Monday, January 31, 2011

Sunrise at the temple: dancing in the architecture, prayers are everywhere.

With a take-away coffee in a cup designed for cheap beer at a keg party, I bounced in the back of a tuk tuk in the dark toward Angkor Wat to see the sun rise over the temple.

When we arrived, my driver Mr. Bros told me (loosely speaking) that he would park right here and I would go in there and I would come back to find him when I was done. It was pitch dark and he spoke hardly any English and I speak no Khmer except Aw Kuhn (thank you) so I was completely unsure how that would all work out. He pointed me in a Northeasterly direction. "Go." Okay.

I showed my pass to the guards and wondered how come they didn't have the usual heavy-duty "Hey Laydee" sales force at work selling flashlights. Many people had them and many did not so we trusted the bobbing lights of those in front of us and walked. I could tell there was water on both sides of me for awhile and then I went through a building and then along a long stone walkway. I crawled down some steps and then made it toward the tent with the lights and the people gathering at the edge of a pond.

We sat in the dark and waited. As more people arrived, we re-organized our positions for the best, non-obstructed view of the temple. We could begin to see it outlined in front of us, like giant trees or little mountains. A little later, more details emerged: lily's in the pond, pink in the sky, intricate carvings on the temple.

As we watched the temples, they watched us: hundreds of seekers in the dark, cameras ready to catch the moment of epiphany. Is this our consciousness rising? Will we Know once we have Seen? We take pictures to capture it, just in case we miss it. Enlightenment embodied in a quiet sunrise is more subtle than you might think (and then you also wish for more coffee while simultaneously becoming a little worried about the bathroom situation.) Oh, these bodies, full of want.

Once satisfied with the sunrise, I head to the Temple village of food and junk for coffee and toilet. I meet some young entrepreneurs who help me to realize that the genius sales girl I met the night before at the market, with her bracelets and her vast knowledge of American trivia (Washington D.C. is capital. Barack Obama is president. Michelle is his wife. He helps the poor) was just the first Cambodian I had met who had the Hey Laydee sales pitch fine tuned.

I didn't want to buy anything so I showed the kids a video of Simon dancing and the Talking Cat app on my phone. I thought we bonded just fine until they realized that for real, I wasn't buying any postcards or bracelets. They turned and left me, annoyed, like "Why in the world did we just waste all that time with you?" I got it. I really did. There are so few ways to make a living in Cambodia that they don't need to spend their time with me while they are working. We can bond later, when they are off the clock.

I began to explore the Angkor Wat complex and in many moments was completely alone as it was really early and the temple is vast. I started by a walk around the perimeter of the main building, the one we viewed at sunrise. To my left, a stand of trees with a dirt path down the middle that took my breath away: the slightly circuitous path made complete sense to me.

I started my way up into the temple itself, climbing crumbling stairs and meandering through the labyrinth of bas relief carved stone. Every time you think you have begun to understand the nature of the grand beauty and have created context for it in your pea brain, the next corner reveals something so awe inspiring you have to rethink the whole venture again.

A prayer everywhere.

You get lulled into magical thinking in this magical landscape and nothing can surprise you. Hey that man is blowing on my wrist to seal the blessing he just gave me. Look there is a cow. Look there is a monkey. Look there is an elephant. That lady is crying. They are dancing in the architecture. They've been on guard for centuries. The roots of that tree grew over a 30 foot stone wall.

You keep walking and you keep trying to reorganize the information in your brain and in your heart so as not to forget the individual moments of beauty plus to try to glean THE MOST IMPORTANT THING you were supposed to learn from the experience.

I do not yet know THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. I am working on it. But I liked walking back to find Mr. Bros and the tuk tuk (I did find him. Piece of cake!) on the same path on which I had arrived in the pitch dark.

On the way in, I was in the dark, just trying to get to where I was going without falling down the steps or into the moat. I couldn't see that I walked across a bridge, through a grand temple, past a buddha, down an ancient stone path. In the dark, I couldn't see the blessings all around me. But when the sun came up, they were all revealed to me. They sat there in their quiet beauty, waiting to be seen.

So it may not be THE MOST IMPORTANT THING but it is something. I felt it, my consciousness rising: knowing that there are so many blessings and beautiful things just waiting for me to see them, waiting for me to show up and turn on the sun so my life can be fully illuminated.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

And then we danced.

On the last night of True Body Project work with Transitions Global, Sola (left), Courtney (right) and I joined girls and women in the circle to to celebrate the girls' strengths of mind, body and spirit.

Our first exercise asked the girls to consider what super powers would they want to have if they were a super hero? Many of the girls wanted to be able to fly. Even more wanted magic of the general sort. Who wouldn't? One girl wanted to be able to shape shift and change her appearance. Another wanted to travel backward in time.

Several girls wanted to be superman to be able to help people. Especially important to this group are girls who have been trafficked and orphans. Many girls also wanted to be able to have a home for their family. They saw this in the same category as being able to fly or swim under water deep in the ocean. They consider an intact family under one roof, something many of us take for granted, as a feat requiring a super hero's skill.

After our energy warm-up and our meditation, we thought about someone who we admired and who had helped us: say a social worker or a teacher or a parent. The girls wrote down the characteristics of that person that they found particularly helpful. They like people who give good advice, who encourage them, who worry about them, who explain things to them, who are good people, who don't go away when girls do bad.

Then we talked about how you cannot identify a characteristic if it doesn't live inside of you. Recognition requires personal context. So we tried to impress on each of these girls that those are the characteristics within them, that they are all caring, giving, encouraging, loving teachers too.

Finally, we danced. First the girls learned a dance to Mary J. Blige's "Work That." They were fantastic! Thanks to Julie Sunderland for reminding me of the choreography long-distance. I think I got it pretty close to the original.

Next Sorida, one of the Transitions staff, showed us Apsara, the traditional Cambodian dance with the extreme hand shapes and flexed foot positions. It was so beautiful watching the girls move like this, taking on a traditional dance typically reserved for the elite.

And on a personal note, I had a fantastic moment with Deflated Balloon Girl who I mentioned in an early post. Let me tell you, the minute we started to dance, this girl lit up like Chinese New Year lights. She was so totally in her body and in her bliss. And she was the one who took me on as her student, telling me to bend my knees more and placing my hands in the very right position, which I could not for the life of me capture on my own.

Last up on our dance program was a Cambodian line dance to a really, really long song that sounded an awful lot like 70s disco meets Asian funk.

After our dancing and our final words to each other, with great sadness, I looked at each girl and said goodbye for now. I am convinced because I need to be that we will work together again. We will write, we will dance, we will help and we will heal.

We will celebrate the truly remarkable, inextinguishable light within these beautiful, beautiful girls.

Bye bye Phnom Penh, hello Siem Reap!

I love Phnom Penh the most in the morning and these are some of the sites that regularly greeted me including my favorite sign and the usual street vibe.

And now I am all checked in at the lovely lovely River Garden in Siem Reap, where I am courting my inner girl.

Tomorrow morning at sunrise, Angkor Wat. Bring it, Vishnu. Churn the sea for me.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Special shout out to Dara, Krama Yoga and NataRaj yoga!

This entire week I have been supported by the beautiful Dara (on right in photo above), who has taken her hardships and used yoga to turn her life around to inspire others.

Dara was living in Kien Khleang orphanage center when Yogeswari, director of AZAHAR Foundation, came to Cambodia to set up a sponsorship program for promising young people living at the center. This sponsorship program entails English classes, private school education, and weekly yoga classes at NataRaj. Dara showed tremendous initiative in her studies and her yoga practice and before long she was living at the studio so that she could work as evening receptionist, go to the local high school, follow extra English and Computer classes at a private school, and learn to teach yoga. Dara will graduate high school in July 2010—we are very proud of her, knowing what obstacles this impressive young woman has had to brave to achieve her goal.

So Dara and the Krama Yoga program work in partnership with Transitions Global to provide yoga to the girls. Soon, there will be 4 classes will be held on site at TLC which will allow the girls to develop a more regular practice. And 5 Transitions Global girls are immersed in a Teacher Training program so they can go on to help even more girls.

I am convinced that this partnership - bringing yoga to TLC - has sped up the girls' difficult healing process by years, if not decades.

For more information on this wonderful program, visit Yoga Cambodia.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Good vs. bad, beauty vs. pain

What a day yesterday.

I spent the morning at a wonderful, spirit-filling yoga class, the afternoon at the Killing Fields in Cheoung Ek, and the evening considering good vs. bad girls at Transitions Global.

I took a misery-filled 30 minute tuk tuk ride outside of Phnom Penh to the Killing Fields, trying not to breathe in the stench of the sewage or the dirt in the air. I remembered what the survivors of the Khmer Rouge endured and took a swig of my bottled water and decided my bumpy ride, that required nothing of me, was not something I could put in the hardship category.

Between 1975 and 1979, nearly 2 million men, women and children were executed and buried in these fields. So during the time I was coming of age by drinking beer, taking the SAT's and blow drying my hair for hours to get it straighter, the Khmer Rouge was bashing babies against tree trunks and executing artists and intellectuals.

The minute you step through the gates toward the memorial and toward the mass graves, it hits you. The sorrow comes up through the earth, through your legs and belly, and goes straight to your heart. The tears start to spill before you really even see the evidence of the atrocity.

If you have ever visited the actual site of mass killing, you know that it is difficult to process the emotions of the experience. There is no museum experience in the world that can prepare you for the visceral shock of it.

I was struck though by the contrast that nature provided for me between beauty and pain. The two photos above and below were taken with a stone's throw and a dam between them, a landscaped mirror of how closely the extraordinary can live next to the horrific.

Later in the evening, the girls at Transitions Global thought about the difference between "good" and "bad" girls. In the U.S., this pre-Feminist measure is more covert. But in Cambodia, it is embedded into the culture. Once a girl is labeled a bad girl, there is little she can do to escape this role. We talked about how to help girls who have been judged as "bad" and were forced into the role by family, traffickers, poverty and/or society.

Despite developmental and/or literacy challenges, these girls get it. It is a slippery slope between good and bad. There is a fine line between pain and beauty.

And let me tell you, the girls at Transitions Global are fighting the good fight to balance the scale with their heroic strength and beauty.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Are you red or blue? Are you day or night?

Last night we did some work on thinking more poetically and expanding our ideas about how to define ourselves and the world around us. The Transitions Global girls were totally game for this and were completely open to the experience of abstract, imaginative thinking.

After we did a meditation on imagining yourself as a tree with a safe space below it that you can design any way you want, the girls drew their trees and safe spaces. One was more beautiful than the next and it gave them a new way to think about defining and designing what safety looks like to them.

When I rode home with James Pond, via the usual tuk tuk, he shared with me some of the details about what these girls have endured. The girl who led our "warm up" today overcame not only sexual slavery but a meth addiction as well. Another girl was held hostage for 4 years. Another was beaten and shocked every hour until she quit fighting her traffickers. Girls who work in brothels endure serial rape 10-20 times a day.

It has been a luxury for me to work with these girls for several days without being privy to the details of the horror they have endured. I got to experience them just like I usually encounter a group of girls or women .... I only know what I see in the moment. Are they connected? Trying? All week long, the answer to these have been "Yes."

James credits this in large part to the unique and formidable spirit of "girl." I think he is right on that. But I also think the smart work at Transitions Global, in particular their dedication to providing yoga for the girls, has allowed these girls to re-connect to their bodies and their spirit in truly remarkable ways.

Hallelujah Kundalini!

I am used to moving my body nearly every day in an attempt to restore balance, joy and strength. While we have done some movement work with the girls, I am working hard to keep an eye on things and watch how they experience movement and/or meditation so I haven't had a pure movement experience, where I get to be a student of my body, for a week.

Happy happy hallelujah Kundalini yoga Phnom Penh! This morning I took class on a cool/hot rooftop terrace near my hotel with Mindy. I think I have done nearly every form of yoga now that I have added Kundalini to the mix. It was an awesome class designed to use the breath and movement to energize the spine and the chakra system.

We did a long, specific warm up and then three exercises to strengthen our arms and our aura to shine brighter and for triple protection against fear.

Thanks lovely Mindy and the gracious staff at Kundalini Yoga Cambodia for opening your studio to me this morning. And in a side note about connectedness, after class Mindy asked if I was at an Italian deli this weekend in Phnom Penh. Indeed I was! She recognized Srey Neth, the Transitions Global graduate. They are doing a Hatha yoga training together. Yay to the community of those who heal themselves to serve others. Right on.

Or, as we chanted today in a six minute mediation, SA TA NA MA.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I am ...

Last night we embarked on Day Two of our True Body Project work together in Cambodia. I adjusted the curriculum a bit to take into account the girl's development level and literacy issues so we are going to do a lot more word lists (vs. journal writing) and a lot more art work and playful movement.

So our curriculum included the following activities:

1. We introduced ourselves and said how we were feeling then created a gesture to match that feeling. "Happy" "tired" "headache" were the top feelings/gestures of the night.
2. We warmed up the energy in our bodies and connected to a partner's energy (see girls with their hands facing each other, photo above.) Then we connected to our group energy by standing in a circle, shoulder to shoulder. And then we did some partner weight sharing exercises.
3. After that, we wrote the words "I am" in the middle of a circle and filled the circle in with as many things we could think of. Most girls wrote "good girl" "daughter" and "student." It helped the girls to hear each other's lists because they could remember things they could add to their own list.
4. Then we wrote two more lists. We wrote 5 things we like and 5 things we don't like. Then we played charades and acted out for the group one of the things we liked and one thing we didn't. The girls were most interested in watching the Transitions Global staff act out their words. Visiting social worker Courtney's miming of a mosquito flying onto her arm and her quick "splat" of the mosquito onto her arm was the hit charade of the night. As we were leaving an hour or so later, the girls were still mimicking the hilariousness of the gesture.
5. Then we returned to our body map and traced our hands so we could put the "I am" lists into the outline of our hands. The girls then continued to work on the mural, adding artwork, words and images to the body maps.
6. Finally, we did our yoga song. Here are the words.

I am brave, I am bold.
To my own spirit, I can hold.
I am safe, I am strong.
To my own spirit, I belong.

I have to confess that last night I panicked a bit, wondering how to best be of service to these girls in the short amount of time we have together and given their developmental challenges. I am learning so much from listening to Summer Twyman (Clinical Director) and Courtney talk about their work here and how it relates to the work they have done with trauma and girls in other parts of the world. It is not that I didn't anticipate the issues. It just takes time to really understand context.

Last night I dreamed of new curriculum for the girls, literally, as I am so immersed in trying to get this right I am pretty much enveloped in True Body ideas, day and night. But when I woke up, I remembered that the True Body Project work starts with the body and ends with the mind. We first and foremost promote connectedness as the gateway to well being.

One of the girls last night was particularly dispirited and lethargic. Imagine a deflated balloon of a girl. She struggled to be with us and she struggled to participate. So I asked her to trace my hand on the body map and she did. She then allowed me to trace her hand. In that moment, in that space, we connected. I know it was important to me and I can only hope that in the smallest possible way, it was helpful to her.

So I will still work to create the best possible activities for these girls but will also remember that as long as we are spending time connecting our bodies to our thoughts and emotions, connecting our spirits to each other, we are making progress.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The girl within me wants to ....

The girls at Transitions Global have simple dreams of the most reasonable kind. We met last night for our first session and after we did a fun introduction exercise and warmed up and connected to the energy in our bodies, we did a writing prompt. Here is the prompt and some of the responses from the girls.

"The little girl within me ...."

Wants to be a good housewife.
Wants to be a good cook.
Wants to be a doctor.
Wants to have a happiness family together.
Wants a lot of friends.
Wants a bicycle to ride to school.
Is trying hard every day.
Wants to be a smart woman.
Wants to be a good person.
Wants to feel calm.
Wants a good job.
Wants to meet good people.
Wants to be a traditional dancer, a doctor, a tour guide and a yoga instructor.
Wants happiness family.
Wants happiness family.
Wants happiness family.

After that, we started our large body map mural, tracing shapes of three of the girls and illustrating the map with our words, magazine images, and artwork. We will work on the mural all week long, adding to it each night with more words and images from our experience together.

We finished with a song with gestures that one of the girls who is a graduate of the program and a yoga teacher taught us. . They do it in their yoga classes and it begins "I am brave, I am bold."

I have shared this same work with many girls by now and I am happy to report that the process played out pretty much the same as it always does. We had girls who were really connected to the process right away. We had girls who were not feeling it and likely, not feeling much of anything. But here at Transitions Global in Cambodia, what stood out for me was the fact that all the girls really did their best to offer what they could. And by the end, when we stood to sing our song together, I was nearly blown over by the energy in the room, the collective energy of these beautiful young women.

"I am brave, I am bold."


Tic tac toe and a ring.

I met the Transitions Global girls today. Some of them were sleepy and some of them were giggly. Some of them wanted to talk and some of them didn't. Some of them dig their schoolwork and some of them don't. I taught one of the girls tic-tac-toe. She gave me her ring.

In many ways, these girls are younger than their American counterparts. They are teenagers with Hello Kitty! accessories who are learning to add and subtract. But in other ways, heinous other ways, they are older than any girl should be, having experienced the worst treatment humanity has to offer.

I also got to watch the Transitions Global team in action, sitting in for a bit on a team meeting. Anyone who works in social services knows there aren't enough hours in a day to stay on top of the funding and the admin and the staff training and the strategic planning WHILE delivering top-notch human services. I can assure you that with Transitions Global, they simply give up sleep to get the job done.

We start our True Body work in earnest this evening. I am honored to be here, that is for sure.

(Photo - a painting on the wall across the street from my hotel).

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Not a lot of dancing.


I arrived in Phnom Penh late on Saturday night and pretty much went straight to bed at the Golden Gate Hotel on the popular Street 278. Sunday morning (my birthday yay yay!) I checked out the hotel breakfast (where I indulged my new passion for thick sweet milk and super strong coffee) and then hit the streets. I took a bunch of photos this morning only to realize I am one USB cord short of uploadability on my camera so the one above is from my phone.

To round out my day, I had lunch with James and Athena Pond and later met some of the social workers I will be working with this week. As a big bonus, when Athena and James came to pick me up I got to see Neth who I met when they were in Cincinnati. Neth works as a receptionist at yoga studio now! Neth shared my first tuk tuk ride with me through the entertaining, bi-polar streets of Phnom Penh. In between, a super heavenly Thai Massage to celebrate my birthday.

Phnom Penh is hard for me to describe. I keep returning to the fact that in the late 70s during Khmer Rouge between 1 and 2 million people were killed. Particularly targeted were artists, writers, academics, doctors, etc.

I start work tonight with the girls at Transitions Global, all of whom suffer from PTSD. I think what I am feeling in Phnom Penh is cultural PTSD. It feels like the culture has left its body and is waiting, waiting to return.

Oops. Gotta go. James and Athena are picking me up in a few minutes so I can get to the TLC to meet the girls. But first, coffee and another tuk tuk ride. More later.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Slow boat. Fast study.

I am leaving today for Cambodia and I thought my trek was going to be long but simple. LAX to Seoul: 13 hours. 1 hour layover. Seoul to Phnom Penh: 6 hours.

I am sitting at LAX now waiting an additional 2 hours for my delayed flight which will put me in Seoul too late to get a flight to Cambodia until some unknown time that, apparently, cannot be ascertained here in the U.S. while I am waiting around. So I sprung for the fancy lounge with wireless and free coffee and juice and pretzels and stuff.

I am going to use the time to dig in a bit to reading about Cambodia. I am reading FIRST THEY KILLED MY FATHER by Loung Ung. It is Ung's story of the madness of Khmer Rouge. She was a five year old in Phnom Penh when the genocide began.

I was thinking about the importance of this history is to getting a better grasp on the situation with the girls at Transitions Global, most of whom were sold into the sex trade by their parents. Such an unthinkable thing ... until you think about the fact that most everyone in Cambodia of the age of 30 or 40 is a survivor of the unthinkable. If you have watched your parents' murder and been subjected to ritual torture, how good of a parent are you likely to become?

I'm also digging in (love my Kindle!!) to V.S. Ramachandran's THE TELL-TALE BRAIN. He is an incredible neuroscientist who gets this mind-body thing like no other.

History and science: it makes total sense to me now that these are rich areas to learn about human behavior. Too bad I am so late to the academic party on this.

But I guess that makes a bonus layover in Seoul and an extra couple of hours at LAX my own personal university.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The dance begins.

As I write, Kristin lays a few feet away in her hospital bed at the bottom of the wellness curve. She had a bone marrow transplant 6 days ago. I won't bother listing her current symptoms of misery. Just imagine the worst you have ever felt and multiply by a leukemia factor of 100.

Before I came to the hospital last night, I went to Jasmine's dance class at the Sweat Spot. I am not a technical dancer and for me, the choreography she presented in lightning fast speed just didn't jive with my brain or my body. The non-technical response I had was "I'm f*&#*ed."

But rather than walk out the door, I hung in there, just trying to do as I was asked. And then repeating it. In the end, I didn't create beauty but something that reasonably resembled the choreography. Mainly, I worked on moving through a wide range of emotions.

Yesterday was like this. I went from watching one of my closest friends endure barbaric and heroic treatments for cancer, to having a hopeful meeting on a future project, to struggling to get a dance right, to settling in for another long night with Kristin at City of Hope hospital.

As I ready myself for a long journey toward Cambodia and my work with the girls at Transitions Global, I imagine that this preview dance is preparing me for the dance of my trip. I am certain that I will experience sadness and hopefulness and confusion and frustration and joy throughout every day, perhaps every hour.

So maybe dancing isn't entirely about joy. Maybe it is about being able to be flexible and strong enough to deeply feel all the human emotions that it takes to live a life and to move through them knowing that the journey itself is the dance.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

How I kicked off my adventure and redeemed the 80s.

Last Saturday night nearly 100 wonderful people joined me for the best ever dance party ever to celebrate my birthday and to help me kick off a grand adventure of travel, dance and service work with the True Body Project in Cambodia.

It was awesome. I mean really, really awesome.

And in a karmic move, we did a little dancing on the bar. In the 80s, on the same block, I did the same maneuver with a friend and fell off, busting up a cooler and my flesh. The doctors picked a lot of glass out my back side. It was ridiculous.

But to tell you the truth, I am glad to be able to dance on a bar at 50 with my beautiful friends. I am even happier to report that there were no dancing related injuries.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Happy Saturday!

George Clooney is dancing for me. So I wanted to share with you.

(And by the way, he was my fantasy boyfriend first. I even wrote him into a novel. I have loved him a long time so if you meet him when he is in Cincinnati, just keep that in mind.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Check it out! Here is why Britt is in Trockadero.

I am so excited to report that my friend and fellow dancer (technically it is true cuz we were "Single Ladies" together) Britt Spitler got a job with Trockadero, the amazing all-male dance troupe.

Here is an article about Britt and even more fun than that is the short video, above, of him dancing en pointe.

Trockadero is coming to Columbus and Louisville soon so check out the schedule and see if you can catch a show.

The U.S. surgeon general backs me on this!

Check it out! The newly appointed U.S. surgeon general thinks we should dance.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A genius description of connectedness.

I love the science of wellness.

When I was young, I read the comics first. Later, I was attracted to the entertainment section. The last many years, I have been a devotee of the arts & culture sections of a magazine, website or newspaper. And now, I gravitate to the science sections. The New Yorker has particularly good science reporting. And today, I read an article called "The Social Animal" by David Brooks which investigates how "over the past few decades, geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, economists, and others have made great strides in understanding the inner working of the human mind."

It is worth reading the whole article (link below) but I was particularly taken by this passage, where a neuroscientist reveals his science-fueled thoughts on happiness.

During the question-and-answer period, though, a woman asked the neuroscientist how his studies had changed the way he lived. He paused for a second, and then starting talking about a group he had joined called the Russian-American Folk Dance Company. It was odd, given how hard and scientific he had sounded.

“I guess I used to think of myself as a lone agent, who made certain choices and established certain alliances with colleagues and friends,” he said. “Now, though, I see things differently. I believe we inherit a great river of knowledge, a flow of patterns coming from many sources. The information that comes from deep in the evolutionary past we call genetics. The information passed along from hundreds of years ago we call culture. The information passed along from decades ago we call family, and the information offered months ago we call education. But it is all information that flows through us. The brain is adapted to the river of knowledge and exists only as a creature in that river. Our thoughts are profoundly molded by this long historic flow, and none of us exists, self-made, in isolation from it.

“And though history has made us self-conscious in order to enhance our survival prospects, we still have deep impulses to erase the skull lines in our head and become immersed directly in the river. I’ve come to think that flourishing consists of putting yourself in situations in which you lose self-consciousness and become fused with other people, experiences, or tasks. It happens sometimes when you are lost in a hard challenge, or when an artist or a craftsman becomes one with the brush or the tool. It happens sometimes while you’re playing sports, or listening to music or lost in a story, or to some people when they feel enveloped by God’s love. And it happens most when we connect with other people. I’ve come to think that happiness isn’t really produced by conscious accomplishments. Happiness is a measure of how thickly the unconscious parts of our minds are intertwined with other people and with activities. Happiness is determined by how much information and affection flows through us covertly every day and year.”

To this, I say 'hell yes!'

This is what the True Body Project attempts to make programmatic, these rituals of unselfconscious connectedness.

And this is why I hope you have your own place and your own practices to allow information and affection to flow through you, covertly, every day and every year.

Read more

Saturday, January 8, 2011

I found my voice.

Transitions Global Survivor Shares Her Story from Transitions Global on Vimeo

On this cold winter night, I am working on my curriculum for Cambodia. I arrive in Phnom Penh in two weeks and will do a week-long workshop with these amazing girls. I am so honored to work with Transitions Global in Cambodia! Check out this beautiful, inspiring video.

On one level, I think we can all relate to Srey Neth. Most of us know what it feels like to lose our voice. Sometimes, we conspire for our own silence. And sometimes, our voice is taken away from us along with our choice. Soon, I will learn even more about what connects us as humans in an imperfect world and what binds us as we work together to find the strength to help others.

Learn more about True Body Project and Transitions Global and how you can help raise your own voice and choose to end violence against girls and women and, in particular, commercial sexual exploitation here and abroad.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Free Dance Week!!

It's that time of year again! Next week is Free Dance Week at the Cincinnati Ballet. Check out the schedule and pick a class or two to check out FOR FREE.

Rhythm and Motion, Modern, Hip Hop, Adult Ballet plus kid's classes too.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

It was right behind me the whole time.

Bear with me on this one. I'm gonna go a little metaphysical on you. Or to be more precise, I'm going to go somatic on you.

I am super interested in the subtle and not-so-subtle patterns we hold in our muscular and energetic bodies. Often, these patterns relate to past experiences and our body responded appropriately at the time. Let's say you were frightened of something. The withdraw response, which is primal and kicks off a whole sequence of events in the body, took over. Within a second, your entire body does the following: Eyes close, jaw and neck become tense, neck forward, shoulders lift, elbows flex, fists clench, chest flattens, abdominal muscle tightens, diaphragm contracts, breath shortens, perineum contracts, gluts rotate legs in, things adduct, hamstrings contract, knees bend, arches lift: the subjective feeling is fear.

Now let's say that you have thoughts that are fearful. Let's say, like me, you are worried about connecting with projects that can sustain you financially. I know that every time I have fearful thought, I am putting my body through the wringer ... the sequence above is hardwired into me and even when I am not aware of it, my body and mind are in a dance of subtle movements.

One of the reasons I am so interested in movement and mindfulness is so I can be a sleuth into my own patterns ... what thought and/or related movements are keeping me stuck?

And here is what I have recently discovered: I hold fear in the middle of my back.

I kept losing things and then finding them weeks later RIGHT BEHIND where I was looking for them. So I paid attention to that. I wondered what else was right behind me that I was ignoring. Since I am a dork, I thought maybe a guy who I was supposed to meet lived behind me. I wondered if I was supposed to look further (really? again?) into my past.

But just this week I figured it out: when my thoughts go crazy with fear, my upper back right between my shoulder blades freezes. My breath shortens and I am no longer in my body or in the present. I am in the past or in the future.

So I've been focusing on letting that go. I have been actively working on surrendering my back muscles throughout the day. Whenever I do it, I return to the here and now. I feel more confident and less afraid although I am very aware of how much I've stored up there. I think it will take awhile to let it all go, this life time of super subtle fearfulness.

In addition to focusing on movement through the spine this week at dance, I have been focusing on the fine art of surrender.

Over and over I take a deep breath and soften muscles in my neck and back and belly. And I say thank you thank you thank you for the gift of consciousness.

(And also thanks to Ron Hamad for this beautiful photo which I use whenever I can.)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dancing to a yogic tune, Pilates-style.

Pilates Enthusiasts : S2E20 : Exercise Ball for Pike from Balanced Body Pilates on Vimeo.

Last year Balanced Body came to Cincinnati to do a series of educational podcasts with me to include in their annual series of instructional offerings. I worked with my then co-educators, Heather Sommer and Rachel Appel, on the content.

Here is access to all of them and you can watch the most recent one above.

I will be applying many of these alignment principles (sans ball!) this weekend in my new class at The Yoga Bar. Pilates for Yogis will help anyone in a movement practice, but particularly yogis, understand how to get more out of their practice. I do not intend on teaching a hybrid class but more of an intentional Pilates class directed specifically toward yogic movement.

In short, it will be awesome and I hope you will join me!

Saturdays from 11-12. Sign up at the Yoga Bar link above.

The courage to dance.

This is an inspiring article from the New York Times about an amazing Haitian dancer.

Read the full article in the New York Times. I have also included it here.


Excerpt ...

Fabienne Jean, the dancer who lost a leg in the earthquake, smiled so radiantly and expressed such courage that everybody who met or read about her wanted to help. Doctors, prosthetists, choreographers, dancers with disabilities, charitable groups — they all aspired to adopt Ms. Jean.

By early spring, Ms. Jean was struggling with conflicting offers: to be fitted here for a prosthetic limb by a New Hampshire nonprofit group or to fly to New York, where Mount Sinai Medical Center would provide corrective surgery, rehabilitation and a stay of months in the city. The foreigners’ attention was overwhelming.

After a period of agonizing indecision, Ms. Jean chose to stay in Haiti, where she felt at home. The New Yorkers were proposing a second operation to strengthen her stump. That, Ms. Jean said, was a deal-breaker. “I didn’t want another operation,” she said. “I didn’t want to lose any more of my leg.”

Recently, standing proudly on two feet, Ms. Jean led the way into her family home. Always fashion-conscious, she was wearing chunky jewelry, a spaghetti-strap tunic top and slim jeans. Her new limb, ending in a stockinged foot encased in a delicate slingback flat, peeked out from beneath the cuff. Using a cane, she gracefully, but with a slight limp, navigated the house’s challenging terrain — a sloped, rutted entryway and unfinished concrete stairs without banisters.

Ms. Jean had moved back in with her extended family after breaking up with her longtime boyfriend, also a dancer, for “reasons of the heart, nothing to do with the leg,” she said. About a week ago, she proudly settled into a rental apartment of her own, which she shares with her mother and her young daughter (a niece whom she had adopted before the earthquake).

Several times a week, Ms. Jean does pliƩs and arabesques as part of an exercise routine overseen by a high school senior trained as a physical therapy assistant by the New Hampshire group. That group, the Nebco Foundation, which built and fitted her limb, will be fine-tuning the socket next month and testing out feet that will allow her to dance again.

Ms. Jean looks forward to that, she said, but she added: “Realistically, there is no way I’ll be a professional performer again. So I will need another way to make a living.” She envisions a fashion boutique or a dance school.

Ms. Jean said that she did not want to be a drain on her family, which had always expected her, the oldest child and the most talented, to support them. Her father, she said, was scared after the earthquake that she would end up “in a corner, like a handicapped person.” But that is not going to happen, she said.

“There are some disabled people who think that life is over, who are ashamed,” she said, before jauntily swinging her prosthesis over her shoulder during a photo shoot. “I’m not like that. Except for the fact that I lost a part of myself on Jan. 12, I’m still Fabienne.”

By Deborah Sontag, NY Times, Jan. 3, 2011.

Monday, January 3, 2011

My name is Srey Leap.

At the end of this month I travel to Cambodia to do a week of True Body Project workshops with girls who survived sex trafficking and are living and healing at Transitions Global.

The story that is featured in the photo above is from one of the Transitions Global girls. It is a difficult story to hear and one I will hear over and over again during my time in Phnom Penh.

I understand how hard it is to live in a female body in our Western society. I understand what it feels like to be disconnected, to escape to my mind to check out of my body for awhile. And I have worked with girls who have been sexually assaulted and have had to prostitute themselves to avoid flat out homelessness. My New York colleagues Cameron Anderson and Liza Zapol have worked directly with girls who were sex trafficked in Harlem.

But I cannot even begin to understand what it feels like to be sold as a child into sexual slavery.

The True Body Project workshops I will lead will provide tools for emotional integration via writing, art and movement therapy. Trauma therapy requires reconnection between the parts of the brain that handle logical thought, emotional processing, and primal functions. This I know how to do. But I was worried about the language barrier and expressed my concerns to my friend Dr. Elisabeth Hodges. Elisabeth studied Romance Literature and Languages at Harvard and teaches at Miami University plus regularly goes to conferences here and abroad with super smart people like her.

My concern was not so much with understanding the girls (we will have a translator) but that the Cambodian language has not evolved to bring as much nuance to the language as is likely being felt by the girls. For example, when I worked with two of the survivors in Cincinnati, we had to change the writing prompt "I hunger for ..." to "I really want ..." because the Cambodian language did not have any words that represented deep yearning or desire.

Elizabeth reminded me is that one of the most powerful therapies for trauma is active, empathic listening. Since I will have a translator, I will be able to do for these girls exactly what we do in all of our other True Body Project workshops: we create a safe space to listen to and honor personal stories. I will bear witness. I will be present.

So keep reading my blog. I will make sure to include many posts from Cambodia so that you can also bear witness to the very real problem of human slavery in our world and see how James and Athena Pond and their colleagues at Transitions Global are working to bring light to a dark place in the human spirit.

If you would like to know more about our work in Cambodia or elsewhere, check out our websites and consider a donation to True Body Project or to Transitions Global.