Written By: Gabriel Blackburn

Welcome back to Epiphanies of a Trained Dancer Studying SomaYoga. In Part 1 to this series I explained how my training in dance has both created movement pathways, and also prevented movement pathways. Overall I have access to fairly complicated movement. However, some of the created pathways led to deterioration of my body’s structural integrity, while some of the prevented pathways restricted me from accessing the more constructive approach to the movement. This led to structural instability in my knees, resulting in a surgery on my meniscus. It was time to embrace the Beginners Eye.

In Part 1, I primarily discussed my history of ballet education. Let’s take another example. In modern dance, a position used frequently is “parallel,” in which your feet are facing forward, creating parallel lines with each other. I found difficulty finding my parallel position. That being said, I pushed myself to dance in parallel to meet the standard. Similarly to the strain of hyper extension, this position put strain on my knees by forcing them to bend in ways that my joints, ligaments, and muscles did not naturally bend. I felt this strain, but it was small enough for me to ignore it. My feet would often naturally turn out throughout a modern class without my awareness, until a friend or teacher would remind me to fix my position. This undoubtedly added to the instability in my knees resulting in my meniscal tear.

To aid this and similar situations, I can check in with my own body, and find where my legs naturally want to drop from my hips. This is something anyone can empower themselves to find with the use of interoception and the beginner’s mind. This is an important note, because focusing on a foot position inherently cues from distal points, rather than the hips which are proximal. Once I went into higher levels of technique, I was instructed to que proximally, through turn-out or turn-in of the hips. However, since I had been training within a studio since I was 5, I already had years of motor sensory amnesia and verbal cueing built in me to cue distally. This is where somatic reeducation comes in. By reeducating my muscles, allowing access to more movement pathways, I can take agency on my physical obstructions created through sensory motor amnesia. I find this very empowering because many of these obstructions, I had come to believe, were hereditary and irreversible.

Within dance, there is an overall virtuosity surrounding flexibility. This spanned the vast majority, if not all, of the dance techniques I’ve trained in. Across many cultures of dance there is also an underlying tone of competition. Competition is not inherently bad, but it often sees through an exteroceptive lense, focusing on those around oneself. During warmups throughout my life, I found myself stretching further than my limits in attempts to reach the flexibility of those around me. From the learnings of Tomas Hannah, I now realize, this constant push was actually engaging the stretch reflex, creating my muscles to involuntarily contract.

By engaging in a beginner’s mind I see that, up until this point, I’ve viewed stretching, and often movement in general, as moving between two points. Metaphorically, I’ve been approaching movements as a stretch of road, running between the start and end point, fixated on either end as the be-all and end-all. Being open to pandiculation as a new way to hone my body has taken my exploration of movement much smaller and slower. Using the metaphor of a stretch of road, I’ve used pandiculation as a way to walk the road meticulously, memorizing the details of the pathway. In taking this approach, I’ve been astonished at the amount of new understanding and control I am gaining with each practice. I’m still new to this process, I now know enough to know how truely little I know. Much like a real road, the details might change day to day. This in itself is a huge shift in understanding of my body, that it does not operate identically day-to-day. Though there is a virtuosity in flexibility in the discipline of yoga, it employs an introspective lens, checking in with where the Self is at. Join me in the next Epiphanies of a Trained Dancer Studying SomaYoga to hear how I started to integrate SomaYoga directly into my dance and expression.