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Kinetic Awareness: Releasing Tension With Balls

Kinetic Awareness, also known as The Ball Work, uses rubber balls to help you become more aware of your body and make positive changes. The rubber balls enhance your awareness and release tension by serving as a focal point for your attention and movement and intensifying sensations. 

Dancer/choreographer Elaine Summers developed this somatic practice in the 1960s as a natural way to heal the symptoms of her osteoarthritis. The practice is based on the work of somatic pioneers Elsa Grindler and Carola Speads and the body-armoring theories of Wilheim Reich.

The work is experiential, and the role of the teacher is that of guide. By doing simple movements very slowly, you become aware of any blocks, physical or emotional, along a movement pathway.

The idea is to focus your sensory awareness on the movement, letting your nervous system self-correct by releasing old constrictions and painful habits. By taking this awareness into everyday movements, you have the potential for an ongoing corrective effect.

The goal of the work is the enjoyment and use of your bodymind’s full capacity for awareness and movement. In Kinetic Awareness: Discovering Your Bodymind, Ellen Saltonstall writes that this somatic practice " based on the premise that refinement of the kinesthetic sense, especially with regard to movement, can bring about the gradual reintegration of bodymind functioning."

The Ball Work recognizes the value of turning inside, finding resources deeper than your normal daily consciousness.

Phases of The Ball Work

This awareness work has five phases:

  1. Becoming aware of each body part and learning to move each part by itself as slowly and with as little tension as possible.

  2. Freely articulating more than one part of the body at a time, slowly and without unnecessary tension.

  3. Exploring movement at different speeds while remaining aware and without unnecessary tension.

  4. Learning to change tension levels at will while maintaining awareness.

  5. Working with movement through space and interactions with others.

Underlying Principles of Kinetic Awareness

The following working principles underlie The Ball Work:

  • Awareness without judgment. All feelings are important and can be used to know how your body functions best. By being aware of the whole range of sensations from inside, you can choose how to use your body.

  • Learning to move slowly. Slowing down makes it easier to feel each part of movement and notice all accompanying sensations. Moving slowly lets you see what happens in your body when you tell a specific part to move. You can observe what moves easily and what resists. Slowness lets you interrupt automatic patterns and find a new way to move.

  • Using as little effort as possible. Can you let go of unnecessary muscles that move only out of habit? Can you release tension and use gravity?

  • Isolation (moving one part all the ways it can go). Focusing on a specific joint or area lets you sense more details about how you move, and you can begin to recognize interrelationships. Which parts move? Which parts don’t? 

  • Using tension as an ally by choosing the level of effort and having only necessary tension. Slow movements release tension because awareness is involved.

  • Discovering the effects of breathing. Disturbances may become unconscious breathing habits. Poor breathing reduces stamina, lessens mental clarity, and causes muscles to receive less oxygen.

For more information, see Saltonstall's book or visit the Kinetic Awareness Center.

Other source: Frances Becker, "Kinetic Awareness," Contact Quarterly, Summer/Fall 1993.

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