For most of my life I shied away from physical activity. In sports I would get confused by the “point” of it – running after a ball I certainly wouldn’t get to first only to have to run another way to try to get it again (doubtful). And for what? I couldn’t quite wrap my head around drills or warm-ups when they were explained or drawn out. Being small, I would often get hurt when playing group games. I hated running around the block in gym class and so I walked. When stretching, my hamstrings were so tight and aching I couldn’t come close to reaching my toes. Aerobics class? Forget it – keeping in step with everyone else was not going to happen. For years – decades – I believed I wasn’t good at it. That I didn’t like it. I later came up with more elaborate excuses – telling myself that I had absolutely no muscle memory. That I had no ability. That I simply couldn’t do it.
As this belief held and grew my energy drifted and concentrated further and further into my brain and I disconnected from my body. I was a big academic head floating around with a very weak anchor of a body trailing along below. Or so I know now.
After decades of ignoring the fact that I had this physical body (which I never really understood how to be in or use) I had developed a practice of moving up into my head pretty much exclusively. After experiencing a significant trauma there came what felt like a break. A force of energy so big it felt like it shattered my weakened body and even my seemingly strong brain couldn’t handle the blow – I felt it split and shattered to fragments.
Until one day when I was strongly called to a Highland Dance workshop. Given my background with physical movement and the state I was in I was terrified to go. Something guided me into a small studio in Midtown Manhattan. I was running at least 15 minutes late. Walking in, frazzled and breathless, I met the teacher who was waiting. And I was the only one who showed up.
I was the only one who showed up.
There I stood frozen for a moment as I took in the situation. Having never taken a dance class in my life and now here I was and it was just the teacher and I.
My freeze turned to panic and then grew into intimidation and outright fear. I couldn’t do this. There was no way. And then… we started.
After some warm ups we moved into foot positions. She showed me third position of the feet. And then asked me to do it. I stared at her. I stared at her foot and tried to move mine. The force of will and concentration was immense and yet my foot wouldn’t budge. No way. It wasn’t going to move.
“See, like this”, she said again, patiently showing me.
I tried again. Nothing. Despite all my efforts and even looking at my foot to try to make it go I couldn’t do it.
After a while I admitted, “I’m actually trying really hard to do that”.
She came over and sweetly picked my foot up off the ground and placed it in position.
And my brain started to shift. I could feel its inner-workings move through the shards.
We did manage a few steps on that first day. By the end of the second day my brain had started to move and shift in ways I had never experienced before. Slow circles and circuitry connecting. Whatever it was doing I knew I needed it to keep happening.
So we started a weekly class that carries on to this day.
The following year I started my yoga teacher training. Still timid about movement and still believing that I had no muscle memory or physical ability, despite how far dance had brought me. Every time I could do something new on the mat I was blown away, excited. I began to understand the interrelationship of energy, mind, body and spirit. Not just in theory but in practice. Though experience. I began to understand how to bring all that energy that lived solely in my brain down into my body. Through my yoga practice I began to break down and through many psychological blocks held physically in my body – removing the obstructions and creating an ease of energetic flow. Over and over again. An ongoing practice and journey of release. I’ve kept dancing but I also continue to develop the tools through yoga to understand the shifts and to encourage more connection and flow between my mind and body instead of keeping them separate. They’re no longer absolute. No longer segmented and held away from one another. Instead I’m remembering my wholeness.
And that’s what happened on that first day of dance. A reconnection of wholeness. Removing the separation of mind and body. That’s what those first shifts were. That’s how it began.
Tonight I found myself in my first salsa class. Just over three years after taking that first dance workshop and working so hard all this time on reconnecting my mind and body. I had put the regular precursors in place – “I won’t be able to do this”. “It takes me a long time to pick up dance steps”. “I don’t think I have hips – you’ll have to help me find them”! Three years since taking that first step of reconnection and still the belief hasn’t quite let go. And yet – I picked up every single step quickly. We moved through a lot and I was right there and in sync with everyone the whole time. I could do it! One woman at the end of class said, “I thought you said you couldn’t dance!? You’re a great dancer”! I resisted her at first, denying what she said, and then smiled, realizing what had happened in class, and simply said “thank you”.