Authentic Movement originates in the work of Mary Stark Whitehouse, as much as one can say that any cultural practice originates in one source. Stark Whitehouse was a Jungian psychotherapist who felt the importance of bringing the body into the work. She generated a number of scores for exploring the body in relationship to the psyche, but one particular score stood out. This score became known as Authentic Movement and started to spread, in many cases disconnected from the theoretical underpinnings of Jungian psychotherapy. I was personally introduced to it in this way, and it is how I use it… a simple physical score, without intrinsic purpose, the use of which we individually discover or not.
The basic score is quite simple. People work in pairs. One partner, the Mover, starts in the space with their eyes closed and moves for some space of time (15 minutes, 1 hour, whatever) in a space of permission. They can basically do what they want within the bounds of understanding that they are still responsible for their own safety and that of others. Movement can be guided by intellect, emotion, sensation, imagery, mechanical curiosity, internal or external focus. It may follow a consistent thread or it may pop from one thing to another.
The other partner, the Witness, observes from the side. They are not an audience to be entertained, but a supportive witness. The Witness observes their partner and also observes their own mind in relationship to this observation. Where do thoughts wander to , what projections or images arise, what is the tendency of the mind in observation of the Mover? The primary self-observation emphasized is that of “projection” – the tendency to assume internal states (ie, emotion) based on observation. So, for example, as a Witness, I might have the thought that I am observing my partner being “happy” and then I, as self observer, see this act of projection and try to notice what actual physical characteristics of my partner or internal realities of myself cause me to make this assumption.
After the Mover has moved for the agreed upon time, the Mover and Witness come together for feedback. First, the Mover talks about their experience moving, without cross talk from the Witness. Next, the Witness talks about their experience witnessing without cross talk from the Mover. If there is time left, an open discussion follows. This is practice in articulation and practice in listening.
The Mover really is in a space of permission. They have permission even to do nothing. I have had a profound experience taking a nap while being witnessed!Movers may interact with each other or not as they like.
Movers are responsible for their own safety, but Witnesses of course can intervene if something seems dangerous. There is a tendency to “mother hen” the Mover sometimes, so this should be checked… It is OK to bump into things or each other. ‘just don’t want them to do it too hard.
If bumped into, a Mover may incorporate the other in what they are doing, move away and continue what they were doing, shift awareness and change what they are doing, adapting to the encounter.
Note: I find the name pretentious, but it is commonly used, so I use it here. Many share this sentiment. I prefer the Zen perspective… no movement is objectively valued higher than another… it is all subjective and personal.