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Connection

FOCUS POCUS NOTE! As you may have noticed, I’ve been rolling the two weekly FocusPocus posts (art and content on Sundays, playlists and announcements on Thursdays) into one complete post. 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 week on Thursdays, you’ll get it all. Thank you so much for being here.

In Zulu culture, there is an ancient greeting: “Sawubona!” which (as indicated in the art above) is a rich and complex word that means many things. At its essence, it means “I see you and WE see you.” But more deeply, it means that you are accepted, you belong, you are valued and important. The response when someone says this is “Yabo Sawubona!” or “I see you seeing me” indicating a willingness to be seen.

In the U.S., the most common greeting is “Hello, how are you?” which is usually both insincere and asking the other to respond in a socially acceptable way, “Fine, thank you, how are you?”

What strikes me is the superficial nature of the American greeting as opposed to the depth and care of the Zulu one.

This week, we focused on the practice of “Sawubona” and “Yabo Sawubona”: the presence to really connect with another and allow another to connect with you. We also explored the neuroscience of how we direct our eyes. Lowering the gaze lights up the egocentric part of the brain while looking up fires the allocentric or other-centered section.

Play with the sensation of really seeing as well as using the eyes mindfully.

Here are some resources to explore a little deeper:

Global Oneness Project with a beautiful explanation of Sawubona.

Sawubona TEDx Talk by Julie Pilat — an American’s experience of the word

In regards to the brain science of using the eyes, an article from the Buddhist magazine, Tricycle called Eyes and the Brain.

Here’s an excerpt of the piece:

Another fundamental duality arises as the brain interprets information received by our eyes, formulating two different views of visual-spatial reality. The egocentric perspective always sees things subjectively, in relation to “me,” while the allocentric, or other-centered, point of view represents an object as “out there” so that it can be identified and interpreted objectively. These two systems operate unconsciously and for the most part seamlessly, although the strong psychic representations of our ego-self tend to dominate our weaker perception of the outside environment.

The first of these processes, the one that determines where things are in relation to “me,” is deactivated during kensho, Austin contends, while the second, which decides where objective “things” are in relation to one another, is enhanced, leading to a startling experience of self-less reality. During kensho, “perception seems to be realer than real and fundamentally the way all things are,” he explains. “The other-centered landscape comes in, occupies the whole mental scenery, and lacks all self-referential ties. This happens for the very first time in an individual’s experience, which makes it startling. It’s actually been there all the time, but many veils of the personal stuff had been interposed, distorting the way in which the real world enters our consciousness. Let all that stuff drop out, and you start seeing the world through an allocentric prism. So two things go on simultaneously, and they reinforce each other in the final experience. One of the Buddhist terms for that remarkable allocentric perception is ‘suchness.’ Suchness is the way things really are, without self in the picture.”

And if you’re feeling science-y, Zen and the brain: mutually illuminating topics by James H. Austin

(Thanks to my friend and TEDx Charlottesville speaker, Tim Cunningham, for connecting me with those last two articles.)

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!

Before the playlists, here is the scoop on a whole slew of great things happening!

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!

Nia Jam: Balance is a Verb ~ Saturday, September 21, 1230-145pm at acac Albemarle Square Studio A with Susan, Kate & Jeanne (No Nia 101 and class will start at 1230!)
Balance isn’t something we have, it’s something we do. Balance is a constant dance of push and pull, squeeze and release, reach and root. In our fall equinox jam, we’ll focus on balance in the body and in particular in shoulders and hips. Jeanne, Kate & Susan will play with all the balances that happen between upper/lower, left/right, front/back, diagonal lines as well as fast/slow, challenge/recuperation, sharp/fluid and everything in between. Please note that there will be no Nia 101 and that the jam will begin at 1230! And don’t forget, you can bring a friend for FREE so grab a buddy and join us!

Saturday September 28, 9-12noon – Moving & Writing with Light: Nourishing Body & Eyes with Susan & Rebecca
Susan & Rebecca offer a morning to expand your perspective on two things that everybody has: a body and a smartphone. The word “photography” means “writing with light.” A photo isn’t a copy of something— it’s a story written *by light*! And light is weaving stories all around us, all the time. Using the simple cameras that we all carry —the ones in our phones! — we’ll play with the stories of light around us and experience how changing our perspectives can change everything. Susan will weave movement and mindfulness into the morning to practice being with light & shadow. No experience in photography or movement needed, just bring a phone or tablet with a built-in camera and your body. No experience with movement or photography is needed or expected. If you like, from 12-2pm, bring a lunch and savor it on the porch, on the bench overlooking the river or on a rock in the middle of it. $75. Register at http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop.

Octobusy Launch Celebration at New Dominion Bookshop ~ Saturday, October 19, 7-8pm
I’m thrilled to be celebrating the release of my new book, Octabusy: How to Let Go in a Sea of Doing at the wonderful New Dominion Bookshop on the Charlottesville downtown mall on Saturday evening, October 19 from 7-8pm. I’ll read a little, talk a little, sign a little, snack and do a happy dance! You can get the information here and here and if you can’t be there, you CAN preorder from NDB!

Saturday October 26, 9-12noon – Nourishing the Nervous System with Mindful Movement
NOTE from Susan: I am thrilled, honored, excited to welcome Emily Wright to teach at Dancing Water. She is an extraordinary, approachable, gifted teacher. I can’t wait to do this with her. Will you join me?
The body is a central portal to nervous system regulation. When we are regulated and integrated, we have the capacity to be our most awake, available, creative, curious, flexible selves. Using a blend of guided movement work, journaling, visual art-making, poetry, and mindfulness practices, participants will explore states of autonomic nervous system regulation as a means to establish safe, nourishing connections to ourselves, each other, and the natural world. 
About the instructor:
Emily Wright, MFA, PhD, is a movement educator, author, and practitioner. She offers classes and workshops in functional movement, contact improvisation, and intergenerational community dance informed by her extensive background in dance and other somatic disciplines.

Nia resumes in Studio A at acac downtown
Nia is back in Studio A at acac downtown:
Mondays 4:15–5:15pm ~ Rachel
Wednesdays 6-7pm ~ Jeanne
Fridays 9-10:10am ~ Loring
Saturdays 9-10:10am ~ Anne
Sundays 3:30-4:30pm ~ Anne
PLUS
at acac Albemarle Square, Tuesdays 12-1pm Nia Moving to Heal ~ Rachel (starting Sept 3)

Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom ~ Video Series with Cecily Armstrong
Over the past few years I’ve been inspired and energized by the teaching and guidance of Cecily Armstrong. She is so generous with her offerings ~ her latest is a three-part video workshop Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom. If you’ve ever felt confused about how best to nourish yourself and live your healthiest, happiest life, Cecily offers amazing insights. You can sign up for the video series here. And/or you can get access to a longer 1-hour on-line workshop with Cecily here! https://cecilyarmstrong.com/decoding-your-bodys-wisdom-workshop/

Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom [optin]

First Friday Freedance with Kate ~ Sep 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.

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

Monday, Sep 2, 2019, 1045am ~ Sawubona “I See You” ~ Labor Day!

A Thousand Years 5:58 Sting
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
Beautiful (Radio Mix) 3:54 Audio Adrenaline
Papasus 6:08 Loop Guru
Shut Your Eyes 3:16 Snow Patrol
Cotton Eyed Joe 2:50 The Chieftains & Ricky Skaggs
Cirrus 5:49 Bonobo
Suddenly I See 3:22 KT Tunstall
Carnival 5:59 Natalie Merchant
In Your Eyes 5:26 Peter Gabriel
Mirrors (Radio Edit) 4:37 Justin Timberlake
Looking in the Eyes of Love 4:19 Alison Krauss & Union Station
Plegaria para el Alma de Layla 3:19 Pedro Aznar

Tuesday, Sep 3, 2019, 840am ~ Sawubona “I See You”

A Thousand Years 5:58 Sting
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
Beautiful (Radio Mix) 3:54 Audio Adrenaline
Papasus 6:08 Loop Guru
Shut Your Eyes 3:16 Snow Patrol
Cotton Eyed Joe 2:50 The Chieftains & Ricky Skaggs
Cirrus 5:49 Bonobo
Suddenly I See 3:22 KT Tunstall
Carnival 5:59 Natalie Merchant
Mirrors (Radio Edit) 4:37 Justin Timberlake
Looking in the Eyes of Love 4:19 Alison Krauss & Union Station
Plegaria para el Alma de Layla 3:19 Pedro Aznar

Wednesday, Sep 4, 2019, 11am ~ Sawubona “I See You”

A Thousand Years 5:58 Sting
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
Beautiful (Radio Mix) 3:54 Audio Adrenaline
Shut Your Eyes 3:16 Snow Patrol
I’m Looking Through You 2:24 The Beatles
Sawubona 3:57 Lucky Nabavimbezeli
Cirrus 5:49 Bonobo
Suddenly I See 3:22 KT Tunstall
Sawubona 4:01 Nicolay
Mirrors (Radio Edit) 4:37 Justin Timberlake
Jets 4:35 Bonobo
See Yourself 3:44 Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers
Looking in the Eyes of Love 4:19 Alison Krauss & Union Station

Thursday, Sep 5, 2019, 840am ~ Sawubona “I See You”

A Thousand Years 5:58 Sting
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
Beautiful (Radio Mix) 3:54 Audio Adrenaline
burundi 6:26 Star Sounds Orchestra
Doctor My Eyes 3:21 Jackson Browne
I’m Looking Through You 2:24 The Beatles
Sawubona 3:57 Lucky Nabavimbezeli
Cirrus 5:49 Bonobo
I Can See Clearly Now 2:43 Johnny Nash
Jets 4:35 Bonobo
See Yourself 3:44 Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers
Looking in the Eyes of Love 4:19 Alison Krauss & Union Station

Thursday, Sep 5, 2019, 11am Nourishing Movement at the Studio at Dancing Water ~ Sawubona “I See You”

Relaxer 7:58 Deep-Dive-Corp.
A Thousand Years 5:58 Sting
Pavement Cracks 5:10 Annie Lennox
burundi 6:26 Star Sounds Orchestra
Doctor My Eyes 3:21 Jackson Browne
I’m Looking Through You 2:24 The Beatles
Sawubona 3:57 Lucky Nabavimbezeli
Cirrus 5:49 Bonobo
Jets 4:35 Bonobo
See Yourself 3:44 Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers
Looking in the Eyes of Love 4:19 Alison Krauss & Union Station
Devorzhum 6:13 Dead Can Dance

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!

When I say the word “kiss” what comes to mind?

Do you think of what you gave your grandmother?
Do you think of what you give your child?
Do you think of what you get from your dog?
Do you think of what you get from your love?

What if you expanded your view of kiss?
What if you thought of your touch as a kiss?
What if you thought of your gaze as a kiss?
What if you thought of your breath as a kiss?
How could you move and think and speak like a kiss?

Can you let yourself kiss the world and (and this is important) be kissed by the world?

Rumi’s poem is the kiss I long for. Let’s move into that kiss this week.

Some Kiss

There is some kiss we want
with our whole lives,
the touch of Spirit on the body.

Seawater begs the pearl
to break its shell.

And the lily, how passionately
it needs some wild Darling!

At night, I open the window
and ask the moon to come
and press its face into mine.
Breathe into me.

Close the language-door,
and open the love-window.

The moon won’t use the door,
only the window.

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.

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!

mlk-injustice-anywhere-011517-b
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).

chains-of-connex-art-in-action-100316

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).

cranky-feet-100416

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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