I’m passionate about stellar learning environments.
I’ve written about the importance of creating safe spaces in mind-body classes at length and these concepts are not just theoretical – they’re based on real life experience teaching group classes since 1996!
My recent workshop obsession is called Up & Down and I want to outline what happens in this unique workshop and why I believe it forms blueprint for a 5 star healing workshop.
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Up & Down started in 2010 with movement specialist and teacher Elia Mrak, who has since become not only a colleague, but a very good friend too. Since then, we’ve taught together six times and we’re gearing up for more in the future!
This work can be tough to explain, and what we teach and experience in this workshop environment is something that can only be felt. Up & Down is 100% somatic and 100% connection. Elia and I believe this work can change the world and I want to explain how…
So let’s begin. What do you think is most lacking in our society right now?
More importantly, movement IN connection.
We might go to yoga or go to the gym. We might run marathons or strive for 10K steps every day. But so often these practices are done alone, or they are done with a drive to prove something, to lose something, or to tick a box.
But there’s another part to movement and that’s relationship. Many of us are wounded and traumatized in relationship, so our body and all its parts and functions (muscles and their movement) get wounded as well. So for us to fully heal, we must BE in relationship and we must MOVE in relationship.
Separate these two things, movement and relationship, and it is like having an ocean without water or a forest without trees.
Now stay with me here, because I have to make a few connections so we can tie the bow on this gift up right:
Safety in our movement. Safety with connection.
Safety is the first ingredient for the mind-body connection. More specifically, it’s biological safety. In that whole mind-body health world, this is too often missed.
Without biological safety, we can only go so far when it comes to rewiring the nervous system.
By all this I mean:
We must feel what it’s like to be in positive, safe, contained interactions, while moving and experiencing our body and self.
Put another way: we can’t be isolated on our own mat and not interact.
If we want to dive to the core of it and heal; the human condition, us, our relationships, our minds, safety is key.
This goes back to #1 – our pain and trauma often come (first) via relationship and when this happens, it means our safety was compromised and it can be very tough to let our guard down and trust others or trust ourselves.
To heal at the mind-body level, this somatic level, we must be in nurturing relationships and environments to unwind and untether that trauma fully. This is especially important when doing so hasn’t been the norm.
Our immune system will repair a scrape, a bruise and even a bone break spontaneously.
So one might assume that if there is a wound of any kind (relational, early trauma etc.) it’ll just repair on its own. Unfortunately it just doesn’t work this way.
Trauma doesn’t heal with time because it is too complex.
It only heals when we actively and consistently engage with the parts of our system that are still IN the traumatic stress patterns. For example, the part of our body that we stop moving because that part may have been injured or assaulted. Or a body posture that’s stuck due to a lifetime of shame, guilt and repressed feelings.
To bring back movement and all that we carry with our movement, it must be felt within and in relationship to our environment and when we can, with others.
Up & Down does this. It gets you to feel your true internal self and its potential for wonder, joy, pleasure, curiosity and creativity. For some in past workshops, it is the first time they can remember EVER feeling this kind of liberation.
Up & Down participants connecting, moving and putting their practice into play (or maybe play into practice)
4. (being) Witnessed
I’ve written and spoken about the power of being deserving (healing, wellness, love, creativity, power … you name it!).
When we didn’t have that early unconditional environment where we could develop at our own pace; think crawling and exploring at our leisure as babies without some paediatric milestone waiting to be ticked off. When we experienced, instead, limitations on our ability to move and develop; like a parent anxiously awaiting our first words for bragging rights, exploring the playground while constantly being told to “be careful, you might hurt yourself!” or having limits put on our movement and even our imagination to be silly and nonsensical and spontaneously creative. When that happens, many of us become stunted in our capacity for expression, creativity and humanness.
That is why I love this picture from our last Up & Down workshop, it shows pure fun and joy:
Pre-workshop warm-up called ‘The Machine.’ Dang it that was fun! And people asked for more of the play and silliness in their feedback forms to us!!
When we don’t get this early allowance of curiosity, play and wonder, we become skewed to a certain level of smallness, both metaphorical and literal. For the latter, our body movement and sense of kinesthetic space becomes limited in its movement capacity and creativity and it doesn’t know what full expression and usage is. For the former, we’ll tend to live within a range of emotional and mental expression that’s limited and doesn’t come close to the exquisite nature of humanity.
Being able to access our deepest points of shutdown around what we deserve and can express starts with our body and its movement because these two things (body and movement), along with feeling and sensation, are all we knew before we were old enough to fully express how we were doing as infants and kiddos.
To heal these misfortunes of development, that quite frankly, most in the Western world survived, we MUST work at this body/movement/sensing/feeling (SOMATIC) level. This is how the deepest level of healing and transformation takes place.
5. (much more than) Movement
We must blend in movement, but more importantly, we must blend in movement that is not typical and sometimes resembles a somatic riddle. This is one of the beauties of Moshe Feldenkrais’ work: the primary awareness through movement teaching that I weave into Up & Down. And then we dive into the delight of play, games and a kind of ‘dance’ that isn’t scripted, nor scary. Elia, my co-teacher, is supreme at guiding these unique movement experiments with a solid dose of groundedness.
Elia teaching about the connection to the floor via our hands and skeleton.
This is why I believe the Up&Down group experience is powerful modern-day medicine.
Peter Levine talks about movement as a way to change the pattern and to get into the hard to reach places and of course, he is correct. Further to this, it must be fun and something unique that one doesn’t expect (meaning – not a past system that we are looking to compare to, like dance, yoga, tai chi etc).
For this reason, I believe Up & Down IS the modern drum circle, dance and chant.
But it ain’t like your usual healing circle because our current level of complexity AIN’T like the olden days of tribal healing and this is why I needed to outline these five ingredients above.
In Up & Down we move solo. We move together. We get quiet. We get loud. We listen. We laugh. We learn. We heal. We play and have a shit ton of fun.
The best learning experiences I’ve had over the past few years have had me laughing to the point of my face hurting and tears falling from my face with zero shame.
Up & Down does this.
Elia and I are serious about our craft so if you’d like to join us for our next workshop be sure to head over to our site and either sign-up for the next one or get on the waitlist for future events.
Hope to see you there!
10 Practices For Creating Safety In Your Mind-Body Classes
Our Up&Down participants from Summer 2018. Vancouver, BC. You can find more pictures over on the registration site – just head to the gallery link!