Lenny is a good friend of mine who teaches many aspects of theater. His expertise includes mask dancing and mime. He is extraordinarily aware of body movement. I was talking to him one day about the mind body connection and he related the following story to me.
Sarah had little sense of her body. When asked to turn her head left or right she would swing her whole upper body in that direction. She had difficulty in even making gross distinctions between the parts of her body.
Walking to a Rhythm
One day I had everyone walk around the studio accentuating the downward motion of his or her body on each step. I beat a drum to give a rhythm and noticed something off in Sarah’s walk. She walked on the beat but something was odd. I couldn’t tell what it was.
The next day I repeated the exercise and she had the same abnormal walk. Then I saw it. She was walking ever so slightly on the ball of her foot. In a normal walk the heel touches the ground first. I watched Sarah after the exercise and she walked like everyone else with her heel touching the ground first.
The next day we repeated the exercise and again she was walking ever so slightly on her toes. Maybe she was experimenting with something. I asked her if she was aware of walking this way. She was not. I suggested that she try stepping on the heel first and she assured me it would be no problem. I picked up the drumbeat again and watched her. As everyone walked around she struggled to get her heel onto the floor and clearly was having a hard time of it. Now I was really puzzled.
I stopped the class and gave the drum to a student asking them to give the beat. I took Sarah by the hand and walked around the studio with her. I asked her to imitate me as I exaggerated the action of my heel, angling it into the floor. She struggled to get her heels on the floor, but couldn’t. I exhorted her, “Angle your foot into the floor!” Feel the heel!”
She went into a kind of mad dance, her heels and toes flicking and jerking as she struggled to get her heel on the floor first. Then she got it. There was an immediate difference in her appearance. I felt like I was seeing Sarah for the first time.
“I Feel Opaque”
Often students make leaps of progress but have no awareness that anything has happened. So I asked her if she felt anything different. “I don’t know if you’ll understand this,” she said, “but it felt opaque rather than transparent.” I understood perfectly. She found the ground, was present, and was here in three dimensions occupying space. That’s opaque all right. Walking on her toes diffused her presence and made her feel transparent.
Why the Toe Walking?
The next day Sarah took me aside after class and told me why she thought the walk was so hard for her. As a young girl she was desperately unhappy at home with her family and dreamt of escaping. One day she discovered that she could make her pain go away by imagining that she was walking on the ceiling. And from then on she imagined that she was walking on the ceiling.
What ingenuity. This is what I see. When Sarah was a little girl in pain she struck a deal with her body. “Please, I’ve got to get out of here,” she pleaded. “Can’t I walk on the ceiling?” “That’s impossible,” her body said. “But if you want, I can move your center of gravity high up in your body. That way you’ll feel like you’re on the ceiling but you’ll look like you’re on the ground. That’s all I can do. What do you say? Deal?” She went for it.
When she came to my class I upset the bargain. She had spent years getting off the ground and now I was doing everything to get her back onto the ground. She panicked. “Hey body, this wasn’t the deal! I’m not supposed to feel like I’m on the ground!
All of us know that our body reflects our emotions. For example, if you are upset it is impossible to hide it as your tone of voice and body language will give you away. It took a while before I figured that one out. If I was unhappy with something that my staff had done I felt that I was presenting my view in a very nice and calm way. I was always perplexed when the response was less than optimal. I have since learned to never talk to anyone when I am frustrated. It is not productive and often damaging to the relationship. When I have truly calmed down then I will discuss the problem based just on the merits of the situation.
Your mind and body are not just connected. They are the same.