How to Dance Through Pain: More Lessons from Pema Chödrön – 070
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Many of us dancers cycle through sad spells of pain where we don’t dance, and then we heal and get back into and achieve more victories, and then another injury surfaces. This is a pretty familiar cycle for humans, especially those who love to move and continue to challenge ourselves and grow as dancers.
The intention of this episode is to shorten the sad spells of pain, and elongate our experience of comfort and joy. Sounds good right?
Before I dive into Pema Chödrön’s teachings on pain how it can actually connect us to our fellow humans, I have an invitation for you as well as something to celebrate.
And even Oprah will tell you, Pema is one of the most wise, compassionate, and connected humans on our planet. In this episode, you will feel her.
Kaeshi Chai is coming. That’s right. Kaeshi of Belly Dance Superstars, Bellyqueen belly dance school, and Djam NYC, which is a live music and dance show running for more than 10 years now which features belly dancers and the music we love. It was once a weekly show, and now it is monthly. So if you are planning a trip to NYC, look up Djam so you can also catch a fun belly dance show!
Kaeshi Chai is an artist who makes things happen, and she is coming to Ithaca New York to put on an amazing show. If you are driving distance from New York and it is before July 8 2022, come!
In Ithaca there will be workshops with Jill Parker and Kaeshi and a performer we’re calling “Nature Dancer” who is an award winning street dancer and martial artist and teaches people how to dance in nature. I’m going to set him up in a magical space in the gorge in Ithaca, and I believe we are going to dance right into the water in the workshop Nature Dancer teaches. Sounds pretty life changing to me!
So come to Ithaca Thursday July 7, take a workshop, go hiking and rejuvenate, and on Friday July 8 enjoy the show with Beatbox Guitar. This band is also ridiculously talented, and they often perform with belly dancers. You might remember beatboxer in the band Djinn, that is the same beatboxer in Beatbox Guitar. You can find music from both of these bands online, and they are both tons of fun to dance to.
I think there will be workshops on Saturday July 9 as well. Our band Taksim Ithaca is opening at the July 8th show! And then in New York City Kaeshi will host another Djam event on Sunday July 10. All of these events will be fantastic, because that is what Kaeshi does. She brings talented musicians and fabulous dancers and appreciative audiences together and gives the gift of art wherever she goes. Very exciting!
And I just performed at a festival with Jill Parker and Anya of Pittsburgh’s Hamer sisters as well as a very gifted dancer in Ithaca named Ellen George. It was really special.
This is something I would like to celebrate: I honored my own mind’s design and nailed Jill Parker’s choreography so it looked and felt good to perform a group piece. Yes!!! I do mostly solo improv to live music, so this was a victory for me.
Develop Your Own Method of Learning Choreography
Do you have a system for remembering choreography? Some dancers seem to just naturally remember what to do next. Not me!
I have to write it all down with words that help me remember the movements, print it out, and carry it in my pocket so I can run through it whenever I can. When I’m walking, and each morning before the kids wake up. When I got stuck, I looked at the notes and fixed the hole. That’s how I learn. It’s so valuable to clearly see how we learn, right?
1 option: Write chore in your own words and carry it with you
I watched videos of Jill doing the choreo for like 4 hours, pausing, restarting, slowing it down and writing down each part in my own words. Jill also taught it to me and I physically danced, and that was super helpful. I know that I also need additional time sitting and writing to concretize it. Like sketching it out.
Another option: Watch video of the choreo on repeat for hours
It also helps immensely that Jill is such a clear teacher and brilliant choreographer. That’s for sure.
I also put in the time and honored my own learning process, and it was really fun not to struggle to remember the choreo while performing.
I haven’t performed choreo with other dancers in years. It felt so good! And I sang with our band, and really poured my heart into our live music performance as well. It really feels like Covid is loosening it’s grip that has restricted our movement for years now, and I am so grateful.
Dancing Through Pain
Ok. So this is an episode about dancing through our pain.
I am writing this on the eve of the day that I sprained my ankle. Again. It’s the sixth time. I actually started belly dancing because I used to be a distance runner, and I sprained my ankle so many times running in the woods and after that just walking that I decided to start dancing instead.
I think the last time I sprained my ankle was in India right before a 10 day Vipassana meditation retreat. That was pretty lucky, because my whole plan for the future at that point was to sit on my butt meditating. My ankle appreciated that. I was in my 20s.
I’m 41 now, and I honestly had been saying that spraining my ankle was a thing of the past for me. So I stopped doing the fantastic balancing practice of standing on one foot every time I brush my teeth. That was really helpful back when I was doing it every time I brushed my teeth but I became inconsistent with it.
And this morning before the kids woke up I came down off of a step onto a flip flop on the floor and turned my ankle.
At first I was repeating “Please no. God please no”. Resisting what had just happened. I usually walk my 5 year old to kindergarten up hill with my almost 3 year old in a carrier on my back. We live at the top of a 3 story staircase. I go up on tall ladders, carry furniture around, cook a lot, dance. I’m a very active person.
Resisting the Pain Creates More Suffering
So dread set in first. The interesting part is that it didn’t stay for long. I did not dive into my own suffering or blame like I have in the past.
This experience helped me realize that I have grown from being a student of Pema Chodron and Thich Naht Hahn.
Soften to the Pain
I started with resistance repeating “Please no. God please, no” and in a minute or too I softed into repeating, “I will take care of you ankle. I will take care of you. I have something to learn here that will make me even stronger.” I shifted from resisting what I could not change in my body into softening to it. Befriending it. This is a big deal.
Become Friends with Your Pain
I am hoping that you are pain-free right now, and you can listen to this podcast and soak it in for the times in the future when pain will again be present. And maybe you can share this podcast with a friend who is in pain now.
There is a treasure in here for you. Something that will relieve your suffering. Please perk up and listen for it. Even write it down so it stays with you. It’s coming.
The Teachings of Pema Chödrön
A couple weeks ago I went to the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s last public discourse at Omega, just outside of New York City. And there I decided that I was going to record a podcast for all of you lovely dancers that would relieve your pain.
At that time, I was pain free. I was thinking more about my husband’s chronic knee pain and the pain I’ve seen other dancers move through. I didn’t realize that this podcast was going to also be more immediate medicine for me as well.
Back in episode 50 I recorded Dance Lessons Learned from Pema Chodron. If you haven’t listened to that one, please do. It’s actually one of the most listened to episodes of this podcast, even though Pema is not a dancer!
I’ve actually listened to that Pema podcast many times after releasing it because it is so healing. Those were lessons I learned from an online retreat with Pema, which was quite frankly mind-blowing. It’s really wonderful to find that even online we can be transformed and expanded by events like this. You might be able to still purchase the May 2022 Pema retreat recording on the Omega Institute website.
On the Pema Chodron Foundation website archive many of Pema’s talks can be downloaded for free. And she has written so many incredible books. So Pema’s direct teachings are very available to you!
Say Something that Opens Your Heart
Back in episode 50 of this podcast, I shared Pema’s teachings on softening, saying things to others that open our own hearts, freeing ourselves and others from fear.
These are all parts of our dance life too. Dance is woven into so much of our lives. Not just rehearsals and performances. Dance influences how we see the world.
It can all be a dance. Swerving a cart through the grocery store. Hammering a nail. Hitting frame drum. Switching a child from one hip to the other.
What makes it dance is how we see it. How present we are with our own movement and the beauty in and around us at all times.
I was not present when I stepped on that flip flop this morning, and now my ankle is a swollen little blob of ouch. Again I am reminded to return to my breath. To spend more time in my body in the present moment.
3 Steps to Stop Suffering from Pain
So being there in person learning with Pema was so powerful. And she gave me many more gifts that I am now honored to offer to you. 3 steps for freeing yourself.
#1. Forgive Yourself for Getting Hurt
When we are in pain, we often have less self-esteem. That’s putting it nicely. We treat ourselves like shit. We say things to ourselves that we would never say to other people because it we know it is unkind and damaging.
What unkind things are you saying in your head?
I’m not good enough. I can’t believe I did that. What a stupid move. I’m getting old. My body is just going to keep falling apart. This pain will keep getting worse, and there’s nothing I can do. Why can’t I just be healthy and strong? Why do I keep getting hurt? Now I’m going to gain weight and it will ruin everything I’ve worked for. Fifi Abdou started dancing in the 1960s and she’s still dancing. What the hell is wrong with me? It’s my genetics. It’s my upbringing. It’s my diet. I’m broken. I’m weak. How am I going to work like this? How am I going to dance like this? Why is this happening to me? What did I do wrong?
Ask better questions
I’m a big fan of asking better questions. I can’t remember who said this. Maybe it was Tony Robbins. If we ask shitty questions, we get shitty answers.
So what question can I ask that open my heart? What questions can I ask that will bring healing rather than hardship?
Show loving kindness to your body
How can I show my ankle how much I love it? What does my ankle need to heal? How can I use this time to show my whole body how much I appreciate it? So many parts of my body work with ease right now. My mind, my breath, my skin, my upper body.
When I stopped panicking, softness returned. I gently massaged my ankle with ointment. I drank water and breathed deeply. I wrapped it in a soft towel and ice pack.
I’ve been here before, and each time I’ve gained insight on how my body works and what it needs.
Breath in the guilt for not being able to figure this out yet. Breath out, and try to soften to that.
Become even more aware of what might have caused the injury
My mother in law asked if I had just started doing something new. I actually was doing some new pretty intense hamstring stretches and modifying the orientation of my slightly out-turned foot. Going forward, I’m going to focus on strengthening my ankles along with any other new things I’m trying with my legs and feet. It will all go tougher.
There’s no need to carry around smelly baggage to stink up your whole life. We can let it go and forgive.
Apologize to your body
I have apologized to my ankle. I have touched gratitude. I’ve made a new promise. Now for part 2.
#2. Kiss the Pain
Befriend the pain. Soften to it. Cry. Speak to it. Move closer. Get curious. Just like you would a help a child who gets stung by a bee. We can be this kind and caring to ourselves as well. We can comfort ourselves as if we are children.
#3. Turn the Poison into Medicine
How can I send healing and forgiveness to others in pain right now?
Connect with others who are suffering just like me. Just like me. Pema likes to say that. She talks about being stuck in traffic and rather than getting angry, she looks in other people’s car windows. She sees them. Instead of stewing in her own misery, she connects. She says “Just like me. They are in this traffic jam too. Just like me.”
Just Like Me. They are Just Like Me
I could focus on myself. My disappointment. My pain. My frustration at this obstacle. I can start there, because that is suffering that is super relevant to me. And I can breath in.
Connect with Others Who Feel Just Like Me Right Now
So many other beings are feeling pain right now. Humans, birds, insects, dogs. So many other beings are feeling pain now just like me. I breath that in. We are so connected when we give our own suffering some space. When we realize that it’s actually impossible to truly be alone. It may feel like we’re alone sometimes, but we are always having a shared experience with other beings at the same moment.
So I start with breathing in my own suffering. Any angle of it. Any feeling or texture or color or words attached to it. It’s suffering. Pain is temporary and suffering is optional.
Breath in Your Suffering
So I breath in my own suffering. It can be like a lightening bolt or it can be soft air. It can be whatever you need.
And as I breath out, I give the suffering what it needs. Whatever it is calling for.
I do that for a few minutes. If the pain is not too great, I can actually invite in the suffering of others. That’s right. I can invite in the suffering of others who are experiencing what I am experiencing right now. I can breathe it in.
Breath Out, and Give Your Suffering Whatever it Needs
And as I breath out, I can give all of our suffering whatever it needs. Whatever it calls for. Right now, the suffering I breath is being transformed into an out-breath of these words. Calming my own body, and calming yours. Breathing in our resistance, stress, disappointment, shame at getting hurt or being sick, and breathing out space. Giving it all space. No need to hold it in. No need to run or hide. Just breath it in, and release it with your outbreath giving it an abundance of space.
Melodia had 2 hip replacements.
Danielle Hutton has Crohn’s Disease.
Maelle had cancer.
Kaeshi Chai broke a bone and danced to the song Bone Dance.
Iana talked about an Uzbek folk dance with the dancer dancing as if they had broken their arms and legs falling out of a cherry tree. “Yeah, I have broken arms and broken limbs. But I still dance. And I’m still playful.”
Pain is temporary. Suffering is optional. – Maybe said by Sai Maa?