School of Movement Medicine - Mindfulness in Motion

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Issue: June Newsletter
The Daily Practice

By Veena Vasista
At the end of April 2013, about to turn forty-three, I took a train from London to the Rill Estate in Devon. My destination was a Movement Medicine workshop called Re-Creation. I had signed up for Re-Creation out of desperation. At the time, I was experiencing an episode of acute anxiety and depression.

My nights were sleepless. My days were full of indecision to the point that sometimes I could not walk out the front door. I struggled with each step of the day while also being terrified by my lack of clarity over the next bigger steps I must take in my life. My mind repeatedly dragged me through stories focused on blaming my self for bad decision-making, for wasting time, for sabotaging opportunities. I saw myself as an incompetent person who just kept messing things up and creating suffering instead of joy. My past was simply proof of my inability to live life well. My present was overrun by grief and anger for this past and a paralytic fear for the future that I anticipated would hold much of the same.

I arrived at Re-Creation jittery, sobbing and confused.

At dusk, on the last evening of the workshop, we began a five-hour ceremonial long dance. An altar of flowers, stones, tree branches and candles dominated the center of the room. At one corner of the room, I was a sobbing bundle on the floor. An assistant teacher was beside me. In between sobs, I whispered fiercely to her “I am so scared.”
I took refuge in the tightly curled up positioning of my body. The assistant teacher insisted: “Move. Keep moving.” In my curl, I continued sobbing and felt the pulse of fear running through me. While I did start to sway from side to side, I did not want to get up. A part of me felt that if I tried to rise, I would immediately fall down.

Then a drumbeat came into the room. The beat moved me to lift my head. I saw the other students spread out across the room in their dances. I stood up. I started breathing deeply, taking steps and moving my arms.

Ya’Acov – who was teaching the workshop – asked us each to mark out a circular space for ourselves. The center of the circle represented the present. Whatever direction we faced in our respective circles, the space in front of us was the future and the space behind us was the past.
Having asked us to turn to the past, Ya’Acov instructed: “This is your past, please step into it.” By this time, my arms were extending away and coming towards me, while my hands danced with gestures. My feet knew where to move. Breathing deeply, I had started to make clear, strong sounds: 'Ho-sha. Hee–moh-ho-hi-ya.'
I kept moving like this, with arms, hands, feet, legs and voice all knowing precisely what they were meant to do. In my circle, I danced this clarity and fearlessness into the spaces of the past, the present and the future.

We dissolved our circles and we began moving ourselves throughout the room, resting as needed. When I sat down, I felt I could fall asleep right there. Yet, when I would get back on the dance floor, with these knowing movements and sounds guiding me, I did not know tiredness. Sometimes I felt that through my movement, I was telling stories. Other times, I sensed I was performing sacred rituals. Like this, I moved through the mini-long dance.

At breakfast, I talked with Ya’Acov about my experience. I described how I overflowed with clarity, direction and a sense of responsibility. I felt myself steered by passion, wisdom, playfulness and a gentle fierceness. This description led to a revelation: 'Whoaaa! This energy is in me. It has always been there. It is here now. It will be there in the future.'

If you look up the etymology of ‘spirit’ you’ll find that it means breath or animating life force. I often think of the experience of that dance at Re-Creation as the moment where I re-connected with my spirit. In doing so, I brought much needed nourishing breath and life into my blood and bones.

This is great, you might say – I left the retreat feeling re-spirited. Yes, I did and it was great. Only, if I left the story at that, I’d be leaving out a critical aspect of it.

The year before, I had gone through an intense therapeutic retreat called the Hoffman Process. I did this because I was about to spend six months living with my parents, who were in need of extra support. I didn’t want this time together to be plagued by old, turbulent dynamics. I wanted to show up as a loving, joyful and useful daughter. I also wanted to be free from the bouts of debilitating anxiety that had plagued me most of my life.

I thought the Hoffman Process would fix me, cure me of all the fear and transform me into this wondrously loving, joyful fearless person.
That’s not what happened. Post-Hoffman, I went on to have a very hellish year, staying with my parents for six months and then going to Mexico for six months –a trip I had been looking forward to for a long time. At my parents’ house, while I did experience some positive changes in dynamics, I frequently reverted to adolescent behavior and tensions ran high. I also had a steady current of low-level anxiety running through me. While in Mexico, the anxiety steadily became more and more forceful. I returned to London a fearful, confused mess of a woman.

What happened?

I did with the Hoffman Process what I had done with previous retreats (Vipassana in 2011 and Movement Medicine’s Initiation in 2010): I expected radical change to happen without my having to consciously do anything – the magic of the all powerful retreat would sort everything out.

In spring 2013, my sister and an old friend forcefully reminded me that the real work happens when you come out of those retreats and use the tools you have acquired and the insight you have gained about your self to move through old patterns and powerful emotions. Transferring wisdom and tools from a retreat into the ‘real’ world is hard and often requires serious support, e.g. regular therapy.

In the weeks that followed Re-Creation, I was of course still anxious, indecisive and riddled with intense emotions and harmful narratives. To navigate these treacherous terrains, I made two commitments: to long-term weekly psychotherapy and to a practice of dance as form of daily meditation. To handle indecision specifically, I created a protocol – I would dance into the enlivening and directive energy that I had experienced at Re-Creation. Whatever direction I would get from this spirit energy, I would follow it. Regardless of what mind questions, doubts, stories might pop up. Two years later, I still do this practice.

I am also well committed to my daily dance meditation. Since spring 2013, this practice has served me well through a major transition, in which I left London to live in the United States. Most significantly, the dance played an invaluable role for me last autumn, after my 83-year-old father had a massive heart attack and underwent open-heart surgery.

I went to my parents’ house the day of the heart attack. I ended up staying with them for six months. My family and I have been struck by how I have manifested tenderness, compassion and pragmatism in these difficult times. I am delighted that I have at last started relating to my parents in healthy, responsible dynamics.

The first three months after my father’s surgery were particularly challenging. I have no doubt that part of what enabled me to show up as powerfully as I have is that no matter how late it was, how tired I was (and I was frequently exhausted), I did a twenty minute dance meditation every day.
The dance was then and is now a space where I take steps with the empowering spirit energy I unleashed at re-creation. I also work with the dance to expand my awareness of and give expression to what is alive within me emotionally. I do this during my designated meditation time and I also aspire to do it throughout the day.

I look forward to going deeper into the richness of Movement Medicine through doing more workshops, the Long Dance and perhaps even apprenticing. Ultimately, though, it is the strengthening of my daily practice that will sustain the most powerful unleashing of my true potential.

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The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the School of Movement Medicine. Roland Wilkinson, Nappers Crossing, Staverton, Devon TQ9 6PD, UK Tel & Fax +44 (0)1803 762255 http://www.