Open on Beach

I stood in the center of the yoga studio, arms wide open, chest expanded, head arched back and face directed toward the ceiling, imaginary rays of light emanating from my pores.

“Yes, that’s right,” my 5Rhythms instructor Richard said, observing the class. “Continue to move your body into a shape of being open, being receptive.”

I obliged. This felt good. My body loved standing this way, stretching upward and outward. I wasn’t even actively thinking about shapes or poses or where to place my arms and legs next. They just moved, stretching out like sunbeams. I could take deep breaths, I could relax, I could…

“Now, how does expansion transition to contraction?” Richard offered. “Move to a shape of being closed.”

Closed? You’re asking me to move from this luxurious feeling of openness to being shut down and closed?


OK, body, my brain reluctantly commanded my muscles. Listen to the teacher and move inward.

[body refuses to respond]

Um, body?? You heard Richard. We’re supposed to be doing “closed” moves now. Why are you still standing so upright and open? Do something different! Bend down! Curl into a ball!

…But my body would not acquiesce.

In fact, the mere thought of curling a finger toward my palm or bowing my head to my feet sent energetic red flags throughout my system. No no no no.

I stayed standing, my arms never coming down from above my head. The only thing that was closed were my eyes, so I wasn’t able to see my classmates do what I could not.

I did not want to close. In that moment, the request was like asking a mother to withdraw her outstretched arms as her newborn infant is placed in front of her. How could I? Why would I want to?

I’ve done this exercise numerous times in 5Rhythms classes. It’s one of the simplest ways to play with polarities and help 5Rhythms newcomers explore new ways to move. It’s never posed such a problem for me, but that night my body talked.

My body was saying, I’m tiring of retreating and contracting. I love openness, and that is where I want to be. I want to relish this receptivity, I want to continue spreading my arms, I want to embrace freedom. Don’t tell me to close down. Don’t tell me to be small and shrink and shrivel back into hibernation.

I have a quote from 5Rhythms teachers Sara Pagano hanging on my cubicle wall at work. I’ve never danced with Sara before, but I understand her words:

“Our bodies cannot lie. Our bodies will continue to express the truth. And our dance wants nothing more than to bring us home, into the truth of our hearts.”

5Rhythms is not a game of Simon Says. Sometimes a teacher gives an instruction that the body just cannot follow, not because of physical limitations, disability, or injury but because body language is the most basic litmus test of what’s cookin’ inside. It’s why doing Camel pose in yoga is incredibly difficult if you’re protecting your heart and why sexual trauma victims cringe at the thought of doing the wide-legged Happy Baby/Dead Bug posture.

Alternately, when we’re not really sure what’s going on inside, listening to our bodies can be a valuable source of information.

Sometimes it whispers. Sometimes it screams. And sometimes it just begs to remain open.