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December 2006

 

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Awareness through the Body

 

 

There are very few activities in Auroville which can be termed ‘cutting-edge'. One of them is the work which Joan Sala and Aloka Marti have been engaged in over the past 14 years with Auroville children. Originally termed ‘Body Awareness', they later changed the name to ‘Awareness through the Body' to better express the intention of their work. Now they are bringing out a book – Awareness through the Body: a way to enhance concentration, relaxation and self-knowledge for children and adults - to share what they have learned.

In 1992 Joan and Aloka, who have backgrounds in physical therapy and body work, were requested by teachers at Transition School to give classes to improve the posture of the children. In the book they describe how “after a few classes we realized that, along with work on posture, there were a number of other things that the children needed to know and experience. They needed to acquire more self-awareness, responsibility for themselves and their actions, and an understanding of their limits and capacities.”

Joan and Aloka already knew techniques that, in its own particular way, encouraged a journey of self-discovery, self-mastery, and the ability to experience reality in a more complete way. Now they set about adapting them to the needs and capabilities of the children. Their goal? “To provide tools for individuals to expand consciousness, explore different planes of the being, discover their inner selves and eventually their psychic being.” And the method they chose was “to discover and explore the body and through the body awaken the consciousness of the entire being and all the parts that form it.”

It sounds awfully ambitious, particularly when one realizes they had agreed not only to teach Transition School students but also Kindergarten children, some of whom were as young as four years. Moreover many of the children, they were soon to discover, needed sense of boundaries and responsibility. “When we began,” write Joan and Aloka, “we found we were navigating high seas in a wholly inadequate boat....Before class we often had to gather the children from the tree-tops”.

Over the years, however, Aloka and Joan evolved a programme which has proven to be not only very popular with the students, but highly effective in attaining certain objectives. These include enhancing concentration and focus, developing awareness of the different levels of consciousness, refining the senses, learning how to explore, understand and manage emotions, developing a sense of how to collaborate with others, and cultivating the ‘witness attitude'.

All of this, and more, is achieved through deceptively simple exercises which, under Joan and Aloka's sensitive guidance, draw out the children's latent knowledge and abilities.

Take the ‘witness consciousness', for example, which Joan and Aloka describe as a place from which one observes, without partiality or emotion, all that happens both within and outside the being. How, you might wonder, could Joan and Aloka develop such an advanced ability in children? The answer is, it takes time. With the youngest they simply ask, “How's life today? How are you feeling?” As they get older, Joan and Aloka ask them to ‘scan' their breath, their mood and thoughts. Then, when they judge the children are ready, they ask the children to identify that part in themselves which is able to observe all this without becoming involved. “This positioning of oneself,” they explain, “is what we call the witness .”

“The witness attitude,” write Joan and Aloka, “is at the foundation of all the principles we use.” To put it another way, the exercises they use are opportunities, more than exercises, for the students to expand their awareness and understand themselves better.

Other simple exercises are used to improve concentration and relaxation, to heighten sensory awareness, to use the mind as a sixth sense, and to make the student aware of his subtle physical body. Two major series of exercises explore the influence of the five elements and of evolution on the individual's body, mind and emotions.

Joan and Aloka stress that theirs is not a rigid programme. They are constantly modifying and adjusting it according to the needs of the children. It's a dialogue: sometimes Joan and Aloka lead, sometimes they step back and let the children innovate. But the aim is always to expand awareness and to provide the children with the means to make the most conscious and effective use of their enhanced capabilities.

This is a fine book, not only because of the practical wisdom it contains but also because of the values it embodies. Heidi Watts lists some of these in her introduction. “An equal and integrated address to all aspects of the person. The omnipresent thread of reflection which runs through all the activities....An unspoken and implicit trust in the students to find their own way with the right balance of challenge and support....The integrity of the work which remains true to its principles in every manifestation.”

Perhaps the best compliment, however, comes from one of their students who wrote “It is good how you two are ready for us at any moment.”

It's also good to know that the future of Auroville will rest, partially at least, in the hands of those who have received such a profound and important training.

Alan

 

Awareness through the Body: A way to enhance concentration, relaxation and self-knowledge in children and adults by Aloka Marti and Joan Sala. 304 pps, 264 colour photos.
Published by SAIIER
More info: atbauroville.org.in

 

Awareness through the Body

Summary

 

The book is meant to provide a guide for people who want to discover the existing connections between mind, emotions and the physical body, and to offer ways to integrate these different parts into a more harmonious whole around their inmost centre. Because we use the physical body to achieve this task we call our work Awareness through the Body. We developed this approach working with children at schools in the emerging international township of Auroville, in south eastern India, over the last eleven years. In the book we focus primarily on our work at the elementary school level, though we use the exercises we describe, with slight modifications, with older children and adults also.

Awareness through the Body is a comprehensive curriculum of exercises that aims to raise awareness and enable children – or adults – to become conscious of their own perceptions and abilities so that they may become self-aware, self-directed individuals. The activities are creative and often fun; they develop gradually and encourage concentration, focus, relaxation and a sense of accomplishment. We have borrowed and blended elements from a multitude of disciplines, including dance, hatha yoga, Taoism, martial arts, physiotherapy, shiatsu, relaxation and breathing therapies.

In section I we present our goal, the principles we work with, our objectives, and the organization and flow of our classes. In section II we describe the themes and activities we use with the children. Each chapter is devoted to a theme or an activity, with a description of the exercises related to it, their benefits, their manner of presentation, the different possibilities for their exploration, and our experience with them.

 

The themes are:

•  Attention and concentration: After describing the importance and effects of cultivating the power for attention and concentration we provide a wide variety of exercises to help develop those effects and enhance them.

•  Breathing: A detailed presentation of how we introduce the children to what breath is and how to discover and train healthy breathing habits. We follow with a series of simple and practical exercises that will enable any individual to develop breath awareness and an understanding of how to use breath more effectively.

•  Knowledge and care of the different bodies: An explanation of how we present the different parts that form a human being, and their interactions, thus enabling the students to better care for and better use their own being.

•  Different states of consciousness: Discussion about the movements taking place in the consciousness of an individual and how to become aware of them. Relaxation is the key to developing this awareness. We include exercises that foster these changes and enhance the capacity for relaxation.

•  Sensory awareness: Here we address ways to explore and refine the five senses and the kinaesthetic sense. The chapter also includes exercises for the exploration of the mind as a sixth sense.

•  The five Elements: Description of the sensorial exploration done on each of the five elements that compose all matter: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether. These types of explorations bring the individuals in contact with the deepest part of themselves.

•  Exploration of the subtle physical body: A set of exercises to discover and learn to perceive the subtle energetic layer existing around the physical body.

•  Physical structure: Explanation of how we approach the work on the physical body, so that the individual becomes aware of his physical body in all its aspects. In the chapter we describe the most effective exercises we use and give references for the techniques we use in our program.

•  Evolution : A project on the theme of evolution in which, through body movements, children or adults can experience the development of locomotion characteristic of the different species in the evolutionary process. The project opens a door to an understanding of what evolution really is: an evolution of consciousness.

 

 

The activities are:

•  Structures Setting: An adaptation of the work of Elfriede Hengstenberg. The activity consists in providing situations in which the individuals can explore themselves at all levels of their being. This is done by creating landscapes with different materials i.e. ladders, planks, mattresses, clothes, ropes, etc…, through which the person moves.

•  Plates : A set of exercises to foster concentration, self observation and inner balance through the work of balancing an aluminium plate on top of a stick.

•  Sticks : Group exercises to develop high coordination that can enhance the power for maintaining concentration and being present in the moment. The exercises are done with the use of bamboo sticks.

•  Form and Space: Through form exercises the individual can discover that each shape the body takes brings with it a different experience in sensation, feeling, emotion, and thought. Space exercises help individuals to auto-define and auto-affirm themselves, making them aware of their need for inner and outer space.

•  Games: A description of the way in which we understand and use games. We provide some examples and a bibliography of the games we have found most useful in our work.

 

We end the book with feedback from the children on the classes and some of the exercises. We have also included a short note on the two people who have inspired us, Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, and the place where we live and work, Auroville.

 


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