Rhythm awakens the cathartic process of the body surrendering to itself.
Releasing all expectations it has, welcoming the calling to be.
Being through dance. Being through the intimate call-and-response that occurs between the questions asked by sound and the answers effortlessly given through the body.
In the previous offering of this EmBody series Part I. The Body: An Ancient Cultural Site, I wrote about how for centuries our bodies have been used as political sites in the battle for power. Where our societies determine how we relate to and interact with our physical instincts, temperaments and behaviours - propelling the process of disembodying and forgetting what it feels like to live inside our bodies. I then took a journey into the process of ‘re-membering’ what it means to be connected to the intelligence in the body. Tapping into it as a learning environment where we can discover various parts of ourselves in the process.
This article will take us deeper into the journey of understanding the intelligence systems that reside within our cells. Engaging with the practice of embodiment, and how we can create safety and trust within our bodies.
Getting Out of our Heads
‘Mind over matter…’ ‘...I think therefore, I am.’
These two phrases have been placed at the forefront of modernity. The idea that our value is based solely on our level of mental agility and the amount of information we can store in our heads and regurgitate upon request. This fixation on cognitive understanding has shifted our focus from observing the other intelligence systems we inhabit. The brain processes information based on what our minds can safely perceive. In other words, things are only ‘real’ if your mind can make sense of them. What about the things that occur outside of what our mind can handle? Do they not exist?
Our emotions, feelings and senses are just a few receptors that help us register information. The art of mindfulness teaches us that when information is stored by the body it leads to new ways of understanding the relationship between ourselves and our emotions. When we take a moment to observe fleeting thoughts and bodily sensations without the pressure to respond or react - we emerge into a deep state of knowing; a level of consciousness that logic may not be able to offer us.
The knowledge systems developed by our ancestors teach us about how intelligence can be embodied. Their awareness of seasonal change, when to listen and when to act, and how to adapt to the ways of nature required a deep sense of embodied intelligence.
The term ‘somatic’ is derived from the Greek root ‘soma’ which means body. Simply put; somatic intelligence refers to the guidance system placed in our body that gives us immediate feedback. In the her book Awakening Somatic Intelligence: The Art and Practice of Embodied Mindfulness (2012), Risa Kaparo writes;
“Somatic intelligence is self-sensing, self-organising and self-renewing, the residue of pain and trauma needn’t determine our experiences of ourselves and what we become. Somatic intelligence liberates us from bondage to the past, including the limitation of our genes, as well as from early trauma, giving way to greater freedom and aliveness.”
The work of embodiment somatics (EM) is to awaken the natural wisdom that resides in our most sacred and immediate home - our body. Transferring the conversations about experience from the mind to encompass an intelligence we can not manipulate or run away from. The intention in awakening these receptors is to create range within ourselves, expanding the spectrum of our human experience to encompass the sensory on a deeper level.
Our bodies are usually one of the first signs of trouble, be it physical, emotional, spiritual or mental. Conditions such as anxiety, stress, physical pain, breaking out and so forth, are messages from the subconscious that our conscious mind must take note of. EM creates a space where we can take a moment and engage with these messages, what they could potentially mean for us, and how we can work towards creating an intimate relationship with our body.
Embodiment in Action: A Baptism of Fire
Part of the work of this project included conceptualising and facilitating four movement workshops in Johannesburg, Cape Town (South Africa), and London (UK). Having previously only facilitated one movement workshop on my own, I was helplessly unsure of what to expect from this series.
Each workshop was different, however there were binding elements that unified the collective experience. The feedback that came through from most of the women was the spiritual journey we were taken on through connecting with our bodies. Many of our lifestyles and livelihoods are filled with activities that disconnect us from our receptors. The busyness of life in the 21st century means that we neglect the need to engage sacredly with our earthly home.
Each session was a space to freely interact with our bodies and some of the many past experiences we have gone through. This was also a space for us to create a vocabulary of fluid movement that can be used and tapped into at any time. The phrase ‘freedom of movement,’ was one that seemed to resonate through each session, where people felt more and more connected to themselves as the experience progressed.
The echoes of embodiment were felt as with each session we took the time to see/feel where our bodies were in the moment. Through my observations of others in the space, I found that the power of these sessions lies in the fact that during those 3-4 hours our only concern was to be present in the session. Not worrying about what has passed or what is still to come…Who needs you, or what you need to do. All that exists in that moment is you, your body, and the other bodies in the space. There is an inexplicable and sense of peace that comes from that realisation.
Modes of Safety
Just like any relationship we have with other human beings, trust is a key component to expanding on and deepening the connection. Those we hold dear to us want to feel seen, heard and accepted. The same is the case with our bodies. In order to cradle a deeper, more profound connection with our bodies, we need to create a space where it can be seen, heard and accepted.
Planted in the underbelly of embodiment is the process of creating safety within the body. In order to receive the messages that have hid themselves in our anatomy over the years, we must create a safe environment for them to reveal themselves.
Nurturing safety means deepening our relationship with our body and expanding the communication between our emotions and our nervous system. Embodiment is a tool for healing through self-awareness, connection and self-acceptance. This work requires us to interact with our bodies, thoughts and actions on a regular and intentional basis.
The most essential part of this process is getting our heads out of the way so that we can engage with our bodies in an uninterrupted and present form. Physical movement paves the path to shift our parasympathetic nervous system out of the ‘fight or flight’ response mode we typically tend to find ourselves in. It allows us to work with moment-to-moment consciousness and let our bodies lead the way.
Some practices we can all incorporate into our daily, weekly - or whenever we feel the urge to - lives, include taking some time to create safety in the body:
Taking Walks as a way of releasing what is required of you from the day and simply paying attention to your surroundings, and how they make you feel.
Stretching as a practice of slowing down and feeling where there may be tension or discomfort in the body.
Solo or Group Dance Parties as a way of letting go of shape and form. Giving space for your body to guide you.
Body Affirmation. This could include a number of different activities such as; looking at yourself in the mirror and identifying the things you love about your body. Touch is a very intimate exchange of adoration, therefore giving yourself regular hugs or gently embracing your body with your hands the way a friend or love would can help us feel safe in our presence.
These are just a few of the many practices that can be incorporated into our lives. Just as each person’s relationship with their body is unique, the things we do to return to self and create safety are particular and diverse. What works for one may not resonate for another.
The article that will follow this one will be my final written offering for this project. I will be sharing some of the cathartic processes wrapped within dance/movement as a way of returning to self. I take a journey into the work of traditional and contemporary African dance, and how the combination of dance and yogic practices can help us expand the harmony within ourselves.