Organismic Yoga Practices


The neurotic never reacts to the external stimuli in yoga poses an appropriate manner, but always according to defined reactive schema acquired during infancy. He continuously distorts the present according to the meaning of his unfinished past and as much for his actual instinctual drives as for the actual external reality. The desire experienced by a subject, at a certain moment, to do or to say something, tends to suppress the drives that do not lead to that end. (Otto Fenichel, 1941, Problems of Psychoanalytic Technique, III, pp. 36-37; translated from the French by Marcel Duclos)

Organismic Practices

I propose to use the broader expression of organismic practices to designate every type of localized standardized functioning of the organism that recruits several dimensions. A practice is a habitual way of accomplishing a task, which may automatically recruit habitual modes of functioning situated in yoga poses a variety of organismic dimensions. It can, for example, associate a sensorimotor habitual schema with a habitual set of representations and habitual verbal expressions. From the point of view of a person’s awareness, a gesture may come to the foreground, while at other moments it is the associated representations that are perceived. in yoga poses all cases, we are dealing with procedures that can be described. These micro-practices have a limited repertoire that nevertheless sometimes allows subtle modes of adaptation to similar but nonetheless different contexts. Thus, an individual who is accustomed to roasting a chicken may automatically know how to vary the amount of salt and roasting time as a function of the weight of the bird, but the recipe remains the same.

Organismic Yoga Practices Photo Gallery

Downing distinguishes the surface of a practice (all the variables of a practice) from the procedural core of a practice that generates these variables.10 A “procedural core” is often established during the first two years of life. It forms the infant’s basic interactional repertoire. Highly idiosyncratic, each child’s procedural core has elements unique to him or her. Later childhood experiences augment and modify the procedural core. Serious body-related trauma, such as physical violence or sexual abuse, can also introduce significant changes in yoga poses the procedural core. When a psychotherapist aims at a change in yoga poses a way of doing things, it is mostly the contour of this core that he is trying to identify and change. The reader may have noticed that this formulation implies that a psychotherapist does not focus on a damaging trauma as much as on repairing core modes of functioning. The same can be said of a surgeon who takes care of an organism that has been damaged by a car accident.

For Downing, each practice has a set of aims, intentions, and goals.11 However, these intentions are not necessarily conscious or coordinated together. We find ourselves in yoga poses a tradition according to which there may be several intentions from heterogeneous sources in yoga poses the functioning of a way of accomplishing a task.

Let us now focus on what George Downing calls “micro-practices.” When he began to work with researchers on nonverbal communication like Beebe and Tronick, he was fascinated by their capacity to detect short sensorimotor units that seemed to characterize a person’s adaptive procedures. Each one of us has particular ways of smiling, looking at others, or of holding a cup of coffee. As soon as one can specify the contour of a way of doing something at a relatively local level, Downing (2001, 2006) speaks of “micro-practices.”

Vignette of a mother who is feeding her baby while watching television. I have already used the example of a mother who is feeding her baby some food with a spoon while she watches television. The child is sitting beside her on a sofa. While she places the spoon in yoga poses the baby’s mouth with her left hand, her eyes do not leave the television screen. The film shows us the arrival of the spoon to the baby’s mouth. Her aim is somewhat on target. She first arrives at the lower region of the face, then to the mouth by feeling her way around without ever looking at what is going on. Here we find ourselves manifestly in yoga poses the domain of habitual behaviors. The baby does not appreciate this and sometimes spits out the food. Annoyed, the mother finally turns toward the baby to solve the problem and then returns to watching television.

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