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Connection

As much as I love dancing in my kitchen (livingroom/office/car, etc.), I teach because it feels better to dance together. Way better.

Something happens when we move together. Something shifts when we are sharing the space, the music, and the experience. It happens over and over, I walk into the studio feeling stuck or tired or low, and walk out feeling…well.

Years ago, Integral Yoga founder Swami Satchidananda was asked at a health conference what the difference was between illness and wellness. In answer, he wordlessly walked to a blackboard, wrote the two words and circled the “I” and the “We.”

When we isolate and separate ourselves, when we put our attention on the “I,” the result is a kind of illness. The recipe for wellness, on the other hand, is when we connect and recognize ourselves as part of the larger community, the integrated whole.

It’s my limbic or lizard brain that cramps my focus and convinces me that I am separate and alone. When I say (or more often, think), “No one is as injured / sad / crazy / lonley / (fill in the blank) as I am,” it’s my limbic brain is driving the train. This separation creates a tightness, a narrow tension that is itself a kind of illness.

No matter what I am experiencing, I am connected to the wider community of life. No matter what is happening, there are millions and millions of others experiencing the same thing. No matter how difficult my circumstances, I am never alone. Expanding and softening into this truth is a step toward wellness.

In the body, one of the most important places of connection is the psoas muscle. These two deep-set muscles start on either side of the lumbar spine at the low back and connect to the inside of the femurs, the thigh bones. Since it is the only muscle to connect the core and the legs, a healthy functioning psoas allows fluid, easeful, pain-free movement and allows stability while moving, bending, and sitting.

More than the postural and kinetic importance of this deepest core muscle, the psoas also connects through the fascia to the diaphragm. This means that a healthy psoas muscle directly impacts your breath and your sense of calm or stress. (Dr. Christiane Northrup has a great article about this here. )

All of which means that a tight or weak psoas is often the source of low back or hip pain, as well as digestive trouble and a hyper-alert nervous system. (Remember our focus a couple of weeks ago about looking around the pain to find what needs healing?) Tending to psoas health, then, is integral to overall health. But instead of thinking of the psoas as a tight, weak place that needs stretching like a brittle rope or a dried-out bungee cord, imagine healing the psoas as a chance to hydrate, soften, and juice this deep connection. Liz Koch’s Core Awareness work uses the approach of “unraveling” the tissue of the psoas. I strongly recommend her teaching and you can learn more here.

Clinical Psychiatry professor, Daniel J. Siegel defines health as integration. In any system – whether it’s a weather system or a human body, a company or a relationship – when the parts are integrated and connected, there is flow and health. When they are disconnected, there is “disintegration.”

Wellness is “we.” Integration is health. In the studio, in the body, and in the world, let’s unravel the tight focus on “I” and instead open to the soft, juicy wellness of connection.

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here’s the link, you can read it here.

(It’s for lots of of reasons, but it comes down to our brain storing that information differently. Check it out here. )
Can’t wait to hear what gets your heart healing (and pumping and moving and grooving!). ❤

 

It’s worth noting that bringing what’s easiest isn’t a bad thing, necessarily. Look at the intention behind bringing the easiest: am I exhausted or sad or generally low on resources? Then, bring on the easy! But if bringing the easiest is based on habit or depending on someone else to carry the load, another choice might be yummier.

Again, coming empty-handed is not necessarily a bad thing…since your presence means you are bringing something. You are giving others a chance to offer generosity and care which is a gift. Again, looking at habit and intention is always the best way for me to decide if it’s a healthy choice.

Use your awareness and witness to notice all that you are bringing to a situation. Not just what you say but what you don’t say. Not just what you do but what you don’t do. It’s more than just what’s in the pot…

This is often a question I ask myself before (or less skillfully after) a gathering. How do I want to show up? Knowing that I can only control what I bring, what do I want to do or say?

When I’m bringing my best, it’s easy to focus on that. Notice if you only want to talk about your idea at the meeting or if you forget to ask everybody about how their day went at the dinner table. The whole point of being together is to share what we all have to offer.

Question 3 may seem to imply that you have to taste something that everybody brings. But if you feel terrible when you eat sugar, then don’t have the cupcakes! If someone is dancing big in class and that feels unsettling to you, dance in another part of the room. AND remembering that everybody’s offerings are what makes the whole experience. Appreciating the gift of everybody (whether or not you eat the cupcake) is what makes pot lucks nourishing.

Happy Pot Lucking, everybody! As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the Pot Luck of Life … and how the illustrated posts are landing!

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A couple of weeks ago I got a message from my friend, Pam:

Hi Susan, Manu wanted me to tell you about a show he just watched, The O.A., and he thought of you. If you haven’t seen it, you might want to check it out on Netflix, as he describes it as “a metaphysical show about the power of movement.”

Pam and her husband, Manu are religious studies/Buddhist studies scholars who are also fascinated with popular art and culture. When Oscar night comes around, for example, they’ve already seen every nominated film and they have rich, thought-provoking things to say about each one.

A recommendation from Pam and Manu, then, is serious stuff … but with the lure of “the power of movement”? My husband and I had the first episode of The OA queued up to watch that very night.

We devoured all eight episodes in less than a week. Its unusual story line, unconventional storytelling style, excellent acting with a tendency toward mysterious loose ends all appealed to me. But even if I hadn’t loved it, the whole thing would have been worth watching for the incredible and (literally) moving last scene.

No spoilers, but if someone asked me what The OA was about, I would say:

Two different sets of five people
each person is isolated and alone (for a variety of reasons)
each group comes together to learn 5 movements
when those movements are moved together
magic happens

Intellect and thinking are highly prized in our culture while the wisdom and power of movement is hardly even an afterthought. Physical movement that is revered in Western culture is centered on sports and competition. Domination and winning is everything. Collaboration and connection are only considered in the context of a team working toward that winning and domination. Even dancing is turned into a win-lose competition.

By overlooking the wisdom of moving individually and together, our culture clouds the truth of our interconnectedness and dismisses one of the joys of being human. The simple fact that each of us has a body gives us the fundamental right to the pleasure and power of moving uniquely and the pleasure and power of moving together.

Often, when I’m preparing to teach, I choreograph alone in my studio. The movements feel good and connected to the music, but nothing ever prepares me for what happens when a room full of people do those movements together. Each in their own particular way, and all together. It is breath taking. Every single time.

What’s true in the body is true in all realms.

BOTH
I am my own rescue. – Lisa Nichols
(click here for her interview with Steve Harvey)
AND
We are all just walking each other home. ~ Ram Dass

Life is full of paradox. Here’s a big one: we are all responsible for ourselves and we are utterly and inextricably connected to each other. Each side of this paradox is absolutely true. American culture celebrates self-sufficiency and independence to such a degree, though, that we forget that it is impossible to separate ourselves from each other. Impossible.

Martin Luther King Jr., whose life and work we celebrate this week, spoke to this paradox in his 1963 letter from a Birmingham jail:

Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. (my emphasis)

If suffering or injustice doesn’t precisely effect us, it’s easy to turn away. But that choice is a turning away from ourselves. The adage “every man for himself” is based on a deep misunderstanding of the inherent interconnection of all life. Instead of freezing or ignoring, bring all your particular skills, talents, and gifts and participate in the movement of everyone.

Dance your own dance and dance it together.


PS: Manu writes a blog about religion and pop culture and one of his recent posts was about The OA (check it out here but note that unlike me he DOES include a spoiler).

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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.

I’m all about feet.

Since 1999, I’ve been dancing barefoot and exploring what happens in the body when we take off our shoes and move as we were designed. I’m always interested in ways of stretching, massaging, strengthening, and generally caring for feet since happy feet are the foundation of a happy body (just ask me after I’ve spent the evening standing in pointy, pointy high heeled shoes how happy I’m feeling).

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But when I stumbled on this video I learned something that set up a cascade of unexpected discoveries that surprised even a foot health fan like me.

1. Stretch the feet and release the back of the legs

The Pilates foot release video has a nice protocol for stretching that I’ve been enjoying but it’s not that different from other stretches I’ve done on my feet with a variety of balls (tennis, Yamuna , foot rollers , etc.). What fascinated me was the connection between releasing my feet and releasing my hamstrings.

Not only did it feel good to stretch and open my feet, I loved that I could also feel the release through my back legs. That discovery had me looking for other connections…

2. Release backs of legs and release low back

As I noticed a lengthening and release in the back of my legs, I noticed a corresponding release through my low back. I have a tendency towards lumbar lordosis (or duck butt)

lordosis

but as my feet and back legs released, my tailbone dropped down allowing my lumbar spine to let go. So I kept following the thread…

3. Release low back and engage core

As my low back released from its habitual hyperextension, my low core and belly naturally turned on. <a href=”http://As we’ve talked about before in this space” target=”_blank”>As we’ve talked about before in this space, core strength is key to moving in a with grace and power but a perhaps surprising benefit of core engagement is…

4. Engage core and get lighter and more flexible feet

…that a strong core, allows me to step more lightly, with more mobility and agility without taxing my feet which allows them to stay (you guessed it) more flexible.

This chain works in both directions: I can also focus on stepping lightly, without dropping my foot, and that strengthens my core, which releases my tailbone and lumbar spine, which lengthens my hamstrings which creates more ease in my feet.

Cool, huh?

And all of this connection sleuthing has me curious about other unexpected connections in the body. Some of the ones I also play with:
• Relaxing my jaw allows my hips to let go
• Pressing my feet into the floor and opening the arch of my feet allows me to breathe more deeply (stretching my diaphragm)
• The thoughts and images I have in my mind profoundly connect with how my body feels and moves

As ever, I’d love to hear how this chain of connection reverberates in your body and any surprising connections that you’ve discovered in your own practice! Do tell.

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“Thank you for what you said in class today. It was exactly what I needed to hear.”

My ears prick up when I hear these words. Whenever someone says this, I’m curious rather than self-congratulatory. The pearl of wisdom that I craft and practice and pat myself on the back for is never what they are talking about. Nope. The things that people remember, the things that make a difference are the almost always ones that I don’t think about at all but pop out from whoknowswhere.

Sometimes I feel shaky and uneasy when I think of my words, especially the ones that I don’t think much about, landing in people’s ears and making an impact. Especially since the ones people tell me about are the helpful ones but those aren’t the only kinds of impact my words have made.

This is true for all of us. We make our way through the world making connections whether we realize it or not. The choices we make when we interact with our children, partners, friends, colleagues, neighbors and strangers all ripple out in ways that mostly we will never, ever know.

Of course, we can’t control how our words or choices land with another person. There are a myriad of complicated interpersonal dynamics at play even in the act of saying good morning. But if we pretend that our choices are made in isolation, that we aren’t inextricably connected with each other and our environment, then we are blind to the part we play in the world. If we assume what we do doesn’t matter, we are missing a huge chunk of the picture.

And the chain of connection extends beyond how you speak to people. The chain of connection extends to what you buy, how you spend your time, what occupies your thoughts, what you eat and what kind of packaging it comes in. Recognizing the ripple effect of our choices means that I understand the price that someone is paying for the cheap clothes or food or gas I buy. By seeing the interconnectedness of all things, I understand that a few hours wiled away on Facebook means that those hours were not spent doing something else.

It can feel overwhelming, I grant you. There are times when I just want to be a little inconsequential woman who can do her thang without strumming on the threads that connect me to everything. But it doesn’t work that way. The chains of connection is happening whether I see it or not. And once you see it, you can’t unsee it.

Recognizing the chains of connection is recognizing that I am paying it forward all the time, with everything I do. The question is what is the currency I’m paying with? Am I paying with self-centeredness? kindness? fear? gratitude? thoughtlessness? Seeing the chains of connection invites me to do my best to pay attention to my choices – and reminds me of the endless outward ripples from each one.

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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.

What if our whole understanding of the world was off? What if we put a lot of attention on the separate parts, in particular powerful individuals and companies and countries but we were missing the bigger picture? What if we are throwing away the connective tissue?

As in the body, our lives are not just about the separate parts and people floating in isolation. Our lives are about connection. Just as we can make different choices in our bodies by bringing awareness to the web of connective tissue that supports us, we can also make different choices in our days by bringing awareness to the web of connections that holds us up.

There are countless ways of exploring connection in the world. Here are 6 to play with (and I’d love to hear others!):

  1. Self to Sensation

How do you know you need to go to the bathroom? You can feel it, right? How do you know it’s time to eat? You can feel it … but sometimes I eat because it’s time to eat or I don’t stop eating even though I’m no longer hungry. We are conditioned to ignore or override physical sensation. Today, experiment with pausing to see what you feel several times and listening for the details of sensation. Instead of dissociating, what would happen if you connected to the sensations you feel?

2. Self to Mind

The other day, my husband made an off-hand comment that sent me into a tailspin. I was tangled up in a story of thoughts about what he’d said and that thought-tangle was physically painful. Somewhere in the mess of it, I realized that it was my story that felt so terrible. When I got curious about the thought pattern I was trapped in, I connected differently to what he said. You are not your thoughts and your thoughts aren’t necessarily true. Connect to them with curiosity.

3. Self to Emotions

Emotions are called feelings for a reason. Everybody’s had a gut response, or been heart-broken, or felt the stomach clench of upsetting news. Emotions create sensations and noticing those sensations is a direct way of creating emotional connection with yourself. For example, I know that when my throat feels tight that I’m not saying something that I need to say. Connect to your emotional self by connecting to the feeling of feelings.

4. Self to Another

Connecting to others may seem like the most obvious of life’s connective tissue, but how much are you actually connecting? It’s easy to be distracted by the busy-ness and stress of life (not to mention all the binging and bonging screens and devices!) and not give your full attention to someone you’re with. I often find myself in a conversation and instead of listening deeply, I’m thinking about what I will say next, how what they are saying relates to me or how I can help. Experiment with softening your ears and only listening to another person. Relax the reaction to jump in with a story or idea or help. Perhaps paradoxically, saying less can be connecting more.

5. Self to Nature

Put your hands in the dirt or your feet in the sand. Listen to the gurgle of a stream or breathe in the fragrance of honeysuckle. Connecting with nature can be simultaneously relaxing and energizing. A friend’s favorite insomnia cure is walking barefoot in the grass. Another relieves anxiety by swimming underwater. Watching the sky is a great perspective-opener for me. Connecting with nature is really connecting with a part of ourselves. What would happen if you let yourself connect deeply with the natural world around you…even if that’s appreciating your salad at lunch?

6. Self to Spirit

Ever get an insight or idea that seemed to come from nowhere and everywhere at the same time? Ever get a spacious, indefinable feeling that something larger than you is at work? Spirit doesn’t mean religious (although for some people, the two are closely related). Connecting to spirit is about connecting to that which is greater than yourself and that can happen anywhere, anytime, doing anything with anybody. What would happen if you intentionally connected with spirit?


Our electronic, social-networked, interwebs world may seem connected. But clicking “like” isn’t connection. Words and pictures and videos can touch us and resonate but there is a difference between reading about a hug and actually getting one. (Writer, Melissa Sarno, wrote beautifully about this recently.)

How do you strengthen the web of connection in your life? Jump in and share in the comments below or send me an email (sjmnia@gmail.com) or have an in-person conversation with someone about connection! After all, connection is what life is all about.

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