Recently, I found myself dancing in China's Yunnan province in a pristine forest beside a turquoise lake at high elevation. The sun warmed my face and body, as my feet spun, my hips flowed, and my arms and hands extended outward and upward to the mountains and sky. I was in Pa Dacuo National Park, on the Tibetan plateau, teaching Gabrielle Roth's 5Rhythms moving meditation.
When I was eight years old my parents offered me music lessons. They took me to the local music school, showed me the curriculum, and asked me which instrument I wanted to pursue. I chose dance. However, that wasn't what they had in mind, and I ended up studying alto recorder and flute. Much later in life I met Gabrielle Roth, and through her 5Rhythms practice I rediscovered my favorite instrument, this body.
Although 5Rhythms does not relate directly to Oriental Medicine or the 5-phases system, it offers a complete and integrated system for improved health. It is an inner alchemical and transformative practice that strengthens the body and cultivates body-centered awareness, allows us to witness, be with, and give shape to emotions and thoughts, and ultimately deepens our connection to soul and spirit.
As a 30-year practitioner of Oriental medicine and energetic healing arts, a medical qigong practitioner, yoga student, and student of Taoist alchemy, I have found great healing and liberation through the regular practice of 5Rhythms.
We begin in the rhythm of flowing by feeling our body, its weight, its relationship to the earth. We listen to sensations and the inner movement, and then allow our feet and hips, with rooted fluidity to carve circular continuous paths through space. In the rhythm of Staccato, we follow a more percussive beat that invites us to find clarity through the angles and geometry of our body. We express whatever wants to take shape, and trace and explore our boundaries. In the rhythm of chaos we gently release our neck and jaw, shaking tension loose, and letting go. We let our bodies lead the dance, opening our hidden imagination and creativity. The release of chaos carries us into the rhythm of lyrical, where we let go of letting go, and our feet take flight. Our lyrical dance reveals a lightness of being where hands and fingers open to the space around, above and below us, inviting prayerful play into our movements. As we empty and dissolve further we arrive in moving stillness. In this rhythm we are one with our breath, allowing our breath to take shape in and through the form of our physical body.
Oriental medicine recognizes the therapeutic value of movement. Conscious movement allows our qi to flow more smoothly and inhibits stagnation and blockage. Through movement, we enhance circulation of our physical, emotional and spiritual energies. In Taoist practices we bring attention to our physical body, its sensations and energetic pulsations cultivating a deeper awareness of the energy of our thoughts and feelings, and eventually a deeper understanding of the energy of spirit. This understanding invites the possibility of meditation or emptiness, and through this emptiness we merge with the Tao. 5Rhythms cultivates body-centered awareness. In this practice we remain mindful of our bodies as we move; honoring our experience, and tapping into our body's inherent wisdom. It includes and invites our emotions into our dance, and allows our creativity and intuition to take shape.
Oriental medicine recognizes the importance of emotions, their fluidity and harmony in our overall health. When in excess, or repressed, emotions are one of the major causes, or etiology, of "dis-ease". We may have opinions about our emotions, which ones are "good" or "bad", which ones we want to present to the world as part of our persona, and which ones we'd rather keep hidden in the shadow of our subconscious. We may deny ourselves the experience of emotion within our bodies, forgetting that it is different than the expression of emotion to others. How familiar are we with our true feelings? It is vital to discover our emotional selves. In the practice of 5Rhythms we invite our emotions into our dance, bringing mindfulness to them, and allowing them to move, take shape, and to transform. We expand our emotional range and learn to be with the physical sensations of our emotions. This allows us to know ourselves and others better, establish and feel clear boundaries, and to integrate align and heal ourselves, together.
5Rhythms explores three levels of relationship, beginning with attention and curiosity with our own dance, with what we are feeling, and with what is moving in and through us. Once we are able to be present with ourselves, we begin to explore relationship with another, staying connected to our own journey yet extending our attention to include the movement, expression, and shapes of another. In this partnership your dance is witnessed and mirrored back to you without demands or expectations. This level of relationship supports our sense of self and belonging in the world. Extending our attention further, we give attention to all the bodies present. Dancing together we learn how to tolerate, benefit from, and contribute to community. This cultivates our relationship with the circle, the community, the tribe, which can energize and support us, serving as a resource in our life journey.
We get better at what we practice. Our spiritual practice is how we live, day to day. Returning, again and again to a practice that cultivates conscious movement and breath, offers us space to process emotions, and helps us tap into our creative intuitive mind, helps us become more embodied, present, and compassionate with ourselves and others.
Although I have offered addiction treatment as a licensed acupuncturist for 25 years, 5Rhythms has given me another way to support adults in recovery. As a volunteer, I offer 5Rhythms as a therapeutic tool as part of an addiction recovery program for both men and women in Maui.
It opens new neural pathways in their brain and gives them a direct somatic experience of wholeness. Within 10-15 minutes of music and movement, self-consciousness and judgment give way to breath, expression, discovery, play and unity. The men are moving, sweating and praying with their muscles and bones, their hearts and tattoos. The women slowly shed their masks. Before long they are present for themselves and each other, and are visibly more loving and relaxed. Comments from participants include: "I was able to let out energy....in a constructive way," "A natural high," "Exhilarating," "I had forgotten how much I need to dance!," and "It was freeing and centering."
Ursula Platte, Clinical Supervisor for the Residential program and Licensed Crisis Shelter, wrote: "Adding an experiential class of that matter to the daily curriculum is essential as it provides a direct experience of body, mind and soul and an opportunity to process these experiences."