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“Many times, we are fighting our movement impulses, squashing our needs for expression and making the body conform to societal expectations and images of the "perfect" self.”

Monthly Aspectarian August 1997

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

Last month, I began to talk about the relationship of the body to nature, and the resonant field between them. As each element has a different quality and state of mind, so it is with our bodies, each system responding to, and expressing, different energies. As we remove ourselves more and more from an active relationship with the field of nature, it is becoming even more important to cultivate a varied "movement diet" to self-generate the effects of nature within our own inner ecosystem. The health of the organism depends on the balance of elements, of different movement inputs, just like we need the balance of varied food groups.

Movement is medicine. We forget that we possess an important resource for our own healing and autonomy within this grand design of nature that we took birth for. One can look at any system of healing and reduce it to a basic maxim: "Inhibition of movement creates disease". Whether this is reduced blood circulation, stagnant chi, emotional repression, or spiritual malaise, life depends upon movement for its unfolding and health. The health of the organism depends upon a diversity of input and output. The value of engaged movement practice is that it reflects back to us where we are in each moment, physically, emotionally, mentally, and where we might go, who we might become.

The shaping of the body by culture, the industrialization of movement through the concept of exercise, and the urbanization of modern peoples has devitalized the source of our movement expression and literacy. I am concerned about the escalating trend of industrialized medicine, and how we have begun to remove the body from nature. Even more so, we see the body as machine so clearly in the practice of repetitive exercise that is best exemplified by the gym mentality. The body is fragmented into muscular groups: abs, pecs, lats, etc, and the emphasis is on fulfilling a set number of pre-determined movements, with maximum effort being called for. What this re-enforces in the mind is very often an adverserial relationship with the body, focusing more on our limitations rather than appreciating the intricate mystery of human movement potential. The body becomes segmented into parts rather than moving as a whole. What does this do to consciousness in the long run? There is nothing wrong per se with pushing for maximum effort as long as this is not the only "food group" in our movement repertoire. How can we relate to the body and movement in a multiplicity of ways, deriving different states of mind and feeling tones through the attitude and degree of muscular activity we bring to the action?

Many times, we are fighting our movement impulses, squashing our needs for movement expression and making the body conform to societal expectations and images of the "perfect" self. Our attention to the body is very often driven by a cosmetic need or a health "should". Somehow in all of this, the tender dialogue between self and body gets lost in chronic patterns of misuse, the imposition of standardized movement forms or diets to correct these habits, and increasing repression of the .

How does the culture of the body, as exemplified by Calvin Klein ads and the fitness industry, denigrate the humanity of the body? What happens to the soul that seeks its expression through the fluid self, through the spontaneous action of inspiration, when the body is rigidified into a prescribed form of behavior or a limited neuro-muscular configuration? How do we imprison ourselves without realizing it? We must become aware of the implications of our movement diet for our psychological functioning, and become clear with our intentions in the shaping of our body through physical interventions.

Life thrives on diversity and balance: cellularly, psychologically and socially. In terms of movement, we need the full range of qualities and spatial experiences, the power of muscle and the flow of fluids, the wildness of accelerated activity and the slowness of T’ai Chi, to feed our movement intelligence. It is not only the performance of the actual physical movement itself, but also the underlying attitude and awareness informing the movement experience, as well as its context. I offer four ways of looking at movement diet in terms of context and intention. I label these as: Inner movement practice; Expressive movement "yoga"; Sourcing the Animal Body; and Expanding the Collective Body.

It is a morning of meetings, writing, alot of mental activity; I feel fatigued by lunch. I walk into a nearby park and lay down on the grass. I cup my skull with my hands and begin to breathe long, wave-like breaths throughout my torso. I begin to shift the bones of my skull. I add the vibrations of sound, and the movement of my spine, rotating and flexing. I rest and let go. As I get up to rejoin the biped life, I feel energized and ready to continue my day. I had spent 10 minutes on the ground.

This inner practice has implications for our immune systems. If we look at the evolution of our biochemistry, we notice the difference in our white blood cells, for example. T-4 and T-8 lymphocytes have evolved more recently, and are highly specialized agents. Natural Killer (NK) cells, on the other hand, are older and are more broad-based in their ability to adapt and perform multiple functions. This variance between higher and lower order functioning in both neurology and biochemistry indicates a few principles. 1) Lower order has a supporting function, a grounding if you will, and higher order has more of an articulating function, an extensive complexity. 2) The lower the order, the more information that can be processed. This refers to the adaptability of the NK cells, for example or the difference between the cells of the hind brain (lower) which can process 10 items compared to only 1 of the forebrain. Given this, it is not surprising that we are currently seeing so many stress-related disorders in our culture. People are exhausting the higher order brain functions without the support of the lower order states of being. Returning to basic movement and lower frequency brainwaves helps re-educate the nervous system and de-compress the immense stress of living in modern times. Yoga, Meditation, Continuum Movement, and Toning are some venues for Inner movement .

I am with a former student at her country house up in the mountains near Interlaken, gazing across the valley at the Jungfrau, covered with snow. All around us, the Swiss countryside is exploding in color with the advent of the summer wildflowers. I made her a drawing when I first arrived, and today before I leave, she wants that we each dance it for the other. As I watch her become the sinuous lines of the drawing, and the expanding rays of the sunflower-like center, each movement leading somehow to the next, in its own unique logic, I realize that she is embodying a sort of expressive yoga, that the body needs only the stimuli of this image, the context of this environment, and the supportive attention of the other, to unwind its own responses, to become its own movement and sound expression that satisfies an inner yearning, a need for tonifying, stretching, embracing, condensing, feeding the body with its indigenous food groups. This "expressive yoga" seems to let the body be its own guide, rather than the dense attention one can see so often in exercise classes, where we are doing something to the body as opposed to letting the body do us!

As we expand our movement range, we are more able to experience in ourselves the range of qualities and feelings that are the hallmark of our humanity. Non-ordinary movement experiences open our capacity for feeling and behaving, creating the ground for different forms of relationship with ourselves, each other and the environment. The limits of identity are challenged by the expansion of our repertoire. And in this stretching is the flux of the self. We are taught not to act until we know what we are doing - it is dangerous to be spontaneous, out of control, un-premeditated. "Active imagination" in movement is a vital psychological practice for pushing the envelope, going into the Mystery of the self and freeing whatever movement impulse is available without forethought. Dance Therapy, Authentic Movement, Halprin Life/Art Process, Dance Improvisation are some venues for Expressive movement "yoga".

I am climbing through a river gorge, moving from boulder to boulder, the water splashing around me, creating different pathways and spaces in this wildly formed environment. I move and rest, delighting in the uniqueness of each space. As I sit on a shaded slab of granite, I begin to wonder where my central nervous system(CNS) begins and ends. Of course, there is the discernible network of nerve circuitry, spreading throughout the whole body just under the skin, one synapse speaking to another. But what about the electro-magnetic field around the body created by this surging electricity...is this also my nervous system? Is the CNS radiating its knowledge, sensation, images out into the space around me? And does this field speak back, the rushing water and solid rock, the play of sun on my skin, are all these fields in communication with me in ways that I don’t even understand? The multiplicity of rhythms here in this gorge speak to the disordered rhythms of my body that feel fatigued by all this traveling and instability in my life journey right now. Just being here, in this place, without verbal language, without a plan, with just the light of day and the landscape to guide me, allows for a re-synchronization of my pulsations and streamings. I climb out of the gorge, up a thousand feet, like an animal grabbing with hands and toes rock edges, roots, bunched grasses, tree limbs, to pull and push myself, ever upward. I am reptile, cat, ape and man all at once, trusting my animal nature to guide me out from whence I came. Body/Mind Centering, Outward Bound experiences, Halprin Life/Art Process are some venues for Sourcing the Animal Body.

I am walking in Zurich with 400 people as part of the annual "Walk for Life", an AIDS fund-raiser. As we come to the Linderhof, a tree-lined plaza on a hill in the center of the old town, on top of Roman ruins, I lead the group in a spiral dance. It animates the energy of the group, to be suddenly broken out of the familiar walk and the small groups of known friends, to hold hands, to see and feel the group body starting to spiral around the old trees. In this simple community form, people begin to acknowledge each other, smile and laugh, as we journey inward to the center of the circle, and then out into the world again.

I was again reminded of the simplicity and power of community action, the activation of the collective body to remind us of our basic humanity, to appreciate the beingness of each other. For me, this is essential biology, the dance of life, the cellular dance of coming together and moving apart, merging and individuating. It is important to remember, in this dyadic culture of client and therapist, monogamous relationships, nuclear families, etc., the power of the larger body moving together. Movement doesn’t just begin and end in the individual body - in our alignment, finding center, moving forward and up, etc. The movement of the individual self is in dynamic interaction with its social environment and is constantly affected by this exchange. We need to restore the rituals of belonging and worship, the dance of community, which evokes a greater organismic unity for the individual body. Sufi dancing, Folk dancing, Wiccan or other spiritual rituals, and Laban Movement Choirs are some venues for Expanding the Collective Body.

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Jamie McHugh.