A personal reflection on yielding in the healing and creative processes

An article published in Fulcrum, Issue 88, Craniosacral Therapy Association, 2023

In collaboration with Mugwort (2021-2022) is an art project that my fellow Craniosacral therapist-artist Ann-Marie Fairbrother and I presented last summer in 2022. When we started working together a year before, we had no idea what it would look like in the end. Our intention was to be in each moment of the creative process and not rush into forming the work. We were both Craniosacral therapists. How can we create artwork like practising Craniosacral therapy? In the actual process, we repeatedly came back to this question. As the starting point, we had the desire to engage more deeply with the local nature of Hackney Marshes in east London and the curiosity for what emerges in this collaboration through the media of art and herbalism for Ann-Marie and dance and movement for me. 

Now as I sit and reflect on the whole creative journey, I am with the particular quality that I experienced in some moments during the creation. These were the moments when we reminded ourselves to soften and open up for something to arise, often when we encountered difficulties and the creative flow became stagnant. There could be some practicalities we needed to solve, conflicting ideas or merely different tempos between us that needed to be met. I found myself frantically searching for an answer. I wanted to overcome the problems and feel settled. In these moments, I reminded myself to breathe, soften, open up and listen for something to arise among us. Later I contemplated this quality and decided to name it yielding. That is because as I check in with my body softening and opening, I also notice that I am receiving the downward flow of gravity. The word yielding comes from perinatal development. Yielding is actively surrendering the body to gravity or other external forces to prepare for a push against what the body is against (Hartley 2004: 124).

In my life, the last several years have been a constant search for a sustainable way of living without burning out. I felt utterly depleted in 2014 after pushing hard to survive and thrive in dance for 25 years. My old pattern of doing a project was to try hard and rush to make a shape that is tangible to others and myself. Shaping made me feel safe. When Ann-Marie and I started working together, we talked about how we were exhausted by the art and dance world, where we felt judged by others and needed to prove ourselves all the time. Since then, studying and practising the healing modality of CST has introduced me to a completely different paradigm on the various processes of life. I have learnt that it is most helpful to go in the direction of ease. As I rekindled my artistic project, prompted by the pandemic, I was convinced that I wanted to make art to nourish myself. I also wondered if there is a way to offer my art to the world as an extension of the nourishment I receive from it. Linda Hartley sees the artist’s creative process as a sacred and healing function for the world (Hartley 2001: 229-230). My intention was set to engage fully in my creative process without concerning what it would ultimately become.

In CST, we orient ourselves to the inherent healing vitality of a whole person. Thomas Attlee defines the inherent treatment process in CST as the phases of engagement: allowing, following, stillness, release and reorganisation. The creative process may not necessarily follow the CST process. Still, I particularly notice the resonance in my gut between the phase of allowing in CST and the moments of yielding in the creative process when I remind myself to soften, open up and drop down. Attlee describes the phase of allowing as a state of witnessing and containing the responses and the changes happening within the system. There is no impulse towards a goal (Attlee 2012: 59).

Inspired by the CST’s view on a whole person, I wonder if an artistic work can be a system orienting to manifest its own unique life. I may just be a witness and not in control of its development. This is some of my reflective writing during the creation.

What if I create an artistic work like growing a plant? Perhaps the work develops on its own as a plant grows on its own with appropriate time and nutrients. Can I trust there is a force working for us that is larger than our intentions? Can I relax into the flow and wait until a little desire for action sprouts in me? Can I listen to and follow my impulses? Can I let myself morph to accommodate the moves of the collaborator? As we create the work this way, I imagine cooking the soup with the random greens and vegetables growing in the garden. We do not know what it will taste like until it has been cooked. What will it become as a whole?
(Isobe 2022)

My current movement practice is based on Authentic Movement, intuitive movement practice influenced by Jungian psychology and originated by Mary Starks Whitehouse in the 1950s as ‘movement in depth’. Further development was taken in a mystical and spiritual direction by Janet Adler and Linda Hartley. I was drawn into this movement practice just after I completed my CST training, searching for a more nourishing way to engage in dance, keeping the love with me and letting go of the hate. In Authentic Movement, I move with my eyes closed, listening very closely to my sensation and feeling.

I carefully follow my little step in each moment to carry myself forward. I choose to pause until I hear the inner voice of wants. I avoid rushing to move to occupy myself or from the anxiety of the unknown.
(Isobe 2021)

I keep tracking my sensation and feeling as I continue moving. Sometimes, I find myself moved by something other than my conscious intention, an impulse which could be initiated by movement or sound in the room or outside. There are some moments when I feel I am part of the interconnected phenomena. It is difficult for me to separate my Authentic Movement practice from my CST practice. In both, I practise yielding; I soften, open up, drop down and trust for something to arise. And there, the emerging is the next step for me to follow. 

In June 2022, at the public presentation of In Collaboration with Mugwort at the Sentient Performativities symposium by art.earth at Dartington Hall, we offered a participatory event where the audience experience a series of engagements with mugwort, a herb that is said to help lucid dreaming. After mugwort tea meditation, the audience witnessed me move. 

I dance to meet myself. In the silent emptiness that I create in myself, I start seeing the rich subtleness that I have not noticed before. In this expansion of the emptiness, we are mere particles of me, you and the mugwort. Our presence. As I move, the sensations tell me that I am here. The emotions and feelings come and go through my cells. Sometimes, I receive gifts of images or words. We, our particles, resonate with each other in this space. There are no clear separations between me, you and the mugwort. Let all emerge from this interconnected dream. What will we become as a whole?
(Isobe 2022)

After my dance, the audience members were one by one invited to lie down on Ann-Marie’s Mugwort Dreambed while others made objects to wear with some mugwort. Several minutes in, something happened in the room. I saw some people moving eloquently with their mugwort, someone admiring the hanging print and another meditating in their seat. Each of us seemed to be in their dream. They did not look like the audience any longer. They were generating something in the deep state and sharing it with others. They took turns to rest, witness others and shift to another activity within their own timings. Someone’s audible breaths became voices and, soon joined by others, the room was filled with divine sounding. I was astonished and welcomed the potent energy embracing us. It was like a shared dream where each of us was Yielding. It felt like this could go on for hours and hours although, in reality, the timeless engagements needed to be closed disappointedly at our finishing time.

I am fascinated by how Ann-Marie’s and my yielding in our creative process bore the fruit of yielding for the participants at the public presentation. It showed me the artwork created in this way manifested the quality and energy we kept throughout the process more than any visible or tangible forms. As the initial question, we wondered how we could create artwork like practising CST. To me, it meant listening deeply to my internal feelings and acting genuinely from there. It also meant noticing what emerges between us in the collaborative relationship before projecting my ideas. After my experience in this project, I feel I have landed on a new paradigm for living and creating that is organically yielding. I believe that CST is not just a therapy but can be an orientation that we could apply in all areas of life: creative and artistic, personal and relational. Can we imagine what the world and society are like if more people become familiar with and choose to live with this orientation?

My heartfelt gratitude to Elissa Dell, Linda Hartley, Caroline Salem, Chisenhale Dance Space, art.earth, Ann-Marie Fairbrother, Hackney Marshes and mugwort for their support on my personal and creative processes, and Helena Swahn for her editorial support.

Katsura Isobe is a dance artist and Craniosacral and Somatic Movement therapist. ​​https://linktr.ee/katsuraisobe 


Attlee, T. (2012) Cranio-Sacral Integration. London: Singing Dragon

Hartley, L. (2001) Servants of the Sacred Dream: Rebirthing the Deep Feminine: Psycho-spiritual Crisis and Healing. Norfolk, UK:  Elmdon Books

Hartley, L. (2004) Somatic Psychology: Body, Mind and Meaning. London: Whurr

Isobe, K (2021) ‘More about this project’, I meet I – Katsura Isobe 2021. Available at: https://imeeti.wordpress.com (Accessed: 10 September 2022)

Isobe, K (2022) ‘Katsura’s musings’, In Collaboration with Mugwort: Installation performance work by Ann-Marie Fairbrother and Katsura Isobe. Available at: https://incollaborationwithmugwort.wordpress.com (Accessed: 9 September 2022).

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