How Non-Directed Body Movement Shaped Who I Am, Part 1


In my previous blog post here, I talked about Zhan Zhuang and how it has helped my zazen practice throughout the years. In part one of this article, I will describe how I encountered the practice of just “Standing Around” or Non-Directed Body Movement. In part two next month, I will reveal how this practice has been instrumental in my internal process and how it has shaped much of how I move through the world.

Non-Directed Body Movement

Non-Directed Body Movement was started in the 1960’s by a group in Massachusetts led by Dr. Marvin Solit.  Marvin was an Osteopath and Rolfer®.  Influenced by early Dianetics via Dennis O’Connell, General Semantics, and his own interest in self determination, he was inspired to get rid of his medical instruments and create an open space for healing. 

Giving up roles and hierarchy, people would come and just stand around and “Self Rolf”. They would notice what feelings arose in their bodies when they let go of control and gave up their strategies. Sometimes movement would spontaneously emerge from the body. Sometimes dramatic healings would occur. Eczema sometimes vanished; a few people even began to remember past lives. Others changed slowly over time, their way of being transitioning from control-based to allowing life to unfold.

Life Before Non-Directed Body Movement

I had been running around the mountains of Montana for a few years in my twenties, trying on the academic role, aggressively searching for answers, a bit of a live wire. I lived with my good friend John, a brilliant, handsome Italian from South Philly. He was like some beautiful stray dog. He knew how to survive, was always hungry and excited for life. It was the kind of life that we would say at midnight, “Let’s drive to Seattle!”, an eight-hour drive. Later, when I went to Japan for the rest of my twenties, he went to Italy for several years to learn to make biscotti.

John and Corey, before his experience with Non-Directed Body Movement.
John and me (Corey)

We thought we were Neal Cassidy and Jack Kerouac. I wanted to be the next Gary Snyder or Nanao Sakaki. Although I am almost painfully straightforward and honest, in the crowd I ran with, there was always some hustle we were up to. We were auditing classes we were not registered to, doing yoga early in the mornings at the University without paying. We’d get gas, and John would mysteriously have an armful of snacks when we got back in the truck. He seemed to pay for nothing. With Johnny, I got a sense of the wildness available to us in life, but I had no way to harmonize that with my internal deep questions that needed resolving.

Although we were very fit, rock climbing and running up summits on the weekends, I was a chaos of passion, insecurity, eagerness, and longing for truth, and it showed up in my physicality. Fascinated with movement, I was sweeping the floors of this ballet studio in the evening so I could take classes, and I felt this strange zing in my right hip. My body seized up.  My internal world laid down the law.Time to listen.

In a yoga class, we were sneaking into, I heard about a practice being offered at one of the local Buddhist centers called non-directed body movement. It involved a kind of self unwinding. The idea was that the body held old patterns, and if given the chance, carte blanche, the body would unwind those old occult holding patterns inhibiting the freedom in our bodies and our lives. Something in my cells understood this, and so I decided to go.

My Experience

I walked into a room that evening. I remember dim lights and hardwood floors, no furniture. I’m not sure how many people were there. Maybe it was ten, maybe twenty.  My good friend, first Rolfer®, and mentor Marilyn Beech was there, and she told us to just stand there and not add anything extra. If the body wants to spontaneously move, just give it a chance and don’t get in the way. 

Standing there my body very quickly began to move. It was as if I was not in control of my body, but something else was!  We stood for I think around an hour, but it felt much longer. I stood for a good chunk of time with my neck twisted all up, fear and agony, somehow revisiting having the cord wrapped around my neck at birth. 

The whole experience was incredibly exciting, like letting all of the horses run free in my system. Like finally opening all of the windows. It was almost violent in its immediacy. And yet it was safe. I had found a way to begin to interact with my internal world, a world I had felt brimming with intensity for so long, but had found no respite in philosophy or ideas. This was visceral. There was no mistaking this carnal experience non-directed body movement was triggering.

A few weeks later, a teacher of Tibetan Buddhism was giving a talk and I went. As I sat there in the audience and as he spoke, my neck began to spontaneously unwind. Trying not to be distracting to anyone around me, there I was doing neck rolls for an hour while he spoke about  some pretty complicated stuff I couldn’t understand. But I saw that this inner momentum had a resonance with energy. The field of energy the person connected with when talking about this enlightened mind seemed to illuminate this physical opening in me. This turned a switch for me. I did not know how, but knew I needed a practice to engage with this internal alchemy process trying to unfold.

I wrote Gary Snyder, the Beat poet and our first American Zen Patriarch, who had trained in a monastery in Japan. I told him I wanted to go train in Japan like him. I’d seen a book at the University library of monks in Japan and the spartan severe training life like a magnet appealed to some part of me which had no place to land. And part of me figured that if I wanted to be a writer, I had better have something to write about. I did not know that the universe had deeper designs for me. In truth, my whole being was already on a journey beyond my mental understanding. 

Gary directed me not to go to Japan yet, but to go to a place on Whidbey Island, north of Seattle, where they were building an authentic place with a true Rinzai master. My brother was a graduate student at the University of Washington in Seattle, so I had some sense of how I could make it out to the island and make it work. So I slowly made my way there…

Stay tuned for part two in January.  Thanks for reading!

Practice Non-Directed Body Movement With Corey

Join Ichigen Corey Internal Process Exploration Class at Innercraft, and practice Zhan Zhuang, Qigong, and Non-Directed Body Movement to work with the body and its inherent energies to deepen your practice.

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