The UK development organisation and membership
body for community and participatory dance
You are here:> Home > Developing Practice > Animated magazine > Searchable archive > Spring 2002 > Recovering heart
Animated Edition - Spring 2002
Recovering heart
Health is the art of living. Yet, through accident, injury or illness the body often becomes the enemy, something feared - we suppress symptoms with drugs or sheer acts of will attempting to adjust or control the responses of our bodies and so lose connection to what is happening within us. Here Miranda Tufnell speaks candidly of the corrosive effect of lack of movement and of the body's need to reconnect with the world around
Since 1990 I have been working part-time within the NHS for a rural GP surgery in Cumbria as an Alexander teacher and craniosacral therapist with patients suffering from a range of muscular skeletal problems including migraine, whiplash, back pain, injury and frozen shoulders. Raising two children on my own I needed to find a way of living and working within the community that did not endlessly expose me to the vicissitudes of the arts grant system. I loved the slow trust and intimacy that grew as those I worked with began to feel and understand the living landscape of tissues that was their bodies - my hands discovering the subtle rippling and eddying, invisible to the eye, a hidden river in which sensation, movement, memory continually interweave.

The sessions would often expand into sharing a cup of tea together and sometimes into some form of creative expression such as writing, painting or even dancing, particularly with those suffering from depression or loss.

Sometimes a physical injury does not resolve until something else is heard and expressed. Many of those that I saw seemed to have lost heart with their lives, become isolated and lonely through injury or illness and yet had so much within them to offer and share with others. Ill heath closes us in and inevitably forces change, compelling us to live our lives differently. To find what may bring a sense of well being into our lives is a challenge that calls for different ways of being and perceiving.

For each of us to feel 'well' is not simply a matter of being without physical symptoms, but involves a complex and elusive weave of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual elements. To the Greeks healing implied 'service to the gods' - illness an attempt to reconnect to forgotten, abandoned and deepest parts of ourselves. In the Norse 'haelen hal' health means 'wholeness' - a call to move more fully into life. Our health is in many ways the art of living, an awakening to a more fluid and creative part of ourselves that shifts according to how we live our lives. Illness may be an attempt to open and restore connection to something lost within us - a call to re-awaken to the needs of life.

This prompted me to develop what I was already informally doing. I invited Tim Rubidge, an experienced dancer who had himself done pioneering dance work in a range of contexts such as prisons and hospitals, to join me to devise Movement Towards Health. Our aim was to create a supportive, informal, friendly atmosphere in which issues of health might be talked about and shared - and to have fun. Through accident, injury or illness the body often becomes the enemy, something feared. We hoped that through a creative approach to the body 'patients' would find new ways back into their lives through a better understanding of the health of their bodies discovered and felt through movement. The sessions would endeavour to break down some of the isolation and exclusion which poor health often causes - offer an environment where experiences could be safely shared - enabling them to regain pleasure and trust in their bodies, and a more positive relationship to themselves and to others.

Our capacity to live well, our well being, depends on our ability to listen to what is happening within the body - to improvise, explore, and to discover the body as more than its symptoms and illnesses. Movement thus becomes a way of widening the sensory field through which we feel and express ourselves, the gestures, however small that arise from the body as we begin to listen, give voice to parts of ourselves that are often inaccessible to language.

Getting to know the body... the language of sensation and movement
We saw our role as helping 'patients' to know their bodies as part of who they are through gentle movement - to feel, enjoy and listen to their bodies:

movement as communication,
as listening, as story
as play and
as exploration with others of who and how we are.

In each moment of life we are touched and moved by a myriad of impulses and stimuli, which the body registers and responds to, whether we notice it or not. When we fail to notice the touch and presence of the world on our skin, we lose connection to essential parts of our worlds. We cut ourselves off from what is happening within us, suppress symptoms with drugs or sheer acts of will that attempt to adjust or control the responses of our bodies. And so, we separate ourselves from what might enable us to sense within our symptoms the seeds of resources and energies that might help us to heal or recover a sense of 'health' within us. Tribal peoples call this loss of connection between ourselves 'soul loss' and it is seen as the most damaging and widespread cause of illness.

After much discussion with the doctors, nurses, health visitors, and often overwhelmed by the needs expressed, we began a pilot series with two groups. The first, for those who were physically very fragile and suffering from diabetes, chronic pulmonary obstructive disease and heart and stroke problems and whose range of symptoms made life difficult for them. A second more active group explored ways of dealing with stress, depression, or recovery from illness.

A question we constantly asked ourselves and which shaped and informed our practice was: Are we meeting participant's needs? Our purpose was not simply to offer dance workshops. All expressed different needs and vulnerabilities. Our job was to listen and then to find ways through our own understanding of the body to help each person to feel more at ease in themselves. One man for example, arrived saying he had almost not come that day because of vertigo. Others nodded sympathetically and seemed also to suffer in some degree from dizziness therefore we looked at the structure of the cranium and neck and talked about some of the causes and reasons for vertigo. We then invented ways of gently relaxing and moving the key structures - at all times concerned not to impose our own dancers' agenda, but rather to encourage people to trust their own sensations and perceptions and to use movement as a tool to find out more.

Moving from conversations
F.conversereto associate with, L.conversari to live with versari to dwell (literally to turn oneself about)... to take a turn with, become familiar with.
Conversion to be changed
Verso the other side

From the outset, we shared our perception of the body's need for movement, of the dance at play in every moment within the tissues of the body's response to whatever surrounds it - and of the corrosive effect of lack of movement. Death is registered as the absence of movement and of response - heart and brain stilled and without impulse - the dance has ceased. Yet, between the movement and responsiveness of what we call life and the stasis of death we easily lose touch with the moving landscape of the body. We forget to breathe, lock and stiffen our jaws, shoulders, necks, cease to notice how rigid we are becoming and grow confused by the networks of pain that gradually creep through us. To dance is a way of breathing again, of loosening what has stiffened or dulled through lack of movement, a way of opening our eyes - and a way also of listening, and getting to know the many selves and often contradictory voices that live within each of us. When we cease to listen to and sense the body we lose connection to the present moment in our lives - and respond instead from the blindness of habit. To be awake and active in the world in which we live needs us to first to come back to the sensory world of the body.

To improvise: improvisus... unforeseen
Every aspect of our lives is affected by how we feel, and who we feel ourselves to be; yet, our everyday language rarely seems able to carry the meanings and feelings we want to express. It is as if we have continually to find ways and means to give form to what is sensed yet invisible within us. Thus, movement becomes a way of reaching into what is without words; a way of letting through what is coming towards us from the darkness of ourselves.

The language of movement and metaphor
In the pilot sessions, we hoped to inspire a wonder at the delicacy and intricacy of the body's structure, and what needs to happen for it to function well. Depending on the questions or needs expressed, we shared information about the anatomical workings and sought to make visible the extraordinary and beautiful ways in which the body works. This we hoped would develop a felt and personal understanding of the body as each person found a 'body story' from the images and sensations that emerged as they moved.

We looked at the multitude of bones that together support and protect the brain and nervous system, at the delicate balancing of the head and neck so easily disturbed by tension in the shoulders, we explored the mechanisms of breathing, looking at the diaphragm and its connection to the heart, and at the ethmoid bone which filters and warms air in the nose within whose coral like structure lie crystals embedded which register shifts in the earth's magnetic field. We looked in detail at the structures of shoulder and arms to notice ways in which the arms could become freer in their relationship to spine, head and pelvis. And we shared information, which grew from conversations and much laughter as people wondered and spoke of their feelings and fears about their own bodies.

create creare to bring forth, cause to grow
creature L.creatura, old French creature
crescent crescere the increasing moon, to grow to increase (forming of the moon)
recreate to revive to refresh concrete formed into one mass
accrue to come to by way of increase

So our approach was not simply exercise based, we embraced the stories, metaphors and images that each person discovered through moving, and focused on the ways these might affect health and vitality. But we did not know how this releasing into story and imaginative play with movement might affect those concerned and so were careful not to press with questions, but to allow each person to share as much or as little as they felt comfortable with.

Current research into psycho-neuroimunology demonstrates the ways in which images are carried within the body and affect the functioning of the immune system. Metaphor allows different and often contradictory feelings to be felt and expressed. In the Greek language metaphorae is a form of transport - a means of carrying you from one place to another. And whilst there are no simple answers as to what may promote better health in our lives, we hoped that this work might help those involved to know and listen to the ways in which the body responds to whatever is happening - and thus gain more control over their symptoms. We endeavoured to provide an expressive language, through which to discover and convey the complexity of what is felt - which in turn may shift and alter the affects of illness in the overall heath of that individual.

And as we give form to our experiences through making by dancing, writing, sculpting or clowning, we take possession of our experiences rather than letting them exist within us as symptoms. As we detach from what seem the insistent imperatives of our lives, allow ourselves to wander and 'wonder - play' and to upset and reverse our familiar world orders, we begin to find a voice, give shape, colour, pattern and coherence to what we feel, but for which we have not the words. And the metaphors and images we find as we sense and feel are our way towards new understanding.

We sense and 'know' things in the body long before we are able to articulate them in our conscious lives, we expand, contract, shiver, dissolve - a flow of responses that often take us by surprise and which we are rarely able to express. Yet, by giving form and expression to what seems only partly accessible and incoherent within us through sensations, gestures, rhythms, movements that are alive for us and carry some part of the meaning enables us to feel and understand more of who we are - we know and find and create something of what we are, we grow and change. We become more of ourselves.

To be able to find what matters most deeply to ourselves, we have to free ourselves enough to imagine how things may be beyond the ways we have been taught to be... to penetrate more deeply to the part of ourselves that dreams and creates, recover an openness to a world that is itself fluid and changing. The tissues of our bodies create a surface of exchange through the world in which we live. The images and metaphors that emerge are the bridges by which we connect what we feel within us, outwards to the objects and people of the everyday world of which we are a part.

At the pilot end, all those involved spoke of how much they enjoyed and looked forward to the sessions, that they increased their confidence and lightened their mood - and as they always came back, we believed them! We noticed a growth in trust - both of themselves and their ability to initiate, and in their sharing and communication with other members - the group dynamic and support a crucial element in their feeling better in themselves. All have asked when the groups will recommence (some have even volunteered to pay towards sessions if this could be a way of continuing). Our goal is to run a further series for a sustained period and ultimately, we hope that members will gain sufficient confidence to lead themselves (although not in movement). In time, we will introduce writing and art making as part of their developing an expressive language. For as we discover stories, memories and images they bring us more deeply 'in touch' with who we are - and move us beyond the rut of how we habitually describe ourselves and our lives. Through our eyes, ears and skin we are able to see, feel, taste and respond to what is around us. If we cease to listen and to perceive through our senses, we destroy the complex and essential web of relationships through which we grow and renew life within us...

Miranda Tufnell, dancer, Alexander teacher and craniosacral therapist.
Contact +44 (0)1768 898780.

Text drawn from Beneath our words a publication by JABADAO entitled What dancers do that other health workers don't. Contact +44 (0)113 231 0650.

Definitions from Skeates Dictionary of Etymology.

The content of this site is proprietary to the Foundation for Community Dance and any access to this site or the use of any content made by any person is expressly subject to these terms:

Unauthorised copying of any material (including artwork) on this site and the reproduction, storage, transmission or the distribution of any content, either in whole or in part and in any medium or format, without the prior written consent of the Foundation for Community Dance and, where appropriate, the author or artist, is not permitted.

Please read our website terms & conditions by clicking here

Animated: Spring 2002