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Tomorrow afternoon I’m attending a “Healing and Feeling” drum circle at a local yoga studio, so in honor of the event, today’s flashback will rewind to my very first drum circle in June 2007.

I fell in love with the sound of African drums back at Kripalu, when every Saturday the in-house ensemble KDZ would play live for the noon-time YogaDance class. There’s something about a drumbeat that is so human and primal, and my body reacts to the sound the way a moth does to light: It’s just mesmerized, completely sucked into the beauty. Other than a brief violin stint in 4th grade, two years of clarinet practice in elementary school, and a year or so learning how to play Hawaiian percussion instruments while trying to hula at the same time (“I Was a Hula Dancer,” coming soon to Flashback Friday), I do not have any musical training, but that didn’t stop me from buying an African djembe and bongo. I had been eyeing the instruments at Target’s Global Marketplace (man, I miss that!), and every week I’d hem and haw over whether to buy them. Then they went on clearance, and so they were mine. I’ve since upgraded to a better-sounding djembe with a fancy silver finish, and although I don’t get to drum circles as often as I’d like, I do bust out my djem-baby every so often to play along with an Alanis song or just take out my frustrations on a giant metallic goblet.

"Rock-a-bye djembaby..."

 

The following is an account of my very first drum circle, taken from my old journal:

Back in February, I bought my first set of djembes, and last night was my first opportunity to bust them out of the house and jam with others.

My yoga studio hosted a drum circle to celebrate the summer solstice, and I even got my Old Job friend, Carrol, to come with me. There were a few guys with drumming/percussion backgrounds who kicked off the music and helped sustain the rhythm, and they were wild to watch. Carrol and I dubbed the one guy “the Flatley of fingers,” because his hands were slapping off that drum as rapidly as Michael Flatley’s Irish feet flap on the stage. Everyone had a djembe or bongos, but there were also cowbells, wooden blocks, chimes, maracas, and foot bells to go around. We spread out all over the floor, left the front and back doors wide open, and let loose.

It was mad fun, and our music attracted curious stares and smiles from dozens of passersby strolling along the main road after their fancy dinners. One guy with his family stepped in, sat on the floor for a few minutes and his baby daughter bounced in the doorway, and then just got up and left. People stopped at the red light on the corner rolled down their windows and craned their necks to see what kind of craziness was brewing inside. For once, we were making the noise. At the yoga studio, there’s always some kind of “distracting” noises around us–the open mic night at the coffee shop next door, car horns, idling Wawa delivery trucks, gunning motorcycles, people who stand right outside the studio doors and have a 10-minute long cell phone conversation–so it felt awesome to be the “distractors” last night and make so much commotion that all of those things above could have been going on, and we would have never even realized it.

Halfway through, I felt compelled to get up and dance (of course), and I did my thing, getting lost in the music, stamping, rocking, swaying, spinning. Before they guys started the next jam, I suggested that we sit in silence for a minute, just to appreciate the sound by sitting without it for a while. It was a different kind of silence, because our ears were still buzzing from the last song. Our feet were still bouncing, our hands still moving as though there was still music. At my request, the guys started the next song r-e-a-l-l-y slowly, first just one guy playing a heartbeat rhythm, and then, one-by-one everyone delicately chiming in, bit by bit, until the fire began to grow, and an explosion of sound eventually shot out.

I couldn’t resist dancing again, so up I went. This time it was trance dance, and I allowed the music to do whatever it wanted with my body; I was keeping the mind out of it. I felt like I was a spectator of my own dancing, amazed at how my movements flowed along from one beat to the next, changing patterns and shifting directions without me calling any of the shots. I was integrated, man!

Some guy from the street starting jamming in the doorway. He put down his backpack and then started grooving in the entrance, until he came all the way inside and was dancing with the rest of us. (By now, at least three other people had joined me on the dance floor!) At first I thought Street Guy was a musician or something, because he seemed to be doing these weird moves like he was understanding every iota of sound. But then as he started to dance more, I realized, no, This guy is actually crazy. He started getting really close to me, so one of the yoga teachers, god bless her soul, started dancing like a wild woman between us, her limbs flying all over the place to break us up. He stayed for the remaining 10 minutes, and Carrol and I swear he was on ‘shrooms.

I was a flaming ball of sweat afterwards, and then Carrol, who publishes an art magazine, told me I should do a story about the event. Before I knew it, I had her reporter’s notebook and pen in my hand and was firing questions at the drummers and participants. I know I’m still a journalist at heart when awesome quotes send chills down my spine and get the pen running across the paper at 100 miles per hour.

One of my favorite lines from that article: The sound in a drum circle is never static–it’s more like the ocean: still at times, raging at others. An unseen force of nature quickens the tempo and changes the rhythm, and without thinking too much about it, your hands and fingers follow the flow to keep up.

Bass! Tone! Slap!

Hey, so today it’s 50 degrees outside, cold and rainy, and by Monday it’s supposed to be 84. Springtime in the Northeast is so schizophrenic!

However, whatever the weather, you can probably expect to see me outside, getting my walk on.

I work in an office and spend most of my day in front of a computer or hunched over articles, proofreading. Antsy by nature, this kind of work style kills me. I take a bajillion breaks over the course of 8 hours to stretch, spill granola all over my desk instead of in my yogurt cup, do hand exercises, and even sometimes sneak in some tai chi in the bathroom, but all of those combined do not surpass the stress-busting and muscle-stretching relief that is walking.

I’ve been taking daily walking breaks since my first office job out of college. Fortunately, back then I worked in a super-cutesy small town that boasted a main street lined with a Starbucks, sandwich shops, artsy-fartsy studios, and other fun window-shopping storefronts. I could step out of the office for a 5-minute jaunt around the block and be in the company of dog-walkers, baby stroller-pushers, coffee-chugging executives, and tea-sipping grandmoms. It was a downtown–everyone was walking! During my lunch break, when my other coworkers ordered pizza and stayed inside, I’d take my bag lunch and walk a mile roundtrip to an off-the-beaten-path park I called my “secret garden.” A lot of my old job assignments back then required walking, and I had no problem heading out to the streets to interview community members or scour the local bulletin boards.

My current job doesn’t have that much flexibility, and unfortunately I’m no longer surrounded by cafes and libraries–just a Dunkin Donuts, a church, and a fenced-off field that attracts deer and wild turkeys. With my office only a mile or so off the interstate highway, there is no such thing as “going around the block.”

“WHAT THE HECK DO YOU DO DURING LUNCH?!?!?!” I asked my new coworkers when I first started, panicked. My boss stayed inside and worked during lunch. My other colleague drove home. Everyone else either sat at their desk and played on the computer/read or drove somewhere to pick up a lunch they ate back at their desks. Some people ran their car engines for a whole hour just so they could eat their sandwich and soda while sitting in an air-conditioned Camry.

I tried to be sociable at first, sitting in the cafeteria with colleagues or going out to the diner with some coworkers, but by 3 p.m. I felt like I had ants in my pants. I just wanted to MOVE! It was torture sitting at a desk for 3.5 hours in the morning, then sitting in the lunchroom, and then returning to my desk for another 4 hours of sitting. Some Fridays my mom would invite me out to dinner and a show after work, and that was TORTURE! Sitting at work all day, followed by sitting in a restaurant, followed by another 3 hours of sitting in a cramped theater seat?! I’m not gonna lie, there were times I’d rush to the gym after work so I could fit in a few minutes on the treadmill before having to meet my mom or when I’d pick a restaurant only a few miles from my house so I could walk there instead of driving.

Eventually I discovered that my office was only a 2-mile drive from a municipal park with not just a walking path but a wooded trail and one of those fitness circuits. And thus began my new lunch break routine. I was amazed that of my office of almost 200 people, I rarely saw any other coworkers in the park! Nowadays, due to high gas prices and the time to travel to and from the park, I spend my lunch breaks across the street from my office, walking “the loop” around a housing community for seniors 55+. It’s definitely not as stimulating as the park, but the entire development, including all of its cul-de-sacs, is a little over a mile and takes exactly a half hour to walk. Even better, you can still walk the loop the day after a snowstorm because the management hires a grounds crew that shovels and salts the sidewalks!

Taking a walking break during Snowpocalypse 2010

And yeah, I DO walk the loop the day after a snowstorm because once you start a streak it’s hard to break it, especially when your body becomes dependent on 12:30 p.m. walking breaks the same way my brain requires 8 a.m. coffee.

I’m not quite up to mailman-level with my walking (the whole 6 days per week, rain-sleet-snow) thing, but I do try to get outside daily and usually only break the streak for downpours, extreme wind, temperatures below 20 or above 90, icy sidewalks, and on really, really bad hip days. Coworkers come out of the woodwork on suddenly-sunny 65-degree days in March to walk the loop, but only three of us (myself, my cubicle crony Amanda, and some guy we know works at our company but we’re not sure who he is or what he does) swap our work shoes for sneakers winter, spring, summer, and fall. On bad weather days, I’ll try to escape to a meeting room during lunch and do laps around the conference table, push-ups, jumping jacks…anything to get the blood flowing. I have noticed that on days I skip out on either outside walks or conference table laps, my legs feel bloated and achy, and my whole body down to the core feels cold–not even a mug of hot tea will warm me up.

I’m so fanatical about my walks that if a coworker wants to go out to lunch, I’ll check Accuweather beforehand and schedule our lunch date on the day with the worst weather forecast just so I won’t feel bad about skipping “the loop.” And even if I really, really, really like a fellow coworker, I will dreaddddd going to her baby/wedding shower if it is scheduled during my beloved walking time.

However, there may be someone even more fanatical than me–my husband. His new employer, realizing the benefits of exercise, provides a walking initiative that rewards employees for achieving so many steps per day, measured via pedometer. Bryan wears the company-issued pedometer like its his job from morning (yes, he clips it onto his pajama pants) through night, trying to attain the recommended 7,000 steps per day. He uploads the data every few days and gets perks like discounts in return. This guy is so dedicated that on days he is short of missing the mark, he’ll loop around the mall for some extra mileage or pace around the house at 11 at night…at which point I tell him to either grab a dust rag or the vacuum and kill two birds with one stone.

Because my bum hip prevents me from doing things like using the elliptical or running, I depend on walking a lot as my main form of exercise. I took a personal day today and had a hair appointment at 10, but I woke up early enough so I could fit in a 4-mile walk before breakfast (and before the rain came our way). On days that I know are going to be heavy on the sitting (e.g., Thanksgiving, Christmas), I’ll be sure to get in a long walk before driving over the river and through the woods.

Walking isn’t always easy, especially if you’re aiming for more than 5 miles and don’t have the luxury of walking along the shoreline, through exciting areas like Manhattan, or through a scenic wooded trail. Sometimes walking around my neighborhood is just plain boring, no matter how many times I tell myself to breathe deeply, live in the moment, and soak in the wonderment of everything around me. I live in the suburbs–it’s bungalow after bungalow after bungalow. Chain-link fences, vinyl siding, crooked sidewalks, shady houses with Christmas decorations still up in April. Sometimes I’ll try to go where there is more nature, but most of time all that means is more geese poo on my sneakers when I come home.

My question for you, then, is what are some tips to making the most out of walking? How do you turn a ho-hum activity into something enjoyable, especially on those 40-degree days with a 30-degree wind chill? What I’ve found works for me is walking with friends (provided we match pace), listening to NPR podcasts on my iPod Nano (Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me is my favorite), reading a magazine simultaneously (provided the path is relatively flat and obstacle free), and using Nordic walking poles (or as my husband calls them, my invisible skis). I used to carry handweights but found out that throws off your center of gravity, and I’ve stopped wearing ankle weights too, since that was NOT helping my hip situation. I’ve read that weighted vests are the “weigh” to go since they don’t alter your form; I’m very curious about them, but they’re kind of pricey and I want to be sure they’re worth it.

Sometimes when I’m really deep in practice, I’ll have very intense COLOR experiences. Does anyone else have these?

I haven’t had them in a while, but then last night during my scrumptiously sweaty hot vinyasa class–out of nowhere–the color green smacked me between the eyes as I was lying on my back in a modified hip stretch. The color presented itself through very specific green images–the front of the old Clover store (a predecessor of Target) my mom used to drag me when I was a kid, and my dad’s work uniform. What’s so interesting about the experience is that I wasn’t thinking about either of these two things–or anything related–like, ever. And I was so focused on my movement and breath during the posture that I wasn’t expecting to have a “vision.” It totally just snuck up on me, and I could almost physically feel the experience hit me in my third eye and solar plexus. Without warning, I got kind of sad too. Was it just a color experience, or were the images representative of the relationship with my parents as well? This all occurred during a hip stretch, not a heart-opener, which I would expect to generate green images (heart chakra = green).

For example, one of my first experiences with color came in a kundalini class during spinal rocking, when we sit in “rock” position (vajrasana) with hands on thighs, rocking our spines back and forth while silently chanting Sat Nam. My upper back, the thoracic region, warmed up quickly, and the color green was very dominant. I saw green sludge ooze like ectoplasam behind my eyelids, a dark , almost forest green. Sludgy, slimy green. The other pose in which I witnessed vivid color was during a squat, with our arms wrapped around our legs from the inside out. We kept our heads up and did breath of fire. I saw aqua, the Genie from Aladdin aqua. In fact, I saw the Genie himself, too. Years ago, I saw yellow during hip openers, and then saw Tarzan‘s Jane (what’s with the cartoon characters?) float by in her pouffy yellow dress.

I’m still not entirely sure what last night’s flash of green meant, but I was excited to have the experience because it’s been a while since I’ve had such a vivid burst like that. I could go into the very vivid (and totally random) image of the Korean War Memorial that popped into my brain and made me cry during last week’s 5Rhythms class, but that’s a whole other post.

It never fails: Any time there is birthday cake or brownies or something similar here at work, I’ll take a slice/square/dish, tell myself “This is HUGE! I’ll just eat half,” and then 3 minutes later my plate is empty.

My husband and I have this ongoing joke about me being a velociraptor; it started out because my stomach sometimes makes screeching noises that sound like a killer dinosaur, but the fact is, I think I’m actually cold blooded.

Unless the temperature is a steady 73-75 degrees, at least one body part of mine is always chilly. It can be a beautiful 70-degree day but my hands feel as though I’m working the graveyard shift in the freezer section at Wegmans. I wear my Land’s End “sleeping bag” coat steadily from November through March, and I’m pretty sure last year we had flannel sheets on our bed well past the first day of spring. A body temperature of 98.6 is most likely a fever for me, and my bare feet on a winter’s night in January can be used as weapons.

So you can imagine how excited I was last year when a new hot yoga studio opened right around the corner from my workplace. The fact that a yoga studio period had opened by my office was a miracle, considering that some of the only other signs of civilization in the vicinity are a doughnut shop, a cheesesteak joint, and a liquor store. Oil refineries are pretty popular too. But a yoga teacher was bold enough to set up shop in the area, and, clearly thinking of me, she decided that doing yoga at temperatures at or hovering near the three-digit mark is perfectly normal and acceptable.

It’s no secret that the human body moves more freely in warm environments, but since I’m also part reptile it takes more heat than normal to thaw my claws. I’m amazed at how many yoga studios still follow the “Winter: Heater, Summer: Air Conditioner” mentality, and I have actually “broken up” with yoga studios due to climate control issues. One studio’s a/c vents were level with the floor, which meant that during warm-ups (I use that term loosely) and savasana, I was getting blown in the face and feet with cold air. Another studio insisted on running both the a/c and about three high-speed overhead fans; because the class was gentle in nature, I spent the entire 75 minutes covered in goosebumps, desperately hoping the teacher would throw in some energizing kapalabhati breath.

Ideally, the yoga studio should NOT be a place where you want to use the blankets as Snuggies. And just because it’s called corpse pose doesn’t mean my feet should look like dead fish during savasana.

When I’m chilly or cold, all of my physical and mental energy goes toward trying to stay warm. But practicing yoga, dancing, or meditating in a warm climate frees up that energy, allowing me to sink into a deeper practice quicker and easier. Walking into a warm yoga studio is like using your car’s remote ignition on a frigid February morning 10 minutes before you need to leave. You just slip in, and ahhhhhhh. No need to wear socks the first 15 minutes of class.

The first class I tried at the new studio by my office was Bikram style. I wanted heat? I got heat—all 105 degrees of it. I’ll admit it was a little shocking to be sweating from my shins only 10 minutes into class and leaving the studio feeling as though I just took a bath in a tub full of perspiration, but I was in my glory. I dove head-first into Bikram for a few months, soon being able to differentiate a chilly 99 degrees from a just-right 105, but eventually The Hip made me seek something less focused on physicality. Luckily, the same yoga studio offers a hot vinyasa class, and the combination of flow, music, heart, and heat hadand still hasme hooked.

Some people love hot yoga for the “detox” nature of it, the promise of eliminating toxins via perspiration, and just the whole sweating = weight loss association, but for me being hot puts me in “zone.” It’s a little bit of chemistrywith just the right amount of breath, sweat, and flow, a reaction occurs and I am transported just a little deeper into my practice. Add some music to the equation, and sometimes my inner dance morphs into a trance. I am mesmerized, completely in connection with my body. My hair has slipped out of its braid and is plastered all over my neck and shoulders, but it means nothing to me. Sweat droplets fall from my armpits onto my mat and I do not flinch. I am bound in extended side angle and I know some students are moving onto to Bird of Paradise, but on my mat, on my little planet, I am stretching my heart to the ceiling and feeling pretty darn good.

We drop to our bellies, and I feel like a wet plastic bag sticking to the ground, but my legs are firm, my core is engaged, and our backbend poses become an almost sensual series of rising and falling. I keep a steady drishti. Sweat runs from my upper lip into my mouth; I’m not losing fuelthe sweat IS my fuel.

Heat makes it very easy for me to open upphysically and emotionallybut as someone with hyperflexible joints, I do have to be cautious of taking things too far during class. Sometimes the heat dulls my “warning” cues, and I may be too far into a stretch before realizing I shouldn’t really be there. Especially with my hip, I really shouldn’t be doing seated forward bends with external rotation (e.g., janu sirsasana) without support under the bent leg; I have to remind myself not to let the heat make me overconfident.

Before the hot yoga studio came along, my opportunities for a good, sweaty yoga class were usually limited to the months of June through September. Yoga in the winter meant socks on my feet, more layers than a bean dip, and minutes of mental preparation to disrobe in the locker room. But now, thanks to the little business sandwiched between a hair salon and a tax preparation office, this little velociraptor is slowly turning human again (although I’ll still be wearing my sleeping bag coat through Easter).

Woah, it looks like springtime is the start of cool workshop season! Aside from my regular weekly hot vinyasa and kundalini classes, my mind-body-spirit calendar now includes:

– Kundalini workshop (March 12).
– 5Rhythms (2nd Sunday) class (March 13).
– 5Rhythms (4th Friday) class (March 25).
– Biodanza workshop (March 26).
– 5Rhythms “Heartbeat” workshop (April 1 & 2)
– African drumming Workshop (April 9).

This Biodanza workshop really has me intrigued. According to the website, “Biodanza is a movement based system that integrates music, dance and authentic relationships with self, others, and the world to support health, joy and a sense of being fully alive.” Sounds right up my alley!

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in another kind of yoga/dance class, appropriately titled YogaDance. I was so skeptical going into it, because (a) it was being held at my gym (cardio! sweat! burn!), and (b) the woman who was leading the class just did not strike me as a “YogaDance” person. I’ve taken other forms of YogaDance before, and she and it just do not go together.

I was upset with myself for entering the class with so much resistance. My brain wouldn’t shut up: You’re going to hate this. It isn’t 5Rhythms. You won’t be allowed to move the way you want. No one understands the way you want to move. I guess it’s good that at least I was aware of the resistance, although it was completely unwarranted and juvenile.

After a general warm-up, the class consisted of three different routines, all structured around yoga postures. For example, we’d stand in Warrior I and move our torso and arms down and up, down and up, down and up; a few dancey moves to transition; and then flow sideways into Warrior II three times with choreographed arms. Everything was done on a beat, and although we were instructed to “move our arms out to the side,” for example, we could execute that movement however we wanted, infusing our own personality into the moves.

After letting the monkey mind chatter away for a few minutes (“How I shun structure!” “I can’t believe we’re being told how to move!” “How ridiculous is it do be doing yoga on a count!”), I began to realize that I really liked what we were doing; in fact, I had even previously considered developing a program like it myself after I graduated from YTT and yearned to teach some kind of yoga/dance blend. As a dancer, the addition of music while doing yoga makes the practice so much more fluid and deep. And turning static yoga postures into a continuous flow is an integral part of Kripalu yoga, and something I do myself at home! I’ll stand in Warrior I with arms overhead and then straighten the front leg while bringing the arms to anjali mudra at my heart, switching back and forth between these two postures in my own personal dance. On days when I’m feeling frisky, I’ll dance from Warrior II to Half-Moon Pose, my arms tracing a semi-circle overhead.

I was sweating after class, but in many ways the hour-long class was more gentle than other yoga classes, and was probably more forgiving for yoga newbies, I think. Because we were constantly moving in and out of the yoga poses, there was no imperative that our “right foot be here” or our “arms to be straight like this,” and the freedom to express the postures in our own way lifted any mental blocks we had about “being right.” I especially appreciated this liberation, because I can’t do several postures the “right” (read: yoga model) way due to my hip. Also, sometimes holding a posture for too long will aggravate my hip, whereas moving in and out of a posture isn’t so bad.

One thing that was a bit weird at first was the mirror factor. The 5Rhythms classes I do discourage you from looking in the mirror; in fact, the one studio doesn’t even have mirrors. Despite being dependent on my reflection from Pre-K dance classes in 1983 up until just a few years agos, doing 5Rhythms on a regular basis has really gotten me comfortable with feeling my movement rather than seeing (and judging) it. So it was a little jarring to be taking a yoga-based movement class and be required to face the mirror the whole time. Even when the instructor encouraged us to “do our own thing,” it was sometimes too easy to just look in the mirror and mimic whatever the teacher was doing, or to look in the mirror and be displeased with “your own thing” looked like. However, after the initial fear, I found a way to look beyond the reflection in front of me, instead casting my eyes downward, finding a drishti, or looking in the mirror in a kind of “blurry” way, not really focused on anything. The times when I did catch my reflection, I felt a kind of peace and contentment that, in the past, mirrors generally never provided. I wasn’t judging or correcting or praising. I just noticed. And kept on moving.
What really set me straight was the fact that I was dancing behind a young woman who had some kind of physical and/or developmental disability (possibly cerebral palsy?) that caused her moves to be spastic and her limbs akimbo. She was there with her mother, and every few minutes after doing the routine, she’d turn to her mom, beaming, saying “I did it! I think I got it!” and go back at it. She stood in the front row (which for most people is terrifying), her arms crooked when ours were straight, her legs shaking when ours were firm, her lips in a smile when ours were pursed in concentration. Take note, Iyengar: Now that’s what I call a true Warrior pose.

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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