BodyThink – a childlike re-engagement with the world.

FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT IS FREEDOM OF THOUGHT

From 2006 to 2015 I developed a collaboration with the Polish Institute of Choreotherapy in Poznan, Poland. There I taught annual workshops in The Feldenkrais Method® and eventually developed The BodyThink Process, bringing together my Feldenkrais and Theatre work in a certification programme for dance therapists, teachers, performers and therapists. Here I am teaching in Poznan….

Much of my work has crossed disciplinary borders, mixing my interest in music, projection, experimental sound and space design, puppetry, spoken word, community theatre, social action and the development of personal resilience.

The first teacher to bring together Body and Think as part of his work was the seminal theatre maker and trainer Clive Barker. He wanted actors to celebrate the fact that people are first and foremost movers and that this  is this aspect that spectators meet in the very first moments of watching a performance.

Etienne Decroux, the co-originator of the modern art of Mime in post-war France, said that as the actor upon the stage performs the Grande Danse (Great Dance), so the spectator in his or her seat performs the Petite Dance (Little Dance). He was acknowledging the human ability to be moved by performance and the fact that this has, fundamentally, a physical characteristic.

A Feldenkrais student of mine, who lives with Cerebral Palsy, loves to go to watch Dance performances. He says that he leaves it feeling he can soar and fly. As he sits watching, his body moves and twitches and his breathing changes. After shows, his face looks like he has been washed clean, his eyes flash and his habitual careworn expression is replaced with wide smiles.

Performers in training learn how to craft their movement upon the stage to have the maximum effect of stimulating the spectator’s interest and involvement. They learn how to fine tune even the smallest of movements to have the maximum effect.

The smallest movement we can make is a thought. Try this:

Sitting in your chair,

  • put both your feet flat on the ground
  • gently turn your head on one direction – do this a few times slowly with your eyes closed
    • notice what is happening in your pelvis on the chair
  • pause
  • now gently turn only your eyes to the right – a few times, very slowly still with your eyes closed
    • what is happening in your pelvis?
  • pause
  • now only THINK that you might move your eyes and your head to the right
    • do you notice the ‘feeling’ of wanting to move in your pelvis?

Thought, although the smallest movement we can make, is the one with potentially the largest effect. Moshe Feldenkrais would say that he was working through movement to improve and smooth the workings of the nervous system. Movement and thinking are part of the same dynamic. From one we get to the other – no matter how much of either we do. This means that anyone can explore movement and thinking and derive a benefit from the process.

Following Clive Barker’s inspiration I began to research into the field of study exploring the Primacy of Movement first explored by the academic Maxine Sheets-Johnstone and taken up by the anthropologist Tim Ingold. An excellent exploration of her ideas can be found here.

Two-months after conception our fingers begin to be present – and from these first moments the finger-buds begin to move. Together with this, the bones in the legs and arms are beginning to harden. This means that our nervous system begins its process of sensing through movement and sensing our internal structure from this point in our development.

In his book The Case for Working With Your Hands, the philosopher and bike repair-man Matthew Crawford, weaves a philosophical case for why learning to use our hands creatively brings us to a greater sense of who we are. Daniel Wolpert, Professor of Engineering at Cambridge and a medical doctor and neuroscientist, has said that the first job of the human brain is to create movement. Go here to watch him talking at TED.

Movement leads to memories and knowledge about the world around us. Knowledge generates curiosity, which inspires more movement in pursuit of answers to our questions. We grow wisdom and expertise about the world through the movements we make in it. We now know that, taking developments in technology into account, the kinds of movements a human body can make is more or less limitless. We are the only species, as far as we know, that can think simultaneously about thinking whilst thinking, and can think about thinking about movement, whilst moving.

Amongst his many insights, the anthropologist Prof.Tim Ingold in his book Being Alive – Essays in Movement, Knowledge and Description is the observation that we do not live our lives in a linear fashion, nor even in a two-dimensional network, but in a three- and four-dimensional meshwork in which our senses are abroad gathering information for us in a global, spherical way. This makes a strong connection with the work of Moshe Feldenkrais whose aim it was to give us the most optimum ability to respond and adapt to the world as it changes around us.

As an adult, engagement with the world in this childlike way is done on top of all the knowledge and habits that have been built up over a lifetime of learning. For sure there are habits that may restrict us, stop us being as effective as we might be – but these are the choices we have made, and often for the best of reasons. A childlike re-engagement with the world re-connects us to a time when moved, created, achieved, found satisfaction and explored in a relatively free and fluid way. The effects of re-exploring our skills in making sense of the world can re-align old habits and thought processes from a very practical perspective. We change how we move, talk, interact, and so on in a reflective way as adults, allowing  us to find newness in the way we relate to our world of people, places, events and occurrences.

A large part of my professional life has been concerned with applying my training and expertise derived from my work as a performer, theatre director and movement analyst to working with children, young people and people with learning disabilities. As a contractor with Arts Council England’s Creative Partnerships programme I was tasked with working in-school with students and teachers to explore an arts-based curriculum. From this work I took two basic concepts that I believe are essential to understanding childlike re-engagement:

  • khaos –  or chaos – the space in which elements are constantly combining and separating
  • kairos – the silent moment in which everything changes

These elements are present in our everyday, but more often than not, they produce only fear. Fear then causes us to throw up defence mechanisms that limit our access to the world around us. Explored in their many possibilities they allow us to neutralise fear, replacing it with a sense of satisfaction that we can respond well enough to any situation that we might face.

The BodyThink Process (BTP) evolved as a way of introducing non-performers to a way of thinking and doing movement that takes them back to the inventive, near-limitless feeling of childlike engagement with the world. BTP uses The Feldenkrais Method® as a starting point and brings together exercises, explorations and ways of inventing drawn from the training of actors and dancers. It is underpinned with hypotheses and philosophies taken from current developments and ideas in neuro-science and related fields of exploration.