Category: Blogs

Who am I?

Earlier this year, I went on a vacation that was designed to push me beyond my known boundaries of my self concept. I have envisioned myself as a strong independent woman. I identify as a self sufficient person. But I am not sure if I am strong enough in other ways. So I went because I wanted to know: Who am I other than a strong, independent woman? 

The vacation was a retreat called Dance Beyond, held at the Eagle’s Nest, a retreat center near San Marcos La Laguna in Guatemala. People from all over the world converged for a week of ecstatic dance, yoga, and self exploration. I arrived there, wondering if I would fit in. I knew a few faces from New York City—where I go regularly to do ecstatic dance—but I didn’t “know” know anyone who was in Guatemala.

The structure of the retreat helped guide us in our self exploration. We were asked: Who am I? Who am I in relation to others? Who am I in relation to community? I instantly hit some shit: I was uncomfortable. I felt out of place. I was surprised that I felt out of place in a community that encouraged acceptance. I showed up at a place where no one knew me well and I was afraid of not being accepted. This is not the way a strong, independent woman would think. Who was I, then?

The week progressed. I was taken aback by the realization that we all had arrived with such high levels of personal risk: we all risked venturing farther away from our known and comfortable concepts of self. I realized how special the community was.

The retreat facilitators encouraged us to move in rhythm on and off the dance floor. Respond to each other as if in a dance. Respect each others’ journey of self exploration that was happening. Could I dance beyond the strong, independent woman self concept? Could I dance with anyone at all? That is, if I wasn’t feeling strong and independent, who am I? I felt frozen with the questions in my mind. I felt stiff in my body. I felt cut off from others by being cut off from different selves in me. So I resolved to just continue to show up mentally and ground any physical sensations by sending them out through my feet back to the earth.

When I had danced at events before the retreat, I usually danced alone. It’s how I was used to dancing.


as I moved and grooved to the smoove beats by the banging DJs spinning global bass and dreamy electronica on the stage overlooking Lake Atitlan, I started to feel soft in my body. I learned that I liked learning to dance with others.

I embodied those feelings into words, finding language to say that I am strong enough to survive as an independent woman in the world, but what I need is the ability to be soft as an independent woman in the world. I realized that having a need for emotional self sufficiency was in direct conflict with my need to take social risks.

I realized the challenge I had to dance out was this: let myself be something I don’t feel like I am. Allow the conversation to happen. Be comfortable when I am not comfortable. Let that conversation happen in movementThe dancing at the retreat became my space to explore where I open up, and become soft, and where I keep the boundaries, and stay a little hard, so I didn’t lose myself. This movement conversation was so revealing to me: I listened to my body. I learned that when I move to respond, to meet someone else, I make graceful movements. I feel soft. And no one knew the difference (or judged me) like I do–when I wasn’t graceful. Or “right.” Or comfortable. And none of that was “wrong.” It’s like in a performance, when you make a mistake and you realize it but no one in the audience knows.  So I started to let the judgment go.

And when I danced there in Guatemala, sometimes by myself, sometimes engaging others, I was able to stay out of my mind (which would start to think Am I doing this right? Should I be dancing like this? Are they going to accept me?). As the week went on, I couldn’t stop dancing. The group couldn’t stop dancing. Whether it was at a restaurant in town, or doing dishes, or at the airport at the very end: We couldn’t stop dancing with each other. We moved as individuals and as a community that had, over the course of a week, was instant and eternal. We all took the personal risk to dance beyond.

Who am I? Who am I? Who am I? It’s one question, but I have three answers: I am an independent woman who is softly strong and brutally soft at the same time. I am truly myself when I show up for myself. I am a person who can chose who I want to be and dance through the world the way I want to dance.

Gong Out, Bliss In

The cell phone buzzes every twenty minutes or so with a new voicemail or text. My email box has 31 unread messages. My suitcase lays unpacked in the corner of my office—I had returned from a trip to the City a week ago. It’s 2pm.

I woke up this morning with The Plan: a course of action with the intention to strike a productive balance of work and play. Power through a round on the hamster-wheel of a to-do list. Just get this over with.

But that was hours ago. Somewhere between throwing off the covers and brushing my teeth, I derailed from The Plan. A trip to the garden led me to linger near a lavender bush; a run to the coffee shop came with an encounter of an old friend; an episode of “Dr. Who” came on and then… what was I doing?

Blasted! —Fully distracted, and it’s only Monday. The unfinished tasks today will pile up and haunt my weekend when it comes. Stress setting in…
I must take this matter out of my head: Gong, let me hear thy soothing sound!
My first experience with a gong bath was during the O+ Festival in 2011.

Jamie Leigh Reilly lead a beautiful, live session in a gallery space in Uptown Kingston. The experience left a deep impression on me, so much so that I have made it part of my grounding practice to return to the soothing vibration of
the gong. I draw the curtains, turn off every computer and device, pop in Jamie’s CD “Universal Truth: Gong Sound Healing.”

The gong has a soothing effect on the mind—essentially turning it off—and the body—the physical sound vibrations resonate through each cell. This allows an energetic shift to happen, an experience that is transformation. In other words, we each have a subtle energetic body—our own “bubble” if you will—that surrounds us. This energetic body is our frequency, and it attracts more of the same. Did you ever feel stressed out, only to have little things will set you off and add to your stress? Or, have you ever felt blissed out, when little things added to the joy you felt moment to moment?

Sound healing invokes a restoration of balance at the physical core. The vibrations from the gong’s sound clear away things that are “old” or “stuck” in the energetic body, while the healing energy also arrives at the level of the cells—and especially the nerve endings— in the physical body so that the experience of stress and imbalance is reduced. This is what allows the frequency of the energetic body to rise. If you are resonating with balance at the core, you will reflect this in your energetic body.

Back to reality.

An hour later, the CD ends. I feel focused and relaxed. I am able to re-connect with my productive intentions, and I set out to work. The Plan, redux: Move slowly through the to-do list. Take breaks. Mind what must get done versus what will eventually get done. The work isn’t going anywhere. Me? I’d also
like to stay right here in my peaceful, balanced place.


Published on the 2013 O+ Festival blog

Feel Good Buzz

Yoga classes have always been a major part of the health and wellness offerings during the O+ festival. But any movement—including a little shake and shimmy at any of the music venues—can add to your sense of wellness.

“Yoga is holistic and meant to support us in all aspects of our lives. A quote from one of my teachers [Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati] sums it up perfectly: ‘Each of life’s activities is a Yoga when performed in a natural, harmonious way, attentively, to balance and unite the body, mind and spirit,’” says Shawn
Harrison, yoga teacher and owner of Mudita Yoga, a studio on Fair Street in Kingston.

Yoga is part of a holistic health system that teaches the interconnectedness of everything: The way we feel affects the way we breathe. The way we move with our bodies is similar to the way we are flexible with our mind and thoughts. The way we interact with each other reflects the way we feel about ourselves.

One use of the word “yoga” is to express the idea of “coming into the present.” The moment we bring attention to any part of our actions is the moment we engage in “conscious being.” That means not wondering what’s for dinner or who has emailed—just simply being. Sometimes in a yoga class, you’ll hear the invitation to “ground” or “be present in the moment.” This experience and practice of conscious living can have a huge impact on reducing stress and increasing your sense of wellness.

Yoga has been popularized as a physical practice through asanas or postures that encourage body strength and flexibility. A yoga class, like the intro to yoga class, will include some mix of asanas. A vinyasa yoga class involves breath—movement coordination; a vinyasa practice is more vigorous than a gentle or basic yoga class. Kundalini yoga classes mix rapid body movements with chanting and visualization exercises. Gong baths, which are complementary to kundalini yoga, are soothing and still. You simply lie on the ground and receive healing through sound. Bikram yoga classes are “hot yoga”—a series of active postures done in a heated space.

But you don’t have to stop there. Hooping and pilates, two other classes offered at ExplO+re, can be “yoga” if done as a meditation in motion. All the musical performances during the festival are opportunities to just “shake it out.” Have you seen the awesome list of bands? Just take your pick.

When you create conscious movement through the body, you are also creating space in the mind to come fully into the present. Doesn’t it feel good to not think so much?

Published on the 2013 O+ Festival blog

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