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.