Embodiment and the Franklin Method
By Morten Dithmer, 2016
(or rather, what do we mean when we use the word embodiment in the Franklin Method).
Within some movement practices words like somatic practice, physical intelligence and embodied practice are used – often interchangeably – somewhat pointing in the same direction without really explaining what it is, which gives an air of vagueness to it.
This is an attempt to put some meat and clarity on the embodiment issue.
When you look the word “embodiment” up in the dictionary you will find, for example:
• • •
“a tangible or visible form of an idea, quality or a feeling”
“the representation or expression of something in a tangible or visible for
“someone or something that is a perfect representation of a quality”.
So we could maybe say that the word embodied in the context of movement practice, is being used to signify when someone is representing and giving expression to their body in a physical practice. But that would then mean that anyone who does that is embodied. Yet obviously we can be ‘more’ or ‘less’ embodied – some people live in their heads, and we have created a whole culture of virtual distraction, which is a very definite form of disembodiment by its virtual nature.
Does doing a physical practice really immediately embody us? Are there different levels to that? Could you do it better, or not so well? If we do not differentiate, the language looses its power to direct us – as a practical tool – to grasp our reality better, and thus loses the power to help lead us in a more beneficial direction.
The use of words like embodiment and embodied practice are basically meaningless unless you connect them with the word function – whether in the form of embodying a practice, a quality or a concept. Only then does it make sense – it has to be a match, a tangible reality. “He was an embodiment of the physical practice yet his posture is off and his breathing shallow” wont cut it, and neither will the meaningless catch phrases “embodied practice” or “embodiment is important” – however much one may be in favor of the sentiment.
Unfortunately some practices like yoga, tai chi etc are already being labeled “embodied” even though obviously it all depends on how you do something and not just the what.
Now one of the great benefits of yoga and tai chi is of course that you get to spend time with your body – breathe, listen, tune in etc, which obviously fills a major need of our time. But again, that can often be diluted by how you do it and refocused on more external concerns, like simply making the perfect copy of a pose or becoming a fashion statement.
If one instead was to say that Yoga/tai chi “embodies deep principles of thought on how the body works according to Hindu/Chinese understanding of health and reality”, then we are on to something. But “embodied” as an adjective is very vague.
You may think this is much ado about nothing, but the concept of embodying your function actually holds a lot of promise as a practical tool for humans to become healthier on many levels.
If you are doing any kind of training/practice to improve your health and well being, ask yourself: Are you also improving your overall function: your posture, your force production and force absorption, your everyday movement and your balance? That’s something we can objectively use to help us on our way to use the word embodiment as a practical signpost.
If we take the definition of embodiment as ”having a perfect representation of a quality”, or “someone who is a match with their own function and using their body as it is designed”, then we have a definition that is helpful in making us healthier. Because for sure – and as a matter of common sense – when you use anything ‘as it was designed to be used’, it works and functions better. Which is why, in the Franklin Method, one of our basic ideas is: “Embodiment of function improves function”.
This is something that we ourselves can understand, practice and test the validity of – which is both empowering and keeping it real at the same time. Now one may ask could you embody your pancreas, your lymphatic system or your nervous system? Well, basically you could embody anything, but obviously it is more difficult to gauge – and the possibility of the left hand not knowing what the right is doing definitely increased as well, whereas balance, force absorption and ease of movement are things we can easily observe and test ourselves.
For example we are designed to have hip flexion when we bend our legs, thats how we can absorb force the best, produce force the best and have our breathing work well at the same time, to mention some of the attributes. So when you now stand, bend your legs and see if that is what habitually is happening(do you have a crease in your pants or is the hip area flat) or are you “embodying” a lesser version of your functional potential.
Last but not least once you have achieved some degree of proficiency in these areas, you will automatically improve the function of everything else. When you stand better, you breathe better; when you breathe better, you move better – which all together makes you function and feel better physiologically, mentally and emotionally.
That’s what embodying your functions holds in store, and why words and the use of words are so important.
Morten Dithmer has been part of developing the Franklin Method over the last 15 years with the founder Eric Franklin.
He has been instrumental in developing the presence of the Franklin Method in many areas of the world like Asia, Australia, Canada and Scandinavia. He is a Master Franklin Teacher Trainer, the associate director as well as the director for the Franklin Method Asia.
Morten is the associate director and co-visonary of the Franklin Method. He is a Franklin Teacher Trainer and teaches worldwide. Morten brings a potent mix of experience from dance, osteopathy, martial arts and comedy to his teaching. He was trained as a dancer at the Rotterdam Dance Academy in Holland, with a career in the performing arts extending over 20 years. He is an instructor in osteopathic bodywork, and holds a 3rd degree black belt and teacher’s license in Aikido, a martial art.Morten has among others taught at; Juilliard School NY, Royal Danish Ballet, Circus De Soleil, Madrid Conservatory of the Arts, LADMMI Montreal, Hong Kong Modern Dance School, The Nike Conference, Taipei University of Arts, Ecole De Danse Quebec, Laban School of Dance London. Morten is based in Denmark.