Mindful Movement Research + Interviews

“Experience is suffused with spontaneous pre-understanding…pre-understanding itself must be examined since it is unclear what kind of knowledge it represents….”. “…Reason is what occurs at the very last stage of the moment-to-moment emergence… fundamentally something that arises out of the affective tonality…embedded in the body…It starts out from this soup.” (Francisco Varela)

I have a hunch that by investigating sensation-stirrings, which are continually shifting within us, we can gain greater understanding in how we make sense of the world and  one another.

To this end I am holding somatic movement workshops (more about my method in these workshops may be found below.) Following these workshops I am interviewing participants about their sensation-based experience, especially in moments of relating with others.

The interview form that I employ seeks to cull out a sensation based memory. For all the inherent flaws in seeking any sort of memory-telling, I find that there is something worth studying in the participants’ re-visiting of their “lived experience.”

Mindful Movement Research Interviews.
3 April 2018. MI5EWNY. Transcription. AUDIO.
23 March 2018. MI4JNY. Transcription. AUDIO.                                   20 Jan 2018. MI2LNY. Transcription. AUDIO.
15 Feb 2018. MI3EBNY. Transcription. AUDIO.                                     6 Dec 2017. MI1KNO. Transcription. AUDIO.



Further notes on the background and methodology of this project:
Evan Thompson writes “A second function of mindfulness is to counteract knowing wrongly. Through attenuating affective bias, we can gradually replace emotionally distorted perceptions, thoughts, and views with undistorted cognitions.

In my own experience, I have some sense of what this “undistorted” understanding; my sensation of reference is a vital openness, a home-coming quality, which I experience in various moments – particularly in meditation.
Mixed with this point of reference, influences of genetics (such as Huntington’s Disease or Tetrachromatic vision) and cultural influences (moving habits, fears, predilections, family traumas, etc) inform us, inform our intuitions. Can we learn to sense, to taste, to feel more nuanced information about what is informing us, our understandings?

My hunch is that, yes, when we sit with things in a meditative manner, clarity arises. Yet, there have been several points in my life where I and another mindful practitioner both felt towards this place of clarity in trying to understand one another. Nonetheless, we each experienced a very different sense of reality. Was one of us, were both of us being informed by “distorted” information which we could not sense?

Neurophenomenologist, Buddhist Francisco Varela notes “If everybody would agree that their current reality is a reality, and that what we essentially share is our capacity for constructing a reality, then perhaps we could all agree on a meta-agreement…” Is there an “undistorted” point we can touch in this life? Do our realities come closer to being the same reality, the closer we get towards “undistorted”?

I am interested to investigate what it feels like to relate with another. Quite simply, I am curious if some information might arise through these experiments which will speak to the questions above, and to “what is going on when we don’t understand one another?” Taking the human as a co-determining network, situated in the world, effecting and being effected by all as a serious belief, I look to whole-organism descriptions (phenomenologically based interviews) of how it feels to interact. How does it feel to connect, to not feel connected, to feel confused?

It is my intent that this research function as a prototype; that further precision in methodology unfold from what is learned here. As well, I hope that these interviews might prove pragmatically useful when collaboratively set in motion with third person perspectives in such fields as Microbiome study, cognitive science, cardiology, neuroscience or more. Combining these first person interviews with third person scientific study may function to “constrain and modify each other as in a dance…it requires us to leave behind a certain image of how science is done and to question a style of training in science which is part of the very fabric of our cultural identity.” (Varela)

Additional points of interest in my research is in variances between mindful, inhibited movement practice (sitting meditation, tai chi, yoga) and mindful, less inhibited movement practice (mindful improvisation.) Without exception, after moving in mindful improvisation, I feel a greater sense of overall vitality, cognitive acuity, agency, affective regulation, empathy; it differs from mindful inhibited-movement practices and similar but different types of ‘mind-wandering’ dancing. How is this experience for others? What is going on here? Is mindfulness needed to move towards less “distorted” cognition? Are other practices – movement research without mindfulness, for example – equally effective for coming to this sense of clarity in the world at large?

Last, it is quite clear to me that there is often a therapeutic effect, both in the movement research and in the interviews themselves. That is, the participants regularly state that the experience felt “therapeutic”, that they feel more easeful and vital after these sessions. This is interesting to me because – while I am well aware of these effects and of research which speaks to these effects from a Western science standpoint –  I do not enter these specific experiments with a therapeutic intent. These easeful effects seem to rise forth simply through the work of rigorous, curious investigation. For this, I am glad. No matter the answers – or lack of answers – which arise from this research, it does not feel in vain. The process itself is substantive.

Mindful Movement Research Method:
For this research I teach each class with the same basic structure. The participants are led in exercises created to awaken awareness of their own subtle sensation in self-relation and of their inner experience as they relate to otherss. This is done through solo, partner and group work.

After a variety of structured exercises the participants begin a group, improvised movement section. This begins in relative stillness (standing, sitting or lying down.) The participants are invited to shut their eyes. They are then given options to bring to mind a past memory, a broad question, or to base their investigation on the present sensations without a prompt. Next they are instructed to perform a body scan,  looking for an area of sensation which sparks up in relation to their question or memory, or – in the case of sensation sans prompt, whichever area seems fitting to explore. They are instructed to observe the ‘pure’ sensation in this area. Next they are instructed to find another area which has a quite different quality of sensation in this moment. (For example, if the first area “speaking up” has a quality of strength-vigor, they might chose an second area which has a neutral quality, or a weakened quality.) They are to vacillate attention at their own pace, from one area, then to the next. Should narrative, thoughts or distractions arise, they are asked to let them go and to return to the sensations.

Maintaining this observation, they are invited to follow their sensations-of-focus into larger movement. For, there is already movement occurring even in the relative stillness. It is the micro-movement that they are invited to follow, to simply allow – not force – this micro-movement to change. Once the movement quality of the area of focus is stabilized they are instructed to gradually invite larger movement into what is already happening.

After some time the participants are invited to open their eyes. However, at any point, if they are unable to maintain observation of their own sensation, they are asked to take one step back, until they are capable to move forward with the task; they are specifically tasked with not letting their mind wander.

Eventually, as long as their sensation-observation is stabilized, they are instructed to expand their awareness to include all in the space – moving, perhaps, in and out of contact (physical or otherwise) with the other people and/or objects in the space.

As it is impossible for people to move completely ‘free’ of the cultural contexts which inform them, I often use the term less-inhibited movement. While similarities exist, I find this practice is different than movement improvisation possible in “trance dance” or Authentic Movement. I find this so because of its call to maintain an observational mind. A comparison might be made here of the difference between sitting with your eyes shut, letting your mind do as it will, versus sitting with eyes shut, while bringing your mind to observe the breath.

Contact Improvisation is interesting in that there is nary an agreed definition of what people are actually doing when they move together. Certainly instances do exist of a direct relation to the practice posed above. Also, many times the movers are engaging in completely different and varied capacities. Too, I do find that, within many CI spaces, very particular ways of moving/moving together permeate the movement vocabulary of the entire space. Primarily for this reason, I make some effort to separate these workshops from CI.

Indeed, there are a myriad of wonderful improvisatory movement practices and dance therapy practices which share great commonality in terms of attention to subtle sensation, creating space for improvised movement, creativity and/or group movement. This is also true of many prescribed mindful movement practices, such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Yoga – some of which I also practice regularly. My intent is not to be derisive of any. Rather, to be specific about my own research interests here.

Lastly, as an artist, I find the dance which arises from this practice to be captivating.  When it seems that people are able to stabilize and follow their inner experience in movement and expand their awareness to include their environment, it’s at once full of agency and empathy – full of creativity, connection and capacity. The logic, the sense-making and relating-in-movement of this dance is quite something.