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How movement can evoke emotion, and help us deal with it

Movement can process feelings with greater lucidity than words may be able to, and practices like Gurdjieff Movements, Baul dances and Eurythymy help unlock these feelings

Gurdjeiff Movements led by master practitioner Jivan Sunder

It was a cold evening in London and I was sitting sideways on the lap of a dear friend, my feet dangling like a child’s. As I moved my feet back and forth, suddenly, in this brief movement, I was overcome with an intense emotion and found myself in tears.

Profound experiences happen when you least expect it. Something about the movement of my feet as they dangled from a trusted person's lap had created a deep resonance. I realised that I was full of love and longing for my father’s lap. This was a lap I had suddenly lost with his death when I was all of seven years old. My body knew and held this longing long before my mind was willing to see it or own it.

I got back and sat sideways on the nurturing lap that was willing to receive me in the present moment, and I cried till I knew the tears had been released after a long period of being held hostage inside me.

Movement may process feelings with greater lucidity than words may be able to. Consider that we learn to move much before we learn to talk. Many of our early and pre-verbal memories are held in our muscles, our viscera and our fascia. Our first complex memories of being received in the world, of being held in the arms of care-givers, of being in eye-contact with others, of recognizing the boundaries of our own body, all happen to our pre-verbal bodies. However, as we rely more consciously on our verbal memories, we may go about our lives rarely recognizing the vital role that movement may play in keeping us present in our present, not least by letting go of the past held in our bodies.

There are so many practices from around the world that focus on healing through working with the body's movements and there is a lot that these diverse approaches share in their basic orientation towards healing. Acupressure and Acupuncture both originated in China and work with the energy centres and meridians of our body, and Reiki and Energy Healing have developed in the East and in some religious traditions and require attuning to the universal energy in order to receive energy that cleanses and strengthens our energy bodies.

Osho’s Active Meditation, Authentic Movement and 5-Rhythms are ways of moving and working with authentic responses to process feelings, while Somatic Experiencing, Tapping and Running Bars are all ways of releasing and moving our stuck energy and creating new connections and pathways for more capacity to stay present. Feldenkrais’ and Lowen’s approaches are subtle ways in which we reorient ourselves to the inner wisdom of our body’s healing potential, and Yoga and Pilates have both become contemporary forms of exercise but they are integrated systems that work with breath and movement and help process trauma.

An Osho Movements class (Photo: oshoactivemeditations.co.in)
An Osho Movements class (Photo: oshoactivemeditations.co.in)

Ayurvedic massages use herb infused essential oils to clear energy pathways in the body and Marma massages are about aiding the movement of prana or life energy by working on neurolymphtic points in our bodies, as are Tai-chi, Qigong, which conceptualise life energy as qi (chi) and work on aiding the optimal flow of qi through the yin and yan meridians of our bodies.

Some of the movement practices work by moving our gross physical body and some move our subtle and energy bodies. In some the therapist moves energy within us as we stay in stillness and in others, we move to create a motion in our energy dynamics. Many others may not club all of these under forms of movement but I see something shared when I experience these different forms.

In India there is a great reluctance and resistance in acknowledging the traumatic impact of what is taken-for-granted in our cultural and social spheres. While many of these movement methods are used in working explicitly with trauma, even those of us who feel we have not had any traumatic experiences stand to gain from moving to any of these invitations to move. Most of the time people who have been traumatized are not aware that they have been traumatized. In my work (in leadership coaching), when grown men and women in leadership positions submit to crying after some movement work that has released some resonance in them, I am relieved to have witnessed the birthing or airing of their capacity to cry. Even though I hesitate to use the word traumatized too loosely, I do believe that everybody needs a good cry.

In almost all of our folk traditions in India, there is an element of dance and movement. The moving together with others, in unison and cohesion, is a way of connecting to what is universal. These traditions have now become staged performances instead of the experiential movement forms that they used to be. This is a loss for us all. However, all is not lost and there might be ways in which we can move to reclaim our healthy connection with movement.

I am going to get into a little more details of movement practices that aim to be spiritual rather than aiming to eradicate the impact of trauma. It is indeed a fortunate co-incidence that working on our spiritual development through movement can have the side-effect of releasing our trauma. To me these are two sides of the same coin and a spirituality developed after processing trauma is likely to be more expansive while also being more rooted.

Gurdjieff Movements, created by Russian philosopher and mystic George Ivanovich Gurdjieff in the 19th century, are meditative and harmonious. Groups of people move as they weave thinking, feeling and being embodied in a group experience, in response to piano music that was created for this purpose. Gurdjieff was a difficult teacher and required his students to submit wholly to the process. He was also convinced that the more we succumb to intellectualism, the further away we get from the essence of being human.

Gurdjieff's Movements by Jivan Sunder
Gurdjieff's Movements by Jivan Sunder

In my personal journey, this has a loud ring of truth even though my experience of Gurdjeiff’s movement has not been extensive. It is easy enough to find examples of these practices online to explore them for yourself.

Baul is a practice that has song, music and movement in it as well. Right from the placement of the foot that releases energy from the ground to the crown, the swirls and the emergent nature of the moves combine elements of tattva, tantra and tempo. There is always an element of improvisation rather than performance in the delivery of Baul. It comes from the core of the practitioner’s commitment to connecting with the divine forces. Even though piecemeal co-opting of such deep practices may have their critics, the mystic route of the traditional Baul is now opening up with elements being available to lay persons to learn and embrace in order to enrich their lives. With respect, we can dip in and experience for ourselves the ways of the mystics.

Eurythymy is another spiritual movement-oriented practice. It was created by educationist Rudolph Steiner to enable students to connect with the energy, etheric and light body along with physical body that we are all consciously aware of. This has spoken and musical elements and is done in a group. It is part of many Waldorf schools’ curriculum and does have the capacity to stir the connections between head, heart and hands. It also has elements of voice, along with music and movement, and the embodied aspects all hold the potential to connect us to the divine.

Preeti Birla Nair engaged in her training with Eurythmy India. She offers online Eurythmy workshops
Preeti Birla Nair engaged in her training with Eurythmy India. She offers online Eurythmy workshops

The classical dance forms of India are associated with different religions. In all these dances, there is an experience that the dancer has, of being able to communicate felt emotions (navarasa) through gestures and abhinaya (embodiment and role play). This capacity to embody and express the deep shared emotional worlds carves a deeper source of resilience in the dancers’ own emotional repertoire. This is only possible when the one who is moving is able to move beyond performing to simply being in the moment, in the movement.

Movement is natural for us and yet if we notice, children are more likely to imitate us punching away at keyboards because that is what they see us doing with focus and attention. If we could just take a few minutes every now and connect with the beat of our heart and the various rhythms that create the sense of our aliveness, our lives would be enriched by waves of emotional recognition.

I often move to music with children, and do whatever we are compelled to do from within. It is a deeply freeing, relaxing activity. It also allows us to stay connected to those we love even if they don’t want to do ‘deep conversations’ with us. In becoming a water buffalo or a camel or a monkey, with children and dancing with our authentic impulse, we become part of a whole experience that is shared and deeply stimulating.

I salute the #Jerusalemachallenge in which people all over the world have been uploading videos, dancing to ‘Jerusalema’, a song by South African DJ and record producer Master KG. This song got us to move globally in the harshest of lockdowns we have ever experienced.

My deepest wish from writing this is that it moves you to move and you find your own wonderful way of moving in connection with your core.

Dr. Rachana Patni is a Panjim-based leadership consultant who writes on mental & emotional wellbeing

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