Most of my experience with church is from a suburban, predominately white, Catholic setting. I know exactly when to sit, stand, then sit again, followed by more standing, the occasional kneeling, and finally more sitting and standing. Remaining quiet, calm, and in control of your body is revered in the church of my youth. Singing or speaking, only on cue, is the appropriate response. If you add any extras, several eyes turn on you, just to make sure you are aware that ‘you’re doing it wrong’.  

When I was a fresh, young teacher, I attended my first funeral in a predominantly black church. I walked in, hugged my student who had just lost her father, and silently made my way to take a seat. There I sat, all buttoned up in the corner. The church was packed with bodies, movement, and abundant noise. The preacher was guiding his congregation and shouting, the members were wailing and shaking with grief, the organ was pounding with the choir belting out hymns. The behavior I was witnessing was acceptable, expected, and dare I say, celebrated by everyone around me. I sat in a silent shock mixed with awe, and a twang of jealousy.

Most Native Peoples and Native Tribes perform ceremonies for different aspects of life, including death. Each ceremony involves a consistent beating of drums, creating a rhythmic movement in the body. This releases stored energy that builds up over time. Human sound is released in conjunction with the movement in the form of chanting, singing, or humming. Any of these sounds tap into the body’s vagus nerve, releasing the parasympathetic nervous system.  When this system is engaged, the body’s blood pressure and heart rate decrease. It becomes more calm and relaxed, with smoother digestion. This is the intuitive wisdom of the body.

The congregation I sat amongst that tragic day showed me what the Natives have been practicing their entire existence: there is a wisdom in the body that rhythmic movement and sound can tap into when we most need it. The people in the church were following this wisdom, probably without even realizing it. As human beings become more civilized, the less in touch we are with the wisdom of our body. Our bodies are viewed as tools used to perform, to please, or to appear a certain way. We train, push, indulge, and starve our bodies. We rarely listen to the sage advice it is constantly offering us.

I’ve grown from being uncomfortable with the feelings in my body, to admiring them and allowing myself to feel them all. I’ve developed a practice to release what my body is holding onto that no longer serves me. Here’s what my practice looks like….

I lock myself in the office (I’d be mortified if anyone were to walk in on me still), I turn on some traditional African or Native American drumming, and I move my body the way it needs to move. Sometimes I dance -I am a highly trained dancer from my youth, including African Dance from college- this typically shows up (and it’s also something that provides excellent entertainment for when I’ve had too much to drink at social gatherings). Othertimes my body rocks, and when this happens all I can do is cry. Like ugly cry, with sounds and snot and mess. I don’t fight this anymore, I let go of the buttoned up girl trying to get it all right. I let everything I have tumble out of me. When it’s done, and I have no more left to offer, my body rests. A gentle calmness washes over me in waves.

Do I feel a little awkward in sharing? Yes.

Do I feel silly practicing it? Yes.

Do I believe my body’s wisdom over my self-conscious ego? Absolutely.

There is power in the ability to release.

The older I become, the more I want to honor my body’s wisdom.

It is the only home to Who I Am. 

What are you waiting for? Go ahead, lock the door and let the drumming begin….. call me if you need any guidance……

“There is more wisdom in your body than in your deepest philosophy.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

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