The Art of Somatic Education
The Wetzig Body Operating System
How your body/mind system organizes movement

Somatic Education
What do I mean by somatic education? Probably, when you learned to drive, you were both unsafe and awkward until operating a car became automatic, done without thinking. I find this a fascinating, if obvious, observation about physical learning. Clearly, skills like driving, walking, athletics, dancing, bodywork, or swimming are best organized by a nonconscious, operational part of your body/mind. A practical question: how can your thinking, analytical mind most usefully interact with your nonconscious functional body/mind as you move in your life?

Life is movement. Each of us has a relationship with our body and our functional mind. Somatic education starts at birth (or before) and one of its most active expressions is the exploratory play of children. Those who practice athletics, music, dance, qi gong, yoga, t'ai chi, and computer games develop and use somatic skills, as do students of F. M. Alexander, Milton Trager, or Moshe Feldenkrais. Optimally, somatic education leads to grace, ease, comfort, and physical skill. Positive somatic learning can reverse the holding and loss of movement that result from abuse, pain, or trauma (negative somatic learning).

This article describes the insights of a person I've learned a lot from during the last couple of years. Elizabeth (Betsy) Wetzig, dancer, choreographer, and body-use expert, has given me a perspective on body-mind interaction fully as useful and fascinating as the Meyers-Briggs personality profile or the Enneagram are to psychological interactions. Wetzig has built on the results of earlier physiologic experiments to formulate practical insights into how our bodies organize to do what we want to do. She calls her workshops Coordination Pattern Training for Full Potential Movement. For me, she helps answer basic questions: How does my body-mind organize what I do? How can my doing feel better and work better?

I refer to BOS, body operating system, by analogy with DOS, disc operating system. My computer's disc operating system selects different specific programs for different tasks, like word processing, handling data, drawing, communication, or games. Similarly, for different tasks, our BOS selects centers and patterns of body organization. Another similarity is that most computer operations are done in background, just as most body operations are nonconscious. With a computer, our ability to do what we want depends on knowing what programs are available, what they can do, and how to direct what they do. In your body, by contrast, although knowledge can help us learn or coach, conscious control usually interferes with actions, as Moorehouse discusses in his chapter on paralysis through analysis in "Maximum Performance."

The Patterns

Wetzig sees four basic patterns of body/mind organization, each of which all of us use. She calls them shape, swing, thrust, and hang. Each pattern organizes from a different physical center within the body. Most of us have a style of body operation with a dominant pattern and a subdominant pattern. We are most relaxed in our dominant pattern, least relaxed in our least dominant. One pattern is not better or worse, just different. Each is useful and we all use all four. For example, the four in basketball: Shape up to shoot accurately, but if you land in shape you hurt your knees. Swing has bounce or rebound, and organizes repeated jumps. Hang is needed to easily run the court and float for jams. Thrust changes direction suddenly, drives, and sets picks. The patterns are briefly listed below, with some typical features.

Actions may "feel good" to us because they match our home, most relaxed, pattern or because they use a pattern we need to develop, like the one furthest from home. We function best when all patterns are fully available as needed.

Finding and feeling the centers

Shape: Balance, symmetry, and order. Managing, shaping up. Yoga, ballet, classical music. -- Feeling: Put your hand over the tip of your breastbone, between belly and chest and between lower ribs. Imagine this center connected back to your spine and with some lift, drop the hand. Focus on this center, shape your body as though marching in a formal wedding, walk. With bent elbows, straight wrists, lift to expand your breath. OM sound comes from this center.

Swing: Bounce, rocking, rhythm. Sales, relationships. Swing music, hula dancing. -- Feeling: Put your hand on your belly above the navel, connect this center to your spine, and let it lift, drop hand. Stand and move your body so your arms swing around you, like ropes with knots where your hands are or like an empty jacket over your shoulders. Your arms ride the swing and wrap before swinging back. Feel your hands. Or put on some 60s music and do the twist. Sound could be bouncy Santa's Ho Ho Ho Ho.

Thrust: Focus, directed energy, asymmetry. Technical work, computers. Karate, weight work, disco dances. -- Feeling: Focus at the base of your belly, centered, just above the pubic bone, connect to spine, with some lift. Put one foot forward. Without stress, thrust forward on crossing diagonal with pelvis, back hand, and breath, all together. Find a deep grunt that comes from that spot, add to thrust.

Hang: Flow, extending limits. Entrepreneurs, hanging out. Fred Astaire going into space and his legs come after. Hang can go way out beyond limits and can get back. Conceptually, Einstein imagining himself in an accelerating elevator in outer space. The momentum center shifts, but not symmetrically out and back with neat limits. Hang has random motions, also may form circles or figure eights. -- Feeling: Hang has a moving center of momentum. Switch from shape center to thrust (OM sound to Thrust grunt), up and down. Then stand, arms hanging from shoulders, hands hanging from arms. With soft knees, find small moves of pelvis and sense resulting micromoves with hanging hand sensors. Or send energy out the fingers of one hand and let your hand and body follow that energy into random motions.

A Personal Full Potential Experience
Fascinating Wetzig connections about styles of body/mind learning, music, song, and dance, as well as pattern overrides and how they affect function, are not included here. Instead, following is a learning sequence simple enough for you to explore from an outline. Below, why this body/mind experience was powerful for me.

Do only if comfortable.
·- Stand in foundation doorway posture, ankles under knees under hips. Knees unlocked,align your middle toes (not big toes) with ankles. Centering middle toes enlivens the outside of the feet. Let your weight be over the arch of your foot (not heel or ball) and keep it there during the following actions.
·- Let your head get heavy and fold forward until your spine follows, knees bend, and heels lift just a bit. Your head hangs comfortably near your knees.
·- Slowly return to standing, noticing your thrust center (above pubic bone), swing center (above navel), and shape center (tip of sternum). A moving center of momentum is hang, so all four centers are invoked during this simple movement. Repeat and notice.
·- The next time you come up, instead of pulling your shoulders back, let them remain forward where they unfold to as your head comes erect. Stand and notice, repeat.
·- Without pulling your shoulders back, rotate your hands out and back to let them hang with palms facing your body. Stand and notice.
·- From this posture, taking your back with you, start a relaxed walk. Notice.

Twice before, I'd felt the body alignment and awareness Wetzig led me to with this exercise. Nearly 20 years ago, a Feldenkrais class surrounded and supported me, lifted me in the air, carried me for a bit, and finally supported me into a standing posture that automatically aligned. This felt gift was particularly valued because I'm big enough that even groups don't often offer to carry me around. Then, 12 years ago at a Trager Beginning, after a transformative session from instructor Gary Brownlee, I fell into this posture, knees unlocked, shoulders forward, everything aligned automatically.

Why was this such a positive experience? My conscious mind was the observer, enjoying without controlling, while my functional mind created reflex, aligned standing. This feels to me like where athletes go when "on" or "in the zone." Also the state of self-trust Milton Trager calls Hook-up®. With the learning game outlined above, Wetzig empowered me to explore and create for myself this potent and pleasurable alignment whenever I choose.

A Style of Pattern Use
My dominant pattern is swing, as seen in my enjoyment of Trager® rocking and connecting with clients and students. Wetzig found that I had a strong shape subdominant. This surprised me a bit, because I don't keep an orderly desk or work environment. Shape is involved in my writing and a knack for details like proof-reading, I suppose. It may relate to my having been a fearful child, trying to figure out and control inside and outside to be safe. I believe hang was part of my ability to do research, as I was willing to hang out with accumulated information until connections surfaced and made sense. Of the four patterns, thrust, the precise delivery of focused energy or intent, seems furthest from my home pattern. In recent years, I've added regular weight work to my physical routine. Aikido, or ki classes without the falls, would probably move me closer to full potential.

This summary of some of what I've gotten from Wetzig is my own understanding. To briefly address some of the questions asked above: Useful functions for the conscious mind are to enjoy, observe, and trust the functional mind. You can also use your conscious to practice awareness of BOS centers. This gives your body/mind sensory signals to use in doing what you want more easily, simply, and effectively.

Elizabeth Wetzig is from Allentown, PA. For her workshops contact Gene Miller, below.

Joe Lee Griffin is a retired Trager® practitioner, tutor, and workshop leader. Joe describes his book,"Learn to Swim Before You Go In," self-care games, and Trager® bodywork on the web at www.joeleegriffin.com

Following contact info from 1996

For Wetzig Coordination Patterns Workshops,
The Mind Body Collaborative Partnership
c/o Gene Miller
30 North Twelfth St.
Allentown, PA 18101

Jean Hopkins, Trager Instructor, offers Wetzig-based classes with continuing education credit for members of The TRAGER Institute. In Albuquerque, NM. 505-256-7636.

This article is from the Fall, 1996 issue of Pathways, the DC area quarterly magazine.

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