The Body Electric

Dancing is more like high-interface action verbs than nouns and subjects. I’m very interested in the electric threshold; dance can be like live voltage, or crossing realms. Sometimes the body is flooded and energized by an excess of impulses, spasms, jerks, shakes, tremors, and responds with quirks and undulations. -Kenneth King

If a dancing body is capable of these responses, these expressions — spasms, jerks, shakes, tremors — then where do these responses go in everyday life? Where do we put that kinetic energy while we sit quietly in front of the computer or clutching our cell phones, thumbing our blackberries and iphones? Do we even breathe when engaged in these activities, never mind allow our body its natural expression?

Part of our successful socialization, or the price of success if you will, is based on the ability to suppress physical, visible, reactions. We freeze our faces (Botox anyone?). We freeze the muscles in our bodies. We do this whether we are excited, disappointed, angry or overwhelmed. But remember, the brain and its extension, the body, are coded for action/re-action. If we can’t flinch, quiver, cry or grimace, what happens to those impulses? Do we take these neural stimuli into hiding? Might it be these inhibited impulses that unexpressed hide out in the neck (spasm), eye (twitch), head (pound), back (grab), stomach (gurgle), intestines (run)?

Instead of releasing, do we repress? Maybe it’s the crazy person, the schizophrenic off his meds on the subway platform who might still embody his own natural reactions, reactions that haven’t been re-pressed. Scary, isn’t it? Or think of the disorder of Tourette’s syndrome, where the nervous system is operating without the appropriate neural brakes or neural inhibitions. (For it is the inhibitory part of the nervous system that allows it to operate smoothly by applying braking mechanisms that allow for smooth, controlled movements.)

Paradoxically, one of the beauties of meditation is that it allows us to sit quietly and to be with our own mental and emotional processes. It is why it can be so uncomfortable to meditate. All of the sudden, we give permission, time and space to those thoughts and feelings, the same ones that we try, with decreasing effectiveness, to control, to keep down, to run away from. We give these very thoughts and feeling permission to bubble up, as if from the primordial soup, and they want to be heard. In meditation, we can study this live voltage, this energy that gets trapped in our bodies. We do this by sitting quietly, tuning into the repetitive cycles of the breath.

One appeal of yoga is that we invite ourselves to slow down and to feel the body. We are invited to extend the head on the neck, the neck on the spine, the fingers, hands and wrists, torso, toes and limbs out of habitually tight ranges. By doing this, we give ample time and space for the muscles, thoughts and emotions to unwind. Is it any wonder that we feel calmer, with fewer aches and pains after giving the bodymind its say?

Think. What posture is most typical of Western life? Sitting. We sit in front of the computer, the TV, at our desks, in our cars, on the airplane. We are a nation of sitters!

Many, if not most, of our aches and pains, our illnesses (including diabetes and heart disease) are caused not by overuse of ourselves, our bodies, but by under use. We move too little in quantity and variety. So, let’s get up and move, dance to get the electric body moving, and we will all feel better and be healthier for it.