The Embodying Health Symposium took place at the University of Central Lancashire on 19th- 20th July 2016. It presented ways in which somatic movement practices and improvisation are being applied when working with individual patients and groups in hospitals, and other health and educational care environments. Workshops and presentations were run by members of the Knowing Body Network: Filipa Pereira-Stubbs; Miranda Tufnell, and Karen Adcock Doyle, Tim Lamford and Penny Collinson. The event was sold out with participants from the network, as well as practitioners, academics and students, from the UK, Austria, Norway and France.

The following extract is taken from my Introduction to the event:

The title of the Symposium was Embodying Health – the term “embodying” implies that something, or some quality is expressing, realising or manifesting, that a sensation or feeling, for example, is given tangible form. The focus therefore invites both a noticing what our bodies are expressing, and applying bodily methods and approaches which can support us to cultivate further experiences of health and well-being.

The current World Health Organisation’s (WHO) definition of ‘health’, formulated in 1948, describes health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” This statement, and in particular the term ‘complete’ has been criticised by many leaders in the healthcare field because although it was ground breaking at the time, ‘the requirement of complete health “would leave most of us unhealthy most of the time”’. Furthermore, as population’s age and the pattern of illnesses changes it has limitations and is potentially counter-productive (Huber et al, 2011). Huber and colleagues in their article in the British Medical Journal (2011), suggest that it is better to think of each person as “being located on a graduated scale or continuous spectrum (continuum) ranging from obvious dire illness through the absence of discernible disease to a state of optimal functioning in every aspect of one’s life” High-level wellness is described as “a dynamic process in which the individual is actively engaged in moving toward fulfilment of his or her potential.”

Health we know is not a static condition, the human ‘organism’ is in constant interaction, change and adaptation to its environment (inner and outer) and an ongoing self-regulation process of homeostasis. A holistic health model is a system which takes into account the whole individual, including one’s own responsibility for one’s well-being, and an expanding of consciousness. Social, psychological, and environmental influences that affect health, including nutrition, exercise, and mental relaxation are immensely important. Our work as artists is complimentary in these approaches.

With this in mind, the title of the Symposium seeks to share the role – an artistic role – that dancers and somatic practitioners can play in healthcare settings and to support the growth of this further.

The benefits of the arts when applied within medical settings is known and understood well – the role of music and the visual arts in particular – but what dance and movement practitioners do is less understood. What do dancers and somatic practitioners bring to health? A central principle of practice is that our bodies underpin every aspect of who we are; how we feel in ourselves, and our capacity to self-regulate grows through awakening to our sensing, feeling body.

When we lack an awareness of our bodies we can’t connect to the nuances of sensation, affect, emotion and feeling and our capacity to self-care in ways that sustain health and wellbeing, is diminished. Movement reawakens sensation, becomes a way of listening to the body and enables us to become more aware of the messages it sends (our subjective experience)

In illness we can lose a connection to this and lose trust in our body. Movement helps us to relax and re-gain a sense of unity and coherence. Miranda Tufnell writes that movement “offers a language where words fail, bridging the gap between sensation and meaning” (2016*) Movement and sensory imagination opens us to the non-literal, the metaphorical and imaginative dimensions of our experience. In listening to our bodies, we can access rest and stillness, which can enable us to drop into noticing our own feelings and needs – this process of self-care is where dance and other artistic and medical models of practice come together.

It’s important to note, that our work is to compliment medical intervention. To support healthcare as a system to broaden so that the subjective can be recognised and incorporated into the healing process. We need the medical but we need this – the personal and subjective– as well. This sounds simple, but can be very hard to understand – our social and cultural view is so strong.

This symposium marks the first event in the partnership between the Knowing Body Network (TKBN) and UCLan. A small group of the Network members are here to share and articulate further on their area of work. Their passion for this work will be through a series of workshops, presentations and discussions, to reveal their practice and their personal experiences of embodying health.

The symposium is an educational event – its function is to share insights, experiences and open up to larger questions to find ways forward. Such as,

  • Is this work understood?
  • How to give more value to this work?
  • What are our needs going into this field, to develop this work and get it out there?
  • What are the challenges for mainstream medical healthcare systems to take our work on? Do they recognise and value the arts, dance being one of them?
  • What are your questions?

I hope you will take from the Symposium:

  • An awareness of the field – it’s principles and values
  • The opportunity to have experienced some practical skills
  • Connection with each other, and sharing your practice, your questions….
  • More information about what’s happening and where in the field already – to find out who is doing what


Huber, et al, How should we define health? BMJ 2011; 343:d4163
*Miranda Tufnell’s new book ‘Finding a Voice’ is due to be released in December 2016


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