My body breathes a sigh today.
Yesterday, Saturday, the bright sun was too much for me. Grey clouds parted in the afternoon and instead of feeling the joyful charge of spring, I stood in the middle of the sidewalk blinking, unable to take it. The bright, warm afternoon just felt like too much pressure.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been struggling. What is that tiny shift that happens when things go from workable to hopeless? The truth is that there is nothing wrong – at least not compared to what people around me are coping with. I know better than to try to talk myself out of feeling bad, but still there I was. Miserable and shaming myself on top of it.
I did yoga in the living room in the morning. It helped to move, but a few times I noticed myself stopping. Not like taking a break, not even like holding my breath, really. More like just blanking out in the middle of a chaturanga with my face to the floor. And thinking vaguely of some ancient reason I should beat myself up until I gave a little shake and restarted the breath and movement.
My thirteen year old son, Simon, was feeling down, too, and I was happy that he decided to join a friend’s family for dinner and a sleepover.
Almost simultaneously, I learned that Amber Ryan was offering a 360 Emergence class at Paul Taylor studio on the Lower East Side; and I bought a ticket immediately. Amber is a former 5Rhythms teacher; and the 360 Emergence is a new practice with deep roots in the 5Rhythms.
I barely had time to gather my things, bring Simon to his friend’s house, and find parking. On the way, I learned that a powerful storm was in the forecast, and that there was a tornado watch.
Me and a crowd of afflictive emotions walked up the stairs, and they all entered the studio with me. I paused to move through an energetic ritual as I crossed the threshold, then walked across the wide floor.
One friend’s gaze seemed to skitter over me, not registering when I tried to catch his eye to silently say hello.
I moved around the edge of the room to orient myself to the space and the group, bringing attention to my feet, and occasionally glancing my fingertips or inner arm along the wall to wake up sensation in different parts of the body.
And soon delight arrived.
It’s not always like that. You never know what will happen when you step into practice. Sometimes you even feel worse at the end than when you started. But on this evening, I made the barely perceptible shift from feeling like things were hopeless back into believing they are workable.
Within ten minutes, I was ranging softly through different levels, stretching intuitively, and tasting the air in the different parts of the room.
Amber guided us through a practice to connect with different energy centers in the body. As encouraged us to engage the ribcage in moving energy around the solar plexus, a wide groan escaped me along with unleashing some painful teen and early adult memories.
Since Simon has become a teen recently I’m finding that I have new strata of unresolved trauma – trauma that I thought had been long dispensed with. I recognize the need to move with it quickly, so I can be clear and direct in parenting this extraordinary human, and not mire him in the tangles of my own psychology and the fears that arise for me.
A friend from my long-ago days in the underground dance world found me this week, too. She wants to hold a reunion – a rave, actually – for those of us who are still alive. I was happy to hear from her, and plan to participate, but it knocked on the door of some pesky demons.
My whole face was wet with tears as I threaded throughout the space, slipping through gaps between bodies, sliding in and out of partnerships, and collaborating with the circling room.
Amber kept inviting us to pause and return to “zero” throughout the class.
Many years ago, Amber led a workshop in this very same space called “Zero Zone,” which was the first time I heard her talk about zero.
I wondered briefly if “zero” was influenced by Dzogchen, an energetic Tibetan practice of dropping into raw awareness on the spot. And I wondered how it relates to Stillness in the 5Rhythms. And a chain of other associations. Then, the thoughts receded again into the background as my own body and its experiments emerged in the foreground.
At one point, Amber invited us to very intentionally move with the breath, then opened up the music again to allow us time to integrate these new seeds that had been planted.
When the intensity peaked again and again, I found myself right in the middle a lot of the time, moving with all the energy I could need, sinking to the ground, then spiraling back up, casting upward, diagonaling myself back down and across, sometimes finding myself face to face with a partner, and sometimes on my own.
I was so engaged that I didn’t notice darkness shining through the many windows until there was a flash of lightning outside.
In an experiment that involved taking turns with one person in the middle while three others supported them and held space, I felt heat rising to my face and crown when it was my turn to be in the middle. And I felt just as engaged when it was my turn to hold space. I remembered my nature as a healer, as an energy worker, and that we are all healers and energy workers.
In the final stretch of dancing, some stayed with their small group, while others moved through the space. Amber put on an electronic dance song with an engaging beat that pulled us deeper into motion. Then, to my surprise and delight, the beat dropped fast in a low, heavy bassline and the room exploded.
I found many new ways to move, sometimes quirky, jerking, skimming, bursting. I found a new loop around the back of my neck, a new way to rise up through my back from the hips, a new flutter in the heels, a new triple count step to stop short without jamming.
All that is to say that I found new ways to be alive.
Before stepping in, I wondered if I would have the energy to move given how disheartened I had been feeling.
By the end I felt grateful again. Grateful to be alive, grateful for the dancing path, grateful to have the chance to do my best as a parent, grateful that my body has accumulated decades of athletic experience yet still hasn’t broken down, grateful for the spirits and ancestors who I believe dance with me. Grateful for all of it. For everything.
My body remembered why I set foot on this dancing path to begin with. I also remembered what my body never forgets – that the mysterious tiny shift I was contemplating is really just a matter of being embodied. Of being alive to this moment, to this precious life.
Thank you, Amber. Thank you, Gabrielle. Thank you, my son. Thank you, this body. Thank you, this life. I am blessed in every sense. My path is strewn with flowers, and I can again see the gentle rain of blessings.
Meghan LeBorious is a certified teacher of the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation practice. This writing is not sanctioned or commissioned by the 5Rhythms organization and is solely the writer’s personal experience.
After bowing to the space, to all of my teachers, and to practice itself, I took a slow lap around the perimeter, absorbing information with all of my senses, excited to join such a large gathering of dancers. I paused to put my fingertips on the speaker, to directly feel the vibrations of the music. I also traced my forearm along the soft black fabric lining the window-opposite-wall and moved my feet slowly, noticing slight shifts in the temperature of the floor.
Aside from one brief online session, this was my first experience with The 360 Emergence, an embodiment modality created by Amber Ryan and Kate Shela.
I had been groggy before the session, but brightened with curiosity as soon as I started moving inside the space.
In Saturday’s session, after my lap around the room, I wandered to the middle, spiraled for a short time, then lowered myself to the ground to stretch, undulate, and prepare. Before long, I soared throughout the space, delighting in the seemingly infinite exchanges given such a large number of dancers. I was happy to find elation, and cascaded through multiple patterns and gestures and vignettes, sometimes catching someone’s eye and sharing a gesture or an embodied conversation, then moving back into the collective field or dancing with my own internal impulses.
Amber kept inviting people who were embodying “spider energy” to weave through the space, and I felt supported in continuing to move and thread throughout. At the same time, I was careful to monitor when there was a flavor of grasping and reminded myself to slow down if I found myself roaming and searching, rather than simply present to whatever I found or found me.
The second half of the session on Saturday was a marked contrast to the soaring, effusive first half.
A conjunction of factors flattened me out.
The rest of the dancers seemed to be having the opposite experience. It seemed like they were slow to light up, but now they were exploding with life, veritable fountains of creativity.
I was grounded. Dull. Disconnected. Disengaged.
Whereas in the first half, I moved with grace and power, glancing by, slipping through moving gaps between bodies, finding expression and connection with partners and with the whole room, now my feet were flat. Before I was a moving matrix, easily making my way to the ground, the sky, and back around. Now my knees hurt, I was afraid of damaging them, and I couldn’t remember what it was like to range with ease through many different levels.
During the second half, one good friend bore me up in a joyful, bluegrass-sounding jig, but other than that, I stayed flat, though continued to move at least some part of me.
Whereas in the first half I moved easily even through very crowded parts of the room, now I was afraid of getting hit or crashing into someone, energetically opaque, and knew that if I stayed in the middle where the energy was most intense I risked getting hurt or hurting someone.
At the end, I packed my things and darted out, feeling isolated. Then I remembered that there were many close friends inside, who I had missed during the long pandemic years. I talked myself into going back in to visit with them. I remained flat, however, and now also added on socially awkward and anxious.
I finally headed home, deciding not to take too much stock in this unpleasant and uncomfortable mood. My twelve-year-old son, Simon, was away for the weekend, and I was alone in the apartment. I ate a simple dinner, made a clutter-mess, and decided to get to bed, wondering if a good night would improve my aching knees and my feeling of isolation.
I slept deeply, for more than eight hours. Sunlight was peeking through my sleep mask when I finally woke up, and I was happy to see that I had slept until 8 AM, three hours later than my weekday rising time.
The morning flowed easily; and I arrived at Mark Morris Dance, the home of the workshop, in good time.
Without negotiation or incident, the awkwardness dissolved, and I greeted friends and acquaintances in the foyer of the giant James and Martha Duffy studio happily, excited to have the whole session in front of me, and wondering what would happen.
Kate and Amber appeared to be well-aligned, and moved back and forth seamlessly, using the pronoun “we” often. In their teaching, they emphasized presence, consent, permission, and energetic alignment.
They also invited participants to attend not only to the visible, but also to the invisible, and even mentioned ancestors. The room seemed alive with spirit. I found one ancestor lingering at the margin of the room and took them by the hand, escorting them into the middle of the dance.
There was a pause for some teaching in the middle of the session, and Amber and Kate invited people to verbally share what was coming through for them. Many expressed relief, gratitude, and delight to have the opportunity to move inside such a uniquely inclusive and affirming container.
I shared something myself, and noticed a burst of chemical activation immediately after. It settled quickly as I passed the mic (humorously renamed the “michelle” by Kate!) to another participant.
For nearly the entire four hours, I stayed bright and engaged.
At one point, I was dancing enthusiastically near Kate and Amber’s table when Kate said something like, We really have to take our medicine in measure, and we have to take care of our bodies. We can’t go throwing our bodies around like we’re 14-year-olds when we’re actually 50!
I had to smile. I teach 14-year-olds in a public high school, will be 50 in less than six months, and frequently jump in to dance with them, even doing dramatic drops on the spot with no warmup whatsoever.
Just the day before I had gimped down a steep flight of stairs, feeling tender in the fronts of both kneecaps. At the time, I had given myself a stern talking-to about taking it down a notch and acknowledging my age and limitations before I cause irreversible damage.
Kate’s offhanded comment hit home in a way that somehow managed to delight me, even though she was, perhaps unknowingly, calling me to acknowledge my vulnerability and give up the hope of being a hero and/or the impossible (though compelling!) dream of impressing the 14-year-olds I teach.
I continued to weave, delighting in infinite exchanges throughout the journey, once in a lifetime intersections. Some I will forget, some will live in my memory forever.
At the middle of this glorious day, when we paused and sat together to speak, taking turns with the “michelle,” Amber brought up Gabrielle Roth, the creator of the 5Rhythms dance and movement meditation tradition. Both Amber and Kate were trained in the 5Rhythms, and were 5Rhythms teachers for many years. Amber acknowledged Gabrielle as the root teacher, and told the story of her path to the 360 Emergence with a fully engaged heart.
Then, she paid homage to the 5Rhythms tradition, and invited all of the 5Rhythms teachers in the room to stand up. That includes me now, and I was self-conscious as I stood, along with five or six others, and my heart swelled up with gratitude, joy, and a crashing tide of other strong emotions, bearing along years of experiences, thoughts, and emotions.
Finally, Amber invited a handful of interns, the first generation-in-training of 360 Emergence teachers; and I cheered along with the others, happy for this new vision, happy to be alive, and happy for this blessed new emergence.
This blog is not sanctioned or produced by the 5Rhythms organization. Meghan LeBorious is a 5Rhythms teacher, meditator, artist, mother, and writer. She has been on the 5Rhythms dancing path since 2008.