Somatic Yoga

‘Facilitating meta-learning in somatic yoga’ is a report by Annette van Zwoll on Caroline Ribbers’ intervention at  European Dancehouse Network Atelier on Dance Training, organised at Dance Ireland in Dublin on 29/30 June 2018.

‘I don’t know yet’

Caroline Ribbers

What if you don’t know? You try to find out. While being active in the Dutch dance field as co-ordinator of the Master Choreography in Tilburg, choreographer and dancer, Caroline Ribbers got pregnant and got a baby girl named Nova. Nova was diagnosed with a heart deficiency and Ribbers stopped all her professional activity at first. A life changing experience and when Nova got better, a new career lay ahead of her. Currently, Ribbers mixes her work as somatic yoga teacher and re-designer of the curriculum for Fontys Dance Academy in Tilburg, the Netherlands, with a PhD reseach.

The research pivots around the pedagogical problem: how to empower students to take ownership in somatic yoga? How to facilitate meta-learning (learning about learning, autonomous learningbeing aware and taking control over one’s own process, autonomous)?

To stay of relevance for a work-field that demands much more self-regulation and initiative, Fontys is in the process of developing a new curriculum that shifts its focus from a teacher and outcome centred paradigm to a student development paradigm. The five core principles are focus on a whole person development, working healthy, craftsmanship, education in motion and an inclusive learning environment. These principles also imply students responsibility and ownership of learning. Ribbers research therefore not only relates to her somatic yoga classes, but can be a possible methodology implemented in the whole curriculum.


Ribbers designed a prototype that she will repeatedly test and sharpen within her educational settings of Fontys.

Introducing meta-learning carefully and progressively
  • by creating a safe learning environment
  • by alternating between learning subject (the student) & subject of learning approach (the learning system)
  • by alternating between implicit and explicit meta learning (exploration between making the meta-learning explicitly visible through e.g. feedback sessions and assessments or weaving it through more subtle and gentle)
Connecting somatic yoga to other curricular activities

Somatic yoga was not part of the curriculum, but is becoming so. The aim is to have it function as a practice of meta-learning which the students can also implement in their other classes.

Somatic yoga self-learning tool-kit

How that will look like is still to be decided upon, but you can think of concept maps, visuals and learning strategies based on the principles and philosophies from somatic yoga that can be applied by the learner as best suited to him/her.

Incorporating witness-consciousness

Creating a witness within yourself that can step back, doesn’t get carry away and watch over oneself with distance. Challenges: how to introduce students to it and how to apply it in teaching practices?

A peer meta-learning strategy

Facilitating an environment in which peers foster meta-learning and share their somatic self-learning strategies and reflect on it without the teacher being involved.

The testing of the prototype has just started and so far it has been challenging to put learning about learning on the foreground. Students expect something within the context of this institution and have to address skills that are normally not addressed within the educational system. Changing the culture and way of working goes slow, even with the principles of the new curriculum set out, but the facilitation of Fontys of this research underlines the importance given to it. There is still a lot uncertain, but Ribbers is patient, takes her time, and keeps returning back to the process to gain more and more info.