Gabrielle Roth about health
Dr. Lipman's Interview with Gabrielle Roth - dancer, author and creator of the 5Rhythms Estatic Dance system of moving meditation - on health
Health is knowing when to start, to stop, to move, to rest, to speak, to listen, to hold on, to let go. It's knowing a few things and letting your instincts do the rest.
It's eating when you're hungry, sleeping when you're tired. It's respecting the rhythms and rituals of an organic, wholesome life. It's being connected to yourself, others, and the world. It's being centered. It's having a practice that helps you slow down the chaos and stay rooted in what's real.
— Gabrielle Roth
Dr. L: The 5 Rhythms™ Ecstatic Dance System you created is sometimes called "American Zen", why?
GR: The 5Rhythms™ are a contemporary Zen, Shamanic practice. Zen, in that they are a map to an inner journey for seekers of wisdom and freedom, the wisdom to know who we are and the freedom to get over ourselves. Shamanic, in that they address the Great Divide, the divorce of spirit from flesh that has created the loss of soul, which haunts us. We’ve rendered the soul homeless, it can’t breathe, exist, or move disconnected from the body. The body is the womb of the soul, a begging bowl for spirit, like Aretha when she sings.
In America there are a lot of stressed out, anxious head-trippers, who find it very difficult to sit on all their nervous energy.The 5Rhythms™ are a moving meditation. Our intent is to become aware of what’s really going on inside ourselves, and to move through it to the place where we can truly inhabit our stillness.The fastest way to still the mind is to move the body. All the profound spiritual teachings in this world don’t mean anything if they’re not embodied.
Feeling totally high and connected to the divine mystery while sitting on a meditation pillow is fine, but how do we put the rubber to the road? As Charlie Parker said, If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn. So I take refuge in the 5Rhythms™ practice to keep my horn in tune.
Dr. L: In your classes you focus alot on the breath, why?
GR: Many of us hold our breath. Breath is a catalyst. When you let it in, feelings move, thoughts move, muscles move. With or without our permission, we are being revealed, and we don’t trust that we’re lovable, amazing and fascinating creatures underneath it all. The body can’t lie, so when we’re thinking one thing, feeling another, and doing a third, it’s very noticeable. Hiding and denying takes all our energy. When we’re holding big parts of ourselves back, it’s hard to be loose and natural. And when we’re holding something as big as the breath back, it’s impossible to be free.
There is no dogma in the dance. It will never betray you. All you have to do is dance till there’s nothing left of you but breath. Whatever is going on inside of you—resistance, anger, anxiety, self-consciousness - use it as fuel for your dance. Do an angry dance. Do a resistant dance. In other words, it’s all energy, and the nature of energy is movement. A healthy person integrates all their experiences into their flow. A healthy person is bigger than their body. Spirit moves through them unobstructed, and in their presence all you can feel is something whole and holy.
Dr. L: How can women over 35 stay centered in our youth-obsessed culture?
GR: I’ve stayed centered by continually having a place to release all of my sorrows, resentments, fears, failures, whatever I was holding onto, back into the dance. Movement allows me to constantly reinvent myself, and in the process I learn to not only let go, but to let go of letting go. Someday, I might even learn how to let it all be.
There’s no reason to obsess, we all have a teenager inside of us, regardless of whether we’re six or sixty.Think of all the times you’ve met a four-year-old and sensed the elder in them, and know that even more often, friends—even strangers—sense that luscious, juicy teenybopper in you. We’re complex.Think layering. What we miss is the wildness and the freedom that we associate with youth.To keep that part of us alive, we need to give it space to move and breathe.The dance floor is a very safe space for that to happen. Life is too fascinating to get fixed in any one direction, especially facing backwards when all you can see is your sagging butt.
Dr. L: What are your thoughts on being over 50?
GR: I now have four pairs of glasses. One to see the far distant future, one to see what’s right in front of me, one that allows me to see in both directions at the same time, and one in case the sun is too bright while I try to do any of the above. So I would say that my vision has changed radically over the years. And what is the teaching? The teaching has something to do with letting go of looking and falling deeper into seeing. Looking happens with the eyes, but seeing happens with the entire being. My over-50 eyes rely on my hands and knees and the soles of my feet to support them in their seeing. In other words, as we age, it becomes even more vital to become instinctive and intuitive.The ultimate task for each of us, is to wake up. And, if we each were to take that task to heart, we might stop destroying the very planet that unquestioningly nurtures our existence. As Gandhi said, "Embody the change you wish to see in the world." I say, the world is the dance, so get on up and find your groove.
Dr. L: Tell me about your new book,"Connections".
GR: "Connections" is my way of supporting the magical intuitive genius that I see struggling to break through everybody that I meet. It’s a mysterious little book, a collection of strands of wisdom straight from the dance floor, which has always been my laboratory for the investigation into what it means to be a human being. It’s about dancing in the dark, cruising emptiness, and contemplating destiny. Destiny fascinates me. Do we have one? Don’t we have one? What are the threads that tie all your stories together? So this book grew out of a lot of questions. In my world, the body is a Zen dojo, a sacred space for spiritual investigation. At least a billion miles of unexplored wilderness lie between the head and feet of any given person, and "Connections" is my exploration of this instinctive, intuitive world within us.
Dr. L: You say that "a person is only as deep as they breathe." What’s the first step for someone who wants to learn to change how they breathe?
GR: You don’t want to change how you breathe, you want how you breathe to change you. It’s not about control; it’s about surrender. You can begin by sitting still and simply observing the breath, its rhythm, its depth, its dance as it moves in and through you. Make no effort to change it. And then get up and dance as hard as you can. When you can’t take another step, sit down again and feel the difference of how your breath is moving in your body. Note where it is struggling to break through blocks. This is the most intimate glimpse of our spiritual struggle.
Dr. L: What advice do you have for people who want to dance freely, but can’t seem to turn off that critical voice in their heads?
GR: Here’s my advice: Keep your feet moving, dance faster than you can think. Pump up the music, drown out your thoughts, and know that self-consciousness moves in two directions: it either worries about being seen or not being seen. Give yourself permission to move. Rhythm is our mother tongue. It speaks to us with an awareness that bypasses thinking. If the critic has a big role in your movie, you’re not alone. I’ve witnessed thousands of people break out of its grip, and I’m sure you’re not the exception.
Dr. L: Can one learn to live life as a dance at any age?
GR: Absolutely. Whenever my spirits need to be lifted, I put on a video sent to me by the Over-Sixties club in England, and watch a room full of seniors, some deep into their 80s, doing the 5Rhythms™ practice. Many of them didn’t start dancing until their 70s, but you would never know it. Their faces and bodies light up when they dance. And once again it is revealed to me that God is the dance, the spark, the energy that moves us until we die. The point is to die dancing. And on the way, to respect our place in all the cycles of life.
We are instinctive, intuitive beings who aren’t functioning as such. We’re choosing another way, and not even consciously. We think our way through everything. We don’t feel, we think about feeling. We don’t act, we think about acting. How did we get to be such big thinkers? Each of us has to dive into the undercurrents of our own stream of consciousness and check out the big fish. Big Mama Fish, Big Papa Fish, and find out how their legacy is playing out in our dream. It’s not about judgment or blame, it’s about awareness.
A mother’s sacred task is to teach us to love our body, but if she hates her own, it’s not going to happen. A father’s sacred task is to teach us to respect our hearts, but if he’s hidden behind a newspaper or lost in his head, it’s just not going to happen. If our foundation is shaky, we get to puberty feeling like Humpty Dumpty. It’s possible to spend a lifetime rehashing all the stuff that didn’t happen, or that did happen that shouldn’t have happened. The result of this is arrested development and we encounter it all the time. Whether it’s in the forty-year-old who has no idea what to eat because he’s disconnected from his body, or the fifty-year-old who has no idea whether she’s in love or not because she can’t stop weighing his good and bad qualities. Or there are those among us who just don’t simply fit in, can’t find their place.
The three fundamental questions: who am I, who am I with, and where am I going—are meant to be answered instinctively, intuitively. And when they’re not, it’s quite possible to spend your entire life in an identity crisis, thinking about, rather than instinctively living the answers to these questions.
We’re like trees. We can’t go further out than our own roots. Entangled roots don’t nourish leaves, and those leaves are children, parents, friends, lovers, community, and even the real world in which we live. It’s hard enough to go through life with instincts intact, but to go through these struggles and stories with no connection to your own body, to your own heart, to your own mind, and therefore to your own soul, is a tragedy. These are the understandings that have driven me to dance. And in this dance, to find my way home and make a map for any other lost soul who wants to use it.
To love the body and respect the heart is meant to be instinctive. It’s meant to pass from generation to generation, and this has not happened in the western world. Somebody’s gotta jump off the wheel, and that would be us.
Interview given to Robert Lipman, www.lipmanworld.com