Bowspring technique: interview with Fiona Gordon

Interview with Fiona Gordon, dance pedagogue based in Hamburg.

Fiona mixes Bowspring technique and contemporary dance. She has kindly agreed to answer my questions to help my understanding of fascia and movement on an experiential level. Thank you Fiona!

Marie: When did you start with Bowspring?

Fiona: I started Bowspring in March 2020.

Marie: How did it change your way of moving/dancing? Of relating to yourself?

Fiona: It gave me a completely different relationship to my body awareness.
-Whilst moving, in a more routine way; riding my bike or doing daily tasks, I became aware of my double S-curve and the expansion of my ribcage. This enabled my body to absorb the double S-curved shape of the spine much better, than just thinking about it whilst training. I observed that my body felt energized longer and old pains that used to nag me became less with time.
-Whilst dancing I became aware of how, in the past, I had constantly forced pressure on my spinal disks, causing great damage to them, through using the C- curve and trying to elongate my spine in a straight line and through stretching wrongly. Until I had discovered Bowspring I had become afraid of dancing in a free and full out way, because I had lost trust in my spine. Through Bowspring I have embodied the principles so that I can use them whist dancing. My spine, central channel, has become so strong. I only work with the natural curves of my spine, the double S-curve, and I avoid the C-curve the best I can, especially if I am weight bearing. Through this awareness, I have re-discovered my freedom to dance again. I have regained the trust in my body!
The awareness of the radiant heart and the Bio-tensegrity has given me a lot more lightness in my movement. I feel my arms move with a lot more ease. This is through the awareness of lifting my arms more from the latissimus and using my armpits more, giving my shoulder muscles less work to do. I am constantly aware of the expansion of my ribcage, which helps me elavate movements with less tension from the muscles. I feel how I expand more from the inside by giving my bones more directional signals and allow a softness from the outside, so that my muscles and my fascia hug the bones.
What changes did it make relating to myself? It has healed me!!! Not only physically but also my soul!!! When Bowspring came “into my life” I had experienced hernia in my lower spine and had been suffering for about 13 years with that. I can now say that my back feels healed since I commit so many hours to the bowspring practice. It has made me much more mindful in what I do, giving me a better concentration. My soul had been very damaged just a few months before I came in contact with Bowspring and it definitely helped me to get through these times more conciously. It gave me an inner strength to cope with my fate and to find acceptance.

Marie: How do you understand fascia? (physically as well as theoretically)

Fiona: I understand fascia as being a net surrounding our whole body, holding the whole body together with the connective tissue. The fascia contains more pain nerve endings than actual muscles do, so it’s kind of like one big sensory organ. A healthy fascia has a structure like a net and it is flexible, supple and it glides. If it becomes stressed it tightens up and gets knotted in its form. This I can physically determine now, when I feel out of balance, I feel where my fascia is tightening and realise how my whole body fascia net reacts. I used to roll on a fascia roll daily and I felt the benefits of that sometimes, but also other days not at all. Bowspring seems to give me the chance to unknot anything that might be tensed through this inner body expansionand it’s whole body awareness in every single movement. We never just concentrate on one area, each movement or pose/pulse concentrates on the whole net, giving the fascia it’s healthy structure back with each movement.

The idea of the tensegrity began with the architecture as it became clear that things don’t always have to be stacked on top of each other to find a strength, but that dome-shaped networks have a strength but also can give more support, through distributing the weight differently. Bio-tensegrity means tension and integration in the body. The bones don’t actually touch each other, they are swimming in a toned connective tissue, fascia. There is a constant push and pull, expansion and engagement between the bones and the fascia, connective tissue. The bones are harder, seen as compressive elements that push outwards and the skin, the fascia and the muscles hug around the bones inwards. We try to get a balanced tonus throughout the whole body with this principle.

Marie: Did the Bowspring training have an impact on how you relate and dance with others?

Fiona: That’s quite difficult to answer, because I only learnt Bowspring during the pandemic, so I haven’t had the possibility to move together with others yet!
But I do think through the concentration on the mindfulness that Bowspring has given me, I guess I might be more sensitive, communicating better with a partner

Marie: Can you explain a bit more the theory behind the spring loading principle? Which component is needed in order to make it happen? (behind the question I wonder how it can be expanded to various structures, styles, different configurations)

Fiona: To what I have understood till now, it’s all about the focus on the inner body expanding against the steady isometric engagement of the myofascial drawing in towards the core along the length of the torso and into the bones in theextremities. It’s like an optimal template of a dynamic posture-“posture of readiness”-ribcage always expanded, from the lowest ribs to the upper back, hips are always anterioly tipped, glutes are firm pulling up towards the sacrum and lower back, all sides of the arms and legs are always fully toned and never hyper-extended and the belly is always lengthened upwards and downwards.

There is a movement called the “Spring-Load”,in the Bowspring practice, this is the first backward and foreward movement on the knees. The spring load is a basic position and represents, as all movements do, all the principles from the Bowspring concept.

  1. Let’s begin with the hands: You have the form of the “Spring Hands”, the base of the palm squeezed together, the middle of the hand and the knuckles lifted and each pad of every finger and the sides of the hands well connected into the floor.
  2. The elbows are slightly bent to the outside and frontwards, keeping a small hollow on the inside of the elbow. This activates the Latissimus.
  3. The feeling of the helium-filled balloons under the armpits, allow the pecturalis major engagement, together with the latissimus.
  4. The expansion of the ribcage, using the principles of the Radiant Heart helps to lift the weight away from the gravity and gives the shape a 3-dimensional energy.
  5. The pull of the hands towards the knees as you pulse front, together with the breath in, using rotations in the upper and lower arm muscles, engages the whole torso, wrapping the soft muscles around the compressed bones.
  1. The push of the top of the foot in the floor (using “Hero feet”) and the drag of the heels backwards engages the whole of the posterior chain in the body, initiating the pulse backwards, with the breath out. This especially helps the gluteus maximus to become engaged and with the adductors rotating inwards, this encourages the sitting bones to open upwards and outwards, creating more tone in the pelvic floor.
  2. In the spring load we are constantly aware of the double S-curve in the spine. We feel the central channel engaging, expanding, extending and evolving.
  3. Our radiant heart opens up the sternum to the front and the shadow heart stays open, with the shoulder blades opening outwards and directing the muscles at the top of the neck outwards.
  4. The 3 x apple (Head, Chest and pelvis floating) principle is constantly present as are the tapering of the waist and neck (like apple cores)
  5. The stomach muscles stay relaxed and they become elongated through the directional pull…down towards the pubic-bone and up towards the sternum.
  6. The feeling of the bio-tensegrity is constantly present throughout the whole practice.

Marie: I have studied a bit about fascia, as a massage therapist and Contact Improvisation practitioner, as well as reading some scientific articles, but I have never come across the Bow principle. I have heard of forces of compressions and tensions working together to create a stable and flexible structure. Looking at tensegrity structures, the compression elements seem to be linear and not curvy. I understand that a bow is both flexible and strong. There is an arch because the tension created by the string bends the more rigid structure. But to me this Bow principle and curvature hasn’t been mentioned so much in fascial research.

Can you talk a bit more about the Bow principle and curvy trajectories within the Bowspring practice?

Fiona: The understanding of the domes, arches or bows in the body have an anti-gravity effect. The sides of the domes or bows going in one direction, normally (in the hands the feet, the diaphragm, the armpits- other examples of domes/bows are in the pelvic floor or the back of the knees, in the inside of the elbows) and the middle of the bows growing in the opposite direction. This creates a feeling of volume, or spaces within the body, which gives the feeling of creating spaces instead of cramping the muscles and closing the joints and this, in turn, elevates us, giving us this feeling of having anti-gravity. It indicates the action of toning of the myofascia. If you forget to engage one dome then it changes the balance in the whole body. The double S-curve in the spine is working with the natural shape of the spine, trying to keep its original curvy form and then Bowspring works with that natural form! There must be some reason that our spine is formed in that way and isn’t just a straight line! Obviously this gives the spine more flexibility and support, balance and stability and gives the spine a “spring-like” structure and acts as a shock absorber. If it were straight up and down, the spine would take tremendous wear and tear from the constant vibration and shock it gets daily, creating fractures or even worse. It also distributes the weight and offsets the weight of gravity. Each curve in the spine balances out that area, where different muscle groups can bear the burden of balance and stability. This is really necessary in movement, like when we are lifting, bending, turning, twisting, this always requires the spine to move in harmony with the rest of the body.

The curves in the spin, take the pressure away from the individual disks. This is because only a portion of the weight from the disk above is placed on the disk below, so allowing the disks to act as a buffer and don’t have to just shoulder the whole weight.

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