Claire Higgins - My Movement Story
My first visual and kinaesthetic memories of life include the hot and humid urban "desertscape" of Dubai, where I was raised, playing on the beach, watching my mother run and play squash (she was captain of the men's team!), and swimming length after length. I swam because I loved it and I competed because it felt natural. So too did being captain of our school swim team. A quiet child, sport let me communicate in other ways. Martial arts was my next love, arriving at the age of 12, and it has only grown in strength over the years.
Both the dojo and pool feel like safe homes to me; this feeling of safety is enhanced if they are surrounded by desert or situated close to a beach. Those positive childhood memories helped bring me back from the darkness of war, violence, conflict, and stress. Pool and dojo training offered times when, unlike therapy, I wasn't expected to talk about what happened to me or what I had witnessed, or figure out life. Instead, I could process my emotions through movement and let my understanding of myself and the world around me surface gradually over time.
Photo Credit: Budo for Peace Training, Netanya, Israel, 2011 - I remain grateful to their President, Danny Hakim, for introducing me to martial arts for peace.
In my adult years, I added indoor and outdoor physical training environments, like my home gym and countryside trails near my home in the UK, which is a stark contrast to the forty years I lived in the Middle East. Yet over time I've learned to adjust my reference points. Nature is nature, after all, and my concepts of pools and dojo have grown up. Now, I train in rain and snow, and run beside green hills and fields of cows. I have also come to appreciate the solace found in solo Martial Arts training, discovering why I do what I do when nobody is around.
For about a decade, I was also immersed in the Yoga world. Training first to teach Ashtanga Vinyasa, I moved to the other extreme and trained to teach Restorative Yoga. I then taught Yoga on mission as a humanitarian after work, offering a space for us all to gather and safely release difficult emotions through movement. Especially fear, for it wasn't unusual for a bomb to go off nearby during class. That led me into Women's Yoga teaching and from there, deeper into my own spiritual practice where I revived my other childhood love of Arabic calligraphy.
Photo Credit: Personal collection of childhood swimming, tennis, gymnastics, and skiing certificates - the medals and trophies didn't fit on the same photo!
Life took me on many journeys during and after graduating from my first degree in Arabic and Persian. I lived in Alexandria and studied in Esfahan and Tehran as a young woman, then spent my twenties and thirties working in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Beirut, Amman, Doha, Abu Dhabi, Tirana, Geneva, the Gaza Strip... and many more places along the way. Too many places and professional roles to mention, and it is the people I remember most. I loved politics, culture, and connecting with people through my aptitude for languages, and reading people's body language. I understood so much instinctively beyond words.
Although I became adept at the spoken and written word, to the point of advising and coaching people on communications, and writing books, it is still movement - be it through martial arts, exercise, sport, or art - that feels most like home. When words fade, my mind can settle. The rattling of a busy mind can obscure the wisdom within and the ability to see clearly what is around me. I have found that the stilling of my mind begins when I stop striving to translate what I think and feel into words. Words matter but those spoken and written from stillness often matter more, and how we move can sometimes say much more.
Photo Credit: Exhibition of two of my modern Arabic calligraphy paintings at the FN Design Art Gallery, owned by an old school friend, Dubai, 2016.