Art for heart's sake

path to betterment

Art for heart's sake

Passion is the colour that tints her life and lights her chosen path. That is the single most forceful element that comes across as Brinda Jacob Janvrin waxes eloquent in her rich timbre about Expressive Arts Therapy (EAT).

Little did this contemporary dancer know when she started out as a Movement Therapist in 2003 that she would be heralding a new discipline in India. Her organisation, The Studio for Movement Arts & Therapies (SMART), initially dealt with creative arts separately. As a practitioner of Authentic Movement, Brinda “unconsciously used visual art and movement together, experimenting with it.”

Creative combination

It took a meeting with Kate Donohue, founder and High Priestess of Expressive Arts Therapy in the West, for Brinda to realise that EAT is a discipline in itself where you deliberately bring the different arts together in a process. “Arts, used in combination, speak more deeply to the soul... It expands the ability to articulate with specificity what is going on inside,” said Donohue, on a recent visit to the city.

Indian philosophy has always maintained the benefits of the arts for physical and inner healing. “Somehow we lost that along the way and art became more for performance,” says Brinda. “But we are now rediscovering it.” In an uncanny pattern (as with yoga), it took the West to research, document, structure and make popular the discipline of EAT. But invoking natya, Brinda says, “as a civilisation, we have always had it!”

In essence then, we have come full circle. For, SMART has been made the first Indian arm of the International Expressive Arts Therapy Society. This is a well-earned accolade for Brinda, who works tirelessly “to offer creatively alive spaces and practices to nurture and catalyse self-inquiry, expression and integration for individuals and communities.”

Brinda always knew that she wanted to be a dancer, even while she was studying to be a chartered accountant. Exposed to both Bharatnathayam and Western dance forms, Brinda encountered true spiritual and emotional fulfilment when she discovered contemporary dance. “Being able to find a form that just allowed me to be myself, to create, was just exhilarating, liberating! I wanted to spend the whole day dancing. Nothing else was satisfying!” she says. After 12 years with STEM Dance Kampni, Brinda found that performance itself was limiting. “When I was dancing, I got so much joy from it that I knew it had to go beyond performance.”

Her own experience of first dance and then arts therapy left her feeling empowered; “It literally made everything ok!” This, she felt, compelled to share with the world. Brinda still enjoys performing, “but the kind of performances I do now comes from Authentic Movement; so it is devised, created from my experience, and I love that!”

How does EAT work in real life? Brinda explains it thus: “Say I access a dream or an image. I question it. And I have a free response to it and see what emerges; or I can draw it out, or create it in clay, using my hands and senses. Then I can move it, which gives me a different experience of the same image; or I can write it, which gives me different answers. Then I try and see how this is relevant in my life, or in which areas of my life this is playing out.”

The answers discovered pave the way to unfetter the mind, heal the emotions and free the spirit, giving birth to a new You. To a practitioner of EAT, the technique and end product of any art discipline is irrelevant. The focus is on the process, how the body feels, where the energy is in the body. “It’s not so much about skills that you learn, but about developing presence. Because the experience is in my body — it is much deeper than the cognitive awareness that I would get in having a conversation with a therapist,” explains Brinda. The term Urban Shaman, as coined by Donahue, sits well.

One of the most challenging aspects when dealing with a client, says Brinda, is having them identify and hold the tension between the polarities — such as work/life and negative/positive character traits. This is what most people struggle with. But if you can do that, “not balancing, but holding the tension, the conflict between the two”, that is when the third path emerges and you gain lucidity, believes Brinda. Donohue adds clarity to that when she says, “You have to go back to your roots to know where you are going.”

Secret safety

Client confidentiality is an integral part of EAT, and sessions are held in a safe, yet playful atmosphere, allowing clients to experiment, explore, express. Cultural differences are but a minor speed bump. “At the core, we are all the same, going through our own journey, and it’s a similar process,” says Brinda.

Tracing the history of EAT, Donohue harks back to the two World Wars and the work done by Veterans Associations who tried group music therapy and later dance, drama and visual arts. By the late 1940s/50s, creative arts became “the language of experience that spoke across cultures.” In the 60s/70s, a small group of artistes got together to explore how different arts interlace, and how they could be used as a non-verbal alternative therapy when dealing with trauma.  Recognition was slow.

“Gradually people began to see the effectiveness of the work and experience the power of it,” says Donohue. Such has been its efficacy and increasing popularity that universities in the West now offer a Master’s programme in EAT, while institutes around the globe train expressive arts therapists. In Bengaluru, SMART offers a one-year foundation course in EAT “where we get people to start to look inward, to understand themselves; we hope it will be a journey for the rest of their lives, for it is this personal investment that is the game changer,” says Brinda.

The game changer for Brinda, a mother of three, was, and is, her “fantastic, amazing” husband, Patrice Janvrin. “If you’re not in touch with yourself, there is very little you can provide your family. If the container is strong, the possibilities are endless. I feel lucky Patrice creates the container for me and we create it for the family.”
This is art of the heart at its expressive best.

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