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The Body-Mind Connection and The Martha Graham Dance Company

Posted Jun 08 2008 2:03pm

“The body has the amazing capacity for change, given the right encouragement” –David Zurak

In my opinion, no humans on the face of this earth have the same quality of inspiring physicality as the members of the Martha Graham Dance Company (with whom I am currently doing an intensive).

I would rather learn about the body from none other than these individuals. Thursday evening we were presented with a panel discussion on nutrition and cross training featuring none other than

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Elizabeth Auclair: Martha Graham Company Principle Dancer/Hollistic Health Counselor

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Jennifer DePalo: Martha Graham Company Principle/Gyrotonic & Gyrokinesis Instructor

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and David Zurak: Martha Graham Company Soloist/Gyrotonic & Gyrokinesis Instructor

I’d like to share with you their thoughts and insights into body wellness. The focus of the panel was to talk about keeping your body healthy and as mobile and efficient as possible when you spend 8 hours of each day performing high intensity work.

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It’s clear that all three of these dancers view the body as a temple. The way they talk about taking care of themselves reveals the importance of nurturing both the mental and physical aspects of the self.

Elizabeth talked about thinking of your own body with “loving acceptance”. Every body is different. Each person has his or her own unique genetic structure, heritage, blood type, metabolism, muscle shape, etc. She advised us to “Love what you are as you are… allow it to be with loving acceptance.”

Loving acceptance” is a term I hadn’t heard before, but it reminds me of the meditative term “Loving Kindness”

  • Def. Loving Kindness: Maitri (sanskrit); Unconditional friendliness toward ourselves, others & life situations just as they are right now. A ‘come as you are’ befriending. The love of a mother (father) for a child.

I found this so relevant to posts I’ve been writing lately. When you give yourself kindness and health, your body will function and look its best, and it will be beautiful. Jen and David pointed out that so many different physical techniques, many of them somatic and idiokinetic, state the same thing and achieve the same goals.

  • Def: Somatic - of, relating to, or affecting the body especially as distinguished from the germplasm or the psyche
  • Def: Ideokinesis - sustained mental focus on imagined actions (the studied use of imagery to inform movement)

In other words, somatic techniques utilize the minds ability to connect with and control the body. Somatic techniques are collections of neuromuscular reeducation exercises. (Ex: the Alexander technique or The Feldenkrais Method) The combination of imagery with movement causes the movement to be more efficient, saving muscular energy.

Yoga, Pilates, and Gyrotonic all utilize somatics and ideokinesis to develop the body in a balanced fashion. The truth is that the mind informs the body as the body informs the mind. In Yoga today Oliver Tobin (another member of the company) told us “the breath informs the body, the body informs the mind - in that order”. These techniques strengthen a persons ability to recognize and control the body-mind connection. Only now beginning to be scientifically explored and proven (as is the Western way), the importance of the mind-body connection has been recognized in the East for thousands of years.

New research has shown that as babies learn to walk, movement “decisions” are made by the muscle cell walls, not the brain. From the very beginning, the body teaches the brain as much as the brain teaches the body. In another study of the brain scientists discovered that no matter if you are watching someone move or moving yourself, the same part of your brain is activated. This gives new meaning to the phrase “learning by watching”.

Chakras, pressure points, meridians, chi…. these are all different words for the energy centers of the body. Many places on the body relate to specific organs, emotions, etc. These focal points have been discovered and utilized countless times by many brilliant individuals - the most recent being Martha Graham herself. In dance these points on the body are used to represent universal truths of the human experience that everyone innately understands.

When we practice these various techniques, be it the Martha Graham technique or Yoga, often as Chakras open emotion floods our bodies. Memories and feelings are stored in our bodies in a way they can’t be in our brain, and working through the energy centers release what Martha termed “blood memories”. All these techniques work to essentially align the Chakras to create balance in physical and mental posture.

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Top Nutrition Tips From Elizabeth Auclair:

* Avoid Trans Fats (deep fried foods, margarines)
* The more nutrition dense your food, the less hungry you’ll be
* Heritage and Blood Type affect the way your body processes foods
o You have to figure out for yourself what works best for you, but for a generalized overview on food and blood type read Eat Right For Your Blood Type
* You are not consuming enough nutrient dense foods/consuming too much sugar if you
o are tired, sluggish, hungry
o the whites of your eyes are cloudy
o your tongue has ridges or cracks, could indicate a vitamin/mineral deficiency
* Avoid white sugar/ white bread/ white pasta/ white potato
* Eat whole foods (ie: foods in their purist form)
* Eat more greens
* Power foods: quinoa, avocado, tuna, yogurt

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