Mindful Play Sessions Backstory

Jan 19 2018

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Buddha and Daffodils

I’m going to be running a series of Mindful Play sessions in Bristol in February and March. To start my preparations, I’ve been pondering where the sessions first came from. Here’s the story that wants to be told today (ask me on another day and I'll tell you something else!).

I originally created The Mindful Play sessions in December 2014, as a way of reconnecting with my Masters dissertation research. I also wanted to find a way of integrating all the new stuff I’d been living and learning since finishing my dramatherapy masters in summer 2013. 

I’d built up so much momentum, passion and dedication to learning and growing through my 3 intense years of studying, I was finding it tricky to adjust to life outside the melting pot of therapeutic education. So in January 2014, I spent 6 weeks in the freezing Canadian winter, meeting myself in increasingly ridiculous ways, studying Clown Through Mask with clown-shaman, Sue Morrison. Blown apart by the powerful process, fragments of my former Self somehow boarded a plane and wafted back to the UK, where I chose to make The Big Yellow Storage Company my new home. 

For the next 9 months, I lived out of a suitcase, exploring the notion of “home being inside me” whilst teaching, directing and facilitating about 9 million projects all over the UK and France. I stayed on sofas, in spare rooms, in caravans and in my little red tent, reading all the Buddhist teachings and self-help books I could get my hands on by the light of my trusty head torch.

After 9 months on the road, I took my little red tent to my regular meditation retreat centre in the quiet Devonshire countryside. In the silence of the spacious meditation hall, I hovered above my cushion, celebrating my incredible experience of chucking all my stability away in search for the anchor within. Gradually, through the week, I came down to rest on the ground beneath me and slowly it dawned on me that I was soul tired and desperate and what I needed most was to stop.

Back in Bristol, I found a tiny little flat, just big enough for me and all the tat I’d been paying to store at The Big Yellow Storage Company (about a third of which went straight to the charity shop). The first things to find their place in my new home were my meditation cushions; I dedicated a corner of my bedroom to my sitting practice, placing pretty shells and stones from my travels around my cushions. Here was a place where I was allowed to just be, I could relax and experience the physical support of Home. I was so happy, I kissed the walls of my flat goodnight every night.

As I began to settle down with myself, I noticed my unpublished dissertation glaring at me from the book shelf. Apparently, it hadn’t really enjoyed its time in a dark cardboard box with all the other books. My lecturers had told me I could and should publish it as it was, but I didn’t like the tone of it. It was the first big academic thing I’d ever written, having skipped an undergraduate degree and it read like I’d typed it whilst holding my breath and looking over my shoulder, waiting to be caught as an imposter. It sounded forced, inauthentic and like I was trying too hard. Bless.

So I had the idea to tap back into my research, focusing on play, flow, spontaneity and connection as my 4 main themes. It made sense to me to bring the research back to life by sharing it with others, so I created 4 drop in sessions and threw the doors open to the playful community of Bristol. The 2014 sessions were ridiculously well attended and by the final week, there were too many people for the small space I’d hired. As a first draft, people seemed to like it, I was happy with the content, but frustrated with how my stage fright had effected my delivery of the theory. 

In 2015, back in the writing zone, I used the notes from these sessions as an outline for the first four chapters of my book and was enjoying the process of writing when tragedy struck! My computer crashed, taking 2 chapters with it (I know, I know, I should have backed up- let this be a lesson to all of us!). So I did the sensible thing. I went on writing strike. For two and a half years.

Last year, I decided I’d had enough of being limited by my stage fright, it had been showing up in every area of my life, not only in the obvious places; effecting my confidence as a university lecturer and my compering of the Beyond The Ridiculous shows, but also behind the scenes- I realised I was staying small for fear of being seen. So I decided to look my stage fright in the eyes, making 3 solo shows about it in three months, blogging my head off the whole time. The two big things that came out of this project were 1.) curing myself of stage fright and 2.) finding my voice as a writer! Hallelujah! 

Roll forwards to spring 2018, I’ve moved out of my tiny flat and into a big house with a long man who I love. In the corner of my office room, my meditation cushions sit, inviting me to come and be with myself every morning. I am happier and more grounded than I’ve ever been which is allowing me to share my work with more people than ever. I have finally forgiven my old computer for crashing and I’m ready to write again. 

I’ve decided to reboot the Mindful Play sessions: 1.) to reconnect with my research and investigate how all the new stuff I’ve discovered over the last few years fits with the good old stuff. 2.) to share everything I’ve been exploring about mindfulness and playfulness with the courageous people of Bristol to find out what it does for them 3.) to give myself something to write about. Whatever it becomes, I promise to back up regularly. 

Read more about what will happen in The Mindful Play Sessions here

The fortnightly sessions will run on Tuesday nights from 7.30-10 at the Unitarian Chapel in Bristol. The sessions are individually themed as follows:

  • Play - 13th February
  • Flow - 27th February
  • Spontaneity - 13th March
  • Connection - 27th March

Single sessions are payable through Brown Paper Tickets or on the door in cash: £15 (£10 concessions) per session


Standard rate: £50 for all 4 sessions (£12.50 per session) 

Concession rate: £30 for all 4 sessions (£7.50 per session)

Look forwards to playing with you xxx

Spring Workshops 2018

Jan 15 2018

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Punk Sheep by Holly Stoppit. N.B Holly Stoppit Workshops are not for sheep. Not even punk sheep. Sorry.

Here at Holly Stoppit Towers, we’ve been busy cooking up a delicious feast of play to nurture you through the end of winter and buff you up all shiny for spring. 

If you need more play in your life, we’ve got just the thing!

1.) We’ll be running not one, not two but THREE Introduction To Clowning Weekends in Bristol!

2.) We’re bringing back the Mindful Play Drop In Sessions, last seen in Bristol in 2014! Now packed even fuller with new goodies from Holly’s research.

3.) For those who have completed Holly’s Introduction to Clowning Weekend, there’s a 5-day Clowning Easter School!

More about the courses and how to book below.

Introduction to Clowning Weekends

This is 2-day foundation gently immerses you into Holly Stoppit’s world. If you like it there, there’s plenty more training to be had afterwards in the form of 5-day intensives and weekly courses. 

  • 24th and 25th February 2018 10-6 Facebook page here 
  • 24th and 25th March 2018 10-6 Facebook page here
  • 28th and 29th April 2018 10-6 Facebook page here

“It's a course rooted in the craft of clowning but also takes an in-depth analysis of who we are and what we bring - in a very nurturing, supportive way. It is soothing and challenging and beautifully designed and implemented.” -Previous Introduction To Clowning participant

These courses are limited to 12 people and always book up quick. Read all about Introduction To Clowning and find links to application forms here.

Mindful Play Sessions

Mindful Play fans the flames of joy, laughter and connection, whilst rooting participants in grounded awareness. Consisting of 4 fortnightly sessions, each lasting 2 1/2 hours, the sessions are individually themed as follows:

  • Play - 13th February
  • Flow - 27th February
  • Spontaneity - 13th March
  • Connection - 27th March

When: 7.30-10pm

Where: The Unitarian Chapel in Brunswick Square, St Pauls, Bristol

Who?: The Mindful Play Sessions are for anyone who’s called to explore and improve their relationship with play. You don’t need to have done any of Holly’s previous courses. Previous Holly Stoppit Workshops attendees are of course welcome. 

Each session is unique and self-contained, so you can attend as many as you like. Attending all four will give you a fully rounded experience of Mindful Play. There is also a discount if you book for all 4.

Facebook event here.

More info about Mindful Play and link to tickets here.

Clowning Easter School

This 5 day course builds on Holly’s Introduction to Clowning Weekend, offering participants opportunities to drop deeper into the state of clown, exploring ever riskier realms of interactive clown improvisation.

  • 2nd-6th April, 10-6 each day. Facebook event here.

“Fun, silly, cathartic, deep, real, therapeutic, adventure, liberating” - Previous 5-day Clown School participant

To read about what happened on last Summer’s 5-day Clown School click here.

You need to have completed Holly’s Introduction To Clowning Weekend to attend this course. 

More info and application form available here.

See you in the play space! 

New Year Reflective Writing Exercise

Jan 02 2018

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Brecon Beacons

Wowee! The new year has birthed a humdinger of a supermoon! I don't know about you, but I've been feeling the potent energies swirling about. Feels to me like the ideal conditions for letting go of the old and making space for the new! If you haven’t got down to writing your new years resolutions, don’t worry! This moon drenched 24 hours might be the best time to do it.

Here are some questions, designed to help you reflect back through 2017, harvesting the joy and wisdom from your year, before planting seeds for the year ahead.

Set yourself up in a nice clear space. Kiss your loved ones goodbye for a little while. Find some paper and your favourite pen. Make yourself a nice cup of tea. Turn your phone off, put some lovely music on, sort out some nice lighting. Give yourself some time.

1.) Reflecting back through 2017. Use your diary / calendar to go look back through 2017, month by month, making notes of the events, themes, highs and lows of 2017. You could make yourself a table with the following headings:

Month / What was going on for me? / What brought me joy? / What were my challenges?

2.) What made you happy? Looking back at your answers to question one, make a list of the things that made you happy in 2017. Be specific. Think about all the factors that made up your moments of joy; the environments you found yourself in, the activities you were doing, the qualities of the people, animals and things that appeared in your life, how you chose to fill your time. You could start with the title:

I am happy when….

3.) What did you learn? Going back through your challenges of the year, make a list of your learning. What did you discover about yourself through the challenges? What new / existing skills did you develop? What new / existing qualities did you cultivate? What are you now capable of that you weren’t before? What lines have you drawn? What new boundaries did you set? You could start with the title:

This much I know…

4.) What would you like to let go of? What would you like to leave behind as you step into this new year? You could start with the title:

I’m letting go of…

5.) What was missing? Looking back through your reflections, what would you say was missing in 2017? What adventures, experiences and qualities of time did you feel were lacking? You could start with the phrase:

I need more….

6.) Is there anything else you’d like to invite in for 2018? Reflecting back through all your writing, do you have a sense of anything new brewing? You could start with the phrase:

I am opening to…

I hope this exercise brings you clarity, courage and commitment to the path that brings you joy and fulfilment. Big love, Holly xxx

2017 Review

Dec 11 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Joe Rosser / Holly Runs Off Into The Sunset

Wow, what a year! 

Holly Stoppit Workshops

2017 was the busiest year ever for Holly Stoppit Workshops and the first for not-so-new-now wonder-administrator / co-ordinator Beccy Golding. Thanks to Beccy’s canny mind, eagle eye and steady support, we’ve managed to promote and fill 16 different courses! That’s an incredible 159 people who came out to play with us! Here's a few of them from the summer. Remember the summer?

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Clowning Summer School 2017

This years courses were:

Each course has taught me so much about the incredible, beautiful and mysterious nature of the human condition, I feel full to the brim with insight, awe and gratitude for everyone who's opened the doors to their crazy-brilliant worlds this year. Thank you.

In Other Teaching News…

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Bath Spa Uni Comedy Module / 3rd Years

In April this year, I finished lecturing at Bath Spa Uni. After 2 years of delivering my two comedy modules to degree students, I decided to go my own way. I loved discovering how my work fits into an academic context, I’m so happy with the courses I created and I’m so proud of my students for what they achieved, but I wanted to focus on creating longer, deeper training courses for fewer students at a time. It’s my joy to support people to travel deeply into their imaginations and develop the courage to share themselves with others and my 5-day summer courses and weekly autumn courses have been giving me massive satisfaction in this respect. I'll return to uni teaching when the time is right, but for now I'm happy to be focussing on my own courses.

Shocking News! I Got Back On The Stage!

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Ed Rapley / Holly Stoppit's Work In Progress

That’s right, 2017 was the year that I stepped back on stage, after a 7 year hiatus! I decided to finally look my stage fright in the eyes, beginning the year by creating and performing 3 work in progress solo shows at The Wardrobe Theatre:

I learned ridiculous amounts through the process of creating and presenting these shows and I blogged my head off throughout the process. 

People keep asking me “What next for the shows, then?” and my answer is always, “The major thing that emerged from that process is I remembered that I am a writer! I yearn to find time to write it all up into something coherent and useful to others, but I haven’t made the time yet (watch this space for news on this!). But everything that I learned through my Work In Progress is filtering into everything I do.”

So what else have I been up to? (I hear you ask)

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Alex Tabrizi / Beyond The Ridiculous performing Cliff Jumping For Beginners

Well, apart from facilitating 16 workshops and creating 3 solo shows, you could say that I took on a few projects, this year!

I directed Liz Clarke in her solo show- Cannonballista; an incredible deep and fruitful process, which you can read about here.

I headed up New Works Works, Bath Fringe’s artist development scheme, for the third year running. I loved holding space for new and established street theatre artists to take measured risks and learn and grow.

I created and facilitated a week-long training for members of my company, Beyond The Ridiculous. This training focussed on assembling the inner cast, allowing each performer to discover and refine a cast of internal characters to support them in their solo improvisation. For the very first time, I performed alongside the company in our three day mini-fooling festival, Cliff Jumping For Beginners at The Wardrobe Theatre.

I somehow found myself saying yes to performing at A Night Of The Fool in Frome and Power In Performance at The Cube in Bristol. Every time I say yes, my new performance style is finding more definition to its form. At the moment, it’s looking a lot like improvised comedy performance lecture and I seem to be enjoying it...

What else? What else?

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: me / Possible Structures For Devising Theatre

Throughout the year, I was asked in to work with 12 different companies / individuals, to light fuses, mentor and facilitate mostly early stages of work:

  • Acrojou - exploring ways to integrate comedy and narrative with acrobatics.
  • Open Attic - exploring different approaches to storytelling / storytelling with elders
  • Liz Clarke - mentoring Liz through creating a transformational 2-day workshop for participants, using some of the devising structures Liz has used to create her work.
  • Modest Genius Theatre Company - checking in with grief and company play levels, before handing over to John Wright to direct the final version of Dying To Please You.
  • Suzie Glatt - exploring ideas for a new solo show which involves comedy, storytelling and a sewing machine.
  • Tim Norwood and Charlotte Blackburn - Devising structures to take care of their mental health during their devising process for Apocalypse of The Mind / co-devising a workshop for participants exploring mental health through writing.
  • Jenny Drew- mentoring artist Jenny Drew as she embarked on an autobiographical graphic novel.
  • Helen Duff- exploring form and content for When The Going Gets Duff.
  • Nicole A'Court-Stuart - exploring different approaches to devising circus / exploring audience connection + circus equipment. 
  • Syrcas Cimera - integrating narrative and play with circus.
  • China Blue Fish and Deborah Antoinette - Queen Cunt - finding the game within the scene.
  • Emily Souter Jonson - exploring content and structure for a storytelling show about Emily’s dad.

And Finally...

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Clown Sculpt made by Beccy Golding, Clown Summer school 2017

Totting up the number of artists and student-artists I’ve taught / facilitated / supported this year, including the Holly Stoppit Workshops participants mentioned at the top of this blog, I count a frankly ridiculous 246!!! (This may explain why I don’t always remember your names, sorry!)

I have loved the rich variety of experiences that have floated my way this year. It’s such a privilege to have these little windows into people’s art and lives and such an honour to be able to provide the holding for great discoveries to be made. I feel so lucky to have found my focus and grateful for the incredible amounts of support I’ve received along the way. Massive thanks to everyone who’s been there for me. 

Watch this space for what I've got planned for 2018...

Beyond The Ridiculous Art and Words

Dec 07 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Alex Tabrizi

Back in October, Beyond The Ridiculous, our company of fools, performed solo improvisation on the theme of risk, in a 3-night fool fest called Cliff Jumping For Beginners, as part of Circus City Festival.

Three fantastic artists, a brilliant photographer and 2 wonderful writers sat in the audience, responding to our playtime with images and words.

The photo at the top of this blog is by Alex Tabrizi. It captures the final moments of the final show, when I'd just played my first ever solo alongside the company.

Next up is a sketch by Sarah Corbett from the first night. I just love what she's done with my eyes! Sarah mostly worked in pencil, quickly defining our archetypal shapes in a series of sketches.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Sarah Corbett

Chris Harrison managed to squeeze the whole of the second night on one piece of paper!

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Chris Harrison

This one is from the final night. Spencer Rouse worked quickly, interpreting our individual energy in a series of portraits in charcoal and oil paint. 

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Spencer Rouse

This show was also distilled into words by wonder-blogger, Cat Murphy. 

"Fooling is improvised, so nobody knows what will happen next, until it does. The audience is plunged into the deep end of the player/s’ world: a kaleidoscopic, one-man-band of human experience."

"The theme of the show was Risk: the gravity that keeps fool and audience dancing in orbit, allowing a unique chemistry to flicker between them."

"Cliff Jumping For Beginners demonstrated the positive power of just doing the things we wish we could, using the timeless argument: what’s the worst that could happen?"

You can read the full article here.

The next 6 pictures are of a concrete poem written by our writer in residence, James Crawley. What Is A Fool lovingly encapsulates the first night of Cliff Jumping For Beginners.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: James Crawley
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: James Crawley
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: James Crawley
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: James Crawley
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: James Crawley
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: James Crawley

We're incredibly grateful to have had this connection with these 6 brilliant artists. Their works of art are an extraordinary celebration of the moment where their creativity met ours, producing a series of pieces that are bigger than the sum of their parts.

For more of the artwork from Cliff Jumping For Beginners, check out the Beyond The Ridiculous Facebook page here.

To see more of Alex Tabrizi's photos of the night, click here.


Dec 05 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Alex Tabrizi

Hello to all those who are following the progress of my Inner Critic Inquiry Course online and hello to all the newbies who are joining us today!

This blog will outline some of the theory underpinning the session as well as describing a couple of exercises for you to try at home. Hope you enjoy it!

Week 7 of The Inner Critic Inquiry: Boundaries.

In response to the discussions that took place with both groups in their previous session, week 7 began with a little video from vulnerability and shame researcher Brene Brown, sharing her thoughts about boundaries. In the video, Brene defines boundaries as “what’s okay and what’s not okay,” and goes on to explain:

“We don’t set boundaries, we let people do things that are not okay and get away with behaviours that are not okay and then we’re just resentful and hateful.”

In the previous week, various members of both groups had reported strange similarities between the voice of their inner critic and actual encounters with real critics in the real world, representing and reinforcing their inner critic’s message.

I had shared with the groups a recent encounter with a surprise real life critic who caught me off guard by plying me with super negative feedback after a show I’d directed. This was a person who I can usually count on for support. In fact, I pay them to support me in a professional capacity. They are my clinical supervisor.

In that moment, sitting in the supervision office, I felt a sting in my heart, tears sprang to my eyes as I felt myself wanting to attack or retreat. In that moment I recognised that my supervisor’s criticism had triggered my inner critic and the pair of them were having a field day, ripping my work to pieces. 

Remembering Julia Cameron’s advice in The Artists Way; “Receive the criticism all the way through and get it over with,” I kept my mouth shut and finished the conversation as politely as I was able. Then I came home and balled my eyes out, whilst scrawling about the injustice of it all in my note book.

Back to Brene Brown. In the video, she explains; “I assumed for the first 35 years of my life that people were sucking on purpose just to piss me off.” I could relate to that! My inner critic likes to make out that everything is about me; if it had its way, it would make my life absolutely minuscule, with its obsessive tendency to hoard external evidence to support its argument that I do not deserve the space I take up in the world. But like Brene Brown, I’ve done my work and I am able to regain perspective when the walls start closing in.

In the video, Brene shares a life-changing question that her therapist put to her; “What if people are doing the best they can?” The video just touches on the epic journey that was triggered by this question, but her book Rising Strong accounts the whole saga in meticulous detail (it’s worth a read!). In the video, Brene quotes her husband’s answer to the question: “I’ll never know whether people are doing the best they can or not, but when I assume people are, it makes my life better.”

Back to me and my emotional reaction to my supervisor’s words. Flicking back through The Artists Way by Julia Cameron, I found these comforting words:

“As artists we cannot control all the criticism we will receive. We cannot make our professional critics more healthy or more loving or more constructive than they are, But we can learn to comfort our artist child over unfair criticism; we can learn to find friends with whom we can safely vent our pain. We can learn not to deny and stuff our feelings when we have been artistically savaged.”

After pouring out my heart on the page, giving space for my inner child to vent her pain, I thought about my non-violent communication training, remembering Marshall Rosenbergh’s wise words; “judgements, criticisms, diagnoses, and interpretations of others are all alienated expressions of our needs.” I got curious about what might have been happening for my supervisor, for them to slate my work in such a way. I imagined this criticism might have it’s roots in a creative block, maybe. Who or what might I have been representing to my supervisor in that moment? What need wasn’t getting met? The curiosity allowed my heart to soften. I wrote my supervisor a letter which I did not send.

A fortnight later, I was back in my supervisor’s office and this time I was prepared. I spoke from my heart, letting them know that they’d hurt me deeply and told them that it really wasn’t okay to pull my work to pieces in this way. I asked them what was happening for them to fuel such a poisonous rant. My supervisor gave me space to say everything I needed to say and responded honestly and respectfully. It led to a great conversation about boundaries and our ever-changing relationship as supervisor and supervisee. I am forever growing as an artist and a therapist and a human and so are they. It’s vital to our continuing growth that our boundaries are re-evaluated on a regular basis. 

In her video and in Rising Strong, Brene asks the question, “B.I.G; what Boundaries need to be in place for me to stay in my Integrity and make the most Generous assumptions about you?” She explains, without boundaries, there can be no generosity, no empathy, no compassion and no vulnerability, as Brene says; “Boundaries are fricking important!” 

Meditation - Creating a Bubble

This meditation allows you to experience safety at anytime, anywhere.

  • Sit down, feel the ground beneath you, feel your breath in your belly, breathe out a little more than you usually would. This will slow down your breathing and help you to come into contact with the steadying, solid ground.
  • You’re going to make a protective bubble for yourself.
  • Imagine your out-breath comes down the front of your body, down your torso, down the front of your legs, right to your feet.
  • Imagine your in-breath comes under your feet and up the back of your body, up your legs, up your back, over your head and back to your nose and mouth.
  • Try this for 7 cycles of breath, feeling a sense of protection as you create a bubble of breath for yourself to sit in.
  • What colour is safe for you? Imagine the bubble is this colour.
  • What’s it made out of? Imagine you’re sitting in a bubble of this fabric and colour, enjoy the sense of safety. Feel your body relax as your breath continues to flow deep and long.
  • Have a little check in with yourself - how is your mood right now?
  • You can choose to let your bubble melt away, or keep it there for a while if you prefer.

The 3 Minute Touching Game

This is a game about making offers and requests and setting boundaries. It’s not one of mine, I came across it on the interweb. See the links at the end of the blog. I made it clear at the start of the exercises that we’d be exploring non-sexual touch in this context. 

3 minute touching game part one - making a request

  • A asks B for whatever it is you need right now, be specific, it could be a shoulder massage, having your hair stroked, a hug, or whatever would feel like a treat for you.
  • B feel into that. Are you willing to give that wholeheartedly? Do you need any more information to understand the request? If you are willing to offer what’s being asked of you then go ahead. If you’re not willing to offer what’s being asked of you, negotiate something that feels okay for both of you.
  • set a timer for three minutes and do the thing, throughout the 3 minutes, both A and B stay connected to how you feel physically, emotionally and the thoughts that pass through.
  • When the 3 minutes have elapsed, have a share, how was that for both of you?
  • now switch over

3 minute touching game part two - making an offer

  • B offers to touch A in a particular way. What might feel like a treat to offer? Be specific, it could be a shoulder massage, stroking their hair, a hug, or whatever you feel like giving.
  • A feel into that. Is this something that you want? Are you willing to receive that wholeheartedly? Do you need any more information to understand the request? If you are willing to accept what’s being offered then go ahead. If you’re not willing to accept what’s being offered, negotiate something that feels okay for both of you.
  • set a timer for three minutes and do the thing, throughout the 3 minutes, both A and B stay connected to how you feel physically, emotionally and the thoughts that pass through.
  • When the 3 minutes have elapsed, have a share, how was that for both of you?
  • now switch over

You can play this game many times over. It’s designed to help you explore boundary setting, consent and giving and receiving. Its a lot of fun to play with a partner.

Support for learning to establish boundaries

The group came together and discussed the 3 minute touching game and how it relates to boundaries. Some interesting themes came up, particularly around being a woman. It’s a celebrated quality of our gender to be constantly accommodating others. Literally, as well as metaphorically! We have had the message passed down through generations to serve the men and children before we serve ourselves and as modern as we think we are, generations of conditioning will have us ditching our own needs in favour of looking after other people.

It brought to mind the non-violent communication stages from emotional slavery to emotional liberation. Marshall Rosenberg describes these stages as:

Stage 1- emotional slavery; We believe ourselves to be responsible for the feelings of others. We think we must constantly strive to keep everybody happy. If they don’t appear happy, we feel responsible and compelled to do something about it. This can easily lead us to see the very people who are closest as burdens.

Stage 2- the obnoxious stage; We become aware of the high costs of assuming responsibility for others’ feelings and trying to accommodate them at our own expense. When we notice how much of our lives we’ve missed and how little we have responded to the call of our own soul, we may get angry.

Stage 3- emotional liberation; We respond to the needs of others out of compassion, never out of fear, guilt or shame. Our actions are therefore fulfilling to us, as well as to those who receive our efforts.

This was a familiar journey to many in the group members. A few reported themselves to be currently at stage 2. I explained, stage 2 is also known as the Lion’s Roar. When we first begin setting boundaries, it’s not always skilful, elegant or subtle. We’ll find ourselves screaming “FUCK OFF” when actually, what we meant to say was; “no thank you, I don’t want a cup of tea.” It can take a while to develop ease around boundary setting, after a life-time of saying yes to everything! Brene Brown offers some great tactics in an online article on how to set boundaries:

Make a mantra. I need something to hold on to—literally—during those awkward moments when an ask hangs in the air. So I bought a silver ring that I spin while silently repeating, "Choose discomfort over resentment." My mantra reminds me that I'm making a choice that's critical for my well-being—even if it's not easy. 

Keep a resentment journal. Whenever I'm marching around muttering cuss words under my breath, I grab what I lovingly refer to as my Damn It! Diary and write down what's going on. I've noticed that I'm most resentful when I'm tired and overwhelmed—i.e., not setting boundaries. 

Rehearse. I'll often say, to no one in particular, "I can't take that on" or "My plate is full." Like many worthwhile endeavors, boundary setting is a practice. 

In my research in preparation for this session, I appear to have written yet another course / chapter in my book. It feels significant in its natural emergence from the group process and it feels like very relevant and important stuff for all my other work. If you want to explore the themes in this session more:

Watch Brene Brown’s video here

Read Brene Brown’s article on how to set boundaries here

Watch a video about the three minute touching game here

For more support in setting boundaries, search out: 

  • Rising Strong by Brene Brown
  • Non-Violent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg
  • The Artists Way by Julia Cameron
  • Non Violent Communication courses take place world wide and are easily googleable

Holly Stoppit is a facilitator, director and dramatherapist, find out more about her here.

To read more about what happens in The Inner Critic Inquiry, see embracing the shadow within and self care! self care! self care!

If you're interested in attending the Inner Critic Inquiry course in the future, sign up to the mailing list at the bottom of this page.

Curious Clown Cabaret in Pictures

Nov 22 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Tamarind

We did it! 

These 10 idiots have spent the last 10 Tuesday evenings in a freezing cold church hall, playing their little hearts out (just to keep warm).

The 10 Week Clown To Performance course leads participants through a gentle process of deepening their quality of connection with themselves and cultivating the bravery to share themselves with others and to let the world in.

They then each created a 5 minute clown cabaret piece and performed it at The Wardrobe Theatre on Sunday for a Real Audience!

There were audible belly laughs and visible grins as our brave clowns took their space and let the audience into their weird and wonderful worlds.

Now that this nonsense has been unleashed, you'd better keep your eyes peeled for further shenanigans from this particular circle of stupidity.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Julio Hermosilla
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Julio Hermosilla
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Julio Hermosilla
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Julio Hermosilla
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Julio Hermosilla
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Julio Hermosilla
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Julio Hermosilla
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Tamarind
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Tamarind
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Tamarind
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Tamarind
Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Tamarind

Self Care! Self Care! Self Care!

Nov 22 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: meeeeee and my mac

It’s week 5 of The 8-week Inner Critic Inquiry Course. We’re half way through the course! The participants have been working hard, showing up every week to meet their critics and get to know them, through writing, artwork, embodiment and discussion, more about the sorts of things we've been up to here

After so much hard work, it felt like the right time to push the critics to one side for a little bit and bring some loving attention to the parts of us that have been listening to all that criticism.

So we began with a meditation on nourishing your vulnerability, followed by a gentle physical warm up and a bit of self-holding. 

I'm sharing the exercises here for anyone who feels like they could do with a bit of self care. You don't need anything special to do these exercises, just a bit of dedicated time and some willingness.

Meditation: Nourishing Your Vulnerability

-find a comfortable place to sit alone for a while

-turn off your phone, kiss your loved ones goodbye for a little bit and close the door 

-sit down, feel the ground beneath you, feel your breath in your belly, have a little check in with yourself - how is your body, how is your energy, how is your mood right now?

-If at any point you feel overwhelmed, you can come back to the ground or to your breath in your belly to anchor yourself back in the present.

-focus in on the vulnerable part of you, the part that’s had to listen to your inner critic’s incessant ranting all these years, sense where in your body, vulnerability lives.

-breathe into that part of you, send your curious attention there. You can place a hand on that part of your body if you think it might help direct your attention there.

-imagine your vulnerability as a creature that lives inside of you. What’s it like? Does it have feathers, fur, scales? How old is it? How small is it? What’s its face like? What’s its posture like?

-send some more breath to that area of your body, giving your vulnerability your full permission to be there right now.

-with curiosity and compassion, gently investigate what your vulnerability needs. For years it’s been asking the inner critic to protect it and to some extent that’s worked; you’re still alive! But lets see what happens if we come out of the automatic pattern of fierce protection and into something different; compassionate kindness. What does your vulnerability really need to hear from you to help it feel safe?

-For the next bit, you’re going to send thoughts and wishes to your vulnerability, dousing it in whatever it’s asking you for. Keep it simple, making offers like “I'm here for you.” or “I'll hold you.” or simply “I love you.” whatever feels like the right phrase for you. 

-keep noticing what happens to your vulnerability creature when you douse it in love wishes.

-Notice too what’s happening in the rest of your body.

-When your vulnerability has had as much as it needs for now, come back to the ground beneath you, come back to the breath in your body, take a moment to feel into what's changed before you come back to the room you’re in, take a look around at the familiar things, take a short moment to take it in, open your senses to the here and now; look and see, smell, touch, taste. 

Self Care in Action 1- Giving gifts to your body

Our warm up focussed on self care in action. I lined up a playlist of 3 beautiful, gentle tracks. For the first 2 songs, we went into our own spaces and greeted our bodies, bit by bit, starting with the feet and finishing with the head. We felt into each body part and asked it what it needed; perhaps a massage, a stretch, a wiggle or a shake? We offered our bodies the gifts they were asking for. 

This is something we rarely do and might seem a bit weird. But I think weirder still is a culture that actively encourages us to ditch our own bodies in favour of productivity. Our bodies are important. Without them, we’d be a bit stuck. So this exercise is a chance to say thank you to the body that relentlessly and thanklessly serves us. 

You can do this with or without music. I find that gentle music holds me in a deeper experiential space, but it's not necessary. I am currently using a lot of pianist Nils Frahm in my workshops, there's space for all the feelings inside his music.

Self Care in Action 2- Self Holding

For the final song in our 3-song play list, we explored self holding; intuitively finding positions to hold our own bodies in different ways, staying with each position for a while, dropping into the sensations and the emotional plain beneath. This technique is being used within treatment for PTSD. 

I found a beautiful article by Heidi Hanson, explaining the in’s and out’s of Peter Levine’s self holding theory, with illustrations and everything!  In this article, Heidi explains:

“While experiencing PTSD, we may feel scattered, broken, shattered, blown apart, chaotic, fractured, or split.  Our thoughts and nervousness may become overwhelming, out of control, all over the place. We may even forget we have edges.”

These symptoms might seem familiar to those battling with their inner critics, regardless of whether the person has encountered severe trauma in their past or not, daily onslaughts from the inner critic can drive us to suffer severe life-limiting symptoms.

Self holding is simple, through our own touch, we can offer ourselves containment, show ourselves where our edges are and let ourselves know that we are safe enough. These actions activate our parasympathetic nervous system, gently bringing us out of adrenaline saturated fight, flight, freeze, all too familiar states for those who struggle with a noisy critic, and into calmness.

Although simple, self holding can be the last thing you’ll think of doing when you’re under the attack of your inner critic. I recommend practicing self holding daily, so that your body will remember to do it when you’re in panic. It takes practice and discipline to change life-long habits. Up until now, your critic has been keeping you “safe,” but there are other kinder, more gentle ways to experience safety. 

Again, this works with or without gentle music. 

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Heidi Hanson

Self Holding Instructions (copied directly from Heidi Hanson’s page):

Place one hand under the opposite arm, and then place the other hand over the upper part of the other arm; you are giving yourself a hug.

Pay attention to your body.

Let yourself settle into the position; allow yourself to feel supported by it. Allow yourself to feel contained.

Watch and see if anything shifts with your breathing, bodily sensations, and how you feel in space. See if you can sit with it a while and let it shift your perceptions of yourself and the world somewhat before coming out of it.

Here are links to Heidi’s pages for more info:

Part one: simple self holding 

Part two: 2 step self holding 

Part three: 5 step self holding 

You can read about week 7 of The Inner Critic Inquiry here. This session was all about establishing boundaries.

Holly Stoppit is a facilitator, director and dramatherapist, find out more about her here.

If you're interested in attending the Inner Critic Inquiry course in the future, sign up to the mailing list at the bottom of this page.

Anxiety Dream

Nov 14 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Alex Tabrizi / Beyond The Ridiculous

I'm booked to do a 20 minute talk in a school. I haven't had enough time to prepare and a series of surprising people keep wanting to talk to me about completely unrelated things.

The announcement is made. "Welcome to the stage, Holly Stoppit!" 

Speckles of sporadic applause.

I look out, noticing that the audience are spread out on 2 tiers of deep shadowy booths. Squinting into the shadows, I notice they are all adults. Where are the children?

I begin a flurry of stuttering apologetic non-funny nonsense. The audience don't seem very engaged. 

I decide to look for the kids. They're out the back in a greenhouse classroom, watching me through a tiny little telly. I know I can't reach them through that, so I stay, make eye contact with them, breathe with them and give them my best material:

"It wasn't always like this, I started from humble beginnings. I grew up in the circus on a strict diet of candy floss and popcorn" 

Laughter. Phew. 

I go back into the other room to find the adults all talking amongst themselves. I push to reach them, raising my voice and ramping up my physicality. I can't reach them. I feel desperate. I notice there's music playing. Bad techno. A Spanish woman sits on the floor with a silver 1980's ghetto blaster. I make a joke:

"There's a time and a place for that and it's neither here nor now"

She looks cross as she turns it down a little bit. The adult audience has become bored and restless, picking up on my discomfort. Somehow I know that the kids are running riot.

I am losing

The Power In Performance

Nov 06 2017

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Mick Jagger Rabbit by Lucy Heard. Created during Holly Stoppit's dissertation research into Clown-o-therapy.

The Psychedelic Society of Bristol is delighted to present an evening where fools and jesters tell truth to power. How can we access altered states through performance and drama? How is silliness and improvisation related to shamanism and ritual space? Can we actually be the change we want to see in the world?

Joining us to offer their performances, practice, ponderances and pratfalls will be:


Desperate Men have been inviting people to play for over 37 years, creating, performing and producing ground-breaking outdoor theatre in the UK and internationally. As creative producers, we work on large-scale outdoor art projects and collaborate with other partners and arts organisations.We also create bespoke performances, street animations and education projects on commission and still find time for our own creative work. Collaboration is at the heart of what we do, from working with local authorities to engage communities to setting up partnerships with other artists.


Holly Stoppit is a facilitator, performance skills teacher, theatre director and dramatherapist, specialising in live, interactive, improvised and devised performance. Holly creates and delivers unique performance skills / self-development training courses under the brand of Holly Stoppit Workshops and as a guest university lecturer. Holly is artistic director of Beyond The Ridiculous and freelance facilitator / director / creative consultant offering bespoke services for professional theatre companies, community organisations, universities, businesses and individual artists. At the heart of all of Holly’s work is a desire to promote creative discovery and connection through play.



Sara Zaltash (b.1985) is a British-Iranian artist and Schumacher Institute Fellow working with live action, song, sound, community, ritual, conceptual enquiry, magic and the divine in order to evolve reality. 

"Zaltash is electrifying... See her if you can." – The Guardian. 
"a radical act of worship" – New York Times
"Those hushed minutes of impassioned chanting reminded us of our shared faiths, and the possibility of spiritual harmony." – Haaretz


This will be followed by a panel discussion with all the participants, dipping into the mind-expanding qualities of performance, and roving widely across the approaches and insights that have come out of their practices

Tickets: £6 advance / £8 on the door
Advance tickets available from Headfirst:

Facebook event here

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