Indian Saints, School Days and Blue Jeans
An Impromptu Lesson ~ Hope Project January 2016
The other day I was conducting singing class/rehearsal for the older girls of the Girls Non-Formal School in the Hope Project. This Project is based in the Nizamuddin Basti, inside of the vast city of Delhi. There are many ‘bastis’ (village communities) inside of Delhi. Many, many, many!
The Hope Project is located next to the ‘Dargah’ (tomb) of the Sufi Mystic, Hazrat Inayat Khan. He was a spiritual teacher and wonderful musician who brought the teachings of Spiritual Unity through Sufism to the Western World in the early 1900s. Every year, his ‘Urs,’ or the anniversary of his passing, is celebrated on Feb 5. The children in the projects around his Dargah give an enlivening performance, and the girls I work with in the Girls Non-Formal School at the Hope Project are part of this event.
This year the girls have learned one of my songs composed to the English words of the great woman saint from India, Anandamayi Ma. She lived until the mid 1970s and is still very well loved by people in different religious groups all over India.
“How much more time will you spend at a wayside inn?
Don’t you want to come home?
One is the wanderer, exile, and homecoming.
The universe is the realm of the Divine.
Great Mother of the World, deliver us home.
Don’t you want to come home?”
- Anandamayi Ma
In between practicing, we Take A Minute™ using the exercises I have developed, to energize and refresh the body and mind after sitting. We also talk about various things together, the girls and I. It is good to break up activities with different kinds of learning. Yesterday, I asked them about clothing they like to wear when school is over. In India all students wear uniforms to school. I asked them if they liked wearing jeans. Some were enthusiastic, “Yes!” eyes shining. Some said, “No,” shaking their heads, and telling me they liked the more traditional ‘suit’—the big pants with the long kurta, or Indian shirt.
I love fabric and the way we can use it to express our feelings with color, texture and shape. We started talking about jeans. It became an English, History, and Fashion lesson; English Conversation, which they study, and the history of jeans. Since Levis were first made in the city of my birth and life, and since my father was, for a time, a cowboy rancher, I found myself telling about how jeans were originally made for working men, and how their popularity had spread. I found myself telling about the World Wars and women in the West needing to change from dresses to pants, so they could work, when the men went to war.
It was an extremely interesting morning, and the song is sounding better and better!
This year our partnership with The Hope Project in the Nizamuddin Basti, Delhi, India, includes ongoing work with the community women’s Self Help Groups, training for the Girls Non-Formal School, sessions in the Health Clinic, and regular work with the Mobile Health Unit.
We are seeing results of the Core Wellness Exercise idea taking root here along with the Master Trainers program. The women being trained are beginning to understand how to teach the exercises and which exercises help for which problems. The community is beginning to see the benefits. This is really a big deal in a place like this, where self-care is not even a notion in the list of priorities.
Anyone who enjoys moving knows that it ‘frees up the heart’ and the body follows. What I have been doing here is to break simple movements all the way down to how to move very easily through the joints, connecting the joint movements. This leads into fluid full body movement without trying to look a certain way.
When we add sense of humor and connection with each other, something happens. Often people say it is a magical feeling, because everyone is surprised to feel relief. Yet it is not magical in practice. I think the magic is the connection with other human beings, coupled with a humorous way of sharing the information, creating an atmosphere of ease.
Even in the poorest circumstances, I have seen ease unfold.
Heart Matters at Zenith
In late July, Zuleikha goes to Zenith Institute in the Italian Swiss Alps with HEART MATTERS, her BodyListening© MAP Movement Awareness Practice seminar. Join Zuleikha this summer in the Alps where mountains meet the sky and there is room for inner space to unfold.
JULY 20-25, 2015 ZULEIKHA Seminar
For more information read this link:
"Dear Zuleikha, thank you so much for a riveting performance."
January 5, 2015 - First Meeting of 2015 with Hope Project Director and Staff in Delhi, India.
Samiur Rahman, the executive director, is wonderful. He is able to to decipher each person’s code to really understand how they would like to see the Core Wellness work take place. Each woman in the meeting has her own expression and is listened to.
I am excited, as what we are planning this year will catapult us into participating in the bigger picture of this community. Here, many families are living in one room with all the children, and often no running water. To see a woman experience relief of stress and body pain through stretching and moving in a simple way is its own work of art, and a privilege.
Tomorrow I will go to CanSupport where we work with palliative cancer patients, their families, and the Home Care Teams to begin scheduling this year’s expanded programs. Will keep you posted! ~ Zuleikha
January 8, 2015 - Boarding the Joy Train
GERMANY – Arriving into a Hanover, Germany, in August, I heard the news that Europe had been having the most rain in 100 years. I actually experienced this everywhere I went this summer. Peaches were delicious, though some people were picking them and letting them ripen indoors because everything was so wet.
I first stayed in the village of Heckenbeck. There is a seminar house in Heckenbeck with a theater that is always booked. This village is a very creative place, and they present many interesting drama works, music and dance performances, and children’s works as well. I had a wonderful concert there.
Afterwards the director of the theater and seminar house called me back to the stage and presented me with a bottle of something only found in this place, a very unique non-alcoholic apple cider, pressed in a special way that makes it the ‘champagne’ of apples and a specialty of the region.
The group who gathered for the seminar were uniquely interesting as well: therapists, scientists, teachers, one climate change expert, people who love to dance, people who used to dance, caregivers of Alzheimers’ patients, and some people who have been working with me for a long time.
We practiced what I created, called ‘BodyListening,’ a body-friendly way to explore free movement. The process begins with the body lying on the floor, while attuning to a quiet deep awareness, and then moving in the way the body wants to move. This kind of interior work, with space to move fully, coupled with the time to inquire within has been shown to bring resilience to those who are in the practice.
In the afternoons we concentrated on working in rhythm, and learned about the way we feel inside of musical rhythmic structures. Being a musician, I enjoy the music of movement. It gives people a chance to explore different ways of moving. Rhythm is like a ‘container,’ a four-beat rhythm holds the space in a different way than three beats, for example.
Participants report that one of the outcomes of the seminar is a feeling of expansion of being, both physically and with awareness. Some people stay for more in depth private work. I love sharing this kind of space with people. It gives a place for our daily struggles to be explored amidst the spaciousness of freedom and wonder.
I learned that in the north of Germany, the ancient way that people built homes, with adobe, or mud and straw, was very similar to New Mexico. I saw some spectacular and yet simple homes, both large and small, that people had built themselves. We ate wonderful salad vegetables, fresh from their gardens.
This is a camp high in the mountains, where each summer the place is built up, with tents, a main big tent, seminar tents, and tenting for participants. I stay in a shed-style house with other teachers a bit below the main tent area. We have lots of rain jokes here, and they have a pile of French rubber mountain boots, which I usually have to borrow at least once each summer. This year I wore them the whole time.
The main tent is very large, and it is here that the classes take place. On a warm day you can open the side panels, and see the breathtaking views of what look like the European Himalayas, the Alps.
It is in this high mountain atmosphere that I have had the good fortune to lead experimental movement based in the presence of nature–divine and exquisite. Sometimes we go outside and work in the mountains, studying the way our beings feel inside of the body. Between earth and the sky, we explore the meeting of the physical with deep awareness, in expression. Learning from the way a tree is rooted, reaching into the sky, and then taking that lesson into exploration.
Often we work inside of the beautiful wood floored main tent. If it is cold, the staff light the gas heaters which when wearing layers helps to keep us warm. This year because of the dampness, we had to cultivate a lot of humor to continue.
The subject of humor is a constant lesson in my life, and one that comes in very handy. As my good friend Wavy Gravy used to say to kids when we worked together at Camp Winnarainbow, “If you don’t have a sense of humor, it’s just not funny!’
SANTA FE, NM – The autumn equinox is around the corner, and so is my upcoming concert with friend and violinist extraordinaire, Tracy Silverman. We have been wanting to artistically collaborate for some time.
The special live concert filming event will enable us to begin a work called The Aurora Project. We will be able to both perform together and work with groups of young people challenged by life’s circumstances, around the U.S.
I first met Tracy when he was performing with Terry Riley, a great contemporary composer of music in our time, with a heart in North Indian classical music as well as music in the Western world. Some years ago, I traveled and performed with Terry and Tracy and other highly skilled and wonderful musicians in Norway and that’s when Tracy and I began to talk about working together.
We both work with young people, and feel very strongly about carrying the joy of music, movement, and freedom into the ever-changing world.
Please feel free to let your friends know about this work and let us know if you are interested in bringing seminars or performances to your communities.
Don’t forget to Take A Minute™ for yourself as the busyness of life speeds into autumn.
When The Storydancer Project came into partnership with the Kolkata-based organization, New Light, (www.newlightindia.org) under the directorship of a remarkable woman, Urmi Basu, we began to work with the daughters of sex workers. We have done several kinds of seminars and trainings, and slowly, many girls are having an opportunity to explore what we call “Core Wellness and Movement Arts.”
Last year, I began to wonder about how to reach out to the mothers of the New Light girls. Urmi and I discussed this, and as you may recall, we did a small, successful pilot training program for some of the mothers. This year, the work with ‘the Mothers’ has been very much in our hearts and minds. When Urmi and I met in USA to plan the work of TSP in Kolkata, we had the idea to do a workshop with more of these women, who have been, or still are, sex workers. I am so very happy and thrilled to share this news: The Storydancer Project in partnership with New Light has just completed the first part of a very new kind of program with the Mothers, exploring creativity, restoration, health, and self expression.
Last week I went with Urmi to her presentation and panel discussion at a well-known business college here in Kolkata. The subject was: Women Entrepreneurs, “Women in the Metro, Breaking the Glass Ceiling.” Urmi gave a stirring talk about trafficking, New Light’s work with women, the children of the sex workers, and women in the world of business. I was then introduced and had a chance to give a brief talk about our bodies and wellness, and to do an exercise with the primarily female audience. Everyone was surprised to get up to ‘Take A Minute,’ and we all had a good laugh, feeling relief after sitting for such a long time.
Along with the new program for the Mothers, I have the honor to continue the work with the high school/college girls at Sonar Tori, the house where the girls live together, cook for each other, share the chores, and learn how to live in community. It is a wonderful place. We have had several movement seminars, including deep discussions about where they have come from, their opportunities, and how they feel after moving together in our seminar. Afterward, we’ve shared the delicious lunches that they have prepared themselves.
As I get ready to go out into the day, I am again filled with hope, remembering this quote from Rumi:
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
Because of your continued generosity and support, we are indeed reaching those in the world who have not been able to receive the precious gifts of simple joy through wellness and exercise. Please share this blog with your friends, that the circle of wellness may continue to reach women, girls, children and families challenged by life’s circumstances.
I will return to USA at the end of March, and am inspired to share about this work, through performance, speaking, and slide shows. Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, at FB at The Storydancer Project or Storydancer Zuleikha, or by snail mail to PO Box 31099 Santa Fe, NM 87594.
All the Very Best,
Dear Friends of The Storydancer Project,
Greetings once again from winter time in the vast city of Delhi, India. Because of your kind understanding of the importance of health and well being, and your generosity of heart in wanting to see joy in girls, women, children, and families, this year our training programs are off the charts!
I came here this year not having an exact plan. I really wasn’t sure how to put the next part together. For those of you who have worked in other countries where there are so many, many, many people, you know that things seem to happen in waves.
And this is what is now happening with our works, here.
After many years of working with different applications of TSP’s Core Wellness Exercise programs with our partnering organization, The Hope Project, in the Nizamuddin Basti inside of Delhi, it seems that suddenly all the women I have trained are starting to see how important these wellness exercises are, and how much relief the exercises bring to their friends and neighbors.
Out of the woodwork, women are coming to see me at the health clinic. I am able to use this as another aspect of the training program; the women from past years who were reluctant to participate are now stepping up to bring others.
Amazing. There was such resistance and hesitation for so long, and now it seems the doors of the heart of the women’s community are opening in a different way.
Inside of the Girls Non-Formal School (GNFS), there are several nursery school and kindergarten classrooms for the little children, boys and girls. Many of these teachers are in our Master Trainer Training Program. After our recent training, they invited me into their classes, and together we are working with the children. This is now the second part of the trainings. We trade off sharing exercises with the children. This is a great way to see how it actually works. Now that they have learned the exercises, we can do this. I am so excited to see it happening.
The teachers are seeing how the exercises can be fun, that you can put a twist on them and do something different each day, and that the fun of it gives energy to the children. Unsolicited, one very little boy shouted out, “My mind feels filled with Good Energy!”
We are reaching so many people this year.
In the Hope Project health clinic, I sit now for two hours every other day, and women from the community come for special exercises. This is a kind of ‘private session’ for a few minutes. Over time, I have noticed a pattern emerge. When a woman or groups of women, or even families begin to feel more lighthearted from tension release during the exercises, they eventually will ask about their weight. How to become slim, they may say, with a smile. Laughter comes, and I have learned that this is a sign that the people are beginning to be more comfortable with new ways of feeling. It is great to be a part of the process.
In the Hope Project Cutting and Tailoring classes, and the Beauticians classes, once again, there are teachers who are in our training program. We are working together every other day in these exercise sessions. A new ‘felt’ concept is emerging. The groups of young women are not just embarrassed; they also want to learn how to do these things because it is exciting to feel better. They see and feel the difference.
On alternate days, the work with palliative cancer patients at Can Support, another partnering organization, is also taking a new turn. As before, I am accompanying the Home Care Teams. 19 teams and growing, each one consists of a doctor, nurse, trained palliative counselor, and driver. They are located all over the vast city of Delhi, and have offices in all the different areas. They spend their days visiting the patients and their families, and offering counseling, pain management, and help.
As you may recall, over the last few years, through associating with these teams, and facilitating Care for the Caregiver workshop trainings, I have had the privilege to develop RTHEP©, Relaxation Therapeutic Health Exercise Program, an initiative for CanSupport palliative cancer patients and their families. We have trained six of the counselors to use these special relaxation exercises in their ‘tool kits,’ and now I am training seven more counselors. I also visit the Day Care Center, where parents of children with cancer bring their children. I spend a session each week with about 30 parents, showing them simple ways (from our Core Wellness Exercises) to relieve stress. After a few sad minutes, all of us are laughing. Though the stories are not funny, and the situations are dire, still we find ourselves laughing at how the exercises feel, and how they are opening us up.
The work of The Storydancer Project is becoming its own story of positive life-giving energy in the midst of life’s challenges. It is a challenge itself to find ways to bring these simple joys to people who are facing such difficulties. And yet, when it clicks, and the smiles open, you can feel that something delicious is happening. What a joy!
March 30, 2013
Having just left India this year I want to especially thank our home team/staff, and all of our supporters and donors for helping make this extraordinary chapter of work through TSP a reality for many more girls, women, children and families. The Storydancer Project is truly becoming an “international artistic health resource.” We have had so many successes this year, including the palliative Home Care Team work with CanSupport, the first Master Trainer Training with the Hope Project, as well as the Day of Fun and Wellness and the Dance Peace Concert with World Buddhist Culture Trust.
There is one program I haven’t had the time to share with you yet. We are so pleased to be in partnership for the second year in a row with New Light, a non-profit providing shelter, educational opportunities, healthcare, recreational facilities and legal aid to children, girls and women in the community of Kalighat, one of the oldest red light districts in Kolkata. I met Urmi Basu in Kolkata several years ago. She is the director of New Light and is featured in the new award-winning PBS series, Half The Sky. In partnership with New Light, we implemented a pilot program with the children of the sex workers and underprivileged children in Kalighat. We both felt the work of TSP could be another ray of light for the girls in Soma Home and the college girls in the Sonar Tori shelter (two residential homes run by New Light). This year, as well as working with these specific groups of girls and young women, the idea arose to work with their mothers, some of whom are ex-sex-workers. To bring a class of simple tension-releasing exercises into this place–a gift for us all. To keep this work alive in the field of their community, I did a kind of mini-training with two women. In the future, we will create a team here, to share and spread the Core Wellness work where it is really needed… to offer a connection to creativity and a taste of peace of mind in the midst of life’s challenging circumstances.
Kolkata is in Bengal. The food, colors, music and life here are dynamic and intense. On my last evening in Kolkata, New Light inaugurated the Malala Media Center, named for Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who would not give up her education studies in the face of the Taliban (NY Times, Oct. 2012). Here, the girls of Sonar Tori shelter and myself did a short offering through movement, and Urmi and a renowned innovator of girls’ education in Kolkata, Sister Cyril, spoke about the importance of girls’ education in the world today. Then we all had delicious samosas and the famous Bengali sweet, sandesh. TSP is so very happy to be in this partnership with New Light.
It is through these bodies we are born as human beings. To take good care of the one we’re in and pass this on is a worthy effort. Take A Minute™ for yourself, stretch, and enjoy a gentle breath, even in the midst of the challenges we all face. Your ongoing support of this work is touching so many. We are making a difference in the lives of others.
Looking ahead, be very well, and thank you!
Zuleikha, March 2013, © Swan Lake Publishing
P.S: If you get a chance, watch some of the self-portrait videos made by residents of New Light, posted on the New Light website: http://www.newlightindia.org/
February 12. 2013. It’s early in the morning in Delhi, India. I have been here since the New Year, and am in the midst of several projects:
- Self care with girls and women through Core Wellness Exercises
- Training palliative care counselors in my new Relaxation Therapeutic Health Exercise Program © For Palliative Cancer Patients and their Families.
I have been invited by the World Buddhist Culture Trust to teach “A Day of Fun and Wellness with Storydancer Zuleikha” in a village school on the outskirts of Delhi.
This morning, we drive down a lane, surrounded by mustard plants. Ah, it is so very nice to see fields of green after being inside Delhi slum areas for so many weeks. Winter is ending and spring is arriving. The air is getting a lot warmer.
The school takes place in both indoor and outdoor classrooms. As we arrive, we see some of the students sitting outside on blankets, with a teacher’s desk in front of the children.The space is basically a flat piece of dusty land, a little like Arizona. Class by class, I work with them in running, jumping, stretching, and some simple exercises. Everyone laughing, laughing. Contagious joy spontaneously erupts during the exercises. Everyone – the principal, teachers, members of the World Buddhist Culture Trust and friends – enjoys being together in this enthusiastic feeling. It is unanimous – everyone present wants to repeat this “Day of Fun and Wellness” next year.
Feb 12, 2013 © Swan Lake Publishing
February 8, 2013
Dear Friends of The Storydancer Project,
I am writing to you from Delhi, India, where it has been the coldest winter in about 40 years. Today the sun is out and there is hope for a beautiful day. Since arriving in Delhi the work has been unfolding at a non-stop pace. I had the great honor to teach at the CanSupport 12th Annual Foundation Course for Palliative Care Nurses. This took place at the All Indian Institute of Medical Services, and was attended by over 100 nurses, as well as doctors taking part in this work. We had a lively session based on the Take A Minute For Your Life™ Core Wellness Exercises, as well as some surprise moments of skipping, jumping, and moving across the floor accompanied by beautiful world music.
“Thank you for your valuable contribution to our Annual Foundation Course. It is always the most anticipated part of the programme.” – Harmala Gupta, Founder of CanSupport