August 2021 Theme – Snaking the Spine

“Historically, serpents and snakes represent fertility or a creative life force. As snakes shed their skin through sloughing, they are symbols of rebirth, transformation, immortality, and healing. ” (Wikipedia)

“80% of adults (from adolescents to the elderly) are estimated to experience a back injury in their lifetime….the top reasons identified by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Muscle or ligament strain
  • Bulging or ruptured disks
  • Arthritis
  • Skeletal irregularities
  • Osteoporosis” (, mayo clinic).

Back injuries are painful, debilitating and likely to reoccur. In addition to the above list, I have worked with several people whose back pain flares up during stressful, highly emotional periods, which we are having plenty of these days. Back pain is often why people end up in a Pilates studio. Pilates’ focus on strengthening the core (abdominals, diaphragm, pelvic floor, hip and back) can be tremendously healing and an excellent way to ward off future back injuries. We, for example, can strengthen the deep abdominals to help create length through the low back and lift out of the pelvis. This lift out of the pelvis helps us to unweight through the joints of the hips, knees and feet.

In the Yamuna Breath Work training I did last fall we explored using the breath to stretch from the inside out, e.g. using the breath to expand the lungs to move the ribs to the side and back, and to direct the breath into different parts of the torso to create space and release. Connecting back to the healing potential of our breath adds to our healing and well being. During the breath work training I slept deeply and felt an ease and space in my low back, which can tend to get tight, not to mention feeling grounded and present. Our breath is a powerful medicine!

Conversations with Latanya Tigner, and her, Colette Eloi and Ebonie Barnett’s Back to the Root Series: Healing and Spiritual Power of the Spine and Pelvis in African Rooted Dance and my training with Thomas Presto on his Talawa Technique opened an exploration into the how the spine heals us through movement. In observing and learning some of the highly refined movements of the spine, foundational in many traditional African/Diasporic dances, we learn to move parts of our spines in isolation, thereby activating muscles at different levels of the spine. This increases our proprioception (awareness of our body’s position in space) and muscular support and so the health of our spines. Watch Joel Ramirez (facing front) and Luciano Wollman Michelle (side view) moving through the 7 levels of the spine as synthesized by Thomas Presto in his Talawa Technique.

I cite this conversation with Latanya Tigner all of the time because the question is profound. She asked me to reflect on the question, “How did enslaved people do back breaking work 14 hours a day in the fields and then dance at night?” We don’t know how many enslaved people experienced back pain, but it does seem that our culture of sitting all day and driving has wreaked a disproportionate havoc on our backs. While Pilates is important for learning how to stabilize our backs, to activate the full potential and healing of our backs, and I’d argue our creative life force, we need to move our spines – to get the snake into our spines!

This month and building on June’s focus on the breath and core, and July’s focus on the pelvis, we will focus on developing the strength and support for our spines, activating our breath as medicine and movement for healing.

Anatomy of the Pelvis

Pelvis, also called bony pelvis or pelvic girdle, in human anatomy, basin-shaped complex of bones that connects the trunk and the legs, supports and balances the trunk, and contains and supports the intestines, the urinary bladder, and the internal sex organs.” (Britannica).

For a super in depth look at the pelvis, check out Physiopedia’s Article – The Anatomy of the Pelvic Girdle

July Theme – The Pelvis

Pelvis, also called bony pelvis or pelvic girdle, in human anatomy, basin-shaped complex of bones that connects the trunk and the legs, supports and balances the trunk, and contains and supports the intestines, the urinary bladder, and the internal sex organs.” (Britannica)

Last Fall I had the great privilege of participating in a Talawa Technique training led by its creator, Thomas Presto, and two of his dance collaborators, Luciano Wollman Michelle and Joel Ramirez. The Talawa Technique synthesizes movements from close to 400 dances from African and Caribbean movement traditions into a set of arm, foot and spine positions. It was an enormous undertaking by Thomas Presto and a precious gift. For me, someone who hadn’t formally studied dance within any African dance tradition, it was an opportunity to enter into the language and healing wisdom African dance has developed over many thousands of years. I will forever be grateful to Latanya Tigner for bringing Thomas’ work to us through her, Colette Eloi and Ebonie Barnett’s Back to the Root series and for helping coordinate the training for us West Coast folks – Thomas is based in Norway.

On this particular day, several weeks into our online training, we were learning the Bird (foot) positions combined with Snake (spine) positions, specifically Snake 7, the pendulum swing of the pelvis. Below Joel (facing front) and Luciano (side view) demonstrate all 7 levels of the Snake.

We were using Snake 7 to move through the 15 foot positions. We did them over and over again swinging our pelvis’ to move two feet to one. Well into hour two of this work I was sweating, my quads were trembling and my brain was just about to explode (in a good way) with the physical and mental work. By the end of the session all I could imagine was collapsing onto my bed, but Thomas recommended we take a walk and so I did. My intention was to just walk around the block and then collapse, but I started walking and found I wanted to keep walking and keep walking. I felt this energy localized around my sacrum propelling me forward. My back felt loose and lubricated and I felt light and strong.

I wasn’t the only one in the training who felt that release/generation of energy. Latanya had once posed the question to me – how were enslaved people able to do back breaking work 14 hours a day and then dance, really dance at night? In the discussion following that session, Thomas described that undulating the spine generates energy at the cellular level. The dances as Latanya already knew and Thomas demonstrated were healing and restorative. The Talawa Technique training and Latanya, Collette and Ebonie’s Back to the Root: Healing and Spiritual Power of the Spine and Pelvis in African Rooted Dance opened up an inquiry into the healing traditions of what Thomas refers to as Africana movement.

The pelvis is critical to movement. It transfers force from the trunk down to the lower body and disperses force from the lower extremities up into the spine. In Congolese movement traditions, the pelvis, loketo, expresses our relationship to the Earth. My exploration continues with my friend and collaborator Byb Chanel Bibene, Artistic Director of Kiandanda Dance Theater through a slowed down, in-depth exploration of Zebola, a dance of the Mongo People of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

I am coming to understand the importance of the pelvis and to have reverence for its mystery. Releasing, strengthening, moving the pelvis are critical to my practice and are the focus of July’s classes. Using Yamuna routines we will release the muscles that connect the pelvis to the lower extremities and the trunk. We will use Pilates to strengthen and Talawa Technique to move the pelvis, build proprioception and generate energy!

This release focuses on releasing the back of this hip and finding movement of the pelvis using the support of Yamuna balls. I find that understanding the anatomy also helps. Check out the post with the anatomy slide show to learn more about the bones and muscles of the pelvis.

The Anatomy of the Pelvis — The Bones and Muscles

June 2021 Theme – Reconnecting to Breath/Abs/Core

“The missing pillar in health is breath. It all starts there.”
― James Nestor, Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art

With our June launch, DBP will begin highlighting a body/movement theme each month. We will engage the DBP community through classes, workshops, anatomy explorations and social media posts that explore and deepen our embodied experience of the theme.

Breath and the muscles that support breathing will be the focus for June 2021. Our breath was under assault on many fronts during 2020 – Covid, Wild Fires (in California), Police Violence – and many people lost their breath to illness and violence. Many of us are grieving multiple losses – loved ones, homes, jobs, community. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the lungs are understood to hold grief. As we begin to re-emerge from shelter in place and breath together again, DBP is focusing on the breath, finding deep, expansive breath and the ways our core can support our healing and joy.

I am not an expert in breath. There are experts, and many long traditions in Yoga, QiGong, and other modalities that have accumulated knowledge and wisdom over thousand year old traditions. I encourage you to explore and play with these different practices. A great place to start is with Science Journalist James Nestor’s Breath: The Lost Art and Science of Breath. It is fascinating and informative and gives lots of exercises to try and resources to deepen your exploration. During shelter in place along with reading Nestor’s book I did Yamuna Breath Work, Yang Sheng Gong, Talawa Technique trainings all of which gave me new perspectives on breath as a tool for healing and support for movement.

For years in Yoga classes holding some hard pose went hand in hand with holding my breath, despite teachers cueing me to breathe. I could not understand how you could do both. My experience both personally and in my practice is that finding the breath pattern that supports stability and movement can be challenging. Many of us only breathe into the upper chest, or create a compression down into our abdomen and pelvic floors to stabilize. Many of us don’t fully exhale, many of us hold our breath when we’re doing something hard both physically and otherwise. When we most need our breath – rigorous physical activity or a stressful situation – we don’t have access to it. Additionally, tightness in the upper back, shoulders, chest, and the muscles between the ribs can limit the capacity of our lungs to expand.

Try this to breath work exercise to build lung capacity, stretch from the inside out and begin learning to direct the breath.

Understanding the anatomy

I find that the clearer the understanding of the anatomy of breathing is for both myself and people I work with, the easier it is to feel the breath in the body. Very simply, when we inhale everything expands down – our lungs expand, the diaphragm contracts (moving down), the deep abdominals soften, the pelvic floor muscles gently expand. When we exhale and the lungs empty, the pelvic floor muscles contract, deep abdominals gently engage, diaphragm contract. I like to visualize the breath moving down my torso on the inhale and sliding up on the exhale.

The deep abdominals are an important muscular support for the breath. See the video below to find your deep abdominals and experience how they support breathing.

What I’ve Been Up To

I began 2020 teaching Reformer classes and seeing clients at Center Strength studio in Berkeley, and seeing clients at my DBP studio in Oakland. I was coming off a busy creative year in 2019 with the showing of my Reconstructions Performance Ritual and having my Cipher Study #1 installation/performance piece in Rhiannon Evans MacFayden’s Bodies on the Line exhibit at the Berkeley Art Center. I was completing my training on the Core Align Pilates equipment and continuing weekly participation in Pilates for Rehabilitation course. I was gearing up to serve on the Berkeley Civic Arts grant panel for the third year. I was busy and completely unprepared for what the rest of 2020 had in store for us.

The shelter in place order began on my husband’s birthday. I did my best to make a nice birthday dinner, but we were in shock and afraid and anxious. I was initially consumed with reviewing grant applications, standing in long lines at the grocery store, home schooling, and trying to figure out how to pivot to an online practice. For those of you who know me and have worked with me, you know I rely on my hands for sensing what’s happening in the body and physical cueing. Teaching online was like having my hands cut off. Gradually projects wrapped up and things slowed down.

I found myself watching the faultlines of our system – social, economic, health, political – all coming apart. My creative practice became writing daily prayers. I read, reflected, listened, stared out the window, immersed myself in trainings that centered cycles of nature, the breath, and Africanist movement, aesthetics and cosmologies. As the faultlines in my own assumptions began to fragment, I realized that our future depends on letting go of the American story, and opening the way for different ways of knowing and being. At House/Full’s vaudeville ritual performance in August of last year, Ohlone activist Corinna Gould offered a prayer that reminded us that we human beings are the impatient little brothers and sisters of the plants and animals. What if we truly and deeply believed that? What if we greeted the Magnolia tree or the Crow as a respected elder? What if our equity work was about protecting Black Joy?    

I am more and more understanding that my work is about creating sacred spaces for healing and transformation. Spaces that contribute to a collective dreaming of a new world, build connection to place, open us to the unknown, to ancestral knowledge, to First People’s knowledge, to joy, to reciprocity. This begins with the body.

“I touch my own skin, and it tells me that before there was any harm, there was miracle.”
― Adrienne Maree Brown, Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good

The gift of this last year has been seeing that my creative and bodywork are part of the same larger healing and transformational work. I see my work through DBP as not only supporting the reclaiming of our bodies’ innate intelligence, but our capacity to heal, transform and experience joy. I am deeply grateful that I got to study Yang Sheng Gong with Dana Iova-Koga, Pilates for Rehabilitation with Zeina Griffoni, Yamuna Breath Work with Yamuna Zake, and Talawa Technique with Thomas Presto during 2020’s shelter in place. None of these would’ve been possible without virtual space. I began to understand the importance of moving our bodies, listening to our bodies, feeling the rhythms and energy of our bodies, and finding pleasure and healing in movement.

“Transform yourself to transform the world,” Grace Lee Boggs.