The Feel Institute


  • Harvesting the gifts of pain

    5Rhythms – an ongoing practice

    He did it again, except this time it was deeper and longer.

    I’m talking about Richard Wiltshire, a 5Rhythms movement meditation teacher based in London. This weekend, he led ‘A Deeper Acceptance: creating healing through movement’. A sister to the workshop where I found the words to write permission and pain

    Embodiment is challenging at the best of times. Those who experience chronic pain are often trapped in a no win situation.

    A Deeper Acceptance employs the 5Rhythms wave to heal, by being true with what is actually happening, rather than the fabricated, tortuous, pushing through and putting on the brave mask affair so many of us adopt.

    5Rhythms – shadow work

    Flowing was the inertia. The resistance. ‘Can’t get off the floor’. ‘Won’t get off the floor’. Sloth and petulance in equal measure.

    Staccato was tight fists, head to the carpet, silent screams, clenching every muscle to contain the rage. The ‘I can’t even get onto my feet’ dance.

    And then there was Chaos. The overwhelming, engulfing, massiveness of the sheer volume of crap we are trying to take on. The, ‘too many things to do’, ‘can’t stop’, ‘can’t start’, ‘can’t get out of my head’, and there, there, over there, back, forward, darting everywhere and getting nowhere. The ‘whirling dervish’ dance.


    I had never danced my overwhelm. I know this head space so well. Once I started moving, I wondered if I would ever stop. The tears inevitably came. There was that all too familiar urge to pull myself together. My body had waited too long for this moment and kept the momentum, discarding my mask, face wet and red. And then it slowed, the body had expressed itself. It was cathartic.

    The rest of the wave was one of liberation. A lightness. The realisation that this practice is still accessible to me. This is the elusive alchemy we strive for.


    After our stillness and integration, we got into 3’s and spoke of our gratitudes. What the pain, the illness, has gifted us. 4 minutes of uninterrupted stream of consciousness with ears and attention on you. It is surprising what comes up.

    I am much more creative

    When you can’t stand on your feet for long you find alternatives. I have a brilliant scooter now, which I zoom around on. In dance spaces, I am a diva on the floor and a chair. I find different ways to get what I want and need.

    I give less unsolicited advice

    There isn’t much worse than well meaning people offering a variety of suggestions and fixes for the ‘problem’ you shared. I have learnt to say less, mean more, and try really bloody hard to only give advice when I’ve been asked to. I also don’t change the subject. This is important!

    I see duality everywhere

    I am physically strong and can wrestle most people to the ground, yet the weight of that bag I’m carrying magically bears down on the exact point in my foot that hurts the most, and every single gram feels like a kilo. I am strong and I am fragile. It’s not just me. When I see someone using inappropriate words to chat someone up, I also see someone wanting connection. When I see someone pushing themselves to burnout, I also see someone wanting appreciation and acceptance.

    I am aware of the invisible

    Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. The vast majority of chronic conditions are invisible. Often the only clues are props like walking sticks, hearing aids and wheelchairs. I rarely assume that the people around me are healthy and trouble free.

    I am learning to speak my truth

    I kept quiet for a very long time about anything I thought might rock the boat, or upset the apple cart. I didn’t want to be needy. I was a people pleaser. I learnt the hard way how vital it is to express with mouth words. Despite what most people think, we are not mind readers. Plus, when you identify yourself, your tribe can find you and quite often the ones that don’t get you, drift away, or, ironically, accept you as you.

    It’s not ok

    Anyone who knows me will tell you I am not a fan of the permanently happy, smiley, fake, woo woo, all peace and love stuff. Show me the darkness, the grit, the struggles and the matters of the heart.

    The not pretending everything is ok, when it is not, helps me see you. With that recognition, we can thrive, and that’s the point. When we can be seen in our mud pit, get the chance to roll about it in like happy pigs, and still look you in the eye without shame and judgement, we can cope so much better.

    Then, and only then, can we appreciate what else it has given us.

    There is always something to be harvested from the pain.

  • Permission and Pain

    In the last couple of days, I have tapped into something new in relation to my constant, and ever present, pain.

    For the very first time, I was given permission to feel it. I mean, really feel it.

    It would be so easy to assume that the permission was granted by another, and, that was partly true. The permission I am talking about, is darker and lurking in the tighest corner of my psyche. Let me explain…..

    On Friday, I was on the door for those arriving to ‘A Deeper Acceptance: moving with chronic illness’, a 5Rhythms movement meditation practice led by Richard Wiltshire as part of the Rhythm Village Festival. In my head, I was there as an advocate. In my head, it’s not really happening to me. In my head, I do not have a chronic illness.

    5Rhythms is often explored via a wave of Flowing — Staccato — Chaos — Lyrical — Stillness. Each state has a quality, a tone, and we move through them silently, typically to music.

    The session started simply enough. Dancing a wave with our hands, only using our hands, whilst sitting on chairs. So simple, so stunning, so new. I’ve got this I thought. This is going to be nice.

    Nice. Nice is not a word that sits solo with this work. When it’s pleasing, agreeable and delightful so early on there is usually some new territory to be explored.

    When Rich mentioned that we were going to then dance the shadow of the first 2 of the 5Rhythms, my ears pricked up. I got hot. Right up the back of my shoulders and neck.

    It is often really difficult to do this in a busy, fast moving class when you are carrying an illness or pain, or both, in the same way it’s difficult to go to a keep fit class with a pulled muscle. As dancers, we still want to move, we still want to be in community, we still want to belong, regardless of what else we are carrying.

    How do we keep the integrity of the dance, the wave, yet include chronic illness and pain? In other words, how do we belong and stay true to ourselves?

    Flowing can be heavy. Heavy as in the full weight of the often invisible illness and pain we hold in our beautiful bodies. The lethargy that comes with the starting so far from the starting line, with no energy, no magic wand and the full weight of reality. The, ‘I have all these things to do and I just want to stay in bed and rest’.

    Staccato can be the frustration. The irritability. The clenched fists. The fucking unfairness of the situation. The not being able to do what you want to do. The rage. The unheard screams. The barrel of tears. The, ‘why is this happening to me?’. The, ‘I don’t know how I am going to get through the next 10 minutes, never mind the next 10 hours’.

    …and this is where the game changer of permission revealed itself.

    We paired up for this, and when it came to Staccato there was one song each. One person moving and the other person witnessing.

    I closed my eyes and there I was, stood in the beautiful church I had danced in countless times before, with space and permission to be in pain.

    I could feel the resistance, the desire to trivialise, the desire to push through. I didn’t need to push through. I could be really fucking frustrated. I could hurt. I could express the grief.

    The pain of having permission, both within and in my surroundings, far eclipsed the physical pain I feel in my body.

    The emotional toil and loss of self is thick, horrific and abhorrent.

    To be seen in this state, with no solutions, no remedies, no apologies, no abating others for the comfort of the collective. That, there, is a deeper understanding.

    The seering pain, the frustration of the inability. To not be able to do what your heart wants, what your soul needs. To participate. It’s a fight I don’t even want to be in the running for.

    Acceptance that the body cannot follow your desires.

    Sometimes, I wonder why I even show up.

    And yet, I do. I show up, we all do. Even in our absence.

  • Dirty Secret

    This is a post I made on Sunday 11th February 2018 on Facebook. It was at the tail end of another brutal winter….this declaration was a game changer…

    I have a secret.

    A dark dirty secret that I simply cannot contain anymore.

    The thought of putting a declaration on Fakebook about it jars with me.

    I judge people who put ‘notices’ on here.

    Who do they think they are?

    Why do you need to share this?

    What is wrong with you?

    Don’t you have any ‘real’ friends you can talk to?

    Have some self-respect.

    Contain it saddo.

    See. I am doing what I always do. Distracting you (me) from the real truth.

    I show you my courage and bravery. My vulnerability. My discovery.

    What you don’t see is that I am hiding something.

    I am the mistress of illusion.

    I don’t even tell myself the truth so how can I possibly tell you.

    I just did it again.

    Did you notice?

    I don’t know how to say it.


    I have a secret.

    A dark dirty secret that I simply cannot contain anymore.

    The tears, rage and despair and leaking from my body.

    For 2 decades I have been in pain. Physical, excruciating pain.

    It’s my feet.

    I’m trying to make this sound pretty and whimsical.

    Fuck it. I can contain it in bullet points. Let’s do bullet points:

    • ‘Moderately severe osteoarthritis’ is the large toe joints of both feet
    • Haven’t been able to move my big toes for years
    • I wake up from the pain (mainly in the winter)
    • I can’t get to sleep because of the pain (mainly in the winter)
    • The undercurrent of pain makes me edgy and bitter sometimes
    • Sometimes the pain is so bad that any kind of non-soft touch on the rest of my body feels like an attack
    • On the really bad days, it feels like a sharp, hot tip of a kitchen knife is burrowing into the middle of my big toe joint
    • The arches scream to be released
    • The spasms up my toe to the nail gnarls at my nerves
    • My calf muscles are really really tight. Ask to feel them. I might let you.
    • Sometimes, there are moments, when I don’t feel it
    • Sometimes I want to cut my toes off (yes I know, I know)
    • Maybe, you can ask me more when you are drawn to

    Why am I writing all this down? Good question.

    Many of you know me from dancing.

    I bring it. I bring the energy.

    The pounding. The fierceness, all that.

    Can’t let the side down.

    Can’t admit it hurts even when I am in agony.


    It’s exhausting. Or maybe I am exhausted?

    I’ve exhausted my container that’s for sure.

    I am boring myself with this. That’s how unattached I am to my feelings about this thing that I don’t want to be true.

    I’m telling you all this, in the most ungraceful of ways so you will be mirrors, reminders, confidantes, advocates, allies, soldiers, catalysts, teachers and so much more.


    My dirty secret is out with the help of some patient, challenging and loving people. Rob LondonStainsby, Judith Antell, Carrie Gow, Nikki Ashley, Anthony de Sigley, Sam Wells to name but a few. You know who you are.

    I am not sure what is supposed to happen now and I am a bit scared, embarrassed, hopeful and angry.

    I don’t want you to treat me differently
    I do want you to treat me differently.

    There’s that rub again.

    There are a lot more tears to come.

    Sometimes I don’t know I need to slow down. Sometimes I don’t know how much pain I am actually in. Sometimes I need to lie down. Sometimes I need a chair. Sometimes I really need to dance through it, over it and under it.

    I have a request. I want to keep dancing. I just started! Can the amazing space holders, guides, mentors and students continue or start to have a couple of chairs available on the dance floor in the movement practices?

    I’m naming Sue Rickards, Nikki Ashley, Ruth Hirst, Christian de Sousa, Bodhi Nick Hunt, Liz Baron Cohen, Sarah Davies, Killian Strong, Becca Parkinson, Jane Belshaw, Alex Svoboda. Please consider it.

    It means we can participate.

    Some of you do this already. Some of you know this.

    It means we can belong. I want to belong. I just need to get off my feet sometimes. I want be on the same/similar level to my fellow movers.

    Maybe the truth can heal after all.