I’ve spent most of my life firmly in my head. I think most of us have. In our world, our mind is our priority. We spend our life thinking, talking, communicating, and processing. As children, we are told to sit in chairs when we might feel like running around. We are told to get up early, when we might feel like sleeping in. We are told to mute the urges of our bodies in order to fit in and get stuff done.
All of this is a part of being in our modern society. It is undeniably healthy to have some boundaries and rules – so that we know how to act and what to expect of others. These rules regulate how we think, act, and talk – and how we feel about our bodies.
For me, my body was really just the thing that carried my head around. Sometime my body got attention, like when I was in pain or sick. But mostly, I ignored it.
When I did take notice of it, it was in a two-dimensional, abstract way. I observed my body as an outsider might – judging it, finding flaws, and cramming it in to “attractive” packages.
When I exercised, it was about ego and achievement more than what my body liked. Honestly, my body really hated most of my exercise regimen. I was a big crossfit junkie, and my workouts consisted of pushing myself to near collapse. My body was then just a way for me to validate my ego. How many push ups I did, or how much weight I lifted mattered more than what my body wanted to do.
Only when I was pregnant, and my body was serving it’s supreme biological function, did my body seem like more than just “brain holder” or “receptor of the gaze of others”. It was also a creator of children, and that made me listen to it a little bit more.
As many moms know, after you give birth, your body seems foreign to you for a while – and in all the exhaustion and emotion of being a new mom, I found I didn’t listen to my body much at all. I sat at my computer, on conference calls, pumping milk, and that seemed to be just about as disconnected and robotic as one could be.
Even in the bedroom, where one should theoretically be body-led, I thought more about what my partner wanted, or how I looked, or what my partner was thinking – than about my own pleasure. I led with my head – narrating a story of how the scene should go without releasing in to it.
What gave my body pleasure was never a concern … perhaps how my body could give pleasure to another, through the praise of friends, or the male-gaze – but that was as far as the pleasure question went.
Even my spiritual work obfuscated my body. In my early 20s, I started to meditate. I went to meditation retreats. I learned to teach yoga. And I was hyper-focused on this yogic idea, that, as I understood it, the poses of yoga were meant simply as a way to quiet the body in order to go inside and quiet the mind. I saw my body as something to transcend in favor of the mind and the soul. I even had a Zen teacher tell me that it would be better to throw up in your mouth and keep meditating than to get up and stop during your meditative block. This body denial was nothing new to me, and it seemed noble to transcend your earthly, fragile, flawed form.
Even our work at Sonata can be a part of this pattern of body denial. Instead of asking yourself what would make you feel confident and amazing, you might choose to get something done for the gaze of others. And that is ok, but, we encourage you to think of what you want to change or improve as a part of your overall path of empowerment. It’s only you who lives in the body you are in, and only you who inhabits the face you wear – and we want you to love it, and to own it. And, maybe even, find pleasure in this body and face of yours.
For 38 years, or at least as long as I was conscious of it, my priority was my mind. I denied my body’s impulses. I medicated my body when it felt pain. I analyzed my “flaws” like a scientist looking through a microscope. I mostly ate foods that I thought would keep me thin. And I ran my body to the point of exhaustion every day. What mattered to me was my mind, my thoughts, my writing, my ideas, and if I thought about my body – it was only to observe “how it looked”.
And, then, I started to dance. I’d danced before – at parties or as a ballet student as a girl – but I never saw myself as physically expressive or coordinated. I saw myself as a bit of a goof with two left feet. The thought of going to a dance class made me feel nervous and sweaty. But, one day, my husband met a woman (a miraculous, inspired woman) who taught something called “Sensual Embodied Dance” (a.k.a. S Factor). He bought me a class and encouraged me to go. My husband loves me, and loves to see my grow – I am lucky that way. He also knew I had been struggling with feeling sexy and beautiful – and something about this class and this teacher made him stop and take a second look.
I had no idea what to expect when I came to class on a sunny summer afternoon. The studio was dark and there were no mirrors. A small group of women was gathered in a circle on yoga mats. As the teacher encouraged us to do, we laid back, closed our eyes and started to breath. We stretched, we rolled, we rocked — all in our own space, without really looking at one another. The music was soulful and erotic. And the directions were different – instead of it being about strength, or repetition, the teacher asked us to observe our own beauty. She encouraged us to listen to what our body wanted and move in the way that made us feel alive and good. The moves were languid and luscious. The music was loud. We rolled and rocked in ways that felt so innate yet unfamiliar to what I was used to.
After many songs, we rose up off our mats. We sauntered around the room. We leaned on poles and walls. It felt awkward and unusual – and incredibly good. We learned a short routine the involved sliding down a wall and rolling our booties in the air. There were women of all ages and body types in class – and I felt surprisingly secure, even though I was doing something radically new with women I did not know. There were no mirrors in which to analyze your form, and, instead, the other women acted as an affirmational mirror for one another. The class ended with applause after a few of the more experienced ladies shared a dance with all of us.
On my drive home, I let the newness of the experience wash over me. It was thrilling. I went home and practiced the little routine over and over. I started to look through my lingerie for items that enhanced my beauty. I downloaded some new songs to listen to. I smiled more. But, that was just the beginning.
Something opened up in me … something I really needed. An itch I had never really been able to scratch suddenly found its salve. I started dancing more. I bought some clothes, some shoes. I started listening to music in earnest – something I had not done in years. I started to breath a little deeper. I started to (sometimes) ever so slightly saunter around the grocery store or pop my hip out when waiting in line.
It wasn’t so much about being sexier, though that is definitely a part of it, it was about considering my body as something to engage with. After several more classes, I had my first taste of the experience of being in what the S-factor dance world calls Body Bliss. I got out of my head, if only for a few minutes. I stopped thinking about how the moves “looked” and I started to think about how they felt instead. After class, I realized how long I had gone without asking my body what she liked. The realization struck me hard. I started to cry. How could I, the committed spiritual seeker, have not given my body any real consideration? How could I have become so disconnected from the very form I inhabit?
It was at this moment that I began to see what dance really meant to me. It wasn’t just a fun hobby (though it is so fun). It wasn’t only an excuse to buy new clothes (which is also a perk for me!). It was the food for my soul. I needed to spend at least a couple hours a week asking my body what she wanted and honoring her raw truth. I needed to break down the barrier between my mind and my body – and stop overruling the physical with the mental.
Our bodies aren’t just objects to be adorned, or scorned, or abused. Going in to my body opened up a whole new set of truths for me, stuff I had literally never considered before. I’ve sat next to women in class who cried while they watched other women dance out a big emotion. I’ve cried too – both as a dancer and an observer. I get chills each time I see a women bravely put herself out there. It takes so god damn much courage to live OUT LOUD like that – especially in a culture that tells women to think of their bodies as sources of shame. Or as something to give away to others.
I started to see the body issues all around me and I mourned for my mother and my friends who saw their bodies as sources of disappointment or disgust — too fat, too short, too flat chested, too old. It is painful for me to even think about the ways so many of us have an antagonistic relationship to the very body through which we live our lives.
I had been looking for many years for my own source of bliss. I meditated. I sought out spiritual teachers. I read. I studied. I traveled. I threw myself in to marriage. I relished parenthood. And all of this was good, helpful, fertile ground for my soul. But, I could have never guessed that what would unlock my spiritual fire, what would break down my walls, was dance.
After class, when we laugh and cheer and praise each other, many a fellow student has shared the impact of dance on their own life … as a way to express emotions, as a path to empowerment, as a way to make peace with their sexuality, and as a way to love their body. For me, dance has freed my spirit, and given my soul a place to play. I can work out any emotion – from anger to joy to frustration to sadness – by rolling around the dance studio. I consider finding S Factor one of the greatest blessings of my life.
I see dance as a way for me to be a better parent to both my son and my daughter. I am a happier me. I can show them a way to embodied bliss. Maybe it isn’t dance that does it for them, and that is ok. But maybe it is just feeling your feelings, understanding your body, accepting big energy, and harnessing your breath that allows them to lead a fuller, richer life.
I also take all this deep, new and sacred knowledge in to our office every day. I see how women (and men) come to us looking for validation, empowerment, and self-actualization. I see people wanting to claim their faces and their bodies, and to look the way they want to look. Far from being superficial and frivolous, I see people feeling more confident and bold after their time with us. I see people understanding that, of course, there is an interplay between your body and your spirit. How you feel about your outsides does impact how you feel on the inside. Your body and your face are yours, and how you feel about them is a choice.
For me, it took going in to my oft-forgotten body to find the missing part of my soul. It took breathing and swaying and sauntering to find my own sovereignty. I needed to dance to more comfortably take my Queenly seat and bring forth what I have to share with this world. It isn’t that I always feel amazing in my body. I definitely get in to my head and forget to eat or breath deeply for hours. I do still find flaws on my body. And I think it would be hard to work, and drive your car, and parent if you were always in Body Bliss. But, for me, it is just remembering that my body should have a seat at the table. When I make decisions, when I feel big feelings, and when I am moved to share with others – I try to remember to take my body in to consideration. Listening to my body gives my thoughts and actions more depth … honoring my body gives me more energy to share.
And part of what I have to share is this: You deserve to feel empowered. If we can do something minor to remove a worry from your life, it is our honor to do that. We want you to look in the mirror, see your reflection, and think “I got this”, and then move on to being in your highest good. We want to help you share your radiant light with the world – and in whatever small way we can help you do that, it is a deep joy for us.
I hope I can spend a part of my week, forever, on the dance floor. I hope I can use my voice to encourage others to find what sparks their fire and unlocks their passions. It doesn’t have to be dance, or even anything that uses your body. It could be writing, or parenthood, or friendship. Whatever it is, I encourage you to find it. The world needs your light – as much of it as you have to share. And it is my truest honor to be able to share some of mine with you.
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