by Paula Gallagher
A few years ago, I took a job at a large corporate institution. Their work environment was very formal and conservative, which felt strange and alienating to me. I was not very happy there and one morning, when I was feeling especially glum, I was greeted with a big smile and perky “good morning” by a rather strange man who worked there as an administrative assistant.
He was an odd-looking character, kind of long and lanky with bright red hair and a little cowlick that stuck straight up from the crown of his head. He always dressed in a brightly colored sports jacket with a white shirt, bow tie and suspenders holding up his pants that were just a few inches too short for his long legs. He had an ever-ready smile and subservient, eager-to-please manner that struck me as a bit over the top.
He also had a very quirky way of walking. With his head and torso tipped slightly off to one side, he lifted his knees and picked up his turned-out feet with each step in a purposeful manner as his forearms swung rhythmically from his elbows. The quality of his movement reminded me of a mechanical wind-up toy that was just slightly out of sync. I have to confess that I tried to avoid him most of the time, thinking to myself, “Oh no, here comes that weirdo.”
One morning, I paused as I entered the building. As I stood there, watching him walk his odd little walk across the main lobby of the building, I was suddenly struck with a bolt of insight. This guy is happy. There’s a twinkle in his eye and a sense of lightness and buoyancy in his step that he brings to all his actions. Not only is he happy, but he seems to actually enjoy his job—always friendly and cheerful in his offbeat manner. And here I am, with my perfect posture, miserable and making a judgment about him.
Then I remembered attending an Authentic Movement workshop with my teacher Aileen Crow, and heard her voice saying with delight, “I’m just fascinated with oddball movement.” With this shift in my awareness, I decided to try on his “oddball” way of walking and found that it cheered me up immediately. I tipped my torso, picked up my feet, and swinging my forearms from my elbows, I took off down the hallway to my office.
I discovered a great sense of freedom and rhythm in this movement pattern that not only lifted my spirits but altered my perception of myself in relationship to my job and work environment. I soon found myself smiling and saying “good morning” to people rather than passing them by. As I walked on, I started to connect with, and embrace, the oddball in myself; the gypsy dancer, the bohemian, the free spirit who has always lived outside the corporate box. Instead of feeling lost and alienated in my work environment, I felt liberated and free to be myself. It’s okay that I don’t “fit in” here. I don’t have to and I don’t really want to.
From that day on, I became absolutely fascinated with this peculiar fellow. I found his presence refreshing and uplifting and instead of avoiding him, I would seek him out. Whenever I found myself feeling dismal at work, I would start walking like him and find myself giggling and smiling from a place of genuine joy within.
As a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I have been trained to keenly observe human movement patterns and to use my hands in a highly skilled manner to guide people in fine-tuning their sense of body awareness, posture and coordination. My first response might easily have been to observe this fellow’s quirky way of walking and begin “fixing” what was “wrong” with his posture and gait. However, by trying it on I gained a much deeper awareness of myself and of this other human being.
This odd movement pattern didn’t seem to be causing him any harm at all as far as I could tell. However, my mental pattern at the time, even with my “perfect posture” was causing me a great deal of emotional distress and unhappiness. I realized that I was caught in a repetitive cycle of negative self talk which was perpetuating feelings of being stuck in a situation that I did not want to be in. I found myself thinking over and over again, “What am I doing here?” “What have I done with my life?”
I had never felt more disconnected from myself, my creativity and my spirit. I was so overwhelmed with feelings of regret at having taken this job that I was not relating to the people around me at all. I found myself frequently on the verge of tears and wanting to escape this bad dream. These repetitive thoughts and feelings were depleting my vital life energy and blocking my sense of flow, rhythm and joy. By embodying another movement pattern I was able to instantly shift my mental state into a much healthier and happier place.
A few days later, I was walking down a drab gray hallway of administrative offices when he appeared out of nowhere wearing a bright green jacket and, in a very gallant manner, opened a door for me. I thanked him with a deep theatrical bow and grand arm gesture. “Thank you, kind Sir,” I said, and he began jumping up and down saying “Yes, opening a door for a beautiful lady, that’s something I can do.” My response was to immediately join him. We both jumped up and down and giggled like two excited children on a playground. Once again, I had a fabulous mood shift that altered my day in a most positive way.
When I told a friend about this encounter, she asked if maybe he felt like I was making fun of him. I honestly didn’t think so because I joined in his movement from a genuine place of spontaneity and fun, and not from a place of judgment or ridicule. I think it was a very positive experience for both of us and no one around seemed to blink an eye about our behavior.
This experience is also a wonderful example of how we affect one another on an energetic level through our thoughts, emotions and body language. Our thoughts and emotions emanate a vibrational frequency that affects us inwardly on a cellular level and outwardly impacts our relationships with those with whom we come into contact. I find it very interesting that I never had a conversation with this person—a person who has had such a powerful impact on me. Our connection was predominantly through body language and energetic exchange. By connecting with an energetic pattern of joy, I was able to shift out of my cycle of self-defeating thoughts and feelings into a much more open and expansive state of being. In the process I felt reconnected with my essence, my inner dancer, my free spirit, and I was more open to connecting with others.
By bringing conscious awareness to our thoughts and movements, we have the ability to change our perception of life and thus alter our experience of life. The life force expresses itself in myriad ways—just look into nature at the infinite variety of flowers, plants and animal life. Our humanness also expresses itself in multidimensional ways. Through my observation and experimentation with another person’s movement pattern, I was able to transform a very self-destructive pattern in myself. This process also awakened in me a sense of curiosity and compassion for someone that I had previously avoided.
I have become fascinated with the variety of human movement patterns I observe wherever I go. It seems that nearly everyone is slightly off kilter in one way or another, and there are infinite varieties of gait and rhythmic patterns. I try them on and shed them like trying on clothing in a dressing room. The saying “walk in another’s shoes” has taken on a whole new meaning for me. I immediately sense a different mental/emotional state with each change in movement pattern. I feel a deeper connection with people that I would not experience from simply observing them.
Martha Graham states “the body never lies.” We carry with us a lifetime of experiences, our joys and sorrows, accomplishments and disappointments, our hopes and dreams as well as our traumas and fears. We can only imagine the inner experience of another human being. By trying on another person’s movement pattern, we can gain insight into another experience of being human and also broaden our awareness of our self.
For myself, when I’m feeling unhappy, frustrated, unloved or insecure, my movement vocabulary becomes very limited. A sense of hopelessness comes over me and my energy level plummets. My movements feel sluggish and effortful, pulling me inward and downward as if the world is closing in on me. When I’m feeling happy and enthusiastic about something, my whole body feels energized, my movements are expansive and flowing and my spirit is radiant.
Our bodies are capable of expressing the full spectrum of human emotions. Our mental and emotional states are continuously being reflected in our posture and movement. My experience with “odd ball movement” has reminded me that the opposite effect can also occur. By changing my movement pattern, I can effect a change in my mental and emotional state.
I invite you to join this dance of embodying another movement pattern wherever you are. Whether it’s a little old lady shuffling along with her walker or a child skipping with abandon in the playground, try it on. Embrace the oddballs and eccentric characters of the world as you encounter them on your daily journey through life. We have so much to learn from them.
Paula Gallagher has an extensive background in movement and the healing arts spanning over thirty years. Originally introduced to Authentic Movement by Aileen Crow in the 1980s, Paula continues to integrate the practice into her life. She is a practitioner of the Alexander Technique and Reiki, and is an accomplished dancer with a passion for the art of Middle Eastern belly dancing. Paula is currently writing a series of healing vignettes inspired by her experiences as a professional hospice nurse.