Sunday, January 14, 2018

Dancing into who we are meant to be for MLK Day

Today, the day before MLK Day, we danced to Moodfood, an oldie but goodie Nia routine which features the Joy of dancing to part of the "I have a dream" speech. I invited everyone to imagine the best version of humanity we can imagine, perhaps all people living together in peace and harmony, caring together for our earth. Then, holding that dream or image in our hearts and minds, step into it, own it, and dance it together, playing with the idea that past-present-future are all here now. Every human that ever lived has contributed to this moment we are continually stepping into. They are all here now. The intention we are holding for humanity is our future, and we create the future NOW. We are the culmination of every human who has ever lived. We are manifesting the new human, the best version of humanity, right now, this is who we are. We were all born to live in these times and elevate humanity to its highest purpose. Let's keep stepping into our highest aspirations for humanity - it is in our DNA. Everybody zip up your earthsuit! We are on the ride of our lives!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Theme for stepping in to the new year... Letting go without rejecting anything

Most, if not all, of the tension we hold in our bodies, minds, and emotional states is secondary to our interpretation of what happened in the past. We carry past injuries, our compensatory adjustments to injuries, our judgements about ourselves and our bodies, and our concerns about not measuring up to other's judgements and expectations, in our bodies as patterns of holding, and in our minds as anxiety or even depression. Our holding patterns are anchored in the past, and prevent us from being in the present, where joy resides. Each time we trigger a memory (happy or sad, makes no difference) the memory of the past changes, because the person experiencing the memory is not the same one who experienced it previously. As we grow in understanding and compassion (a result of life's bumps and bruises) our memories change. We never store the same memory twice. Our Nia practice can be an avenue for gently changing the way we carry tension, and the way we hold our memories in our bodies.

Dance invites us to shake up and shift our customary patterns of holding (which can cause injuries and pain) and enjoy being in our bodies in a different way. The nine movement forms of Nia, from dance, martial arts, and healing arts help us access different movement styles and energies that free us from the prison of our tension patterns: the dynamic precision of taiqwando vs. the playful lightness of Duncan dance vs. how-I-normally-move-through-the-day. Dance connects us to the joy we can only find in the present, and the more we engage in it, the more joy we access, and the more freedom we find. While joyfully moving to music we can easily recognize that we have everything we need in this moment, the essential truth that there is nothing missing in this moment. 

So, while stretching and beginning to move, notice your aches and pains, some may have been with you for a long time, and greet them as friends. Ask them what they need, and always treat them with gentleness. What can you learn from them? How do they ask you to move? Notice how you feel while moving, and at the end of class. Each time we dance, we effortlessly slip out of the mask of everyday tension, without even thinking about it. We subtly change the way we live in our bodies, without forcing or rejecting anything. As we find our joy in movement, our bodies (and minds) change of their own accord.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Sacred Immersion beginning this week...

It's curious that my last blog, from the summer, was Moving while recovering from injury or illness, and I now find myself needing to follow my own words very closely. Two weeks out from a hysterectomy, I'm allowed to come back to class, as long as it is VERY LOW IMPACT. This means I will demonstrate small and you can choose to intensify the movement until you find what is right for your body. Rather than bring in familiar routines, this seems like a good time to experiment with a new one. As some of the movements are new to us, we can take it smaller, focus on tiny details, and add intensity with increasing familiarity. (I find when teaching at full volume, the small details can get lost.) Consider the next couple of classes a workshop on a new routine. Hopefully, we can all develop a deeper level of intimacy with these new 'katas' - as we like to call the specific movement combinations in Nia.

The new routine, 'Sacred', incorporates beautiful world-flavored music with some interesting and playful movements and sounds. The original focus for this routine is 'dancing the bones,' and as I (minimally, in my condition) move and listen to this work, it takes me to any number of places: dancing our body, mind, emotions, & spirit; awareness and healing; dancing the three body weights: pelvis, chest, and head; and the power of dedicating our dance to something we hold sacred. We will visit each of these foci (described below) as we learn the routine 'Sacred.'

We define 'focus' in a Nia class as "what you place your attention on." You might notice me say in a particular class that we are focusing on the sensation of stability, in order to feel more peaceful. That is an example of a focus, followed by the intention. The focus always leads us to something we would like to experience. You can always bring your own personal focus to any class.

Dancing the bones comes from a Nia principle called "X-ray anatomy." X-ray anatomy involves sensing from the inside, or observing the form in the mirror to check for proper placement of bones (which benefits ligaments, muscles, and tendons). When focusing on dancing the bones, I notice a sense of lightness and ease, less resistance, or more playfulness when practicing a resistance move.

If you practice Nia, you know that you are a multidimensional being. Our workout integrates the body, mind, emotions, and spirit, feeding every part of you. When your being is fully fed, your motivation comes from within, we don't have use pounding beats as an external driving force to push you to move harder and faster. Music can stimulate joy, passion, and playfulness in your workout. You can practice from a place of inspiration, rather than needing to be driven to work out.

Awareness (which includes self-healing) is one of the basic Nia principles. Awareness allows us to tune into sensation - the language of the body. Pain lets us know to stop and assess what we are doing, make corrections so that we can move safely, and heal. Pleasure says, 'yes, more of this.' Awareness teaches us to be mindful of our thoughts and emotions, heal misperceptions, and speak our truth, when necessary. In the spirit realm, awareness allows us to sense our connectedness, and heal feelings of isolation.

The three body weights, the pelvis, chest, and head, make up the core of the body. As we focus on the three body weights, we learn to find a natural alignment, that alleviates holding patterns that cause pain and discomfort. We build strength, flexibility, and stability in the core for more comfort and ease in dancing through life.

We can dedicate any dance to an attitude or concept that we hold sacred to get a profound sense of well-being. The nondual teacher David Hawkins says that we can use just one spiritual tool, such as kindness or forgiveness, and pursue it with intensity to its ultimate end to free ourselves from the bonds of the ego. We can apply this to our dance, as well, to fully embody that which we hold sacred.

No matter what focus you apply to your dance, remember that laughter and playfulness are also sacred. So come to Nia and enjoy an immersion in 'Sacred.' Beginning this Tuesday Oct 10 (at Timberhill Athletic Club - 6:45pm), for the next 2 weeks, or so. I'll be starting 'Sacred' at Chintimini next week on Monday Oct 16 at 11:00am.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Moving while recovering from injury or illness

Group exercise classes bring an air of fun and comradery to our workouts. The expressiveness of dance brings smiles, while the deep relaxation at the end of class allows us to let go of our daily worries and struggles. Are you feeling sidelined by an injury or recovery from an illness? No need to let the fun pass you by, you can learn to participate in group fitness classes in a way that supports your healing process. Nia and Fit for Life both provide opportunities to engage with the joy of dance, the stimulation of interesting or uplifting music, the relaxation of a deep breath and stretch, and the fun of working out with positive people. Leela cues both of these classes with varying levels of intensity and modifications for situations you may be healing. Here are some attitudes that can help you make the most of class while learning to adapt the moves to fit your healing process.
  • Go easy on yourself – practice ‘beginner’s mind.’ Consider these classes “movement practice” we come together to practice, not to be perfect. We are learning what works for us right now, at this time in our lives. Let go of what worked twenty years (or six months) ago and be present with where you are right now. No need to ‘try hard’ or ‘figure it out’ find the movements that feel good. Keep the focus on the sensation of pleasure.
  • Listen to your body. Start small and work up to greater intensity over time, only when your body says you need more (ignore the ‘shoulds’ in your head – listen to the body). Never push into pain! If any movement hurts – don’t do it. Pain is body talk for “stop that!” Listen to your body. Just because a movement works for others does not mean it will work for you, right now. Modify your moves to find pleasure in your dance or stretch. Over stretching or overdoing any movement can cause injury or set back your healing process. The more you listen to your body, the more intelligence you will find.
  • Let your instructor know about your concerns, she can direct you towards alternative or smaller movements. Keep your focus on what’s working, what feels good, and move towards pleasure. Anxiety about pain produces greater pain. If you are in a lot of pain, you need medical care, not exercise. If you are not in extreme pain, you may find that shifting your focus to what feels good actually reduces the pain you do feel.
  • Be consistent in your practice – show up for yourself! Those who start and stop, and start and stop tend to give up before they establish the exercise lifestyle. If you over-did it one time – don’t stop – show up and find out how to avoid making the same mistake again. There is no shame in having to work smaller or slower, it’s all learning.
  • Notice that you are surrounded by some of the nicest people in the world. Your classmates are welcoming and willing to offer helpful tips to newcomers. Some of them have even been where you are right now. Don’t be shy, and if you are – that’s OK, too.

Don’t let an injury or healing condition keep you from finding the joy of movement. You can learn to take your movements down a few notches to a place where you can practice in safety and develop greater body awareness, along with all the other physical, mental, and emotional benefits of exercise. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Colonoscopy musings

Colonoscopy today. Very uncomfortable prep last night. I farted around on facebook, waiting for a whole lot of nothing (not even gas) to happen at the other end. As it got later, I began to get frustrated with the waiting. So, I decided to watch how my thoughts were causing the frustration. I practiced breathing, relaxing, and shifting perspective: allowing the thoughts to take up less space and the space around the thoughts to expand. To pay attention to the space, and disengage from the thoughts. It made the all night long task of prepping less frustrating, and more just being with the experience. Just a task. Now this. Now this. Now this. It was still wearisome, tending to the situation and not getting the sleep I desired. And it was doable.

I requested no sedation, so I could watch the show during the procedure. Apparently, it is rare for Americans to have colonoscopies without sedation, but it's standard practice in other countries. (We have the right to feel NO PAIN, it says so right there in the constitution under life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.) There was some discomfort/pain from the scope going around corners, the gas expanding the space at one point, and the contraction/cramping of the colon as the scope was being removed. And, I could breathe through it. And what's left now is not a memory of pain or discomfort, but wonder at the beauty of the blood vessels, the smoothness of the walls, the cuteness of the cecum (which looks like a bellybutton), how tiny and perfect the snowy villi were at the end of the small intestine, and what a cramp looks like from inside the colon. There is the joy of seeing what my healthy colon looks like, and gratitude for the miracle that it all works!

My dad died of colon cancer, and while it is one of the cancers that can have a genetic component, the fact that he lived to be almost 81, would suggest that his cancer was not genetic. Our risk for colon cancer can be greatly reduced by eating healthy foods (LOTS of vegetables, fruits, and fiber, and less red meat than the standard American diet), regular exercise, not smoking, and not drinking in excess. Also, colonoscopies can help determine if you have other risk factors, such as polyps, or colon disorders that can be monitored to prevent or catch something in the early, treatable, stages. So, if it is time for your colonoscopy, don't hesitate, you can actually find joy, learning, wonder, even humor. (I neglected to tell you about the colonoscopy humor that you only get when you are awake – you just have to be there.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Power of Posture: The Reach Nia Routine

One of the very first things we notice about others on a subconscious level is posture and body language. We form impressions about people we don't know, often without conscious understanding of how we arrived at those ideas.  An example of how I came to notice this: when I first started dating my partner, Austin, I went to the O'Henry Pun-off in Austin, Texas and noticed him up on the stage performing the role of moderator.  I sat in the audience a little irate that he did not mention he was doing this.  (What's up with that guy?)  After a while, I realized that the guy on stage who looks and sounds a lot like Austin, was probably his brother.  Now that I know his brother, they look nothing alike, except for the same mouth, his brother is taller, has curly hair and more of it, their eyes look nothing alike. I was picking up on posture and body language - and it was screaming at me - this is the guy!  Now that I am familiar with both of them, I can't see the body language similarities the way I did when the relationship was new.

Our posture lets others know our habitual states of mind:  are we upbeat? Are we chronically depressed or worried?  Do we move with grace and vitality, or do we drag ourselves through life?  Are we optimistic, or do we tend to look for things to go wrong?  Our physical presence is constantly broadcasting messages to others, whether we care to or not.  Having been on the planet long enough to observe how others age, one thing I have noticed about postural deterioration in aging is that working out with weights, or even various forms of ethnic dance do not prevent the hunching or gait issues I associate with less-than-graceful aging.  At a recent yoga workshop I attended, the instructor said something along the lines of, "forgive yourself for your posture, it's not yours."  We get it from our parents, our culture, our lifestyle habits, and from our mental and emotional habits.  Improving posture requires diligent, but relaxed, practice.  We can't force ourselves into "good" posture, we relax our patterns of holding (body/mind/emotions) and ALLOW an upright, comfortable posture.

Nia is a movement and lifestyle practice and a lot of the postural cuing I use in my classes comes from Alexander Technique, one of the movement forms the Nia Technique is based on.  "Sensing yourself being lifted from the top" or "being drawn up like like a plant towards the sun" offers a sense of lightness and ease in sensing our way into a comfortable, upright posture.  Other cues you hear me say might be"lifting your heart" and "allowing the shoulder blades to slide down the back." What does any of this have to do with the Reach Routine?

This week we are learning the Reach Routine, developed by my first Nia teacher and trainer, Holly Nastasi.  Reach is designed to help release holding and tension around the shoulder girdle.  We think of the shoulder girdle as the scapula (shoulder blade), the humerous (upper arm bone), and the clavicle, the small bone that rests at the anterior top of the rib cage and connects the humerous to the sternum.  True freedom in the shoulder girdle allows for full range of motion, lots of space between the shoulder and the ear, and an open-hearted posture (the shoulder blades can relax down and back, and the shoulders do not hunch forward).  We will be moving in ways that promote flexibility, mobility of the shoulder joints, and stabilizing the shoulders by building more strength in the core muscles that support the arms and shoulders.  I hope to see you in class (either Timberhill Athletic Club, or Chintimini this week.  See my schedule in the sidebar.

What kind of messages do you want your posture to send out to the world?  Open-heartedness? Happiness?  Ease?  Freedom?  Uprightness?  Your steady, diligent, relaxed, gentle movement practice can get you there.

For a little more on posture see The Science Behind Posture and How it Affects Your Brain.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Power of the Punch! (or block, or kick)

Someone recently brought up feeling uncomfortable with the more 'aggressive' moves in class.  And I thank her so much for acknowledging and voicing the concern.  I have observed that some (mostly women) have a difficult time with the TaiKwanDo moves and stating "no."  I have also observed that some women, in particular, find a lot of enjoyment/relief/gratification (not sure exactly) from the same moves and sounds.  It's like they've waited their whole lives to freely express.  Some of us (myself included) have had to sit on our energy a lot in order to be socially acceptable.  Our culture has a lot of judgmental labels for women who are strong, passionate, and stand for something.  (Example: the way Hillary was bashed for talking about health care in the '90s!!!!)  Blocks are always about boundary setting.  Sounding, for me, is about owning my voice.  A lack of respect for women's boundaries pervades our culture.  (The entire abortion 'debate' is about who gets to control women's bodies.)  Often women who have been abused have difficulty with this whole issue of setting and protecting their own boundaries, and the practice of owning and voicing boundaries can be one of the most healing things we do in a Nia class.

Another aspect:  there are things in this world that are not OK.  It is not OK for criminals to steal over 300 girls and the whole world to just stand around twiddling thumbs (while they continue to steal more girls).  We have the technology to have done a lot (particularly at first) and we didn't.  It is easy to be angry about those things and have no where to put it.  So, I have my own outrage, and I express for those who can't.  No!  This needs to stop!  Owning my outrage and having an expressive outlet for it feels healthier than shrugging my shoulders and feeling powerless.

Another part of it is:  we can never truly say yes when we cannot truly say no.  Saying no and yes are powerful statements.  This is where I put my energy, this is where I won't.  So many of us have obligations all over the place and they drain energy.  We often take things on with a sense of joy and hopefulness, then get overloaded and frazzled.  So, stopping and noting:  this feeds me, this doesn't, and rearranging priorities helps.  Yes to this, no to that - frees energy and passion.  It can happen in class - you are just saying "No" (because its in the choreography), when the thing you need to say no to (and haven't, yet) shows up.  Some of us have had very stressful jobs at times, and going to Nia and sounding yes!, no!, and HUH! can be a safe outlet for frustration arising from work or family problems.

Yet another way to look at it is:  it's all energy.  It's neither masculine or feminine.  Would you mess with a cute bear cub if you knew it's mama was around?  Mama bear energy looks dangerous and aggressive.  Sometimes there is a reason for that energy that is neither negative or positive - it just is.  And we are wise to be aware of it. 

Now, I love the feeling of aliveness, freedom, and connecting to passion that I get when I make those powerful sounds - yes! no! huh! and movements - punch, block, strike, kick.  I get so much joy from sensing the power of the stance (my legs), my core, and my voice.  Come to Nia and celebrate the raw power of your own physicality.  RAH!  Own it!  It's YOURS!  

Do you have any insights to share about your experience of these energies in class?  If so, comment below.