AHSW's Director, Trustees, and Members reflect on various aspects of arts, health and wellbeing.

The connection between arts and spirituality

Shannon Humphries, AHSW’s new Administration Assistant, has a passion for spirituality and alternative approaches to health. In this article, Shannon interviews Emma the Alchemist, a movement practitioner, to investigate the relationship between spirituality, creativity and wellbeing.

What is spirituality to you? Is spirituality a crystal loving, full moon dancing, nature lover, meditation devotee and yoga fanatic? Or is spirituality a word we use to categorise lots of different elements of our experience under one heading? Spirit is the Latin word for “breath” meaning the thing that animates life. Spiritual development is the growth of a person as a whole, reconnecting the person back to their mind, body, and soul. But how can spirituality help with wellbeing and self-development?

Shannon Humphries, AHSW’s new Administration Assistant, has a passion for spirituality and alternative approaches to health. In this article, Shannon interviews Emma the Alchemist, a movement practitioner, to investigate the relationship between spirituality, creativity and wellbeing.

Emma Movement is Medicine Photoshoot May 2022-19

I spoke to Emma the Alchemist, queen of integrated approaches to movement and wellbeing, and founder of Movement Is Medicine, about her journey encouraging self-connection and development, via the power of our own bodies – whilst living and thriving on her own life journey.

I started off with asking Emma for an introduction to what Movement is Medicine is and what inspired her to create this journey. But before we dived deep into the questions, we had a little discussion about the disconnect there is in society, not only with each other but within ourselves too.

Emma expressed that “In the West, we have separated healing and life when it’s the same thing. Everyone wants to be healed and once this has happened your done with planet earth. When people talk about the spiritual journey its literally about connection. So, when we put art into that and realise this is how we are meant to be.”

So true! Disconnecting and escaping from ourselves nowadays has become a real habit in one way or another. We go through the same emotions but we experience them differently, and express these emotions in our own way which includes learnt behaviour from the environment we grew up in.

So, what is Movement is Medicine and what was the inspiration behind this movement?

“Movement is Medicine is a practise technique that I have created with various different modalities that all involve movement.

“So, the first half of the practice is based on being seated and using your own body to move whatever is going on from within. This is through nervous system regulation techniques, breathwork, touch, music, tapping and EFT – A few different modalities all in this one practise.”

Truly grounding and beautiful way to start the class!

“Once that’s all solidified, when people are feeling grounded, safe and feeling their body – we get up and move in different ways. The first movement is primal shaking.

“This is something animals do to shake off stress and trauma, which is shaking their body. That’s also our most natural way of releasing stress and trauma too. It’s the conditioning around us that makes us just not want to do that, rather than actually listening to what our bodies want to do.

“Then we move onto techniques taken essentially from qigong. Working with your hands and working with the energy that comes from your hands just to create body awareness so when we actually move and dance in state of free flow, people will really use their arms and hands.

“Once we have done that, I guide people into a space of ecstatic and free flow movement. Essentially ecstatic dance comes from Africa, that’s the origins of ecstatic dance and movement, in particular the Kalahari tribes, when we take it back to the origin and real roots of this, it is about listening to the music. Whatever that may be, so we are allowing the body to take over and letting the body almost go into a trance.

“It’s a form of meditation so when we are not in our heads and completely in our bodies and our bodies are doing its own thing …that’s where we get the release, that’s where we get the freedom!!

“So that is essentially what Movement is Medicine is, it’s a step-by-step process technique to get people connected and grounded, and once they are in their bodies, they then can start to understand how to free flow and how to move.”

Isn’t just reading this making you want to move your body?!

Emma then spoke about trauma work and how it doesn’t have to be such a horrendous process. “We can bring our bodies back into that space of play, art and joy, we can actually heal whilst doing it! That what’s it all about; bridging the gap between people who need a release of some description which is everyone, at some point. Everyone needs that space to release which we are seeing more and more of and have fun!”

Yes Emma, we all need a creative outlook – it’s what comes natural to us! Creativity keeps us connected to ourselves which is a super powerful experience. Emma’s classes and even just her influence on social media platforms is keeping people connected on the deepest levels.

I asked Emma why is Movement is Medicine so important to her and how has she experienced this for herself. She spoke about her time spent in hospital and how her body was in a really bad place; she couldn’t even walk let alone deal with the trauma connected to this.

“We are told, to feel better we need to exercise so I made a promise to myself that I would dance every day. Just one song, just to get myself moving even though I was really struggling and tired. I needed to make sure that I was doing what I needed to do to recover during this time, when the world was closed.

“So, putting together this practise was something I was doing in my bedroom, in my living room and intentionally doing it, making sure I made that promise to myself even when I thought what was the point, you know… because we all have those days.

“When I started to move my body, it became a lot looser because my body was very stuck because what happens when you go through trauma is you go into a brass position. It is where flight or fright mode is activated, like all the time, so it’ll eventually go into freeze mode and shut down.

“We are labelling it as depression because people can’t get up and leave the house, their body is shutting down on a nervous system level – so we have to activate ourselves to pick ourselves up out of that response.”

We also had a little discussion about how spiritual teachings focus more on clearing our minds without the understanding of how important it is to release the trauma through our bodies, as everything is energy and when we in a state of trauma, unless we are able to release this traumatic energy straight away, it gets trapped and stored within our body.

“If we are trying to focus just on the mind, all you are doing is generating and creating more stress trying to clear your mind, when actually the body is the thing that’s holding onto it all. So, if you start to clear the body the mind will start to clear automatically. What we are doing is the wrong way around. You start to see the transition through the body and not in the head!”

Emma then spoke about a vipassana she did 3-4 years ago where the teachings came from India, which involved being silent for 10 days and meditating for 12 hours a day. She explained that this was to teach how to channel energy, and to move energy to flow through the body. This is where she really had to battle her mind to find the connection back to her body. And she of course found this through dance!

“It is all about coming back into the body and using dance as a modality for me personally, its infusing it with joy, that’s the key! It’s ok I feel this stuff, it is heavy, it is sitting in my body – but the way I’m going to move it is also through joy, and that’s beautiful because you are just incorporating love back into yourself immediately after feeling some quite heavy stuff.”

I then asked Emma: how important did she feel that music and instruments are for movement?

“They are completely cohesion, I’ve had to do a couple things recently where there is no music and I just had to shut my eyes and pretend, and go into a little dance for a video and its not the same. Because the other side of it depends on the day, depends on how you feel, depends on what you need.

“My first love musically was drum and bass, I love it! There’s so much in drum and bass and the way it’s put together. There is a lot of soul, rhythm, a lot of Caribbean and sound system influence, there is so much and it really hits me on a soul level!

“The one instrument that ties all cultures together is the drum! If there’s a drum, there’s a rhythmic beat! This can be literal medicine music from the tribes or this could be drum and bass. There is a rhythmic beat we always come back to because it’s a remembering for every single person across the world. So that’s why my classes are musically created in the way they are created because its always about that rhythmic beat to tap people back in, because their bodies will remind themselves – The drum is like a simulation of our heart beat. That’s going to activate a reminder that you are alive and it’s the feeling of being alive!

“So, when you really start to understand on a musical level who you are listening too, what voices you are listening too and what kind of activation are you trying to get from these people singing, this is where you get a more magical and spiritual experience with music in general.”

I then went on to ask Emma what her concept of spirituality was.

“Awareness and connection that’s what spirituality means to me.”

Emma also spoke about the disconnection between nature and ourselves about how once we become self-aware on the spiritual journey, you will understand that we are the earth, we are the water, we are the fire and we are the air.

“Earth is the body, air is the mind, water is the emotion and fire is the energy, then we got the ether, which is everything.

“So, it’s about connecting ourselves to those elements, working with the elements and knowing that we are not separate from them. To create a level of awareness in the body and mind, creating awareness of our emotions and energy. Therefore, this will naturally lead into being able to feel connected to yourself, others and the world around you.”

We then spoke about the improvement in modern day society; how people are becoming more aware of masculine and feminine energies within themselves. And more and more people are finally picking jobs that benefit their mental health because let’s be real, this pandemic has made us all think, feel and grow a lot more!

I then went on to ask Emma if she felt that her movement practise is connected to creativity, and how in her practice does creativity and spirituality come together:

“Movement practice is creative art, purely because you are coming into the space of flow and flow is where we create from. This will not only impact your mental health and wellbeing; it’s also going to impact the way you’re living your life.”

Emma also explained coming into the space of flow will generate much more creativity. She said “Solutions based thinking, over stressful base thinking.” Yes please, goodbye chaos!

“Creativity being fuelled by spirituality is about intentions. And if your intention is pure and is coming from the heart and it’s to genuinely change people, change culture, to shift people’s complete mindset in regards to their life style and the way their living their lives through very simple techniques. And therefore, using the understanding of spirituality and the simplicity of it, authenticity, connection and self-awareness. These are the things that will then enable that to become a creative process and therefore, it will start to align – so they go hand in hand.”

This brought me to my next question, where I asked Emma what she thought her movement contributed to our spiritual wealth and development.

“If we can change our culture internally, that’s then going to reflect onto others.”

Emma then spoke about how Movement is Medicine basically started off with her making videos of herself dancing and now all of sudden she has a whole community joining in! This just really shows that being your true authentic self and having pure intentions shines big and bright!

“Doing this ‘work’ is not separate. It’s all just a culture shift that needs to happen and once that happens, we will find this earth so much easier to live on. This is why there is a massive problem with mental health, why there is so much sickness – because there is no resolution! The culture that we have created is very problematic. We separate healing and life.”

I then went on to ask Emma what other ways creativity comes into her day-to-day life, and whether she uses or recommends any other creative ways of expressing ourselves, that have supported her wellbeing in the past.

“I used to wear all black, no expression and wanted to hide basically. Now on this journey, all I own is colourful clothes! Everything that I buy is with intention, everything that I am putting on my body is with intention.  Its not about how I look, its about what colour do I want to wear today because it will make me feel a certain way. As I am attuning the colours to my moods and attuning the colours to my day.

“I also love listening to music, finding music and going down rabbit wholes with music. Because even though I’m not making the music, I’m creating playlists with 1500 followers potentially listening – I feel that’s part of a creative practise. As I am sitting down attuning my mood, attuning myself to what music I want to hear that day, and then also when I do find music that activates me, I have to sit with it and think what is this activating? Where is it coming from? This is all a part of my creative practice, ‘work, spare time’ – There is no denunciating, it’s all embodied, it’s just a process.”

I then asked Emma if she would recommend movement is medicine to artists? If so, how does she think this would benefit them?

“100% because it will free them up and get them into their bodies! If you are going to be creative not just in the musical sense, if your blocked and you can’t write, paint and sing – you need to come into the body because you’re in your head. So, the creative process can be activated through movement all day long.”

So true, finding the flow within yourself will leave you grounded, connected, and clearer. I then thought it would be interesting to find out how people were affected by the 30-day lockdown challenge Emma did, where she created a playlist and posted a video every day to encourage people to dance.

“Great, I got loads of great feedback and had people saying this changed their whole life! I didn’t teach any of that, it was just pure inspiration to get up and dance! When you start to realise the impact this stuff can have, that’s when it becomes really powerful. It’s like when stuff becomes obvious, it’s like, it really is that simple!”

Hearing Emma say this resonated hard within my soul because I realised just how long this has taken me to figure out! As Emma mentioned before, we really have created a problematic world.

This then led onto my last question, how do you think the world would be different if people didn’t have spiritual or creative outlets to support their wellbeing?

“We will not want to be here, if we didn’t have something to help us make sense of the nonsense, there is no human process without those two things. They are not separate they are the same! I don’t think its genuinely possible.

“Here’s the thing, you go under the spiritual path and not everything is amazing. Its about having deep levels of compassion for people at all times, but also having healthy boundaries. That’s when we start to really understand it can be very empowering work, and doesn’t always have to be so complex. But if your bad mouthing someone, they did this to me, gossip – that’s a problem and it’s come from a space inside of you that needs healing. However, if you are coming from the space of facts, no real theory or opinion and I’ve chosen to deal with it like this… That’s when we start to become into the space of emotional maturity, which is also part of the spirituality!”

A big thank you to Emma for being involved with finding the clear connection between spirituality and creativity. I really hope this interview has inspired you in some way and encourages you to join a Movement is Medicine class. My experience of classes has been amazing! Emma’s vibe is infectious and the energy from the class is so entrancing, you will find yourself dancing for the rest of the week! Let’s shake away the past, literally, and grow towards a better future for everyone.

I have included all the information you need below to find Emma to join her Movement is Medicine journey.

Website: Home | Movement is Medicine™

Linktree: Emma The Alchemist | Linktree

Instagram: @emma.the.alchemist

Spotify: Emma The Alchemist

YouTube: Movement is Medicine

Interview by Shannon Humphries, AHSW’s Administration Assistant

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