Photo: B. Fertman/Seoul, Korea
A student asks, “What is this inner body of which you so often speak?”
The inner body is neither physical nor metaphysical.
Not of the body and not beyond the body.
The inner body lives within the body,
It is the body within the body.
The inner body fills the outer body.
Each toe, each fingernail, every eyelash.
The inner body assumes the exact shape of the outer body,
It is the outer body’s inner lining.
When the outer body looks; the inner body sees.
When the outer body hears; the inner body listens.
The inner body cannot feel or express emotions,
Though it does perceive them.
The inner body cannot think,
Though it is rational.
Quietly aware, calmly awake,
Below the surface of words, in silence,
It reflects, contemplates, meditates.
The inner body cannot act or react,
Though it can observe actions and reactions.
The inner body cannot do anything,
But it can receive everything.
The inner body is neither male nor female,
Is of no race or religion, is from no country or continent.
The inner body does not age, is not made of time.
It cannot get sick or suffer,
Though it can observe sickness and suffering.
The inner body is not cold or callous, nor warm and empathetic.
But because it is made from the same immaterial fabric as love and gratitude,
The inner body does care.
Once we bid farewell to our outer body and take up residence in our inner body,
The less needy our outer body becomes,
And the less lonely it feels.
If, as the outer body ages, we come to dwell ever more deeply within the inner body,
Then perhaps, when the moment arrives for our outer body to die,
We will be ready and able to take leave of it,
Peacefully, thankfully, and with love in our hearts.
Photo: B. Fertman/Seoul, Korea
Stories about the inner body
from my book
It may be beyond my area of expertise. It may be foolish, even unprofessional, even unethical. It may be sheer chutzpah, or profound innocence and, it may not be any of these.
Sung-ho walks into my apartment/studio in downtown Seoul. He clearly has what I like to call an unconventional nervous system, or an exceptional structure.
Having only known Sung-ho for two days, he already feels like a friend. We spent a night together jammed into a packed subway car, talking politics, making our way down crowded streets into the heart of a peaceful, passionate and packed protest with 1.7 million other people.
No matter the circumstances, Sung-ho just keeps up. He doesn’t complain. In fact, he directs his attention toward others, making sure everyone’s comfortable.
He thinks his English is terrible. “I am eternally grateful to anyone who can speak any English Sung-ho. I understand everything you are saying.” “I want to ask you something,” Sung-ho says. In America, what do you call people who are disabled?” “We call them physically challenged. Calling a person disabled sums them up as people who are not able to function properly. We prefer describing their situation. A physically challenged person is a person who is challenged physically. When I watch people like you, I see an athlete, a person who is training for an Olympic event called everyday life.” “I like that,” Sung-ho says.
Sung-ho explains his situation to me. “I’m in pain most of the time. My left hip hurts almost continually. I can’t lift my right hand past my shoulder. I can’t turn my head at all. My spine doesn’t move. It’s in a permanent C-shape. Whenever, by mistake, I go outside of my small range of motion it’s really painful. I’m always working hard to move and when I sit down and relax my body hurts even more, so I keep my muscles tight. But I’m used to it. It’s been this way since I was a kid.”
Later I find out Sung-ho, when he was fifteen, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that, for reasons unknown, mostly afflicts young men. Over time this extreme form of arthritis causes the spine to fuse, making the spine increasingly immobile. Ankylosing spondylitis is incurable.
“Sung-ho, let me see what you do when you relax.” I watch as he presses his shoulder girdle down onto his upper ribs and pushes his chest in. “Sung-ho that hurts because that is not relaxing, but we will get to that later. Right now show me how much you can move your head without pain. With your head say yes, no, and maybe,” I say demonstrating. He does. He moves his head about one inch in every direction but that one inch is accomplished by ever so slight bending or rotating movements initiated down around his rib cage. The relationship of his head to his neck is frozen like a block of ice. “Good. I want to see you move. I’d like you to get up and walk to the closet, put on your coat, then take it off, hang it back up, walk back here and sit down.” I just watch, kinesthetically empathizing more than I am analyzing. This familiar aching feeling settles over me, a feeling I often feel when working with physically challenged people, this feeling of guilt. Why them and why not me?
“You get around,” I say. “I make myself do everything,” Sung-ho says. “An athlete,” I say.
“Okay Sung-ho. I am going to teach you something that helps me a lot. It may sound strange, and it’s not scientific, but it allows me to move more easily and comfortably. All it takes is a playful imagination and some practice. Are you willing to try?” “Sure,” Sung-ho says.
“I like to think of myself as having two bodies, a being body and a doing body. The being body is my inner body and my doing body is my outer body. My outer body is substantial and made of muscle. But inside that body is a body that has no substance. It’s weightless. It moves like a gentle wind, like a soft breeze. It moves effortlessly. It’s comfortable and it’s never in pain. The inner body has no bones. It’s just space. Sometimes it feels like a friendly ghost body. Deep within you it flies freely.
“What I like to imagine is that my inner body, my being body, my ghost body moves my doing body from the inside out. I imagine that my inner body is moving and my outer body just comes along with it. The outer body doesn’t do anything, just as your clothes don’t move by themselves. They are moved by your body. So your outer body doesn’t do anything by itself. It is moved by your inner body.” Sung-ho seems to like the idea. He’s smiling.
“Sung-ho, can you just sit here now, close your eyes and imagine that who you really are is your inner body and not your outer body?” I watch him. I can see he’s living inside of his imagination and that is where I want him to be. “Sung-ho, that is closer to real relaxation.”
“Okay, here is a little way of practicing shifting from your outer body to your inner body. Imagine you have a fly buzzing around your face and you want to brush it away. Let your hand just fly up and move the fly away. “That’s easy,” Sung-ho says. “Is it comfortable,” I ask? “Very.” “That’s your inner body flying around and your outer body just coming along with it. Now brush the fly away by moving your outer body. What’s that feel like,” I ask? “That harder, heavier, and slower.”
“Right. I think you move yourself around from your outer body. And I think, with practice, you could learn to move yourself around with your inner body.”
“Okay, Sung-ho. Let’s go back to saying yes, no, maybe with your head but this time let your inner body, your inner head, do the moving and let your outer body, your outer head, just go with it.”
I watch. I think I see some actual head movement, but I’m not sure. “How does that feel, I ask? “It’s different, but I can’t say how,” Sung-ho says. “Was it comfortable,” I ask?, “Comfortable,” Sung-ho says.
“Okay. Let’s play with something else. Touch the tip of your nose.” I watch and see that Sung-ho does that from his inner body. “That’s your inner body,” I say. “I can feel that,” Sung-ho says. Imagine the tip of your nose is a small, very high quality calligraphy brush and write your name in the air with your calligraphy brush.”
He does. I see that the tentativeness is completely gone and now Sung-ho is actually, however minutely, moving his head through rotational and pivotal movement in his upper cervical vertebrae. “How’s that,” I ask? “It’s wonderful,” Sung-ho says. “That’s your imagination and your inner body moving your outer body.” Sung-ho nods yes even more freely without knowing it.
“Sung-ho, do you have memories of yourself and of your body before you developed this condition,” I ask? “Yes, I do.” “Can you remember how old you were when you were super attracted, sexually attracted to a girl? How old were you,” I ask? “I was twelve,” Sung-ho says. “What was her name?” “Mi Kyung,” Sung-ho says smiling from ear to ear. “Okay Sung-ho. I want your inner body to be twelve years old. You are totally in love with Mi Kyung. Now write her name with your calligraphy brush.”
I watch and see Sung-ho move his head three times as far in every direction. “Wow,” Sung-ho says. “Wow is right,” I say! You were so in love when you wrote Mi Kyung’s name you forgot to be afraid to move your head.”
Okay, let’s stand up and walk around. I watch Sung-ho stand up. He’s tight. He’s cringing. “My left hip hurts a lot when I get up, especially after sitting for a long time,” Sung-ho says. “I see that but I also see that your ankles, knees and hips have a lot of flexion. I noticed that last night watching you go up steps. Your legs are strong.” “Let’s walk around.”
Sung-ho throws his pelvis way forward and under his body because if he brought his pelvis back and up on top of his legs, he’d be looking straight down at the ground. When he walks his feet are far apart and quite turned out. His knees hardly flex. Yet, he walks faster than I do, almost as if he were in a race.
Sung-ho, I know you can flex your knees more than that because you do when you get up and down from a chair, and when you go up and down steps. So let’s imagine that your outer legs are just like a pair of super baggy pants and let your inner legs move around inside your baggy pants. There’s plenty of room in there. And pretend you are on vacation and there’s nothing you have to do. The weather is warm and you have all the time in the world.”
Clearly, Sung-ho has a powerful imagination and somehow he’s able to connect his imagination to his kinesthetic sense, an ability that takes many people a while to learn. “How’s that Sung-ho?”
“It fun. And much easier. And comfortable,” Sung-ho says.
“I’m so glad. Sung-ho. We are going to stop now because you have some real tools to play with. You’ve got your very powerful imagination and you have your very free inner body.” He’s smiling. He’s moved, holding back tears.
For a second the question flashes through my mind, “Was that an Alexander lesson or not? Maybe. Maybe not.” “And maybe it doesn’t matter,” I hear a voice inside me saying.
“Hey, Sung-ho. I finish teaching at 10 tonight. As your wife is in my class, how about we all meet up after class and go out for a beer?” Sung-ho lights up and says, “I know a place right around the corner that has Guinness on draft. Do you like Guinness?” “A lot, especially when it’s fresh. See you tonight.”
I watch Sung-ho get his coat. His movements are less jerky, longer, smoother. That aching feeling returns and I wonder, “If I had Sung-ho’s body, would I be able to adapt as gracefully to life as Sung-ho?”
Grace, it’s not about how we look, or how we move. It’s about who we are.
A man walks in, muscular, not a lean and mean muscularity, but a firm, round, bear like muscularity. He’s the kind of man that would use his power to protect someone in need, rather than bully someone for the fun of it.
“What brings you here, Yasuo-san? Noriko-sensei tells me you are a physical therapist and in your spare time a parachute glider.”
I’m expecting Yasuo to begin talking about some physical issue. A painful, lonely sadness fills his eyes.
The three of us, Yasuo-san, Masako ,my translator, and me sit together for a good minute in silence, which is not uncommon after I ask someone a question in Japan. Japanese people rarely blurt our their first thought. It’s as if they let the question sink down into some place full of unshared secrets.
“I want to relax,” Yasuo says.
“How do you know you are not relaxed?”
“I feel nervous.”
“What happens when you get nervous?”
“I begin to sweat. A lot. It feel embarrassed and ashamed that I am sweating.”
“When does this happen most?”
“When I am with people. When I have to talk to people.”
“Usually when we are with people we are with family, or roommates, or friends, or coworkers, or strangers. Do you have any family,” I ask?
“Not much. My parents live far away. I’m not married. I live alone.”
“Who are you with, and in what situation are you in when this happens most intensely?”
“When I meet a stranger. When I have to talk to someone I don’t know.”
“Does it happen more when the stranger is a woman or a man?”
“Definitely a woman.”
I can see a change in Yasuo’s skin color. He’s becoming pale. The back of his skull has pulled back. I see an image of a horse and the rider pulling the reins back.
“Well, Masako is a woman, so why don’t you have a conversation with Masako? You’ve never met her before. She’s a stranger. Face each other and have a conversation.”
Yasuo’s eyes open wide.
“Turn your chairs so you’re facing one another. Get a little bit closer. There you go. That’s perfect.”
Masako has played these kinds of roles for me in other lessons. She’s a natural. Masako takes on a slightly shy demeanor, looks down, then looks up.
“How did you get such a strong body. Do you do some kind of sport,” Masako asks?
Yasuo mentions that he does parachute gliding and that the equipment is heavy so it requires a good bit of strength. Masako lights up a bit, crosses her legs and asks him to tell her more about it.
Yasuo takes out a handkerchief, something almost all men and women in Japan carry on them, and wipes his forehead, which is sweating profusely.
I’ve got Yasuo exactly where I want him.
“Okay Yasuo-san. I see what you are doing that might be making you sweat. Of course, I don’t know for sure. But the only way we can find out is if there is some way I can get you to stop doing what I see you doing. Does that make sense?”
“Hai,” Yasuo says. “What do you see,” he asks?
“What I see is that you are very muscular. It is almost like you live in your muscular system, especially in your large action muscles, like your quads, and abs, and traps, and deltoids, and biceps, and pecs.”
“When you get nervous and begin to sweat, I’m not sure if I am making this up but I think I see your body swelling, as if your large action muscles all at once are becoming hypertonic, even though you are not moving. It’s as if your body wants to move, but it’s frozen and can’t. You’re sitting there trying to move and trying not to move at the same time, so your body is working out like mad, and you are breaking out in a sweat.”
“Ah…so…kaa… I see what you mean,” Yasuo says, wondering.
“Sometimes I get locked into my muscular system too. I’ve got a particular way of getting out of it. Want to learn it?”
“I use my imagination, which is one way of using your mind. I imagine I have an outer body and an inner body. Actually, I do more than imagine it. I pretend, as a child would, that it is absolutely true, that my inner body exists. And I don’t only imagine it, I sense it through my kinesthetic sense. It’s more like a kimage. Ki in your language means mind, heart, spirit, feeling, energy, and that is exactly what a kimage is made of. So your inner body is not muscular or physical. It lives deeper within you than your muscular body. It lives under your entire muscular body. We think we have lots of different muscles in the body but really it’s more like we have one unified muscular system, just like we have on circulatory system. This muscular system is a bit like a cylindrical trampoline wrapped around your skeletal system. Deep within you, underneath your muscular system, you have an inner body totally unattached to your muscular body. I’d like you to imagine, to ki-magine that your muscular body is like an astronaut suit, but the real you is inside and not physical. Your astronaut suit is not alive, but your inner body is. That is who you are, that is where you live. That is home. That is where you rest. That is where you feel safe.”
“So can you just sit where you are? Close your eyes and lean back against the chair. Get support from the chair. Slide your feet way out in front of you, so you can’t push down with your feet against the floor. Can you let your belly un-tighten?
I go over, place my hand on his chest until I feel my hand gently sink into him like smoke permeating a sweater.
“Drop below your astronaut suit Yasuo-san,” I say. I touch the outside of his upper arms, always with this permeating quality, then around his skull, then along the sides of his body, along the sides of his pelvis, on his quadriceps, his calves, his feet. I watch his face. He is no longer sweating. His breathing is slower. He looks like he’s about to fall asleep.
“Yasuo-san. When I ask you to, I want you to slowly open your eyes but before you do I want you to decide not to push out into your muscles. I want you to decide not to turn your muscles on. Keep your muscle switch off. As your eyes open, if you feel yourself beginning to push into your muscles, just lower your eyelids, turn your muscle switch off, and return to your inner body. Calmly but firmly say to yourself, off..off…off…off, as you open your eyes, until your eyes are open and there you are seeing and resting in your inner body. Then when Masako begins talking to you I want you to say to yourself gently and firmly, off…off…off… until she is finished speaking. Okay?”
Yasuo sits. I can see him dropping in below his muscles. He begins to open his eyes but decides to close them again. On the third go he opens them and keeps them open. He’s completely resting in the chair and resting in himself. Masako asks him about his parents, where they live and what they do. I see a slight push into his muscles and then I see him drop back in.
“My parents live in Kanazawa, not far from Kenrokuen garden,” he says. I watch Yasuo finish speaking and then drop back into his inner body.
“How are you doing Yasuo-san?”
“I can do it. I have control over it. It’s like I found that switch in me and when it goes on I can turn it off.”
“How does that make you feel?”
“It makes me feel soft and kind and happy.”
“And you are not sweating.”
“I’m not sweating.”
“Yes, inner bodies are not physical, so they don’t sweat. They can’t sweat.”
“Yasuo. We’ve been working about 35 minutes, and our lesson is supposed to be 45 minutes but I am going to stop here. You learned what you came here to learn. You found your inner body and you found your on/off switch which controls your large action muscles and allows you to rest in your inner body. With a little practice you will be able to do this whenever you want. You know how to sit and rest in your inner body. You have this little meditation you can practice whenever you have time.”
“Arigatou gosaimashita, I say, bowing. It was wonderful to work with you. I learned a lot from you,” I say, feeling myself at that moment living deep within my inner body, thinking how I am always teaching myself what it is I most need to learn, saying what I most need to hear.