10 Spiritual Lessons I've Learned From Pole Dancing

feminine reclamation

I can’t do that.

This phrase is the mantra of the disempowered. And that’s why I now have a practice of smoking it out of the recesses of my reality narration. What in life do I want but believe, feel, or think I can’t have? What if it wasn’t true?

I can’t change my diet. I can’t leave him. I can’t get off of my meds. I can’t wake up early. I can’t move my body that way. I can’t I can’t I can’t.

And those are just some of the conscious can’ts.

There are as many if not more in our subconscious mind

…when exposed, these subconscious beliefs tend to sound more like:

I can’t make more money. I can’t be more powerful. I can’t be more sensual. I can’t be sexy. I can’t be mean. I can’t be too much. I can’t find a man, keep a man, or perhaps, I can’t be enough man for her.

Our conscious can’ts keep us contracted into a familiar range of living, safely rejecting of the vulnerability that comes with expansion and growth.

Our subconscious can’ts keep us safe from abandonment, rejection, betrayal, or simply an experience of the dangers that have been coupled with expansion and growth.

It turns out, the prison guard keeping us locked into the too-small cell of possibility, is our own self-protection.

But we can help each other break free by taking one step and then another in the direction of your “you can’t do this…you can’t have this” unlived life…

That is why, after the death of my mentor, I shifted my focus to celebrating medical “miracles,” publishing them in scientific journals and inviting you all into the realm of the possibility that was unfolding before my eyes. I learned that, when you know that something is possible, a little flame ignites that lights the path for you…

In one of the more notable campaigns against me and my work, I was called an “ableist” and when I tried that particular slur on, I found it fit. I do believe that anyone can do anything that they want to, as long as they authentically believe that they can. Period.

My breakdown breakthrough

When I chose to leave my marriage in the winter of 2021, there were parts of me that exploded over weeks of grief, anguish, and devastation. There were also parts of me that began to peek out from the cage I put them in, and ask, “is the coast clear”?

Over the ensuing months, I grew my capacity to hold these parts, create space for them to express, and soothed the other protector parts that said I would get into big trouble if anyone ever saw these formerly hidden aspects. Learn more about parts work in this demo!

What wanted out of the cage was my sensuality, my sexuality, and an experience of erotic energy moving more freely through my body with strength and grace.

And that divine impulse led me straight to pole.

I left my first class certain that women who did this for fun were a different species from me. I was bruised and felt like a fawn stumbling out of her mother’s womb. But something brought me back and by the third class, I was all in. By the 10th, I installed a pole in my home. These days, I dance every damn day and sometimes for hours at a time. It’s my inspiration, my therapy, my art, and my play space…

They don’t call it a pole journey for nothing, and a journey it has been. I’m writing this 6 months in, and I imagine I have years ahead of me with this particular reflective, stable, reliable, and steadfast dance partner.

Here are some of the deep lessons, insights, and observations that have come through this practice…

10 Spiritual Lessons I've Learned From Pole Dancing

1. 50 shades of feminine

For any woman who has been told by herself, or another, that she’s “too masculine,” it’s essential to get acquainted with the feminine archetypes. The huntress, Queen, lover, sage, maiden, mother, mystic…the feminine nurtures and she destroys in the name of love. She laughs, she screams, she cries, she kisses, she caresses. She is prismatic and kinetic.

While there are as many different flavors of pole dance as there are bodies, there are some foundational “styles” that draw forth different archetypal energies. So if I wake up sad, I might put on some socks, flowy clothes and twirl and slip around the pole like a ballerina like this. If I want to feel the pulse of life from my pussy to the tip of my hair, I might strap on some thigh high platform boots (the platform allows you to stand on parts of your foot, strike poses, and even achieve aerial velocity that with ease…kind of like a ballet dancer’s point shoes), booty shorts, knee pads, and twerk and grind in a low flow choreography like this. If I want a reminder of my grace and strength, I’ll go barefoot and legged, climb, and spin around the pole working on my latest trained skill like this. And if I’m feeling sassy and high energy, I’ll put on some heels, knee pads, and a bikini and I’ll work on exotic twists, kicks, and splits with high energy, deep bass music like this. Pole is a technology for moving feminine energy, whatever flavor wants expression.

And if you haven’t ever tried pole, you may not be able to appreciate the level of strength and mastery required to make it look effortless, easeful, and seamless. Isn’t this what being a woman is? Fierce grace with every movement…

2. Dark is bad, light is good, aka hide your sexuality please

Part of the spiritual practice of de-scecreting my sexuality as a formerly “professional” doctor who only showed the intellectual activist side of me (and her fully clothed torso), involved sharing publicly that which I would have imagined I would be stoned to death for…I self-initiated through the shame, explored the impact of the judgment and condemnation that inevitably came, and found that, on the other side, I was even more lovable, even more alive, even more free.

I too have judged women whom I imagined to be “hypersexual” (hyper relative to what?!), unprofessional, attention-seeking, and needy. Then I would see women like those I am showcasing in my upcoming salon, Faces of Fierce Femininity, and I would feel envy. Why does Mama Gena get to teach in a neglige, why does Kim Anami get to say the words fuck and cock, and why does Sheila Kelley get to use pole dancing as a form of therapy while I “have” to be locked into this too-confining box of good girl scientist clinician? During this time, I unconsciously and unintentionally exercised my bad girl kink by attracting notoriety - censorship, blacklisting, and being named as one of the illustrious Disinformation Dozen, I played the good girl who was being punished for being naughty. These trailblazers, on the other hand, intentionally foregrounded their naughty provocateur energy to play with it, wield, and harness for collective and individual shame alchemy.

Shame alchemy because we are, most of us, terrified of soulful dark feminine sexuality. We know that we all can easily fall under the spell of the seductress, and we are afraid we will get lost in that field of energy. Heart-connected dark feminine erotic power is the most vectorizing force on this plane. And we don’t know what to do with it. Which is why, when I would share a video of myself dancing in a peach colored dress, slowly, and softly, the anonymous public cheered, and when I shared a video of myself twerking, running my hands over my breasts, or swiveling around in boots, I received threats and admonishment sometimes so extreme that it felt like I was potentially imposing trauma exposure therapy on others by leaving these remarks public. And thus began the practice of recognizing that another’s judgment only matters when a part of me agrees with them.

Holding the dark feminine, the wildness, the rawness, the hugeness, the primordial - whether publicly or privately - has been a deep reclamation journey thus far, and one I detail in my recent masterclass.

This is simply my journey, not, by any means, every woman’s and as a devotee of David Deida, I know that the ultimate expression of the feminine is knowing when and how to work with her sexual energy to expand and awaken whomever is in her presence with the right calibration of openness. I also know that, as he says, “The feminine only knows itself fully when it’s seen” and that learning how to work with my nervous system’s craving for and fear of attention has been a trauma-healing practice that I’ve only just begun to titrate into…

3. For the female gaze, not the male

These days, I spend more minutes than my blueblocker glasses can protect me from, watching videos of women pole dance. I study them, I feel how their bodies resonate inside of my own, I appreciate what it took for them to get to the point in the journey they are sharing. I delight in the female form. And the less clothing, the better. I want to watch the energy move through these beautiful strong, arms, legs, through their hair, through their feet, and abdomen, and their asses. The female body is extraordinary. When I watch these women, who are sharing their dance with the world, I feel liberated to experience what they’re sharing, and to pay it forward.

A chain of inspiration is linked.

And I know that my sharing of my own dancing inspires and ignites other women. Men are welcome to watch as well, but I have found that pole dancing is mostly a women for women practice. And the culture is non-competitive…it seems to melt the sister wound away as we help support, teach, and inspire one another along the journey. I’ve held a lot of shame in my legs, for example, and the simple act of wearing shorts (because pole requires a lot of skin contact!) with other women who look lovingly upon my body, has healed me more than a man’s desirous gaze ever could. The approval that we offer each other models that authentic approval of the self…and the shame holding part gets to come out into the light and find a new job, perhaps, as the cheerleader holding enthusiasm for change.

4. Growth comes through structure and discipline

If you’re familiar with my signature program, Vital Mind Reset, you know I’m a go big or go home kind of gal. As I have explored more about polarity, I have come to believe that the masculine sets the container for the feminine to flow. The water needs banks to be a river. This is true on the collective level, on the relational level, and within one’s self. Exercising discipline, structure, and commitment is the foundation for free-flowing creativity and vital force. When I first started pole, I couldn’t lift my own body weight off the ground, my hamstrings felt like they were made of stainless steel, and I would get scared and dizzy every time I would spin.

I also believed that I could learn.

That belief - that little seedling of potential - needed the right conditions to thrive! So, for the first time in my life, I was intrinsically motivated to develop strength and flexibility. I began to train every single day with resources from Elizabeth, Wendy, and Paige and I watched my body change before my eyes. I accessed strength and flexibility, some days, that was not available even the day before. And after I got the basic fundamentals under my belt, I began to put together little flows and choreos…I began to feel safe to express my soul and heart through my body, in complementarity.

5. If it’s a journey, you suck until you’re a master and then you suck again…

As a mask-wearing (the figurative mask, not the literal one!) member of the traumatized human population, I have curated the aspects of me that would gain approval, depending on the setting, since childhood. That has led me to selectively engage in only that which I would succeed at. I have been good at everything I’ve done because I’ve only done things I knew I would be good at. Dance has always been different. From my early days as a ballerina, I have always been just ok at it…never teacher material, just a solid, enthusiastic participant.

And that’s why beginning an athletic dance endeavor that I was ill-equipped to engage, seemed like to be an unlikely twist in the plot of my life. I’ve gotten very comfortable with readying to be ready to access a certain shape, move, or flow with my body, knowing that a feeling of defeat and even hopelessness is an old, now fleeting habit. I’ve become fascinated by the video evidence of my progress (I still use my decommissioned iphone for artistic creation and expression aka as a camera), and I relish knowing how endless this path is. As I grow strong enough to hold myself, dance myself, and stretch myself (it’s so poetic!), I move through phases of not being able to, barely being able to, and then being able to. Sucking is a part of the alchemy of growth!

6. There are no accidents

From You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay

As I’ve mentioned, when I began pole dancing, it was after decades of only cardio dance and zero experience at a gym, with strength training, and as a general hater of yoga because I had the flexibility of a board and the strength of a noodle. My desire outpaced my capacity, and in my earnest efforts to invert, I slammed my right ribs against the pole at the beginning of my home-poling journey and was put on the figurative bench for 2 months because I managed to injure the same area twice more in the ensuing weeks. If the right ribs are the masculine side of the cage of the heart, and I was no longer constrained by my romantic relationship, then who better to constrain and punish me for my audacious interests and expression, than…myself! The symbolism was not lost on me.

When I am not able to exercise, I kareen into very intense and dark emotional territory. In fact, months into celibacy, I found myself with few ways to connect to the divine through my body. On top of that, I told myself all sorts of stories about how I would have to “start at the beginning” and I’d lose all of my strength and flexibility. I spent much of my downtime visualizing myself dancing, some days, 100 times in the span of a few hours. And when I finally came back to the pole, I was somehow able to invert, having not practiced for one moment in two months…

7. Expansion is non-linear

Now I know that my “progress” is not about trying and practicing in a prescribed way until I get the thing and then moving on. Injuries, bruises, and muscle soreness are now a part of my lifestyle. This is my hand just this morning! Yikes. Thank you body for relentlessly healing!

When my body asks me to slow down or pause, I do. I don’t protest, and I don’t fuel scarcity-related thoughts, any longer. I know that my commitment to movement is holistic and inclusive of many different elements that come together to allow me to expand my expression. Urgency, force-based coercion and self-bullying really have no place in this practice, and it seems some of us need to learn that the hard way right out the gate!

8. A fear-ruled mind is a liar

Elizabeth was on my computer as I hung from my pole by a bent leg. I imagined letting go of my death-grip hands and a jolt of survival fear rushed up my inverted body. I think hands-free is far in my future. I can’t… I said to her, comfortable with my current limitations. She said, no pressure, but I do believe you’re strong enough to do it when you’re ready. So I tried again and this time, I let her belief in me penetrate the moment of fear, and I let go of one hand, and then the other, and I did it.

I knew, in that moment, that this is exactly what I had offered my patients and now offer those in my program and membership. The confident gaze of a knowing woman can melt another woman’s fear, and expose her potential. This is what we can do for one another, and it’s exhilarating.

9. Your way is no one else’s

My trauma-based defenses have helped me to attune to others with such specificity that I can memorize, study, and mimic with ease. As I poured over 0.25x speed videos, and attempted to dance like my teachers and anonymous women on TikTok (yes I get the irony of my now being a dancing TikTok medical practitioner), I would inevitably find that I didn’t ever really look like they did when they were dancing as themselves. I’ve had to learn what shoes, what shorts, what grip, and what types of movements work for me. I’ve had to find my way, inspired and supported by others. Just like the awakening process itself…

10. You’re never too old

Today I am stronger and more flexible (I can almost do a split for the first time in my life!) than I have ever been. Inspired by my friend Christiane, I am no longer interested in participating in the projection field around age and what we should be able to do when. All I know is that our bodies have the capacity to change - even radically - at any time we choose to come home to them, honor them, attend to them, and fundamentally, believe in them…

What I’ve learned from expressing through my body, growing, and changing in this practice is that I am here, dancing with myself, sharing with you what that’s like, longing to know what it’s like for you to dance with yourself, so that we can dance with ourselves, together. And if there’s one thing I know would change the course of human history, it is, if women would simply allow other women to be who they are.

If, today, every woman would commit to no longer give unsolicited advice, commentary, or instruction to another woman or girl, a cycle of abuse would be broken.

It’s when we imagine that we know better what another woman should be doing, how she should be behaving, or what she should know/believe/think/feel/wear/be, that we fight with our own projected and disavowed parts on the battlefield of another woman’s life. The humility that I’ve experienced entering into an anything-goes feminine space and witnessing my own reflexive controlling, judging, and condemning voices has reminded me that I can’t possibly know what another person’s journey should look like, so I best focus on being present for my own…

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About Dr. Kelly Brogan

KELLY BROGAN, MD, is a holistic psychiatrist, author of the New York Times Bestselling book, A Mind of Your OwnOwn Your Self, the children’s book, A Time For Rain, and co-editor of the landmark textbook Integrative Therapies for Depression. She is the founder of the online healing program Vital Mind Reset, and the membership community, Vital Life Project. She completed her psychiatric training and fellowship at NYU Medical Center after graduating from Cornell University Medical College, and has a B.S. from M.I.T. in Systems Neuroscience. She is specialized in a root-cause resolution approach to psychiatric syndromes and symptoms. Learn More