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Between a transformational drumming workshop on Saturday, a euphoric 5Rhythms workshop on Sunday, and an impromptu trip to the beach on an unseasonably warm Monday, a lot of really soul-stirring stuff happened this past weekend, so much that I am almost tempted to bail out of writing about it altogether because I am still processing and letting everything soak in.

As 5Rhythms master teacher Lucia Rose Horan stated after our powerful Sunday workshop, sometimes it’s best after a particularly powerful event or experience not to rush back home and gush to the world about everything that just happened, despite a longing to share and attempt to make others understand what’s circuiting through your veins. Some things you just need to keep to yourself, she advised, kept in your heart as a private moment of gratitude until you’ve had time to work through the emotions.

However, writing is one of my tools for processing—one of my “flowtation devices,” so to speak—so I am prepared to take the plunge. Are you ready to dive in with me?

***

For five hours on Saturday, I was sitting with a djembe between my knees during Jim Donovan’s Rhythm Revival at Princeton Center for Yoga and Health.

The event deserves its own blog post (which it will get eventually), but in short, the workshop was more about self-reflection, self-improvement, and interpersonal communication than it was technique. While we learned the proper way to execute bass and tone sounds on our instruments, the drum was used more as a tool for personal transformation. In fact, Jim named his workshop wisely; it wasn’t just a drum circle but rather a revival, “bringing back an awareness that once was,” he explained.

So that, combined with being in a beautiful space, in the company of my dear friend Carrol, and the fact that, weather-wise, it was just a warm and delicious afternoon, was Gift #1.

As much as I yearned to dance on Sunday, especially after sitting behind a drum and in the car all day Saturday, I was also uncharacteristically nervous about the 5Rhythms workshop that afternoon.

First, the workshop took place in an area completely new to me, on roads I had never traveled before. This is actually both a literal and metaphorical statement: I was nervous about physically driving to the place (this is nothing new) but also nervous about the workshop in general. Even though I’ve been dancing the 5Rhythms for two years, I have been reluctant to take a master class, convinced that I didn’t need a master teacher or special program to help me explore the depths of my passion.

But with some gentle nudging from fellow dancers and mentors (and the blessings of Lucia for allowing me to attend only the second day of her 2-day workshop), I suddenly found myself on new terrain.

Despite stepping into Lucia’s workshop, “A Graceful Journey: Beginning, Middle, and End,” smack in the middle—having to meet new dancers, getting acquainted with a particularly unforgiving floor, and not having the wisdom gained from the previous day—this personal “beginning” of mine was not as scary as I set it up to be.

The group was welcoming, Lucia spoke with me before class to debrief me on what I missed, and once the first few steps of Flowing began, I was so enthralled to be dancing with this mass of “my people” that I felt like a kid in a candy store, almost giddily overwhelmed being surrounded by everything I could ever ask for. Several of the attendees have years of 5Rhythms experience, and—as was suggested to me—I can only grow by exposing myself to new teachers and dancers, taking my small-fish self and diving into the big pond.


One of the exercises in the workshop was to explore in which stage of a journey you find the most resistance or struggle: the beginning, the middle, or the end? I aligned myself with the Beginning group; after all, didn’t I just write about this? Also, the sheer fact that it took me so damn long to put on my big-girl pants and even attend this workshop was a clear indication of my struggle.

So, then, it made sense that when Lucia said each group was going to collectively dance out their stage for the others to witness, my brain said, “Maybe she’ll make the End group go first, just to throw us off!” But alas, the Beginning cohort stepped up first (womp womp). Panic hit again once we all realized we were to dance without music, meaning WE would have to initiate and be the beginning. As a final test of our strength, Lucia deliberately made each group dance in their most vulnerable stage the longest: Flowing for Beginnings, Staccato/Chaos for Middles, and Lyrical/Stillness for Ends. My fellow Beginnings and I spoke afterward about how we either (a) dreaded starting the dance; or (b) just wanted to rush past Flowing into Staccato.

The silent Wave was a new experience for me, and we did it again as a whole group. Of course music has an extraordinary influence over movement, but Lucia urged us to experiment working with the most basic of sounds: ahhhing, sighing, long and deliberate inhalations, forceful hara breaths, screams, yelps, murmurs, coos, and whispers. It didn’t take long for this “silent” Wave to become not-so-silent, as the breath of 30 or so people became our music.

The music returned for another Wave, at which point I fell into the rabbit hole and slipped off to Wonderland. I was overcome with sheer fucking joy, a big goofy grin spread across my face, holding my hands up to catch whatever was falling and cascading and buzzing around me. It was euphoria in all its wild, wide-eyed glory—everything was moving so fast, yet so slow and deliberate. The glistening bodies around me moved like gypsy scarves, colorful snowflakes whipping around during a blizzard. All I kept thinking was, Everyone is So Fucking Happy! I Am Happy! Dammit, I Am Really Fucking Happy!


Gradually the hypnotic pulse and expulsion of Chaos softened in Lyrical, which is when Lucia reminded us not to drop the energy, to hold onto what we had just created. By containing that energy, not just “giving up,” the experience blossomed into something raw and intense. I found myself crying from gratitude, confusion, bliss, just being able to see people so happy and being a part of it as well.

As Stillness came upon us, I stood with a small personal perimeter around me, isolated but still feeling surrounded and supported by everyone’s energy and the colors of their skin, their clothes, their hair. I felt a tear dwell in the corner of my eye; it begin its descent down my cheek, and when I finally opened my eyes, I saw Union in front of me, a coming-together of people, experiences, life stories, scars, gains, losses, lessons, dances, falls, injuries, and healing.

So, for our final exercise, when Lucia asked us to individually step to the front of the room and speak/dance out this fill-in-the-blank—“In the journey of my heart, I find ____”—I chose Union. “In the journey of my heart, I find Union,” I said aloud three times, dancing out the associated emotions. It came easier to me than any dance “solo”; I wasn’t displaying technique or showing off; I was simply dancing my heart. I was surprised at the clarity and volume of my usually mumbling voice and felt strongly supported by the group sitting in front of me and witnessing this exercise in ritual theatre.

Lucia encouraged us to try a similar experiment at home, dancing to “our” song (that song you could listen to again and again) three times in a row. Always start and end the exercise with the feet grounded, hands on heart and belly. See how your dance changes each time: How do your Beginnings, Middles, and Ends differ?

When I left the workshop, I felt like I was leaving Kripalu after my yoga teacher training: dazed, confused, and exhausted. What day is it? Where am I driving? I had to sit in my car for several minutes and decompress, physically unable to unclench my fist, perhaps trying hard to hold tightly onto the energy created in the past 6 hours. When I finally arrived home, I realized I had danced my socks down to almost nothing. Not only had I sweated out my prayers that day but I had worn out my socks. I proudly balled up the holy cotton and hung them alongside my very first pair of satin pointe shoes, a memento of another rite of passage.

***

On Monday, with the temperature rising near an unseasonable 90 degrees, I took advantage of my pre-planned vacation day and drove to my happy place, the Jersey shore. It was the perfect getaway after two very intense days, and I welcomed the long stretch of highway and finally the expansive blue sea to listen to my internal dialogues.

When my bare feet first touched the sand, I wanted nothing other than to dance.


With a relatively empty beach (a few sunbathers here and there), I plugged my iPod into my ears and stood as Lucia instructed, feet buried in sand, grounded, hand on heart and belly. It was a solo but it was not, as I was surrounded by the spirit of not just nature but everyone with whom I danced with earlier, the energy generated, their witnessing eyes. With my eye on the ocean, I started moving slowly:

Then all of a sudden, I heard a note
It started in my chest and ended in my throat
Then I realized, then I realized, then I realized I was swimming,
Yes, I was swimming
And now I’m swimming Yes, I am swimming
(Florence + the Machine, “Swimming“)

…standing on terra firma but still flowing in the foam, rising and falling with the waves. My feet nestled in the wet and solid sand, a sturdy foundation gripping my toes. The sand had me, it’s got me, and when I needed to jump it released me, and when I landed, it welcomed me back.

After closing my dance the same way I started (hands on heart and belly), I became mesmerized by the ripples in the sand, the rolls, the creases and jagged zig-zags, the result of wind and time cutting through the sediment.

As I began to photograph this observation, a police officer approached me and asked how I was, and it very soon became clear that someone had called the cops on me because my dance frightened them. “Just got a call that someone saw you dancing for a while out here, and I just wanted to make sure you’re OK,” he reassured me, most certainly scanning my body language for any signs of drug or alcohol use.

I felt a lump in my throat, not because I had a law enforcement officer standing in front of me (I was quite aware I was not doing anything illegal), but because it pained me that someone had perceived my dance as “wrong,” that someone had taken the thing dearest to my heart and challenged it.

I felt cheapened and violated by this intrusion and struggled to hold back tears. Dance is my expression; people can run and do yoga on the beach without question, but moving to music no one but I can hear was renegade. Would I have been stopped if I sat in meditation with hands in anjali mudra? This was was prayer, my Namaste to the world, and someone was scared of it. I had never felt so much like Paulo Coelho’s Athena and never so compelled to read his book all over again. The officer apologized for having to interfere and said I was welcome to resume dancing, but the sanctity was ruined and I opted to move a few blocks over and simply sit on the dune in contemplation.

Obligatory pensive beach self-portrait

As the winds picked up and the temperatures quickly dipped, I walked mindfully along the boardwalk, my hair windblown and tousled, eyes watering from the ocean chill, salt on my face, lips red and chapped, a pinkish hue to my cheeks after a day in the sun. As with all beach excursions, I was reluctant to leave, not wanting to let go of that union I experienced the day before, the connection of mind, body, spirit, and nature (and curly fries and custard, of course).

But with the setting sun sizzling like an orange egg yolk over the bay, fizzing into the water and trees, I drove home, a steady 65 from beach grass and boards to dogwoods and freshly mowed lawns, back to suburbia for this Witch of Portobello.

This past week has been a little dizzying, and Bryan and I have been trying to ho-ho-ha-ha-ha our way through a testy George Foreman Grill, a cracked kitchen sink and the installation of a new one (shout-out to my dad, who spent about 2.5 hours squeezed into the bowels of our kitchen cabinetry), and the demise of Bryan’s 10-year-old Hyundai and subsequent purchase of a new (used) car, complete with test-driving vehicles on a windy, rainy Wednesday night in rush-hour traffic.

Whee!

As such, I’ve neglected to pay tribute to the honest-to-gosh things that have recently put a smile on my face. Of note:

Late-Season Tomatoes

As usual, our tomato plants showed promise at the beginning of the season, produced a few good ones (the rest were devoured by squirrels and rabbits), and then withered into nothingness somewhere around late August. We went on vacation in early September, completely neglecting the plants and never once looking back. Yet abandonment makes the vines grow stronger (or perhaps it was the 279 gallons of rain we got this summer), because earlier this month these guys made an appearance on the sagging, droopy plants:

And they were amazing! Firm, red, with very few seeds, and not the least bit watery. Bonus: We got to them before those darn squirrels.

Toddler Time

As I’ve already mentioned, I am in love with my friends Emma and Peter’s daughter, Bella. She is a one-person show, and she is so entertaining that I could see people paying to witness her side-splitting expressions, silly dances, and toddler babble. I recently got to hang out with her all afternoon during her 2nd birthday party, which featured almost zen-like gift unwrapping (surely to turn into monster shreddage-unwrapping by next year), train rides on Thomas the Tank Engine, and the requisite cake time!

(Not pictured: Bella’s grandfather leaning a little too far back in his chair and falling to the garage floor in slow-mo. We all held our breath…and then busted up laughing as he gave the thumbs-up from the ground.) 🙂

Our gift to Bella was Disney related, of course: a baby doll version of Ariel. I brainwashed Bella into acknowledging that it was her most favorite present of the bunch, and it was a success.

Two-year-olds don't quite grasp the concept of "Say Cheese!"

My impression of Bella

She played with the doll all evening, much better than the time as a newborn she broke out into tears when her momma placed the Mickey Mouse plush I purchased in her arms.

She even crafted a seasonally appropriate thank-you card for us:

Indian Summer

The same weekend as Bella’s birthday, Bryan and I went down the shore for the day. The forecast called for temps in the mid-80s at home, so we took the opportunity to experience Ocean City in October. It was surprisingly warm (what ocean breeze?!), so much that Bryan had to buy a pair of shorts on the boardwalk and ditch his jeans.

I was excited to walk on the sand without a beach tag and, since lifeguard season is over, pose contemplatively on the algae-covered jetty.

We intentionally parked several blocks away from the main boardwalk so we could get in plenty of walking time, making us feel a little less guilty for indulging in super-huge slices of pizza and frozen desserts. (It also balanced out all the time we spent sitting in traffic on the drive home, since the rest of the world had the same idea about going to the shore.)

Where one slice is enough!

We played a round of miniature golf and took note of all the migrating monarch butterflies fluttering over the boardwalk wildflowers. I wish I had a picture of the butterflies—they were all over the place!

Ego Boosters

I don’t toot my own horn much, but two personal accomplishments last week really made me beam: (a) I found out that I passed a super-hard exam I took last month that officially makes me an Editor in the Life Sciences (complete with credentials that no one but our little circle of nerdy editors will understand), and (b) a triathlon coach at my gym praised my swimming skills. I told her that I was interested in taking her freestyle swim lessons (intended to improve your technique), and she looked at me and said, “Nah, you don’t need that.” I went on to explain that other than childhood lessons at the Y, I’ve had no other training and was looking to improve my form. Again, she said, “I’ve seen you swim. You’re fine.” Maybe it’s because I feel like my hip slows me down and that it compromises my kick, but few times when I swim do I feel confident about how I’m putting it all (kick, arms, breathing) together. My little pseuo-panic attack back in June wasn’t really boosting my self-esteem either.

But apparently I’m just a smidge above OK when it comes to editing and swimming. It feels awkward, but I guess I’ll give my ego horn a little ::toot toot::

Nature Walks

Every morning during my walks through the park, I see the changing leaves, curious deer, and sometimes even a wild turkey or four. This will be a separate post to come, though. Too much excitement to cover in this already overloaded post!

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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