The funeral of my father-in-law took place on the Scottish island of Islay in the southern Hebrides. It was a beautiful occasion. The church was filled to the brim with the local community and this was followed by a walk behind the hearse around the bay to the cemetery. Another ceremony took place at the graveyard where we watched his coffin being lowered then we each took our turn to throw some soil over it. Grandpa Knowles was just three weeks short of his 95th birthday, his death was expected as he’d been living with dementia for several years, but his passing was still difficult for his family and especially his wife to whom he’d been married for nearly 69 years.
Inevitably when coming to terms with the death of a loved-one we are confronted with our own mortality and with it a contemplation of our own health. It’s difficult not to start listing our good and bad health habits and to wonder when the Grim Reaper will call for us! In my case, I have lost my parents, eldest brother and a good friend within the last 4 years and now my father-in-law. Irrationally perhaps, it feels as though my remaining brother, my sister and I need to watch our step and indeed, my sister and I have admitted to feeling anxious over every small ache or pain since we lost our brother.
So, what has this family story got to do with Dalcroze, life and running?
When receiving feedback at the Institut Jaques-Dalcroze (ijd) my rhythmics tutor would sometimes say ‘You are not in your body!’ It took me a while to understand what those five words meant. I think I now understand. Emile Jaques-Dalcroze explained that his method of musical education involved a ‘tuning up of the nervous system’. and The Identity Document produced by the Collège of the ijd writes about the philosophical principles of Dalcroze Eurhythmics. One of these state that rhythmics is ‘an expression of the soul’. So, for me ‘being in the body’ is about having a close connection and deep awareness of your body: awareness of gravity, tension, space, personal tempo, temperature, strength, pulse, breath. In a rhythmics class, when I was properly ‘in my body’ I would trust my body, my kinaesthetic sense and muscular memory. I learned to allow my analytic brain to become subservient to the information that I received through the whole body. In those moments of ‘good flow’ (the meaning of Eurhythmics) I could find truthful expression.
‘Being in my body’ is not just about rhythmics lessons but applies to life. I link body awareness to health and to a healthy life. We’ve all been told to ‘listen to your body’ by medics and ‘being in the body’ is, I believe, a way to do this more successfully and mindfully. It applies to how we stand, walk, sit and in the smaller actions that make up every day life. I was struck recently by how the aims of the Alexander Technique parallel those of Dalcroze Eurhythmics. As far as our muscular skeletal health is concerned both practices help us to maintain better health. The Dalcrozian continually seeks ‘good flow’ in his or her daily life.
I want to reference my running in relation to Dalcroze Eurhythmics because it is another powerful example of ‘being in the body’. I have always enjoyed physical exercise but discovered running in my late 40s. It has served several purposes: it keeps me fit, it has deepened friendships which have blossomed through years of Sunday morning chats and sharing of confidences, and it has allowed me to be aware of my body from the viewpoint of an amateur athlete. When I run I am conscious of the regular rhythm of my legs as they pound the pavements, my breathing and its own comfortable pace, the wind on my skin, the temperature of the air around me, the people whom I pass and the scenery around me. I am aware of the weight on my feet and how one foot can experience discomfort. At times I realise I have tension in my shoulders, arms or hands or even my jaw. And at times I do feel as though I experience ‘good flow’ and am ‘in my body’ and at one with the world.
The conclusion I reach as a Dalcroze practitioner is that we can aim for ‘eurhythmics’ or ‘good flow’ in every aspect of our lives, not just in the rhythmics class. That to do so means we will find harmony between mind and body in all aspects of our lives, which was, of course, the goal of Emile Jaques-Dalcroze.