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Escaping Strain: Finding Where the Body Yields, and is Yielded To?
Pourvaja Ganesh

My questions take on an amorphous quality, merging into one another without specificity. They appear to mimic the somatic experience; the sensations amalgamate until keen observation tells them apart. All of the questions stem from what Chandralekha has to say on indignation in the documentary that capturesSharira. She looks to indignation for direction; it animates her art. Her choreography is full of sharp edges that seem to be cut from her intensity; focus and precision forge those shapes. That her art is strenuous is obvious. I was wondering whether the strain that indignation engenders is sustainable.

There seems to be no dearth of sources if one is looking to be indignated. Those battles of women’s subjugation and social injustice that Chandralekha fights precipitate anger. I cannot imagine any other reaction to them. However, I think that when a person with privilege of some sort is angered on the behalf of a community being wronged, that feeling is in danger of becoming patronizing. But anger is that annexing emotion that tints the initial connections formed with the world outside when one turns to injustice for inspiration. I’d like to suggest that anger is perhaps not the initial connection formed with the world in general. Further, anger is perhaps not the only connection one has with the world.

Strain feels good. I would go as far as to say that the body likes strain. Exercising is nourishment for those points and impulses that the body accumulates but go unheard. While I exercise, it is as if all those points are awakened, stretched and indulged. However, I associate this kind of strain with discipline. This does not mean mortifying the body into a pose, but pushing past discomfort in order to better satisfy the body, to attain exhaustion. Exhaustion for me does not mean degrading the body into submission but marks the completion of one cycle and the beginning of the rest period. However, because strain mandates a certain level of discipline in terms of adhering to a schedule, it is not pure creativity. It is creative in that the body is creating motion but it is motion controlled by the part of me that controls most other activities. Exercise is guided by the brain that intellectualizes habitually. Though muscle memory takes over sometimes, I am still remembering and processing the world as I usually do. I find this to be contrary to the effect of somatic practice.

Somatic practice is also indulgent of the whims within the body, but it is foremost creative; the body flows into the space around it, rendering it no longer empty. Somatic practice creates in a very literal sense in that the body transforms space into a charged atmosphere and steps into that atmosphere. Discipline may arise from the body as a result of somatic practice but it is discipline that arises from the points within the body. The points may follow trajectories familiar to them (perhaps even those of the postures learnt in another form) but they occur in what is perceived to be an arbitrary fashion by the rational mind. 

These motions might be random but they are seamless and self-evident to the body. The flow of feeling that links them is not random, and their connectedness can be felt by the viewer, if they are also engulfed by the atmosphere. Thus, somatic practice seems to be wider in its scope in that it need not be strenuous, and it need not be fueled by select emotions. The body creates movement and replenishes it: is energized by it. This approaches the answer to my larger question that wonders about which emotions and practices are sustainable. This is particularly difficult for me because I still feel angry; I cannot disavow it. However, I feel as though anger exhausts itself (and me) too soon. Contrarily, somatic practice is more expansive than any one form by itself. The way in which it allows one (e)motion to flow into the other, and its regenerative potential that goes hand-in-hand with its creative force suggests that somatic practice sustains itself. I do not have to lift one finger; the finger lifts itself.

In class, we also discussed the potential of play. I have not figured out how to play yet. During somatic practice, I do what feels right, and sometimes, if my brain is willing to be lulled into the flow of motion, it feels as though I am not trying. Somatic practice often leaves me very vulnerable. Further, the satisfaction at the end of somatic practice leaves me immobile in the most literal sense, in that the body has satiated itself by moving in all the ways it desired. When left with heavy emotions, how does one find a way of playing with them? Is vulnerability only possible with the safety of play? Thus, have I already consented to play before I begin? And how does somatic practice respond to political events? Is its solution in the unspoken solidarity offered to the performer when the viewer accepts to step into the atmosphere of the performance without breaking the veil it has cast?

Chandralekha also speaks of relatedness. She thinks of the self as that which we relate to the world around us. The self has to be realized, acknowledged, loved in order for one to see its connectedness to the world. I buy into this idea of relatedness. I feel as though this is somatic practice’s best kept secret. In allowing one’s body to speak, one ends up listening more carefully to the bodies around them. It might seem like a generalization, but it appears to me that bodies are built to be gentle to one another. Anger repudiates connection and gentleness. Thus, though I still feel angry, I do not find anger beautiful, except in flashes. Bodies are beautiful when they are kind to one another, and they love most fully when they are listened to. That, I find, is the radical potential of somatic practice. It allows for the viewer to love someone they have never met. The power of somatic practice, I find, is in the way it connects everyone whimsical enough to indulge its atmosphere.

Pourvaja is a student. An important part of her education has been learning to consciously re-encounter the body, repeatedly through somatic practice. What has been most shocking and rewarding for her is watching the body crop up, unbidden, in all aspects of her life as a result of this awareness.

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