A reflection on: Moving Bodies, Moving Minds

By Ellen Osborne, Editor of the Metamorphosis Matters blog, in response to our Moving Bodies, Moving Minds event held at The Warehouse, Waterloo on 9 May 2017.

A conversation in and around psychiatry, dance and theatre; bringing the mind and body back together, and valuing mental and physical health equally, with:

Carly Annabel-Coop, The Alchemy Project
Sean Cross, psychiatrist and clinical director of the Mind and Body Programme, King’s College London
Suzy Willson, co-founder and director, CLOD ENSEMBLE

The subject of movement and mind, and their symbiotic relationship is one that sits very close to heart and home. For almost a year, Feldenkrais has become a part of my day-to-day. The exercises have been mentally and physically challenging. I have a fresh awareness to movement, connected my mind and body in a new way, and it has given me more resilience, empathy, and capacity for opportunity than I ever thought would be possible. When a friend told me about the evening, the subject of ‘Moving Bodies, Moving Minds’ captured my curiosity immediately.

Any transition starts with people. If they aren’t equipped with the capabilities and resilience to act and flourish, how can they create and support the conditions for change to happen?

At Moving Bodies, Moving Minds, the speakers, from across disciplines of dance, theatre and psychiatry, told us how dance and the arts have helped to transform lives, health and relationships, from both sides of the doctor’s table, patient and care provider. Movement and dance interventions have improved the clinical outcomes of people accessing mental health services, and how increased physical awareness can benefit healthcare professionals themselves.

How fascinating to see how they have been moving bodies and moving minds, and have ended up moving systems.

Here are a few insights that got me thinking:

Separation of body and mind

Allow me to set the scene: In today’s society there is a rift between the mind and the body. Cartesian Duality explains how the immaterial mind and the material body, while being distinct substances, causally interact with each other. But we have allowed contemporary culture and technology to drive our mentality and physicality apart.

Dr Sean Cross, Clinical Director of Mind & Body program described how when the Denmark Hill road was built, it divided King’s College in two; leaving one side of the road focused on psychiatry and the mind, while the other on the physical body. This modern day, urban infrastructure is a metaphor for this split between the body and the psyche that has become embedded in our society and people, one that he noted permeates the health care system today, and one that I think runs through society and all our industries.

This begs a question for me — what elements and aspects of society have led to this rift? Is it due to treating symptoms rather than the cause? Does technology create distractions and barriers? Do a culture of pressure at work, urban life, and little access to nature, create a divide too?

For the medical world it’s important to shift the conversation away from merely treating illness, to being healthy.

We have to link up the two sides of the road, both body and mind. Think holistically and integrate both elements of human, see the body and the mind as interconnected; after all they exist as part of a person and together they are more than the sum of the separate parts.

Power in people centricity

Dance and performance embody this holistic practice. Dance is people focused.
Dance brings the mind back into the body, a performance originates in the whole of a person, it reconnects the rift between mentality and physicality, requiring people to be mentally present and aware of their movements in the moment.

A dance company move together to create a performance simultaneously as one and as individuals. It involves touching, feeling, and removes boundaries between people, as they move together.

Dance to heal

    ‘We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once. And we should call every truth false which was not accompanied by at least one laugh.’
    Friedrich Nietzche

On screen were the words of Friedrich Nietzsche; fitting for the initiatives carried out by the Alchemy Project, who used dance as a treatment for mental illness. Directed by Carly Annabel-Coop, a group of 16 young adults from the Early Intervention in Psychosis teams within the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, spent 4 weeks learning contemporary dance. The project culminated in a live, professional performance to an audience.

The process allowed the dance participants to heal and improve wellbeing, with clinically significant results.

It gave them new sense of resilience and optimism, through new skills and perspectives they could take into their lives after the project:

Exploring touch and contact, coming together to build trust and connection, helped to reduce the feelings of isolation.

As the dance brought their minds back into their physical selves, they developed a new sense of body awareness while improving fitness and energy. They discovered stillness as well as strength and bodily control. Some were transformed from anxious fidgeters into people who were calm and comfortable within their space.

The dancers found themselves understanding and practising creativity, dynamics and expression, new forms of communication between each other and as performers.

They were given a sense of purpose; they weren’t defined by their illness; they were performers, dancers and a team, learning to work together as a dance company to create something beautiful. Dance gave them resilience and strength to overcome huge and complex personal challenges.

Performance in Medicine

Let’s look at the role of movement and performance from the other side of the healthcare system: In health care, which is such a people centric profession, and a physical and demanding practice, professionals have quite specific and rigid ways of working.

CLOD ENSEMBLE has created a program called Performing Medicine that sits at an intersection between the arts and medicine. Their workshops and programs teach medical professionals techniques, methods and concepts from the arts to improve the service and relationship between them, their colleagues and their patients.

Bringing awareness of movement, body language, voice, and touch, allowing responses and use of the space they are in to show more empathy, compassion and ultimately provide better care.

At the core of the Performing Medicine program is the ‘Circle of Care’, a framework to help healthcare professionals think about, practise and demonstrate high quality compassionate healthcare, putting it in a broad context of the people around them, their colleagues, patients and carers. At the centre of the circle is self-care. If you can’t care for yourself, it is impossible to provide care for others.

And so, to nicely tie this all together — the need to bridge that gap between body and mind is fundamental to self-care, resilience and optimism, for all.

    ‘Education around self care should be a human right.’
    Suzy Willson, Artistic Director of CLOD ENSEMBLE and Performing Medicine


Here are some of my concluding reflections and questions on the evening’s conversations:

If people are at the heart of creating any change, to me the relevance of movement in body and mind is so important in equipping society to transform our dysfunctional systems.

How could bringing mind back to the body strengthen our relationships, resilience and optimism, improve awareness and capacity to act intuitively, to create social conditions and support for transformation? In business, with clients, with friends, with family, even with how we relate to and deal with enemies?

How can we harness the power of dance to reconnect body and mind?

How can dance and the arts help people to feel equipped to embrace change?

How can dance and the arts help people develop a holistic, systemic way of thinking?

The Alchemy Project clearly demonstrates how dance and movement can be used to help heal those suffering from psychosis. But as such a powerful practice, how can dance be used in education, as a way to protect against poor mental health, build resilience and a sense of purpose, indeed teach these life skills, rather than react to the symptoms?

This subject of moving interdependent bodies and minds feels pertinent on a personal level, as well as adding a new element to professional practice in system change. The lines are constantly blurring.

I am yet to fully connect the dots on in this bigger picture for myself and my own practice, but I know that I will one day, and I look forward to the day that the two parts comes together, like duality of body and mind.

Originally published on Metamorphosis Matters, 18 May 2017.