Gabrielle Roth

Health is knowing when to start, to stop, to move, to rest, to speak, to listen, to hold on, to let go. It’s knowing a few things and letting your instincts do the rest. It’s eating when you’re hungry, sleeping when you’re tired. It’s respecting the rhythms and rituals of an organic, wholesome life. It’s being connected to yourself, others, and the world. It’s being centered. It’s having a practice that helps you slow down the chaos and stay rooted in what’s real.

Dr. L: The 5Rhythms Ecstatic Dance System you created is sometimes called “American Zen”, why?

GR: The 5Rhythms are a contemporary Zen, Shamanic practice. Zen, in that they are a map to an inner journey for seekers of wisdom and freedom, the wisdom to know who we are and the freedom to get over ourselves. Shamanic, in that they address the Great Divide, the divorce of spirit from flesh that has created the loss of soul, which haunts us. We’ve rendered the soul homeless, it can’t breathe, exist, or move disconnected from the body. The body is the womb of the soul, a begging bowl for spirit, like Aretha when she sings.

In America there are a lot of stressed out, anxious head-trippers, who find it very difficult to sit on all their nervous energy. The 5Rhythms are a moving meditation. Our intent is to become aware of what’s really going on inside ourselves, and to move through it to the place where we can truly inhabit our stillness.

The fastest way to still the mind is to move the body. All the profound spiritual teachings in this world don’t mean anything if they’re not embodied. Feeling totally high and connected to the divine mystery while sitting on a meditation pillow is fine, but how do we put the rubber to the road? As Charlie Parker said, If you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn. So I take refuge in the 5Rhythms practice to keep my horn in tune.

Dr. L: In your classes you focus a lot on the breath, why?

GR: Many of us hold our breath. Breath is a catalyst.  When you let it in, feelings move, thoughts move, muscles move.  With or without our permission, we are being revealed, and we don’t trust that we’re lovable, amazing and fascinating creatures underneath it all.

The body can’t lie, so when we’re thinking one thing, feeling another, and doing a third, it’s very noticeable.  Hiding and denying takes all our energy.  When we’re holding big parts of ourselves back, it’s hard to be loose and natural. And when we’re holding something as big as the breath back, it’s impossible to be free.

There is no dogma in the dance. It will never betray you. All you have to do is dance till there’s nothing left of you but breath. Whatever is going on inside of you–resistance, anger, anxiety, self consciousness–use it as fuel for your dance. Do an angry dance. Do a resistant dance. In other words, it’s all energy, and the nature of energy is movement. A healthy person integrates all their experiences into their flow. A healthy person is bigger than their body. Spirit moves through them unobstructed, and in their presence all you can feel is something whole and holy.

Dr. L: How can women over 35 stay centered in our youth-obsessed culture?

GR: I’ve stayed centered by continually having a place to release all of my sorrows, resentments, fears, failures, whatever I was holding onto, back into the dance. Movement allows me to constantly reinvent myself, and in the process I learn to not only let go, but to let go of letting go. Someday, I might even learn how to let it all be.

There’s no reason to obsess, we all have a teenager inside of us, regardless of whether we’re six or sixty. Think of all the times you’ve met a four-year-old and sensed the elder in them, and know that even more often, friends–even strangers–sense that luscious, juicy teenybopper in you. We’re complex. Think layering. What we miss is the wildness and the freedom that we associate with youth. To keep that part of us alive, we need to give it space to move and breathe. The dance floor is a very safe space for that to happen.

Life is too fascinating to get fixed in any one direction, especially facing backwards when all you can see is your sagging butt.

Dr. L: What are your thoughts on being over 50?

GR: I now have four pairs of glasses. One to see the far distant future, one to see what’s right in front of me, one that allows me to see in both directions at the same time, and one in case the sun is too bright while I try to do any of the above. So I would say that my vision has changed radically over the years. And what is the teaching? The teaching has something to do with letting go of looking and falling deeper into seeing. Looking happens with the eyes, but seeing happens with the entire being. My over-50 eyes rely on my hands and knees and the soles of my feet to support them in their seeing. In other words, as we age, it becomes even more vital to become instinctive and intuitive. The ultimate task for each of us, is to wake up.

And, if we each were to take that task to heart, we might stop destroying the very planet that unquestioningly nurtures our existence. As Gandhi said, “Embody the change you wish to see in the world.” I say, the world is the dance, so get on up and find your groove.

Dr. L: Tell me about your new book, Connections.

GR: Connections is my way of supporting the magical intuitive genius that I see struggling to break through everybody that I meet. It’s a mysterious little book, a collection of strands of wisdom straight from the dance floor, which has always been my laboratory for the investigation into what it means to be a human being. It’s about dancing in the dark, cruising emptiness, and contemplating destiny. Destiny fascinates me. Do we have one? Don’t we have one? What are the threads that tie all your stories together? So this book grew out of a lot of questions. In my world, the body is a Zen dojo, a sacred space for spiritual investigation. At least a billion miles of unexplored wilderness lie between the head and feet of any given person, and Connections is my exploration of this instinctive, intuitive world within us.