When I was a little girl taking ballet, jazz and tap classes, I remember going home and telling my mom that I wanted to dance how I wanted to dance. I got tired of rehearsing the same routine every week, lining up on one side of the room, leaping across one after another, moving through the same couple ballet positions in eight counts, then the same tiny piece of choreography again and again. While I loved the dance recital weekends – the performance part of blazing through what we practiced with sharpness and delight (and lots of hot pink blush on my cheeks) – I got tired of repetition throughout the year and wanted to just groove in my own way to the music. Had that happened, the shiny pink polyester and silver sequins of our costumes wouldn’t have had quite the visual effect of us all moving at once, so I get that. And, perhaps the eight-count routines propelled my eventual aerobics teaching.
So through step aerobics, I got to make up my own dance – repeater knees, pirouettes on the bench, star arms, v-steps. Whatever happened on the left had to happen on the right. My body craved the beat, balance and symmetry. No way could we omit a move from the other side. It was all about balance, repetition, routine, order, pyramids, and probably a little perfection and lots of competition. Yes, the exhilarating satisfaction of ripping out patterns and forms as well as uniting the group as a moving body with the music mirrored what got on my nerves in dance as a child. We all became the same – flashes of sweat and strength and satisfaction – but eventually we were simply going through the motions. Showing up, doing it backward and forward, while chewing gum and telling jokes and conversing with our neighbor – it became a social hour of movement where we showed up but eventually checked out. And, that’s fine if you want to hit snooze forever. But, I needed something different. My sore knees needed something different. I needed to move – once again – how I wanted to move.
Ten plus years ago, I started working with a dance therapist who challenged me to listen to my body. This work has been the most insightful, scary, bewildering, liberating, fascinating, spiritual work I’ve ever done. Even while dabbling in yoga as a focused way of tuning into my body, breath and spirit, and then eventually becoming a yoga teacher, the practice of intuitive movement continues to be the fastest route to my truth.
The wonderfully mysterious thing is that there are no alignment rules. No patterns to follow. No guidelines of “put this foot here, angle that shoulder blade there.” The ego doesn’t have a whole lotta say because one basically has to show up vulnerable, ready to shed her skin. Otherwise, the magic can’t crack open.
The boot-shaking scary thing is that one has to shed her skin. No rules, patterns or guidelines of safety or how-to. No real right or wrongs. Every movement has its place. The sky is the limit if one chooses, but so is the floor. So is stillness. So is asymmetry, leaping, crawling and subtlety.
The cool thing is you get to play. You get to essentially take this work with you anywhere: weaving around carts at Kroger; walking through the park on a busy Sunday; sitting tall in your cubicle; or, sliding, spinning, lifting, kicking, twirling through the air while skimming a dance floor.
You might be wondering: yeah, but what exactly is intuitive movement? It’s a mindful movement practice where you let your body move how it needs and wants. Some simple body awareness instruction can help, like beginning with your head. Noticing where you carry your weight, how does it want to move or be? What about your elbows or hips? Do you notice your entire foot on the earth as you walk? What about your back body? How would it feel to roll on the floor? The prompts are endless. Music and different rhythms can help. You can practice for two hours or for 30 seconds while in line at the grocery.
It’s about awareness and noticing how the body wants to move, to live, to open, to close, to hold, to bloom. So many messages and opportunities to connect. Just one example, you start to notice your habitual patterns. Like me, I had a hard time – and sometimes still do – letting one side or area of my body move more or rest more than another. Those days of dance, and aerobics, and counting, and even yoga are still so ingrained in me, it takes steeping in my movement practice to let my body and not my mind be the guide. To get away from the shoulds, to step into the intuition and desire. And, when I listen to my body for other messages, or notice when it tightens after being around certain toxic energy, I gain a wealth of knowledge way faster than my mind might have offered.
I still love and highly encourage other movement forms like yoga asanas and safe fitness classes because cross training is so important physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Aim for practices that offer structure and body awareness and healthy alignment. Then, blend those with baby steps or giant leaps of exploring intuitive movement, and you open to a world of necessary awareness, healthy sensitivity and great possibilities to live an embodied life.