This is a spontaneous talk I recorded in 2014 while sitting inside the Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the United States. I did it while on a mini vacation, at the end of a day of hiking. I discuss some fundamental aspects of the fluid body, and walk you through a quick exercise to build a felt sense of it. I recently found it on my hard drive and thought it might be helpful for some of you. For those of you who prefer to read, I have included a transcription. But listening to it is so much better!
I’d like to begin by thanking those of you who have listened to my meditations and audio tracks and took the time to give feedback. Some of the recordings I have given just to my students have been copied and spread pretty far and wide it turns out. I came of age, so to speak, just as the internet was starting to take shape and I think it really is amazing that one can now be in contact with like-minded individuals from all around the world from the comfort of one’s own home or office. It still really tickles me when I get emails from Japan, Australia, or somewhere in Europe. The global brain really is making new connections in this generation. It’s such an interesting time to live in. So thank you for your encouragement and positive feedback.
I have found that spoken word recordings are one of the best ways for me to learn, because I am able to just relax into them and absorb information, oftentimes even better than reading it. So I hope this basic topic today is helpful for you. I’m going to gear my words today towards beginners, but it is probably something we can all work on understanding better.
One of the main lessons Primary Respiration teaches is humility. With that in mind I want to clarify that I have been actively pursuing the study and practice of biodynamic craniosacral therapy for almost 17 years now, and God willing this doesn’t even quite put me halfway through my career. I want to be clear that I see myself as a traveler in this land, and I very much see myself as a learner. True masters in this work are few and far between. I’ve only met a handful. They are a real treasure, and I am so grateful for the insights and practices they have passed down to me and my colleagues. So I don’t declare to have attained mastery in this field, but I’ve sure put in a lot of exploration and practice and made alot of mistakes. I have accepted the role of teacher because it has come very naturally for me, and I continue to be told that I am being of service to others in that capacity.
I am going to talk some today about the fluid body and share a bit of my experience of it so far. I hope to make an understanding of the fluid body very real for you. I’m going to speak about some of the basic concepts behind it and try to avoid complicating the matter too much, which is very easy to do. I have been in manual therapy classes where I felt like the instructor was assaulting me with facts .. often scientific concepts or studies … and science is undoubtedly a powerful path to knowledge … but these types of teachers think it is their job to inundate you with large amounts of information, thinking that some of it will fill your particular knowledge gaps and that will end up being useful for you. And at times I have picked up some factoids from these kinds of classes that have, on occasion, helped me to sound smart for my clients or explain my approach with more clarity. But this recording is not really about that kind of education. Because when I look back, my greatest teachers were those who were able to present the basics in a clear and deep manner so I could really internalize them … and make the concepts REAL in my senses. So it is in that vein that I’ll speak to you today and try to keep it simple. And hopefully you can make it real for yourself.
Biodynamic craniosacral therapy is about learning to relate, in a thorough manner, to primary respiration and the Breath of Life. But in order to understand our relationship to primary respiration, we need to come to the point where we can experience the sensory reality of what we call the fluid body. And we need to learn to experience it at will. We need to know how to “step into it.”
Getting to know the fluid body is a sound first step when attempting to enter into the perceptual world of primary respiration, and it is the starting point in the biodynamic training that I do with my school. So far I have found this a good beginning place, for the fluids are a kind of meeting place for local aspects of our individual embodiment and the greater, global world of primary respiration. I am not alone in this experience and approach to teaching. There are many other teachers who start with fluidity and then later spread outwards and upwards to higher levels of refinement of primary respiration.
In order to really experience one’s fluid body, it helps to consider the origins of the body. Where did the body that you now inhabit come from? The body your awareness infuses right now … sitting, lying, or standing wherever you are? Where did this body come from? Well, we can say that it came from an embryo. Your body is the current enfoldment of a fluid embryo that at some point, via birth, passed into a world of land and air.
Your earliest physical coherence arose when you were an embryo inside the ocean of your mother’s bodily fluids. I really want you to consider this for a while. Actually, I think you should consider this every day for a few months, even years. Make this understanding a reality in your life. Own it fully. Know it undeniably. And stay in constant contact with it. Your body emerged from a tiny cell, an egg, a sphere, we call it an oocyte that was almost entirely composed of fluid. In general, we call that fluid protoplasm. Protoplasm comes from the Greek protos for “first,” and plasma for “thing formed.” So protoplasm is the first thing formed. Protoplasm is basically water invested with various chemicals and organelles, but it is more than water, it’s denser than water, it is called semifluid by the scientific community. The semifluid aspect of coherence is one of the qualities that makes it so important to us. We’ll talk more about coherence in the fluids a little later.
Protoplasm has also been called the “physical basis of life.” Now most people, when asked what the most basic or simplest unit of life is, will answer the cell. As children we are all taught this in school, that our bodies are built of cells, right, and unfortunately that idea gets deep into our consciousness. But that idea really leads us away from and obscures the deeper truth of our embodiment. What we come to understand first hand in the experience of biodynamic movement is that the cell is simply a division of protoplasm – a packet of protoplasm – in reality the cell is, hierarchically, a step down from the original medium of life.
Cells serve the purpose of specification of function. The activities and interactions within them are incredibly complicated. The protoplasm, in contrast, at its foundation, is very simple. Protoplasm is a cohesive fluid field. The protoplasm comes first. It is first, it is primary in our embodiment. The cohesive quality of protoplasm is pervasive throughout our organism. It is a direct link to the primordial sea from which all life emerged, the womb of all biology -and it carries a deep deep authority over the integrity and function of your body. And because of its primordial and deeply fundamental pervasiveness through all of life, it is very powerful in its scope of influence over life and health – from spatial ordering to structural integrity to metabolic activity and even to dynamics of the soul infused within it. You are protoplasm. We are protoplasm. Slime molds are protoplasm. Plants are protoplasm. All life shares the same basic substance. Together we make an ocean of life on land … an ocean that is being moved, shaped, animated, and acted upon by activity of a divine will, or from a secular perspective, the activity of the ever-arising phenomenal world.
Many manual therapists outside of biodynamics have difficulty understanding why those of us who do this style of work are so interested in embryology. Well, they have difficulty understanding this largely because they live in a world of tissue. They live in a world of separation from our deepest natural quality. I’m not going to say they live in a world of mechanics, because I have found that isn’t really true of most bodyworkers … although they are often accused of it. But most manual therapists do work in a dense world that doesn’t really see the moving dynamics of wholeness that lie infused throughout the tissue. They have no point of reference for understanding our work. But when you really make an effort to understand and experience the fluid body, then it becomes clear why we look to the embryo for help in understanding how to access deep health.
By its very nature the embryo speaks to us of fluid wholeness and continuity. It speaks to us of optimal metabolic ordering and function, of subservience to the unfolding action of creation as it is beautifully and flawlessly expressed through nature. It speaks to us of the universality of the human experience – without sacrificing the value of the individual. In fact, it elevates the individual because life is so preciously orchestrated to insure the growth and fruition of each individual soul. The body we now occupy did not just appear as a static entity. It has been years in the making, right? Even decades in the making. Viewing from the perspective of linear time, we begin to see our body as a developing, evolving embryo. And the fluid world it inhabited early on is still with us today, albeit hidden from most of us. The body now is a lot more like an embryo than we typically think. It is becoming popular lately to say “in this work we have more embryology under our hands than anatomy.” This is becoming increasingly true in my professional life.
The reality that each living creature carries around its own little ocean has not gone lost upon human consciousness. From cultures around the world, throughout time, those with clear perception have seen that we carry a field around us that is of a softer elemental quality than the flesh. Amazonian Shamans and ayahuasqueros speak of a bell or bubble that surrounds us, giving us protection, a buffer of sorts from outside influence. It is denser than air, but more refined than tissue. It is a fluid field. Hinduism with its incredibly detailed understanding of energetic anatomy identifies 3 basic bodies, for example, linga sharira, the subtle or astral body, while usually identified with the mind and intellect, would be related to the spatial and energetic dynamics of the fluid body – because it is the medium through which prana, or life force moves. This subtle fluid body is clearly identified in ancient texts as coming into existence before the tissue body, with the tissue body being formed upon and around its continuous matrix. Sounds like embryology.
The Buddha spoke of a fluid body through which the winds of vital forces pass. Buddhist sutras teach that when the earth element (or tissue body) dissolves in the process of dying, then the water element (or fluid body) comes forth. We can look at Christian art and see auras and halos around figures who have attained notable levels of holiness and sanctification. The bible is filled with images of water as a blessing from heaven that nourishes the soul, freeing it from the confines of earthly solidity, bringing buoyancy and freedom of spirit. All of these point to a subtle substance that is us, but is more than our body. Such is the fluid body – it is an individual ocean that permeates the space we occupy in a manner that is much bigger than social or cultural memes account for. It surrounds us, extending beyond the boundary of the skin by 6-18 inches or so. Perceiving it is simply a matter of refinement of the senses. So we are not introducing anything new here … biodynamics has not discovered the fluid body or primary respiration or the Breath of Life for that matter. In many ways, this is a timeless realm we work in … but still a realm that few choose to really explore. Especially in the more materialistic cultures we find ourselves enmeshed in in economically developed cultures.
The grossest aspect of our embodiment is earth, or tissue. The next, more subtle level of refinement is water, or the fluid body. The most subtle is the world of air, or inner winds and the Breath of Life, the matrix upon which we arise. For most of us operating in a clinical setting, our professional training has made us well-acquainted with the tissue body. But unfortunately, that is where our interface usually ends! It’s as if the healthcare community draws a line after the tissue body and declares everything beyond it off limits! To work biodynamically, we have to become deeply intimate with the fluid body, for facility of working with fluids eventually opens us up to conscious interface with the tidal winds of primary respiration and eventually the dynamically still reorganizing instances of the BOL – where the most deeply corrective mechanisms of the organism’s organizational architecture reside.
So now that we have a basis for understanding the origin and ground substance of the Fluid body in the embryo and its protoplasm, and recognized that its reality has been corroborated around the world for thousands of years, let’s talk more about its qualities. What does it do? How does it behave .. now … in the adult body? Well, the fluid body seems to be mostly concerned with the qualities of wholeness and homeostasis … more specifically, it seeks to continually maintain these qualities. The fluid body gives witness to our wholeness because of its cohesiveness and coherence. Every particle of the fluid body is in a knowing relationship with every other part. There is an ordered intelligence in the fluids that keeps every molecule of water, protein, lipids, what have you, in a sort of direct contact with every other molecule. It is one whole, and it acts as a whole. If one part of it moves, every other part reacts or is influenced by that change. Prominent embryologists such as Brian Freeman and Jaap VanDerWal are always pointing out how we are already whole and essentially complete as an embryo, and all of the developmental actions taken by the embryo reflect its wholeness – an ongoing wholeness that appears to change form but is always basically the same whole. Blechshmidt first championed this, and the newer field of dynamic morphology continues to study it in its own way.
A far as activity, the fluid body is constantly working toward arriving at or maintaining homeostasis. Homeostasis being a quality of balance, stability, and constancy in factors like systemic pressure, spatial arrangement, metabolic processes, etc. When biological elements are balanced, they are quiet, they are smooth, and there is a lack of tension or even pressure. This is the optimal state of the fluid body – evenness and homogeneity throughout the organism. The fluid body carries within it a clear understanding of this evenness, a continually available memory of … the perfection of homeostasis. It knows what balance is, and even though it may be compromised by life experience and be holding tensions or compensation, it always carries within its spatial framework the qualities of perfection.
The compensatory patterns of the fluid body often feel to be laid upon, or enfolded into the field of optimal arrangement that forms the core of the individual. It is like the fluid body folds itself over, adding a layer of complication in order to serve a higher purpose, a higher priority or need of the system. These intelligent ordering forces create currents and vectors with a denser quality in the living field. We encounter these as fluid lesions, inertial fluid fulcurms, which are just clinical names for problems, for somatic dysfunction. It is important to understand that the fluid matrix governs the tissue body. The fluids hold authority! So these fluid lesions cascade their tensions into the tissues, into the body “proper,” and we get somatic dysfunction and various forms of symptomology.
The fluid body is imbued with an intelligence that is billions of years old. Life began around 3.8 billion years ago with single celled organisms composed of, yep you guessed it, protoplasm. The basic pattern of coherent wholeness upon which the individual life form is built is truly ancient. Right now, as I am speaking to you, I am sitting on the edge of the Palo Duro Canyon in the high plains of west Texas. Palo Duro canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States behind, of course, the Grand Canyon. It’s not as long or deep as the Grand Canyon, but it is a little bit wider. I have spent the last four days out here collecting my thoughts and resting, allowing my own fluid body to reestablish homeostasis on a deeper level than it can attain in the midst of the busyness of my regular life.
From where I sit I can see 4 major layers of geologic time represented in the strata of the magnificent sheer cliffs in front of me, which are close to 800 feet tall. The oldest strata was formed during the Permian era, almost 300 million years ago. I have been sitting here considering that for a few days now. I can see with my own eyes the effects upon the earth of 300 million years of time. Now that’s a meditation that takes some pressure off of you! I highly recommend it! 300 million years. It is absolutely incredible the number of layers each of the major strata are cut into .. hundreds … some are filled with rich red iron deposits that glow and seem to flow like blood in the earth. some with selenite, some with gypsum … the remnants of where an entire ocean has evaporated. So much has happened over that time period. Just to think about 1 million years is a challenge, but to try to feel that long of a stretch of time, is a really incredible experience.
The basic intelligence that holds together a living organism is well over 10 times older than the oldest fossil I can find at the floor of this 300 million year old, massive canyon. I’ve been sitting with that and I find that realizing the insignificance of my lifespan over history frees up my soul to rise above the petty concerns that surround my life in the modern world. When we work with the fluid body, we are encountering an intelligence that is incredibly ancient. It knows things that our human intelligence can never understand. It operates with an intimate understanding of life that inspires absolute humility. We have to get out of its way and simply, delicately, devotedly just watch it as it takes incredibly precise and informed action to bring our organism into balance. Our mind can’t understand most of what it is doing, but our senses can follow its broad but precise trail of activity and share in the deep mysteries of how life is maintained.
One of my all-time favorite sayings from any field is from Randolph Stone, the Polarity Therapy founder: he said Man cognizes, God “geometizes.” That largely sums up biodynamics for me. We need to learn to listen to and understand a new language, actually an ancient language – and it is not the language of the hard sciences, which mankind currently worships. It is the language of the deep movements of creation as expressed through shape and motion.
An optimal fluid body has a quality of buoyancy. Michael Shea has been talking a lot about this over the last few years. We use the term buoyancy to denote a feeling of lift, of lightness, like the vital force can easily support the weight of the fluid it animates, and movement within the fluid comes with ease. A lack of buoyancy in the fluids feels like depression, like a deadness. This may be due to a low voltage of life force producing very little potency, or possibly shock that locks us up in limbo, or a degenerative disease process that sucks away the animating energy of life. So be aware of the quality of space between the fluid molecules. A buoyant fluid body feels very spacious, like air or maybe ether has been inserted into the fluid architecture, opening up the matrix.
I thank the heavens for the day when I was re-introduced to my deep fluidity. I felt like I had awoken from a prolonged lethargic sleep when I first felt aspects of fluid tidal and wave movement in my body. Sometimes it just amazes me that most of the world carries on with life unaware of their internal ocean. At times it makes me truly sad. But I came to accept years ago that this path we are on is not for everyone. When I first felt cohesive fluid movements that clearly did not honor what I knew to be biological, anatomical barriers, I just fell in love with life again. Gratitude came to the forefront of my experience as mystery and wonder were brought back into my life … like it is in the lives of children. Everything within me felt different … it felt new but so original, intriguing but a little frightening, Memories from mystical moments in my childhood flooded forth, and most important of all, I felt a strong sense of hope because I realized I had been living in a very confined world, unaware of the vast possibility and depth of sensory experience available to me.
So how do we encounter the fluid body and work with it to liberate corrective action? How do we allow these concepts we’ve discussed to come alive as an experience?
In order to feel the fluid body, we need to spend some time sitting still. Now, there are those who encounter the fluid body on the level of gross movement … like dancers or continuum movement people. These individuals do learn to speak the language of the deeper fluids of life, but we as biodynamic practitioners are doing something quite different. Rather than allowing our membranes to be moved in a gross manner by the internal fluid dynamics we encounter in the felt sense, we are looking for the partitioning membranes of the body to become permeable to cohesive fluid movement so that we no longer perceive the partitions. We are seeking wholeness. We do not respond to activity upon the membranes with any kind of gross movement or reaction. we respond with an unseen act of yielding the substance of the tissue body and the will to a state of increased permeability. We make space for the movement to occur freely by trusting its ancient wisdom.
Let’s go through a little exercise to help you find your fluid body. like many exercises in cranial work, we’re going to start by orienting to stillness. So invite some stillness to settle into the body, and the mind, and take a minute to feel your connection with the earth. Let’s also slow down the tempo of our senses … so that we may enter the richness of the natural world more fully.
This might be a bit risky, and a lot of teachers don’t like it because it deals with some density, but I want to do it anyway because I think it really helps beginners. Let’s take a minute to consider some of the many types of fluid that water, protoplasm becomes in our body. As I name these types of fluids, get a sense for where they are located in your body, and their specific qualities … viscosity, weight, color. Let’s start with blood. Feel how extensive the network of blood is in your body, from the blood in your heart to the blood in the tips of your toes, large vessels like the aorta, to the tiny capillaries. The blood plasma, its transport medium is up to 95% water. All that blood, in a vast connected network. Find your csf. Feel in your middle of your ns. We are fluid at our core – there’s no structure in our midline. Our middle is fluid. Feel the brain floating in it, infused and permeated with it, penetrating between all the cells of the ns. How about sweat? Where does it come from? Where is it now in your body? Saliva. Vitreous humor of the eyes … the light that informs your vision is passing through fluid. Urine, concentrated fluid that is continually produced and eliminated. How about bone marrow? Digestive juices that fill entire tract. And lymph – like blood, another vast network. Consider all of the fluid inside every cell in the body, outside every cell of the body, embedded in the membranes of every cell of the body. Water is absolutely everywhere within us. Recognize this. Let it soften you some. Now, this is grounded place to start, but the fluid body is not the accumulation of all of these fluids. It is not so dense. We can start there, but we must become more refined in the way we sense the fluidity of our field.
Good. So let’s move on to the next step. I’d like to use our imaginations for a bit to focus our senses more directly on the natural phenomena we are trying to understand. Now I want you to forget about your body – your gross tissue body and all those fluid divisions we were just looking at. Now don’t worry, we’re not dissociating here! (there is a real fear in our field right now about dissociation, and that’s understandable) but its okay, were just shifting our perception a bit. Forget about your tissue body and visualize the space you occupy as a little personal ocean – roughly the shape of a sphere or an egg – that extends 2 feet or so outside of where your skin would be. It is common practice to say “feel the fluid body as if it were a single drop of fluid.” I have found this to be a useful approach. Now let’s settle into this light, gentle, fluidic, sphere for a while. Just sit with your felt sense of your personal ocean.
Now, your fluid body is an active place. It is being moved, it is being acted upon by the more ethereal forces of primary respiration – the winds of life that move through the natural world. Much like nature acts upon the oceans of the planet, your personal ocean has waveforms and currents within it. It exhibits properties of streaming within it, where cohesive bands of fluid move directionally within the greater whole. These movements do not fall within the boundaries of the anatomy systems we are taught. They are bigger than that. There may be swirls and eddies of the fluid in your ocean … disturbances that are seeking resolution of struggle. It is important to know that water, when it is infused with life, it acts a bit differently than it does in free nature – it has a coherency that makes it feel a little more dense and controlled in its response to external forces. So were not really looking for something as formless as free water, its just a little denser. Be aware of this if you are new to this kind of perceptual practice.
So just sit still, not really looking for anything, just being, and allowing your awareness to slowly rest within fluidic movement in and around your own ocean, revealing millions of years of biological depth that you carry with you. The fluid body loves freedom … the freedom of spatial expression. The fluid body has a different set of laws than the tissue body, and it takes a little time to learn to speak the language.
So let’s just relax for a bit and allow the fluids to express themselves with some ease. If you come up against rigidity in your experience, allow some softening around the edges of it and cooperate with the inherent ease of the biological fluid world. Try not to get too narrow in your focus, stay broad and whole. Whole. In general, move toward feeling fluctuations that are effecting the fluid body in its entirety.
When I was a kid, I used to have to mow the grass in the hot Texas summers. When I was done, I would strip down to my boxers and just walk straight off the edge of the pool deck into the water. I would just go limp as I stepped into the water and I remember a distinct feeling of weightless floating when my downward momentum paused before I started to float back up. That is the quality of sensing the fluid body. You’re awareness is immersed in it. You are feeling from inside the ocean, not from the shore. Be in it, surrounded. Fluid all around.
Now as we sit with our deeper fluidity we eventually start to notice that there appears to be an intentionality in the actions we witness in the field. This intentionality is the movement toward an expression of equilibrium … an equilibrium of pressure within the system, a movement toward uniformity … uniformity and quiet within our field, our awareness, and our being, our mind.
With some time, we begin to notice that as our internal miasma quiets and balances, we are better able to blend in with the natural world that envelopes us, that permeates us at an atomic level. We equalize with the external forces of nature and eventually willingly participate with them in the unfolding of life … in an increasingly effortless way. We become not so sure of where our fluid body ends – what is me and not me. But were grounded. Present. You don’t have to dissociate to do this.
In the practice of biodynamics, It is imperative that we spend time watching how the fluid body seeks normalization within itself and how it blends with the slower, deeper forces of organization that move spatially through the natural world. Just witness with a gentle curiosity how fluid shifts. Notice directionality of movement, pressure changes, tempo, stillness (local or general). We witness decisions being made by a veiled intelligence that continually, constantly acts on our behalf.
So I will begin to conclude here and leave you to settle into the fluid movements that comprise your experience right now. The fluids hold a lot of history, but within the streaming patterns of that history are very creative paths of resolution for the structural, emotional, and even spiritual struggles present within you. I hope that you can learn to trust their movements and find ways to liberate their expression by yielding your personal will, dissolving elements of fear, and accepting the love that surrounds you. If you have a spiritual identification, you can explore that within the fluid realms. If you prefer a secular or atheistic mindset, by all means you can view the fluids through that lens of clarity.
The fluid body is an incredibly rich environment from which to feel our lives … moment to moment. I sincerely hope that you come to an understanding and appreciation of its nourishing nature.
So, this is the realm we largely work in … oceanic, tidal, sensory fluidity. But as primary respiration takes ahold of our awareness, even the fluidity fades into the background as ether and air move to the forefront to deliver us to a new plane of understanding. That is the next step as we come to meet the BOL more directly and expand out to the horizon.
I’m going to let you go now while I just spend some time watching the light illuminate the rich colors of the canyon, allowing my fluids to rest for a bit, in gratitude, in simplicity.
Ryan Hallford is a craniosacral therapist and educator. He offers certification programs in basic and advanced cranial work through the Craniosacral Resource Center in Southlake, TX. www.cranioschool.com