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.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Cultivating Compassion

I end each Nia class with a few statements from a lovingkindness meditation.  This is not a part of The Nia Technique, it is something I bring to my Nia practice.  Many years ago, I was a volunteer facilitator of a support group for adults with chronic and life threatening diseases at the Austin Center for Attitudinal Healing (based on the work of Jerald Jampolsky, MD).  One of the most profound activities we did in group was a version of the lovingkindness meditation by Stephen Levine - and we practiced this periodically.  When we are healing anything in ourselves, extending lovingkindness - happiness, our wish for others to be free of suffering, and to be liberated takes a load off our own hearts.  It expands the space for us to relax and allow our own healing.  The longer meditation that we used in group extended lovingkindness to ourselves first, then out to others, the planet, and the most healing part was extending lovingkindness to those we have issues with.  Lovingkindness practice is an opportunity to unbind the heart.  Once in a while, I do a class with lovingkindness as the focus and we do a longer version (by Jack Kornfield) at the end.

Lovingkindness practice has its origin in the Tibetan Buddhist practice of Tong Lin.  Here is a link to a short video of Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron explaining Tong Lin, with an invitation to practice for a minute.  Studies on the effects of "compassionate meditation" conducted by neuroscientist Richard Davidson (using functional magnetic resonance imaging) at the University of Wisconsin found that Buddhist monks who had practiced what I might call lovingkindness meditation for many years could maintain and extend compassion when shown a series of disturbing photos.  Images that provoked fear, repulsion, or 'fight or flight' dynamics in untrained control subjects drew the monks into a deeper state of compassionate meditation as they extended lovingkindness towards the suffering they witnessed.  One possible conclusion I submit might be that practicing lovingkindness increases emotional resilience, it improves the likelihood that we can keep our hearts open in the face of suffering of our fellow beings on planet earth - and continue to extend lovingkindness.

Dancing Nia opens our hearts, cleanses our bodies and minds, and promotes fitness and self care.  Including lovingkindness in class is an invitation to expand the heart around suffering of any kind, our own, or someone else's (instead of contract in fear).  If I offer a reminder to hold the the girls in Nigeria, or the families of a victim in a school shooting in our lovingkindness - know that your heart is big enough to expand around and hold their perceived suffering in a state of love.  We work to that end in every class.  We're big - our lovingkindness embraces the whole planet.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Healing Structures

This week in my own practice, I have been focusing on releasing structures that inhibit healing:  thoughts, emotions, judgments, familiar patterns that may not serve me.  It's easier to see those structures in other people:  the rounded shoulders and sunken chest of depression, the shoulders hugging the ears of fear or anxiety, the head forward and fast gait of someone lost in thought or worry.  And, it can often surprise me when I catch a glimpse of myself passing a window and realize how I am holding myself.  It's a potent reminder of how the thoughts in our heads manifest as physical structures in our bodies.

We latch on to these structures of thought and feelings that are reflected in our bodies as a means of protecting ourselves, maybe from a situation or relationship that happened in the past.  And, sometimes those structures cause pain - physical or emotional, or make it difficult to heal physical conditions for us now.  Coping mechanisms that helped us in the past are rarely appropriate now.  Sometimes we carry a structural pattern that we learned from our parents - it provided safety for them or their parents, but not for us now.  So, I use my awareness of movement in class to help correct unhelpful structures in my body and mind, and carry that awareness into the rest of my day.

There are many different ways to become more aware of physical/mental/emotional structures - notice what happens when you shift your posture, lift the sternum or gaze.  Another way we sometimes use with the routine Mystere is to move like somebody or something else.  Let go of moving the way you move.  Be somebody else.  With Mystere, we have the magic and mystery of the Cirque du Soliel soundtrack and the inspiration of the acrobats we've seen to play with, as well as the cue of 'exploring with the eyes.'  Sometimes I invite you to wear something different, something you would not normally wear to class, a costume, or a skirt (if you don't usually wear one), a scarf - as an awareness tool.  When you notice this unusual thing, it's a reminder to alter your movement, ever so slightly - to break out of what is customary for you.  You can practice this awareness any time, in class, in daily life, or in extraordinary situations.  Have fun releasing limitations and building healthy new structures!

Friday, May 30, 2014

Dancing with the spirit of Maya Angelou

So many of our cultural heros/heroines over the last century have been humanized to death, knocked off their pedestals by gossip about their vices and short-coming, that I often tend to live as though there are no heros/heroines, assuming we have to blaze our own trail to truth and wholeness.  Then someone like Maya Angelou dies and, "oh yeah, there are people who have inspired me with their example," they've lived and died among us.   Fortunately, Maya Angelou left so much of herself in those of us who have been inspired by her life, that in a sense, her passing back into that space from which we all arise, has made her that much bigger.  Bigger than life:  that's what we expect from a heroine, isn't it?

Maya Angelou danced, sang, and spoke her truth without apology.  Her voice was thick and rich as molasses, full of earth, sweat, sexiness, and sassiness.  It took no prisoners.  Did it offend some?  Probably.  Did it bother her?  Who knows?  She lived as though it did not.  She lived openly and freely.  Nothing for gossip mongers to latch on to and knock down.  She turned her suffering into precious jewels and shared them with all of us.  And so we danced - to fully acknowledge the gifts we have received from this great lady:  truth, beauty, sassiness, sexiness, the power of our unique voices, the joy of expression, the joy of connection in our admiration for her and her gifts.  And we danced to send her off in love and to celebrate a life well lived.

We danced Moodfood with a couple of extras:
Still I Rise
People Get Ready

Monday, April 28, 2014

Talk on Nia: Life as Art - Tuesday April 29th

I will be presenting a class Life as Art: An Exploration of Movement, Meaning, and Mindfulness at 9:30am on Tuesday April 29th, 2014. This is for the Academy for Lifelong Learning in Corvallis. It will last 2 hours, or a little less. I will be deconstructing a Nia class and illuminating many little details about what goes into each part, the value and purpose of many of the things we do in Nia. Basically, things you pick up as a student over a long period of time, but would not know as a new or even fairly new Nia student. Lots of little juicy details that make Nia such an extraordinary practice. First Congregational Church, 4515 SW West Hills Road, Corvallis.  FREE!!!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

2014 One Billion Rising Flashmob!

Here's our flashmob!  April 19th, 2014 at the Farmers's market.  Why it matters: One Billion Rising is an international organization dedicated to ending violence against women. While violence against women has been institutionalized for millennia, NEVER in the history of humanity has there been a rally this big (planetary) to break the chain of violence. We are creating history. Changing our story. And as cultures learn to appreciate women and stop treating us like things, we change the way we relate to our MOTHER - Earth. It's all related. HAPPY EARTH (MOTHER) DAY!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

One Billion Rising Flashmob this Saturday April 19th 10:15am...

At the Corvallis Farmer's Market.  We'll huddle at the fountain at first and Jackson around 10:00am.  If you can't make it to the huddle, join us for the dance at 10:15am at 1st and Jackson.  We'll be on Jackson street.  Please don't block first street.  The introduction will be done by a child, Cleo, then we will all join when the rhythm picks up.  We'll be wearing purple, the color of domestic violence awareness.  If you forget, or don't have purple, no problem, come as you are.  If you feel shy, join the dance later - during the freedance or the last chorus (we repeat the chorus move 8 times).  It's the first outdoor farmer's market of the year and you won't want to miss it.  You'll be there anyway, so might as well dance!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

What does Nia do for you? From Timberhill Athletic Club Newsletter

As a long time student and instructor of the Nia Technique, a body/mind fitness class at Timberhill, I can say that it gives me vitality, well-being, fitness, joy, a passion for living, and it keeps me connected to my heart and my highest purpose.  I often feel like a broken record trying to describe what it is to those who have not done it – and, like chocolate, it must be tasted – it can’t be adequately described.  So, I invited some of the Nia regulars to tell you what they get out of class and here are excerpts from some of their comments.  (A heart-felt THANK YOU to all who participated!)  You, too, can experience the joy of moving and being in your body, no previous experience necessary.  Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 7:00pm and Sunday morning at 11:30am.
I love that Nia has the power to make me forget I'm exercising, because it's so fun. Nia is based on a variety of movement traditions, including martial arts, yoga, and modern dance, and I feel that my body and spirit receive a wide range of benefits, from stretching to strengthening to cardio.  Nia is exploration through movement--it never gets boring! ~ K.M.
Nia provides regular practice of awareness of my body in space and is gradually allowing me to move with more freedom and awareness in all of my life. ~ C.S.
Nia class is perfect for my physical level with enjoyment.  When I do Nia I can release tension and feel peace of mind.  ~ M.K.
This class is an excellent combination of aerobics, muscle training, coordination training and stretching.  It also helps me relax mentally. ~ S.N.
After trying a variety of classes over the years, I've found the one that gives me strength training, agility and flexibility work, and cardio benefits like no other.  It's a fun fusion of dance, martial arts, and healing arts with great music!  There's no strain for perfection in a Nia class.  You'll find a variety of dancers of different body sizes and fitness levels smiling as we move through our own personal adaptation of the moves trusting ourselves as we make each hour of exercise our own. ~ L.F.
In one word answers : Joy,  release,  balance.  A low back injury forced me to let go of running,  Zumba,  belly dancing,  and several other activities through which I'd previously found fitness and peace of mind.  When I dance Nia I feel confident that I can choose the right level of intensity to take care of my back, and still experience fitness and cardiovascular wellness. ~ C.F.
I enjoy Nia because it's fun to dance. Out of all the classes I take at Timberhill I think I smile the most in [Nia] class. ~ GA
I’ve enjoyed the flowing movement of the Nia class that prompts you to listen to your body.  The instructor is a role model and very supportive in class.  For those who have said to me, “I can’t do the Nia class because you have to be bare foot and I have flat feet”, I'll say to them, it’s o.k. to wear shoes, I do! ~  P.N.
I would love to share what I get from NIA. I tell people it is my church. The most open hearted, uplifting, emotional, mindful congregation I have experienced. My body feels more flexible and elastic, including my organs. And joyfully, my mind. Setting new patterns and intentions. ~S.S.
I love Nia because it improves my strength, my energy and my flexibility all at once and absolutely painlessly, without any drudgery, without having to memorize drills or movements, and it lifts my spirits. I can come to class feeling tired, depressed and/or stressed, and I leave loosened up and full of joy and energy. ~ C.S.
I love Leela's Nia class because no matter what my mood is at the start, I feel light and happy by the end of class.  Also, it is exercise but feels like fun, not work, the time flies by. ~ S.K.
Nia is a freeing, gratifying experience that is so much soul-soothing fun you hardly realize you're also getting a great workout.  ~ M.W.
Nia gives you physical and emotional strength to help you in your personal journey through life.  I have health issues that have become easier to overcome since I started Nia.  I highly recommend the class to everyone who wants to enjoy creating a healthy workout program for your body and soul. ~ V.B.
I notice when I do Nia I move through the world more gracefully for days afterward, lighter in body and spirit. It's amazing for the body and helps lift the late winter doldrums! ~ G.W.
Nia is the best "full body" workout I've found. It's energizing and aerobic, yet gentle to my old injuries. I really enjoy the variety of music exercise routines. Leela is a fantastic instructor!  ~ M.F.
Nia is like yoga for my mind & spirit; I feel looser, more flexible at work and I feel like dancing around the kitchen at home.  It's cool that it incorporates Martial arts moves and concepts. Nia is powerful and playful- a fun and challenging practice for me. ~ K.M.
The movements, music and directions of Leela during the class, stimulate positive thinking and helps you start feeling more confident, happy and hopeful. Every time I go to classes I feel more positive about myself and others…. Sometimes I am dancing but at the same time I am praying and sending love and strength to my loved ones. I am very grateful and feel very lucky to have met Leela and Nia. It is not just a class - it is a way of living. ~ M.I.S.

Here's the Newsletter article.  Please feel free to add your comments below.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Cultivating Creativity Through Movement: a free workshop

If you have attended my classes, Nia or Fit for Life, you may have noticed we start off differently than most fitness classes.  Most classes start out with a fast, boom-boom warm-up.  I tend to start out slow.  There are physical reasons to start out slow:  check out your body, the condition of your joints, discover where you need more or different movement (what feels good?) as well as what hurts, or where you need to modify movements to find more comfort or avoid injury.  Decelerating, or slowing down also helps us to slow the mind and enter a different brain state than we normally walk around in.  This brain state can help us learn movement easier, it stimulates relaxation, and it expands our creative horizons – if we choose to go there.

On Saturday, Feb 15th at 4:00pm I will be presenting a workshop called Cultivating Creativity through Movement at the Symposium on Transformation without Apocaplypse:  How to Live Well on an Altered Planet.  We can’t solve the problems of our time in the same mindset that created them.  Movement, music, and specific exercises can help us enter into an expanded state of connectedness, mutual inspiration,  and open us to seeing things in novel ways - connecting the dots differently.  Curious about brain states and how you can use your time in class more creatively?  Perhaps even dream up an out of the ordinary solution to a problem you are working on?  Check out this FREE workshop at the symposium.  More about the symposium at the LaSells Stewart Center here.  It features a lot of great keynote speakers, including Ursula Le Guin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kathleen Dean Moore, and Sarah Van Gelder.  It will be an inspiring weekend (including the flashmob on Friday evening).

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rise! Dance! Strike! One Billion Rising

We're doing the One Billion Rising Flashmob again this year.  However, the V-Day event is now postponed because of impending flooding, deluge, etc.  It will be rescheduled for a much nicer day in April at a wonderful location.  I've been waiting to hear if something might happen indoors V-Day - but no word.  So, unless you get an emergency email - it's off for Friday 2/14/14.

One Billion Rising is an international organization dedicated to ending violence against women.  While violence against women has been institutionalized for millennia, NEVER in the history of humanity has there been a rally this big (planetary) to break the chain of violence.  We are creating history.  Changing our story.  And as cultures learn to appreciate women and stop treating us like things, we change the way we relate to our MOTHER - Earth.  It's all related.

The links you need to participate:
To sign up and find out about group rehearsals and any changes - and make your presence known!
To follow on facebook
Choreography tutorial
See last years flashmob

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Where's the Gift?

Dawn came up after class with the most beautiful, touching insight – that I just had to explore it a little more than we could in the moment.  She said that she was thinking of her excess weight as stored energy (not a new idea to her) and wondered – since it is energy – how could she use it to make a contribution?  How could she make a gift of this energy?  [As opposed to thinking of it as something to get rid of.]  She acknowledged that in an agricultural society, people did physical work and used most of their energy, and that this is no longer the case.  As she was puzzling over ideas to appropriately use that stored energy, she thought of biking out to visit the father of a friend who is home-bound.  The thought of making sacred, or making a gift of something that we may be accustomed to seeing as a bother or a problem intrigues me.

Just that morning, I found out that a zumba class had been scheduled at the same time as my evening Nia class, only a half hour earlier – a more desirable time.  This is a worrisome situation for me.  I love my classes so much that I feel grief when I think that my classes may be cancelled because people prefer the better time or other class.  I longed to make a shift that would allow me to see the gift in this – so Dawn’s insight came at just the right time for me.  (Amazing how that happens – thank you for sharing it, Dawn!)  It seemed so easy and natural to her when she told me about it.  And, we set ourselves up for insights by showing up, setting the stage with positive expectations (like we do in wellness coaching), and practice – like we do in class or meditation.  So, I’m guessing Dawn has a number of ways she sets herself up for such a happy insight.

So, techniques I can use to see things differently are:
  •  Choosing love (instead of fear).  The classes are so sweet that it is easy to see the love there.  If the classes were to end soon, did I love as much as I could, as deeply as I could, and appreciate everyone as much as I could?  None of us knows how much time we have left.  Will we leave any love unexpressed, anyone unacknowledged?  What can I do to share my love and appreciate more.
  • Teach every class as if it were the last.  Again, we never know.  If I knew that this would be my last day on earth, how would I want to show up?
  •  Practice being at home in the unknown instead of worrying about what might, or might not happen.  When my mind wants to dwell on the potential loss, stop and celebrate what I have. 

Dawn’s insight adds purpose and meaning to something loaded with negative feelings for most people.  I’m guessing it allows her to live with a greater sense of peace and the joy of making a contribution.  By giving her gift of energy – she becomes the gift.  I’m hoping my strategies will help me live with greater peace, love, and passion through this potentially challenging transition. 

How could you transform the way you look at a challenge in your life to find a greater sense of peace and purpose?  Feel free to comment.