When the Body Answers Back

We know our stories are trapped in our bodies. We know we use our bodies to express personal perspectives within our stories. But what about when the body needs to do the speaking?

When I was living in NYC, one of my favorite classes was that of Alexandra Beller. She started each class with us laying on our backs, talking us through our bodies, giving us permission to let go of whatever we had been trudging through prior to class and to simply be before she invited us to move.

It never failed, each and every time I would get a lump in my throat, tears would stream from my eyes, and it seemed to come from nowhere. As I described in my post about David Howard’s class, here I was accepted as a person and then supported as a dancer. It was empowering, complex, surprising, and thought-provoking. Over ten years later, I am still thinking about it.

Over the years, I have had students go through similar experiences in my own class. This summer, I have finally had that feeling again in my practice of Bikram yoga.

Interestingly, this topic keeps coming up as I communicate with people from all over the dance map.

It makes me think the conversation needs to be opened.

In grad school, one area of my research was how organized movement curricula can help alleviate symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This, for me, was a brief and shallow advance into the world of research but the topic keeps cropping up in everything else I research and in all facets of my teaching- embodied learning for at-risk students, learning styles and methods for delivering information in a dance classroom, and more.

Without going into too much personal detail, I have experienced many traumas (death of a parent, being in NYC on 9/11, several robberies,….) and I have been conscious of how my body has felt and how my dancing has been impacted as a result of events. Things have helped and hindered along the way but nothing has had the profound effect for me as I have encountered this summer.

Through movement and possibly related to certain environmental conditions, I have felt the ‘baggage’ I have been carrying for years shift and eventually be left behind. Not all of it, but a substantial amount.

I have acknowledged the unevenness of sides of my body- in feeling like I am laying on an incline while in reality laying on flat ground, in sensing complete relaxation on the left side of my body while the right side is tense literally from the top of my head to the toes, even in wanting to cry but only on the right side of my face.

My head has flooded with thoughts that I have not allowed myself to entertain and in the next posture those thoughts flooded out.

I have felt the front of my body roar like a lion and I have cried, and cried, and cried- not in sadness but in release.

My body, mind, and spirit feel stronger than…..well, maybe ever.

In the reading I have done in recent weeks, I am suspecting that this breakthrough is, naturally, because I am ready. However, the environmental conditions of the yoga experience might also be important in my case. Namely, the heat.

Bikram as I understand, is the original hot yoga and all of this- the heat, the focus on my own practice and not that of my students, and the dedicated time to myself-  has returned me to when I was dancing intensely, in hot studios, sweating immensely, and so on. For me, living in NYC and dancing my way through the summer, all of this is relevant to conditions not directly relating to trauma but surrounding the trauma. It has taken me back to the time and not the event. And dance, the technical practice and focus on my progress and process, has been consistent in the time of all other traumas.

None of this has been easy, but it has been necessary. Due to the conversations I have had with others over the last few weeks, I feel prompted to share this in the spirit of “you are not alone”.

My experiences have been dependent upon my interactions with Alexandra Beller, Trent McEntire, and the instructors of Bikram Yoga Capital Area, as well as everyone else that has shaped my life’s path in movement and stillness.

For all those that have had similar experiences or may in the future- keep moving. May you find your own guides, maybe even in the most unexpected of people or situations. At any rate, I hope you find your release.

Open: 3 Things Changing My Life

This year has been about opening my perspectives to new ways of thinking and doing. This has been occurring in my teaching- by examining the “truths” within our heritage of dance training, as well as personally- by taking risks and celebrating what I have come to learn about myself.

A few things in particular have been worth noting:

The love you take is equal to the love you make.

My immediate family, and our joys and successes, are dependent upon my marriage. My husband and I are celebrating our 10th year of marriage all year. We are taking care of ourselves as individuals but also paying attention to the functions and joys of our relationship.

Don’t box me in.

Professionally and artistically, I think I finally understand that very little is pure anymore and it is ok. I have previously acknowledged that I need balance to push me forward- we all do- but I am now understanding in a more complex way that dance is not an island. While I have been teaching in an integrated style for some time (integrating subject areas, fusing ideas, class structures, styles, etc.) I feel “freed” enough to really talk about what I do in broader terms. Dance has filtered my life experiences, not just my movement or academic experiences, and it is ok- even great- to acknowledge this. And with this recent push to study “creativity” in all fields, it might even now be marketable to do so. We’ll see how that goes.

Frankly, I need to leave some dance traditions behind. The more places I explore, the more people I meet, the more problems I try solving lead me to new methods, new applications, and new outcomes. My standard approach for many years was to reteach much of the material I received in ways similar to the ways I had been taught. I thought that since I had good training, it would be good enough for my students. And it isn’t that that training isn’t good enough- but it doesn’t prepare students for their future, it prepares them for my current place. It doesn’t add up. So now I am more closely examining the rules and choosing which to follow and which to set aside.

 Retooling the old model.

With help from Ann, Jessica, and Dana at Bikram Yoga Capital Area, I am reconnecting with my old self- the self dedicated to movement and moving with dedication; the self that leaves the studio sopping wet and standing taller with a calm mind, calm pulse, calm perspective; the self with new body goals, new technical goals, new strategies for achieving goals, and new focus.

Much of my understanding of the world stems from my experiences “in the body”. Having this time and experience of reconnecting with my body in an intense, yet supportive way- one that celebrates wellness of mind and body, and where the awareness of where one’s limitations are an observation and not an insult- has been rejuvenating, even emotional. It has been a much needed release, to say the least. I feel prepared mentally, physically, and emotionally to be moving again- as an artist and not just a teacher. I am so thankful for the renewal of that inspiration.

So, let’s dance.