Support Precedes Action–You Can’t do Anything Well Without Good Support



 “When we don’t know where our support is coming from, the first thing we do is hold.” Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen

Support preceding action is a basic movement principle in Embodyoga®. We regularly refer to this in asana practice asking the question, “Where is your support coming from?” The question sets up an active inquiry within the body-mind movement and assures that we are relating to our environment, and at least looking for the tangible sensation of support for our moving bodies and ourselves.

The need for us to find support before we embark on physical or psychological movement has been thoroughly and beautifully explored and presented by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen and Body-Mind Centering®. It is directly from my study with Bonnie that I have learned how important this inquiry is in our yoga practice.

We feel that the principle of support preceding all integrated and wholesome action is a primary basis upon which to develop optimally in our life. Feeling supported aids our growth on all levels: our physical expression, the development of a rich inner world, and our personal evolution.

The principle of support preceding action in Embodyoga® states that if we want to feel connected and integrated in our movement, we need to know where our support is coming from before we engage in any action at all. The fullness of even the smallest movement, like releasing our weight down and into the earth under us, is based on our knowing that we will be appropriately supported in that action. When we reach our arms out and upward in a sun salutation, we are using the support of earth under us, the receptivity of the space around us, our musculoskeletal supports, as well as our desire, and our state of mind. Support is a multifaceted and multilayered moving reality in body and mind. It is based on experience and our knowing that we can trust our experience.

Theoretically, there are many different kinds of supports available to us. We have the support of gravity holding us to the earth and the earth under us. We have the support of the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink, the homes that shelter us, and so on. Hopefully, we have the support of loved ones, friends, and community. Yogicly speaking, we have the support of our personal pranic field and the vast Field of Awareness that is the nature of who and what we are.

Support is a product of communication and cannot exist in a single direction. When we investigate “support” we need to feel ourselves in relationship. It is not possible to feel supported in the world without also feeling the elements around us that are offering support. Receiving support is never a one-way street and is never static. In any situation where we feel supported we are also giving back. It always involves an active relationship.

We first begin to explore this when we are very young. One of the processes inherent in our early development is learning to trust that we will receive the various supports that we need in order to grow and thrive. In receiving support of any kind we are somewhat permeable to our environment, receptive, and aware. Of course, we always maintain choice about how receptive we want to be in any situation, but without some permeability to our surroundings we will not be able to receive their support.

When our environment is not supportive, or even dangerous, we necessarily do not maintain the same level of permeability. In order to preserve our personal integrity, we may need to offer resistance to a threat to our well-being. This is a healthy and important choice to make in the appropriate situations and we honor it fully. Our inherent intelligence functions to make safe and productive choices about where and when to accept and take support and how permeable we should be in any situation. Choice and awareness is the key to this ongoing undulation of when to resist and when to allow.

Not all situations offer support, and equally, support that is offered is not always felt. We need safe laboratories to explore how and when we can accept support. For example, feeling the earth under us is relatively simple exploration. But as life progresses the question of support becomes more complicated. Our relationships become more intricate and interwoven. Do we still notice that our environment – including the people in it, supports us?

There are many ways that we have all functioned in the world without feeling safe and supported. Without tangible support, it isn’t easy to fully commit to any relationship at all. It is entirely possible to more or less successfully navigate an entire life without really feeling supported. When we find that we need to function without a sense of relational support under us, we may not feel that we are optimally involved or fully engaged in our lives the way we would like to be. We may not quite be able to put our finger on what the problem is. We are going through the motions, doing what we need to do, and interacting, but somehow it isn’t satisfying. We don’t feel like a fully active participant in our own life. This can be a painful way to live life. The recognition of our own lack of full participation can be a powerful motivator to change. The desire to become more present is the spark of the motivation and in itself is very powerful.

To understand this sense of detachment from our life that many of us feel to some degree or another, it can be interesting to explore the concept of support preceding action. Support needs to be present first. When we are supported we feel safe. We need to feel safe in order to push something away from us, to move into a relationship, or deepen an inquiry into something. From where do you receive support? Can you feel tangible physical, emotional, and spiritual support from the earth, your relationships, and your innermost self? Without an underlying recognition of support, it is very difficult to move with grace and ease, either physically or otherwise.

Safety and support feed one another. As we begin to notice and feel our support structures we also begin to feel more safety.  Many of us have areas in our lives where we do not feel particularly safe at all. Not all situations are safe! In Embodyoga® our explorations take place in the present moment, usually in a yoga studio or another safe place.

When life has not offered the healthiest relationships and experiences we often need to move within to discover deeper reserves. Finding support, whether it is outside of oneself or within, is basic to development. And since from our perspective, support always precedes action, we ask that you never delve more deeply into yourself than you genuinely have support for. We patiently cultivate a deepening sense of support as we go along, and in all of our relationships, in order to allow our awareness to continue to dive deeper. The building of a support structure underneath our inquiry is absolutely primary to fruitful investigations into our own inner world. Each person is in charge of his or her own rate and depth of exploration. Each person asks himself or herself, “Do I want to proceed deeper with this inquiry? Have I had enough for now? Do I feel safe with this right now?”

A safe exploration into finding support can be done by standing in tadasana or mountain pose and simply releasing your weight into the earth. This involves relationship. You can release your weight into the earth fully, or you can push into it, but in order to take the full support that it offers you will need to feel its qualities and how it supports your weight. You may even feel how it provides a rebounding upward through your body. Earth is steady. As babies, we learn about gravity and earth as we develop a sense of “self” and “other”. We learn that earth supports our weight, that it stimulates sensation, and that we can move away from it by pushing into it. We can move along it, and use it to support our reaching for what we desire and need. We learn to take support from the earth in order to do – and get – what we want.
We live in a relational world. We cannot do it all alone. In fact, we don’t do anything alone. We are always in relationship. Yoga can be a process of learning to navigate, refine, and explore how we relate to self, earth, and others. Recognizing our support – whatever it is – allows us to become more skillful and clearer in all of our relationships. A freedom of perception develops in this process and frees up a lot of space in our minds. Developing recognizable support structures, that you can actually trust, makes more vital energy available to be productive in your life. When we feel more secure and have provided for ourselves, our own safety and comfort, we are more engaged and able to be creative and energetic in our lives.

In Embodyoga® we are interested in relationship. Our practice of yoga is based on our exploration of the nature of this relational world, of which we are a part and in which we live. We are committed to opening to the world of enjoyment, love, and pain that this manifest universe offers, while fully recognizing the weave of Awareness that is underlying and expressing as everything. We feel that by embracing and exploring relationship we gain insight into the nature of ourselves – Self-Realization – and into the nature of reality. Support precedes all action and is the guiding force behind all of our inquiries.

One of the beautiful things about this process is that you needn’t have received all of the appropriate supports in your past in order to build structures of support now. Through inquiry and explorations into the nature of self, life, and relationship we have found that it is never too late to heal from the injuries of the past that may be hindering our full development. We firmly believe that we all have the capacity to find deep support within. Yoga is an exceptionally wonderful system for this kind of inquiry. Yoga offers profound tools for contacting inner resources.


7 thoughts on “Support Precedes Action–You Can’t do Anything Well Without Good Support

  1. and my experience is that there are places in my body where i have always felt support which can shift from a single moment of inattention! and then i am back at the beginning…looking for support that i knew was there, and i know is there, but is different at this time. and so it is an unending and continuous journey! it’w wonderful to be equipped with the tools of inquiry. thank you, patty!


  2. Beautifully put Patty. I have noticed a tendency that people have of wanting to dive very deep, very fast. It feels like just another tendency of our modern era – a thirst for quick results – but this desire for going deep fast has been present for a long time and that is why so many ‘yogas’ developed. I think it’s an innate human need to escape existential pain that pushes people into the quickest method of keeping the discomfort at bay.Some paths really offer the capacity to go deep fast but as you rightly pointed out, often practitioners ignore that they did not posses the resources, the support for such depth. The result is that a fragile personality gets shattered and struggles painfully to reach solid ground.And that is why a practice like Embodyoga, which emphasizes ‘support’ is so reassuring. We are encouraged to develop our relationship with the earth and draw support from it. As practitioners we understand that there is no rush to discover and embrace the underlying field of awareness. Our search then comes from a place of deep comfort and stability so we can proceed deep and integrate those experiences in daily living. We then feel empowered with choice to make the changes that we desire. The first step is to ‘yield’


  3. So beautifully put by you both – Nikhil and Michelle! It is wonderful to be able to continue a dialogue with other seriously interested practitioners.


  4. Hi Patty, Thank you for this blog post. It is very meaningful to me, personally, and wonderfully helpful for my Restorative Yoga teaching.Wishing you and your family a Happy, Healthy, Joyous New Year!Love,Ani in Lenox


  5. Oh, such perfect timing with this post. I read it twice. A counselor-friend and I were planning to teach a workshop and go for seven weeks through the chakras with body-earth themes. But it turned out, after lots of talking, that all we really wanted to do was support-precedes-action. For seven weeks. Rooting into the first three chakras (I haven’t yet mentioned that I will persist in calling them CHA-kras and not shakras throughout the workshop). So, that’s the focus. Roots. Love it. Will probably share this post with them first thing. Thanks, Patty!


  6. Hi Jeanell! So great to hear from you!! Sending love and excellent wishes for a great workshop. They are very lucky people to have you. We miss you here. I trust that all is well with you. – Patty


  7. I look forward to your book Patty. I believe you have become one of my favorite authors. Every passage you share with us is a great recipe for living well. We get to enjoy and explore daily courses of great inquiry and have time to rest and digest, nourishing life. Yum!


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