What Makes Ortho-Bionomy State of the Art

The Evolvement of the Original Concept ALPI’ve been learning and practising Ortho-Bionomy for nearly 30 years now and I’ve recently been reflecting on how I continue to be impressed with the effectiveness and power of this work. The principles of going with the body, tracking ease and functionality and activating the body’s self balancing mechanisms still create amazing results and long-lasting changes for my clients, my students and for myself.

One of the reasons for this is that I believe Ortho-Bionomy has been and continues to be a cutting edge type of bodywork and somatic therapy. Even though the fundamental techniques have remained essentially the same, this work is innovative and pioneering even 40 years after it was developed. And now there is more research into and discoveries about the workings of the body/mind which confirms what we already know: the capacity for the body and the mind to change is hardwired into our systems and Ortho-Bionomy is highly effective in connecting us with this inherent capacity.

In my mind there are five components of Ortho-Bionomy that make it state of the art.

Mindfulness – Appreciating the value of presence

The Ortho-Bionomy principles of non-attachment to outcome and focusing on the therapeutic contact means that what we notice is the experience of the present moment. We slow down and take time to be with the patterns, stresses and imbalances under our hands and our noticing stimulates the self-regulating capacity of the body to emerge.

As we know, change can only occur in the present moment so the practice of noticing invites the whole of the person to engage in the natural re-balancing process. Whether it’s the structural organisation of Phase Four, the reflexive responsiveness of Phase Five or the relational dynamics of Phase Six we track and interact with what the body is presenting in the moment and without trying to fix the body or change something that has happened in the past.

Activating the Parasympathetic Nervous System – Mobilising the resources of wellbeing

Research now clearly identifies that the proper functioning and tone of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) is fundamental to our experience of wellbeing. The balancing role that the PNS plays in our self-regulation has always been known. But now there is a clear relationship between strengthening the PNS system and our ability to feel healthy and in balance.

Because we go with what the body is doing there is no resistance and we can activate the body’s “yes” response. We foster the sensation of deep relaxation from within the body rather than trying to make the body relax. The PNS is the primary director of that yes response.

Stimulating the Joint Mechanoreceptors – Natural re-organisation

We focus on the positions and movements of the structures of the body and how they relate to the rest of the body through the neurological feedback of proprioception. These movements and positions stimulate the neruo/physical mechanisms that create change in the body’s ability to track itself and to re-organise itself in a relaxed way.

Instead of overloading the nervous system we’re working with it to activate the natural resourcing mechanisms. And the body is much more likely to change when it’s feeling truly relaxed and in the “yes” mode.

Focus on Functionality – The what affects the how

Our sessions are not about fixing or healing the body but rather about activating more efficient functional use patterns. By focusing on what’s working (what’s functional) rather than the dysfunction we bring attention to the self-righting reflexes and the body responds by freeing up more functional capacity.

We also place a strong emphasis on self care, both in terms of exercises to do to strengthen the body but to also heighten our sensory experiences. We notice more and recognise that we potentially have more options in how we respond to the stressors that impact us every day.

No Pain to Release Pain – The power of the path of ease

When we experience pain we trigger the body’s reactive and protective responses. By focusing on comfort we enable the body to relax and stimulate its restorative impulses which happen both structurally and systemically.

Trying to affect change through coercion of the body seldom works well. “No pain, no gain” has been disproven again and again and in the bodywork realm there is increasing evidence that you cannot force long-lasting change to occur. When we follow the path of ease change literally becomes “effort-less”. Of course we need to use effort to change long-standing patterns, but that effort can still needs to be within the functional ease of the body.

So how long can Ortho-Bionomy continue to be leading edge? I think that Arthur Lincoln Pauls, the founder and developer of Ortho-Bionomy, put it succinctly in his statement of the philosophy: “The evolvement of the Original Concept”. If Ortho-Bionomy and Ortho-Bionomists continue to evolve we will ALWAYS be state of the art.

Embodied Presence

Recently I watched an HBO documentary about an exhibit done by the well-known and controversial performance artist Marina Abramovic held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York in 2010. The exhibit was called “The Artist is Present” and consisted of  two chairs and a table with Abramovic (“The Artist”) sitting in one chair with the other chair available for anyone in the museum to come and sit across from her. As they sat, no words were exchanged, no signalling, just Abramovic being present with the person for as long as that person cared to sit there. It quickly became obvious that for many people  something significant happened as they met her gaze and became aware of her focused attention on them. Many people had profound experiences whilst just simply being there. And Abramovic was also transformed by the experience, not just from sitting with people at least 8 hours a day nearly every day for 3 months but from the “energy dialogue” as she calls it with over 1500 people.

The experience of watching that dynamic has been with me as I’ve been working with clients. I’ve been aware that a significant component of the work we do with clients is interwoven with our endeavour to be present with clients and model for them how to be present with themselves.

I’m struck by how the study of Ortho-Bionomy cultivates this embodied presence in ourselves and in the therapeutic dynamics with our clients. In fact, the very first principles and techniques that we learn are all about embodiment:

“Practitioner comfort is just as important as client comfort.”

It’s obvious that in order to help someone experience themselves in an embodied way we as practitioners need to model that for our clients. By starting with our comfort as practitioners we can more readily help our clients feel more comfortable. We’ve changed the focus from discomfort to what is easy and already functional. We’re starting from a place of wholeness – within ourselves and with the expectation of finding that within our client.  We’re receptive and relaxed and our task is to find what’s functional within our client and within us as well as.

“Non-attachment to outcome.”

We don’t set out to follow a specific agenda or protocol. Instead we engage in an on-going process which requires us to be even more observant to the responses to our interactions with our client. The advantage is that process allows for openness and curiosity in the course of our exploration of what is going on for our client. There is no requirement that there be a certain way in which a client responds but rather the onus is on us as practitioners to track how the client responds and then interact with those responses. Hence the quality of our attention becomes important.

“Creating space.”

This requires that as a practitioner I need to do more listening than talking or doing. When we create space we invite our client to become present, we support their responsiveness, and we value what the client brings and has to offer in their healing process. By quieting the environment the self-corrective impulses can be recognised and supported. We step back so that the client can step forward.

“Facilitating self-regulating processes.”

For me this is about trust: trust that the body is engaged in an on-going self-corrective process, that we can be present with our client without interfering, and that the “answers”, the functional solutions or healing processes, will emerge.  And because they emerge from our client’s direct experience there is a greater likelihood of being able to respond or act differently.

Engaging from a state of embodied presence we model the state from which change happens – spontaneously and generatively. And thereby allowing the change to be profound and deep.

And not only is our client transformed by embodied presence, so, too, are we.

For more information on Marina Abramovic the documentary on her performance installation check out their website: www.marinafilm.com