Are you ever afraid to share your voice?
I know I am!
Before I completed my first yoga teacher training 9 years ago, I was utterly TERRIFIED of speaking in front of groups, to the point where I fainted a few times while trying to give presentations in high school and college. Knowing I needed to address my fear of speaking in front of groups, I signed up for a three month, 200 hr yoga teacher training with the tiny spark of a hope that my phobia could be cured. Surprisingly, at the end of my three month training I noticed a significant shift had taken place. Learning to teach yoga had helped me feel more connected to my body and breath while speaking and sharing in front of a group, which kept me from spinning out in my head to the point of passing out. Success! This was a great awakening experience for me that boosted my self-confidence and softened my harsh inner critic. However, my fear of speaking in front of groups continued to challenge me in situations where I was not teaching yoga and I yearned to be able to share my voice anytime, anywhere while feeling relaxed and comfortable in my skin.
I remember being in my first semester of graduate school for Expressive Arts Therapy, listening to my beloved mentor, Sally Atkins, share with us the value of ‘Finding your Voice’. As she spoke, her eyes gleamed with a deep, anchored inner knowing, her voice penetrated into my bones with steady, grounded, grandmother earth essence. I was completely spellbound, mesmerized by her words, which were bathed in unwavering clarity and refreshing humor.
Right away I noticed my inner critic voice say, “you’ll never sound like her or be grounded enough to speak with such powerful clarity”. My body shrunk like a raisin in response to this inner criticism, I felt small and helpless. At that moment, Sally beamed her wild, loving gaze at me and I felt seen and acknowledged as a precious human who was undeniably capable, respected, and needed in this world. My insecure inner self was crumpled in a ball hiding in this moment and I slowly opened one eye as I lifted my head to feel this acknowledgement flood in. I could sense that this was a moment of initiation. I was being invited into a new phase of bravery, the vulnerable and terrifying practice of unapologetically claiming my voice. Sally helped me to see that there was a more powerful, resonant depth that I wanted to tap into inside myself and synthesize into genuine, honest expression, verbally, physically, and energetically.
That was five years ago. I have taught hundreds of yoga classes, and dozens of expressive arts and somatic learning workshops, AND I am still deep in the scary challenging place of finding my voice. GULP, I continue to recognize this is a life long cyclical growth process. Sally Atkin’s poem. “Tell Me, She Said” is a grounding poem that has helped me over the years in opening to my own inner magic and serves as a reminder that there is ALWAYS a song singing itself through me and it is always worthy of being shared and heard.
Tell Me, She Said
By Sally Atkins
Tell me, she said:
What is the story you are telling?
What wild song is singing itself through you?
In the silence between there is music;
In the spaces between there is story.
It is the song you are living now,
It is the story of the place where you are.
It contains the shapes of these old mountains,
The green of the rhododendron leaves.
It is happening right now in your breath,
In your heart beat still
Drumming the deeper rhythm
Beneath your cracking words.
It matters what you did this morning
And last Saturday night
And last year,
Not because you are important
But because you are in it
And it is still moving.
We are all in this story together.
In the silence between there is music;
In the spaces between there is story.
We are listening each other into being.
Sally’s poem encourages me to listen deeply in the quiet moments and take more sacred pauses throughout the day as well as pushing my edges with sharing my voice. I recently attended an illuminating and edge-pushing poetry-as-medicine day retreat with Mary Ellen Lough - honoring the winter solstice. Through simple writing exercises, vivid guided imagining, and sharing within the group, we dove into the waters of our inner being to explore our multifaceted relationship with Light and Dark. My associations with light and dark initially appeared oppositional, but as I continued to sit with my associations, light and dark began to mingle and weave together as a puzzle would, revealing a larger scale perspective. My associations with light and dark became inseparable from one another, dancing and swirling just as shadow and light require each other to exist. The vast chasm I had imagined between joy and pain, loneliness and togetherness, laughing and crying, birth and death began to close and I realized that much of the suffering and fear I endure on a daily basis is the painful and exhausting side effect of maintaining BLACK and WHITE, GOOD or BAD, ALL or NOTHING thinking. What a revelation!
in and out
in and out of togetherness
I forget while I’m in it
IS an interactive dance.
And there is a togetherness
even when I feel the most
empty, alone, afraid.
The practice of embracing solitude as a very special relationship with self and with my environment has opened a doorway for me to allow my heart to relax into itself, to feel my tissues soften around my bones, and to feel my breath as a dear, supportive companion that is always with me. This does not mean that I don’t experience anxiety, loneliness, worry, discomfort and restlessness. I am learning to acknowledge edgy discomfort as an invitation to look deeper inside and offer a listening ear to the inner parts of me that want to be held, acknowledged, and nurtured. My therapist refers to these moments as VITAL NURTURING moments. It requires me to recruit my, wise, Inner Witness Self to step in and hold space for whatever feelings are present. The Inner Witness self does not categorize, judge or label feelings and thoughts as good or bad, right or wrong. This gives space for my feelings, thoughts, and sensations to exist. I anticipate and hope that this will be a practice I engage in for my entire life. I am realizing that there is no end goal I am trying to reach. Right now, my growth edge is calling me to write and put my words and thoughts into a public forum. Putting my voice out there in an honest, unfiltered way feels uncomfortable, nerve wracking and downright scary. So here I am, letting these words out onto the page while I practice offering a supportive inner voice to the parts of me that feel threatened, insecure and judgmental.
Pablo Neruda’s poem is also a staple that I keep in a visible, place that I can revisit again and again as I continue to bump and fumble along this journey of discovering and sharing my voice.
By Pablo Neruda
And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.
I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.
And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.
I have the honor of co-leading a Spring Equinox Day Retreat with Mary Ellen Lough on Saturday, March 23rd from 12:30pm-6:30pm to honor and create a sacred ritual between Winter and Spring and the natural movements of the body and heart. As a group, we will navigate transition, find balance, metabolize the lessons of the past and welcome the unfolding to come. To honor ones threshold is at once to nourish, to cleanse, and to hold. To simultaneously root deeply and extend towards the sun through movement, somatics, active imagining, poetry, yoga, expressive arts and creative writing.
What is Somatic Learning? I get this question a lot. Somatic Learning is the practice of embodied mindfulness and offers tools for engaging in a friendly and reverent relationship with the intelligence your body.
The word somatic is derived from the Greek word Somatikos: Of the body.
“Somatic Learning provides a discipline for a new participation in life. It is a practice for awakening to who we are by receiving the gift of our embodiment - not what we mistake for our “body” as “object”, but as the embodiment of spaciousness in the actual blooming of life, in the here and now.” Risa Kaparo
I remember the first time I read this quote from Risa Kaparo ten years ago, something in me lit up with curiosity and interest AND I also felt a lot of resistance and fear. I could feel my body saying “YES” through the tingling sensation in my arms, legs and fluttering heart. I felt the fear and resistance as a queasiness in my stomach and a voice in my head saying, “What does that even mean? Embodiment of spaciousness in the blooming of life???!” Even though my mind was pounding me with skepticism, I decided to take a risk and follow the YES I was also experiencing. I read on, and became intrigued by the shift from Old Paradigm to New Paradigm Approach to embodiment that Kaparo was proposing.
“Old Paradigm: … Most of our of our programming arises from collective beliefs of what we might call consensual reality (what we agree within a given paradigm to accept as “real”). Here are a few of the beliefs of the prevailing old paradigm that may still be unconsciously informing our mind/body relationship.
We function as relatively fixed objects.
We are separate from everything else.
Gravity is a force that needs to be overcome by effort.
These beliefs are based on the reductionism, materialism, and determinism of the socially prevailing scientific paradigm arising from Aristotelian thinking and Newtonian physics. However, in the latter half of the twentieth century, scientists and philosophers postulated a new paradigm, articulated in quantum physics and a philosophy of holism.
New Paradigm - These beliefs may be more relevant and empowering than those of the old paradigm.
We function as self-sensing, self-organizing, and self-renewing energy beings.
We are interconnected with all that is.
Gravity provides an opportunity to send and liberate us from our patterns of habitual tension.”
Relating to my body as self-sensing, self-organizing, and self-renewing, rather than as a relatively fixed object was completely revolutionary for me. I had been practicing meditation and mindfulness for a few years but was still unaware of the type of relationship I had with my body. In that moment I realized that I had been relating to my body as a tool that was here to be wielded and forced into action, rather than a highly intelligent organism that is self-sensing, self-organizing, and self-renewing.
As I look back over the last ten years, I see from a birds eye view how I have been slowly Living Into this new way of relating to my body/mind.
Over time, I have cultivated a much more friendly and reverent relationship with my body, honoring its vast intelligence and wisdom. Additionally, my relationship with gravity has changed dramatically. Rather than always struggling against gravity or taking it for granted, I am learning to play and experiment with receiving gravity as a gift. As a result, I have become more effortless in breathing and movement. Learning to be in a friendly relationship with gravity is a huge part of my embodied mindfulness practice. It is a daily practice that I can engage with anytime, anywhere and will never stop teaching me new lessons.
One practice that has been very helpful with my experimentation with gravity is “Differentiation”, as taught by Risa Kaparo.
Differentiation: The practice and processes of noticing change or movement.
Risa Kaparo says, “When you differentiate awareness, what you experienced previously as solid and relatively fixed, like “the body” or “the ground”, will now reveal itself as ever-changing, movement within movement… the ground keeps opening itself to you.”
Differentiation Exercise: Set a timer for 3-5 minutes or put on a song you enjoy that is 3-5 minutes long. Begin by standing with your knees slightly bent, shifting your weight more from one foot to the other. Tune into your breath, feeling the texture and temperature and movement of your breath. Feel the weight of gravity pouring down one leg and then the other. Invite your shoulders and arms to dangle heavily. Receive the weight of gravity as a helpful energy that allows you to feel the ground beneath you and feel your body suspended in space. Notice how everything is changing in each moment. Let your body be moved by an inner curiosity… an inner longing. Feel the ground rising up to meet your body and the air touching your skin as alive with consciousness. Continue this exploration until the timer goes off or the song ends. Afterwards: notice how you feel and how your relationship to the ground, the air and your body feels. Journal about this experience.
I would love to hear about your experience with this practice! Feel free to write in the comments below or send me an email with any questions or reflections you have!
To learn more about Risa Kaparo’s work, check out her book “Awakening Somatic Intelligence”
We will be exploring somatic learning and awakening somatic intelligence at the Spring Equinox Day Retreat coming up on Sat, March 23rd! Click here to sign up. Early Bird Discount is available until March 1st.