About Experiential Anatomy
Experiential Anatomy is a term coined by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen as part of Body-Mind Centering but is a way of learning anatomy which has been also been used in Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais Method and Movement Shiatsu. In general, it means that you not only learn the details of anatomy, such as the origin, insertion and function of muscles, but also how to feel and use your anatomy from inside. This awareness is facilitated by touch and guided movement. My approach focuses on knowledge of certain key structures and systems in the body, which are the most common areas where energy gets blocked. Examples of these are the menisci of the knees, the small bones of the hands and feet, the deep postural muscles and the autonomic nervous system.

A detailed knowledge of these means that one can feel exactly which tissues are stuck and help them to move in the ways natural to them. If you yourself have learned to experience them from the inside, and learned to consciously activate them, then you can, in turn, transmit that experience through your touch. This helps the client to open pathways to the embodiment of disconnected areas.

To give a common example, moving a joint such as the shoulder by rotating the arm you may feel stiffness during parts of the circuit. A simple response to this is to keep on rotating, hoping that the movement will help the muscles to release. A more interesting approach is to realise that tension often comes from use of muscles to stabilise the proximal side of the joint and that, if the proximal side feels involved in the movement, then the holding muscles start to feel themselves as movers rather than holders. To facilitate this, you would actively move the scapula to rotate the joint as well as the arm so that the scapula and humerus dance together.

However, neither of these approaches take into account the resistance to change that is symptomatic of chronic conditions. Instead, you might realise that the stabilising muscles are holding on because they feel the joint to be insecure. Now the resistance to change makes sense. The muscles feel they are doing a necessary job! If the client can find deeper muscles to support the joint and to learn sensitive movements that don't threaten the socket then the surface muscles can let go with good heart. Experiential anatomy can help them to become internally aware of the deep shoulder-cuff muscles and the interaction between the head of the humerus, the glenoid fossa and the labrum. This gives the necessary message of deep support to the joint and dissolves the fear causing the obstruction.

The key to this work is exploration rather than treatment. By making base camp in a place which is well embodied, you encourage confidence to explore areas that are disconnected. Resistance to energy is usually carried out by gross muscular tension, but releasing the tension is not enough. One must learn to inhabit deeper muscles than can take over the job that the surface tension was performing.

I find that this work combines well with Shiatsu on the meridians. I see meridians as highways along which our energy can try to use the whole body for a specific energetic function. Work on the meridians facilitates and indicates the path along which those connections could be made. But, while travelling down these highways, the physical structures may provide resistance to the journey. When this happens, experiential anatomy can help to find new ways in which the body can open up to the flow of life.