Weekly sharing series


I’ve been working to use Facebook more reliably, and I’m looking to launch a series for each day of the week where I say a little something, post a little finding, share a song or a story or an exercise, each day of the week. But because it’s cuter if I do it this way, I’m thinking of doing a different theme for each day.

So far I have The Monday Move, in which I share music that moves me, makes me move, or grants me stillness.

Tuesdays are for Trauma – and/or Truth. Here I’ll share things about how trauma works, what it does, how RSM helps you recover, recent studies and science, and so on.

In honor of Joe Weldon, I’m thinking that the next day has to be the Wednesday Sway, dedicated to moves in RSM, the restoration of movement to the body, and all the somatic ways that we do this work.

Thursday and Friday are still a little up in the air, but I know that I want to do something about sexuality, and something about performance. Thespian Thursdays? Fabulous Fridays? I’m sure all the alliterations will come together in time.

Until then, please “like” and follow my page over on Facebook, and if you dig it, tell your friends!

What was taken from you? Where do we get it back?

I went to the INARS conference this past week, and I’ve taken away so many learnings that I don’t know where to begin. But I was inspired today when I walked into a cafe for lunch and heard a song.

If you were conscious during the early ’90s, you undoubtedly know this song. It starts with the repeated words: “In the middle of the – I go walking in the – In the middle of the – I go walking in the – ”

Are we there? Yeah. The song is Billy Joel’s mega-hit from 1993, “River of Dreams.” Now, before I left for the conference, I hadn’t heard this song, or hadn’t paid attention to it, in years. But in a bar in Landsdowne Street with friends, having dinner before a They Might Be Giants concert with dear friends, I heard it, and my friend did too. We both started singing along together:

In the middle of the night (middle of the night)
I go walking in my sleep (walking in my sleep)
From the mountains of faith (mountains of faith)
To a river so deep (river so deep)…

We sang along and boogied from the bar to our tables and commented on how long it had been since we’d heard that song, and what a good song it was. I mumbled along to a lot of the faster lyrics, and we moved on to dinner.

Today, after therapy, after talking about everything I’d been through at the conference, I heard it again in the cafe: In the middle of the night…

And I stopped, because I was hearing words I’d never heard before.

And I’ve been searching for something
Taken out of my soul
Something I would never lose
Something somebody stole

This weekend, we focused on soul: what feeds us, where we feel at home, how we connect to passion, to center, to power, to connection itself. As part of that, we talked about the thwarts to passion: what does your passion call you to do, and what gets our way?

An important learning from this was that most of the time, the thing thwarting us is not of us. We may have internalized it, sure, but it was something done to us. “Something taken out of my soul. Something I would never lose. Something somebody stole.” Or, something somebody put there, something that doesn’t belong, that we should never have been forced to carry.

One fellow Synergist felt the sense of the thwart so deeply that she was convinced it was all her, and said it felt like a bunch of heavy locks. Gently but with laser clarity as always, one of the program heads, Noel Wight, told her: Very few people put locks inside themselves, just naturally, on purpose. It’s possible that this Synergist was the one who put them there. But what drove that action? What was the message she received that told her: lock yourself away. You are too much to take. Your passion burns too hot. Be quiet. Keep it to yourself.

What was stolen from her? What was put in its place?

And how do we get those things back? How do we return to ourselves, to a place where our passion, our will, can flow freely?

The answer differs for each person, but it starts with the body. What movement is restricted now, as a result of that thwarting, that theft, that abuse, that grasping, that constant imposition? Whatever it was, what movement can we use to restore ourselves to ourselves?

Here’s an example: for me, it was space. I got the message repeatedly that I took up too much space: I was too big, my laugh was too loud, I ate too much, and I needed to follow the rules, keep my legs together, and be a lady. So is is any surprise that now my hips are tight, I squeeze my shoulders into their sockets, my ribs get compressed, and I can’t take a full breath?

The restoration of my width, my length, my breath, my available space – this is the work that I need to do to restore my connection to passion, my soul, my source, and my sense of direction: where I am going in my life, and who gets to decide?

When we turn to the body and seek the source of our tensions, our aches, our habitual movements that hold us back, we begin to see other possibilities for movement, other ways that we can be, move, and live.

Contact me if you want some help doing this for your own life.

Great fun getting actors into their bodies at Theatre @ First

knight_of_burning_pestle_logoThe other night I had the opportunity to work with a large cast of actors in a crazy, little-known Elizabethan play called The Knight of the Burning Pestle. The play is a satire on Elizabethan theatre, written in the same time period. A couple of rowdy “audience members” interrupt the action constantly, insert their own apprentice as an actor into the proceedings, and in general spin the whole thing into chaos. It’s great fun.

Because the actors are all playing, well, actors, who are in turn playing broad stock characters, it’s a great opportunity to find larger-than-life physicality and use it to develop the character. I find that when you connect an actor to their breath, and then through their breath, to their bodies, the movement becomes very intuitive and clear – and the body connects to the voice, as well, creating the projection and voice you want.

We loosened up, moved all our joints around, found our feet under us. We walked around the room and moved our awareness to different parts of ourselves, seeing what it felt like to be pulled around by the head, chest, belly, hips, knees, toes. We explored gait: how far apart are the character’s feet? Do they walk heavily or lightly, on their toes or their heels, with big steps or little ones?

Then we put on some music and they walked around in the body-characters they’d found, stopping when the music stopped in a still posture that they could use when they were onstage and not moving. It was hilarious, and also helped them figure out how to be onstage: so much of acting is knowing what to do when you’re not doing anything.

I love working with actors and seeing them discover things, open up to possibilities, and stretch themselves. Getting them to connect with their bodies is such a rapid and excellent way to make it happen, too, and I love watching them light up as they get it.

If you want to work with me as an actor, check out my Body-Centered Performance Coaching page, and get in touch.

And go see Knight of the Burning Pestle at Theatre @ First in Somerville, April 23 – May 2!

“Though that mark will never fully heal…as you grow, the scar gets smaller in proportion.”

This is a beautiful video by the great Ze Frank (yes, of “True Facts” fame), and young dancer Harry Shum, Jr. Using light, movement, paint, music, and voiceover, this video fully embodies what it is to be “painfully shy,” and what it is to come out of that shell at last.

If you, right now, are in a shell, you should know that you’re not alone, that there are many, many other people like you, and that there’s nothing wrong with you. It might even be necessary, right now, might keep you safe for a time. But after the danger’s gone, and after it’s exhausted its use, you’ll find a way out. You may need help. You might need to work pretty hard, and you may need to find some ways to laugh at yourself. Or, find a passion, or a friend. But you will find it.

To me, this beautifully elucidates the journey we must take, from within ourselves, to make contact with others. Sometimes through pain, sometimes through laughter, sometimes through brute force and at other times through slow growth.

Here’s to all of our healing.

"Though that mark will never fully heal…as you grow, the scar gets smaller in proportion."

This is a beautiful video by the great Ze Frank (yes, of “True Facts” fame), and young dancer Harry Shum, Jr. Using light, movement, paint, music, and voiceover, this video fully embodies what it is to be “painfully shy,” and what it is to come out of that shell at last.

If you, right now, are in a shell, you should know that you’re not alone, that there are many, many other people like you, and that there’s nothing wrong with you. It might even be necessary, right now, might keep you safe for a time. But after the danger’s gone, and after it’s exhausted its use, you’ll find a way out. You may need help. You might need to work pretty hard, and you may need to find some ways to laugh at yourself. Or, find a passion, or a friend. But you will find it.

To me, this beautifully elucidates the journey we must take, from within ourselves, to make contact with others. Sometimes through pain, sometimes through laughter, sometimes through brute force and at other times through slow growth.

Here’s to all of our healing.

Why does music make us cry?

Everyone knows how a song can open us to emotion.  Most of us probably have songs that make us cry, songs that make us nostalgic for our youth, songs that make it impossible not to dance.  And as we go into the holiday season, there are doubtless songs that make us homicidal, particularly the ones that get repeated endlessly on piped-in mall music.

Some of this can be attributed to memory and meaning: the song was playing during our first kiss, or the words remind us of a lost love.  But some of it is purely the music itself.  Have you ever had the experience of a particular violin or cello strain cracking you open?  Of certain music making you cry, because, for whatever reason, it aches?

Science is still studying why it’s the case that music can have such a powerful emotional effect.  A recent study showed that listening to music can affect how we perceive neutral human faces: happy music makes us see them as happier, for example.  But why it has this effect is not fully known.

One theory the writer of the Scientific American article linked above has is that music is connected with human movement.  Music, after all, is a series of sounds made possible by human movement: breath, pressure, bowing, pressing keys, strumming strings, striking drums, and so on.  And music inspires us to dance, or to close our eyes and go inside ourselves to listen.  

Ilana Rubenfeld trained as a symphonic conductor at Julliard, and was herself a violinist. Her approach to her work was highly musical, and she knew how powerfully music was connected to emotion.  She saw our bodies as our most valuable instruments, and our lives as ongoing symphonies.  That may sound Pollyannic, but it may actually be literally true, and may be the key to discovering why music is so – literally – moving.

In my sessions, I strive to connect the person I’m working with to their own internal instrument.  To listen to their own breath, to be moved by their own movements (interesting that sections of symphonies and concertos are also called “movements”), to discover what their song sounds like right now.  Some people are more musical than others, but most people can be connected to their rhythms, to the pulse of what makes them human and alive.

To connect with your own rhythm and find your song again, get in touch with me.


Double Edge, again: becoming one with presence

Yesterday, I spent more time with the wonderful folks at Double Edge Theatre, out in Ashfield, MA.  Their highly physical Open Trainings, as I’ve described here before, are rigorous, inspirational, and transformative, and I would encourage anyone who is not mobility-challenged to try one.

Here are some moments from this one, particularly as they relate to the mind-body connection, my own emotional/physical journey, and my practice of Rubenfeld Synergy:

…I am in a clutch of people; the training has broken up into two groups.  My group is making a tighter and tighter bunch, closing in, breathing hard, urgent, while the other group circles us.  I feel an unmistakable sense of menace and danger from the outside group, while in my group I feel the huddling together as fearful.  Soon we are packed together, hunched with our heads close, and I feel as if I will cry from the fear.  Just as suddenly, we break away and go running joyfully through the circle that surrounds us, and the mood is over.  A simple change from one type of physicality to another shifts my emotional state instantly.

…Our group is making its way up the side of a large wooden see-saw.  Our leader – Matthew Glassman – has me by the arm and we are working our way toward the middle of it.  The grade is steep and the wood is old and smooth, slippery under my bare feet in the sun.  My heart is pounding and I feel with every step I will fall.  And then we go over the balance point and slide down…and I learn, as I do again and again here, how closely fear and joy are related.  Facing fear, moving through it, I learn what triumphant rewards are on the other side.

…Doing this training, surrounded by many beautiful, lithe, graceful people who have clearly been doing this for some time, I feel the struggles of my size, my flexibility, my strength.  It taps me directly in to the feelings of exclusion I had as a child: cautious, quiet, brainy and physically awkward, I spent most of my childhood excluded from friendship and peer groups, either by my own choice or active ostracizing.  Even though I’m now fitter than I’ve ever been, the activity still touches those old wounds: I feel slower, more awkward, less beautiful than everyone else.  A constant voice in my head says, “Am I doing it right?  Am I responding quickly enough?  Will they see that I’m not really one of them?”  And then someone grabs me by the hand and pulls me onward as we run, or someone puts their arm around me in the group, or someone sees that I’m not as tightly into a cluster of people as I could be, loops my arm, and draws me in.  Over and over, I’m included, embraced, held.  I belong here.

Theatre is a place where I’m often reminded – or re-bodied, if you will – of how these connections work.  And Double Edge is a place where I find, not only the things above, but a place of total presence: when it gets physically demanding enough, and when I’m able to let go, those persistent, insecure thoughts are silenced, and I am no longer a shy, awkward girl alone, but rather a shining body and spirit in community.

I encourage anyone in the performing arts to come and see me if you want to enhance presence, body confidence, or any other aspect of performance.


The Classic Sequence: The Head Roll

Getting back to this series, after this weird couple of weeks made it difficult to write about normal things.  Now, though, to continue with the progression of moves in the so-called “classic sequence” of a Rubenfeld Synergy session.

After the first touch at the head, the Synergist will often attempt a head roll.  The point of this, as with so many things in Synergy, is not to get the head to roll back and forth.  Rather, it is to get a sense of the current level of movement available in the client’s neck.  The Synergist places her fingertips on the occipital ridge, near the client’s ears, and more encourages than pushes the client’s head in one direction and then the other.

The point of this is several-fold.  First, giving the client a baseline for how easily – or not – his head rolls on his neck is a good metric for when you reach the end of the session: the hope is that there will be more freedom in the neck once the shoulders have had some release, and after any release of emotion.  Second, the neck is a place where many people hold a lot of tension.  The head roll is the first opportunity to increase awareness in the client of how tight or loose she is, how much tension she’s holding, and to begin a conversation with her body.

Finally, the amount of movement available in the neck can serve as a powerful metaphor for a client’s ability to give or withhold consent.  I’ve seen several instances of clients getting greater freedom in their neck, particularly to move it back and forth, and comment that they got their ‘no’ back.  Often, trauma survivors have experienced repeated disempowerment, and in some sense have had their ability to say ‘no’ taken away from them.  Choice is critical to agency, and freeing the neck can be a powerful physical basis for restoring a client’s ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to them.

Increasing range of motion in the neck also increases perspective, as it literally allows a person to look around more freely and in a broader visual range.  Having a broader perspective – in both the literal and figurative senses – increases possibility for all aspects of a person’s life.  It allows a person to see more choices, rather than the fight/flight/freeze that are the only options available at moments of extreme stress.  It can offer a broader range of opinions on a topic, a more fluid and adaptable mindset, and a more relaxed, less guarded, and therefore more responsive (as opposed to reactive) emotional state.

In the next phase, we’ll move down to the feet, to connect both ends of the body to one another.

The Classic Sequence: First Touch at the Head

As promised, I’m beginning my series on the Classic Sequence of moves in a Rubenfeld Synergy session.  The first move is a gentle touch at the head, and in this post I’ll describe the quality of that touch, the reasons we do it, and what we’re attempting to determine from it.

A word on the first touch, to begin.  The first time a Synergist lays hands on a client is, of course, a moment that requires tremendous awareness of boundaries and a previous establishment of trust.  Even when I’ve been seeing a client for a long time, I will still always ask before the first touch.  Especially for clients who have experienced significant trauma, it is critical that the client have their safety continually reinforced, and part of this is placing the control of the session in their hands.  It may seem like overkill to some, but I’ve watched master Synergists repeatedly ask a demo client whether they may touch them, throughout the session – and I’ve watched the client visibly relax and appreciate the constant reaffirmation of consent.

The head, too, is a very intimate place to touch.  My hairdresser confided to me once that he felt that the reason people tend to talk so intimately with their hairdressers is because of the intimate contact with the head and neck, which rapidly evaporates a certain social barrier in a safe, understood way.  In RSM, it’s important to recall that many people coming into it aren’t familiar with how things are done, and so the extra time to adjust and extra requests for consent become extra important.

Once consent is established, the Synergist very gently approaches the client (who is lying face-up on the table), and places the fingertips of both hands at the base of the client’s skull.  The placement is right where the head meets the neck, called the occipital ridge.  This area is rich in nerves which connect to all points of the body.  For this reason, it is both a place that massage therapists and other bodyworkers address frequently, and a place where martial artists strike to cause immediate blackouts.  Point is, it’s a vulnerable spot, and a gentle touch there tends to “wake up” the nervous system.

The purpose of this touch is a kind of “saying hello” to the person; the goal is not to hang out there for a long time, but rather to establish contact, get a sense of what the person is experiencing as you make that contact, and then move on.  I personally find that this initial touch, for me, serves to either reinforce or establish what is going on with the client overall in this moment.  If a client is in a state of numbness, this touch may confirm for the Synergist that the client is feeling “nothing.”  If a client is relaxed, the touch will likely intensify that sensation as well as make the client more aware of it.  If a client is nervous, this touch may increase that sense of alert; sometimes, if I feel a client is fearful, I will go straight to the feet first, rather than the head, about which more later.

The point is, we are saying hello and touching people where most of them literally  live: in their heads.  The head is where many Westerners locate their sense of self, and beginning here honors this reality even as we are ultimately working to get clients to live from their whole bodies.

Next: the head roll.

Out of my comfort zone

Last week was something of a process of getting out of my comfort zone and doing things I’d long wanted to, but never quite had the nerve.  In particular, I applied for a theatrical directing slot at a local respected theatre company, proposing a couple of really classic shows.

I write a bit about the arts here, particularly theatre, but I haven’t previously shared my background: I majored in theatre arts in my undergraduate years, and found my voice there much more as a director than as an actor.  After the end of my time there, I faced some discouragement, in particular a shakedown by a local artistic director at a theatre where I was applying for an internship.  She – seemingly deliberately – made me feel as if I were completely incompetent, and shouldn’t even bother pursuing directing, based on what she had observed of my work at the university level.

Now, being 21 at the time, I could only be crushed; I couldn’t have the perspective that hey, I was only 21, and if I had made some mistakes and not been utterly brilliant as a director at 20, perhaps some life experience and training would help with that.  I did go on to apply to a couple of directing MFAs, but I set myself up for defeat: I was 22, applying to Columbia and NYU and other top programs, and everybody basically said, “That’s very nice, dear, but what exactly have you done?”

It was ten years, a creative writing MFA and a totally different life later that I once again stepped into the director’s chair, and as soon as I did it, I remembered what was so wonderful about it, and why I should be doing it all the time.  Actors told me they wanted to work with me again; after I did The Winter’s Tale at Theatre@First, people kept telling me it was the best thing they’d ever seen there.

But the trauma of that college experience was still – is still – deep enough within me that it’s hard for me to believe that this is something I’m good at.  And the idea of moving from the small pond of my local community theatre into larger waters – other theatres in my area, or even local MFA programs! – is frightening, and makes me feel like an impostor.

But it finally dawned on me that I have nothing to lose by trying.  Last week: applied to some directing jobs.  Saturday: a trip to Amherst to check out their MFA program.  Today: a proposal for a staged reading.

It’s never too late to move forward.