How closely linked is the body and the mind? How might movement of the body effect the mental state?
Former dancer and Touch Trust Session Leader, Yvette Halfhide, reflects on how Performing Medicine: The Anatomy Season might enhance and inspire the charity’s creative movement programmes.
The human body is an amazing piece of science and art combined into one. It has been studied by so many different professionals throughout time and even now after centuries of examination coupled with inventions and discoveries it still continues to marvel and inspire.
As a former dancer now working with Touch Trust, a charity working with challenging behaviour, profound and complex needs and those individuals on the autistic spectrum. I was immediately drawn to not only the performances but also the workshops and the chance to explore perhaps some of the ideas that were touched on in making the dance piece. Touch Trust's founder, Dilys Price OBE was lucky enough to be taught by Rudolph Laban, the father of modern dance. Laban believed that the human body and mind are one and inseparably fused. Touch Trust's work stems from this belief that by focusing on and treating the person as a whole and not just the sum of parts you are creating a holistically healthier and consequently happier person.
The body has two natural rhythms, the breathing and the heartbeat. Near the beginning of our Touch Trust sessions we focus on the breathing, encouraging our guests to breathe slowly and deeply. Deep breathing encourages a person to relax their muscles, focus in on themselves and to become more aware of their own bodies. During this calmer energy our sessions moves into energy stroking and massage. For those guests that do tolerate and enjoy touch this basic connection can prove to be so rewarding. The physical connection again promotes relaxation of muscles (particularly in those guests who have cerebral palsy) as well as heightening awareness of their own bodies, their relationship in the environment and with their partner. A positive picture of themselves is nurtured through this gentle and peaceful connection.
The other natural rhythm of the body, the heartbeat, is focused on in our 'enlivened section' where we encourage everyone to feel the lift in energy through dancing, smiling, singing and feeling joyful! For our guests that have limited mobility we encourage partners to tap the rhythm on their guest's body, use materials, ribbons and/or feathers to help lift the energy. Bodies are encouraged to move freely during this section – to explore and express without any inhibitions. In our Authentic Movement section, we encourage guests to explore one movement, if possible three times, so that their muscles' memories are stimulated. As one of my dance teachers used to say, “Practice Makes Permanence!” It is incredible to see how some guests, through repeated actions, physically supported by their partners, are able to perform the same movement by themselves through sheer stimulation of muscle memory.
Praise is an essential aspect of the Touch Trust session – clapping, naming, smiling, positive body language and a total commitment to the support and encouragement of each of our guests. Who does not enjoy receiving praise? It reiterates our purpose of being and in turn encourages us to push ourselves both mentally and physically that little bit further. Each day we can perhaps discover something new about our own selves, our bodies and our minds if we are just given that little bit of encouragement.
Exploring new ways to perceive (and appreciate!) the human body can only help to improve our understanding of what perhaps many of us take for granted. I look forward to discovering how The Anatomy Season can inspire me in my work with Touch Trust!