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!