If you’re anything like me, the idea of working out at the gym is enough to leave you balled up on the sofa, scoffing bars of organic chocolate to make the mere thought of it go away. I have longed for forms of exercise that don’t actually feel like exercise, and instead feel natural and FUN. None of that self-flagellation in synthetic environments rubbish for me, thank you very much. Geocaching came my way, which is one of the best excuses in the world to get out and into nature if, also like me, you tend to need a nudge despite a love for the great outdoors. Thanks to Geocaching, I am now the proud owner of the most awesomely rugged-looking walking boots known to womankind.
Hiking in search of treasure on the weekends is one thing, but I’ve been wanting to add something a little more “cardio” (read heart-pumpingly sweaty) to my life. Enter the most barmy-sounding dance class I’ve ever had the pleasure of participating in. A 5Rhythms class goes something like this: you’re played five different styles of music which are (in order) flowing, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness. There are no steps to learn, so all you have to do is move however you feel like moving. Sometimes you’re instructed to follow a particular piece of your body, sometimes you’re asked to take a partner for a short while, but most of the time you’re left to your own devices. It might be in time with the music, it might not, and you can’t do it wrong. That’s it! There’s more to the philosophy behind it of course, but that’s all I was told by the teacher at my first class. It’s so simple, and I think that’s exactly why it makes so much sense and feels SO very right while you’re doing it.
Gabrielle Roth developed this movement meditation practice in the 70s. It’s influenced by indigenous and world traditions using tenets of shamanistic, ecstatic, mystical and eastern philosophy. Sign me up. Gabrielle wrote several books before she passed away last year, including Sweat Your Prayers, which is on my reading pile as we speak, so with some luck I’ll gain further insight and review it here at some point. I had such a great time with this practice that I wanted to share it while my experience was still in its purest form. I’ve experienced glimpses of ecstatic release rolling and sparkling through my body and energy system during the chaos rhythm and a potent, hot stillness when finally coming to rest at the end of a session. The key seems to be in relaxing the muscles as much as possible and allowing yourself to be led by pure instinct in the dance.
Initially I was super worried about feeling too self conscious to flail with the authenticity it really calls for, but I can honestly tell you that when you’re in a room full people who know the drill, you take to it with surprising ease. I figured out that the last time I’d danced in public would have been drunk at a wedding last year. The time before that, drunk in a club in my teens. And the time before that would have been ballet at around seven years old (decidedly not drunk, I assure you). I consider myself to be on the extremely introverted end of the spectrum when it comes to doing creative or embarrassing things in public, but I had no problems whatsoever. It’s great to be able to do it without the dutch courage.
I’ve been to three classes at different venues around London, and each of them has felt distinct from the other. The variations are dependent on the teacher’s style (and hence their choice in music, which has ranged from classical, to pop, to trance in the classes I’ve been to) and the group size and dynamic. Participant numbers have varied between five and fifty people of every imaginable age over 18 and every imaginable level of fitness and dance prowess. The venues have been equally diverse; I’ve danced in modestly-sized church halls and grand theatres with majestic angel statues that seemed to dance along beside us. I recommend trying at least a couple of your nearby classes to suss out their different vibes. The first late-night class I attended left me with such a high that I struggled to sleep, but I did feel completely refreshed and still so very happily buzzy the next morning. I’ve since tried a mid-morning class which was far less intense with many fewer participants. In some ways it was a deeper experience, but I kinda missed the buzz. I’m aiming to find something in the middle, but a daytime session will be up your street if you want to take it a little slower.
5Rhythms is so popular that there are classes every day of the week in London (as I’m sure there are in cities around the world), so you’ve plenty to try out. Definitely go for the live experience first and then try one of the soundtracks for home use if you fall in love like I did. It’s not the same in your living room, but it’s way more fun, freeing and involving than the Wii Fit in my opinion, and will give you yet another perspective on this unique practice.