The stories a body tells of life events can be memories of physical, emotional or spiritual trauma and are very specific. They can be jumbled up where one story has become entangled with others related to it, or has been hidden for a long time, but once an atmosphere of trust has been established between hand and body it will tell all.
Body Harmony is both hands-on bodywork and an experience in self-determination. As a system it bridges and incorporates many different techniques, but at its heart are straightforward principles. It originated with Don McFarland who has been both student and colleague of numerous pioneers in the fields of bodywork, breath work, healing, psychology, sports and dance medicine. Don observed that whatever system was being applied to people's bodies, those bodies themselves had their own 'opinions' on what was being done and they had ways of making those opinions known.
This observation was consistently confirmed in his own practice, and he saw that the most effective, easily made and long-lasting change was being achieved by the bodyworkers who were open to listening to, and being guided by, the body responses that express these 'opinions'. An open and continually evolving approach to bodywork has developed out of Don's early observations. Practised and taught as Body Harmony, it regards each person as the expert on their own experience and looks to the awareness held within the tissues to guide the process.
Body Harmonists understand that lasting change is achievable and that this is supported by appropriate communication with all aspects of the individual; physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Communication achieved by a combination of careful observation and a range of active 'listening' skills, including a style of touch designed to maximize receptiveness to body signals. All bodies respond to both observation and touch. When a body is physically touched the responses can be identified from changes in tension and texture in the tissues and in the force and texture of the pulsing in blood vessels and energy flows. The slightest look can have the effect of a physical force in certain circumstances and a body will respond to even a passing glance. Through these responses each body can share the story of what has happened to its individual tissues and to the whole person: all of which it conveys to listening hands and observant eyes. When healing itself, each structure, layer of tissue, sometimes even each cell, has information on how to achieve this and its own preferences on how to go about it. It has preferences on which way it wants to move and how much support it wants at any particular time.
The stories a body tells of life events can be memories of physical, emotional or spiritual trauma and are very specific. They can be jumbled up where one story has become entangled with others related to it, or has been hidden for a long time, but once an atmosphere of trust has been established between hand and body it will tell all. Practitioners can pick up the specifics of body stories in different ways and it is entirely up to the individual body whether you get full details or just enough guidance to keep up with them. Often all that is needed for it all to tumble out is that someone will take the time to listen in this way. Personally I gain information in many ways but tend to be most aware of tissue textures and tensions against my hands and receive a sense of any related emotional tone. A session may be almost entirely hands-on communication or include more verbal interaction. The more obvious information comes when areas of tissue are holding, contracted or unusually still. A movement may only go through a part of an area, 'jump' over a section or push me away then call me back. Uncertain tissue can give an illusion of relaxation and movement while underneath holding an area of unexpressed pain; the memory of physical pain from disease or injury, or an emotional pain remembered and held somatically. It's not unusual to be aware of an issue being worked out but not the detail of it, in which case I may only know by the expansion in a contracted tissue, an overall relaxation or release of breath in my client, that a resolution is achieved. Equally often I will be told the story in incredible detail: either by the body or verbally when a memory or emotion has been brought to mind. Some bodies are very talkative, some more private, but most appreciate an opportunity to express themselves once sure that a practitioner is willing to truly listen without preconceptions, and willing to take the route they want to take.
Following body movement. As the session progresses, the practitioners
complement each others' touch to follow and support whole body movement
and individual tissue response.
Early on I would question the validity of some stories, especially those presenting in picture form or with no conscious recognition from my client. I soon learnt the detail with which the body remembers even when the mind chooses to forget or suppress and that body-to-body communication can take many forms. Just one example was being shown a mental picture of a wooden ruler and a school desk. I didn't know what this meant, or much about the person to put it into a context, so I simply shared what I'd pictured. The other person recognized no connection with it despite having a response in their body. In my own body I experienced signals I now know are signs of being onto something, but further mention caused nearly all movement, including breathing, to stop. I respected this indication of 'not now' and we continued with no more reference to it. Later, while sharing on a painful issue, the client referred to early years at school when it turned out the ruler had been the favourite, often unwarranted, instrument of punishment. This body had remembered and clearly shared relevant information with me at first touch.
The Role of Breathing
One indicator in that instance had been a change in breathing. Working with breath has always been an important component of Body Harmony: appreciation of breathing as a promoter of change and movement is intrinsic to the work. It is also an example of how this is an open and evolving system. Body Harmony practitioners are keen to learn about anything that will inform their practice. Don himself delights in exploring new ways of improving the ease and effectiveness of the work. Recent years have seen teachers of Continuum Breath and Movement guesting at our international events and explorations of breath, sound and tissue micro-movement, based in Continuum teachings, taking a place alongside other breath work in Body Harmony. Body Harmony is about growth and change in all their forms, making anything that is in keeping with the ethos of empowerment and that does not override body wisdom a useful tool. Body Harmonists are equally pleased when practitioners of other approaches feel they have gained from incorporating principles from this system into their own work.
Most Body Harmony sessions will start with a brief discussion of the client's current situation and the purpose of their visit. This forms the basis for a process of goal setting that focuses both participants – client and practitioner – on the key issues. After an initial observation of body structure goals will be developed further with the client walking: this gives the practitioner a chance to observe the body in movement. Areas of functional change can be identified and, as the client addresses how they wish to change, heal or achieve, there is a physical response to the expressed hopes and intentions. In one session Janie developed a tendency to veer to the left or catch her left foot when talking about making a real change in her medical condition. Explored verbally and with hands-on contact this proved to be the physical presentation of a belief that no change was really possible. Muscles in her lower leg would contract slightly, changing her balance: it only became evident when she played out the pattern, but she was doing this more and more and it was becoming more established in her tissues. She was literally tripping herself up. Subsequent work altered the response in these muscles and later in equivalents in her right leg with their own part in the equation. A related emotional release revealed and allowed her to move beyond beliefs developed in childhood, that nothing she could do would make any difference to her life. That her belief had created a physical reality probably isn't news, but that her body held a belief in her lower legs that had stopped her from ridding herself of recurring bouts of sinusitis may be less familiar. There are commonalities to where people store certain patterns but also each of us is highly individual and a Body Harmony practitioner can never get complacent about what they might find where.
Walking goals frequently highlight the emotional connection in physical symptoms or patterns of response, and throughout a session both conscious and unconscious movements can describe the way the individual has incorporated experience, injury or stress into their physical reality. The psychological and physical constantly interact. In recurrent sports injury it is not uncommon to find comments on the physical strain or the emotional stresses of training and competing focused in an injury, even when the initial physical symptom can be traced easily to a very physical incident with no apparent psychological element. The resultant effects overlay and interact, often making that the place that gives way physically despite the utmost care taken with training programmes. One recurrent elbow injury in an avid cricketer responded positively to just five minutes of Body Harmony attention while we had a casual conversation about how it couldn't possibly work.
Body communications can be very literal: they can be as distinct as coming into a session with a streak of marker pen smeared on the area in question or a sticker attached to clothing. Commonly these are unconscious events that might easily be dismissed, but it pays not to dismiss any information given out in a session. At other times it is quite subtle: every human being is incredibly skilled at distracting attention from the areas that feel too vulnerable to reveal. A person can offer body information in total openness and innocence, while at the same time deflecting an observer from it, to the extent that it is possible to be looking straight at the disclosure yet not take it in. Besides being a defence mechanism this can also be a way of checking out if you have the awareness and sensitivity needed to complete the session. When the observer notices these mechanisms, is not distracted, or correctly names (without condemnation) the issue being protected, a person's whole being can show relief, even delight, and move into an entirely new phase of exploration. Throughout Body Harmony a practitioner is also aware of how literally body tissue takes language. Each person can have their own set of loaded words or phrases that may seem totally innocuous to someone else. Significant words may provoke enabling or compressive responses which you can't necessarily predict, so a Body Harmony practitioner observes the physical, verbal and energetic responses to the various observations, comments and exchanges that take place in the session.
The emphasis on a listening touch reflects the same attention to being appropriate to the moment. This touch is non-invasive, fluid, soft and open, but otherwise its nature is directed and determined by the instruction and feedback from the tissues so can vary from exceptionally light and gentle to significantly forceful. Yet nothing is imposed, and any suggestion offered, verbal or via touch, is done in a spirit of exploration with the tissue and person free to say no. In one session, following tissue movement I was led to apply a gentle pressure to my father's ankle. He had suffered persistent discomfort after fracturing his calcaneus or heel bone. It had healed well and he had received physiotherapy, but a year later his foot still hurt. As a trauma nurse I know this sort of injury can leave residual discomfort for extended time, but it was another bone in the ankle that met my touch and equally gently moved back into place. It could have only been minutely displaced, giving no other problem with function or range of movement. Examination by several people had not suggested displacement, but he had no further discomfort from it after it moved back.
The body intelligence as revealed through the tissues is also very acute at sensing any incongruity between words, thoughts and actions. We repeatedly see how tissues respect and crave honest communication. This sensitivity is especially true where there is a history of emotional trauma or doubletalk of some kind. It remains as a confusion, anger or lack of trust not only in the mind but also in the tissues of the body. These tissues listen very carefully to whether the practitioner is congruent: do their words match their touch? In their own body do they show evidence that change is possible? Have they experienced the truth of the work they are offering? While all practitioners are 'works in progress', an essential component of qualification and ongoing practice is that we apply the principles of Body Harmony to ourselves and embody them sufficiently to share our internal model of congruence and possibility to our clients. All tissue also actively seeks to reclaim a sense of joy and an ease of function, so it helps that the process of becoming a Body Harmony practitioner is largely experiential. From this a practitioner has in their own tissue the memory of movement, pleasure, happiness or laughter reclaiming its place from shut down, fear or physical injury. Luckily for us most body tissue values a willingness to listen and work with honest intent above any mental construct around health or physical perfection. Things as simple as remembering that life can be good or smiling when working have a positive effect on body tissue. Most commonly, Body Harmony sessions take place on a massage table but sometimes a whole session will take place in the goal setting and walking phase. There can be an immediate and continuing body response, such that it becomes evident that to transfer to a massage table, change from vertical to horizontal and intervene with hands-on would not only be redundant, but would also interfere with the work going on. Respect for the body intelligence includes knowing when to stay well clear and let it get on with it.
Use of Hot Water
A real treat is Body Harmony in hot water. With the body supported by the environment there is greater freedom of gross movement, and in a pool one or more practitioners can gain easy access to the body from all angles. The warmth of the water, which is best at hot bath temperature, helps to speed up the whole process. When done as a group activity, members can swap and share sessions, moving from one to the next in a dance of freeing moments. While many sessions are one to one, such group work is also an important feature of Body Harmony. A range of options is available. Introductory days and courses teach application of the basic principles. Longer workshops enable people to expand their personal use of Body Harmony or can be components of the formal preparation for practitioners. Some are suitable for both. In the same way that a water environment potentiates the effects of touch, a group sharing Body Harmony potentiate the effects for each other. As often as not, there are common themes running through the issues and problems addressed despite participants coming with a wide range of symptom presentations, backgrounds and difficulties.
Relationships and Community Structures
Besides courses there are support and development groups where practitioners and other participants who appreciate Body Harmony can come and develop their skills. People bring their everyday stresses and strains and apply Body Harmony to the body of their lives. In such groups it is easier to see the relevance of Body Harmony to social structures such as families, communities and even corporate and business bodies. Relationships in families can be observed responding to physical and emotional changes from previous sessions. Community issues can be worked out through the changes in the way an individual interacts in the larger group and by directly addressing the structures and functioning of the group as a whole. Body Harmony principles are used in larger groups by experienced practitioners acting as consultants to business to improve both efficiency and smooth running. Individual and group reactions are observed, paying attention to underlying stresses and unspoken issues operating. Body Harmony-based interventions are used to help the individuals who make up the group to address the problems and create workable answers to improve efficiency and effectiveness as well as overall harmony.
When asked who can benefit from or might be able to practise Body Harmony I usually refer back to comments in Don's first book Body Secrets: "Bodies know very quickly about other bodies… Learning body language is just like learning any other language. Fluency develops with practice and attention to detail." We all inhabit a physical body so at some level we all already speak it. What is sometimes needed is a reminder that you do indeed understand what your own body or the body you touch is saying. Like any good conversation Body Harmony is a two-way process, more informative and enjoyable if neither party has too many preconceptions; more wide ranging and adventurous if each is willing to be flexible and share their views. Both participants listen to and learn from their own and each other's tissues.
I've experienced personally how profound Body Harmony is and witnessed 'unbelievable' responses in others. Body Harmony teaches active receiving as well as active listening, which for many people is a revolutionary concept leading to an expanded sense of their ability to receive in other parts of their lives. It has been taught and practised in this country for over 15 years and is valued by a wide range of people. Artists, writers and performers frequently enjoy a new release of creativity and singers have used it to develop different qualities in their voice. Business people draw on it, not least for clarity and confidence in decision-making. Dancers, sports people and others who need fluid body strength or relief from injury try it as a different approach and opt to return. Parents use it for themselves and then bring their children. In short, people from all walks of life use it to enhance their work, ease distress or disease, improve their relationships and personal life, even to draw their dreams into reality, so it isn't really feasible to define who can or can't benefit as client or practitioner. We all already speak this detailed language, so Body Harmony can be used by anybody for themselves and is a powerful professional tool.
"Treat people as if they are what they ought to be and help them to become what they are capable of being." Goethe cited by McFarland 1988.
"If you let it, the body will tell you its secrets. And having told them, will be free to move on." McFarland 1988.
"Never use one pattern on every person. Every person is unique, and work on that principle." Contribution from a course
participant quoted by McFarland 1988.
"God's wisdom dwells in everyone, in every hand and foot and head. In every mouth and eye and ear in the universe. It is called the light of lights, the object and goal of knowledge and knowledge itself." Bhadavad-Gita.
"A good traveller has no fixed plans
and is not intent on arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is."
Tao Te Ching.
Books about Body Harmony
McFarland Don. Body Secrets (Unwinding Your Historical Limitations). Permanent Press. ISBN 0-944504-00-0. 1988.
McFarland Don. The Benedictions of Pan. Permanent Press. ISBN 0-944504-01-9. 1992.
You can order direct from www.bodyharmony.org
The currently accredited teachers in the UK are Kit Ford-Young and Kate Verney who collaborate as Body Harmony UK. There are often courses with visiting teachers.
Kit can be contacted on Tel: 01458 833250 or Caboodle@compuserve.com
Kate can be contacted on Tel: 01989 770787 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Further information on Body Harmony, practitioners worldwide and international courses is available at www.bodyharmony.org
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