but from the part of the spine in between the shoulder blades. I related to her that these muscles are also connected to the triceps; she should not stretch into the arch by pushing forward from the shoulders, but by wrapping the muscles in her mid-back to the undersides of her arms. “The arms come from the same part of your body as where you are moving your head from,” I said.
“I feel like a praying mantis!” she mused excitedly, “like my wings are way down low and I have front legs that are coming out of my waist.”
The muscular engagement and the skeletal direction led her into a sensory experience that she had not previously felt. This spring-boarded her imagination into an experience that profoundly changed the way she supported herself—not needing to hike herself up with chest and shoulders, but to hover herself with a wing-like back and a head that came out of her body rather than off of her neck. I could not have related imagery that would have more effectively created the powerful ease in which she moved into the arch.
I asked if she had seen the cover of the Science Times a couple of weeks prior, as there had been an article about praying mantises. She had seen it, but hadn’t really read it. It didn’t matter whether she read it, or whether this was a recollection of a praying mantis from a past visual. She had experienced a relationship she could feel between her muscles and her skeleton that led to her imagination to become freed and fueled by her sensory feelings. Her excitement combined with the experience of moving her body in a new way, contributed to a fascination for changing the way she supports her body. No amount of my own experiences or images could have brought forth the change that she enabled through her own imaginative experience. I felt successful in what I believe my job is: to fuel someone’s own imaginative process to promote better support of one’s self.
She came back onto the table in the same way she had come off, not by shoving with her shoulders and dropping down, but by flying forward to land. She then stood up and said, “Ooh, I feel taller.”
“Well, you are now more of your full height,” I told her. And much more importantly, “Now you are connected—you’re not a head and neck anymore—you’re a spine.”
I have learned that no amount of anatomical information I can relate creates profound change. It is a potency of image that occurs in the spirit of relationship that develops through dialogue in the course of a lesson. Each person brings a rich wealth of experience that gets tapped into during the dialogue encouraging what it is that the person is feeling while they are doing. This is their sense of self, the combination of thought and bodily movement.
At one time, I thought I had a feeble imagination. I thought that I should be able to close my eyes when I thought of some person or place and be able to create a projection—like on a movie screen—in my mind’s eye. I could at best see brief little snapshots. I believed that my mind and my imagination were solely in my head. Now, knowing that my mind flows through my entire body, I sense what I wish to remember with a bodily feeling rather than a visual seeing-it-in-my-head. We spend a lot of time in our heads. If we truly desire to get out of our heads—to free ourselves from latching onto feelings of worry and dread—it is essential to have a sense of your mind, not as a brain in a skull, but as a flow through your entire bodily system and most prominently through your spine. To get out of our heads, we must give ourselves somewhere else to reside.
Gaining an authentic sense of self through the spine
We project a sense of self more based on what we see in a mirror than what we feel in ourselves more deeply. As a dancer I spent an extraordinary amount of time in studios with mirrors, studying my self from the frontside, not knowing (because I had no sense of it) I possessed an enormous amount of power in my backside, which I could not see. We see ourselves (both literally and figuratively) as frontal flesh rather than sensing ourselves as central beings radiating from our spines. We are assaulted everyday with full frontal imagery designed to tell us what to wear, what to watch, what to do, and what we should aspire to look like. This sort of bombardment stifles the exploration of individuality, as the imagery is based on what companies decide will produce the best sales. Our thought of self then, becomes based on how someone else thinks we should look, feel, and act.
I have witnessed many times someone’s entire composure change when they have a true sense of themselves as a spine. Frontal tension eases. The eyes change from the glossiness of forced-concentration to a glimmer of understanding, as they simultaneously take in optically and emotionally express outwardly. They release the false urge to have to lift the ribs up towards the head or project them out in front of them. Most often it happens when someone is lying on the backside, so that they can let go of the conditioned obsession with the frontside, and release into the back body. Depth is physically and emotionally achieved in the space between front and back.
Don’t get hung-up, hang loose
Many will speak of core strengthening as the secret to alleviating physical pain, however, the notion of core extends beyond physicality. There are core beliefs that guide us in decision-making and spirituality, there are core principles that companies and organizations profess to prospective clients, and there are core issues that people deal with in therapy. In fact, many therapeutic techniques, both physical and psychological focus on getting to the core. I have had great success participating in a body-oriented psychotherapy called Core Energetics that seeks to heal the mind through the body.
What I realized over time is that becoming connected to your physical core can help your mind and emotions to heal more effectively as well. If in order to heal your body, you must strengthen your physical core by engaging your mind and emotions, then it would stand to reason that in order to heal your mind and emotions, you must engage your physical core through your spine.
You can see this mind-body connection throughout the way we think. Terms of emotional awareness, strength, and healing, which we treat primarily as figurative—having a gut feeling, possessing backbone, standing on your own two feet—these terms and phrases all have a physiological origin.
Sit up straight, shoulders back
There are other residual benefits of getting more connected to your core. If your spine is well supported your posture allows you to come across as more confident and self-assured. A more elongated stance allows your clothes drape marvelously from your body. Mentally and physically being in your backbone gives you a more fluid access to the flow of your nervous system, which flows through and winds off of the spine. When the spine feels suspended rather than clamped in place, you can allow yourself to go with the flow rather than feeling like you have to get a grip.
A perception of self as a skeleton can seem strange or even morbid. But when you think that within every bone there is marrow, and that marrow produces red blood cells, then you can gain a sense that the bones—besides being structural support—literally have life in them. Our muscles were not created to hold our bones together; they were created to move our bones through space. When the mind and the body connect, there is no need for exertion on lifting ourselves up, holding anything in place, or holding ourselves together—it simply flows.
Tim practices his back-body and movement philosophies at his sun-drenched West side studio, Backbone & Wingspan, located at 115 West 30th St, Suite 1209. For more information, call 212.647.8878