Personal Growth - Wisdom of the Body
by Adity Roy
Ordinarily, I would have no problems introducing myself to people. But when asked to move around with a bunch of ribbons in the company of 22 strangers, I found the exercise inhibiting.
I am at the My Body My Wisdom workshop held at the serene Jyoti Bhavan convent at Karmalaram, on Sarjahpur Road, just on the outskirts of Bangalore. And truly far from the madding crowd. Choreographer Tri-pura Kashyap and psychotherapist Santha Kumar are conducting the workshop. The aim is a novel combination of attempting to use the mind and the body through dance and discussion.
Activities and analysis here are all geared towards making us aware that life is the most precious gift we have been given and that the body is home to this gift. Says Santha, "All of our life's experiences occur in the body and hence we must nurture it and pay attention to its signals rather than take it for granted."
Sixty-three-year-old Santha Kumar is lean and soft spoken. He was born in Malaysia and studied electronic engineering in the U.K. He worked in the fast-paced IT industry for 20 years. While at his last job in Singapore with Tandem Computers, a Fortune 500 company, he began to feel boxed in. "I began to experience a feeling of being stuck, as though my inner stream had dried up," recalls Santha of that phase. "I did not know what I had to do next but I knew that I had to break out and create space to reinvent myself."
The decision meant giving up the long-familiar comforts of driving a Mercedes and living in the better part of Singapore. "It traumatized my mother who felt terribly unsettled," he says. But events unfolded in a way that, "led me to walk through a door". A chance meeting with a psychotherapist couple from California, Shauna and Maurice, at Kathmandu where he was on a business trip, changed his life completely. And incidentally theirs too. The couple were on their way to Japan to take up jobs as English teachers. Santha persuaded them to go back to Singapore as his houseguests till they found work. The next three months in their company changed Santha's approach to life completely. He was moved by the healing powers of psychotherapy.
Maurice and Shauna established a very successful practice in Singapore and Santha went on to study psychotherapy at the Institute of Integral Studies in California. The school, Santha tells us, is founded on the philosophy of Sri Aurobindo. The course itself was an amalgamation of psychology, philosophy, yoga and religion.
His studies lasted three-and-a-half years. Santha met Tripura Kashyap through a friend and participated in quite a few of her dance workshops. "Body and mind form a continuum and movement could be used to strengthen this connection," believes Santha. Tripura, on the other hand, found it interesting that a psychotherapist could be interested in movement and believe in the therapeutic influence of dance.
Tripura began learning Bharatanatyam as a child when someone told her mother that it could cure the squint in her eye. While the squint did get corrected, Tripura tired of conventional dance and joined the contemporary dance group of the Chandralekha Troupe based in Chennai. While there she met Grace Valentine, a dance therapist from the USA. "That's when I found my real calling," says she. "I know dance and music are all-pervasive because as a child I have watched my disabled brother thumping when music was heard." She moved to the USA to study dance therapy and while there she worked with disabled children.
Back in India she worked with the Attakkalari Centre for Movement Arts in Bangalore, working with theater artists and disabled children, "coordinating and reconnecting with parts of our body that we have completely taken for granted and lost touch with," she informs.
In 2001, Santha and Tripura designed a workshop called My Body My Wisdom to help normal people shed inhibitions, reconnect with their bodies and bring alive the instinctive intelligence or wisdom that lies innate within us.
The 20 participants at the workshop hailed from varied walks of life. A software engineer, a marketing hotshot, a therapist working with war victims in Palestine, advertising students, a housewife, a film director, professional dancers and even mainstream doctors. The introduction itself tried to break inhibitions as we were asked to move, indicating the highs and the lows of our lives through our limbs. I thought I loved to dance but soon realized that solo performances are not my forte.
Each participant was allotted a room with attached facilities. Food was vegetarian but sumptuous and in plenty, although we were advised to "eat in moderation and in silence" in order to allow our senses to be on high alert while at the table. We were also asked to use the opportunity to reconnect with the wilderness around us, preferably in silence.
The workshop began at 8.30 a.m. every morning and continued until 7.00 p.m. every evening for the next three days. The exercises and activities were sometimes done alone, sometimes with a partner or in groups. The warm-ups involved various dance movements. They seemed simple but left us all, including the gym regulars, with aches and pains in areas so new to us that we were made aware of so many parts of our anatomy we simply don't put into use or are even aware of.
The first exercise on the first day required us to make a collage of randomly picked pictures within 15 minutes. The purpose was not to think while choosing the pictures but "to let the pictures choose you". In retrospect, we realized that each picture had a subconscious association for us. Through inputs from partners we were given deeper insights into issues we were perhaps in denial of.
Later in the day we were asked to step into a large cardboard box, sit in it silently for a while, move with it, try to roll with it and then literally break out of it. The purpose of the exercise was to realize how issues in our lives literally make us feel boxed in and in order to change that situation we need to recognize it and break out of it. A few found the association too close for comfort and had to leave the room to overcome feelings of claustrophobia. Another interesting exercise revolved around sensitizing ourselves to touch. One partner was blindfolded while the other was asked to touch the blindfolded partner on parts of the body, who, in turn, was required to move that particular part. The purpose was to make us aware of the degree of our sensory focus.
By day two the barriers began to fall. Moving across the floor solo seemed okay to me now. There was laughter and camaraderie as also trust in the group, which till then had been composed of complete strangers. There were outpourings of betrayals, of inhuman college ragging that had left one scarred for life, of sexual abuse as a child, of being torn between a lover and one's wife, of surviving the stigma of being the child of a suicide victim and so much more. It taught us to come to terms with pain. Yes, someone may have gone through greater pain than you but that does not lessen yours in any way.
We divided ourselves into two groups. Each group in turn was asked to walk towards the other group maintaining eye contact at all times until told to stop. We walked till we were inches away from the other person. Some of us stopped, while others continued walking, pushing the other person back. Some walked around the person. The exercise revealed interesting insights about us - whether we were pushovers, whether we respected another person's space, whether we were protective about our own space and were willing to defend it or not or even whether we were aggressive and unheeding of another person's space. Some were quite uncomfortable with the concept of holding another person's gaze for so long.
Such activities heightened our awareness of the space around us, and conveyed that while respecting others' space, we should protect our own. We learned the art of saying no and making choices that are consciously our own decisions and not those thrust upon us.
By the last day, the camaraderie was tremendous. We formed two groups, each of which had to perform a play based on a poem contributed to by every member of the group.
Too much was read into an exercise at times and the eagerness to express came from that desire to feel connected. However, I realized a number of participants were keen to find answers and were looking to be healed and were perhaps experiencing a lot more in their eagerness.
One of the participants, a doctor just out of a traumatic marriage, confessed, "If five months ago someone had told me to go into therapy, I would have told them of an equally effective drug. But I've been there and it didn't work. Here, I've rediscovered my self-worth again."
After lunch we discussed the workshop, our experience of it and what we had achieved from it. The participants agreed that they had probably not found all the answers they were looking for but the process of awareness had begun. The kinesthetic intelligence of the body, its triggers, its intuition and its innate wisdom had been awakened. The message was simple. "Reconnect with your body like a child does, understand the signals it releases and be sensitized to its innate wisdom. Awaken and allow the five senses to be guided by intuition and live a better life," concluded Santha.
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