Monday, October 8, 2012

Sacred and Naked Yoga, Why Naked You Ask?

For years I have been offering Sacred and Naked Yoga.  And yes, many of you have noticed that my performances often share the same transparency, honoring of my parents' sacred costuming if you will.  My mom recently asked me on my way to the Clear Creek Festival if I would be performing with clothes on this time.  She said to be honest she'd be more inclined to invite our relatives if I had clothes on.  "Mom, I'll be more naked than I've ever been but with clothes on!"  We laughed.  She knew I was speaking of the vulnerability, the rawness of the content of my one woman show, Trust, Earth, Ancestors...

Photo by Monique Torok
Unphotoshopped :)
Last week I taught at a conference for socially conscious entrepreneurs.  We were focusing on the third chakra and I invited folks if they felt comfortable to lift their shirt and work directly with their bellies.  I heard a sound next to me.  "Ok, ok, we're courageous enough to change the world, but lifting our shirts might be too much.  Well we're taking baby steps, let's start with where we are."

Naked.  So for some folks this seems like a big ordeal, noted.  I want to share something.  I know that I'm petite.  I know that my body is proportionate and that society endorses a beauty that I am lucky enough to fit into.  I am not oblivious to this privilege.  And I'd like to share this...

Being naked sensitizes the body and makes it easier for us to really feel.  It creates a dynamic of trust in the room.  It is only because most of our daily social interactions create a norm of clothing the body that coming together in the nude becomes an opportunity to live beyond social norms.  This is particularly true when we honor our body and our sexuality as sacred.  The context for how we come together to celebrate our wholeness is what gives our nakedness power.  Deep breathing, remembering how similar we are.  These are the smells of our human forms.  These are the scars, this is how our inhales move our ribs.  This is how tension has sculped our necks and feet.  This is the exquisite living design.  For these 90 minutes we join the baby animals and freshly born humans in comfort inside our bodies.  There's an innocence under all those layers.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Return of Innocence: Performing at the American Dance Guild

On Sept 6, 2012, I had the honor dancing Swing Us Sky Rain(bow) at the American Dance Guild Performance Festival.  The piece was choreographed by Shani Collins-Achille and focused on breaking the generational cycle of domestic abuse.

Shani facilitates women's circles for empowerment and this was the perfect intersection of the healing and performing we are here to create.  When the lights come up I am the only one laying on the ground, representing those women who have fallen.  My 5 sisters are walking softly around me dropping rose petals with compassion and starting the first moves of a dance that will ignite all of us into our fierceness.

During tech week I had the honor of facilitating our cast to get more connected to the work and to each other.  The piece centered on Ursula Rucker's poem, The Return of Innocence Lost (see below.)  The dancers were so strong, so embodied, so passionate during this sound scape.

As we sat in circle preparing to share this work at the Alvin Ailey Theatre I shared this dedication:

For the women who have only known this
For the women who used to know this
For those of us healing our ancestries through the revolution of self love,
the sacred ending of relationships too small for our souls to fit in,
whether from addiction
from fear
from the medicine of sex turned toxic.

Our strength is part of you.
Our sweaty muscles, quickened breaths,
clear visioned eyes are yours too.
Our orgasms, our joy our peaceful nights of sleep
are sweetening the air for you to inhale,
to breathe deep within your lungs,
soft bellies, blessed wombs.

Be here with us now.
Remember the members of your being,
your life giving breasts,
your steady feet,
your truth speaking lips.

Be here full bodied with us now.
And let yourselves, perhaps for the first time,

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Trembling Before Transformation

Orgasm. Deep grieving. Belly laughter. Muscle spasm.

The moment after each of these, we often feel a deep release and peace.  They are all forms of vibration...holding on, letting go, holding on, letting go until we really let go.  They are all bridges into the involuntary nervous system. 

In Orgasm the physical body literally has a spasm through the musculature of the pelvic floor and the womb flutters.  In deep grieving and belly laughter the diaphragm contracts and releases with rapid energy and breath.  In muscle spasm the muscle contracts and releases and contracts until it surrenders and lengthens.  We surrender to the trembling and our voluntary nervous system stops controling the process.

We can have a consciousnessgasm too!  Just before our awareness expands we can feel disorientation.  My whole life I thought it was hard to make money, wait I can make money? no it's hard, no wait there are lots of successful passionate people....and then our reality surrenders and the beliefs expand.

What I've noticed in the last decade of supporting people through physical and spiritual transformation is that before the transformation there is a vibration.  It may not feel good, transformation as much as we seek it does not always "feel" good while it's happening.  But then afterwards there is an expansion!

In the last six months I went to study with Peter Levine, international trauma healing expert and creator of "somatic experiencing."  I also trained with a group of dance therapists on healthy embodiment for trauma survivors.  In both of these professional development settings the theme of vibration, trembling, shaking emerged. 

Animals do not retain trauma in their systems.  Ok, imagine we're field mice and we gather for dinner.  I'm not going to be sitting there petrified telling you, "wow, I almost died 3 times today there was a huge hawk overhead and he came swooping down and I think I'm never going out to the field again!"  No, animals tremble and shake until the fear moves through their nervous system and they continue living.  Somewhere in our great human evolution we interrupted this process. 

So while I was at these trainings with trauma specialists I kept asking why don't we shake each day and rinse out our nervous system?!  Do we have to wait for a trauma?  And they were intrigued.  Now, this is not new in other cultures where drumming and shaking is a daily practice. 

As a yoga teacher and dancer I've noticed that a lot of folks try stretching but they are still tight.  Sometimes deep stretches actually make them more tight.  Recently I saw a rolfer and she was surprised to hear that I've been dancing intensely for 30 years and have no injuries.  I mean dancing 2-8, sometimes 12 hours a day, and no injuries.  She let me know that most dancers and yogis she works on have a lot of chronic injuries and I started to wonder what my body learned and how I can share it with others.

Shaking!  Every day I put on music and I shake and let it rattle my breath and recreate my body on a cellular level.  Really deep shaking so that sounds come from my throat, the world around me becomes blurry, every part of my body is in motion.  Then I localize the vibration and literally shimmey down my legs inside of the hamstring stretchs, IT stretches, inner thigh stretches...I tremble.  I remember when I worked with Anodea Judith, a pioneer in chakra health, that energy can move more deeply through a vibrating leg than one with contracted muscles.  Later when dancing with Egyptian Priestess, Leslie Zehr, the same theme came up.

So I have started to teach vibration inside of yoga poses.  I'm reframing the goal, it's not so focused on physical flexibility as much as charging the energy through a muscle and oxygenating the tissue.  The muscle contracts, releases, contracts....and then transforms.  In fact sometimes a really limber body has the hardest time finding this shaking.  But the shaking actually repairs, heals, and strengthens our embodiment.  It prepares us for what Peter Levine describes as trauma proofing.  I would say it integrates the soul body into the physical body so we can live at ease and playfully in a present body.

I'm thrilled to be sharing this approach in my classes and private sessions.  I'd love to hear about your experiences with this process too!  What are you noticing in your bodies, with your clients, and students?

Friday, August 10, 2012


At New Years I lost a dear inspiring friend, Kibibi Dillion.  Her spirit told me to stop fucking around and do what I'm here to do: perform, teach, coach.  MAKE A ONE WOMAN SHOW.

I've fantasized about doing this for years.  Every time I saw a performer create a one person show it felt like a coming of age ritual and I sensed it was a matter of time before it would be my turn.

What stories will I tell?  What dances....songs? Ok.  I wasn't expecting that. This piece is growing me.  

I decided at New Years that I wanted to perform my show in Kentucky and New York, the two birth places of my parents.  I took out a calendar and highlighted labor day weekend, this is when I want to perform I told myself.  A few months later I was at a party and a man asked me, "aren't you Zahava from Appalachia?"  He recognized me from a performance I had attended a year prior in the Bronx.  Yes.  

Now Appalachia for me has been a deep secret.  My roots there seem to be the core of my sense of not belonging to the world I see and feel around me.  He turned out to be the director of the Clear Creek Festival, an incredible annual festival for healing, performance, and cultural transformation.  After a beautiful conversation that brought me to tears he invited me to come perform.  He said he would email me the dates.

When I returned home I opened the email to discover that the festival was on...Labor Day weekend!  Oh, universe I think I asked for this.  But I was so terrified that I didn't respond for months.  In the past few weeks I have met 3 people who had been to the festival or were from Appalachia.  Suddenly the reality of Appalachia was showing up in my NYC life.  As much as I feared going back HOME it seemed the greatest fear would be to say no to this invitation I had requested.  

I sat in the park with my soul sister, Chelsea, who is also Appalachian and Jewish and had performed at Clear Creek in 2010.  She said to me, "you're going to feel at home."  At which point I lost it.  I cried so deeply -- What if I don't like it?  She looked at me, "you and I are the kinds of people who go everywhere, we have such an expansive experience visiting other people's cultures and realities.  Sometimes the scariest thing is to go home."  

I called the director this week.  I want to come, is it too late?  I borrowed a tent, I cleared my's official universe, I accept.

Making a one woman show has been a journey.  At first I was just trying to find language for my memories and what I felt was important.  Then I started doing showings for my dear friends, lovers, tribe.  Yes, they sometimes gave feedback but I really was at the stage of needing to be witnessed and seen in my story.  Reading your life story aloud every Sunday is an interesting ritual.  Some weeks it's really emotional, and some weeks it feels less so.  Just this past week I felt a shift. I am really ready to hear how its occurring for others.

What I'm learning is that a one woman show cannot be made by one woman.  I need my community and friends to tell me what it looks like from out there.  There is an intimacy in asking for feedback and really receiving it.  There are parts of this show that I edited out this week because I realize they were for me.  There's something generous about knowing what not to share.  And generous about this stage of the process, because this show is for you.  Just like living is for ourselves, AND for each other.  Performance is the HOW we live for each other.

And! I don't have a venue for NYC yet. Universe?  If you want to produce my show, sponsor it, have recommendations for festivals, venues, performance opportunities to apply to, please email:

Sex, Earth, Ancestors

A multimedia solo performance ritual created and performed by Zahava Griss.

My roots bridge religious, cultural, and class lines gifting me with the ability to be and to communicate Love across socially defined realities. I am the child of a New York Jewish sociologist and the Appalachian mountain woman he was assigned to “study.” I was raised by the ballet community and the African diasporic dance community. I learned how differently cultures define dance, the body, sex, the soul, and our relationship with the Earth. This performance ritual is about their evolution and how 
our personal life story plays a part in it.

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Saturday, May 12, 2012

Divine Costumes

Divine Costumes.  That was the name of my first naked solo dancing onstage.  I was in college.  My parents, grandparents, cousins, aunt and uncle were in the audience.  I had credited Mom and Dad as the costume designers.  

Photo by Jennifer Maeve
I remember the stage manager asking if I wanted to put clothes on for the bow.  I remember thinking he missed my intention... to honor the body.  I remember how moved I was that night to hear people's responses.  My female housemate came up after the show and said my dance made her feel like a Goddess that night.  I remember my male housemate saying he wanted to sexualize it, but he couldn't, it was so much more.  I remember grandma's cousin sat behind some young children and she thought they would laugh.  But when I started dancing they were silent and mesmerized.  

I remember the email grandma's cousin sent me 10 years later, "Beautiful Cousin, twice removed, you are out of this world!  You have created a field of exploration that is all of you.   I am sorry to be such an old lady, about to be 80, or I would be participating in all your events."  

I remember the dancer who was going to perform the duet with me before she developed a back injury.  I remember her surprise that I encouraged her to rest and take care of her body.  Our professional training had taught us to be martyrs more than sacred bodies.  I remember the moment I chose to do the show anyway and to improvise a solo based on the duet we had started to create.  

I remember rehearsing in the dance studio naked and covering the windows with pink foam boards.  I remember my friend who sat filming me, baring her breasts in solidarity.  I remember the security guard who walked in and asked us what we were doing.  I remember thinking he felt more like an insecurity guard.  I remember the badge I made the next day as I experimented with being a soul security guard.  

Painted by Rainbow for the Sacred Sex Round Up
I remember the awkward moment of disrobing in the "dressing room" while everyone else put clothes on.  I remember feeling the most comfortable on stage.  I could get away with things in the spotlight that caused discomfort off stage.  Maybe it was because the performance gave people permission to look... there's some magic about performance that gives us permission to show and to see more intimately.  Or maybe people like to look out from the dark.

I remember performing naked again years later at the Sacred Sex Round Up with my friends, a djembe player and an opera singer.  I remember a couple came up to me after the solo crying.  They said it was the first time they could share the experience of being turned on while watching a naked woman perform.  They said they felt I let them see all of me.  I remember the woman of the couple chosing to transform that night.  She began to study with my sexual shaman teacher.

Earth held, the sky has never explained infinity so clearly.

I remember hiking naked in the red rocks of Sedona with my soul sister and best friend from kindergarden.  I remember laying with our legs open, sunning our yonis.  I remember how delicious the fire of the sun felt on my clit.  I remember thinking, "how have I never spread my legs to the sun before?" And then thinking, where else could I?  I remember the couple who came along the trail and the split second of wondering if we should move.  I remember the man tripped as he came upon us.  I remember inviting him into our comfort rather than joining him in his awkwardness.  I remember as he passed the blessing I called out to him, and really to myself, "enjoy your life!"

Monday, May 7, 2012

Yoga for the Sexual Priestess

A dear friend of mine and phenomenal musician pointed out that yoga was originally created by man for men.  He and I shared a powerful connection through our dancing and music and he wanted to know what a Tantrika like me was doing teaching a yoga class for women.  Appreciating the profound exchange of Shakti and Shiva energy between us, and his extensive spiritual background I was grateful for his question.  Months later as I offer Yoga for the Sexual Priestess I am realizing how this yoga is unique and distinctly different from many yoga practices.  

I notice that many yoga classes today are consciously or unconsciously creating a “masculine” version of the body mind spirit connection.   Some of this can be observed through a focus on fitness, the athletic aesthetic of yoga clothing, the linear forms of many poses, repetition of linear asana sequences, language emphasizing the muscular skeletal system, under-engaging the students creativity, the grid-like spatial structure of class on individual mats.  In addition to this I have also observed that many women yoga teachers are hungry to access their second chakras when they come to my workshops and often have some unlearning to move through to find pleasure.  Coming from a rigorous professional dance background I can appreciate the balance of discipline and pleasure in a consciously attended to body, mind, soul.

The archetype of the Sexual Priestess embodies a Oneness with sex and spirit that brings us into a co-creation with the Great Everything.  Her presence is reemerging because our collective life force is ready to become fertile and whole.  Through the Sexual Priestess we are maturing from a mother child relationship with the Earth to a lover relationship with the Earth where we have a greater responsibility as we co-create life.

Photo of me in Sedona hanging from my sky toes, nestling my heart into the Earth.
Photography by my dearest childhood friend, Marisa Alonso, as we hiked naked upon completion of our Sexual Shaman training. 

  • Sexual energy is a creative energy. Yoga for the Sexual Priestess engages the following of our body’s instincts as a Creator.  This deepens our awareness of how we are feeling.
  • Cultivating life energy is an erotic and spiritual experience, the full expression of the sacred body and sensual spirit is welcomed through breath and sound as One with the Great Everything.
  •  The language guiding this practice spans systems in our body including the skeletal, soul, organ, sexual, chakra, muscular, collective and ancestral anatomies expanding our personal practice into a whole context.  We enter different states of mind by focusing on specific systems, the language of Yoga for the Sexual Priestess intentionally weaves sex and spirit in the ancestral web for the evolution of trust, love, and passion.  
  • Anchoring awareness in the Love and Sex centers, the two hearts that heal, create & nourish life, creates awe & ecstasy.
  •  Rocking, undulating, and vibration are qualities of movement not usually found in a yoga class.  They deeply access our life force energy and naturally occur during embodied transformations including orgasm, deep grieving, and soul shaking laughter.  We use them to invoke transformation.
  • We visit the animal spirit of the poses to remember our resilient and sensual animal instincts. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

Midwives: the Art of Being Here When a New Soul Arrives

"Hello.  Just say hello to the new being,"  Roy Capellaro reminds us of the the simplicity of greeting a new soul in his workshop on Neonatal Craniosacral Intervention for Midwives.

The room was usually still.  I don't mean the bodies standing in a circle with their hands on the heads of their sisters.  I mean the quality of listening we were bringing to the circle had a rare caliber.  This was a circle of women who were living their calling.  Their souls were more at peace in their bodies than many circles of women I have had the honor of teaching.  Passionate, funny, oh so loving, and really grounded... I LOVE teaching birthing dances to the midwives at the New York State Association of Licensed Midwives annual conference.

This is my second year coming to guide the circle at the sacred Powell House, a Quaker Retreat Center with a labyrinth, a neighboring farm for rescued animals, Dreaming Tree Farm and Full Belly Farm.  We gather in a circle on the Earth to join in the lineage of women dancing the loving sensual and communal artistry of belly dance.  

We sing through our mouths and the mouths of our hip sockets.  In one moment our bodies come to stillness together with one hand on the heart and one on the womb, the two energy centers of womanly love.  "Imagine that you are in your heart looking down into the basin of your pelvis," I say.  In this exact moment we hear, "Wow, it's huge in here.  It's like a mansion!" I realize that the two women making their way to join our circle have become the voice of our hearts.

Dancing is the art of embodying our soul, listening to our deepest instincts while feeling the space, time, and presence of those around us and embodying the relationship between the inner and outer worlds.  I found a profound similarity between how Roy instructed us to listen to the new soul and the state of receptivity we enter when we dance.

Artwork from the NYSLAM Conference
To my delight one of the midwives hosted me at her home, the Quaker Intentional Village in Canaan. Here I met 4 day old lambs and had a 5 year old lead me to the "magical mystical waterfall!" I had the satisfying opportunity to discover some mutual visions for the future of humanity with Eric Harris-Braun, co-founder of the Meta Currency Project creating the next economy to facilitate healthy flows of resources and information that support people, society and the Earth.  I trust those of us who are deeply devoted to the new paradigm will continue to find each other.  The Art of Being Here When a New Soul Arrives took on a new context as we are arriving at a new consciousness for humanity.  The Here we are co-creating is becoming more and more regenerative as we midwife our own birthing of consciousness.  Hello. Welcome, this is our new life together.