Bodies Becoming Conscious – Body Mind Experience in Authentic Movement
In: Body Memory, Metaphor and Movement. Edited by Sabine C. Koch, Thomas Fuchs, Michela Summa and Cornelia Müller. John Benjamins Publishing Company 2011.
The re-discovery and integration of body and bodily-felt experience as well as the connection between different levels of processing are essential parts of the practice of Authentic Movement (AM).
Memories and regression can be experienced as more “whole” by adding formerly unconscious or forgotten bodily-felt aspects. Embodying metaphors may lead to a direct experience of their structure. The integration of different levels of experience can be furthered through metaphors which support a holistic understanding of the body-mind process as well as the communication between mover and witness.
The BodyMind Approach (TBMA) facilitates the connection and sense-making between body movement, sensation, imagination, feeling and cognition for patients suffering Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS) (Payne 2009a, 2009b).
Keywords: authentic movement, memory, metaphor, body-mind experience, The BodyMind Approach
When Johnson (2007) is talking about “bodily disappearance” the “recessive body” or “background disappearance”, he is arguing that many of our bodily processes, our perceptive organs, much of our sensory-motor system and our internal organs, are vital to making experience possible, consciously accessible. Thus we rely on the body functioning without necessarily feeling how this function is taking place. Johnson concludes that “The principal result of these forms of bodily disappearance is our sense that our thoughts, and even our feelings, go on somehow independent of our bodily process” (Johnson, 2007, p. 6).
Zitt (2008) describes another kind of body disappearance contrasted by the ever growing attention on body appearance in the media and personal lives.
“The body.. is getting a great amount of attention in Western society and culture.. while at the same time the sensual perception of body sensations and basic bodily needs seem to disappear’ ” (Zitt, 2008, p.39, translated by author).
Under this influence, the body is presented with a new set of expectations to fit the standards of health and beauty promoted by mass media. At the same time it appears to have lost its meaning as a working body, and the awareness of one‟s physical well-being is increasingly ignored. The sensitive, feeling and knowing body is rarely taken into account on either the grounds of natural condition or cultural reality. Nevertheless, a large number of people are seeking a different approach to their bodies through sports, yoga, meditation etc. In the therapies, this seeking is reflected by a growing attention paid to the arts and body-based therapies.
There, the feeling and sensing body returns to the focus of attention. We are eager to re-learn focussing and relying on the resource of the body‟s natural knowledge.
“Trusting the experience of the body is the hardest because most of us don‟t feel the body. I think that‟s why we keep being more and more removed from the body because it‟s not seeable in a way that is valued in our culture” (Sullwold 2007, p. 49).
Authentic Movement, as an approach to self-exploration, intends to create a space for hidden, unconscious and sensitive personal themes to be explored. By being movement-based, it is creating a space for the “hidden” body. In the process of allowing the mover to connect to body sensations, thoughts, feelings and needs equally, some of the above effects of the „appearance emphasised‟ pre-occupation with the body might be reduced.
Authentic Movement (AM) aims to “increase connections between body, mind and spirit” (Payne, 2006, p.161).
The approach, originally named „moving from within‟ (Whitehouse, 1979), was first developed by American dance therapist, dancer and teacher Mary Whitehouse. Her own Jungian analysis and interest in Jungian studies influenced her work, so Authentic Movement is closely associated with Jung‟s concept of active imagination. Due to it‟s reliance on spontaneous movement and self-directness it can also be viewed as a form of free association in movement (Payne, 2006).
The ground form of Authentic Movement involves two people, termed „mover‟ and „witness‟, who usually meet in a studio or another safe and quiet environment offering enough space for movement. The movement part of the practice involves no use of music or props other than a cushion to sit on and some blankets if they should be needed.
The role of the mover is to descend into a process that is comparable to active imagination or free association. After a warm up and agreement on time frame, she is closing her eyes and turns her focus inward to any body sensation, feeling, thought or image arises. There is no instruction or thematic aim to a movement sequence. On the contrary, movers are encouraged to stay congruent to their experience and let the body take the lead in exploring upcoming themes. These threads can then be followed or dismissed whenever it feels appropriate, in movement or stillness (Payne, 2006) with the eyes kept closed. Stillness can be experienced just as meaningful as movement in this context, dismissing an impulse as important as following it.
One mover describes her descent into the process like this:
“ Hm..it´s always different. Sometimes I have reacted to inner images, sometimes there was nothing, just emptiness. Sometimes there was at twitch of muscles or the arm just suddenly started to move. That can be very different. ” (Interviewee FC, Konopatsch 2005, p.56, translation by author).
A movement sequence can last between just a few minutes up to half an hour or more. In group settings, longer sequences are used frequently. Consequently, usually more than one theme emerges in a session. As the process is not shaped by expectation or direction, it could be best described as an ongoing stream of sensations and ideas that, just like in active imagination, might lead to unexpected insights ‟that means, I embody these images, then this is not right anymore. Then I let go. It’s an ongoing trying ´Where am I` without losing myself” (Interviewee FA, Konopatsch 2005, p.58, translation by author).
The role of the witness is usually taken by the facilitator/teacher. In a group setting participants also act as witnesses for other group members. The witness sits in stillness in the presence of the mover‟s experience. She follows the mover‟s physical movements as well as her own inner process in response to what she is seeing. She is also keeping the time, signalling the beginning and end of a movement sequence, so that the mover can slowly return and open her eyes.
From a witness‟s notes: “One mover is on her belly, tapping a rhythm with her hands. ..Clicking a rhythm with her fingers. Then she stretches one arm out, directed towards me. I imagine she is saying, come on, join!” (Extract from author‟s personal journal).
After moving, transition is an optional part of an Authentic Movement session. It is a time where neither mover nor witness speak yet, but may individually engage in writing, drawing or other creative expression. Some movers also use this time to meditate. The witness can take notes while still attending to her task as time-keeper and facilitator. The mover may use this time to reflect within creative expression which can facilitate her personal processing. Material from transition can be taken into the verbal sharing if the mover wishes to do so.
After moving, mover and witness sit together to speak. The mover has the opportunity to share significant elements of the movement experience as she speaks first about her specific remembered movements, connecting them then with images, feelings etc. that accompanied the movement.
Then witness speaks with unconditional positive regard (Rogers 1973), carefully selecting those aspects of her own experience that respond to the elements already mentioned by the mover. Adler refers to the importance of a witness who is aware of her own personal history and her boundaries (Adler 2002). Great care is also taken in the way experiences are put into words, especially by the witness who speaks in the present tense and owns her projections and interpretations by a strict discipline regarding the verbal format. By speaking in the present tense and other verbal language structures help to ensure emotional safety for the mover. As a consequence, processes of transference and counter-transference become transparent for both mover and witness, furthering the understanding of their individual process.
Authentic Movement is mostly used in a group setting. Within the group, participants can take on a set of different roles and change from being a mover to becoming witness for another one in the group whilst the facilitator remains meta-witness for the group as a whole. The number of movers or witnesses for a set movement sequence may vary, allowing the group to explore the effects of these variations on communication, responsibility and verbal exchange.
Closing their eyes at the beginning of a movement session, movers exclude visual input and turn their focus inward. By turning away from the dominant levels of conscious every-day experience, space and attention is given to what we may call “body wisdom” to unfold.
Beginners in Authentic Movement practice, start by learning how to pay attention to their body sensations, feelings or thoughts that may eventually turn into an impulse to move. Authentic Movement is suitable for participants with a strong sense of self and probably some former experience of therapy or self-exploration. In applied approaches such as The BodyMind Approach- teaching body awareness can be a vital part of the work alongside the mover-witness experience. Practicing inner listening is promoting a new focus on body experience. The mover is becoming aware of the body in connection to emotional states. The emerging movement is not restricted by any frame, technique or purpose. Movers are encouraged to follow their own individual impulses, whether these are visible in movement or not. Tracking one‟s movement without planning or generating it creates a new state of being in the body and the mind while at the same time being aware of one‟s body in space. While letting go and following free flowing movement, movers are at the same time responsible for ensuring that they move safely for their own benefit and for others in the group. When moving strongly and fast they are asked to open their eyes slightly and briefly to be sure of their position in space and that of others around them. They develop an increasing awareness of spatial boundaries and of the body‟s natural ability to sense others in the room. In fact, interruption between movers or between mover and object occur very rarely. By the heightened sensibility to sound, temperature and other senses, participants learn to adjust their movements accordingly. The witness, sitting in stillness, is a constant reference point for the mover‟s spatial and emotional journey.
Self-exploration and change are sometimes experienced purely in the body, without the need for verbalisation. The why and how of an action is not necessarily available to the conscious mind, yet it can clearly be experienced in the body, often accompanied by a feeling of deep satisfaction. The endpoint of a process is often more apparent to mover and witness. For example, after a long period of heaviness and working on the floor, a mover might get up and jump. After months of activity, another mover may finally lie down. Clearly the body in AM is not a mere pathway to explore a problem or discover hidden conflicts. Much rather, if followed, it may offer pathways and solutions by its own means. The body itself may facilitate change.
‘We need to trust that the body has its own wisdom, that it is enough for the experience just to stay in the body. The body wants to tell its own story by moving. Movement is the body‟s story’ (Sullwold 2007, p.49).
While some movement sessions evolve purely around body sensations, more often movers experience a connection between the body and other levels of experience. With practice, following and tracking one‟s movement becomes easier, and movers become more aware of accompanying thoughts and images. Simultaneously this creates new meaningful experiences, complement change and contradict each other.
The surrender to a movement impulse, awareness of different levels of experience and the meta-perspective of tracking one´s own movement together results in a state of moving and being moved (Whitehouse, 1979).
Memory and regression: Body-mind connections to the past
‘Because of the natural wisdom of the body and its capacity to store every memory at bone level’ (Adler 1999, p.146).
We are entering into Authentic Movement with a physical history and we may connect to it through our body. Memories can be triggered through a certain movement, a body position, at other times a memory can be the initial impulse to move. Either way, the cognitive recollection is connected to the body experience, which points out the body-mind aspect of Authentic Movement. A memory can even evolve completely around a bodily-felt sensation such as in the following example:
“Having lost my great aunt who was very dear to me some months earlier, I moved without the intention to focus on this event. After a while of moving around and searching, I found myself in a position where one of my hands lay in the other. Suddenly and vehemently I remembered an event that happened two or three years before. I had visited my aunt in hospital for some minor illness and was holding her hand, me sitting in a chair, her sitting on her bed wearing a nightdress. I realised how the hand I was holding now in the movement session, my own, was so similar to the one I was holding then, my great aunt‟s. At this moment all my held-back grief for the recent loss broke through as well as a deep gratitude for the memory of closeness that I was given in that moment. To this day I have access to the memory of my aunt‟s hand by recalling the movement session” (Extract from author‟s personal journal).
The mover‟s memory in this narrative was triggered by a body position, i.e. holding her own hand. Experiencing the recollection in a body-mind-state added an additional, formerly unnoticed aspect to the memorised event, the feeling of her aunt‟s hand in hers at the event a few years ago. The bodily-felt aspect also promoted a new insight, the similarity of the two hands, thus making a connection to the lost person. Emotions of loss and of gratitude were firmly set in the present time, the movement session. The memory, by being directly experienced in the body is connecting past experience to the present process. By sharing the experience with her witness verbally, this mover was enabled to further process the event, making a connection with the future through the lasting body-mind-memory of her aunt.
The amount of simultaneous input, cognitive recollection, body sensation, insight and emotion may sound much to deal with. Nevertheless it is usually experienced as a natural flow of impressions and sensations in a state of heightened attentiveness. The complexity of tasks is easily addressed within movement. Unravelling and integrating
experiences are happening at the same time, integration furthered and deepened in transition and in verbalisation with the witness.
Authentic Movement and Metaphor
The emergence of metaphors and the conscious dealing with them are important factors in the integrative process, and integral parts of Authentic Movement. Due to their multi-modal nature, metaphors are especially useful in accessing themes otherwise too complex to grasp.
Metaphors and symbols evolve throughout the Authentic Movement process. During the movement experience they can emerge directly out of the bodily movement or be initiated by a thought or image. Just like the memories described above, they are felt and moved in, and by, the body not thought about or reflected upon, but directly experienced in movement. According to Samaritter metaphors have different sources: personal, cultural and archetypal (Samaritter, 2009). Personal metaphors she claims‚ represent individual body experience that can also be represented in spoken language. Conceptual metaphor theory roots the genesis of metaphorical thinking in body experience so that abstract conceptualizations are linked back to body process (Johnson, 2007). Regarding Authentic Movement, one could possibly say that the mover experiences “being” both the embodied and the abstract meaning of a metaphor by accessing the physical sensation at the same moment as the abstract, idea thus consciously experiencing the source domain and the target domain connected in the same instance.
Lackoff (2008) describes the emergence of primary metaphor through the simultaneous occurrence of experiences. A body sensation, such as warmth, and an emotion, such as affection, can be connected on a neuronal level. He says “Thus, Affection is Warmth arises from experiencing affection while being held by one‟s parents and simultaneously experiencing their body warmth” (Lackoff, 2008 p. 187).
Those most basic connections, reflecting the structure of some of our metaphorical thinking, can potentially be experienced in movement. Similar to the experience of regression, various levels of processing are active at the same time. A body sensation experienced in Authentic Movement is receiving metaphorical meaning of affection or positive energy. In the following example, for the mover, the different experiences in the flow of the movement sequence are held together by the metaphoric meaning and the personal sense making resulting from it. A mover reports:
‘…at some point my hand came to this sun and I felt this warmth and a huge amount of pain swelled up, many tears, but I was THERE, I had arrived. And this was a key moment in Authentic Movement that I would have experienced in a completely different way in verbal therapy. So this warmth then came through the hand and through the whole body and that was as if, also here, I can receive the sun I need to survive’ (Interviewee FA, Konopatsch 2005, p.63, translation by author).
Just as metaphors have the potential to integrate different levels of processing and connect them to a holistic experience, metaphors can also help to further reflect movement experience thus enhancing the mover‟s ability for change. In movement metaphors first evolve in their embodied form. The mover can literally „move on‟ with them and process and change are facilitated in the body experience, as described above. After the movement experience, in transition time, the same metaphor is processed or other, new complementary images may be found. In addressing a new level of processing through different media such as writing, drawing and clay work, a different quality or aspect is added to the experience through the different medium and integration of the movement experience into cognitive awareness may be reached.
In verbal sharing, the communicative value of metaphors becomes especially apparent. The witness, may already have seen perceived the embodied metaphor already in sitting with the mover, present with empathy, throughout the movement sequence. Now she has the opportunity to learn about the mover‟s experience through the words and metaphors offered by the mover. The mover speaks about the experience and names a metaphor or may show a picture etc. If she resonates with it, the witness can respond with an image or metaphor that evolved in the presence of the mover‟s experience. Both these metaphors are rooted in the body. Firstly, in the mover‟s body – the one who is expressing the embodied metaphor. Secondly, in the witness‟s body that is responding to this expression with sensation, image etc. For the understanding and communication between mover and witness this is of particular value.
‘..the importance of metaphor conveying complexity and facilitating a deep understanding between client and therapist or between group members, allowing those individuals to provide the kind of silent “not-knowing” (yet deeply understanding) witness that conveys far more than words, and also allowing for the transformative qualities of the metaphor to reveal themselves’ (Meekums, 2008, p.27).
In the following example, one metaphorical image is guiding the mover through the entire Authentic Movement process: „One mover is going down on her knees. She is suddenly in a jungle, surrounded by huge plants. A tiger, moving slowly, looking out for prey she is feeling the energy and power in her body.
In transition she draws a tiger‟s head in strong colours with piercing eyes. A sense of satisfaction is present, having put this feeling into a visual expression. In the verbal
exchange she talks about the experience and shares the picture with her witness. The witness, in turn reports having seen a big cat moving around the room. She in turn, offers to show her picture drawn in transition time. The mover accepts to see the picture and finds not a tiger‟s but a leopard‟s pattern – a rather delicate drawing that she feels connects and adds another quality to her own interpretation of her experience, making it more complete. When mover and witness put the drawings on the wall they realize, that their drawings indeed connect in two touching lines at the bottom of the tiger‟s head and the top of the witness‟s more abstract drawing‟ (extract from personal journal).
A web of connections was made visible in the process described above. The mover was fully involved in a body-mind-experience embodying the image of the tiger in movement, exploring different qualities of the image such as strength and power. She then transferred some of this experience into drawing and speaking to her witness.
Witness and mover connected through sharing a similar metaphor, then silently reflecting on it individually in transition, and finally by sharing visual and verbal references to the experience. Similar or matching metaphors, especially when experienced non-verbally can be deeply touching for both mover and witness.
‘Such a feeling of inner strengthening and support. To be seen in this moment. And that the image was the same as my witness’s image. That was so incredible for me! I felt so much strengthened and supported. In a way I hadn’t known before'(Interviewee FC, Konopatsch 2005, p.71, translation by author).
Contradicting metaphors may also be shared by the witness, especially since the process is not focused on the mover but on the movement experience. In this way it offers an opportunity to explore differentiation (rather than unity), witness perceptions and transference in relation to their own individual experience.
Implications for clinical application: The BodyMind Approach
The BodyMind Approach (TBMA) derives from Dance Movement Psychotherapy with a strong emphasis on Authentic Movement. It, too, “engages the fundamental inter-relationship between body and mind” (Payne, 2009a) and is especially used in a group setting for patients suffering from Medically Unexplained Symptoms (MUS).
Authentic Movement‟s main feature, the relationship between witness and mover is an essential part of The BodyMind Approach (TBMA), together with a set of more structured techniques such as body awareness and relaxation exercises. Participants are encouraged to write a diary and set goals for their personal development. The aim is to integrate verbal and non-verbal medium and to enhance the patient‟s self-reflective process in order to improve well-being and symptom-distress (Payne, 2009a). Patients with MUS are different compared to the population featured above. In contrast to the above mentioned background disappearance of the body, they are painfully aware of their bodies. Nevertheless, chronic pain is only one symptom amongst others such as musculo-skeletal aches and pain, tinnitus, skin conditions, headaches, dizziness and panic attacks. Whereas in AM movers usually go into a movement sequence without a set goal, patients attending BMA groups have an interest and intention to reduce or control the symptoms from which they suffer. Even though attention is forced on their body by physical distress, the sensitive, feeling and “knowing” body remains hidden unless addressed in the TBMA process and in Authentic Movement. Structured exercises offer the first positive engagement these patients have had with their bodies in a long while and at the same time support coping strategies that are applicable outside the group setting.
In a pilot study carried out between 2005 and 2007 researchers found that participants reported an increased awareness of the close connection between emotions and physical reactions (Payne, 2009a). Further findings from both quantitative (Payne & Stott, 2010) and qualitative studies (Payne, 2009b) showed an increased level of well-being, self-esteem and self-reflection. Doctor visits and medication were often reduced and generally activity levels, the symptom distress and stress management were improved. Some participants were able to identify cause and effects in the body-mind relationship and by stopping the cause as a consequence, were able to inhibit or reduce the symptom.
In TBMA, as in AM, physical expression is met with unconditional positive regard. The symptom which might or might not act as a symbol or metaphor for some of the participants‟ emotional situations, is initially accepted as one part amongst others in the mover‟s overall bodily-experience and physical history. By slowly making connections between body and other processes, attention is opened to all kinds of physical experience including body-learning, increased self-understanding and changes in life-style.
Moving in the Collective
Authentic Movement is mostly used in group settings. Experience is different from the ground form of the mover-witness dyad. Different themes can be explored as a member of a group. The evolving of memories and metaphors is influenced by other movers‟ processes. Movers can also change perspective and become witness for another member of the group. By attending to their process in the service of their mover, and in resonance with the other‟s experience, or the inter-relatedness of experiences, transference and compassion become more present and are, again, related to the actual bodily experience during witnessing.
As a mover in a group of many, people meet. They touch, they hear each other, avoid or welcome each other. Even without contact movers are aware of being in a group and the individual experience is put into perspective with this reality. Memories and regression can change in so far as other bodies and sounds might be either included in the triggering of the memory, or in the embodiment and “moving with” the memory. For example, when a mover leaning against another mover‟s leg, remembers leaning against her mother as a little child.
Making contact with another mover often involves images and metaphors. Two movers often share a similar story or image, sometimes they each move within their own individual fantasies. On occasion, an entire group can become involved in a shared story. ‘I mean, there are other people, there is sound, there are voices, maybe with these voices the fantasy of a choir in Greece, sometime, a thousand years ago emerges’ (Interviewee FA, Konopatsch 2005, p.57, translated by author). A witness becoming aware of such a story or image can share this with the group as a piece of ‘collective witnessing’.
In Authentic Movement different levels of experience are present at the same time. Thinking, sensing and imagining are related to the body in movement. By making conscious connections, experiences can gain new meaning and further personal insight. Memories recalled in movement may be triggered by thoughts, images, movement or body sensation. The bodily-felt aspect of a memory can be added to the recollection of a meaningful event. Integration and understanding are furthered by embodied metaphors.
While these can change and “be moved with” further processing takes place in clay-work, writing, drawing and verbalization. Metaphors also facilitate communication and understanding between mover and witness and thus support the development of their relationship. In The BodyMind Approach, the principle of becoming aware, and of connecting and integrating different levels of experience is applied for those suffering from MUS. The combination of verbal and non-verbal techniques, together with moving and witnessing supplements participant‟s sense-making and symptom-management and often lead to the symptom‟s disappearance or reduction. Practicing Authentic Movement in a group setting is changing and enriching the mover‟s experience of herself and others, also by taking on the role of the witness for other group members. This unique way of sharing the process of self-exploration in movement creates a sense of belonging in the group. The basic underlying principle of “both-and” (Whitehouse, 1979), of discovering and connecting, of differentiation, unity and integration is mirrored in the group, where each is attending to their own process whilst being part of the collective.
As Janet Adler describes it:
‘This unrehearsed, synchronous unfolding of events creates a village story. Movers and witnesses participate within the complexity of their own individual personalities, doing what they each must do. It is the story of a collection of people bringing unconscious material into consciousness, through embodiment, because of each other. It is not unlike a cluster of cells, like the heart, in which each cell is doing what it must do, resulting in a pumping heart’ (Adler, 1999, p.199).
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Bodies Becoming Conscious – Body Mind Experience in Authentic Movement
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