In 1976, after spending many years exploring movement from the perspective of the skeletal and muscular systems, I realized that only a small portion of what I experienced and observed in movement could be explained in terms of those two systems. It was then that I decided to explore the effect that organs had upon movement.
In 1967, I had the great fortune to study yoga with Yogi Ramaiah when he was visiting in New York City. He spoke about how different asanas were related to balancing the internal organs. As a dancer, the postures were easy for me but I noticed that when practicing, my energy increased.
As my nature is improvisational in approach and I did not remember which postures stimulated which organs, I began my exploration by initiating and sequencing breath, movement and voice from my organs and observing the results. I also began sharing this approach with others in classes and private work with individuals and noticing their responses and comments. Gradually certain principles, patterns and exercises emerged. Through the years, this work continues to evolve through creative exploration with a wide range of people, from infants to elders and from those with severe neurological dysfunction to skilled dancers and athletes. Over the past ten years, I have extended my research into the relationship between the body, movement and consciousness to include embryological development and I will write about this in a future article.
Some general things about organs I have observed include:
Organs provide us with our sense of volume and organic authenticity. They are the primary habitats for our emotions, aspirations, and memories of our inner reactions to our personal histories.
Whereas our external skeletal-muscular system guides our external movement through space, organs occupy our inner space and therefore guide our internal movement. The organs express our inner motivations; our skeletal-muscular system provides the structure for their outward expression. Our bones align and move us through the environment; our organs provide the internal integrity for that alignment. Muscles provide the visible forces for the mobility of our bones; organs provide the internal patterning that contributes to the organization and patterning of muscular coordination.
In the following two photos, Benny teaches us the relationship between organ tone and postural support and the ability to focus and actively engage with intention.
The photograph on the right of Benny at one year old, the lack of organ tone in his torso is manifested in his low muscle tone and resulting disorganization of his skeleton. He doesn’t have support for the activity of sitting and playing. What is he showing us about the relationship between organ tone and inner attitude. What do you notice about his attention and intention?
In the photograph on the left, Benny’s increased organ tone gives him more support for the activity of sitting and playing. Notice the change, from the previous photo, in his attention and intention.
At birth, low tone in the organs will be accompanied by low tone in the muscles, and high organ tone will be accompanied by high muscle tone. As development progresses, low organ tone can also manifest as high muscle tone and fixation in some muscles to compensate for lack of dynamic support and mobility. All the organs can be of a similar tone or different organs can be of different tone. As Benny is showing us in the photos, to the degree that we are organically organized for any given activity, we are able to focus our attention and intention on that activity and feel adequate to the task. We thank him for the clarity of his embodiment.
Editor’s note: This article is drawn mainly from the Origins of Expression chapter in her book, Sensing, Feeling and Action. In addition to information about specific organs, it contains movement explorations applying this material to dance, yoga, voice, developmental movement, and emotions. Other resources for the organs include Bonnie’s video on Embodied Anatomy and the Organ System. In it, she introduces and demonstrates many key principles of working with the organs.
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