Archive

Flexibility

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 are challenging for me: the darkness and cold creeping in, the cultural frenzy of shopping and eating and jingling leaves 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 focused on the simple movements of squeeze and release. Even the simplest creatures (think of little water bugs, caterpillars, worms) squeeze and release. All parts of our bodies (think of heart and lungs and esophagus and muscles) squeeze and release.

In our modern human lives, though, we can get stuck in stressful patterns. We can squeeze in and just keep squeezing, creating chronic tension and holding patterns that create disfunction, discomfort and injury. We can release and just keep releasing, collapsing and closing down.

In your body and in your life, which way do you tend to go? Do you brace and contract and walk through the world as the strong one? Do you accommodate and contort and walk through the world as the super-flexy one?

Creating health is a creating an integrated balance of fully squeezing and then fully releasing. Pulling energy in with strength and letting it go with flexibility.

Do it right now. Wherever you are. Squeeze in tight. You can use your hands to squeeze and then expand to let all your muscles hug into the bones. Then let go. Really release and let go completely. See what it feels like to let yourself feel both and then feel the balance that emerges. I’d love to hear about your experience

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, Decmeber 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
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.

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

Monday, Nov 18, 2019, 1045am ~ Soothing the Nervous System: Squeeze & Release

(after my teaching bag was stolen out of my car one hour before class we danced to this playlist: originally Feb 2 2006 playlist provided at the last minute by Becky Trexler!!)
Sofa Rockers [Richard Dorfmeister Remix] 8:34 Sofa Surfers
The Hush 5:24 Rae & Christian
Journeyman – AO 6:41 Bob Holroyd
Silk Road 8:00 Kitaro
Spellbound 5:43 Rae & Christian
Open Your Heart 5:46 M People
Freedom 4:29 Nicole C. Mullen
Don’t Wait Too Long 3:10 Madeleine Peyroux
Ascension 4:52 Lex van Someren

Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019, 840am ~ Soothing the Nervous System: Squeeze & Release

Damascus 2:03 Conjure One Feat. Chemda
Down To Earth 5:59 Peter Gabriel
Breathe 4:12 Blue Stone
Water Down the Ganges 7:10 Prem Joshua & Manish Vyas
Freedom 2:50 Tyrone Wells
I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like) 3:52 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Knock On Wood 4:13 Safri Duo
Fly 3:33 Bart Hafeman
Amma 6:26 James Asher & Sivamani
Dust in the Wind 3:30 Daughter Darling
Give Me Strength 4:03 Sally Taylor
Jai Radha Madhav 6:27 Deva Premal

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019, 11am ~ Nourishing Movement at the Studio at Dancing Water ~ Soothing the Nervous System: Squeeze & Release

Stretching My Molecules (feat. Al Agami & Hush Forever) 8:30 Mashti & Deep Dive Corp.
Down To Earth 5:59 Peter Gabriel
Breathe 4:12 Blue Stone
Water Down the Ganges 7:10 Prem Joshua & Manish Vyas
Freedom 2:50 Tyrone Wells
I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like) 3:52 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Knock On Wood 4:13 Safri Duo
Fly 3:33 Bart Hafeman
Amma 6:26 James Asher & Sivamani
Dust in the Wind 3:30 Daughter Darling
Give Me Strength 4:03 Sally Taylor
Jai Radha Madhav 6:27 Deva Premal

I love summer.

Despite its signature heat and humidity, I love the long, sunny days, all the growth and abundance and berries and watermelon. I also know that especially in the hot height of summer, I need to stay grounded. All that swirling, rising heat energy requires grounding my body, mind and heart. Summer is a time for meditation, siestas, being near water and sitting in the sand.

For me, it’s also a time for connection: gathering fresh fruit and vegetables (either from a garden, a blueberry bush or Misfit Market!), walking in the forest or near water, visiting and entertaining friends and family. (Conversely, I think this is why I winter holiday parties when my energy is quiet and attention is inward totally do not work for me.)

These dual needs for grounding and reaching, are reflected in the very design of the human body: in particular the lower legs and forearms. Take a look at the bone structure of the lower arms and legs:

On the surface of it, the two structures look almost identical: two bones next to each other, one noticeably larger than the other, the ends of which connect to similar structures — a hinge joint at one end and a gliding synovial joint at the other. But while the forms looks the same, their functions are not. The bones of the lower leg are designed to stabilize and ground while the bones of the lower arm are designed to flow and reach out.

The forearms and lower legs are the Bones of Summer.

The two lower leg bones are the tibia and the fibula. The second longest bone in the body, the tibia runs along the inside of the lower leg, attaching to the femur/thigh bone at the top and the ankle at the bottom. Run your fingers along what you think of as your shin bone and you are feeling your tibia. The fibula is another long bone but is narrower and runs parallel to and acts as support of the tibia. In the lower leg, the tibia provides strength and weight-bearing while the fibula provides mobility and range of motion with stability being primary focus of the lower leg.

The forearm bones are the radius, on the thumb-side of the arm, and the ulna that runs down the pinkie side of the arm. Similar to the leg bones, these bones provide both strength and mobility but in the arm, the focus is on mobility. The structure of the joints in the forearm allow the radius to rotate around the ulna — the only two bones in the body that cross each other! — which allows the hand and wrist to rotate more completely than the foot (thank goodness, that wouldn’t go well). This intricate design allows extraordinary flexibility and dexterity for everything from lifting heavy boxes to doing caligraphy.

The Bones of Summer remind us that when energy is moving and things heat up, we need to stay both grounded and fluid. We need to rest in the support of the earth under us but also reach out and connect to the ripening fruit of the season. Both stability and mobility are nourishing to the body in the summer heat and the same is true for the mind and heart.

To skillfully navigate a heated situation — rising anger, an intense disagreement or a hot political conflict —  we need to stay both grounded and fluid. Feel yourself present and rooted as well as open and expansive. It can help me to feel my feet and legs (maybe even feeling my feet or legs with my hands) and also breathe and reach out for connection and perspective. So when I get tangled in a Facebook morass, for example, I can feel my body and breath and also go outside, pet the cat and get a hug from my level-headed husband. This connection to both stability and mobility are what allows relaxation, a settling of stirred-up energy as well as openness to possibility and solution.

Hot summer days can be full of pleasure but they can also stir me up and get me over-stimulated. I have to remind myself to find strength and support as well as openness and connection. Walks in the woods, resting on rocks in a river and picking berries from the vine offer ancient balance to the heat of the season. However you navigate the heat, connect with the Bones of Summer in the lower legs and forearms for a physical sensation of grounded fluidity.

This week, we’ll play with the inspiration of two quotes. First, Albert Einstein. What if real intelligence isn’t about what you know or think or do, but rather your ability to shift and change?

Then, from Seth Godin’s book/work of art, It’s Your Turn. Think of a situation – in your body, your life, your community – that is changing and the tension that results. Think of somewhere where there is tension – in a muscle, in a relationship, a company – and the change that inevitably, eventually, results.

Hidden within these quotes is not just the sensation of adaptability but of strength and flexibility.
Are you willing to change?

elements interconnected 041816

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.

Earth.
Water.
Fire.
Air.

The basic elements of life are inextricably interconnected and intertwined. We may look at a boulder and think “Earth” but the stone was born of Water and Fire and Air, too.

Since they are of this planet, our bodies are made of the same stuff — all the ingredients blended inseparably together. The brilliance of this design is that in any moment, we can choose to emphasize whatever element is most needed.

Like a sound system mixing board, we can turn up the volume on whatever track needs to be highlighted. Use sensation and awareness to guide yourself toward healing and well-being.

Earth

Feeling over-excited or anxious? Have you been up in your head solving a problem or analyzing a situation? Feeling spacey or zoned out? Grounding with Earth energy can get your feet back on the ground

  • Drop in. Stand up, lift up onto the balls of your feet and firmly drop your heels down to the floor several times. Relax your hands and jaw and shoulders.
  • Get on the ground. Lie on the floor (or extra bonus points for lying on the actual Earth) and relax into the support (without going to sleep). You can roll and stretch but whatever part is in contact with the floor, let it soften.
  • Focus on the exhale. Extend your exhale as long as you can to relax and integrate the energy.

Water

Feeling hot or irritated? Been in an argument or had someone pushing your buttons all morning? Feeling jagged and sharp? Smoothing out the edges with Water energy can help calm your prickly pointy parts.

  • Move smooth. Roll your neck and shoulders, stand up and circle your hips, rotate your ankles and wrists. Imagine your body flowing especially in places where you tend to hold tension.
  • Get in touch with water. Take a shower or wash your hands. Drink a big glass of water or a cup of tea. Listen to a recording of ocean waves, rain, or (my favorite) water running over rocks.
  • Breathe evenly. Inhale and exhale for the same count (say, 4 in and 4 out) with no pause between them.

Fire

Sleepy or bored or distracted? Feeling lethargic or low energy? Sparking the Fire element can wake you up and get your attention.

  • Shake. Do some jumping jacks or simply shake your hands, feet, shoulders or head. Literally shake yourself up.
  • Fire up the iPod. Listen to your favorite up-tempo energizing music. Two of my favorites are Sandstorm by Darude and Raging Fire by Phillip Phillips. Dancing is optional, unless the song is super good and you can’t help it.
  • Bellows breath. Sit tall and forcefully exhale and inhale using bhastrika breath or bellows breath. Find instructions here.

Air

Feeling tightness in your muscles or your mind? Find yourself in a contracted position on a plane or around an issue? Been slumped in front of the computer or TV for a while? Opening up space with the Air element can release tension and offer a broader perspective.

  • Stretch. Lengthen your body along the bones. Let your whole body find length from feet to spine, from legs to fingers. If you’re on a train or at a meeting, stretch what you can – maybe your hands or sit up taller or imagine yourself in a big open space reaching long in all directions.
  • Look at the sky. On your way to the car, take a moment to look up and see how much space (even on an overcast day) there is all around you.
  • Breathe in. Expand your internal spaciousness by breathing deeply in. Let your ribs expand to the front, sides and back.

* The mind is a powerful tool. If you can’t move due to injury or circumstance, move what you can (e.g., shake out just your right hand if your left hand isn’t available) or imagine yourself moving. Just using your imagination will have almost the same effect!

elements square 041616One of the first routines I learned when I began teaching Nia was a classic created by Nia co-founder Debbie Rosas called Chakras. Its focus was the elements of earth, water, fire and air and as a student, I loved the contrasting grounded, fluid, intense, and light movements. But as I worked on getting ready to teach it, something was missing.

I asked my mentor, Chris Friedman, to let me teach her the first song. After a minute, she stopped me and asked, “When you do that deep stance, which element are you dancing?”
“Earth,” I said.
She paused and said, “I can’t feel it when I watch you.”

Oddly, neither could I. I’d been focusing mainly on my feet and legs when I did this “Earthy” movement but Earth, Chris pointed out, is in my whole body.

Throughout the routine, I did my best to embody each element. Earth isn’t just in my bones and base, Water isn’t just in my joints and blood, Fire isn’t just in my nerves and muscles and Air isn’t just in my lungs and hands. Each element is systemic in the body.

We and the planet are made of the same stuff. As I embody the elements, I am embodying the interconnection within and around me.

earth 041616Earth

The Earth element is in our very bones, muscles, and connective tissue. Our physical form that allows us to literally stand on the Earth is of the Earth element.

Stability and strength are the movement sensations most directly connected with Earth. Like the globe itself, stability radiates energy out in all directions from center. And like the force of gravity that holds us to the ground, strength pulls energy in toward the bones.

Feel your radiating rootedness and your powerful physical form and you are feeling the Earth in you.

Of course, our bones and muscles and connective tissue can’t function without…

water 041616

Water

The human body is more liquid than anything else. Synovial fluid lubricates joints and saliva lubricates our tongues. Blood, our fluid tissue, touches every other tissue in the body. In her 2008, New York Times article, The Wonders of Blood, Natalie Angier wrote:

It is through blood that our disparate parts communicate, through blood that our organs cooperate. Without a circulatory system, there would be no internal civilization, no means of ensuring orderly devotion to the common cause that is us.

Much of us liquid and is constantly moving. The flow of mobility is the movement sensation connected with Water. The life giving, cleansing power fluid movement mirrors the liquid element that swims within us and around us.

Feel movement with no beginning and no end and you are feeling the Water in you.

Of course, the flow of blood and movement stops cold without…

fire 041616

Fire

The nervous system fires to ignite both unconscious and conscious movements. Without the electric spark of nerves, the body wouldn’t know what to do. Whether from the flash of thought and imagination, or the ignition of automatic processes, fire is in our fibers.

The movement sensation of agility with its quick starts and stops is most closely associated with fire. The sizzling heat of precise agility is how we can light our own element of Fire.

Feel the bright lightening quickness in your bones and you are feeling the Fire in you.

Of course, the Fire goes out without the nourishment of…

air 041616

Air

Just like the air around us, the air within us offers relaxing nourishment and powerful energy. Air is the spaciousness that we feel when we breathe deeply, stretch long, and connect to the vastness of spirit. Air and space can be found in every bone, fluid and tissue … and between every thought.

Flexibility is the movement sensation of energy moving out along the bones. Like a long exhalation, creating the length and space of flexibility connects the body most directly to Air.

Feel the spacious length in your body, your movement and your breath and you are feeling the Air in you.

Of course, Air has nothing to animate, nothing to nourish without Earth, Water, and Fire.

Earth Day is this week* so it’s a perfect time to recognize the interconnectedness of the elements on our planet and in our bodies. Dance with elemental movement and feel your connection to every part of you, the planet and the universe!

 


* Earth Day 2016 is Friday, April 22 and Mary Linn and I are teaching a special class that evening at acac downtown, 545-7pm. The class is free to members and they can bring a guest for free!

pupilOur bodies are designed to move…in lots of different ways.
But what do we do mostly?
Sit.

Sitting, especially for extended periods, creates pairs of tight and weak muscles in the neck, shoulders, hips, knees and feet that can result in pain and injury. Even fit people who sit often are prone to health problems.

Combat sitting by

Step 1a. Move (every day)
Step 1b. Move (from the desk every 25-60 minutes)
Step 2. Be aware (know where you are tight and weak)
Step 3. Move differently (shake it up and break habits)
Step 4. Repeat (over and over)

Share your anti-sitting tips below!

don't just sit there woman slumped at computer
Sunday, I wrote about the article that sent me down a rabbit hole of research about the negative effects of sitting for extended periods. Today, I offer a 4-step strategy for combating the downsides of modern life in a chair that I’ve been playing with for years:

Step 1a & 1b. Move and Move
Step 2. Be aware
Step 3. Move differently
Step 4. Repeat

You may get the idea from that but perhaps it would be helpful to shed more light on my 4-step strategy:

Step 1a. Move

Your body is designed to move. Please. For the love of Pete. Move. Every day. Some way. Move. Get your body mobile in a way that feels good to you. Even 20-30 minutes of movement is better than skipping it altogether. Move Every Day.

Step 1b. Move

When you’re sitting, take breaks. Every 20-25 minutes, get up, stretch, get some water or tea (this helps in two ways: the fluids hydrate you and they’ll make you have to pee which is another way to take a break from sit-sit-sitting). Do everything you can to not sit longer than an hour without a break.

Step 2. Be aware

Knowledge is power and observation can be revelatory. Understand the cycle of tight and weak that surround extended sitting. Observe how you sit and notice what parts of you are overworking (tight) and what parts are underworking (weak). Notice where you feel stiff when you get up from your desk or out of the car. Low back pain may be a result of weak abs and butt with tight hip flexors and hamstrings. Upper back or shoulder pain may stem from overworked chest and neck muscles and underworked rhomboids. Check it out. See what’s happening. Armed with your awareness, go on to step 3.

Step 3. Move differently

Not only is the body designed to move, it’s designed to move in a multitude of ways. Move your body in lots of them. If, in Step 1a, you like to walk or run, play with doing it in different ways: walk on rocky paths as well as paved, run up hills or steps and not just on flat surfaces, swim different strokes, bike off road as well as on. Your body loves variety so experiment with different kinds of yoga, different fitness classes, different sports, and different styles. In Step 2, you may have noticed that your chest needs stretching or your glutes need strengthening to create more balance in your body. Use what you notice about your own body to make informed choices about movements that will strengthen what’s weak and lengthen what’s tight.

Step 4. Repeat

Keep doing it. Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Replace the word “excellence” with “health” or “ease” or anything else you want to create in your life and you can see that this is not a 3-month plan or something you can check off your list.

Move, Be Aware, Move Differently. Over and over. As long as you possibly can. With a little luck and commitment, that will be longer than if you don’t.

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