What is Body-Mind Centering?
By Janice Geller, MA, LPC, Licensed Psychotherapist and Bodyworker
Body-Mind Centering (BMC) is a philosophy and method that integrates movement, touch and consciousness in the service of fostering physical health and emotional wellbeing. As noted on the BMC website: “BMC is an experiential study based on the embodiment and application of anatomical, physiological, psychophysical and developmental principles, utilizing movement, touch, voice and mind. Its uniqueness lies in the specificity with which each of the body systems can be personally embodied and integrated, the fundamental groundwork of developmental re-patterning, and the utilization of a body-based language to describe movement and body-mind relationships.” The BMC approach embraces the need for a supportive community to make changes.
During the BMC trainings, while I was working as an assistant and then a teacher, deep psychological material was arising for people as they explored early developmental movement patterns, and the body systems. It was during the trainings, and while providing private sessions, where my interest in the relationship between the psychotherapy, the body and spirit began to develop. Body-Mind Centering explores through movement, touch, visualization and somatization, the different systems of the body – the organs, glands, muscles, bones, fluids and nervous system. Once you enter the body and add movement, hands-on explorations, sound, and visualization, all those processes take you deep into yourself. And, when somebody does that kind of deep sensing process, psychological information naturally arises.
The other key component of BMC involves working with developmental movement patterns. Bringing people into movement patterns developed in utero, and the first year of life; it’s a whole regression piece. In the BMC work people embody these early developmental movement patterns, which often brings up verbal and pre-verbal memories. The exploration of the movement and relational patterns, learned early in life, sheds light on the client’s emotional and physical ways of being. For example, if somebody comes to therapy with both a psychological issue and a physical issue that is causing depression or anxiety, I might integrate the BMC work to help them process what is arising. We might find that they have certain movement patterns and beliefs, learned early, that contribute to their difficulty.
Certain parts of your body take you into different levels of awareness and perception. For example, the skin and muscles are the tissues with which you meet the world. But, then when you explore deeper, the internal organs, endocrine glands, and lymph system, they take you into more of an internal mind state.
For example, when somebody perceives their world mostly through an external lens, I might introduce internal body systems, like an experience of their lungs and digestive tract, which would bring their awareness inward, often to their emotions. Alternatively, if somebody seems to be overwhelmed and lost swimming in their internal world, I might bring them into their bones, or into their structure, as well as the skin and muscles of their feet, so that they can feel the support underneath them, which supports their movement into the environment. I use the different levels and layers of body tissue to assist people to negotiate where they want to be in their lives, but also where they want to be in their minds.
For example, say a client is often talking about how others are causing him suffering, and not taking responsibility for his contribution to the difficulty. The client also reports problems with asthma and difficulty breathing. I might suggest during a body-work session that he begin by bringing awareness to his breath, and then visualize his lungs under my hands, as I touch his chest. Leading the client through a physiological and psychological visualization, while facilitating the client breathing into the different lobes of his lungs. This might then bring up deeper issues of his relationship with his parents, and emotional issues, such as a home environment that was constrictive; it did not allow him to breath freely. Then while his breath begins to become freer, it’s about helping him understand that he is no longer living with his family of origin, and he can take more responsibility for creating the life that he desires.
The body offers a metaphor for many symptoms; for example: I feel ungrounded; there is no breathing room; it feels all too overwhelming, coming at me too fast; and I can’t digest it. These metaphors can be referenced in the session as a segue into working with a particular body system.
Part of the BMC developmental movement work explores the push, pull, yield and reach patterns. Each of those has a different quality. Whether you’re setting limits with a push, or reaching towards somebody, or reaching past yourself.
For example, I was working with a woman who was dealing with some conflicts in a relationship with her sister. Her sister was placing a lot of demands on her, and she was having a hard time setting limits with her. We explored some “push” and “pull” movement patterns in her arms. I noticed that she was moving just from the elbow outward, rather than connecting all the way through her heart and full body.
When she began to reach and push from her whole upper body there was a connection she made, that she could really feel. She could feel how the first push from the elbow, was more of a gesture, while the embodied push was truly setting a strong boundary. The physical movement helped her get clearer on the relationship dynamic with her sister; how she wanted to relate to her in a less passive, less guilty and more empowered way. Remembering physically the experience we had in session, will allow her to tap into her own strength and power, when dealing with her sister in the future.
About this Contributor: Janice Geller is a licensed psychotherapist and bodyworker in Durham, NC. She has over 30 years of clinical experience working with people of all ages and is trained in many different forms of traditional counseling, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy and Jungian–Dream work. Janice is considered an expert and leader in the emerging field of Body-Mind Centering, and has taught this work at universities, and workshops in both the US and Europe. Prior to her work as a psychotherapist, and certified teacher and practitioner of Body-Mind Centering, Janice was a professional dancer. She feels that her years as a professional dancer, teacher and choreographer have added an emphatic understanding of the body and its knowledge. In addition to her private practice, she currently teaches at Duke University, and the Body-Mind Centering programs in Durham, North Carolina, Paris, France and Germany, and was a featured speaker at the American Academy of Psychotherapists Conference 2009. She has also presented at the Across the Threshold: Creativity, Being and Healing Conference at Duke University in 2010 and 2013.
For more info, please visit her website: www.trianglecenterforintegrativetherapy.com.