For many Thanksgiving dinners while I was growing up, we passed a chalice of wine around the table and before taking a sip, had to say what we were thankful for. Of course we would respond with the usual “family, food, friends” ; but this year I would like to express my gratitude for something different.
I’m thankful for dance, yoga and the ability to be physically active. It is therapy for me. The first week of my senior year in high school, my brother Joe died suddenly. Each surviving member of my family, my dad, mom, two brothers and I were awakened just after midnight and told the shocking news. In hindsight, only now do I begin to understand how profoundly changed I was in that moment.
One week later, I had a glimpse when one of my teachers handed back a homework assignment I had completed only hours before I found out Joe died. Staring at the assignment, I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. I realized the person I was before Joey died was gone; nothing about me was the same but I couldn’t put my finger on how I had changed. For several years I struggled to concentrate on schoolwork, reading, and physically passive tasks. What this experience put in motion for me was a deep commitment to spending most of my time in my body. What I was able to do well was dance. From the momentum of a strong academic background, I made it through my senior year; but by the time I started college, a year later, studying seemed impossible.
Heartbroken and in shock, the only time I felt good was while I was dancing. So, after a semester as a nursing major, I changed my major to dance. For several hours each day, my body felt strong and healthy. I could connect to myself without having to acknowledge how sad I was. Physically exhausted, I slept well and I received constant and appropriate attention from teachers in the form of constructive criticism during dance class which kept me present and mindful of what I was doing each moment.
Consequently, when grief would wash over me like a massive wave that knocked me down and left me gasping for air, I could recover. Occasionally, waking up in the morning was the worst part of grieving. Upon waking, my mind would be consumed with a dream I had. In my dreams Joey was alive so there would be that moment of happiness quickly replaced with the dread of realizing, again, that he was gone. I was able to get out of bed because I had somewhere to go where, at least physically, I felt good.
At the time, I had no idea that what I was doing through physical exercise was rebalancing stress hormones and raising endorphins and that there are provable scientific reasons I felt better. I was just doing what helped me survive. For this, I am so thankful for my career teaching dance and yoga. Each class I am helping my students be present and heal their bodies, hearts, and minds while providing them with tools to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually healthy. Just like every aging dancer, I have reached a time when dancing the way I did as a 20 or 30 year old isn’t possible or even safe. As a result, I practice yoga. My practice helps me manage and care for old physical wounds, but it also isn’t lost on me that my favorite yoga poses are heart opening postures. The healing of my heart is what led me to it and I am forever grateful.
P.S. Yoga is accesible to everyone!! See photos for some of my favorite heart opening postures!! Message me if you need help with your practice!