We said goodbye as if it were the end of school: email addresses exchanged, and the vague promise, most likely not kept, to see each other again.
J, who exudes altruism from every pore, brought gift bags for each and one of us. P, who professes not to cook, tried to keep us healthy with a kale salad, a mission I destroyed with my sinful cake. Both joy and sadness filled our pockets.
For the last twelve weeks, every Wednesday morning, I sat in a circle with five other incredible women and one caring and generous man – our instructor – as part of a study on mindful movement and breast cancer (I am not at liberty to reveal the parameters at this point, while the study is still ongoing).
We talked a bit but not much – it was not about sharing experiences, it was about moving our bodies in, well, a mindful manner.
I remember the first day, all of us a bit tentative, terribly self-conscious. And I looked at the same faces yesterday, a little bit more radiant, and our bodies dancing as if it were 1999.
Mindful movement work is not new. In fact, it has been around for decades and, if I can sum it up in a few words, it’s all about paying attention. Paying attention to what our body is telling us so that maybe we can shift whatever emotional issue might come up by just moving. Unlike meditation, you are invited to move, whether it is micro movement, or rolling around on the floor, dancing or stretching: there is no right or wrong, other than listening to what our body feels it needs at any given time.
It is that simple and, yet, no other work I have ever done has put me inside my body like this work. Now, I am more aware of the tension creeping up in my shoulders and neck – so I will take a time out to let it go. By noticing how my muscles clench or relax while I run, and shifting what is not working, I am able to run with more ease. But the more revelatory side of this work has been my interaction with others: instead of reacting, I respond, often in a manner that is unexpected but definitely more connected.
It might not be coincidental that everyone who sees me tells me that I look really good. A friend I hand’t seen in a while asked me if I had some Botox injected. Fat chance of that. I am just more in my body, more relaxed in my movements and expression. I am not holding on, not even to myself. It’s probably also not coincidental that I am seeing shifts in life, decisions coming about, ideas rushing in. I am still afraid disaster could be just around the corner, but much less so. I gave up some of the tight control I constantly tried to exert on my environment.
We will not know for many months whether what the study set out to prove can be proven. But I know the difference it has made to the five of us, all of us on a slightly different cancer journey, and now I incorporate this work in my daily life. The instructor’s voice, forever drilled in my head, to move our bodies in any manner, in any direction, at whatever pace, that feels good.
The class always ended with some pretty frenetic and convulsive dancing and I think, once self-consciousness gave way to lack of judgement, it was everyone’s favorite part. It made me wonder why I don’t dance more. Some days, especially at the end of the afternoon, when the sun has receded but darkness has not fully revealed itself – my least favorite time of the day – I will put on some Justin Timberlake at mad volume and will dance myself silly.
It never fails to uplift my mood.