In over 20 years of working with movement I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard the phrase “I want to make sure I’m doing it right” from clients. Whether that's asking me to check out what they are doing during class, or to write it down at the end of a session so they can do it that way their self when I'm not there. I get it, I understand, really I do.
But here's the thing: there is no “right” way of moving. Nor indeed a wrong way!
All movements, and the nuances within movement, have a purpose and intention. We are not robots. We all move completely uniquely, in the same way that we all have unique finger prints. The 'right' movement for you is going to depend on SSSSOOOOO many things: your anatomy, your life experiences, your emotional state, whether it causes or reduces pain, whether you're feeling it or trying to 'think' it, whether you're doing it because it feels good or because it looks good, whether you just want to have fun or to heal trauma, what your tolerance is, what you need to do later in the day, what you've done earlier in the day..... Oooof, the list goes on.
Right wipe that list now from your mind, or we'd analyse it so much we'd never move!
Moving is supposed to be natural and feel good. There's a time for moving mindfully, but ultimately we don't want to be thinking about how we move when we go about our daily life and have fun doing the activities we do. We weren't born thinking how to move where we?!
Mindful movement practices, or doing some movement therapy is a place to consider how we are moving and to investigate whether we're unconsciously over-using some movement patterns, and under-using others. It's a place where we can take time to feel how it feels in our body and how it feels to move with a different awareness. It's a place to unwind unconscious habitual patterns that might be keeping us stuck or in pain, and to learn how to consciously (at first) move differently until this new way becomes the unconscious way.
Ultimately the only person with the answers to what is 'right', is our own self.
And there lies both the challenge and the beautiful reward. In our fast paced world that activately tries to disconnect us from our felt sense, it’s a journey to look for our own answers and to learn to feel, and trust what movements work best for our body, for our self. However, it's also a journey that leads to us knowing in ourself what is best for us, what we need and how to get the best out of ourself in all areas of our life.
Now, I can almost hear clients right now reading this and saying: 'but you do tell us what to do Caroline!!'. Ok, ok, I hear you! But actually I don't tell you what to do, I offer options*.
When I cue through a movement, or offer a different way of moving, it’s an invitation to feel how that is for you and for you to decide if it’s interesting or feels a better movement in some way. It's your space to see if it feels a useful movement choice.
I CAN'T tell you the right answer. But what I CAN do is:
Offer different perspectives, a compassionate and caring set of eyes, space to explore, a vast movement vocabulary from which you can choose how to play, facilitation, lived experience of a journey, years of other people’s experiences, pacing, dosage, an ability to see trends, empathy, a listening ear, structures when you need them, freedom when you need that and so on and so on.
In an individual session we ultimately get to the 'right' movement because the client tells me. That might be a verbal conversation, or in some way their body feeds back to me that it feels better. And I guess that's the bit that I just can't explain. That's the time that a client will say to me 'how on earth did you know / see that'. No fricking idea actually. I guess that's the art of being a movement therapist! And that's what I totally love about what I do. It more and more feels like an art than a science, a conversation rather than 'instructing'. The more that I know, the more I challenge what I know. The more that I do this work, the more comfortable I feel in the grey areas, as that's where I believe that I can be of most help to others.
I can't tell you want to do, but I can help you through the grey stuff to find what's relevant and important to you.
* I caveat this statement with the knowledge that there was indeed a time when I did tell people what to do and how to move - because that's what I thought I was meant to do, and it's where my knowledge was at the time. It's also where movement science was at one point too. It's where some practitioners and teachers still are. And that's ok. If it's working for you then all is good and well. I just feel differently about it.
Spring is a time of 'waking up' and of new beginnings. It's often when we feel the inclination to move more, or to create some action towards our dreams and personal intentions.
Here are three reflective prompts which might bring you some inspiration, shock you wish it. You can use them to simple sit and reflect on, to journal, or in some other way create from the prompts (a collage, a playlist, drawing....?). Anything goes.
1. Spring is in the air
What is it that you enjoy about spring? What feels good at this time of the year? Maybe it's the colours, the sounds, the things you do at the time of year? Maybe there's a particular smell, or food, or song that reminds you of Spring? How you do you feel within yourself when you reflect upon these Spring things?
2. New Beginnings
What come sot you when you think about new beginnings? Do you embrace them, fear them, go with the flow..... something else? do you see a pattern with new beginnings and does it continue to serve you well?
3. Fresh Starts
Is there somethings new that you want to start? A new hobby, activity, or habit maybe? How can you start putting this into action? Who might you need to help you do this? Even within this pandemic, what CAN you do to give this wish some action (it might be listening to podcasts or reading up on it if it's not possible to actually do it now). How can you make sure that this happens.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend this week regarding 'late-stage pandemic'. We discussed how we've got stuck into a kind of comfort of living as we have been. We said it in a bit of a hushed whisper (although there was no one to hear it) feeling awful for saying it, not really wanting to admit to it, but also knowing that we got what the other one said. My friend related it to feeling institutionalised. He said that he desperately wanted to get back to doing things that he wants to do, yet, on the other hand, he's kind of forgotten what he does, or how to do it. While he doesn't want to be living like this anymore, there's a certain comfort and predictability to it. I was nodding lots as he talked, completely relating to it. And also I was musing over our human adaptation.
A year has been long enough for us to adapt to this. And there's a certain comfort that comes with being in an adapted state - we do what we do and we're used to it, we don't have to think about it. It doesn't mean we necessarily like it, but we know it. And essentially it means that coming out of this is going to require another adaptation - we're going to have to do things differently again from how we're currently doing them to get to a place that is ultimately eventually our life after the pandemic. When we are allowed to, will we hug the same? Will it feel weird to be close to someone? Will my space feel invaded? Will I want to socialise as much as before? Will I want to socialise more? Will that little get-away that I used to go to still be the same? What if I don't like doing xyz anymore? How will I manage to keep doing some of the things that I like doing during lockdown? Oof, I have soooo many questions!
And here's the thing. Sometimes we don't need to know 'how'. We didn't know how to do lockdown or living in a pandemic. Yet, here we are... We found a way (personally and globally). Sometimes we just need to know what we want (or don't want), and the rest works itself out for us. We find a way. We find our way.
My hope is that we all find our way out of this in ways that help us to fully thrive as ourselves in our post-pandemic world. Bloody hell, we owe ourselves that much after all this, don't we!
We are living in a liminal time.
Liminal spaces are corridors or passage ways that we move through rather than stop at. They're transitional places, in-betweeny places. Liminal space is also that place between a transformation: no longer a caterpillar, but not yet a butterfly. It is a time between 'what was' and the 'next'. We are all transforming in one way or the other during this pandemic.
I have spent the last almost year putting my own oxygen mask on first, restoring myself, re-discovering myself. I willing stepped into enforced lockdown and honestly, I welcomed it with big wide open arms. Finally: time to stop, time to reset, and time to recover from being so ‘on’ the whole time. At last: time to shut the door, huddle in with myself & my loved ones, with nowhere to go and no need to rush after everyone else. No requirement to get anywhere. The thing that I had been craving for years was finally here - permission to stop. I let go and leaned into it. Gratefully.
As I stopped, the shedding began. No more jumping to others expectations, no more putting up, no more shutting up, no more ‘others first’, no more ‘I will when’, no more ‘people pleasing’, no more ‘I’d best just do it’, no more yes when I meant no. And so many more 'no mores'. I shed things that I can’t necessarily articulate, but that I felt drop away. I risked seeing who and what was left in my life. The discomfort of the initial shedding eventually eased, and the shedding eventually slowed. The core that was underneath, and within, began to shine through. My core being, that has been strengthening and assuring itself slowly but consistently over this last decade finally felt ready to show itself and hold its own.
A slow trickle of shedding continued and my core told me to wait. To hold steady and to hold my ground. At the end of last lockdown it told me I wasn’t yet ready. I vocalised it to friends by saying ‘I can’t be trusted yet’! We laughed, knowing that I possibly could, but also that more than likely I’d jump back into responding and reacting and putting everyone else’s oxygen mask on first again. My core held steady, telling me it was ok - I’d be ok. Trust me, you have time. Stay grounded with me here and breath, because I've got you.
This precious cargo that is my core self has been nurtured through so many years of self work. It held strong and courageous throughout this whole time and now it’s telling me that the shedding is complete.
In this current lockdown, my core is now energising. It’s ready, I’m ready. We’re not quite sure for what. But the armour and protection is no longer needed.
So in this liminal place I wait, not held back, not restricted. Quite the opposite infact. I wait in this space, breathing and taking it all in. Looking back at how I was, and all the wonderful things that have been. I see the struggle that I had with myself, the covering up, the keeping myself small, the fear of being fully seen as myself. I also acknowledge the amazing things that I did and that I achieved from that place of being. I was strong in a different way. I wait in this liminal space which could easily feel empty. There’s so much that’s been shed and let go off, yet I’ve consciously not looked to fill it. In this liminal space I feel opulence and potent potential.
There was a wall in front of me. It is really not much more than a thin screen now. I stand behind it, knowing that soon that will fade away. I know that behind it there is space, more space. This space contains colour, beauty, wonder, nature, joy, laughter, and song. There’s lots of yellow, white, gold, pink, and blue in this space..
I’m staying in this liminal space for a bit longer. I'm feeling all that I am within myself, knowing that this is what I take forward with me from this place. I’m breathing it in and gathering its energy and strength. When I’m ready to move on from this place, which will be soon, the screen will fade away and reveal the full freedom of all that is in front of me. And I will walk strong and forward into the rest of my life.
Saying no. Taking no action. Allowing others to step in instead. Deciding I don’t want to.
These are all skills I’ve had to learn and ones that have ultimately made my life fuller, and more fulfilling.
I grew up as a people pleaser believing that my role was to make people happy. I would go over and above to make sure everyone else was ok and if I was even half able to, then i’d say yes and figure the rest out as I went along. ‘No’ didn’t come into my vocabulary. ‘I don’t want to’ was a concept I didn’t understand. I didn’t even realise we’re allowed to say it!!
Being the over-achiever that I was (and still can be from time to time...) i shot myself in the foot by having a pretty decent stab at all those things that I started out being half-arsed able to do. Which meant people realised I could, and would, do them and I got asked to do them more often. So I people pleased doing more things I was very capable of doing but not necessarily things that I was best placed to do, or that I could efficiently do. I gained my confidence from things I became good at but was half-arsed interested in doing. I kept doing things that stopped being good for me, coz I didn’t know what I’d do with the space that NOT doing them would create. And my ego balked at the idea of someone else doing them Incase, heaven forbid, they might be better (then everyone would realise that I actually wasn’t that great at doing that thing after all).
The first time I learned to say no was when I chose recovery, my recovery, over and above everything else. It was really difficult. But really necessary. It was the first time I chose me.
I went on to realise and decide that I could, but wouldn’t, continue being: a marketeer, fitness instructor, personal trainer, performance coach, competing athlete, running coach, pilates teacher. I did each of these jobs really well but they stopped fulfilling me and started draining me. So I chose me.
I learned to let others step in and take on roles or jobs that they did better, so that I could put my energy where it was better spent. I chose me.
I learned to wait, to see what might happen, to see if there was another option. I learned that no action sometimes said more. That no action was sometimes the more efficient action. That no action sometimes brought to light a better, easier option. I found the value in NOT doing.
I’m a natural helper. I know this about myself. But I used to think that saying ‘no’ was selfish, and that I wasn’t being helpful. Actually, saying ‘no’ is sometimes the best way to help someone. When I’m not the right person to help, I need to say no. When I don’t have the capacity to help, I need to say no. When saying yes feels like a compromise in some way to who I am, I need to say no. Because for my no, there’s a ‘HELL, YEAH’ person waiting! And that’s the right person.
Saying 'no' models healthy boundaries to others. It also empowers others by offering an opportunity for them to help themselves and meet their own needs when they are infact able to.
So, in the words of Zammo, it's far from selfish to ‘just say no’. And yeah, it sounds like it should be simple, especially when pre-fixed with ‘just’. But you know, try it out, even once - to try it in for size. It might turn out that you like it..
Just because I cry, messily, I am no less strong nor courageous.
Just because I make mistakes, I am no less capable.
Just because I swear in frustration, I am no less focused nor calm.
Just because I get angry at injustice, I am no less loving.
Just because I laugh at frivolity, I am no less of a deep thinker.
Just because I defend my loved ones fiercely, I am no less able to see the others point of view.
Just because I say the wrong thing, I am no less caring of others.
Just because I fight your support, I am no less in need of it.
Just because I feel sad, I am no less full of happiness with my life.
I am all of these things - and more.
You are all of these things - and more.
We are all all of these things - and more.
We are a mix of so many emotions, and traits. It is the mix of all of these things that we are that makes us whole.
Living a happy life doesn’t mean always being happy or smiley. It’s not about being permanently pleasant and it’s certainly not about being liked by everyone.
In fact, if we try to squash down, smother, or hide those emotions that might be labelled ‘negative’ or somehow seen as less, then I can guarantee it is taking you away from feeling deep happiness.
Life is emotional. We are emotional. We’re made to feel life and to express that life.
Live life, feel life, express your life. And I’m the words of Renton ‘Choose Life’. Your full beautiful life
To collect your thoughts
To make space
To listen in
To connect with yourself
To face the next moment
To find choice
The tiny amount of time it takes us to stop and breathe, creates a vastness of opportunity.
In the pause for breath we come into, back to, ourself to check in with the moment. In that pause we can make a different choice that comes from our own knowing.
The pause that can help us to break destructive habits, put our own oxygen mask on first, or gather strength for the big grown up pants moments.
The pause that allows us to make decisions from our internal barometer.
The pause that calms to helps us wait or step back.
Or the pause that energises to help us do or step forward.
The infinitely vast yet microscopic moment of taking a breath can change everything. You don’t have to know how to breathe ‘right’, your body knows. YOU know.
But stop for that breath, for that tiny moment that maybe feels like forever if you’re used to reacting immediately.
No one notices.
But you will.
If I could only offer one piece of advice it would be this: stop for a breathe.
And if you still don’t know what to do, then stay for another.... the answers are in there.
For those of you who find it challenging to focus on your breath, if it’s triggering in anyway, then you can stop and notice the feel of the ground underneath you.
Trust yourself, when the time is right, you’ll find your breath.
The breathing practice below takes you through a layering of techniques that can help to calm and steady you.
When we’re more used to feeling ungrounded, unsteady or ungathered, taking a moment to ‘just breath’ can be seen a less accessible option. Instead we might react habitually and continue to reinforce behaviour patterns that aren’t necessarily the best ones for us.
BUT if we practice breathing techniques at times when we are feeling more resourced (at times when we already feel more stable and able), THEN these resources become more readily available to us at the time when we need them most. They’re in the tool kit for the moments when we don’t want to practice them, but we want to implement them!
Go easy on yourself, working through the layers as you are able to today.
‘Being grounded’, ‘get grounded’, ‘ground yourself’ are phrases that are banded about and it can, for some, be challenging to find grounding.
I always thought it was supposed to be so easy and simple and as someone who for a long time was programmed for vigilance and flight it really wasn’t!! It took me time, courage and support to gradually find some grounding, to feel safe there and eventually to welcome the sense of being grounded.
I say this incase anyone else, like me, is feeling they ‘should’ somehow be able to simply ground and feel good there.
It’s ok to find it challenging, but please also know that bit by bit you can understand how to ground yourself when you need it. My first starting point was getting out of my shoes regularly and bring barefoot.
Grounded means being present in your body, balanced, and steady in yourself and you can maintain this regardless of what’s going on around you. We ALL get ungrounded from time to time. So it’s good to know what helps you get back to that steady and balanced place.
Getting into nature, connecting with the actual ground can be helpful. As can lying on the floor, or taking shoes off and walking bare feet. We may have friends who can have a grounding influence on us (thank you to my friends who give me a reality check when I need it!)
And there may be other things unique to you that help to steady you.
When I’m ungrounded I tend to need more structure around me, and to choose easier options for a bit until I get my footing back. I also lie on the floor and let my body move with gravity (rather than against it, or resisting it) which helps me to come back to myself.
I've recorded a short video (12 mins) which offers some movements, cues, imagery to help navigate with gravity and experience grounding.
Our norm is what’s normal to us. Often clients tell me they didn’t know they were ‘holding themself up’ until they felt what it was to settle and ground. There’s a breath to be had when we come to ground; a letting go, a dropping in.
For many this is a blessed relief. So play with these moves, extend the time, slow, roll, and move from the bones.
Sometimes this need to be drip fed, bit by bit. A little like dipping your toe in a slightly too hot or too cold bath or pool, getting used to it gradually before fully stepping in. I invite you to watch the video and perhaps start with the first two moves if you feel able to.
2020 has truly taught me to go with the flow and to move with it, rather than against it.
I’m historically a planner, a forward thinker and a ‘pre-empter’. I like to know what might come up, what might be ahead so that I don’t get any unwelcome surprises. Control has been an issue for me in the past. I’ve actively had to work at letting myself be spontaneous - which has caused many a hilarious moment in my family
It’s easier now, but I’ve still gravitated toward ‘what might be’ as my more comfortable place, rather than risk what I perceive could be a potential chaos of choosing ‘what will be’.
And then 2020 threw my guise of control up in the air and threw it all about! Nothing has been predictable, plans have had to adapt at the last minute and holding onto what I had planned for 2020 seemed the most ridiculous thing ever.
But relinquishing all that control, and yes ‘going with the flow’ has been so enriching for me. Truly utterly one of the best things I’ve done!
My long term companion ‘Anxiety’ has left and I’m not missing it! I am sleeping. Finally. I consistently sleep through the night. And I can make clearer decisions in the moment, and healthier ones.
Before I would liken myself to a duck - looks all calm on the surface, but the feet are paddling furiously to move forward against the waves. Now I’m feeling more dolphin-like as I go with the waves and have fun playing in them.
I’m slowly taking time to get used to flowing with my skills, experiences and my own needs for my working life. It’s taking a bit of a leap of faith to see where that takes me and who joins me on the ride. But it’s a truer ride, and there’s definitely more fun involved. More surfing and less crashing!
And I actually HAVE signed up for a surf class. Spontaneously, I just booked it. Seems so appropriate really
Please enjoy the following movement practice (8.5 mins) to help the lymphatic system flow and gently shift lethargic energy.
Despite distancing and limitations, I’ve made connections I wouldn’t otherwise have made this last 9 months. In so many ways I’m convinced that my connections now are better that they were a year ago.
‘Disconnect’ has been taunting us, but the need to connect is hard-wired into us & we seek it as part of our survival system.
As my business quickly had to pivot and adapt I sought support from an online coached group (from all over the world). For the last 9 months we’ve shared, cried, fretted, celebrated and metaphorically held each other through the rollercoaster.
I’ve also felt aligned to people I know only through social media yet I know we could have an easy conversation over a cuppa sometime.
I have never met these people, yet I feel the connection.
My work has pretty much been online throughout this time.
And with a job that has connection at the heart of it, I’ve had to find new words and actions to maintain that connect between us. I am a better therapist & teacher as a result.
In my friendships, my inner circle hold me stronger, as I them. We can drop a text or pick up the phone knowing that we might have nothing to say, coz nothings going on, yet even on the phone or on text we can stay with that place of ‘i don’t have anything to say but I want to connect with you’.
As a family, we’ve become better at saying what we feel & how much we mean to each other. Or maybe we’ve become less lazy at it!
It turns out my hubby and I can be with each other literally 24/7 and still find new nuances in our relationship & new ways of having a laugh.
And FOR SURE this last 9 months my connection with myself has deepened. As distractions and coping methods have been stripped away I’ve sat with fears, anxieties & uncomfortableness that I’d preferred not to. But I have, and in doing so I’ve discovered strengths - and limitations - within myself that I’d never have otherwise found. I know myself better than ever and I love myself with less judgement.
Somehow in amongst some inevitable disconnection and detaching I’ve found more true personal connections. And I can also acknowledge the global connection that we ALL have in living through 2020.
I am Caroline Toshack. Movement is my passion, my mirror, my creative source and outlet. I am a therapist, coach, educator, geek, yogi, mover and creative who loves getting muddy on her bike, running in the hills and having pyjama days.