Mariko Tanabe

Mariko Tanabe

Featured in the Mars chapter in Agents of Evolution

The Evolutionary Path of Mars + Non-Doing

The Mars path of evolution requires becoming incredibly astute about your own body. Not everyone will be an athlete, but Mars benefits from studying the body’s movements and patterns and flows, where things get stuck, where things erupt, where things pool, where they exit. Knowing the body can help to funnel all our life energy, or “Chi,” in productive ways.

Different movement forms have been employed by many civilizations throughout time—movement forms from East Asia like Qigong, (pronounced Chi•gung,) or yogic asana practice from India—that help practitioners work with their own body’s energy. Newer movement forms have sprung up here in the West as well, many of them based in part on these older forms.

Mariko Tanabe is a practitioner and teacher of one such newer system called Body-Mind Centering, developed by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. Mariko and I have studied together in various communities of self-development practice. I have often been struck by a quality of effortlessness and relaxation that Mariko brings to group spaces, the way she “embodies” poise inside stressful or tense situations.

When I asked Mariko how she keeps her equanimity with the group even when things get hard, and not do what I usually do which is tighten and clam up, she told me about a Body-Mind Centering practice called “yielding.”

In yielding, you essentially open to a state of “non-doing.” You allow yourself to stop defending yourself from gravity. You give yourself fully to the Earth. You yield your mass to what is beneath you, and in doing so you find that relationship, in the moment, between self and gravity, between self and the environment.

Yielding differs from collapsing. Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen explains that in yielding, there is actually a spontaneous increase of tone on the side of you that is in contact with something other than space.

“When we collapse, we lose contact. When we give up, we let gravity take over and then we are collapsed. But when we respond by feeling this increase in tone, it will support our rising away from the Earth. There’s a rebound.” ~Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen

This rebound is what I witnessed Mariko embodying in group settings. As a dancer and choreographer, Mariko knew Bainbridge Cohen’s tone principle so well in her body that it translated into her life and relationships. Whether on the dance floor or on a Zoom call, she was able to move into moments of tension and maintain contact by becoming present with herself and leaning in. Instead of collapse or destruction, there was rebound, fresh energy, new possibility.

She says, “When we yield, our hearts can soften, our blood can flow to better guide our actions.”

Mariko remembers a moment when she received a profound teaching about yielding. Many years into the planning of a project, she felt the original plan for the project was no longer working. She was conflicted about what to do and turned to Bonnie, who was mentoring her at the time. Bonnie simply put her fingertips on Mariko’s chest, ever so gently, and said: “Just yield, Mariko.. . . Just yield.. . . ” and after a long pause, “then you will know what you truly need to do.”

Mariko’s way of being in the world fundamentally changed after this gift from her teacher.

Practicing various movement forms over years also helps develop our body’s capacity to withstand the arising of stronger Mars emotions like fear, or anger, or competitiveness, or jealousy, or even contempt. These emotions course through the body and create physiological shifts. Having trust in the body to tolerate the discomfort strong emotions bring goes a long way toward not reacting in ways we’ll regret later. Being able to sit with discomfort allows us to move through the trauma responses of fight, flight, and freeze, and instead access the calm and balance essential for staying present.

When we start to become aware of energy patterns in our bodies over a period of years, in moments of anxiety, distress, or conflict, we become capable of adjusting the flow of our energy for a positive net effect on the situation.