Where has the body gone?

Samantha Emanuel, Non-linear movement therapist; Inspire by FM® instructor

Luke Davies, Doctor of chiropractic

Published in JHH 19.2- Embodiment and bodywork

The night the wall came down and everything changed

Sometimes, in order to start, we need to stop. On the evening of the 23rd of January 2018 everything stopped when I found myself trapped, my pelvis crushing under the weight of a 900kg mirrored wall unit.

It came down on myself and my students during the Pilates class I was teaching.

We suffered serious injuries ranging from crushed vertebrae to punctured lungs and serious head trauma. I took the force of the wall on my side, causing my pelvis to fracture (similar to a side impact in a car accident) multiple bruises, broken ribs, damaged adductors and a fractured left hand. I had tried to stop the wall as it came down so the others could escape. I could not hold the weight. We were eventually pulled out by members of a dance class in another studio and then we had to wait for the ambulances to arrive.

My career as a professional dancer was thrown into question because of the injuries and the psychological trauma.

My understanding of the body meant I could direct my own recovery before I even saw a physiotherapist at the hospital. On day two I had already rigged Pilates bands to the bed to see what my legs could do with a crushed pelvis and damaged adductors. The physio arrived on day ten (the day I was heading home in a wheelchair) by which time he had no advice for me other than to carry on doing what I was already doing.

I was unable to carry my then two-year old daughter. I went through a year of rehab and PTSD therapy counselling, going from wheelchair to Zimmer frame to crutches. I wondered if this was a sign, if this was time to change direction, to stop teaching/performing and go another route professionally but I realised I could not turn my back on movement.

My recovery time (back to the stage) was fast considering the extent of the injuries. I firmly believe this is due to my years of movement study and my ingrained sense of personal responsibility in looking after my body, otherwise described as self-efficacy. As I had been actively teaching, performing and studying for 15 years at that point, I had plenty of ideas to try out and I was open to researching new avenues to help me on the way.

Through my recovery I learned I was not willing to quit teaching and this determination pulled me through the dark days of falling into a victim mentality and wanting to give up when it all felt too much. I now work in collaboration with clinicians at a local rehabilitation centre and also teach online, passing on my belief that we can improve people’s mental, physical and emotional well-being to develop self-efficacy through a holistic movement practice (Minjung et al, 2019). Having a movement practice – as I have proven for myself – is a vehicle towards empowerment, creativity and growth in day-today life. If we lose connection with our physical body how can we expect our structure to look after us as we age? Through our bodies we express, create and make learned skills reality.

Ancient medicine taught us to be active players in our own healthcare. Our culture in modern medicine leans heavily on passive interventions; medication, injections and even surgeries. Too often clinical approaches tend to lean towards the body as a machine made of parts to be fixed in isolation rather than an incredible whole-body orchestra of musicians playing in harmony (Moseley & Butler, 2019). When I read contemporary ‘evidence-based’ guidelines for the care of musculoskeletal conditions (NICE, 2021), I have to ask where has the body gone?

We humans like to overcomplicate things, and in putting people off the idea of movement completely, the fitness industry may have a lot to answer for. The reality is actually very simple: the fact THAT you move is more important than HOW you move (Thompson et al, 2020). So the solution when it comes to moving more is simply to find some kind of movement that brings you joy and do that thing (Angel, 2018).

Mrs X suffered a serious stroke in her 30s. She had three young children to care for at home. She came to me after having gone through initial care in hospital. To avoid falling the act of walking required her full focus. We worked over a period of weeks on proprioception, balance and co-ordination through non-linear movement exploration. We worked with a bottom-up and top-down approach through dance, imagery, breathwork, martial arts, parkour and even juggling skills. We focused on the feet as the foundation of balance and awareness building. Through co-ordination based sequences to music we synthesised auditory, visual and physical components while also training memory capacity and hand-eye-body connection. We explored balance games using external objects and fused strength/resistance training into the sessions, all with the end goal of overcoming the fear she felt in her body: fear of falling, or another stroke, or of not being able to play with her kids. The results were fantastic to witness. She embraced the practice, and now moves with confidence and a fresh perspective on what movement can mean in her day-to-day life. She is no longer fearful of stairs, enjoys playing physical games with her children and has the tools that enable her to be autonomous in her recovery, allowing her to thrive.

I work alongside individuals with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, brain tumour and stroke survivors, older people seeking to improve balance and overcome fear of falling, chronic back pain and neuro-degenerative diseases. Time and again I find playful embodiment is key to improving their relationship with their bodies. The feedback I receive from patients and their neurologists/surgeons/cardiologists/GPs is ‘whatever it is you are doing with Samantha, keep doing it as it’s working’.

I wish for those who have never danced to find connection with their body through playful movement based games that ignite joyful curiosity and foster a positive body schema. Just like our kids! We can learn a lot by watching young children play, how they fearlessly run, roll, fall and get right back up again. My mission is to bring thoughtless, fearless, relaxed movement into clinical settings globally, to use my experience as a movement professional infused with all that I learned through the accident (Gifford, 2014).

Now I have found a way to put my mission into action through an exciting collaboration with Luke Davies and Back to Roots. Together we are building a community of professionals: doctors, physios, chiropractors, osteopaths, occupational therapists, movement coaches, personal trainers, dancers, yogis, Pilates instructors, martial artists and more. We are working together to create the change we wish to see in healthcare through evidence-based practice, pain neuroscience education and non-linear movement pedagogy (Renshaw et al, 2019). Our project includes the musculoskeletal rehabilitation curriculum from the University of South Wales, is British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) approved, and counts towards annual continued professional development (CPD). We have completed two (sold out) seasons and are welcoming intake for season three beginning 12 September 2022. If this speaks to you, then please see more at www.backtoroots.community/internship.

While I would not want to go through the trauma and pain of the accident ever again, I am thankful for the change in direction it brought about. Now I am able to create positive change to the lives of those I work with directly and also help professionals gain a better understanding in the process of how to move themselves, in order to help their clients/patients learn the process of being in their bodies, again.


Angel S (2018) Movement perceived as chores or a source of joy: a phenomenological-hermeneutic study of physical activity and health. International study of qualitative studies on health and wellbeing, 13(1).

Gifford L (2014) Aches and pains. TJ International.

Minjung S, Goodill S & Bradt J (2019) Mechanisms of dance/movement therapy for building resilience in people experiencing chronic pain, American Journal of Dance Therapy, 41, 8–112, http//dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10465-019-09294-7.

Moseley L & Butler D (2019) Explain pain supercharged: The clinician’s handbook. NOI group Publications.

NICE Guidelines (2021) Chronic pain (primary and secondary) in over 16s: assessment of all chronic pain and management of chronic primary pain [online]. Available at: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng193 (accessed 6 July 2022).

Renshaw I, Davids K, Newcombe D & Roberts W (2019) The constraints-led approach; principles for sports coaching and practice design. Routledge.

Thompson WT, Joy E, Jaworski JAC, Stuhr RM. & Trilk, JL (2020) Exercise is medicine, American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 14(5) 511–523.