5Rhythms: the magic of healing, exercise and meditation all rolled into one dynamic, delicious, mysterious practice

This article was first published in the Summer 2018 Edition of Pathways Magazine.

Ten years ago, I walked into a tattered warehouse with three girlfriends for a three-hour Friday night dance called 5Rhythms®.  The building was immense and dark.  Slow, sensuous music filled the space as eighty-some people moved in different ways on the dance floor.  I felt bewildered, a little frozen and...  curious, excited.  Doubts filled my head: “What am I going to do for three hours here?  I don’t know any of these people.  What are they doing anyway?  There’s no bar.  There’s no one standing and watching.  No one talking.  This is just weird.”  I signed myself in and paid at the door while the music continued to play.  The people swayed and moved slowly through the room, as if following some invisible thread only they could see.  The teacher invited them to breathe, feel their body sway, and keep their feet in motion.   Even though my mind felt paralyzed, my body willingly advanced to the floor...  

I had always wanted to dance, not ballet or choreography, but to really “get my groove on.”  As a child, I danced in my room and I danced outside -- never with anyone.  It was a secret, my secret. I longed to dance.  When I was older, I danced in bars but I didn’t like the sticky floor, the feel of men watching me as if I were dancing for them.  I always thought I had some kind of hidden disorder because I wanted so badly to move to music without a man leading me.  Only people who went to bars and were drunk, or maybe wanted to be picked up, danced so freely.  Dancing by myself, this uninhibited, in the rural Southern town I grew up in just wasn’t permitted.

So, I didn’t allow myself to dance.  I had shut that down.  Until that night in that warehouse.  After forty years of restraining my impulse to move to music in public.  I did as the teacher asked...  I breathed in and out.  I moved my feet.  I slowly began feeling more steady, and I started to realize there wasn’t anything to “do” -- that I could just be in my body and let it move.  The teacher said, “take a partner.”  I was like “What?  With someone who hasn’t asked me to dance? With just anybody?”  But everyone else just turned and started dancing with another person.  I felt some panic bubbling up inside.  At first there was no one there with me, no one picked me as their partner.  Then, as I turned around I noticed a woman had been dancing with me, and I moved with her a bit, but before I could get too cerebral, the teacher said, “Switch, take another partner.”  I did, and then I switched again and again. It all started moving fast, I was dancing with myself, with others, I was encouraged to breath, to feel my body, and to follow how my body wanted to move.

As the music picked up pace, my body was moving so fast my mind couldn’t stop me.  I just kept moving, freeing my body into this open, unrestricted place of being.  I hadn’t experienced this sense of peace before.  I knew I ached to dance, but I didn’t know what it could do for me.  It was like a tranquility was circulating through me, taking away all the hurts, all the sorrows from my life and mixing them in with this lavish, lovely, juicy, gyrating, quivering movement.   I was hooked -- to the room of people, to the freedom in my body, to the moments of connection.  No attachment to partners, just my groove, and sharing it, how I wanted to, when I wanted to.  The years of fear and restraint were falling away.  I was feeling me -- the little girl who wanted to dance, and dance, and dance.  

That night, after 3 hours of dancing 5Rhythms, I released more pent up stress, more emotional baggage than I had released in years of talk therapy.  I knew something epic had happened, and I wanted more.  I said to my three friends the next day, “I’m going to become a teacher of this work.”  I didn’t know then that the journey to becoming a 5Rhythms teacher would be a monumental dive into my life story, my family history, and my psychology... and that it would take 6 long years and a lot of traveling.  I didn’t know that it would spiral me deeper than I ever thought possible into the truth of the being that lives in my body. 

The 5Rhythms is a philosophy, a perspective, a way of practicing being in this world, connected to body, to heart and to mind all at the same time.  Gabrielle Roth, who created the 5Rhythms, noticed most of us were walking around as “talking heads” not connected to our heart, our body, or our soul.  She identified a way of moving through the Rhythms as entering a space of being unified, a place of pure presence. 

The 5Rhythms consist of 5 different ways of being in the world: Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness.  Together they form “a wave.”  More than just a framework for dance, the Rhythms describe a natural pattern that can be found in everything from relationships, to jobs, to artistic endeavors, to business ventures, to the course of one day in a life.  Perhaps the easiest way to describe the Rhythms is by analogy to a literal ocean wave.  As a wave approaches the sea shore, it slowly begins to form (flowing), then builds to a sharp well-defined shape (staccato), then breaks (chaos), then rolls toward the shore expanding, frothing and bubbling (lyrical), and finally dissolves completely (stillness) only to return to the sea and start again.  This energy pattern lends itself naturally to movement.

Flowing -  the fluid, continuous, grounded glide of our own movements, the letting in, the drinking in of our own experience; energy gathers.

Staccato -  the percussive, pulsing beat that shapes us a thousand different ways and allows us to let out our true expression; energy builds.

Chaos -  the rhythm of letting go, releasing into the catalytic wildness of our dance that can never be planned or repeated; energy releases.

Lyrical -  the rhythm of trance, of letting go of letting go, where the weight of self-consciousness dissolves, and we lighten up and disappear into our own uniqueness; energy expands.

Stillness -  the quiet emptiness, where gentle movements rise and fall, start and end, in a field of body silence, of never ending space; the rhythm of letting be; energy dissolves

Gabrielle Roth identified this energy pattern while working as a dance instructor with Fritz Perls’ Gestalt clients at Esalen and over the course of years mapped these patterns to the body, emotions, and human life cycle.  She called these maps Waves, Heartbeat, and Cycles, respectively.  These maps provide us with a tool for exploring ourselves -- not just how we move our physical body, but how we move and feel the energy of emotions, and how we move through life -- healing from our childhood, teenage years, or even literally yesterday.  This all happens without a lot of discussion and despair.  Easefully we let go and become whole as we surrender to the dance, to the rhythms on the floor, and the rhythms in our life. 

Practicing the 5Rhythms helps us create a larger container for our lives.  We can hold, be with, and digest more of what life is showing us through our work, our love life, our parenting of children.  We begin to accept the truth of who we are and stop trying to squish ourselves into a shape that is unnatural.  We allow ourselves to dance who we are, not who we think we should be, who our parents think we should be, or even who the culture thinks we should be.  We let ourselves be, let ourselves move through the feelings that arise and fall in relating to this world.  We expand and contract with more ease.  We create, play, and mingle with the energy around us.  We show up, not just on the dance floor but in life, more aware, more response-able, more willing to see our truth and express it.  From here we are more able to see how to help others.  As we heal ourselves, we heal everyone around us.  We become transformers, letting go of victimhood.

As we continue to practice, glimpsing our truth again and again, we realize there is no use in maintaining a false ego.  This seemingly safe facade falls away and we are left bare, free and full of enthusiasm for the life that courses through us.  We are unafraid to become intimate with our life force, which leads to greater intimacy with others.  We learn to move with the truth, so that our words, our feelings and our actions align.  This begins on the dance floor where it is easier for our feelings and physical action to align, but the practice ripples out beyond the dance floor into all aspects of our lives.  The more we practice, the more our words fall into this alignment.  When we speak words that aren’t connected to our feelings and our bodies, we know it. . . our body tells us.  Through the Rhythms we are learning to listen to the wisdom of the body, to hear it, and to trust it more than our ego, our mind, and our stories from the past.  The body willingly drops stories when given the nourishment of the Wave.  There’s a potency of listening that is demonstrated by the body’s movement and breath.  We not only witness our healing, we physically demonstrate it. 

I invite you to join me in this practice and find your truth through your own movement and breath.  I truly believe that every person can benefit from the 5Rhythms.  If you are breathing, if you are moving, you are capable of doing this work.  It’s the practice of being alive, it’s not about being a professional dancer or having a particular body type.  It’s about opening up to your life’s purpose, your creativity, your intuition, your impulses.  Everyone can and needs to unwind their body, they mind . . . this is a powerful way through.   It’s about energy, not about how you look on the dance floor, or how well you can move.  It’s about what you feel, how you heal, and accepting what life has brought you.  All of my classes and workshops are suitable to beginners.  Look me up on the web (AnnKite.com) and join me for a dance.