The kids look puzzled and apprehensive, and I wonder, as I always do, Are they going to go for it, get into it?
“Here’s how you shake,” I continue, and standing on the stage, I begin to bounce on my feet, letting the movement rise up through my knees and hips to my shoulders and head. A wave of laughter erupts through the auditorium and I smile widely. “Yes, I know I look a little crazy, but that’s okay. I have a feeling that if you do it too, if you let yourself be a little crazy, you’ll feel as good as I do up here.”
Looking at one another, laughing at the sudden goofiness, they stand up. “We’ll do shaking to fast music for five or six minutes,” I tell them. “Then we’ll stop and stand and be aware of our body and breath. Then the music will change. When it does, let it move you. This doesn’t mean you have to ‘dance.’ The idea is for your body to move, to express itself freely in whatever way it needs to. This is a fun experiment, but there’s one condition: you have to close your eyes so you won’t peek at anyone else.” They laugh again at my invitation to suspend their normal self-consciousness.
I put on fast, electronic music, and they begin to shake with me. They’re tentative at first, then, as I shout encouragement—“Good! Yes! Let go of the tense shoulders!”—they speed up the pace and begin to let their limbs and heads flop around with the beat. After five or six minutes, I turn off the music and instruct them to relax and observe their body and breathing. Then comes different music—Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds.” The kids start to move again, slowly this time. Most simply sway back and forth. Some raise their arms. “Let the music move you,” I say. “There are 200 of you, and each of you will move in the way that’s just right for you.”
Afterward, many of the kids are smiling. “How do you feel?” I ask.
“I feel more relaxed,” says a slim young girl.
“Less worried,” adds a boy at the back of the room as his classmates nod in agreement. Questions follow about how to practice on their own and what kind of music to use.
“Something upbeat,” I answer. “Something that inspires you. And if you’re going to do the quiet, soft-belly breathing I taught you, do it after the shaking and dancing. You’ll get rid of your tension, and it’ll be easier to sit and relax.”
After I finish, the kids applaud, and Sonam tells them that anyone who wants to can have an individualmeeting with me. We hadn’t arranged this ahead of time, but Sonam whispers to me that many of the kids are deeply troubled and need more help. I don’t usually do individual consultations because our goal is to equip local people—clinicians, teachers, and other leaders—to help the population. It runs counter to our approach for the “big Western doctor” to come up with answers to individual problems. But I don’t want to disappoint or be rude to my hosts. Maybe it’ll be fine, I think, not expecting more than a couple of kids to respond to her invitation. To my surprise, more than 20 of them line up to talk with me.
I first speak with an 18-year-old boy whose black hair falls across his broad forehead. He’s had “terrible neck pain” following a fall during his escape. Having been trained by osteopaths, I can feel the shift in his cervical vertebrae. Using my hands to manipulate his head and neck, I put the bones back in place. “Do the shaking and dancing to stay loose. And get one of your buddies to massage your neck and shoulders regularly,” I tell him. “That will relax the muscles so the bones can stay in place.”
Next, a 15-year-old girl whose narrow pale face is clenched in pain tells me she is “so lonely” for her family and anxious about the revenge the Chinese may exact on them because of her flight. I prescribe soft-belly breathing and frequent sharing of her frightening feelings with her friend, who’s standing behind her in line.
The consultations seem to be helping, but I worry it’ll take far too long to get to everyone. There’s also something more important nagging at me: I don’t like the image or the feeling of being the expert bringing cures or dispensing advice. Instead, I want these kids to feel they have some tools they can use for themselves.