Why We Oula – A Conversation on the Healing Power of Movement and Connection
Join Rosy, an Oula instructor and mentor in the Twin Cities, and Evey, a student who has attended Rosy’s Oula class since it began at the YMCA in White Bear Lake, MN, as they talk about their journey of healing and connection that unfolded during a year of Oula.
Rosy: July 18, 2014, I had a massive heart attack that left me seconds from death. I was 57. It was all very dramatic with the speeding ambulance ride to the first hospital, being airlifted to another hospital, staff running around as if my life depended on it, then drifting into “seeing the white light” and feeling the calm. Why did I have a heart attack? My weight, BP, cholesterol was all normal. My husband and I ate organic fruits and vegetables with little to no red meat. I prided myself in my regular exercise habits and achievements, such as biking, and even completing a 1/2 triathlon and biathlon. I was so angry with my heart and my body for failing me. And, the idea that I might die if I had another heart attack didn’t thrill me much, either. The shock of it all took a toll on both my husband and me. We suffered a trauma and the healing process is ongoing, but we dove into the task at hand and launched ourselves onward. I was the youngest to graduate, with honors from three months of cardiac rehab. I decided to continue my studies at my neighborhood YMCA that provided the same regime: bike, treadmill and elliptical; which, by the way, was not my jam. I was thrilled to be released to try regular classes once my heart was stronger. My very first reaction to my first Oula class was, Wow, this is so much FUN! And, I made it through the entire hour without looking at my watch! I have the attention span of a Ferret, so not looking down to see how much longer I had to do this, was a real credit to the format. The reason I tried the class in the first place? The word Dance. After a few classes, my outstanding Oula instructor pulled me aside and informed me that personal circumstances prevented her from continuing teaching Oula. Those words no sooner left her lips when she then said, “You have to take my place! You have to teach this! There is a training coming and you have to sign up!” Wait, what? Just because I love to dance and don’t look down at my watch during this class, doesn’t necessarily qualify me to teach Oula? But, because I hold this instructor in the highest regard, and completely trust her, I said, “Well, OK! If you think so.” With conviction, she replied, “I know Oula will be perfect for you!” So, knowing very little (actually, absolutely nothing) about Oula, I promptly signed up to be an instructor. The very next day, I introduced myself to my mentor, the wonderful Chelle Bird. I began taking her classes, which I fell in love with instantly, and prepared for the next training. Training was a whirlwind of change and discovery and I had so much to learn. At training, my negative voices said, This is nuts! You are too old. How are you going to teach 16 songs, or for that matter, remember 16 songs? Look around you, everyone else is younger! Remember your bladder and those jumps? But, my visceral reaction was, I am in the RIGHT place and I’ll wear Depends if I have to! Shaking aside my self-doubt, I launched myself onward.
Evey: In the Spring of 2017 while working out at the YMCA I noticed a poster promoting a new class. What caught my eye? The word Dance! I am one of those people who like to exercise. I need to move my body to feel physically and emotionally healthy. I also love to dance, so my natural curiosity and endeavor for a new form of exercise class were peaked by the poster. Little did I know that stepping into my first Oula class with Rosy as my instructor would become another tool on my healing journey, and a place of refuge for one hour a week. I live with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It can be a debilitating illness. At times, I feel exhausted, ungrounded, and frustrated with my symptoms. Exercise is an integral part of my self-care practice. Besides the physical health benefits, I use it to expel pent-up energy or ground with a yoga practice. When I read the poster offering this new Oula class it worked well with my schedule, so I thought I would give it a try. Let me describe to you what that first class was like. Rosy immediately engaged with each person as we were walking in. Welcoming us with, “Hello, my name is Rosy, I’m glad you’re here.” She talked about the class with passion and excitement, explaining that we were just going to dance. It didn’t matter if we got the steps, or what we looked like, we were in this together as a group, a community. I’m the type of exerciser who doesn’t really engage with the instructor or the group. I come in, work out, and leave. But there was something different in the way we were greeted that stopped me for a moment. I felt included, equal, and that all of us who were in that room were more than just bodies to fill a class. I didn’t care that I didn’t know the steps or the songs, I just moved with the music, knowing that maybe I would catch on sooner or later, but more importantly, I felt fully in my body. Something else was different, I wasn’t anxious, hyper-vigilant, or bothered by any symptoms of my PTSD that often plague me even during my workouts. A week later, I had to force myself to go to class. I had a very difficult morning and wasn’t sure I would be able to cope and have control over my emotions. I thought that I would stand in the back by the door and if I had to leave I could quietly exit. When I arrived, we received the same warm welcome, the same passion, excitement, and the message that we are enough. We are okay and worthy, and that we are just going to dance. Together! I didn’t stand in the back which is my typical go-to spot. I moved to the front. I felt safe, secure, present. I let the music move my body. I skipped and twirled with inner-child lightness and stomped with empowerment. I smiled with my Oula classmates, and sweated, and knew that something had shifted in me. Remember, I am a quiet back of the room exerciser. But after class, without giving it any thought, and trusting my instincts, I went up to Rosy and said, “My name is Evey. I struggle with PTSD, this class is fabulous, and I’ll be back.” Somehow, I felt that it was important to communicate to Rosy, that her class was having an effect on me. I typically would not disclose my illness in this setting, but I knew that I was feeling different during the class. It was having a profound effect on me. I didn’t know the science of dance therapy. I knew the positive effects of exercise, but this somehow felt different.
Rosy: The nurse/science brain in me, started reading anything I could find about the positive effects that this type of dance has on the human brain. I found a plethora of articles and research, and all the evidence supports that dancing is good for you. Besides the obvious health benefits, I discovered dancing regularly reduces the risk of dementia, choreographed movement/dance reduces pain, and dancing with intention leads to optimal learning; encouraging the right and left brain to work together. By the time I read the recent Oula Study about the positive effects that Oula has on depression and anxiety, I said, Well, of course! Besides Oula being “The Funnest Workout EVER!” there is power in the positive messages of Oula! We are enough! We are loved! We belong! It’s not what it looks like, it’s how we feel! We are beautiful! Open our hearts! We are WARRIORS! Along with these powerful messages is the power in our playlists. Our songs range from playful, serious, feminine, masculine, strong, vulnerable, and everything in between. Our music is like a wild roller coaster ride with its ups and downs and unexpected sudden curves; like life.
Yes, the choreography is fun, but it also serves to work the brain. It prevents the natural instinct of ruminating about the past or rehearsing the future, but rather, focusing our attention on the present moment. The choreography pulls the intention out of the words and into our beautiful bodies, enhancing our relationship with each song. Our movements literally and physically, open our hearts! Then, there is the freedom to LET IT OUT! This is key for me because our bodies store and hold-on to our trauma, much like a knot in a muscle that aches to be massaged out, or, like my blocked heart needing its valves to be opened. We need a safe place where we can scream, sing, be bad, mad, sexy, naughty, nice, feel vulnerable or feel our strength RISE up and show our power. With sweat and tears flowing our toxins are released and the healing can begin!
Evey: Flashforward to the Fall of 2018. I have been attending classes for 1.5 years now. I no longer question the effect that Oula has on my well-being. I have enough internal data to know it helps. Even though there have been many, many times that I am experiencing symptoms of PTSD, I no longer need to force myself to go. For me, this class is as important as any other self-care, grounding technique that I have learned to use along the way. I felt compelled to write this article, so I could bring awareness that we never know who will be standing next to us, or behind us in a class. Trauma survivors can often feel invisible, alone, and disconnected from our bodies. Oula has helped me trust my ability to stay connected in my body. That it’s safe, and I am okay. Not only am I okay, I am worthy of how it feels to not only move my body but stay in the here and now, present, fully connected. I feel secure in my ability to move in a safe and easy environment without the fear of crushing PTSD symptoms.
Rosy: I believe the powerful combination of all the “Oula elements” provides the opportunity to empower women, to move onward. All (men and women) are welcome in our house of love and whatever Oula class you find yourself in, you will hear this message of unconditional love and inclusion. BTW, the men that enjoy Oula are strong, kind, loving and thoroughly support empowering women.
I often say, Oula is like rich, organic soil and you are a precious seed. When you plant your precious seed in this natural soil, you will grow strong and healthy and fast. That is how you know you have planted your seed in the right place.
Evey: Rosy makes sure that all of us standing behind her in the class are seen. We know we are worthy of being there, reminding us to trust ourselves. It doesn’t matter if someone is coming through the doors for the first time or has been there from the beginning. The message that we hear each class is clear, that we are empowered by just being who we are, and for one hour we are a moving, like-minded supportive community.
Rosy: My heart feels the warmth as I walk around, bantering with the class. What a gift they all are to me; these treasured souls I’ve come to love, and the brand-new faces, ready to experience Oula for the first time. Before I start my introduction, I make a brief internal shift: Give me grace, I say to myself. Let my body be strong and my mind stay in the moment. I treat my introductions as my sacred time. I share what I’m feeling in my heart.
Evey: I look back on that day that I introduced myself to Rosy after class and felt compelled to risk telling her a bit about myself. I was moved by the way Rosy listened to what I was saying and the next thing I knew, in a spirit of unity, we were standing there, two sweaty strangers hugging heart-to-heart forming a bond of acceptance and connection.
Thank You, Oula…Thank You, Rosy!
Rosy: My classes bring me great joy. I learn so much from every member and every class I teach. One of my richest memories is the day I met, Evey. Our relationship has unfolded into one of my favorite things! I fondly look back on that day when Evey took my first Oula Class at White Bear YMCA, in the Spring of 2017. I was delighted that she came back the next week and this time, stood closer to me. I saw such warmth and kindness in her eyes and her sweet smile made my heart sing. After class, she walked up to me and said, “My name is Evey. I struggle with PTSD.” As she told her story that she writes books and articles on living with PTSD, I could feel her passion. The last thing she said was, “This class helped me, and, I’ll be back!” I was touched by her truth and strength and how her words flowed freely. What a privilege it was standing there with this amazing creature; hearing her story. I couldn’t help but notice, as she spoke, her hand was placed over her heart, holding something so precious. I remember thinking, that is where her words come from, her tender, strong, empathetic, loving heart. So, there we were, two complete strangers, hugging. Evey’s words, her story, validates what I feel in my heart to be true.
OULA helps heal! Thank You, Oula… Thank You, Evey!
Evey Krammer-Carlson is an experienced speaker, writer, and author. Writing under the pen name Alexis Rose, she has written several inspirational books, including her memoir, Untangled, A Story of Courage, Resilience, and Triumph, and If I Could Tell You How It Feels, which is a series of essays and poems about living authentically with PTSD.
Rosy Kirk is a retired R.N. She is a seasoned Producer, Actor and Theatre Director. Her entire career has followed nursing, theatre and music. She currently teaches Oula and Oula.One at The White Bear, MN YMCA.