At the heart of the practice of Nia is the principle of awareness. We pay close attention, we invest ourselves in witnessing how we do what we do so we can make conscious choices rather than be carried along by habit.

It is a powerful practice that has served me well for nearly two decades.

I have always thought of awareness and the witness as being objective, non-judging, almost clinical. This is important for seeing things as they are.

But last weekend, at a Mindful Self Compassion workshop with Laura DeVault and Sharon Beckman Brinley, they introduced the idea of Affectionate Awareness. What if I observe myself with both objectivity and kindness? What if I see what is so with tenderness? As if I was observing a close friend or a child? 

Take a moment and think of a time that a friend came to you with a difficulty and they were suffering in some way. Think about how you spoke to them, what tone you used, what your posture was. Then think of a time that you were struggling or that you messed up or failed in some way. How did you speak to yourself?

Imagine for a moment, saying what you say to yourself to your friend. The thought of that took my breath away.

The practice of Mindful Self Compassion is based on the work and research of Kristin Neff and it is full of eye-opening and heart-opening practices. And if you, like me, thought that it all sounds like unicorns and rainbows and that there is really important work that needs doing and other people are suffering more than you are and you don’t deserve this kind of work, think again. MSC is a courageous choice to feel your suffering and others’. It can shift not only your relationship with yourself and those around you, but can shift the discord in our communities and the world.

Learn more about Dr. Neff’s work and the practices that can support you whenever you need them in this Google Talk and her TEDx Talk. Her book on Mindful Self Compassion is here.

Breathe deep and offer yourself some Affectionate Awareness.



heartful-action-111816“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. ” — Maya Angelou

heARTful is a word I made up to mean awareness from and leading with the heart. heARTful Action posts focus on how to stand up and create a culture of health, inclusion and kindness. heARTful Action posts are calls to love warriors everywhere.

No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, there can be no denying that these are turbulent, uncertain days. After a week of reading and listening, I see that I have been both blind and deaf to the suffering of vulnerable populations and passive in my social engagement. I’m sharing what I’m learning as I open my ears, eyes, and heart, and offer practical, tangible ways that you can do your own heARTful action.

Today, two things to play with:

(1) Make It Personal

It can be easy for me to get carried away in what is important to someone else, so it’s worth taking the time to make it personal. Think and feel about what matters the most to you. There are endless projects and programs that could use support so pause and check in with you.

First, ask yourself, “What’s the biggest YES for me?” Ask yourself what is most important to you: you can use it as a contemplation or conversation question or do some free writing/journaling to see what makes your heart pound.

Then ask yourself, “What do I desire?” When we resist or fight against something, that energy only causes the situation to perpetuate, but when I ask, “What do I desire?” a creative space of possibility opens.

Once you’ve considered these questions, do your best to write a single sentence that describes that which is important to you and what you desire to create. Here’s mine:

I desire to live in a thriving culture of kindness, inclusivity, and health that fully recognizes the interdependence and interconnectedness of everything.

What’s yours? Please share it in the comments below or on the heARTful Action Facebook page (or both!). Then, as you choose where to put your time, energy and money, align it with your purpose.

(2) Campaign of Kindness

Most days, I’m a damned cheerful thing but when I’m feeling stressed or upset, I tend to fold in and close down as I move through my day. In alignment with my purpose statement, I know that it is important to me to live as kindly as I can even when I’m feeling down or discouraged.

I’m calling it my personal Campaign of Kindness and I’m doing my best to do the kindest thing I can in every situation. This may mean thanking the people folding towels or smiling and looking directly at the cashier at the grocery store. It may mean reminding a friend that their feelings matter and that I am there for them. It may mean calling my congress folk when something fishy is happening. Lately, it may also mean letting myself sit on the couch with the cat for a while or or finding time for yoga even when I’m busy or having another cup of tea instead of rushing back to my computer.

As you move through your day, what is the kindest thing you can do?


Here is a helpful resource to help navigate sticky situations of unkindness and disrespect.
Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry (Abridged Version)


Join us online in the heARTful Action Facebook group! It’s a place to share ideas and intentions and to gather support and colleagues in the actions that you want to do. All are welcome (Charlottesville or no).


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.

“ ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ ” ~Matthew 25:40

When it comes right down to it, Matthew 25:40 is the litmus test for me.

How a person, a company, a congregation, a country treats the least among them reveals everything about character. And while I can see how corrosive it is when others treat the powerless poorly, I don’t always recognize when I do it in myself. Treating my most vulnerable, least powerful parts with anger, callousness or by ignoring them is equally revelatory about me.

Here are 4 ways of looking for and connecting with “the least of these” in yourself. First, give yourself a few minutes to get quiet. Sit comfortably somewhere where you can be undisturbed for a while and take a few breaths to let thinking and doing settle down.

1. The Least of the Body

Scan your body and notice the part that is giving you the most sensation or presents itself as needing the most healing right now. It may be the place of a recent or past injury. It may be an illness or disease or where the repercussions of habitual movement gather. Whereever the place is, first notice how you feel and talk about it. Are you impatient or frustrated with it or do you ignore it? Then spend some time sensing this part of you directly without story or judgement. Simply notice the direct sensation without adding anything to it. Be open to feeling what it most needs. From there you can make a choice about how to respond.

2. The Least of the Mind

From the same quiet place, notice the lines of thought that feel difficult or that drain you in some way. Notice what Jason Mraz calls the “thoughts that do not make me strong” and which ones are predominant right now. You might be worried about something or angry about something. You might have a recurring cycle of thinking about your circumstances (or job or children) or you may have thoughts that circle around fruitlessly in an obsessive cul de sac.

Then notice thoughts about those thoughts. Do you get exasperated with yourself for thinking like that or do you just buy into the thoughts and see them as true? Separate the thoughts from the thoughts-about-thoughts and inquire what the “thoughts that do not make me strong” need, what would ease them. Sometimes just paying attention and being kind to the worried or frightened part of you who is thinking this way can ease the relentless thought flow. Other times, realizing that it only hurts you to worry or stew in your own angry juices can help to disentangle from the “not strong” thinking.

3. The Least of the Emotions

Not long ago, I was with a friend who was telling me about a difficult situation at home. With fire in her voice, she detailed the thoughtless things her partner had done and then she stopped abruptly and said, “I should just not get angry.” I wished for her and for all of us that when painful or vulnerable emotions come up that we can treat them gently and give them attention. Ignoring feelings only pushes them underground to resurface in unexpected and often unskillful ways. Giving them our awareness and tenderness can help get to the root of them and allow them to heal.

4. The Least of the Spirit

When my spirit is hurt and limping along, I often can’t quite identify what’s happening. As Avicii sings, “I didn’t know I was lost.” This is what it feels like when I lose touch with awareness: I’m lost but I don’t know it.

One way I can tap into how my spirit is faring is to ask myself about my aliveness: do I feel alive and engaged with my life and the world? I might well be angry or passionate or afraid of things that are happening but if I also feel alive, my spirit is likely doing fine. On the other side, my life might be fine on the surface with the kids’ lunches getting packed and the calendar full of events and the work getting done but if I also feel numb or disconnected or even dead inside, it’s likely that my spirt needs tending. Rather than poo-pooing the feelings, ask what would wake me up? What would help me feel more alive?

Once I am more connected to my relationship with “the least of these” in myself, I can open my awareness to how that manifests in my relationships with others, and what groups I want to invest my energy in. When connecting with a community or business or political party, one question I always want to ask before I join them is, What do you do for the least among you?

??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????“Grounded is clarity and simplicity.” ~ Mia Hamza

Stability is the mother of all movement sensations. Without stability, no other movement is possible. Given the reality of our bodies moving in gravity, we have to stabilize against the earth and against our bones in order to move.

As a teacher and a mover, I know that stability is essential, but I sometimes am at a loss about how to explain it.

Nia describes the sensation of stability as “energy moving out from center in all directions equally.” I love the sensual nature of this description but in some ways it’s counter-intuitive.

Many teachers, including me, describe stability as being “grounded.”

“Ground into the four corners of your feet.”
“Ground the outside edge of your foot into the mat.”
“Ground into your legs.”

In a recent yoga class with Mia Hamza, though, she spoke practically about grounded stability.

“To get grounded,” she said, “get clear and keep it simple.”

I was surprised that she wasn’t talking about planting the edges of my feet or spreading my toes or rooting my energy into the earth. But hey, I’m a mover and a writer so I was happy to play with Mia’s mathematical poetry

Grounded = Clarity + Simplicity

As I practiced, I kept a little mantra going of “clear and simple, clear and simple.” Sure enough, when I’m not sure what to do, if I’m not clear in my movement and alignment choices, my poses take on a confusing, unbalanced feel. If I compare myself to the next door yogi or think about my current writing project, I am as likely as not to tip over.

Grounded = Clarity + Simplicity

When Mia gave an instruction, I paused and asked myself how can I make this clear and simple? My body figured out the physical details if my mind focused on simplicity and clarity. However, an edge crept into my internal dialog. My mind hijacked the whole situation and cracked down with harshness about what I should be doing more clearly, more simply and better (or how I should just be better general, for crying out loud).

So I altered her mathematics to

Grounded = (Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness

Whatever Grounding choices I make in the name of Clarity and Simplicity needs to be multiplied with Kindness.

Since Mia’s class, I notice that Grounded = (Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness is true for more than physical movement.

A grounded conversation is one that doesn’t go too fast or spiral into reactivity. A conversation that is clear, simple and kind stabilizes the connection between people.

Grounded = (Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness

A grounded decision begins with identifying clearly what is most important. I feel stable in decisions that are made with clarity and simplicity and infused with kindness (even if execution of those decisions might be more complicated or unclear or even (gasp!) disappoint someone).

Grounded = (Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness

The most grounded people I know keep things simple, clear, and kind ~ in their words, their actions, their lives. When I’m not grounded, I tend toward cascades of complicated thinking, dominoes of distracted action, laced with assy comments.

Grounded = (Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness

Grounded stability allows for all movement and change in the body … and for any movement and change in our lives. If I want to create stability in any realm, my focus is clearly and simply on being clear, simple and kind.

In February, meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg sponsors a 28-Day Meditation Challenge. Everybody is invited to commit to meditating every day for the month and join the mindfulness community. As part of the challenge, I’ll be blogging throughout the month (along with other meditator/bloggers) about the experience. You can find the posts on Sharon’s site and I’ll share mine on Focus Pocus.

28-Day Meditation Challenge ~ Day 22
Sunday, February 22, 2015

28 Day Challenge aspen leaf with snow pub dom

All week, it has been crazy cold in Charlottesville. We rarely get temperatures in the teens here but for many days last week it was in the single digits. Yesterday, it snowed stunningly and steadily all day long. The predicted few inches stacked up to nearly a foot. As it got dark last night, the thick white blanket was frosted over with a coating of freezing rain and sleet.

This morning I ventured out to see the state of things and to determine whether the noon yoga class was in the realm of possibility. All around me, everything was melting. I could see it dripping off the trees and the eves of the house. I could hear it falling through the magnolia tree and trickling down the driveway. Everywhere, everything was melting.

Melting is the sensation of metta. Lovingkindness meditation melts the frozen places in me that want everyone to think, act, and live like I do. Metta softens the hard, irritated parts of me that push away others’ messy habits and feelings. It melts my tendency to see strangers in two-dimensions and reminds me that everybody – everybody — just wants to be happy and free from suffering. Metta chips away at the crystallized part of me that sees some people as good and others as bad. It thaws the crunchy delusion that we are separate and disconnected from each other.

But most of all, metta softens my own heart toward myself. Metta warms the icy places of harshness and self-criticism. Lovingkindness reminds me of my own humanness and that I, too, am worthy of care and compassion.

Metta melts.

In February, meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg sponsors a 28-Day Meditation Challenge. Everybody is invited to commit to meditating every day for the month and join the mindfulness community. As part of the challenge, I’ll be blogging throughout the month (along with other meditator/bloggers) about the experience. You can find the posts on Sharon’s site and I’ll share mine on Focus Pocus.

28 Day Challenge aspen leaf pub dom

28-Day Meditation Challenge ~ Day 7
Saturday, February 7, 2015

Dear Susan,

Be kinder than necessary.

In all circumstances and all situations, be kinder than you have to be. Stretch your kindness muscles.

Your husband, Frank, is right. No matter if you are cheated, no matter if you look like a fool, no matter if someone else is shrewder, you will never, ever regret being kind.

When in doubt about what the kindest thing to do is, just stop and take a breath. Especially if you feel resistance or feel like someone’s taking advantage, pause and breathe. You probably know what the kindest thing is.

If you’re still not sure, broaden your perspective, think about what really matters, what’s most important, how you’d feel about this choice (even if it’s a tiny one) on your deathbed. From a place of Big Mind, you probably know the kindest thing to do.

If you still don’t know, ask Frank.

Tatoo this on your heart,
Post-it note this to your soul:
In all circumstances and situations, be kinder than necessary. To everybody. Including you.


Both And WebTitleWant to strike fear into my heart? Say, “Can I be completely honest with you?”

Good gravy. I just know whatever you’re about to say is going to hurt like crazy.

And if you’re treating me gently, I just know you’re keeping the truth from me.

Such is my relationship with Honest and Gentle.

I do it in my head and in my practice. Either I get all Dominatrix Discipline with whip harshness, or I go all Gooey Gentle and fall asleep.

Rather than either/or, it’s the space between them, the both/and of Honest and Gentle where awake and alive reside.

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