Engaging The Body: Marina Collard and Steve Haines in Conversation

Marina Collard has been dancing and/or teaching movement, dance and somatic practice all her life. She is also a biodynamic craniosacral therapist. Steve Haines teaches cranial work all over the world and is the co author of ‘Cranial Intelligence – A Practical Guide To Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy’ and 'Pain Is Really Strange'.

The video above is based on an interview with Marina in May 2015. We had just taught a post graduate workshop for craniosacral therapists on 'Movement and Stillness' in Switzerland. We have the run 4 successful workshops on the theme of 'How can the relational principles of our work in craniosacral therapy be revisited from the perspective of movement?' We explore embodiment using movement, relational touch and presence. 

An extended edited transcript of the full interview is below. What is the essence of movement? Why is presence more compelling to watch? What are the problems in 'letting go'? Why is T12 such a great place to pay attention to when moving?

Steve: Hey, Marina. We’re teaching at Da Sein near Zurich, ‘Movement and Stillness’, our fourth go at this workshop. I’ve really enjoyed working with you. I thought I’d ask you a few questions about movement and how you perceive that.Could you start by giving me a short overview of your career? 

Marina: I started dancing when I was five, and did quite a lot of ballet for evening classes for kids and things, and just really loved it. I was a bit obsessed, and just did everything I could. Then from about the age of 13-14, I was still dancing because I really loved it, but wasn’t very comfortable in the ballet thing so much. I did jazz, was not great at that. Then at about 15 I found contemporary dance, and that was it. I kind of knew that’s what I wanted to do.When I was 18, I did a three year training at Trinity Laban. It was a big shock, because I really didn’t know what it was, I just saw a couple of shows and thought: “I want to do that” I had a really great, really interesting training, got opened up to all kinds of things I never knew were possible, and then I’ve never stopped learning. I think that’s what has kept me in dance all this time.   

Steve: You do a lot of teaching now? 

Marina: Yes. From doing a lot of dancing, performing, to then teaching professional class, teaching company class, and then coming down into starting to teach at the schools. Now I spent most of my time teaching young dancers.Steve: With the odd solo project thrown in. (Click here for a recent performance)Marina: Yes. 

Steve: At one stage, you worked with people in wheelchairs. Is that right? 

Marina: Yes. I worked with Candoco Dance Company, and that was a big learning curve. Great as a dancer, but more provocative in terms of challenging and thinking of how you run a class that’s really inclusive, but challenging. You’re still training people.. With a mixed company, they’re all ambitious to get better. They all want to be pushed. How do you do that, when someone has a very different experience of their own body? There was a big learning about how I push people who might be in a wheelchair, or have cerebral palsy, or whatever. A quite different experience to what I do in my body. 

Steve: We can all learn to move in different ways. 

Marina: Yes. And be great performers. It’s that thing of how do you challenge someone, and how do you not fall victim to the: “I am afraid of their difference?” 

Steve: Working with you over the last few years, I notice you’re always moving. What’s it like for you when you don’t move? 

Marina: Horrible, and quite quickly painful. If I don’t move by the third day, I start to hurt, and it’s really uncomfortable.

Steve: When we stop moving, it quickly becomes a downward spiral, doesn’t it? 

Marina: Yes. If I’m teaching class, sometimes I teach at 8:30. I am human; I don’t particularly want to dance at 8:30. I’m quite happy to just hang out and have a cup of tea. But I know that physically, my body’s happier moving than it is sitting for the rest of the day.If I allow myself to go into that place where I start to feel pain, there’s that fine line between wanting to just stop moving completely because any movement is painful, and you just really want to retreat and fall away, and just not do anything. I know that if I can just overcome that, then I’m much better. 

Steve: Nice. I think that’s true for clients, movement promotes health. The less you move, the harder it is to kick start that sense of being in a body. 

Marina: Yes. 

Steve: Okay. What’s the essence of moving, for you? 

Marina: Being at home. Just inhabiting your own self, and your own physicality. It’s not about the shape or the aesthetic, but the engagement with being present in the body. 

Steve: How does body awareness and presence then feed into movement? Is that a useful thing? 

Marina: Yes, it’s critical, I think. In performance, you really need to be present, or you’re not doing the job. I think there’s a lot of inquiry into presence and what it is to perform and be present in performing for a dancer. If the actions are empty, it’s just very different. You’d have to put two dancers side by side, and see one that’s present and one that’s not, and you’d know who you want to watch. 

Steve: Tell me more about that. What’s the thing about presence that makes you curious? 

Marina: I think it’s the humanity. There’s a vitality and a humanity. It’s lived. There’s that thing of being in the moment; it’s vibrant and alive, and it’s being lived. It’s not still life. 

Steve: Great. I’ve heard you talk a lot about problems of letting go. Often in cranio work, there’s this real emphasis on relaxation, and of letting go of tension, of something about releasing. I’ve really enjoyed hearing you talk about how that’s not always the goal. Can you expand on that a little? 

Marina: Yes. I’ve had clients that seem to have this kind of big fantasy that if they could just let go, everything would resolve. I just get a bit nervous around the idea of letting go as a giving up of everything, of all of your tension. There’s something so potentially flaccid and switched-off about that, that really worries me. Yes, we don’t want to work with tension, we don’t want to be hanging on to unnecessary tension, but the muscles want to be switched on. Exactly what are we letting go of? I just find that term slightly problematic, because it usually means just flopping out.. In dance terms, it’s really injury-provoking, but it’s also a mess. I’m not interested in a flaccid body. 

Steve: Really good. Also, I’ve heard you speak passionately about: “You’re not an animal at this stage.” In your performing and in your work, there’s a precise, conscious awareness, rather than descending into a more primitive state. Can you tell me about that a bit as well? 

Marina: It came up on the last workshop that we did. We did some crawling, and we were looking at the movement of the spine and the switch to allowing the body to start to move itself, so you’re kind of going along for the ride. That lovely being in the moment of really listening to the body as it moves, rather than directing the body and the body goes a little bit after. When people found that in the workshop, there was this idea that it was some kind of primal thing, and that it was animalistic.I think the tension for me is that my refinement of movement isn’t accidental; it’s years of investment and work. Where do we start, at the age of 5, or 18 when I started training, or 21 when I started working, I’m nearly 45 now; it’s a lot of inquiry, and a lot of investment, and a lot of daily practice. It’s mindful, it’s really aware, it’s highly tuned. I’m not waiting for something else. 

Steve: Beautiful. Yes. It’s not a descending into primitive, it’s a learned engaging of the body that’s incredibly detailed, and nuanced, and practiced. 

Marina: Yes. 

Steve: How can we take the insights from movement into working as biodynamic craniosacral therapists. Traditionally in cranio work, people are very still, lying on a table. As a practitioner, sometimes the most movement I do all day is just walking to the door to let my clients in. How might you introduce principles of movement into your practice as a craniosacral therapist? 

Marina: One of the things I’ve learned from you is the sense of using a movement within the context of the treatment rather than as a resultant thing. They might push a leg into the table and by changing the activity of the missing or vanishing limb or body part, it helps to switch it on and to become present. 

Steve: That comes back to the earlier question. It’s not about letting go, it’s about engaging the body and switching it on. We can use precise micro-movements, we actively move the body rather than just passive receiving. In the workshop you’ve helped people do very simple things like lying in a connected, grounded way. Then just lying with your knees up and rolling, and rolling to crawling, crawling to standing, and all sorts of very small things. They’re ordinary actions, but they can involve an awful lot of precision. All of them involve, to some extent, switching on your body. We can do that in a small, repeatable ways on the table. 

Marina: Yes. Of course everybody gets up and down, but paying a very particular attention to doing that invites such a different awareness of the wonderful complexity of the body. If we can be coherent in how that body functions, just moving becomes pleasurable, easier, and not something driven by the musculature. 

Steve: Yes. How a slow, contained awareness in movement can really switch on our awareness. It’s much easier if you do a movement slowly, to feel your body, to be embodied, and to have that awareness of flesh and form. It’s a very quick way of helping clients meet their body; get them to do small, contained movements in precise ways, and that’s more efficient in my experience than just reaching down with the mind to try and feel things. 

Marina: Yes. 

Steve: The other big thing around the movement is I learn about my own body, so the more I challenge myself to move differently, the greater sense I have of my body. Is that your experience? 

Marina: Yes. Definitely. It’s also overcoming the idea that movement has to be or appear a certain way, or be about the outcome or how we look. The external that can get in the way. Just by doing small things, it can bring focus deeper inside the body in terms of what’s working, rather than creating an external shape. 

Steve: One last question: when I’ve been working with you, there is a lot of focus around T12, and I really enjoy hearing you talk about that. Maybe some of the key ideas around that region of the body? 

Marina: Yes. I love T12. It’s just that lovely central pivot of walking, and diaphragm. In training dancers, I spend most of the time trying to connect the body. The more coherent their body is, the more efficient their movement is, the more beautiful they move and all of that, so that there an aesthetic that... There’s an outcome that can be aesthetic. Of course in these workshops that’s not what we’re interested in. It’s just that central point in the body where we can go out to fingertips and to the toes. It’s a lovely kind of cross of access, also connecting to the skull and tailbone. 

Steve: There’s a very nice phrase you have about your legs hanging from your diaphragm, and that was a theme that worked very well in this workshop. 

Marina: Yes. The sense of the length of the legs hanging down, and working from, the diaphragm and T12, means that the lumbars are active in our walking. The legs are not something that are just mechanically working from the hip sockets, and the spine just isn’t involved in that. There’s a real continuity from T12 right through to the feet. 

Steve: Nice. Then also you’ve done work of brushing along, and up, and out the arms, and you’re keen on a connection from the arms into T12. 

Marina: Yes. The sense that the arms can move with a support from underneath, rather than lifting up from the musculature at the top of the shoulders. We need to understand that connection from T12 to get it to feel that the arms are moving freely, but not disengaged. To me, the diaphragm and T12 can feel a bit like the ground to the fingertips, if the fingertips are in flight. 

Steve: Just one last element I’ve heard you talk about: the sense of moving up through the heart, throat, front of the spine, up into the neck, jaw and roof of the mouth, with the root down to T12. Is that true?

Marina: Yes. I find it really useful to think about movements of the head being, again, supported from T12, diaphragm area,there’s much more continuity through the spine, so the cervicals aren’t doing more work than they need to. The body continues to connect, and the thoracics are not this solid lump in the middle of the body. 

Steve: Thank you. It’s been great working with you for the last four days. 

Marina: You, too.