Continuum Within Our Cultural Context: an emerging new philosophy of notions in motion
Over the last 50 years there has been a silent revolution changing cultural concepts of body/mind awareness. Recent scientific studies have found that age-associated disabilities can reverse or improve flexibility, strength, and mental clarity via movement practices. This has altered our concept of aging as well as our understanding of the body’s ability for regeneration. In recognition of the potential for maintaining good physical and mental functions, a host of therapeutic modalities have emerged. Over the last half century a demand for these therapies has proliferated into one of the fastest growing professions in the market place; spas, movement classes, fitness coaching, manual therapies, etc.
Concurrent with these somatic practices, meditation has also become more main stream. Many seminars and workshops have encouraged adults to reach for new states of awareness that were formerly relegated to gurus, clergy and monks. Self care has become coupled with practices that calm the mind and expand awareness. A new paradigm is emerging. Since the age of reason, the dawn of the Western civilization, the body as been viewed as the shackles impeding spirituality. Its survival imperatives were seen to bind us to lower forms of consciousness, appetites in contradiction with our spiritual nature. The appreciation for somatic intelligence has opened a door to seeing a cooperation between mind, body and spiritual development.
Emilie Conrad’s visionary contribution to this shift in perspective is leading the way into an inquiry for a conscious participation in corporeal evolution. The potential to heal the mind/body split does not stop with an individual’s self-care. Collectively, the Continuum community has been discovering further ramifications for developing a cooperative and empathetic union between one’s body and this elemental world. This path of discovery was developed by a woman who saw that cultural attitudes toward the body mirrored similar unconscious values inherent in our treatment of the environment. 50 years ago she was saying: “As we have abused our planet, so we have treated our bodies”, using up its resources without mindfulness. Viewing the plant and animal kingdoms as lower forms of intelligence, has led us to the hubris of domination and control. The wayward instincts of the body have been coupled with nature’s un-tame-able forces. These attributes have also been assigned to the feminine. Humanity’s survival is on the line now. We must change our ways. Continuum invites us to engage in the body’s silent language of sensations and movement as a pathway to resonance with the fluid intelligence of life’s power for regeneration. This movement modality engenders healing and well-being without imposing any goal driven directives. Presence, attentiveness and engagement with whatever is emerging is inherent in a Continuum practice.
Continuum came forth, as Emilie said, in response to the challenges of our times. It has incorporated new scientific and therapeutic data, yet it also has roots in the wisdom of ancient practices. Our ancestors were well aware that their survival depended on cooperation with nature. Prayers and ceremonies were woven daily in gratitude for the life giving gifts of the elemental world. Finding our right relationship to nature was described by the Taoist concept of wu wei. This ancient practice describes wu wei as “the action of non-action.” Given the ‘doing’ orientation of our culture, the action of non-action seems elusive, yet Continuum engenders this state through combinations of movement, sound, and breathing. Achieving wu wei means engaging fully with the fluid intelligence of self and, through it, with the biosphere, accessing a playful, relaxed state in which potent creative forces are available. We are both circling back to re-remember forgotten truths while evolving in our current era.
The Influence of Science on our Concept of Body
Scientific objectivism applies a reductionistic approach to understanding the components of living processes - from the chemistry of a substance to the separate systems that make up a body. Inevitably we fall into mechanical metaphors; the heart as a pump, the joints as hinges, the brain as a computer, parts that wear out but sometimes can be replaced. From this perspective, movement is understood as a series of levers and pulleys that operate sequentially. One segment stabilizes to allow another segment to move. One muscle contracts to allow another to lengthen. Muscle building and many strengthening regimes isolate muscles, working one at a time. This segregation extends to medical specializations. We seek a neurologist or a gynecologist or an orthopedic doctor, etc. This habit of fragmentation extends to seeing a doctor for the body, a therapist for the emotions, a professor for the mind and a separate venue for spiritual guidance. This viewpoint reinforces a compartmentalized sense of body and self. Many people are left with a feeling that their body is a foreign entity and objective tests are the only truth to be known.
However, now that exercise is generally understood to be a necessary component for maintaining good health., many people are giving their bodies more attention than 50 years ago. In the last 10 years many new movement modalities have shown up from Boot Camp fitness to Zumba, from Soul Motion to Pilates. Movement is as complex as diet when it comes to finding the right fit for personality and physiology. Nevertheless a new dedication to better health through movement regimes has emerged culturally. More recent developments in this field offer more holistic methods of movement that put an emphasis on full body coordination rather than the segmented lever/pulley fitness model. Whether conscious or not, they are exploring strength and holism via the connective tissue or fascial system. As science has been able to study living, responding connective tissue, it has changed our perspective of movement. The lever/pulley model of muscles and bones, called the Sherrington model in kinesiology, has been augmented with an alternate and supportive fascial system. Connective tissue, used interchangeably with fascia is our soft skeleton, a binding web. It is an all encompassing, non-segmented tensional network that influences posture, muscular force transmission, and resting tension. We might postulate that just as we have a nervous system with the dual functions of sympathetic and parasympathetic regulation, so it is possible that kinesiology can be organized and supported by two different systems: one for effort and segmented demand and the other for full body organization and participation. The collagen fibers of connective tissue protect our joints the way high top sneakers add support to ankles. Called a sixth sense by some, it is richly innervated with proprioceptive cells. This system gives us information about changes in pressure, vibration, stretch and weight. Through this awareness we are oriented in space and able to balance in gravity while changing our position. The sum total of this constant informing adds up to what is now being called the seventh sense, interoception, an awareness of one’s own internal body state via internal signals. Interoception is essential to embodiment, motivation, and well-being.
Historical perspective of this silent revolution
The Human Potential Movement: a new value for mind/body awareness (interoception)
In 1968 I arrived at Esalen Institute for a summer job. The workshops and seminars hosted by this facility, offered an exciting ferment of ideas and experiential workshops that became known as the human potential movement. My lukewarm pursuit of a college education was dropped when I realized this was my pathway to career and lifelong inquiry.
Two essential ingredients were embedded within this collective social experiment. First, that therapy could be of service to assisting one in a more authentic and satisfied expression of self, less encumbered by unconscious programming of cultural and familial expectations. Previously, therapy had been seen as a necessity only when one was emotionally impaired from living a normal life. This social experiment sought to pursue our potential for greater joy, maturity, and aliveness. Secondly, these therapies placed a new value on paying attention to corporeal sensations in concert with associations of our mind. The field of somatics arose from the concept that listening and allowing bodily sensations could lead to personal insights that restore more ease and well-being. Many therapies found a foothold in our culture through their exposure at Esalen and other centers like it. Gestalt therapy, Hakomi, Grof Breathing, Feldenkrais Method, Body-Mind Centering are examples. All of them, now established institutes with trainings, are based on a premise that focusing on body-mind awareness within a guided context can lead to higher orders of health and well-being.
Concurrent with the new values embedded within these therapies, physical manipulation took on a very different role in service to the human potential movement. Ida Rolf was a pivotal pioneer in this. She had been formulating her theories and technique for 40 years, but at age 72, Esalen gave her a venue and a receptive audience for her visionary contribution. She called her work Structural Integration but her students affectionately called it ‘Rolfing’. Her basic premise no longer seems radically revolutionary. Yet in those days the notion that physical function and posture could be improved through manual manipulation seemed far fetched. This was her theory: Over time injuries, repetitive functional patterns and ingrained psychological responses to stress and strain create holding patterns and chronic tensions within posture and movement. Our nervous system and breathing habits are a by-product of our navigation our sense of self in relationship to others and the environmental context. As we age these perceptual habits tend to stultify, robbing the body of space, relaxation and new variations in responses. When the body is freed from chronic holding patterns, it will come into better alignment with gravity. Clients learn by the contrast of regained or new found ease, thereby developing more conscious choices for self care.
My own first experience of Rolfing at age 20 enabled me to shed a painfully insecure and gawky self-image. During the 10 session series of Rolfing there were several vivid recalled memories which elucidated an underlying anxieties. One such memory made sense of a recurring nightmare. This dream was a metaphor for the organismic threat of my traumatic birth. After feeling into the scrambled unintelligible quality of this dream from an awake state, I could make sense of it in a larger context. This initiated an ability for me to uncouple my introduction to life from this nightmare which never revisited my dreamworld again.
I am going to share 5 basic principles of Structural Integration because they have strongly affected the larger field of manual therapies, whether or not the credit comes back to Ida Rolf.
- Manual manipulation can enhance physical function.
- The body can repair as well as decline as we age.
- Traumatic events live in the flesh and can be released with educated awareness as well as educated touch.
- Respiratory and physical restrictions hobble our expression, our adaptability, and our possibilities for manifesting a more alive, emergent self.
- Connective tissue, the fascial sheath that envelops all muscle, bone, organs and nerves, is an intelligent system, crucial to our ability to organize and move within the gravitational field.
Ida Rolf was saying this 50 years before science caught up with her. Her seminal ideas are so widely assumed now that they are incorporated rather than discussed in schools of manual therapy. Chronic habits of poor posture and body use are like corrupt code within this intelligent system of connective tissue communication. When a skilled practitioner can release the strain patterns and educate the client toward more discriminating awareness, habitual patterns of misalignment have an opportunity to change. An improved alignment with gravity, offers a palpable sense of better support, ease of function, and a more relaxed set point. Studies have shown that these upgrades reduce pain syndromes. Structural Integration and other sophisticated holistic manual techniques assist in aiding or resolving a host of somatic and emotional disorders such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, chronic fatigue, etc. The increased sense of embodied satisfaction leads to smoother parasympathetic functions; breathing, digestion, elimination and sleep. Current scientific studies of the fascial system speculate that information conveyed by the nerves within fascia is the conduit for mind-body awareness as the fascial web is included within our brain. The body perceives while the mind is the perceiver. No longer is massage equated with a mechanical series of thumping and kneading. New manipulation techniques have proliferated as one of the fastest growing industries in our culture. There are now specialized techniques for practically every system in the body; lymph, cranial/sacral, visceral, connective tissue release, nerve sheaths, ligaments, and bones to name a few. All of these modalities are rooted in an understanding that disease and dysfunction occur when there is a breakdown in the exchange and communication within an organism. Every cell must receive nutrients and excrete toxins to remain healthy. When there is a failure of circulation and coordination between or within the systems of the body, isolation, immobility and stagnation follow. From acupuncture to osteopathy to physical therapy, manual manipulation is designed to restore the holistic orchestration of a living, communicating organism.
The fascial system can be altered through manual manipulation, but it is also possible to strengthen its capacities via movement. It is here that Ida Rolf’s baton is passed to Emilie Conrad, the founder of Continuum. Scientific research has identified seven qualities of movement that strengthen the collagen fibers of fascia as well as enhance the awareness of the connective tissue web.
- Full-body participation (rather than segmented actions)
- Gliding and sliding
- Undulations, wave-like fluidity
- Nuanced variations of small fluctuations within a patterned movement
- Rhythmic bouncing
- Positions that explore unusual relationships to gravity and therefore unusual muscular and vestibular demands
Emilie intuitively developed every one of these qualities of movement within the repertoire of Continuum.
Continuum’s Contribution to this on-going Revolution
Continuum asks the question: Can we find a way to participate with movement impulses and sensations in order to restore mutability and higher orders of coherency? Can movement be a nutrient rather than an expenditure of energy? Its explorations are based on a central belief that fluid, non-repetitive movement can inform and unify the whole body. Initially Continuum’s inquiry into the potential for an infinitude of creative impulses and new expressions can be disorienting. This practice asks us to step into an unknown agenda. Rather than directing the body to behave in a conscripted fashion, we must listen, allow and follow sensations in both movement and stillness. There is a learning curve to entering unknown territory every single session. It has all of the challenges of any creative endeavor as well as requiring patience to sustain interest in very subtle, usually ignored, sensations. However, building this capacity has deep rewards. (Given the current situation of this 2020 pandemic, accepting rather than fearing the unknown is a boon.) Listening first to a current somatic report, then engaging with undirected, instinctual movement is more revolutionary than meets the eye. We discover an inner world that resonates with nature’s language of waves, spirals, micro-movements and cloud-like shape shifting. These qualities flow through the connective tissue system, traveling according to their own non-linear logic. As those who practice Continuum find pleasure and fascination in unfolding easeful movement, often they discover that restrictions release without effort or plan. Unsegmented wholeness and spontaneity refresh habitual patterns required for daily tasks, thereby enhancing circulation and suppleness. Scientific research is indicating that the fascial system recreates itself over time according to use patterns. So being at play with the 7 qualities of connective tissue expression is very likely to create a stronger, more flexible bodysuit, because collagen fibers strengthen according to demand.
Continuum and Trauma Resolution
Many new therapeutic modalities increasing somatic awareness are demonstrating the potential to develop higher levels of physical and emotional well-being even as we age. As Ida Rolf said, we are now grasping that past traumatic events live in the flesh and distort our ability to self-regulate with ease and adaptability. There has been a deeper understanding of the long term effects of trauma on the nervous system. 50 years ago, a lack of understanding of trauma responses left many feeling ashamed. PTSD, post traumatic stress disorders, were perceived as failings of a personality. Physical and emotional abuse in childhood were family secrets. Culturally we are beginning to understand that very few of us get through life without some form of medical emergency, debilitating accident, devastating loss, or deep social wounding. Even benign experiences, such as child birth, can leave traces of unresolved overwhelm or shock within us. Therapeutic approaches for resolving PTSD are helping the side-effects of head injuries, car accidents, difficult births and returning war veterans. While this is still on the fringe of the medical world, it is spreading through mainstream practices. Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing, and a former student of Ida Rolf, describes trauma as an “altered state of consciousness, a state of high arousal that persists over time.” Peter Levine, Stephen Porges and other trauma theorists describe how overwhelming events (too much, too soon, too fast) can cause dissociation, fragmentation, or freezing in shock. We become stuck in a pattern of high alert that can appear normal but is numb as if one is semi sleep walking. There are often blind spots within our perceptual field and/or areas of the body that are blank within our awareness. This state robs our world of vibrancy. Often a state of chronic fatigue, a diminished capacity for pleasure, and a muted ability for expression and creativity become the norm.
While animals share a similar nervous system with similar trauma responses, they are more able to discharge the highly activated states inherent in a predator/prey environment. This occurs naturally for them. It is more complicated for humans. A car accident, for example, is not exactly a predator/prey situation. Rather than following the directives of instinctual physiological responses, we reach for the cell phone or are asked to produce a drivers license, etc. Humans depend more on social systems of support than their instincts. Our neocortex is capable of overriding the impulses of the brainstem during the time of re-regulation needed after a traumatic experience. The shaking, sweating, crying, moaning, collapsing and sleeping stages of recovery can be deferred or controlled and then the moment is lost. This results in something like shards of trauma encapsulated in an otherwise functional body and psyche. Over time the undischarged trauma manifests in a range of symptoms: sleep problems, immune disorders, anxiety, repeated accidents of a particular type, and behavioral aberrations such as addictions or eating disorders.
Therapies that seek to resolve trauma teach client and therapist to attend minutely to signals, sensations, and awareness associations arising from the body. Healing occurs when a numb robotic area of being can be given permission for delayed actions, reactions and sensations to re-emerge and start to flow. As intolerable sensations are met with support and understanding, a restoration of aliveness and coherency follow. Along with other soma-based therapies, even certain ancient Tibetan practices, this engenders a faith in the ability of the body to lead us toward healing through sensations and movement impulses. While not a modern idea, this vital rediscovery has modern applications and is supported by science and research.
Continuum has much to offer to this growing trust in the creative and re-creative wisdom of our physiology. A practice of Continuum can gradually reawaken the deadened zones. Developing an ability to sustaining interest in small signals arising from our sensate awareness fosters self-care empowerment. We learn to re-regulate from highly agitated to deeply relaxed and spacious states. We know how to shift our state towards a freer, more relaxed, better supported way of being. Rather than trying to control our breathing, we become acquainted with breathing that is natural and satisfying. This personal sense of empowerment is priceless. Classes provide a medium for gradually loosening the grip of habitual patterns of perception and function. Often the group process also feels very supportive should the challenges of renegotiating a trauma arise.
Elements inherent in a Continuum Practice
Biological time is not on the clock. Our current lives are strongly influenced by the speed of cars, electronic devices, work schedules, even the rhythm of speech. A slower pace facilitates relaxation, digestion and circulation. It also allows us to notice more subtle sensations. Biological time is not linear. It meanders, pauses, takes side roads, stops to smell the roses. While learning to move like molasses is very informing, not all movement within Continuum is slow. There are times when our fluidity expresses more like a bubbling brook. This is also very interesting since the complexity of this full body display is beyond our ability to control and direct. In between each phase of exploration we learn to pause in order to simply notice, rest, and absorb without action. Learning to appreciate the space between events is a teaching in itself. As many of us have noticed during the social distancing of the pandemic of 2020, once we stop rushing to keep up, we have a chance to reconsider and perhaps make new choices.
Creating a safe container
Our organism needs to feel safe in order to let go and become more present with Now. Therapists and group facilitators are putting more emphasis on creating a dependable sense of orientation in social situations. In general during this era, clarity and respect for personal boundaries has become more delineated in therapeutic and educational settings. The container of a Continuum class offers not only the standard therapeutic sense of safety but also an opportunity to be enveloped, soothed and comforted through being together without language. Group meditations also seek a focus in silence and stillness together. Yet, dropping out of self expression through language, while exploring it with movement and sound evokes a mammalian memory of belonging, akin to a snuffling, snoring puppy pile. Our limbic, or relational brain, thrives on communing while attending so deeply to our own needs. It is unusual to care for our personal rhythms while simultaneously sharing in a social event. This opens up the parameters of what it means to belong.
Allowing self-pacing and individual expression
From pre-school on we have been trained to fall into step with group processes. We have become habituated to following the leader whenever we are gathered together, whether the focus is external or internal, intellectual, emotional or physical. Most movement classes walk us through the steps all together. Even a private session is guided by the coach. The nature of Continuum serves the ability of the nervous system to improve self-regulation. Individuals must have the freedom to respond to their own needs and pacing within the framework of a group process of self-care. It is not uncommon within Continuum classes to have a participant snoozing during an exploration. This is one way that the nervous system re-regulates, so it is welcome. Emotional expressions that arise within the class are greeted in the same way. They have neither more value or less. This is a departure from social mores that separate emotions from physical and mental tasks or put them front and center during therapy. Many of us have learned to feel shame if we can not keep our emotions under wraps in the wrong setting. From ecstasy to anguish, Continuum encourages this powerful flow of energy without a hierarchy of good, bad, sad or glad. It is possible for all of these states to be at play simultaneously within a workshop. Social healing occurs from being seen, heard and accepted within a non-judgmental social setting that neither denies or encourages emotional outbursts. While our tendency is to resonate with each other emotionally, we do not need to be in lock step with each other. I have had strong passages of healing and self-understanding for being in emotional waves that have blended with my full body participation in movement. Rather than making a case for my feelings with a story, I have felt the melting of barriers and the power of the surges take me from one state to the next as naturally as weather changes. Emotions become an ally rather than an impediment. Being simultaneously responsible for one’s own self-care while joining with others is more revolutionary than meets the eye. The structure inherent in a class exploration does not preclude adjusting it to suit one’s own interests and expression. Without an outside authority telling us what to do all together, there is no other option than to take responsibility for our own state of being. If I am bored or resistant, it is up to me to find my way through. The internal judgments of good, bad, right, wrong must look for a deeper truth of self under the social programing of either blaming self or other. Within a context that gives us so much freedom to find our own way, the voice of the inner critic becomes loud and clear.
Loosening the grip of social conditioning
Our social programing far exceeds that of other mammals. Children need to adapt to family structures over long years of dependency. Adults need to figure out how to belong to the current norms of society in order to ‘make it’ in the world. We are herd animals, needing each other for survival. Cultural norms create a context that shapes all of us; the chairs and cars we sit in, the clothes we wear, the language we speak, the electronic devices we depend on. We could call this the fish bowl that contains the goldfish. The goldfish no longer knows the oceanic world of its origins. Dictates and restrictions of the environment are largely invisible to us, just as the water and the fish bowl are a given for the goldfish. We are shaped and programmed by habitual patterns of perception and function in relationship to this context. Most of us are no longer engaged with the elemental world for our survival. Reliance on machines shapes us to the point that our anatomy is referred to as a soft machine.
Our ancestors, without technological control over their environment, were reminded daily that survival depended on living in harmony with the forces of nature. Appreciation for its life-giving abundance was woven constantly into prayers and ceremonies. Now that we have a much more abstracted relationship to nature, its forces can seem capricious and out of control. This imbalance of dominion over, rather than cooperation with, the elemental world is affecting all of us whether we are conscious of it or not. The pandemic has brought us face to face (or possibly to our knees) with the peril of our situation. It is hard to fathom the extent to which this loss of right relationship with nature is affecting us in terms of ambient, rootless anxiety.
There are further ramifications between the distant, abstracted relationship with nature and our attitude towards our own bodies. In traditional religions the body is often portrayed as a lower order of the human being. Just as we have felt free to subjugate the animal kingdom to our own needs, so the body has been treated as a ‘dumb’ beast. And the drives and desires of physicality are often still seen as impediments to the pursuit of higher self. Our inevitable mortality causes us to fear our bodies the way we fear the un-tame-able forces of nature. We rely on medical tests for answers more than we trust the healing powers within. How to become a conscious participant with the recreative, healing powers of our body has largely been lost just as we have less ability to engage in our elemental world for mutual benefit.
The way that Emilie led us back into a dialogue with sensation was and is so much more than a self-care regime. Her vision of the lost soul of humanity was at the heart of her need to create Continuum. She called our mechanical and electronic devices ‘body snatchers’. It is so true. Regularly after a longer session at the computer or on zoom the results are numbness and tension.
Continuum’s explorations seek to rediscover the infinitude of movement possibilities living outside the goldfish bowl of social habits. Spontaneous experiences arise that remind us of our aquatic origins. Reptilian and mammalian visitations seem to possess our movement for a time, giving us a sense of oneness with all of life’s creatures. The exquisite fluidity of an octopus transmits a healing power to our tissues. Emilie called these experiences ‘species inclusivity’. They feel more like a blessing than an exercise. Our body remembers itself as a non-fragmented, intelligent whole. Its intelligence is in its ability to transfigure, modulate, discern, transform, mix, transport and unify. This innate wisdom is primarily the result of resonance with a larger field of fluid intelligence – life itself. As one of nature’s creatures at play in the universe we are floating on the lily pad of existence; belonging. Spiritual states of unity with ‘oneness’ are not only possible from disembodied states of consciousness. Feeling the benign nature of life unfolding, recreating and transforming engenders trust in the cycles of life and death. This is a silent revolution because physicality is not an obstacle holding us in bondage, fear, and pain, but a portal into a spiritual state of unity. The love of our world, transmitted through our bodies, can lead us back toward a mature stewardship for our planet. The only way to discover and develop this portal is by attentive listening and following the flow of sensation and impulses for movement. To do this we have to let go of mental directives. Presence within pleasurable, non-linear movement becomes a teacher of greater awareness. But we have to step into the unknown every single time we take this journey. This in itself is a spiritual practice.
Sound as movement
How do we initiate a richer expression of sensations and movement without mental directives? What enhances the impulse to explore outside the range of everyday patterns of perception? What guides us into deeper interoception, an inner awareness of our state of being; our presence within. As much emphasis as we put on listening, allowing and following, Continuum is not a passive event. If repetitive habits become stultifying and instill rigidity, how do we reverse this trend of aging to increase neuro-plasticity, stimulating the recreative capacities of our organism?
Mantras, chanting, and singing are as old as the hills. Music is a state changer as it helps unify us in harmonic resonance with self and other. The Greek root of the word emotion defines it as energy that moves from inside to outer expression making our vocal expression a conduit for inside to out flow of energy and expression. Depression is often not so much a lack of joy but a loss of creative expression. So the flow between our inner world and engagement with ‘other’ is key to participation and belonging rather than curling away in isolation or numbness.
Sound is a vibration and vibration is movement. When making sound, using our voice without the meaning content of language, we can focus on the sensations that vibration creates internally. In this way, we receive sound as if we are a tuning fork, feeling it in our bones and tissues. The attention we bring to this gives us a bio-feedback loop of assessment. The denser, tenser, more numb areas in our body do not respond to sound as easily as the more open and relaxed areas. Just as water transmits sound globally and evenly, we can know where our tissues are more or less resilient within our internal fluids. During one session of Continuum there is often a progress report via sound, letting us know that our organism has become more coherent and ‘in tune’ with itself.
With sound we have a way to touch internal spaces where no hand will ever go, such as the front of the sacrum or the inside of facial bones. Combined with the touch of our own hands in the same territory we are palpably passing this vibration from inside to out. This gives us the power to bring more energy and awareness to places in need. Since a primary symptom of shock and trauma is a blank spot in our awareness, this becomes a pivotal resource for trauma resolution via Continuum. When an area is ‘off line’, so to speak, resolution begins with noting the missing territory. Just as a numb sensation signals us if an area of our body has gone to sleep, so feeling the gap in coherent sensation begins the return of awareness.
Sensing the vibration of sound can also invoke impulses for micro-movements, minute split second twitches, quivers or something between imagination and movement. Clearly we can not direct these. As we become fascinated by their spontaneity, they tend to proliferate, complexify and spread. The animal body discharges the high activation of trauma by shaking, quivering, making sounds or crying. When humans have missed this stage of resolution, the invitation for spontaneous micro-movements can serve to thaw the frozen territories of PTSD as it trickles through the blocked channels of discharge. Trauma aside, micro-movements and sound open areas of stagnation and density.
Vocal sounds are breath made audible. The play between sound and breathing creates another form of biofeedback. As sound resonates within the cavity of our skeletal container, it conveys a sense of volume. When we create something like an OOO sound, we can both hear and feel where it resonates. In doing so our typical breathing pattern is interrupted allowing us to witness how breathing chooses to re-regulate between one sound and the next. Breathing is so intimately interwoven with our nervous system that we can not affect one without affecting the other. If we are anxious, breathing speeds up and becomes more shallow, while relief is experienced as a more satisfying inhale and exhale and more open air passages. Shifting breathing patterns towards ease is more challenging that simply telling oneself to ‘take a deep breath’. The autonomic function of breathing means that it is regulating according to signals from heart, resting tensions, and systemic needs beyond our mental directives. As we become more aware of our internal volume and its permeable responsiveness to sound, breathing also gives us a progress report. How does our breathing re-regulate for an upgrade of function and what can we learn from that? What areas need to relax and find support from the earth? What holding patterns rob us of the gift of breathing at ease? We can witness what our breath wants to do without interfering mentally. Sometimes it seems to quiet and become smaller. Sometimes the space between breaths elongates incredibly. Sometimes we find breathing responses moving into new territories as holding patterns release. Invariably the reset point chosen by our breathing offers a better sense of being supported both from inside and from the gravitational field. Over time we become more aware of the affect our stress responses have on breathing. Likewise, we are more cognizant of the way back home. To know that a spike of anxiety can be turned around by tending an inner state nourished by sound and breathing awareness is incredibly empowering.
Accessing the power of the field
What does that mean; accessing the power of the field? The shared focus within a group seems to help our concentration, igniting a fecundity of creativity and serendipitous exchanges of information. This is at the heart of all churches and organizations. Continuum participants report an augmentation to their explorations within a class setting. We notice that motifs seem to emerge spontaneously or we have shared experiences without plan or pre-thought. Because individuals in a Continuum class are self-directing their process, sound streams take on a life of their own. It is very possible to feel penetrated or touched by another’s sound. This is different than empathy. Rather than being touched by another person’s emotional state, we feel resonance as a collective field. Silences and interplays of sound blend and influence our inner journey. This can feel as if we are breathing as an organism without any loss of individuation. The perception of being enclosed by the barrier of one’s own skin softens and expands with a delicious sense of permeability. Intuition, synchronicities of events, healing from a distance all seem to indicate that we are in a soup of awareness together, adding our own essential spice to it. But because science has no explanation for this phenomenon, it is more challenging to develop trust in a larger, invisible, yet communicative field. Intellectually we realize we are breathing in oxygen that tress exhale while trees are breathing in the carbon dioxide we exhale. Symbiosis is the nature of nature. Yet, experiencing ourselves in a greater exchange with each other and the universe often remains an intellectual concept, not a felt sense of knowing. The constraint of science’s quest for a physical-materialistic view of objective reality has kept theories of the Implicate Order of Bohm and the morphogenic field by Sheldrake in a metaphysical conundrum for the last century. In order to expand a science of consciousness, we would need to accept that our minds appear to be more enfolded, entangled and interdependent with the world at large. Not only do we need an accepted paradigm for this but a felt sense of knowing it as an inner truth. As we become familiar with the power of non-directed, non-linear fluid expressions of movement to create more coherency and well-being, the trust in waters’ life-giving intelligence becomes an experience of belonging to an implicate order within that also operates beyond our skin. Meanwhile, given the restrictions of gathering together during the 2020 pandemic, collective explorations have had to go to zoom or other meetings from afar. This seems to be engendering a greater awareness of non-local inclusion. The potential to feel akin to something larger that ourselves; beyond creed, color or culture, is a collective healing. Rather than preaching to an abstract concept of unity, feeling augmented by these shared experiences helps pave the way for a step that humanity must take for its own survival. This quality of alone/together begins within a safe container of like-minded pursuits. Gradually with repeated experiences, it changes the fierce individualism and competitive perspectives of our times.
We are not the first to delve into energy fields of healing or communication at a distance. For example, Australian aborigines were quite at home in this realm without the training wheels of electronic devices. Slowly but surely our current networks have been creating a world wide web of information. With the global problems of pollution and pandemic, survival imperatives are causing us to reach beyond tribalism, racism and nationalism in order to seek solutions. John Lennon’s song, Imagine, begins to sound like a necessity for the survival of humanity rather than unrealistic idealism. Yet, we still have culturally conditioned habits of polarization that choose to divide and conquer. How can we practice an ability to welcome diversity within a unified field? How can we care for our own local needs and be cognoscente of our place within a greater whole? As small as Continuum seems in the larger scheme of humanity’s evolution or demise, it models an experiential form for resting at ease within the creative potential of these dilemmas. The analogy of an orchestra conveys an ability to access the beauty of unified intention combined with individual expression. Cultivating repeated experiences, whether in classes or virtual events, help pave the way for a revolution that seeks cooperation over competition, reinforcing new habits for humanity.
The power of imagination
All inventions begin within our capacity for imagination. Social change also comes from imagining a better world. John Lennon’s song was already mentioned and Martin Luther King’s famous speech, “I have a dream” is another example. The play of children, such as caring for baby dolls or driving a fire engine, imagines empowerment and agency during the dependent phase of life. These are all precursors to an unfolding future, not yet tangible. Many meditations enlist visualizations of color and imagery as a practice to overlay order within our energetic awareness. Psychics, too, develop an alternate channel of perception via less immediate and literal data.
Pictures, images or something like metaphors can easily arise within a Continuum dive. There are times when it feels as if one is in a lucid dream. The literal body can seem to dissolve or turn into something other. During Continuum explorations we often call on our imagination and visualization to take journeys down through the inner realms or into space outside of our body. It is not uncommon to ‘send’ an audible breath/sound into or around a particular area. Sometimes this brings us into a specific awareness of our anatomy, such as bones or viscera. At other times we might be weaving an imaginary spiral around the outside of a leg. The coupling of sound and visualization augments focus while simultaneously letting the artist of imagination surprise and inform us. Spontaneously, our imagination will want to knit an injured area with special attention or create a conversation between two areas that were not slated for the project at hand. Like the dream world, inviting imagination to the party enlists the power of the unconscious to deliver messages one step ahead of our literal sensibilities. Making friends with the unconscious in pursuit of more consciousness has primarily been the realm of Jungian therapy, or historically a role within shamanism. It is, as yet, an unrecognized ally when brought to bear on the potential of our physical body to develop new neurological capacities. Continuum combines our ability to initiate visualizations with a free form receptivity to imaginal emerging. Combining organized imagination with free range imagination while tracking physical sensations and responses opens up new territory in the field of somatic practices. Somatic therapies listen to the associations of image, emotions and sensations arising from our past. Continuum applies these same skills to our emerging self. This is about growth as well as repair. It requires a fresh moment in response to the unknown. This is about living our lives as developing, unfolding beings continuing to awaken to new awareness. Awakening is not a fixed state. Emilie said that the intelligence of life is encoded in movement: “Movement is both the message and the messenger”. Engaging with life’s ever changing interplays is the game, the learning, the emergence of becoming. When we do this through the spontaneous movement expressions of Continuum, our body, mind awareness and soul come together with a single purpose.
Continuum as a practice
Slowing down - creating a safe container - allowing self-pacing - loosening the grip of social norms - sound as movement - accessing the power of the field - imagination: these components create the learning environment of Continuum. The architecture of a ‘dive’(what we call our forays into this medium) has a beginning, middle, and end named a layout. There is usually a preparatory phase. This allows us to notice our initial state of being before we begin. The cognitive report of an initial ‘baseline’ will give us a comparison later after we have experimented with various sounds, breaths, and movements. In this way we start to teach ourselves how different modalities in Continuum evoke shifts in our perception and in our physiology. Next we set out an itinerary for our journey. Often we bring specific focus to territories such as diaphragms or ribs, etc. Or perhaps we initiate a conversation between areas in the body. Creating counterpoints such as different positions in relationship to gravity or contrasting energizing play versus slower, more receptive phases serves to keep us dexterous and attentive to change. We are not bound to march through this plan of action should we become intrigues with phenomena that arise spontaneously whether from sensations, images, memories or reflections. Yet, we re-orient to the layout as a way to create a conscious process. Once we begin there is a natural flow of movement from one thing to the next. Like a symphony, there are phrases, returning themes and natural pauses. The punctuation between these stages is always a time for Open Attention. Open Attention is a form of resting awareness without a specific focus. Often surprises or revelations arrive during this pause. Welcoming new subtle pleasure as it flows without action could be the most important harvest of this endeavor. Certainly applying the rhythm between focused action and a more dilated lens of perception is a healthy habit to develop in life. During these periods of Open Attention we remind ourselves of our beginning state and compare it to the new ‘now’. Given half a chance, the body will find ways to open and rebalance at a higher level of order. It is crucial that we learn to track the progression from one state to the next and from one dive to the next. We are learning to trust the intelligence of our organism and to develop our ability to respond to its impulses. Breathing, relaxation, more coherency and stronger interoception are within our power to improve through this form of engagement; part willful and part receptive. Yet, self teaching requires a definition of experience. Without creating meaning for these ephemeral states of being, they will drift away without a trace. Empowerment comes with understanding how we have learned to change our physiology. Integration comes when we take the ‘notes to self’ arising from body, psyche and mind and apply them to our everyday life.
An Emerging New Philosophy
From a casual glance at a Continuum class, the apparently self indulgent lolling, rolling and napping could hardly seem to be revolutionary. When Emilie, after years as a professional dancer, first surrendered to her depression and asthma, asking her body to lead her, she could not have known how this query would continue to unfold for the rest of her life. Nor could she have foretold its powerful and ongoing affects for her students. She was a dancer, not a scientist. She knew nothing of connective tissue or trauma theories. Her passions and visions took her beyond the scientific paradigms of our biological parameters. To this day, her work with paralysis has gone unnoticed because it defies the current medical beliefs about a total severing of the central nervous cord. One of her longest term students, Barbara Mindell, was a paraplegic who regained full sensation throughout her body and the ability to move in ways considered medically impossible. Essentially Barbara developed an alternate neurological system that allowed her to lift her legs and crawl via Continuum’s explorations in movement.
Yet, how does this contribute to a philosophical view of the purpose of our lives? First we need to acknowledge that this trajectory has been developing over the last 50 years with contributions from countless thinkers, practitioners, therapists and teachers. As well, Continuum was developed not only by Emilie, but by her students who shared their knowledge, insights and contributions: most notably, Susan Harper, Emilie’s first Continuum teacher, who collaborated with Emilie for many years. This new philosophy sees the purpose of life as an on-going process of burgeoning awareness, learning and unfolding of being. No longer is the success of a life measured only in achievements that are culturally lauded. With this broader process-oriented endeavor, diversity is encouraged rather than curtailed. Emotions are no longer relegated to a private world of neurosis or seen as weakness. Rather their crucial signaling directs us toward more discriminating choices and authentic vitality provided we can meet them without judgment or blame. Spirituality is coming closer to everyday life; meaning, as Emilie said many times, “God is not elsewhere.” Rather than putting spiritual authority outside of oneself with representatives to shepherd or translate the wisdom of religious traditions, we are reaching for our own relationship to our own spiritual insights. The mediums for this can be through art, meditation, plant medicine, engagement with nature, ecstatic dance, caring for one’s children, music, etc. Life’s challenges are in service to growth rather than seen as a punishment or a test for delayed gratification after we die.
Continuum’s teachings are as painstaking as any meditation practice. It takes a long time to develop patience, skill and trust in its potency. Emilie believed that we can participate consciously in the evolution of our neurology in order to repair damage, as Barbara Mindell demonstrated, but also to develop new sensibilities. We can not know where this takes us or what it could mean, but that has always been the case with evolution. As we tend barely perceptible sensations that become more elaborate and vivid with our attention, all we can discern is the satisfaction within our state of being. Personally, I believe that Continuum helps integrate the two hemispheres of the brain as well as the functions of the neocortex, limbic and reptilian brain stem. Again to quote Emilie; “Our neocortex became too big for its britches. Now we need to backtrack towards a brain that follows the lead of the heart rather than dissociating from it.” Continuum still feels visionary within the current paradigms from science to theologians. These are the factors that point the way toward a new society:
An un-fragmented sense of self. Equal value given to the information coming from mind, emotions, body, and the subconscious.
Granting of equal wisdom manifesting among group members without a need to have the same beliefs or the same state of being. Welcoming diversity, rather than protecting against it; this being the only way that humanity can evolve beyond racism and territoriality. It begins by being at ease with diversity within a social container. Direction comes from a sensibility that arises from the collective rather than the top down hierarchy models of leadership. To practice resonance with the field rather than taking directions from a leader mirrors a shift from a neocortical dominated body to a heart based body in resonance with the whole of self and others. This is how the Continuum Teacher’s Association has modeled their organization.
Empowerment to work with ourselves effectively in order to reduce anxiety and other discomforts. This ability to improve our parasympathetic state when it becomes agitated challenges habituated responses of blame and victimhood.
Engendering states of communion with the animal kingdom and the natural world. This love of earth and body is in total harmony with spiritual aspirations, not an impediment to the higher self.
A relationship with our bodies as a portal to higher states of spiritual unity. A new sense of spirituality involves waking up as an ongoing process of gaining new awareness. The perceptual body is a participant in the integration that turns experience into wisdom. Continuum provides food for our souls in relationship to daily life.
I feel so blessed to have stumbled upon two amazing, powerful, visionary women who shaped my path this lifetime. Emilie’s passion transmitted a dedication for an inquiry into being fully alive and present to my own precious life through experiencing the intelligence of life at play within me as well as beyond. My life has transfigured through many small deaths as well as some great sorrows and disappointments. Yet, meeting these times with presence and staying true to the moment has continued to enliven me. Movement is as much a dissolving of one form as a transpiring into a new becoming. Without fear or judgment, within this dance of life, seeming un-resolvable polarities such as mind/body, life/death, spirit/material, belonging/aloneness, pleasure/pain seem to exist together without contradiction. I believe that this practice of refining my capacity for very subtle pleasures will continue to take me home, perhaps even as I am dying.
Thank you, Emilie and the full, gracious, graceful, gorgeous Continuum community.