This past Saturday (one of the first hot and sunny San Francisco days of the year), I had the pleasure of attending an Authentic Movement workshop at The Center, SF. First, I must say that The Center is an entirely magical space, dimly lit and semi-subterranean, with low, earth-colored tea tables, beautiful teas, soulful artwork and Holy Water, yes, Holy Water. Additionally, The Center includes a yoga and workshop studio, replete with altars in the corners, and ample space for . . . well, movement. I would like to add at this point that I am receiving no incentive for writing this. I am writing this from pure inspiration, the very best place from which to write.
I had signed myself up for an ‘Authentic Movement’ workshop with Maria Lentzou, MA. I did not know the first thing about Authentic Movement. Whatever it was, it sounded deeply embodied, and therefore, like something that would help me understand deep embodiment a bit better, in order to continue improving upon my lived knowledge and understanding of the somatic and embodiment work that I do with my clients, especially clients who experience any degree of dissociation from their bodies. But really, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
Before we dove into the actual Authentic Movement practice, we sat in circle and introduced ourselves, and what brought us to the workshop, and then Maria explained a bit more about what Authentic Movement was, and what it was that we were about to do. As children, Authentic Movement comes naturally to us, Maria explained. As we are acculturated and learn to be good little students, we are told to sit still and pay attention. Don’t disrupt. Stop fidgeting. Eventually, we become (usually) well-behaved adults who sit still in our chair, and, more often than not, have a big crick that’s ready to crack out of our necks or our backs, or a big stretch that’s just begging to be lusciously had in our office chairs. Any time we welcome movement to our adult bodies, there is a huge somatic sensation of, “Oh my God, yes!!!!! We need this! Stretch it out!” It’s more than that, though. As we learn to quell the natural internal impulse towards movement, it’s as though the natural internal impulse itself is squelched, and on some level, we stop trusting our natural, internal, first impulse.
Maria explained that there would be a warmup (“Thank God,” I thought, “I am going to be eased into this by doing something with the group, something I’m supposed to do, something I’m being told to do.”) This seemed like an immense comfort because, well, pretty much all my life I had been told what to do. This is how it is for all of us. In school, the teacher tells you what to do in class. At work, your boss tells you what to do. In the yoga studio, the teacher tells you what to do. In this way, you are assured that you are never out of line, you are doing what you are “supposed to do,” and no one is going to form any impressions of you that you do not want them forming.
Then, Maria explained, after the warm up, well, we were going to close our eyes, and move. We were going to move in exactly the way we wanted to move, and we were going to find the internal impulse towards movement, even if this meant being still for a while until an impulse was found. It may well be the first time in a very long time that any of us would be not told what to do or not behaving in the way we believe we are supposed to behave. At this point, I got a little nervous. What had I gotten myself into? At the same time, I was glad to be there. It felt distinctly like the kind of discomfort, or foray outside of the comfort zone, which was actually going to be good and nourishing for me.
During the warmup, Maria guided us through all manner of movements, of all parts of the body, some of which required for me to depart from my movement and appearance ‘safe zone’ (i.e., my ego was starting to bring in messages like, “We are looking really silly right now,” and, “We don’t do this.”). I moved through the ego discomfort. Then came the Authentic Movement, welcomed in with the chime of a bell.
My eyes closed and I felt into the way that my body wanted to continue moving, no matter how “silly” those movements might look, no matter how anything those movements might look. This went on for a 20-minute interval during which time contorted, and I was lost inside the authenticity of my internal impulse. I began to trust my internal impulse, perhaps more than I ever had since childhood. At times I was dancing or shimmying, at other times, I was rocking on the ground, and at still other times, I moved slowly, like a kelp forest, or a person in congress with some invisible world. The movements lit my whole body up, to each fingertip and toe, so that my whole body participated in the practice, and I was fully alive all the way to every individual extremity.
I felt the urge to ascribe meaning to some of my movements. The other participants described their movements, during the integration conversation, in ways that made me think of specific animals. Had any specific animal come through in any of my movements, I wondered? At one point my arms had naturally gone into Artemis pose, one holding the intentional tautness of an invisible bow, and the other, extended straight out in the direction of an invisible arrow. We were encouraged to move towards a selection of art supplies at the end of the 20 minutes, as a continuation of the exercise, bringing our natural impulse into the way we worked the materials, with no concern for how it “looked”. I drew in the way a child would draw, boldly, with big strokes, and chaotic layers. I can see how this “unlearning” of how to be in the world would be invaluable to any artistic endeavor.
I came away from the workshop in an otherworldly calm, feeling assured that I would not be late for my next client session; I would find parking, I was sure of it. And in session, I went with my intrinsic impulses. It was one of the more intuitive, and confident sessions in a while. I realized that this Authentic Movement practice would not only make me a better therapist, but it would probably also make me a better artist, trusting of the natural impulse and the grander scheme to which the natural impulse is tuned. It would also make me more confident. Don’t we often constrict our natural impulses in conversation because on some level we have integrated the message that our natural impulse will be wrong? We choke ourselves up and silence our natural brilliance in this way. Also, I felt sure, this practice would make me calmer and more intuitive. And, as if this were not enough, it would make me much, much more emanantly embodied and present.
I noticed, during the integration conversation, that the other participants were expressing themselves in much more naturally embodied ways, using their arms and their whole bodies as natural extensions of their verbal communications. It was beautiful to see. I have always believed that this natural, somatic expressiveness that some people retain is beautiful to behold. And here it was, reawakened in the members of the group, each expressing themselves with natural grace and uniqueness. There was also a childlike energy in the room. The natural preciousness of each person seemed emanant.
I believe Authentic Movement deserves to make the same cultural splash that Yoga did when it was first introduced to the West. Whether or not it will, I cannot say. Go and try it for yourself, and let me know in the comments below what your experience has been 🙂
Photo by Elle Hughes