Whitney Lawless cannot help but move. Even as we talk at my kitchen table on a sunny, summer morning, she stands and stretches and twists throughout the conversation. She has known how important movement is to her personal well-being since she was a kid, though she did it instinctively, at that time not understanding the connection between her body and her mood.
She eventually made a career out of movement, though it was not something she planned. She says, “It happened really organically.” Whitney took her first yoga class at age 17 and eventually earned her yoga teacher and massage therapist certification in her twenties. This allowed her the flexibility to travel and move from one adventure to the next while always having a career to fall back on.
Whitney also participated in a lot of theater, initially going to college to study drama and performance and eventually joining Broad Comedy, an all-women sketch comedy group in Montana. When she saw a physical theater performance by UMO at the Oregon Country Fair around 1996, she says, “My whole world was transformed, in that it was a different way of storytelling–it was three-dimensional and spiritually rich.”
Around that time she learned about the Lecoq School in Paris, and she knew that was where she needed to be. She spent two years there, learning in French and speaking the language the best she could. She says, “Sometimes people call it clown school, but really it’s about all forms of non-textual theater. It’s all about storytelling with your body, moving your body through space and using your body as an instrument.”
For Whitney, this type of theater isn’t about comedy. As she puts it, “It’s about finding common ground with people–finding the essence of storytelling without language. That was so enlightening for me because I had been doing theater, but I also sort of didn’t care about it. When I went to France I knew this is what I can do.”
When Whitney returned to Seattle after the program was over, she was invited to audition for Circus Contraption. “I felt like I found my family,” she says. “Oh, these are my people–they’re really physical and wild and talented at what they do. I got hired to fill a spot as an acrobat and juggler, but I really did neither, so I just made up stuff based on what I’d learned at school. It was really, really silly.”
After the circus, Whitney married Rad Cunningham and they pursued their passion for travel together. She became pregnant with her first child while they were living in Africa, so they moved back to the states to start their family closer to family and friends.
Two kids later, movement has become an even more essential part of Whitney’s life. She says, “I am required for many things all day [as a mother and wife], and movement is one of the things that feeds me. It helps me get in my body, and then I’m more present and available for my family. It doesn’t even have to be an intentional movement practice, though it helps.”
It is important to both Whitney and Rad, who is a competitive bike racer, that their family moves together. She says, “We walk and ride bikes to school. We play. And we’re going furniture-free slowly, which is something I learned about while studying to become a Restorative Exercise Specialist. Part of increasing movement as a family is decreasing places to sit. There’s lots of room to move and dance parties are a regular thing.”
Though she is no longer a practicing massage therapist, Whitney has continued to teach yoga at The Yoga Loft and to train yoga instructors through Great Heart Yoga. She says, “I have a lot of teachers in my family, and they always told me, don’t be a teacher because it doesn’t pay. But when I started teaching yoga, I realized I love this!” She also offers private movement training to help people get more in their bodies and is working on an online program about waking up in your life and body through her business, To Move and Awaken.
For Whitney, finding opportunities to express herself creatively also remains important. This past spring, she began a writing series on her blog which she says is “about exploring the places that are hard, but are still beneficial. To remind myself that whatever it is that we have to do–we all have things we have to do in our life–to be courageous to do those things. Writing is one of mine.” She is also a member of the Artist Residency in Motherhood, working with a collective of 8 other mother-artists called Mama is a Maker. She says the point has been, “as a mother, work to stay creative and alive and that mothering and arting aren’t mutually exclusive.” She shares her residency projects on her Instagram profile.
Whitney also began exploring quilting two years ago. She is self-taught, learning through blogs, videos and experienced friends. There is a playful spirit to her freestyle designs that you will not find in most traditional quilts. She says, “I haven’t been performing, and that creative energy didn’t die, it just moved on to something else. I followed and that’s what came; quilting and texture and color. I’ve never done visual art before, so it’s been a little bit of a scary jump to create something tangible with my hands that lives on, rather than a performance that’s gone into the wind when it’s done. It presents a new realm of challenges and joys.” Whitney does not sell her quilts (yet); she makes them for her own use or gifts them to friends and loved ones. She also recently held her first public showing of her #wonderquilts during Spring Arts Walk.
What is next for Whitney is anyone’s guess, including hers, but something she is growing more and more passionate about is supporting women’s relationships with their bodies. She says, “I wish that women were nicer to themselves and that we had room for acceptance in our cycling bodies; not just our monthly cycles, but our yearly cycles and the phases of our life. As women and especially mothers, we’re always trying to go back somewhere. There’s a culture of youth and we value the ‘maiden’ over everything else. We’re not allowing ourselves to be in the mothering phase or the crone phase, and it creates an imbalance in the archetype of the woman that supports our culture. I wish we could support each other in that and be tender with the changing aspects of our bodies.”