I know winter is typically the season for hibernation, but for me summer seemed like the right time to let my blog sleep tight and go dormant.

This is not to say that I was in hibernation mode myself; quite the contrary, but I was faced with the age-old blogger’s dilemma of striking a balance between fully experiencing real life mindfully and that of perpetually living with a documentarian’s mind and sacrificing a portion of my brain functioning to taking notes for the future.

After I returned from the Virginia dance retreat in early July, things slowed down—a bit. Some classes went on hiatus for the summer, yet others kept on trucking, like the every-fourth-Friday 5Rhythms class in South Jersey.

During the July class—held just days before my birthday—a record number of students showed up—close to 20, when classes there normally brought in no more than 12. I was beaming for the full 2 hours, secretly convinced the universe had brought in all those people for me to dance with. Bless his heart, Richard, for continuing to make the drive from Baltimore every month to teach our motley crew, especially that night he got stuck in traffic for 3.5 hours.

And to take the place of some classes that paused for the summer, new offerings emerged, such as the monthly ecstatic dance classes I’ve been facilitating in central Jersey.

(I’ve actually been doing that since March but wanted to keep mum about it until I had reached a certain level of confidence in my leadership role.)

We started in a narrow yoga studio above an antiques shop and have expanded to an amazingly spacious karate studio with forgiving padded floors and a killer sound system. Each class is followed by a potluck dinner, and although I typically loathe the word “fellowship,” we have lots of it going on. And it’s pretty darn sweet.

I took my show on the road earlier this month and led a class at my friend Rhonda’s yoga studio—the studio in which I took my very first 5Rhythms class. I was honored to be invited to teach in a space that is so revered for me, and there’s promise that it will become a regular thing, along with opportunities here and there to work with children as well. Wow.

A few weeks went by where I had no 5Rhythms at all and felt its absence; then in August, my Philadelphia tribe held a full-day workshop with our group’s founder, Rivi Diamond, and recharged me. I danced intimately with a chair that afternoon, a sensual human-furniture friendship that emerged simply from me needing to get off my feet for a while.

And when I wasn’t dancing a Wave I was crashing into them; literally, throwing myself head-first into the salty sea caps that swelled from the Atlantic Ocean onto the Jersey shore. How is it that I’m 33 years old and never knew the secret of surviving big waves? Riding them out gets my swimsuit in a bunch and salt water in my orifices, whereas taking the wave head-on like a boss results in peace and tranquility. Seems counterintuitive, but perhaps there’s a 5Rhythms metaphor somewhere in there.

That all said, I’m banking on FlowtationDevices stirring from slumber in the next couple of weeks, emerging for air and ready to spill words forth onto these electronic pages.

It seems a fitting time, based solely on the fact that one of my last early-summer posts was about trekking to Virginia for a workshop with 5Rhythms teacher Amara Pagano—and now, 3 months later, I’m off to yet another one of her workshops with my home tribe.

Amara_BodyPrayer

A whole season, several steps, few words, and two Amaras. Full circle!

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Sometimes a conscious dance practice isn’t at all about dancingit can be as simple as taking steps.

It’s hard to believe, but it can be very easy to forget to move out of one place during a dance practice. Even during wild, loud, frenetic, chaotic music, it’s not uncommon for people to root their feet into the floor and resort to gyrating everything from their hips up.

The same holds true during an elegant lyrical song: How easy it is to close our eyes and flutter our arms around like paper streamers in a breeze. So airy, so graceful … so upper body!

What are the feet doing?!

Adam Barley was one of the first 5Rhythms teachers I’ve worked with who was adamant about getting people unstuck.

“Just take steps,” he’d repeat.

When an individual was hanging out in one space for too long, Adam would approach the dancer and offer his advice:

“Just take steps.”

It was especially helpful during his workshop on Fear, when he instructed our class to hold a posture of fear, then to close our eyes, envision a path in front of us, and take steps along that path … even when we were unsure of where those footsteps would lead us.

The point was clear: The fear is there, yes. But don’t just stand there, frozen. Just take some steps, and eventually you’ll find your way into Flowing.

Maybe you’ll find your way to a really intricate pattern on the wood floor that captivates and inspires you.

Maybe a few steps will guide you to an area of the room where the acoustics are amazing and draw you into a whole new state of consciousness.

Maybe those footsteps will lead you arm to arm with “that” person; a partnership that opens energetic pathways you didn’t even know you had.

It sounds contradictory, but in a conscious dance practice, don’t worry so much about dancing. Just take some steps, and the dance will unfold on its own.

One foot in front of the other.

One foot in front of the other.

tribe

One of the most fulfilling elements of my 5Rhythms practice—other than the gift of meditation through movement it provides to me—is the sense of TRIBE that comes along with being a part of a community of like-minded individuals.

I’ve written before about the energetic bonds created during classes and workshops, how dancing boldly and authentically among others creates an almost transcendent state of togetherness—I am everyone, and everyone is me.

In fact, some of Adam Barley‘s final words to our class during his Philadelphia workshop this past March were: “Look closely at these people you’ve danced with; you are all of them and they are you.”

Some people may have yoga tribes, running tribes, coffee shop tribes, postpartum depression support tribes. What’s important is to find those individuals

who accept us as we are without reservation and gladly accompany us on our journeys of evolution. Among them, we feel free to be our imperfect selves, to engage unabashedly in the activities we enjoy, and to express our vulnerabilities by relying on our tribe for support. [source]

The power of the tribe becomes even more apparent in moments of vulnerability, when we find ourselves standing naked in a room of peers, our souls sweating onto the dance floor, our hands reaching out for contact and connection.

Being able to be so open can feel empowering, and you know you wouldn’t have been able to get there on your own, even if you locked yourself in a room for 24 hours straight and danced until your feet bled.

For example, back in April I participated in a 3-day workshop with a “cousin” 5Rhythms tribe in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was my first time really away from my home turf, staying with a host dancer and her family. I arrived on Friday evening, and by Sunday evening it took a lot of effort to pull me away from that group of dancers. I cried before I even left the venue parking lot, so reluctant to start the car and drive away from this group I had bonded so comfortably with.

“It’s not fairrrrrr!” I exclaimed. “I was just getting to know these people. We do all this incredible, opening work with these people, expose our hearts and souls to them, and then just like *that* we are supposed to say goodbye and leave?! I need more time with everyone!”

(That said, guess where I am now as this blog entry posts? Back in Charlottesville, for an extended workshop—5 whole days with my tribe! We’re actually at a retreat center, eating, sleeping, dancing, and dreaming together—exactly what I was longing for when I left Virginia two months ago.)

The 5Rhythms practice relies very heavily on this notion of tribe; in fact, one of my favorite teachers from New York—Douglas Drummond–held a special workshop in Philadelphia on this very topic:

Embodied Tribal.

Here is Douglas’ description of the work:

The real measure of a leader lies in their followers. At the core of this power is the relationship between the Leader and the Follower. In these modern times, we are asking so much of everyone with respect to demonstrating leadership skills even when not the formal leader. Sometimes this is hard to understand and hard to demonstrate. So we’ll MOVE with it!

To emphasize this point, Douglas had us get into a few large groups and to NOT designate a leader. The direction was for everyone to continue to dance but then—through an unspoken, organic unfolding—somebody starts doing a repetitive movement. With luck, everyone eventually picks up on this movement, not quite knowing who the leader is but being able to “feel” the leadership and sense it out, as the individuals in the group conform one by one.

A great visual demonstration of such a phenomenon can be seen in this video:
{Watch 32 discordant metronomes achieve synchrony in a matter of minutes.}

The exercise was a bit symbolic of our greater work as a tribe: everyone being in discordance, doing their own thing, and eventually all coming together for a few moments. The repetitive movement was to be something simple, too—nothing too complex—just like how the simple act of dancing together builds such cohesion among our collection of ragtag individuals.

In another exercise, Douglas split our class into three groups of at least 10 people each, each “tribe” facing each other in the center of the room.

One person from each group took on the leadership role—standing front and center—engaging in a simple movement that everyone could follow.

Douglas had us speed it up, slow it down, experiment with different tempos. We looked like three tribes about to go to war with each other, or perhaps even three military units ready to sweep in and fight the same enemy.

Eventually, Douglas made both the leader and his followers pause; the leader then turned around to view his tribe behind him. In all instances, most of the followers were standing in the same position, arms poised in same place, stances all uniform.

I was fortunate to serve as one of the “leaders,” and let me tell you, turning around and seeing my tribe standing there in unison, poised exactly how I had led them was exhilarating.

It wasn’t even a sense of power or dominance, but rather, Wow, these people have my back, we’re all in this together. When I need them there the most, they’re there. I thought about how many times I’ve really needed them, just their presence for 2 or 3 hours; they’re my family, it’s my tribe.

In an active listening discussion afterward, Douglas made us answer the question: “What does the dance of the tribal mean to me?”

Some of the words I shared with my partner were support, family, and love. Sometimes I’m not even certain of everyone’s names or what they do for a living or where they live and what they believe in, yet I still feel a deep connection with them.

"Stillness in Motion" group. Charlottesville, VA, April 2013.

“Stillness in Motion” group. Charlottesville, VA, April 2013.

On the surface, your tribe may seem to be nothing more than a loose-knit group of friends and acquaintances to whom you ally yourself. Yet when you look deeper, you will discover that your tribe grounds you and provides you with a sense of community that ultimately fulfills many of your most basic human needs. [source]

Fear, Power, Beauty installation

Fear, Power, Beauty installation

The other day I wrote about England-based 5Rhythms teacher Adam Barley and his workshop back in March in Philadelphia: Fear, Power, and Beauty.

People outside of the conscious dance world get confused when I talk about “dancing fear,” because I guess they imagine ritualistic theatrics involving creepy masks and blindfolds or sitting around in circles sharing stories we would only confess to our priests or rabbis.

Maybe they envision a dictator-like teacher barking commands at us, scaring us intentionally, making us dance on our knees until they bleed, breaking us down.

That isn’t the case.

The process begins with an intention.

I remember one of my teachers commenting that a workshop truly first begins not at the designated start time but rather that moment when the student has RSVP’d. It means the individual has checked and set aside time on his calender, that he has secured the finances, that he is saying to himself, “I am committing my time, money, and energy to this occasion.”

With that commitment, the brain’s neurons begin firing—perhaps subconsciously—about intention. What was it that guided me to pay $200 to explore fear? Why did I carve out an entire weekend to do this work?

The answer might not be obvious. Some people have very clear intentions, for example: “I grew up fearing intimacy, and I want to move beyond that” or “I fear never being ‘seen.'”

For others, there may be no “elevator statement” on their reason for attending; nevertheless, the months/weeks/days leading up to the workshop involve a huge, simmering crock pot of “mental dances,” the brain working behind the scenes, knowing something big is coming up and beginning to direct energy accordingly.

As my therapist always reminds me, “Energy follows intention.”

The teacher usually helps with this process.

Here’s what Adam sent workshop registrants a week or so before the event:

Dear Dancer,

So you’ve got this workshop coming up where we’re working with fear, huh? 

Watch out!

Fear is scary. It’s particularly scary to your mind, and your mind is a tricky customer. Watch it come and go, create stories and scenarios that probably will not bear much resemblance to reality. 

Your best prep for the weekend is to do what we’ll be fundamentally doing there: stay aware of your body and your breath, because those two aspects of you will stay reliably present, unlike your mind. Stay present. Breathe deep often. Take steps so you can feel your feet. And watch everything else come and go, rise and fall. 

So, what happens when you first walk into a workshop on Fear?

You DANCE, of course! Throw your bags and belongings to the side, exchange hugs and kisses with your fellow dancers, tape up your toes/bandage your ankle/slip a brace on your knee, and find your way into Flowing.

Belongings

In fact, the Friday night portion of a big workshop is mostly dancing and is mostly fun. It’s establishing connection with others, getting in touch with the body, warming up for the bigger work to come.

I had so much fun on that particular Friday, that I didn’t even feel an iota of fear flutter in my heart.

(Which is a bit ironic, because then the “fear” was that I was entering a Fear workshop without any connection to the main topic!)

Then that night I had a nightmare, waking up in a cold sweat. The dream was terrifically realistic and basically flung all of my real-life fears smack in my face.

That said, on Saturday I had “material” to work with.

And so the process began.

* * *

> We don’t only dance Fear-–Adam also instructs us to strike a pose of Anger, Sadness, Joy, and Compassion. We hold these postures, then find a repetitive movement to embody the emotion.

Repetition is an effective exercise because eventually our patterns emerge, clear as day. When we become aware of our patterns on the dance floor, it becomes easier to identify them in the real world.

In addition, after exploring all of the emotions above through movement, Adam asks us, “Which one felt the most authentic to you?”

I hated to admit it, but I really enjoyed the sharp vocalizations and precise martial arts-like movement I was expressing in Anger.

In fact, for most of the workshop, I continuously made the mistake of confusing Fear and Anger, bearing my teeth and flexing my muscles like a tiger when the intent was really to feel more like the prey, not the predator.

(I guess it’s clear what my “shadow”/defense mechanism is.)

> Adam is firm about not wanting us to “check out.” For example, when you feel the need to get water, before you scurry off to get your bottle, pause and see if you’re honestly thirsty and need hydration or whether it’s a built-in routine—a mechanical reaction (“Chaos just ended, so obviously it’s water time”) or perhaps something deeper (“This song/partner/rhythm makes me uncomfortable, I will ‘take a break’ now so I don’t have to face the discomfort.”).

It’s not that Adam wants us to be parched or hungry—he’s just reminding us to be aware of the unconscious mind games that unfold when we’re faced with something we’re not 100% comfortable with.

“Be aware of thirst, tiredness, music you don’t like, a partner you can’t connect with…go with it, that’s when stuff happens. Don’t check out.”

We dance each rhythm across the room several times, reminds me of going “across the floor” in dance class, when we’d practice the same steps from one end of the room to the other until perfection.

This time there are steps but not choreography, just a long path from Point A to Point B for us to dance a Flowing Fear, a Staccato Fear, a Chaos Fear, a Lyrical Fear, a Stillness Fear.

Again,” Adam says with a simple hand gesture in our direction, compassionate fierceness in his voice. He never lets us check out.

There are chairs on the side of the room, but we are asked only to sit if we’re dealing with injury or pain. “If you’re tired, dance a tired Chaos!” Adam says.

> We dance to wordless music all of Friday and Saturday. On Friday, it barely registers in my mind. After Saturday, it becomes very noticeable that thus far we have danced to only instrumental music.

Without lyrics, the brain is able to shut off much quicker. You can’t use the words to help carry your movement; instead, movement becomes instinctual.

On Sunday, vocals began to appear in our music. Something in the air became lighter. It was like we were being pressed under water for two days, hearing only heartbeats and muffled murmuring, and now finally hearing the sweet sounds of the world sing clearly into our ears.

Here’s what Adam had to say about that, in a separate e-mail:

The intent was to take everyone into the dark at first, to encounter fear, find power, and then to emerge into beauty; though I had no idea of the exact steps we would take to do that, or what music I would choose along the way. All my music selection is totally intentional, and each track is chosen in the moment, none more than a few minutes before it plays.

> Energy indeed follows intention, even after the workshop ends and socialization begins. At a potluck dinner party after Saturday’s grueling class, I end up randomly sitting next to a woman, get into a conversation with her about mudra meditations, and then—holy coincidence!—nearly at the same time, we say, “Here’s my favorite one,” lifting our hands into the conch shell mudra.

Of all the possible mudras out there—so many combinations of finger placements and hand positions—how can this be?!

Just like having that fear-inducing nightmare on Friday night, I believe meeting “Elaine” on Saturday night was synchronicity, our work from the earlier part of the day culminating into a deeper experience to help us through the remainder of the workshop.

Turns out the conch shell mudra (which helps strengthen the throat) is so important to us because we both struggle with our voices, her physically and me energetically. In fact, our voice-related challenges are a huge part of our fear, the very reason we are at this workshop!

Well then, it should not be surprising that during the next day’s session, after a vicious, deep trip into fear—a plunge that leaves my nose running, eyes red and wet, hair askew, a dive in which I had been thinking about my voice—Adam tells us to pause, turn to the person closest to us, and that this person will now be our partner.

I open my soggy eyelids and find myself nearly arm to arm with—of course—Elaine. Energy follows intention even when there are 40+ other dancers in the room!

Adam asks one person from each pair to face the fear of fear, to place it in our bellies, to dance it out as the other partner stands off to the side and simply witnesses.

My eyes stay focused on Elaine, even as she moves among a crowd of several others. She circles and circles, her arms rising out to her sides, her mouth agape, a silent scream caught in her throat.

It is difficult to watch, knowing we share such similar restrictions. At times, I feel as though I am witnessing myself, decades in the future.

I eventually re-enter the dance floor, instructed by Adam to join our partner and stand by her side. “Not in front or in back of them, but by their side,” he emphasizes. “Be there with them.”

“For Stillness, what feels right?” Adam asks. “Taking their hand, touching, an embrace?” My one hand clutches Elaine’s hand, the other comes to back of her neck. My arms wrap her in a hug, her snotty nose in my shoulder. We make eye contact. Her eyes are glistening with fresh tears but so open.

When it is my turn out on the dance floor, I feel Elaine embodied in me, sensations of my throat being blocked off, barely able to talk. Even my movement is constricted. Yet, Elaine doesn’t have a choice. I can speak! Unlike the physical disability she has, I am only energetically impaired. What gives, Jennifer? You can speak!

I rip at my stomach, chest, throat, as though pulling a cord—maybe even a serpent—out of my mouth. Like a magician’s colorful mile-long scarf expanding from his sleeve, the snake keeps emerging as I tug. Wide open mouth.

Finally, there is Lyrical. Adam reminds us to take steps, as it is so easy to stay locked in one place after such a taxing Chaos. Such a relief to just take steps, no dancing, just walk and see what happens.

My robotic right-left-right-left pattern morphs effortlessly into something new, and with that miniscule change of footwork, I feel free, broken out of the restriction. I catch myself softly whispering “Yes, yes, yes” as my feet gradually slow down and I enter Stillness with Elaine by my side and her hand on my heart.

> I am relieved when Adam gives us time to spread across the room and journal. Finally, the energy that has been exploding out of me can collect on paper, an ink-infused take-home gift from all of this intense work. My writing is sloppy as my hands are shaking, and in this period of rest I realize I feel quite sick, a bit nauseous, extraordinarily thirsty, a throbbing headache at my temples.

But words come effortlessly from fingers to paper, and I begin to wonder whether the “illness” I feel is really just all the gunk worked up over the day trying to purge. Writing is my mental vomiting, and my sickness splatters all over the pages of my notebook.

So with that in mind, I receive Adam’s next instruction with apprehension: We are encouraged, one at a time, to stand up in this room of 40+ people and emphatically speak out our “summary statement,” a line from our journaling that represents the essence of our writing.

For some people, what they exclaim is enough, and Adam allows them to sit down and simply breathe in their classmates’ presence and receptivity. For others, Adam uses his best judgement to decide how to proceed:

– “Say it again, this time softer.”

– “Yes, now repeat that three times in a row. Make eye contact with everyone.”

– “Add just a little more softness to you voice.”

– “Where are your hands when you say that? Show me where your hands are.”

He pushes us. Offers comfort. Gently receives with a slight bow of the head. One man’s statement was so profound and gut-wrenching that Adam stood behind him in solidarity and took him into an embrace, the student enveloped in Adam’s arms.

> After the journaling purge, Adam tells us to find someone to be with. To truly, honestly just “be with” this person, whether it’s crying or dialoguing or sitting in meditation. A female dancer from New York is seated right next to me, and we situate ourselves shoulder to shoulder.

“What do you want?” she asks, and I say I just want to hold her like this—me straddling her between my legs as she leans back into my torso, my arms around her from behind. We roll on top of each other, her weight on me; the sensation of her sliding over my back and shoulders brings me to tears. I inhale her shampoo.

* * *

The workshop ends shortly thereafter, our group assembled in a huge circle, holding hands, our eyes taking in every person who has shared our fear that weekend. We all went through some pretty intense and perhaps unflattering moments, yet at this conclusion—amazingly—we all look radiant. Our eyes speak truth.

My headache is gone, and I no longer feel ill. My eyes are puffy, but they are not “sad” eyes. I am exhausted but invigorated.

As stated earlier, the workshop officially starts when one RSVPs and makes the commitment to attend. However, there is no official end to such an endeavor. The work continues even after the studio lights go out, the parking lot is empty, and Adam flies back to England.

We’ve been cracked open; now it’s time to get cookin.’

Fear_egg

RainbowShadow

Back in March, I attended one heavy-duty Heartbeat-level 5Rhythms workshop with England-based teacher Adam Barley.

I haven’t blogged about any of it yet because I’m afraid.

Which makes sense, because the topic was FEAR.

Ugh.

This was not a workshop to take for shits and giggles. Like, don’t sign up for this if all you’re looking for is 15 hours of ecstatic dance. Adam is a fun teacher, and sure, we danced a lot, but it’s serious work. Adam wants you to get your money’s worth. Which means that when the workshop is being billed as “Fear,” Adam wants you to get up close and personal with that super-scary F-word.

One of the most valuable lessons I learned in this particular workshop is how the “shadows” of each of the Rhythms serve as obstacles to truly facing what scares us.

I’ve gone through each of these shadows in an attempt to blog about this very workshop. These shadows are familiar and arise often when I’m faced with something that’s going to make me vulnerable.

The beauty is that now I’m aware of these little mind games, and somehow knowing what’s going on behind the scenes makes the whole process a little less scary.

But enough of the esoteric introduction. Let’s get to the nitty gritty, shall we?

Adam split our class into 5 groups—one for each rhythm/shadow—spread out across the room. The direction was to fully dance in that shadow for some time and then—when prompted—move to another group, exploring the movements associated with that shadow. So on and so forth.

> Flowing became Sleepiness and Complacency. Instead of firmly rooting our feet into the ground, we allowed our limp bodies to topple into it, the earth as our floppy pillow rather than the solid foundation it is supposed to be. Half-open eyes, yawning—how easy it is to just rest my head here on this person’s back. Why stand up when I can just…lie…down…right…here Zzzzzzz.

This shadow felt all too familiar. I resort to it all the time when I’m afraid, because instead of facing fear head-on, it is SO much easier to say “I’m tired” and succumb to that “I-can’t-keep-my head-up” heaviness. Can’t deal with fear when you’re asleep, right?

Granted, there are times I am legitimately exhausted but how peculiar that every time I sit down to blog, I suddenly feel verrrry sleepy

> Staccato became Anger, Rage, and Blame. When it’s too scary to step boldly into the empty spaces and be direct and honest, why not transform that intensity onto someone else? Bare your teeth, stomp in someone else’s boundaries, jut your head forward and invade their personal space. Suddenly Staccato begins resembling a kung fu movie, and no one is safe.

For me, this shadow translates to “It’s so-and-so’s fault I can’t write because he/she is [insert blame here]!!” or “There are just too many dance events, I have no time to write about them. The people who schedule every awesome event under the sun in June clearly have no respect for my schedule!!”

> Chaos became Loss of Control. Although it is important to let your head go when dancing in Chaos, it’s just as crucial to remember your feet’s connection to the ground. A room full of dancers engaged in an ungrounded Chaos will result in potentially dangerous collisions, driver-less cars hydroplaning in every direction.

This kind of movement is dizzying, exhausting, cross-eyed, flailing limbs striking others as you stumble from here to there to everywhere. A sense of panic arises—as though trying to escape a burning building—but you’re not even sure if you’re heading toward the exit.

Sometimes it’s easier to wear myself out then face anything challenging. If I mindlessly speed through a morning of working out, scrubbing the tub, pushing myself through a few sun salutations, running to the pharmacy, dancing a Wave, there’s no possible way I’ll have the time or energy to confront my fear. I’m a sweaty, exhausted mess in a matter of hours, most likely finding myself back at Shadow #1: Sleepiness.

> Lyrical became Distraction. Welcome to La-La Land, where all senses are on overdrive. You want to see, smell, hear, taste, and feel everything…but all at once and without being very mindful about what’s coming your way.

Movement is disoriented, eyes darting from one body part or person to the next, moving just to move but never feeling connection to anything you make contact with. It’s a blip on your radar, a quick Ooooh or Ahhh before something new distracts you.

I should refresh my Twitter feed. Have a bite of those brownies on the counter. Yes, I love this song! OMG, I can write my name in the dust on this table. What was that kid’s name in the movie about that monster? Lemme look that up on Wikipedia. Holy crap, it’s already 7 p.m.; I should get my work clothes ready for tomorrow so I’ll be all set, maybe make my lunch while I’m at it.

Before I know it it’s bedtime, and I’ve done everything but anything that really matters.

> Stillness became Blankness, Catatonia, Numbness. Nothing in, nothing out. When fear paralyzes you to the point of near-immobility, unable to emote in any fashion, unable to feel, locked in a state of physical and mental frozenness.

Movement is hardly movement at all, more like uncertain steps in no particular direction, eyes closed or gazing off into nowhere, moving solely because you are asked to move, not because you have any desire to.

That guy is raising his arm. Maybe I should do that too. … There, I just raised my arm. Now I will put it down.

Completely unaffected.

This shadow is usually the last resort when dealing with fear, after all of the other options above have been put to the test. I’ve worn myself out, played the blame game, distracted myself into a tizzy, fallen asleep, and now have finally sat myself down at the computer, opened to a blank page, and … … …

Look at that white screen.

There is nothing.

I need to write words because that is what a blog entails.

[Types “the”]

::sigh::

[Hits Backspace]

I need to pee but I can’t even leave this seat. I am so parched but I will just sit here staring at this screen and allow my throat to get drier and drier. I can’t feel my ass now, but I will continue to sit this way and allow my legs to feel as heavy as my mind.

The computer screen is as blank as my expression.

* * *

In the heart of this exercise, Adam stopped telling us when to shift shadows and instructed us to move freely from one shadow to another when the moment felt right.

What we were really doing was experimenting with defense mechanisms, exploring the things we call “Anger!” or Sleeeeeepiness, which are really just masks for the bigger emotion: Fear.

When fear comes up–whether it entails heartfelt, authentic blogging; telling someone what you really mean; or trying out a new class/applying for a new job—the brain kicks in with excuses, overshadowing the fear.

Fear becomes blame. Fear becomes distraction. Fear becomes muteness.

Adam’s exercise was a valuable lesson: By observing these patterns and being aware of our habits, we can transform fear.

The next time you find yourself yawning at a friend or yelling at a partner, staring mindlessly out of windows or spiraling out of control, ask yourself: What is this really?

Is this fear? Am I afraid?

After all, the full title of the workshop was Fear, Power, and Beauty.

Own your fear. Give it the power to be heard and seen.

From that, beauty will emerge.

A completed Wave: Atrium, National Museum of the American Indian

After waiting patiently for 2 years for Maryland-based life dance coach Michelle Dubreuil Macek to return to my home turf, this past April I was finally able to dive back into Biodanza.

Biodanza's back in town!

Biodanza’s back in town!

With a nickname like the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia seems to be a perfect setting for Biodanza, as the practice—“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”—is all about exploring the capacity to connect with your classmates, your neighbors, and the human race as a whole. Bring on the love, yo.

LOVE statue

The practice of Biodanza reminds participants what it’s like to feel human—to breathe, to move freely, to embrace the vulnerability that comes with eye contact and individual attention, to brush past another’s arm or hand without getting flustered and feeling the need to apologize profusely for—heaven forbid!—having a fleeting moment of skin-on-skin contact with a fellow human being.

When I took my first Biodanza class in March of 2011 (detailed recap here), I was just starting out on my quest to explore my kinesthetic curiosity (alliteration intended). I had been dancing 5Rhythms for a year at that point, but was still relatively new to allowing myself to be fully present with others on the dance floor. I hadn’t done any 5Rhythms workshops or intensives at that point, and the videos of Biodanza that Michelle had posted on her website intimidated me, with all of the smiling and touching and laughing and dilated pupil moments.

I was used to dancing with myself, telling my story, with others in the background or as complementary characters. Biodanza was now asking me to incorporate these other people into my story, to make them part of my world too!

The first couple of minutes were hard for me. Then things got easier. Fun, even! That class 2 years ago was the first time I met (a different) Michelle, who has since become one of my closest dancing sisters, in that our souls have a secret and profound way of communicating with each other whenever we meet on the dance floor.

I hadn’t danced Biodanza since then, but if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I’ve amped up my 5Rhythms practice significantly during the past 2 years. 5Rhythms isn’t Biodanza and Biodanza isn’t 5Rhythms, but the two modalities work extremely well together in terms of exploring authentic movement and intentional connection.

In fact, both practices are based around “5s”: The 5Rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness; in Biodanza, the “Five Lines of Vivencia” are Vitality, Sexuality, Creativity, Affectivity, and Transcendence. Imagine both of those frameworks being written on transparent paper and placed on top of each other: Can you see the overlap?!

The class last month was two hours long and included several exercises that transformed our group of 11 from mostly strangers and acquaintances into a pretty tight gang (in fact, several of us went out for a group dinner afterward to prolong the friendship).

BiodanzaGroup_Regular

In the spirit of that magic number, I’ll discuss the 5 exercises that impacted me the most and which I think are good representations of the Biodanza practice.

WALKING vs. DANCING
One of the first exercises we did after introducing ourselves was pair with a partner, hold hands, and walk around the studio to music. Seems easy enough, but the tricky part was being reminded to simply walk with our partner, not dance. Michelle instructed us to hold eye contact with our partner, to just be there with him or her without feeling the need to entertain or do something together. It’s one of the few times that walking became more challenging than dancing; the utter simplicity of being versus doing (with someone we just met!) somehow felt more intimate than slow dancing at the junior prom.

SENSATIONS and SOUNDS
Imagine someone standing behind you, placing their hands lightly on your ankles, and then sweeping their hands upward, passing over your calves, thighs, buttocks, spine, neck, and finally—with a grand flourish—through your hair or over your scalp. What would the soundtrack to that elongated caress sound like? Would it be “WooooooooooOOOOO!” or “AhhhhhHHHHHHH!” or “EeeeeeeeeeEEE!“?

As the receiver of this touch, are you able to fully tune into where your partner’s hands are in relation to how quickly or slowly you are vocalizing? Are you making noise just to make noise, or are you truly feeling the marriage of touch and sound?

As the “sweeper,” are you paying attention to your partner’s body or just quickly going through the motions? Is your partner wearing pants, or do you feel the skin of his/her calves? What does the fabric of your partner’s shirt feel like? Did your hands explode through a thick mane of wavy locks, or did your fingertips glide over a bald scalp?

Now, imagine your partner giving a gentle poke to your nose. A firm tap on your shoulder. Another nose poke, nose poke, nose poke, followed by a quick pat on your head. What does that sound like? Maybe that combination of touches sounded something like “Meep! Hmm. Meep! Meep! Meep! Ahhhh.

This exercise turned our bodies into instruments, and the “receivers” had very little time (milliseconds!) to emit a sound that paired with their partners’ exploratory taps, touches, brushes, pokes, and pats. It was fun for both the giver, for whom the exercise was a bit like playing the game of Simon without rhyme or reason, and for the receiver, who was often surprised by what came out of his or her mouth.

With five pairs doing this exercise at once, the studio sounded like a bunch of robots gone haywire, blipping and beeping, meeping and squeaking. I don’t think there was anyone who didn’t break out laughing at one point or another.

BE and BREATHE
After all that entertainment, we had a bit of a serious moment with our partner, as one person lay down on his/her back and the other person simply rested a hand on the other’s belly. For about 3 minutes, all we did was be quietly present with our partner, either relaxing into the ground and being receptive to the human hand resting on our rising and falling bellies or being completely enamored with nothing else but our partner’s inhalations and exhalations.

The exercise was simple but profound, a tactile reminder of the breath of life. My partner was moved, commenting that the exercise reminded her of her mother’s passing and the gratitude of being able to be present for those last precious moments.

HEART DANCE
During one of the few exercises in which we partnered with ourselves, we all found a spot in the room in which we felt comfortable, closed our eyes, and allowed our bodies to unfold to slow, sensual music. Michelle reminded us to stay close to our hearts for this one, to feel the movement begin in the heart and radiate outward, not to get too caught up in grand choreography. We had just done so much work being present with partners; this was the time to get intimate with our own hearts.

It was hard for me to stay in one place, as the swelling music was just tempting me to dive into the dance floor. What I didn’t realize was that that part was coming up next; the point of this particular exercise was to contain the movement, to feel it deeply in yourself before passing it along.

In the proceeding exercise, Michelle invited our heart dances to move outside of their confined spaces and among the group. The gradual build-up beforehand allowed my movement to grow, expand, and finally be fully shared with others. The light and airy weaving of bodies in and around each other reminded me of the rhythm of Lyrical, our arms and hands extending like kites dancing in a gentle spring breeze.

RELATIONSHIP
Partner dancing with someone when both of your eyes are open ain’t no thang, but what happens when you turn off the sense of vision and have to rely primarily on touch? This was the basis of the dance of relationship, joining palms with a partner, closing the eyes, and feeling where the dance would go next. Movements had to be slow, deliberate, and incredibly mindful; if your partner shot his arm upward without any warning, you’d be left standing there with an empty palm, the connection broken due to lack of kinesthetic communication.

The challenge of this exercise was to strike a balance between awareness and attention, to sink into a soft dance without being obsessed with or hyperaware of every gesture. How much do you trust your partner, and how willing are you to let go and have faith in this mutual movement?

~ ~ ~

Much like my last class two years ago, I left this most recent Biodanza class feeling very deeply for my fellow dancers. I may not have remembered everyone’s names, but I sure did remember their eyes, their smiles, their particular body language. It was hard to part ways immediately after the workshop, and that’s why a few of us extended the evening and went out to dinner. The desire to stay connected was palpable in the post-class atmosphere.

However, I also learned that night as I left the city that the essence of Biodanza ends on the subway platform, where “human encounter” is seldom poetry but rather a short story, sometimes nothing but a trifold pamphlet.

My eyes were wide open when I entered the train, willing to make contact with another, eager for my personal verse/stanza to be joined by another’s until the entire train car was a collaborative poem of human encounter. But no one wants to make eye contact on the subway; the M.O. is head down, earbuds in place, hands in pockets.

Let’s work on this, shall we?! Michelle has plans to return to Philadelphia on June 8 at Mama’s Wellness Joint in Center City. Will you help the City of Brotherly Love become just a little more, well, loveable? Like this happy group of folks?

BiodanzaGroup_Silly

In an effort to feel more radiant and inspired—trying to get my attitude to match the brilliant blue-sky perfectly springlike weather we’ve been having here in the Northeast recently—I’ve begun incorporating daily doses of kundalini yoga into my routine.

I became fascinated with kundalini several years ago, before Gabrielle Bernstein and all of her spirit junkies thrust it into the spotlight.

(Note: I am proud of this, very much the same way I am about having read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible before it popped up on Oprah’s Book Club. It’s like, Yeah, I knew this was something before it was actually something! I’m sure green smoothie people feel the same way about Kris Carr.)

Anyway, my relationship history with kundalini is described in detail here. After that class series in 2011 ended, however, I no longer kept up with a regular practice. I find it difficult to follow a solo kundalini practice, mainly because all of the kriyas are to be done for a specific amount of time and it’s a nuisance and interferes with my concentration to continually set/turn off a timer.

Also, some of the kriyas in kundalini are exhausting. If there isn’t someone at the front of the room or on an iPad screen, I will probably not commit to 3 minutes of frog squats while chanting something-or-other in Sanskrit and doing breath of fire.

It is amazing how far a simple “You’re almost there!” or “Keep up and you’ll be kept up” will go. I need that encouragement in kundalini.

I’ve had luck here and there finding decent full-length classes on YouTube. Here are my current go-tos (please share any of your recommendations!):

YogaVision 30 Minute Kundalini Yoga Class
Introduction to Kundalini Yoga
Renewing Our Rhythms

However, although I crave and enjoy a deep, long practice, I’m beginning to find that just a few simple kundalini warm-ups and meditations interspersed throughout my day offer just as much. I’ll do a few spinal flex exercises, Sufi grinds, neck rolls, and spinal twists, making sure to silently chant Sat on the inhale and Nam on the exhale.

This is one of the key elements of kundalini, the chanting of Sat Nam, along with keeping the eyes closed and focusing on the spot above and between the two eyes as an internal drishti (eye gaze). I find that sticking to this silent chant helps me greatly with concentration; otherwise, I feel like my mind is prone to wandering.

Sat Nam has several translations, but in essence it refers to acknowledging and being our inner truth.

My first kundalini teacher encouraged us to use Sat Nam when stuck in traffic: Vocalize a sharp “sat” (pronounced more like “sut”) that draws in the belly, followed by a relaxed and soft “nam” during which the belly relaxes. Repeat until traffic clears and you feel cool as a cucumber.

I’ve started using it while walking: left foot (Sat), right foot (Nam), left foot (Sat), right foot (Nam). And so on.

Yesterday, I found a great way to incorporate this simple kundalini mantra/meditation into my day: Swinging Sat Nam!

Swing

I am always so excited when I find a playground with adult-sized swings. As my coworker commented, “I find it’s impossible to feel sad on a swing.” Seriously!

As my legs pumped back and forth and my face greeted the sun with every boost upward, I realized that this back-and-forth motion felt very similar to spinal rocks along the floor, except now I was flying.

Soon I found myself inhaling Sat as I was propelled skyward, exhaling Nam as I swooshed backward.

I kept my eyes open for a bit then closed them, the outline of the trees illuminated behind my eyelids.

Sat… toes pointed upward. Nam… hair flying in my face.

Sat… heart center expanding. Nam… surrendering to the momentum.

SwingingFeet

Who knew kundalini would find a place on the playground? My hips ached a little afterward (turns out I no longer have the skeletal structure of a 5-year-old), but I had such calmness and clarity for the remainder of my walk around the park, a sensation I’ve been trying to re-attain for some time.

Give it a try sometime and let me know how you feel.

Not even 15 minutes into a 5Rhythms class this past weekend, I started crying.

At first I thought it was just a random blip of emotion, but the blip continued to burgeon. Burgeoning eventually gave way to bawling.

I had been caught off guard by a movement-induced meltdown.

Fear_egg

(Photo from egg-themed installation,
Adam Barley’s 2013 Fear, Power, Beauty workshop in Philadelphia)

Dancing is normally such a joyous outlet for me, even on days I feel like the Tin Man for the first half of class. My muscles may be achy and I may feel a bit discombobulated, but I trust the practice and know deep inside that if I commit to continuous movement, my self-conscious skin will eventually shed and I’ll be a free woman within the 1-hour mark.

I’m aware that movement can also stir up the junk in the trunk and cause some pretty spectacular emotional escapades, but—at least for me—those have mostly been reserved for workshop-based settings; for example, Day 3 of a Heartbeat-level 5Rhythms workshop based around the concept of fear. In that type of setting, however, we are intentionally pushed to test our limits, and the exercises are specifically structured to move us gradually from the physical body to the emotional realm. Tears, sobbing, and moaning are pretty much the norm, especially when we have no physical energy left to stave off whatever’s been hiding underneath all the chaos.

I’ve had teary-eyed endings in several regular classes, even one class that ended with me shaking on the floor in a puddle of sweat. But after dancing for 2+ hours, I’d expect nothing less than at least some kind of emotional release, be it crying or shaking or even just smiling uncontrollably.

The difference with this release, however, was that it was so early in the practice, so sudden.

I remember being very cold. It was a gorgeous, sunny day, but the church hall we were dancing in had been locked up all morning and felt nearly 15 degrees cooler than the outside. People were dancing in their coats; several individuals who normally dance barefoot kept their socks on.

This was strike one. A hardcore vata, I hate being cold. Logically I knew that moving would no doubt warm me up, but it felt completely hopeless at the time.

As a result, I felt unusually uninspired, uncoordinated, and sloppy. I began to view my body as a hastily drawn stick figure, limbs angular and harsh, no softness, no fluidity, no sensuality. Even in the rhythm of Flowing, which carries such an earthy and organic quality, I found no inspiration.

I tried focusing on my feet, the body part associated with Flowing, but I felt like my left foot was now my right and vice versa. I did not feel steady or balanced.

A feeling of panic began to fester in my gut, a voice telling me that I was not the sensual person I thought myself to be. If my body and spirit were a utensil, I wanted to be seen as a spoon—curved, smooth, having a space for holding, an object that could cradle both hot soup and ice cream. Instead, I felt like a pair of cheap throwaway wooden chopsticks, rough and splintered.

I noticed there were more African American women in the class than normal, and every time I glanced at one of them, the gnawing in my solar plexus intensified. As I’ve written before, I have this unexplainable attraction to African-rooted dance forms and music. I envy Black dancers’ bodies, the way their hips and shoulders roll like butter. Black women are always making their into my dreams; most recently, I dreamed about a group of Black women entering a hotel lobby I was waiting in, pulling out instruments, and starting to play jazz/world music. I could not help myself from dancing, and in the dream I moved effortlessly, dancing like I have never danced before, my body and the music becoming one. I felt like magic!

Well, I did not feel like magic on that Saturday in the chilly church hall. Perhaps the post from fellow blogger Stephanie in which she writes about her dream of “the chocolate-colored woman” was clinging to my consciousness. In this post, Stephanie elaborates on the works of Jungian analyst Marion Woodman, who described the symbolism of dreams involving dark and white women:

“The Dark Goddess has to do with the Earth, the humus, the humility, the human. She has to do with sexuality, with the sheer joy of the body, with fecundity and the lusciousness of the Earth and with the love that can honour the imperfections in the human being. 

Whereas the White Goddess tends to make people idealize themselves and therefore develop a huge shadow, the Black Goddess, through her sense of humour and immense love for humanity, helps us to accept our imperfections. Not only that, she helps us to see that a lot of things that we may have considered shameful in ourselves are not shameful at all.”

Was that why I began to cry every time I looked at one of the Black women dancing, my frozen body’s way of wanting to thaw and lap up the lusciousness of the earth?

I’m not exaggerating, either. Every time my eyes crossed paths with a dark-skinned woman, I felt the heaviness in my gut grow and tears spring to my eyes. I wasn’t envious of their bodies, per se, more like what they embodied. And it was all coming to a head on the dance floor.

In response, I began to use a wall for support. It was what my body asked for, to lean against something rather than stand alone in space. The wall became my partner, and once I felt its support, I could not part with it. With the backs of my legs plastered against the wood, I bent forward, head dangling, hands in my hair, and BOOM—steady tears came flowing, then sobbing, that “point of no return” crying that crumples and contorts your whole face.

The meltdown.

What I knew I had to do was keep moving. It’s something every 5Rhythms teacher stresses, to allow the emotion to continue to dance, even when our natural reaction is to want to curl up in a fetal position and let tears take over.

It felt so hopeless at the time. I didn’t think I’d ever be able to peel myself from the wall, and I briefly envisioned doing an entire 2.5-hour class in that one spot. I tried every now and then to step away, but the separation felt terrifying. Back to wall I went. One of my classmates shared later that he had contemplated attempting to draw me away from the wall but then reconsidered, sensing I was where I needed to be and that I’d work it out on my own.

And it’s true, I did. Eyes swollen and face still puffy, I was eventually able to break free from the wall. I made sure to stay on the one side of the dance floor, the side with the windows where sunlight streamed through. It felt safe to stand in the warmth.

I survived the first Wave but just barely. I wasn’t satisfied with the way it ended, partnered for eternity with someone whose rhythm just didn’t match mine. I kept waiting and waiting for the instructor to call “Change partners” or “Dance on your own, ” but instead I slogged through Lyrical and Stillness half-heartedly, me doing my thing, my partner doing another thing, a lackluster connection that triggered the anxiety I had just worked so hard to vanquish.

Meltdown, part II.

As the first Wave ended and people gathered to listen to the instructor speak, I extended my Stillness in the upstairs bathroom, the need for something to lean on again a priority. I found a little space on the floor between the sink and the window, curled up in a ball, and found comfort in the gurgling, hissing radiator at my side and the blinding sunlight illuminating my face. I’m not usually one to “escape” during class, but I saw this as a much needed release, plus it wouldn’t have been very considerate of me to sob away during the instructor’s presentation. The watery, steamy radiator sounds complemented my tears, ultimately ushering me into my own version of Stillness.

When I finally ventured back downstairs to join the class, I felt paralyzed with raw awareness, awe, and appreciation, and even when the music started up again, I couldn’t rise from sitting; I just wanted to watch all of my classmates move, tears flowing down my face, like I was watching the final scene of one achingly heartwarming movie. I didn’t know if I was sad or had transcended to a heightened level of sensitivity in which every person was so divinely beautiful. All I knew is that I didn’t want to move, I wanted to watch, I wanted to witness each person in their moment.

Who knows how long I would have sat there, had it not been for the aid of one of my classmates, who approached me, leaned down with extended arms, and pulled me off the ground?

Of course that person was a chocolate-colored womanone of my favorite dancers, Michelle—making the class and all of my related emotional outbursts come full circle.

Skelton_WarmUp2

The rest of the class was refreshingly satisfying for me, and the lump I had originally felt in my solar plexus area had completely vanished.

Below are some of my own suggestions for dealing with an emotional release that crops up during dance:

1. Embrace this information; don’t fight it! Your body obviously has something to say to you. Movement happened to be the key to getting it out of hiding.

2. Don’t be embarrassed. You’re in a supportive environment, and most conscious dance tribes totally understand these types of releases.

3. Keep moving (and breathing!). Movement created the release, and continuing to move will allow whatever is speaking to pass through you. As Adam Barley said once during a long workshop, “If you’re tired, dance a tired Chaos.”

4. Stay aware of your movement but try not to over-analyze it. Approach dancing like meditation, taking note of a particular pattern or repetition (e.g., a desire to cling to the wall, clenched fists) but don’t dwell on it or try to make it a “story.” Just allow it to happen.

5. Be aware of your surroundings. If you feel like you’re going to have wild outbursts of emotion, consider moving to the perimeter of the dance floor so you don’t accidentally hurt someone else.

6. At the same time, try to stay a part of the group and don’t distance yourself too much. It’s why I waited until the first Wave ended before I escaped onto the bathroom floor, despite just wanting to get the hell off the dance floor.

7. Keep in mind that some people may feel compelled to “rescue” you from your “crisis.” If you’d rather work it out on your own, offer a simple hand gesture or eye contact that says, “Thanks, but I’m OK.” Other times, maybe you need that support, the way I reached my arms out to Michelle so she could lift me off the ground.

8. Offer gratitude. If someone’s smile, touch, or gesture provided just the slightest amount of comfort during your release, pay it back to them, either on the dance floor with a similar gesture, or after class, with a hug or comment of appreciation. This exchange is what builds community.

9. Take time during break or after class to journal about the experience or debrief with a trusted classmate/friend. It’s important for the information to be processed, even if you don’t necessarily know “why” it happened or what it means.

10. Be happy that your practice is so therapeutic, even if it doesn’t feel so in the throes of an emotional release. I may feel utterly exhausted at the end of an emotional dance, but the fear/panic/crying/nausea/headache/solar plexus-heaviness that was so present during class almost always dissipates afterward, reinforcing the notion that movement is indeed medicine!

When I first sat down to write this post, the phrase that initially came to mind was a variation of the classic line from The Sixth Sense:

“I see dead people.”

Except in my case, the unusual phenomenon I experience is nowhere near as spooky as Haley Joel Osment’s, only occurs during highly meditative experiences (usually moving/dancing), and the people I see are bursting with life.

Skelton_DanceFloor2

In short, when I am immersed for long stretches of time in meditative activity with other people (e.g., a 3-day 5Rhythms workshop), the faces of those with whom I am moving/dancing/flowing/growing begin to fill my mind whenever I close my eyes. Sometimes it happens when I’m dancing, sometimes during meditation, and almost always occurs in those few moments before falling asleep at night.

It’s a bit like watching a movie but feels more personal, that I am not just an observer but a participant as well. It’s not intrusive at all; in fact, it feels comforting, like I have bits and pieces of each and every one of my classmates downloaded inside of me.

However, before I continue, let me refer you to some previous posts in which I describe these experiences.

Last summer, during a day-long workshop with 5Rhythms teacher Rivi Diamond, this happened near the end of the class:

“I experienced a brief sensation of aloneness as I walked through a ‘graveyard’ of bodies, people spread out in various shapes of savasana. It was as though everyone’s old self was dying, melting into the earth, and I was joining them in this passage. It was a bit sad, but when I closed my eyes I saw all of my classmates’ faces so vividly, each of them crying along with me. It may sound mournful to have that kind of vision, but it was actually an uplifting one, a bit of an energetic reminder that everyone hurts, everyone cries, everyone needs each other.”

During my month at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health for the 200-hour yoga teacher training, I had all kinds of intense visualizations during savasana and meditation:

“Ever since I came here, I’ve had very vivid images dance in my head when I close my eyes. For example, when in a flowing posture, like standing forward bend or bridge, I’d close my eyes and see random snapshots of people–all Kripalu people. I’ll close my eyes at night or during savasana and see quick flashes of people in bandanas, people with shawls, smiling, happy, introspective, compassionate Kripalu people, like I’m looking in a photo album (in fast forward) of all the residents here. However, there are times (usually during chanting, centering, pranayama, and sometimes during certain poses) that I close my eyes and see us all as a unified group. Amazingly synchronized. Holding hands, or arms raised, our mouths open in Om. I see our group, our tribe, together. So tight, as One.” (source)

“How many times have I lay in savasana, and this is the first time I get this wild sensation of simultaneous rising and falling, the soft earth greeting my back with a gentle nudge. I sink and the whole class sinks with me, my friends, all gently sliding into the ground…. At the end of meditation, we chant Om, and I envision our entire class in white clothing. As the sound swells, I so briefly and vividly feel like we’re back in the ashram, our gurus at the front. It’s very beautiful.” (source)

Now, I am a writer and have been told I have a very vivid imagination, but I honestly believe these are more than simply illustrations I have consciously planted in my mind. I don’t “conjure up” these experiences; they just happen. I don’t rest my head on my pillow at night and actively direct my brain to recount all the people I have danced with. I close my eyes, and—like a flip book—I see Christina shaking in Chaos, Rebekah swinging her hair around in Flowing, Lana lying in Stillness.

It’s almost as though my brain has been “uploading” media files all day; closing my eyes is the time for the files to play back.

Very often, I can feel this “uploading” process take place. It usually takes a few hours of movement and almost always happens during the Lyrical portion of a 5Rhythms class. I go from feeling me to feeling everyone. My eyes lift from the floor, and suddenly the people I’ve been dancing with are no longer bodies with names but rather energy with faces, and I feel amazingly connected to everyone in the room, even people who might otherwise rub me the wrong way.

It’s usually at this point I stop dancing and begin weaving in and out of the group or around the room, my eyes locking on every face I pass, my arms instinctively rising upward, my palms widening as though to collect every morsel of electric energy that is crackling in the air.

Each time my eyes gaze into another pair, there’s a little energetic camera shutter-like “snap,” that person’s image and energy being stored in my circuitry. Shortly after that, the images go from sharp to blurry, almost as if to say, “There is no separation between us. We are all one.”

Sometimes I’ll even feel like I’m embodying others. I remember one time I swung my loose hair around but “saw” my classmate’s face instead of my own underneath all that hair.

Other times my classmates become hybrids of each other. I specifically remember one moment in Stillness—I was in such a deep meditation—that in my mind’s eye the person I was dancing with had the face of one man but the clothes and mannerisms of another.

And here’s an even more curious phenomenon: There have been times after class when I see the silhouette of a classmate but the “face” my brain is trying to pin on the shadow keeps morphing. I logically know I am looking at Person A, but the face my eyes keep trying to see in the dark changes from Person A to Person B to Person C, almost like Person A is embodying everyone else, too!

The one thing I’ve noticed is that for these experiences to occur, I must be engaging in some kind of prolonged meditative work. And that’s why these “visions” don’t freak me out or make me question my sanity, because they only happen when I am in a heightened state of consciousness. Believe me, I don’t go home every day and see my coworkers’ faces behind my eyelids, although it would be nice to experience my colleagues on that kind of universal level.

Another thing that reassures me that I’m not nuts is Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk. Taylor is a neuroanatomist who suffered a stroke and—because of her insight and knowledge about the brain—was able to track as much of the experience as possible, as it was unfolding. In her talk, she describes the two hemispheres of the brain. The left, whose purpose is to function in the “I” voice, and then the right, which is focused on the “we”:

“Our right hemisphere, it thinks in pictures and it learns kinesthetically through the movement of our bodies. Information in the form of energy streams in simultaneously through all of our sensory systems. And then it explodes into this enormous collage of what this present moment looks like…. I am an energy being connected to the energy all around me through the consciousness of my right hemisphere. We are energy beings connected to one another through the consciousness of our right hemispheres as one human family. And right here, right now, all we are brothers and sisters on this planet, here to make the world a better place. And in this moment we are perfect. We are whole. And we are beautiful.”

When I heard her describe this, I nearly burst into tears. I felt like she was describing all of my dance/yoga/meditation experiences!

Taylor’s stroke was a huge physical setback, but those hours in which her left brain shut off and her right hemisphere took over contributed to a monumental spiritual and emotional awakening that set the course for her recovery:

“I realized ‘But I’m still alive! I’m still alive and I have found Nirvana. And if I have found Nirvana and I’m still alive, then everyone who is alive can find Nirvana.’ I picture a world filled with beautiful, peaceful, compassionate, loving people who knew that they could come to this space at any time. And that they could purposely choose to step to the right of their left hemispheres and find this peace. And then I realized what a tremendous gift this experience could be, what a stroke of insight this could be to how we live our lives. And it motivated me to recover.”

My faces, my visions, my “uploads,” my video montages are all small reminders that we don’t need to have a stroke to experience at least a little part of what Taylor was describing.

How fortunate that I can understand this Nirvana that she speaks of, and that I can get halfway there through the right combination of movement, mindfulness, and meditation.

Sky mosaic

I’d love to hear from people who experience similar (or totally different!) visions during this kind of work. Please share your stories in the comments!

“This is hard, and I need help.”

Those are the words that were speaking deep in my solar plexus on December 21 this past year as I stood in Warrior I during a special winter solstice yoga/dance class combo, my wonky hip feeling especially out of sorts, my heart racing from the frustration of not being able to glide effortlessly through asanas, my monkey mind blasting full volume about how I have fallen hard off the yoga bandwagon.

I kept envisioning the 5-yoga-classes-per-week Jennifer circa 2006, the one with smooth, in tact cartilage in her hip joints and hamstrings that stretched like rubber bands. This 2012 body didn’t match up, partially because of injury, partially due to neglect.

Either way, the frustration that was stemming from being aware of how critical my lack-of-yoga situation had become—the frustration that had me “feeling seconds away from bursting into tears and running out into the hallway”—was both screaming between my ears (“WAHHHHH!!! I hate yoga anyway, it’s stupid to stand in one posture when I could be dancing instead!!”) and whispering to my heart:

“This is an important practice, Jennifer. It has gotten hard. It is time to ask for help.”

As if on cue, as I discussed my frustration after class with the yoga instructor, she embraced me with her soft and nurturing eyes (yes, I did just say that her eyes embraced me; that is how comforting her gaze is, like a thick and woolly winter sweater) and said, well, Why don’t you come to me some time for a private lesson, and I’ll help you through some of those physical and emotional blocks?

The polite person in me nodded thoughtfully, smiled in agreement: Sure, Yeah, Good Idea, Why Not? But the stubborn and scared person—the one who had JUST privately acknowledged her need for help—shook with resistance internally: No way! How could I allow someone to see me so vulnerable?!

And it wasn’t just anyone. The instructor, Lana Jaclyn, was my dance buddy. We see each other all the time. We had actually crossed paths several years ago practicing yoga at a small-town studio. I didn’t want someone who saw me do straddles and splits and stuff see me in this new tight and wobbly state.

Also, um, I’m technically a certified yoga instructor myself! I went to Kripalu for a month! I have a training manual and certificate! Shouldn’t I be able to help myself? Shouldn’t I instinctively know the tools to recover from this state of yoga desperation?

I sat on Lana’s offer for almost two months. I would like to say that Brené Brown’s TED Talk about vulnerability was what finally pushed me into scheduling an appointment, but the truth is I didn’t see her presentation until just recently, but boy, can I relate!

Living in a state of shame would get me nowhere. “Courage” wasn’t about pulling myself up by the bootstraps, busting out my yoga teacher training notes, and fighting through it myself; courage was embracing imperfection. Being seen, struggles and all.

I had grown to prefer bigger yoga classes recently because I could “hide,” disappear in the crowd if I had to stop and jiggle my leg or take a moment to lie on my back and let my sacrum pop, and now here is I was, in Lana’s home studio, just her and me.

There was nowhere to hide.

However, within moments, as I settled into the session with my legs on the wall in viparita karani, I began to realize this wasn’t such a bad thing. When Lana suggested I slide my legs outward into a V position and I could only go so far before my hip started to hurt … that’s where we stopped. She didn’t make me hold it for a long time.

And when I stepped out of a lunge and felt the usual twinge in my hip joint, I could stop, do my trademark leg jiggle, and continue where we left off. I didn’t feel like I was breaking the flow of someone else’s class. I wasn’t distracting my neighbor. I didn’t have to worry about being three poses behind what the teacher was leading.

Best of all, I was beginning to notice that good ol’ zen feeling emerge, something that yoga hadn’t brought me in a long time. Instead of grinding my teeth, I was enjoying each moment of somatic exploration. I was breeeeeeathing instead of feeling like my lungs were going to pop.

(Confession: I have never been able to properly do ujayii breath until now [yes, even at Kripalu I faked my way through it]—Lana wouldn’t give up on me until I got it right. Man, now I finally know why that pranayama is so calming!)

Of course, with a private class, all of the movements are going to be tailored to the individual. Not having to worry “OMG, I hope she doesn’t do pigeon, please don’t do hip-based stuff for the next 10 minutes!” took a LOAD off my mind.

And even with postures that put minimal stress on my hip, such as a low lunge, Lana had my back. Literally. She straddled me with her knees pressed against my hips, rolled my shoulders back, and molded her body into mine in a way that gave me full experience of the posture.

She did this assist in bow pose … lord, it almost brought me to tears. I haven’t been able to rise that high in years, and the stretch in my back felt like some kind of spinal orgasm. If my back could speak, it would have been squealing “Yes, yes, YES!!!”

During my downdogs, Lana noticed I was sinking into my shoulders and worked with me again and again until I kept a flat back. (This work helped IMMENSELY with the trapezius pain I had been experiencing.)

To build my core strength (and thus help my hip), we worked with a sphinx-based core lift that looked super easy but was a struggle for me (thus showing how badly I needed it). I now believe the solution to all of life’s problems is to simply tuck the tailbone.

Tears flowed freely from my eyes during savasana. The warmth I was experiencing from head to toe was so strong and comforting that I was certain Lana was hovering over me doing some kind of specialized aura healing. The truth was, she was sitting in a corner of the room, simply just being there with me during my relaxation. She commented later that she gets lots of comments about how Reiki flows so naturally from her.

Well, I felt it. Maybe it was her Reiki, maybe it was just the feeling of being reacquainted with my lover, my body, remembering the sensations lying within those nooks and crannies, the curves and hollows of my back, shoulders, knees, hips, neck.

But damn, it felt good.

In her TED Talk, Brené Brown commented on the complexity of vulnerability: “I know that vulnerability is kind of the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, and creativity, of belong, of love.”

Being vulnerable—the certified yoga teacher needing to reach out for help—indeed initially caused shame. In the end, however, that vulnerability filled me with a long-lost sense of love: for my body, my breath, and the individuals like Lana who see me even when I work so hard to remain hidden.

Lana love!

Lana love!

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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