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ChaoticArtwork

No one ever craves Chaos, but during a recent 5Rhythms class I discovered just how necessary it is for transformation.

We were dancing in the tail-end of the second rhythm, Staccato. My body was being tantalized by the percussive sounds, which were gradually intensifying in beats per minute, the vibrations under my feet pushing me closer and closer to Chaos. Imagine a glass of water being nudged along a table-top by a heavy bass throbbing from a cranked-up subwoofer.

The glass reaches the edge of the table.

The pulsing stops.

The glass hovers.

It does not fall.

Chaos averted.

In my case, however, I needed Chaos. I needed that glass to slip. I needed the music to take control and bring that glass tumbling off the edge. I needed spilled water, broken glass.

What the teacher had chosen to do was play the subtlest of Chaos, a repetitive drum beat that lacked a crescendo, a percussive prelude to an anticipated explosive rip-roaring rumble.

But the rumble never happened, and after a few minutes the relaxed sounds of Lyrical came through the speakers. My body wanted to scream; instead, it was requested to be subdued.

I felt robbed. I felt lost. The music that usually makes my muscles melt and my face soften had the opposite effect on me, and I could feel my body slip into the shadow of Lyrical—Distraction. Instead of integration, I disintegrated, losing grasp of everything I had built up earlier in Flowing and Staccato.

Had this happened two years ago, I would have chalked up my disappointing experience to my Type A personality’s fondness of rules, regulations, and order. I would have thought, “Well, OK, the definition of a 5Rhythms Wave is to dance equally through Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness, and because the Chaos segment wasn’t really proportionate to the previous two rhythms, that is why it didn’t feel ‘right.'”

But now I know that isn’t the case. 5Rhythms isn’t a mathematical equation—it’s a practice that parallels so many facets of our lives. An honest, authentic, meaningful Lyrical is hard to find without first experiencing the Chaos that precedes it:

Double rainbows crisscrossing a gray sky after a violent summertime storm.

Lovers blissfully entwined in each other’s arms after the intensity of a chaotic climax.

A newborn baby in a mother’s arms after an excruciating, exhausting labor.

The outpouring of love, generosity, and humanity that surfaces after a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

It is easy to get caught up in our headspace and convince ourselves that a harmonious, Lyrical life can be achieved by avoiding Chaos. Maybe we can tiptoe around the edges. Stay in an amped-up Staccato until we are just miraculously pushed over or below Chaos straight into Lyrical.

And that is why this practice is so important, because the body does not lie. We can create story after story in our head about how things are supposed to feel, but when you put on music and let your body do the talking, the truth emerges. The body says, “This Lyrical doesn’t feel natural. I can’t fully take in the beauty of this moment because I am still clinging onto something I wasn’t able to let go of.”

Heaviness

The nature of Chaos—surrender—can be scary, no doubt. But what I learned in class that night was that the notion of living in an underdeveloped, partial, not-quite-authentic Lyrical may be even more frightening.

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I feel like a bit of a hypocrite.

Just a few days after writing this post about chaos and how to ease into it with flow and grace, I had a rather miserable day at work that left me and all of my colleagues a pig away from turning our office upside-down into a scene out of Lord of the Flies. It was chaotic to say the least, and as desperately as I was trying to remember my very own words about not getting caught up in the madness, I felt my chest tighten, my head pound, and my mind race with negative thoughts.

What saved me from smearing my face with war paint and using my pencil as a spear, however, was the gift of laughter.

I am very fortunate to have a manager who is incredibly professional but also knows when to insert a good chuckle when the going gets tough. It’s a bit backward, because I’m the one who does all the yoga and tai chi and 5Rhythms and pranayama and insert-a-mind/body/spirit-thing-here, and yet at the end of the day, I’m the one sweating bullets and she’s the one reassuring me that everything is going to be OK, and then usually e-mails me a funny picture that gives us both the giggles.

Throughout the day, every time I used the restroom, I faced myself in the mirror and forced a laugh from my belly, feeling the wave of sound rise through my gut and chest, escaping through my mouth and causing my eyes to crinkle. It was a trick I learned from Bob Pileggi, whose Laughter Yoga classes always remind students that if you have to react to a situation, why not laugh instead of expending all that energy frowning and stomping and creating tension? It’s not making light of the situation; it’s just physically expelling your emotions in a more positive manner that’s not going to cause heart attacks and intestinal disorders somewhere down the line.

It is so appropriate, then, that just this week I stumbled across this video from the site Everynone.com, which features a small collection of some of the most intellectually pleasing videos I’ve ever seen.

The above video is only 2 minutes long, and I guarantee by the end you will either be laughing or, at the very least, smiling. It’s a simple compilation of people laughing, starting with babies and eventually ending at the opposite end of the age spectrum with older adults. It’s authentic, infectious, and a reminder that we are all human. What a gift it is to lose ourselves so much in joy.

The next video is my own. I had the pleasure of visiting dear friends Emma and Peter and their 2.5-year-old daughter last weekend. We were all gathered at Peter’s parents’ house, sitting around the living room, when an impromptu balloon war broke out. Despite little Gabriella being a cutie patootie, Peter’s mom is the real star of this video. Her laughter is so genuine and uninhibited; it just exudes pure, simple, and natural joy.

It’s hard to be a grump when you’re with this family, and I’m so glad I caught this moment of spirited spontaneity on video. It’s a 1.5-minute reminder that it is indeed possible to laugh during chaos.

I want to be naked, running through the streets
I want to invite this so-called chaos, that you’d think I dare not be
I want to be weightless, flying through the air
I want to drop all these limitations and return to what I was born to be.
~ Alanis Morissette, “So-Called Chaos”

Just as Alanis Morissette’s album So-Called Chaos is not one of her strongest, when it comes to 5Rhythms, the third rhythm of Chaos is also not one of my favorites. Still, the workshop I attended last weekend revolved around that theme, so I had to take Alanis’ advice and “drop all [my] limitations.”

Chaos intimidates me for two reasons: (a) Sometimes I get way too swept up in the commotion and lose track of all the body parts I am supposed to be mindful of (e.g., my hip) and end up hurting myself; and (b) Sometimes I just cannot sink into the chaos and feel like an outsider slinking around the room as everyone around me is lost in trance.

These fears are easily translated to life outside of a formal 5Rhythms class. Sometimes I take on too much at once–pin too many responsibilities to myself–and before I know it, I am forgetting to pee, forgetting to eat, forgetting to breathe—ultimately hurting myself. That’s a real-life example of the first fear above. A real-life example of the second fear is walking the streets of Manhattan and being unable to meld with the chaos of NYC, being scared of the loudness, the bright lights, the throngs of people, the smells, speeding taxis, and towering skyscrapers, seeing everyone around me mysteriously immersed in the chaos but myself unable to get swept up in the chaotic flow.

So I was ever-so-grateful when the workshop teacher had us approach Chaos from gentler origins, asking us to enter Chaos from a more flowing perspective. We stood on one side of the room and danced our way across the floor, beginning with flowing movement and then–as the music intensified–gradually transitioned to more Chaos-inspired movement while still maintaining a Flowing undercurrent. She challenged us to stay connected to the Flowing, not to let the more jarring Staccato dominate the body.

Coming from this perspective, Chaos felt wonderfully natural and actually enjoyable. I liked being mindful of the transition, breathing into the more quick-paced movement. When my dance had actually achieved an authentic “Chaos” status, I was still connected to my body and didn’t feel so wildly out of control. I was still letting go but very aware of everything around me.

I had to remember this instruction later in the class during a regular Wave. The music transitioned from a Staccato into a Chaos song, and it wasn’t long before everyone around me was thrashing, spinning, eyes rolling into the back of their heads. But I was stuck in neutral and just couldn’t move myself into the Chaos. Again, it was like standing in Times Square, petrified that I just did not fit into all of the urban commotion around me. I wanted so much to be part of the chaos but didn’t know how to let go.

That’s when I remembered the instructor’s guidance from earlier, to enter Chaos from Flowing. So I undulated my spine, my arms. I sneaked in closer to my chaotic classmates, trying to feed off their energy. I weaved in and out and around of their bopping bodies, deeply breathing in all of the madness. Soon enough, I felt the energy rise through me, and I became part of the Chaos. I was swept up naturally in the energy around me, and my body was satisfied to enter its chaotic state without being forced.

The workshop was perfectly timed, because the following week at work, I got sucked into a massive project that basically had (and still has) my entire office in a state of chaos. I had been resisting the responsibilities for a while, but with my newly learned wisdom from 5Rhythms, I allowed myself flow into the tasks, settling comfortably into my chair, plugging my earbuds into my ears, and swaying along to my favorite songs as I sunk into the chaotic database work that consumed most of my days.

Resistance is futile, so why not just breathe, unclench your fingers and toes, and dance mindfully into the chaos?

Bonus link: Just a few days before this workshop, the blog Zen Habits featured this post, entitled “The Unpredictable Freedom and Sweetness of Chaos.” 🙂

Friday night was another 5Rhythms class, this one just 2 hours of a traditional Wave. I was thrilled that my friend Amanda offered to take the class with me; she took a few classes back in 2010 and then fell off the bandwagon, but she is a fantastic mover, so it was great to have her back! The class drew in several new people, plus Michelle, a woman I connected with at Biodanza last year and who I have been longing to dance with again. She is one of those people who can just look at you and you feel overwhelmed with joy.

Here are some random notes from the evening:

The Watchful Hands

It is typical for the instructor to begin a Flowing exercise by telling us to dance with our hands. Before we introduce the arms, shoulders, spine, hips, and legs into the dance, we move only our hands, become fully immersed in the subtleties of the wrists and fingers. However, this time the instructor told us to imagine eyes on the palms of our hands. When we move our hands, what are they seeing?

What I saw was a sliver of everyone else’s dancing, and when we were fully given permission to dance with our entire body, I found myself tuning into my classmates’ movements, noticing a particular move they were doing, and completing a variation of that movement. Call it “copying,” but I saw it more of a form of connection with every.body there in that studio.

‘To Me’ vs. ‘For Me

To kick off Chaos, the instructor, as he has done in the past, had us join hands and form a circle, our arms shaking wildly as one form, our bodies being pulled one way and then another. Was it irritating that we were being pulled in several different directions at once or was it guidance for us to give into the moment? Is this chaos happening to you or for you?, we pondered after class. What if we shifted our perspective so that the chaos we face in daily living is happening “for me,” rather than the victimized “to me”? Is it possible to see the world that way?

This snowstorm is happening ‘for me’??

Amanda the Kite

At one point, when the majority of the class was either vibrating in place or making small steps around themselves, Amanda flew across the studio floor as though she had wings on her ankles, a Porsche speeding down a suburban street when everyone else was going cautiously at 25 mph. Her body was a kite whipping wildly on a windy day; her movement spoke joy, and it was at that point I remembered the instructor’s comment about seeing someone else’s movement and really, really liking it, so much that you want to try it out. So for that moment, Amanda inspired me to be a kite.

Shirtless

Chaos forced me to strip off my sweatshirt, and all I had on underneath was a black sports bra. Normally I really don’t like to remain “shirtless”; when not caught up in the ecstasy of dancing, having my midriff exposed makes me feel all kinds of vulnerable. Not that I have a beer gut hanging out from my yoga pants or anything, but the stomach is just a weird body part that shifts in appearance with every forward fold, backbend, side stretch, and jump. Every time I disrobe down to the sports bra, I’m reminded of the Seinfeld episode when Jerry’s girlfriend walks around the apartment naked and how he’s repulsed at seeing her clothes-less body cough, sneeze, and shake.

I had that nervous feeling for about 3 seconds after peeling off the shirt, but then I was back in the throes of Chaos, moving around every which way, the thoughts of a prana-filled, sweat-covered belly taken over by a deep appreciation of my entire being, the way it was whirling, curling, shaking, and gyrating. My hair, which I normally go great lengths to ensure is pinned back and held neatly in place, was a hot mess. Half of it had fallen out of the rubberband, a few ends were plastered in my armpit, and whatever was left was stuck in the corners of my mouth or covering my eyes. It is in those moments of naked sweaty stomachs and fly-away Medusa hair where my freedom is found.

Michelle’s Plateau Pick-Me-Up

After the pure wildness and rawness of Chaos, the Lyrical that followed was difficult for me to maintain. I was sweaty, exhausted, and had reached a plateau. My Lyrical began to feel flat, and just as I was reluctantly shifting into the dreaded “forced” movement, Michelle shimmied up to me and did a little shake-shake-shake here, shake-shake-shake there, the twinkle in her eye and smile on her lips infusing me with a new spark of energy, like I was a Super Mario Brother coming across a 1-Up mushroom. I didn’t need a new song, a caffeine shot, or a rest break to come back to life; all it took was a little exchange of energy, and I was granted a new reserve of breath and enjoyment.

Some Sweat and Sweetness

I was paired with the studio owner during the shift from Lyrical into Stillness. We clasped hands and engaged in a lovely pas de deux, our breath slowing and our movements growing softer and softer. Had I not been just utterly sweaty at that point, I would have given myself more fully, but I was afraid of pressing my glistening back all over her delicate blouse. It was still a sweet moment.

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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