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Dynamic Ease

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 Solstice can be challenging: the darkness and cold creeping in, the cultural frenzy of shopping and eating and jingling leaves the nervous system jangling (even if you are loving every minute of it). So for these next few weeks, we’ll be focusing on practical practices that we can do to soothe and strengthen our nervous systems. Think of them as nervous system “hacks.” We’ll focus on things we do in class all the time but call attention to them so we have easier access to them as we move through the world.

As we move into the second half of the 6-week series, we focus on systemic, whole-body movement. While grounding/orienting, squeezing/releasing and shaking can happen in one body part, the next three week will be about organizing and moving the body as a whole.

This week: core – distal movement, in and out. The reflexive movement of curling into center and stretching out is something we are literally born doing. You probably did some variation on it this morning when you woke up. The balance of the protected, safe feeling of pulling in and the exploratory, expansive feeling of reaching out creates a sense of well-being and calm in the nervous system.

Do it right now. Tuck into your center. Feel your belly draw back and your back body curl. Then reach out and stretch your limbs and head/tail long (oooh, yes, head and tail! we’ll get to that next week!). How does that feel? I’m always interested to hear about it, so please do leave a comment below!

Here 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!

Full Moon Restorative Yoga with Shandoah ~ Moonday, January 13, 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!), January 13, 430-6pm at The Studio at Dancing Water, $30 or $25 if registered before January 1. (Mark Your Calendar: Upcoming Full Moon class will be on 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
Saturday, December 14, 11-12noon
This week, I refreshed my display at Cville Arts in preparation for the holiday season and my upcoming event! Come see how Octabusy was made with an art demonstration and book signing at Cville Arts on the downtown mall!

ORDER OCTABUSY!
Support local retailers 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)
and at The Telegraph Art & Comics https://www.telegraphcomics.com/
and coming soon to the beautiful Nourish Louisa shop in downtown Louisa! Go here http://www.nourishlouisa.com/ for more. I’ll be sharing more soon on events at this super-cool spot!
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 ~ TWO SPOTS LEFT!
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

On My Last Nerve: Achieving Balance Using Practices & Herbs ~ a Book Signing and Workshop at The Elderberry ~~ Saturday, January 4, 2020 ~ 12noon – 2pm FREE!
It’s time to come back to ourselves after the holiday frenzy! Join teacher and artist Susan McCulley and Clinical Herbalist Heather Wetzel to explore a realignment of ourselves following the swirl of the holidays.
12:00-1:00: Book signing and conversation about the counter cultural choice for presence and less busyness with Susan, author of Octabusy: How to Let Go in a Sea of Doing conversation
1:00 – 2:00: Susan and Heather will present a short workshop focusing on re-balancing body, mind, and spirit after the holidays utilizing life hacks and herbal strategies for moving from the habitual responses of our nervous system’s “fright, flight, or freeze” reactions into a more balanced, flowing, and peaceful state of “rest and digest” for the new year. Topics include:
· How to support yourself to be more centered, calm and relaxed.
· Physical and mindful practices that can bring you back to center and be done anywhere, no matter what is happening around you.
· Tastings (including recipes) of tried and true adaptogenic herbal preparations to enhance your  resilience to stress
· New ideas to support and encourage graceful adaptation to change and less reactive to stress
We all need encouragement and new ideas to support us as we step into change-filled 2020 and beyond. Reserve your seat now as space is limited ~ go HERE https://www.elderberryherbals.com/calendar/on-my-last-nerve-achieving-balance-using-practices-amp-herbs-book-signing-and-workshop-saturday-january-4-2020-12noon-2pm!

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.

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

Monday, Dec 2, 2019, 1045am ~ Soothing the Nervous System: Core ~ Distal

We Are All Connected 7:07 Magic Sound Fabric
Calling 5:52 Bliss
Lovers House 4:49 City Reverb
One World, One People 4:43 Xcultures
Adore 5:09 I:Cube
Today 6:41 Junkie XL
I’ll Take You There 4:35 The Staples Singers
Shine 4:12 Joshua
Easy Tonight 4:09 Five for Fighting
Tom’s Diner 3:50 DNA, Suzanne Vega
Still 8:19 Wade Imre Morissette

Tuesday, Dec 3, 2019, 840am ~ Soothing the Nervous System: Core ~ Distal

We Are All Connected 7:07 Magic Sound Fabric
Calling 5:52 Bliss
Lovers House 4:49 City Reverb
One World, One People 4:43 Xcultures
Today 6:41 Junkie XL
I’ll Take You There 4:35 The Staples Singers
Shine 4:12 Joshua
Easy Tonight 4:09 Five for Fighting
Tom’s Diner 3:50 DNA, Suzanne Vega
Lydia 5:58 Tim Story

Thursday, Dec 5, 2019, 11am ~ Nourishing Movement at the Studio at Dancing Water ~ Soothing the Nervous System: Core ~ Distal

Breaking Good 9:45 James Asher
We Are All Connected 7:07 Magic Sound Fabric
Calling 5:52 Bliss
Lovers House 4:49 City Reverb
One World, One People 4:43 Xcultures
Today 6:41 Junkie XL
I’ll Take You There 4:35 The Staples Singers
Shine 4:12 Joshua
Easy Tonight 4:09 Five for Fighting
Tom’s Diner 3:50 DNA, Suzanne Vega
Lydia 5:58 Tim Story

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.

Twenty years ago, Nia Technique Founder Carlos Rosas created the routine Bliss. I was a new Nia student at the time and remember the buoyant, powerful feeling when I danced the routine. I felt like I was flying.

In the intervening years, I come back to some of my favorite songs from Bliss but I rarely teach the routine as a whole. This week, Mary Linn and I will teach our interpretation of this classic routine together on Monday and Thursday* and I’ll offer my own Bliss-ish playlist on Tuesday and Wednesday**.

The original music of the routine is largely selections from Rae & Christian’s 1998 album Northern Sulphuric Soul. I love the variety of sounds and the rich, passionate vocals in these tracks which offer ears and imagination and bones a playground. Bracketing Rae & Christian are three pieces from Shantel’s Higher Than the Funk album, also from 1998. These have a meditative pulsing quality that help my thinking mind relax and my body to explore.

Carlos’ focus was on the balance between gravity’s grounding and the electromagnetic pull up. The image he used was the flame: fueled and rooted to the source while pouring energy up. After dancing this focus in different ways over the years, I think of this energetic balance as the way humans soar. The way we can fly is to push up out of the Earth itself. Earth grounds us and Heaven pulls us. In our bodies, the 1st and 7th Chakras create that even energy pull of rooted and expansive.

And, as Buddha Cat (that wise creature) reminds me, a simpler view of this focus is the balance between up and down.

Please experience Bliss this week — either with us in the studio or wherever you are.

* Bliss with Susan & Mary Linn
Monday, May 14, 1045am-12noon, acac albemarle square
Thursday, May 17, 840-940am, acac downtown
Thursday, May 17, 630-730pm, acac albemarle square

** Bliss-ish with Susan
Tuesday, May 15, 840-940am, acac downtown
Wednesday, May 16, 11-1215pm, acac albemarle square

January 1, 2018. New Years Day.

I don’t know about you, but 2o17 was a rough year for me in many ways.

I’m fine with it being over.

But I don’t want to be in a rush to change everything. There are many things that are GREAT and that I’m GRATEFUL for.

Sure, there are  lots of things I’d like to change, but before I go there, I want to focus on what’s working, what feels good, and what I want to keep.

This week, when everybody’s focused on resolutely changing stuff, let’s focus on what we love and what we want more of.

We can get to that change thing soon, but for now, start with what’s great. What do you want to keep?

choosing sides revolved head to knee pose
My first yoga class with Mia Hamza focused on the side body. Afterwards, my body’s increased ease, range of motion and depth of breath amazed me.

Inspired, I read Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews to understand more about what is physically happening in different postures and movements.

In particular, I appreciate Kaminoff’s definition of breathing (explained simply and briefly here) as “shape change in the abdominal and thoracic cavities.”

So, it makes sense that length and strength in back, core, and rib muscles allow for ease, range and breath. May you get on your good side, too.

choosing sides half moon
“The side body is over-worked and under-paid.” ~ Mia Hamza

In February, I unrolled my mat in Mia Hamza’s yoga class for the first time. She focused, in that class, on opening the side body and (as hyperbolic and gluteus-kissing as this sounds) it transformed my practice.

The Nia practitioner in me loved having a focus: a thread that connected the poses and sensations. I loved that the poses and muscle groups were relatively new to me. But mostly, mostly, I loved how good I felt after that class.

Once I started opening my side body, I couldn’t get enough. That one class sent me on a cascade of exploration: into poses, breath, anatomy, and then choreography to create a Nia routine called Elegant Stumbling that focuses on the side body.

I’m relatively fit and limber but until that first class with Mia I had NO IDEA the tension I was carrying in my sides. Her class opened ease in my torso and core, deepened my breath and got me curious about what was going on in there. Whatever it was, I wanted to be doing it more.

As Mia points out, the side muscles, including the latissimus dorsi (broad back muscles), the obliques (side abdominal muscles) and the intercostals (muscles between the ribs) are working and stabilizing the body constantly.

choosing sides obliques and lats
As I researched, I discovered a muscle I didn’t even know — the quadratus lumborum (QL), a deep abdominal muscle in the low back — that is deeply connected to side bending.
choosing sides QL
Like the obliques and the psoas (deep hip flexor muscle that assists with hip flexion and rotation — and is notoriously tight), the QL connects the pelvis to the spine. These muscles integrate the upper and lower body – actually keeping the legs and torso together — so they are working all. the. time.

While we commonly (both in daily movement and in exercise) bend forward, arch back and twist, it’s rare that we do any lateral flexion (side bending). It’s not surprising, then, that this under-noticed area may be a little shy when it becomes the focus. Resistance or a feeling of “stickiness” is common when activating the side body, so it’s wise to go gently into these areas and breathe a lot. It can be easy to over-do or to hold the breath, so playing with awareness and breathing fully into all sides of the rib cage allows your body to open in its own natural time.

As things tend to do in our super-connected bodies, there are other areas to be aware of when focusing on side body opening. Tight inner thigh and hamstring muscles can impede movement in the hips which in turn can reduce the range of motion in or strain the side muscles. As we play with side body opening, then, we’ll also focus on releasing inner thighs and hamstrings.

It’s been a rich journey from that first class with Mia to the launch of Elegant Stumbling. I’ve learned how my core musculature affects the depth of my breath and my range of side motion. But the brightest side is that I’ve discovered movements that leave my body feeling easy and spacious. Get on your own good side and experiment for yourself.

PS You can find a couple of excellent Yoga Journal Articles on the side subject here and here.

don't just sit there woman sitting on bench“Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” – Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative

As a movement educator, avid yogi, biker and hiker, it’s safe to say that I’m active. Even so, I’m amazed at how much time I spend sitting ~ at my desk, in my car, at the table, watching movies. It’s kind of stunning.

A couple of weeks ago, my yoga teacher posted an article about the muscular ramifications of prolonged sitting. This brilliant article (please read it, it’s full of great information and helpful visuals) outlines how muscles compensate for the sitting for long stretches leaving some muscles tight (and overworked) and some muscles weak (and underworked). It’s called the Upper Crossed Syndrome (UCS) and Lower Crossed Syndrome (LCS) and the criss-crosses of tight and weak muscles result in shoulder, hip/lower back, knee and foot pain. (The article does a brilliant job of explaining the details of the muscles involved and the anatomical consequences, so I won’t recount them all here. Go read it!) Understanding the UCS and the LCS helps me see clearly why I’ve had issues in my shoulder, knee and even gives insights into the plantar fasciitis I occasionally grapple with.

The body is designed to move but our culture is designed to sit. Even fit folks are sitting a lot during the course of an average day. The UCS/LCS piece sparked my curiosity to look into the other consequences of extended sitting. What with the wonder of the World Wide Interwebs, it took me about 30 seconds to come across the phrase “sitting is the new smoking” (the phrase’s coiner, Dr. James Levine, is quoted above) and then to be inundated with articles and research about the health risks of sitting.

Holy first-world health hazards, people. Sitting increases the risk for obesity, muscular issues and joint pain, sure, but it’s not just that. Cancer. Heart disease. Diabetes. Depression. More. It’s a mess, I tell you. Sitting a lot makes a mess. (The phenomenon is fascinating in a frightening kind of way. If you’re interested in reading some more, you can find them here, here, and here but you’ve got the Interwebs, you can find even more, if you’re so inclined.)

So if extended sitting sets up not just structural imbalances but systemic health hazards AND if sitting is an inextricable part of life, what’s a person to do? In tomorrow’s post, I’ll talk about my personal strategy for combatting the tight, the weak, and the sad, sorry ails of sitting.

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