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Monthly Archives: March 2012

For the past 13 years, I’ve been a vegetarian.  I eat fish and eggs and dairy, but not meat or chicken of any kind.  I love eating this way:  it feels good in my body, and it’s healthier for the environment (not to mention healthier for the animals!).  Living in Charlottesville, when I tell people this, I hardly get a reaction.  People here, at least to my face, seem to take it in stride and not to think much about it.

This week, we traveled with friends to visit their Midwestern parents who are wintering in Myrtle Beach.  When our friend told her parents that we were vegetarians, I think they were worried.  They had no idea what to buy for us or how to find places where we could eat.  Although we did our best to assure them that (a) it isn’t difficult to find vegetarian alternatives in grocery stores and restaurants and (b) that we were self-sufficient and would bring food with us, they were concerned about how it could possibly work.

Once we arrived, they were kind and welcoming and were obviously delighted to have us with them.  Yet when it came to food, they seemed baffled by our plant-based choices.  It was strange for me, after all these years, to be with people who seemed to find my diet to be eccentric or even bizarre.

Sometimes this happens to me with Nia.  Someone asks me about what I do or at the club they see me teaching a class and they make a comment (either spoken or unspoken) that tells me that they think what I do is odd.  Some people make jokes about how silly they would look or how much alcohol they would have to drink before they would join my class.  And when that happens, I sometimes can feel myself shrink, ever-so-slightly, from my Body’s Way.  Even in class, there are times when I am moving in my own particular, peculiar way, and I see that nobody else is moving that way, and a part of me wants to be not-so-different.

We all have a range of tolerance of being different.  It is my hope as a Nia instructor, that Nia offers a safe place to be ourselves without judgment or comparison.  Yet it is in our own minds that the real safety is created.  How does it feel when you are the different one?  Or when someone comes to class and they move differently – maybe taking up more space or (gasp!) standing in your spot?  Play with what it feels like to fully be yourself, and allowing others to be completely themselves.  Imagine how it would feel to live in a family, a community, a country in which nobody – and everybody — was a weirdo.

I love me some beach time.  I love the sun and the sand, the waves and the wind.  I love walking along that precious place where the water might come up and get me…and it might not.  Sand castles are a specialty, especially my famous dribble castles (as passed down to me by the Dribble Castle Master, my mom).  I collect shells with the best of them and can play smash ball for ages.  And there is no doubt that my beach sport of choice is body surfing.

There are few things that feel as exhilarating and empowering, as well as humbling and awe-inspiring as launching my body into the curl of a wave and riding it in (or getting tossed bum-over-teakettle, depending how it goes).  Standing in water between waist and chest high, the first challenge is to wait for the right wave.  As they roll in, I decide what to do with each one:  jump up and float over the top, dive into the heart of it, or surf it in.  Once I’ve chosen a wave to ride, it’s all about launching off the bottom at just the right moment, to combine my strength with that of the wave.  Push off too late, and the wave will roll right over me.  Too soon, and I’m likely to get tangled in the whorl and end up in a snarled pile in the sandy shallows.

While I was body surfing at Myrtle Beach last week, I noticed how important the state of RAW is to successful body surfing.  RAW is the state of Relaxed, Alert and Waiting.  In Nia, we use RAW lots of times, in particular when we’re listening to music, learning movements, and teaching.  The key in RAW is finding the balance between the three qualities of Relaxed, Alert and Waiting.  Too relaxed, and I miss some of what’s happening in and around me.  Too alert, and I’m carrying tension that prevents me from embodying what I’m doing.  Too much waiting, and I’m stuck in the future, frozen from acting in the present.

Body surfing is really like dancing with the ocean, and it’s essential to remember that the ocean is dictating the rhythm and speed of the music.  If I’m too relaxed while waiting in the waves, I won’t have the explosive power to time my jump into the crest.  Too alert, and I won’t have the softness to let go and either ride or release into the tumble.  Too much waiting, and I’ll just hang out bobbing around looking for the wave that will never come.

RAW has a sensation.  My invitation today is to play with it for yourself.  Feel the balance between the three qualities.  Which one do you tend to do more, which one less?  I’ve found that RAW is a state that helps me do just about everything with more ease and power.  Everything from having a difficult conversation to making an awesome dribble castle to riding that sweet, perfect wave all the way to the shore.

I avoid competition like the plague.  Competitive contests whether athletic or intellectual, judged or timed or scored performances of any kind: I usually say no, thanks.  I like watching sports, and even so, I hate to see anybody (except maybe teams from New York) lose.  After years of beating myself up with judgment and comparison to others, I just do my best to avoid it.

For this reason during the first part of our relationship, I resisted playing games with my (total game-loving) husband, Frank:  first, because he’s the luckiest person I know (see my post on his luckiness) and second, because he’s also one of the smartest, so he would (with-extraordinarily-few-exceptions) always win.  After a while, the constant losing would wear me down.  As a compromise, for the past several years, we play Scrabble without keeping score.  This worked great for both of us:  Frank got to play a game and I got to not worry about losing (yet again) — and we could just have fun.

When we traveled with our friends to South Carolina last week, it turns out that they have this cool Scrabble game for the iPad (or iPhone or any iProduct, I expect).  We would pass it from person to person while we were driving or hanging out at the apartment (watching NCAA basketball while I cringed for the losing teams).  Heavens to Triple Word score, did we play us about a zillion games of Scrabble in five days!

And here’s the thing about this computer version of the game:  there is no option to NOT keep score.  Every time I played a word, the computer added up my points and displayed them at the top of the screen for all to see.  When I realized that avoiding the competitive side of the game was impossible, I made a choice to use the Buddhist principle of non-attachment for our extended Scrabble Odyessy.

Non-attachment is about letting go of the outcome of a situation.  As my friend and wonder-coach, Joy Tanksley, said in her August 22, 2011 Monday Morning Spark (), “Plant the seeds.  The harvest is not your business.”  Non-attachment is about doing your best and then letting what happens, happen.  One of the misconceptions about non-attachment is that I don’t care about the situation.  It can seem like a cold and hardhearted practice.  But non-attachment is not detachment.  Non-attachment means doing our best, our absolute best to affect the change that we want, and THEN, letting go.  And this is where it gets a little tricky.

In the liner notes of Paul Simon’s latest album, So Beautiful Or So What, he talks about this practice.  He wrote (and I’m paraphrasing here – does anybody have the CD so I can get his exact words?): “Life is about caring like crazy, with all your heart, and then not giving a damn.”  Non-attachment is pouring ourselves into an endeavor and not worrying about the results.  I don’t know about you, but that is a difficult practice for me.

Even in something as innocuous as an electronic Scrabble game with friends, I find this challenging.  I would sort and resort my letters, find the best place to get double, triple letter and word scores and then as soon as I hit play, I’d breathe, and pass the game to the next person.  Sometimes I’d feel that familiar frustration or ineptness, and mostly I was able to retain my equanimity.  It may sound like a small feat and for me, it was progress.

Today, I invite you to experiment with non-attachment in Nia and in life.  Pick something that you want to learn, have, be or do and pour yourself into it completely.  And then let go.  The harvest is not your business, just the planting and cultivating of the seeds.  So Beautiful or So What.

Last week, when we were in South Carolina, we spent a day kayaking on the Black River with Black River Tours exploring the Black River Nature Preserve.  I suppose we could have kayaked through the cypress / tupelo swamp on our own — we all know how to maneuver a kayak and could have followed directions about where to go — but we chose to go with a guide.  Straight away, Mandy, our Black River Outdoors Guide, showed us things that I, at least, would never have noticed.

I’m pretty comfortable around water and in a paddle-driven vehicle, but even so, I was immediately distracted by the whole experience.  Before we even got into our boats, I peered warily at the dark, tea-colored water wondering if it was safe to touch.  While I was thinking about how to look more rugged and outdoorsy than I was feeling, she was explaining that the black water actually wasn’t dirty, but filled with anti-bacterial tannins from the cypress trees (these natural preservatives in the water enticed the pirate, Black Beard, to take barrels of it for his ocean escapades).  While I was busy getting my life jacket comfortable, Mandy told us to look for snakes hanging out in overhead branches (and that they could end up dropping into our kayaks if we paddled under them).  With my full attention on the possibly-snake-infested-branches (and paddling precisely in the middle of the channel), I would have missed the Great Egret fishing on the shore and the pair of osprey building their nest if not for Mandy pointing them out.  As soon as I started watching the sky for more birdlife, Mandy showed us the swamp azaleas blooming on the shore.  While I was looking for flowers, there is no doubt that I would have missed the long, floating log – that was actually an alligator.

Turtles sunning (and perfectly camouflaged) on logs, lazy red wasps making a nest, lacy green lichens decorating the trees, all would have gone unnoticed.  Had we gone without a guide, we would have had a lovely time, I’m sure.  We would have enjoyed a beautiful, peaceful day on the water (unless one of those snakes had joined me in my kayak) and I would have missed so much right around me.

When I started taking Nia classes, one thing I loved was that instead of acting as a drill sergeant and telling us what to do, my Nia teachers acted as tour guides.  They helped me with my technique and pointed me in the right direction, but largely, they pointed out interesting things along the way.  Interesting things that I most certainly would have missed while I was distracted by my life jacket and the possibility of snakes.   So today, let’s focus on taking the time to see what might otherwise have been missed.

NOTE:  After a little jaunt to Myrtle Beach last week, 5 short “Learnings from the Road” posts this week!

Last week, my husband and I traveled to Myrtle Beach with our close friends, Jane and Pat.  Jane’s parents generously invited us to share their rented condo on the beach for a few days and we were excited to spend time near the ocean with some fun people.

Myrtle Beach, for those who aren’t familiar, is one of those built-up beach cities:  lots of high rises and hotels, boardwalks, buffets and beachwear stores.  So when we arrived at Jane’s parents’ place, it wasn’t terribly surprising that we were staying on the 14th floor of a big condo building.  I don’t have a lot of experience with these kinds of places and I have to admit my inner New Englander felt a certain amount of skepticism about it.  All my beach memories were of walking out the door and to the water, not down the hall and down the elevator!  Going to the beach was about being on the beach!

Gratefully, I kept my thoughts to myself (unusual but wise!).  We loaded our gear onto a luggage cart, rode to the 14th floor, and rolled into the apartment.  Sliding doors opened onto a balcony and we stepped out to see a broad view of the Atlantic Ocean with the smooth, white beach unwinding as far as we could see in both directions.  We could see the curves of white foam as each wave rolled in.  Culsters of seagulls and formations of pelicans glided just feet from our balcony.  South along the shore, we could see the skyline of hotels and the brightly lit Sky Wheel.  To the North, we could watch the sun rise through the clouds.  One night we watched as the sky darkened, the rain pelleted the sand, and the lightening lit up the horizon.

Standing on the balcony opened my peripheral vision to see a huge expanse of shore and water and sky.  From high up, I watched a family building a sand castle, kids feeding the sea gulls, and an old man walking his excitable dog – all at once. I could see the patterns of people moving along the shore:  those that strode through the water and those that skittered away from the incoming waves.  I watched the most popular places for blankets and umbrella fill in as the sun rose higher.  I even used Nia Principle 10 (X-Ray Anatomy) to watch bodies walk and run and play.  Spending time on the 14th floor gave me an opportunity to see the beach and the ocean from a whole new perspective.

Don’t get me wrong, my absolute favorite part of being on the beach is being on the beach.  I love swimming and looking for shells.  I love the feel of sand under my feet and the rush of body surfing down a wave.  There is just nothing like the feel of the wind and the sun and the smell of the ocean.

And now I’m also grateful for the chance to see the beach from 14 floors up.  It opened a whole new level of beauty to a beautiful place for me.  Looking at a favorite thing from a new perspective was refreshing and wonder-filled.  It can be so easy, when we love something to just keep looking at it from that one loving perspective.  Today, see if you can look at something you love differently.  If you take Nia today, stand in a different place to see if the change of perspectives opens up something new.  And tomorrow, go back to your favorite spot.  Because after all, the best part of being on the beach is being on the beach.

Two abbreviated weeks of classes (see Spring Balance post) with three playlists!   Enjoy!

 Monday, March 12, 2012, 1045am ~ With Cat-Like Tread

We Are All Connected               7:07      Magic Sound

touching the void        9:08      Banco de Gaia

Back to the Earth         5:27       Rusted Root

Gulf Breeze      6:30      Eat Static

Apollo (Adam Goldstone Edit)            5:52       Cujo

Fire to Me         4:36      Hyper/The Crystal Method

Out Of Heaven               5:56      Dreadzone

Shine    4:12       Joshua

Deep Inside      5:06      Kid Beyond

Sleep    4:24      Euphoria

 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012, 1045am ~ With Cat-Like Tread (Firedance for St. Patrick’s Day)

Reel Around the Sun 8:42      Bill Whalen / Riverdance

The Heart’s Cry              2:28 Bill Whalen / Riverdance

Countess Cathleen/Women of the Sidhe       5:42 Bill Whalen / Riverdance

Shivna 3:38 Bill Whalen / Riverdance

A Mhuirnín Ó  5:01       Clannad

Firedance          6:04      Bill Whalen / Riverdance

Slip into Spring              3:46      Bill Whalen / Riverdance

Siamsa                4:28      Ronan Hardiman / Riverdance II

Riverdance       5:45      Bill Whalen / Riverdance

American Wake [The Nova Scotia Set]            3:09      Bill Whalen / Riverdance

Lift The Wings (clean)               5:00      Bill Whalen / Riverdance

Bonny Portmore           4:20      Loreena McKennitt

Caoineadh Cu Chulainn (Lament) 4:11            Bill Whalen / Riverdance

 

Monday, March 19, 2012, 1045am ~ Spring Balance

Orange Sky      6:11        Alexi Murdoch

My Culture       5:39      Maxi Jazz/Robbie Williams

When You’re Falling [Featuring Peter Gabriel]         5:14       Afro Celt Sound System

After the Rain Has Fallen         5:03      Sting

Stacy’s Mom   3:18       Fountains Of Wayne

More Than This             4:07      10,000 Maniacs

African Drug [Original Tribal Mix]      6:02      Bob Holroyd

Ghosts in My Machine               3:33       Annie Lennox

Centerfield       3:51       John Fogerty

What I Be           4:45      Michael Franti & Spearhead

Facing East       3:48      Thievery Corporation

New Morning 3:44      Alpha Rev

Rivers  5:45      Big Blue Ball

 

 

Whoa.  Spring!  In the past couple of weeks, things have sprouted, others have withered, I’ve felt cold to the bone, and I’ve gotten sunburned.  So much feels like it’s moving – and in lots of directions.  Last week alone, we played with cat-like tread and danced Firedance in honor of St. Patrick, I took two of the Nia 52 Moves classes with Jeanne Catherine, and the ACAC Nia Team went on a field trip to the PVCC Cadaver Lab with our friend and Nia student, Professor David Moyer.  I taught a Dharma Dance class that focused on noticing the sensation of living our dharma, cheered my step-son and husband on as they played soccer, and am now getting ready for a few days away in South Carolina.

The Spring Equinox offers a balance of light and dark.  The Earth gets to that balance one little micro shift at a time.  Every day just a few minutes in the morning, and nudging a few minutes toward balance in the evening.  And we’re the same way.  Stand on one foot for a minute.  (Come on.  Stand up.  I’ll wait.)  Our precarious upright posture is maintained by tiny muscle contractions and releases that keep us balanced.  Can you feel those little micro-movements?  Balance isn’t a static state.  Balance is a verb, not a noun.  Constant tiny little adjustments keep us aligned.

As we stepped cat-like steps in Firedance (again and again and again), and we practiced the Nia 52 moves (again and again and again), I was reminded that this is how the body does it.  One little movement, one little choice, one more repetition, over and over.  As I stood awe-struck over a body that someone had lived in for over eighty years, I could see how he had used his muscles over and over, how she had used her joints, how he had used his lungs.  The history of all those little choices was written in the tissue and bone of the body.  In Dharma Dance, as we moved and connected to the sensation of breaking habit, trusting the body and living on purpose, I could feel in my own bones the seduction of habit and the scariness of moving in way I haven’t before.  One choice at a time:  break the habit and face the fear.  As my two soccer players, ran and passed and kicked (to victory, I might add), I could see that their performances were a result of thousands and thousands of repetitions and choices and practice.

Now I’m getting ready for a little time away.  Five days for a break, a change of scenery.  This is the other side of balance.  Even today, on the Vernal Equinox, we are already moving toward the big shift toward “out of balance.”  At 1:14am, the earth was in perfect balance.  Immediately it began its shift toward the longest day of the year when the light far out lasts the dark.  We’re the same way.  Paradoxically, the best way to improve our physical balance is to take the body OUT of balance.  Playing with big movements and changes that throw the body out of equilibrium is what strengthens my sense of balance.

As we did explosive jumps and runs in Firedance and we shifted wildly off center in Cat Stance in the 52 Moves, I could feel my balance getting stronger as my core and legs adjusted to my shifting weight.  In the cadaver lab, I could see the dramatic shifts that happened in the body to bring balance:  the broken bone that actually leaves the bone stronger after healing, the hip replacement, and the sternum wired closed after open heart surgery.  (I’m conjecturing here, but I do note that it is possible that these last two “dramatic shifts” were imposed on the body after all the tiny adjustments were either not enough to bring the body into balance or were over-ridden by the mind.  The twisted posture or mis-aligned walk that wore down the hip made a big adjustment necessary.  The love of milk shakes and French fries made the open heart surgery needed to create more balanced blood flow.  And I really don’t know what the circumstances were.  Just sayin’.)  Dharma Dance invites big shifts in movement and thinking:  a big letting go to paradoxically help us relax and center more deeply.  The soccer team sometimes makes big surprising shifts — a little tap of a corner kick instead of the usual booming one, pulling the keeper out into the field, players switching sides or positions – all to shift the energy and strengthen the endeavor.

So as I take a little break to reset my own balance, I invite you to check in with your own.  Are you noticing the little changes and choices that are happening all the time?  Are you sometimes playing with shaking it up to strengthen your balance?  What do you need to pay attention to this week?  As always, I’d love to hear about it.  See you Monday!