Embodied Mind

How does the body actually learn something new? This question has mystified me for a long time especially since starting my dance journey a few years ago. A couple of weeks ago I had an experience that brought a new layer of complexity to this inquiry.

I was spending another Friday night dancing at one of the most fun weekly events here in Portland, Barefoot Blues. The music was smokin and I was enjoying moving by myself, playing with different imagery in order to explore various possibilities for shaping the body. I was imagining that the space around me had density and that I had to actually push against it to propel myself. As I pushed and pulled I began to feel my arms initiating a particular movement that was somewhat familiar but I couldn't quite place it in my mind. I kept following the line my arms were drawing and suddenly everything clicked into perfect alignment. My body effortlessly performed a ballet turn that I tried to learn two years ago and failed. I had not thought or attempted that turn since taking the two month beginner class at Contemporary Ballet Dallas. I have not taken any ballet classes since. I don't event know the name of the turn. 

I was struck by the ease with which my body executed the turn. No fumbling, no trying, no doubt. I am sure there is a scientific explanation for how my brain was able to accomplish this, but from a more subjective standpoint this experience gave me particular insights about the learning process behind physical movement.


  • Flowing. Learning is not linear. Even though there usually is a structure to learning a new skill that progresses from point A to point B, the actual integration of information happens in a fairly unpredictable pattern. The conscious processing of the information is a very small part of the whole picture. The learning is taking place over a much more vast network within the body that I am not even aware of.

  • Trusting. It is important to know and trust that the body-brain retains the information no matter what. Just because my conscious mind did not integrate a particular movement, it does not mean that I failed to learn it. The information has been downloaded and is being stored for future, appropriate use.

  • Enjoying. Most effective learning is filled with pleasure. I am convinced that the ballet turn was able to emerge out of my body because I was so thoroughly enjoying myself within my dance. 

  • Listening. A receptive, listening state helps to broaden awareness and unify the senses. The learning process is driven by an organic rhythm and harmony. There needs to be a unifying element that helps harmonize all of the levels of processing new information. It can be music, it can be poetry, it can be the sound of the ocean, the rhythm of your partner's body.

  • Embodying. The most graceful and rhythmic physical movements are already in the body. Playing with imagery opens up possibilities for expression. As I allow my mind to become more embodied - more driven and informed by the intelligence of the body - the learning becomes a joyful process of discovery.