5 Rhythms™ Moving Meditation Practice of Gabrielle Roth.

By Caitriona Nic Ghiollaphadraig

We are born into bodies that are fluid and free. Yet for most of us, this state of grace is sadly short lived. Judgement, emotional wounds, fear and loss become stored deep inside our muscles and bones, leaving us with shoulders that sag, hips that are locked, arms that can’t reach out, hearts that beat behind a stone wall. When we move our bodies we shake up firmly rooted systems of thought, old patterns of behaviour and emotional responses that just don’t work anymore. Rhythm, breath, music and movement become tools for seeing, then freeing, the habits that hold us back. When we free the body, the heart begins to open. When the body and the heart taste freedom, the mind won’t be far behind. And when we put the psyche into motion, it will start to heal itself.

Gabrielle Roth

Gabrielle Roth has developed the 5 Rhythms™ Movement Practice through a lifetime study in dance, theatre and the healing arts. ‘My work is a marriage of art and healing meant to catalyse wholeness through dance, song, poetry, ritual and meditation. I have learned through suffering and experimentation how to transform daily life into sacred art’ (Roth 1989:2). Gabrielle trained in classical ballet as a child and continued to train in modern dance through her college years. The resurgence of an old knee injury ended her training in modern dance. This occurrence touched into a depression that Gabrielle had suffered through her teenage years, as she learnt to grapple with her body image and emerging sexuality within a Catholic school setting. At that time she began to battle with anorexic tendencies, isolation and depression but also discovered the power of rock and roll and as many before her, discovered the Esalen institute and  began a life-changing journey.

There she met Fritz Perls the founder of Gestalt Therapy. Perls recognised the healing power of dance and hired Gabrielle to teach dance to his Eselen groups. For the next ten years Gabrielle had opportunities to witness thousands of people dancing and holding their life stories in their bodies. She saw the ways that people held their breath and how fear emerged as people struggled for the ‘right’ way to dance with little connection to their bodies. Through their use of dance she saw how people could break out of many of these fixed patterns and begin to live more embodied, full lives.

Over the following years Gabrielle undertook more intensive study with Oscar Ichazo a Chilean psycho-spiritual teacher who founded the Arica school for spiritual development. Gabrielle developed a combination of all she had experienced and learned at  the Esalen Institute and  with Oscar  Ichazo began to put form and  shape to the 5 Rhythms™.

The 5 Rhythms™ is a simple movement practice designed to release the dancer that lives in each one of us. Shape, size, age, limitations or experience of dance are not important, anyone can practice the 5 Rhythms™. All that is required is a willingness to be present and open to the experience that will unfold. Whilst the practice itself is the essence of simplicity, it has the power to catalyse deep healing and creative expression.

The 5 Rhythms™   are Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical and Stillness.  The rhythms are combined to create different movement meditation practices, one of which is the Wave. In this practice rather than having steps to follow, you the dancer, find that each rhythm is a different energy field in which you discover your own expression and choreography, thus stretching your imagination and intuition as well as your physical body. Each rhythm can awaken energies that can help you to separate yourself from your conditioned responses to life. You can expect to meet different and sometimes unknown aspects of  yourself  as your  dance unfolds  and  your practice of  the rhythms deepens over time.

Flowing is the state of being fluid, of hanging loose and being flexible. Flowing connects us to the flow of our individual energy. We are connected to the earth and in harmony with her rhythms, cycles, moods and seasons. In flowing there are no separations or distinctions between things, there is only continuous change. The movements are rounded and fluid, curves and circles with no definable beginning or end. Our feet are firmly rooted on the ground. Flowing is very much the rhythm of babies; they eat, sleep, laugh and cry and in this rhythm they get used to being in their bodies. It is the same for us as adults. We tune into our energy each day to know how we feel.

Because our bodies reflect the state of our minds when we feel worthless, our chests sink in and our heads hang down. The body never lies. In flowing, we learn how to inhale, how to take things in: compliments, put-downs, gifts, intuitive hunches, space, music. It is an energy field in which the feminine aspect of  ourselves is revealed.  The shadow side of flowing is apathy, inertia and at its darkest, depression.

Staccato movement creates all kinds of angles and edges. In staccato we express ourselves through form with clear definite movements. It is about projecting ourselves into the outside world. Staccato is about doing and taking action, not just thinking about it. It is about knowing our limits and creating boundaries. It is about commitment, taking responsibility for ourselves, being passionate and living out our dreams. It is about having the confidence to state our opinions and to follow our hearts’ desire. It is about the exhalation of breath and fire in the belly. It is the ability to start a project and see it through to the end.

At its best, staccato energy transforms discipline into inspiration. It asks the question, ‘have you the discipline to be a free spirit?’ Staccato is the rhythm of childhood: short attention spans, running from one activity to another, making best friends, testing limits, learning to say No and repetition. Feelings change in an instant, happy then sad, bored then curious. It is an energy field where the masculine aspects of ourselves is revealed. The shadow side of staccato is rigidity, being right all the time and at its worst it is the autocratic dictator.

The rhythms of flowing and staccato collide and create the rhythm of chaos. In chaos we let go, releasing whatever it is that holds us back from connecting with our free spirit. Chaos is letting go – letting go of people when they die, relationships when they fall apart, emotions when they threaten to destroy us, thoughts when they sabotage us, and memories when they hold us back. In this work chaos is the rhythm associated with water. The Tao Te Ching says, ‘nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water. Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible, nothing can surpass it.’ The rhythm of chaos helps us loosen and dissolve the parts of ourselves that have hardened and become inflexible.

Chaos embodies a deep relaxation. We use effort in chaos. Chaos is the gateway to our intuitive mind, the part of us that opens us to our potential, our presence and our individuality. In chaos we learn how to get beneath our logical, rational mind. We learn how to get in touch with our spontaneous, creative impulses and how to move them through our body. Chaos teaches us how  to let  go  and  how  to move  into the  unknown. In this work chaos is the rhythm of adolescence. The shadow side of chaos is confusion.

Lyrical is the most intricate of the 5 rhythms™. In lyrical we realise that nothing is fixed, especially our identities. It learns about self-realisation and detachment. It is the most elusive of the rhythms. Lyrical comes in the aftermath of chaos. If we do not let go of our physical resistance, our emotional baggage, our attachment to our thoughts, we remain stuck in chaos. If we truly let go in chaos we begin to lighten up and allow the experience of lyrical to move through our bodies.

Lyrical is the rhythm of air, where our imaginations are liberated. We are whoever we imagine ourselves to be. In the life cycles, lyrical is associated with maturity. We may not have any control over the things that happen to us in our lives but we do have power over how we choose to respond to them. We have to begin to take full responsibility for our own lives. As we grow up hopefully we can lighten up.

Lyrical is the rhythm where we learn the deep meaning of acceptance of the present moment and the profound joy that can come from that acceptance. We learn to make space for and not control all that can happen in our lives. We learn the lesson of impermanence. We come to realise that the only thing we can rely on is change. In lyrical we realise we have the freedom to keep shifting energies so we never have to get stuck in any one possibility, any one identity. Like the other rhythms lyrical has its shadow side. When lyrical is  not  grounded,  we run  the risk of  getting so caught up in our fantasy or daydream or need to escape that we disconnect from our bodies.

Stillness is the rhythm where we learn about stopping and pausing. We slow down, gather our energy inward and come home to be with ourselves. We focus our attention on the ebb and flow of our breath, the beat of our heart and the pulsing of our cells. We learn to explore the silence within and without. We access the lessons of stillness, wisdom, compassion and inspiration. Stillness is the rhythm from where we can truly see. We stop so we can feel our feelings, hear our thought process, experience the sensations of our bodies and see how we are living our lives. Sometimes in this work we mistake collapsing for becoming still. Stillness is a very alive, alert energy field. The shadow side of stillness is numbness.

Gabrielle has described her work as a philosophy, a perspective and a practice.
The philosophy refers to energy, waves, and patterns. Patterns can also be called rhythms. The perspective is a way of seeing, understanding, expressing and describing our life experiences. The practice is to dance regularly.

In my workshops, participants practice the physical skills required to dance the rhythms with a sense of ease, presence and breath. They practice the skills of grounding, of tuning into their sense of personal space, of pacing themselves, of how to use breath to support their movements. They learn to listen to the stories contained in each body part, particularly the body parts that feel closed off and lacking in movement. They learn to give some space for movements that feel scary or uncomfortable or have been forbidden or confusing. They develop the confidence to express their needs and wants in a clear and embodied manner. They learn to stay steady and focussed in times of stress. Through movement, they learn to recognise emotion as energy and to become skilled at embodying this energy. They learn how the wounds of the past can be healed through movement. As Gabrielle puts it, ‘the dance that lives inside us is like a dream. Only we can dream it, give it physical form and live it. If we don’t dance it, no one will.’

Caitríona Nic Ghiollaphadraig trained with Gabrielle Roth in 1997 and facilitates regular workshops throughout Ireland. Ph.095 34664. deorade@esatclear.ie


Roth, G. (1989) Maps to Ecstasy: Teachings of an urban shaman. San Rafael, C.A: New World Library.

Roth, G. (1997) Sweat your prayers: Movement as spiritual practice. Dublin: Newleaf: Gill and Macmillan Ltd.

Roth, G. (2004) Connections: The five threads of intuitive wisdom. New York: Jeremy P. Tarc