This air I’m about to in- and exhale

magnolia april 13

Here’s a poem I’ve always enjoyed by Thomas Lux.  It came to mind as I’ve woken early again, partly due to midlife insomnia and partly the ‘goddamn birds singing’ .  It’s called Poem in Thanks.

I love being awake in the early mornings when the household is still sleeping, to sit and read in the silent living room as dawn arrives, drinking tea, looking at the garden and the early birds, especially the tame blackbird. Spring is here, suddenly and powerfully.  Magnolia trees all over Canterbury – including the monster in my neighbour’s garden that’s mostly in mine – are exploding into extravaganzas of flowers, and my own garden is awash with primroses.

It’s Lent and it’s also the Spring Ango – times for contemplation, deepening awareness, more intense spiritual practices. There are three elements to a ‘practice’ – the ‘actual application’ ie doing it rather than theorising –  the ‘it’ itself whether an activity or premises, and finally, doing whatever it is, habitually, to improve proficiency.

I have brilliant intentions and rather erratic applications – prayer, meditation, dog walks, reading, writing, reflection are all would-be routine practices that are often interrupted – happily – by pressing work, people coming to stay, plans for travel, the waking garden and any number of interesting and welcome intrusions.

Last week, as we drank tea, after the weekly Zen practice I attend, there were a few raised eyebrows when I admitted my zumba habit. It’s definitely one of my more reliable and habitual practices. I go to a class virtually every other day at the local leisure centre –  more often than I go to the cathedral.

I just read on Wikipedia that 14 million people worldwide regularly do zumba classes. Darcy Bussell, former principal ballerina at the Royal Ballet said in an interview ‘I swim and cycle plus I do zumba, it’s my release and it makes me laugh.  And I can do anything after zumba – everything is possible!’  I totally concur.

I discovered it in Falmouth, five or so years ago, taught by the peerless Helen Tite and even though, at first, I was mostly facing the wrong way and confusing my salsas and merengues, I was hooked.  Here in Canterbury, each session has a different teacher, differently wonderful – Kelly, Helen and Lissa –  but a similar eclectic mix of pop songs and dance styles – cumbia, salsa, merengue, mambo, flamenco, chachacha, regaeton, samba, Bollywood, belly dance, hip-hop …

As I’ve learned the routines, I find that, in a similar way to walking alone, I process stuff mentally in the sessions, often solving a problem or getting an idea during the hour.  The summer before last, when we had a tragic loss in our family, the intense physical effort offered real release and because the environment is noisy and sweaty, I shed many tears there unnoticed.  And there was always laughter by the end.

I feel very grateful for zumba – and its inventors and their vision.  Interestingly, it began with a ‘mistake’ – an aerobics instructor forgot his tape for a class in the 90s and decided to improvise with the Latin music he had in his car …

And there’s lots that zumba classes have in common with my poetry therapy practice, especially the group I’ve been running for several months now at The Beaney.

Here are some of things the two practices share: open to all, no judgement, no experience necessary, pleasure in increasing competence, variety within a predictable structure, engagement with an art form, sharing across cultural boundaries, group endeavour, sense of connection, possible to come and go, long-term mood enhancement, tears and laughter, a growing sense of self and agency …  if any of you can add to the list please do …