Boost: A healing narrative through Somatics and Dance

Caroline Plummer, Ralph Buck and Sylvie Fortin, PhD


Within the fields of anthropology and psychiatry, Kleinman (1988) has written widely of the personal experience of illness. He believes that talking about the lived experience of illness, and the consequent ordering of that experience, can be of therapeutic value.

This paper discusses the role of dance and somatics (Hanna, 1986; Fortin, 2002) in promoting a wider perception of health (Steinman, 1986; Weil, Toms and Siegel, 1997), drawing upon Caroline's personal narrative (Ellis and Bochner, 2000) of living with cancer.

‘Hi Caroline' and I flop my self down on the grass by the river Leith in the grounds of the University of Otago, New Zealand. Caroline laughs: ‘Great day, it is so nice, the air is so soft.' The sunlight is flicking across Caroline's face, and the willow branch brushes my hair. Caroline asks: ‘Do you want to go inside or move and get away from that branch?'

I insist that the day is too nice and we settle in to munching our sandwiches and talking of the CORD conference in Taipai. Our initial enthusiasm to attend the conference has waned in light of international talk of war and our own busy lives. Nonetheless, we agree to plan our presentation which will be based on Caroline's Boost Project that was initially written for a somatics course taught by Sylvie in 2002, a guest teacher who has returned to Montreal since then.

As we eat our sandwiches, Caroline asks about presenting at an international conference. I sense her apprehension about her story being research. I remind her that there are many ways of seeing the world and interpreting human interaction (Heshusius, 1994, Eisner, 1998). I reiterate that knowledge is not a given product and coming to know is not a neutral process owned by others (Crotty, 1998; Sparkes, 1992). Caroline's knowing smile succinctly tells of her academic journey from the positivist paradigm of the health sciences, to the academic departments of Anthropology and Dance where her qualities of experience, her perspective, her knowing body, her embodied action have been invited and integral to her construction of knowledge (Schwandt, 1994; Eisner, 1993; Kovich, 1996; Green, 2001).

Caroline pauses, catching her breath; quietly I wonder if Caroline has fully recovered from her cancer. As if by reply her eyes reassuringly sparkle as we stare at the University clock tower. In an attempt to remove any unspoken doubts about the validity of Caroline's Boost Project I turn to Lyotard's (1984) views on knowledge and Hanna's (1986) ideas of soma and perspective, and try to connect these to Caroline's passion for dance. ‘We all have different bodies, minds and dance that are in constant interaction with society - shaping and being shaped: there is no single right dance that presents the totality of dance - no single conception of knowledge.' She laughs; I apologise and admit I'm on my soapbox.

We start talking about the power of personal stories and dance as modes of inquiry (Clandinin and Connelly, 1991) Again, Caroline and I agree that personal life, personal experience, feelings, emotions and thoughts matter, and in sharing them we learn about self and others (Ellis and Bochner, 2000). Caroline quickly reminds me that dance, poetry, art tell our stories equally well and perhaps better as they evoke an active relationship with the reader or viewer. I think of the Kovich (1996) article about embodied action that Sylvie gave us to read last year: "Knowing is relational, arising out of the experiences we generate through our recurrent interactions with the world and others." (p. 2)

I tell Caroline of the emotional response that her story activated in Sylvie and me when we first read her writing. We could feel the truth of her story and the value Caroline gained in telling it. Irrespective of the unintended therapeutic value of the writing as research, I reinforced that its validity is found in its believability, its clarity of communicating her experience, how it invites us to have vicarious experience of her story (Stake, 2000), and how it appealed to our hearts (Sandelowski, 1994).

I commented that her Boost Project went beyond description, it inspired dialogue and compassion, and that this may have been because she did not hold back from talking of emotion, feelings, fears, family relationships and her relationship with cancer. Academic writing can be empathic and caring and still be academic, particularly in respect to something like cancer: "Cancer is more than a medical story it's a feeling story" (Ellis and Bochner, 2000, p.755) Caroline emphasises that it was yoga, being in touch with her body, being alert to her body's feel, that buoyed her spirit; but also placed herself in an active partnership with her other medical treatment. She reflected on her time at the Gawler Foundation as supporting this perspective. She tells me to read Weil, Toms and Siegel (1997) who also talk of such partnerships and comment on the doctor/patient relationship and the value of patients taking more responsibility for the treatment and doctors valuing the patient's psychological and spiritual condition. Caroline more directly said ‘I just returned home to my body and somatics helped do that'.

We finished our lunch and agreed to meet in one week when we would share our brief introductions to personal narrative and somatics.

The next time I see Caroline she is in a wheel chair, surrounded by her amazing family and friends. Her cancer has returned. Later that day I speak to Caroline about the conference and our work (as if it matters); she indicates that we should still try and do something. Her mum and dad agreed and in support asked about Caroline's writing. I returned a week later to Caroline's home/hospice with photocopies of her Boost Project and our discussion takes on a new life and urgency.

In my own mind and body I'm feeling a wave of pride for Caroline. I am also grieving, angry, frustrated and nearing exhaustion. I ponder amongst many life questions, ‘what is the point of this writing, this research? I re - read Caroline's Boost Project and answer my own question. As Caroline tells us in Boost, her writing was therapeutic and yet is also educational for others. Her personal narrative deepens hers and our knowledge of living with cancer and the value of somatic practices in managing her cancer, her medical treatment, and her whole self. Caroline's writing affirms Ellis and Bochner's (2000) assertion:

... Stories... bring us into worlds of experience that are unknown to us, show us the concrete daily details of people whose lives have been underrepresented or not represented at all, help us reduce their marginalisation, show us how partial and situated our understanding of the world is. (p. 748)

In research, in history, in life whose stories get told? What role does our enacted body have in learning and sharing our stories? Why in health and education do we so quickly become an ‘anybody' rather than remain a ‘somebody'? Where am I in my body? These questions linger under the bed where Caroline, her family and I chat, laugh, cry; all of us carrying on as best we can. These questions are also the subtext of this paper and the motivation for introducing Caroline's Boost Project; a personal story that teaches us about living, about passion, and about the personal community of mind, body and spirit that somatics may generate.

It is ironic that Caroline is dying, while her experiences told in this paper talk of healing and hope. I write to Sylvie in Montreal. We feel powerless... But we know that this is what must remain - the focus on living, healing and hope even in the saddest moments; and such stories of courage and compassion must be told for that is how we learn as individuals and grow as communities.

Caroline's Boost Project

The subject of this study is myself. Being a tertiary student with a traditional, empirical grounding in academic research, the prospect of this new mode of enquiry - centered on self - is simultaneously daunting and intriguing. It will, no doubt, be a journey of much discovery.

The writing of this Boost project as part of my class in somatic education comes at a tumultuous time in my life. A bit of background... Just over two years ago I was diagnosed with a rare malignant tumour in the lining of my lung, going by the impressive name of pleuro pulmonary blastoma. The tumour was surgically removed, and I subsequently received seven months of intensive chemotherapy. Having taken a year off university, I returned to full time study last year. In the last month, however, after some warning from my body's own messages, medical investigation has confirmed that an anomaly of some kind has returned in the same lung. It is thus far unknown whether it is benign or malignant, but surgery is indicated either way.

After some thought, I have decided to attempt to complete the semester, despite this rather huge and unwelcome interruption. My decision is vastly different to last time, when I was impelled to ‘drop everything' and spend a large amount of time in the hospital and home environment. This time, however, I have perceived my own need for continued external interaction. And this is what finds me writing this, my ‘Boost project'; as both a requirement for my dance paper in somatic education, and as an invaluable, therapeutic process within my personal healing journey.

The aim of this Boost project is to record my somatic experience, prior, during and post surgery. In doing so, I will be creating an intensely subjective record of my experiences - experiences that are all too often eclipsed by the sterile, objectified descriptions of medical discourse. I hope my Boost project will evolve into an embodied medical ethnography, a diary, a compilation of thoughts, observations, and poems. I have deliberately chosen the word ‘evolve' to describe the formation of the project, as I believe the recording process will evolve into whatever it needs to be as time unfolds. As is said in somatics, ‘form follows function'; so it will be with this project.

Ellis & Bochner, (2000) describe autoethnography as:
"I start with my personal life. I pay attention to my physical feelings, thought, and emotions. I use what I call systematic sociological introspection and emotional recall to try to understand an experience I've lived through. Then I write my experience as a story. By exploring a particular life, I hope to understand a way of life".
(p. 737)

Ellis and Bochner (2000) address the idea that the very process of writing a narrative means it cannot totally represent the experience itself. "Given the distortions of memory and the mediation of language, narrative is always a story about the past and not the past in itself." (p.745). Despite this, Ellis and Bochner maintain that personal narratives still embody a certain truth, that life and narrative are inextricably connected. We could extend this further, by suggesting that the very process of writing about life as one ‘lives it', brings a heightened awareness to the experience; a clarity of observation, thus changing the nature of the experience itself. This can in fact be seen as parallel to the central idea of somatic education - that by cultivating our awareness, we enhance our capacity for self - regulation, and for expanded learning opportunities.

Kleinman (1998) has written widely of the personal experience of illness. He believes that talking about the actual experience of illness and helping to order that experience can be of therapeutic value. He argues that the study of the experience of illness has something fundamental to teach us about the human condition.

Nothing so concentrates experience and clarifies the central conditions of living as serious illness. The study of the process by which meaning is created in illness brings us into the everyday reality of individuals like ourselves, who must deal with the exigent life circumstances created by suffering, disability, difficult loss, and the threat of death... We can envision in chronic illness and its therapy a symbolic bridge that connects body, self, and society. This network interconnects physiological processes, meanings, and relationships so that our social world is linked recursively to our inner experience. (p. xiii)

Kleinman's "The Illness Narratives" depicts a series of life histories, with personal voices of illness and healing heard movingly throughout the text. As an anthropologist he aims to reveal the way in which cultural values and social relationships help define what it means to be ill, as much as any biological diagnosis. This is a challenge to the medical profession; emphasizing the 'art' of interpreting personal experience, and the need for profound changes in medical education and the care of the chronically ill.

My own narrative will not be a 'complete' record of my experiences: I will have certain biases and omissions in my writing. I will write less when I am tired, sore, disheartened, than when I am rejuvenated, mending, hopeful. In this sense writing about the more ‘negative' experiences will usually mean reflecting back on them, if at all. I will omit anything that is too painful or personal, unable to forget the existence of a potential audience/readership. I will always write less than I would want to, for the pure fact that sometimes you've just got to focus on "livin' the thing"! For the purposes of this paper, my emphasis is unashamedly on being positive, on maximizing strategies, and recording the processes and successes of Project Boost.

At times I will draw on a certain survival strategy that I believe I have developed, whereby I choose not to inhabit my own body. Not to feel it intimately as my own as it is exposed to the cold scrutiny of the medical gaze. At the click of my fingers I can send my body scuttling back to the pages of the anatomy textbook. Sever the connections. Objectify my physicality and surrender it to the hands of biomedicine. This is the choice I made for the majority of the duration of my previous treatment experience. It is a survival mechanism, and I am totally aware I am doing it - aided by my background in the biological sciences. However, this time my aim is at times to have the courage to re - enter my body, claim it as my own and tell its story.

As depicted by the title, ‘Boost', my emphasis is on healing, and my own ability to facilitate this process. My intention is to draw upon the vast wealth of knowledge that I have been introduced to through two main sources. The first of these is the body of knowledge that I have become familiar with as a student of dance. Throughout my life I have danced. Added to this I have taken a number of tertiary level papers that have introduced me to the idea of movement and experience as a unique way of knowing. The somatic education paper I am currently completing has given me a whole new vocabulary and paradigm within which I can begin to explore my somatic experiences. It has deepened and refined my sense of self - awareness, and my sense of connectedness.

The second body of knowledge on which the content of this project will draw, is that presented by The Gawler Foundation established by Ian Gawler following his explorations in healing and consequent recovery from widespread bone cancer (Gawler, 1984). The foundation has a fully developed residential centre, ‘The Yarra Valley Life and Living Centre', which runs residential programs for cancer sufferers.

I attended a 10 - day course at the Yarra Valley Centre with my mother a year and a half ago, having completed my course of chemotherapy and in a state of remission. The experience of those ten days was profound. Most memorable was the feeling of empowerment I gained by realising that we can play a part in our own health and healing. The programme was comprehensive and covered many aspects of healing. However the central themes, and those that I will be attempting to encompass in my ‘Boost' project are: meditation, somatic practices such as yoga, diet, positive thinking strategies, and support from friends and relatives.

When the doctor told me last week that my cancer had most probably returned, I felt numb. I wanted to feel numb. Or rather just not to feel. Writing in my journal:

Return the numbness
Return the stalwart heart
At times like this
My heart forgets how to ache
There is no need.

I went to the park next to the medical centre. I sat, and I watched people walking past. People continuing on in the normality of their lives, playing out their daily routines of which I was suddenly so acutely envious. I was certain not one of those people had just been told they had a tumour in their lungs. But I was not angry. Not sad, nor desperate. Just numb, with a pinch of envy.

Slowly during the course of the day my numbness evolved into the feeling of gentle acceptance that I had cultivated during my previous experience with illness. I have learnt not to waste my energy fighting it - energy that is more constructively consumed in helping my body to heal. I would (could) not yet tell anyone - my parents, my flat - mates, my boyfriend. There were no sobbing phone calls. This was something that I needed to just sit with for a while. Figure out how I actually did feel about it, and how I wanted to deal with it.

An extraordinary thing happened as I walked home that evening. I became aware of how intensely I perceived everything around me. It was as if my world, like a T.V. set, had a setting for colour, and someone had turned it right up. Likewise someone had turned up the volume setting, texture appreciation, and smell. My world had suddenly become that much more vivid, and I knew that it was because it was a world that I suddenly recognised as limited, fragile, and desperately dear to me.

I was filled with a genuine sense of appreciation that cancer had given me this new pair of eyes, this refinement of my senses. I had felt it before, during my year of chemotherapy, but somehow in returning to the hustle and demands of 'normal' (non - ill) life, I had slowly become submerged to a certain degree in the greyness of presupposed daily life. In this sense, I was not sad to be back...back in a world of strong experiences - both painful and joyous - but always filled with vivid colours.

This diagnosis came right in the middle of our somatics course. Over the weeks I had been feeling an increased connection with my body, cultivating a consciousness of mind/body/spirit that was increasingly exciting and rewarding. In the first week of my 'somatics journal' I wrote the following:

Last week I went to yoga for the first time this year. I felt like I had really lost touch with my body over the summer, and this was such a horrible feeling. I have felt heavy and solid, and unable to be energised and exhilarated through movement. I have felt lethargic and ungrounded, and lacking in creative inspiration. Going back to yoga was the first symbolic step for me in returning to the wisdom of the body, in giving my body the attention it deserves and thrives on. The first yoga class was a bit of a struggle physically, but as always the energising breathing and moments of stillness at the end were truly reviving. I went again last night, and the difference was amazing from the week before. I already feel so much more connected, lighter and freer in my movement, and the class just put me on such a high.

These feelings have continued to grow throughout the semester; to the point where I now find myself in a place of strange contradiction. I am feeling as physically fit, mentally stimulated and spiritually expanded as possibly I ever have. A number of times recently people have commented on how well I look - even describing me as radiant. I feel I am growing like the starfish we experienced in somatic class - growing equally in all directions. Basically, I feel supremely HEALTHY. The strange irony lies in the fact that according to the medical profession, I am anything but healthy. In fact I am possibly one of the sickest people meandering their way around campus. BUT I DO NOT FEEL IT!

If I sit and tell myself that I have a tumour growing within my lung, I do so with a certain imposed reality. I can not feel it there. I can not even imagine it. Perhaps I do not want to. The warning signs I had were a few sporadic sharp pains in the chest. But beyond that my body seems blissfully unaware of the intruder lurking in its depths. Despite the powers of proprioception that I have been developing over the semester, and in fact a far longer time in the course of my dance studies, I cannot sit and feel the presence of my tumour. I cannot feel ill.

At the moment when I go to a vigorous yoga class, stride up the hill on a walk, or dance with abandon to music in my bedroom, I am filled with a desire to experience the movement in its entirety, to stretch to the edge and beyond, and to imprint this feeling of joyous extension within every cell in my body. The reason for this is that I know that next week I will not be able to move or enjoy my body at all. In a sense I will be 'made ill'. I will be cut open, from the centre of my back around to just below my left breast, following exactly the scar - line from my previous surgery, my ribs pried apart and held there. I will be put back together. But I will be sore. I will not be able to move, freely or pain - free, for a while. It is so strange to know in advance that this is how it will be. As I flow fluidly through the surya namaskara (sun salute) I know that soon I will not be able to do it at all. That makes me sad.

However, enough of the sadness, feel sorry for myself blubber. Talking about the surya namaskara has reminded me of something my mother told me recently. Her yoga teacher told her of a time when she was seriously ill, and in a critical state in the operating theatre. She was aware of the concern of the health professionals around her, to the extent of her life being in danger. She began to do the surya namaskara in her head, over and over, imagining herself going through the slow, sinuous, revitalising movement sequence. Her vital signs began to drastically improve; she had pulled herself out of the danger zone. Anyway, my point is that despite my impending physical incapacitation, there is nothing to stop me mentally accessing my sensory - motor pathways, keeping them stimulated, flexible, alive and ready for my speedy return to full movement! In the absence of real movement I can maximise such tools as visualisation, as this is what this project is all about. Giving myself a somatic BOOST.

I have been writing this in the two weeks prior to my surgery. I have been doing many things in this time in line with the aims of Boost. My aim is to go into the operation as physically fit and as mentally serene as possible. This has involved: fresh juices 2 - 3 times per day, strictness of vegan diet, no alcohol or caffeine, Asthtanga Yoga 3 times per week, walking and breathing vigorously every day, giving and receiving both massages and Reiki, meditation generally once per day, but not as often as I'd have liked, reading healing literature, and inspirational quotes and prayers I have been given. I am feeling ready. It feels a bit like I am preparing for battle. Not a bad analogy I suppose.

Tonight I walked the lengths
of St Kilda and St Claire,
those two beneficent, oceanic sisters
whose sands have long grounded and caressed my feet,
whose hazy pastel light and eternal fluid breathing
have long felt like home.
Tonight, as I walked
I gathered my cloaks of determination and of faith
and wrapped them tightly around myself
against which no wind, no matter how cold nor cruel,
could stop me in my march.
St Kilda and St Clare let forth their waves,
pounding a rhythmic battle song
that now sings in my heart.
When I stood
energised and exhilarated
on a sand hill and saluted my leave
I knew that I was ready.

I have had the operation. Phew. As I had predicted, I am writing this account of my time in hospital in retrospect. As much as I may have liked to record my experiences over the last couple of weeks as they occurred, the reality is that recording or analysing what was happening to me was in fact the last thing I felt like doing. In fact it didn't even cross my mind. The reality of my days in hospital consisted of a few days swimming in a morphine fog, punctuated by efforts to eat, to change position, to greet and seem coherent to my visitors. The days were marked by celebrations of each small victory; another tube being removed, an improved x - ray, a first stand/walk/wee/shower.

From the moment I re - entered the hospital environment I could see myself retreating back into the 'trenches of objectivity' I described earlier... its just so much easier. I talked about my body to many people that first day before the operation; the staff nurse, the phlebotomist, the x - ray technician, the registrar, the nutritionist, the physiotherapist, the anaesthetist and finally the surgeon. I reeled off certain facts about my body; its medical history, its diet, its lifestyle habits, its bowel motions, its strengths, weaknesses and ambiguities.... and already it was as if it was something that was not really anything to do with me. Just a faulty appliance that I had brought in to fix.

Later that night, however, it was the real me - the whole me - who was dealing with the enormity of what was about to happen. Who was replaying the risks and mortality rate for the operation I was scheduled to undergo in the morning. Who was scared.

There I was, sitting on my hospital bed, in a room full of frail wheezing women double if not triple my age, wearing a hospital identification bracelet that made me one of them. But I wasn't - not yet anyway. When Mum and Dad came round to see me, I decided it was worth a try asking if I could go out with them for a couple of hours. Yes! - I could go. May as well prolong my 'normality', rather than obediently getting into my little hospital bed and playing the 'sick' part.

That evening before my operation, on 'parole' from hospital, I went for a walk up a hill above Newtown that overlooked the city. I did some yoga up there, and sat quietly listening to my breath and to the birds. I had needed to get away from the hectic hospital procedures of the day to feel sane and whole again. To feel serene, rather than worried. I recalled and repeated to myself a favourite prayer:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

I decided there were a lot of things I could not change. I definitely needed serenity. But I also thought about what I could change; I thought about project Boost. Sitting there on the hill, I thought about all I had done to ready myself, and all the wisdom I had accumulated in the past few years, and knew any mortality statistic would be drastically skewed when it came to my well - thought out battle plan and me! I decided that something I could change right now was the way I went into this operation. I was first up on the operating list in the morning, and was to be woken up at about 6.30am to be 'prepped'. I asked instead to be woken at 5.30.

At 5.30am on the morning of my operation, Mum and Dad met me outside my hospital room, and the nurses took us into their spacious staff room. Together Mum and I practised yoga and meditation for an hour (Dad read the paper!) and I didn't feel at all scared. The nurses certainly weren't used to such requests, but thought it was great. After that, with the hustle and bustle of getting ready for the operation, there was no time for renewed doubt. I was off.

Soon after waking from the anaesthetic, the surgeon came to talk to me. He told me they ended up taking out the whole left lung. I didn't know what to say.

Over the following days, I slowly got used to the idea of only having one lung. It didn't feel any different as I sat normally, quietly breathing in bed. However, I soon set about investigating the sensations of this new body configuration. If I attempted a complete yogic breath (filling all lobes of the lung sequentially), my capacity felt about a third of its usual volume. If I lay flat and watched my chest as I breathed, I observed my right breast rising independently of the left, and the left side being pulled upwards slightly only at the peak of inhalation. If I lay on my right hand side, I could feel the weight of the fluid that was filling my vacated left - hand chest cavity pressing down on and restricting the breathing of my right (or only!) lung. I could hear this fluid gurgling.

I found these sensations strange, and at times unnerving. I was resigned to the fact that this was the new me. However, I was soon told that the fluid was temporary, and that my breathing capacity would improve. In fact a young and fantastically human doctor talked to me for some time about the incredible ability of the body to compensate. We have two kidneys but can live on one. We only need a sixth of our liver volume. Our brain is severely under - utilised (!). And so it is with the lungs. We can survive perfectly adequately with one lung. I was bombarded with stories of various people who had run marathons, climbed mountains, won Wimbledon...on one lung, and this lovely doctor assured me there would be absolutely nothing it would prevent me from doing. My one remaining lung will slowly grow more alveoli, expand over into the space in my chest cavity, and generally become a lot more efficient. Wow.

Apart from these small explorations into my breathing, for most of the time in hospital I remained decidedly detached from my body. Unpleasant sensations of stiffness, bloating, nausea, pain were best left unexplored and as much as possible unacknowledged.

Despite not really wanting to inhabit my body whilst in hospital, Boost was still in my mind. When I was discharged from hospital in the uncommonly short time of five days, I could proudly attribute my super - speedy recovery to all the effort I had put into boosting myself in the month prior. I have no doubt it was tremendously effective.

I am at home.
My body is tired, but it has fought well.
I will only get stronger.
There is a lot of healing going on, and I must feed this.
I have been opened up, and now I must nourish the mending,
the tiny cells working overtime
the knitting together of muscle, sinew, skin
down that long, straight line
that is less and less angry every day.
Home is for healing.

My days are filled with eating hearty food, cuddling various animals, overworking the juice machine, parent - bonding, breath - observing, sun - bathing, meditating, walking, reading and lots of sleeping. Quite nice.

I am walking with my mother along the creek.
The sun is shining,
The water glistening.
I am suddenly completely immersed in the pure act of walking.
My arms are swinging unhindered,
My legs propelling me forward in ever - stronger strides.
I think about something I heard once
That to know that you are walking on the ground can be a radical feeling.
I am telling my mother
that I imagine my spine is a constant, balanced core
that simply glides along
as I walk with my limbs and my thoughts.
She tries it,
and loves it.
I am walking with my mother
with the sun on my face,
and I feel whole, healthy, free.

Today I created a visualisation, to help me heal. It involves filling my body with all the colours of the rainbow, bombarding myself with vivid, effervescently alive colours that completely annihilate any pathetic, putrid looking cancer cells. I work though each of the chakras and their corresponding colours - R O Y G B I V - and flood my body with each colour in turn. I am pulsating with rainbow colours. And then suddenly I find myself bathed in the serene white light that contains them all. A pure, energising, beautiful white light that is the queen of healing.

I am finding it increasingly easy to meditate regularly. A huge part of this is due to the fact that I have finally tried using the meditation tapes we bought from the Gawler Centre. I think I had some strange idea that using tapes was somehow 'cheating'. On the contrary they provide a sense of structure and discipline to my practice, and some of the meditations are rich in imagery that I relate to well. Also, the more I meditate, the more vivid my dreams are becoming. Another part of me is opening up.

Yesterday I was a fish
Scales flashing
Through the depths
Of time

Today I am a woman
And Pink
Limbs pulsing
Over earth and rock

Tonight I'll be a bird
And beautiful
Mind soaring
In dreams
Of tomorrow

Every morning I do the complete breath, and use it as a kind of gauge as to how my lung is going. I have noticed a dramatic improvement over the last week. I always inhale while slowly raising my arms above my head. When I first got out of hospital, I would only get my arms to about shoulder height (half way) before running out of breath. Now my arms travel well over three - quarters of the way there. It is great to observe such quick improvement. And every morning I simply stand, looking at the distant ranges, in Tadasana - the Mountain pose. I delight in the solidity of my body.

I stand
as a mountain,
rooted, unwavering stillness,
in the face of life's changes.
Changes of mind, body and nature;
periods of light and dark, vivid colour and dull drabness;
I have weathered storms, high wind, cold rain,
and I have been touched by the sun.
I savour these moments of stillness, uplift,
as my arms melt gently off my shoulders,
my neck climbs upwards,
gravity is a mooring place for my feet,
and in between a miraculous thing is happening.
My spine is beginning to breathe,
filling with light and air,
from the vast expanses of my inner self.
I stand.

I also dance. Wow - have I been dancing. Kicking off my shoes, turning the music up, and claiming the living room, kitchen, hallway as my dance studio when no one is home. It is an incredible release, not to mention great for fitness (its not till I get to the end of a song / sequence of reckless improvised dancing that I realise how out of breath I am and remember my one - lung status!). Why is it that I have not done this since I was about ten years old??! I have also noticed that I do not have to be conscious of my sore area. I can forget about it and let my movement be guided by what simply feels right; I seem naturally not to stress or strain that area. It's like trusting my body's wisdom and knowledge of itself.

I am now back in Dunedin, back at university, getting on with life. I suddenly knew the time was right to return, and that while appreciating the nurturing environment of home, I also knew it has the potential to become claustrophobic, introspective, inertia - inducing. I was ready for renewed stimulation from the wider world. Oh yeah - and for exams.!

I have a number of things to add to the agenda of Project Boost in the next few months. I have contacted a teacher of pranayama. My aim is to make my remaining lung as efficient as possible, as well as to activate the wider benefits of breath control and life force energy for my general healing. I am hoping to begin piano lessons again (after an eight year absence), and am simultaneously nervous and excited about taking my first choreography paper next semester. I may even plant a few pots of bright flowers at my front door. My hope is that all these will help me to feel that I am growing in a multi - dimensional way.

My sense is that I am moving my emphasis away from the details of dietary regimes and the particulars of vitamin concoctions, as they are able to increasingly fade into the routine of daily life. This now allows me to spend my time cultivating a more creative approach to healing. I recently re - read Steinman's book (1986), "The Knowing Body". Steinman, a dancer, is writing one year after a car accident and talks of her profound experience with the healing process. She likens recovery to a performance - it is a bringing together; "the mind holds the image of the body's recovery". She describes healing rituals of Ancient Greece, where "at Epidaurus, theatre - music, dance, poetry, dream, was a tool used in the healing process, used for the restoration of health to mind and body" (p. 1 - 3). She also emphasises the role of dream and visualisation in healing. It is this wider, more creative aspect of healing that I feel ready to pursue further.

A (non - concluding) conclusion

This written record of 'Boost' has not been as long or as comprehensive as I had imagined it might be. In fact it does not really do the greater Project Boost justice. But I am happy knowing that the reason for this is that, rather than spending too many of my hours sitting writing at my computer screen, I have been out there doing it. The real results of Project Boost lie beyond this paper. They lie in my speedy recovery, my ability to dance again so soon after surgery, and my delight in the experience of my body. They lie in my energy when I wake in the morning and in my vivid dreams at night. They lie in the fact that although I am now facing a course of radiotherapy that may knock me around again, I am confident that I will cope well and that I will retain a wider sense of 'health'.

Boost was started as a requirement for my somatics paper, but it has become a name for my general approach to my illness. My illness is an ongoing thing, and so therefore will be Project Boost. By giving it a name, and outlining its objectives, I can more clearly see the profound benefits that I can induce. Thus the ongoing (non - concluding) B - project. Apart from the short period of acute illness in hospital, for the remainder of the time I have felt really healthy despite the medical circumstance. I have felt a sense of unity in mind, body and spirit, and this is the gift of somatics.


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Copy right 2003, Caroline Plummer, Ralph Buck, and Sylvie Fortin, Ph D.


Caroline Plummer (BA)

Caroline is a graduate of Social Anthropology and Dance from the University of Otago, New Zealand. She is currently undertaking further anthropology research.

Ralph Buck (MA)

Ralph Lectures in Dance at the University of Otago, New Zealand and is completing his PhD about dance in the primary school classroom.

Prof. Sylvie Fortin (PhD)

Sylvie is a professor in the Dance Department of the Universite du Quebec in Montreal, Canada, where she is currently developing a health centre for artists, and a postgraduate diploma in somatic education.

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