Thursday night 2003, Clunie Clubhouse, 8:30pm…again. After a full year dancing, I know the drill. Time to circle up after practice. Listen to the extraordinary shifts and communal realizations happening inside us on the dance floor. Time to articulate the ineffable. I sit there deeply identifying with each speaker, grateful they are communicating some (but not all) of what has passed for me. I hover trembling, so stirred and shaken, so much transformation and information revealed on multiple levels…and I say nary a word, never contribute, not dare allow fear or doubt to become visible, illumination or joy to spill over, become audible. Never.

Let me introduce my personal guard troll who has lived in permanent residence in the region of my diaphragm-gate for as long as I can remember. He moved in during those early years when shutting up was a matter of survival. Bless his heart, he served me well. Maybe some of you know his relatives? He perched in there 24/7, insuring nothing emerge from my lips that might make me vulnerable or appear stupid or (oh no!) seem unenlightened. Obviously much safer to appear all together, nod my head in assent, whither inside. He did a really good consistent job.

I filled journal after journal of all that was revealed in those early years. So much became clear…including the fact that speaking newly emerging truth, naming what was bona fide in the moment, was nigh on impossible for me. Yet despite this challenge, I was opening and learning rapidly and I saw the local community around me deepening into soulful healthy practice. Slowly it dawned on me that not only was I a student of this practice, I was also on the teaching path…for so many reasons. Don’t get me started on all the reasons. But this one was right up there near the top: my whole life I have been drawn to move toward what terrifies me. And this truth-speaking quest qualified. What better way to force the issue than a weekly assignment to get up and hold space?

One event early on crystallized this quest: a 5Rhythms weekend workshop with Maniko in Menlo Park. Who was this wizard woman? Who was this power spirit holding us as we danced and wrote and sang, who expertly brought us right to the edge of our own fear, witnessed by the group? One by one I watched us stand up and inch toward authenticity. Watching the peel-away happen in others was utterly fascinating. I was seeing the transparent beauty inside each of us. I was feeling it in myself. Even if it shined for only a few seconds, everyone saw it. And nobody died from being this visible, this vulnerable. It was astounding…and terrifying…and oh so desirable.

Since then I’ve worked with Maniko many times. It is still frightening. Because she knows where my edge is and she always takes me to it…never over it, but always right up to it. With her help, with the guidance and support of all my teachers on this path, and with this sheer showing up for us week after week after week…well, there has been movement and change. In those early days, as I began to speak, as I discarded rehearsal and replaced it with reality, as I felt my feet and breath and trusted what might emerge…I never knew if the troll would loom large and create this breathless disembodied shadow of myself. It was risky. And still, writing this newsletter is much easier for me than standing before you. But I just keep showing up and there are more and more moments of ease, of spontaneous clarity that arise like magic and channel through me, almost in spite of me. The troll? Mostly he lives off to the side in rocking chair retirement. He knows he’s important, it’s just that he’s not needed so much anymore. Sometimes he even chuckles.

So this is an official invitation for you (and your troll, if you have one) to join us for Attunement, the weekend before Thanksgiving. To ignite the dance of your voice and free the voice of your dance in a dynamic, experiential workshop in the warm lap of Coloma Center. Early bird is October 23 for the $320 price; contact bella@bodyjoy.net for scholarship availability.

There is so much happening in October, starting this weekend with luxuriating in the outdoors with yoga, music, art and dance at the Transcendence Festival. I’ll be offering Let it Roll on Saturday morning and 5Rhythms on Sunday afternoon. See the full schedule. Hope to see you there and…no worries…we will still be at Coloma Center Thursday night and Sunday morning and will Let it Roll at It’s All Yoga on Friday night.

I love Woody Allen, the comedic embodiment of terrified vulnerability. Here’s what he says, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Works for me…

love, bella


At least once a week someone corners me for a variation on the same urgent confession: how much or for how long they have wanted to come to a 5Rhythms class. This revelation is followed by some version of a fear story and, if they talk long enough, the word self-conscious usually emerges. They shrug their shoulders and wonder if they will ever get over it. I don’t say much in reply, just that it is a common story with no magic solution except to show up, be with it, watch it change…or not. Here’s what we know from experience: it almost always shifts after a class or three.

I see you there, shrinking near the wall, struggling with the whole life-sucking polarity of not wanting to be seen/desperately wanting to be seen. Incredulous that all these other folks are moving, some of them in the craziest ways, apparently unconcerned that somebody might be watching, judging, even condemning their ridiculous behavior. Being excessively aware or embarrassed about being observed by others is a curse, drilled into us when we were sweet and oh-so-defense-less children.

And when you think about it, this negative connotation is a pretty narrow definition of self-consciousness. If we take a broader view, a richer meaning reveals itself: self-consciousness is actually a desired outcome of many a spiritual practice. When we are self-conscious in a healthy way, we are a skilled and kind witness to our thoughts and feelings, actions and behavior. And a good witness has a better shot at integrity and alignment than an unself-conscious being.

There is a raw power in negative self-consciousness that begs to be harnessed. Recall that old image of the malevolent devil on one shoulder and the benevolent angel on the other. Really, it comes down to where we choose to bring our attention. The devil on one shoulder is shouting stuff like “stop being foolish” or “you look ridiculous” or “what would (fill in the blank) think?” He is generally quite loud, very entrenched, and clearly knows what he is talking about.

When we slow down, breathe and feel our feet on the ground, we encourage the quiet, tentative, fresh spirit on the other shoulder. This one offers a different wisdom: “just check it out” and “wow, this feels so good” and “what the heck, you made it this far, might as well move!”

If the devil is always in charge, if we are forever second guessing and judging and comparing ourselves, chances are we bring that same energy, subtle or not so subtle, into other corners of our lives. It’s a friggin’ energy eater, definitely something worth tackling. Take a moment. Look in the mirror. What does the devil have to say? And pray tell, what does the angel say? Who would you rather pay attention to?

I never had a chance to experience the self-conscious thing on a dance floor, just felt like I had come home the moment I arrived on my first one. But I have certainly felt the self-conscious thing in public speaking (translate: teaching). Can’t say I’ve always been a skilled witness, know I catch myself sooner and more often than I used to and maybe that’s as good as it gets. Come to class this Thursday and bring every bit of your self-consciousness with you. Come practice fortifying your benevolent skilled witness.

Thanks to Jennifer Burner and the powerful community tree who showed up this last Sunday. So good to be out there dancing and feeling such great ju-ju. I felt immersed in an enormous gratitude spill-over. For having a body, for teachings to guide us, for safe space to practice in, for the luxury of time, for precious community. This Sunday is the last Sweat Your Prayers until after Labor Day, September 7. Come ready to embody gratitude, dance our way together into a big old thank you. There will be a special visual backdrop and the invitation is to bring something from home to place on the altar…your personal expression of gratitude.

Wherever you are, it’s good to remember that our time here on earth has an expiration date. Why not dance like nobody’s watching?

love, bella

Peppermint steam wafts between us, this friend seated across from me at Pete’s. Her whole being emanates open ground as she poises the $64,000 question: “How do you feel right now?” My body tentatively poises on the edge of detection, I watch my mind try to busy it’s way into territory it knows nothing about. I actually feel belly butterfly queasy, shallow breath…this is dread, this is fear. I am grateful to feel and name it.

Maybe you are judging right now? How odd, this revelation from someone who does the work and is way past being young. But I have been treading this territory for years and I have arrived at a palpably vulnerable edge. I am not backing away from it. If you’re into the Enneagram you’ll understand the mechanics, but the mechanics are not important here. I learned a great deal this August, but what reassures me, is the comfort of knowing I am in plenty of good company. That many people have a challenging time knowing what they are feeling. Flanking me in the heart wound triad are those overwhelmed by their feelings (I can only imagine) and those busy tuning in to the feelings of others (this is my wing, so I get this one as an extra bonus).

This weekly newsletter has been going since 2005 so, if you are not a new reader, you recognize the personal heart excavation topic as old news. Years ago, at first glimpse, it was frightening recognition of the vast fortress surrounding my heart, the creation understanding from childhood story, the dismay at the extent of the project. Then, over the years, the dismantling narrative, highlights from the onion-peeling saga. The call to teach was, to a certain extent, motivated by the weekly vulnerability this stand-in-front-of-the-room job demanded, medicine I knew I needed an appointment with. Wounded healers teach what we need to learn. Truly, in the last couple years, I have felt the final shreds fall.

It’s very naked here. In some moments I find myself wishing for walls again because now I am looking down into a big old chasm. When I breathe in, it opens dark and wide and I often sense, just beyond reach, the tantalizing richness in there. And then I breathe out and it closes some, gets more murky and inaccessible with a tinge of hopelessness. I am staying right on this edge and just as I wrote this line a hummingbird flew in front of my window and this big spasm of joy welled up from in there and spilled over the top and I can still feel it even as I write, tears well. That’s why I am staying here.

I’m not sure where we will travel in 5Rhythms on Thursday but I do know where we are beginning. Thank you for your support and encouragement as I guide us through the traditional warm up in a whole new way. Talk about vulnerable. I really do not know what this chapter is. It is not the rehab-focus of Release the Beast (come Friday to explore the pelvic bowl!) and it is not the linear alignment-based hatha yoga I teach at the studio. I can only call it dance lubrication right now. The beat of the music moves us as we dance our way into shapes, fluidly explore the edges of form, bring juice and life force to all the places a dancing body needs to insure full and healthy surrender to practice. It is moving through me so it is moving through us and the degree of grounded gliding presence in every body by 7:00 was joy to witness and all the motivation I need to keep exploring. The only thing I can promise is that it will be different than last week!

Ending with these opening words from “To the Lies That Become Us” by Jewel Mathieson:

“…This body is for asking those questions that do not live in the mind
These questions have a life of their own or death
Burial grounds in the heart of my friend
A shovel and a map
Dig anywhere
The treasure is everywhere…”

Digging…love, bella

Last night I was lifted ever so slowly from a dream sound-tracked by rhythmic flutter. I rose to a large butterfly, burnt toast in color, beating her frustration against the window-pane by the bed. A few tries, then finally, cradled in the gentle glow of a white t-shirt I had danced in all day, I carried her outside. Released her to the night speckled sky, the almost full moon calling her back home. Paused in wonder on the deck and then fell back into dreamland once more.

In Maui the sun rises and there is only the sound of bird call. After three days of dancing in the presence of unadorned nature, I feel clear and soft and more like a butterfly moving moonward than one trapped against window glass. Everyday there is this persistent and gentle call to presence from Vinn Marti, a master teacher offering up invitations to melt, to weight shift, to breathe, to explore space, to look out and see something. The dance is doing me again: so simple, so familiar, so effective.

Vinn holds a Soul Motion dance space, somewhat different than a 5Rhythms space, and yet totally familiar. In the last few months I have been in the presence of several comparative discussions. These tire me, bore me quite frankly. Especially when the words are tinged with an aura of defense or projection or identification. Any tone that smacks of these painful triplets automatically pulls me into search of higher common ground. And it is usually just a breath or two away. It’s why I love the name of this gathering: One Tribe. A self justifying search for division, for boundary clarification, for separation at the expense of unity… well, this is where trouble roots, whether it be in a relationship or the political/religious realm.

And really, in dance? Let’s get real. We come together to practice waking up. The ingredients are always the same: a floor, some fellow travelers, some music, a guide to remind us about breath and body and being. I am so grateful to be here in space held by someone masterful in creation. It sheds incredible light on who I am and how I operate out there. It gives me all kinds of ideas on subtle ways to offer up my own yoga and dance forms. I wouldn’t care if Vinn was a three-headed alien from some other planet. I just cannot imagine a situation I cannot learn from. Pretentious complaints about the music not being right or the instructions being too much or not enough are just fingers pointing right back to us. When did we get so picky about things needing to be a certain way before being willing to open and express and let go, take in what is offered, appreciate and consider shifting off our precious little center?

I am still in bed, my breath, my heartbeat, the persistent echo of those wing beats still alive inside. It doesn’t take much to gently scoop ourselves up from the righteous window pane of our own small world. Set ourselves free from this all-consuming need for the world to fit to our personal specs. Build ourselves up by tearing something else down. We know this: take a breath. Let it go completely. No, there is still some left. Let it go completely. Feel this empty gap. This is the taste of relief, this is the welcome call back home, this is how we fly together… into the moonlight.

See the sidebar because all classes continue in my absence: Juliette on Thursday, Jeanne on Friday and Jennifer on Sunday. Thank you to these beautiful souls who skillfully hold the space at Coloma and It’s All Yoga with their own special form of magic. Go, experience, be gifted. And all these miles away I am still enrolling you for All My Relations… another masterful space-holder coming our way. We are truly blessed.

Time to rise and dance again… love, bella