The Freedom to Float

A few days ago, in the midst of a morning meditation with friends J & N, this vision appeared to me like a dream: On choppy grey seas, I was afloat on a square raft, a white sheet strapped across my body, tethering me to the base. Oddly, I was actually lying in the middle of this raft (boat), aboard a raised circular platform that was constructed almost entirely of ball bearings. So, instead of jerking around violently in the wind and waves, the base managed to keep me relatively untouched, only swaying and shifting lightly in the midst of the chaos surrounding me. Mostly, I remained still and relaxed. Equanimous.

Perhaps that vision was also a premonition. IMG_1886

The following morning, and for the past two days, yours truly – the healing pilgrim – became a healing dancer… in, on and under water. I took an introductory course to an aquatic bodywork practice called Healing Dance… and took to it like a fish in water.

Now I don’t want to stop.

Healing Dance is a relatively new practice, an offshoot of Watsu – which was birthed in the 1980s at Harbin Hot Springs in California, when a group of body-workers began to experiment with their practices in a warm water pool. Harold Dull created a new practice when transposed Shiatsu massage into the water and… voila, WATSU!

In the 1990’s, Alexander George, a Watsu practitioner and former dancer (and choreographer), began experimenting further, incorporating elements of WaterDance and eventually creating an offshoot that he named Healing Dance. In conjunction with other collaborators, George has continued to expand and refine the practice.

And yet, Healing Dance is much more than a water-based modality; it diverges from Watsu because the focus leans more towards to movement mingled with stillness – rather than on massage, where pressure is applied to meridian points. Underlying this newer practice is an implicit belief in (and understanding of) the healing power of movement. “Movement as medicine.” “Dosed carefully.”

I first heard of IMG_1877Watsu nearly two decades ago, when my sister enrolled in a course and wanted to practice and share its gifts. OJ asked me to be her guinea pig and, without missing a beat, I volunteered. Never mind that it was a six-hour drive to where she lived at the time. I’d get off the highway, meet her at the pool and go limp in her arms. Ahhh…

But Bali is where I first heard of Healing Dance, and my curiosity was piqued almost immediately. Michael Hallock, a longtime practitioner based in Bali, took time off this week from his busy practice and travel schedule to teach and share his stories and experiences with a small group of us at the Taksu spa in Ubud.

Ideally, Healing Dance is carried out in warm water. And, thanks to the Balinese gods and ancestors now in residence (en masse, they descend from the heavens to the island due to the advent of Galungan), we were blessed to spend the two days in a sultry 35° salt-water pool practically custom-made for our half-submerged figure-eights – thank you (also for coconuts and hot ginger), Taksu!IMG_1878

In a typical session, the ‘giver’ (aka practitioner/therapist) floats the ‘receiver’ using flotation straps that are wrapped around the receiver’s calves, and around the thighs as well if more flotation is needed on the lower extremities. And then the floating begins. The body is surrounded and embraced by the water; it is free to move, to fall limp, to relax. Time and space collapse, and as the receiver’s ears sink underwater, her senses are both heightened and neutralized.

As a receiver, your body is first transitioned – slowly and mindfully – from a vertical to horizontal position in the water. Then, there is stillness. For the rest of the practice you are supported, cradled, move, twisted and danced through the water. With more bits of stillness interspersed throughout. If you can yield your body to the water and to tIMG_1887he giver, if you can release expectations and just be, then magic happens.

Openness. Intuition. Smoothness. Fluidity. Vulnerability. Comfort. Intimacy. Catharsis. So many words come to mind. Chaos. Movement. Shifting from one to the other and then back to stillness.

And breathing.  It’s about letting go and listening to, watching for the breath. Synchronizing the breath between giver and receiver. Connecting with the receiver through the breath.

Healing Dance is a relaxing and therapeutic practice, but there is a humorous component that isn’t lost on me; the terms given to some of the positions and movements are hilarious: Horse stance (derived from Tai Chi), Carmen Miranda (like I said… we danced!), Godzilla and Geisha steps, Humus Dip (invented, not surprisingly, by an Israeli practitioner), and Hallelujah!

Movement. Hallelujah indeed.

In water. On land.

First a labyrinth. Now this.

Music to my ears.

Lead the way.

Float it forward.

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