Hi again! I know it’s been quite a while since my last blog. As it tends to do, Life came along like a hurricane and turned my world upside down, making it feel impossible to get through each day in one piece, let alone keep up with projects or develop my passions. I was living in survival mode, my anxiety levels were through the roof, and I lacked any semblance of grounding or connection. In other words, I became completely out of touch with my body and as a result could not access the resources I have found through my movement practice and training as a Dance Movement Therapist.
It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it? Here I am, touting the benefits of embodiment and the power of the moving body as a source of grounding, guidance, and resilience, and yet, one of the first things to go in times of high stress is my connection to my body and movement practice.
I decided to write this post because I don’t think I’m alone in this struggle. In some ways, it feels inevitable. When we don’t feel safe, our sole focus is survival, and for most of us, survival mode doesn’t allow for taking time to slow down and tune in to what’s happening in the body.
So what I’m curious about now is, how do we find our way back to our bodies once the the storm has passed?
For me, the hardest part is always starting: taking those first steps in the right direction. Right now, my first step back on that path is awareness. It started for me in a personal therapy session, when my therapist asked me what was happening in my body in that moment. Usually, that isn’t a hard question for me to answer, but when I stopped to tune in the first thing I noticed was a blurry, fuzzy sensation, as though I was trying to hear or see under water. In that moment I realized what survival mode had meant for my body: like a sailor shipwrecked at sea, I had been focusing solely on keeping my head above water, with my body fighting against the cold and exhaustion to keep me alive.
Now that I’ve found enough space to feel like I can start to look at what’s been happening under the surface, I’m amazed at how much my body remembers. Just because I had been numbing myself to my feelings doesn’t mean that my body wasn’t keeping track. One of my favourite authors, Bessel van der Kolk, has coined the phrase “The body keeps the score”, and he’s right.
So step one, awareness, isn’t as simple as it sounds. It can be scary putting your head under water and seeing what’s happening down there. That’s why I would suggest starting out slowly, in a contained and safe space. This time around, I’m doing this by practicing yoga at home. Yoga allows me to start with the physical sensations first, noticing the muscular tension and imbalances that have developed, and offering myself time to stretch out and breathe.
For me, this feels safe. I can start listening to my body without getting overwhelmed by the emotions linked to that tension. For you, this first step of awareness could look very different. It could mean going to a dance class, or running, or spending time in nature, or seeing a friend who brings out your embodied side. The idea is to start out soft and slow, with something that feels comfortable and has boundaries around it to keep it safe and contained.
It’s hard for me to feel like I can give suggestions when it comes to step two, as I’m just starting with this step now, so I’m going to leave it here for today and continue next week (Hurricane Life allowing). I hope that this post has resonated with you in some way. I would love to hear your thoughts on these ideas and know what works for you when it comes to reconnecting to your body and movement practice.
Until next time,
-Jessica Houghton (Dance Movement Therapist)