“Social Presencing” with Nichol Chase and Arawana Hayashi

by Aidan Kennelley

Nichol Chase is invested in the business of wisdom building — specifically the wisdom that emerges from knowing our own bodies, from using music, movement, and mindfulness throughout our lives. (She comes by this honestly, as mindful movement has helped her manage scoliosis throughout her life.) 

At a virtual retreat held December 4, 2021, Ms Chase guided participants through these ideas with guest teacher Arawana Hayashi, creator of social presencing theater. The work of social presencing theater is aimed at cultivating an awareness of where the body is now; by being attentive to the sensations of the body, we can stay focused on the present moment, rather than the thoughts that are attempting to describe the moment. 

In order to practice social presencing, Ms. Hayashi led participants through a kinesthetic exercise in which everyone stood up and imagined there was an obstacle in their way. Why? “Because anything worth building or succeeding at will have obstacles,” according to Ms. Hayashi. The following body engagement exercise allowed participants to sit with that obstacle and to appreciate it as a positive force, as something that will make them better. Imagining that obstacle, participants shifted into two different poses. Then, they expressed a single word or phrase that they attached to each pose. After striking their poses and saying their words, the other members of the group described what words came to mind for them when they saw their partner strike the poses. After working through and discussing this exercise in small groups, the group reconvened to listen ton Ms. Chase.

What followed was a short yoga exercise that involved a variety of sitting and standing movements. Throughout these exercises, Ms. Chase discussed the value of doing these exercises in community. Although we did them virtually, she emphasized the power of doing them together across time zones. This sense of togetherness is an essential goal of her work. What followed was a discussion on wisdom building, a practice that Ms. Chase has been focusing on in her work with The Garrison Institute.

The exercise allowed participants to sit with their obstacle and appreciate it as a positive force, as something that will make them better.

Providing participants with a Wisdom Building “Map”, Ms. Chase discussed how music, movement, and mindfulness can be used to help us heal, connect with our own unique wisdom, ground us in the present moment, and give us the confidence to act. Her lenses for wisdom building focus on trauma-sensitive mindfulness and healing-centered education. Through these lenses, she has been able to focus on building an equitable practice that respects the personal experiences of each participant. The end-goal of focusing on the 3 “Ms” (music, movement, and mindfulness) is to cultivate a wise mind, body, and spirit. By using her wisdom building map, Ms. Chase has been able to work through and manage her own challenges with scoliosis.

With this background information in mind, Ms. Chase led participants through somatic movements that focused on the spine. These movements gave way to dynamic motions that encouraged participants to focus on playful, dynamic practice. 

Ms. Chase left participants with the wisdom that we can each create our own somatic sanctuary. In other words, we don’t need specific, cookie-cutter instructions that allow us to feel at home in mind, body, and spirit. The importance is to develop our own, personal practice sanctuary that allows us to be aware of the physical and spiritual energy around us.

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