Somatic Resistance

If I am unaware of my own body’s control and the patterns that it uses to protect itself and to maintain power over others… how can I understand other aspects of the oppression of others? If I cannot understand in my own body how to let go of power-over (whether it be power over my self or power over others) how can I understand how to help in oppressive situations?

by Sarah-Lu

Recently, I hosted an all-staff meeting for the teachers that work at Tulip Tree Preschool. Originally it was planned to be an all-staff that was focused on Anti-Bias Education (ABE). And in my mind, it ended up being that in the end as well.

In actuality, the session was focused on a somatic practice called the Alexander Technique- something that I have been exposed to over the past year through practitioners such as Tahni Holt of FLOCK; Linda K JohnsonSuniti Dernovsek; and Rebecca Harrison. Most recently I have joined the trainees at the Contemporary Alexander School under the direction of Robyn Avalon.

As I was planning the staff meeting on ABE I was moved instead to share a somatic practice based in Alexander, with the teachers. Some of the teachers had experienced a moment with a parent that had left them very physically charged, and I wanted to offer some support for moments such as these. The Alexander Technique, from the small amount that I know, is a process of radical presence, and I thought it might help.

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radical presence

I was vulnerable presenting this experience to the teachers, mainly because from a surface view it seems largely unconnected to the work that they do as anti-bias educators. I also felt this vulnerability because this is a newer practice to me. Before I opened the schools, I was primarily a dance teacher and choreographer/performer. In the past year my work has veered back in that direction, but the two worlds have not yet found a way to formally meet. Additionally, somatic practice is so different from what people think of as “dance” or “movement”.

The day after the all staff meeting, I received a sweet text from one of the teachers, thanking me for what I have offered in terms of anti-bias coaching and exposure over the years. I was curious, and asked the teacher to clarify if she experienced the Alexander work as anti-bias focused. She said:

“It didn’t come across as anti-bias to me, but I think that’s because I didn’t have any framework about what we were doing. I needed to know what the Alexander Technique was. What it is for. Why is it an effective tool etc. I feel like the only information I got was it is about noticing. That being said, I feel like being aware of your somatic experience is a huge tool for doing anti bias work. Why does this feel triggering to me? Why is my body responding this way? But I feel like we needed more time and information to be able to use it in that way.” Such great insight and information for me as a co-leader. Thank you!

And she’s right. Being aware of one’s somatic experience is a HUGE tool for anti-bias teaching and learning. And there’s more…

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somatic experience

After my first Alexander training in October, and before this all-staff meeting, I had a conversation with Laura Czarniecki, who was the teacher who brought anti-bias to our schools in 2013. She and I have had many conversations, and a few arguments, about this work. She knows my journey in this realm: first feeling resistance to bringing ABE to the schools for fear that it would take away from what I had set out to build (the opposite happened); tentatively welcoming ABE; personally practicing ABE; engaging with my ego around ABE; the 2016 election when my white woman bandaid was ripped off; engaging with overtly political organizations and practices; feelings of intense overwhelm and ignorance; re-entering movement-based and somatic and choreographic work and simultaneously pulling back from political organizations and work.

I told her that I was thinking about doing the Alexander training for the teachers in response to their encounter with a parent, and in place of an anti-bias training. I expressed that I feel like the two are deeply intertwined and that I needed her help to articulate how and why. Laura echoed my feelings and experience over the past two to five years (from her bringing ABE to our schools to the past two years of political turmoil). We talked about how, as we trace our learning as white women, we both have discovered that at some point in our ancestral history we had been cut off from our earth-based cultures. Mine being Irish. So to clarify- at some point, someone (most likely a group of powerful white men and women) told my people that being in relationship to earth-based practices– witchcraft, herbalism, necromancy, ancestral connection, story-telling, art, dance, inner experience, gathering or rocks and gems, tarot, and on– was wrong.

Children are born knowing that these things are right on! And then this knowledge is pressed out of them bit by bit by the oftentimes mind- and intellectually-based education they are offered- ie, lacking in somatic and earth-based experiences. At some point, both Laura and I had realized that the bodies of our ancestors, and our bodies too, had been taken over by patriarchal culture (my words, not hers).

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earth based learning

This was and continues to be a paramount realization for me in my journey of learning about racism, and the very real and daily oppression that people of color, queer people, people with disabilities, women, and other minorities face on a daily basis. If I am unaware of my own body’s control and the patterns that it uses to protect itself and to maintain power over others… how can I understand other aspects of the oppression of others? If I cannot understand in my own body how to let go of power-over (whether it be power over my self or power over others) how can I understand how to help in oppressive situations?

A quote that I have been offered many times over the past year by Contemporary Alexander teachers:

“The only thing that you can offer another person, ever, is your own state of being.” -Ram Dass

And how are we to be able to offer this without practicing it? As our teacher stated above, it takes time to understand how these things connect. It takes lived, somatic experience. Against what white culture tells us about how we need to hurry up and get things done. And as the brilliant Adrienne Marie Brown shares in her book Emergent Strategy:

“Do you already know that your existence–who and how you are–is in and of itself a contribution to the people and place around you? Not after or because you do some particular thing, but simply the miracle of your life. And that the people around you, and the place(s), have contributions as well? Do you understand that your quality of life and your survival are tied to how authentic and generous the connections are between you and the people and place you live with and in?

Are you actively practicing generosity and vulnerability in order to make the connections between you and others clear, open, available, durable? Generosity here means giving of what you have without strings or expectations attached. Vulnerability means showing your needs.” 

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acts of love and resistance, being with, seeing each other

Our reclaiming of our bodies in times of stress or in all times, is an act of resistance. Thank you teachers for being so open to experiencing these moments in our staff meeting, even if you had no point of reference. I hope to continue this work with you and that it slowly informs you about yourselves, the work you do in the world, and the connections to the beautiful anti-bias experiences you offer to children and their families.

I would love to hear your comments and ideas.

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