Moving Through the Body - working with emotions though movement.
by Anna Murray Preece
(Extract from Feeling Wisdom, by Rob Preece and published by Shambala)
To this point we have been looking at the transformation of our feeling and emotional life and the underlying energy winds. It is helpful to recognise that as feelings arise, they also need to be “digested” or allowed to move through the body. When my oldest son was a baby, he had an incredible way of expressing joy and excitement. His body would vibrate, and with his arms stuck out in front of him, he would emit an excited gurgle. It seemed to me to be a mixture of laughter, pure satisfaction, and what one might call “feeling the force.” It was wonderful to witness total joy without inhibition and his capacity to allow energy simply to move and flow through him.
This direct link between feelings and the body becomes very apparent when you look at any young and healthy child. We can see this in the immediate response of thwarted toddlers, stamping their feet or lying on the ground kicking and screaming to express how they feel. It is natural to cry when upset or to want to hide when frightened. Gaining a sense of control over emotions is part of growing up, however, this can be a mixed blessing and often a lot can be lost in the process. Of course we need to know boundaries and what is appropriate, but the danger is that we lose the capacity to allow feelings to move and release through the body. For many of us, this suppression is a quest to appear normal, for others it can be a frozen response to severe trauma. It is also a reflection of the lack of support and general understanding in our society of the need to allow emotions their natural place. There can be a lot of fear around the expression of strong feelings, especially grief and anger. Even joy is often only expressed after a large dose of alcohol! As a result, many people have become so tight and held in their body that it can be devastating to health and general well-being.
Connecting with emotions through bodywork and movement can help to re-establish physiological links between emotions and the body. How one might work with this varies with each individual depending upon their capacity to tolerate being in connection with their body and feelings. Someone who has experienced a lot of trauma may have a tendency to dissociate from their body and it can take time, care and sensitivity to begin to re-connect. The relationship between body and emotions can bring much vulnerability so it is important that the process be held with care and compassion.
There are many ways of working with emotions through movement. My work is an integration of my background of training in "Move into Life" practice, "Rhythmic Healing" and psychotherapy. This largely takes the form of spontaneous, non-stylized movement to facilitate the embodiment of what is arising moment to moment. One of the core principles of Rhythmic Healing is to support a sense of trust in one’s own rhythm. Through this we can increase our capacity to be with ourselves and our body's energy without a need to push or hold back. This brings us back to our core nature as well as connecting us more deeply with the rhythm of the land we live on. This supports the capacity to listen and open to the natural dynamic of energy in the body and allow its expression through movement and stillness. This can be done alone, once a capacity to stay with a process has been developed. My experience, however, is that it is possible to explore more fully when someone is present who is experienced in holding the process with a quality of love, care, and compassion.
In order to re-establish or deepen our capacity for this listening, it is helpful to be able to develop mindful awareness of sensation and feeling in the body, a capacity to “receive oneself.” It is then possible to begin to open to the natural impulses for movement, whether they are gentle and subtle or more physically expressive. This is a natural process. We are moving all the time in response to our environment. Our bodies are highly attuned to do this, both as a survival instinct and as a necessity in our daily lives. With practice we can become more present and aware of how we respond and how our body moves in relationship to our internal world as well as what is around us.
Re-connecting with our own rhythm and timing allows us to feel when and how we want to move. Much of life these days is spent being out of relationship both to the natural rhythm within ourselves and to the rhythms of nature and the earth. Learning to sense what needs to move and when enables us to honour an intimate relationship with ourself. This intimate relationship is not so different from any other intimate relationship, in that it is fed by feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Building a relationship with ourself that allows us to receive nourishment in this way encourages our capacity to know when our energy is flowing in a healthy direction. This is a natural and innate gift we all have, but in the highly structured world in which we live, it often suppressed from an early age. For example, as children we may not have been allowed to stop eating even when we were full and required to eat everything on our plate. We may have been made to sit still in class even though energy was coursing through our body and we needed to move and express ourselves physically. Many of us have been taught to ignore what satisfies and nourishes. Rebuilding this capacity to feel for and follow what is satisfying may not always be easy, but I find it to be very profound. It brings a gift of alignment with ourselves that draws on a natural capacity that, once re-awoken, can have a huge effect on how we live our lives providing more resource to help us manage even difficult emotions.
As we increasingly become more in touch with ourselves we develop our awareness of the felt sense. This can enable us to be simultaneously in touch with our body while witnessing emotions as they arise. As we decrease our identification with emotions and create greater spaciousness, it can be easier to allow whatever is happening to unfold. In this way we drop beneath habitual movement patterns that may have previously inhibited our flow of energy.
A simple example of this is how tension in the shoulders can hold feelings that have been given little space to be expressed. Connecting to these feelings through body awareness and movement can enable a dynamic process of deep unraveling in the body and the whole being. As the capacity to be with this process increases, we will discover the ability to allow emotion to be released and transformed. When the emotional and physical connection becomes stronger, there can be a natural sense of what is needed, be it a gentle shake of the arm or a more vigorous movement. The potential here is for the energy to arise and be expressed in a way that naturally results in an embodied release that is both satisfying and a true letting go.
One of the beauties of connecting to the body through movement is that it is not always necessary to understand what is happening intellectually. In this letting go, the body can begin to allow a healing process to occur spontaneously, often going beneath what is conscious and taking us into what has hitherto been unknown. Simply moving can help us to let let go of our thoughts as J describes: “I arrived feeling distracted and deeply tired. I sorely needed the opportunity to come back into relationship with my body. Although I noticed the usual tendency for my mind to take charge and make my movements graceful or purposeful, I gradually allowed myself to settle and be moved by my body in an instinctual way. Soon my thoughts were taking more of a backseat.”
With those who are new to using movement as a tool for healing, it often helps to give a more specific focus. This could be an aspect of the body, such as the muscles or skin, or a particular part, such as the spine or feet. Focusing in this way can help to ground the process and gives many people a sense of security and structure from which to work. In observing someone move, it often becomes clear where energy is held or where there is a particular strength. For example, J began to notice that her thighs were a place of strength and stability and putting her attention on them helped her to be more grounded and in touch with herself. Becoming aware in this way opens up a resource that can be taken into daily life and can be very empowering.
Facilitating a larger group often requires a more generalised approach and more specific guidelines. During a recent retreat there were a number of people in the group, notably most of the men, whose movements I noticed had a particularly linear quality. I suggested that they explore moving in a more circular fashion. This brought about some amusement but also new ways of perceiving their inner processes and what was around them. It gave them a means to open to a different aspect of themselves that had not been so apparent before. It was wonderful to see them twirling around the room with a sense of liberation in their energy.
Working with emotions through movement can result in very dynamic physical expression or a deep sense of stillness. It can also facilitate a connection with subtler movements of feeling and energy. When the space is held safely, it can offer the possibility of healing deep trauma. J described a process of “re-membering” her body as she became reacquainted with herself through loving touch, healing the brusque, offhand way that she had been treated and touched as a child. L went through a profound process of allowing herself her own rhythm. It became clear that not having to move was the important thing, and what was needed was to be allowed the space to let movement come in its own time. She said, “After years of working on my deep patterning of ‘doing’ to get loved and accepted, I am now finally getting the message into my bones and flesh to allow what I long for: just to be there with and for myself while being in the presence of others. Not only is it okay to do nothing and just be, but that doing nothing is powerfully transformational.”
I am always inspired to hear when someone begins to find how she or he can use movement as a resource in daily life. K described how she deals with waking in the night with anxiety. “Basically, I wriggle around, but in a slow way, flexing, stretching, and generally moving all of my body in a way that feels very relaxing and comforting. Then I stop moving and relax completely and monitor how the anxiety feels. Mostly, it has dissipated. If not, then I repeat the movement until I feel completely relaxed and able to fall back into sleep again.”
There are two dimensions to this work that I would like to describe. One I will call the technical and the other the transpersonal or “spiritual.” When I first started working with people I was more oriented toward using methods and techniques that enabled a deepening connection and experience of the body. This echoed my own positive experience of relearning to connect with myself in this way. Through my own journey I was able to enjoy my relationship with my body and find expression, healing, clarity, and inspiration. My aim was to feel more “embodied,” to be able to stay more in touch with myself as I moved through the world. Being in touch with my own processes as they arose, I discovered, also enhanced my ability to be in touch with what was around me and increased my sensitivity to others.
Over the years of working with movement in relation to emotions, what has become more and more clear to me is the relationship between the body and what we might call source, spirit, or the transpersonal. There is a significant value in the connection between the grounding quality of our relationship with the body through sensation and feeling, and opening to something beyond our secular understanding. It is of course the case that every spiritual path has its body aspect, be it yoga, tai chi, or any other form. What is not so obvious in these paths, however, is how to incorporate and work with emotional states in a way that our Western psyche can relate to. I have found the degree of disconnection to the body that many people experience benefits from this more direct approach. What is vital, however, is that the spirit is not left out. More than that, the process of directly opening to this quickens the process. This has been enhanced for me through the training I received in Rhythmic Healing and has evolved through the work I have done since with individuals.
I feel that the depth that my clients now reach in sessions is very much supported by this. Connecting to the wider holding field or the transpersonal, gives me a greater capacity to open my heart and be present with compassion. I feel this is the result of allowing myself to ask for and receive support. What might be happening or causing this is beyond my ordinary understanding, but what I feel is that placing myself in relationship to a spiritual presence allows me to sit in a truer place. It encourages a sense of humility that knows the healing is not from me but from something beyond. It reminds me of my small place in the world, allowing me to be a conduit for energy rather than just a facilitator. Bodywork and movement can be effective without this relationship; however, my experience of this deeper connection is that very remarkable and beautiful shifts can be made.
(Not to be copied without permission of the author.)
(For information on Feeling Wisdom go to www.mudra.co.uk