More often than not, the first hour of a movement meditation class is simply a warm-up for me. Even after the designated 10-minute-or-so warm-up period, my arms, legs, and neck still feel like rigid sticks and twigs protruding from my tree trunk of a torso. I am hyperaware of any stiffness, the creakiness in my joints, how angular and non-flowing I feel. I imagine myself looking like a collection of hard, plastic flesh-colored Legos assembled to resemble a human being.
There is also a bit of mental hardness that accompanies this physical stiffness. Mind chatter about what I’m trying to “work on” today, trepidation/nervousness about the possibility of having to partner with so-and-so, conversations with myself about why I keep coming back to the dance when I feel like what was once an “answer” to my quest for spiritual and physical nourishment now just bombards me with more questions every time I take my first step into Flowing.
In that first hour, I work hard to chip away at the crusty dirt that is caking my body and mind. I douse it with water, a baptism of sweat softening the earth that envelops my flesh, turning the hardened earth into pliable mud. By the end of the first Wave, I may still have tree bark in my hair and speckles of dirt between my toes, but I’m no longer as skeletal as a sycamore in winter or as rough as volcanic rock.
Sometimes the shift is profound, other times subtle, but almost always there comes a point during the second Wave where I feel my body become distinctively soft. It’s like someone used the “Blur Edges” filter on me in Photoshop. I still have bones, but a mystical force has allowed them to curve and bend like vines. My brain no longer feels like an intrusive anvil in my skull; it too is soft—not mushy, though—an enigmatic organ whose own waves have shifted from on-alert beta to more mellow alpha. When I bound across the room, I feel like I am leaping feet in the air as opposed to inches.
Instinctively, I move to the center of the room, my Play-Doh limbs wanting to mesh and mold with the other pliant persons around me.
I am a soft cotton square weaving its way into the patchwork quilt of humanity gradually taking shape on the floor.
I am a plump polyester tea sachet dipping gently into a warm water bath of bodies.
By the end of class, I am an infant swaddled in the softest of blankets, curious eyes wide open, face round and creaseless. I feel fresh out of the womb, no weight on my shoulders, no labels stifling my spirit. I am not “Jennifer, the [editor/blogger/worrier/planner].” I just am.
If I am lucky, as I was during a recent class in Philadelphia with Tammy Burstein, the sensation of softness that pulses through my body as I rest in Stillness brings me to tears. I had slithered my way onto the floor, stomach pressed against the wood, and breath by breath, my pelvis melted into what can best be described as a slow ripple of waves. I often use imagery to help my dance, but this time the imagery came without cerebral command.
My hips, which usually feel like Barbie doll legs plugged crookedly into their sockets, had become liquid. It felt as though my body ended at my waistline and the flesh and muscle that lay below had become a shoreline in Maui: soft sand, lapping waves, my lower body a beach that extended beyond where my feet were supposed to be and into the ocean of energy around me.
I cried because it is so seldom my hips experience that kind of softness and openness. For someone who constantly has to pop her sacrum back in place and stomp her legs like a zebra to get the top of her femur bone unjammed from loose hip cartilage, those few moments of fluidity were a beautiful reminder that my essence extends so far beyond my bones, muscles, and skin. Despite the hard armor I wear, underneath, I am nothing more than a soft soul.