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Embodiment During Chaos

This article by Studio 26 co-owner Whitney Tucker was featured in the IDEA Fitness Journal in February of 2013, under the title "Fitness Heals in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy."  Hurricane Sandy took the East Coast by surprise and there are incredible stories as a result of the events. Just over a year earlier the city was visited by hurricane Irene; We simply were not ready for the devastation that ensued probably because we expected a similarly underwhelming storm. The day before Sandy arrived, I received a call from my building’s management alerting me that because I live in Zone A and in a high-rise building, we were at risk and subsequently under a mandatory evacuation. I, like many, thought that it was an over-exaggeration but decided to follow orders and stay with a friend. That was the first of fourteen days without power, heat, or water. As far as I am concerned, I am very fortunate.

After Sandy passed, it was apparent that our neighbors in Staten Island and the Rockaways would have a long road to any recovery. Like many, I watched the news and felt helpless as even the Red Cross, FEMA, New York Cares and other relief agencies were still days away and were having trouble coordinating efforts due to the size of the affected areas. Hearing that Bellevue hospital, where I volunteer, was evacuating NICU babies and critical care patients, I knew this was long from over. As I watched the struggle, I couldn’t help but recall Katrina and my own family’s history with the “Great Flood of 1993”, that decimated my grandparent’s home and farm community in Illinois, as both the Missouri and Mississippi inundated banks to never before seen heights. I knew I was unscathed and had to take advantage of my favorable position to offer what I could.

As owner of a health and wellness center, I wondered what we could do in the face of such difficulty and downright tragedy? What good would bio-mechanical realignment and injury prevention or strength training do when people so geographically close had lost everything that had and everyone they knew was simultaneously displaced. I wondered, “Should I cancel all sessions and take the week off to volunteer?”. This didn’t seem financially possible, but I considered it. Additionally, there was no easy way to get to most deeply affected areas, as mass transit was done, gas was unavailable, and there weren’t supplies even if the physical labor was present. And, it became apparent that keeping our business open, as regularly as possible, proved helpful for many.

We typically have around 250 sessions in the space weekly and vary between personal training, Pilates, Yoga, Massage, Acupuncture, Physical Therapy, Integrated Manual Therapy, and Nutrition. When the storm hit, we retained power as did virtually all of Manhattan north our street. Those people living outside of the city had trouble commuting or communicating, as all mass transit was closed and many people could charge their phones or computers and landlines were down. New York took on a Tale of Two Cities feeling, as those who had power and those who didn’t became removed from one another.

People who were out of town or uptown with power said they felt callous and removed because many news sources weren’t reporting on the intricacies of the storm’s effects. For a few days, everything seemed suspended and yet needs became more urgent and unmet. People spoke of our dependence on the power grid, debated the possibility of this being permanent or possible again in the future, and those who retained power seemed grateful for the opportunity to “gain time” because they could catch up. People seems caught off guard. As the days went on and we remained as Sandy left us, I was surprised at what occurred in my business:

People desired ritual and connection. Many people visited the studio for heat, a hot shower, and a place to charge their phones. Clients and trainers did everything in their power to come to their allotted time, in spite of having drastically different commute. People who had never biked because to make the long trek from Brooklyn or uptown. People often gathered after a session to check in with one another, even though hey hadn’t know one another very well. All people seems reassured by the normalcy that attending their weekly session afforded them.

People were anxious to help with relief efforts. When looking for a good agency to partner with, I came across World Cares Center, an organization created after 9/11. Their mission is centered around the statement “Empowering Communities Through Disaster Response Training & Coordination”. Many clients verbalized that they were relieved to help, as many felt disconnected from the events of Sandy and weren’t sure how they could get involved. In one week, the studio collected over $1,000 and in-kind relief items, which has been donated for sleeping bags and gas to get materials to hard-hit areas.

Many individuals who visited the studio voiced that they felt altered or “out of their body”. Having been diagnosed with PTSD, I wondered if the events had spurred a traumatic response in many people. In conversations with trainers about their sessions during the last few weeks, I notice a common theme. Many client’s bodies had regressed to past states of injury or prior tension patterns since Sandy. It seems as though people were unwittingly placed into survival mode, as they were forced to adopt new modes of survival that some had never experienced or, at least, expected. One client I spoke with mentioned that this event “emotionally felt like the attacks on 9/11”, particularly since there was a similar divide between uptown and downtown Manhattan. I began to consider that the pain and physical discomfort many people are now experiencing, over two weeks after the storm, to be the emotional impact of the hurricane. Psychology Today suggests that “although one might not be aware of the lingering effect of the trauma, or believe that the traumatic event has been put behind them, the body could be clinging to unresolved issues.” As someone who addresses the physical body professionally, I feel fortunate to have a direct affect the physical aspect of pain from trauma. Addressing alignment through postural education, energy work, myofascial re-patterning , and other techniques seem to be effective and a logical approach healing trauma in such instances as recovery from Sandy.

For now, there remains plenty of work to do to help those most affected by this superstorm. In my attempt to take whatever lessons I can from the last weeks, I have humbly realized our innate desire as humans to connect. In difficult and dark times, we look for one another. In a world in which, we are constantly available to one another at the click of a button or the swipe of a mouse, what we truly desire is physical connection and embodiment. May we keep the body and its well-being in mind as we collectively pick up the pieces from the events of the last weeks.

By Whitney Tucker

Whitney Tucker is the Co-Founder of Studio 26.  From the hills of southern Illinois, Whitney moved to New York in 2006 to pursue a career in modern dance. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Arizona State University with a BFA in Dance Education. Her interests over time have led her to study Capoeira, Contact Improvisation, various lineages of yoga, boxing, and social dance. She draws from experiences as a public school teacher (Vancouver, WA) and from those as the creator/facilitator of a movement-program for women who were recovering from prostitution (Phoenix, AZ). She is a member of David Dorfman Dance and has danced with Tiffany Mills Company and Wire Monkey Dance. She is currently completing certification as a Birth Doula. Whitney has served on staff as a teacher-trainer at the Kane School of Core Integration, where she completed her certification. She arrived at Pilates as a way to manage hyper-mobility and for injury prevention and is grateful for Pilates’ ability to align and balance the internal/subtle body with external chaos.

Photos via: instagram, gramfeed, Shannon Stapleton/Reuters http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhatesthis/29-breathtaking-photos-of-hurricane-sandy devastat http://instagram.com/p/RYue5_koDz/ http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/photos-of-hurricane-sandys-destruction-of-staten http://www.gramfeed.com/gabcapasso http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2012/11/hurricane_sandy_recovery.html (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)