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“When I was a dancer 20 years ago, we were taught concepts of movement articulation that were based on ideas of space, time and force. These manipulations of movement felt arbitrary and externally imposed to me to create an aesthetic effect.”

Monthly Aspectarian June 1997

Originally published in The Monthly Aspectarian, Chicago, IL, USA.

"Breathing in, I am mountain; Breathing out, I feel solid. Breathing in, I am a flower; Breathing out, I feel fresh. Breathing in, I am still water; Breathing out, I reflect all that is. Breathing in, I am space; Breathing out, I feel free."

This meditation from Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hahn reminds us of a biological truth, the resonance between our physiology and the natural world. We are nature. Our bodies are an inner mirror, a microcosm, of the outer landscape. As we make contact with nature through the sensing, awake body, we can begin to experience deeper connections with our own inner nature. By becoming the elements, through active entrainment, we allow the environment to influence our inner organization and outward expression. This interaction between body and environment, the amplification of the resonance between this small field of the self, and the larger field of nature, can be supported through the cultivation of an expanded movement repertoire which enlarges our capacity to sense, feel and perceive.

Very often when we are with the elements, we continue to inhabit the urban consciousness that regards rather than really sees. Nature is viewed as scenery, seen from the eyes rather than experienced and responded to through the kinesthetic sense of the body’s perception and movement. Our disengagement from nature leaves us sorely impoverished in terms of our sensory/artistic and motor/somatic capacities. The denial of our animal nature effectively cuts us off from the source of our power and our well-being. And as we become more urbanized and out of touch with nature, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for the contemporary body to be supported by the resonant field of nature. How can we access this earthly wisdom, this primal knowing, independent of the elements?

When I was a dancer 20 years ago, we were taught concepts of movement articulation that were based on ideas of space, time and force. For example, a movement could be imbued with different qualities of force to be staccato (sharp), sustained (smooth), ballistic (explosive), etc. These manipulations of movement felt arbitrary and externally imposed to me to create an aesthetic effect. In studying dance therapy, I was introduced to the idea that these different qualities were expressions of feeling states, or could be used to evoke feeling states, speaking more to the human aspect of movement.

Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, instigator of a somatic field of inquiry referred to as Body-Mind Centering(BMC), has proposed that each system of the body possesses its own state of mind and movement quality. (Cohen, Bonnie Bainbridge, Sensing, Feeling, and Action: The Experiential Anatomy of Body-Mind Centering (Contact Editions: Northampton, MA, 1993)

This recognition of the inseparable nature of mind and body has profound implications for how we "feed" our bodies with movement. The first time I was introduced to BMC, I was excited to experience the biological correlates of these ideas. The sustained, light quality of cerebrospinal fluid; the pulsing, from center to extremities, of the arterial flow of the blood; the jiggling, free-flow expression of the synovial fluid in the joints. All of these various articulations of the body not only possess different sensory feedback, but also different states of mind, perception and behavior. A good example of an arterial flow persona is the extroverted aerobics instructor, who is consistently pulsing with the music, moving their attention/energy out into the room, getting that heart rate up! The effect of aerobics, rather than the movement per se, is its ability to help us come out into the environment in a very social, bloodful way. Very different than the mood in the room after a yoga class, for example, where there is more focus on the organs, producing a weightedness and a more internalized state.

All body systems are interdependent and freely collaborate within our movement repertoire. This perspective clearly illuminates the need for a balanced movement diet to address the body’s various components. Our movement diet acutely affects not only the physical quality of our lives, but the affective and perceptive as well. As movement is the language of the body, it makes sense to give time and space in our lives to the investigation of the body’s ability to self-regulate. With the increasing loss of natural habitat, we are required now, more than ever before, to invoke the balancing power of nature through inner attunement to, and outer expression of, our body’s systems. This is preventative medicine at its most basic.

The central business of life as human creatures is to embody ourselves & change our body shape to respond to life. When we begin to shed the armor of habit and identity, and respond to the intrinsic differences contained in various environments, people, and situations, we allow the full flowering of our larger self to emerge. It is easy to forget that the body is a malleable, fluid reality which can change, adapt and grow. How we change forms is connected to survival. When our ability to shape-shift is curtailed, we get stuck in habits that freeze our creativity and responsiveness. We easily habituate ourselves to a narrow range of muscle tonus and emotional response. When was the last time you let yourself "explode" in movement, or "luxuriously drip", or "float"? To liberate the full range of effort, shape and energy in the body is to create more permeable boundaries for relationship within ourselves, with others and our environment.

"In the more than 50 years since I began studying the human condition, I have seen a general deterioration in the bodies of the people who come to see me. They are less energized, less integrated and less attractive than the bodies of the patients I used to see." (Alexander Lowen, father of Bioenergetic Therapy) (Lowen, Alexander, Joy, (Penguin: New York, 1995))

Why is there less aliveness in our bodies today? Is it due to the disengagement with the body, the natural environment, our feelings? The escalation of immune deficiencies, such as cancer, HIV, chronic fatigue, etc. is sounding the alarm. The crisis in the biological body reflects the crisis of individual and collective identity, the human life of many thousands of years, that is currently in great upheaval. The massive adaptations that the Western body has undergone in the last 200 years is staggering when you consider that 200 years is a fleeting moment in the evolution of the species. We have created a rhythm of life in spite of nature. Our climate-controlled, electrical, synthesized environments are creating great demands upon the organism, and altering bio-rhythm in a way we cannot even comprehend. In creating more comfortable environments, we have created a whole new set of conditions that are actually challenging our very survival.

As we become more attenuated to the microscopic, test-tube vision of the body, we begin to lose the forest for the trees. We forget that the body is part of a larger social/cultural field, part of a larger universal energy. As we begin to invent drugs to simulate and re-enforce selective abilities of the body, what kind of Pandora’s box are we opening? Through our myopic perspective on the minutiae of the human body, we are forgetting the reality of personality, the human experience of the flesh as well as our intrinsic connection to the Earth. The body is the ground of our being; the body is the earth. Our ability to perceive and grasp present reality is contingent upon the sensitivity and efficacy of our organism.

To awaken to our bodies is to truly appreciate firsthand the ecological crisis we are engaged in. Our body responds not only to the health of the planet, but to its degradation as well. Our body is the land. To engage with our bodies and feel the life force, to experience nature firsthand, will inspire all of us to become radical environmentalists, not only for the welfare of future generations, but for our own wholeness as well. As poet Terry Tempest Williams has so brilliantly stated, "The land is love. Love is what we fear. Our disengagement from nature is part of our self-oppression."

We cannot turn the clock back in terms of technological progress, nor can we all move back to the land. Given this reality, though, we can begin to take a more proactive stance towards valuing and cultivating increased body literacy , and the need for a variegated movement diet. We need to generate our own resonance and collaboration between body systems. Without the automatic support of nature, we need to give more attention to the balancing of effort capacity, states of attention, and affective responses. We need to remember that movement is medicine, that the body’s wisdom far surpasses our technological savvy, and that we must find ways to support the functioning of what we are given rather than seek external solutions that very often only aggravate and compound the problem.

We are losing our place in the web of life, we are losing our home on Planet Earth. We are seeking the life we have been given - and, it is right here, under our noses, waiting to be found. Come back home again, wanderer - come back home to yourself.

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Jamie McHugh.