A journey through movement with Ciara Collins-Atkins
Introduction by Ciara Collins Atkins:
Recently Paul Concannon of Flow Vibration asked if he could interview me. What followed was the most cathartic conversation about my journey with movement so far. The way in which he asked questions and truly listened gave me the unexpected gift of being able to clarify for myself exactly where I have come and where I am today. It revealed to me a forgotten story of healing and reminded me that when we share our story it becomes our medicine and in turn the medicine we can give to others.
"Ciara Collins-Atkins is a Yoga Teacher and Dance Movement Psychotherapist. Originally trained in contemporary dance, her extensive studies and career in several movement disciplines have brought her from roots in Gloucestershire, UK, to Yorkshire, London, New York City, Paris, Tunisia and Zürich, Switzerland, where she currently resides with her fiancé.
It was a great pleasure to spend time with a highly conscious and intelligent movement specialist, who as well as being honest and open about the more challenging aspects of her journey, is every bit as eloquent as she is elegant.
The start of the journey
A dedicated ballet dancer from the age of five, Ciara’s ambition came to a halt at 16 when informed that she was not symmetrical enough for a career in ballet (this was later diagnosed as scoliosis).
Despite the setback, what she describes as an ‘obsession with dance’ continued through her teens. After completing her A-levels, followed by a travel gap year and a spell working in London, she successfully auditioned for the Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds, a decision which would inform her life for the next four years.
“I had three amazing years plus a one-year postgrad, immersed in a disciplined, rigorous, demanding and very physical process. While most of my friends were having a more typical University experience, we were in something of a ‘dance bubble’. I was only 20 when I began my degree, and we were engaged in highly technical, professional training from the get-go. The focus was on technique and much time was spent at the mirror in a leotard, aiming for perfection.”
While she looks back at the experience as one that has shaped who she is today, rich with memorable experiences and close friendships, she also remembers the more challenging aspects of that time.
“My experience of professional dance training had an element of boot camp about it! I was working flat-out to perfect my craft but yet was disconnected from growing as a person. In an environment of scrutiny and approval seeking, in which there were all sorts of unconscious student-teacher dynamics present, I did not know myself. I was a highly impressionable young woman focused on the ascetics of movement over how it made me feel and sadly there was little space for this sort of work during the training.”
After successfully completing her degree, followed by an intense postgrad year of touring, the 24-year-old flew to New York for a dance internship and the opportunity to train in the renowned Cunningham and Graham schools.
In her words…
I fell in love with New York and had a fantastic time out there, living with two of my closest friends from dance school. Eventually, I realised something was changing. I had to force myself to go to dance class. I was no longer enjoying being on stage and started becoming horribly nervous before performing. My body was making beautiful shapes, but I felt empty dancing someone else’s choreography; I did not have enough self-awareness to make the movement mine. I wasn’t enjoying being on stage, and I wasn’t enjoying dance. My body was telling me that I didn’t want to do this, but back then I was oblivious to the intelligence of the body and saw it simply as a machine.
On a yogic lifeline
It was in New York, as my relationship with dance dwindled, that my journey with yoga began. It’s amazing how things happen. I came across a yoga class at a new art gallery in Brooklyn owned by two ex-dancers. I took my first yoga lesson and began moving my body in a pleasurable way. This was big news to me. The teacher taught me with compassion and assisted me in finding the pose in my body rather than pushing my body to find the pose. There were no mirrors or comments on my appearance. Afterwards, I felt this incredible calm and lightness that I would go on to remember when I left New York.
After the Big Apple
I returned home to Gloucester, which after New York City wasn’t the place I wanted to be. So, not knowing what I wanted to do, I moved to London. I waitressed while I worked out what was next. My identity as a dancer, which I had had from a young age was no longer valid; it was this loss of self which brought about depression. Yoga at this point was only something I did sporadically and was predominantly Bikram yoga – the dancer in me had found the one yoga style with mirrors!
When a friend suggested that I take a look at the study of Dance Movement Psychotherapy (DMP), I saw an opportunity to re-build my relationship with dance and to use my brain in an entirely different way. DMP made sense to me straight away, and I embarked on a three-year part-time Master’s Degree at Goldsmiths University in London.
On Dance Movement Therapy and new beginnings
It was an all immersive and life-changing experience. It was challenging in a whole new way; for the first time, I was asked to look within, examine and understand all of me and in turn hold the space for others to do the same. I re-learned how to move my body with no interest in what it looked like; I learned how to be moved by the body and re-found the joy of dancing just because!
My year group consisted of nineteen women, and we grew incredibly close over the years as we studied, moved, shared, examined and truth-seek together. In particular, I learnt an enormous amount from working alongside the older women in the group; their wisdom from experience was priceless.
On the power of movement
We trained in individual and group therapy through various placements. One of my placements involved holding group therapy for addicts in a male prison.
We would start the session with each client sharing how they were doing; the answers tended to be pretty brief. Then we progressed into creative movement with the aim of getting people into their bodies and relating to themselves and others through movement. After moving, the group was given space to share where they were at after the movement, and each time I would be amazed at how much there was to share in comparison to at the beginning of the session. This discovery brought home to me the power of movement, and its ability to connect people with each other and how they were feeling. I began to understand the movement of the body as a path to playfulness, a playfulness that is necessary if we wish to be flexible in our mind and make changes in our life.
On personal healing
Through the nature of the DMP course, anti-depressants, yoga and some incredible relationships, I overcame depression. It was during this time that yoga became a big part of my life. It enabled me to process the challenging work I was doing on the course and was incredibly grounding during the three years. Eventually, I didn’t need anything else; it was purely the yoga practice and the subsequent growing connection with my body that enabled me to move on from depression.
On becoming a yoga teacher
I travelled to India to study at the Yoga Vidya Gurukul Ashram under Rishis initiated by the Bihar School of Yoga. It was an awesome course; substantial and very well rounded in all aspects of yoga. I returned to London with a good grounding in yoga and have been sharing it ever since.
I currently reside in Zürich, after moving there recently from Tunisia (where my partner is originally from). I love that I have been able to share yoga in each place I have lived. Both in Tunisia and now in Zürich, I have found a community of like-minded people through yoga and through this connection with the body found a feeling of home within a new culture.
On embodied yoga principles
Right now I am delivering workshops in Zürich in Embodied Yoga Principles (EYP), which I studied in Brighton and London with Mark Walsh, a leader of the embodiment movement in Europe. It is a unique approach exploring how we can embody our yoga practise and make it more relevant to who we are in our day-to-day life. Working with yoga in this way captures what I find so interesting about working with movement; who are we being when we do yoga? It is the opposite of making shapes and trying to look a certain way. Sadly, this can be what yoga is about today. Because of my personal journey with dance, EYP speaks directly to my heart and is one way in which I am beginning to incorporate my therapy training into my yoga to share with others the power of movement.
On her mission
The study and practise of movement, both through DMP and yoga, helped me move out of depression and this is something that I’m so open to sharing in the hope that it can help others dealing with this. More and more I’m finding that my work is with people who are on the other side of traumatic life events such as depression, anxiety or low self-esteem. I work with them in discovering yoga and the movement of their body as an empowering tool to support them towards taking the next step.
Connect with Ciara