From Darfur, Kosovo and Haiti to her clinic in New Mexico, human rights psychotherapist Amber Elizabeth Gray blends dance therapy and Continuum in her recovery work with refugees. “Every human being deserves the right to inhabit his or her body in the way they choose.”
Continuum & The Creativity of Health interview with Amber Elizabeth Gray (video transcript):
Continuum supports me in my work as a human rights psychotherapist and a dance movement therapist working in human rights contexts. Dance therapy nourishes me in so many ways but also there was a certain demand. So where those demands were Continuum was the nourishment. Over the years, they’ve come slowly together. There was a point where I remember I [said], I’m going to just start sneaking a little Continuum into dance therapy.
I remember particularly it was with one client who is a survivor from Iraq who had lived in the same town as Saddam Hussein and had lived her whole life with the fear that anybody in your family could disappear, because that’s what happened. And therapy and dance therapy and lots of good really solid attempts to work with her – she really wanted to find her body again, she’d developed a lot of weight – and I just really tried something different. I just had this feeling, and she said, “sure, try anything, I’m tired of suffering,” and we did some lunar breaths.
I brought in a yoga mat in for that session and we did some lunar breaths. She just opened up her eyes and looked at me, and she said, “this is what a body is supposed to feel like?! I’m home. I just found my body.” And from that moment on, I started to layer Continuum into dance therapy and layered dance therapy into Continuum and they’ve merged together.
Ever since I’ve started teaching Continuum, quite honestly, I don’t feel as burned out.
Every time I came out of Rwanda, or Kosovo, or some of the places I was working, I was fine and I was really sick. I had a really bad cough, my back went out, etc. So there would be some aspect of my health, my wholeness, my wellness that would be affected. And when I went to Darfur, which is probably one of the most dangerous places I’ve ever been, there’s a certain magic, the landscape has this really deep tawny rose colored sand, that’s like silk. Camels, the way that they move, white robes. So there’s all this beauty and then there’s all this not beauty there’s the war.
Every night I would lay in bed, and I had to sleep under one of those big thick mosquito nets because there were spiders there, and I did the lunars. And it was the first time that I had a really conscious practice, like it was like kind of like a lullaby or a prayer you’d do for a little kid. I would just get into bed and I would do the lunars until I drifted off. And I would do the lunars with the landscape when I was walking around. I remember I went home from that trip and my husband looking at me and he said, “there’s usually some suffering that comes home with you. I’ve never seen you so light. And so uplifted.” I said, “well, it was different this time.”
I realized it was the way the lunars connected with the beauty of that place, they were the perfect breath to go with the sound of the wind at night, and the little hut, the cool that is coming through, the shape and colors of the sand, the hills, the movement of the camels. And ever since I’ve started teaching Continuum, quite honestly, I don’t feel as burned out. I don’t feel as stretched out.
I always say everyone has the right to embody their body […] and that’s really the spirit of this work. So the creativity of health is also acknowledging that we can be empowered to move ourselves from when we’re in the more alien places, to the places that have more wholeness.