5 Ritmes & Open Floor (Alain Allard)
I have been involved with the 5 Rhythms practice for over 15 years. I came to it as an accredited psychotherapist interested in change, attracted by the relative simplicity of working with just dance, music and one text book – "Maps to Ecstasy". At that time there were only two people regularly teaching in England, Susannah and Ya'Acov, and I danced at every weekend they offered, lapping up the work they taught. There are now 3 textbooks , loads of teachers and workshop titles, and still the work remains beautifully simple whilst deeply catalytic in its ability to positively affect the course of people's lives.
Gabrielle, the first few times I danced with her, was very clear that her work was not "therapy".
In New York during "God, Sex and the Body" many years ago I remember taking personally her description of psychotherapy as, "two people in a room, staring at a hole year after year, with one of them every once in a while saying: - "It's a hole", and the other replying: - "Yep, it's a hole".
Over the years of studying with her it has become clear that this may not be her total take on therapy but it was a significant moment in my own development as a 'mental health' practitioner. It felt to me like she was saying "It's a very stuck, and not very effective way of working".
In learning Psychotherapy I had been fortunate in having 2 highly educated and experienced teachers who understood so much about the world with all its multi dimensionality and were remarkable, wise and generous people. They were also very clear, patient and precise teachers. I have a huge amount of respect for them, and for the groundbreaking work they did and had been doing for more than 30 years. So I had never considered that anyone creative, insightful and self-motivating could view therapy in a negative light. I was neither ready to defend nor give away this therapy space without some reflection.
Gabrielle's casual comments led me to consider what might be negative and stuck about psychotherapy. What was it not able to reach that the 5Rhythms could? What had brought me to the Wave that my other studies had lacked?
One of the obvious things was the concept of "Mental Health". Whilst both the so-called third and fourth forces in psychotherapy included in their ethos the recognition of the significance of body, the reality of psychotherapy sessions was that very little if any sustained and fluid physical movement was involved.
My dance practice was slowly convincing me of the correctness of Gabrielle's assertion that the body is the mind, therefore the body has an integral place in the health of the mind and needs at least as great an involvement in the change process as such mind as is located in the head.
I sought to develop ways of working with my clients that could embrace the fluidity and disidentification from old patterns that I was experiencing from the 5Rhythms, whilst still retaining the clear benefits and ability to support and secure valuable change in peoples lives which the therapy I had studied and seen in action was manifestly able to do.
To sum up....I wanted to find some kind of effective synthesis of Psychotherapy and the 5 Rhythms and started to involve the 5Rhythms as part of the "tools" I used with my longer term clients.
Then in 1995 I met Andrea Juhan. She was part of the Moving Centre core faculty and had been studying with Gabrielle since the earliest days at Esalen. She was a licensed practicing psychotherapist with years of experience and fascination with therapeutic process.
She was also way ahead of me in this search for synthesis. She had much more experience of both the 5Rhythms and the body in therapeutic process, and seemed to me to have studied or read just about anything ever written on somatic therapy. She had been training students of Integrated Body Psychotherapy for some years, and was developing the Open Floor technique, which is one of the ways she has of combining the 5Rhythms and Psychotherapeutic process, grounded in both the wisdom of the Wave and the Art and Science of Psychotherapy and Meditation.
Andrea is amongst other things a scholar, a dancer, a therapist and a very good teacher whose knowledge of psychological research and enquiry is matched only by her fascination, which is huge. Whilst in some people such panoply of talents could be irritating to me, I found her simply inspiring.
We kept in contact, wrote and discussed, and I experienced the Open Floor as participant on a Mirrors workshop. Some time later I began assisting her, and began a formal apprenticeship with her in 2002 to study and train in the Open Floor. As part of this apprenticeship agreement I began using some of the skills of the Open Floor combined with my own style and skills of therapy in a short closed group at the Place in London in 2003, then the Open Floor process itself in my own Ongoing groups in Brighton, one in 2004 and another in 2005. These programs were called "Group in Formation" and I am grateful to all who participated on them and taught me so much by their willingness to have a go and extend their trust to me.
The Open Floor is not one to one therapy. It is a technique of group therapeutic process supported by the 5Rhythms and Meditation. We always spend a lot of time dancing the 5Rhythms before and after working with the Floor to both prepare the ground, meet as a dancing tribe and integrate whatever has come up. In this way all the healing potential of the Wave is brought in to the mix.
My ideas about combining dance and process have evolved over the years since the remark that I latched onto in New York.
There is a clear difference between how the maps of my psychological training (cognitive- analytical, existential, and transpersonal psychotherapy) approach working with Emotion and how the 5Rhythms via the Heartbeat map does. The understanding of this difference had been growing in me ever since "God Sex and the Body" but was a moment of revelation and relief when I got it.
The 5Rhythms is quite distinct from Psychotherapy and they are both potentially extremely valuable tools of Healing.
Repeated movement through the Wave increases considerably our ability to experience, integrate and tolerate different states of being alive. This increase in Vitality (that Carl Jung described as "Libido") is an essential component of restoring full health.
Simply, and it is this simplicity which is part of the beauty of this practice, by dancing through the 5Rhythms again and again we are increasing our capacity for healthy assimilation all our experiences of Life. The extent to which each person opens or shuts down to the Universal energies that each Rhythm invokes depends on very many factors largely arising from individual history. We filter out what we believe we cannot tolerate and do this in a number of different ways both conscious and unconscious.
From the perspective of much psychological and psychotherapeutic thought it is the inability to accommodate or come to a good enough integration of all our energetic experiences which leads to poor emotional, mental, somatic and spiritual health.
Where Psychotherapeutic Process is distinct from the 5Rhythms is in engaging with these personal defences, which correspond pretty much with what Gabrielle calls the "Ego". The only level of 5Rhythms work, which actively engages with this Ego, is "Mirrors". The Ego defends against Soul (which is the Totality, the "One" of Everything) and our personal defences seek to keep out parts of the Whole that we cannot be at one with.
This "Whole" is often termed the "Gestalt" in psychological thought, and the structure of the "Open Floor" is to quickly create by the participation of all members of the group a living (and inevitably partial) representation of someone's Gestalt at a given moment in time. That person is the one on the Floor being tracked by the facilitator with the involvement, support, and witnessing of the other members of the workshop. This process sounds as if it might be at best difficult and at worst intolerable. However my experience of it together with that of 100s of students is that it provides clarity and understanding for most of the group as it brings quickly to light the commonality of our individual hopes, fears, judgments and longing. In doing this it promotes a deep sense of community, trust and mutual respect. We all long to be accepted and loved and we all fear that in some way we are unlovable. We all carry the weight of beliefs about ourselves, both positive and negative, that we have learned to hide because at some point we decided we were either too much or too little.
So we create a system of intricate defence that we try to keep secret and invisible. This is simply not sustainable if we want to be fully functioning people living to our best potential, connected, open and fluid. By allowing aspects of these defences to become visible in the community of fellow students we not only learn that we can tolerate being seen a few secret layers beneath the surface but also that we are very much alike, staggering under the weight of what Rumi called "Open Secrets".
In my opinion we need ordinary people to risk being more visible so that we no longer support the cult of special perfect people against whom we impossibly measure ourselves and so remain hidden for fear of being in some way broken. The Open Floor seeks to help do this.
The ideas and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the author. By asserting intellectual property rights over them he hopes to make clear that he is not claiming to accurately reflect the views of Gabrielle, Andrea or any other 5Rhythms teacher, who may see things in a different light.