In any life, no matter how fortunate or blessed, there are challenges. There may be health problems or financial strain. Relationships can dissolve; loved ones pass away. When pain occurs, resistance is our natural tendency. We may distract ourselves with work, substances, or overspending. We may develop a tough exterior to buffer ourselves from the world. We may try any means necessary to move away from that which hurts.

Amara Pagano believes, however, that there’s benefit in moving towards what is arising in our lives—the pain as well as the joy. “There’s a great story that Pema Chödrön tells of a reccurring nightmare in which she’s chased by monsters,” Amara recalls, “until one night in her dream she turns and faces them and, as she does this, they begin to dissolve. This speaks of the power of moving towards. Often what we try to run away from keeps showing up in our lives until we develop the inner capacity to move towards what is there for us to feel and heal.”

Moving Towards is one of the four orientations (the others are Listening, Allowing, and Opening) of Azul, a conscious movement practice and method of personal transformation that Amara developed utilizing the wisdom of Gabrielle Roth’s 5Rhythms. It’s a movement practice for “unraveling the knots that prevent us from experiencing love,” she says.

Azul means “celestial blue” in Portuguese, the native language of Amara’s spiritual teacher. “Celestial blue is the color of the ocean of love that calls us home to our true selves,” she says.

Azul is a multi-layered process that lends itself especially well to group settings. However, it is possible to taste the work through online sessions that can be danced alone. Curious, I sampled Amara’s online Moving Towards offering.

I allowed myself to move freely to different instrumental rhythms while listening to Amara’s gentle cues. As I envisioned my body moving towards what I imagined my future to be—the next logical and healthy step for me to take in my life—I began to sob, not wanting to leave my present behind. My legs didn’t want to move towards; I felt my right arm wanting to pull me backward in the opposite direction. As my body moved in the way that felt most natural, I became increasingly aware of my feelings.

My experience didn’t surprise Amara. “Through the process of listening to the body and allowing the dance to unfold, we encounter ourselves at a deeper level beyond the thinking mind,” she explains. “Information that supports our soul’s journey spontaneously rises inside of us. The dance floor becomes a reflective surface where we’re able to see ourselves more clearly and experience aha moments where understanding and feeling occur.”

The body stores undigested emotions, Amara says, which need to be released through physical practice in order for us to experience more love in our lives. “When we move the body in the Azul practice,” she says, “the heart naturally opens and we’re able to contact what’s important for us.”

When practicing the Moving Towards orientation in a group, participants may dance with a partner at a distance; one partner might represent an event, circumstance, or person in the other person’s life. Allowing the body to move in whatever way feels most natural, the second partner is encouraged to explore moving towards the first. It might seem like an elementary exercise, but Amara insists it can be powerful.

“Ultimately, the simple movement of moving towards can transform suffering into joy,” she says. “When we move towards, it’s like a reminder that whatever arises in our life is part of our growth and evolution. We learn that life is our teacher, friend, and guide, giving us just what we need in order to grow on our journey. We begin listening for what life is trying to teach us. Instead of paddling upstream, we begin paddling downstream. We’re not in resistance.”

Amara says practicing Azul leads to greater ease, self-esteem, self-knowledge, and enjoyment of life, as well as greater clarity, perhaps because people begin using their bodies as a GPS instead of their minds. “We’ve lost contact with the body’s innate wisdom to help us to navigate,” Amara says, “but it’s actually designed to help us feel our way through life.”

With Azul, the dance floor is the microcosm; life is the macrocosm. One naturally affects the other. As people practice moving towards in Azul, they might notice that in their daily lives, instead of immediately turning away from challenges arising in the moment, they might pause and get curious about them. “They might ask themselves, ‘What’s happening here? What am I actually feeling?’ This is a powerful tool in our spiritual development and saves us a lot of unnecessary suffering.”

As I continued to move my body towards that which I was afraid of, I eventually let my arm shift from behind me to in front of me. I allowed my feet to step forward slowly in the direction of what I know is arising next in my life—what’s for my highest good, even if it’s scary. I breathed into the moment, surrendering to my fears and my tears. Eventually, the tears stopped and the fearful feelings passed. I moved ahead as my body stretched, turned, and flowed with the music, inching itself forward step by literal step.

Soon, I sensed that I was perhaps releasing a piece of the puzzle that’s held me back from taking the steps I know I need to take next in my life. This is what Azul is partially designed to do. “It helps you develop conscious awareness of what’s important for your healing and starts an integration process that continues in the workshop of life,” Amara says. “You begin to hear the voice of your heart, allow the process to unfold, and remember to keep moving towards the moment and where life is guiding you.”

Originally published by Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health