Strategies for Bouncing Back from Surgery Part 2

October 14th, 2014

Six weeks ago I had a double mastectomy for breast cancer. This has been my fourth surgery in 24 years, and of all the surgeries I've had – see Part 1 – this has been the easiest recovery yet. In my previous post I mentioned five things to do to prepare for surgery, assuming you're lucky enough to know ahead of time. Sometimes that can't happen. But if you haven't done those things, now might be a good time to implement them. Below are five strategies that really helped me bounce back from this last adventure.

6) Enjoy taking it easy, and let others help you!  Relax – what a concept! As a self-employed person, I rarely take more than ten days off a year. What a girl has to do to get three weeks off, huh? How about a double mastectomy? LOL! The point is, if you're recovering from surgery, don't fight it. Enjoy the time off. Read books, watch movies, do nothing. Just Be. And don't feel guilty or worry about it. Let people help you. It gives them a good feeling. Relaxing will help your body heal.

7) Start moving right away. (In hospital, they will make you do this.) At home, you can start by taking some full, deep breaths that expand and lift your ribcage on the inhalation, and let it drop and relax on the exhalation. Do this lying down, seated, and standing. Stretch like a cat when it's  been curled up a long time – you know, where your toes spread and your muscles contract and vibrate. Even if this makes muscles that have been cut suddenly hurt, don't worry about it. It's getting blood to those muscles that helps them heal.

8) You have a new body. It's changed and it will feel different. Be kind to yourself. This is a tender time.  Don't be afraid of this – even if you're now missing parts, or have new parts. Try to cultivate an attitude of curiosity and inquiry rather than aversion and hostility.

9) Be real. If you're a type-A energizer bunny, lower your expectations a bit. For God's sake, your body has just been cut and invaded! Give yourself a break. You're probably going to overdo anyway, so back off already. You'll slow yourself down with setbacks if you push too fast. If, on the other hand, you're a slug, then you need to move more than you want. Movement circulates blood and lymph and helps the body heal. Capisce?

10) Prioritize during your recovery time. As you start to feel better, you'll find yourself staring at a pile of bills, laundry, and other tasks, but you won't really be up for much. Put aside time in small bites, like fifteen or twenty minutes to deal with a bill or a phone call, then rest. You're taking time off, remember?

Surgeries are not often experiences we're delighted to have, but they can be uplifting experiences. A surgery may save your life, give you renewed capabilities, or buy you time. These are all gifts. If you enjoyed reading this, pass it on to a friend. If you've recently undergone surgery and need some help getting back your physical strength, contact me.

 

Strategies for Bouncing Back from Surgery

October 14th, 2014

In the last 24 years, I've had four somewhat major surgeries: two bowel excisions and resections for Crohn's disease, an ankle tenosynovectomy, and six weeks ago, a double mastectomy without reconstruction.

I guess you could call me a comeback kid – if "kid" applies to someone fifty-one years old. :-))  With each surgery and rehabilitation, I've learned some very important lessons.  Here are Ten Steps to Bouncing Back. The first five deal with before the surgery. If you have the luxury of planning a surgery, these are important. If you don't, think about not being able to take care of these in an emergency and get busy. Preparation wins this battle.

1) Create an exercise program that appeals to you that includes strength and resistance training, stretching, and coordination and balance challenges and stick to it. Even twenty minutes a day – five minutes for each of these skills – will pay enormous dividends the day you find yourself incapacitated from surgery.

2) Consult with a Naturopath or Nutritionist. Some supplements should not be taken before surgery, like Vitamin E, because it can cause bleeding. Plenty of supplements can help with the healing process after. Alternative medicine is being used more and more in conjunction with allopathic (western) medicine. Get a team together: acupuncturist, massage therapist, chiropractors can all help get your body in could shape before, and get you back on track after.

3) Line up help form friends, partners, family for the first week or two after your surgery. Try not to rely on only one person. My partner was a dream and totally there for me, but it made him feel better having my sister there as well. Many hands make a light burden. Let people know ahead of time so they can prepare. Have people bring food so you and your caretakers don't have to cook all the time. People really do like giving a hand.

4) Get the down and dirty info on your procedure and condition. I know – this can be scary. But it's better to know and be prepared so you can make the best decisions for yourself.

5) Set your affairs in order!  Do you have a Living Will? This tells your doctors what you want should you be become unable to communicate, as in coma. Do you want to stay plugged in indefinitely? Do you want hydration only? Tube feeding? You get the picture. Most hospitals have these forms handy. They need to be witnessed though. And you will need to appoint someone to take responsibility for you and advocate for you if you're not able, so get a Durable Power of Attorney. Have you made a will? Wills and Durable Powers of Attorney can be downloaded from Stevens-Ness (http://www.stevensness.com/store)  for a small fee. Before my surgery, I bought a small notebook and listed all my bank accounts, numbers, passwords, utility accounts, landlords, etc. so that if I kicked the bucket, my dear ones wouldn't be left with a mess. It gave me peace of mind and them as well.

Stay tuned for the next five pointers on how to bounce back!

Beyond the Barre part 2

May 31st, 2013

Noodling: The Creative Power of Solitary Practice

Mastery and authority in dance do not  necessarily come as a result of perfection, or even consistent flawless execution, but from the confidence built by thousands of hours of practice in which exploration and discovery trump tension-inducing performance anxiety.

In  his book Outliers: The Story of Success, author Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions the "10,000 hour rule", asserting that the key to success in any field is dependent on practicing a specific task for a total of about 10,000 hours. (Physical therapists learn that in order to proprioceptively train an action correctly, a minimum of 7000 repetitions is necessary.) What this means is that for a dancer to acquire mastery, she/he must practice for about ten years. If you do the math, 10,000 hrs divided by ten years is 1000hrs per year, divided by 52 weeks is approximately 19.23 hrs per week,  which amounts to about 3.2 hrs/day of practice  six days a week for ten years.  (See note at the end of this blog.)

For most dancers, the bulk of this practice takes place in ballet classes. But I want to address here the importance of practicing alone, without the eyes of a teacher or your colleagues on you, both of which can have effects ranging from inhibition to falsification – which is another form of inhibition actually.  Mastery, paradoxically, is not about not making mistakes; it is about discovering and embodying corrections for oneself.

When I was 12, my first ballet teacher, Myrl Lawrence, gave me the keys to The Ballet Studio (the name of her school). By then she had known me for some 5 years. She saw that I was completely dedicated and obsessed with ballet. I was desperate to practice, and had no room at home to do so, though often , at night while I was supposed to be in bed, I was using my dresser for a barre. In any case, this meant that Sundays, when there were no classes, I was driven to the studio by one of my parents, let myself  in, locked the door, and gave myself a ballet class for two hours. It is only now, as an adult, that I realize how extraordinary this situation was. Giving keys to a 12 year old, allowing her to be alone in a studio, trusting her – this was an amazing gift from my teacher. In those hours, I worked and puzzled and studied my line, steps, arms, turns, jumps. I invented choreography. I wept. I raged. I celebrated. And I noodled, working to try to understand how classical ballet technique could be applied by my body.

My experience is that working by oneself is essential. Unconstrained by time, by the need to do certain sequences as given, a dancer can surrender to a process that is completely organic and directed from within. Guided by curiosity, desire, frustration, determination, and the hunger to "get it right" working alone gives one freedom to explore in whatever way is necessary, not dictated by convention or the time constraints of a traditional class, or by whatever dogmatism may be driving one's teachers. Here imagination serves  inquiry and can be used to invent exercises that facilitate kinaesthetic understanding or liberate the body from the tension born of expectations. Shame flees and is replaced by curiosity and discovery.

From age 12, fast forward 15 years. I was 27. I had had to give up my ambition to dance due to being catastrophically ill. After a life-saving surgery, I went back to The Ballet Studio. My teacher had died and one of her students had taken over. I could barely get through a barre I was so weak, and someone told me about Pilates. A year later, I had a tiny studio built in my basement, put a barre, mirrors, and a reformer there. It was my sanctuary. I practiced there many hours, and also took classes wherever I could. Within another year, I was performing at the Met Opera in NYC.

Now in my own Pilates studio in Portland, OR, working by myself is my principal practice outside of teaching. I use this practice to problem solve in my own body, and to help me understand the problems of clients and students. I experiment with exercises, stretches, different planes of movement, changing resistance, gravity, intent. Essentially, the studio becomes a laboratory where the purpose is investigation, not the accomplishment of perfection or some pre decided outcome. This freedom is precisely what drives private sessions. Here, in conjunction with clients or students, I allow their process, their needs, to move them, and together, we explore. I also encourage everyone to go home and work alone. Solitude is the mother of creativity, the incubator of discovery, and the cradle of understanding. Noodling is essential to success.

(Note: dancers, who usually begin studying around age 6, will not spend 3 hours  a day, 6 days a week,  in a studio unless they are part of a professional school. In-studio practice time increases as students get older and more proficient. It eventually evens out and does take about ten years, with the last 3-4 loaded with about 4-5 hours of dance six days a week. Master teacher Haydee Guttierez used to say that it takes ten years to make a dancer. She said this before Gladwell's book was published.)

Beyond the Barre

May 26th, 2013

I'm starting a blog to answer a call. The call is what happened to the blazing desire to become a professional ballerina. The desire, first thwarted then satisfied in a way I could never have anticipated, is not alive in the same way. The passion for making my body dance has abated, but the love for dancers has not. And I mean dancers, not dance in general. Because what I've come to realize is that I love dancers, humans who crave dance, perhaps more than dance itself. There is something fierce and tender about dancers that moves me and makes my heart flip flop, expand to breaking point, and sometimes contract in despair.

The opportunity to work with young dancers at the start of their careers is what gives me joy. So this blog will be about them, us, about the exchanges and processes we create together. I hope this serves them and nourishes them, for I feel greatly nourished by our exchanges.

To begin with, I want to talk about ballet training beyond the barre. Of course the barre is where it all starts, but it cannot end there for many reasons. First because doing barre is not dancing, it's a preparation for dance, but many dancers get stuck there, in a fixation on perfection and perfecting technique. Second, because in fact, just using barre work to train the body is no longer enough. This  may be controversial still for some teachers. So I want to spend some time explaining why I've come to this view.

The exercises ballet dancers perform at the barre are a series of very specific movements, shapes, and coordinated sequences that form the lexicon of classical ballet choreography. They include a kinetic and verbal vocabulary requiring flexibility and strength in extreme external rotation as the impetus for every single gesture. If performed correctly, this builds a body that contains a great deal of kinetic power in the implicit coil of the spiral called turnout.

Training is all too often aesthetically driven, not anatomically nor kinaesthetically driven. This means dancers are trying to make themselves look right without reference to whether something feels right, or without a reality-based accurate view of their physiology.  Herein  lies the root of most future problems.

At the very least, training beyond the barre can inform dancers both intellectually and experientially, about their physical anatomy and how it works based on functional reality and not aesthetic ideals. Paradoxically, when the body is functioning optimally, movements are always balanced and graceful.  In other words, an optimally functioning body is beautiful.

When a dancer becomes overly preoccupied with their appearance in a mirror, breadth and depth of sensation is muted in favor of heightened visual feedback. This visual preoccupation, because its focus is so narrow, is often completely distorted, producing a negative feedback loop. Force of will used to accomplish a desired line creates tension, which interrupts freedom of movement. The result is a dancer working against themselves, which can be likened to when the immune system begins to attack the body. To be continued……

Breaking Holding Patterns – Or How are We Standing?

October 3rd, 2011

In the body, as in life, often what begins as an adaptive response to a stressor becomes a habit or holding pattern. This expresses itself in several ways. Chronic pain and tightness; a feeling of impingement, ungroundedness, unevenness, clumsiness, chronic fatigue. This physical imbalance may be expressing a psychic or emotional imbalance, a trope or tendency to think, lean, or act in some habitual way. These tendencies and habits prevent spontaneity and may actually be the culprits that keep us repeating patterns of relating, and finding ourselves facing the same issues again and again. Habits expressed in chronically tight areas may take years to uncover, explore, and resolve, but the time and effort are well worth it, and the journey can be as satisfying as the resolution.

Ask anyone what makes humans stand upright, and most answers include some direct or indirect reference to gravity. Most people think of gravity as a force that must be “fought” in a continuous struggle in which – obviously – we are bound to lose. And the postures which express this belief are generally along a continuum between rigid holding or collapse. We forget that what goes down, must come back up; and forgetting that rebound, we get stuck in holding patterns that keep us either up, or down. The effort involved in staying put is greater than that which would allow for a rebound, or for a continuous flow between down and up. This flow – imbued now, rightly so – with an almost mystical reverence – is nothing other than a continuous energy exchange. Like the medieval Tarot symbol of the The Star, in which a woman holds two pitchers from which there is a continuous flow back and forth – when we are “in the flow” we partake of stream of energy which makes all effort seem effortless. This is because when we don’t hold on, we neither block our receptivity, nor our outpouring of energy, and there is a continuous refreshment.

The first step in finding the flow is acknowledging that it exists. A surfer stepping into the ocean is not in doubt that there will be waves. A key point here is trust. If you miss a wave, there will be another. That’s the nature of Ocean. Getting lost in regretting a missed wave, or nostalgically replaying a wave captured – either of these states will assuredly result in missing the next wave. This is a practice in continually letting go and staying alert and relaxed in the present. In the present is all the information you need.

Next, noticing where you are and what’s happening opens you to receive information. Whether standing or sitting, notice where you are receiving support. Support is continually there in any point of contact. Support exists even from something you are holding. Changing your relationship to the point of contact so that you are “receiving” it, not pushing it away, changes the energy flow between you and it. The point could be the ground, a chair, a steering wheel, a weight or cup, a person’s hand. This awareness is a place where you are relating to everything sensorially both inside you and outside you simultaneously.

Third, realize that the intention to rest into the point of contact is what creates support. Resting is not collapsing, but a subtle relaxation into the feeling of the contact. Relaxing increases sensation, that is, neuromuscular feedback. Muscles are wired in both directions; by allowing your weight to ‘fall’ into a surface, you create an automatic push back – that’s gravity. This is rebounding and creates reciprocity and flow.

What is Turnout?

January 17th, 2011

3) What is Turnout?

Turnout is the outward rotation of the legs that gives ballet its characteristic aesthetic. Picture a dancer with heels together and toes pointing in opposite directions (First position) like a cartoon penguin, and you have the stereotypical idea of turnout. Dancers will go to extraordinary measures to achieve “perfect” (180 degrees) turnout.  The aesthetic of outward rotation comes from several historic factors: in the 17th century, when ballet was first performed by men in the court of Louis XIV (picture men in white hose, knee-length pantaloons, ruffled shirts, and black shoes with buckles and a heel) it was considered attractive for men to have a “well-turned calf”. Turning out the legs allows for quicker transitions of movement in various directions, as well as a technique called “beats” – in which the legs are crossed repeatedly in the air before landing. As the art developed, and women began to perform, turnout also allowed for the legs to be held higher. External rotation allows for greater range of motion and makes the uninterrupted “line” of the leg more pleasing.

Thanks to the popularization of dance,  physical therapists and some physicians are aware of ballet turnout as a function of the gluteals, which are  rotators of the thigh. However, the anatomy of turnout involves  abdominals and iliopsoas (core);  gluteals (butt);  hamstrings, abductors, and adductors (thigh muscles), gastrocnemius and peroneals (calf muscles),  even the foot and ankle. It is primarily an action, a spiral or spin of the muscles. It requires many years of training to implement. The most common mistake dancers make is turning out only from the knee down. The dancer becomes fixated on the position of the feet, and so imitates the “penguin” look without engaging the muscles above the knee that would support the rotation. This usually culminates in knee, ankle, and foot injuries ranging from dislocation of the patella and ankle sprains, to breaking the fifth metatarsal or little toe. Conversely, a dancer may turn out well enough from the hip and then fail to follow through in the lower leg and ankle. This is equally dangerous. In both situations, a torque is placed on the knee joint.

Turnout, or external rotation, is the cohesive factor or “glue” of ballet technique. Properly applied, turnout not only makes a dancer strong, quick, and beautiful, but keeps the body safe from injury. Turnout acquires a bad reputation from being misapplied and misunderstood. The human body is made to turn out at the hip, thanks to the rounded nature of the head of the femur, and the shallow socket where it rests. There is variation among individuals regarding the depth of the socket, and the tightness of the ligaments. Nevertheless, everyone is capable of some degree of turnout. It is a question of understanding how to achieve it. I tell my students: Turnout is a verb, not a noun. In other words, if you’re not turning out, you don’t have it. It is this fundamental shift in understanding – that turnout is a continually applied action, like a running engine,  an impetus that precedes each and every gesture and movement – that transforms this apparent physical distortion into a powerful technique. Further, turnout is a physical expression of the spiritual/emotional state of being open. One is turning from the inside out, exposing the core of the body, from the thighs to the heart itself, in a continual hum or “Om”. Experience leads me to wonder how much the achievement of it also depends upon a certain psycho-emotional maturity and willingness to feel exposed.

In some schools, turnout is “forced” – meaning that dancers are required to assume a 180 degree rotation of the feet whether they can actually sustain it muscularly or not. The theory behind this is roughly that 1) young children are so limber that it won’t hurt them, and 2) if they do it often enough they’ll figure out how to hold it. My thoughts on this are as follows: some bodies are more inclined to sustain such an extreme position without damage than others. Further, the older a student is when they begin to train, the more problematic this forcing becomes. As a dancer forces the feet, the foot arches collapse, the knees strain, and the pelvis tips forward,  arching the lower back in an attempt to counter-balance the forward trajectory of the weight caused by the collapsed foot arches. Thus, a dancer cannot even begin to use the correct muscles to develop turnout because their energy is being diverted into trying to maintain balance in very poor alignment. This scenario will invariably lead to injury in the near or distant future.

While a conscientious teacher will try to monitor each student in class to make sure they are not perpetrating the above disaster, tailoring instruction for individuals within a class situation is difficult. Furthermore, not all teachers are gifted at conveying how to achieve  turnout and strong technique. It is partly for this reason that professional schools tend to choose bodies that are naturally flexible. But even so, there will be children for whom turnout will be more of a challenge than for others. It is not only a matter of flexibility, but of strength, and the shape of the legs and feet. Dancers will go to great lengths to open or loosen the muscles of the hips and upper thighs to achieve turnout. But stretching is not enough because the trunk must not “sit” atop the hips like a lead box. Deep core conditioning outside of ballet class – Pilates, Rommett Floor barre, and private instruction –  may be necessary if not essential. Factor in that, throughout their training, dancers are growing and maturing. This compromises their proprioception – their ability to sense what their bodies are doing in space.

Finally, the influence of the Bolshoi and Kirov schools on ballet aesthetic in the 20th century cannot be underestimated. It began with Diaghilev’s tours of his Ballet Russes and culminated in the subsequent exodus of many great dancers, including George Balanchine. The emigre Russian teachers found their way into various schools, while George Balanchine founded New York City Ballet and its school, SAB, where his Kirov training was the springboard for what is now considered the American style of classical dance. It is important to understand this bit of history because it has a direct influence on how turnout is applied, and factors into successful ballet dancers’ careers. In the Russian schools, dancers were carefully and  scientifically selected based on physical measurements that predicted their capabilities. Bodies that did not adhere to the standard were not allowed to train in these schools. Thus, rigorous training that demanded perfect turnout was applied only to these elite, ultra-selected bodies. In the United States, such a selection process does not exist, even in schools like School of American Ballet and San Francisco Ballet School, for the simple reason that it would be economic suicide for these schools, as it would greatly reduce the pool of students. The result of this is that rigorous training demanding perfect turnout is being applied to less-than-rigorously selected bodies. Some manage to emerge strong and unscathed. Many do not.

Weight is power

April 9th, 2009

I was teaching class two nights ago, working on assembles on pointe. These are actually much harder than they appear, as all the power for the releve must come from the one standing leg with the added challenge of an extended gesture leg, front, side, or back, where dancers often place some weight. The assembles weren’t happening, and when I asked the dancers what they were thinking of, they all dutifully talked about abs and glutes and arms, but not one asked herself “where is my weight really, and where am I taking it?”

This is the fundamental question. Where is our weight? Where are we standing?And where are we going with it? Because where our weight is, our power is. After years of being trained to think about my body as a collection of unruly parts that had to be brow-beaten into acting like a whole, I’ve now made a complete about-face. The only useful thing is awareness of the space you are occupying and the space you wish to displace as you move. In this assemble en pointe, for example, the body is displacing vertically – so not only must the hips ascend to point, but the entire body must ascend. Though I’m stating the obvious, it is amazing to observe ballet dancers trained in not moving the hips laterally while the legs work, translate that into a horizontal and vertical immobility while traveling on the dance floor.

Pique is another instance where dancers are going from plie on one leg (down) to stepping up and over onto the other leg (across/up) and they frequently do not take into account a complete space displacement on both vertical and horizontal plains. As a teacher, I have talked about plie and pushing and stepping onto a straight knee, and all those little details that we want to happen. But what I’ve realized is that those never happen until changing weight through vertical/horizontal  space is taken into account.

So where our weight is, there is our power. And where we are going in three-dimensional space is how that power is directed.

Health-sustaining choices

April 5th, 2009

It is no longer just a personal matter. The choices we make to sustain our individual health have repercussions in the world. Of all the industrial nations, the United States’ health care bill is highest, reflecting not just out-of-control drug costs but rampant obesity and addiction. Our economic crisis is the result of decades of choosing consumerist addictions to soothe the emptiness of our lives. When we are pushed to work more and more to line the pockets of already billionaire CEO’s, the meaningfulness of our labour can seemingly only be soothed by using that money to buy things. Feeling left-out of the American dream, we plunged head-long into debt, buying houses with perilous mortgages, just to own a piece of the shrinking rock. We lost ourselves, lost sight of the true meaning of freedom: not freedom to possess, but to be self-sustaining. This freedom from coercion is now a long-lost dream, as anyone with crushing debt knows. When you are in debt, you are not earning for yourself, but for the bank. Then work is not a spiritual practice nor a creative expression, but slavery.

Enslaved people, disempowered people, tend to make poor choices. In an effort to soothe the constant feeling of unease that such an economic situation promotes, addictive behavior flourishes. Food, sex, mind-numbing or stimulating substances, buying, over-work, everything becomes out of balance in an effort to feel compensated. Excess costs. Making decisions towards health and away from addiction, debt, overwork, depression, can seem impossible. In a state of addiction, we lose touch with our emotion, we lose touch with our body, and therefore, we lose touch with our soul.We must begin to make decisions as free from compulsion as possible. To begin the ascent from such desperate places necessitates returning to the body.

Take a few minutes every day to pay attention to your body, not by walking on a treadmill watching tv, but by sitting with your limbs, organs, flesh, breathing, acknowledging with gratitude this stupendous embodiment of your soul. Be with, for, and by yourself.

Cultivate a closer and more immediate connection to food sources.

Be aware of buying as a way to fill emptiness.

Touch the earth every day.

Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you’re feeling, without judgement.

Cry.

Choose to recycle.

Care for a plant.

Turn off the news. The world longs to be seen by You, unmediated by anyone else’s interpretation.

Serve someone with graciousness ever day.

Notice the people who serve you, and acknowledge them. Look into their eyes.

Before you eat even the littlest thing, give thanks for all that went into its making, and give thanks to your body for transforming it into you.

Awareness is the transforming agent. Acknowledging the interconnectedness of all of us, of all creation, fosters a sense of awe. Rather than being daunted by the response-ability this awareness will foster, let us all come down to Earth from the tower of our minds into the vast ocean of compassionate Heart. Understand that the life force that pulses through you IS you. Live from that place. The health and well-being of our planet depends on each individual’s own relationship with their body. How can it be otherwise? We are from earth and are the body of earth, conscious. What we eat, how we consume, what our relationship is with the plants, animals, air, and water that supports us, IS our practice.

Sickness and health

April 3rd, 2009

Thoreau wrote: “‘Tis healthy to be sick sometimes.” True if we allow our dis-ease to incite us toward integrity. By that I mean that illness is a messenger, and if we listen to the message we can use it as a springboard to awaken ourselves to the imbalances we’ve created in our lives. Pain is the body’s last-ditch effort to get our attention. Body’s agenda is very different from ego’s because body is the material expression of soul, whereas ego is a construct, a mask programmed and imposed by social circumstance. Ego may insists on overwork for seemingly very rational and pragmatic reasons; these mean nothing to Body. Ego may insist on gallons of coffee and bad food to feed ambition and fear. Body, like Earth, cares nothing for success or failure.

When we take our physical being more seriously than egoic ambition, this is the beginning of true health and integrity. It has been a long way for me, driven first by ambition to dance, then by fears for survival that I used to compromise myself in relationships that ultimately did not align with my path. Sickness in the form of Crohn’s disease was my messenger – an inconvenient and obstinate angel that shook me by my bowels again and again until I paid attention.

If we think that paying more attention and care to the body is inconvenient, think again; the alternatives are far more costly. When illness pays a call, it is time to stop. The Annunciation, though not a visitation of illness, can be for us a model of acceptance. When Mary, seized in an ordinary moment, was visited by the angel – and there’s a wonderful poem by Denise Levertov on this – her acceptance is humble and powerful.  When we accept the message, when we pay attention to the consequences, it is our first step towards honoring the precious vessel of our body, the incarnation of our soul.

Body and spirit

April 2nd, 2009

The separation of body and spirit is arbitrary and not aligned with truth. Even to speak of mind/body exercise seems ludicrous: how is it possible to work the body without some mental engagement? It’s time we moved away from these distinctions to embrace more fully the realization that body includes intelligence, emotions, and soul. Once we make that leap, we may discover that everything we need is already present in our body. By that I mean that transformation and healing are possible and indeed, are longed for by our very physicality, at the cellular level. The science of Applied Kinesiology has demonstrated that intelligence and discernment exist in our bodies not solely in our brain. The entire body perceives, discerns, and responds without mental/egoic mediation. Unfortunately most of us have been de-programmed from recognizing that pre-verbal intelligence. This is an intellgence that goes beyond instinct and is more aligned with the mysteries of intuition, clairvoyance,  and oracle.

There’s a wonderful book out there for those pursuing a path of mysticism and meditation through the body: “Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realization in the Body” by Reginald A. Ray. He writes lucidly and deeply about the Tibetan tradition of meditation with/in/through the body. A very strong morphic field generated by integral transformative practice is supporting humanity’s re-connection with the wisdom that resides in each individual body. Our bodies are microcosms of our planet/world. The Emerald Table of the alchemists said it: As above, so below.

The health and well-being of our planet depends upon each individual’s own relationship with their body. How can it be otherwise? What we eat, how we consume, what our relationship is with the plants and animals that support us IS our practice. It is an awesome responsibility. This awakening is what we are all moving towards. I was recently at a retreat center in St Louis guiding the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Qigong. On solstice evening we walked the labyrinth as a meditation. As you wind your way towards the heart of the maze, you see people walking alongside and in the opposite direction. But we are all, only, always headed towards the center, home.