Embody Youth

I heard Ruth’s voice first: a concise message in a clear unwavering voice, telling me why she was seeking training in the Gyrotonic method. She’d had two hip replacements, two knee replacements and some back surgery, she said, but was otherwise in good health. She’d been referred by her Certified Advanced Rolfer, Briah Anson. She also mentioned that she was 93 years old. She did not mention her age as a disability or an excuse, but simply stated as a fact. She set the stage for me to do the same.

Still, when Ruth first walked into my studio, I was concerned. She came with her driver and hobbled with a cane. She was bundled up against the Minnesota winter. There were so many layers to remove, boots to take off, that we barely made eye contact for five minutes. I led her over to a stool, ready to catch her if she fell. But, though she walked unevenly, her direction was clear, her pace energetic. When we sat to face each other in the middle of my light filled studio, our eyes finally met. Hers were sharp and sparkling blue. The life force in her was palpable. Her smile was quick.

Every session is an experiment, GYROTONIC® Master Trainer Juergen Bamberger, who has taught the Gyrotonic method for over 25 years, once said to me. Indeed, that is the only way to approach teaching and learning. I did not know what to expect with Ruth. I have never worked with anyone that age. In fact, I’m not sure I have ever held a conversation, certainly not a lucid one, with anyone that old. But Ruth set the stage from her first phone call. I treated her exactly as she showed up to my studio that day: full of vigor, intelligence, focus and determination.

I was in awe of her, and still am, each time she walks into the studio for her weekly sessions.

“You are amazing.”

She smiled politely.

“You don’t know that, do you?” I asked.

“Not really,” she said. “People tell me that I’m their role model, their mentor. But I feel quite ordinary.”

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Each week, Ruth seems to grow younger, walking better. Ruth is 93. She is able to sit with more ease on the Tower bench, at one point demonstrating to me how easily she can now swing her leg over the Pulley Tower bench. Watch the video here.

93 is not cute or sweet or sad or anything else. Age is just a number. In Ruth’s case, the number of years she’s been on earth with such strength and light is remarkable. As my own mother, more than 10 years younger than Ruth, struggles with dementia, I hold onto Ruth as an example of aging with grace, courage, clarity and good health.

She plans on getting back on the golf course this spring. From the looks of it, she’s got a mighty swing.

 

Embody Goodbye

Marcelle, whom I wrote about in Embody Courage, passed away last week. She did so with grace, courage and even levity, the same way she showed up in my studio each week to gently move her body, loosen her joints and lift her spirits. I did not know her well or for very long, yet the moment she walked through my doors to learn the movements of Gyrotonic, she became as much my teacher as I was hers.

Her written words were little blessings and gentle goodbyes. “My plan is to be there,” she wrote in a text message about her session, “if not to work out, to see your smiley eyes and pretty face and to share in the wonder of your new space.” She did show up, one last time in May, and we sat in my new studio, bathed in the sunlight that poured through the garage doors. She sat on a little stool, gushing about how beautiful my space was. Love emanated from her emaciated body.

When I couldn’t make it to her birthday party, the last one she celebrated, because I was preparing to leave the country, she wrote: “Dear friend, I am so glad you took care of yourself! Finally, we’re learning to do that!” She went on to wish me a lovely trip to Italy with my daughter, “filled with all the joys and beauty. Trusting that the relationship with your daughter will grow to new intimacy. You have shown me what resilience is like. Thanks for the light that you are and I look forward to its continued brilliance in my life. Love to you. Happy trails. Marcelle.”

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The point is not Gyrotonic, but compassion. Gyrotonic is a vehicle — a highly tuned vehicle at that — through which we can share universal healing energy. So when movement was no longer possible for Marcelle, we just sat together in the space of Embody Minneapolis and talked, her vitality shining over the entire studio. Where Gyrotonic ends, a great spirit continues. In the end, we are all energy. Gyrotonic is an excellent way to cultivate and share that healing energy that is available to us all.

Happy trails to you, Marcelle. I will miss you.

Embody Happiness

As Minnesota was going under sheets of ice, I lost my Gyrotonic studio and all of my equipment to a bad marriage. It was the beginning of one of the longest winters of my California bones and one of the most spectacular resurrections of my life.

I tumbled hard. Losing the marriage was not nearly as hard as losing my studio. A few months into the crash, for the first time in my life, I began experiencing low back pain. I found myself often putting my hands on my abdomen when I spoke of the loss. The body is more than a metaphor: losing the studio was losing my baby. I felt it in my gut, in the root of my spine. For a day or two, I cancelled my clients and curled up in the fetal position.

But no one let me stay down for long. Clients, friends and family helped me financially, emotionally and spiritually. One client paid me a year in advance for twice-a-week sessions, enabling me to buy a Jump Stretch Board. I moved that into my condo and, for six months, that is what my students worked on. Their advances were inspiring. And not one of them left me. Some new ones joined, showing up to my home as if it were the most natural place in the world to learn Gyrotonic. I had a fire going most of the time. I was never alone. Every client met my son. My home and studio were one. Students became family.

By April, winter was still on. I’d done the training and acquired a Gyrotoner, another piece of specialized equipment, again through the generous support of family and students. Now my condominium was getting crowded. And we’d all been indoors too long. That’s when I discovered a gorgeous studio space while searching for possible locations for Embody, a name that seemed to have been there the whole time, waiting for me to hear it. The space was for sale, and I wasn’t in the market for buying. But I was smitten. I sent messages to a few people, saying, “Isn’t this beautiful? Wouldn’t it be great if we could buy this?” Then I let it go. That is until Morgan Luzier, owner of Balance Fitness, emailed me: “Susan, a little bird told me you were interested in the space on Aldrich. Guess what? I bought it! I would LOVE your studio to be there.” We got together the next day. She looked at me, reading my mind: “It really can be this easy, right?” The rest is part of the magical birth of Embody.

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As of mid-May, Embody has inhabited the light, energized space at 3041 Aldrich. We are separate, complimentary businesses that include body workers, personal trainer Rich Bluma and chiropractor Chad Hendrickson. I now have a fully equipped Gyrotonic studio with two Pulley Towers from Germany, a Jump Stretch Board and a Gyrotoner. I fell hard and bounced back high. The vision for Embody had apparently been there always, hunkering down in the wings, only waiting to come into the light.

It is spring. There is room to move again. I am celebrating, grateful for all that my body can do and inspired every day by what yours can do. Gyrotonic is that celebration. See you soon!

Embody Renewal

Last night I burned some old letters. I slipped them beneath my grilling pork chops, killing two birds with one stone. Out with the old, in with dinner.

It is the end of summer, not quite the beginning of fall, but I had a sudden itch to clean out my closets. It was just about a year ago that I sold the house where I’d raised my children. Soon after downsizing to give my new marriage a chance to grow in its own soil, my husband and business partner decided to throw in the towel. Soon after he told me he’d be taking our studio and all of its Gyrotonic equipment, too.

The letters I burned were a couple of years worth of emailed love letters that fueled the fire our transcontinental relationship. I’d lovingly printed them out, thinking maybe someday, as an anniversary gift, I’d make it into a book for him. There were travel itineraries, little scrawled notes of “I love you’s” and embarrassing pet names for each other. After we split up, I kept letters for other reasons, mostly as proof that I’d not hallucinated the whole thing. Now a box of words, both ordinary and profane, was taking up precious space in my closet — space that could be used for boots or another box of memories, like my trip to Italy that I took with my daughter at the beginning of summer.

I learned some things about fire and, by association, about letting go. First of all, no matter how hot the fire, you can’t put too many pieces of paper on it at once. Those thin sheets of white paper become dense when they’re all together. Or, perhaps it’s the ink; all those words do add up to physical matter on the page. But once the pieces catch, the flame is big and hot. You have to be careful not to get burned, or to start a fire elsewhere if a little breeze picks up. And, you have to be patient. I wanted to just drop the whole box on the white-hot charcoal, but you quickly learn that letting go is a slow and steady thing, letter by letter, word by word.

I ate my dinner, the “evidence” of the relationship raging. The ease with which it all went up in flames was both stupid and stunning. I tried to picture me as that other person. I took my pork chop off the grill and ate it as the rest of the letters burned. The meat was delicious.

The hardest thing about letting go may be the realization that some of our most substantive experiences could come down to this: smoke, flame and ashes. But burning leaves ashes. Lots of them. Nothing really goes away, just transforms, changes form, and if we allow it, fuels new life. When my dad passed away two years ago, we cremated him. A year after that, my mom and I scattered his ashes throughout the hills of Berkeley, Calif. where we’re from. The ashes weighed a couple of pounds. I was afraid to touch them, but found some comfort when I dug my hand in and felt the grit of it between my fingers. We tossed them up into the wind, making arcs in the sunlight, the boney parts falling faster than the rest. When we were done there were ashes on our hands and on my clothes.

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Everyday, I can hear my dad’s gravelly voice telling me how proud he is of me and my studio. As we edge toward fall, I am amazed by the way Embody Movement Studio has risen from the ashes, as though it were always there, waiting to be born. And all of you, my students, friends, colleagues were there, too, urging me forward, onward. If I could change anything, I would not change one single thing. Fires create fertile ground. And, possibly help grill a nice pork chop.