In House: Nature, Dance, and Meditation
In my life, I’ve done some very long expeditions into the wilderness, some lasting several months. What I’ve learned is that when you spend time in silence, in vulnerability, and in connection with nature, what happens is that these useless thoughts that you have are just thrown out. You’re left with a cleaner mind.
I want everyone to experience that peace of mind, so for a long time, I’d been trying to find a way to help others reach that state. But you can’t compress a three-month experience into three hour class. You can certainly help somebody with the techniques of meditation, but you can’t “teach” someone to meditate in a weekend. It doesn’t work that way. It takes commitment and dedication. No matter what I did, I couldn’t design a methodology that had that kind of impact.
Then, something amazing happened to me. I was presented with an opportunity to become a storyteller with a modern dance company headed by Jody Weber.
Dance and ecstasy
We spent a couple of years performing one of my stories, The Raven’s Gift. It energized our audiences in an incredible way. I realized that this was because we’d compressed around five years of exploring Siberia into one very ecstatic movement. Dance reaches a form of ecstasy that speech just doesn’t.
It was a wow moment. Instead of taking people into the wilderness and trying to compress this experience, we could create ecstasy in storytelling through dance. Dance could be the meditation.
Many, many animals dance. If you’ve ever seen a polar bear sliding down an ice or snow field and just having a bang of a good time, that bear is actually dancing. Dance is so much deeper than speech. It’s a medium that journeys your brain into ecstasy.
Healing through dance
Everybody gets broken in life. You break your bones. You break your spirit. People break. It’s inevitable. So we have to learn how to heal, and one of the ways we can do this is through dance.
Jody and I visited a youth detention facility to teach. It’s beautiful spring day and we’re in this gray building with bars in the window. People are walking around with guns, and the warden says to us, “You have one hour to give these child criminals a bit of hope.” We hadn’t practiced anything in preparation for this, but we begin anyway.
The dancers we’d brought with us get up and say, “Okay, we’re going to dance the dance of flowing water. Water flows. You can’t stop water. It doesn’t get interrupted, so we’re going to be the way.” The dancers started dancing, and I’m thinking “Oh boy, these kids are not gonna buy this.” Well, let me tell you. By the end of the hour, we had every single one of those hardened, sometimes violent, child criminals up and dancing. At the end of the hour, tears were just streaming from my eyes. We were dancing our ways not necessarily out of physical prisons, but personal ones, and that was very powerful for everyone involved.
Forgetting our mythologies
People are the only animals that think about things that don’t exist, so we make up stories. These stories take up a lot of brainpower. Nature takes those extraneous thoughts and just sucks them out like a sponge. That’s why we experience such peace in nature. That’s why we connect with cats and dogs–they talk to us, but in that deeper language. This is what music is. Dance, animals, a snowstorm, a sunny day in the desert–all take these mythologies that we build out of us and turn us back into something more peaceful. And that’s something incredibly powerful.
Jon Turk earned a Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1971 and was nominated by National Geographic as one of the Top Ten Adventurers of the Year in 2012. Between these bookends, Jon wrote the first environmental science textbook in North America, while simultaneously pursuing extreme adventure: he has kayaked around Cape Horn and across the North Pacific, circumnavigated Ellesmere Island, and made first climbing ascents and ski descents on remote mountains all over the world. Between 1999 and 2005, Jon learned Koryak wisdom from Moolynaut, one of the last of the old time Siberian shamans. Jon has written four popular books on his adventures and the Conscious Revolution that will carry humanity into the 21st century with hope, sustainability, and compassion.
Join Jon Turk and Jody Weber at the Art of Living Retreat Center from October 5th to 7th, 2018, for their retreat, Techniques of Joyful Meditation.
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
Exploring Wisdom: Bringing Joy into the Body
Dance has always been a part of my life. After years of rigorous training, I became a performer in New York City, Washington D.C., and later Boston. For the past 26 years, I’ve also been a choreographer making dances that ask questions about our fundamental relationship with ourselves, and with our beautiful blue planet.
Our deep connection with nature
Science has always played a role in my inquiry, and science is now catching up with the power of interconnectivity through works like The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben and The Nature Fix by Florence Williams. Both of these books have influenced my most recent work, Her Sylvan Ascent, and profoundly engage our understanding of our relationship with nature and the deeply connected structures that maintain balanced ecosystems.
The powerful wisdom of the body
How can we deepen our own connections? How can we find paths to our own inner wisdom to guide choices that are in balance with our own joyous spirit? As a dancer, I believe that the answer includes our full selves. I understand the powerful wisdom of the body and how it can teach us to be in alignment, and I share my upcoming retreat cohost Jon’s profound love of what the natural world can say in response — if we are willing to listen.
Communion with the natural world
My path has included work with Alberto Villoldo, whose mentorship has helped me develop a more comprehensive understanding of the way that intuition, meditation, and creativity can be enhanced through physical practice and communion with the natural world. Through this work, I am able to bring the tools of shamanic practice to the workshop, united with movement practices that will open our hearts and help each of us establish a relationship between our physical bodies and the energetic world.
Techniques of Joyful Meditation
It was synchronicity that brought Jon and I together many years ago, and I am thrilled to share this weekend with him — and with you. Jon’s marvelous tales from his extraordinary life illuminate a magical world, and I know it will be a special time for all of us. I hope you will join us at the Art of Living Retreat Center in October for Techniques of Joyful Meditation.
Dr. Jody Weber has had a beautiful, fulfilling thirty-year career as a choreographer, teacher, and dance historian working in academia, traveling with her professional company, and working with communities across the nation. She is also a trained shamanic practitioner through the Andean Lineage. As a graduate of Alberto Villoldo’s Light Body School, she is thrilled to offer ancient practices to help clients clear their energy fields, balance their physical bodies, and pursue their life’s work.
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
In House: Rachel Fleischman on being Bozos on the Bus
We’re all bozos on the bus,
So we might as well sit back
And enjoy the ride
Like many women in the 21st century, I feel like I need eight arms, like a Hindu goddess, to keep up with myself.
I’m a body-oriented psychotherapist, workshop facilitator, yoga student, wife, friend, daughter, ninja flea market shopper. I try to have my shirt buttoned and my skirt ironed up before I sit with a client to give her the best of myself.
Bozos on the bus
But in my private life, like you, I am also human: I get mad at my husband, I worry that my friends don’t like me, and almost weekly I wonder if I should get a butt lift like Kim Kardashian.
Elizabeth Lesser, friend and author of the book Broken Open, tells us, “I believe that we’re all bozos on the bus, contrary to the self-assured image we work so hard to present to each other on a daily basis. We are all half-baked experiments—mistake prone beings, born without an instruction book into a complex world.”
This is what I sometimes feel like in my darker moments: a bozo camouflaged under decorative diplomas, excellent training and a loving demeanor. I show my best self, hoping people don’t see my vulnerabilities, insecurities and fears. But as a psychotherapist, I know that as we navigate through the landscapes of life, we are called to integrate our shadow parts, our rage, terror, jealousy and other difficult emotions.
Another bozo dance
The other night I led a Dance Your Bliss workshop while hurting from a conflict with a close friend. Our fight had triggered my deepest fear, Am I unlovable? I walked into the workshop I was leading and put on the music for my students. As the sound of African drums filled the room, I began to feel strength and power moving though my hips. In fact, I felt more grounded and alive than I had in months. Instead of a weight dragging me down, my grief and fear had become fuel that I could use for the dance.
I went to bed that night easy in the realization that what has happened between my friend and myself was just a bozo dance that we would be able to set right. In the past, I would have obsessed about the incident, worried about it like a dog with a bone until it festered and oozed, and it would have taken months to clear up.
Invite your pain to dance with you
But I’ve learned a few things. For one, I accepted that I was in the grip of my dark emotions. I didn’t try to put them aside when I went out on the dance floor. Instead I invited the pain to dance with me and through me until it danced itself away.
In the Tibetan tradition, this is called taking tea with your demons. We don’t deny our humanness; instead, we embrace it and then we are free to accept its gifts. I believe that so many of us have a narrative of ourselves that is far less than who we really are.
I want to offer you a loving challenge: can you take your bozo to tea and laugh together at your perfectly human imperfections?
Rachel Fleischman, CSW, REAT, helps people move out of their heads and into their bodies to heal. A seasoned psychotherapist, educator, speaker and writer, she is the founder of the Dance Your Bliss™ healing system and the Being Bliss meditation CDs. Rachel has pioneered the combination of psychology with movement, neuroscience, expressive-arts and spirituality.
Are you ready for an exuberant, deeply restorative, and life-changing experience? Join Rachel for the Dance Your Bliss™ retreat at the Art of Living Retreat Center from October 19th to October 21st.
This article first appeared on Elephant Journal.
Interested in learning more about Ayurveda and the programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here!
In House: Jurian Hughes on Practicing Blessing
A few years ago, my beloved David Wallace and I taught a program together for the first time. We spent the week leading up to New Year’s with a tribe of like-minded souls, diving into ‘Practicing Blessing’. And what an incredible blessing it was! Though I confess I had some trepidation about our teaching together – we are soooo different! – it turned out to be, of course, the great gift.
While David is a thoughtful scholar, minister, and poet, I’m a body-feeling dancer, chanter, and yogi. Together, with our distinctive/complementary styles, we literally practiced blessing together. For five days, we practiced actively cultivating ways in which to live in the space of embodied connection to spirit. It was, by turns, surprising, humbling, inspiring, delightful, empowering, raw, and beautiful.
The blessing of dance prayer
The highlight for me was New Year’s Eve, when we offered what may be the first-ever flash mob dance prayer in the middle of Kripalu Yoga Center’s busy lunchtime dining hall. Amidst hundreds of guests and their chatter, Simon de Voil’s beautiful song “Deep Peace” rang out. A hush came over the room as twenty, thirty, then perhaps forty of us rose from various points throughout the hall, to silently, in a simple dance, bless the throng. People stopped eating to receive our wordless offering. Better yet, some stood, or sat, and joined us. It was one of the most moving events I’ve witnessed in quite some time.
I had to try to capture some of that. Sean Nackoul helped me make this video of the dance prayer in the snow, so you can practice it, too…
I, too, am a dancer
Dance prayer teaches me something I am always forgetting–the power of simplicity. I am so thankful to my teacher, mentor, and friend, Megha Nancy Buttenheim, creator of Let Your Yoga Dance®, who introduced me to dance prayer over a decade ago and reminds me that ‘less is, so often, more’. My goal at this stage of life is not to perfect my dance technique, but rather to make the beauty, the joy, the sacred practice of dance so simple, so accessible that everyone who comes into the room has the experience of “I, too, am a dancer.”
The simplest, most helpful practice I’ve taken on since our ‘Practicing Blessing’ program is to write down daily the blessings of the day. It’s been quite eye-opening to observe my inner landscape as I do this; to witness myself on the days when it’s difficult vs. the days when I could go on forever. It’s teaching me what I value by highlighting the things that show up over and over – David, Smitty, health, friendship, work that feels worthwhile, a momentary connection with a stranger that infuses my day with meaning… This practice of taking time to remember and record the ways in which I have been blessed helps me to feel like I can then, in turn, be a blessing to others. Simple, yes.
Today, may you feel your blessings overflowing, and know that you, too, are worthy and capable of being a blessing in the world.
Jurian Hughs, E-RYT 500, MFA, is founder of the Yoga of Voice; co-founder of A Wild Life Sanctuary™; co-creator of The Yoga of Yes; a Let Your Yoga Dance® teacher trainer; voice coach; personal mentor; writer; speaker; and theatre performer known for her passionate, playful, and engaging teaching style. As a senior faculty member of the Kripalu School of Yoga since 2006, Hughes has led thousands of workshops and programs and trained more than 1,000 Kripalu yoga teachers.
The Practice: Me and Kripalu Yoga, An Unexpected Love Story
I walked into my first yoga class at 19. It was strip mall yoga. I remember being told to relax and breathe while in poses where breath, and relaxation were the last things I imagined possible. “WTF” was muttered under my breath repeatedly as I contorted myself into painful poses I’d never done before. I worked hard and tried to keep up with a flow that felt like it was created by a sadist. When the class was over, I remember feeling really angry and hateful. No bliss. No peace of mind. I walked away from my first experience of asana wondering what the hell my straight-edge, vegan friends getting into yoga and joining the Hari Krishnas were thinking. Nuts. They were nuts.
Why I ran from yoga
But like many ultimately great relationships mine with yoga started with distaste and confusion. What the hell was this practice that pushed my buttons so deeply? Why would I want to chaturanga 20 times and then hold down dog while watching my brain spin? Not willing to quit right away I tried out some DVDs by yoga-lebrity teachers and disliked those too. Some were too fitness class like, some too New Agey. And just like the woman who runs from that guy at the party who sips seltzer and challenges her mind with interesting thoughts rather than telling her how hot she is, I ran from yoga.
What on earth is Kripalu Yoga?
Flash forward by 9 years. My back hurt. It hurt bad. I had herniated discs during labor and the road to recovery was filled with intense lightning bolts of pain. Every doctor I had encouraged me to try yoga. “It’s good for a bad back,” they said. “It’ll be relaxing,” they said. With my initial experience of yoga with the sadist and boring DVDs it was hard to believe what I was hearing so I ignored the advice. After a year of limping through physical therapy, cortisone injections, and ever more pain I saw a flyer in my town for free yoga classes… this yoga had a weird name… Kripalu Yoga. Incredulous. Exasperated. I decided that I would try this yoga with the strange name.
I walked into the tiny rec center with a stinky carpet and cardio machines jammed against the wall and my tiny chunk of hope shrank even smaller. There were 10 or so people jammed into a room that only 6 people on yoga mats would fit comfortably…I was about to leave when my teacher Laura immediately sprang to help me find a spot. Everyone shifted a little left, a little right, and suddenly there was a place for me…it felt nice. My hope grew a smidge.
There was gentle chanting playing from a tiny radio. She had a sweet little altar with sacred objects I didn’t recognize and this little chime that she struck right before she began to speak. After the chime sounded everyone stopped stretching and the room fell silent. We were old, young, fit, and fat people all gathered together. Looking around the room I felt a sense of ease. I felt that we each belonged there on that mat, in that place, with each other. I felt myself settle.
This is yoga!
When Laura spoke her voice resounded through the small space, sounding like warm honey tastes…nourishing and sweet. She encouraged us to turn our gaze inward and sense our breath and body as it was in the moment. Then for about 10 minutes we breathed and noticed that practice. We began simply, just filling our bellies with breath, then breath moved up a bit higher, all the way to the collarbone. We exhaled generously, squeezing the belly. I felt my self sink deep into my body, felt my busy mind slow way down. I felt the muscles in my body soften a little, felt peace beginning to bubble up from inside. Suddenly my heart and brain screamed from inside of me, THIS IS YOGA!
Finding the true potential of yoga
Though the rest of the practice was challenging and again I found myself in poses I didn’t know that I could do and breathe simultaneously, again I felt angry about my body’s limitations, however there was a big difference between that night and my other experiences. This time I had space for it all. With my teacher’s gentle cues, encouragements, and lots of reminders to notice and accept the thoughts and sensations I was having I made it through the 90 minutes of yoga without letting my frustration sweep me away, off the mat and out of the class.
At the end of class I felt a sense of accomplishment, and my body felt better. Tensions were softened. Tissues lengthened. Though the flow was intense I felt like I was learning something beyond exercise for a sore back, I was learning something really important about noticing my experience and not letting it carry me away.
The beginning of a mad affair
That was 11 years ago and I haven’t looked back. I’ve been practicing Kripalu Yoga ever since. Not to say that this mad affair has been all wine and roses, true yoga practice isn’t. I’ve cried, sweated, blown apart, come back together, blown apart again and got back on that mat many times. I’ve learned that what I experience on my mat I can take into my life…noticing the hard feelings and not becoming overtaken by them. Bringing acceptance to my limitations, celebrating my growing ability to become conscious of feelings and thoughts.
The impact of a good teacher
Over the past decade I’ve had the opportunity to study with a number of yoga teachers, some true masters of Kripalu Yoga but none will ever capture my gratitude and heart like my first teacher, Laura Lin. Thank you Laura, wherever you are now. Your spirit lit the candle in my soul and I will be ever blessed for that. Jai Bhagwan!
Heather Bilotta is a passionate believer in the healing power of self-expression and the importance of connection to community. Her Shake Your Soul®, Kripalu YogaDance, Kripalu R&R classes, one-one SomaSoul® and Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra® healing sessions are infused with heart and creativity and are an opportunity to bring light and acceptance to your whole, unfiltered self. She truly provides a supportive no-judgment zone. Heather teaches at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, Cranwell Golf Resort, and beyond. She is continuing her studies in Body-Centered, Subtle Energy Healing in the Professional Training Program at Hartford Family Institute.
Join Heather at the Art of Living Retreat Center from September 28th to 30th, 2018, for Move. Feel. Heal., a SomaSoul® Somatic Therapy retreat to help you unwind, slow down, and soothe your nervous system.
This article first appeared on heatherbe.com.
In House: Sage Brody & Heather Bilotta on Dance and Fear
Sage Brody and Heather Bilotta know that we were born to dance. At their recent Shake Your Soul® retreat, they brought inspiration and freedom to their guests in the form of integrative dance, meditation, and mindfulness. We sat down with Sage and Heather for a fun, fast-paced rapid-fire question and answer session about dance, fear, and the Art of Living Retreat Center.
SB: Dance is feeling what moves you in any way, and that could be a micro movement! It could just be my heart pulsing.
HB: I feel soul the most in my body. So soul for me is the sweat after a good dance, the pulse of my heart, my feet on the ground.
SB: Something that comes from deep inside that you may not even know is there – but then suddenly it is!
AoLRC: Lack of inhibition.
SB: Lack of inhibition is trying what might feel scary, and just seeing where it goes…
HB: And feeling the fear, and doing it anyway! I think for us, so much of our dance practice is about making room for the love of it, the joy of it, the sensuality, the groundedness, the spirit, but also making room for the awkwardness of it.
SB: It doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to look good, and it doesn’t have to be a specific kind of expression. It’s something that’s fundamentally yours.
HB: Not caring about looking good is so important in the realm of yoga and dance, because we can have so much pressure for our bodies to look a certain way, to have a perfectly pointed toe or ankle, and we want to take dance away from that and back into the human realm, where it’s about spirit and connection.
SB: And as you move, and certainly in a group, connection is so important – to the ground, to spirit, to heart, and just seeing where that goes – not knowing where it’s going to go, and letting it happen.
AoLRC: Sacred dance.
HB: For me, sacred dance is about honoring tradition and those that came before us. Every spiritual and religious tradition has a dance. Shake your Soul is taking all of that, and putting it in the blender, and taking a combination of feeling our bodies and offering what comes from that, while honoring our ancestors as well.
SB: And we love all of the textures of world music – one song could be Balkan, one could be rap, the next song could be African drumming, and we love to explore how to honor all of these traditions and still express ourselves authentically while doing it.
HB: We welcome nerves!
SB: The person who stands on the side and watches for the whole thing is just as welcome to our class as everyone else. You know, nervousness doesn’t really go away. But we honor that resistance or fear.
HB: Just like a meditation practice.
SB: Fear, nervousness, resistance, excitement – they all have a place, and they create a space to exist within and to come forward with what’s real for you.
HB: For me it really happens on a body level. I tend to feel everything very physically. So for me, it’s really about how I can allow my body to hold the sensation happening as I experience emotion, rather than constricting physically against it.
HB: Humans are designed to hear and respond to music, and our job is to help you remember that.
SB: You get to be you while trying on different ways of being and moving that you may not be familiar with, and feeling into that natural place.
HB: It’s like that quote – “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and do that.”
AoLRC: The Art of Living Retreat Center!
SB: There’s this incredible energy at the Center.
HB: This beautiful space, well-maintained with staff and volunteers who were here to serve heart and soul. Seeing an organization living their practice and really moving from the heart – it really makes our job so much easier, and makes us want to come back again and again and spread the word.
AoLRC: Anything else you’d like to add about dance?
HB: For me, there’s a real naturalness to it. When I hear music, the first thing I want to do is move. Letting myself do that feels like a real gift to myself, and then to others when I teach.
SB: And for me, it’s a way to come out of what can be a really busy mind. So many of us live in our heads, and dance is a real invitation to feel our bodies, and to experience an act from that place rather than the habitual way we are in the world.
Exploring Wisdom: This is Me Dancing
My heart felt achy; heavy in my chest. It was a strange yet familiar feeling, a combination of an ice block in my core right alongside a sensation of longing. I could feel my arms, legs, and hips move with the rhythm of the music. With each step, reach, bend I felt like I was melting that ice away, opening deeper into my experience of myself. What is this feeling?
Loneliness… sadness… heartache…“that’s it,” I thought to myself, and all the while my body kept pulsing, moving, kept expressing this deep sadness via the way my limbs crumbled, extended, folded, and launched my body through space. Here I am. I am heartache. This is me. I am dancing.
Dance is Expression
Dance has always been a way for us to express and connect. An ancient way to find a mate, go to war, celebrate birth and death and get in touch with so many wordless aspects of the human experience. I postulate that dance in its most sincere form is not just about connection to another, it is also about fostering an intimate connection with ourselves as well. Movement is a way to experience and communicate those deep emotions that well up from the insides of us. The ones that we may have a hard time processing with language alone.
For me, heartache is one of those hard to feel and hard to share emotions. What I mean is to share from a place of feeling, not just talking. I can report about my sadness or loneliness to you in words, but there’s a way this content-driven means of communication can feel hollow for me, and maybe for you, too, as the listener. We are hard-wired to communicate our feelings through the subtle and unsubtle movements of our face, hands, and every other part of our body. When I allow my body to move out my grief through the vehicle of dance to an evocative song, or off the dance floor when my movements and facial expressions tell you how I feel as my voice is silent…that is when we can often feel the most deeply touched by the experience of another.
Dance is Healing
The healing trick for me here is this. Attunement. Attunement to self, then another. The first step in the process is to allow ourselves to first become aware of our own felt experience. Once we are in touch with those feelings, we can choose movements and gestures to help us land even deeper into our experience. When we are embodied, fully connected to our felt sense we can then move in a way that feels alive and congruous. Dance and expressive movement is a way that I get to know me better, and then share me with others in a way the feels soulful and rich.
Throughout my life there has been nothing quite so healing as having the dance of my truth. Whether that’s sorrow, joy, power, or softness with others who are dancing their truth. It has been particularly sacred when my fellow dancers and I echo and mirror movements…then I know they get it. They get me. My pain is their pain and vice versa. “Just like me….” This seeing a reflection of my movements, this feeling of unison, of community through dance can often blast through my frozen heart in a far superior way than words. As my fellow dancers and I fall into moving together a connection forms like no other off the dance floor.
Dance is Connection
Turns out that this feeling of peace and well-being after dancing isn’t just my experience or the experience of a finite group of people. While listening to NPR’s Morning Edition earlier this summer I heard a report on a recent research study out of the University of Oxford on the profound health benefits of group dance. They found that people who danced together in synchrony had a higher pain threshold than those who didn’t dance, or those who danced without mirroring others.
Dance is a way that we connect, that we attune to each other, that we feel felt by another. Humans are a social species. Our survival, growth, and evolution are dependent in part upon our ability to connect with our community. Dance has been and continues to be an integral part of the human experience. My suggestion is that when we add self-attunement with dance, this is a recipe with endless healing potential.
So the research is in. Dance. Get out there and do it. Whether you go sign up for ballroom, get your best friends together in your living room, or come to one of my Shake Your Soul classes, dance is a powerful way to befriend your body, other people, and create a sense of well-being and peace inside and out.
– Heather Bilotta
Heather Bilotta, RSMT
A passionate believer in the healing power of self-expression and the importance of connection to community, Heather is a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist, Certified Shake Your Soul® Instructor, SomaSoul® Practitioner, and Divine Sleep Yoga Nidra® Teacher. Heather teaches at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, Cranwell Golf Resort, and beyond. Read more of Heather’s thoughts on her blog.
Express, connect, and heal at Shake Your Soul: The Yoga of Dance, from June 23 – 25, 2017. Click here to learn more.
Interested in learning more about programs at the Art of Living Retreat Center? Check out our annual catalog here.