Bringing movement and meaning in education activities

Ilze Jece

Integrating Body-based learning has been an educational trend in recent years and not surprisingly, for bringing the body back to in-depth experiential learning, offers amazing opportunities for the joy of moving.

Body-based learning means bringing awareness to the inner processes throughout each physical activity, whether it is pottery or volleyball. Using movement and observation, this learning brings forth conclusions about how you are, how you feel and how you relate to yourself, others or any given subject throughout movement. It brings with it the idea, that how you show up in one physical activity might give you a clarity on how you show up in other areas of your life. We are living in conditioned bodies that are shaped by the cultural beliefs that surround us. Our bodies are influenced both by the amount and type of movement we do every day, by clothes we wear, furniture we use, beauty standards that we see and so on. Bringing awareness on how we might be influenced by all of these things, making a choice to be this or that, is the power that embodied learning can help to unlock. To learn more, you can research work that Wendy Palmer, Paul Linden and the Strozzi institute is undertaking, as well as study various embodiment modalities yourself and see how they inform about the way that you are. As in embodiment “How we done one thing, we do everything”

I was not a sporty child. Throughout my early life, I dreaded physical activities due to the numerous times I was seen trying and failing in my experience with school sports classes, so embarrassing and alienating for me as a child of that age. I ended up avoiding classes, which influenced both my health and self-image, and how I related to my body. Those days, I could not have imagined that in the future, my very working day would be spent teaching movement classes for adults. I guess this was a choice made also out of rebellion, to recreate an experience of physical exercise that actually brought more inclusion, joy and playfulness, lifting people up, instead of focusing on their inabilities. Further, I found myself studying yoga and acroyoga as well as learning to relate to human bodies through the subtle art of touch-massage. For me, another reason to be attracted to these bodywork modalities, was my own inability to find wellness in life and the observation that many social-change workers suffered from burn-out and conflicting relationships with themselves and others.

We are living in conditioned bodies that are shaped by the cultural beliefs that surround us.

A few years into the practice, I started to ask myself the question, how can I bring some of those beneficial principles into an education for social change? As a result, and with a colleague of mine, we began working on the concept of body-based learning. Here, we could experiment with how to blend movement, meditation and hands-on work with the body, with the educational topics of leadership, peacebuilding, creativity, change-making and so on. And I must admit that these became some of the most impactful courses because they tackled something deeper and beyond our thinking, our being, by exploring the ways we relate to our bodies. For example, how we read and perceive the bodies of others, what boundaries we set and protective walls that we build to be able to go through this life, what deeply set beliefs we hold about ourselves and the world we live in, and how the body is a wonderful true friend to explore ways of being and build new ways of perceiving.

And so there are many ways to bring powerful work with the body into the business of social change. Back in 2010, while working with a pilot movement project in a women’s prison, I witnessed many of the inmates being empowered by learning to stand in the warrior poses of yoga, and being softened by the bodywork sessions. I have seen burnt out change-workers finally spot the light after a dark period, not only starting to take care of their wellbeing, but becoming more effective at what they do for the World. I have seen so many beautiful faces burst into tears after having been seen and touched in a way that respects their boundaries, and cared for their wellbeing. It is truly powerful work.

And with its power, comes great responsibility. Body-based learning brings vulnerability and thus requires safe space for people to be able to express themselves and to be as they are. This also for facilitators to hold to the strong ethic of not overstepping somebody’s boundaries, whether they are aware of them or not, always to offer choice to participate or withdraw.

The first learning we need to do, is unlearning.

It is time that we reclaim our power in respect of our bodies and be the only ones that make choices that concern our wellbeing. If there is one lesson I have learnt through embodied work, it is that the first learning we need to do, is unlearning. Unlearning that we are not beautiful, fit, tall, short, wide, enough etc. To know that our brain has the amazing capacity with its neuroplasticity to change and transform, not only that we can learn more skills and acquire knowledge, but also to learn a different way of seeing ourselves and the world we live in. Working with the body might be a powerful tool to start this process of change: from the inside out.

How have your family and culture shaped your view about your body?

What are the judgements you make about your appearance or physical abilities?

What are your favourite bodily practices and exercise? How do they help you to become better at creating change in your life and in the World?

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Innovative approaches in learning for Sustainability
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