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Awareness

This week, summer turns to fall.
And I am revisiting my word for 2o17: Awake.
Fall awake.

How can I use my awareness, pay attention, and notice what is happening inside me and around me?
How can I stop falling asleep and start falling awake?

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While we were traveling, I kept having this both-and feeling.

How could I feel so much love, see so much beauty, experience so much joy and yet at the very same time, feel grief and fear and deep sadness about what was happening in Charlottesville?

Both. And.
Every day was a practice in opening up to both-and.

It sometimes feels like it would be easier to go with either-or. To go all in with one and ignore the other. But that’s not the way life works.

Life is light and dark
Life is joy and grief.
Life is beauty and ugliness.
Life is both-and.

Connections between bones are what make movement possible. How we align one bone effects the position of those around it. Inevitably, every movement choice ripples through the skeleton.

 

My husband calls his shoulder blades his “wings.” As in, “Ooh, scratch me below my wing.” But the clavicals look like wings to me, too, even though their name means “small key.” The clavical is one of the easiest bones to feel through the skin. Find yours and then turn your palms up and down and see if you can feel it move. Have you ever broken your clavical? It’s the most commonly broken bone in the body.

The design principle of structural hierarchy that is present in your bones – tubular structures made of tubular structures – was used in the design of the Eiffel Tower. Check out this cool (and short) video for more!

When looking at the bones of the feet, there is no question which one is designed to strike the ground! The bone is also known as the os calcis or chalk bone.

“The best way to prepare for the next pose is to be fully in this one.” – Kelly Stine

When I was in 3rd grade Mrs. Schneider had us do an exercise: write down and then tell the class something that you are good at. That clever Mrs. Schneider was way ahead of her time, assigning self-love to 8-year-olds in the early 1970s. I remember feeling uncomfortable to identify something I thought I did well, but I was nothing if not a direction-follower, so I did it.

Here’s what it was: I am organized.

My 3rd-grade-self loved keeping track of things, keeping my notebook in order and organizing what I was supposed to be doing. Even then, I was a list-making-planner, getting ready for what was coming.

To this day, I like having a plan. I like the neatness of a plan. A plan relaxes me and makes me feel ready. And yes thankyouverymuch, I do recognize that it is a way for me to pretend I have control over everything when I utterly and completely do not. I also recognize that this is a nervous person’s strategy. Thinking back on it, I feel tenderness for my little girl self that was already looking for ways of battening down the anxiety hatches.

These days, when my teachers talk about the almighty present moment and about staying in the Now instead of looking forward or back, I chafe a little. I mean, I get it. I know that Now is where life is happening and “Now is a gift; that’s why we call it the present” and all that. But we have to plan things, otherwise, the kids have no money for college, there is no food in the house at dinner time, and we’re homeless when we retire.

My genius yoga teacher, Kelly Stine says, “The best way to prepare for the next pose is to be fully in this one.”

My mind likes to think that I am already doing that, but my body knows different. I can feel it when I do yoga. Before I’m completely in Warrior I, I’m already beginning to open my hips and arms to get into Warrior II. Then, before I get into Warrior II, I’m flipping my front palm and reaching up and back for Reverse Warrior. If I keep projecting myself into the next pose, I’m never really in any of them.

I can feel it in Nia, too. I know another movement is coming up and I don’t really finish the one I’m doing to get the class ready for the next one. Kelly teaches that instead of mushing the two movements together, or having one dribble out, to be fully in the first right up until I’m in the next.

Like my organized, nervous 3rd grade self, I can see that this tendency to be projecting ahead happens often when I’m anxious about something.

Have you ever been at a cocktail party, having a conversation with someone, but they aren’t really looking at you? With eyes and attention wandering, they are casting around the room to see who is there and who might be the next person to talk to.

It’s possible that my love of planning and organizing is a way for me to get myself ready. It’s also a way to dissipate anxiety (social or otherwise) and disengage from whatever is happening in the moment. Instead, I could see whatever I’m doing right now as my planning. Fully engaged, present … and ready.

I don’t want to be a distracted flitting-ahead yogi. I don’t want to be that preoccupied person at the cocktail party. I want to be the one who is fully up to her eyebrows in the conversation she’s having right now. And when it’s over, it’s over and I have another full-on conversation.

I want to be ready now.

Every once in a while, my toes get painful little cracks in them. They always appear in the same place: at the base of my big toes. They hurt like the devil when they show up and given their vulnerable placement, it takes weeks for them to heal. The only way I’ve found to fix them is to tape my toes. It’s not a great look for a barefoot dance teacher but I’ve yet to find a better option.

For years, I couldn’t figure out why it was happening – was it the weather, when I danced on unfamiliar surfaces, what?? Finally, I turned on my witness – high caliber awareness – and paid close attention to what was going on when the toe tape came out. The witness revealed that these teeny injuries happen when I’m learning new choreography and stepping back onto my toes rather than the ball of my foot.

Even with the witness’s observation, I still have to tape up my toes now and again (as anyone in classes this week knows) but at least now I know how I do what I do…and what the consequences are. Without that information, no choice or change is possible.

All the playlists from the week are below or you can listen to them by going to Spotify! Dance for free at Spotify! Sign up, follow me at “susanmcculley” and you’ll find my public playlists ~ just click and listen!

And first the announce-y type things:

Marie-Therese Pain Obituary
We are deeply saddened by the loss of our friend and long-time dancer, Marie Pain. You can find her obituary here. I will be attending the service on Saturday to deliver our community condolences (I have a card if you’d like to sign it) and welcome anyone who would like to join me.

Memorial Day Nia – Monday, May 29 from 11-12:15pm
For the holiday, acac has a slightly modified schedule so on Memorial Day (and all Monday holidays), Nia at acac Albemarle Square will be from 11am-1215pm! Come spend some of your day off with your body and with us!

dance.sit.create… Saturday, Jun 24, 2o17, 8:30am-5pm
Come spend a delicious day playing at the sweet intersection of movement, stillness and art. We’ll explore the creative magic of the number 7 and the power of play for inspiration and restoration. No experience in anything is necessary. All you need is a willingness to see what happens and eat delicious, healthy meals. The retreat provides everything you need for an uplifting, rejuvenating day. Susan offers the structure and guidance for movement, meditation, and creative jaunts. Rebecca caters extraordinary vegetarian, gluten-free, seasonal food (tea, snack, lunch). And it doesn’t stop with one day. Also included is a 6-week series of music, meditations, and prompts to keep you in the flow. Some scholarship is available ~ email me for more on that (sjmnia@gmail.com).
Early Bird: $100 if registered by May 24. Late Bird: $125 if registered by June 20
Limited to 20 participants.
Checks to SusaNia LLC and mailed to 1255 Sunset Avenue Ext., Charlottesville VA 22903 with registration form or at http://www.susanmcculley.com.

dance.sit.create… research question
Please help me prepare for the upcoming retreat by answering this question: Are you an artist? If you said yes, what is it about you and/or your life that makes you one? If you said no, what would have to be different about you and/or your life for you to be one? Please feel free to answer in the comments or PM me! Thanks, y’all.

CHARLOTTESVILLE WHITE BELT TRAINING in September
Our friend, mentor and Nia Trainer, Helen Terry is coming to Charlottesville to offer a White Belt training! White Belt is the first level of Nia training, designed to provide body-centered training to anyone interested in living better in a body or teaching Nia. Helen is a First Generation Nia Trainer, chosen years ago by the creators of Nia to be one of the first Nia trainers. She’ll be retiring soon, so don’t miss your chance to learn from this amazing teacher and trainer! For more information and to register, please visit: https://nianow.com/node/1139984. Please feel free to contact Mary Linn at marylinnl@acac.com with any questions!
As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

*** PLAYLIST NOTE: My playlists can also be found on Spotify https://www.spotify.com/us/ by following “susanmcculley” (no space) and look for Public Playlists. Sometimes music is not available on Spotify so I may replace with another version or skip songs . ***

Sunday, May 7, 2017, 3pm ~ Love Warrior at the Quaker Friends Meeting House

I See Fire 5:01 Ed Sheeran
Beauty & the East (Banco de Gaia Remix) 6:51 Bombay Dub Orchestra
Wristband 3:18 Paul Simon
Mexican Chef 3:49 Xenia Rubinos
Ain’t No Man 3:34 The Avett Brothers
American Idiot 2:54 Green Day
Faith (feat. Ariana Grande) 2:43 Stevie Wonder
Freedom (feat. Kendrick Lamar) 4:50 Beyoncé
That’s What Makes Us Great (feat. Bruce Springsteen) 3:25 Joe Grushecky & The Houserockers
Revolution 3:40 Coco Love Alcorn
This Land Is Your Land 4:38 Little Feat
Mercy 4:31 Dave Matthews Band
We Are the Ones 2:51 Sweet Honey In the Rock
Gentle Exit 4:15 The Happening

Monday, May 8, 2017, 1045am ~ Witness Choice Variety

Here We Go 5:59 Deep Dive Corp. Ft. Hush Forever
Sunday Morning, Up All Night 4:54 NYXYSS
One Hundred Lights (Grouch Remix) 5:31 Kaya Project
Heartbreaker 5:24 Crazy P
Torch 7:49 Bob Holroyd
Steal Drum 7:07 The Martin Brothers
Any Way You Want It 3:24 Journey
Mumbai Madness 4:49 Mashti + Jean Baden
Elephant (Dub) 6:07 Spiral System
Empty Vessel 3:46 Bob Holroyd
Stillpoint 4:18 Oliver Shanti & Friends

Tuesday, May 9, 2017, 840am ~ Witness Choice Variety

Here We Go 5:59 Deep Dive Corp. Ft. Hush Forever
Sunday Morning, Up All Night 4:54 NYXYSS
One Hundred Lights (Grouch Remix) 5:31 Kaya Project
Torch 7:49 Bob Holroyd
Steal Drum 7:07 The Martin Brothers
#1 Spice 3:51 Young Cardamom & HAB
Mumbai Madness 4:49 Mashti + Jean Baden
Elephant (Dub) 6:07 Spiral System
Empty Vessel 3:46 Bob Holroyd
10 Questions for the Dalai Lama 3:15 Peter Kater

Wednesday, May 10, 2017, 11am ~ Witness Choice Variety

We Are All Connected 7:07 Magic Sound Fabric
Sunday Morning, Up All Night 4:54 NYXYSS
One Hundred Lights (Grouch Remix) 5:31 Kaya Project
One World, One People 4:43 Xcultures
Tala Odyssey (Drumspyder Remix) 6:07 Desert Dwellers
Torch 7:49 Bob Holroyd
Moon & Sun 6:02 Dalminjo Fjörd Fusioneer
Do Your Thing 4:45 Basement Jaxx
A Little Bit Of Riddim (Featuring Cherine Anderson) 4:19 Michael Franti
Give It Away 5:17 Zero 7
Witness 4:48 Sarah McLachlan

Thursday, May 11, 2017, 840am ~ Witness Choice Variety

We Are All Connected 7:07 Magic Sound Fabric
Sunday Morning, Up All Night 4:54 NYXYSS
One World, One People 4:43 Xcultures
Tala Odyssey (Drumspyder Remix) 6:07 Desert Dwellers
Torch 7:49 Bob Holroyd
Moon & Sun 6:02 Dalminjo Fjörd Fusioneer
Do Your Thing 4:45 Basement Jaxx
A Little Bit Of Riddim (Featuring Cherine Anderson) 4:19 Michael Franti
Give It Away 5:17 Zero 7
Let It Go 2:16 Jamie Catto & Alex Forster

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. They are offered all around the world so you can find one near you or where you may want to go!


Sometimes, I think I’m doing something and really I’m not.
Or I think I’m not doing something but I actually am.

Lately, I’ve been exploring new music* with the particular intention to expand the variety of what I listen to and use in my classes. I’ve been working on a playlist for weeks: combining a variety of styles and rhythms, tempos and lyrical themes. Satisfied, I sit back, look at what I created…and see that it was a playlist of entirely white artists.

Dang it.

In conversations, I can get excited. I want to share something so I interrupt people. It’s an annoying habit that does nothing to create connection or build relationships. Just ask my husband. So, I pay attention and breathe when I have an urge to jump in and say something. But when I ask Frank how he likes it now I’m not talking over him, he raises his eyebrows, “You mean you were doing something differently?”

Double dang it.

I notice this in Nia and yoga, too. I’ll be moving around the studio, feeling like I’m really breaking into some new moves only to realize that I’m doing the same exact thing I always do with my feet. I think my hips are nice and square in Twisted Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana). But when I put my hand on my low back, I can feel that it’s all cattywampus. I catch myself in the mirror, or someone catches me in a photo and there it is: I’m doing what I usually do the way I usually do it.

It’s normal to find a groove and stick to it. Habit is, as an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon said, the most powerful force in the universe. Habits develop to save energy and allow us to focus on threats and problems that haven’t been solved yet. But if I walk on the same parts of the carpet all the time, those parts get worn down to the nub while others go untouched. It is healthy to break out of habitual patterns and find new pathways in the body and brain.

Habit-breaking is not only healthful for the nervous system, but it give us options when circumstances shift and we are unable to do things in our habitual way. If you never, ever use your non-dominant hand to open doors or brush your hair or eat, what will happen when you injure your dominant arm? (Answer: You will stay in one room with messy hair and be hungry.)

Much of any body~mind practice focuses on us noticing our habits and making different choices. In Nia, many principles focus on creating movement variety and breaking out of our habitual patterns. We use the Principle 2, Part 2, The 9 Movement Forms (and a bevy of other Principles) to create new skills and possibilities in the body.

However, not one of those principles will effect a single pingle thing unless we witness how we do what we do. We have to actually know what we’re doing if we’re going to choose something different. Without that awareness, we are swimming in an unconscious sea of habit. Even after years of practice, I find myself continually going back to doing-it-the-way-I-do-it – and the only way I can make that statement is that I know how I do what I do. It’s only from there that I have a choice.

Whether you dance Nia or garden or chase after toddlers, spend some time and attention on noticing how you do it. Without judgment or criticism, be a witness to your own patterns:
Oh, I tend to step back onto the ball of my foot and lift my elbows when I free dance.
Ah, when I pick up my daughter, I always put her on my right hip.
Hmm, no matter what the time of day, whenever I get home, I have a snack.
Look at that, I interrupt people.

The first step in creating real, actual change is to witness how I do what I do. There is no skipping that step. From there, the possibilities are endless.

* I’m always interested in knowing what you’re listening to and especially what you are dancing to in the car/kitchen/shower. I’d love it if you’d share your current favorites in the comments below, on the Focus Pocus Facebook page, or email me at sjmnia@gmail.com

I have to take a breath and pause. Stop talking. Sometimes even stop moving. When I do that, I can feel it. Usually.

It can be around something big like Do We Buy This House? Or something small like Do I Put Elephant (Dub) In My Playlist AGAIN? It’s often around, What’s The Best Next Thing For Me To Do Right Now?

If I stop and listen and pay attention, I can feel the sensation of Yes and I can feel the sensation of No. We all can. We’ve all had the sense that something is right – a Yes – or that something is off – a No. For those of us with busy minds, this “gut feeling” can take practice to feel and listen to.

You can do it right now. Think of something that you’re wondering about: maybe what to make for dinner or what to work on next week or what to plant in the garden. Think of one of the options, imagine it happening (imagine that you actually made the eggplant parmesan or planted the pieris japonica) and feel what you feel. Notice particularly what you feel in your belly and heart. It might be subtle and it might take practice but your body knows and will tell you if you listen.

Yes and No are the language of the Body. As I practice, though, I notice another answer that I get a lot. Sometimes, I take a breath and pause and what I feel isn’t Yes or No… it’s GAH.

I get GAH when I think about doing my books, or doing push ups, or emptying the dishwasher. I don’t want to do it even though I know I’ll be glad if I do. I get GAH when I think about squeezing another meeting into the afternoon, or joining another art class, or eating another piece of chocolate. I want to do it but I know that I’ll be sorry if I do.

GAH is what I feel when I want to do something but I know it’s not a real Yes or when I don’t want to do something but it’s not a real No.

Yes and No are the language of the Body. GAH is the language of the mind. The body never lies. The mind, on the other hand, is sometimes a sneaky, no-goodnik, huckster selling a seductive illusion of better-ness.

My mind is always sidling up to me and saying things like, “It’s fine. You don’t have to do all that annoying accounting. You can do it later.” Or, “You’re not THAT tired. You should do more. Do more. Make another call, write another post and take another meeting.” OR, “Dark chocolate has antioxidants in it, you know. And even though you’ve already had two pieces, you should have another.” Sneaky, tricky, no-goodnik stuff like that.

Luckily, the body is still there speaking its Yes and No language while the mind is doing its GAH thing. So when you feel the GAH, relax. Know your mind is just playing around to see what it can get you to do or not do. Relax and feel the Yes and No in your bones, your gut, your heart.

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