RelationShifts-A 5Rhythms Heartbeat Workshop

My notes from the RelationShifts workshop that Heeraa Sazevich led nearly a month ago in NYC look like an explosion of graphite squiggles – poking out in every possible direction, crammed into the margins, sideways, diagonal, and even upside down, but I’m going to try to make sense of them and see what I can bring to light and language. 

On Saturday morning, I took the subway from home and was surprised when I emerged from underground already within site of the venue, Gibney Dance, steps away from City Hall in lower Manhattan.

This initial ease shifted temporarily when I had a miscommunication with a friend on the way into the workshop. 

I felt a medium level of nervous system activation as I considered this exchange. Everyone else had already spent time attuning to one another the previous night, but I hadn’t been able to attend on Friday night. In a partnered speaking exercise I couldn’t think of anything to say (for once!) and instead let it wash over.

At the first break, I asked my friend if they would be willing to hear me out. They agreed, and listened patiently while I shared my feelings and explained the context. We hugged and moved on. And, at least from my perspective, our relationship shifted into a deeper level of trust.

This was just in the first hour. 

RelationShifts’ main theme was inviting inquiry and awareness to our relationships and our ways of relating.

In the past, I might have stewed over something like this. I might have let a thousand threads get pulled at the edge of the sweater as I unravelled around what had been triggered. I might have catatrophized, been tempted to rage quit, or blamed others.

But in this case, I just stated my feelings and my needs. And recognized that the relationship is very much workable and valuable. And that the stuff that got triggered – all that, too, is workable. All just part of a process.

After that, my nervous system started to settle down as Heeraa guided us into an exploration of the first of the 5Rhythms, Flowing. She began with a body parts meditation, inviting us to move with awareness of different body parts and to ask ourselves what each specific body part needed, such as “What does my head really need right now?” 

Also on Saturday morning, we were invited to step into a totally individual 5Rhythms wave, as opposed to being in partnership. I lowered my gaze and softened as Heeraa offered periodic suggestions. 

Many shared that they loved this exercise, but I found it challenging to stay engaged. I love to dance by myself both in classes and alone in nature, but in this case I found that I had to keep reminding myself not to flow into anyone else, not to catch anyone’s eye. I even tried to avoid being inspired by the way others were moving. For me, it was challenging to specifically NOT interact with anyone else. 

I’m sure I overthought this. But I didn’t enjoy this part as much as most everyone else seemed to. The cold hard truth is that long stretches of Flowing tend to bore me. Some tiny part of me wondered if it was a character flaw, but another voice reminded me that it’s all just information.

One participant made a fascinating comment, that they felt like it was delightful to dance totally independently. They went on to say that so often in a room everyone was trying to reinforce their personality by forcing everyone to interact with them. 

I loved hearing this perspective, which is very different from my own. To me, our personalities are just one part of the cosmic display, one delightful, temporary expression of who we are in our tiny life in this tiny shifting instant.

I admired their integrity, and considered how important it is to be attuned to consent in connecting with people. What for me feels affirming, to be seen and acknowledged, might feel manipulative or disrespectful to someone who has a different orientation or is in a different place in their process.

In a way, this very internal individual wave acted as a counterpoint to all of the other external relationship configurations we explored as the weekend went on.

After lunch we moved into the key of Staccato, and my engagement got much stronger.

During the course of the weekend, we explored many relationships, and one that we explored at this point was what Heeraa called “smother mother.” My partner in this exercise was wildly present and wildly creative, at times chasing me through the space with her arms up, and crowding very close to me. I loved this kind of closeness, perhaps reflecting my very close relationship with my own mother, who I adore without any caveat.

There was also an experiment where we each related to a toxic substance as a partner, where one person danced as the toxic substance and the other related to it. I also loved this engagement, pushing and pulling the toxic substance toward and away. 

I remembered a time in my life when I began to lapse into an addiction and gained a valuable insight. I had been telling myself a story that the addiction was inevitable, and would eventually, inevitably win me over, as it had in the past. Once I was able to identify the story, I was able to push back on it, and own that addiction was in no way inevitable, that I was fully empowered to make a different choice. 

We danced a full wave, moving through each of the 5Rhythms, and I found myself in tears, grateful for the many wonderful relationships in my life, including with several people in the room. 

With one friend, I got to be the grounded one. Sometimes I have not loved that role, but this time I felt honored as we moved together, that I could take a turn holding space while they freaked out, and that we could take turns supporting each other.

With another old friend, I loosed my hair and expanded my radius in a ferocious Staccato-Chaos, saying “Bring it!” with my entire body as they said the same to me.

With yet another, I lifted off, letting go of gravity and flying, barely touching down, my arms raising spontaneously, continuing a journey we have shared for over a decade.

I put my shoes and coat on to go out to get something for lunch, but changed my mind, instead deciding to stay close and enjoy the snacks that were generously provided.

Next, we moved into the rhythm of Chaos. We started with a very gentle, extended, vibrating shake and then moved through a short wave.

We explored another relationship, this time to someone who we were saying good-bye to forever. My partner moved deeply into this exercise, and I witnessed and moved with them, not fully knowing what was arising for them but intuiting that it was significant. I moved away, but then caught myself and came back, remaining connected.

Later, Heeraa put us into small groups, and we each took a turn dancing an offering of grief while the others bore witness. Then, we sat in a circle and each person shared their own story of grief. Every story moved me deeply.

I wish I could share the beautiful words of my fellow dancers, but I can only share my own experience. 

I said something like, “I think grief is beautiful. At a workshop just two weeks ago, I bowed down to the grief of a friend who had just lost her mother. I haven’t lost anyone in my parents’ generation yet, so my feeling might change on this, but for me grief comes and goes. I’ve been dashed on the cliffs of grief countless times. In a way, we don’t have to let go. We are infinitely interconnected, and that doesn’t ever end.”

After that, we shared a very long chaos wave. At the end, I landed in a place that felt very clean and clear.

The last chapters of the workshop were in the key of Lyrical and Stillness.

In Lyrical, we stepped into a ritual theater exploration. Initially, I groaned internally. But as it unfolded, I was delighted and fascinated. Ten people formed a small group, who then formed five couples. Each couple was assigned a rhythm to enact, and the others were to write – poetically, non-literally – what they witnessed. 

Then Heeraa had each person in each couple select a line from what people had written to move with, while their partner moved with their own line. Configurations with other couples shifted and morphed; and the resulting tableaux were touching, funny, and insightful.

After it was over, I lingered for a long time, not quite ready to leave the field of practice, grateful for all it had offered me, grateful to Heeraa, and immensely grateful to this powerful, flexible, transformative practice that just keeps revealing new aspects to me and spiraling me closer to truth, again and again and again.

Meghan LeBorious is a 5Rhythms teacher, meditator, artist, mother, and writer. She has been on the 5Rhythms dancing path since 2008. She was moved to write about her experiences following her very first 5Rhythms class; and has been writing about them ever since. This blog in independently generated and is not sanctioned or produced by the 5Rhythms organization.