Friday, October 3, 2014

Choosing Forgiveness Means Choosing Abundance

Every year at this time, I - along with many others of Jewish spirituality - find ourselves contemplating the notion of forgiveness. According to the Jewish year and tradition, Yom Kippur, which is upon us tonight, is a time of reflection - it is the time where we are to make amends for any wrongs we have caused, to find within us wisdom and compassion in our remorse, and to repent on any "sins" we may have committed. According to the practice, once we have done so, we are cleansed and inscribed in the Book of Life for another year. For many of us, this holy day is just another practice - another obligation that we have to go through. Unsurprisingly, it is the holy day on which even non practicing Jews attend services and recite the prayers, many without knowing what they are actually saying. On Yom Kippur, we are to abstain from food and water so that we may be clear to reflect, make amends, and repent. We are to attend synagogue and repeat the prayers on which we ask God for forgiveness for our sins. 

I have always struggled with the notion of forced remorse, and with the idea that attending services and reciting prayers would be enough to clear us from sins and wrongs - or at least enough to get through to another year. Having spent more than half my life in struggles with illness, and the last 6 years in recovery, it hasn't quite been right with me that fasting, services, and mumbled prayers would be enough for me to jump into next year with a clean slate. In high school, I used call all of my friends and ask for their forgiveness for any wrongs that I may have committed Spiritually, I was never satisfied. In part, this was because in the years where my illness was quite strong, fasting was just another mechanism for it. I looked forward to the day because it was an excuse not to eat - an excuse to act upon the disorder that so strongly ruled my life. I would inevitably set myself up to sabotage recovery as not eating - aka starving myself -would lead to over-eating, to purging, to shame, depression, and the start of another vicious cycle. Instead of truly gaining the benefit of the time to reflect, I would start the new year not with a cleaner spirit, but rather in disease, discomfort, and shame - so much shame. 

In the last few years however, I have made choices that have enabled me to truly see the holiday as a time of reflection. The most influential choice in this endeavor has been choosing to learn to forgive myself. Yes - choosing to learn to. I say that because self-forgiveness is perhaps the most challenging task ahead of all of us. You may be thinking, but I don't need to forgive myself, I have done nothing wrong. The truth is, though you may have not taken any action with evil intention, if you have ever had a judgmental thought about yourself - or another - then there is space for forgiveness. For me, forgiveness has been synonymous with healing. I've always believed in the power that words have to shape our world, but it is when I truly began to embody the notion that the words we use have a deep effect on our selves, and our well-being. It is when I first started hearing - and really listening- to the way my thoughts and my "inner voices" impacted my health, that I understood how much I needed to ask forgiveness from myself. When I first opened that door, every younger version of myself - representing every year of my life -  lined up to talk to me about how I could forgive my time of illness, my time of shame, my time of confusion, my time of secrecy, my times where I did not live in honesty, and my times of wanting to give up. 

In recent months, a new word has entered my healing vocabulary - abstinence. The way I see it, abstinence is making a choice to not engage in behaviors, thoughts, and practices that are harmful to me. Instead of thinking about things I "can't" or "should't" do,  I have changed my thoughts around tools I can use to get through difficult moments, choices I can make to take care of myself, and words I can say to radiate energy that is inherently positive. Abstinence has brought forth with it much demand for forgiveness. When I choose not to engage in behaviors that may lead me down a scary place, I am asking myself to forgive the times in which I did not have the clarity to make that choice. 

This year, I am looking at the notion of choice. Every moment in our lives has been created by the choices we have made to bring us there. In accordance, every moment going forward is created by the choices we make today. We make choices in every single aspect of our lives - from how we choose to spend our time, to who we choose to spend it with, to what we choose to eat,to how we choose to exercise, to where we work, to what clothes we wear. We are making a choice in every moment.  We choose in accordance to what our needs are. Often, we have to make compromises - in order to live in harmony with our community, our universe, our loved ones - we choose to respect the choices that they make. Sometimes, those compromises create choices that we, perhaps, are not comfortable with - and thus they create emotions that challenge us. Have you ever done something because it was important to someone you care about, but that wasn't necessarily convenient for you? That was a choice in which you put their needs ahead of yours - and though intentions may have been good, it may have created emotions for you that you were perhaps not ready to hold. Were you angry? resentful? tired later? The moment those emotions hit, we often have a dialogue that goes with it. "Ugh! I have no time to do anything now!" "I'm not supposed to be upset that I went, it was a nice thing to do." "He/She better appreciate what I did..."...etc. We can't control our thoughts, but we can control the way that we react to them. We can also control how we choose to act upon those reactions. 

What many of us don't realize, is that our bodies are our emotional storage compartments. When we experience emotions such as anger, resentment, sadness, jealousy...etc, we often remember times where we have felt those before, and we relate them to the experience we are currently having. For example, getting upset at someone for something and suddenly remembering all the other things we have been upset at them for. If we really pay attention,  we also feel spaces in our body when we remember those times. (Anger as tightness in the chest, nervousness as a pit in your stomach or butterflies). When we choose to forgive, we choose to infuse our energy with compassion and we are able to look at those emotions without (or with little) judgement. We are allowing  ourselves the opportunity to create harmony; first in our minds, then in our bodies, and subsequently, in our lives. 

Self-forgiveness doesn't necessarily mean forcing yourself to stare at your reflection in the mirror and repeating, "I'm sorry", but it means acknowledging that every choice we make, in every moment, we are doing the best we can- AND BEING OKAY WITH THAT! It means learning from moments where we struggle, and being willing to hear the way we talk to ourselves and change that inner dialogue. When we choose to forgive, we create space for healing in our body - we create opportunity for the energy previously held as that emotional memory to free up. What happens when you allow yourself to feel sadness? When you really cry out your frustration? When you express discomfort when you are angry? Often you feel a lightness in your body - probably near your heart - where you have held that emotion. In that lightness, we are able to choose how to act in a way that is both of service and of self-care. When we do so, we are able to realize what we actually want in our lives - what "abundance" means to us. To be rich has a different meaning for each of us, but as a humanity, we all have a baseline need of love, comfort, safety, community, and connection. 

Choosing forgiveness means choosing abundance. Why? Because when you truly forgive, you let go. When you let go, you create space in your mind, in your body, and really, in your life. When you create space, you have clarity. When you have clarity, you are able to make choices that support you and take care of you. When you make choices that are self-caring, you experience life with more depth. When you experience life with more depth, your moments take on meaning. When your moments take on meaning, your life is infused with purpose. When your life is infused with purpose, you radiate positive energy. When you radiate positive energy, you attract people and events and opportunities that reflect positive energy. When your life is filled with purpose, and your moments are filled with positive elements, then you are truly rich. When you are truly rich, your life is filled with abundance.  

In this holiday, choose abundance by choosing forgiveness. Choose life, by choosing self-care. Choose harmony, by choosing compassion. May this be the start to very sweet new year - may each of us access love, health, creativity, compassion, and harmony in each and every one of our moments. 

Shana Tova, Gmar Hatima Tova. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Beauty is The Opposite of Depression

Last night, I heard a woman share how she sees herself through recovery, and how she maintains her commitment despite life's challenges and adversity. She spoke for about 20minutes. I think she spoke of spiritual awakenings and creativity, and abstinence from harmful behavior. I say, "I think" because I don't remember much of what she said – she kept jumping from topic to topic and rambled a little. What stuck with me was how she was continuously amazed - even surprised - by the beautiful things that her recovery had opened her up to. The ability to taste food, the ability to get through a stressful moment without feeling anxious, the stamina to work in her garden, love, strength, health -not having as much fear. Every time she named one, her eyes would open up wide with light and she would clap her hands with glee, letting out a small,high-pitched, "OH!" .

I kept mulling over this idea in my mind, of the small, beautiful things that are true gifts in recovery. I wondered why this had struck me so much. Then I remembered where I had heard her speak- a gathering for people to share, in a safe space,about their struggles in recovery. I went to this meeting because for the last few days, I have been struggling. Regardless of where our stories had taken us,and how many years we've been "in recovery" -  all of us in that room had one thing in common - we started with three small words - "I need help."

There is nothing more beautiful to me than a human being. We are all walking galaxies of connection,complexity, emotions, thoughts, desires, needs, talents, ambitions, fears, “issues”- we are each en entire universe contained within a body. As you walk down the street, how many people's battles are you not seeing? How many beautiful stories of strength, perseverance, and hope could be within your reach?  In each step that we take, every single day, we hold our fear; also our hope, strength, and faith.  I think each of us is beautiful, simply through our being. We ARE, and so we are beautiful. 

Her story left me thinking about beauty because I have lived my whole life with a challenge that has often obscured my ability to see it, particularly my own. Perhaps through my chemical makeup, genetic predisposition or simply-  spiritual luck - I was born with a voice in my head that tells me I am not beautiful, and that in general,I am not good enough. We all have a version of it to some extent, but for many of us - myself included - is one that is designed to destroy me. 

I never asked to be depressed. It just happened in my life like having blue eyes, or being tall. I can't go back to a certain date and tell you, "yes, this is when it began.And this is why..." The best I can do is tell you that around the time I turned 13, I started hearing a voice in my head that told me I wasn't good enough. Oh, it wasn't so sophisticated back then - no, it was, after all, the same age as I was. It wouldn't say "you're not good enough" - it would say, instead, "nobody wants to be your friend." Or,"you'll never be as pretty/smart/athletic as the other girls in your grade." It grew up with me, matured as I did, and got much smarter as I grew older.  By the time I was in my late teens, it had graduated to giving me ideas and hints about how hurting myself would actually make me feel better.  

The voice loved that I wasn't athletic, loved that I wasn't great at math and science, loved that I had more questions than answers about my identity. It loved to tell me I was dressing wrong, loved to point out how I was disappointing to my parents, loved to tell me that my friends would leave me - that everyone would leave me. Most of all, it loved teasing me about the fact that I couldn't control any of it.It loved to tell me that it wasn't even worth trying. Everything was my fault. A bad day at school - my fault. My sister being upset - my fault. The war in Israel - my fault. My dad leaving to work in Singapore- my fault. The voice was vicious. Everything was my fault. And I believed it. I took full blame and responsibility for every failure, every setback, and every frustration in the world around me - even if it wasn't mine to take blame for.I became good at disguises. I lived behind masks and plastered smiles - the good student, the good friend, the nice girl. At night, I cried myself to sleep because I hated myself so much. 

I was 16 the first time this voice told me I should die. I was so worthless, it said, that it would be better if I just weren’t around. It was very convincing - and soothing - as I set upon picking up the tools to hurt myself. What people don't tell you about depression is that there is somewhat of a comfortable, soothing quality to some moments. You are so low - you can't get any lower, and there's a peace in that. It's a bit of an odd peace because you are actually miserable in it.It is in these moments that people who struggle often decide to either seek help or walk a path that may end their life. That wasn't my moment. I wasn't able to follow the voice's directions and end my life, but I wasn't able to hear my own voice beneath it - the one asking for help. It took many more years of wading through self-hatred, more attempts for the voice to guide me to end my life, and several "rock bottoms" for me to finally utter the words, I need help.
I've never really thought of my complexity - my struggle - as beautiful.I've always just thought of it as hard, terrible, unfair, and why can't I just be normal?  Depression is a constant state of despair. The existence of a depressed person is perpetual smog where life is muffled by your own inner voice's reminders of how un-beautiful you are, of how un-worthy you are, of how much you deserve your pain. Regardless of how much light is in the person's life: their talents, achievements, and virtues; or how much support exists for them, all of it gets filtered out by a stubborn and morose gatekeeper. When I am depressed, when I find myself again with the"not good enough" voice's volume set to MAXIMUM, I can't see beauty.It may be all around me, in me, through me - but I am blind to it. It's too good to be true, too big for me, it doesn't make sense. Recovery -healing - is learning to see the beauty through this haze, to truly recognize moments of pain and dysfunction as essential to discovering your own beauty. The battle is to shove through the gatekeeper and allow the self to see these moments as beautiful.

I say that beauty, and not "happiness" is the opposite of depression because it is the only light that is as ubiquitous as struggle. Happiness is subjective - and a fleeting state. It passes, just as despair. Beauty, however,is eternal. There is struggle everywhere. There is also beauty everywhere. To truly see beauty outside of us, we have to be able to allow it to exist within us. To do this, we become vulnerable. When we let the world hear our “I need help”, we open ourselves up – our desires, our fears, our shames – so that light, and beauty can seep in. There cannot be change or healing without vulnerability. To heal a wound, we must first see that there is one there.

In the depressed person’s universe, anything harmful or dangerous – especially to the self –becomes a good idea. It isn’t necessarily identified as such, but the self is so encumbered by the muck of despair that it will choose a destructive action just to shake things up.Perhaps, it will do this in the in the hope that the rest of life will then feel like something better. The depressed self is a shamed self. The depressive voice finds fault with basic personality traits such as “being a caring person”, “being too open”, or even “having long arms”. It is a built-in mechanism that only “wins” when the self is destroyed. It is a voice with powerful allies – it often teams up with OBSESSION, ADDICTION, DISORDER…andPANIC. All of which have one unified goal in mind – destruction of self.

The opposite of so much despair is beauty. It can penetrate vulnerability and nurture the strengths of the self. It can shine light on places that shame has shrouded in darkness.Even in a life filled with falls and relapses, beauty finds a way to exist. If you pause now, and look up from your screen, I guarantee you that you will see something beautiful. Even better yet, you may feel something beautiful.Successes – no matter how small – are moments of beauty. Service – helping  someone – is a moment of beauty. Achievements – meeting even one goal you’v set for yourself – is a moment of beauty. Connection – smiling at a stranger,talking to a friend, hugging a loved one – is a moment of beauty.

The biggest, and yet the simplest moment of beauty happens to all of us every single morning – we open our eyes. Before we even have our first thought of the day, we are already beautiful. It is a moment where we simply exist as our own, unencumbered self –where no voice has spoken to us yet.

In that moment,regardless of how we went to sleep the night before, we access our greatest power - choice. The choice to step up, step forward, or even the choice to say“Right now, I am okay”.  In times where nothing feels okay, simply choosing to say “I am okay” allows beauty to exist –even if it is just on the tip of our finger. Last night, I went to sleep with a still-heavy heart, swirling doubts, and much fear. This morning, I found myself choosing to tell a friend “I woke up feeling good.” Whether it was fully trueor not – choosing to feel good doesn’t negate fear, nor doubt, nor facts oflife that still need figuring – I chose to open the gate a little bit and let beauty in.

I chose to tell the voice that lives inside me –

Today, there is no space for your. Today, I am a small, beautiful thing.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

What "Zumba" Means To Me

If I were to call Yali from January 2013 and tell her, 

"Next year at this time, you will be on your way to the Zumba Conference in LA- oh and not only that, but you will also be in a place - mentally, physically, emotionally - where you are strong enough to do this." 

She would, after perhaps a moment of thought, hang up the phone laughing. The first line would be enough for her to think - this person is clearly disconnected from reality. Me? At the Zumba Conference? Really?...ha... The second line, would, perhaps, intrigue her - or upset her maybe. 

One year ago, I couldn't imagine being in a place in my mind, let alone in my body, where I would be excited about going to a place where - three days of Zumba and being around very, very excited people - would sound appealing to me. A year ago, I was on unstable ground. I was coming out of grief-turned-to-illness, I was seeking help - needed someone to tell me everything would be okay, and even though I didn't know it at the time, I was trying to be strong enough to find my own voice in many places of my life. 

I already had Zumba in my life in Jan 2013. I was taking classes with Irena and L-O-V-I-N-G every moment. Even, or maybe I should say Especially the ones where I felt challenged, pushed beyond my comfort zone...and maybe a little bit uncomfortable. I often say that everything happens for a reason. I started to take Zumba classes because I broke my arm and had to take a hiatus from boxing and yoga. To say that I enjoyed it right away would not exactly be truthful - I am not a dancer - and back then, I was barely coordinated while walking. I have to say, it really was thanks to Z Club NY that I even had a shot of trying it again. I bought their new student deal, which gave me an unlimited week of Zumba and access to more classes than I ever thought I could choose from. The first two were impossible for me - I couldn't follow, I didn't understand the rhythm, and I left feeling frustrated with myself. I faced my internal fear of failure head on - I wanted to give up but my body wouldn't let me. It had already recognized - this is good for me. 

The third class, which I told myself would probably be my last,  was one I didn't even sign for. The teacher who was supposed to teach it subbed it out. Enter, Irena. Enter, passion. Enter, the moment where Zumba became an essential ingredient in my healing. I took this class - was still terrible at it - but something had changed - I loved it. So I took another, and another, and another....and soon, this thought entered my consciousness:

"If I have the strength to do this, I have the strength to heal."

My carefully crafted universe of pain burst apart. After 9 years of an active eating disorder and even after 5 years of very very slippery recovery, my brain was wired to cope in self-harmful ways. I lived in a cloud of negative self talk - I was still judgmental with myself, unkind when I was sick or couldn't do something, impatient - sad. I'd been teaching myself compassion for a long time, but now there was a way for it to actually seep in - for me to actually absorb it. 

I wasn't just learning to Zumba, I was learning how to claim my space, how to recognize my internal rhythm, how to listen and harmonize with my environment, how to stay balanced - and somewhat coordinated. In Irena's classes, I  earned the concept of standing up for myself, of owning my confidence in a room, of having "front line attitude" - and of being proud of myself for accomplishing small "wins". Through Irena's teaching, I really found access into my stronger, truer me. Getting a thumbs up from Irena, on some days, was enough for me to quiet my thoughts enough to hear - 

"good job"
"you're doing this"
"you can do this"
"I'm proud of you" 

...all of them coming from my own - very loud - mind. 

I am very lucky to have found Irena's class when I did. It allowed me the space I needed to practice kindness and compassion with myself - sometimes during moments when I wanted to pull my hair out from frustration. Ironically, it was Zumba that opened me back up to my practice of mindfulness, of yoga, of self-care. Days of recovery turned into weeks, turned into months - turned into a year of growth and healing that I could have never have predicted.  I am deeply grateful for this...for all of it. 

Over this year, I have found so much joy in my Zumba practice - meeting and taking class from so many incredible instructors - notably, Irina Peschan, who infuses every single class with so much positivity that I walk out feeling empowered, graceful, strong, connected, optimistic, challenged, excited. Her Zumba class has become a weekly staple for me. When I can make it, I jump and fly along in her Afro Fusion Burn classes - movements that flow with spirit and strength. Also, Edmee D'Alexis - who not only runs Z Club NY with such passion, but also teaches as though every class was the best one she'd ever had. I've been inspired by my instructors, and I've learned to access that inspiration within myself as well. I got my feet wet - literally- and jumped into Aqua Zumba, which I now hope to teach one day... More fun - I was lucky enough to take classes taught my sunshine filled friend  - Sarah Grimaud, and my sister - Danielle Szulanski who has become a STAR instructor (at least in my eyes). It is such a joy to take her class and see her shine through her amazing self. I have watched so many people grow and create amazing journeys through Zumba -and just continue to be inspired by going to class, by interacting with people I meet in the world of Zumba. 

Through Zumba, I have not only "found my feet", but I have also had the privilege of connecting with some incredible women - some of whom have become dear friends. I discovered a universe where people just get together to dance, to find joy, light, and connection in a 60 minute session. The Zumbaverse is painted in neon - in bright colors that echo the rhythms glittering in my body. It has been a fascinating year, and every adventure has been complemented with my Zumba practice. The stronger I feel in class, the stronger I feel in my life, and the stronger I feel in my life, the more I enjoy class. 

I am so excited to go to LA - to see friends, to learn new things, and to interact with others who are on the Zumba Journey, and to dance, dance, dance...!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Moment I Choose To Share

Today I invented a new kind of Zumba  - "Pocket Zumba" - and it has nothing to do with dancing figurines that fit in my pocket. No, today I practiced "Pocket Zumba" because I took most of the class with my right hand in my pocket. Yes - it looked just as strange as it sounds. My body is currently experiencing some rather...intriguing...shifts as I work on healing and replenishing parts of me strained from very high stress.   When our bodies are stressed, what is actually triggered is our "I'm in danger" response - also known as the fight or flight response. Even though we know the difference between stress from not getting something done on time and stress from a major life trauma, our bodies read both in the same way. Luckily, the human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. Stress can be positive, keeping us alert and ready to avoid danger. However, stress becomes negative when a person faces continuous challenges without relief or relaxation. In nervous system terms - one part tells us we are stressed and the other works to release it. When the "relaxing" system fails to respond, stress turns into distress, and distress into painful physical symptoms.
I have a very high tolerance for pain. Over the years, my body has endured extreme physical, emotional, and psychological stressors. Through them all, I have battled, fought, worked to understand and heal, and gotten through. Right now, the part of my nervous system that is supposed to kick in and tell my body to "relax" is not really responsive. sMy body reads most situations where my heart rate goes up as "this is danger"...and this includes exercise. Now, of course, we all know I love my Zumba classes and the thought of having to give them up evokes darkening skies, wilting flowers, and never getting out of bed again. The thought of anathema to who I am. So, I still do go to classes.
My experience so far has been that 30-40 minutes in, I need to fully stop and lower my heart rate because the stress on my body causes my muscles to tense, and occasionally spasm. Sometimes - although as I have been working on healing my body it occurs less often, I will lose feeling in parts of my body. This typically lasts about 10 seconds - then, through the beloved "pins and needles" sensation, the feeling comes back and I return to normal use. I feel safe going to class with instructors who are sensitive enough for me to be able to share - at least partly - what is going on. In almost every class I have taken, I have had to either march through songs or stop and walk out for 5-10 minutes while my body calms itself down. Today, I had to keep my right hand in the pocket of my Zumba cargos because when I would ask it to move, the clear response I got was "NO.. It was the first time that I felt like I wanted to give up, grab my stuff,  and just cry about the situation. I left the class, and sat to the side - breathing into my shoulder and massaging my arm until my brain lessened the amount of lightning bolts it was sending into my muscles. Even thought I thought I couldn't, I got up and went back to class.

I decided to share this experience today because Edmee - who quickly noticed that i wasn't in "full" form -  embraced my strange modification with a truly accepting energy.I felt really weird - like I wasn't fully part of the class - but I felt safe enough to stay and integrate as much as I could.  At first, I started just with the feet movements - feeling like I had gone back to the basics. Gradually, I allowed my left arm to participate. it's not in every class that i can feel safe enough to do this - to step in with full knowledge of what could happen in my body and allow myself the space and patience to tend to it. So I had my hand in my pocket and I felt aware and present in my body. The pain is a ride - it's a powerful lesson - it's a doorway into parts of myself that I haven't yet explored and healed. From this, will come healing, will come awareness....and creativity, writing - and perhaps more....but for now, I still dance, and I am still thankful every day for the chance and space to strengthen myself.

Love and light. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

On Moving Beyond Absence...

Friday November 8, 2013:
Zumba with Irina Peschan at Alvin Ailey

"What happened to your blogs? no more?"

Her question was simple. In a moment, it cracked me open. I search her face - my friend - another incredible woman that I've met through Zumba classes. Her expression is kind, her words are supportive - and yet my heart aches.

"I will start again. It's just been....a tough time."

A tough time. 

Right now, these three tiny words hold more sadness than I'd ever expect to have put on them. I haven't written a blog post for almost a month - and every time, my excuse was - I can't, I'm having a tough time. The truth is, I just didn't have the words. Not only haven't I written blog posts in the last month, I haven't written anything at all. I was taking classes though - I took some classes that were very powerful for me because they were my only escapes from days of sadness, worry, pain, frustration, anger, and stress. Danielle, Irina, Sarah, Edmee stood in front of me and lead classes on days where I couldn't feel my body from how disconnected I felt from myself. They encouraged me to move - at my own pace and comfort - on days where I was so deeply tired. The classes I didn't write about are what enabled me to make it here - and to start writing again.

I can't go into details of why I haven't written - just that it was a sad and difficult time and that energy I had outside of class and teaching was spoken for. I didn't write about what I was witnessing and going through, because I couldn't. Why have I come back now? The biggest part of it is behind me - and every day I am now working to let go, to move forward, and to recharge myself, my life, my health. I won't lie - because I can't here - my health suffered during this time of sadness and stress. Nights without sleep, days filled with stress - I was tested. I went back to my old coping mechanisms a couple of times. Thankfully, not fully - I found that I have the strength to remember myself, to stop - to also heal.

Irina's class on Friday was the first one I went to after the storm passed - but before I began to survey the debris in my life. There is one song she plays in her class that I was afraid to hear - it links directly to where the sadness comes from right now.

What if she plays it? - I'm going to have to leave. I don't want to start crying in class - and I will. 

I was worried - afraid - nervous - tired.

I chose Irina's class as the first one to go back to because no matter how I feel, it has a positive effect on me. Her positive energy charms the room and embraces it for the duration of the class. It's amazing, it's fortunate - it's a privilege to take her class. Wow - I felt so oddly out of place. The last class I'd take before that was...Wednesday, but it wasn't really a class. It was a goodbye - it was sad. It was...hard. I thought that I'd never be able to do Zumba again - that it would be too hard for me to deal with the emotional upheaval that certain dance moves would cause for me.

I have too much to process.

It will be too hard. 

I don't want to even try...

So, of course I went. Irina never teaches on Fridays and I've never been to Alvin Ailey. There was no question I'd be there. Well, no - there were about 27 questions of whether I'd be there, but I was. I was awake from Wednesday at 7am until Thursday at 11:30pm. Without a night of sleep, I knew I wouldn't be allowed into this class. I slept some....I still felt tired. Earlier in the day, I had gone to Yoga and began to open up the places in my body where I was storing the pain, the sadness - I started to release. The day wasn't easy - the situation wasn't willing to leave me yet. Just before class, I had to deal with something again.  The voices in my head threw themselves at each other even as I sat and tried to answer the question about whether I'd ever write posts again. Until the very last second, I wondered if I dared leave before class began. I stayed - of course - I don't tend to run from something because I know it will be hard.

I struggled to stay in the moment in class - my mind kept taking me back to the moments of the few days before. I kept seeing, hearing, feeling moments where I was tested and where I had to swallow my own emotion for the sake of someone else's safety. We did songs from Afro Fusion Burn and I was thrilled - that music takes me away from my thoughts completely and allows me to be free.
I love Alingo - love that she played it - and love all the styles that I can't name but that  my feet start to tap at and my heart starts to breathe with. I was free. For a blissful few minutes in the class  -I was free - and I could let go. I could move. I could smile.

"Move over so you can see yourself in the mirror."

This wasn't a suggestion. Irina came over to me and physically moved me so I would no longer hide from myself. I didn't want to see me - I realized that I hadn't actually seen me for so many weeks - I was so focused on...other things. There I was - in the mirror - wearing all black and trying to understand how my body was moving when I felt so disconnected from it. I watched my eyes then allowed myself to watch my body.

I'm not bad...

Actually...I'm okay!

It always comes as a surprise to me. After more than a year of Zumba, Afro Fusion, Aqua Zumba, some Hip Hop, an Instructor Training ...I'm actually, well, good at it. Every time I found myself behind someone, I moved back to the mirror - it became a game. When my thoughts drifted and I missed steps, I looked at myself and checked in.

I'm here. 

I'm okay. 

It will be okay. 

I watched the people in the class a lot more than I usually do - I only knew a couple of them. This was a different studio, a different crowd, and such a beautiful moment. I felt the pain in my body shaking as I moved around. I felt my muscles exhaling as they released tension and sadness. I felt oddly free. Oddly, I felt.  There was no clock in the room and I was so happy. I wanted it to keep going, I wanted to watch myself move through my pain and see that I can still do it. I walked out of class with my heart still racing. Yet, it wasn't from the exercise. It was from the relief -from the knowledge that I have healing in my life and that little by little, I will get back to myself and I will still continue to dance, and more importantly - to also write.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A bit of Zumba, A lot of Acceptance

Tuesday October 15, 2013:
Zumba with Irena Meletiou at Reebok Sports Club

I feel connected. 

This was such an incongruous thought for me yesterday. There I was, about five songs into class, and these words swept through my mind and my body like a welcome sip of tea on a bitter morning. In that moment, it was like the rest of the day hadn't existed. I was THERE - in class, connected, present - and most of all, felling good in myself. It was incredible because a mere hour before I felt as though the weight of the day was threatening to crush me into a puddle of mush and self-hate. One of my biggest challenges in healing is learning to treat myself with kindness and compassion when I'm feeling tired, weak, vulnerable - when I'm the one in need of healing and the tools I teach my students. Learning to accept that I struggle has actually been easier than learning to be kind to myself during it.

I sometimes have some trouble understanding my space in class and I tend to move around more than I intend to. Yesterday, I started the class in the second row, but in every song kept edging forward and finding myself in the front row. There was definitely space for me there, but I was reluctant to step into it - to have nothing but air and energy between me in the mirror, between me and Irena. I kept moving back because I was scared - I kept coming up on my fears and I didn't want to see them. When I looked in the mirror, it scared me to think -

I'm actually doing okay.

Have you ever experienced that? Being afraid of being yourself - of being okay with being yourself? That's what I was going through yesterday. It was a really tough day. I felt lonely, I felt frustrated, I felt anxious - I did not, at all, feel connected. The irony is that what brought this up for me was having to write a paragraph about my curriculum and how I develop my tools through my recovery. There are some days where I feel the weight of my life sitting on my neck and my shoulders, where my mind isn't quiet and I can't always find the ways to be nice to me. Yesterday, I struggled through most of the day. I got very little sleep and had to continuously check in and encourage myself to make it through the day. I wanted to slip - I wanted to just give into the that habit that makes me feel so comforted - for a moment - and then floods me with murky waters of shame for many, many moments afterwards.

I wasn't even sure that I wanted to go to class.

Why put myself through an hour of having to stare at myself looking ridiculous?

Why even pretend like I'll enjoy it?

Why even subject other people to me right now?

What's the point anyway?

Yeah, I went there yesterday. Those days are hard - and we all have them - where we just feel low, unworthy, incapable - tired and sick of everything. Yet, there is still, thankfully, that part of me that wants me to be better - to heal - to grow. It's the part of me that packed my Zumba clothes into my bag that morning, knowing that I could go to this class tonight. There are some days that merely knowing that I have a class I can go to later helps me get through - and yesterday was one of those. I walked to the gym with leaden steps. Even after I'd changed, I wasn't sure.

When was I sure that I had done the right thing by coming to class? As soon as it began. I didn't quite know why yet, but as soon as we started, I felt better. I was by no means treated to silence from my thoughts, but somehow, starting to move and to dance, made them okay. It wasn't hard anymore to exist. I was just present - and it felt....well, it didn't really feel great at first. It did feel right though. It's astounding to me how much I've changed, grown, shifted, and transformed by beginning my Zumba practice - and yes, somehow, it still comes back to Irena's class. As much as I am beginning to find myself and my strength regardless of what class I am in, there's something in the energy of her class that pushes me just that little bit more. 

I feel strong. 

You can say what you like, but I love taking Irena's class - I love being a part of a process that teaches strength and confidence, despite what goes on behind the curtain. I love learning from someone who has built healing into Zumba, and who shares passion in every class. I have learned - and still do learn from her in how I can choose to see myself. In class yesterday, I made myself look in the mirror - something that is still a challenge. I saw myself trying to work on the Merengue march as Irina taught me and laughed at how it's still, somehow, foreign for me. I watched myself as I did hip and shoulder swiveling moves and affirmed for myself how much better I've gotten at them, how much more open and free I am with myself. With every breath, I checked in to my body and grounded myself - came back to a presence that I felt I'd lost throughout the day. I wasn't worrying anymore, I wasn't frustrated with myself anymore - so the day wasn't perfect, but I did okay - I worked, I wrote, I taught - I was okay.

I accepted myself. 

When I have moments like this, the first thing I want to do is thank everyone - except for myself. I want to run up to Irena and thank her for class, I want to post about the great music and energy, I want to thank Beto for forgetting his class tapes all those years ago, I want to thank the studio floor for holding me up, I want to thank Edmee for creating Z Club so I could find Irena, I want to thank the person next to me for wearing orange, I want to thank electricity for letting the lights stay on....basically, I want to thank everything outside of me. Yet - who do I leave class with? Who stood by me through every song? Who got me to come in the first place?  Who got me to stay above water when all day I wanted to drown?  - Me. 

 I am okay. 

I didn't want the class to end, I wanted to just keep going and moving and feeling okay in myself. As we neared the cool-down, I started to worry about how I would hold on to this feeling - how could I possibly be okay again outside of here? I didn't know if I could - but I was so grateful for those 57 minutes where I felt okay  - where I felt seen, accepted, and validated. Alas, the class did end, and I did have to go back to myself, my thoughts, and my worries - but I went back with that energy that kept pushing me to the front row, with that sense of confidence in myself that I can get through - heal. I still feel the world sitting on my shoulders, but at least, now, I can access that little bit of extra strength I need to hold myself up with it. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Let Go! Sometimes.... It's Just Fun.

Monday October 14, 2013:

Irena Dance Training

There was a nostalgic breeze rustling down 26th st as I walked towards what was to be final session of Summer Irena Dance Training. I've been debating with myself for the last week about whether or not to attend this session. The weeks of IDT were so tumultuous - I struggled with injury, exhaustion, intense emotional overwhelm, and most of all how to be nice to myself during all of that. Even through I've practiced, my body still associated some of the dance moves with a time of struggle.

We haven't practiced the IDT songs for three weeks - two of them I missed entirely. The last session of IDT is typing the one where we perform for Irena and she rewards the best performers out all of us. Yeah, I was pretty nervous - especially since in the last IDT, I had burst through my own expectations of myself to come out in the "top 3". Funnily enough, it wasn't even the fact that I didn't know the songs that worried me so much, it was my own fear of not doing well - of failing - and how I would ever manage to be kind to myself knowing that I could have done better.

I'm going to be disastrous...

Imagine thinking that about yourself on a loop before you are set to perform. If I ever entertained that thought before teaching a workshop, I would be frozen in place, horrified by a classroom of eyes focused on me, needing me to lead them.


Where is this thought coming from?

Who are you afraid of disappointing?

Who are you trying to please?

What can you let go of now?...

Funnily enough, the answer had little to do with "pleasing" anyone - Irena herself walked into this class with an open and accepting energy - "we are going to do this one for fun, for review, maybe for the future. Nobody wins today, but everybody who is here already won."

It is so easy for me to get caught up in my thoughts and forget that if I'm nervous, at least one other person in the class probably is too. As we started, my heart was definitely beating a little bit faster and my body began tool remember the lessons where I learned these moves. Suddenly, it was no longer October 15, but the middle of August and I was afraid that my tendon would fully tear while learning Janet Jackson's "If"...My muscles began to remember and hold the energy of fear and sadness into my body and here, now, in class, my task was to finally release it. Somehow, I was...I felt okay and safe while all this noise fizzed around in my mind.


How am I supposed to access this compassion for myself while being so ashamed and afraid?

How can I forgive myself?

let it's okay, really, I promise...

In a moment where I was desperately trying to figure out how to Get Jiggy With It while staying on rhythm, I looked over at Irena who was trying to hold back her laughter, and we both just let it go...and laughed. I looked in the mirror and laughed at myself, and then, with myself. At that moment, I realized - I'm having fun. While my mind was running in circles, my body was happily enjoying the opportunity to dance to different songs and to practice routines that are still challenging.

Laughing helped me connect my mind and body and let go of the talk that was holding me back. Instead, I allowed myself to hear the joy that dancing brings for me. Strangely, I felt alive - connected to a part of me that absorbed the strength to heal and practiced it in such a raw way in Irena's class. There are a lot of moments in life - some that we love, some that we would rather forget. Each and every one of them feeds our life with a different energy. In last night's IDT, I allowed a moment of struggle to become a moment of strength by allowing myself to join in the spirit of the class, rather than sinking into my anxiety.

let go...

Let yourself feel...

In every moment, feel the powerful dance that is your life...