Movement is life. If you’re not taking time each day to move in some pleasurable way, you’re probably not living very fully. Ideally, the types of exercise you choose to engage in should be fun and fulfilling, instilling feelings of peace and happiness, a heightening of your overall sense of well-being. The most beneficial forms of exercise will give you plenty of positive feedback, both physically and psychologically.
All movement experiences—even such fundamental actions as breathing and walking—have the potential for eliciting joy or ecstasy as long as we bring present-moment awareness to bear. Here’s a personal example. Since 1980, I’ve practiced Tai Chi (mostly Yang Style Long Form). Recently I felt inspired to allow myself to spontaneously explore different speeds, breathing patterns and even subtle variations of the form.
In the process, I noticed that if I tune in to where and how my body-energy wants to move, I have a much richer, more fulfilling experience of Tai Chi practice. This seems to require a “listening within”, a quality of mindfulness or meditative receptivity that’s mirrored by the tone and quality of my movements. There is a delicious interplay between surrender to the breath and to the body’s deeper impulses at the same time.
The Therapeutic Side of Movement Exploration
This brings us back to the notion of communicating how we feel through our bodies, as mentioned in Part 1. What I did not mention is how someone trained in Authentic Movement or Continuum Movement can help facilitate the experience of moving from within, and how this can translate into therapeutic insights and breakthroughs.
Deeply healing experiences can be evoked in a therapeutic setting when you wait to discover what your body wants to do and then allow it to move accordingly. People thus “moved” will sometimes describe a larger presence in the room and a sense of being totally supported in their movements, which flow with ease and without pretense or manipulation.
Without any strain, movements are performed that would otherwise require considerable effort. The experience described often entails a feeling of moving with the whole body—even when the movements are small or limited to only a hand or foot.
This meditative or “non-doing” form of movement experience links conscious and unconscious through a process referred to by the eminent psychologist, Carl Jung, as “active imagination.” The process enables us to externalize feelings and images.
“Active imagination is a method of introspection, for observing the stream of interior images,” wrote Jung. “One concentrates one’s attention on some impressive but unintelligible dream image, or on a spontaneous visual impression, and observes the changes taking place in it. Meanwhile, of course, all criticism must be suspended, and the happenings observed and noted with complete objectivity.”
Though Jung held dreams in high regard for therapeutic purposes, he considered active imagination to be an even more effective path to the unconscious. He used all kinds of creative approaches—dancing, singing, acting, mime, games, music making, painting, and modeling with clay—to plumb the meaning-laden depths of active imagination.
The process, in all its variegated expressions, may be seen as a form of meditation which people have used since the dawn of history—primarily through healing and community rituals as well as artistic endeavors—as a way of learning to explore the unknown within oneself, whether this unknown is an outside, immeasurable infinite (a god or goddess) or the unknown selves of inner experience.
“Being Moved”, Witnessing, and the Active Imagination
Expressing active imagination through movement translates into the experience of “being moved.” This is the heart of Authentic Movement, a unique therapeutic approach developed by improvisational dancer Mary Whitehouse in the ’60s and ’70s. Also referred to as “movement in depth,” Whitehouse’s approach is almost entirely self-directed.
“Allowing the impulse [evoked by bodily sensation] to take the form of physical action is active imagination in movement, just as following the visual image is active imagination in fantasy,” wrote Whitehouse in 1963. “It is here that the most dramatic psychophysical connections are made available to consciousness.”
With respect to movement, Whitehouse believed the active imagination was most effectively tapped by a three-part process: (1) kinesthetic awareness, (2) allowing the movement to happen (the tricky part), and (3) making an outer connection to what is happening within. The final step is initially carried out with the help of a witness, a person who observes the movement in a non-judgmental way and reports her observations, images and feelings to the mover after the session.
The witness nonjudgmentally observes the mover—literally what the mover does—and later shares his or her inner experience with the mover. “The witness, especially in the beginning, carries a larger responsibility for consciousness, as she sits to the side of the movement space,” writes Janet Adler, another of Whitehouse’s former students. “She is not ‘looking at’ the person moving; she is witnessing, listening, bringing attention or presence to…the experience of the mover.”
Though a session may begin with the eyes open, the mover eventually closes his or her eyes to bring attention to inner movement impulses, sensations, emotions, memories, images and fragments of dreams. Having the eyes closed when we move magnifies the capacity for deep listening and inner focus, rather than being distracted by the innumerable things that surround us. It also helps us open up to our unconscious and tap into kinesthetic reality.
Authentic Movement for Insight and Healing
Some movement therapists use music and touch to further open the kinesthetic gateways and help people overcome their anxieties and resistances toward emoting spontaneously through the body. Because it can seem threatening to be out in the middle of a studio floor and close your eyes with someone you don’t know, music can be helpful. Some therapists also use crafts, games and other “inner child” activities to further complement the movement work.
As a way to deepen our self-understanding, Authentic Movement enables us to explore our inner life through the most direct means available: by tapping our capacities for motion, touch, vision, and hearing—the same capacities through which our first learning and experience of self and the world took place.
“Movement is the mode of expression of an infant and child before words are available,” says Durham, NC-based psychotherapist Janice Geller, a long-time purveyor of Authentic Movement and Body-Mind Centering. “It is our first language. As a non-verbal form of expression, it can help us access memories formed at a time when we communicated how we felt through our physical gestures and movements, long before we had words.”
Geller and Adler both believe preverbal memories are more effectively accessed with movement-oriented approaches. This seems particularly true in recalling the child-parent interactions of early life. By attending to the world of bodily felt sensations, the mover is able to recreate the experience of being an infant swimming in a sensory-motor world. The presence of a therapist enables reenactment and reintegration of the earliest preverbal relationships.
Self-understanding is further deepened by our capacity for mindfulness, or witnessing our own primary experience. Eventually, through the interaction of witness and mover, we develop our inner witness to a high degree. Over time, through the experience of being witnessed over and over, the mover may internalize the quality of the therapeutic relationship, and a compassionate inner witness is consummated.
** Be sure to see Part 1 of this article, “Movement from Within, Mindfulness in Motion”
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© 2017, Mark Nathaniel Mead