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.

A NOTE about the Focus Pocus art: I am in the middle of a book project called Octabusy: How To Let Go in a Sea of Doing. I’m excited about it and want to focus my art-making energy on it in the next couple of months. So instead of making more complex art pieces for the Focus Pocus blog, I make little cartoons like this one that features characters from the book. This week, Octabusy is counseled by the sea turtle and hatchet fish to remember to BOTH mix it up and keep it stable.

How does the wisdom of an ancient Greek philosopher (as interpreted by a 20th Century writer) and a Belgian psychotherapist intersect? What does that wisdom have to do with movement and living in the human body?

Last week, we focused on Mixing It Up and how variety — whether it is in our diets, our movement or our relationships — brings health and aliveness to any system. As we practiced together, I noticed that variety was not the only thing at play. There was something at the root of the experimentation and exploration.

Aristotle wrote, “as it is not one swallow or a fine day that makes a spring, so it is not one day or a short time that makes a man blessed and happy….these virtues are formed in man by his doing the right actions.” You might be more familiar with Will Durant’s explanation of Aristotle (words which are often misattributed to Aristotle himself):

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Will Durant (Not Aristotle)

Accumulation of repeated actions that give a result. What we do over and over builds our lives. Mindfully choosing what we do over and over, then determines the kind of life we live.

As much as I teach and practice changing things up and breaking habit, I also know the deep importance of intentional, value-driven, positive habit formation. As human beings, our brains respond to repetition and predictability. We are wired to expend a large amount of mental energy on learning something. Our brains then quickly shift to making it a habit.

Think about a time when you learned something new — whether it was a movement pattern or a foreign language or a new app. What did that feel like? I sometimes call the feeling of leaning “egg beater brain” — as if my neuropathways are scrambling to reconfigure themselves. Once we’ve learned something, our brains then do their very best to make it routine. This is when we are *practicing* something that we’ve learned. This is an utterly different sensation, right? This is the difference between roughly bushwhacking a trail through the forest, and walking it every day, clearing the way and making it easier and easier to walk that same path. After a while, taking that path becomes familiar, easy, peaceful. Walking that path might allow you to be so relaxed that it’s transportive and expansive.

Athletes and artists often call this the flow state. And we need this, we need the stability of familiarity and the groundedness of the known in order to open to creativity and possibility.

Relationship therapist Esther Perel’s amazing podcast Where Should We Begin? looks squarely at the intricacies of intimacy and reveals that human beings fundamentally need both stability and excitement. She writes:

“Love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time. Marriage is not the end of romance, it is the beginning.” ― Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic

Without stability, we have nothing to launch off from. Security allows us to relax. Without adventure and change, parts of ourselves wither and die. Whether you are in a long-term relationship with another person or not, we all have one relationship that we all have had since day one: our relationship with our body.

How can you create this balance of security and adventure, of practicing and learning, of stability and mobility in your body, your movement, your life?

I’m a worrier. Always have been. My sweet mom used to give me strands of smooth worry beads to carry in my pocket to help ease the thread of anxious thoughts. Once she gave me a broad flat smooth stone with a divot in the center for my thumb. I rubbed it so hard, I broke it in half.

Over the years, I’ve been able to catch myself worrying at least enough to question the habit. Recently, one of my yoga teachers shared this lovely bit of Rumi that made my heart leap.

When I find myself niggling a worry, it helps me to cultivate a combination of stability and mobility. Together these sensations ground me and allow me to see more possibilities than the train wreck that I’m envisioning.

The genius poet Mary Oliver offers the wisdom of stability and mobility in her poem, I Worried.

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?

Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?

Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,

Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?

Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

If you’ve followed me at all, you know that my favorite app is Insight Timer, the free meditation app that offers a timer as well as thousands of guided meditations of all kinds. In particular for our focus this week, I like this Healing Vibrations meditation by davidji and this one about releasing worry from Lou Redmond and there are others about letting go of worry, too!

Instead of worrying — beads or stones or strands of thought — find your ground and mobilize your perception of what is possible.


Both mobility and stability are movement sensations that train, condition, and heal the body uniquely. Creating the mobility of fluid, constant movement around the joints lubricates connective tissue, stimulates intrinsic muscle, and creates more ease in the nervous system. Sensing that stability is not only a rooting down, but an energetic radiation from center, creates stability even in the inherent instability of our bodies and the world.

But put them together and…



(Okay. I didn’t actually SEE the totality when it happened this summer. I was actually kind of MEH about it. This art was inspired by Rebekah Wostrel and Annie Dillard’s extraordinary essay that Bekah shared with me.)

If you’re interested in more good writing, check out this post that I wrote while I was in the midst of a big move. Read it here!

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


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


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


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!

Paisley Pants 007A week of dancing the DragonLily Dance of agility and mobility: I experienced some of the sweatiest classes in recent memory, some sore muscles in unexpected places, and of course, neon salmon pants. What more could a person ask for??

How about some music? Here are all the playlists from the week: lots of Carlos AyaRosas choreography and some other juicy yumminess besides.

Next week, we’ll continue playing with the Sensations of Fitness (dare I call them the Sensations of Life? Why yes, yes I do.). In the meantime, I invite you to notice how you do what you do. Just pay attention. It’s the first step to giving us choices about how to respond.

Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

Monday, April 14, 2014, 1045am ~ DragonLily

Song for Olabi 6:07 Bliss
Clouds 6:33 Feuerhake
Sweeter Love 8:09 Blue Six
Qalanderi 6:55 Cheb I Sabbah
Welcome to the Journey 5:04 Cybertribe
Shadowman 6:36 Afro Celt Sound System
Ants Marching 4:31 Dave Matthews Band
Back To Me 3:31 Kathleen Edwards
The Remedy (I Won’t Worry) 4:16 Jason Mraz
Sure Thing 6:03 St. Germain
Horizon 4:00 Garth Stevenson

Tuesday, April 15, 2014, 9am ~ DragonLily

Damascus 2:03 Conjure One Feat. Chemda
Center Of The Sun 5:01 Conjure One Feat. Poe
Tears From The Moon 4:18 Conjure One Feat. Sinéad O’ Connor
Smokey Quartz 6:59 Shakatura
Qalanderi 6:55 Cheb I Sabbah
Drumming Up a Storm 5:59 Bob Holroyd
Shadowman 6:36 Afro Celt Sound System
Up In Indiana 4:36 Lyle Lovett
Suddenly I See 3:22 KT Tunstall
Taxman 2:39 The Beatles
Drive 3:53 Incubus
Easy Tonight 4:09 Five for Fighting
Golden Slumbers/The End 4:16 K.D. Lang

Weds, April 16, 2014, 1055am ~ DragonLily

Awa-Awa 4:34 Wes Welenge
forever changes 5:34 ZKT
Catu (Vienna Sub Mix) 6:21 Ikarus
Oye Como Va (Latin/Trance Mix) 4:17 Celia Cruz
Blood Stud (Ray Mang Remix) 8:36 MB Disco
One Week 2:49 Barenaked Ladies
Faster 3:28 Matt Nathanson
Snapbean 2:37 Li’l Brian & the Zydeco Travellers
Fly 3:33 Bart Hafeman
Boogaloop 4:33 Ursula 1000
The Sea 5:08 Morcheeba
April Come She Will 2:06 Tracy Grammer
Path 3:14 Ishq

Thursday, April 17, 2014, 9am ~ DragonLily

Awa-Awa 4:34 Wes Welenge
Clouds 6:33 Feuerhake
Moonsmith 5:50 Cantoma [Quango] C3
Sweeter Love 8:09 Blue Six
Freek 7:16 Shakatura
Ghosts in My Machine 3:33 Annie Lennox
Ants Marching 4:31 Dave Matthews Band
Played A Live 6:46 Safri Duo
I Can’t Get Next To You 3:09 Annie Lennox
Subterranean Homesick Blues 2:17 Michael Franti
Big Blue Ball 4:52 Big Blue Ball
Horizon 4:00 Garth Stevenson


For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at…

If you’re traveling or moving, you can find a teacher or classes wherever you’re going.

Interested in teaching or deepening your practice? Check out the Nia White Belt Training. There is one coming up in Richmond the week of May 17 and lots of other places, too.

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