Well shake it up, baby, now twist and shout
I am in a small town in South India. The air is stifling. It is the afternoon and I’m sitting on a rusty metal bench in a tiny, dirt-floor room with 4 other people all waiting to see the doctor. I have come with a friend of mine to offer support. She hasn’t been feeling well for the past week or so. She says that her body aches all over, she has lost interest in food and finds it difficult to get out of bed in the morning. She feels not only physically tired, but also emotionally depressed, with a recurring feeling of ‘what’s the use?’ hanging over her like a dark cloud. Finally the doctor calls us into his office. He asks her what’s the matter, and she tells him how she has been feeling. He then asks her a matter of fact question: “Do you want to feel better?” to which she replies, “Yes.” “Then get up and spread your feet apart, stand up straight, release your arms by your sides,” he commands, and although somewhat startled by his tone of voice, she obeys. “Now start shaking, lift your right foot off the floor and shake it, then your left, now each hand and arm, shake your head, let your jaw relax, move around—move, move—get down on the floor and roll around—move, stretch your body, don’t stop—now get up and shake all over,” as he encourages her, all the while clapping out a rhythm with his hands. He had her movin’ and shakin’ for a good five minutes without a stop, while I just sat in a corner and watched. Then he said, “Okay, you will feel better now, please give me 20 rupees.” We paid and walked out of the Ayurvedic clinic—both of us laughing uncontrollably. My friend was cured of her malaise by moving her body. You could say she shook her sickness off.
Ayurveda, which is considered a sister science to Yoga, will often prescribe shaking your body when you don’t feel well as the first step in the treatment of sickness. Shaking can be used as medicine. Through intentional shaking, you not only increase circulation of blood, but also circulation of prana—the universal life force that animates and connects all of life. When prana is flowing, the result can be felt as “upliftment,” optimism and even ecstasy. Shaking is a way to bring forth life’s essential vitality: your old unconscious ways of being get shaken up, and you can then reset your objectives, which for members of a constrained culture that takes as a foundation the concept and practical application of confinement—some examples being all that is viewed as normal in our lives: animals in factory farms, pet birds in cages, dogs on leashes, bridles and saddles on horses, fenced in land, trees planted in rows, bonsai trees, dammed up rivers as well as human beings living in cramped apartments or houses, property lines clearly defined, not to mention the confinement of our bodies in clothes and shoes which inhibit freedom of movement—is nothing less than a radical, revolutionary action.
The goal of Yoga is moksha—liberation, freedom. Through the practices of yoga we can dismantle our present culture and resurrect ourselves as the wild beings we really are! The development of yoga was a reaction against increasing urbanization, which was focused on exploiting animals and the earth—taming, enslaving and confining—and in the process we became tamed, enslaved and confined. Many people today feel imprisoned in their bodies and can’t find ways to experience a full life—locked in a head-trip and don’t acknowledge the body from the neck down as intelligent and so instead seek out entertainment and stimulation in the form of consuming—shopping, TV, eating or drinking in order to just feel something.
Using shaking as a means of healing is not new and it is quite universal. I have been in a Masai village near Nairobi and witnessed Masai warriors jumping up and down until their smiles erupted into laughter, once again restoring their connection to the other animals and to the earth and sky. I lived on the Pacific Northwest coast with a Native American Shaker family who practiced shaking and trembling as a means to connect directly with God. I’ve been in Istanbul and seen Sufi dervishes whirl for hours in order to help them confront and lose their fear of death. Even so, all of those examples are tame and should be seen as reified, ritualized, religious experiences—bearing pale resemblance to some of the more wild shaking and trembling practices employed by ancient yogis and shamans who were looking for ways to experience, remember and reconnect with that which is unpredictable and untamable—the wildness—that true spirituality which is forever blissful, ecstatic, free, naked, limitless, anarchistic, boundless joy—who we really are.
John Lennon sings, “Well shake it up, baby, now twist and shout, come on, come on, come on, come on baby now, come on and work it on out.” (from the song “Twist and Shout,” originally written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns, and covered by the Beatles with John Lennon on lead vocals and released on their first album, Please Please Me)
How to use this focus? I would say use it in a very direct way—get people to shake. Shake out their bodies. Encourage uninhibited shaking. Shake off the inhibitions, tameness, domestication, boredom, predictability and normalcy.
Blind-folds could be helpful in allowing people to feel free to move. But let’s keep the focus on shaking and not on dancing in general. I don’t think you should try to lead a trance dance—keep it to shaking. Big shakes, hand shakes, trembling, vibrating.
The goal of Yoga is moksha—liberation, freedom. Through the practices of yoga we can dismantle our present culture and resurrect ourselves as the wild beings we really are! Remember that originally Yoga was a reaction against the increasing urbanization, which was focused on exploiting animals and the earth—taming, enslaving and confining, and in the process we became tamed (estranged from our creative source), enslaved (can’t think for ourselves—no common sense) and confined (can’t move—we are in a head-trip and don’t acknowledge the body from the neck down as intelligent).
The teacher could point out the perhaps not so obvious facts about “confinement” and how normal it is in our culture. As we have tamed, enslaved, domesticated animals we ourselves have lost our ability to explore the fuller potential of movement experience in our own bodies. Our bodies have become heavy and in many cases, modern people feel imprisoned in their bodies. This often leads to unhealthy entertainment just to feel some kind of stimulation, which can play out in becoming a couch potato—sitting and watching other people live out their lives on television or movies or on You-Tube, etc. Feeling imprisoned in your body can also lead to other types of unhealthy activities like gluttony—drinking and eating too much, which then in-turn causes the person to become more and more immobilized—and easily seek immediate gratification from shopping. Have you ever seen obese people, who are unable to walk very well, sitting in motorized carts, navigating their way through huge shopping malls on a quest to buy stuff?
The teacher could do some research to discover ways where wild, ecstatic, physical experience was replaced by predicable rituals and routine ceremonies in many spiritual and religious traditions—the result being far from an ecstatic religious experience of feeling one’s reconnection to all of life. At one time ecstatic experience was considered the religious experience and it was encouraged. I am thinking of Christianity and Buddhism, where at one time actual physical means were embraced to feel magic and be moved by the spirit within. I am thinking of the Shamans of the Bon religion—an early form of Tibetan Buddhism and of course the shaking of the early Quakers (hence their name), speaking in tongues and spontaneous physical take over of spirit forms in many forms of Christianity. But now everything has been put inside a box—a big box called a Church or temple—it has all become housed and the keys to the house given into the hands of appointed authorities. But there must still be some communities where shaking is alive—like among the Zulus and Kalahari bushman in Africa, Siberian shamans, and how about the Quakers? —anyway many of us may want to investigate this further during this month.
I don’t think that any of us want yoga to become just another form of entertainment for bored members of a culture who just want to find another way to estrange themselves from the natural world. Jivamukti Yoga, after all is known as the wild-child of yoga—I hope we can continue to explore the wild.
I know that with a whole month of shaking, we will at least feel a bit better as we loosen up and let go of things we don’t need. It is in the letting go (shaking off) of what we don’t need that healing begins.