TURNING A SETBACK INTO AN OPPORTUNITY A LifeWork Q&A with Amber Ryan
What happens when a dancer can’t dance anymore? We sat down with movement facilitator Amber Ryan to talk about a poignant turning point in her life and discuss why it is so important to move our bodies. When we asked Amber the advice she’d give her 22-year-old self, she said, “Oh honey, just be a little more easeful with your body. And love yourself. You give so much love out, love yourself just a little more.”
LIFENOTES Sometimes, a major setback can actually change the course of our lives — could you tell us what happened to you?
AMBER RYAN In my twenties, I started to get a lot of jobs as a dancer in musicals, but when I danced, my old ankle injuries flared up. I was meditating and on crutches during the day in order to be able to do the show at night. Finally, I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore.
So I cancelled my contracts with the theater and went to Florida State University to focus on acting. Of course, I got cast as a dancer in the musical, and the night before we opened that show, while I was walking to my car after our dress rehearsal, I broke my foot — it was the most devastating moment in my life.
I broke the fifth metatarsal — the long bone on the outside of the foot that connects to the little toe. Because of all the previous injuries, when I went into the cast to heal, all my old injuries came through, so I had a limp for a good solid year, as well.
But about six months into my recovery, something amazing happened — one of my acting voice teachers, and this is the gift of the gods, one of my acting voice teachers handed me a book by Gabrielle Roth, and said, “I think you should read this.” That was the turning point. The injury had led me to my teacher.
LIFENOTES Our first-ever Women Together event, which you are teaching in, is called “From Overdrive to Thrive.” Were you in overdrive leading up to the moment you broke your foot? And did that accident help you shift into thriving?
AMBER Yes. Absolutely. I was in overdrive before that accident. But It was a slow process to move out of it. People often ask me, “How long did it take you to move through that process?” We’re expecting transformation to be so fast. In reality, it can take a long time and then you can find yourself right back in overdrive again.
I have to really watch this tendency to overdo. I’m in a healing process right now (from abdominal surgery). I’m in a more conscious one. That was certainly my very big first initiation with learning that I needed to take care of myself in a much better way than I did. I would say that right now, I’m in another cycle of that. I’m in a refinement of that moving from overdrive to thrive right now.
LIFENOTES Could you explain why it’s important to move our bodies?
AMBER Practically speaking, exercise is so important. For good health you need to get the heart pumping, to break some sweat. When we sweat, something shifts in the body and we release stress.
Movement also helps open our awareness of our bodies. So many of us are attached to our technology, our phones, our computers. That activity that is up in the mind. Movement connects the mind to the body — especially to our breath.
I truly believe everything lives on the breath. But we’re a culture of breath holders. If we can start to repattern that and notice, “Wow, how does it feel to take this nice, deep breath in? Okay, that feels good.” Then, maybe on the second breath, “What can I release? What can I soften? What can I let go of?” Imagine if we did that two or three times a day what a difference that could make.
LIFENOTES How does movement lead to thriving?
AMBER The more we are at ease, the more our energy flows. Energy can’t pass well through tension. So, by releasing the body’s tension, we can move into a state of well-being and regeneration — that’s what it means to thrive.
LIFENOTES What kind of movement will you be teaching in the From Overdrive to Thrive workshop?
AMBER First, we’ll look at some basics. If we’re at a computer, do we round our shoulders, folding them around our hearts? If we constantly round our shoulders and close our hearts then the muscles actually contract and start to form that shape. We need to take a breath, feel the shoulders, roll the shoulders up towards the ears and back, to let the heart open. That balances us.
We’ll also look at what messages the body sends. Can I use my body to give a clear no and a clear yes? If I can make the shape of no and the shape of yes and stand my ground in it, then wow, it will be pretty useful for me to do this in my life.
And then there’s 5Rhythms® — this kind of movement is a discipline, a map that helps us to move through self-consciousness into experiences of freedom. Gabrielle (Roth) had this amazing quote: “Do you have the discipline to be a free spirit?” She’s referring to the discipline of letting go. Can I let go of my second coffee of the day? Can I let go of the relationship that’s no longer serving me or us so I can truly be who I am? Do I have the discipline to let go? To let go, where I cling, where my habits that are no longer serving me reside?
Amber Ryan is an international 5Rhythms® facilitator who has been steeped in movement meditation for 18 years. With a strong background in dance, theatre, and freeing the natural voice, she takes seekers on transformative 5Rhythms journeys focused on embodiment and energetics. She weaves eclectic journeys using the power of music, sound, and movement. Amber trained with 5Rhythms founder Gabrielle Roth for 10 years in New York City, and she is on the annual staff for Omega at Blue Spirit.
Amber shares her perspective on the single biggest benefit of a movement practice.