Writer Mary Bond reflects on Embodied Public Spaces

I recently reached out to Mary Bond, author of the New Rules of Posture, to let her know what an astounding influence she has been in my work and practice, as well as an inspiration to bring this kind of embodied knowledge into the public sphere.  She has since written a blog post about the Soundscapes and MOBL.           Read it here, then explore her own site for further learning and inspiration.

Our Heartbeat Predecessors : Artists & exhibits

The heartbeat and it’s rhythm has been a source for artistic expression through varied media and time. Below are just a few exhibits and performances that explore the heartbeat toward similar and different aims:

A confession–our inspiration isn’t really with the heartbeat, but with the broader question of why people recognize their cities’ rhythms (for instance), but not their own. It’s a bit of a paradox, our aim is to set the conditions for self-awareness, not feed self-fascination. That’s why we are so excited for the public to be prompted to engage with their own heartbeat by engaging first with other people’s heartbeats.  Self-projection and self-promotion are alive and well in our culture.  We bump up against examples of both while walking down the street and even when having a private experience.  We’re playing with those ideas by consciously not satisfying people’s desire to project themselves (while being  comfortable with the fact that our performers are!) Instead we’re prompting people to notice inward, and be in-formed by the outward.  And to listen outward and be in-formed by the inward.

What is an Embodied Public Space?

Embodied Public Spaces

are spaces that intentionally heighten curiosity about our physical circumstances, and prompt us to explore our own agency in our physical circumstances.  We’re excited to incorporate current body-knowledge into our landscape to see how the undeterminable capacity of people and spaces to change each other plays out.


Artist Graham Coreil-Allen created an embodied public space in Baltimore, inviting awareness, play & appropriated movement to a normally pedestrian way of crossing the street. 




We intuitively know that walking down a narrow, windy, unpaved path has a different physical, physiological, emotional, intellectual and spiritual effect on each us than walking on a vast city   street does, and again when compared to walking where there is no predetermined path. We organize ourselves and our movements, differently. Driving in a car is absolutely different than riding a bike, or being a passenger on a train.  Not only is it a different private experience, but our actual interest in each other is changed.

  • EACH ONE of us is our own embodied public space.  We may rightfully hold aspects of ourselves as private, nonetheless, our interior space does effect our actions, our interactions and it does effect the people around us whether we are aware of it or not.  Embodied public spaces intentionally bring that reality into our shared public experiences.


  • Embodied Public Spaces are a way of re-orienting our experience of existing urban landscapes.


  • Intent, chance and necessity dictate most of our surroundings and experiences— When we creatively incorporate in-depth knowledge about the body, brain and movement to designing public spaces and art, we create spaces that prompt engagement with ourselves and each other, and re-orient us toward our shared experience of embodiment.


  • This is different from ergonomics.  Ergonomics tell us about what we should be doing mechanically and often asks us make ‘healthier’ movements in order to accommodate a design that has little to do with us.  We are seeding curiosity about what you do and feel, the principles underlying your intentional and habitual movements, and what varied choices could lead to. More over, we’re excited to incorporate current body-knowledge into our landscape to see how the undeterminable capacity of people and spaces to change each or the other plays out.


We find that creating embodied public spaces can be done very simply.  We’re starting by creating mobile, impermanent spaces that reflect our own capacity for profound change through the refocusing and reorganizing of our attention and awareness.  Our first project is the Soundscape of the Human Heart, in which we’re amplifying live heartbeats into public spaces around SF.


Conceptualizing the Heart Sound-Scape : An Artist’s Personal Musings

I have just sat, with a stethoscope’s ear tips in my ears, holding the tunable diaphragm (contact) to my breast, listening to my heartbeat. It was like listening to my thoughts after being out all day, at first scattered and fast. But unlike my thoughts, which can only happen one at a time, many sounds were registering all at once: my breathing, bubbles of digestion, adjustments to my posture, the uneven pressure of my finger holding it in place, the sliding of the tube against my shirt.

As my desires, digestion and thoughts calmed, so did my heartbeat. Or read that in reverse. Things got quiet. As auditory disturbances cleared away, I was becoming intimate with my interior space, and it became vast.

Listening to the heartbeat is such an intimate affair. ‘Intimacy’ evokes something precious, private, a generosity with ones gaze, attention and time. So I tend to think of intimacy as something small. Indeed, intimate spaces are rarely described as vast or expansive.

Actually listening to the beating of the heart though, for a long time, uninterrupted, is at once grounding and a ride into a vast interior.

Perhaps we will begin amplifying a single heart beat, because it’s what most of us have directly experienced the most. Then we’ll add another, referencing our earliest shared experience of being immersed for 9 months in the sound of our mothers’ and our own.

Then we enter into new territory by adding another (except for twins & the like).

We will add another. And another. And another. And another.

Ways of noticing your heart RIGHT NOW

There are many resources for ‘getting to know’ your heart.

You are your biggest resource, because you can feel & observe your heart.  Right now, as you read this, notice your heartbeat. What else moves?  Once you can sense this, close your eyes (& you may want to turn you back away from this screen) and simply feel your heart.  You’re not trying to effect anything.  It’s more like you’re watching a child play from afar.

Here’s a video from Eric Franklin leading you through another way of noticing your own rhythms.





Know More : about your heart


Did you know that:

  • Choir members who sing together have synchronized heartbeats.
  • The heart is suspended and supported from the spine behind it.
  • When we lay on our backs, our lungs become a pillow for the heart.
  • When you eat or drink something warm, it literally warms your heart? Food and drink that are swallowed slide down the esophagus behind the heart and fill the stomach which is directly beneath it.
  • In utero there was a time when your brain’s surface and your heart’s surface were physically touching.
  • What else?  Add to this list by leaving a comment below…

MOBL’s relevance

Developing a more body-literate society is a multi-tiered challenge. Even while trends in neuroscience, yoga and other embodiment practices are showing us that we can change parts of ourselves previously not accepted as changeable, when it comes to our bodies, the overarching belief remains that “we are who we are.”  Beyond gaining or losing weight, becoming stronger, weaker, more flexible, getting an ‘exercise high’ or ‘aging’, there is a shared belief that our bodies are beyond our own direct knowing. Out-dated ideas about the body are rarely recognized as such. These ideas remain so fixed in our education and culture that they are seamlessly ‘in-corp-orated’ into many facets of our society.  When we ‘update’ ideas about the body, we update our connection with everything around us. As such, increasing body-literacy is a social issue, and yet many people still don’t know about body-literacy.

There’s a vast amount of current knowledge and experiences to be had about embodiment, body-learning and its applications to our society. MOBL gathers this seemingly disparate information under one ‘roof’.  We provide direct experiences of embodiment and amplify existing examples of body-literacy in our culture. By showcasing body-literacy through varied creative means and locations, the public is made aware that it’s out there to know about, and has a resource for their own discoveries.

Why have we begun MOBL?

Why have we begun MOBL? Varied types of movement are missing in our public visual landscape. We’re filling them in.  Likewise, varied types of body-knowledge are missing from our public discourse/what we know. We’re bringing them in. The Museum of Body Literacy (MOBL) feels that the best way to do so is to incite people’s curiosity.

When it comes to our bodies and movement, it is as though we are taught (and teach each other) to speak sentences without ever realizing that there’s an alphabet to be learned first. This begins even as children and continues. While there are countless numbers of applications of embodiment in San Francisco and beyond, there is much to understand, communicate and discover about body-literacy itself–before applying it to personal practices, professional fields and modalities.

MOBL playfully brings to light this underlying fundamental element–body knowledge & experience– that connects so many of the passionate offerings around us.

Be sure to check back in with us, as we’ll be keeping you up-to-date about our progress on our debut Sound-Scape of the Human Heart Exhibit and other projects.

BOOK REVIEW: The Expressiveness of the Body

Shigehisa Kuriyama has written a book with wide arms.   At the beginning of his preface, he summarizes his driving interest in writing this book:  “A…riddle lies at the heart of the history of medicine.”  At the end he elaborates: “The body is unfathomable and breeds astonishingly diverse perspectives precisely because it is a basic and intimate reality.”  Thus, he launches into a painstakingly scholarly, yet creatively woven comparison of two distinct views of the body and of medicine.

The book is divided into three ways of perceiving and understanding the body:  touch, seeing, and being. This approach acknowledges at the outset that medicine was founded on a multifaceted perception of the body based and the bodily senses. Within each of the three main sections are two chapters:  one looks primarily at the Greek view and the other focuses mainly on the Chinese view. Yet within each chapter, the author moves back and forth between these two histories of medicine, giving us a complex story that never completely settles one way or another.  Each view emerges out of a cultural context.  Each view captures an essential truth about the body.  And each view misses or ignores information that the other pays close attention to.

The opening chapter, “Grasping the Language of Life”, acknowledges that the body speaks a language, and that we can use our hands to decipher it. Kuriyama examines in detail the Greek and Chinese views of the palpation of pulse.  In both traditions, the pulse is a window into the state of the body, but the views diverge from there. For the West, there is one pulse.  For the East, there are 12 different ‘pulses’ (6 on each wrist), reflecting the state of all the internal organs.

The second chapter, “The Expressiveness of Words”, illuminates the relationship between language and the body by showing how our language defines our preconceptions:  we tend to see what we name. The Greeks discussed in depth what the words ‘full’ and ‘empty’ meant.  They used words that would be accurate labels for what they assumed were objectively observed events.  The Chinese focused on the way the pulses were perceived – the placement of the fingers and the amount of pressure one used to read the pulse – and then used descriptive language, such as ‘like clouds rolling in the sky’ or ‘like scallion leaves rolled lightly between the fingers’.

In the section “Styles of Seeing”, we are offered examples of Greek and Chinese artwork clearly showing two very different views of the human body.  Greek painting of the body illuminates the muscles in a way that we rarely see in real life, even in great athletes.  Muscularity was interwoven with the Greek sense of identity.  The emphasis on dissection and on anatomy itself is peculiar to the Greeks. Kuriyama carefully dissects the question of “why anatomy?” in a fascinating unraveling of culture, language, and knowledge. We in the Western world take anatomy for granted.  We assume that our knowledge of the body is based on observable, objective fact, and thus anatomy is an unassailable and reliable knowledge.  The roots of Western identity are interwoven with our particular view of what knowing is, which we believe is achieved through external, objective observation.  Once something is known in this way then our knowledge is concrete.

In “The Expressiveness of Colors” Kuriyama describes the Chinese view, which seems to ignore anatomy (in the Western sense) and focuses on texture and color.  Chinese anatomists were also most interested in those bodily aspects that could be measured in numbers corresponding to the greater cosmos, driven by “the ethos of the unified state.”  The Greek anatomists ignored these measurements.  The Chinese doctors were also less interested in structure and more concerned with how things evolve over time.  Also, muscles do not even make an appearance in Chinese medical diagrams.  Instead we see soft and full bodies with clearly marked channels of Qi flow.

In “Styles of Being”, Kuriyama looks at the deeper Western view of the blood as essence, and the broader Chinese view of the body as influenced by winds (seasons, weather, environment.)   The author weaves between the two views thoroughly, asking questions about their similarities and dissimilarities, and sparing us from any hammering home of an academic conclusion.  We are left instead with an expansive sense of the complex nature of being human.

The details of this book may require some wading, but Kuriyama’s ability to hold paradox invites curiosity and a “museum eye”: he asks us to look at the details and contemplate them.  We begin to see medicine as representative of our broader search for knowledge, and, in this light, we also begin to see medicine as a creative and perpetually unfolding form.  Kuriyama’s inquisitive scholarship and delight in his subject — how different cultures observe and describe the world and how this impacts our view of ourselves in our bodies — propels the reader forward in this page-turner of history as inquiry.

The Expressiveness of the Body
By Shigehisa Kuriyama
Zone Books, New York, 1999

Catalyzing Movement For Healthy Aging

Have you watched an infant or young child recently? Notice how he or she vocalizes and moves at the same time in coordinated, whole body responses. Growing old challenges us to recall the vitality of our early development, how we once explored and interacted with our environment.  Moving Into the Circle™ is a somatic based approach to communicating and interacting with elders who are losing memory or the capacity to initiate movement for them selves. The program, sponsored by the educational non-profit, Center for Changing Systems, seeks to: stimulate new responses; create fluid dialogue and interaction; and help elders orient and adapt to challenges they encounter as individuals and within communities.

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