Gurdjieff Movements – Grounding in Sacred Movement & Music

In this interview, Siewfan Wong speaks to Gurdjieff Movements teachers Deborah Rose Longo and Melanie Monsour about the value of learning something new, such as these sacred dances.

Asia Enneagram brings together the original Enneagram teachings developed through the early 20th century and the Gurdjieff Movements accompanied by the sacred music of GI Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann. Combining them links the intellectual,  heart and belly centers and invites participants to learn about Presence in movement to deepen their own self-knowing.

This is part of a series to delve into the Gurdjieff Movements and to introduce you to teacher Deborah Rose Longo and pianist Melanie Monsour. They have been working together for 25 years to bring these sacred movements and sacred music to different communities around the world. Drawn from an interview by Asia Enneagram co-organiser Siewfan Wong, this first article focuses on how movement, especially struggling to learn it, can help us peel back layers of illusion. 

The Gift of the Struggle

We hear all the time growth takes fearlessness and moving out of our comfort zone. Here’s the thing, you do not need to go sky diving or bungee jumping to accomplish this. You could, of course; you don’t have to. Doing anything new, even if it’s taking a different route to a routine destination or taking a salsa class if you identify as a person with zero rhythm, rewires us and opens us up to reorientation. 

We all have our unique learning curve. Some are slow burners and soakers, marinating in the environment as part of their process. Some learn quickly, overview and all, before diving deep. Regardless of our style, the key is to observe how we respond when we are frustrated at the lack of progress. Our behaviour when out of our comfort zone reveals underlying patterns and areas for deeper self-knowing. What is holding us back? What arises? What do we learn about ourselves?

Siewfan: We all have different ways of learning. That [the 2019 retreat] was my first class with real movement. Every time I think I get it, I don’t get it. I haven’t found the magic key yet. Maybe there isn’t one.

Deborah: Even once you get it right and many people, including myself, have this experience – as soon as you are in the movement, thinking to yourself, I’ve got this, something messes up. 

It’s about working with yourself. Not just to learn the steps. It’s how to deal with yourself and to practice that way of learning.  Just the action relaxing and letting go of thoughts – because thoughts can really hang you up as you know when you are struggling to learn a movement…relax the tension that could arise because of that conflict between your thoughts and feelings and then most importantly, relax the body and really sense the awareness of the presence of your body. That really helps to becoming grounded. 

Melanie: Gurdjieff said they [the dances] are meant to be witnessed and shared. The audience – here’s what they say, they are mostly impressed by the mistakes, by the fact that the person after they make a mistake, they come back to themselves and they pick it back up. They have this presence. This seems to impress people.

Deborah: That’s an example of dealing in a relaxed way – in the face of conflict, such as in a demonstration. 

Siewfan: When you watch each of us struggling, what’s going through your mind?

Deborah: That they are in a group for a reason. They are totally focused on their own learning, which is the work on yourself. There’s the work with yourself, then there’s the work with the group together. Sometimes that alone – shifting your awareness to being in a group – can release some of that tension that you are struggling with. 

I know in my experience from being in a class, struggling, that when I was able to let go of my own identification with my struggle and be open to the people on my right and left, it’s helped. I can’t describe how that happens. There is help even though my arms were flailing about in this movement and when I thought I would never learn. There was something about the help from other people that enabled me to let go of my attachments to getting it right and getting it right in a specific way. 

Melanie: My part is the music and there are a lot of elements that are a bit mystical and a bit magical. Moving really enlivens things and that allows for that element of mystery and magic. That’s how I see it.

I also see what people go through. The anger, the frustration, the despair. All these things…it’s a chance to work. I really feel for people. I also see how they can learn. It takes a group of people to learn. Again, it’s that energetic that comes up. I’ve learned to be very calm. Just stay chilled. The power of music is strong. The vibrations with the piano. It touches the heart. That mystical magical bit that comes in, with the piano, the vibrations that are going into people. That’s a beautiful thing.

The Higher Mind Inner Work Retreat takes place in Thailand 6 – 10 May, 2020. To facilitate a deepening experience of Presence, three master teachers lead us on the journey to the Higher Mind through grounding in the body. This retreat will focus on the exploration of the mind’s real intelligence. We don’t need to be Head Center Types to struggle with insecurities, fears and inner chatter that disconnect us from our inner guidance. We all benefit from understanding and connecting with the non-dual nature of the Higher Mind. Come experience Presence in the Head Center through in-depth and embodied exploration of the points Five, Six and Seven.

Enneagram scholar and teacher Russ Hudson is joined by Gurdjieff Movements teachers Deborah Rose Longo and Melanie Monsour who will guide the group through Gurdjieff Movements. These sacred movements will gently guide us to a more intimate relationship with Presence and Intelligence in our mind, heart, and belly centers.

Bookings will begin in December 2019. Please contact /WhatsApp +65 9459 8262 to stay informed.

In Conversation with Tara Eden

We do movement slowly in the Awareness Through Movement lessons. Can you tell us why slow movement is valuable?

The Feldenkrais Method involves slow movements but is not “about slow movements” per se; in fact as practioners advance in their understanding of the method there are quite dynamic movements, like shoulderstands, headstands, judo rolls and even handstands.

Feldenkrais is not about doing movement a certain way, it’s about learning to understand how you do movements a certain way.

The “slow movements” are a valuable tool to begin the process of becoming more aware of ourselves. It’s like if you discovered a new forest trail and wanted to go down it, if you ran down it you would not notice too much about the terrain other than what you were navigating to stay safe. If you were walking slowly you’d be able to simultaneously sense your environments, the scents, sounds, colors and also the feeling of your breathing and any little sensations from the unveven surface under your feet…

The benefit of slow movement is that you become aware of what you are doing. When your attention is focused in such a way, only possible by initially slow movements, you also have the potential to enter into an “embodied state” that can give people a huge sense of ease and joy.

What are some ways people are not listening to their own truth and are unaware of it?

There’s a term in Psychology called “confirmation bias” which is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.

I believe this is consistent with a process of “living our truth” or knowing ourselves. I think it’s a hard habit to break. We develop a very keen self-image and then cling to it to help us feel safe and on a directed course. Just as our self-image can be skewed so can our image of what we are doing and how we are living. We have to be cautious of living from a way that we were told, and then losing the ability to differentiate what we have learned as truth and what we have imitated.

How can people bring Awareness Through Movement lessons into their everyday practice to continue enjoying the benefits from your workshops?

There are so many little gems in any given Awareness Through Movement lesson. It is not important to remember the whole lesson, just to take note of what is particularly interesting to you. What is the essence of that moment? Maybe you learn that you can use your left leg differently than your right. Maybe you discover you breathe predominantly in the same way in all given conditions or that your ability to turn your head is different on one side or the other.

Whatever the discovery, the student can enjoy an autonomous process of learning where in life that shows up and how they can continue to become more aware of how those differences make a global affect on their physical or even menta/emotional functioning.

How did you build your own practice and self-care as a beginner and how has that changed?

Building self-practice is not about knowledge or sequencing, it’s about discipline. It has to come naturally and done at a time that feels right otherwise it won’t stick, won’t become a practice.

For me my self-practice hasn’t changed from when I was a beginner. It started with a “beginner’s mind” (open and curious!) and it remains so. My revelations and insights are deeper as my overall awareness has drastically improved but my self-practice doesn’t change.

How has your Feldenkrais training and experience informed your approach to bodywork?

My bodywork background is in Thai-style deep tissue work. I used to belive that if the client wasn’t feeling deep sensation then nothing was happening. I now believe the opposite. It has been my experience that intensity actually negates sensitivity and that the nervous system reacts to strong sensation but can learn from gentle touch.

My bodywork now is not about “doing something” to my clients or finding satisfaction in muscular change, which will inevitably reverse back anyway. I am now interested in helping my students/clients feel themselves better, move better, breathe better and deepen their overall body awareness.

What is your philosophy of personal development?

Personal development for me is sifting through what is fashionable or trendy in the “wellness world.” I feel people lean too heavily on other people’s ideas and beliefs and not on their own. I am interested in doing my best to peel back the layers to really understand myself in ways that are resonant and meaningful to me. I favor any method that encourages the student/practioner to be their own teacher/guide. Who else can truly know us better than ourselves!?

I think awareness is the core of personal development and the core of the Feldenrais Method.

Do you feel that self-awareness and self-acceptance may be an antidote to depression and isolation?

I don’t know if self-awareness is an antidote to depression and isolation. I think that self-awareness comes way before self-acceptance.

Depression is a complicated and plaguing condition. I am not a doctor or neurobiologist so I can’t speak to what happens in the brain when we become self-aware and I doubt that there is any empirical evidence of it at all.

Self-awarenss speaks for itself. It is the opposite of the control of our emotions and perceptions, it is pure being. My concept is that self-awarenss is somehow a basic knowing of being billions of cells and electrical impulses forming matter joining, infinitely with the matter around us. But before all that it is just feeling, a sense of wholeness and connectivity and there’s a magic in that that can help us feel less alone.

Who finds Feldenkrais?

Most commonly the people who are drawn to the Feldenkrais Method are those who have already injured themselves in one way or another or have come to a point in their aging process where they have a deep understanding of self-preservation.

I do work with children occasionally and many people in their 20s and 30s. I think this population arguably stand the possibility of experiencing the most meaningful long-term effects. If we can learn to move, think, act with less strain and in a more easeful and pleasant way BEFORE we ever injure ourselves, we might actually be able to withstand some of the demise of the aging process!

Tara Eden Somatic Movement ProjectTara Eden has been exploring movement as medicine for as long as she can remember. She believes movement is the key to a feeling of personal freedom, empowerment, creativity and peace of mind.

For over 20 years Tara has studied various components of movement: Using the Body as a Tool of Expression and Communication (BFA in Theater), Movement for Self-Empowerment & Breath-led Movement (Ashtanga Practioner) Movement as Therapy (Certificate in Dance/Movement Therapy), for Physical Fitness and Wellbeing (Yoga Teacher, RYT 500) and Awareness Through Movement™ (Feldenkrais Method™).

While based in New York City, Tara taught vinyasa and hatha yoga and brought it to the Hasidic Jewish community, inner city middle school, private high school, and private homes.

Tara’s fascination with the body prompted her to learn Thai Massage and years later, she relocated to Thailand to study with Master Pichest Boonthumme.

Today Tara practices Integrated Bodywork which helps the receiver illuminate their “dark areas” that create chronic tension (body & mind), facilitating deep relaxation, body awareness and more comfortable and efficient movement and/or breathing patterns.

Currently based in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Tara’s project constantly evolves and she teaches internationally workshops and classes in Somatic Movement, Awareness Through Movement™and Somatic Yoga (building asana from sensory awareness and functional body architecture), as well as offers private Awareness Through Movement™ lessons and Integrated Bodywork sessions.

In Conversation with Gennet Song

Gennet Song is an essential oil advocate who works with people to enjoy greater health and wellbeing and to discover their deepest passion in life. We speak with Gennet about how essential oils came into her life, the integral role they play in her own wellbeing and journey, and where she’s headed.

Gennet’s first workshop in collaboration with Ho Kah Keh at Gallery Helios is a “Get to Know Essential Oils” series in July and August 2018.  Join Gennet and Kah Keh and find out how to use essential oils from the pure fundamentals and their functional uses in all areas of your life.

Each workshop is $25, with an essential oil giveaway and the first evening is Tuesday 24 July 2018 from 7.30 PM to 9.30 PM.

How did you come to into essential oils?

Essential oils have been part of my life since I went to massage school in Australia decades ago. At that time, Aromatherapy was a “by-the-way I use essential oils in my massage”. It was more for aroma first, effect second. I didn’t really believe essential oils had any real therapeutic effect until I finally started using Young Living.

How are the oils part of your life?

I wake up to using oils after my morning shower to prepare for the day, I exercise and do yoga with oils, I meditate with oils, I “essential oil” myself in the car at red lights. Waiting for appointments, hanging out with friends, before a meeting, during one … Before bed!

Essential oils are my partner in health and wellness!

What’s your personal mission?

I get a kick out of watching people succeed at what they do, especially if I have in some way been a part of their journey or contributed to it. There is a sense of fulfilled achievement from playing a part. Through my Young Living business, I have the privilege to serve through my skills, experience and gifts.

What is something exciting you would like to see happen?

What would be exciting is for us to go one full circle and go back to our ancestors’ partnership with nature for healing and a toxic-free environment and lifestyle!

What are some of the different skills you have acquired over the years?

I love somatics, healing modalities and personal growth. My interests are pretty diverse so I have invested my learning from Reiki to basic horsemanship to being a Death Doula to animal wisdom. I love learning.

I think the NLP curriculum gave me a foundation to some of the people tools I have been using without working from within its framework. Kundalini Yoga instilled in me a sense of discipline and stillness. My Integrative Health Coach training excites me that healthy emotions is primary nutrition and food secondary, besides understanding the physical aspects of health. My Passion Test training is the cornerstone from which I create a safe space for people to get clear on what they truly want in life.

Which skills do you find the most relevant to you now?

The skill to create and hold a non-judgmental space for people on their life journey, either through the modalities of essential oils business, relationships or health challenges.

Do you see these “alternative” methodologies fit into or help with our circumstances?

I look for a language that those who come to me would feel comfortable with. I present them as complementary perspectives rather than alternative. My latest interest is Dr Joe Dispenza’s work which through science invites people to experience the so-called “supernatural” and the mystical.

What motivates you?

What motivates me – I recognise my worth and teach people to do the same. After all, I believe each of us want to be loved and accepted and to belong.

How would you explain or define what being on the path and self work means?

Being on the path is living my truth, who I am, unapologetically and respectfully and self work is recognising what my stuff is and taking responsibility for my growth and healing, in partnership with the Divine.

What does “living” mean to you?

Living means I’m fully vulnerable to the pain and challenges of being human yet fully embracing the divinity within which can at any moment surprise me.

Gennet Song’s life revolves around health, wellness and personal growth. Often seen as a seminar junkie on subjects related to holistic well-being, healing, body and emotional wellness and resilience, she is driven by her passion for learning and growth.

Her unique gift to others is her nurturing presence of stability and trustworthiness. She awes her audience with her communication presence of love, grace and passion that usually captivates and inspires them on a deep level. She now leads people to rediscover their true deepest passion in life and nurtures them on a holistic and transformational path of growth through a conscious business entity called Sparks of Life.

Gennet is a Certified Integrative Health Coach with the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, New York, a Certified Passion Test Consultant for Business (Solopreneurs and Executive Leaders) as well as a Certified NLP Master Practitioner.

In Conversation with Ricardo Neuman

Ricardo Neuman is an expert bodyworker and therapist of 30 years. He is skilled in a range of mind-body therapies including structural bodywork, myofascial release and Biodynamic Cranial Sacral Therapy. Ricardo has worked in clinical, wellness centers, and private settings. He has also been a trainer and spa director in one of Asia’s environmentally-conscious spas. Based in Koh Samui since 2005, Ricardo travels regularly to Singapore and in the region to offer his individually-tailored bodywork sessions to people from all walks of life, from yogis and weekend warriors to computer folks and athletes.

What is your philosophy of health?

I’ve come to feel that we all have the pattern of perfect health, or perfect expression of our genetic heritage within us. All healing is intrinsically coming from within the system. There is no external onto-the-system healing. Tissue regeneration, wound healing, and everything else is coming from the body’s own systems.

Western medicine I came to understand is largely, up to now, an attempt to deal with symptoms and remove causative agents of disease. While I am grateful for western medicine’s ability to deal with certain acute situations, there is no long-term health without the body’s systems doing the work. So supporting them through diet and lifestyle is essential and now I am coming to understand more and more, right thinking and energy level kind of stuff is the real essence of healing.

How do you see your role as a therapist?

As a somatic therapist, I feel that we all have an innate level of intelligence. At some level we know everything that is happening with us so as a therapist, I try my best to connect with that level and find out how I can assist using my resources and my skillset to help the system come back and to get the most out of whatever the system itself knows it needs and can benefit from in that session. Of course, the client expresses their own conscious situations and hopes for improvement, and that is a key starting point for the session. Sometimes I’ll tell people to look to some other modality or person as possible solution. Any responsible healthcare practitioner does that.

What is your approach to your work?

In a certain sense and at a certain level, like hospice care, just being present with the person is already fundamentally powerful modality. There is something we can do which is being present and mindful with that other person and hopefully that becomes sort of a substrate. My work is grounded upon the degree of success that I can do that for myself and the other person. I find that it’s become my spiritual practice, my meditative practice, to do my work with that attitude. I find it easier to do bodywork with a meditative attitude than to do meditation.

Who benefits from your modalities?

At one level, everyone with a modern lifestyle is suffering from office syndrome and Myofascial Release Therapy is very beneficial for that. On another level, dealing with trauma whether physical, energetic, emotional, is amenable to physical manipulation or the craniosacral approach.

I would say since there is a lot of good regular massage, physios, and whatever out there, people who feel like they should be getting better but not finding a way to improve, especially people who fall between the cracks of muscular-skeletal modalities. When they go to a physio, it gets better but it never really gets better. Or if the doctor says “oh you’ll be fine in a while” but they don’t actually get fine.

Or people on the other end of the spectrum who are trying for higher and higher levels of performance and health and they are being blocked by some physical or energetic limitation that may be amenable to this kind of practice. Like for people practicing yoga who are struggling to do the lotus or even some of the simpler things because of restrictions in the body. Dancers or athletes who previously had attained some level and regressed due to injury or they feel some physical aspect is holding back improvement.

Can you explain more about what happens in the body with our modern lifestyle?

When you have an unbalanced structure, being in the office all day, wearing high heels, being hunched over the keyboard, the tissue responds by getting shorter and stronger which means it doesn’t move as easily. It doesn’t stretch as far.

When you are talking about performance, whether it’s on an instrument or with your body, getting through limitation into balance, lengthening, pliability and being able to fully contract and relax can be blocked by the response of the body to shorten. It gets sort of twisted because we are asking it to support us in twisted unbalanced ways. This kind of release work, both physical and energetic, can help release the system back into the more neutral mode. Unlike working with only muscles, working with connective tissue has a longer effect and with changes in your lifestyle, can lead to long-term improvements.

What makes your work different from a purely physical approach?

There seems often a lack of a whole three-dimensional sense of the client’s body. Working with different layers, instead of specific muscles, and getting the sense of concentric layers of themselves and of structure, releasing fully into breath and into the connection between soft tissue and the bones that can be a more dynamic relationship with the body. These patterns arise from our personal history, use of our body, and traumas of all sorts. Giving space in the session to release some of that and to reorganize the structures leads to more profound results than just attacking tight places or working on isolated structures.

Tissue restriction is sort of my specialty and I work some with the self awareness parts of change. I tend to go more on the physical and energetic rather than the movement education and such but I make it at least a part of the sessions to try to help the person to be aware of the change that happens.

How does bodywork help if the lifestyle or habits cannot be changed? A computer programmer, unless s/he change careers, needs to return to the computer and a violinist plays “one-sided”.

It helps to release the tissues and to increase their awareness that they can do this activity with less negative effects. It takes years to get more and more strained. Myofascial Release Therapy can take us back to a more neutral structure in one or several sessions and restore ease with less pain. Then it’s understanding how to do that activity in a way that is less unbalanced and it’s also helping them to feel the difference from what was their old normal and this better feeling. That helps them get some relief and to understand how they seek balance through exercise or other practices.

Even sitting at the desk or sitting at the piano, people expend a lot of unnecessary tension and stress and they use their bodies less gracefully and expertly than they could. Once they’ve done that, they’re sort of trapped in their own tissue. They may still be doing an inherently unbalanced activity.

For singers that would be more cranial sacral work to open up the bones of the face and also releasing the diaphragm. When I say bones of the face it also directly works with the membranes in the cranium and the facial structures. Releases here can not only open up the voice in themselves, but also to open up the student to better feel what their teachers are trying to get them to accomplish.

Ricardo himself studied voice for three years and has performed Beethoven with a professional orchestra so he has an appreciation for the art, acoustics, and the physical structures involved. He finds the more technical and less well-known level of working with the resonating cavity in the head very interesting. This work is not only for singers as everyone has a voice.

What is your philosophy?

I consider myself an animist because I never lost track of the childhood experience of realising that everything around us has an intrinsic kind of energy. That’s technically called animism while animism is often looked at as a pre-formal lower kind of religious activity.  To me, it’s the right description of a reality that is my direct sensory experience. In terms of my own spiritual practice, it’s been much influenced by shamanism, and more formally by Mahayana Buddhism.

How did you become interested in somatic work?

I had taken many classes after I dropped out of college, partly from a lack of knowing what I wanted to do, partly from a total disillusionment with western intellectualism as the pathway to both self-knowledge and larger knowledge. At the time I felt dualism was the biggest difficulty inherent in the western intellectual tradition, and in language and human thought. So I explored everything Asian to try to look for non-dualistic ways of understanding.

My entry into doing this as a career was a search for a calling and my philosophy is that we are all gifted with something or somethings and that with that gift as a responsibility to share it or use it in a positive way. I realised in the classes I had taken in Shiatsu that I could immediately feel a point versus a non-point. I had a direct immediate sensory experience. This was unusual in fact to do it so easily that in fact this is a gift and I could use it to help people.

Before moving to Hawaii and becoming a professional bodywork therapist, Ricardo was already involved in the health and wellness fields. He continued to study a variety of modalities including sports massage, Soft Tissue Release, Namakoshi Shiatsu, Swedish/Esalen massage, and Hawaiian Shamanistic Lomi Lomi and Cranio Sacral Therapy.

He offers Myofascial Release Therapy and Biodynamic Cranial Sacral Therapy at Gallery Helios. The release work, which is sometimes referred to as “deep tissue massage”, is effective for tightness from injury, athletics or lifestyle habits and other limiting conditions by lengthening and releasing shortened connective tissues and bringing the body back into alignment. Biodynamic Cranial Sacral Therapy is recommended to release energetic and emotional blocks through subtle touch to rebalance the cranium, facial bones, and nervous system.

Ricardo is at Gallery Helios 22 to 29 September2018.

Fees: S$180 for 1 hour / S$240 for 1.5 hours.

Click here to book a session with Ricardo

Or contact Siewfan Wong,  text or WhatsApp +65 9459 8262.

Click here for more about Ricardo’s work.