In the style of Eutony, I am going to avoid giving you the backdrop, history, the how’s and the why’s and get moving immediately into a week of this vivid work.
Therese Melville, a Eutony teacher of over 30 years is the leader of this retreat and the only teacher of this work in the U.K.
Most course leaders and speakers are attached to their pulpit, their marketing and their ego. I am so used to feeling myself become prickly at the first sight of this kind of teaching, that I wait cynically to see how far into the event I can last without confirmation that this tutor is no different. But 5 days into this 6 day retreat, I find Therese, without the characteristics that afflict many of her experience and lineage.
Her neutrality, I discover is thoroughly authentic. What amazes me is that she has truly embodied READ MORE the work she teaches. It seems silly for me to comment on something so obvious, but so many teachers do not. This is in part I discover is due to her 4 year training with Gerda Alexander, the founder of Eutony.
There are many 4 year trainings in the Somatics field, usually, made of multiple weekends or weeks spread out over the 4 years, indeed it currently is for Eutony students too; but for Therese however, it involved 4 years full time. The first two years of which the students were allowed to work only on themselves, not with teaching. To experience the work through oneself, to take the full journey as a student and only then when the work has been embodied were you permitted to begin to learn how to touch and teach another person.
This is very significant. Many professional trainings design material towards being able to mechanistically deliver the pedagogy, with either an emphasis on monkey see, monkey do or a good dose of intellectualism to explain it. Quoting Gerda Alexander, “Our tendency to emphasise intellectual considerations rather than felt experiences frequently places us outside our reality” There is an important distinction between understanding something conceptually and the direct experiencing of the very same thing. It is very rare to have a teacher who has had this level of immersion applied intrinsically as well as outwardly and a founder who knew the importance of it.
Within the first class I note nothing is pre-digested for me, it is left to me to figure it out in my own body and the various dimensions thereof.
Here’s an excerpt from my first ever session:
Lie on the floor and stretch. (Stretching here is not the fitness kind, this is more about moving and massaging your joints and bones within the skin and muscles as a whole). A freestyle 10 mins of rolling around. The general awareness I pick up is that one movement leads into another, there is no expectation of an end point or a result. I feel like a baby exploring my surroundings and the sensations of my body come alive against the texture of the mat and the hardness of the ground. I am experiencing myself from the outside meeting my body and from the inside meeting the ground.
Next we sit on stools and feel our feet on the ground. Noticing the landscape of contact points, weight, topography and borders. At some point I have a string of conkers under my left foot as I explore as many movements as possible without disturbing my pelvis.
Keeping the left foot as my focus, I am encouraged to move my spine. I am not told how or why. Just the initial direction and to follow as the movements organically emerge.
Eventually we are asked to come to stand. I experience an influx of data, as clear distinctions between my left and right side become apparent.
We walk backwards very slowly, deepening our awareness of the contrasts we are experiencing. Then forwards too, very slowly and small. The slower and gentler I move the more I can feel.
We repeat on the other side to integrate and then lie down in open attention to receive the changes more openly. The conscious aspect of this work is vital. The desire to become mechanical is scarily frequent, I feel how much my understanding and instinct of movement and body involves ‘exercises’, repetition, symmetry and so on.
Eutony teaches from unity. There are no distinctions made between the movements of the body, the mind, or the emotions for example. And furthermore no explanation about the paradigms behind the work. To explain would defeat the nature, the essence of the work itself. Instead, Eutony appeals to your intelligence. At first this is so refreshing it feels a compliment, finally someone recognises my own brilliance! As the days continued I discovered the other edge of freedom…
At some point I discovered a limit, during a “repousser” session (Eutony jargon for working with pushing away.) As my limits are discovered, and the wasteland of unknowns emerged before me, there was a sudden desire for Therese to tell me ‘what is’ all the time, to be assured and bottle fed. Not to be left figuring it out. It is certainly provoking to be intelligently confronted by your own reality.
Somehow the ambience of each person working individually on the conscious support of their own structure, creates a collective eutonious environment which holds the space of these more difficult aspects. This it occurs to me is also part of the whole. You cannot separate off what is responsive and what is frozen, they still occupy you as one. This is helpful, and the constancy in the process becomes an assurance and cradle in itself. I begin to soften into not being able to do a few things; a practice in grace. This limit now feels like it has become a new tool for personal exploration rather than an unconscious block I need to defend.
Instructions are limited to themes for exploration and occasionally offered out to the group as a whole to prevent you from veering off too far or missing the point entirely, but otherwise kept to the bare minimum. At various points in a lesson, we are given the opportunity to draw, paint and sculpt, again without too much instruction. Some are entirely open to the moment, some with a loose theme. This part of the lessons was unexpectedly enjoyable and once more I found the overall roundness of the experiences circling around in layers, growing into spirals throughout the week.
The complexity of the work increased as the week progressed. From working entirely on my foot and how it affects the rest of my being in 2 hours, it became an exploration of moving from the awareness of the bones, to moving from the awareness of the skin; to exploring touch from the inside of the body out and from the outside coming in. It further developed to interchanging between two attentions and finally to simultaneously exploring our ability to stay with them all at the same time.
While I am sure I have experienced only a snippet of what this work has to offer, I feel I can say with personal authority that the endless dynamic forces that we meet on a daily basis is centrally explored within this practice, opening up countless ways of meeting the uniqueness of each present moment and the wholeness that is life.
Regardless of personal history and unconscious inhibitions, inherent strengths and professional abilities, anyone with an instinct to grow will find this beautiful and useful work. For me, I have had the opportunity to experience directly what happens when I meet the needs of the present moment and also what happens when a situation exceeds my current capabilities and that both of those seemingly opposite experiences are not polarities at all, but somewhere on the continuum seamlessly merge.
The group of ten participants were a cross band of French, Belgian and English students, all who had worked with her for many years apart from myself, the newcomer.
If this small group is anything to go by, this work is little known and yet its richness has touched many other systems that are more famous within the mind and body field. Gerda Alexander worked with many pioneers from the 50’s onwards and her work has influenced a great many of them, but apart from Alexander Lowen acknowledging Gerda directly for his development of “grounding” as emerging from one of Eutony’s principles, “contact”, very few have been as explicit in nodding to that which they borrowed.
Is this inevitable as any body of work grows, disseminates and evolves? Can any individual list the entirety of their lineage obligations? The very real necessity of sustaining the character and essence of Eutony into the future is not to be understated, but where and how it is received and passed on will inevitably lead to a living adaptation of her ideas, as they organically emerge with the next generation. It would be wonderful to think that Gerda Alexander and her tremendously rich work will influence many according to their own possibilities and that in return she may be acknowledged for her legacy to us all.