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Agility

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

For those of you who have been stationed on Neptune for the past 18 months, today is the U.S. Presidential election. There is no doubt that I will spend much of this highly charged day asking the question that Eckhart Tolle suggests that we ask ourselves regularly: What is my relationship with the present moment?

I am certain that during this day I will feel all kinds of emotions, and this is a question that is appropriate to ask at all kinds of times in a variety of situations, not just super-dramatic ones. This is a powerful question to ask whenever I’m feeling

  1. Afraid
  2. Worried
  3. Excited
  4. Hopeful
  5. Angry
  6. Irritated
  7. Impatient
  8. Bored
  9. Distracted
  10. Upset or rattled in any way

Whatever is going on in my experience – whether my hair is on fire or my panties are in a twist, whether I’m bouncing with anticipation or zoning out in boredom – check out what you’re bringing to your relationship to the present moment. The three most helpful things to check into are

  1. Breath
  2. Body
  3. Thinking

And not necessarily in this order. I usually start wherever the sensation or awareness is strongest and investigate from there.

Breath

What is my breath doing? Is it shallow or ragged? Am I holding it? Am I laughing or making sound? Is it deep and full? What happens if I make a conscious choice to change my breathing?

Body

What physical sensations am I experiencing? There may be big sensations but there are always something you can feel and check into. Am I bracing or tense? Is my jaw clenched or my stomach tight? Does my heart feel fluttery or my throat like I want to squeal? What happens when I make a conscious choice to pay attention to sensation without attaching any story to it?

Thinking

Where are my thoughts going? Am I worrying that something will happen or won’t happen? Am I envisioning the smoking wreckage of my future or a glowing tower of eternal bliss? Do I believe that whatever is happening will be so forever?

This practice of asking the question – What is my relationship with the present moment? – can be used any time to deepen our awareness in the moment and remind us of the choices that are always available. It can be helpful when I feel when I feel upset and angry, disconnected or neutral, when I feel excited and giddy.

Who knew that watching election returns could be a spiritual practice?

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Art in Action is a weekly post: a simple, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

Earth.
Water.
Fire.
Air.

The basic elements of life are inextricably interconnected and intertwined. We may look at a boulder and think “Earth” but the stone was born of Water and Fire and Air, too.

Since they are of this planet, our bodies are made of the same stuff — all the ingredients blended inseparably together. The brilliance of this design is that in any moment, we can choose to emphasize whatever element is most needed.

Like a sound system mixing board, we can turn up the volume on whatever track needs to be highlighted. Use sensation and awareness to guide yourself toward healing and well-being.

Earth

Feeling over-excited or anxious? Have you been up in your head solving a problem or analyzing a situation? Feeling spacey or zoned out? Grounding with Earth energy can get your feet back on the ground

  • Drop in. Stand up, lift up onto the balls of your feet and firmly drop your heels down to the floor several times. Relax your hands and jaw and shoulders.
  • Get on the ground. Lie on the floor (or extra bonus points for lying on the actual Earth) and relax into the support (without going to sleep). You can roll and stretch but whatever part is in contact with the floor, let it soften.
  • Focus on the exhale. Extend your exhale as long as you can to relax and integrate the energy.

Water

Feeling hot or irritated? Been in an argument or had someone pushing your buttons all morning? Feeling jagged and sharp? Smoothing out the edges with Water energy can help calm your prickly pointy parts.

  • Move smooth. Roll your neck and shoulders, stand up and circle your hips, rotate your ankles and wrists. Imagine your body flowing especially in places where you tend to hold tension.
  • Get in touch with water. Take a shower or wash your hands. Drink a big glass of water or a cup of tea. Listen to a recording of ocean waves, rain, or (my favorite) water running over rocks.
  • Breathe evenly. Inhale and exhale for the same count (say, 4 in and 4 out) with no pause between them.

Fire

Sleepy or bored or distracted? Feeling lethargic or low energy? Sparking the Fire element can wake you up and get your attention.

  • Shake. Do some jumping jacks or simply shake your hands, feet, shoulders or head. Literally shake yourself up.
  • Fire up the iPod. Listen to your favorite up-tempo energizing music. Two of my favorites are Sandstorm by Darude and Raging Fire by Phillip Phillips. Dancing is optional, unless the song is super good and you can’t help it.
  • Bellows breath. Sit tall and forcefully exhale and inhale using bhastrika breath or bellows breath. Find instructions here.

Air

Feeling tightness in your muscles or your mind? Find yourself in a contracted position on a plane or around an issue? Been slumped in front of the computer or TV for a while? Opening up space with the Air element can release tension and offer a broader perspective.

  • Stretch. Lengthen your body along the bones. Let your whole body find length from feet to spine, from legs to fingers. If you’re on a train or at a meeting, stretch what you can – maybe your hands or sit up taller or imagine yourself in a big open space reaching long in all directions.
  • Look at the sky. On your way to the car, take a moment to look up and see how much space (even on an overcast day) there is all around you.
  • Breathe in. Expand your internal spaciousness by breathing deeply in. Let your ribs expand to the front, sides and back.

* The mind is a powerful tool. If you can’t move due to injury or circumstance, move what you can (e.g., shake out just your right hand if your left hand isn’t available) or imagine yourself moving. Just using your imagination will have almost the same effect!

elements square 041616One of the first routines I learned when I began teaching Nia was a classic created by Nia co-founder Debbie Rosas called Chakras. Its focus was the elements of earth, water, fire and air and as a student, I loved the contrasting grounded, fluid, intense, and light movements. But as I worked on getting ready to teach it, something was missing.

I asked my mentor, Chris Friedman, to let me teach her the first song. After a minute, she stopped me and asked, “When you do that deep stance, which element are you dancing?”
“Earth,” I said.
She paused and said, “I can’t feel it when I watch you.”

Oddly, neither could I. I’d been focusing mainly on my feet and legs when I did this “Earthy” movement but Earth, Chris pointed out, is in my whole body.

Throughout the routine, I did my best to embody each element. Earth isn’t just in my bones and base, Water isn’t just in my joints and blood, Fire isn’t just in my nerves and muscles and Air isn’t just in my lungs and hands. Each element is systemic in the body.

We and the planet are made of the same stuff. As I embody the elements, I am embodying the interconnection within and around me.

earth 041616Earth

The Earth element is in our very bones, muscles, and connective tissue. Our physical form that allows us to literally stand on the Earth is of the Earth element.

Stability and strength are the movement sensations most directly connected with Earth. Like the globe itself, stability radiates energy out in all directions from center. And like the force of gravity that holds us to the ground, strength pulls energy in toward the bones.

Feel your radiating rootedness and your powerful physical form and you are feeling the Earth in you.

Of course, our bones and muscles and connective tissue can’t function without…

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Water

The human body is more liquid than anything else. Synovial fluid lubricates joints and saliva lubricates our tongues. Blood, our fluid tissue, touches every other tissue in the body. In her 2008, New York Times article, The Wonders of Blood, Natalie Angier wrote:

It is through blood that our disparate parts communicate, through blood that our organs cooperate. Without a circulatory system, there would be no internal civilization, no means of ensuring orderly devotion to the common cause that is us.

Much of us liquid and is constantly moving. The flow of mobility is the movement sensation connected with Water. The life giving, cleansing power fluid movement mirrors the liquid element that swims within us and around us.

Feel movement with no beginning and no end and you are feeling the Water in you.

Of course, the flow of blood and movement stops cold without…

fire 041616

Fire

The nervous system fires to ignite both unconscious and conscious movements. Without the electric spark of nerves, the body wouldn’t know what to do. Whether from the flash of thought and imagination, or the ignition of automatic processes, fire is in our fibers.

The movement sensation of agility with its quick starts and stops is most closely associated with fire. The sizzling heat of precise agility is how we can light our own element of Fire.

Feel the bright lightening quickness in your bones and you are feeling the Fire in you.

Of course, the Fire goes out without the nourishment of…

air 041616

Air

Just like the air around us, the air within us offers relaxing nourishment and powerful energy. Air is the spaciousness that we feel when we breathe deeply, stretch long, and connect to the vastness of spirit. Air and space can be found in every bone, fluid and tissue … and between every thought.

Flexibility is the movement sensation of energy moving out along the bones. Like a long exhalation, creating the length and space of flexibility connects the body most directly to Air.

Feel the spacious length in your body, your movement and your breath and you are feeling the Air in you.

Of course, Air has nothing to animate, nothing to nourish without Earth, Water, and Fire.

Earth Day is this week* so it’s a perfect time to recognize the interconnectedness of the elements on our planet and in our bodies. Dance with elemental movement and feel your connection to every part of you, the planet and the universe!

 


* Earth Day 2016 is Friday, April 22 and Mary Linn and I are teaching a special class that evening at acac downtown, 545-7pm. The class is free to members and they can bring a guest for free!

Paisley Pants 007A week of dancing the DragonLily Dance of agility and mobility: I experienced some of the sweatiest classes in recent memory, some sore muscles in unexpected places, and of course, neon salmon pants. What more could a person ask for??

How about some music? Here are all the playlists from the week: lots of Carlos AyaRosas choreography and some other juicy yumminess besides.

Next week, we’ll continue playing with the Sensations of Fitness (dare I call them the Sensations of Life? Why yes, yes I do.). In the meantime, I invite you to notice how you do what you do. Just pay attention. It’s the first step to giving us choices about how to respond.

Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

Monday, April 14, 2014, 1045am ~ DragonLily

Song for Olabi 6:07 Bliss
Clouds 6:33 Feuerhake
Sweeter Love 8:09 Blue Six
Qalanderi 6:55 Cheb I Sabbah
Welcome to the Journey 5:04 Cybertribe
Shadowman 6:36 Afro Celt Sound System
Ants Marching 4:31 Dave Matthews Band
Back To Me 3:31 Kathleen Edwards
The Remedy (I Won’t Worry) 4:16 Jason Mraz
Sure Thing 6:03 St. Germain
Horizon 4:00 Garth Stevenson

Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 9am ~ DragonLily

Damascus 2:03 Conjure One Feat. Chemda
Center Of The Sun 5:01 Conjure One Feat. Poe
Tears From The Moon 4:18 Conjure One Feat. Sinéad O’ Connor
Smokey Quartz 6:59 Shakatura
Qalanderi 6:55 Cheb I Sabbah
Drumming Up a Storm 5:59 Bob Holroyd
Shadowman 6:36 Afro Celt Sound System
Up In Indiana 4:36 Lyle Lovett
Suddenly I See 3:22 KT Tunstall
Taxman 2:39 The Beatles
Drive 3:53 Incubus
Easy Tonight 4:09 Five for Fighting
Golden Slumbers/The End 4:16 K.D. Lang

Weds, April 16, 2014, 1055am ~ DragonLily

Awa-Awa 4:34 Wes Welenge
forever changes 5:34 ZKT
Catu (Vienna Sub Mix) 6:21 Ikarus
Oye Como Va (Latin/Trance Mix) 4:17 Celia Cruz
Blood Stud (Ray Mang Remix) 8:36 MB Disco
One Week 2:49 Barenaked Ladies
Faster 3:28 Matt Nathanson
Snapbean 2:37 Li’l Brian & the Zydeco Travellers
Fly 3:33 Bart Hafeman
Boogaloop 4:33 Ursula 1000
The Sea 5:08 Morcheeba
April Come She Will 2:06 Tracy Grammer
Path 3:14 Ishq

Thursday, April 17, 2014, 9am ~ DragonLily

Awa-Awa 4:34 Wes Welenge
Clouds 6:33 Feuerhake
Moonsmith 5:50 Cantoma [Quango] C3
Sweeter Love 8:09 Blue Six
Freek 7:16 Shakatura
Ghosts in My Machine 3:33 Annie Lennox
Ants Marching 4:31 Dave Matthews Band
Played A Live 6:46 Safri Duo
I Can’t Get Next To You 3:09 Annie Lennox
Subterranean Homesick Blues 2:17 Michael Franti
Big Blue Ball 4:52 Big Blue Ball
Horizon 4:00 Garth Stevenson

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT NIA?

For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at http://www.nianow.com…

If you’re traveling or moving, you can find a teacher or classes wherever you’re going.

Interested in teaching or deepening your practice? Check out the Nia White Belt Training. There is one coming up in Richmond the week of May 17 and lots of other places, too.

DragonLily purpleYears ago, my teacher Carlos approached me at breakfast.
I was so excited and moved so quickly that I spilled tea all over his shoes.

I am agile. A dragonfly.
Sometimes, I could use more mobility.
A little more water lily.

Knowing how we do what we do is powerful. Awareness of my tendencies gives me choices.

Mobility: the constant flow of movement around the joints.
Agility: quick, crisp starts and stops.

Both increase fitness in the body (and mind) but most of us tend toward one more than the other.
Dancing with both creates health and well-being.

Be a DragonLily.

DragonLily whiteCarrie usually flows into 4:30 yoga just as it starts. I overheard in the locker room that she is a teacher, so she just has time to make it across town from the middle school. With her loosely braided, long blonde hair, her complicated earrings, and her Heely high tops, I was sure she taught art or English, but no, she’s just the coolest math teacher you ever did see.

I’d seen her many times, but for the first time on a recent afternoon she slipped into class and unrolled her mat next to mine.

For better or worse, I find myself affected by the yogis and yoginis who are practicing around me. It happens during Nia class, too, that I am touched by the energy of the dancers around me. Depending upon what’s happening in the neighboring spaces, I can get distracted or inspired. If someone’s fidgety or anxious, focused or rock solid, it ripples onto my mat. I focus on my own movement, I do, but somehow I can feel the practice that’s happening near me.

When Carrie set up next to me, a graceful softness unfolded as she unfolded her towel. It felt like a flower had just bloomed next to my mat. She moved from posture to posture like a time-lapse nature film of a water lily. Opencloseinout.  Her movements glided together with no sharp edges, only petals folding over each other and then unfurling again. Lovely to behold, it was.

Breathing in her gracefulness, I shifted my attention more clearly back to my own postures. And I was aware of a certain, how shall I say?, contrast. I noticed that I stopped and started quickly and sharply. Palms snapped together. Twist, shift, open, close. My first reaction was one of negative comparison which in my head was a whining 7-year-old, “Noooo, I want to be a flowwwer like Carrrrie!!” But as I watched my own crisp movements and sensed Carrie’s fluidity, I could see the gifts in both.

I was the dragonfly to her water lily.

In Nia, we train, condition, and heal the body with 5 Sensations of Fitness — Stability, Flexibility, Strength, Agility, and Mobility. Each sensation contributes in different ways to the health and well-being of the body. We all tend to gravitate toward some more than others.

For some people, one sensation comes to the fore. You might call it a “Signature Sensation.”

Carrie’s Signature Sensation appears to be mobility: the constant flow of movement around the joints. My Signature Sensation (in yoga, anyway) is agility: quick, crisp starts and stops. Both are essential for increasing fitness in the body. Mobility creates ease and relaxation in the muscles and nervous system, lubricates the joints, and activates supporting, intrinsic muscles. Agility strengthens connective tissue and large, extrinsic muscles, and sharpens the nervous system with its precision.

My yoga habit is to hang out in my agile dragonfly style, but practicing next to Carrie, I started playing with letting a little flow into my flitting. I stepped my feet more softly in and out of postures. As we moved to the floor, I let my hands gently float down to my sides instead of plop and firmly flip. I experimented with relaxing my eyes and breathing more deeply. I let the postures emerge and evolve more; sharply start and stop less.

Offering the body both mobility and agility creates balance and flow. Both sensations increase our fitness and well-being. And, of course, we can benefit from our awareness of mobility and agility not just in the body.

Notice if you tend toward dragonfly (agility) or water lily (mobility) in your physical movement. How do you move on your mat, in the studio, at your desk*, across the parking lot, or around the kitchen. Then notice your thoughts: do you flit from one thing to another crisply or flow seamlessly? Emotions, too: to you tend to swing sharp or drift fluidly?

Once you recognize your tendency, experiment with its opposite (if neither really feels like you, stay tuned, next week we’ll play with Strength and Flexibility **). Play with introducing more lily-ness if you are a dragonfly and vice versa. Breaking habits of all kinds create new pathways in the brain and new possibilities in everything we do.

Since she usually comes in after me, I just have to hope that Carrie will blossom on her mat near me again soon. In the meantime, I still like to scoot and shoot around on my mat, but I am enjoying letting my hands and shoulders flow more lily-like and softening my sparkly dragonfly eyes.

* In the midst of writing this post, my hand shot out across my desk, knocked my cup and spilled my tea on my keyboard. I zoomed around, cleaned up the mess, found a screwdriver and dried the inside of my keyboard. Dragonfly. Very dragonfly.  And evidently, dragonflies swear like sailors.

** A Note About Stability: Stability is the first and last of the 5 Sensations of Fitness. Stability, defined as energy radiating out from center equally in all directions, is necessary for any of the other four to happen. As you notice mobility and agility this week, also notice how stability plays a role.

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