“Any questions about the fight or flight response or our Soft Belly meditation?” I inquire, scanning the room. At the back, a tall, thin man with a round face raises his hand. He tells the group that three months ago his sister and her two children were killed in a grisly car accident, caused by a drunken truck driver. He says that he cannot shake the bloody images of their bodies in the mangled car wreck. He now suffers from insomnia and anxiety. Grateful for his trust, I express my sincere condolences for his unimaginable loss. “I’m truly sorry for your pain, and though I can’t offer a quick fix, I implore you to stay with us throughout the entire workshop.”
My mind halts, overwhelmed by the face of this Sad Man and his profound suffering. Gathering my composure, I take a deep breath to quiet my own shock and sadness, wishing I could do more. And then, slowly but surely, I find my voice again. “I know that many of you carry haunting memories, burdened hearts heavy with grief. Some of you might even feel physically immobilized, unable to act or even feel. These are the aftershocks of trauma.”
“Today, we embark on a journey to shake off the tension of fight or flight, unfreeze our bodies, and melt away the troubles that weigh down our minds. We shall embark on what’s technically known as ‘expressive meditation,’ the ancient practice that our ancestors employed during times of turmoil. They danced, shouted, whirled, and jumped—expressing their feelings and releasing their tensions. Are you ready to join in?”
An enthusiastic sea of hands fills the air, buoyed by the promise of a respite from the mundane in this captivating, troubled tent town.
“In the first part, we shall shake vigorously for approximately six to eight minutes, fueled by lively music. Then, we’ll pause and stand still for a couple of minutes, embracing relaxation and cultivating awareness of our bodies and breath.”
“As the music changes, surrender your body to its rhythm. I won’t say ‘dance’ because that conjures up specific styles like waltz or salsa, and trust me, we don’t want anyone worrying about their dancing skills or choreography. Instead, I encourage you to embrace your own unique dance.”
“Each of us is wonderfully distinct. We have different genes, fingerprints, faces, accents, minds, and preferences. So, if there are fifty of us gathered here, there will be fifty different dances.”
Stepping onto a small stage, I demonstrate the art of shaking, my co-facilitators joining in the lively performance. Skepticism and weariness give way to incredulous looks on the attendees’ faces. A holistic healer, a grown woman, shaking and shimmying? Yet soon enough, laughter fills the air as pretty much everyone begins to sway, bounce, and shake their troubles away. “You’re amazing! This is just practice. We’ll soon start again. Take a minute to relax.”
A burst of fast, rhythmic music engulfs the room. “Shake from your feet up through your knees, hips, and shoulders, all the way to your chest. Surrender to the shaking, allowing your shoulders to let go of their burdensome tension.”
People of all ages join in, some moving like jackhammers, others gathering in joyful clusters, bobbing up and down. Even the children shake their arms and legs, as if summoning a downpour of rain.
“Let your head go as you shake. Allow your jaw to hang open. We all carry tension there. If sounds emerge from your mouth, let them flow freely.” Shouts, howls, and even high-pitched screams reverberate through the tent. “If you feel silly, bored, or tired—keep going. Let the shaking permeate your entire being. Fantastic! Keep it up!”
With fervor, I shake as hard as I can, my head whipping from side to side, joining in the exuberant rhythm. Laughter fills the air as I encourage and revel in this newfound camaraderie.
As the clock ticks, just as everyone is on the brink of exhaustion, I announce, “Three minutes left.” Groans escape from scattered corners. “If you feel tired or bored, push yourself. Keep going, keep going. Faster! That’s it! Two minutes.” My countdown commences. “Keep going. Magnificent! One minute. Give it your all! Thirty seconds. Stop.” The music abruptly halts, and so do the vibrant shakers.
“Now, in the hush that follows, pay attention to your breathing. Relax. Cultivate awareness of your body and your breath.” Together, our collective breath rises like steam, reaching towards the tent’s lofty roof.
After a few minutes of serene silence, I signal the resumption of the music, inviting it to guide our movements. Dramatic chords surprise us, and then the spirited voice of Jimmy Cliff fills the air with an insistent, upbeat anthem, “You Can Get It If You Really Want.”
Elderly individuals sway in place, while the younger ones kick their legs and flail their arms. Some open their eyes and find partners, men gravitating towards men and women forming circles of exuberance. Children spin and twirl, lost in their own uninhibited delight.
The song eventually concludes, but some individuals continue to dance, be it alone or in the traditional lines formed for line dancing. Laughter, animated conversations, and the slapping of backs fill the space. The once-drowsy souls are wide awake, their eyes shining brightly. Appreciation fills the air, mingling with an inquisitive energy. “Finally, I’m relaxed! I can feel my body again!” exclaims a young woman. “What’s the best time of day to do this?” asks another. “Can I teach it to my grandmother?” queries a third.
“Do it in the morning or whenever tension seizes you. And yes, it’s absolutely suitable for your grandmother too.”
As the crowd gradually disperses, eager to discuss their experiences and seek further guidance, I lend a listening ear, addressing their questions and offering insights.
In the midst of the ebbing crowd, I notice the Man of Sorrow, sitting quietly, separated from the bustling conversations. He requests a picture with me, and so we sit side by side, our arms draped over each other’s shoulders. Curious about his motivation, I inquire why he desired the photo. His response touches my heart, “For a few brief moments, during the shaking and dancing, those haunting images and thoughts vanished from my mind. After three months of darkness, I finally sense the flickering flame of life rekindling. I believe life will be good again.”
And in that moment, I grasp the profound power of this therapeutic dance intertwined with laughter—a captivating journey that unlocks resilience, fosters connection, and reignites the spark within.