Embodyoga®—Overcoming “Otherness”

In our modern “Western” culture, perhaps more so than in any other culture in history, we’re taught to see and relate to surfaces.  Even when we dissect or disassemble things, we find within them more surfaces.  Atom, nucleus, electron, quark…on and on through layers of surfaces.  Underlying qualities and interconnections evade us, retreating from the spade as we dig deeper and deeper into the soil of matter.

We can cut through the trunk of a tree, observe the rings and grain, name the tangible processes through which it derives nourishment from earth and sky, but what does this tree know?  How does it feel?  What is its inner, subjective, experience of the world, and how does it relate to and communicate with the forest?  We learn from a young age that these questions are inherently silly, childish.  We learn to dismiss an investigation into the mind of a tree or the subjective experience of a forest as unscientific and unreal.  And yet when we create a world in which only humans’ subjective experience is real, we become dead to the complex, living web of intelligence that surrounds and infuses our ecosystems, our bodies, and our minds. The illusion of aloneness is at best painful, and at worst the driving force behind Earth’s next mass extinction.

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Embodyoga® is a radical and inclusive approach to the ancient science of Yoga.  It is an evolving tapestry, woven from the deeply healing, therapeutic, and spiritual essence of Yoga, and cutting edge studies in the field of body-mind-consciousness. Embodyoga® is a whole-person experiential investigation into, and enlivening of, cellular awareness. Through inquiry and relationship we actively engage with all aspects of self and the environment in which we live. Our inquiry reveals direct perception and authentic experience of our True Nature.


Embodyoga® embraces a Tantric philosophical view of our bodies. We study our personal body-mind system as a microcosm of the Universal Whole. We explore our body’s structures and consciousness through embodied asana, pranayama, and meditation. We investigate the personal as well as the Universal using the tools of radical self-acceptance and discriminative mind.


Inviting insight into our true nature we begin to notice that we are awake and alive at every level of our being. Cellular awakening alters our perception of self, the world, and our place in it. We spontaneously recognize that as we are, so is everything else. The embodied recognition of Unity provides profound inner comfort and nurtures trust in the natural order of things. Our relationships become based on commitment, respect, and love.


The principles of Embodyoga® enhance every style and level of yoga practice, creating a depth and beauty that are visible and profoundly felt by the practitioner. Alignment expresses itself from the inside out and is very specific to each individual. We expect differences in the completion of any yoga posture based on the unique inquiry of the person practicing.  The following core techniques and practices apply equally to vigorous, vinyasa, and gentle yoga:

EMBODIED-INQUIRY™ is an intimate exploration of all layers of our form and consciousness, through the body’s systems to the cellular, sub-cellular and pranic levels. We weave Embodied-Inquiry™ into our asana, pranayama, and meditation practices.  It softens our thinking mind and encourages us to move more deeply into sensing, feeling, and directly experiencing our essential selves. Guided by discriminative mind and profound self-acceptance, fueled by curiosity and desire for greater depth, Embodied-Inquiry™ is playful and absorbing.

Through the use of our unique WHOLE-BODY-SUPPORT ORGANIZATIONAL TEMPLATES, we create a fully harmonious experience in each yoga posture. Force and weight are fluidly distributed throughout the body to completely relieve the stress on specific joints and muscles. Postures and movements are organized so that the whole body supports their form, instead of individual muscles straining to hold themselves in place. When we fragment our body awareness in order to force ourselves into an asana, our mind and awareness fragment as well. By engaging the whole body in supporting postures, we encourage a unified self-awareness with greater access to the experience of Unity. These organizational patterns are inherent in the postures, and based on our developmental underpinnings and deep anatomical structures. But they need to be recognized and practiced to ensure safety, comfort, and support for a lifelong yoga practice.

Through EMBODIED ANATOMY™, we directly experience the intelligence of our cells, organs, glands, tissues, fluids, and body systems and the qualities of awareness that are expressing through them at all times. We locate ourselves in form and space and deepen our understanding of our personal expression in the world. We become witnesses and active participants in the symphony that is our body, heart, and mind.
From the time of conception, through all the phases of life until our personal death, we are evolving and developing as human beings. Through EMBODIED DEVELOPMENTAL MOVEMENT™ we explore our human journey from beginning to end. We experience and investigate cellular breathing, the organization of cellular families, embryological development, and development through gestation, birth, the first year of life, and beyond. As adults we carry embodied memories of our development. By accessing these memories we touch primal desire and curiosity, and witness their growth through our lifetime.
Embodyoga® brings the experiences gained through EMBODIED DEVELOPMENTAL MOVEMENT™ into our ongoing yoga practice. We reach for what we desire and we pull it into ourselves. We learn to digest and assimilate life as it is. We yield into the Earth and feel the support of Her mass as we push ourselves skyward.  We experience our individual lives as the interface between Unity and duality, the play of the Formless within form.

Embodied Anatomy™ and Embodied Developmental Movement™ are trademarks of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen and The School for Body-Mind-Centering®.

Embodying the Organs in Yoga

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We know that consciousness is not just a product of the brain, nor is it located in any one place. Consciousness is everywhere within our bodies, and it is expressing through all of our body tissues constantly. Since our organs contain an immense amount of awareness, there can be great gain in fully embodying them. Fully embodying our organs increases the prana flow within and around them. This helps our organs to function optimally and maximizes their potential to be healthy and vibrant. Embodying our organs opens us to a vast reservoir of inner feeling and connects us with our humanity. It gives us an opportunity to witness and transform some of our deeply held self-concepts.
Organs are the storehouse of a great deal of our subconscious mind. Personal qualities and traits, desires, fears, and joys inhabit the organ body. Our organs often speak to us in images, feelings, intuition, and dreams. Their message is usually expressed below the level of our conscious awareness, yet they profoundly color what we perceive and all that we hope for. Organs function both independently and as a unified system. Each organ and organ system carries and expresses its own specific, inherent, and innate qualities of consciousness, that Bonnie has referred to as the “mind of the organ.”

Organs develop during gestation and continue to change and mature well into adulthood. Babies gain organ tone after birth through compression in swaddling, nursing, and being held in flexion around their navels. Nursing and sucking activities give us our first experiences of receiving nourishment into our own bellies. If the desire for sustenance and nurturance is met with love and support, we begin to trust that we will receive what we need. As we continue to grow, we increase our organ tone from explorations and movements especially in the belly down position on our tummies.

Not everyone sails through the first year of life with optimal opportunities for healthy development, and over the years, life continues to present additional challenges to the development of the organ system. Many of us experience a lack of balanced tone and awareness in our organ body. Chronic holding patterns can restrict energy flow and have consequences for our overall health. Our patterns of holding have many different causes but the important thing to remember is that underneath it all is the possibility to heal and find inner comfort. As growing people, and eventually adults, we have many opportunities to revisit our organ-body to restore lost balance and tone, or even to discover it for the first time. We have the opportunity to soften and release patterns of holding or restriction that are no longer useful. We can bring balance and comfort to this level of our being.

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What is beautiful about the EMBODYOGA® study of the organs is that it is entirely from the inside out. The first person you begin to know on this level is yourself. When we are able to see ourselves, including our own vulnerabilities, without passing judgment, we can then become free to approach our students from a perspective of compassion and without judgment or shaming. In our personal study we discover that the experience of human vulnerability (whatever the specifics) is universal. Our vulnerabilities and our weaknesses are the shadows of our strength, and unless we recognize and accept them, we will never claim our own true power.

By embodying the organ system and allowing the deep reservoir of feeling to be revealed, we touch into the depth of our human form and substance. If we choose to allow ourselves to take this journey, we may gain access to more self-compassion, healing, and acceptance, which can help us to view our students from a deeper experience of love. This is a tremendous opportunity to become beacons for our students, as they move into their own healing, self-acceptance, and transformation.

Our organ body forms a good portion of our contents. Our organs give us heft and buoyancy and a sense of the three dimensionality of the body. Each organ has its own intrinsic movement within itself, in relation with other organs, and with its environment. Movement is key to all of life, and this inner movement is critically important to health and well-being.

Many of our organs are contained within a supple membraneous structure called the peritoneal sac. The peritoneal sac contains and supports most the organs of the abdomen. The health of the peritoneal sac itself is important to the organ body. It too needs to move in order not to become adhered to itself, the abdominal wall, or the individual organs. There is fluid within the sac and between the organs that Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen calls “periorgan fluid.” This fluid helps to maintain optimal movement between organs by providing the ability to slip and slide on one another. It lubricates the spaces between organs, and between the organs and the peritoneal sac.

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Yoga postures and movements offer a perfect situation for ongoing development and exploration of the organs. We access our organs by tuning into the consciousness that is expressed by them both individually and together. The qualities of compression and suspension that are inherent in our yoga asana practice bring up the sensitivity and feeling-qualities of the organs. In this way, we begin to really experience them.

The organ that is the most stimulated and toned by any given yoga posture is the one that receives the most concentration of energy flow within that particular shape. Think of it as the keystone of the movement. A keystone is the wedge-shaped stone at the highest point of an architectural arch that holds the other stones in place. Being the keystone of a posture is strengthening to the organ. It focuses the prana flow into and through the organ.

Practicing yoga always affects the organs. However, by embodying them specifically and directly we increase the beneficial effects of our practice. Wherever we direct our awareness, prana flow increases. Our attention becomes focused and our perceptions sharpen. By deepening our awareness we become able to witness the movement of prana. We increase the life force of the organ and it becomes healthier. We can even learn to initiate movement from specific organs. Initiating movement directly from the organ itself further strengthens it. This organ-embodied practice deepens our comprehension and experience of the weaving of body and mind, and the weaver—Unmanifest Creative Intelligence.


We start with the premise of health. The body-mind is inherently healthy and is a multicolored and multi- layered expression of Pure Consciousness. Pure Consciousness is not reserved for the fit, beautiful, or strong. Everyone has the same core essence. Yet, for one reason or another, there may be a restriction to the prana flow. This will be experienced as lack of comfort, agitation, or other symptoms—all the way up to full-blown dis-ease. Through Embodied-Inquiry™ we can begin to let go of the patterns of thinking and moving that cause disruptions to the flow of prana. During practice, we can focus our awareness on specific organs and thus address some of the obstacles that restrict our movement. The body will heal, if it can, when it is allowed.

All the organs recognize and experience their own existence. They have proprioceptive cells, through which they can sense themselves and know where they are in space. Since many of us have not yet spent a great deal of time inquiring into our organ bodies, it is useful to bring up the voice of the organ’s proprioceptors by using methods to stimulate the sensing and feeling of the organ. We do this through movement, compression, expansion, suspension, sound, and of course by breathing into the organ.


–Place your hands anywhere on your organ body. Can you feel the warmth of your hands penetrate deep into your body? What parts of you are feeling that touch?
–On hands and knees let your belly organs completely drop away from your back body and toward the earth. Can you let them go? What would it be like to actually yield your organs up nto your back body? Can you do that without hardening them? Remember this is an inquiry; it’s not about succeeding at anything.
–Lying on the ground, roll slowly from side to belly to side, and onto your back. Continue this rolling motion. Let your organs release and drop into gravity. Be patient. Organ time is slow.
–Find movements and postures that set up the organ you plan to explore as the keystone of the posture or movement. Try a supine twist and see if you can direct the force of the twist specifically to somewhere in your organ body. Then try a different organ.
–Reclining in constructive rest, place your hands on your belly. Using very soft pressure, kneed and push gently into the belly in all different areas and directions. Be gentle. Pay attention what you feel.
–Use positions that both compress and expand. Add postures that rotate, tilt, flex, and extend. Be very gentle. Open to the qualities of consciousness that are being expressed.
–Find movements that stimulate the organ automatically, so that you can begin to feel the organ as it moves. Once you can feel an organ in stillness and in motion, you are ready to initiate movement from the organ itself.



The Importance of the Breathing Diaphragm and its Stem in Yoga


The thoracic (breathing) diaphragm is a broad, thin, double domed muscle with insertions around the circumference of the lower rib cage, the spine, and the lower portion of the sternum. It spans the thoraco-abdominal cavity and contains a strong central tendon, the left and right parts of which insert into one another. The thoracic diaphragm is the main muscle of the breath, and it is said that its movement is responsible for 75% of the respiratory airflow. The accessory breathing muscles are responsible for the additional 25%.

The diaphragm separates the heart and lungs above from the abdominal organs below. The heart rests on the central tendon and is connected to it by the pericardium. The heart rises and falls with the movement of the diaphragm, as do the lungs. The diaphragm is the seat of the heart and lungs. It massages, rolls, and squeezes the abdominal organs as it moves. This movement contributes to health and suppleness in the organs as they are bathed in fresh blood and fluids.

An under-recognized and under used aspect of the diaphragm is its muscular stem. The stem, or crura, is widely considered to connect only about as far as the third lumbar vertebra; however, in Embodyoga® and Body-Mind-Centering® we have found that in full use, the support of the stem can be felt all the way to the coccyx. We feel it is important to develop the use of the diaphragm all the way to the tail because we consider it to be the primary muscular support of the lumbar spine. The stem of the breathing diaphragm blends with the anterior longitudinal ligament along the front of the spine. The effect of this muscular and ligamentous support along the front of the spine through the lumbar region is absolutely critical to full integration of upper and lower body in asana. Without the use of this strong vertical support there is often a break in the pranic flow from head-to- tail and tail-to-head. This effects our experience of “integration and unity” in the posture and compromises the integrity of the spine in the bargain. Continue reading