Archive

Centering

FOCUS POCUS NOTE! FocusPocus is now one complete post (art, focus, playlists and announcements) all together on Thursdays! So whether you come to the blog for the art, the information, the music or the latest happenings and offerings, you are in the right place. Every Thursday, you’ll get it all. Thank you so much for being here.

The weeks between Halloween and the Winter Solstice are challenging for me: the darkness and cold creeping in, the cultural frenzy of shopping and eating and holly jolly jingling leave my nervous system jangling. So for these next few weeks, we’ll be focusing on practical practices that we can do to soothe and strengthen our nervous systems. We’ll be focusing on things we do in class all the time but calling attention to them so we have easier access to them as we move through the world.

This week, we start with an essential practice: grounding and orienting. One of the most powerful things we can do to turn on our parasympathetic nervous system is to feel our support, our ground and get ourselves oriented. Physically, we usually ground with our feet (but we can ground and feel supported by any part that is in contact with the earth) and orient with our hands (but again, this can also happen with our spine, our joints, our eyes, etc.).

Do it right now. Wherever you are. Feel the support that is under you and allow yourself to both sink and relax into that support and feel how the ground doesn’t stop at your skin, but lifts up and through your whole body. Then notice the space around you however feels right: it might be stretching with your arms and hands, but it might also be looking around, listening more intently, or moving in the space.

Grounding and orienting are great ways to calm and nourish your nervous system in times when you feel stressed or pressed or scrambly or, well, nervous. As always, I’d love to hear how you are using this in and out of class.

Below are our playlists for the week. If you’d like to listen to the music, you can find almost all the songs on Spotify (you can listen for free)! As always, please let me know if you have any questions about any of the music we dance to!

Lots of events are unfolding, friends, so before the playlists, here is all the details on what’s coming up!

Nourishing Movement Classes at the Studio at Dancing Water on Thursday mornings at 11am!
Nourishing Movement classes with Susan on Thursdays at 11am ~~ my mix of guided and unguided movement, meditation and creativity! Please go to http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop for the details. Come join us in the trees by the river for grounded, flowing, spacious movement. Second Thursdays are followed by a pot luck lunch! Nourish yourself with movement and bring something nourishing to share! There is space in upcoming classes so please go HERE to sign up!
* The Studio at Dancing Water is at 2370 Old Lynchburg Road ~ detailed directions at http://www.susanmcculley.com and via email when you sign up!

December Nourishment at Dancing Water ~ 4 Nourishing Movement classes for $40!
The light wanes and temperatures drop. It’s now that making a commitment to ourselves and our well-being is essential. Register for 4 Nourishing Movement classes at The Studio at Dancing Water on Thursdays, December 5, 12, 19 & 26 from 11-12:15pm for $40. Must be purchased by December 5!

Full Moon Restorative Yoga with Shandoah Goldman ~ Moonday, December 9, 430-6pm
Shandoah Goldman returns to The Studio at Dancing Water (2370 Old Lynchburg Road, Charlottesville) to continue the full moon restorative practice! The full moon is a time of completion. The fullness of the cycle lends itself to a practice of non-doing. Join Shandoah for a deeply nourishing practice of restorative yoga. Using props to offer support and comfort, the body is invited to profoundly let go and unwind. Rather than efforting or stretching, this is the practice of releasing and relaxing. We’ll celebrate what is finished and soften into the next cycle. Shandoah is a gifted guide for deep release and is a Shiatsu practitioner offering hands on assists during class. All bodies welcome, no experience in yoga or anything else is needed.
Monday (Moonday!), December 9, 430-6pm at The Studio at Dancing Water, $30 or $25 if registered before December 1. (Mark Your Calendar: Upcoming Full Moon classes will be on January 13 and February 10!)

Scholarships Available for all Experiences at The Studio at Dancing Water
We have delicious experiences coming up at The Studio AND we have scholarships available for them. If finances are stopping you from joining us, please reach out and let me know (PM me or connect at sjmnia@gmail.com).

Book Signing and Art Demonstration at Cville Arts on Saturday, December 14, 11-12noon
Come see how Octabusy was made with an art demonstration and book signing at Cville Arts on the downtown mall!

ORDER OCTABUSY!
Support local booksellers by ordering Octabusy
at Over The Moon Bookstore in Crozet (overthemoonbookstore.com, (434) 823-1144, Anne@OvertheMoonBookstore.com)
and buy it at New Dominion Bookshop on Charlottesville’s downtown mall (ndbookshop.com, 434-295-2552, staff@ndbookshop.com)
You can also order signed copies of Octabusy (including discounts on multiple copies) now on my website at susanmcculley.com/shop
and get Kindle and paperback editions on Amazon!
(And wherever you buy it, please leave a review there!)

Winter Solstice Restorative Yoga + Sound Experience with Shandoah Goldman ~ Sat Dec 21, 2019 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
Immerse in the return of light as you cocoon yourself by candles and hearth. The experience is set within a quartz faced historic hall. Rest deep into restoring postures while being serenaded by crystal bowl soundscapes + alchemist delights for the senses and an energy gift bag to take home.
WHEN Saturday December 21st optional walk on scenic trails arrive by 3:30pm / Experience begins at 4:30pm and ends at 6pm
BRING a yoga mat/ two blankets/ two firm pillows or 1 bolster / warm layers / water
LOCATION Private home in Esmont revealed after purchase of ticket
WHO Restorative Yoga guided by Shandoah Goldman | Somatic Cville \ Sounds by Waverly Davis | Sacra Space \  Alchemist delights by Chloe Morgan
TICKETS Limited spaces available $44 before 12/1/19 $52 after  https://www.tickettailor.com/events/somaticcville/320206

The Movement Barn offers the GYROTONIC Method
Note from Susan: I recently had the good fortune to meet, move and have a GYROTONIC session with Casey Turner. I love the circular, functional, mindful approach of this technique. And I loved doing it with a view of the mountains in a field of flowers! Please check out her beautiful offerings.
The Movement Barn is a boutique fitness studio in Charlottesville, VA offering private GYROTONIC® sessions in a picturesque setting. Located in a field of wildflowers, The Movement Barn provides a unique workout experience for people of all ages and levels of ability. The GYROTONIC® Method is designed to increase strength, agility, and range of movement. This low impact system uses flowing exercises with circular and spiral motion to open energy pathways, stimulate the nervous system, and create space in the joints. For more information, visit http://www.themovementbarn.com, email catherine@themovementbarn.com, or follow @themovementbarn on Instagram!

First Friday Freedance with Kate ~ Dec 6 at 11:25am
Nia Freedance is an opportunity to play and tap into the creative wisdom in our body, emotions, mind and spirit. For a full hour we get to dance together with the intention of stimulating our own unique movement creativity. The next Nia Freedance will be at ACAC Albemarle Square Friday, Sep 6 from 11:25 -12:25.

Octabusy & Adaptogens: Stress Relieving Support with Practices & Herbs at The Elderberry
A combination open house, book signing, and workshop on stress reducing practices and herbal support with adaptogens on Saturday, January 4 from 12-2pm. More details soon!

As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

Monday, Nov 11, 2019, 1045am ~ Soothing the Nervous System: Ground & Orient

Mantra of Ecstasy 5:52 Matthew Jaidev
Seed 6:25 Afro Celt Sound System
Sunday Morning, Up All Night 4:54 NYXYSS
One Hundred Lights (Grouch Remix) 5:31 Kaya Project
Tala Odyssey (Drumspyder Remix) 6:07 Desert Dwellers
Strobe’s Nanafushi (Satori Mix) 5:45
Afronaut 5:23 Shaman’s Dream
Deeper In 3:15 Aluta & The Mystics
Mumbai Madness 4:49 Mashti + Jean Baden
Hit the Ground 3:31 Lizz Wright
Father Space 5:56 Bjarno Sacred

Tuesday, Nov 12, 2019, 840am ~ Soothing the Nervous System: Ground & Orient

Mantra of Ecstasy 5:52 Matthew Jaidev
Seed 6:25 Afro Celt Sound System
One Hundred Lights (Grouch Remix) 5:31 Kaya Project
Tala Odyssey (Drumspyder Remix) 6:07 Desert Dwellers
Strobe’s Nanafushi (Satori Mix) 5:45
Afronaut 5:23 Shaman’s Dream
Deeper In 3:15 Aluta & The Mystics
Mumbai Madness 4:49 Mashti + Jean Baden
Hit the Ground 3:31 Lizz Wright
Father Space 5:56 Bjarno Sacred

Thursday, Nov 14, 2019, 11am ~ Nourishing Movement at the Studio at Dancing Water ~ Soothing the Nervous System: Ground & Orient

Visitors extended 6:32 Dylan Sitts
Mantra of Ecstasy 5:52 Matthew Jaidev
Seed 6:25 Afro Celt Sound System
One Hundred Lights (Grouch Remix) 5:31 Kaya Project
Tala Odyssey (Drumspyder Remix) 6:07 Desert Dwellers
Strobe’s Nanafushi (Satori Mix) 5:45
Afronaut 5:23 Shaman’s Dream
Deeper In 3:15 Aluta & The Mystics
Mumbai Madness 4:49 Mashti + Jean Baden
Hit the Ground 3:31 Lizz Wright
Father Space 5:56 Bjarno Sacred

In a recent Contact Improvisation class with experienced teacher and mover, Brad Stoller, he taught about the sensations of full and empty. Since then, I’ve been fascinated by the feelings of full and empty in physical movement, in breath and in awareness. Can I feel full without overflowing, without being overwhelmed or overdoing? Can I feel empty without feeling depleted?

Brad taught that full and empty allows for a wider range of movement, sensation, and experience than we might typically feel. Full and empty sounds both mundane and esoteric. We know the idea of full and empty, but how often to we embody them? I’ve been thinking about and experimenting with full and empty in three primary ways: breath, weight and attention.

Breath

“If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be simply to learn how to breathe correctly.” ~ Andrew Weil

How often am I breathing in the mushy middle? Most of  my breaths are shallow ones that don’t really fill or empty my lungs. There is aliveness, groundedness, and energy in breathing in fully and emptying completely. You can do it right now: take three deep breaths, drawing as much air as you can in — then take a little extra sip at the top — and then letting go as much air as you can out — then squeezing the last drops out. It’s like working a muscle, stretching and strengthening what hasn’t been used to allow your body to expand its ability to nourish and cleanse itself. It can be a heady business so take your time but full and complete breathing is one of the most healthful, centering, and empowering things you can do for your body, mind and spirit.

Weight

All movement is weight shift. The only way an earth-bound being can move is by shifting weight. It’s common to shuffle or drag our feet, to not really push off the ground but to hesitantly scuffle along with the mistaken notion that it’s safer. I notice this scuffle-tendency in particular when I’m walking up stairs or doing movements that are unfamiliar. Experiment with movement with clear weight shift: really engaging whatever is in contact with the floor to put your full weight into and out of each movement.

You can also do this in your metaphorical weight in life. Decide when to show up with your full weight, your full presence. If something feels important to you, step in fully. If something isn’t important or feels dangerous in some way, step out completely. When you are engaged, engage fully. When you disengage, really disengage. Notice when you are scuffling along in a situation.

Attention

There is a scene is the 1997 movie, As Good As It Gets in which Carol (Helen Hunt) is driving with Simon (Greg Kinnear) and Melvin (Jack Nickolson). Simon is telling her a difficult story about his past and she says, “I’m going to pull over so I can give you my full attention.” Melvin squirms in the back seat since her full attention is exactly what he wants and she is ignoring him. Attention is a powerful thing when we direct it.

Much of the time, our attention is diluted. I’m making dinner and listening to a podcast. I’m driving and thinking about my next class. I’m watching a documentary and making art. As with breath and movement, there is a completely different sensation when I bring my full attention to what I’m doing.

Notice where you are putting your attention and make the choice to bring it fully or to let it go.

Our culture is one of distraction so few of us are comfortable with the sensations of full and empty. This week, see if you can stretch the edges of how completely you are willing to step in…and out.

“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
― Pema Chödrön

‘Tis the season of March Madness: the thrilling culmination of the college basketball season. March was once my least favorite month given its not-quite-spring-enough-with-the-winter-already damp, chilly grayness. But then I moved to Charlottesville and married a UVA grad and now I’m right there all month in my orange and blue pulling for the Hoos.

Over time, I’ve discovered that during March Madness (and, well, all year) I need to cultivate two things: the courage to allow myself fully into the energy and excitement and the skill to settle myself down.

It’s not just the way of college basketball. Shaking up and settling down is the way of life. Things pull in and spiral out. Our muscles contract and then lengthen. Breath draws in and relaxes out. My heart and mind and spirit get stirred up and then they quiet again.

Despite this reality, I often fear and resist the excitement, the turmoil, the uncertainty. It feels easier and safer to stay in control, in comfort, in habit.

This is, in part, why I practice on my mat, on the dance floor, and on the cushion. I practice getting stirred up and then settling down. I practice literally shaking myself and finding my center and ground. I practice remembering that this is the way of things and that happiness is rooted in my ability to move in and out of both.

No matter how much I want to avoid the tempest swirl, life doesn’t work that way. Inevitably, I get stirred up. Inevitably, I get activated. If not by March Madness or Wheel Pose or the latest headlines, then by a health crisis or a relationship rift or the loss of a friend. And when this happens, can I be in the swirling stirring with skill and then can I find my way out again to a state of peace?

Join me this week to dance with this courage and skill, to shake it up, shake it off and settle down…and then do it again.

 

How do I know that I’ve had enough sleep?
Enough food?
Enough movement?

I can feel it.
My mind might want to over-rule it, but the “enough” feeling remains.

Cultivate clarity with the sensation of enough.
It’s an important thing to be intimately familiar with.

Knowing the feeling of “enough” can help us avoid injury and stay healthy in our physical lives but it’s also helpful in the rest of our lives.

How do I know when I’ve had enough with a stressful job?
How do I know when I’ve given enough to a relationship?
How do I know when I have enough money?

I can feel it.
You can feel it.
Our minds might want to over-rule it, but the “enough” feeling remains.

Cultivate clarity with the sensation of enough.
It can support us in a myriad of ways.

073116 grbrh

The blueberry bushes in Rebecca’s back yard tower over me, their lanky branches intertwined like a roof. Armed with my colander, I snake around, between, and under. I keep thinking I’ve found all the ripe berries but when I circle around again and look from a different angle, inevitably there is fruit that I’ve missed.

The way I dance around the blueberry bushes is the way I dance around my days. Big issues plant themselves in front of me – love, parenting, friendship, money, vocation, art – and I spiral around them. As soon as I think I’ve figured it out, as soon as I nod confidently and say “oh, yeah, I’ve got this,” I look from a different perspective and see something new I’ve never seen before.

Wednesday, August 3 is my 52nd birthday. Most people would say it isn’t a “big” one but for me, it’s the biggest yet.

In the 13 Moon Natural Time calendar, every day is unique. Every day has its own Galactic Signature: 260 unique fingerprints made up of combinations of four colors, thirteen tones and twenty tribes.

  • Today’s Galactic Signature is Yellow Electric Seed.
  • The Galactic Signature on Thanksgiving Day will be Yellow Lunar Sun.
  • The Bicentennial in 1976 was Red Magnetic Earth.
  • September 11, 2001 was Blue Self-Existing Monkey.
  • The day Donald Trump was born was Blue Electric Hand.
  • The day Hillary Clinton was born was White Galactic World-Bridger.
  • The day you were born had a signature, too. (You can look it up here.)

Each of the 260 signatures has a meditation that decodes its energy and essence (you’ll find that here, as well.)

On the day I was born, August 3, 1964, the Galactic Signature was Blue Rhythmic Hand and the meditation is:

I Organize in order to Know
Balancing Healing
I seal the Store of Accomplishment
With the Rhythmic tone of Equality
I am guided by my own power doubled

Every 260 days since I was born, Blue Rhythmic Hand has been the signature of the day. But never since the day I was born has that signature fallen on August 3…until this year. After 52 years, a cycle is complete and a new cycle begins. In the 13 Moon Calendar, the 52nd birthday is called the Galactic Return.

Fifty-two, then, is a BIG birthday. The Galactic Return is celebrated as a time of rebirth and renewal , the finishing of a cycle and the beginning of something new. My friend and Nia colleague, Zan Tewksbury, says that her Galactic Return was about the freedom and responsibility to write her own story. Her willingness to step out of the expectations of society, family and even herself allows her to live more authentically from her essence. And while that can be disorienting and scary, the unfolding adventure is worth the discomfort.

“The day came,” wrote essayist Anais Nin, “when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Perhaps that day comes on the Galactic Return or maybe it happens at another time. The Galactic Return routine celebrates all courageous human choices to see life from different perspectives and to reimagine ourselves. It’s about all our returnings and rewritings.

We are all circling and spiraling through time – experiencing repeating patterns and cycles. What’s more, all our circles and spirals are intersecting and interweaving. Galactic Return: Blue Rhythmic Hand is a physical and symbolic honoring of all of us swimming in the river of time, circling together through past and present and now.

[I’ll launch the Galactic Return: Blue Rhythmic Hand routine on Wednesday, August 3 at 11am at acac Albemarle Square and then teach it again on Thursday, August 4 at 840am at acac downtown. I’ll then be traveling for a couple of weeks and will return to teaching the routine on August 29.]

depth t rex standingHorses. People. Both powered from below and behind. Your body’s largest muscles are at the back (just take a look back there!) but with eyes in front, so we tend to lean forward. Forward leaning tenses the front of the body. Try it. Can you feel it?

Focus on depth: balance your body front AND back. Stand and rock your body front to back. Then imagine a dinosaur tail down your neck, back, extending on the floor behind you. This is a strong T-Rex-y tail, so lean back and feel your front relax.

Relax, your back has got your back.

depth running horseHorses run fast. But look at their legs: leeeetle skinny legs, big strong butt. All the power of horsepower is behind them.

People are the same.
depth side view human
From the side, you can see that most of the large muscles in the human body are at the back: calves, hamstrings, gluteals, and all the big back muscles. Our power, too, is behind us.

Sensing depth is the last focus in a three-part series on experiential anatomy. We began with length by looking at the spine especially top and bottom, then last week we focused on width by extending through the collarbones, and this week, depth: the power of balancing ourselves from front to back.

The very act of standing and walking requires strength and balance. Moving our upright bodies around without collapsing kittywumpus in a pile involves a good bit of muscle power. But as you may have noticed, our eyes are on the front of our faces (we are predators, as opposed to deer, fish, and sheep) and this gives us a natural forward orientation. We often lead with our head (literally and figuratively) by tipping slightly forward as we stand, sit, and walk. This tendency to lean in has repercussions, as it taxes the relatively smaller muscles in the front of the body. Chest, core, quadriceps, shin and even toe muscles hold on to keep us from pitching forward.

Focusing on depth gives us the chance to use the body according to its design and feel the support that is always behind us. Stand up right now (go ahead, you can make the type on your device bigger so you can see it!). First, feel your length by planting your feet, dropping your chin, and letting the crown of your head lift. Then lengthen your collarbones and feel your width, your connection to the world. Finally, rock your body gently from front to back, keeping your heels and toes on the floor.

Now use your imagination: visualize a dinosaur tail that begins at the base of your skull and extends all the way down your back and stretches on the floor behind you six feet back. See it as a strong, Tyrannosaurus Rex kind of tail, and then let yourself lean back a little into its support. As you do, feel the front of you soften and relax.

Picture your dinosaur tail as all your life-experience, all your wisdom. Everything you’ve done up to this point, is right there behind you. It’s got your back. You can rely on it. Everything you’ve gone through in your life so far has prepared you for this moment that’s happening right now.

depth dinosaur tail scaly Relax into your T-Rex-ness!

NOTE OF ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND GRATITUDE: This three-dimentional approach to embodiment – length, width and depth — comes from centering exercises created by Aikido master and business consultant, Richard Strozzi-Heckler. You can experience these centering exercises for yourself by going to master somatic teacher, Amanda Blake’s web site, embright.org, and getting the (free!) 7-Day Centering Challenge. It may sound simple: getting a sense for where you are in space, extending into your length and width, relaxing into the support behind you, but I invite you to feel it and practice it. The idea behind the Strozzi work and our three foci is to help each of tap into the intelligence, information, and power of moving, making decisions, and living from an embodied state. By practicing the sensation of centering in our bodies, we can get there when we really need it. Many thanks to my friend, colleague and teacher, Bev Wann, who introduced me to this work and generously shared much of the language I use to describe it.

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