Movement As Prayer
by Paul Corcoran
To sweat is to pray, to make an offering of your innermost self. Sweat is holy water, prayer beads, pearls of liquid that release your past. Sweat is an ancient and universal form of self-healing, whether done in the gym, the sauna or the sweat lodge. I do it on the dance floor. The more you dance, the more you sweat. The more you sweat, the more you pray. The more you pray, the closer you come to ecstasy. - Gabrielle Roth
The 5Rhythms as a practice was created and described and taught by Gabrielle Roth from the mid-1980s onwards. The book that introduced me to her work was Sweat Your Prayers. They describe five essential landscapes of movement known as rhythms in the work. Those rhythms are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness. Performed in sequence they are called a Wave. Waves are beautiful metaphors. They arise from the deep, pulled by wind and tide. They are distinct yet part of a whole; short-lived yet eternal.
The rhythms are wonderfully compatible with a druidic view of the world. The map of the Wave can be compared with our wheel of the year. Each of the rhythms has an associated element, stage of life, body part, emotion and sound. And, while each element can be explored in its own right, the wave as a practice is deeply transformative and healing.
Druidry introduces the concept of movement as both sacred and healing. I have been practicing 5Rhythms as part of my personal path for several years. In this essay I will describe each of the rhythms in turn and offer a method for using the wave as a part of our druidic practice. Movement is a wonderful way to bring us into the present and out of our heads.
The Sequence of the Wave
Every class begins with Body Parts and it is useful to bring this to our work too. For Body Parts focus on moving each of the following parts of the body in turn, exploring their range of movement; how it is today: Feet, Knees, Hips, Belly, Spine, Shoulders, Elbows, Wrists, Hands, Neck, Head. Find ways to combine movements: how do your shoulders move with your knees?
The practice of Flowing, is continuous, round and accepting movement. In the practice of flowing, we seduce ourselves into movement. To do this follow the in-breath. All the arms to gently rise and fall with the breath. Follow the feet. In flowing there is no separation between anything. One movement leads to another. In classes, the music is generally very rhythmic including soft vocals.
In Staccato, the dancer follows the out-breath. Each movement is distinct and angular. There are stops and starts. Movements are repetitive and strong. The movement arises in the hips. In Staccato we establish borders and boundaries. Whereas in Flowing we melted around and between our fellow dancers, in Staccato we copy, mimic, and react. The music used to support it in classes is very percussive with strong 4/4 beats.
Chaos is the rhythm of surrender. In a class, Chaos is usually taught to a strong repetitive beat. To practice, we shift our weight from one foot to the other in time to the music and release every part of the body in turn. Chaos music can be anything but generally loud dance music with a strong beat helps to move the dancers into surrender. In chaos we surrender by shaking out the body. We dance wild. Chaos is pure trance and pure ecstasy. There are tears and shouts and blissful release.
In Lyrical we let go of surrendering and move in total freedom. All is possible in lyrical. The body part we follow is the fingers. Lyrical is the place of creative expression. Lyrical music is joyous and playful.
The final rhythm is Stillness. In Stillness we slow right down and focus on the space within and without us. We breath into emptiness. The shapes we form and hold arise, from within to be held and witnessed before dissolving once more. The music used for Stillness can be meditative music or that with poignant vocals.
The Druidic Wave
The Dance as Prayer
It is conventional in the 5Rhythms world to treat the practice of the wave as a holy and sacred thing. We offer ourselves to the dance, to be transformed by the alchemy of it. The wave can be seen as the waters of the cauldron of Ceridwen.
In the parlance of Gabrielle Roth, when we dance we literally sweat our prayers. Often in ritual druidry it is possible to be seduced by words. Words make wonderful poetry and prose, tale and ceremony. While they can point us to the mystery, they can often distract us from it. In movement there is nowhere to hide. Our bodies cannot lie.
When we dance, we can use our words to offer the dance up for a particular healing or to honour the spirit of a god or a place. All is possible.
I like to start my dances by honouring the spirit of the place I move in. Sometimes I honour the Great Goddess in the wind and the rain, in my flesh and the ground. I call upon the Lord of the Dance to move me, to take my body and dance for Life.
In druidry we like our maps and our associations. We map every part of creation onto our sacred circles: the wheel of the year, the elements, the life cycle, the centre and circumference. In the model of the 5Rhythms each of the elements has an associated elemental and archetypal energy.
The Rhythms and Associations
Flowing - Earth - Fear - Youth - Feminine Archetypes
Staccato - Fire - Anger - Teens - Masculine Archetypes
Chaos - Water - Sadness - Twenties/Thirties - Combined Masculine and Feminine
Lyrical - Air - Joy - Maturity - Artist
Stillness - Spirit - Compassion - Old Age - Sage
The Wave is a ritual and a meditation. It has a sequence and a reverence to it. For the druid, practicing the wave or exploring any of the rhythms, including prayer and invocation during every part of the ritual is a natural and easy thing to do.
O Element of Earth, Spirit of bone and stone, spirit of flowing, be with me now and teach me, move through me in this my dance
Practiced in this way, the Wave can become a shamanic journey through the elements, being taught and transformed by each.
We end the ritual giving thanks for what has been.
It can also be useful, and indeed very interesting, to practice the wave within a circle, dedicating the grove to movement.
The Music of the World
In 5Rhythms classes the teacher uses music to guide and support the dancers. As druids we know that music comes from many sources. We have our own bardic talents to make music and song. The World sings to us in the dance of the rowan branch and the silence of the caves.
When dancing and moving, we can use music and the creativity of modern technology. I am often seen dancing wearing headphones with an iphone in my back pocket. At other times though, movement comes simply from the feel of the sun on my skin.
In my personal druid practice I use movement in a number of different ways.
▪ When outdoors and speaking with a part of the world be it Sun or tree, I include movement with my words. I speak with my body as well as my mouth.
▪ At times if I feel my energy level is low I will go outdoors and dance barefoot on the ground, moving through a full wave or with no thought for what 'rhythm' I'm moving in; simply moving and being moved.
▪ If I have a strong or difficult emotion like anger, I will lock the doors or go outside with headphones and music and dance through a full wave giving movement and voice to my feelings. Often times, strong emotions can become circular thoughts going around and around. When we move with them, amazing things can happen.
Suggestions for Creativity in Movement
• Use movement when praying/invoking
• Bring in the practice of body parts before a ritual. It is a great way to become present to the self and the body.
• Use movement as an offering in itself
• Include movement and gesture when calling/thanking the quarters
• Listen to Eternal Wave CD (see further reading) and dance the Wave as a whole
• Attend a 5Rhythms class
• Dance to the sound of the wind in the trees or the feel of the earth on your feet
• Offer a dance as part your Eisteddfod or as the central rite itself.
Roth, Gabrielle, Sweat Your Prayers Tarcher, 1998
Roth, Gabrielle, Maps to Ecstasy New World Library, 1989
Gabrielle Roth's homepage
Gabrielle Roth, Endless Wave Vol. 1
Paul's Blog can be found here