Dynamic Ease

Principle 7 – Three Planes & Levels…the ups, downs, ins and outs

P7 up down out

The body has 13 major joints (see Principle 2!). The central joint, Number 7, is the spine (a strand of joints, actually). Is it a coincidence that Principle 7 is about moving up and down and out and in from the spine? I think not.

Three planes (low, middle, high) and three levels (in, out, full range) invite us to make movement and life choices from love rather than fear — allowing us to step into potential, to ride each cycle of what the body and mind can do now … and now … and now.


CR 020614pm 002“When the body takes a new position, resistance is the first response. Relax as much as you can in the pose without losing the shape of the pose.”
~ Jacquie Hansen*, my yoga instructor at Rancho Margot in Costa Rica

A yoga class in Costa Rica: rain is falling steadily on the platform roof. There are no walls so we can both watch the downpour and hear the rushing river below. Birds sing and pop in to see how class is going. Occasionally, a lizard darts across the floor. Often, there are mosquitoes.

After some standing postures, we transition down onto our mats. Jacquie moves us into a simple twisting pose with knees falling to the side. Oh yeah, I thought, I know this pose. I’ve done it a thousand times. But with Jacquie, we did it s-l-o-w-l-y and we held it for a long time. No rush to the final expression, just hang out and pay attention. The first thing I notice is that I am holding my breath. The second thing I notice is that the muscles in my hips and low back are holding on for all they are worth.

“Just stay with the pose and keep relaxing, while staying in the pose,” encourages Jacquie. “How much can you relax and also hold the shape?”

I let go of my jaw and slow my breath. As I do, I can feel a small unwinding in my top hip. I take another breath and feel my low back unfurl just a little. I find it fascinating to observe the microadjustments in breath and body — catch and release, shallow then deep, tense, let go.  I also observe my skiddering mind hustle around to assess everything, then rest, then poke its head up to check in again.

“Relax as much as you can in the pose without losing the shape of the pose.”

Relaxing can be seen as something I do when I’m not doing anything else. Floating in a pool. Watching TV. Swinging in a hammock. And for sure, we can relax while doing those things, but somehow I think Americans think that’s the only time we can relax. Mindful practice shows us that we can relax into everything – even if it’s intense or strenuous. Chopping wood. Running a half marathon. Having a difficult conversation with your child.  Dancing all out.

In Jacquie’s class, I love the yogic experience: the union of my body and mind, the connection between what I am consciously choosing, what I am noticing, and what my body is doing on its own. It reminds me of the Nia concept of dynamic ease: using just the amount of energy needed for any movement – no more and no less. It reminds me of Leela in a yoga class years ago saying, “Take it easy, but don’t be lazy.” It reminds me of Amy in yoga class last week saying, “Try easy.” It also reminds me that we can do this in any activity, any situation, and in our lives as a whole. Relax, but stay in it.

Relax as much as you can while retaining the shape of what you’re doing. Relax as the axe swings over your head. Relax as your feet steadily strike the street. Relax as you listen to your struggling kid (even to the hard bits) and soften your eyes (even if you’re angry).  Relax as you dance with your whole self.

What can you do in any moment, in this moment, to relax more while staying fully engaged in what you are doing? You might be surprised at what tenses over and over and at what unwinds and lets go.

* Jacquie teaches yoga in Seattle, so if you’re in that neck of the woods, go take a class with her!

easy 7 easy peasy lemon squeezieWhat’s easy? What’s difficult? Anything you can think of, for someone or in some situation it’s not. (Go ahead, try me.)

Walking across the room is easy for me, but what about for someone with cerebral palsy?

Give a speech to millions? For me, terrifyingly difficult. For Barack Obama? Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezie.

Instead practice between challenge and healing. Feel the sensation as you come to your edge while you simultaneously take care of yourself. Practicing here is the key to growth, learning, and living our potential.

The balance between challenge and healing for you right now is always shifting. Hang out there.

easy 7 runnerAll things are difficult before they are easy.
~ Thomas Fuller

Every other Wednesday at 7am, I meet my friend Howell at Greenberry’s for coffee (him) and genmaicha tea (me). For two years, we’ve been meeting to offer each other encouragement to live with heart, authenticity, and creativity. We support each other as we create the art of our lives. Meeting with Howell has helped me find the courage to write a blog, take a sabbatical, write a book, and be an artist. Everybody should have a Howell.

Turns out that on Wednesdays at 7am a bunch of runners get together for breakfast at Greenberry’s, too. In all seasons and weathers, they stride in with their long, lean limbs dressed in Boston Marathon jackets, sweat-wicking leggings, and super-high-tech sneakers. They kick back, dig into breakfast burritos, and catch up with each other. They have a community, these runners, and I love seeing them hanging out together.

Recently, I overheard two of them chatting as they waited for their coffee. A tall, tousle-haired woman and a 50-something man who looked like his heart beat maybe once an hour leaned against the counter. “So what’d you do today?” asked the woman. “Oh, I just did an easy 7,” he answered casually.

An easy 7.

I laughed into my tea. Easy? Nothing about running 7 miles would be easy for me. But for Once-An-Hour-Heartbeat Guy? Easy peasy lemon squeezie.

No matter how long he’s been running, though, at some point in his life, I’m guessing that 7 miles wasn’t easy for him, either. Maybe when he first started, 7 miles kicked his butt. Or when he was recovering from an injury or an illness, perhaps 7 miles felt endless. But the morning I was eavesdropping on him? It was easy.

A Nia student has been taking classes for about three years. In the beginning, class was tough for her: every step and combination felt complicated. At the time, we were getting ready to do a flashmob in Charlottesville and every week we would practice the flashmob song in class. She really wanted to participate but she struggled with the steps. She practiced and practiced, and when it was flashmob time, she was right there in the front row…rockin’ it.

A couple weeks ago, we did the old flashmob song again. Afterwards, the student laughed and said, “When we learned that song, I thought it was so hard. But since then, we’ve done much more complicated stuff. Now, that song’s easy!”

What is easy? What is difficult? It all depends, doesn’t it? It depends on what experience I’ve had before, how much I’ve practiced, if I’m healing an injury, or if I’m distracted. It depends if I’m nervous or relaxed, happy or stressed. The same routine I’ve done a hundred times feels much more difficult if my teacher is in the room.

For training and conditioning the body and mind, the best place to practice is along the line between challenge and healing. Am I putting in enough effort and energy to challenge myself, while still retaining the healing power of breath and balance? Can I feel the powerful sensation when I push myself enough to feel my edge, yet take care of myself in the process. Discovering and remaining on the edge between challenge and healing is the key to growth, learning, and living our potential. And it’s true not just for Nia and physical pursuits but in all areas of life. Step into your next meeting, decision, conversation, and feel the challenge of pushing your possibilities while breathing deeply and staying balanced.

Is it easy? Is it difficult? The words are meaningless since they are completely relative.

A more interesting question is where is the edge between challenge and healing for you right now? Hang out there. That’s where the juice is.

mountain pose“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” ~ Yogi Berra

I love me some Nia philosophy and theory.  Yes, I do.  In my post yesterday, I waxed philosophically theoretical about how equilibrium, a state that we can cultivate in the body and in life, is at the heart of The Body’s Way.  What better time to noodle on such things than the spring equinox?

But theory is theory and practice is practice.  So let’s look at how we can actually sense for equilibrium in the body, in our movement, and in life.  Each definition of equilibrium aligns with movement and sensation that we can create in Nia and in whatever we do:

e·qui·lib·ri·um, noun

1. a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces.

2. equal balance between any powers, influences, etc.; equality of effect.

3. mental or emotional balance:  equanimity.

First, we sense “a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces” when we are standing upright or a stances in Nia.  On the face of it, when we take an Open Stance or just stand up from a chair, “opposing forces” may not be the first thing to jump to mind.  But whenever we stand upright, we are balancing the body’s weight and strength into the pull of gravity.  As we align the body weights of pelvis, chest and head, they rest along the plumb line of gravity in that “state of rest or balance.”  If any of those body weights is out of alignment, however, the act of standing becomes a constant effort.

Second, “equal balance between any powers” is the sensation of a dynamic ease that we can feel in both yogic postures or balanced movement.  Watch a yogi in Triangle or Warrior Pose and you can see the lines of equilibrium balancing the body with equal and opposite force.


TrianglePoseBikramYogaWynnewoodEven if they look peaceful, these poses move tremendous energy through the body in opposing directions creating a state of balance.  Lose the energy in one arm or leg and the whole system literally falls!

This quality of balance between powers can happen when the body is in movement, too.  In Nia, when we move across the floor in Lateral Traveling  (or in life when we walk across the room), for example, we are balancing the force of our feet against the floor in order to move.  Feel how one foot pushes left for the body to go right, back for the body to go forward.  The opposite foot is then there, ready to stabilize and then to push the body again.  This collection of movements actually creates its own state of equilibrium.  Put that same movement on a slippery floor, or have one foot weaker than the other and that state no longer exists!

Notice that when executing blocks or punches with alternating arms, one arm is actively performing the movement while the opposite arm is resting in neutral.  Often we can get revved up doing these powerful arm movements and forget to allow the non-working arm to find ease in neutral position.  To be in a state of equilibrium, we let the active arm be full-on while the neutral arm is fully at rest.  By cultivating this state of equilibrium, we actually have more power.

And this flows into the third definition:  the state of equanimity.  Equilibrium in the mental and emotional realms is  equanimity:  the non-reactive witness that allows us to observe what is unfolding.  Nia is often called a movement meditation.  As I place my awareness and attention on sensation and movement, the thinking, critical mind has an opportunity to find that neutral place, too.

The body is always doing its best to find equilibrium, so you may be in the state more often than you realize!  The invitation this week is to notice the state of rest and the balance between opposing forces, as well as witnessing equanimity when the mind and emotions are in balance.  When you notice that you are out of equilibrium, ask yourself how you can regain it.  Action and rest, give and receive, inhald and exhale.  Equilibrium is The Body’s Way and the way of health and well-being — the first of spring is an excellent time to intentionally find it.

As always, my friends, please leave a comment and let me know what you discover!

I’ve been accused of hyperbole, over-reaching, being too big.  Indeed, it’s true, I do tend to over do.  Then after over doing, I’m pooped so I collapse.  A nasty, energy-sapping cycle that perpetuates.

Instead, a middle way:  strength in length (my experience of Nia’s dynamic ease).  Not too much and not too little.  Embodying movement, my body, life.

Nia helps me remember the sensation of  balance that is neither my Nana (overdoer) or The Dude (underdoer).

A shift in attention and awareness brings me into strength in length.  Extend energy, fill up each movement and still be breathing and balanced.





Here are some things I’ve been accused of in my day:



Being too big.

All true in one way or another.  I have held a belief (and I’m bound to hold it again) that I’m not enough as I am and that I need to make me a little more.  So, yes, I will overstate things, make them a little more dramatic, and amplify just a tad — and it is a habit that I am looking to break.

The fall-out of overdoing things is that I then feel spent and pooped out so I collapse a bit into myself.  I get exhausted by the effort of pushing.

A middle way would be nice.  Instead of overdoing-and-then-underdoing, I can find strength in length.  Strength in length is an aspect of the Nia principle of dynamic ease:  the full embodiment of whatever I am doing.  Not too much and not too little.  Strength in length is full embodiment of my skin which allows my energy to flow without pushing.

My practice of Nia has helped me relax and realize that I am enough, that overdoing not only isn’t necessary but truly doesn’t serve me.  I notice that when I overdo by pushing or over-extending (in my body or any other realm) I get out of balance and out of breath.

For me, the rebound of overdoing often is under-doing.  The sensation of underdoing is moving “inside” my skin.  It feels half-hearted and on auto-pilot.  When I’m under-doing, I have a feeling of mindlessness or distraction that feels lethargic and a little spacey.

My Nana, I now see many years after her passing, was an overdoer.  At Christmas, she would bring dozens of gifts for everybody and she was always worried that they weren’t right or enough.  “I’ve left the tags on so you can return it!” she would say over and over.  The truth is that all I really wanted was to sit in her lap and open just one.  We all know over-doers.  How does it feel to be with them?  Are you an over-doer?

“Dude” Lebowski, Jeff Bridge’s character in The Big Lebowski, is a good-natured, weed-smoking slacker and a notorious underdoer.  In this scene where The Dude meets The Big Lebowski, Bridges embodies underdoing while sitting!  We all know under-doers.  How does it feel to be with them?  Are you one?

The middle way, the sweet spot is dynamic ease, which recently I’ve been experiencing as strength in length.  Whether I’m overdoing or underdoing, I can find strength in length with just a slight shift in attention and awareness.  I can extend energy beyond my skin, past the ends of my bones, fill up each movement and still be breathing and balanced.

In my body, my movement, my life, it is worth finding strength in length.  This week, walk the middle way with me, fill up your skin, send energy out yet stay balanced.  Breathe and feel the power and energy.  Try it on and please do let me know how it feels!

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