(This post is a continuation of my quest to reclaim my body through Rolfing®. Click here for the post detailing my previous session of this bodywork technique.)

The two weeks following Session 4 have been … bipolar. The moments during and immediately following the session were some of my most powerful ever, but then for a good week I felt like I had regressed nearly all the way back to baseline in terms of how my body was behaving.

Then, like magic, a few days later, I’m feeling my body in a brand new, wonderful way.

Laurie “warned” me that many people viewed the fourth session of Rolfing as a ho-hum prelude to the more enticing Session 5, which centers on the heavy-duty psoas structure.

Session 4—the first of Rolfing’s “Core” sessions (sessions 4 through 7 in the Ten Series)—focuses on the inside arch of the foot and up the leg to the bottom of the pelvis.

She told me to picture the importance of this session like a fountain, the way the water shoots up through the center in a solid stream and then cascades down. We need to pull our resources up from the bottom—through the feet, legs, and pelvis—before it’s possible to shower ourselves fully in the energy that surrounds us.

(Source)

Pulling up, cascading down. (Source)

Well, for what is considered a rather “eh” session in other clients’ opinions ended up being a hotbed of sensation and emotional release for me.

When I went to lie down on the table, I was a buzzing bundle of stress. I had just started a new, demanding job that week and carried my tension with me. I was so heavy with angst and exhaustion and mental commotion that I feared absolutely nothing would affect me during the session, that Laurie’s intentions would do nothing for me.

That said, I hardly remember exactly what the session entailed, anatomically. Instead of trying to keep track of what she was doing and how she was moving my body, I just gave myself to Laurie. I gave my brain permission to shut off and surrendered to her touch.

I do remember at one point, with my knee bent and pulled into my chest, as Laurie’s hands kneaded my hamstrings all the way up to my buttocks and groin, I thought, “Oh, now this is Rolfing.” Translation: Oh crap, this is physically intense.

I wasn’t complaining, though. I have a high tolerance for deep tissue work, and I always find it a shame that it’s so hard to find a massage therapist who is willing to navigate that very important (yet “private”) area. Yes, it’s very intimate and the client has to have some degree of vulnerability to allow a stranger to dig deep just inches away from your perineum, but that is where some of our most buried wounds and emotions are stored.

For me, it’s been a very guarded area due to the labral tear in my hip and the impingements in both of my femurs. It’s my “problem area.” But with Laurie, I completely trusted her and knew that she wasn’t causing pain; rather, it was release.

As the session continued, I realized I was experiencing color visualizations. This is a fairly common occurrence for me when I am meditating or deep in yoga—what I think are just random objects begin to pass through my mind, but then I realize there is a pattern—they are all the same color.

This time, the objects were all deep red hues—a human heart, pools of blood, roasted red peppers. Perhaps a nod toward the root chakra, located at the base of the spine near the coccyx?

When I flipped onto my back for the end of the session, something shifted. One of the closing movements of every session is for me to do a small bridge pose—pressing my feet into the table, lifting my pelvis, and then sinking back down into Laurie’s hand, which rests under my sacrum.

This time, however, everything felt completely different.

The bottoms of my feet were just soaking up heat, pulling up from my soles energy that collected in my knees and then poured from the knees down my thighs, pooling into my pelvis.

My legs didn’t feel like liquid—no. My legs felt like vessels to a larger drainage system, containers for a very elaborate energetic sump pump that was squeezing in warm and fluid energy from below my feet and expelling it into my pelvic bowl.

It was turning into a non-human experience. It was neither pleasure nor pain. It didn’t itch or burn or ache. It was just … warmth. A bit of a heavy tingling sensation, but not “my-legs-are-falling-asleep” tingling.

Your know the emotional feelings you get when you hear a heartwarming story about a random act of kindness or see a video of an animal rescuing its owner? Imagine hearing or seeing hundreds of those stories all at once but then translating those emotions into physical sensations.

That’s kind of what was coursing through my feet, legs, and pelvis. I didn’t know what to do with all those feelings! In that case, what happens is that I get very warm, begin sweating, breathing quickly, and tears start escaping from my eyes.

The sump pump, in working order, does its job to make sure the soil has what it needs and then disperses the rest. Whoosh.

I slipped into a bit of a primordial state at the very end. Behind my closed eyelids, everything felt like it got much lighter, as though someone had pulled open the window blinds in the room.

My body felt like it was losing shape, that instead of a long-limbed, 5’6″ woman, I was nothing but a collection of rounded flesh, shapeless. In my mind’s eye, I no longer had hair—my head was bald, a fetus—a feeling as though I were in utero but not at all feeling suffocated or claustrophobic.

A pleasant, light-filled container. That’s where I rested for the final moments of my session.

When I stood up to get dressed, my knees felt huge, as though the ball-and-socket joints had been replaced by those inflated plastic bags that have taken the place of styrofoam packing peanuts for protecting packages.

I also felt incredibly buoyant when I stood upright, as though balloons were resting under and next to every limb. I imagined that I looked a bit like Ralphie’s brother in A Christmas Story, when he’s wearing that massive marshmallow-like snow suit: “I can’t put my arms down!”

The morning after the session, as I put on my underpants after my shower, something occurred to me: I had just slipped into my undergarments using my non-dominant leg first. I always always always put on pants in a right-left fashion.

But now, left-right?! I paused, bewildered, realizing that I did something that felt different, “off,” and new.

… And that was where the magic ended for about a week, as suddenly all of my old aches and body nuisances returned, from my aching lower back to my wonky scapula.

Walking felt crooked again, and I did not like the way my body felt during a 5Rhythms class. I was very frustrated and feared that doing Rolfing during such intense life events (divorce, new job, moving) was counterproductive.

But a week and a half after the session, something changed. My body aches began to soften, and one of the biggest noticeable differences was the way my body felt during moments of sexual passion.

Sustained. Elongated. Full-bodied.

The fountain metaphor now totally made sense, with every orgasm feeling like a loop of energy being drawn up through my center and then cascading down, a continuous dance of rising and falling.

An act that has always been about feeling had suddenly intensified to a new level, this particular Rolfing session perhaps tapping the entryway to the core of something exhilarating.

Now who said Session 4 wasn’t interesting?!

 

(This post is a continuation of my quest to reclaim my body through Rolfing®. Click here for the post detailing my previous session of this bodywork technique.)

The third session of Rolfing is a big one. It’s taking the openings created on the top half of the body from Session 1, those made in the feet and legs in Session 2, and linking those upper and lower halves together by working along the side body, kind of like plucking out worn-out stitches from a plush doll and sewing it all back together with fresh, smooth thread.

Source.

Side bodies. (Source)

I realize that each time I enter Laurie’s office, I am filled with nervous excitement and curiosity about the places I’ll go in those 60 minutes. It’s a bit of a paradox, because I am incredibly present as she works on my body, but the energy she stirs up always sends me into sensation that feels far beyond this earth.

Laurie reminded me that *that* is how we are intended to feel. Being in tune with that swirling energy and openness isn’t meant to be a deviation from normal—it’s how everyone should be experiencing their bodies!

So, really, I’m not going anywhere. I’m coming home.

Coming home is about stepping off the massage table, slipping into my clothes, and standing upright feeling completely supported in space. The sensation startled me as I got my bearings together after the session: ‘

It felt like I wasn’t activating a single muscle to keep me standing.

I wasn’t “loopy” or “floating” as I typically am after a traditional massage. No, I was balanced so evenly in space that it was effortless to remain vertical.

There’s not much one can do when feeling that way, other than let out a stunned, “Whoaaaaaaa.”

In that moment, I did not feel like a body surrounded by energy. I felt like energy surrounded by a human body, like my skin and (unactivated) muscle and bone was nothing more than a paper-thin shawl wrapped around my feather-light being.

So, how did I get to that place?

Unlike regular massage sessions where one remains either on her belly or back, most of this session I remained on my side after some initial work on my front body.

The first time I rolled on my side, it felt like my torso and everything below was a big bowl of warm soup, my lower half an ever-expanding bowl. It was so fluid and pleasant, and my hips—always a source of tension and apprehension due to my labral tear—felt like they had been transformed into miso broth.

Working on my upper half, Laurie would ask me to lift my arm, elbow up, which she held and adjusted as necessary. A little tension but never pain, I began to experience a feeling of being disjointed, as though my hand was floating out in space, unattached to the rest of me. My scapula—also hanging out in space.

Separate body parts suspended in mid-air, a mobile of various flesh-covered units.

The more I thought about the sensation, I realized what was happening. These parts were being pulled out of regular alignment like crooked books on a library shelf, being worked on separately, then being inserted back into place. Laurie the Rolfer/librarian was just dusting off the books and then nestling them back into their proper spot on the shelf.

No longer crooked, and now in alphabetical order.

Still on my side, she worked my lower half, asking me to align my shoulder to hip to knee to foot, and then I gently moved my knee back into hyperflexion, then forward. I did this motion repeatedly as she worked up through the knee, the iliotibial band, my quadratus lumborum, up through my torso.

If the eyes are windows to the soul, then the sides are windows to spirit, because this action brought on a sensation of brightness and airiness, as though the space between my armpit and iliac crest was a picture window, and Laurie was gently pulling back the heavy drapes that had covered it for so long.

I’m pretty sure I heard angels singing, because it felt like I was getting a glimpse into heaven—that’s how bright and pure it felt!

When there wasn’t heavenly light or disjointed library books (see what I mean about the places I go?!), there was lots of buzzing energy as I lie there on my side. It came and went in intensity, like a crackling radio station trying to come through, tuning in, tuning out, from static noise to FULL VOLUME.

This was probably the most “uncomfortable” part of the session, because my reaction was to turn it down immediately instead of being curious and listening to it. Laurie was turning my frequency dial, and I just didn’t know how to process all this new, incoming feedback.

Flipping back onto my back after that side work was an exhilarating feeling. My nostrils felt HUGE, the size of dinner places, able to draw in so much oxygen.

In addition, the upper lobes of my lungs—well, I could feel them! And give them air without even trying. I inhaled, and my lungs filled to full capacity. No more struggling for a deep breath.

What a better place we’d all be in if we could breathe like that all the time!

To complete the session, Laurie moved toward my scalp then drew her hands away slowly. My radio dial was still tuned in, and my nose and upper lip sensed her energy mingling with mine. It was so strong that my head and face began to draw upward to her, like a curious puppy smelling a pleasant scent, literally arching my head toward her fingers.

Soon after that, my scalp started to tingle at very specific points, as though she had attached live EEG wires to my head.

Then, I found myself where I started this post: standing upright with absolutely no effort.

I left Laurie’s office feeling keenly observant about everything around me, making connections where I may not have seen them before.

For example, in the bathroom, a strand from the throw rug under my feet happened to curve in the very same shape as a random marking on the slate floor.

Carpet thread

Then, I noticed the tissue box on the bathroom sink had same curly curve.

Tissue pattern

Mind. Blown.

I was so enamored with this similarity that I had to take a photo. That’s the kind of place I was in.

For what it’s worth, this pattern re-appeared later the following week, when I went into a liquor store for a new bottle of wine. I only realized the pattern just now:

Root Wine

Speaking of roots, the first week following Session 3 was amazing. I felt grounded yet free and experienced some wonderful openings, both emotionally and physically. I went to a beginner’s yoga class and actually enjoyed it, rather than continuously readjusting myself to feel comfortable.

I really thought I had turned a corner in my physical comfort … until this week. The second week after Session 3, I experienced some major life events that I think really made me slip a little. My left-side twinges are returning, along with the aggravating “tug” in my lower back/sacrum.

Granted, they are not as severe as they were pre-Rolfing, but enough to make me lament the gains I had made up until this point.

Let’s see how Session 4 works out tomorrow, and in the meantime, I’ll do my best to stay rooted, as reminded by my wine!

(This post is a continuation of my quest to reclaim my body through Rolfing®. Click here for my previous post detailing my first session of this bodywork technique.)

The second session of my 10-part Rolfing series began very similarly to a 5Rhythms® movement class, with an emphasis on the feet. My therapist Laurie explained that this particular session would not be as physically intense as the previous one, which had focused on such an anatomical (and emotional!) powerhouse: the ribs, solar plexus, and diaphragm.

She described that the first session was necessary in order to release the areas around the lungs, as this kind of work is not possible without being able to breathe fully!

Once that key area is open, it’s then time to work on the “grounding” areas of the body: the feet and lower legs.

SwingingFeet

Her description of why the feet are so important early on in Rolfing made so much sense, as it is also a key concept in the 5Rhythms practice. Flowing, the first rhythm, the rhythm of the earth, is about finding your connection to the floor, establishing groundedness, pulling energy up from the earth as your sustenance rather than grasping frantically at air.

It’s not about knowing where you’re going but having confidence you’ll be able to get yourself there, wherever “there” is. You’re completely aware of the support holding you upright.

Laurie was right—the first half of the 60-minute session was incredibly relaxing and reminded me of reflexology, the way she pressed into key pressure points on my feet. Reflexively, my fingers began to fan along with my spreading toes.

It was certainly more active than reflexology, though, with her prompting me to flex and release my ankle several times as she worked in that area and up my calves. It felt a bit like a PT session for a foot injury, with all of the repetition. (And I’m speaking highly of PT here, not knocking it! It did wonders for me 4 years ago for my hip issues.)

Like the first session, I began to experience some interesting sensations as the session continued.

The first thing I noticed was a distortion in my perception of size. My body began to feel very small and Laurie’s arms, which were working on my legs at the time, very long. Lying there with my eyes closed, I did not understand how Laurie’s condor wing-arms could continue to move up and up and up my leg, which felt no longer than a standard ruler. I was certain she’d hit my head, when in reality she never strayed from my leg.

Then, the reverse. My legs no longer felt tiny but expansive, billowing from below my quadriceps like clouds or overly fluffy pillows. It got to the point where my legs no longer felt attached to my body, that they were these highly sensitive entities hanging out in my personal space but not attached by means of bone or muscle, tendons or ligaments. It was a very contradictory sensation—my legs feeling “detached,” and yet I was still so highly aware of them, feeling every touch of Laurie’s.

But perhaps the most powerful moment of the session was when Laurie was working on my left knee. She was doing nothing painful or terribly intense, but suddenly it felt like that knee was a portal to All The Energy on the left side of my body, and she had successfully opened it.

I felt a rush of warm, pleasant, bubbly energy spread up through my hip, chest, spine, all the way up into the back of my skull. My body rocked in place a bit, and I released some kind of vocal exclamation—a laugh or a Wow! or an ecstatic *&*&((**^####! All I remember was feeling like I had just experienced a kundalini opening on my left side, and that the knee was the trigger point.

Laurie ended my session the same way she does for each, by cradling the neck and skull and doing some kind of energy healing that this time felt like I had long Rapunzel-like locks spreading outward that she was combing with an electrically charged brush. It’s both a bizarre and comforting feeling, all at once.

(Would it be weird to say that right before the Rapunzel hair sensation, I felt like everything from my neck up was encased in a swirling red, gold, and green Christmas ball, but it was a sensation so soothing and reassuring that I was nearly brought to tears? Yeah? Well, that’s what was going on.)

My immediate sensations after the session included:

  • Baby-smooth soles, as though they had been scrubbed with a pumice stone.
  • Incredible sense of equal weight distribution between the feet—no wobbling from right to left.
  • Intense awareness of the bottoms of my feet, almost like I could feel the bottom of my shoes through my socks.
  • A sense of walking with purpose and confidence.
  • Vibrancy of the world around me, senses in high gear—mostly in the way I perceived color (green tree buds, red cars, yellow street signs).
  • My legs looking much thinner when I put my pants back on after the session, as though I had done some magic instant toning exercise routine.
  • My left foot expelling excess energy during my car ride home, a bubbly sensation, like my foot was carbonated!
  • HUGE emotional release during the drive home, crying just to cry, which released a lot of blockage in my throat area.

It has been about two weeks since that session, and I’m still happy with the way my feet feel.  Maybe it’s also because I’m wearing thinner socks or no socks now due to the warmer weather, but I do feel like I have more contact with the floor than usual.

I’ve noticed my gait feels more comfortable now—I take a walking break every day at lunch and sometimes felt like I was walking on a tilt. That has subsided.

The effects from the first session are still sticking for the most part as well. I don’t feel like I’m being tugged forward on my left side, and I’ve been able to incorporate more lunges into my morning stretching routine, something I stopped doing for a while because of the restriction I felt in my psoas, pelvis, and lower back. Now, those lunges actually feel good rather than a prelude to another hip injury.

This week I return for Session 3: the side body!

Open

I love dancing in dualities.

In the expressive movement classes I facilitate, I often ask my students to imagine dancing at one end of a sensory spectrum (“How does your body move if you imagine yourself in the middle of the Sahara, your bare feet in hot sand?”) and then during the next song ask them to switch to the opposite (“Suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of a blizzard. How does your body move to the cold, biting wind?”)

It’s an easy and fun experiment to see how many ways individuals can move, a chance for them to be creative and extend their movement beyond their “usual” dance. Ten bucks says the way your hands and feet respond to blistering desert heat is different from the way they are compelled to move during a mitten-less sleet storm.

My 5Rhythms teacher asked the same of us during a recent Waves class. During the final rhythm of Stillness, he proposed that we shift between movement that was open and that which was closed, our inhalation expanding us into one shape, and our exhalation leading the way into the next.

All he had used were the words “open” and “close,” but without much thought—more reflexive than mindful—I instantly translated these movements to “good” and “bad.”

So, for the first couple of minutes, my dance was a back-and-forth between shapes that looked like “Yes!” and “Halleljuah!” and “Here I Am!” to “Oh noooo” “Ow,” and “Woe Is Me.”

I even got a little upset. Before the teacher’s instruction, I had been feeling really alive. Now, he was asking us to be sad and withdrawn. How dare he…!

Fortunately, my Buddhist-in-training brain switched on before I got too far in the blame game, and it occurred to me that maybe these terms don’t need labels.

Why did I have to assign “good” and “bad” qualifiers to actions that were just that—actions?

It helped that earlier that day I had been listening to a talk from Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön, in which she was talking about the dangers of labeling mediation sits as “good” and “bad”:

“Say, for instance, you meditated and you felt a sort of settling and a sort of calmness, a sense of well-being. And maybe thoughts came and went, but they didn’t hook you, and you were able to come back, and there wasn’t a sense of struggle. Afterwards, [you think], ‘I did it right, I got it right, that’s how it should always be, that’s the model.’

Then you have the ‘bad’ one, which is not bad. It’s just that you sat there and you were very discursive and you were obsessing about someone at home, at work, something you have to do—you worried and you fretted, or you got into a fear or anger…. You just felt like it was a horrible meditation session. At the end of it you feel discouraged, and it was bad and you’re bad for the bad meditation. And you could feel hopeless.” (Source)

She goes on to explain how getting caught in this good-versus-bad tug-of-war causes a lot of angst and tension, always striving to attain the “good” and then almost always defeated when the good we were hoping for isn’t as good as the previous good, which means it is bad.

It feels as exhausting as it sounds. And this is what ultimately leads to suffering.

It’s kind of what was happening to me on the dance floor. I was getting pulled down into an abyss of “bad” because that is what I decided to equate with “closed.”

When Pema’s advice caught up to me, I decided to shift my thoughts.

I thought of all the ways “closed” movement can represent concepts beyond sadness and heartache and defensiveness.

Closed can mean shutting one’s eyes to daydream. Pressing hands together to pray. Curling up under a blanket to snuggle or watch a movie.

Closed can mean placing the hands palms down on the knees during meditation. Folding back into Child’s Pose during a strenuous yoga class. A baby in its mother’s womb, knees and arms tucked into chest—the original fetal position.

Closed can mean shutting down the office at noon for a siesta, wrapping arms around an injured animal or child and nursing it to health, withdrawing from the senses in order to tune inward in self-reflection.

In no time I was feeling alive again, no longer pulled down by this heavy anchor of “bad”-ness I had inflicted on myself.

Closing actually felt…beautiful!

Shifting my perspective in that one little way created big change, my dance of duality a moving lesson in being more open-minded about the notion of being closed.

If you have any interpretations of “closed” you’d like to offer, please share in the comments below!

 

 

(This post is a continuation of my quest to reclaim my body through Rolfing®. Click here for my previous post detailing my history and decision to try this bodywork technique.)

When I entered my therapist’s office last week, the session started with a 30-minute consultation during which I described the most prominent and frustrating discomforts in my body, including postural/gait imbalances stemming from a small labral tear in my left hip, which leads to pain and locking in my sacrum and low back, as well as leg-length discrepancies that make me feel like I’m wobbling; a left shoulder that always feels sloped forward and contributes to neck and occasional jaw pain; and an incredibly tight psoas that constricts full diaphragmatic breathing.

The next step was for Laurie to examine my posture as I talked my way through how my body felt from the inside.

Standing fully clothed in front of her, I closed my eyes and described the way the soles of my feet pressed into the floor, how my knees balanced my weight, what the inside of my pelvis felt like as though it were a bucket carrying grains of sand. Was the sand evenly spread from femur to femur? Or did the sand feel heavier on one side? We used this kind of visualization up through my shoulders, and then I walked across the room a few times for her to assess my gait.

Some people may find this kind of description difficult to tap into, but as a very visual and sensory learner, I found it very natural and was happy to be with someone who worked in this manner.

I liked Laurie before I even stripped down to my underwear and got on the table!

The 60-minute bodywork session began ever-so-gently with Laurie pressing key acupressure points in my face, neck, and scalp and eventually working into my shoulders and arms, my ribcage and diaphragm, and then some work on my hips, buttocks, and upper legs. This is the traditional format of Session 1.

I was prepared for tightness in my left shoulder, and it was there. But it was never more than I could handle, and the most intense moments only lasted a few seconds. Laurie was constantly readjusting my arms, elbows, and hands like a puppet, and it felt good to move with the massage rather than lie passively and have someone dig in.

In that sense, my first Rolfing session felt like a combination of all my favorite bodywork/movement modalities—traditional massage, Thai yoga massage, chiropractic, yin yoga—all wrapped into one package, with a side of deep meditation.

I have a history of falling asleep during massage sessions, and although the Rolfing was at times surprisingly relaxing and comforting, I never felt the urge to drift off, mostly because I was taking great pleasure in the ways Laurie’s attentive work allowed me to feel my body in ways that had been locked off for so long.

For example, when Laurie worked on my perpetually tight psoas—which has been pulling on my diaphragm and sacrum for some time now—I experienced a wonderful opening in my sacrum, a sensation deep within the tailbone that I have only felt once before during a particularly intense A.R.T. session on that same area.

It was like smelling a marvelous new scent—imagine your nose suddenly inhaling something delicious—except it was my low back feeling something that had never been felt before.

I believe the words I said to Laurie were, “It feels like you’re tapping into a hidden repository of feeling in my sacrum!”, like Indiana Jones coming across a new, glimmering treasure buried deep in an ancient temple. It was there all along but just needed to be discovered!

I had a similar experience in my torso—after several minutes of her fingers smoothing out the tissue between my ribs, I had the sensation of my chest just opening and opening and opening like a blooming flower in fast forward.

My post-session description: “It was like a gynecological exam for my ribcage; she just spread me wide open!” It was a new sensation of expansiveness that I have not felt in a very long time.

Rolfing was no doubt more intimate that a traditional massage session in the way Laurie needed to work deep near my ribs and tailbone. That meant working near my breasts and close to my coccyx (i.e., at the top of my butt crack), but the sensation was more relieving than weird or uncomfortable. I am not modest when it comes to pain relief!

The work was also highly energetic and meditative for me. When she worked on my solar plexus, I felt a relaxing blue color spread through the area. Later, as she touched the same area as I lay on my side, I felt a wave of emotion swell from torso to throat, enough to make my eyes tickle with the beginnings of tears.

Midway through the session, I began to feel like a pot of water sitting on the stovetop, as though tiny happy bubbles were beginning a slow and steady rumble under my skin. I described the sensation to Laurie.

“What do you think that is?” I asked.

“That’s called good ol’ fashioned energy!” she replied.

By the end of the session, the bubbling had intensified to what I described as feeling jittery, giddy, and highly caffeinated. Laurie indicated that was a good sign, that we had worked deep enough to tap into the energetic body. Right on cue, it was time to wrap up the session before the energy got too intense.

Sure enough, as I lay on my back and Laurie did a few final touches on my scalp, something amazing happened.

She pulled her fingers off of my head, but I could still feel her. I knew she was no longer physically in contact with my head, but she was doing something above my scalp, and it felt like my facial skin was being pulling upward, a kind of energetic facelift. The sensation triggered an eruption of energy, which spilled forth in a burst of laughter.

It was not ha-ha funny laughter or nervous laughter but simply my body’s way of releasing the energy she had been coaxing. Almost instantly Laurie laughed back, saying she was keenly aware of the bubble of energy she was working with as well.

Stepping off the table, I felt amazingly aware of my bodies—yes, plural intended—my physical and energetic bodies. I felt like the planet Saturn, surrounded with rings of sensation that reached far beyond my corporeal surface.

Laurie encouraged me to use that sensation as a support, to learn to be comfortable being supported and carried by those rings of energy rather than using brute physical force to carry my body through space. I love this visualization, and I will probably write in greater detail about it later as I learn to incorporate it into my dance practice.

Before I left, I stood in front of Laurie again, feeling my way through my body from the bottoms of my feet up to my scalp. I was surprised at how firmly my feet were planted into the ground, when earlier I felt so wobbly and off-balance. The amazing thing is that Laurie didn’t do any work on my legs below my knees, which goes to show that everything is indeed connected.

Other immediate effects included a very acute tingling sensation in the big toe joint of my left foot, as though someone had spread Biofreeze on the area. This is the toe that has arthritis, and I couldn’t believe how vividly it was “speaking” to me after a session that included absolutely zero work on my feet.

It wasn’t pain, just an energetic “Hello, stuff has opened up in the rest of your body that is now trickling all the way down to me. This pesky arthritis has ‘locked’ me out for some time, but now I’m beginning to feel again!”

Taped Toe

I felt strangely alert when I left Laurie’s office. Massages tend to make me super-sleepy and lethargic, but the feeling I had after Rolfing was more akin to how I feel after meditation or kundalini yoga—totally in tune with the world around me, grounded, radiant, and receptive.

RainbowGlow

That evening, I attempted a simple backbend by pressing my hands into my sacrum, raising my chest, and tilting my spine back. Recently, my range of motion in this pose has been embarrassingly limited with my thoracic tightness, but that night I was able to see the wall behind me. I could not believe how far I was able to go back and the wonderful opening in my chest that allowed me to do so.

* * *

At the time I drafted this post, it had been exactly 1 week since my first session, and although I feel tugged by my old compensatory patterns, I am trying to be mindful of my movement and work on staying open and expansive.

I have noticed much more opening in my sacrum, chest, and shoulders during my warrior lunges in yoga and considerably more flexibility in my spine during backbends (but not as deep as that one the first evening). I can also bend forward into gorilla pose without feeling the usual psoas-sacrum-hamstring tug that so often limited my stretch.

I am staggering my 10 sessions every two to three weeks to help with the payments, and Laurie reassured me that I won’t “lose” what I’ve learned in-between sessions.

I return this week for Session 2, which involves the feet and lower legs. Watch out, Arthritic Toe!

Well, it’s official. I’ve been Rolfed.

Now that’s a phrase that may raise eyebrows, I’m sure. Is this something that requires filing a police report? Who did what to me, and am I OK? Is this a prank akin to getting Rickrolled?

In short, Rolfing® is a bodywork technique that aims to work out the kinks in the body’s fascia (connective tissue) that have accumulated over years of poor posture, compensatory patterns, and injury/overuse.

It’s different from massage, I learned, in that focal point of massage is muscle. Muscles have distinct attachment and insertion points in the bones, whereas fascia is an interconnected web of tissue that sheaths the entire body, “supporting and penetrating all of the muscles, bones, nerves, and organs” (Source).

Therefore, as the old saying goes, everything is connected. For example, a few years of sitting hunched over a laptop will not only affect your neck and spine but also your lungs, diaphragm, sacrum, hips, so on and so forth.

I’ve been getting deep-tissue massages regularly for several years, in addition to occasional chiropractic work that incorporates the Active Release Technique (A.R.T.). Both have served me very well and have aided in easing discomfort in my hips, sacrum, psoas, and scapula.

However, over the past year the relief provided by massage and chiropractic was short-lived. I’d have work done on my shoulders one day, swim laps a few days later, and feel out of alignment all over again.

GettySculpture

Years of yoga and conscious dance have made me hyperaware of my body’s misalignments and imbalances, which has been both a blessing and a curse.

Being in tune with my body allows me to listen and respond precisely to what it needs (e.g., what shoes to wear on a bad hip day, what stretches to do in the morning), but being super-sensitive to every little notion of crookedness also makes yoga class an exhausting ordeal, my mind scrolling through a neverending checklist of all the body parts that feel “off” in each asana.

After a few recommendations from friends, I was ready to investigate this bodywork technique that they claimed changed their lives and introduced a whole new way of feeling.

Rolfing sometimes has an intimidating reputation of being torturous and painful, often likened to a deep-tissue massage from hell. Although some therapists take on that aggressive technique, the original form developed by Ida P. Rolf was not intended to be that way, and the therapist I eventually chose reassured me that her work was deep but not breathtakingly intense.

(In fact, my therapist trained directly with Ida Rolf and has been in practice for nearly 40 years, which was a significant selling point for me.)

The other factor I needed to consider before being Rolfed was cost. Rolfing is by nature more pricey than a regular massage session, and first-time Rolfing clients are encouraged to follow the “standardized ‘recipe’ known as the Ten-Series, the goal of which is to systematically balance and optimize both the structure (shape) and function (movement) of the entire body over the course of 10 Rolfing sessions” (Source).

So right off the bat, I knew I’d have to put out at least $1,000 for my treatment, should I go ahead with the full program.

It was a difficult decision, but after my annual contract at a so-so franchise massage spa ended and I was no longer shelling out monthly dues to another bodyworker, I felt confident going ahead with a plan to reclaim my body.

Stay tuned for a detailed recap of my first visit!

One of the biggest differences between a conscious dance practice (e.g., 5Rhythms®, Journey Dance) and, say, ballroom dancing or ballet is the absence of choreography and the sense of knowing precisely what to do and when.

Most of my youth was spent in a dance studio, traveling across the sprung floor with hitch kicks or chainé turns or a tombé–pas de bourée–glissade–grande jeté grand allegro combination.

I performed in choreographic endeavors in which at time point 1:52, when the gong rang its third chime, I was to drape my arm around my partner and slink to the floor. Right leg extended, left leg bent.

Later, at time point 2:36, I exited stage right with a pique arabesque, face turned toward the audience. Smile.

In other words, most of my movement prior to delving into conscious dance was very organized, deliberate, and painstakingly rehearsed repeatedly into memorization.

I am very grateful for this training. Hours of studio practice and dress rehearsal instilled in me discipline, poise, an uncanny ability to follow directions, and an astute understanding of proprioception.

This training, ingrained deep in my muscles and mind now, has also made for a challenging transition into conscious dancing.

Without steps, what do I do with my body?

Without choreography, what happens when two people enter the same space?

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the 4 years I’ve been actively engaging in conscious dance is to surrender to the mystery and allow things to unfold without force.

In one of my earlier posts describing a 5Rhythms class, I wrote about a partnering exercise in which the instructor told us to move freely but always remain in contact, in some way, with the other person.

He cautioned us that not every move was going to look picture-perfect and that odd moments may come up when we do something that we think might work but ends up feeling weird and stilted. But that’s normal and OK, he said. Just keep moving.

I’ve taken his instruction to heart again and again since that class, because what I have learned is that for every uncertain move and trepid gesture, there is usually an A-ha! moment or soul-tickling connection right around the corner.

It may take time and exploration, but the trick is to be inquisitive and not try so hard.

For example, every now and then I take a class with Group Motion in Philadelphia. One night, I found myself standing next to another dancer, snapping and humming like we were performance artists on a subway platform. In just a few moments, several other dancers had latched onto our rhythm, some clapping, some making quirky vocalizations.

Without guidance or very much thought, our little amoeba had quickly grown into a complex multi-celled organism. It was quite impressive!

CalendarArt_Tribe1

I’ll also never forget the moment in a 5Rhythms class I was dancing in a group of four. We were flitting about here and there, weaving under arms … the usual. But then, the configuration shifted without warning so that three of us were circled, holding hands, around our fourth member, Karen, who opened her eyes, found herself standing in the middle of this spontaneous circle, and gasped aloud in awe.

The moment affected all of us, because what had been a random assortment of curious movement had—without planning—taken on a solid and significant shape, one that crackled with energy and sent shivers down our spines.

Or there was the time I sitting on the floor, when suddenly I leaned back and rocked into someone’s arms. When I was pushed forward, there was someone else, reaching for me with extended arms.

The choreographer in me could have jumped up and began actively engaging my supports. But the conscious dancer in me wanted to feel out this mysterious threesome, so I allowed myself to sway like a hammock, rocking back and forth between the two.

I had no idea where it was going or how it would end. But … I liked the uncertainty. The moment and movement felt soooo right. There was no big A-ha! moment that time like there was with Karen’s spontaneous circle, but there was certainly a collective feeling of inclusion and cohesion among the three of us.

And I can’t even count all of the times I’ve danced with someone and my calf happened to slide right under someone’s head before it touched the floor or when the two of us spun in a circle at exactly the same moment, a synchronous spiral that we both happened to conclude with a jump.

Silver_Dancers

What this practice has helped me do is to find comfort (or at least less anxiety) in choreography-less real-life situations.

I have learned to trust the process.

I ventured into New York City one weekend this past fall to meet my sister for dinner. She had just moved to the city, and we found ourselves standing in the middle of Manhattan with nary a clue where to dine. Every other establishment in NYC is an eatery, which made the decision overwhelming as we passed restaurant after restaurant.

It would have been easy to just say, “Let’s go here!” and slip into a sushi joint, but there was something intuitively telling us to keep walking and exploring. We turned left, then right, and into what looked like a residential area.

“I feel good about this,” my sister said, even though we had gotten off the main strip and our stomachs growled with ferocity.

And, just like the magic circle that had formed around Karen, we suddenly found ourselves standing outside Friend of a Farmer, a cozy Gramercy Park restaurant with a warm farmhouse feel … and the most amazing fall cocktails and seasonal soups. We had walked in just as they opened for dinner and were seated right away.

An evening that had started with no map, no plans, had developed into one of the most satisfying gastronomical experiences of the year!

Life, by nature, is unpredictable, but I am at a time where my “map” of the future is more a collection of zig-zags and spirals and crisscrossing arrows than a land mass marked “A” and a mass marked “B” and a straight and solid line connecting the two.

Hands, feet, arrows, footprints, hearts, spirals.... Makes sense, right?

My current map looks much like the “drawing of my future” I created during my 2006 yoga teacher training.

I have found myself in a life-dance with no steps, no choreography, but the lessons I’ve learned from 5Rhythms (and the body wisdom gained from my earlier years of formal dance) keep me trusting my gut, being aware of others in space (physically and emotionally), surrendering to the mystery, and trusting that the curiosity will eventually melt into certainty, even if only for a blip … until the process begins all over again.

Dancer_Candle

One of the gifts of dancing with the same group of people over time is being able to see them grow, to watch their dances make the metamorphosis from lack of groundedness to firmly rooted feet, from insecurity and timidness to confidence and direction.

The youngest dancer in my Philadelphia home tribe is 17, but I first met her when she was 15. In her movement I see my own teenage self, a contained package of passion being called to open and unfold, an intricate, tightly bound origami creature unraveling crease by crease from its predetermined, tightly bound structure.

She wore orthodontic braces back in 2012. Now her teeth are smooth and straight, and I see them a lot more because she never holds back a smile.

One weekend, she danced till 10 p.m. at a Friday night workshop, took her SATs early the following morning, and then came back on Saturday afternoon to dance another 10 or so hours of an advanced workshop centered on the notion of fear.

She’s skipped out on normal high school kid diversions so she could travel to Virginia with a bunch of adults for the weekend and write poetry, sweat her prayers, and wrap her compassionate arms around crying strangers.

Not even a year after getting her license, she was using her driving privileges not to cruise aimlessly on open roads with her friends but to make the hour-long commute to and from the church where we dance.

These changes are beautiful and poignantly unusual for a young woman her age, but they are obvious to the naked eye.

Most of us have all made the transition from crooked teeth to braces-free, from fretting about midterms to reveling in getting accepted into our first-pick college. We’ve all struggled with breaking away from adolescent antics and moving toward activities that bring us a sense of purpose.

However, one of the gifts of being part of a conscious dance collective is being able to see deeper than the surface, to see that our youngest tribe member isn’t just growing up … she’s growing.

Sevenoaks_R&J

During our earlier dances, she moved to the music. Now, the music moves her.

The changes are subtle and sometimes can’t even be seen, but rather felt. There’s a different energy in her presence. Her movement, once a random and uncertain compilation of powerful words, is now a poem, those same potent words now mindfully crafted into compelling verse and stanza.

I’m picking on this particular person because I admire her teenage tenacity and find it hard not to watch her pop out of her old girl pupa and flutter her young woman wings, but she is just one of many of us who are being witnessed as we move, who have taken that leap to dance our hearts not just in our living rooms but in the presence of others.

We could so easily pop on Pandora at home and thrash our bodies behind closed doors, but instead we choose to step out into the open, to do our most raw expressions of movement in front of a teacher and in the middle of a mass of messy bodies.

There’s a certain vulnerability in that, but also a plea:

Please, see me.

Sevenoaks_YES

Unlike an audition or competition, we’re not dancing to impress but rather to express. We don’t ask for the teacher’s approval but wish only for acknowledgement, a bow of the head that says “I see you.”

The teacher’s role in a 5Rhythms® or similar movement meditation class is not to push perfection but to observe and encourage.

To witness.

A teacher would rarely force a student to move her hips a certain way, but might instead say, “Are your hips moving? Maybe add more breath to them and see how that feels.”

In that sense, there’s not much rigid instruction in these types of classes. More important than getting a student to move is to give her the space to be moved … and to honor it when it happens.

For example, Lucia Horan noticed an overreliance on our arms for the rhythm of Flowing and reminded us that this rhythm is about rootedness, finding our feet, to dig the movement from the earth up rather than try to grasp for it with flimsy arms.

I remember Amara Pagano closely watching a woman travel across the floor and being disturbed by the dancer’s lack of breath. She put a hand on the woman’s belly and reminded her to breathe, to use inspiration—rather than brute strength—to carry her across the floor.

Adam Barley called many dancers out for not moving our feet and dancing in place. “Just take steps,” he suggested.

During his workshop on fear, Adam also pointed out that many of us were confusing this concept with anger. So many of us were trying to dance fear with enraged eyes and martial arts-like strikes and jabs. “That’s anger, not fear,” he reminded us.

Kathy Altman noticed many of us had a tendency to gravitate toward where the most bodies were gathered and that we weren’t being bold and stepping into the empty spaces.

As students, we are permitted that opportunity to witness as well. Many times, especially in a workshop setting, we are paired up with a fellow dancer for an extended time. We take turns dancing and witnessing, moving through our current heartsong or emotional conflict as the other person simply steps back and gives us the gift of presence.

It is not a performance, nor is it a judges’ panel.

We are simply being ourselves and being seen.

In that sense, it is much scarier than performing because now we are being our true selves.

It’s showing a teacher a page of your diary versus a fictional short story you have created.

It’s about dancing your dance, not a teacher’s choreography.

It’s not caring whether you have two left feet but acknowledging that you have one big heart, and dammit, you’re going to let it speak. And sing. And grow.

BalloonDance

Now … can I get a witness?

Image

The photo above is a magnet I bought several years ago from the Japan pavilion at Epcot in Walt Disney World. It was a moment of Zen amid an otherwise less-than-tranquil experience in one of the busiest, dizziest (and most humid) tourist destinations on the East Coast. Who knew the House of Mouse could offer such sage wisdom?

“On rainy days, be in the rain. On windy days, be in the wind.”

I understood the maxim’s message right away, as I was still in my honeymoon phase of my yoga and meditation practice and was obsessed with perfecting presence of mind.

What the magnet means is that when you are standing in rain, see it as just rain. No judgement, no attaching “good” or “bad” or “miserable” labels to the meteorological phenomenon. When it rains, be present; see it at its most basic state: water falling from the sky. And then just experience it in all its wet glory.

Same goes for the wind: I feel a strong rush of air pushing at my body and causing my hair to whip around my face. Wind is neither good nor bad; it is wind, and I am standing in it.

The thing is … it’s really hard to master that philosophy, mainly because of something called feeling.

Feeling is something humans are really good at. We have a deep capacity to love and fear and want and reject.

When we’re presented with a simple phenomenon, be it weather or meeting a new person or watching an animal out in nature, the act of observing is usually upstaged by our tendency to want to assign it an emotion or metaphor.

There is nothing wrong with this, but making the leap from observing to feeling can be tricky.

As 5Rhythms® teacher and Open Floor co-founder Lori Saltzman said, “Adding feeling and making meaning is the part that can bring us together … but also the part that gets us into trouble.”

Perspective is powerful.

I and several other dancers got to play around with this concept recently with Lori at her Write of Passage dance/writing workshop, which I attended in Charlottesville, Virginia.

For example, she offered: Imagine a young man in his 20s walking down the street in a hoodie. That’s the baseline, the observation. But one person may see this man as dangerous. Another person thinks, “Oh, what a hottie! I’d like to hook up with him.” And yet another person sees the same man and with a heavy heart thinks, “That’s my son.”

With that, Lori had us put on our “sacred reporter” hats, pull out our notebooks and pens, and observe a volunteer dancer posed in the middle of our circle.”Describe what you see,” Lori instructed, “but only what is right in front of you. I’m talking simple descriptions here—‘white legwarmers, tight ponytail.’ None of this ‘eternal feminine goddess’ stuff.”

We shouted out basic nouns and adjectives, phrases like “bent arms,” “aqua midriff,” “turned-in feet.”

The next step was to describe the volunteer dancer through verbs, action words: “sliding across the floor,” “reaching upward,” “undulating.”

A couple both dressed in purplish hues stepped into the circle. “Now, use metaphors to describe what you see,” Lori instructed. These dancers soon became “two loose grapes rolling around in the fruit bowl” and “grown-up children prancing outside on the playground.”

The final volunteer to step inside the circle was subject to four types of our reporting: basic description, action words, metaphors, and the delicate element of feeling. What type of feeling does this woman’s movement evoke in you? When you watch her move, what is she expressing?

Lori pushed us to be brave, to dare to be wrong in our interpretation. The human race in general can be so afraid to find feeling in another’s expression, because we are afraid of getting it wrong. Of thinking someone is sad when she isn’t really sad.

However, taking the leap and noticing that someone is mourning a loss or experiencing profound happiness—and letting him know that you see what he feels—can be liberating for that person. To be fully seen is a gift!

We drew a table with nine cells in our notebooks and as our volunteer danced, we filled each cell with one of those four types of observations. At the end of the exercise, we had a kind of “tic-tac-toetry” in front of us, short poetic verses compiled from a row of squares:

Notebook

“Hard-soled shoes tapping on the wood / ball of tenderness yearning to crack open / eyes begging.”

Eventually, we all became the moving volunteer, dancing our dance in groups of three as the two other group members took notes in the same fashion, this time on index cards.

When I was done dancing, my fellow group members slid several cards my way, each piece of paper containing a description of how my classmates saw me. There was my dance—me at my most honest—spread out in front of me.

Lori gave us time to sort through the cards, rearrange them a bit, remove a few, and edit slightly. The result was our poem. Here’s mine:

Here I Am.
Rolling it out, shaking it loose.
Letting go.
*Graceful fire*
I am integrated,
A wild child transformed into an aligned woman.
I Am Here.

The day’s lessons and exercises put me in such “sacred reporter” mode that my poetic perspective was in high gear, even off the dance floor.

When I returned to my host’s house that afternoon, I delighted in the fact that the blanket in the guest bedroom had been elegantly twisted and tucked into an abstract figure of the female form, a pear-shaped flow of fabric starting slender at the top and expanding into wider curves at the bottom.

I smiled and snapped a photo, thanking my partner for creating such a lovely work of bed art. He laughed.

“I didn’t do anything,” he said. “All I did was take a nap, and that’s how the blanket ended up.”

Image

Rain can be rain and a blanket can be a blanket. But sometimes the blanket is an abstract goddess, and we shouldn’t be afraid to say it how we see it.

The power of perspective.

If I had known about the 5Rhythms® practice back when I was in high school, I’d be all over Lyrical, man.

I was such a Lyrical creature in my adolescent stage. Proof:

(1) My first America Online screen name was derived from Shakespeare’s most renowned romantic tragedy (just call me Juliet204, please).

(2) I borrowed my 10th grade English teacher’s copy of her A Tale of Two Cities video (PBS edition, baby!) to watch at home (at least twice, and that’s not including the in-class viewing) because I was in love with the love that Sydney Carton represented.

(3) I turned an English class assignment about A Separate Peace into an interpretive dance.

(4) Sometimes instead of going out with friends on Friday nights, I’d opt to crank up Yanni in my Acropolis, err living room and play “Reflections of Passion” on repeat.

There were other notes of Lyrical, of course (mostly involving scads of poetry and an obsession with sonnets, haiku, and the novel Rebecca), but perhaps the biggest indicator of my Lyrical tendencies was my love of, well… lyrical.

Lyrical dance, that is.

Back in the 1990s, my dance education in the small-town studios of South Jersey was usually limited to the basic menu of ballet, tap, and jazz styles. The fluid-like, emotion-packed genre of lyrical was just emerging in my area, and my initial experience with it was through watching dance competitions I videotaped on TV.

These girls with their loose, un-bunned hair and long flowy skirts and bare feet! Their songs with words and lyrics that made my heart weep!

I had only learned to stuff my feet into pointe shoes just a few years prior, but about the time I got my first period I was yearning to see what soft marley felt like under my toes instead. I wanted to wear footless tights. I wanted to untie my French braid and let my strawberry-blond locks tumble dramatically past my shoulders.

Most of all, I was interested in expressing my beloved writing medium—poetry—as a dance form.

I loved the power and punch of jazz dancing, but the more classic literature I read in high school (coupled with the sudden onslaught of female hormones), the less interested I became in executing knee-to-nose hitch kicks across the dance studio floor.

I wanted depth. I wanted feeling. I wanted to emote.

I was already kind of an odd bird at my dance studio, the way I was rigidly disciplined with my time and my secret love of a strict ballet teacher that everyone else hated.

So it wasn’t much of a surprise, then, that my senior year of high school, when I was invited to participate in a special performance for graduating students, instead of doing what all the cool kids had done in the past and voting to learn a super-awesome explosive heart-thumping jazz routine in a slinky, sexy, sequined costume, I politely requested that our group of 17- and 18-year-old girls dance a sweet and elegant lyrical routine.

And not just any lyrical routine. I requested that we dance to Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind.”

The year was 1998, and it was only the summer before that Princess Diana had passed away. Her death was a sentimental sensation, especially for tenderhearted Lyrical creatures like myself who responded to the tragedy by crafting poems and prose about the late princess.

To me, my request made so much sense. The theme of the dance recital that year was “international travel,” with each song to represent an area of the world. Elton John + Lady Di + OMG that tearjerker performance at Westminster Abbey = hello, United Kingdom!

And our graduating group of dancers included four young women transitioning from high school to college. Weren’t they too bursting with hormones and notions of romance and an ache to pour their maturing hearts onto the stage?

No, no they weren’t.

They raised their eyebrows at me when I so passionately proposed my suggestion to the dance studio director, and their reactions were even less forgiving when my suggestion was accepted.

I felt bad. The other girls took their distaste out on the dance teacher by coming to rehearsals in baggy sweats and rarely putting any effort into their movement.

I knew they had wanted techno. Pizzazz. Flashy and sassy. If 5Rhythms had been part of our language back then, they would have been Staccato, for sure.

Me in one of my jazz (Staccato) costumes.

Me in one of my jazz (Staccato) costumes.

But we had been served Lyrical, and I lapped it up.

Footless tights? Check. My hair stayed in a bun, but we clipped a red flower to our white satin skirts to represent England’s rose. My mother and grandmother cried during the performance and each time they watched the routine on video, and will probably cry reading this as well.

The most important thing, however, was that I got to dance my poetry. I got my Lyrical.

P1030952

I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning to find my rhythm. No, not just find my rhythm but be it.

My Flowing exploration helped me understand my sensitive nature and navigate why I wanted to dance this piece.

My Staccato energy pushed me to approach the studio director and present my suggestion.

My Chaos was the emotional drama I felt after rehearsals when I knew my peers hated my decision that had cost them their super-cool jazz routine.

My Lyrical was the dance.

And finally, My Stillness was the moment after curtain call when I realized my dance hobby had developed into a true passion.

Sevenoaks...Ahhh

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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