I think there’s some kind of universal phenomenon that when you’re by yourself, wearily and contemplatively driving down an empty road in the middle of the night, whenever you decide to click on the radio, the song that comes to life will be speaking EXACTLY to you. Even if it’s Nickelback or Carly Rae Jepsen or some awful modern-day remix of a song from the ’60s you used to love…somehow, in your vulnerable and delirious state of mind, that song is suddenly the most significant ballad of your current life. You nod along, yelling an emotional “Yeah!” to the deserted road, alternating between laughing giddily at the appropriateness of every word and sobbing between the bridge and the final verse.
I’m really bad at following modern music, so I didn’t know anything about “my” song the other night/morning, except that I had heard it played a lot during the Olympics. Google has since informed me that the song was “Home,” by Phillip Phillips:
Hold on to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
Cause I’m going to make this place your home
OK, so, in all honestly, these lyrics are nothing amazing. Road metaphors? “You’re not alone”? Song Clichés 101. But again, at eleventy-baglock in the morning, Phillip Phillips had become my personal troubadour. Clearly, he had worked with the universe to get his song to play on my car stereo the very moment my desperate hand reached for the radio button.
A 5Rhythms class with Peter Fodera earlier in the day (a Waves class, too. See line 3 of the song. THE RADIO GODS KNOW.) had put me in this state. Peter had spent some time using new direction with us, material from a “Threshold/Gateway” workshop he’s recently developed.
Every journey begins with the first step, and often taking that first step through the threshold is the most difficult part of the journey. Gateways are often guarded by challenges or difficulties that we have to overcome in order to continue down the path. Beginnings take a great deal of faith and surrender.
As a way of getting us to take these first steps into each rhythm mindfully and with clarity, Peter abandoned the traditional 5Rhythms structure of transitioning seamlessly from one rhythm into another and instead stopped and started the music for each rhythm, giving us specific instruction for beginning each one. With his use of the word “threshold,” I kept thinking of a house, each room being one of the rhythms. What Peter was having us do was enter each room with a new perspective, maybe opening the front door with gratitude and appreciation instead of flinging it open in a mad rush.
- For Flowing, Peter scattered rubber snakes all over the floor as a reminder of staying grounded, the way snakes are. We were to dance only with our feet—no arms—with instruction to be aware of the snakes but not to pay attention to them.
- For Staccato, Peter cranked up a thumping, throbbing, bass-filled song and instructed us not to move. When we were allowed to move, it was only briefly, before we were asked to come to stillness again. It was torture! However, the lesson was clear: True Staccato emerges only when you give it time to speak, when its message is fully developed and ready to scream out to the world. As much as I wanted to shift into Staccato the second I heard that music, being still and giving things time to stir inside made the eventual hip-centric dance more intensely powerful than anything I would’ve done straight out of Flowing.
- In Chaos, we were encouraged to let go of our heads, maybe even positioning ourselves on hands and knees and just letting the head go wild. I was at first resistant to this instruction, but when the wild music started, I had a vision of me standing in front of an out-of-control train, headlight blinding me, the engine roar growing louder and louder. It was so vivid that it dropped me to my knees, and then there I was, on my hands and knees, giving in to Chaos.
- Lyrical, a rhythm for which I tend to use my whole body, was initiated with instruction to dance from the fingers and hands. Any other day, I wouldn’t have liked this specificity, but given that Chaos had rendered me a sweaty, sprawled out mess on the gritty wood floor, I was OK with letting my torso and legs remain dead weight and my fingers do all the work. I eventually got off the ground and found myself engaged in a wonderfully lighthearted ballet guided by my hands.
- In Stillness, the focus is on the breath. Peter instructed us to be mindful of our inhales and exhales, maybe only moving on one or the other. This was a good lesson for me, because sometimes my Stillnesses are so poignant that I hold all the emotion in my throat and forget to breathe.
So here we were, crossing these thresholds in an attempt to come home in our bodies. However, even in a house/practice you are so familiar with, sometimes entering the room/rhythm in a new way or different manner throws things askew. How refreshing it is to step into your kitchen on a Sunday morning, coffee in hand, breakfast on the table? But what if you enter that same kitchen in a distracted tizzy, grocery bags flying everywhere as you attempt to put everything away in 5 seconds before you have to rush out the door again?
Changing up the manner in which you approach a rhythm can make the whole house feel like it’s falling down. I’ve always seen Stillness as the sturdy foundation of my dance but during Saturday’s class I felt more like I had descended into the heart of my home, the basement, without a flashlight. I was still in the same place—the deepest spot of my home, an earthen room of quietness where heat and electricity originate—but without that flashlight I felt lost in my own home. I got scared. The breath didn’t flow as easily, and I could feel my body tighten and tremble. I tried to feel my way around and remind myself where I was; every now and then I got glimpses of daylight, but I allowed the fear to overcome me. My Stillness shifted into uncontrollable shaking and sweating, an unnerving vibration coursing through my center like a furnace ready to blow.
It was one of the few times during a class that I wanted to exit the floor. I was facing so much resistance; emotions and thoughts were getting the best of me. However, two things kept me planted:
1. Like the song lyrics from above, I knew that everyone there with me was on an unfamiliar road. None of was alone; we were all there for each other. It was a safe place, a space for openness and exploration, a metaphorical group home for our souls and spirits to grow, heal, and learn.
2. As a Kripalu yoga teacher, I am very familiar with the practice’s philosophy of “BRFWA“: Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow, the five steps to handling any kind of strong emotions or physical sensations. I dealt with a very similar situation during a yoga class in 2006; the recommendation is to simply ride the wave.
So I stayed in the basement that Saturday afternoon in Stillness, BRFWAing through the unease rather than running out the cellar door. If I ran away, my dance—my home—wouldn’t be complete, despite its internal tremblings and instability. I simply wanted to be there to the end.