Centering the body

Audrey Holst is one of my Covid era friends and each one of our conversations is a gift that reminds me of the wildly magical ways that humans connect in even the most challenging of times. I’ve admired Audrey’s work for a long time and I know that you will too. I feel grateful to share this space with such a powerful human. If you want to rewire your perfectionism, be sure to check out Fortitude and Flow.

MM:  Audrey, you are a trailblazer. I regularly see you go “first” by advocating consistently about somatic practices and nervous system regulation to address the issues I hear folks talking about often. You work with high-achieving women who struggle with perfectionism, burnout, procrastination, and overwork. Please tell us a little about yourself and how you are showing up in the world these days.

AH: I don’t consider myself a trailblazer so thank you for that generous observation. I’ve been in a teaching and/or facilitation space that centers the body for nearly two decades now and I’m an insatiable learner and neuroscience aficionado. I’m obsessed with the way the human body and brain wisely handle challenges and joys and are influenced by the environment, other people, and our experiences. I’m interested in doing work that centers human relationships rather than our traditional concept of productivity. I want conversations that champion collective success over individual triumph. More than ever, I’m turning toward the natural world for inspiration for my work and ways of being.

MM:  I feel inspired by this paragraph. I think quite a bit about hustle culture and the ways that folks in the United States measure productivity. It has become evident to me that we can define and measure productivity very differently than the historical norms. I mean, sometimes napping is productive.

MM:  So often women feel afraid to take up too much space because they experience backlash for showing up as their full selves. How do you navigate speaking up in a patriarchal world?

AH: In an ideal world, every woman could take up space, speak up, and overthrow outdated systems. But backlash is real and taking up space can have real consequences. It’s important to meet people where they’re at in their internal and external circumstances. Each person has a unique nervous system with unique experiences. Some folks are wired in a way that taking up more space and speaking up is already in alignment with their wiring and it’s just a matter of behavior change. Other folks need to take smaller steps because they’ve had experiences in their life (and perhaps generational history) that perhaps creates more fear or reactivity. Some folks are in employment situations or domestic situations that they are in need of in order to survive. I’d explore whether speaking up is what serves best or perhaps for some folks it’s learning and modeling a different way. There are multiple formats to navigate oppressive systems and they don’t always look loud or disruptive. I’m a champion of small, doable, sustainable, and experimental. It’s not as sexy as “overthrow the patriarchy” but in a time period where folks barely have the energy to chop vegetables to make food for themselves or their loved ones, we have to figure out what’s possible for us right now. Some folks will choose a big and bold path and other folks won’t. We need the whole spectrum. And for those that are in positions that are less risky or have the potential to influence change, they can ask the folks they want to support how they can use their power and influence to contribute to a tide that lifts all boats.

MM:  I take backlash seriously too. It’s no joke. I do not subscribe to the approach that everything will be rainbows and daisies if we just follow our heart. That’s why I talk with my clients about courage in the body and brain. We need to know that we will be ok even if we experience backlash. That’s why your work is so critical in this world!

MM: I would love to hear your thoughts about gender in your professional life. How do gendered systems and gender roles inform your work with clients?

AH: The concept of gender is a big conversation so I’m going to address this as it occurs to me in this moment. I’m blessed to be surrounded by folks that are interested and open to exploring non-traditional roles and systems. I’m queer and grew up in queer spaces so in many ways my approach cannot be extricated from who I am. From an early age, gender as a fluid concept made natural sense to me and it’s really unfortunate how conversations about it have become weaponized, villainized, and moralized. I do the best I can to be aware of the traditional roles clients are playing, which ones they’re choosing, and which ones they’re not even aware of. I generally attract folks that don’t need to cling tightly to prescribed roles and I’m happy to introduce the concept to those that are new to it. I’m explicit about societal conditioning around gender and the impact that has on folks.

MM: Contrary to what we might see in some of the contemporary public narratives, I think that gender is one of the most inclusive parts of life because it influences everyone. Like you, I paid attention to gender at an early age. However, my view was influenced by a lack of inclusivity. It’s interesting how we can learn from our lives experiences and find fertile ground for conversation and collaboration.

MM:  We know that we stand on the shoulders of trailblazers who have gone before us. Tell us about an influential trailblazer in your life and what you learned from them.

AH: I’m influenced and inspired by my friend and colleague Abigail Rose Clarke. She’s the Developer of the Embodied Life Methodâ„¢, Creator of The Somatic Tarot, The Body Oracle Deck, she facilitates somatic-based intensives, and is the author of her upcoming book Returning Home to Our Bodies: Reimagining the Relationship Between Our Bodies and the World. I’ve learned so much about the miracle of the body, expanding time with somatics, and I’ve discovered incredible writers and facilitators like adrienne maree brown through her. When I engage with her work, it’s seeing the world through the eyes of a poet and artist and we need more of that.

MM:  Let’s expand the view a bit and look at the ripple effects of your work in the world. What is the impact you hope to make today and for future generations? 

AH: It’s overwhelming to consider impact – especially when it comes to future generations! My hope is that by being in the world in a different way, by talking about it with others, by experimenting, that it begins to open up some new paths in areas that have been choked up by the weeds of the status quo. We won’t be able to eradicate it all in my lifetime (and perhaps ever), but I hope that people begin to feel the difference and make different choices. I hope that it creates a little more space for folks to consider what it might look like to dream into behaviors, beliefs, and communities that are a bit different than the ones we’ve been told are the “right” ones. I’m imagining tiny pockets of wildflower seeds that land in fertile soil and slowly grow over time. This may be ambitious and hopeful, but again, it supports my belief of small, doable, and sustainable. It’s a way forward.

Do you have any questions for me?

Audrey asked if any of her answers rubbed me the wrong way and she invited me to talk about it. I love that embrace of perspectives. I appreciate the reminder about having conversations without planning a preemptive defense. Audrey’s contribution reminded me that there are a few specific coaches out there whose work I admire and with whom I would gladly collaborate. Audrey is one of those coaches.  

AH: Are there any gaps in my answers or things I talk about that inspire more questions?

MM: The question that I am sitting with is how we maintain that wildflower feeling. Nervous system regulation. Community. Daily practice. Rest. And, just knowing that we experience a full range of human emotions. That’s human life.

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