Mary Starks Whitehouse…and Her Teachers

October 4th is Mary’s Birthday. Join the International Authentic Movement Community in a Day of Practice.

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We no longer know it, but there was a time when movement was our language. We were undivided. – Mary Starks Whitehouse

Mary Starks Whitehouse (1911 -1979) is considered to be the foremother of the many streams of practice that comprise Authentic Movement. Mary was a modern dancer who studied with dance pioneers Mary Wigman and Martha Graham–both strong, innovative choreographers who created dances that accessed styles of movement that were outside the bounds of mainstream dance at the time. Their dances explored movement sourced from and evoking strong emotional expressions. They experimented with movements like trembling, falling, lying on the floor, dancing without music or only with a single drum beat. They dared to portray movements that were controversial, discordant, not considered pleasing or beautiful by western standards (even called “ugly” by some), and they accessed the natural, archetypal and mythological realms in the studio and on stage.

The powerful emotional experiences that Mary had in her own body as she danced with these women, and the equally powerful experiences she witnessed in her own students in the studio, piqued her curiosity. She felt she needed a deeper understanding of her powerful experiences in the studio, as well as those of her students. This lead her to pursue study and training in Carl Gustav Jung’s methods of analytical psychology at the CG Jung Institute in Zurich, Switzerland.

Like Graham and Wigman, Jung was a trailblazer, following his curiosity and delving into non-traditional realms in the field of psychology, propelled by his own dreams and waking visions. His direct experiences led him to develop the active imagination process, expand the way dreams were worked with at the time, discover and name personal and cultural complexes, almost single-handedly re-introduce the esoteric practice of alchemy to the west, and identify the powerful organizing energy of archetypes. Central to Jung’s work was the primacy of the analytic relationship, the importance of a personal individuation process in the context of that relationship, and finding the place of the individual in relationship to the world.

As Mary worked with these two streams, one sourced from the emotional/psychological/soul level and the other from the dance/embodiment level, a kind of alchemy happened…a way of working coalesced and evolved, both new and ancient, and was born in mid-twentieth century California! Through Mary’s study, her work on herself and with her students in the studio, she discovered a way of being, moving and relating to body and soul as one, as alive, as inseparable. This unity and inclusivity of body+soul was something that had been missing in the western versions of dance and psychology, but was beginning to re-emerge through Mary and others. And always, at the center for Mary, was the primacy of the relationship and authority of the individual mover.

Mary discovered and spent years developing her unique way of being+moving while in the presence of an other (teacher/witness) that was genuine, real and uncontrived. She called her way of moving/being/witnessing “authentic” and “movement-in-depth”.

When the movement was simple and inevitable, not to be changed no matter how limited or partial, it became what I called ‘authentic’- it could be recognized as genuine, belonging to that person…[a] truth of a kind unlearned, but there to be seen. – Mary Starks Whitehouse

Lucky for us all, Mary’s work was shared, seeded and developed through her many students, passed on to us. We are the beneficiaries, the world-wide community of Movers and Witnesses holding in our bodies the living stream of this form, this way of moving and being in the world.

Yearly, on Mary’s birthday, October 4th, the international Authentic Movement Community comes together to mark and honor the contributions of this amazing pioneer! I hope you’ll join us.

If you are an AM practitioner/mover, you can post your dreams for Authentic Movement to the Authentic Movement Community Blog, or share some of your embodied writing or images. We invite you to join the online community gathering around this powerful, nourishing and transformative practice.  Find out more.

The Texture of Soul

Some Questions You Might Ask

Is the soul solid, like iron?
Or is it tender and breakable, like
the wings of a moth in the beak of the owl?
Who has it, and who doesn’t?

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One question leads to another.

Does it have a shape? Like an iceberg?
Like the eye of a hummingbird?
Does it have one lung, like the snake and the scallop?
Why should I have it, and not the anteater
who loves her children?
Why should I have it, and not the camel?
Come to think of it, what about the maple trees?
What about the blue iris?
What about all the little stones, sitting alone in the moonlight?
What about roses, and lemons, and their shining leaves?
What about the grass? – Mary Oliver

And what about the stones, sitting alone in the moonlight, glistening in the morning sunlight? The stones are speaking to me of late on my daily walks on the beach. They are calling to me and I am curious. I am entering more deeply into the mind of stones, who, without arms or legs choose to stay in one pace, abandoning themselves to the love and mercy of the Elements all their lives. Wherever they are, they are always surrendering without apology and with admirable humility to Gravity – their one and only God. I study their devotion.

Study the ground Lala, as a sign of attainment. – Lala

If matter is ensouled as some poets, mystics, philosophers and depth psychologists say, then can this numen of matter be lived? For me, the answer is Yes.

The Discipline of Authentic Movement is one path of access. As the Inner Witness strengthens and grows, a heightened listening and tracking of the rhythms and flutterings of luminous matter are possible, and the mover feels the truth of their union. First, it’s the matter of the body, then the entire world is ensouled. Nothing is dead. All is alive in various states of transformation. . . moving toward the Mystery.

Friday Morning

vast silence

opens space.

Inside, I know remembrance

touching each mover’s stone,

witnessing ritual

of loving

and letting go.

One of the benefits of practicing the Discipline of Authentic Movement over time is to experience directly this ensoulment of the body, of all matter.

The infinite nature of the outer world is exactly the same as the infinite nature of the inner world. – Janet Adler

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Writing from the Bodyvoice

Mapping and Tracking Bodily Experience through Writing and Remembering

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The primary text of a mystic. . .is his human body.    – Antonio de Nicholas

Embodied writing seeks to reveal the lived experience of the body by portraying in words the finely textured experience of the body and evoking sympathetic resonance. [E]mbodied writing is itself an act of embodiment, entwining in words our senses with the senses of the world.  – Rosemarie Anderson

Since beginning this practice, I was encouraged by my teachers to write down what happens in Authentic Movement. Writing is one way of developing the Inner Witness.

As a mover closes her eyes and steps into the empty space, questions may arise: Which inner impulse or prompting do I listen to and follow? What am I doing now. . .and now? How am I feeling? Do images appear? Sounds? Sensations? What of my witness – am I aware of her and how do I feel moving in her presence? Will I remember all that’s happening?

In addition to the speaking practice that accompanies Authentic Movement, writing can help to expand our conscious awareness of the bodysoul and strengthen the Inner Witness. Writing regularly is a practice, one that helps to reflect our journey with the discipline over time, tracking our bodies, our questions and their answers.

Moving and speaking are ephemeral; writing is tangible and can be returned to later. I have journals that span over two decades of moving and witnessing and I periodically revisit them. Reading, I am pulled in again to the living story of my body. . . into the experiences, images, postures, gestures, energetic phenomena, emotions and memories that have moved and continue to move my flesh and bodily tissues. Reading, I recognize a hidden order, patterns which have unfolded over time in postures and gestures, at once unique to me and universal. I am certain of the brilliance of my body, of all bodies. I return to remember. Writing is an entry point and a destination.

And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name. – William Shakespeare

How to Write

I like to write before speaking about my movement, while the experience is still freshly reverberating. Writing first offers an opportunity to continue steeping in the movement, to become even more intimately acquainted with it. Inviting the postures, gestures, sensations, and sequences to imprint themselves in my bodysoul, my pen serves as the conduit from body to page.

I choose journals with spines that open easily and lay flat. I like pages without lines. . . pens that glide easily on the paper. I write in present tense, as though movements are still happening. I name the movements: postures, gestures, sensations, where I am in the room – what am I doing? What is happening NOW. . . and NOW? I start at the beginning and track what happens, in sequence. Feeling, seeing, sensing into words  – waiting for them to climb the long ladder of the body into conscious awareness – they slowly or quickly find their way onto the page. Naming body movements first honors the body, privileges its voice over thought and idea.

Embodied consciousness requires a study of articulation not only of body but of word. – Janet Adler

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Discipline of Authentic Movement

“There is no body without soul, no body that is not itself a form of soul.”                    – Sri Aurobindo

The Discipline of Authentic Movement is . . .

~ An embodied mindfulness practice sourced in mysticism, depth psychology, attachment theory, indigenous healing and dance.

~ A process grounded in the relationship between a mover and a witness.

~ The practice of compassionate witnessing of body movement becoming conscious.

~ A mystical practice centered in the development of embodied witness consciousness.

“Being seen, seeing oneself, seeing another, movers and witnesses move closer to their true nature because of the development of witness consciousness. With increasing trust in themselves and in the discipline, through this mysterious developmental but non-linear process of enduring commitment, individuals can journey from the experience of duality to unity consciousness.” – Janet Adler


Finding one’s own natural movements – which have often been buried under the rational, ordered body-ego for decades – can feel like coming home again . . . in the best sense.

Experiencing the body as holy, intelligent, and alive can be a revelation. . . a rare gift.

Finding a practice that develops mindfulness, compassion for self and other, helps heal attachment wounds and traumas, renews one’s sense of grounding and trust in one’s bodyself, and cultivates witness presence using the wisdom of the moving body as the compass and primary vehicle is often nothing short of a revelation.

Over time, when a Mover practices with a dedicated and experienced Witness, a compassionate, embodied inner Witness grows within the Mover. Memories, sensations, images, symbols, archetypes, postures, gestures, dreams and energetic phenomena arise through the body, because of the body, and may offer profound influence and help for one’s own life and the lives of others.

A Lifetime Practice

Like all true Work, this practice invites time and commitment. There are many embodied awareness practices. Many who choose to commit to the Discipline of Authentic Movement see it asa primary path, as a mystical practice. Time spent practicing deepens the longing to practice as one is led further in and farther on.

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