Teaching for a sense of belonging
I am standing on the road in a moment of yield. Imagining what lies ahead while simultaneously sensing all the residual energy behind me, guiding me. I think of the physical movement forward that lead me to being here, now, in this exact moment of pause at the center of the road. As I turn my head to see where I came from, I recall that in movement is always where I found and felt my sense of belonging. A group of others I felt a connection to, spoke my embodied language, and understood me at my core.
I’ve always felt different and unable to connect with what seemed most valued in our culture— wealth acquisition, competition, consumerism, productivity, climbing corporate ladders. All I wanted was to move, create, contribute, and to be seen. To truly feel seen beyond the surface. I wanted to feel connected and understood. Going through much of life not feeling understood carried a weight with it, a disconnect. It made it hard for me to relate and understand the strivings of others. This went both ways whereas I may not understand things like the desire to upgrade to the newest smartphone, they may not understand my desire to dance barefoot in the forest. Over the years taking a deep dive into movement has been a process of identifying a place for me to belong and somewhere that I felt I could contribute and add value to others. This is where movement revealed its potential as a powerful mediator.
Body and Movement as Common Language
The physical body and the experience of movement hold powerful tools for connecting and belonging. A physical body is something we all share, a common denominator. We exist in it everyday and none of us can escape it until death. We can chose to try and hide our body, neglect it, beat it down, outsource its work, ignore it, but it will always be with us. We need our bodies for expression, to connect with others, to connect with self, and the beauty of the moving body is that no words are required to express oneself.
Movement gives understanding without needing language. Movement is required for every second of every day, and this alone ties us together. This alone helps us relate. It forms a connection. It’s no longer just me, it’s we. Body and movement highlighting our collective humanity. “Hey, I have a body too. I move too. I desire to be seen too.” As soon as a movement is witnessed by someone else, then that moment is shared. Movement provides us with a sense of belonging and relating, not just to our own body, but to a greater sense of connection with others outside ourselves–beyond our kinespheres. Our bodies are just waiting full to the brim with movement possibilities. What if you let your movement be witnessed? Your physical body be witnessed? How would that feel? Is that thought terrifying? Would it be worth it?
Enter the witness
I think movement is richer and more meaningful when we have a witness. Sometimes this witness is a friend, a lover, a teacher, a classmate, and sometimes it’s the trees as they quietly take in CO2 and create oxygen around us.
This level of connection is why I love teaching students one-on-one, to play witness as I curate and facilitate an environment that a student feels safe and seen. The growing trust as session to session the student sees themselves building their movement vocabulary and expanding their capabilities. Challenging their mind to what’s possible with this vessel they’ve been entrusted with for their lifetime. This is why I enjoyed the relationship building element of teaching a deep movement practice that demands mind and body involvement. It’s never just “giving a workout”. It’s a dance in and of itself requiring listening from both parties. The student tuning into themselves. Me, reading the student as they walk into the room, sensing their energy, making a quick assessment on what they may need today, and guiding them as a focused witness ready to pivot at any point when I can sense that may be necessary. Remaining sensitive at all times to the ever-changing landscape of the moving body. Having someone entrust me to bear witness is never something I take lightly. I become the audience, and being seen, feeling seen, is a vulnerable thing for the mover. It takes time, investment, trust, and willingness from all participants.
Movement with Mindfulness
No movement is ever the same, so there cannot be a prescription. You will never be able to recapture the feeling of a movement you’ve had in the past. This ephemeral quality, the movement happens and is fleeting, requires you to be present in the first place or the experience is lost. You’ll never get it back. You’ll never feel it again. It can never be witnessed again. And if you don’t do the movement to begin with you’ll never get the opportunity back. This is what makes the experiences I foster and create feel so important.
How do all of these ideas translate to my personal fitness and movement experiences? What makes one experience feel different from another? How does this influence the way I teach? This is what lacks in “just taking class” or “working out.” This is often why I feel so lonely when I roll out my mat at my house and follow along with a DVD: the level of connection and the shared experience. Though my body may be moving, my sense of belonging is absent. This has been a profound reflection for me as I think of the type of work I want to do going forward, both personally and professionally.
This past year I’ve been traveling with my husband, listening to my own body, bearing witness to my husband’s health conditions, and taking life day by day willing to pivot whenever necessary—even if that means big life changes, again. After having almost a year off from regular teaching, what I miss most is the relationships and togetherness. Helping and guiding others in their self-discovery. To make movement belong in their lives and in their bodies. For them to feel a deep sense of belonging. Competition and comparison have no space in my movement practice or my instruction. I’d rather teach ownership, compassion, capability, curiosity, and kindness to ones body. To help students abandon the fear of feeling seen—just as they are each day.
If you’ve ever allowed me to stand in as witness, thank you for entrusting me. Your vulnerability and courage is one of my life’s greatest teachers. I hope you felt seen and encouraged. I hope you left with kindness towards your vessel and increased confidence for the paths ahead of you. I hope you found that along the way you were more capable than you imagined, and that being seen and putting yourself out there in the world did not have to be scary. You as you, just as you wonderfully are each day.
This is just a small glimpse as I look over my shoulder and what I carry with me as I start to look to the road ahead of the types of experiences I want to continue to offer. What movement opportunities I want to curate, how I want to contribute, and the type of world I want to witness and share. What I know for sure is that I will continue to move, create, contribute, and be seen. And I hope to continue to have thousands of opportunities in the future to be entrusted as a witness.
-Courtney Anne Holcomb