3.3 Sensory Metaphor

The primary corporeal practice I employed throughout my project was the use of sensory metaphor. This corporeal practice has resonances with Bainbridge Cohen’s concept of  “somatization” (2012, p. 157). Bainbridge Cohen describes somatization as “a being process” (p. 157). She uses this process to directly engage “kinaesthetic (movement), proprioceptive (position), and tactile (touch) sensory systems (p. 157). Somatization is a word Bainbridge Cohen uses to directly evoke full-bodied kinaesthetic experience.  Bainbridge Cohen claims the kinaesthetic nature of somatization is in contrast to the experience of visualisation through visual imagery.


The term somatic, coined by Thomas Hanna, is drawn from the ancient Greek word ‘soma’, which means ‘the living organism in its wholeness’ (1979, p. 6).  According to Hanna “soma is not an object, it is a process” (p. 8). He uses the term somatic to describe bodies as experiential processes rather than objectified things.  Hanna’s work has been the catalyst for a range of somatic practices that have developed largely outside the academy in the fields of dance, psychology, psychotherapy, performance, bodywork and anthropology (Reeve 2011).  Somatic practices focus on the materiality of bodies and begin from a sensori-motoric functional approach to how bodies attune to themselves and engage with their environments.  According to many of these practitioners, this heightened sensorial attunement helps them “to be bodily aware of how they do, as they are doing it” (Reeve 2011, p. 21).

Key to effectively using sensory metaphors is activating the imagination. To create a somatic experience the practitioner must imagine the cells within the different systems of the body and direct attention to the particular region in question in an attentive and focused way. In BMC practice “cellular awareness and expression is accomplished through cellular imagination” (Bainbridge-Cohen 2012, p. 159). The focus might be on the cells of a particular organ such as the heart or the kidney or it might be on the cells of the skeletal system.  Practitioners claim that the focus in this work is not about arriving at a particular destination, but on continually attending to the experience of alignment between the smallest cellular activity within the body and the largest movements of the body. According to Bainbridge Cohen, this alignment can be experienced in a range of ways including through touch, movement, visualisation, somatization, voice, art, music, meditation, verbal and through open awareness amongst others (2012, p. 1).

In my experience, sensory metaphors support experiential shifts that are viscerally affective and result in whole-bodied, multi-sensory lived experiences. The focus on somatization rather than visualisation has been a formative and critical idea in deepening my capacity to access experience differently. It brings into sharp relief the limitations of binary concepts that polarise the ocular sense at one end of the spectrum and all other senses collectively at the other end.  In my experience, somatization is a visceral process that attempts to engage all the senses so as to create a more whole-bodied, multi-sensory, unified lived experience. For Bergson, intelligence harnesses and diverts things through “unexpected and innovative use” (Grosz 2005, p.138). I suggest that using sensory metaphors can create visceral shifts in lived experience that support the capacity of life to harness and divert things through unexpected and innovative use so that things are always opening out, always differentiating. I have employed this corporeal practice to catalyse, build, and sustain artistic performative material. In the chapters that follow I detail how I have consciously activated imagination through sensory metaphors to access experience differently and create visceral shifts in lived experience.

In addition to this primary corporeal practice, I discovered that amongst the community of body-centred practitioners there was also a repertoire of other attunement practices that had general acceptance within this context. In the next section I present these practices because they represent a suite of methods that I used with the body-centred practitioners with whom I worked. A shared language about these corporeal practices enabled me to frame my investigations and reflect upon those experiences individually and through dialogues with practitioners. They are included here so that I can use them in subsequent chapters to help describe the, body-centred practices I used to enact my project.


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