The Healing Power of Metaphor

IMG_4368This piece is a continuation of Erin’s writing about our work together. In one of her early sessions, she received an image  that she describes below as a pinball machine. I remembered Marion Woodman, my teacher in BodySoul Rhythms, telling us that when a person receives an image born out of their felt experience, that image can shift the trauma living in the body. Her body was talking to her through this waking dream image.

 

 

 Disabling the Pinballs

I envision the multiple episodes of trauma and chronic pain I have experienced as rogue pinballs that have been set loose within my body.  Every muscle, joint and nerve they hit recoils in shock, and forgets how to function properly. Cells bundle together to “guard” the afflicted areas, but in doing so, they prevent healing.  Other muscles try to take over functions they were not designed for. And the mere act of holding myself upright becomes exhausting. So much energy wasted on trying to block the pinballs and drag my body along through the damage…

But now I know there is a better way.  Unplug the pinball machine. This first requires unplugging the mind from all external distractions and solely focusing on the lights, bells, and whistles on the inside, set off by the rogue pinballs.  Then gently tell the muscles, “It doesn’t have to be this way. You can all return to the jobs you were meant for. You have the wisdom. You have the power to heal and strengthen. You can stop setting off alarms.  Just disable the pinballs.”

And for this part, we need the breath.  The breath can unplug the pinball machine.  It can silence the ruckus inside. Send the breath. Send strength. Feel all of the interfering shields come down. Feel the tightness fall away.  Allow the inhale to reel in the cord to the pinball machine, and the exhale to unplug the power. And now the power is not held by dysfunctional habits born of chaos.  Now the power is in your breath.

-Erin Panzella

What can you do to awaken your inner dream language?

Here is a practice to do at home:

Lie down on the floor.

Take a baseline of what your breathing is telling you in this moment.

Notice the places in your body where you are holding tension and feeling pain or discomfort.

Ask yourself the question “Can I let go, and sink into the floor, inviting my bones to be heavy, my joints to release, and ask my mind to let go of judgment?”

Start to slowly release the breath through humming.

It requires very little effort.

Imagine that this hum is traveling through your body like a gentle soft touch, filled with compassion and loving kindness.

Slowly open your mouth and with gentle vowel sounds, let the air pass through your lips without effort and continue to exhale.

Give yourself some time, perhaps a few minutes, to explore micro-movements

You do not have to fight to find it.

Just accept where you are and go from there.

Before you get up to continue your day, notice if any images come to mind, any sensations, any colors.

Has your energy shifted? Do you feel a little softer and more present in the world?

 

Opening to a New Life

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For many of us, this super moon marked a time of huge energy shifts, and releasing old stories that no longer serve us. Releasing those stories and opening up to a new life is a death/rebirth process. It requires imagination to envision what is possible. It also requires a willingness to have a new experience. Through the work of Body Dialogue,
Erin Panzella was able to imagine and create a new story.
My relationship with Erin, my student in Body Dialogue, exemplifies the power of finding one’s metaphor to embark on such a healing journey. When Erin came to me, I intuitively knew that unless we found the root of her story in her body, she would continue to carry the pain that had been her identity since her childhood.

Below is an introduction to Erin, who will be sharing her story throughout several blog
posts to come.

 

My name is Erin Panzella. I have been a student of Janice’s for the past four years. My
journey with chronic pain began as a child with undiagnosed gastrointestinal disorders,
and has continued on in my adult life due to a traumatic back injury that resulted in
spinal fusion surgery. When I finally felt recovered from the surgery, I suffered a car
accident which sent me into a tailspin of pain.

When I first met Janice, it seemed I had already exhausted all other modalities of getting
out of pain. I felt completely hopeless, yet also cracked wide open. This state of
vulnerability meant I was receptive to a new process. Janice understood that my trauma
was more than just the symptoms I displayed. Her goal was to go underneath the pain
and listen to the messages it was speaking. This helped me to shift my focus from trying
to “fix” myself to trying to understand how the pain and fear were consuming my
identity. This process required trust and vulnerability that were first cultivated through
my participation in a couple of retreats lead by Janice. During my first Body Dialogue
session, the following images came to me. The River became a metaphor for my healing…

The River

Artwork by Janice Stieber-Rous

Artwork by Janice Stieber-Rous

I’ve been crushed under the weight of generations
Worth of Shame, Doubt, and the Burden of
Being a woman,
A lesser creature,
Only worthy of whatever
Men are willing to give.
I’ve been striving so hard
To carry this load
That my bones have contorted
And my muscles have knotted themselves
And I’m so acutely aware
Of the Pain,
That I can’t even begin to imagine
Who I am without it
Until someone said,
“Here, let me…”
Hands loosening my knots
Breath resetting my bones.
I was finally able to recall
A time that was absolutely mine…
Splashing in The Little Colorado River,
With my friend who has always been
There was no past
No future
No disappointment
No expectations-
Just bliss, clean and free
And so the hands help me
Ease into the river
Where I expel
The Pain and Shame from my body,
The water carrying it all
Out and away
I release, exhale
And hold the image of a setting desert sun
As the reference point for my new center

Coming Back to Center: Keeping it Simple

FullSizeRenderKeeping it simple is real. Coming back to center is a real place. It’s not a metaphor.

You might know this place from yoga or tai chi, from golf or tennis, when the ball has a spin, or the swing feels right. You know it when you are feeling the alignment of your body, the spools lining up in your spine, the energy of the chakras spinning in some vibrational pattern that seems both quiet and alive. You know it when everything feels soft inside, but not too relaxed, poised and dynamic, in a flow. If you are singer, you know it when the voice is effortless and resonance is a felt sense.

It is what we long for after massage or other body work. It’s an actual experience where the head is on right and the muscles are not screaming for attention. Where the body has an inner purring.

We all had it as children, a lot. If not, we could not have learned to walk or get up from all fours to standing. It might not be as easily accessible in the body of an adult with our collection of compensating tensions and restrictions to our breath and balance. It might feel out of reach and impossible, BUT we all have had the experience, either in our bodies or in our imaginations.

It can be learned. I know because I can teach it to people, and I do in my work.

BODY DIALOGUE, the name I’ve given to my work, is about finding a full breath and finding that sweet ephemeral balance when the feet are grounded and the head is floating like a balloon. It’s when the upper body and the lower body are unified . Our body feels organized and connected.

There is another center that is metaphorical.
It’s often attainable even if the body is not feeling so great.
It’s when the mind is clear from worry and the emotions are steady—when the heart feels safe even when the world around  is not.

It’s when the people you love can open their hearts to you, and it feels right and easy between you and the world. It’s a reference point. We call it well-being.

I think it is what our addictive society promises with the pursuit of wealth, the perfect body or the perfect partner. The addict longs for this state, but has no idea how to find it without the drug, or shopping, or they simply keep too busy to feel anything at all.

It might be what people mean when they say “everything is under control.” But I know that well-being is not about being in control.  It’s knowing you can handle life when the fear feels bigger than anything else.

I call that place the allowing place. It’s a reference point that sometimes is achieved in prayer and meditation. In that place we can risk showing up to the present moment. We can feel the courage to face what is seemingly impossible. We can feel our open hearts and know our resilience even while knowing that what is showing up feels unmanageable. It’s a state of mind that we might call grace or ease. Sometimes we find it on vacation when we have eliminated stress. BUT but more often than not it’s simply a fleeting moment when we can say:

I am grateful for this moment,

I am present to what is.

It comes and goes. It’s not static. Not something we can hold onto even if we want to. It simply is. It’s our recognition of being BOTH Human and  Divine.

Keeping it simple is a practice of coming back to center over and over again. It’s finding that sweet spot where true beauty resides and deep listening happens.

It’s a practice because its takes practice to know it is always there, if we say yes to it .

My experience has shown me that even when the heart center is closed and the physical center is hard to find, there is a practice of trusting that it is present and can be accessed.

Sometimes we need the body practice to help the mind/heart. Sometimes we need the body to kickstart the process. Sometimes we need gratitude practice to anchor the emotional body in something larger than our small self.

We all have had a moment in life where we know what trust feels like.

For me, I am celebrating the ability to know the difference between trust and worry, courage and complaint.

I say this holiday season is about practice,
whatever the religion, whatever you believe about the world.

We all need to find center these days and to keep it simple.

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.

Screen Shot 2017-12-30 at 12.06.21 PM

“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/