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The origins of movement: a journey and an offering

Preamble: For nearly 40 years, from the beginning of the 20th century until his death in 1941, biologist George Coghill studied salamanders. His goal was to find the origins of response and movement in a vertebrate organism. He made many important discoveries, among which was his finding that salamanders have innate reflexes governing locomotion. Spinal movement enables swimming, and later the movement of their limbs, which is not learned, and requires no experience in order to function. In fact, any movement in the fully developed salamander is based and depends on innate spinal movement.

Later, in the 1980’s, Serge Gracovetsky proposed a new understanding of human locomotion which he called “The Spinal Engine”. He witnessed quadruple amputees could, without practice, “walk” on the base of their pelvises, reasoning that spinal rotation may be the foundation of human locomotion.

‘The adult spine is rigid and heavy and yoga, as intended here, consists in breaking bad habits and in re-educating the spine so as to bring it back to its original suppleness.’
 Vanda Scaravelli

For most of my life, I have been active. Team sports through adolescence, marathons in my twenties, swimming several days a week, and over two decades of yoga practice. Over the years I have had some physical challenges and bouts with back pain associated with vertebral deterioration from a life-long digestive disease; but the more I learned through my movement practice, as a yoga teacher and as a Rolfer, the more equipped I was to work through the areas of tension and pain. That is, until last February, when something triggered excruciating sensations down my spine, through the legs and into my feet that led me to barely be able to move.

I resigned myself to the pain, and fearful that I may never practice yoga again (let alone teach or continue as a body worker), I postponed seeing a doctor hoping that it would pass. As the months went by though, I realised that I needed look more deeply to better understand the circumstance. After an MRI, I was happily surprised to realise that the root of the pain was a badly herniated disc, not further bone deterioration. There was hope for a remedy via surgery.

Meanwhile, as I continued to practice, I started to better understand the origins of my discomfort. Because of the long-term deterioration, my body had created a blocked movement pattern in my middle spine. To compensate, my lower spine was over-working in subtle but habitual ways. Over time, the overly flexible area became vulnerable, and eventually the disc dislocated. In the weeks leading up the surgery, I actively observed my habit patterns, policing my every move and keeping an honest record. One day I had an epiphany that ‘connected the dots’ throughout my body and back to the spine; I fully realised the magnitude of my mis-use based on simple proprioceptive mis-understanding. Once I saw this in myself, I began to see it more pervasively in the yoga classes I was teaching.

Four months after the surgery, my asana practice is sound. It is not back to ‘normal’, but rather, it has taken another shape, reconnecting me back to the origins of all movement. My deepest wish is to empower students to be self-responsible; for to care for ourself means that we are better equipped to care for one other and the world we live in. The yoga practice shines a light on our dependencies and stuckness; at the same time it is the salve that provides independence and freedom.

This workshop is my desire to communicate what I have learned. My hope is to increase understanding and awareness in a safe space that will lead to confidence in empowering your practice on and off the mat. Please join me!


Yoga Campus- Finsbury Park December 2, 1:30-5pm

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