Updated: Feb 11, 2020
I (Cathleen) recently attended a movement meditation retreat that utilized the 5Rhythms dance methodology. It inspired me to write about a fascination I've been tending to the past few years and wish to share in hopes it might illuminate some of your own story and the possibilities available in embodied therapeutic work.
I have loved dance for as long as I can remember. Even before asking to take piano lessons as a kid, I wanted to do ballet. Ballet captured my imagination; the focus and storytelling, beauty and intensity fascinated me. I felt awkward in my ballet class. I was physically bigger than most of the kids and less graceful according to my own estimation. My family moved to another state, or the class ended, I can’t remember which happened first. I got involved in other things and didn’t dance for six or seven years. As an adolescent I danced in show choir, which involved lots of choreographed movement. In those years I began to sense how disconnected from my body I had become in late childhood and pre-adolescence. I needed to be coached in rediscovering the relationship between inner sensation and how it aligned with (or diverged from) a specific gesture I was trying to emulate. What I mean by this is that sometimes what I felt I was doing with my body as I tried to mirror a movement was not actually what was happening. Surely teenage bodies are difficult to coach in all cases because so much is changing within them, but I saw that some of my peers were more connected (and some more disconnected) with their movements. I experienced both curiosity and shame with this discovery. This process of relearning to channel my felt experience into a gesture that represented what I was trying to create was difficult; it happened in a setting among peers with results and group success riding on each of our ability to get movements “right”. So while I am now much more drawn to unchoreographed, spontaneous ways of moving, the immersion into choreographic communication as a teenager was a catalyst for a long-term, evolving relationship with my body.
In my early twenties I dove deeply into classical music study and, through that and through significant clinical and personal relationships, I became gradually more in touch with how my emotions interacted with specific inner sensation. I began to connect undifferentiated gut sensations with particular inner knowledge (“I sense this, so I must be feeling that”). While this self-sensing and identification may seem like a basic intrapsychic process for some, I have spoken with many people like me who grew up surrounded by firmly rational ways of being that disenfranchised emotive and embodied ways of being. As a young adult I reveled periodic opportunities to be out with friends dancing in a dark bar, or at a wedding when music was blasting and no one was looking… I could dance however I wanted and loved it. To this day, moments of abandonment in movement have been some of my most joyful and whole-hearted.
As adulthood continues to unfold, I feel drawn to more and deeper opportunities to move. Movement is one of the properties of being alive. So often therapy focuses on inner movement of emotion and thought, or interpersonal movement in our significant relationships, but does so while we sit still in verbal rather than embodied space. The type of therapeutic processes that I have observed to be most impactful, those with lasting results, have included embodied processes like active music-making, imaginal play, and movement. I hope to write soon about current research that indicates somatic, or body-based, processing is a necessary part of trauma recovery, but for now it will suffice to say that efforts to create more inner space and dynamic stillness without leveraging movement in the therapeutic process are not sustainable or in alignment with human psychophysiology. Opportunities to be in motion in subtle and apparent ways is required for a more direct experience of moment-to-moment reality and for greater authenticity in relationships.
I incorporate movement into work with clients in several ways. Over the course of verbal dialogue, significant gestures emerge that have symbolic value. A gesture could be as simple as a deep exhale or sharp inhale, or could be something more overt like a wiggling foot or shaking of the head, limbs, or entire body in response to an activating memory or interaction. I listen to non-verbal communication with the same attention that I listen to verbal and sound communication. I encourage clients to notice what is happening in their bodies as we dialogue in words or music. Does the gesture or the sensation have a story to tell if we listen? Can we slow a gesture down, stay with it, and learn what it is communicating? Or perhaps there is an image that describes a specific sensation we can explore in our verbal, imaginal, or musical realm. Extending curiosity and compassion to our bodies is the first step to making them a valued part of the therapeutic process. As we work together, I partner with you in words, creativity, and embodiment to understand and express whatever it is that moves you. It is brave and good work, and bears precious fruit.