Book Review: The Fluid Nature of Being: Embodied Practices for Healing and Wholeness edited by Linda Hartley
Handspring Publishing, London 2022
The Fluid Nature of Being is a beautiful and evocative title that points to the exquisite and fundamental insight at the heart of this book: that attuning to the fluid systems of our body can lead us toward reservoirs of peace, deep connectedness and a qualitative flowing aliveness. In Chapter 15, Jane Okondo quotes Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen: ‘when you become sensitive, you can feel when you’re going against your own tidal flow. You can also change your tidal flow. You’re moving within this flow. When we get in touch with this fluid rhythm, our movement is effortless, and our mind is synchronised with the body’ (Bainbridge Cohen 2012:166, quoted on p.80).
The second part of the title Embodied Practices for Healing and Wholeness hints at the rich resources that unfold within the book itself. Edited by Linda Hartley – a pioneering somatic trainer and therapist, psychotherapist, and author – it is an inspiring, moving and diverse collection. The unifying factor is that the authors have all been students of Linda’s Integrative Bodywork and Movement Therapy (IBMT) training, which brings together Body-Mind Centering®, Authentic Movement and Somatic Psychology. Body-Mind Centering is a model of enquiry into the systems of the body, based on an embryological and developmental anatomy and physiology studied through movement with awareness. Its nuanced depth and precision is well reflected in the chapters of this book which explore cellular, sensory and structural aspects of the human body. The Discipline of Authentic Movement is a practice which is framed by the reciprocal connection between being a mover and witness. It encourages the development of the skills of tracking one’s own and/or another’s movement, with close attention to sensation, image, feelings and impulses. Combining this with an understanding of transpersonal somatic psychotherapy creates a rich and fruitful container for experiential spiritual exploration.
In chapter 1 Mari Winkelman offers a description of IBMT. She describes it as ‘a somatic therapy which asks us to let go of our habitual identity and give ourselves more wholly to open enquiry into the world of sensation and movement within our body.’ An important part of this is witnessing with curiosity ‘the moment-by-moment sensorimotor processes of our bodies’ followed by reflections on the discoveries through drawing, writing, and sharing experiences, making meaning that includes each body’s subjectivity. She places the practice in a political context, commenting on how ‘White colonial dominant culture values cognition, science, and patriarchal authority which is imposed in generalisations by experts, over the individual’s ‘irrational’ and ‘intuitive’ embodied perspectives’(p.12). She reflects ‘I remember loving being in cellular processes within the IBMT training […] I realised that I need this connection […] to notice my conditioning and return to a simple relationship with my body: a time that was spontaneous and unsocialised, yet deeply safe and choiceful’ (p.14-15).
In the Glossary at the beginning of the book the term ‘Embodied’ is ‘taken to mean attentive and responsive to experience within my own body, and thereby inhabiting my body’ (p.21). This is exactly what we find though out the book – a quality of attention, a sensitivity to interconnection, a capacity to articulate subtle relationships that is soulful and satisfying to read. ‘I am kneeling. My head is lifting upwards in a continual figure of eight, I am enjoying the rhythm and pattern. My nose is drawing down towards the ground [… ] My chin is edging forwards…..’ (Lambert, p.24). ‘I invite myself to let go of knowing, and in this moment experience an opening out through my heart and chest. I feel my body like a gateway, open to receive. I feel my bones, bare and open to the sky’ (Joyce, p.35). ‘My right hand, it hovers above my right ovary. My thumb and first two fingers press lightly against my body as my hand carves out a scooping gesture. I imagine I am picking a tiny white translucent egg out of my ovary, an amoeba, a starting cell’ (Little, p. 229). I find the very presentation of the book – with design, layout, illustrations, photographs and poems – to be so inviting, so delightful, that it whets my curiosity to absorb and feel every last nuance of the writing.
In a chapter called ‘IBMT and Dance: Re-membrane’, Frauke Burchards describes a research project to deepen her understanding of embryology. She creates a duet with another dancer ‘to bring the sensed into form, into dance, to follow the choreographic process of embryology’ (p68) They use Authentic Movement, Contact Improvisation, touch and breath to feel into perceptions, feelings and ‘inherent knowledge within us’. Thirteen black and white photographs capture the two dancers moving through the stages of evolution of the embryo on a spot-lit stage. Frauke describes the opening:
I lie in the child’s pose and let my weight sink to the ground, it is dark.
We start with hands-on work.
I perceive hands on my skin, tender touch, like hands on the surface of water, my cells feel the contact on my back, I feel warmth and the light pressure of hands, calmness rises, my cells relax, my outer shell becomes softer, I sink deeper and I’m aware of my inner skin, which is connected to my outer skin by fluid. I am connected to the outside and inside, and feel the rhythm of expanding and contracting (p.69).
The depth and texture of the contrasting chapters comes from the dialogue between cutting edge biological science, a somatic approach to anatomy, and the knowledge and skills from other disciplines. This is applied to creative arts and performance, to psychotherapy, to somatic movement therapy, in work with mothers, babies, children and adults. The book is divided into six sections. Part One: Body, Earth, Nature and Connection sets the wider context. Parts Two and Three explore themes of Moving into Life through the lens of Embryology and Birth respectively. Parts Four and Five explore Therapeutic Applications, with three chapters each on ‘Holding and Containing’ and ‘Working with Trauma’. The final section is devoted to chapters on Somatic Movement and Dance Research, and the text concludes with three poems by Mari Joyce and Agniete Laurinaityte.
Spirituality is only explicitly highlighted occasionally but is implicit in the qualities of reverence, ritual and respect for ancient traditions which inform many of the chapters. Gaelin Little explores the nature and place of witness consciousness in the process of dance making. She considers ‘the porous membrane between therapeutic, educational, artistic and spiritual contexts’ as she describes the resonant space, a transitional place, like the membranes of the cell, where form emerges from emptiness and all is still possible. Meanwhile Beverly Nolan finds this resonance between yogic philosophy, science and somatic exploration in the gloriously named and conceived chapter ‘Sailing backwards Single-Handedly’. In this she takes herself back to her origins in the moment of conception with a developmental journey-in-reverse based on journal entries and records of group practices. As she covers the embryological milestones she finds an echo with the study of cellular vibration, ‘sonocytology’.
In other instances of drawing on ancient practices, Anna Titova’s chapter on ‘Navel Radiation: the Development of the Internal Fascial Network’ acknowledges the indigenous belief in the placenta as the vault of the soul. For example, Balinese people bury the placenta in the ground and will come to the site to ask for support and strength, demonstrating the value of the placenta and the umbilical cord as an information and energy channel in spiritual terms. In Part Four, the first section on ‘Therapeutic Applications’, Daria Shamina opens with a discussion of the nature of the Circle as a container at many levels – in its cellular and embryonic form level and as it is found in many ancient cultures and healing traditions. Her chapter on work with the ‘Mandala’ method, Authentic Movement and IBMT is illustrated with a variety of drawings.
Linda Hartley has sown the seeds for a new generation’s flowerings of dedicated creative somatic research, just as her teachers – Janet Adler and Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen – drew on the wisdom of multiple lineages and traditions, including Jungian analysis and Eastern bodywork approaches. Mari Winkleman acknowledges that behind this lie ‘the ancient truths from the holistic health traditions of Asian countries and cultures [with their] interrelated systems of body and nature, cultures of community, and respect for all life [now combined with] Western medical science, developed observational understanding of human anatomy and functions, [using advanced technology]’ (p.13).
Part of the magic and sophistication of the work and philosophy of experiential practice being presented here is due to the back and forth of spiralling deeply inward to the cellular consciousness and out again to wider contexts. The wider context might be the mover’s embodied subjectivity, her capacity to relate to all parts of herself as one greater whole; it might be another’s body, to whom the practitioner is attuning through his own body in all its ways of receiving; it might be the immediate environment of beach or forest; or the Earth body itself. ‘How much space and where you are in space influence what you become, what possibilities you have. Space has an influence at the microscopic level of the cells, as well as at the macroscopic level of the globe’, observes Kuhlmann (p.114).
I remember reading Deane Juhan’s Job’s Body: A Handbook for Body Workers in 1989 and finding his description of connective tissue utterly thrilling and mind-opening:
[W]e did not really leave the sea behind at all; we were, and are, obliged to
carry part of it with us. We are, in fact, mostly water. (Juhan 1987: 60)
Connective tissue constitutes the immediate environment of every cell in
the body, wrapping and uniting all structures with its moist, fibrous,
cohering sheets and strands […] Connective tissue is both fluid and container,
a sea and a retort, the medium in which chemical re-organization occurs.
A few years later I came across Linda Hartley’s books and teaching, and through her, Bainbridge Cohen’s Sensing, Feeling and Action: The Experiential Anatomy of Body-Mind Centering (1993). These gave me the same excitement of connections made between the objective science of embodiment and the opportunity to explore my own subjective somatic experience, the detail of anatomy opening up this world and joining up inner and outer in a joyous sense of deeper knowing.
Somatic practitioners have been pioneers here, attending to the developmental, psychological and physiological wounds that are not treated holistically by mainstream medicine. Until very recently, fascia was largely ignored by medical scientists and doctors. It doesn’t appear on MRI scans or x-ray; it was seen as just the ‘packing material’ of the body. Now it is understood as a complex organ, as fluid crystal, a ‘dynamic rhythmic matrix which operates as conductor for many different kinds of energy: mechanical, hydraulic, electro-magnetic, gravity, heat, sound and light’ (Peters, 2000-2001). It is highly sensitive to stress and undigested emotion. Shifts in our emotional state are linked to perceptions of a change in the state of our connective tissue.
It was Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen who developed the concept of the cell as the original place of potential and transformation: ‘Each cell in our body has living intelligence. It is capable of knowing itself, initiating action, and communicating with all other cells. The individual cell and the community of cells (tissue, organ, body) exist as separate entities and as one whole at the same moment (2017, quoted on p.14)). This theme is woven throughout The Fluid Nature of Being “The cellular membrane negotiates with the world outside the cell – as does our skin – to maintain homeostatic balance between the outside world and the conditions in our bodies (Winkelman, p.14). In ‘Support on the Path of Motherhood’ Anna Feoktistova invites the pregnant woman to tune in deeply to her body:
Cellular breathing has a different speed and amplitude than the breathing
of the lungs. Just imagine this small movement in your body and open your
awareness to the sensations. Maybe you will feel a tiny vibration inside,
perhaps warming up or cooling down. Maybe a deep sound like a hum will
emerge. Please be open to this experience, listening to the whispering of your
cells. This time of witnessing the inner mystery creates a magical opportunity
for all bodymind systems to reset and to tune to your health, your strength, your
Many chapters offer valuable reflections on and insights into the application of IBMT. As well as those chapters already named there is Paul Beaumont’s ‘Finding our Ground’ which offers touching vignettes of working with adopted children; Jane Okondo’s overview of working with trauma, which incorporates Levine’s Somatic Experiencing with IBMT; and Barbara Teresa Erber’s chapter on chronic pain. Each chapter has detailed clinical examples which give a window on to the actual practice of therapeutic healing. In Erber’s vignette we learn that ‘witnessing people with chronic pain requires a readiness to bear stillness’ (p.195) and ‘transforming traumatic material […] often involves re-enactment of very vulnerable, wounded, frozen places. This enables transformative change on all levels, from nerve pathways to the mover’s sense of identity’(p.197).
The final section explores the mutual support of improvisation, IBMT and Authentic Movement in developing dance pieces situated outdoors, online and ‘in different places of the bodymind’ in therapeutic and artistic settings. ‘From a vibrational cellular level, to skin, to the mediation of experiences as a conscious and creative act, the resonant space becomes a fluid and active permeable ‘passage’ where experience can be distilled to precious and significant elements. In art-making the indescribability of these elements [stirs] something deeper inside of us […] provoking new thoughts and feelings’ (Little, p.232).
It is customary in book reviews to offer some critique, note some uncovered angle or absence or thorny aspect. I can’t do that in this case. There is congruence between the medium and the message. This book is a treasure, a cornucopia, a doorway into multiple aesthetic dimensions (literally, as you scan the QR codes in some chapters to go to the online movement resources), and a reminder that in this fraught and painful global world, there is great beauty when you travel deep inside and move with delicate enquiring wonder.
– Bainbridge Cohen, B. B. Sensing, Feeling and Action: The Experiential Anatomy of Body-Mind Centering (Contact Editions, 1993; 3rd edn. 2012)
– Bainbridge Cohen, B. (2017) An introduction to Body-Mind Centering. https://: www/bodymindcentering.com/introduction/ (accessed September 29, 2002)
– Juhan, D (1987) Job’s Body: A Handbook for Bodywork (Station Hill, 1987)
– Peters. D (2000/2001) ‘Review of Vibrational Medicine for the twenty first century’ in Caduceus, issue 50, winter 2000/2001 pp45-46
Roz Carroll is a relational body psychotherapist, supervisor and author. She is co-editor, with Jane Ryan, of What is Normal? Psychotherapists explore the question (Confer Publications, London, 2020). She was a founding co-editor in 2005 of the Journal of Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy. Roz has published many articles and chapters, including Carroll, R. & J. Blend (2020) ‘Witnessed Improvised Diaspora Journey Enactments: an experiential method for exploring refugee history’ Transactions: Jewish Historical Studies UCL Press and ‘Supervision beyond supervision; nourishing embodied reflexivity’ in (eds.) Butte, C. & T. Colbert (2022) Embodied Approaches to Supervision: The Listening Body London: Routledge.
This is a pre-peer review preprint © Roz Carroll, 2023. The definitive, peer reviewed and edited version of this article is published in ‘Journal of Dance, Movement & Spiritualities’. Intellect, volume 9, issue 1&2, pages 262-7, 2023. https://www.intellectbooks.com/dance-movement-spiritualities ORCiD ID: 0000-0001-9836-2015