Form & Freedom

Embrace Form…

No matter what you’re doing, form is essential. Structure and boundaries make space for possibility.

but Soften around Form…

Give up getting it right. Nobody is getting it right. Get too tight around form leaves you rigid and unavailable.

Embrace Freedom…

Freedom is the opportunity to go in new directions, experience new things, create what hasn’t been created.

Soften around Freedom…

No matter what you do, habit and auto-pilot will wend their way into freedom. Originality is a myth. Relentless focus on freedom leads to chaos.

Grayson Perry is a fascinating modern artist with boat tons of wisdom about creativity…and some of the craziest outfits you ever saw. He has so many talks and videos and lectures that I really just recommend mucking about and see what you find. AND, I like this piece and this video and this series of lectures (especially the last one).

Every endeavor needs both form and freedom. Embrace them both without a strangle hold. Allow things to be messy and imperfect. Mistakes aren’t the problem. Soften around form and freedom to uncover creative possibility.


I may spend a lot of time dancing but at the heart of things, I’m a spaz. I trip a lot, bump into things, fart in public, and not rarely, I find myself wearing something inside out.

Which, you know, is fine. But what I really want is to think, create, speak, move, dance, live inside out.

We are all surrounded by things, experiences, people, events that we respond to. It’s easy to make choices about what we think, say, do, make based on what other people are doing or on how we will look or on what we think other people think we should be doing.

Dang. That gets tiring. But it can feel safe.

Instead, make the brave choice. Respond in the way only you can. The invitation is to respond to outside-ness from inside, authentically. Put more you into the world.

The Unofficial Guide
to the 13 Nia Principles
~ Practical, Nia-or-Not Applications for EveryBody

(Wondering what in the world the Unofficial Guide is and why I’m writing this series of posts? Click here!)

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Principle 2 (Part II) – The Nine Movement Forms

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

In traditional fitness, choreography is constructed by changing steps and patterns frequently, presumably to hold students’ interest or challenge them. In Nia, we use the energy of the [nine different] movement forms [from the dance arts, martial arts and healing arts] to emphasize specific and unique feelings and sensations. Thus, Nia approaches choreography from an energetic point of view; we repeat the same step and pattern, but change the movement form in order to change the energy. This allows us to stay with the same pattern for longer periods of time, giving both teacher and student time to deepen their connection to body sensations and form. When choreography stays simple, people can feel and express themselves more playfully [and, I would add, in a more healthy and integrated way].

For the official scoop on all nine movement forms, click here.

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

The first part of Principle 2 is Natural Time. Which I’m sure you know about since you read about it, right? As you know, then, the 13-moon calendar is based on a 13:20 code that recognizes the natural cycles of the Universe. Which sounds a bit woo-woo and highfalutin but actually, 13:20 is right there in your bones: the human body has 13 major joints and 20 digits.

The second part of Principle 2 is a natural extension of the first. Part 2 of Principle 2 addresses how Nia trains, conditions, and heals this 13:20 body using the energy and essence of the nine movement forms. In a Nia class, we can do any movement in these different ways, each affecting the body differently. For example, a front kick executed with Tae Kwon Do energy is going to emphasize strength, power and stability, while the same front kick executed with Alexander Technique will focus on lift through the crown of the head, length in the spine and an graceful, easeful alignment. As we practice, any movement can be infused with the energy of any of the nine movement forms which offers both teacher and student enormous freedom within the form.

This is all excellent and juicy-good, but even if you’ve never done Nia, you can use the energy and essence of the nine movement forms in anything you do. We all have our style and habits around how we approach the world. Take a look at the descriptions of the movement forms (or even better, move them), and you will notice that some come easily and feel familiar and others feel awkward and strange.

Notice which movement forms you tend to gravitate toward and then explore the ones that are outside your habit. By exploring all nine of movement forms we have access to a broader range of options for approaching anything. Especially if my habitual way isn’t working, the nine movement forms give me options for another approach.

Me? I tend toward Jazz and Tae Kwon Do. The energy and power of these two movement forms is great for some things but in lots of situations and relationships, they work about as well as wearing a red sequined dress to a funeral.

For example, if I have a daunting pile of work to do around the house, instead of powering through it Tae Kwon Do style, I can choose to take the Tai Chi approach of mindful, relaxed grace or use the creative possibilities of Modern Dance. When I’m talking to my step-kids, instead of being my Jazzy expressive self, I might choose a Feldenkrais approach by slowing down and reconnecting or tap into the harmonious, circular flow of Aikido.

There are lots of ways to move through the world. The nine movement forms give us more options to explore what energy might serve each situation, each relationship, each moment best.

The human body is designed to move. The joints are the juicy junctures where movement happens (click here for more on that). As my body moves and makes shapes, I communicate with myself and with those around me.

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The human brain is a meaning-making organ. On this blog, we’ve explored how posture and body language communicate both inward and outward (for more on that, go here, here, and here.) However, our brains make meaning not just of body shapes but of all shapes.

movement and meaning ATT-Logo

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movement and meaning Target-Logo

Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien has identified five universal shapes that mean the same things across time and culture. In her book Signs of Life: The Five Universal Shapes & How to Use Them she demonstrates how these five universal shapes are used in art, architecture, design, and advertising to communicate particular things. Beyond language and culture, these five shapes communicate on a basic human level.

In fact, considering our preference of these shapes can give us insights into ourselves. As Arrien writes,

The preference for particular shapes is an announcement of the values and processes active at any time for an individual, a group or a whole society…. The meaning ascribed to each of the five shapes symbolizes and demonstrates an individual’s worldview: the qualities, characteristics, belief structures, actions, and forms of expression used by one person or shared by the members of a society…. The Preferential Shapes Test allows a person to discover one’s own current worldview…. The sequence in which someone places the shapes when taking the test is most important in showing which of the five universal processes of change and growth is being experienced most intensely by that person at that time….

To take the Preferential Shapes Test, take a look at the five universal shapes:

movement and meaning signsoflife shapes

Without over-thinking it, rank your preference of the five (1 = most preferred, 5 = least preferred). Tomorrow, I’ll post a full explanation of the meanings of the shapes and how to analyze your sequence. In the meantime, check out what shapes show up around you – in patterns on carpets or pillows, in jewelry, and in other details in your surroundings. Look for how the shapes are used in art, advertising, business logos and cards, architecture, and furniture design.

The body is a moving system. The brain is a meaning-making organ. Start noticing the shapes you tend to make with your body and the ones you prefer to have in your environment. Tomorrow, we’ll look at how your human, meaning-making brain receives them.

carlos 1Yesterday, I wrote about how Dr. Dan Siegel’s definition, Integration is health, sparked my imagination and inspired my flagging teaching practice.

In May 2012, at the same time that Dr. Siegel’s gem came to me, I was playing with Carlos Rosas’ Nia routine, Humanity, the last routine he created before he retired in 2011. I wasn’t really planning to learn it or teach it (I didn’t even know if I’d resume teaching) but I’d been dancing it in my living room to see if I could recapture my Joy of Movement. The focus of Humanity is yin and yang, in the sense of masculine and feminine but also polarity and opposites. “When you do this routine,” Carlos says, “you will find and create balance and unity.”

Two inspirations from two teachers merged into the routine I’ll be teaching this week. I call it Unity because, as Carlos points out, “unity” is contained within “humanity.” In Unity, I use a blend of Carlos’ music and mine, a combination of his choreography and mine. The focus of Unity is integration. The intent is to create healthy bodies, minds and relationships through that integration. Beyond that, this routine is meant to be a tribute to my beloved teacher, Carlos, and a launch of my teaching career without him.

As I wrote last week, this routine has been a long time a-comin’. I have worked on it and tweaked it and noodled on it (and looked at it sitting there on my desk) for months and months. Now I am ready to share it.

With this routine (and I dare say in my teaching henceforth), we’ll play with integration of body and mind in general and specifically:
• Right / Left brain – creativity, emotion, spontaneity, and sensation on the right; linear, logical and linguistic on the left
• Upper / Lower brain – the attunement, emotional balance, insight and intuition of the upper/prefrontal brain; and the direct, visceral experience of the lower/limbic brain
• Upper and Lower Body – allowing both parts to be active and engaged either doing the same or different movements
• Left and Right Body – noticing differences between dominant and non-dominant sides, keeping awareness in both
• Internal and External Sensation – taking in the direct experience of the body as well as the information coming from the five senses
• Rhythm and Melody – noticing the unique effect of rhythmic patterns on the body and mind in contrast to the more freeform sounds in melody and the felt sense of musical harmony
Notice that in all of these pairings, one side is not better than the other – in all cases, we need them both. In all of these realms, the intent will be to honor the differences and also open connection between both sides of the polarities.

Whether you are with me on the dance floor this week, or you’re dancing through life somewhere else, I invite you to notice these opposites and see how you might find integration. Whether it’s doodling with your non-dominant hand, or listening to vocal music (an inspiring one or one if you’re feeling a little bit silly) with your full attention, play with integration and feel the harmony and balance. Here’s to integration in all realms!

perfection dali“Done is better than perfect.” – Google slogan

Perfectionism rears its persistent head with me at least every two weeks when I clean my house, but right now I’m thinking about it in relationship to a routine that I’m working on. I’ve actually been working on it for months. Seven months. Okay, maybe nine.

Carlos AyaRosas is one of the founders of The Nia Technique. I studied with him from 2000 to when he retired in late 2011. He was my Teacher-with-a-capital-T. I deeply admired his vision and his commitment to personal transformation in all realms. I witnessed him embrace the challenge and energy it takes to break habits of body, mind, and emotion to become a kinder, wiser, happier person and teacher. Carlos walked his talk.

He also led a kickin’ Nia class that could make me yelp with joy. Yelp, I tell you. Dang, he inspired me.

The last routine he created was called Humanity. It’s got brilliant movement, fun music, and great energy. It also has three freedances. Out of nine songs. I got the sense that 6 songs into the routine, Carlos said, “That’s it. I’m done.”

At the time I began working with Humanity, I was studying the work of Daniel Siegel. Dr. Siegel is a neuropsychologist who has done ground-breaking interdisciplinary work in the field of brain science. One of the most profound things he says is “integration is health.” The first time I read that, it stopped me in my tracks. It just makes so much sense to me, whether it is left/right brain integration, body/mind integration, or you/me integration. The more I thought about it, the more I agreed that no matter what we’re talking about, integration is, indeed, health.

Between Humanity and Dr. Siegel, I got the idea of integrating Carlos’ work with my own: integrating teacher and student, teaching and learning, following and leading. I saw it as a way to offer a tribute to my beloved teacher, to launch myself into my teaching without his guidance, and to create a healthy body of work.

I decided to call the new routine Unity (as Carlos pointed out, “Unity” is within “Humanity”) with the focus on Integration and the intent of energizing and relaxing into health. Yes. I would use some of Carlos’ music, some of my choosing. I would use some of his choreography and some of mine. I would honor him and also free myself from thinking his way was the only way. Woo-flippin’-hoo!

I put together the playlist and listened to it a lot, I envisioned the flow of the routine, I did my bars (mapping the music, Nia-style), I freedanced it, and started finalizing the choreography.

And then I got stuck. I kept procrastinating instead of working on it. I put “Unity choreography” on my to-do list every day for weeks and weeks and it just stayed there. Looking at me.

Last week, I paused when I noticed myself scrolling and trolling through Facebook instead of dancing Unity and getting ready to share it. I realized that perfectionism had plopped itself in the middle of my routine. This time, my perfectionism was stopping me from working on it at all. Interesting. When I step back, I realize that I didn’t want to “use up” my last chance to learn a Carlos routine. There would be no more after this. Sigh. And with such lofty aspirations of tribute and transformation and health, how could it ever be good enough?

So this week in my classes, our focus will be Perfect without Perfection using Nia Blue Belt Principle 9: Form and Freedom. Blue Principle 9 invites us to use the tools and principles of Nia together with choice, uniqueness, and interpretation. This Yin and Yang of Nia encourages both connection to the precision of the moves while having the freedom to craft something new. I’ll start sharing some of the songs from the Unity routine this week, with the intent of dancing the whole thing next week. And together we can look at how we can all use form and freedom to let go of the ball and chain of perfectionism…or whatever it is that holds us back. I’d love to hear what you think!

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