Women need a place to share their stories with the world, especially in this time of isolation and confrontation. Women out there need to know that whatever they are struggling with, they are not alone. That is the power of storytelling, and the guest today, Jen Aks, has a very unique way of doing this. Join Catherine Kontos as she talks to the Founder of herStories about storytelling and the gestures that you can embody from them. Learn why and how the pandemic urged Jen to start herStories. Discover the power of gesture and why it’s integral to the storytelling process. Start sharing your story today!
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Coming Alive With The Power Of Stories With Jen Aks
I want to welcome Jen Aks. Welcome to the show.
Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
You are a story producer, an embodiment coach, and the Founder of Her Stories, which helps women express their stories of resilience, and you offer workshops. I have seen your work. It’s phenomenal. I love it. I felt watching your videos, the movements and the storyline of each individual that was on each woman were impactful.
It made me get these feelings inside of sadness or happiness. It made me travel with the woman’s journey. I appreciated the artistic talent behind it because anybody could tell a story, but to bring it to life the way you did with your videos and instruction to these women on how to do it and how to bring it all forth was phenomenal. I’m amazed by your work. Thank you for that.
Thank you for seeing it, for getting it, and for understanding it. I appreciate it so much.
Tell us a little bit more detail. I had the privilege to speak to you beforehand. I got to watch the videos. I have been on your website. Share your story. How did all this start, first of all?
First of all, thank you for having me. Many things you said I love, but when you watch the work, you feel like you are traveling the woman’s journey. I appreciate that. That inspires the question or the thought with what you asked me, which is the traveling of my journey. My entire story led me to the work that I’m doing right now. I have been a dancer for my entire life. I have been a teaching artist in New York City public schools for the last several years, empowering children through an artistic lens. I’m empowering them to reach their excellence.
When the pandemic hit, my whole entire world shut down like everyone else around the world. I was left with this significant desire to continue to empower humanity truly. I couldn’t reach these children. I switched my demographic to women because I had worked with women a lot as well. I decided to put all of my skill sets together, which is that journey that got me here, the teaching, the dancing, the movement coaching, the photography, the editing, and the desire to empower and create.
As a woman, when you tell your story, you will have a new relationship, perspective, and mindset with it.
What I decided to do was start helping women remain connected to their stories during this difficult time of isolation and confrontation. We had to look at ourselves and ask, “Who are we? What do we want to do with our life?” This pandemic is making us all look in the mirror and ask hard questions. I wanted women to hold on to themselves and their stories. Take this time to reflect on the journey that got them here to the 2020 pandemic.
I started meeting with women online virtually like this. I would talk to them about their stories. I became inspired by their stories, but the movement coach got into this process. I developed something called the power of gesture. I started asking these women. Not only telling me your story. I want you to embody your story with your body. You can process these emotions in a beautiful way and move those emotions through your body so they don’t get stuck.
During this time, we are all facing this significant ask, who are we? What are we doing with our life? What is the world right now? All of these things. There’s a therapeutic component to it. I asked these women to embody the core emotions that live inside of their stories. You don’t need to be a dancer or have any dance background. Just hands and curiosity. These women would begin to embody their stories with simple gestures. This became an extremely powerful practice.
I took it a step further outside of one-on-one coaching. I started to curate their stories and added the editing, photography, and artistic side of my brain. What I did was layered in all kinds of footage and music with their stories. At this point, I have about 120 of these shorts, so people can watch them because nobody has time anymore, and they are 3 to 5 minutes long of these beautiful pieces of art that is a therapeutic process that lands with a beautiful piece of art inspired by a woman’s life story. I come to this place where I have been able to combine all the things that I love and help women and girls because I’m working a lot with girls now, remain connected, embody and celebrate all they are.
How do you find it affects those women? Once they finish a session with you, that is one thing. There is the other part where they watched the video that you produced. There are two levels to this strategy if you want to call it empowerment. They have done level one, which is the movement and your instruction as to what to do. How does that make them feel?
The transformation is incredible because it’s one thing to speak your story. It’s another to embody your story. If there is a pain in your life, which we all pretty much experienced, and if the gesture takes place, you got the word, the anger, pain, resentment, or whatever it is. I’m taking a negative emotion or an emotion that we all have. That is embodied. You put on music. You move that emotion through your body with music. The transformation that happens is unbelievable, combined with the celebratory, lighter feelings of joy and empowerment.
What happens is we’re taking these emotions. We’re putting it into motion. We’re adding music. By the end of this journey, there is a new understanding. A woman is now looking at herself with a new perspective because that is what happens. When we’re feeling something, we go and work out, these endorphins are released, and we have a new energy about ourselves. The same thing happens, except we’re looking at our stories.
There is this new connection to parts of ourselves, whether joy, anger, embarrassment, empowerment, or whatever the emotion is. All of a sudden, we have a new relationship with it because we moved it. We have given it an opportunity not to go away because they’re not going to go away. They are all parts of who we are. How can we shift the perspective and mindset that we once had? That’s what happens. The mindset shifts. It’s unbelievable to watch.
You do this with groups.
I do this one-on-one with women. In groups, it is phenomenal what happens because it’s not obvious that each woman’s individual story we would be there for days and months. Each workshop is prompted by a different theme about intuition, a woman’s desire, a shifting mindset, or whatever it might be. There is a theme that prompts the conversation. All of the women get to experience the work that embodies the work and put gestures to it with music.
This movement story happens among a community of women where we can see and hear each other with our bodies, not with our words, and feel each other’s gestures. It is layered when we do this with a group. Every time I have done it and done it a lot in 2021, there is not one time, and I’m not saying it at the end of each workshop, “I have done this before. I have never experienced these before. I feel empowered and enlightened.” Not by their own story but by the women that they are witnessing and holding.
To be clear, each person in the group says their story, or is it more of a general thing or both?
There will be a theme. Let’s say it’s about intuition. When was a time when you were in your intuition or when you were not in your intuition? Whatever the prompt is, they will journal about it. We will all come together as a group and share a little bit, but I will guide them into creating a gesture that represents what their feeling is. Each woman has the opportunity to do this. We all learn each other’s gestures. It becomes a collective movement story among all of us. We are all moving through each other’s stories, not the entire story of a woman’s life. We would be there for hours, months, or years, but a specific theme that every woman in the room could relate to.
There is level two, where they watch the video. Do you ever do a live session as they’re watching the video to see how they react, or do you send it to them?
I always have to meet with them. I have never sent it to them. I have to be there because it is unbelievable what happens.
I think I would cry.
Having several women in the same space sharing a piece of their story as a group is even more powerful.
They all cry because they’re watching themselves. They’re watching their story. It is reflected in them through art. That is the artist in me. I love the way I edit because the way I edit is very fluid. It represents a woman’s energy. It’s intentional. There is a lot of flow and grace. You have seen some of the videos. If you’re reading this, you should go watch these videos because it’s the way it’s presented with the music. All of a sudden, they were like, “I’m pretty unbelievable. Yes, my journey was hard but look at the beauty of it.”
There is so much transformation from that level one or step one to the end. The transformation continues to happen throughout the entire way until the end, where it’s a complete celebration of a woman’s life. That’s my thing. I always talked to women about we have all been through difficult times, but let’s celebrate it. Let’s celebrate our resilience. Let’s share our stories and lessons. Other women can rise and say, “I’m not alone. I don’t have to be afraid.” We’re giving voice not only to ourselves but to other people as well.
It’s a great promotional tool for anybody that wants to use it.
People use it for their business all the time, as a way for their community to get to know them in a profound way.
Would you be able to show us these videos? I don’t know how to work. People can see what you do because we can talk about it until we turn blue in the face, but they won’t get it until they see the actual footage. I saw it. I thought it was beautiful. I saw one woman. I didn’t see the groups, but I feel that was amazing.
Do you want me to show a single woman’s story or a group?
That would be fine.
There are many beautiful ones. I can show you the one I shared with you, “I grew up not feeling empowered. I had fights in me, and I was rebellious. A lot of it came for self-protection, conditioning the family expectations, and having to be strong. I was good at putting on a good front inside. I was always this soft and emotional being. I had this heart. I wanted people to see it because I didn’t look soft. This angry Black girl and I feel a woman and this angry Black woman. They judge you. I get inside. I was crying and screaming to be heard and to be seen for who I was. I was abused as a child, and after being abused, I put on that tough girl. I checked out of life. I existed.”
“When I had my major wake-up call in 2007, I was over myself. I decided that enough was enough. I wasn’t born to live a life of misery. I always had this deep connection and understanding that there was something greater than myself, but it resided within me and became my motivation. It is to connect with that. I knew that if I didn’t, I would die. I woke up from this perpetual state of unconsciousness and realized that I had squandered my life based on some frigging ideal image that even mattered.
“I was pissed off because I was born into this society that truly didn’t have any love for me. It made me angry. It was a self-imposed prison. Why? It’s because I was trying to live up to these expectations to survive the system that didn’t even care about me. I got mad. I got busy because I realized that I’m not the only one that feels like this. Furthermore, I started investigating, looking, searching, and making connections, like discovering the truth among all of the false that is presented to us in our day to day throughout society.”
“I’m looking at things that we were taught. I’m looking for the source of information, looking at that and seeing if there is any truth to it. Once you do that and you’re open to it, everything starts to come to you. The answers are there clear. The day I stopped crying was the day my heart stopped beating. Don’t you feel this? That is the thing. My tears are not a cry for help. This deep feeling for many years, I did not feel. I welcome them. It’s like a release, healing, and cleansing. This life is beautiful.”
“I act when intelligence moves within me. That’s how I live my life in awareness now, versus walking around asleep, following, and listening to what everybody else has to say instead of trusting the intelligence within me. Once we figure out who we are and why we’re here, anything else is inconsequential. Once you wake up, there is no going back to sleep.”
They need to see your work. It’s a beautiful expression. The way the journey is told, you can’t stop watching it. I could have stopped it after a minute, and people get an idea, but it’s worth the whole thing. Thank you for sharing with us. Thank you for sharing your talents with the world. That is a true talent. I appreciate you.
I’m grateful when people get it, see it, and appreciate it from all angles. I love it from the artistic side, cathartic side, healing side, and celebratory are all beautiful. What I want women to know, and we probably can’t show this. I do have that minute video that shows what it is like in a group because, in a group, it’s powerful with several women in the space, sharing a piece of their story, embodying that, and connecting through that community. It’s the power of gesture. Our body has so much wisdom.
When I work with women, sometimes they’re like, “That part of my life, I was feeling trapped. I don’t know. I can’t come up with a gesture.” They do it. They don’t even realize they’re doing it. A lot of times, I catch them and say, “Your body did trap lonely.” They didn’t even know. They were like, “I felt empowered, but I don’t know what that gesture would be.” You did it. Your body speaks.
I like to help women identify the language, and it comes to my own personal. I have a lot of history around my own connection to language and how I communicate in the world. For a long time, I didn’t know my place. When I found movement, choreography, and gestures, it made me feel connected and understood. That was my personal journey. I want to offer that to as many women as possible because there’s so much power in it.
Your body speaks, and you have to identify its language.
Look for the people that are in this group. They are going to take advantage of this situation. You’re going to put in your links for them to see more of the videos. For those who are reading, they will have all the links right there and then. They will be able to view your website and your YouTube channel.
I know you are in this group because you want to connect with retreat leaders that may want to offer this service facilitation into this movement. For anybody who is reading, she is a facilitator for hire to create this group movement in the retreats. I believe you can do it also. You don’t have to be present. You can do it virtually.
Thank you so much for being here. It’s a beautiful thing that you’re doing. It can create a transformation. It can enhance any program that is out there and bring it to the next level of transformation. Anybody who is interested, they should look you up and hire you. Do you have any new projects coming up or anything that you want to share with us?
I have a bunch of retreats that I’m doing in person and virtually. I’m excited about partnering with retreat leaders. I came back from Los Gatos and worked out in California. I’m working with Lolita Walker in Virginia and Rise Gatherings. I got some things like that, but in terms of what part people can participate in, I do my own workshop monthly, and I have a complimentary one also. I have a 30-minute complimentary in one morning every month and my full 60-minute workshop once a month.
All of that is on my Instagram. If you click on my Instagram, that will show you the next one that’s coming up. There are a couple of other things that I’m working on that I haven’t solidified dates for. Those are the things. I’m excited to continue partnering with retreat leaders, enhancing their programs, supporting their communities, and help these women and girls transform and become everything they possibly can be.
Thank you for being you and doing what you do. Inspiring all these women and giving them that power that they need to showcase to the world. That’s a wrap. For anybody who is interested in climbing their own retreats, taking a course, or hiring a retreat planner, go to RetreatBoss.com. Until next time, take care.
- Jen Aks
- YouTube – Jen Aks
- Instagram – Jen Aks
About Jen Aks
Jen Aks, Story Producer and Embodiment Coach, founded herStories in response to the 2020 pandemic as a way to help Women express their stories of resilience.
Jen has combined her 30+ years of movement training, teaching, photography, editing, speaking, and directing to design her signature embodiment practice, “The Power of Gesture.” The Power of Gesture is a healing art that helps Womxn process emotion and brings them into alignment with whom they are meant to be. Jen’s work has provided breakthroughs and new perspectives about what is possible.
Jen has led “The Power of Gesture” workshops with life coaches, retreat leaders, and her community and has produced over 10o mini-documentaries representing stories of resilience. Jen’s body of work is meant to educate, inspire, and empower to shift the mindset of humanity, one story at a time.