I remember watching scary movies as a kid. Scary for a young audience, not horror movies. I hated being scared by things. I had been told that I was brave and didn’t want to not be. I developed a trick; as the anticipation built towards a fright in the film I would make myself jump or start in preparation and hence dispel the tension and not be scared when the dinosaur actually jumped out. Looking at it years later it seems very strange and yet surprisingly in tune with mind-body connections. I had processed my reactions and formed this habit physically as I wasn’t yet old enough to understand the concepts of stress, anticipation and dramatic tension. I needed a method of control.
Yes, I was an intense child.
Now we find ourselves in a global pandemic and I am searching for some of that control again.
I often shake as part of my warm up in the studio, and now at home. I take time to stand in one spot and shake my whole body, from the feet up and from the head down. I shake to arrive. To land in my body and the rehearsal space. To wake myself up and invigorate all the systems. To prepare for activity and movement. It’s a way for me to realign myself physically and also mentally. Shaking draws my attention to the present condition and sensation, leaving the rest of life outside the studio for the most part or at least the parts that I don’t need to call on at that moment. Shaking soothes me and energises me, depending what I ask of the shake on a given day. It’s a simple way for me to tune in and listen to my body.
It’s holistic and it’s very practical.
In the current Covid-19 situation we’re on high alert but there is very little that we can do. If we could actively fight this virus or run away from it we might find our bodies in a different state. In asking of our bodies to be still, to stay at home, to not do, they are in fact doing a lot. Our natural threat detection responses have kicked in and now don’t know how to respond or to release. And that is challenging. Our bodies are trying to combat a danger they can’t fully comprehend and it is exhausting. We’re dealing with anxiety, tensions, adrenaline, imbalances and a multitude of reactions to the perceived threat. And it’s every day! Every time we think about or read the news. Every time we chat over Zoom and remember why we can’t be in the same room. Every time we attempt to plan something and worry if it will ever come to fruition. Every time we’re outside and are avoiding people on the streets.
We are used to bracing ourselves. Fighting against the elements, fighting for our rights, holding ourselves together to keep from showing too much emotion, ignoring pains, suppressing stress. Modern life has trained us well. We are socially conditioned to grin and bear it. Other species dispel this pent up stress or tension by shaking it off. It’s a natural way for mammals to dissipate stress. The same is possible for humans. It’s a way to reset when the system is overwhelmed, to get rid of unnecessary habitual muscle efforts that aim to protect us but that no longer apply. It is re-calibrating our central nervous system, listening to what is going on with it and soothing the jolts of anxiety and bouts of confusion in the body.
My shaking has changed since the onset of this pandemic. Despite having developed a practice of shaking which I felt was dependable, it is as if my body has forgotten how to be at rest. I’m holding. In different places, sometimes all at once. My sacrum, my sternum, my jaw, my shoulders, my psoas muscle, the back of my knees. I have to remind myself that relaxation is possible, that letting go will not result in total collapse. I still shake. I listen and respond as needed. I reduce my range of motion so my knees move more slowly, I breathe more deeply so that my chest expands and sighs away the pressure a little on each exhale. Gradually I build the shake and pour my weight into the floor through the whole surface of each foot. It is repetitive but ever-changing, from gentle and meditative to energetic and rigorous. I feel more at ease, resetting for another day. Somedays I manage to return to the place of calm, others not. But regardless, I try, I try and shake it off.