School of Movement Medicine - Mindfulness in Motion

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Issue: School of MM March 2020
Garden Practice

By Hannah Mackay
I started the Movement Medicine Apprenticeship in 2018, and I’m still in progress – I was expecting to complete it this year, but like many other things, that has turned into an unknown, because of the coronavirus pandemic. I’m sharing some of my experiences of developing a ‘Creative Garden Practice’ in case it might help other dancers in the current times.

During my Apprenticeship so far, I have found it frustrating that it has been hard to access Movement Medicine spaces, other than the Modules and electives, without travelling internationally. I have managed to get to a couple of workshops, which have been great.

Looking around for different options to practice Movement Medicine, I tried joining in an online practice, but I don’t get on so well with the technology. I have danced in my living room, both free-style, and using guided recordings such as the SEER process. I worked out that one reason why I may not practice at home, is that I feel lonely. So I set myself up with a buddy to check in with when I am practising (Thanks Super Buddy!) and also invited a witness to the session, such as an apple, a stone, a plant.

In the Winter Dream Dance last year, I had a strong dream which included going out into my garden. Following the thread of this dream, over the past year I have been mainly practising in my garden. I have occasionally used music or a guided process on headphones, but mostly I have wanted to have the full sensory experience of being in the garden, including the sounds that are there that day. This practice has been movement based, but has included a variety of other creative practices including most commonly writing poetry, but also painting, drawing, making things, singing, playing my drum (quietly!). The theme of my Apprenticeship project is to engage fully in the Yin and Yang of my creative practice.

 It is a very different experience to dance in your own garden, compared to on a dance floor with other people. I have found some similarities - I still get to notice many things around me; I have plenty of partners who are already in movement (different species than I am used to); I have sights, sounds and my feelings to follow. One big difference is that I don’t have a build-up of human complication around me, except what I bring with me. That makes things simpler for me... It also means I get a different kind of perspective on my experiences. I have really noticed the life that is living in my garden in a different way, through bringing my creative practice to it, engaging with it, being curious and fascinated in what appears to me. I have moved with the reflections in drips hanging off my apple tree; with a bee on a lavender flower; with a flock of long-tailed tits arriving in the garden. I have danced under the tree, and up the tree, on top of rotten apples in the dusk and in strong sunlight that made the tree invisible. I have imagined and practised Mindfulness of the Apple. I have noticed a snail remind me of a friend, I have noticed ivy remind me of myself. I have discovered some of the reasons that I am usually inside, and collective dreams about The Garden. I have given myself the opportunity to dance with these experiences, and write about them, collect them and craft them into objects and artwork that I find beautiful. I have noticed that I don’t need to go anywhere - the Medicine is already here.

Perhaps this is a great time to try out a Creative Garden Practice for yourself, or an adaptation that will fit with your home circumstances – at least with a window open to the sight of clouds and the sound of birds.




It’s cold in the garden for

bare feet striding and twittering

through wet grass, getting all stuck about

with petals fallen from the apple tree.

Cold feet, wet; cool hands, dry, in the air,

collecting themselves, collecting each other.

I am warm in the centre,

dancing with the smell of bluebells,

the echoes of soft drumming bumping up against

      the alarm call of a blackbird, concerned about his patch.


I cultivate this garden, and I see how

it does its own thing. This is not collaboration.

This garden smiles on me, brings fruit,

blossom, beauty, is full of life, leaves, green patchwork;

allows for death – the rosemary bush putting on

a last show of flowers as more and more branches

go leafless; last year’s chilli plant just

brown dryness; my old black cat has sunk down

in his grave now, and the deadwood we collected

sits stacked, lifeless itself,

now a home for life,

fungal, insect, a place for those little guys,

millipedes, woodlice, bacteria.


This is a place to be with life, this garden,

to be inside life, even in a small space in Chorlton, Manchester,

with planes overhead and cars beeping on the next street.

Parrots, blue-tits, a small oak tree in a pot,

dandelions in the shade of a table, bay,

worms, slugs, snails, and those

raspberry canes tipping over to get their leaves

angled to the light.



at home / away


If you’re not away, you can be at home.


You can step out into your garden every morning

to greet the day, as seasons flow into one another

seamlessly, or abruptly, warm cloudy days, sharp frost.

You can watch the sequence of apples

setting, growing, ripening, falling, rotting,

be surprised again by a full thud as another beauty

hits the shed roof.

Bluebells push up leaves first, taking the advantage of the early riser,

filling their boots with photosynthesis

and opening into sweet scent

while the trees’ leaves are still stretching off their winter’s sleep.


You can enjoy difference within sameness,

the clouds or stars in this familiar patch of sky, today,

the squishiness of the lawn, or its ice, or parchedness,

the constant efforts of the privet to put on height.


If you’re not at home, you can be away.

You can leave a note on your door, perhaps –

Backson. Bisy. Backson.


You can visit three donkeys in a field in Reeth,

that we nicknamed Neddy, Jenny and Donkey-donk

back when the kids were still little.

They always seem to be there,

not waiting in for us, surely –

just eating grass or fallen ash leaves,

looking about to see what’s going on, of interest to a donkey,

lifting furry ears or bending necks,

sometimes playing host to a visiting friendly sheep.


You can enjoy sameness within difference –

the way birds’ voices carry, over gardens, over moorland,

messages in air, sky,  water –

the way life lives itself

sea-wise, fish-wise, under the Adriatic;

or strangely,

on the scuttering, falling surface of the Canadian Badlands,

fossils lying undisturbed beneath.


You can follow your dream, like the Pedlar of Swaffham,

out into the Far Unknown

where Dream meets Dream,

and in that meeting, find that the treasure’s lying

under the apple tree, at home.

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the School of Movement Medicine. Roland Wilkinson, Nappers Crossing, Staverton, Devon TQ9 6PD, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0)1803 762255 http://www.