Generally speaking, a somatic movement is one which is performed consciously with the intention of focusing on the internal experience of the movement rather than the external appearance or result of the movement.
Focusing on the experience and process rather than the end result can be a difficult concept for many people to grasp. It comes back to how our nervous system learns new things. If we practice a movement as if it is the first time we have done it, we will notice something new and learn something new each time, and the learning process will be most efficient and effective. In the beginning it is helpful to move slowly, but with practice we can perform movements more quickly while still being aware of what we are doing. It’s all about the quality of the movement.
We can apply the essence of somatic movement to dance as well as to the practice of qigong and yoga.
Tao Yin, also known as Chinese yoga, is a very ancient way to connect yourself on all levels with nature and the universe. The term ‘Tao Yin’ literally means ‘directing the energy’.
Tao Yin is invaluable in supporting the energy system. The exercises are designed to help promote the free flow of energy in your system and improve your energy levels. The careful stretches, which are performed sitting or lying down,are not only concentrated on the muscles but also on the tendons and joints, improving strength and flexibility.
The main focus of Tao Yin is to gain acces to the centre of the body (also called the lower dantian), enabling you to direct your movements and force from this centre in the belly.
In the process, you will learn how to relax and strengthen the lower back, the diaphragm and the psoas muscles. As you move mindfully, your awareness of the body and its energy develops. Conscious breathing while moving creates space and relaxation of both body and mind. You will then be able to develop suppleness and power like water!
Founded by martial arts expert Paulie Zink in the late 1970s, Yin Yoga is a modern, Western yoga practice that has its roots in the Taoist Yoga system. Since its foundation, Yin Yoga has further developed and is widely taught by two main teachers, Paul Grilley and Sarah Powers. It is from Sarah Powers that I received my main training in this practice.
It is not surprising that due to its origin, Yin Yoga is closely linked to the Chinese understanding of cultivating energy and activating its flow in the energy pathways or meridians. As in Tao Yin, the poses are either performed sitting or lying down. While the exercises of Tao Yin still invite gentle movement in accordance with the rhythm of the breath, in Yin Yoga we are encouraged to enter a pose, become still and stay in that pose for an extended amount of time (3-5 minutes).
I experienced the power of Yin Yoga during one of my first Yin Yoga classes, while in a seated forward bend position and focusing my awareness on my body and breath. Suddenly, after three minutes in the pose, it was as if something in my lower back lengthened, and just by itself, without me doing anything, my body shifted more deeply forward, responding to time and gravity.
While a very active Yoga practice stimulates the blood and energy flow in the musculature and superficial layers of the body, a Yin Yoga practice is more passive and contemplative, allowing the energy to circulate in the deeper layers of the body, such as the tendons, the ligaments and the fascia. This not only improves the flexibility of our joints, but also helps to regulate and increase the circulation of energy in the meridians.
Within any traditional Yoga system, the purpose of asanas or physical poses is to prepare the body for extended periods of quietly sitting during meditation. Because Yin Yoga is able to stimulate the circulation on such a deep level, it is an extremely beneficial practice for anyone who likes to meditate.
Yin Yoga practice cultivates an awareness of inner silence, which enhances mental and emotional relaxation, clarity and stability. In order to affect the deep connective tissues of the body, we are asked to slow down and hold the (floor) pose for a longer period than we would normally. During that time, we are given the opportunity to work gently with our breath, and to notice and tend to what is happening in our body, feelings, emotions, and mind in a non-aggressive way.
Yin Yoga is a practice suitable for both beginners and experienced students. Exploring the meridian system in relation to the exercises and their corresponding elements is part of the practice.