Zuleikha is an international performer, Storydancer and educator whose teaching empowers others to cultivate creativity and rejuvenation through movement. Her non-profit organization, The Storydancer Project, works with those in marginalized communities – from cancer patients and trafficked women and girls in India, to school children and mothers in New Mexico’s Navajo Nation – helping ordinary people to experience stress-free awareness in the body, which brings a sense of wholeness and joy. I recently spoke with her about her work. Here, Zuleikha shared with us something of her approach, as well as a little about the workshops she will be teaching on Nov 10 and 11 at Sukhasiddhi. More Information.
WE CAN’T BE HERE on the earth unless we incarnate in a body. The body is the perfect suit that is designed for life here on planet earth. It has awareness, it has feeling. For people on this path of life, there is often not a conscious awareness of moving in the body until we begin to explore little ways of moving that make us feel good. When we explore ways of reaching in and through our body, something happens inside that creates spaciousness. Today, everyone is looking for their own personal space. The body is the place where we can feel expansive space. There are many doorways to feel the joy of expansion.
The way I practice is to go in my studio every day and meet myself. Often the first few minutes aren’t that much fun. Whatever it is that one does, it takes practice. If I don’t dance and move every day, I don’t feel quite right. Movement takes me out of my personal constraints – the little prison that we find ourselves locked in. We own the key to that prison, yet we go to everyone else looking for the key: could you please help me get out? And sometimes we are fortunate to meet someone, perhaps a wise being or a good friend who can help us see where we are tangled and how to brush the tangles out. We might think we want to get out of the body, but actually, we find some freedom going into the body, into the inner space where we live.
In the western world, everybody sits at their desk all day. We can’t sit in one place for so long and expect to stay unlocked. I teach a daily way to “reset.” The reset gets us back into our body in an enlivening way. It’s not dull or boring. And it’s not “go to the yoga class and be done with it.” I teach a way to practice the reset, where we can open up through our joints, allowing us back into the body in a simple and good way. Then we can feel at home and free.
This is a practice based on connection in the body with feeling. I learned it through contemporary movement arts exploration, and the science within the dance of India, Bali and China. The Art of Movement is a living transmission based on the principles of concentration, contemplation and the freedom of exploration. I’ve adapted this in my teaching for people who don’t consider themselves dancers, though they love to move. One thing I have learned is that if we reach all the way through our hands, the feeling sense will come out of our fingers. We can then reach this way through our whole body. When we concentrate on pure being, we can learn to practice this while moving. This is full-body awareness and a doorway to becoming our true self.
I say I learned some of this from the Indian tradition, as well as from other movement lineage systems, yet it is inherently present in everyone. All blood is red. It doesn’t belong to a tradition. We are all divine children of the source of creativity. People get fascinated with differentness, but it is really about simply understanding the oneness in everything.
One of the outcomes of my own search is what I call BodyListening©. This is a floor-based practice anyone can do. It has to do with learning how to be held by the floor—which is a replication of the earth—then covered by space or breath. When we allow our body to rest in this way and explore movement, a lot of the “tangles” get unraveled. It is a very deep practice that allows the mind to rest and feeling to take over. I call it BodyListening© because when the body starts to move intuitively, the way it wants to move, it’s very surprising how it listens to unconscious feeling instead of just the thoughts. For example, your right hand may want to move, though you weren’t planning it, and if you follow the movement of ‘what wants to happen, that might give you a heart-opening experience. We’ll play with Heart and BodyListening© at the Saturday morning session I’ll be leading at Sukhasiddhi.
The practice of movement is a form of deep play. There’s permission to take interest in how a little movement feels, like the flow between our hands. It can allow us to feel how big we are. On Friday night, we’ll do what I called Heart Beat, where we will play in different fields of world music and explore what it feels like to enjoy ourselves and move however we like, as we try on different forms of concentration in the field of spaciousness. Everyone can participate —you can sit in a chair to do it if you can’t move very well. It’s wonderful and can be deeply fun to explore freedom in the heart of movement. So, Friday night is for Heart Beat!
Saturday afternoon, we’ll work with creative imagination. This practice is from something I uncovered in myself. I’d been studying an old Chinese text on painting as an art form. I like to use this as instruction to explore movement, using fingers and joints and different points of reference in the body as paintbrushes. I call it Heart and Soul Painting. I once did it with a group of men—high school educators. One school principal said, “If you would have told us we’d be moving like paintbrushes, I wouldn’t have come, but it was so fantastic. We all feel free now to be able to think more clearly.” I like to have deep fun with people.
The weekend at Sukhasiddhi Foundation is dedicated to Embodied Awareness: Unlocking the Body and Enlivening Hearts and Spirits. This means to me, that we have an opportunity to explore freedom in the way we each move, feel within the heart of hearts and let love lead the way. Allowing feeling, we will explore how movement becomes a guide into the country of the heart.
Everyone is welcome: those who are well and those who are healing. People think that to dance and move, you have to have the perfect body. But what is the perfect body? The one you are in. We need to relax and move the way our body wants to move, even if we don’t know what that is. The heart opens and movement “happens.” More information on the workshops here.
Zuleikha’s website is storydancer.com