To define Body-Mind Centering®* is to be left with many open questions. This is its beauty. I am writing from my personal BMC practice and in my professional work with clients and students, who sometimes are mystified by the process and want definition. BMC can be slippery around definition, not because it is unclear, but because the practice is a deep one. It is not formulaic, and it never settles into self-satisfaction.
Deeply embracing Body-Mind Centering® may feel like jumping off a cliff, but it’s a perceptual cliff. This list marks some of the details of the journey along that edge, not to make it feel safer, but to identify the choices that we face. It may not be a descent at all, but some other passage, in multiple directions.
This list is organized around general topics, yet remains fluid. It could be reorganized in another way. There are several open questions that I believe should always be open for discussion. These include: what is consciousness? What is presence? What is awareness? What is mind? The value of these questions is that they cannot be resolved with codifying or solidifying. They must, I believe, remain unanswered—but always faced and addressed.
Consciousness resides within the cells of the body. Each cell has its own consciousness, and each cell shares consciousness with other cells. Some words to describe this consciousness might be “self-knowing” or “innate intelligence”. Even though consciousness in a somatic context is an open concept and is not easily defined, it can still be experienced. With experience we have inner knowing, but we are still left with the question: what is consciousness?
Every cell contains the DNA of the person. In other words, the cells of the body know that they are part of one body. This whole-body cellular consciousness is a baseline awareness that underlies tissue-specific cellular consciousness.
All body tissues are made up of cells or at least contain some living cells, and within each tissue there is cellular knowing about that tissue.
The body is a community of intelligent systems that are made up of specific tissue structures. The systems are defined as: skeletal, muscular, ligaments, organs, fluids, nervous system, and endocrine. The systems of the body work in concert with each other. In BMC we work toward a healthy balance among the systems.
Communication Within the Body
Communication within the body happens not only through the nervous system, but also through fluid pathways. Cellular communication happens through fluid. Cells communicate with one another both within systems and across systems.
Consciousness, aliveness and movement all coincide in the physiology, giving us our inner intelligence. They each contribute to the internal communication within the body. The nature of these elements is complex and adds mystery to any work that addresses them.
All structures in the body unfold through movement patterns during embryological, fetal, infant, and child development.
Movement is as fundamental to the body as structure. We are designed to move and through movement we develop our brains and our minds. The body creates itself through movement.
Support precedes movement. In other words, movement arises out of a ripe context. Some examples include the following: In development, flexion is developed before extension. Bonding with the earth preceeds moving away from earth. Pushing develops before reaching.
Tone can occur in any tissue and there is no correct tone. The word “tone” refers to a kind of aliveness or buoyancy within the tissue that can be internally experienced by the person and also perceived externally by another person. We look at balance of tone front/back, side/side, and upper/lower. We also look at balance of tone between tissues or systems. The terms ‘high tone’ or ‘low tone’ are usually used as relative terms.
Structure and Process
BMC is based in anatomy and physiology. There is no limit to these studies, as science proceeds to unveil deeper and deeper structures and processes. We assume that whatever exists within us as a structure or a function can be embodied and directly experienced.
BMC looks at the way structure emerges through embryological, fetal, infant and child development. All structures are created out of genetic templates and through organic developmental processes and remain open to change throughout life.
There is an active, dynamic relationship between flow and structure within the body. Flow informs and shapes structure, and the structures in turn inform and shape flow. Even on a cellular level, there is a membrane that contains the cell, and that membrane is designed to allow flow through and across itself. The shape of the heart is designed to maximize the flow patterns of the blood within because it emerged out of an intimate relationship with fluid dynamics
BMC holds a holistic view of the body. Holistic means whole, meaning each part functions in relationship to all the other parts. Holistic means the body is an organism rather than a machine. Being an organism means that the body consists of organic processes. But also the body is home to the person, and the person consists of all kinds of mysterious and complex elements. The holistic view holds all of this complexity without needing to know all the specifics contained therein. Holistic means holding the whole and trusting that the whole knows itself.
BMC addresses specific and sometimes microscopic details within the body. This never obliterates the whole. BMC holds the whole while addressing the individual parts.
Somatic experience, somatic awareness, somatic intelligence, and somatic ‘thinking’ are all part of BMC. ‘Somatic’ refers to the body, but it contains a view of the body that is distinct from the typical Western view. The body is not an object but a happening. The body is an unfolding being that is conscious. The body is sentient on its own terms. The body is not an “it”.
Awareness is a foundational component to BMC practice, and has many faces. There are different kinds of awareness including: tissue awareness, sensory awareness, cognitive awareness, and memory (different kinds of memory). There is awareness of the whole environment, awareness of specific details, and awareness of nonphysical elements. What is the difference between consciousness and awareness?
The word “knowing” in this context refers to inner knowing, not cognitive knowing. What is the distinction between awareness and knowing?
Presence is a foundational component to BMC practice and is difficult to define; yet it can be experienced. We also can experience another’s presence (or absence). And yet: what is presence?
Mind is a word used in BMC to signify the quality or flavor of consciousness that arises from the body. It is also used to signify the more conventional notion of mind including thought, memory, intent, or imagination. So in BMC the word “mind” is rich and varied. The experience of “mind” in the uniquely BMC way is to open one’s mind to a different universe of “mind”. As we explore the state of consciousness within each tissue and within each cell, we explore states of awareness or presence or knowing. The name “Body-Mind Centering” is commonly misunderstood to mean something about the mind-and-the-body, but the term body-mind refers to the mind of the body. The whole mind of the whole person includes the whole experience of being alive in a body. And we are left with the question: what is mind?
Meeting is an essential component to BMC practice. This includes meeting one’s own tissues and one’s own tone; it also includes meeting another’s tissues, another’s tone – either through presence, witnessing, touch, or conversation. Through meeting there is recognition, and through recognition, there is potential – for change, for realization, for release, for something new to happen, or for the unknown to appear. Potential doesn’t carry a promise. Meeting between two people can mean that both are sitting in the unknown together.
Bodies recognize other bodies. This is the basis of healing touch in the BMC modality. Hearts recognize other hearts. Bones recognize other bones. Ligaments recognize other ligaments. Does fluid recognize other fluid? Membranes that relate to the fluids recognize other membranes. Tissues that contain fluid recognize other tissues that contain fluid. Fluid consciousness is complex in that fluid itself isn’t alive per se, but many fluids within the body contain cellular material, which is alive and therefore conscious. This tissue recognition has the potential for resonance. It is this resonance that underlies BMC touch.
Experience can be described from an individual perspective. There is vast room within BMC practice for individual experience. A group of people exploring the same type of tissue (or body system) can sometimes share a common experience. BMC is developed out of what has emerged as a common experience among its practitioners. Yet there is always room for the experience that doesn’t sync up with the group. It is in this sharing and openness to variation that keeps the work alive and lively.
Intent can happen in a few different ways. It can be a decision made in thought, or it can be a direction held within the body, or it can be a mind-state entered or held within the body-mind, or it can be a broad sense of purpose that sits in the background, or it can be a very specific understanding of anatomy, physiology, and BMC-specific awareness. Intent is an open concept within BMC and it is a very important part of the practice. In part, BMC generally encourages “soft intent” rather than a goal-oriented intent, which could potentially be experienced as invasive or aggressive.
Attention is a fundamental component of BMC. The way we hold attention impacts our own experience and the experience of those we work with. We can attend to minute details within the body, and this attention can bring clarity and distinction. Attention can be broad, encompassing a general area (of physical geography or of embodied “mind”), and this can establish a shared feeling, or create a ground from which to move. There are different “colors” of attention, depending upon what part of the person is attending. A practitioner can guide his or her own attention and can guide the attention of a student or a client. Attention can also emerge organically for the student, client, or practitioner. The practitioner and the client or student do not need to be attending to the same thing at the same time. Attention can shift swiftly and continuously during a session or class.
Inherent within BMC is a questioning, not from a need for definition necessarily, but from curiosity. We are able to make distinctions when it is interesting, but the distinctions can remain open and can be experienced in many different ways.
BMC is fundamentally a nonlinear form. We do look at sequences. We recognize and acknowledge structure. We also look at directions of flow or directions of action. But the practice itself is nonlinear. There are no protocols. There are no sequences of steps, necessarily. An individual practitioner may organically develop familiar sequences that he or she chooses to follow in the practice, but there is always awareness that it could go another way, or that something could emerge that is a surprise. This is essential to the nature of BMC practice.
Narrative is something that can emerge during BMC practice that is pertinent to the person practicing. Personal narrative is not necessary to BMC itself, but the work always holds a place for narrative to emerge.
Similarly, emotional content can emerge. BMC doesn’t necessarily make definitions or specify content around emotions, but there is vast space for a person to experience emotion as it emerges from the body, from the experience, or from memory during a session.
Memory and Repatterning
Memory can be held within the tissues of the body in two fundamentally distinct ways:
One is the memory of developmental pathways. Embryological memory and developmental memory remain as templates that can be referred to for healing and repatterning. Even when a person did not go through a particular developmental experience, the ancestral or genetic memory of that pattern still exists within us. Healing can involve recollecting these deep patterns of harmony, organization, and functionality.
The second is the memory of experience including emotional memory and physical memory— both trauma and habits. Emotional experiences can be recorded and retained within the tissues of the body. When emotional memory emerges, it can be witnessed, acknowledged, and released from its holding pattern. Physical trauma can be stored in the tissues of the body. BMC practice seeks to meet this holding of trauma or habit. This meeting allows the tissue to release the memory and find a new way or a remembered older way.
Habits of movement are remembered in the tissues (especially the brain) to make it easier to do things a familiar way. Some habits may be functional at one time, but they can also lose their usefulness over time. Repatterning a habit may involve learning something new or it may require remembering something older – whichever is more functional.
BMC was founded on the vision that the work be community-based. Trainings, workshops and classes in BMC generally invite students, teachers and members to participate as community. Similarly the BMC view of the body is that it is a community of systems. This nonhierarchical view is fundamental to the way BMC practitioners work with the body and fundamental to the generation and practice of the work. This is unique as an educational model and it is unique among most somatic disciplines.
Since BMC is based in anatomy and physiology, it is compatible with Western medicine. BMC practitioners are aware of this compatibility, but practitioners of Western medicine may not be aware of this compatibility.
BMC is based in embryological, fetal, infant, and child development as studied and illuminated by Western science. Thus our work is compatible with that of practitioners who also study these stages of development. We are aware of this compatibility, but Western science-based practitioners may not be aware of this compatibility.
BMC is compatible with almost any other somatic discipline.
BMC is compatible with most Eastern medical practices, particularly in its holistic view of the body and body functions, and in its recognition of flow and pathways of change.
Embodiment is an ongoing practice that cannot be measured nor easily defined. Embodiment practice in a BMC context is a practice of exploration, discovery, sensing, feeling, moving, stillness, awareness, forgetting, and being. Embodiment itself is elusive. It may happen in a moment of recognition or repatterning, but—like a distant star that disappears when you look at it—embodiment may happen during unconsciousness and forgetting.
‘What is the body?’ and ‘What is the person?’ are active, lively questions within BMC. The distinction is important to recognize when the person traps the body or the body traps the person. Yet they are not distinct from one another during life in that they do not exist without each other. One expresses the other. This paradox is dynamic and interesting.
— Rebecca Haseltine 2011
originally published in the 2012 edition of Currents – the professional journal for the Body-Mind Centering Association www.bmcassociation.org
* ‘Body-Mind Centering’ is a registered trademark and ‘BMC’ is a registered service mark. These are registered to Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen and Leonard Cohen. I owe a bottomless gratitude to both of them for the transformation BMC offers.
For information about the School for Body-Mind Centering®: www.bodymindcentering.com