I was blessed by a pair of cinema angels this past week.  She Said and Women Talking on consecutive evenings, films that courageously dive into sexual harassment/abuse.  Minimal time is devoted to the actual perpetrators or the acts of violence.   Because the focus is on the women: directed by women and giving voice to women, just as the titles indicate.  Powerful.  Highly recommended.

There is a scene in She Said, the two young journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein story quietly sharing a meal in a restaurant.  A man approaches and does that yuk overt coming on thing.  They are polite at first but he is unfazed.  He persists.  Until finally one of them stands up, looks him right in the eye and shouts “F—k off!”  Which he does.  I get chills recalling it.

Because here’s the deal.  I clearly remember the moment in 1968 when I first heard the word feminist.  Like it was yesterday.  It registered in every bone of my body, a young woman, first time considering that gender inequality was real.  Realizing all the implications and how that had played out in my short life thus far.  And I remember through young adulthood and middle age coming frustratingly face-to-face with all that meant.  And at least having a label for it.  Twenty years down the road, in 1988, exasperation fueled my exit from a job.  A clinic dominated by a man that did everything he could to keep me small.  I ended up starting my own business.  Which was a brilliant move.  But did I ever stand up, look him right in the eye and shout “F—k off!”  No.

Because I knew about gender based inequality but, at that point in history, did not have the support, the language or the skills to express myself in a healthy constructive way.  It is incredibly heartening to bear witness to women in mid-life right now.  Women who have support, language and skills.  Women who are willing to make what was once only a notion into a reality.  And the next generation?  OMG.  No bullshit allowed.  Period.  So much hope for the future.

The range of problems stemming from gender inequity is steep, running the gamut from disrespect to brutality.  I’ve been lucky in this regard.  Am I comparing utter lack of regard in the workplace to acts of physical violence?  No.  Do they stem from a related root?  Yes. There are so many ways to view this complex issue.

This week I want to use the lens of boundary to investigate this cultural hot button.  We are humans in need of safety.  We create lines to protect our personal well-being.  Sometimes those lines are hard and fast and clear.  Sometimes those lines are squishy and confused or faint.  Those lines change on a dime and those lines are person and situation dependent.  And people, regardless of gender, step over those lines in such a creative variety of ways.  From blatant and overbearing to subtle and manipulative.

In any given moment a thought and/or an emotion can signal us to create a line.  If you know me, you know what’s coming here.  A truly authentic response in the moment originates in the body.  It is a signal throbbing deep down in belly, insistently pounding in chest.  We can learn to trust those sensations with practice.  It’s what I love about the dance floor.  We practice with our bodies.  I’m not sure how many times I’ve facilitated this embodied exploration of yes/no/boundaries.  A dozen?  But it is always fresh and alive.  It lives in the heart beat, the pulse, the rhythm of staccato.  It is a practice in polarity.  It is a practice of the physical expression of thought and feeling.

Come out to Wednesday Waves and feel this with me.

Love Letters to a Raven, an online event, began October 22 on the 10 year anniversary of Gabrielle Roth’s death.  It was a global invitation to post pictures and reflections, installations and musings, a 10 day wave with two days dedicated to each rhythm.

As folks chimed in from all around the world, perception quickly grew of how impactful this overall practice is.  But what I really appreciated was how much potent and particular medicine each individual rhythm holds.  An invitation to write every other day?  From Day 1, I just dove in, of course:

I had already written earlier that week about Gabrielle so I simply posted the link in Love Letters in thanks for these two woke feet.  How every practitioner out there has a story to tell about when and how the 5Rhythms earthquake shifted their bedrock.  How  Gabrielle left a legacy that woke my feet up and then my whole body followed suit.  And my hope that she knows every day I give thanks for these two woke feet, wordlessly moving me across this ever-shifting ground.  Woke feet: so the essence of an instinct-laden flow.

Right away I knew in my bones this was my home rhythm. How embarrassing! In my naivety I secretly wished I could be all ravishing flowing or dramatically chaotic or even serenely still. Staccato seemed so lock step ordinary boring. Hah! So little did I know of the massive steely layers surrounding my soft beating tender heart. Clueless about the journey I was embarking on that would melt my steel cage father wound. How I would finally dance my way into utter forgiveness. The incredible impact of softening around my edges…without losing one bit of my fiery clarity. Staccato…I worship you, my home rhythm, for so many years I buckled under your mastery. And now, in a strange twist of fate, you are in abject service to me every day….

This morning as I staccato-collage I am remembering Embodied Heart in Tiburon 2005? 2006? Gabrielle asked us to bring a picture of our father and by day’s end there was an entire wall filled with the photos of 80 fathers. I spent countless hours at this wall. I looked at each man and saw his utter capacity for heartless cruelty. By week’s end I was able to see the soft tenderness emanating from each photo. What an incredible gift that immersion was.

Hmmm…staccato notions reverberating! Before day’s end just one more thing about this rhythm so close to my heart. First couple years of practice: teachers who utilized this rhythm to facilitate an exploration of boundaries. It felt like there was an assumption that we all needed to “work” on building/improving/strengthening our personal boundaries. Clearly some of my partners were challenged to create clear strong easy to read lines. I finally got that my work was something different. My lines were over the top powerful, boundaries up the wazoo. Offering up a softer version of clarity was my investigation. This has been an ongoing process. Now, when I teach in this arena, I hold it as an exploration of a continuum. The highly defended at one end, the sweet pushovers at the other. And then everywhere in between. And so often it is situational. I love to play in the rhythm of staccato exploring that entire juicy continuum.

And if staccato was my home rhythm, chaos was a foreign land.  One by one, over the years, there was a moment when each rhythm anchored into my body.  It was palpable.  But there was something about chaos that just wouldn’t/couldn’t/didn’t land.  It took a world wide pandemic.  There was loss that dropped me into heart-wracking grief in a way I had just never had time to allow in the past.  The sleepless pain of it, the overwhelming empathic distress stripped me naked.  It went on for weeks.  In the midst of it, in my dance, I noticed the green EXIT sign over our auditorium door.  I realized if I could read it, my head was not released.  In an instant, my head let go in a way I had never experienced, sending a reverberating wave to tail bone and shooting out fingers and toes.  It was an extended journey from control and confusion to all out surrender.  And since then, the quality of surrender is weaving its way gently through all the rhythms/all my life.  Gabrielle used to say that sometimes you go for it and sometimes you have to wait for it.  Chaos….thank god, you have been well worth the wait.

Shapeshifter extraordinare, so many ways to move through the portal of flow, staccato, chaos. I call lyrical “The Big Whatever”. And, yes to the universal experience of lightness and joy and air, which became so real in Year One when happenstance dance-lifted me in front of a huge fan. Yes. But the cycles, the life cycles brought me home to the lyrical medicine deeps. I began this practice with my life in chaotic glorious confusion. As I stayed with, kept moving from trizophrenia toward integrity, as my body began to sister with my heart, my mind began to shhhh….the reason I was born here on Planet Earth emerged from shadow. Everything from inside out, the masculine feminine merge to creation, effortlessly shape-shifted into a lyrical destiny that had always been patiently awaiting. For me, the rhythm of lyrical is about alignment. The cohesion necessary to allow our soul to bear true fruit. And now, in gratitude, in the abundance of fall’s harvest, all these years later, I slip slide toward stillness.

I once asked Gabrielle, “So at the end of a wave, at the end of a class, at the end of a workshop…what is it, what sensibility, are you aiming for, wanting to create?” With not a moment of hesitation, she replied. “Emptiness and unity.” I call that up on the regular. I’m only just beginning to understand that it might be the same answer for the end of a life.

So much more I could have expressed.  The gestalt is reverberating inside me.  Love Letters to a Raven was an ephemeral cyber-space moment, no longer visible, just like the dance.  But, if this is your practice, this elicits such a beautiful DIY possibility.  A couple days to feel into each rhythm.  Meditation, writing, artwork.  Or simply noticing each particular energetic vibration—flow, staccato, chaos, lyrical, stillness— as it arises in your day, in your body, in your movement, in your heart, in your awareness.  Attune to your soul—what does it need right now?  Empty out, be still, let spirit inform you.

And if you want to investigate the territory as it was meant to be explored, come dance Wednesday Waves at Clara tonight November 2 6:30 and Sunday Sweat Your Prayers November 6 10:00, actually back in the garden just for this week and next.  There is nothing like it.

Love, Bella

Gabrielle Roth….I have some crazy stories to tell about the ten years I was her student.  And just as many tales generated by her practice of the ten years since her passing.  Because the rhythms are alive in every part of me.   That’s why knowing her in the flesh was just icing on a way big cake.

Every practitioner out there has a story to tell about when and how the 5Rhythms earthquake shifted their bedrock.  For me, it was twenty years ago…age fifty-two.  A bit late, but right on time.  Last kiddo launched, hemmed in by the daily grind, dark shadows obscuring all the light in my life.  Ready to break free, beyond willing to step into the mystery, destiny tantalizingly one step away.

On a whim, we made a sharp right turn off Highway 1 when the sign said Esalen.  Never been. One empty room: 24 hours for $200. In the dreamscape trance of early morning I stepped across the Huxley threshold and began to dance.  As if I had been dancing my whole life. Which in a way I had.  All this magic happened in the very room the 5Rhythms practice had been birthed.  By the end of the hour, my life would never be the same.

Gabrielle left a legacy that woke my feet up and then my whole body followed suit, moving me in professional directions I could never have imagined.  This practice ripped the crust off my heart to reveal childhood scars desperate to be danced, re-written, forgiven, celebrated.  And now 5Rhythms is a lens through which I view the world, a trusty guide through thick and thin.

When Gabrielle was alive, I felt a trembling overwhelm in her presence, bordering on abject terror sometimes.  Those sharp edges, that incisive look, her uncanny ability to call out the depth of my internal experience.  So. Many. Stories.  But now, in the dark of my bedroom, sometimes she comes to call.  She slips in wordlessly, just how she black-clad slid onto all those dance floors I was blessed to share with her.

But in my dreams all her sharp edges are muted now, holy hug of support, hushed, patient, benevolent.  I like to believe this was/is her true nature.  And I hope she knows that every day I give thanks for these two woke feet, wordlessly moving me across this ever-shifting ground.

This week the ever-shifting ground delivers me to Montreal.  It’s where my mom was born in 1927.  With my daughter and grandson, we’ll explore and feel and search for some of the places her feet traversed.  Leonard Cohen was born in the same neighborhood in 1934.  Perhaps their feet moved on some of the same paths.

I’ll be home just in time for Tend Your Aging Body on October 22…an offering that emerged right out of my soul when I veered off the straight and narrow professional path.  Thank you Gabrielle.  And then I’ll offer up Sweat Your Prayers October 23. Thank you Gabrielle.  Never, in my wildest dreams could I have imagined I’d be doing this work either.

Thanks to her and the winds of fate we are waking up together, wordlessly moving across this ever-shifting ground.


Back-to-back dance workshop weekends, live community moving in and through, déjà vu from a previous lifetime.  But I just hopped on that dusty dance bike and, a bit shaky at first, felt my trusty body pedal down that well-worn path.  Surreal, challenging, tender, revelatory…all packed into ten days.  As often happens when we steep in intensity, a dormant sensibility, an insight that had been scrambling toward daylight, slowly begins to tease itself out.

What is able to come to light during an expertly guided embodied exploration always astonishes me.  A word on that “expert” thing.  Because it makes a difference.  I bow to Kathy Altman, a teacher who has been guiding me on and off over the last twenty years.  Her precise, perfectly timed invitations, her gentle and solid presence gave me the courage to start excavating that dormant sensibility. And I kept digging around this nugget all week.

The next weekend I was held in practice right here in Sacramento by Majica Alba.  This was her first independent (of me) 5Rhythms workshop offering.   It. Was. Stellar.  Words fail here.  Not only have I had the extended joy and trepidation of witnessing her growth and maturation, I’ve had the trembling responsibility of having a hand in this transformation and a front row seat to boot. So, to be a student in her space, to completely trust her to hold me as I continued with this embodied exploration, to feel the expertise of her support…see why words fail?  Maybe put yourself in my shoes a minute and feel….it was wondrous remarkable.

So what was hiding in the wings, waiting for its turn center stage?  It emerged during the first workshop as we moved in the lengthy span ‘tween courageous action on one end and being with things just as they are on the other.  The well-known serenity prayer is a quiet plea for wisdom, wisdom to know the difference between these poles.  When to be in action, when to surrender.  And that word—surrender—was just a murky insight that’d been scrambling toward daylight for awhile, begging to slowly be teased out.

I could have spent a year stretched out on a therapy couch intellectualizing how I unconsciously, habitually slip into busy, do-do-do action, unwilling to pause in that holy wisdom middle ground, fears about stillness being equated to irrelevance, worthlessness, death.  I am so long done with that couch thing.  Though I love my brain and I get how this process of writing helps my mind get what my body already knows.  So this embodied exploration of surrender continued in the second workshop, keeps moving through me, continues to reveal so much.  Can you feel the essence of this Mark Nepo quote?

“Surrender is like a fish finding the current and going with it.”

What does this word surrender mean to you?  How does it show up in your life?  Can you feel the pull of gravity in your body, maybe even right here in this moment, and source it for surrender?  How do you discern when surrender is maybe a tricky cover up for inertia or collapse?  In the face of tension or rigidity, can you feel surrender work like a fabric softener without the losing the texture of clarity?  Can you surrender to what is, just say yes, give up trying to know?  Can you tap into the greater energy permeating through your life?  Let go of preference, surrender to life being in charge?  Hmmmm.  A breath here.  Thanks for trying that on.

Thanks for exploring surrender with me this weekend at Clara Auditorium.  We start with Tend Your Aging Body on Saturday, rolling our mats out to facilitate surrender.  We release bound and resistant fascia by gently partnering with gravity, surrendering to the gentle touch of the toys. You can drop in any of the four Saturdays or pre-enroll.  I’ll have lots of props, no worries, just bring a mat.  Video recorded for you.

Just a word on that “expert” thing.  Because it makes a difference:

“Bella’s knowledge of the human body is clear and deep… She showed me diagrams, offered metaphors…enlisted my absolute curiosity to look and feel WITH her…Bella is a brilliant educator.  I am inspired now to cultivate a relationship with my psoas muscle!  I just needed the guidance of some patient and skilled hands….One session with her has opened many windows into my own body.  I am tremendously grateful.”  MT

Clara Auditorium for Sweat Your Prayers on Sunday morning, too.  It has been so beautiful to feel us coming back to this space.  With “us” being such a fluid word.  So satisfying to experience so many new movers finding their way through the door.  Many tears falling as familiar faces re-appear.  I’ll be up front Sunday morning with a score that invites continued embodied exploration of…guess what?  Surrender.

Metaphors.  It’s like dancing for my mind when I hear something like “fish finding the current”.  I just get it.  This metaphor is an anonymous quote but says it all:

I am learning to live between effort and surrender.
I do my best and hope for what I want
but I do not resist the direction of the wind.

Yours  in the current, in the wind….Bella

The name Body Joy and I have had a tumultuous relationship.  That name came on a whim in 2005.  The sale of Dreizler Physical Therapy—name, logo, community standing —was imminent and I was suffering a hiccup moment.  An ego-busting realization that my so-called identity was soon to vanish.  I had no more than a fuzzy sense of what was next.  This domain name was free and felt like it proffered a ton of leeway. I took Body Joy and fashioned a logo to go with:

We walked into the county fair yesterday kids and grandkids in tow.  It was everything your senses can conjure up:  smell of corn dogs and human crowd-sweat, carnies barking above ferris wheel drone, duck races right next to Extreme Dog Tricks.  You get the picture.  We hunkered down into the damp fetid air of the animal barn.

Dreizler PT sold, I melted into refreshing incognito, released myself deeper and deeper into yoga and dance.  Taking all the precious time I needed at the end of my fifties to explore the broad story spectrum held in my body, your body, our bodies.  My dissatisfaction with the name Body Joy became increasingly vexatious with each passing year. There is body rage and body compassion and body fear and body love and body grief.  There is even body numb.  And so for quite some time I hated the domain name.  It felt too small, inaccurate, misleading.

At first there were the bunnies.  Angora soft sweet with their long ears laid back, noses aquiver, tender little paws. Right after the bunnies came the goats.  And I became lost in a sea of sensation.  My hands took on a life of their own, so drawn past the steel bars. I let those precious creatures sniffle my fingers and permit me the pleasure of scratching between emerging horns, stroking a cheek here, a rump there.  Feeling the mutuality.  The way this gentle caress provided the goat with pleasure and the way the feel of their fur and the observation of their response fed me back ten fold.  Body joy.
Over the last few years I’ve just let the name be what it is.  Its functional alliterative brevity is a safe harbor for the three services offered.  The newish logo—heart nested into a palm—settled me into it, since I know how a heart shelters the full spectrum of what we embody.

So it’s been interesting to feel myself kerplunked into the essence of Body Joy so clearly of late.  Octavia Raheem writes:

“Joy is an act of rebellion. And so is allowing ourselves to feel our grief.”

In the face of all we are being with right now cultivating joy is not a pleasant default.  Rather it feels revolutionary. Because joy and grief are two sides of the same coin.  A focus on pleasure and joy and laughter, the experience of reaching for the sky, this can free us, can allow us to fall back to earth and truly feel the rage and the fear and the sadness.  But if, in a misplaced sense of solidarity with tragedy, we let the depths of despair take joy as prisoner, we’re walking down a dangerous road.

When I came home I felt that same pleasure applying a thick coat of olive oil to my warm moist skin post- bath.  There it was as I snuggled down tween two clean sheets.  And there it was again rolling around on two soft release balls on the floor.  Before summer break, I’m teaching three more Wednesday nights at Clara June 1, 8, 15.  The  focus is on taking pleasure.  Taking: such a pro-active verb.  Not receiving, not seeking, not basking in.  Taking.  Because cultivating joy in this moment is an act of rebellion.  There will be music that invites us in taking pleasure in our god-given bodies in free form motion.  And in the break tween those two music waves some free form taking pleasure: the sensation of balls and rollers on skin. Just like petting those goats.  Maybe you feel called to join me in this act of rebellion.



The essence of the phone call I took last week rang with familiarity.  Once again, a grateful being reports the influence dance practice wielded in shaping a life.  No matter that this person attended only a year or two, the last time a decade ago.  The experience had been of great import and they wanted me to know.  I’ve had the privilege of listening to countless stories of this flavor.  Most recently, someone who’d come a handful of times attributed remarkable shifts in destiny based on the experience.  Hardly seen this individual since.

Over twenty years, I’ve witnessed tons.  Folks who cycle in a bit, out a bit, then bounce back in again.  People who show up one time and then, referencing that one time, return a decade later.  Movers who are incredibly articulate about their process and those that never say a word.  Individuals who’ve heard about 5Rhythms forever, meant to come for years, finally arrived. Dancers who’ve been with me week after week for two decades.  People whose movement vocabulary transfigures right before my eyes and those who carry on without variation year in and year out.

And then there are the big events.  We watch new life gestate and then be born.  We’re present to hook-up joy and break-up pain.  The shock of illness followed by the empty absence, the heartache of loss.  Marriage transpires out there.  And so does divorce.  The festival of life plays out on that sacred floor.

In fact, the only thing that remains constant is the container itself, which for many years I held on my own.  Which was a phenomenal undertaking.  And just as extraordinary, in a whole different way?  The positively impactful adventure I’ve had the honor of sharing with Majica Alba: partnering in this community-holding endeavor. The dictionary defines community as a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.  By frequent report, this is one of the top reasons people show up to dance.  That feeling of fellowship, of belonging, of sharing with like-minded/hearted.

Yet here’s the ironic seduction I’ve noticed over and over: the moment it begins to feel like our community has gelled, is somehow defined, an established group consistently showing up, the illusion this is makes itself known.  Invariably what follows is a transitional period of dissolve as a new grouping takes form in the next elusive shape.  It’s like the word community is a verb.  The pandemic has created its own dynamic bit of play with this amorphous community phenomenon.

And I am so down for it.  Every last bit of it.  Because I’m in such good company with those who’ve opened their hearts to me, shared the impactful nature of this practice.  There is a surprisingly powerful dose of influence thrown in when you’re the one who invariably shows up to make it happen. No matter what.  I’ve been out there hot on the heels of my own life festival events: birth, death, illness, major life upheavals.  All the reasons students might choose to cancel and just stay home.  But here’s what’s true: those hot-on-the-heels moments hold mega-weight. The most meaningful teaching/learning excavates personal vulnerability to illuminate the all-embracing universal. Who knew that my most penetrating insights would begin to pile up after I had the audacity to step in to teach?

And so, after a bit of perspective-inducing time off—picture above, last day camping at Sunset Beach—I’m back at out there.  If being part of community as a verb calls to you here are three ways I’d love to move with you:

  • Maybe you’ve always meant to dance.  Or used to and know it is time again.  Or always come and can’t wait.  Wednesday Waves at Clara—Taking More Pleasure—is happening until June 15.  And then we break until September.  Sunday Sweat Your Prayers in the garden happens through July 31 before that break.
  • Maybe you know you’ve always wanted to do yoga but think it’s not for you.  Or you’re curious about this rolling and releasing thing.  Or you’re always there every week and can’t wait.  Roll, Release, Align on line Friday 10:00.  This week’s focus?  That incredible diaphragm, the way it creates a bottom for the heart basket and is in 24/7 service to the breath.
  • Maybe you’ve got something bugging you in that shoulder or neck, that hip or low back, that knee or foot.  Maybe you want to learn how to tenderly and expertly care for it in a healing way.  That’s my thing!  Call me (916) 267-5478 and let’s talk about how we’ll make that happen.

That feeling of fellowship, of belonging, of sharing with like-minded/hearted.  That’s what it’s about…❤️Bella

I remember a moment just like this years ago: Oregon coast, feet-in-the-sand.   Out of the blue, a notion to sell the physical therapy clinic.  It dawned all over me.  A need to bust out of confinement, something expansive demanding space for expression.  Eventually the sale came to pass.

But that dawn all over me feeling?  I heard it described by Martha Beck in a recent podcast.  I hope you know this feeling, too.  It arises when we get quiet, go inside, rest into our bodies.  Take time to sense what’s warm and fuzzy and full of pleasure.  Feels peaceful, tastes like freedom.  What really lights us up.  Because, Martha Beck says, every lie makes us tense and every truth makes us relax.  And that’s precisely how it came down that day on the Oregon beach.

Last week in Yosemite, dallying in a snow-covered meadow, sky other worldly blue, snow-blinding brilliant, air nostril sharp, I had a moment that felt like that one years ago in Oregon.  There was that tell-tale warm, fuzzy inside.  Truth instinctively generating full relaxation.  Body opening to a wave of freedom and possibility and curiosity.  It dawned all over me that I really did not have to do anything or go anywhere or be anybody.  It felt radical.

Seriously, it feels like some deeply ingrained childhood program got hacked.   Perhaps I do not have to be successful or channel ambition or push through to the next thing.   Perhaps at 70+ it’s age-appropriate to have nothing to prove. What?  Maybe this life chapter asks for something else.  Simply being and bearing witness and opening to love.  This truth makes my whole body melt.

And one might ask…so Bella, why are you writing this newsletter, why are you teaching, why are you still seeing patients?  The things I am doing, the ways I am working, the ways I attune to serve community…none of this is required.  And perhaps that’s why I love doing these things.  Because I choose them.  Because they emerge from the authentic well of my being and give me great joy.  Mostly…some days more than others!  No Pollyanna here.  Just like you I’m on this pandemic ride and continue to experience deep dips.  Just like you I’m riding the hills and valleys of aging.

And even though I do not have to do anything or go anywhere or be anybody, here’s a couple offerings on the horizon that might be of interest to you:

Moving Outside 
3 Thursdays      March 3, 10, 17      12:30-2:00
I wrote about nature deficit disorder last time.  Spring is emerging in this garden on the Sacramento River…come experience body and land as one being. Earth, sky, everything in between. Outdoor practice is a natural health-boosting opening to receive this energy.  I’ll be collaborating with the owner of this property, Judy Tretheway  Speaking of aging, we’ll combine many decades of embodied wisdom—Qigong, 5Rhythms, chakras, forest bathing—to guide this journey through dance, movement, connection and breath. Let’s feel the lay of the land…outside together.

Core Strength 
Saturday       February 12         9:30-10:30
The basic power I experience at my core is life sustaining.  Vital.  This strength allows me to be active in ways that would not be possible without quality tone down deep.  It can be yours with 15 minutes on your mat 3-4 days a week.  This short video is my invitation to join me in creating that vitality:

So I hope you can get quiet, go inside, rest into your body.  Take time to sense what’s warm and fuzzy and full of pleasure, what really lights you up. It’s one reason I come to the mat and the dance floor.  Let’s move together somewhere soon….❤️Bella

Decisions. Daily. We weigh desire against risk. Calculate probability in the face of longing. Concern for safety rides in direct opposition to our acute yearning. You would think by now we’d be incredibly skilled at judgment calls. Me? I feel lost sometimes, find myself wavering more than ever. Perched for too long and very uncomfortably on the proverbial fence. So not my style. Never has been.

Faced with yet another moment of indecision, I chose to dig underneath the fence. And lo and behold, a well-used shovel—5Rhythms wisdom— was right at hand to dredge up some truth. Have a current looming decision? Willing to take a quick inventory? Start right where you are and picture the particulars of what you are considering. As much detail as possible, put yourself in the virtual reality of “yes”.

BODY: For me, it’s all about belly and feet. How do these body parts rest in that yes? Easily? Do they feel like moving toward? Eagerly? Or is there hesitation? Queasiness? Are they congruent? Or are feet pointed one way and belly another. Breathe. Is your body a yes or a no?

HEART: Let your breath move all around the heart space. Feel the longing, the desire, the yearning. Feel for shut down, protectiveness, holding back. Is your heart a yes or a no?

MIND: O.K. Head up there. That place where all the logical overabundance of most current information is stored. Let the mind say its piece. Listen up. Really take it in. Minds are useful. Is your mind a yes or a no?

SOUL: Now it’s time to feel into one of two things: the perfect line-up of body, heart, mind…or the utter mismatch. If all three shout yes or all three are an emphatic no, your soul can rest in this alignment. Clarity and integrity are yours. If there is divergence, your soul is wading through a torturous moment. Which is even more precarious if the yes and/or no are muffled or conditional or vague. Times like this are especially bewildering if your soul—the authentic expression of who you are in this world—is not able to show up in the way it hungers to. That’s why this is so hard.

SPIRIT: Take another few breaths. Feel spirit moving right through you, connecting you with all things. Rest in the spaciousness of past, present, future. In the biggest picture, in the world of birth and life and death…how important is this yes/no? A year from now, will you remember this moment? What would God/Jesus/Buddha/(fill in blank) do?

And as long as were asking for an outside opinion, the creatrix of this very rhythms guideline, Gabrielle Roth, put it simply like this:

“There is no maybe. If it’s not a yes, it’s a no.”

Which brings me smack dab in touch with my old style, no-nonsense Bella who totally knows when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em. The rational one who knows the next hand will be dealt soon enough.

What’s coming right up?
Friday morning: Essential exploration of the spine, feeling the way it’s a connector (skull, rib cage, pelvis) AND a protector (nervous system). How it moves just like the ocean waves.
Sunday morning: Out in the garden (or Zoom) playing musical waves as antidote to despair, tapping the way this practice can actually lift us, lighten us, inspire wonder.

Feeling you all out there in this moment with me…let’s move together.

The dictionary definition of somatic is so very simple: relating to the body, as distinguished from the mind.  I hang with the body-based crowd.  Entering an individual session or group teaching through the heart channel or mind channel are generally not my go-to’s.  Because time and again, experience verifies that when we enter through the body channel, we authentically access heart and mind.  Feeling and insight naturally erupt up and through the body channel and often astonish us with the honest accuracy of truth.

All that being said, the mind is a powerful tool.  I fed that mind channel deeply over the last couple weeks with Joan Halifax’s book Standing at the Edge.  I love the subtitle: finding freedom where fear and courage meet.  Highly recommended.  And eventually, in a backward change of pace, I let knowledge inform my body.  More about that later.  But first I focused and absorbed the empathy chapter, curious to tease out the roots of empathic distress (last week’s newsletter) and how empathy and compassion are linked.  What follows is Halifax’s take on the subject, a summary, a paraphrase of that chapter.

Halifax defines empathy as our ability to feel into another.  To merge with, sense, imagine, include, identify with. To allow ourselves to be inhabited by another.  Sense into their emotions, view life from their perspective.  Walt Whitman sums it up:

“I do not ask the wounded person how he feels,
I myself become the wounded person.”

Compassion is feeling for another.  Empathy informs compassion, is often a precursor. But compassion is more fleshed out than empathy; a warm positive state often coupled with desire to benefit the other.  Compassion is intentionally generated with love, kindness, concern running concurrently with empathy. There is no such thing as compassion fatigue.  But empathic over arousal and distress are real.  Unregulated empathy can lead us to avoidance, numbness, burnout.  We can learn to recognize and harness an empathetic response to activate healthy compassionate concern.

How to?  Not surprising that the key to regulation lands us right back where we began: somatics.  When we catch ourselves standing at the edge of empathic distress we can pivot toward compassion by feeling our feet on the ground.  We don’t abandon the other, we continue to include, identify with the other AND we sense our own heartbeat, the quality of our own breath.  We seek and establish a balance, a distinction, a clear boundary between our own bones and theirs.  I love Brene Brown’s embodied phrase:

Strong back, soft front, wild heart…

And when and if we fall over our own edge, which we do, there is deep learning in the swamp of empathic distress.  And what was trauma in the past can morph into medicine for the past and the future.

On the dance floor Sunday, this wealth of information channeled its way into a somatic exploration of nimbly moving from empathy to compassion.  The physical sensation of walking in another’s shoes, side-by-side seeing from another’s perspective, bearing witness, attuning to bodies-hearts-minds.  Ultimately seeing ourselves in the other, feeling our common humanity.  Our strong backs.  Our soft fronts.  Our wild hearts.

In 5Rhythms Wednesday Waves I’ll be out there again exploring this territory a bit differently.  Before we dance, thirty minutes of somatic release with rollers and balls. Focus on our compassion-generating region: deep in the core, hips and heart.  Then connecting the core and paving the way into dance with releasing the feet.  The middle chapter? An hour wave of dance.  The ending? A guided art creation led by Majica Alba.  I am in love with this co-creative possibility: two 5Rhythms teachers, one a physical therapist, the other an art therapist.  Who knew?

Three opportunities this week to hang with the body-based crowd…

So much conversation these days about cultural polarization.  Red states and blue.  Big pharma and science.  Vax and unvax.  Righteousness abounds.  Personally, I reside in a bubble that affords me scarce opportunity for exchange with the other pole.  The issues are uber-complex, so much is at stake in this deep, barely navigable river of separation.  How do we find middle ground?

Just for now let’s drop this exhausting argument, this detached discussion out there.  Just for now let’s invite it into the realm of in-your-face personal.  The polarity waging on the inside.  Because we’ve all heard some version of this quote by Ezra Taft Benson, right?

“Some of the greatest battles will be fought
within the silent chambers of your own soul.”

Polarity: the state of having two opposite or contradictory tendencies, opinions or aspects.  And who doesn’t have that festering in some way, shape or form internally? For the last 3 months I’ve spiraled ‘round this one again, avidly tracking a personal polarity.  For a week this scrutiny supported by Esalen days filled with soaking and dancing, natural beauty and meditating, good food and expert guidance. Working side-by-side with Lucia Horan allows me to be in the sweet spot: being in service balanced with being held in practice.  The statue of Kwan Yin (above), travelled out of my studio, first time in thirteen years.  She exuded mercy and compassion and grace throughout the week.

Inside me there’s a little numb one who took shelter way at one end of the pole.  Surviving by letting nothing in, allowing nothing out. This early learning shaped me in many ways.  It affected the way I moved with deep loss. Through my middle years, chock full of family and work responsibility, grief squeezed its way into available holes in my schedule.  Truly.  Listening to those of you in the throws of mid-life, it’s a relief to know this experience is not unusual.  However greased the wheels were by my early childhood training.

But grief more toward life’s end gives me access to a different experience: the opposite pole.  Now there is time.  Here there is space and perspective. Here there is a semblance of emotional wisdom.  This other pole—letting everything in and everything out—feels like uncharted territory.  It has been liberating to feel with intensity and a relief to let out a bucket of tears.  Passion and tears that have been languishing for decades.

Now it is a sensation of a wound healing.  A somatic scar tentatively binding raw vulnerability. A developing understanding of empathic distress.  Curiosity about how empathy informs compassion.  An embodiment of how much is at stake in this river separating numbness on one shore and overwhelm on the other.  And that this great battle fought within the silent chambers of my own soul is giving birth to a more mature navigator.  More skillful at self-witnessing, self-regulating.   A capable steward of this oh so tender heart.

Sigh…this is what consistently paying attention reveals.  And paying attention with the support of like-minded community just ups the ante.  Inviting you along for three opportunities to pay attention in sangha this week:

  • Wednesday Waves in person breaks the format mold in this final chapter of 2021.  Two hours 6:30-8:30, but only one hour for dancing a wave in the middle.  We’ll open with my guidance, gently prepping the body for motion with rollers and balls (all props provided).  And we’ll integrate at closure with Majica guiding us through creative art expression. We begin with a focus on the feet November 10.  This first Wednesday is FREE if you have never done 5Rhythms at Clara.  Drop in to any session for $25 or pre-enroll for all five for $100.  Please check link for nitty gritty details.
  • Essentials Friday 10:00 on line deep dives into the pelvic floor.  This week an introduction to the geeky diamond-shaped anatomy…so beautiful.  Every week a gentle breathing variation on releasing, core toning, stretching and how this informs simple yoga poses.  The Video Library is there to dive in any time spirit moves you.
  • Sunday Sweat Your Prayers 10:00-noon in person & online.  Thanks to a generous community benefactor, we are still practicing in the garden space bordering the Sacramento River.  If you have yet to join us in this enchanted land, you are so welcome.  Check the link for the nitty gritty. I’m up this coming Sunday.

It’s in the silent chambers of our own souls where peace commences.  Let’s seek that middle ground together.  ❤️Bella