Sandra Reeve in Conversation with Thérese Gaynor

Thérèse: Hi Sandra, I am delighted we have been able to find a time to meet and hope that through this conversation we can bring your Move into Life work into the awareness of a broader community interested in how movement can heal and deepen relationship with oneself, the environment and others.

Sandra: I am delighted to be able to talk about my work. Move into Life is the title of the annual programme of workshops which has been developing over the last eighteen years. The first Move into Life workshop was in 1989 and it’s really become a synthesis of different kinds of practices that I’ve been involved with. All of those have been connected with body, attitude and health

I started in theatre, doing physical theatre training which meant creating characters out of physical work..As I performed in different pieces I became fascinated by how just by changing one part of how you hold your body, for example changing a posture, a breathing pattern, a gesture, a facial expression you could become somebody else on stage. It occurred to me that we do this in daily life too, that there are basic patterns that we inherit and develop, whether its through nature or nurture, that we become conditioned into certain ways of moving to such an extent that we can no longer see other choices. I began to develop ways of working that were initially to do with relaxation and with breathing. I’ve been a practicing Buddhist for many years, practicing Buddhist meditation as a Way of Mindfulness. I subsequently trained as a Shiatsu practitioner, studying the Five Elements and Meridian systems as an approach to health and healing. In Shiatsu, health is seen as the individual’s capacity for change, the ease with which one has the capacity to adapt to the fact of changing situations.

Thérèse: So for you, health is well-being that is connected to one’s capacity to adapt?

Sandra: Yes, health is well-being and connects to adaptability. An aspect that I brought into movement practice from mindfulness meditation is Bare Attention, just noticing the next thing but while moving. . It’s really looking at the Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Buddhist practice through non-stylised movement. These four are observation of the Body and the sensations of the Body, and observation of Mind and the contents of Mind.

I start from the idea of body in movement as physical base in constant flux; following the idea of Suprapto Suryodarmo, a Javanese movement teacher, I try to start from Buddha walking, rather than from Buddha sitting. It’s hard to shift the way of seeing to moving as the default, as the base line , which includes, of course, moments of stillness or sleep. I think we tend to think of the world from stopping : that essentially we are not-moving and from there we get up to do something, and then we stop again…

What I’m trying to suggest is to look from movement, so that stopping or resting or sleeping are just  pauses in the line of change or movement ,so that life itself is somehow change, life-movement is itself transformation, things are constantly changing, our body is constantly changing. Instead we seem to insist that things should stand still and from that view so change becomes something that is really quite difficult. I think that stop/start can connect to the fact that, particularly as cultures that have colder climates, we live more indoors, our base is inside and from there we go outside, but our reference is staying indoors. I think it’s very different feeling for cultures that live outside and just come in to sleep or for some shelter. So there is also that environmental connection between how we perceive the world and the way that we inhabit the world.

Thérèse: I have an impression from listening to others describe your practice that the environment is very important in Move into Life work?

Sandra: Yes. Move into Life practice is fundamentally a relational practice, an ecological practice, a practice which encourages the perception and experience of oneself as a shifting part of a situation rather than as the static centre of a situation. Movement in natural environments, by the sea, in the hills, is a generous and immediate reminder of interconnected life. Moving in nature helps us to find our proportion, literally, as we participate in life, and reflects back to us our life themes. I am always looking at the person in their context, in the environment, as part of a situation. Environmental work becomes more and more profound for me in my own practice and also the ways in which I can work with different cultures through movement. Move into Life begins from the individual’s specificity: their personal, family, cultural, spiritual specificity. At the same time there is a profound respect for difference. There can be a whole range of diverse people in the room and they can all take part, starting from who they are and where they are.

The way I look at how people move is informed by different practices, but I am trying to see each person as clearly as I can in their movement.  Laban defined movement through ‘Four Efforts’, (perhaps better translated from the German as ‘Four Ignitions’): weight, space, time and flow. He looked at  both the particular quality that an individual preferred within one area e.g. heavy or light weight, fast or slow time and how people (or groups) combined the different ‘Efforts’ e.g someone’s movement style has a strong sense of flow and space but very little weight.  So, I may look at one person’s tendency or preference to move very slowly : that would be the rhythm that  they come back to and somebody else might have movement that is heavy, has weight, has gravitas while somebody else is very light and quick. I read those differences and then I might suggest trying the opposite. Just to broaden the range of choices, not from any sense of right or wrong.

From my way of seeing, it’s not about a right and a wrong way of moving. It’s about how I can see this person in their movement, and, from what I perceive in their movement through space, how I can offer them stimuli that will broaden their number of choices about how they move through the world.

Thérèse: As I’m listening, I realise there’s a gap in my understanding – I’m not quite sure what it is you’re looking for in their movement? And I’m curious about what you’re taking in, the individual or the individual and the interplay of them within their current environment?

Sandra: Essentially, I’m looking at the person in their context. In a studio, I am looking at the person in their immediate environment and how they are moving through the room. Do they go round the edges, do they walk through the middle, do they prefer to work close to the ground, do they prefer to work on the spot or are they constantly in transition and then gradually I would be looking at how their movement patterns through the space and connects with other patterns. The web of life shows us that we are in communication all the time; it is just a question of becoming aware of it.

In terms of the external environment, if we’re working in nature, I would look at and I would invite participants to look at, what are they noticing and how are they moving. So for example; somebody might go on to some rocks and immediately they might want to crawl and they would start crawling and perhaps looking for crevices, maybe tucking themselves into a crevice and perhaps stay in one position for a very long time and then for some reason, connected to their own story, they would start to move again and they might find another crevice. Somebody else wouldn’t dream of doing that; they might just want to boulder- hop, moving swiftly far away and then coming back again. So, I’m looking at how each person’s psycho-physical being is expressing itself through movement in particular environments.

I think there’s no longer a serious debate about separation of body and mind  So, I’m saying; let’s take that for granted, let’s get past the Cartesian split which continues to haunt our ways of thinking and perceiving,  and just say body -mind. Maybe non-stylised movement as a practice can be one approach to seeing how that psycho-physical being is interconnecting with the world is in relationship with the world, the environment and with other people. I see the environment and the individual organisms both as complex and adaptive dynamic systems and that the boundaries between those systems are constantly changing. That would relate to no fixed sense of self, but a sense of being/becoming-in-the-environment. For example, people within different cultures experience themselves as shifting between very different boundaries.

We do one exercise on experiencing the difference between public space, personal space, social space and intimate space – one person stands still, and calls out the boundary of each zone as the other person approaches them.  It can be phenomenally different for each person, even within one cultural group. It’s clearly reveals the misunderstanding that can happen inter-culturally because of the different kinaesthetic experiences of zones of relating.

When I was living in Indonesia, personal and intimate space were completely different and it took me a while to realise that, for example,  this was personal space for this particular culture where as for me, it was already intimate or vice versa. So even just that realisation, in a multi-cultural society would be a useful tool for us. Of course it’s not just about space, it’s also about  time or rhythm, our relationship to time; being in time or  being on time, for example, are very different and the skill for me is bringing those two things together. When I’m running a workshop, I have to be on time, in terms of the schedule, but how, within that, can I let the process breath, deal with what needs to be dealt with and yet still be, in time, in the time of my organism or of other people’s organic needs. How can I be in nature’s time, and give time for the wind or the wave to speak? The sense of time in Indonesia is the example that I know, and there it’s completely different:  for example, the idea of keeping an appointment if it rains – you wait for the rain to pass, and yet people still manage to meet! I really had to adapt my habit of clock time. I am sure that many of us have had similar experiences in different cultures.

Thérèse: You’re very clear that this practice is different from your Dance Movement Therapy practice?

I am a Senior Registered Dance Movement Therapist in Britain. My Move into Life programme isn’t Dance Movement Therapy as such, it is a programme of movement practice. Many art therapists, psychotherapists, counsellors artists, care workers and other professionals attend the workshops. My experience is that the diversity of professions is mutually beneficial.  Each person applies what they learn through movement in their own way. Some take therapeutic skills which they can apply within their therapeutic work; others take elements that they can apply within performance or they may decide to apply the skills in their daily life. Usually, as people advance in the work I ask them to verify what their priority is at any given workshop, so that they know which hat they are looking from, but initially that is not important. I shall be offering a teacher training programme in 2007/8, which will support each person to develop their own application of the movement skills I am teaching in their won unique way. I see it as an ‘apprentice’ system rather than an ‘academic’ system of study.

Thérèse: You make it very clear that Move into Life is not a therapy but rather a practice?

Sandra: Yes, I position myself as a movement teacher within Move into Life work. Within the context of the workshop,  I’m holding the space, I’m holding the group, I’m making sure that it’s safe, but the boundaries of how I work through movement assume that each participant is able to take responsibility for their own process. My experience of working with learning disabilities groups, with individuals with mental health needs, with children with special needs is that  my interventions need to be more structured to provide a safe container and a clear task for the participants.

Another difference for me is that in therapy work I’m really committed to engaging with the content of the person’s life, the personal narrative, the story and I make myself available for that and therefore my relationship with that person is totally different. In Move into Life work I’m constantly looking at how people do things and I don’t necessarily engage or even invite the content of that person’s life, the ‘what’ they do. People are very welcome to share what’s happening for them, that’s welcome, but I don’t engage with that, I do not interpret. So, if I’m asked something, I really answer from something I’ve seen in the person’s actual movement. I try not to  interpret that. In dance movement therapy, I enter into the interpretive and analytic process as a part of the therapeutic process. It has taken me years to make that current distinction, and I am sure it will continue to evolve. I think it’s an interesting distinction for a lot of different fields.

Thérèse: It seems to me that in your practice as in other movement practices such as the 5 Rhythms, it’s a very important distinction for the facilitator or teacher to hold and it also feels very important to me for the participants to really hear this. I certainly recognise my own struggle at times in a practice that is not therapy to hold onto a very clear boundary in a movement practice that invites a participant into deepening their relationship with self and other.

Sandra: When I reached the point of being a Senior Registered Dance Movement Therapist and seeing quite a lot of individual clients, I needed to make that distinction for myself. I was often asked for it, I always felt that it was clear in the practice but it was hard to find the words. And only once in all the years, have I had one person come to a workshop when I felt, actually, this is not the right workshop and so I invited them not to continue. I felt that I would need to be holding a different role to make it safe for them.

Suprapto Suryodarmo is a Javanese movement teacher and a friend, whom I worked with for ten years. I remember watching him work with people in movement over many years. I studied for a long time just watching him and for years I couldn’t understand how he was doing what he was doing, in terms of his capacity to see people through how they were moving. And one day I said to him: ‘What are you doing?’ He replied: ‘My task is to try and see each person as clearly as possible through their movement.’ He was literally just watching how they move. I suppose I’ve taken that on board. I practice myself nearly every day. I get up and move for about an hour in the morning and that is my personal practice time. in terms If I have a difficulty or a question, sometimes I go into that space with a question and I just move and then I see how my movement develops in relation to that question. There is always information.

I work through all different kinds of tasks with my students. The practice is very task based, as there is no form to learn. Partly I work through exploring different dynamics. One of them, as a simple example, is transition/ position. Now, you and I are in a certain position and at some point we’re going to get up and there’s going to be a transition. I take studying that process further into how people are operating in that dynamic, they are noticing their positions and somebody might say; I seem to just go from position to position and I don’t notice the transitions or somebody else might say; I’m always in transition, I can’t seem to stop, I get anxious when I stop. So, just by studying those movement dynamics, people start making all kinds of associations with their patterns in life.

I also talk about active and passive in my work – does somebody come from ‘being’, and from ‘being’ their doing arises or does somebody come from doing and by doing, their sense of ‘being’ arises? It’s very different, some people do it one way and some do it another. Cultures vary too. When one type meets the other, there’s a kind of dynamic that can happen. When someone is very strongly into being, their presence can be very absorbing and for someone who likes doing, they can feel their capacity for doing sort of disappearing! Equally, the other way round. If someone is very strong in doing, a being person can get agitated and feel like they are meant to be doing something and so a dynamic exists. It’s just a different movement.

Thérèse: And this state of being or doing, relates to what you describe in your practice as the passive and active?

Sandra: Yes, that’s one way of describing initiating and receiving. Examples of being receptive would be attuning to, having empathy with, kinaesthetically becoming aware of – it’s more in terms of allowing the senses (including cognition as a sense) to receive information. For example, hearing for me is more receptive than listening, listening is already more focused. When I listen something goes out to meet the world, when I am hearing, I let something come to me. It’s the same maybe with looking and seeing. If I’m looking, it can be a little bit more focused, a little bit more active, a little bit more precise, whereas seeing could be more like a wide- angled lens, could be more receiving of the eyes, rather than looking. So I also work with different ways of using the senses. We practice looking near, mid-distance and far away whilst moving – it’s quite hard to be embodied and visionary… it can be seen as the far-sighted, literally. I’m literal about movement in that I will say to people; study a different point of view. Explore how to do this – look through your legs or go up-side down and see how the world looks and how you move within that configuration.

To take the active and passive once more step, say from the practical tool through into the approach of Move into Life – we connect again with Buddhist philosophy in the sense of karma. Basically,  what I put out into the space will return to me. Through movement I’m becoming aware of what I’m putting into the world. So, by ‘deconstructing’ my movement – because we’re always shifting from passive to active or active to passive throughout our daily life – I am inviting people to examine aspects of their movement  and then to bring it together again .  Gradually, I can become aware of certain ways that I do things that perhaps invite particular responses. In my work it is important to me that my methodology and the tools I use are all interconnected.  I am trying to live what I say and to remain congruent, coherent. I like the word congruent. I like the word coherent and particularly ecoherent , because for me these words avoid a sense of  judgement.

I don’t believe we can shift our relationship to the environment or to ecological issues unless we physically experience ourselves as part of the environment. There are many ways to become ecologically aware and I believe that we need to experience ourselves as part of the environment, rather than as guardians of it. It would be wonderful if we could develop an embodied sense of our individual organism as one part of a whole complex of changing systems that make up the ecology that we share and in which we dwell.

Sandra Reeve is engaged in a PhD at the University of Exeter which is extending my
practice as a performer, teacher and director as I develop my thesis on ‘The Ecological Body’. Move into Life is the synthesis of my work with movement, culture and the environment. Drawing on Theravada Buddhist mindfulness practice, on Amerta Movement (the work of Suprapto Suryodarmo) and on ecological principles, this programme reflects my passion for movement as an artist, a teacher, a movement therapist and a director. Movement is my main source of creativity and my guide to health.