Every is Energy

 

Encaustic

Artwork by Janice Rous

When I was three years old, I would dance around the foyer of our house in Maine. Somehow I knew that the greatest expression of joy, for me, was finding my wings to fly. So I danced; according to my mother and my sisters, I danced in the morning and I danced in the evening. Sometimes I even set up chairs for them to watch me dance. The foyer had etched glass window panes in the door. I remember dancing with the light and the shadows. I knew what complete freedom felt like. But a year later, we left that house in Maine, and I mark that trip as the beginning of recognizing contrast from total expansion and freedom to constriction and fear.

I entered into a period of deep grief, and when we finally arrived in Long Island, NY, far from the ocean and the seagulls, and the foyer with the etched glass windows, I began a journey to reclaim what I knew was true as a little girl.

Fast forward to 1965, when I was a student at the Martha Graham school of dance. Having spent twelve years trying to learn proper technique so that my body would master the elements of dance, so I could learn to fly with control, I recognized that to become a Martha Graham dancer was more about deprivation and restriction than it was about freedom and joy. That summer, I entered the American College Dance Festival and met Sally Stackhouse who was a principal dancer for Jose Limon. In her classes, I felt like I could fly across the floor in leaps and jumps and turns. In the next few months, I entered a huge battle within myself. Could I dance with that freedom or would I go back to classes that taught me about control and perfection?

This story is the seed of my work, Body Dialogue. I have been in a conversation all these years, asking how do I find joy, freedom, and expansion in movement, and at the same time fly like a bird and coast with the angels? I am exploring the concept of My Body as my Best Friend. She has been my guide and teacher as I have navigated this journey of contrast, felt in my cells and experienced in my bones, muscle and in the energy that I call “my body”.

Everything is energy. The breath is energy, our thoughts are energy, our bodies are the accumulation of our history and our presence in the moment. The physical body is of a different vibration than the emotional and spiritual bodies. But ideally when we line up the physical, emotional, and spiritual, we are allowing healing to occur in all three realms.

Being Your Body’s Best Friend

This article by Marion Woodman in Parabola helps us understand the pattern of addiction that is rampant in our culture. Her analysis helps to explain how we have arrived in this moment. Marion passed away in early July and left her students and her writings as her legacy

https://parabola.org/2018/06/10/worshipping-illusions-an-interview-with-marion-woodman/

july 2018For the last number of years, my body has taken on a different shape. I have grown wider and my stomach has rounded into a mound. My already crooked spine has gotten more crooked and places that used to be so flexible are starting to lose that ease I once had. Places that were once angular are now sharp, and places that seemed strong now feel rigid. It has been very easy to feel angry now that I have “more junk in my trunk” as they say. My photos reveal someone I hardly know. When I look at them, I do not like what I see, and I often ask “who is that?” I feel disgust or complete rejection of my own image, but that is my new edge. I have not yet fully accepted who I have become or what I see, but I am beginning to delve deeply into the self-criticism and self-loathing that is showing up.

If my body is my best friend, then how do I befriend this person inhabiting this Body?

How do I name it? What do I call myself? I used to simply go up and down five pounds, now I just keep growing. I love food and eating but it’s more that that; I eat whenever I can as if I am fueling a huge machine. Sometimes I think I am stuffing down the pain of my fears of the future; a world my grandchildren will not be able to live in, my fears of elephants and dolphins disappearing. How can I not be terrified by that?

I am also not moving as much as I did in the past. I am not walking every day because walking hurts my hip and my back. I am not motivated to jump up early in the morning to do my yoga or my stretching. So am I all of a sudden lazy? Or am I in a different rhythm?

I am writing this to you because my assistant Maddie suggested that this is a conversation that tends to be kept private. Few people want to talk about what happens to our Body as we age. Few people are willing to verbalize the ongoing struggle with shame and rejection of the Body.

What happens to us as we find ourselves different form before? How do adjust our expectations and our inner perceptions? How do we continue to be in a healthy Body Dialogue if there is disgust, loathing and anger as our new behaviors?

Now, I can only call on love and compassion; full acceptance. It was not this hard before, but now it is a daily practice. I am starting a loving kindness practice between me and my body. Not a deprivation regime but a strategy of indulging in unconditional love.

Can I challenge myself, not to thirty days of lemon juice and olive oil, but thirty days of loving kindness? Can I use my will in the service of love, not power? Can I invite my animal Body to speak and tell me what she wants and needs? Can I feel the shape that I have become as Janice too?

I release the inner critic when I see a new me!

I write this letter to you because I want to model a new way of thinking of our aging bodies. I am writing to teach a new course of self-correction based on love, acceptance and invitation. I am imagining this new energy as a gift to my body. My guidance tells me that now is the time to release all the phony ways we have been dominated and told what beauty is. Beauty is truly from the eyes of love.

This invitation is for you and me and any others who want to join me.

Try this when you have a voice inside that is filled with shame:

Sense into where you first heard that voice. Is it truly your own? Whose voice is it? Where in your body do you feel the messages of this broken voice?

Then ask your body to show you the opposite of that voice.

For example, if in my mind I hear my mother’s disgust at my family members for having no self-control and gaining weight, I replace it with remembering how I feel when I am swimming as a positive reinforcement for a new behavior. I bathe myself in this more life-giving feeling. After-all, our friendship with our body has very little to do with how we look, and a lot to do with how we feel.

Ask yourself: When do you feel the most at home in your body? When do you feel the most alive? The most energized? The most at peace? How can you make space and time to support these positive feelings?

 

We hope you will enjoy this poem by Sonya Renee Taylor: The Body is Not an Apology

PBS special Breaking Big with Roxane Gay, a leading voice in the feminist movement

https://www.pbs.org/video/roxane-gay-bmtg0n/

Body Dialogue: a Conversation with the Subtle Body

Screen shot 2018-03-22 at 10.42.40 AMRecently, a friend of mine who is also a psychotherapist, was sharing a technique with me that helps to clear emotional blocks in the body. She commented that sometimes people are unable to do the technique because they are so blocked from getting into their physical selves. In response, I reflected that although there are so many reasons why someone may be blocked from being fully embodied, most often someone simply might not feel safe enough to drop into their physical self. What I aim to do in my private sessions and my classes is to create safety through my touch and my presence.  In addition, the teachings of F.M. Alexander emphasize using the mind to direct the energy. By using these inner verbal cues, we are encouraging the flow of energy in a particular direction. My hands and my own body have years of experience, so I can detect the very subtle ways that people shut down their field and disconnect from their somatic cues. By using the breath, I persuade areas that are closed to open. For people who are too open in their energetic field, I help ground their energy in their muscles and their bones. The subtle awareness of this dialogue is not always understood cognitively by my students, but by the end of the session when they get off the table, their body feels different, and they know that something has shifted.

The reason people like massage and other hands-on modalities is because it gives them the permission to drop into the physical body with no expectation of performance.  Perhaps in the work of Body Dialogue, we go one step further. We use the breath and the mind to converse with the energy that lives within our physical existence. We create a somatic-based conversation. We call this the subtle body. In order to make our bodies our friends, we need to engage all aspects of our energetic field, which includes our thoughts, our belief systems, and the stories we tell ourselves. Engaging in this way is a process and a practice. Deepening our relationship with our body takes time, care, and attention. Some people see color and some see images. Some use sound and some use kinesthetics. We are all different. Sometimes we need the help of a practitioner to facilitate or initiate this dialogue. Ultimately, you have the potential to understand yourself more than anyone else. I invite you to enter this conversation with your body.

Breathing: our Birthright

IMG_2774We are born knowing how to breathe. Every baby (with the exception of infants with birth trauma) takes in a full breath and exhales completely. It is the miracle of life. It is our birthright. For this reason, when I work hands-on with my students, I know they have that capacity in their muscle memory. Even if there has been severe childhood trauma and dissociation, the body knows how to breathe. It is the gift of our autonomic nervous system. You do not have to be a singer or a yogi to learn how to have maximum efficiency of your diaphragm, or how to make a full resonant tone. In days of stress and tension, we forget this simple fact, even if our body knows it.

In Body Dialogue, my job is to invite my students into the experience of a full free expansive breath. So many people come to me knowing they are short of breath and completely stymied by what keeps them so restricted. In my private sessions and in my retreats, I teach simple practical tools to unlock the rigidity of the ribcage and release the sound.

This May 4-6, I am offering a small retreat for women who are curious about their breathing patterns, their physical restrictions, and want to explore the joy of movement. This retreat will restore your vitality, and enliven your soul.

 Check out this short video for a glimpse into the beauty of the ACA campus.

BD- moving into joy flyer

This Surprising Element Will Make You a Better Speaker: Speaking Your Brand Podcast with Carol Cox

Last month I had the joy of being a guest on Carol Cox’s Speaking Your Brand podcast.  It gave me an opportunity to tell listeners why better breathing is so important in giving presentations, and in living a fuller and more expressive public life. This is actually only one of the many places that better breathing helps.

I wanted to share the interview with you because it explains so much about the connection between breathing and our communication. I think this could help people in ways that are probably surprising and unexpected.

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“I’m happy to bring you this week’s podcast episode #49 with Janice Rous.

More than simply helping to calm your nerves or speak more clearly (which it definitely does as well!), using your breath properly and intentionally can connect you on a deeper level with your audience and make your words more powerful and impactful (it’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual).

This is what the best speakers in the world do – and you can too.

Janice and I also talk about why we’re often reluctant to have silence and pauses in our conversations and presentations (and, I would add, in our lives), but why it’s crucial for our listeners (and us).”

~Carol Cox, SPEAKING YOUR BRAND PODCAST

Highlights:

  • The importance of breath, tone, resonance, vibration, and grounding the body
  • How to let your breath guide the voice so your words are powerful and impactful
  • How pauses and silences are necessary so your audience see you as the authority on your topic
  • Techniques to invite your audience into your speech
  • The importance of physical and vocal warmups before a speaking engagement

 https://www.speakingyourbrand.com/breathing-for-better-speaking-janice-rous-podcast-49/

My Breath is the Source of Life

My upcoming retreat, Moving Into Joy, on May 4-6 will focus on the breath, toning, and moving. It’s my hope to introduce you then to the joy of movement and the joy of the breath as the source of life. This short blog post will help to explain some of the content that will be explored in the retreat.

 

Painting & Sculpture exterior med size

the beautiful Atlantic Center for the Arts campus

Today I woke up with this phrase: “My breath is the source of life.” I heard it as a statement, not a prayer or a question, but a declaration. My breath is my source of life, and every day that I awaken to this truth, I know it is and will be a good day.

Since I was a child, my body has led me on my path. According to my mother, I started dancing before I could walk. Dancing was my joy and my guide. Whenever I was not feeling like I wanted to dance, I knew I was in trouble—something was wrong. Over the years my interest in dance led me to a desire to become a professional dancer. Sadly, once I started down that path, dance became less my friend and more my nemesis, because I when I was dancing, I was not breathing. I was holding my breath, wanting my dance to achieve some perfectionism that was outside my ability. So little by little, my dance was not full of life. It was full of rules, requirements, criticism, and disappointment.

Finally, after struggling in that relationship and not getting the results I wanted, I quit that dream and started down a different path, one that led me to the Alexander Technique.

The Alexander Technique:

The Alexander Technique is a mindfulness practice based in the body.  It is based on the principle that freedom of movement comes from how we direct our thought. By visualizing energy, we release tension in the neck to allow the head to be poised at the top of the spine. This is what F.M. Alexander called “directing our thought”. He named this “Conscious Control” of the body, in contrast to our habitual movement patterns, which often result in tension. The premise of the Alexander Technique is that the length of the spine is determined by a coordination of its parts. Learning this technique taught me where I was constricted in my physical movements. It led me to the awareness that my breathing patterns were not effective, and although I had mastered Alexander’s directions, I still felt very rigid due to shallow breathing patterns. I was introduced to Carl Stough’s work in Breathing Coordination at that time.

Breathing Coordination:

From Carl, I learned that the ease of movement stems from the ease of the breath. My diaphragm was so weak that I was not able to access a free breath. I had a to re-learn how to breathe. From years of holding my breath, I had to learn how to recondition my diaphragm. After leaving each session with Carl, I became aware of the contrast between my day-to-day breathing, and Breathing Coordination.

Image result for diaphragm breathing

The Physiology of Breathing:

Unlike many techniques, the Stough breathing method focuses on the coordination of the diaphragm, the accessory muscles, and the voice as a three-fold approach to restoration and revitalization. It is based on restoring the strength of the diaphragm by using vocalization, toning, and vibration. It is meant to create a resonance through all the cells of the body—even the tiny mitochondria are restored by resonance. That response cannot be achieved by muscular pressure, or force. It can only come from ease and messaging from the brain’s autonomic system.

What I learned is that that modern life has restricted and constricted our breathing so that, rather than a full and easy breath, most of us have patterns of restriction coming from holding or pushing our breath.

In my sessions with Carl, I was able to realize once again the freedom I knew as a child dancing. From that knowing, I have centered all my teaching. Once I knew what a true, full breath felt like, I knew what freedom was and how to reclaim it in my body.

As a private practitioner and as a workshop leader, my focus over and over again starts with this coordinated movement of all the breathing muscles. The tools I learned from both the Alexander Technique and Carl Stough led me to what I call Body Dialogue.

With the flow of the inhale and exhale is the flow of life.

 

This flow is the source of life, and all the great Eastern spiritual traditions teach that as a reality. But we in the West have distorted even that truth. Powering the body as we do in the West does not lead to freedom—it leads to stress.

I invite you to join me this Spring at the Atlantic Center for the Arts to explore Moving Into Joy.

BD- moving into joy flyer

 

The Body’s Broken Promises

IMG_2536This morning a friend called and told me her espresso machine was broken. She could use her stove-top coffeemaker, she said, but she wanted an espresso. The machine was supposed to work—so why wasn’t it?

Broken promises. Sometimes we think about our body this way. My body is supposed to be working, we think, so why isn’t doing what I want—and whose fault is it? Sometimes we look inside, and say “I know how I hurt myself. I did too much during my workout—maybe I shouldn’t push so hard . . . ”

I think about this myself when my body isn’t up to my expectations and I wonder why. Am I doing something wrong? It feels like our body story is often about the secret promises we believe the body made to us, and is now breaking. The other side of our body story is that sometimes we look for someone out there who will fix whatever is wrong: our doctor, chiropractor, body worker. Who will fix this?

Instead, I offer a simple idea. Maybe the trick is to listen to our body’s message and find tools to work with our minds, bodies, and souls to look deeper in and find the way out.

On May 4-6, 2018, I’ll be conveying a retreat for women at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. It’s called “Body Dialogue: Listening to Our Deeper Messages and Finding the Joy of Movement.”

It’s my privilege to offer this retreat at the Atlantic Center’s sumptuous campus on the east coast of Florida. As we meet in circle, share, learn together, and move together, we can find the tools for our well-being and the secrets inside that lead us towards greater awareness and health.

Follow this link for more information and registration: http://atlanticcenterforthearts.org/event-or-exhibition/body-dialogue-a-practice-of-deep-listening-and-movement/

The News and Your Nervous System

IMG_2635For many years I have observed that we treat our bodies the way we were treated as children. What I mean is, our bodies are the part of us that cannot always speak our needs. This often goes unnoticed until there is a problem.

Sometimes if we were neglected as children, we might neglect our bodies. If we were pushed to be perfect, we expect perfection from our bodies. If we were driven with activity, we expect our bodies to go and go.

So with that in mind, I have been thinking about what it is like for our bodies, and the part of us that is not able to speak, to receive the news and be present to discourse that is often full of anger and hate.

How does our body internalize the aggression and projections that people on both sides are hurling at one another? I know it affects my nervous system, my digestion, and my breathing. I know I am feeling the actual assault physically of fear and hopelessness in the collective discourse.

So what is to be done if we want to stay politically aware of what is going on—but feel overwhelmed by the seemingly constant barrage of lying, deceit, and hostility.

I believe we cannot turn off to what is being presented, because one day we will wake up to a dictatorship and our rights will have been taken from us. I also know I cannot live in constant fear of the outcome of these politics. I resent that the political sphere is trying to grab my attention and not let me go. It feels like an assault.

I believe it is really important for the truth to be revealed in all the arenas that are speaking out, and I also feel that at 67 years of age, I do not have ceaseless reserves of energy to resist and fight. I often feel weary and taken over by the grief in my heart, mind, and body.

IMG_2644Joanna Macy, an important teacher and elder, reminds us that to not feel outrage, grief, and sadness during these times will leave us impotent, and that NOW is the time to use our love to serve the power of truth.

I know this to be true, but I feel the cost to my system daily.

NOW more than ever, physical practices are crucial—practices that help keep us centered and release negativity from our physical and energetic body.

This is a time we cannot coast down the hill. I know it is a time to get in gear, not get overwhelmed—a time to practice mindful movement and mindful speech.

But most of all, we need to remember our bodies speak to us daily. We need to listen and discern what she is telling us.

Finding Ground in Groundlessness

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My friend Jean Esther, a practicing Buddhist and insight meditation teacher, recently told me that she was teaching a class on ground and groundlessness. I have not stopped thinking about that phrase since she uttered those words.

 So much of my work is about that: finding ground in groundlessness through the body.  I find ground through the body practices that I teach and use myself.

You might wonder what I mean by being grounded. What does it feel like to be grounded? What does it feel like to be groundless?

The best example I can offer is what I notice in myself. When I am grounded, I feel physically stable and rooted to the earth. I experience myself as being emotionally present to what my surroundings are telling me. I am aware of my physical sensations, and my internal landscape and external landscape feel in sync or at least in alignment.

When I am not grounded, my nervous system feels stressed. My mind is easily distracted, and I am often irritable and anxious. When I lose my ground, it is as if my head is ruling and not my heart. When I am grounded, I can direct my energy through the core of my body and down into my bones. I focus on my lower body and especially my connection to the earth.

 When it comes to my clients and students, I can feel when someone is ungrounded because their energy feels to me as if they are living from the waist up, as if their body is cut in half.

Our sense of being grounded is deeply dependent on our breath. If someone’s breath is short, they often feel not grounded. The more comfortable you are in your breath, the more depth you have in your physical reality. The breath itself is not only an indicator but can help to improve the experience of being rooted. I can feel when someone is grounded, because I can feel their energy moving down their legs and into the earth. The quality of their presence is solid and calming.

 I am curious to know how you personally experience groundedness and groundlessness. I would love to hear your reflections.

For those of you who have studied with me, you know that I often start my classes by having my students anchor their bodies on a mat with an elevation under them, such as a ball or bolster. Then once they are situated on the platform, I have them physically explore the surface of their pelvic floor muscles and see their sitz bones in their mind’s eye. I actually tell them to take their monkey minds and direct those thoughts into the floor they are sitting on.

If you want to try it now as you are reading this, go ahead. It is actually a simple practice of getting out of the noise of the head and bringing your attention down to the floor of the torso and putting attention into the bones.

Often, meditation teachers offer the instruction to sit up straight and feel as though your head is being pulled by a string. I actually think although being upright is important, it’s even more important to anchoring down into the bones to allow the energy to rise up along the free column of support inside called our spine.

To do this, simply sit on your chair and put your attention down into the bones of your pelvis and your sitz bones—the two little bones that are touching the chair. Feel the sensation of weight and contact and go down in the chair with your thought. With your mind’s eye, put tiny sneakers on those sitz bones and imagine standing in those sneakers as if your sitz bones were feet.

Try this and see if you can feel your center of gravity, and by connecting that sensation with an imaginary internal column of light along your spine, you can, for a few minutes, ground your experience into the present moment and thereby release the floating experience of groundlessness.

NOTICE: Is your breath fuller? Do you feel less nervous? Do you feel a greater sense of well-being? I find this to be a simple but effective practice. Enjoy.

 

Reflections on Summer Heat

pomegranates

When I was in Safed, Israel, this summer, the temperature hit over 100 degrees. Luckily there in the north of Israel, the thermometer drops at least 20 points at night, offering some relief.

I was scared of that heat before I arrived. So we took cautions such as taking my four grandsons to a shaded pool and starting our swim in the late afternoon. We stayed in the shade and avoided being in full sun all day long. It was different than being in Florida in the summer. There it is humid and suffocating. In Israel, I felt parched all the time and seared like a piece of meat.

It’s amazing what you can get used to, but it was still exhausting to deal with that constant heat. It takes so much energy to not feel the heat as an enemy and to not be angry at it and your body.

The heat made me think of all the people who live in this new normal – the people with no electricity and no air-conditioners, the people who are actually dying in this climate catastrophe.

One day during my visit when we needed to get a new tire, I noticed how fast the conversation went from civil to hostile. I think the heat was part of it because it tries our patience.

How do we cope with heat of all kinds? What does our body need? What kind of mental clarity is needed to not get overheated emotionally?

It makes me think of the body’s messaging system. When we are overheated, it’s a sign of inflammation. Inflammation affects all the cells of our body and challenges our inner ecology. Inflammation affects all our organs but especially the liver, which needs to process waste. We are constantly having to accommodate physically and emotionally. I am thinking of all the diseases that are showing up because of this lack of balance.

We cannot filter when we are burning up trying to survive. Our planet is inflamed. How we can we act on its behalf? What do we need to know about the simple ecosystem of our bodies’ requirements?

Looking around at our Earth, I wonder if the Earth is trying to rebalance with the extreme heat that is causing massive burning forests and snowfall that went late into spring. The swelling oceans and winds are causing hurricanes, flooding, and catastrophes like those described in the Bible.

It’s something to consider as we go forward. How do we cope with this overheating? What nourishes us? How do we refresh ourselves? What do we need to water us? Is the heat a deeper metaphor of our burning out as a people who cannot hold our boundaries and our greed? And what about those of us who feel so compromised by the powerlessness around our political situation? How do we stay in balance knowing this is the way things are now?

How can we help one another in this overheated situation? What do we need to attend to as we face this new normal? I ask you to think about what your body is inviting you to understand, so the inflammation does not create a more acute disease.

What can we do for our communities? What can we do for one another? How do we want to participate in this new story we are creating every day?

As I write I think of what I am doing to get nourished. This essay and the next one are naming the problem. I have some suggestions about some of the solutions, but we can address solutions only when we fully accept the problems.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this.