embodied learning

The importance of embodiment, arts expression and deep ecology in education

April 16, 2013
by rosemary faire

Towards an experiential ecosomatics…

I’m currently exploring how to communicate experientially the ways in which somatic education can contribute towards a sense of “eco-connection”…

The five ways that I will describe below are:

…connecting us to the larger planetary systems and cycles…grounding us and helping us to find ‘levity’…movement patterns that remind us of our underlying nature as evolving beings…discovering our ecological identity…enhancing our empathetic connections to the wider-than-human world…

Much of my own learning in this area comes from studies of Alexander Technique, Body-Mind Centering (the body systems and developmental repatterning work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen) and Deep Ecology (John Seed and Joanna Macy’s work that reconnects).


First: the cycles…

Imagine that you are lying comfortably on your back with your head resting on a small cushion and your knees bent with your feet on the floor.


You are noticing your breathing and its slow rhythmic ebb and flow. You become aware of this cycle of the air and how your breath is part of a greater cycle: you are breathing in the oxygen given to us by plant life, it is travelling through your lungs, your circulatory system into your cells where it is used to create our energy. The carbon dioxide released in this process then travels back to our lungs and becomes food for the plant world, and so the cycle continues. This also connects you to the energy, once part of the sun, which has been captured by the plants and made into the sugars in your food which the oxygen helps you to burn so that you can live and move.


Now you rock gently from side to side and notice the fluidity of your body, and how you are a living part of the cycle of water. You are participating in the cycle of salt water, water vapour, rain, fresh water, water absorbed by plants and animals and flowing back into the streams and ocean.


As you rock and let your arms and legs move, you become aware of the cycle of minerals you are part of: all the minerals, once stars and rocks and soil, then incorporated into plants and animals and then eaten to become part of your own body, your bones, your blood, all your tissues.


Second: gravity and grounding…

Imagining that you are still lying on your back, turn your attention to the way in which your body is attached by gravity to the earth’s surface. Imagine that if this gravitational force were not holding you fast to the floor/ground, you would float up and away into space. Can you feel that gravitational pull on your body, your body’s weight, and sense the surfaces of your body in touch with the floor? Can you also feel the way in which the surface you are lying on is supporting your weight? This can be called ‘earth support’.


Imagine that you are a curious human-primate infant learning how to move yourself by rolling, pushing, reaching, rocking, creeping and crawling. Through a process of ongoing discovery, you eventually surprise yourself with a two-legged uprightness and your first steps. Can you still feel that ‘earth support’ through your feet? Can you feel how it wants to travel through your bones, from joint to joint through your legs and spine all the way to your head, balancing on top of your spine? Through your connected little body, the ‘earth support’ has become ‘self support’ and ‘gravity’ has become ‘levity’. Your eyes lead your head and whole self into your next adventure…


Third: evolving movements…

Let’s revisit more slowly the journey to uprightness of our imagined infant-self. Beginning with lying on your tummy, can you sense that you are at first wriggling and twisting with your little body like a worm, a fish or a snake? Then you discover pushing with your hands and feet, which propels you through creeping and crawling on all fours – what animals come into your mind as you playfully move in this four-legged way – perhaps a reptile or small mammal? When you find the impulse to raise yourself up onto your (hind) legs, what two-legged creatures could you imagine yourself to be? Have you seen meerkats looking around or bonobos carrying sticks?


Taking time to revisit this developmental journey, either in your mind’s eye or through gentle movements, can awaken in your body the reflexes and movement patterns of your animal ancestors, which you can still observe in your vertebrate and especially primate cousins. Your biological evolutionary history is still with you, even if currently sleeping, in the fluid patterns of movement that you have inherited.


Fourth: ecological self…

Where do you experience your boundary between what is your-self and what is an-other?

You probably notice that this changes in different contexts – sometimes your boundary may be your skin, yet other times you may identify and feel at-one-with loved ones, friends, community and country. And most of us have had experiences of feeling one-with-nature.

Imagine that you are a child at school, being educated about the importance of ‘the environment’ for our survival. What if, as well as being taught the environmental science and ecological principles, you had regular experiences of being outdoors, visiting wilderness areas, growing your own food, relating to animals? What if you also used storytelling, painting, mask-making, songs and dances to take on the roles of animals, plants, rocks and other elements in the landscape and imagine the world from their point of view? Would you experience yourself as an ‘ecological self’? Would your ecological self be strengthened by teachers who validated diverse ways of knowing the world, rather than regarding such artistic enactments as ‘make believe’ and ‘irrational’?


Fifth: the somatic roots of empathy…

As you read these words, can you sense your eyes reading, and your whole face? What about including your whole head, neck, torso and arms, and even your legs and feet? Can you continue to read with a sense of your whole embodied self reading?


Imagine as you read and sense your whole self that your (imaginary?) dog has padded up beside you and is looking up at you. Can you sense what it might be like to look out from your dog’s eyes, what it might be like to walk around inside a dog-body? To have the same-yet-different senses, bones, brain, likes and dislikes, and feelings?


Is it possible that the more deeply you allow yourself to experience your own embodiment, the more fine-tuned you develop your sensory awareness of your skin, muscles, joints, bones, fluids, organs and body systems, the more deeply you will experience resonance and empathic connections with other human and non-human beings?



Finally, I’d like to share with you a brief description of my own experience of reconnecting with my ecological embeddedness after participating in a community arts event called Homage to the Environment, held in 1990 in Terrigal on the Central Coast of NSW:

Faire, R. (2004) Environmental Community Arts: Refinding natural connections. VOICES: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 4(3)




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