The Unofficial Guide

to the 13 Nia Principles

~ Practical, Nia-or-Not Applications for EveryBody

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

13 moon calendar glif

Principle 2 (Part I) – Natural Time

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

Natural Time is fluid, non-linear, radial, and expansive. It is centered in now; not tomorrow, not yesterday, not on deadlines, but Now. It reconnects us to the cyclical rhythms of nature, the rhythms that unite all life forms. The same basic movement of rising and falling, inhaling and exhaling, of birth and death, runs through every body of life. We are connected by cyclical rhythms. In Nia, we refer to Natural Time as 13/20, a code recognized and recorded by the Mayans. The Mayans understood 13 moons complete one year, and taught us that there are ongoing cycles in the Universe made up of 13 and 20. In Nia, 13 represents the number of joints in your body; 20 the number of digits.

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

The flowy, easy-breezy notion of Natural Time made me crazy in my early days (okay, years) of doing Nia. Natural time is all well and good for, who?, maybe an independently wealthy artist working alone in her studio?  In my life there are appointments, meetings, classes that need to start on linear, precise, chronological time. The world that I live in isn’t particularly forgiving about a “non-linear, radial and expansive” approach to these things. Even Nia trainings have an elaborate bell system to make sure that everybody is ready to start on time. So how does that square with Natural Time?

When I presented my disgruntlement about Natural Time to my teacher, Carlos, he talked to me about balance, about body and mind, and about listening deeply. He pointed out that we are often so entrained by the clock and calendar that we make choices based on WHEN it is rather than on what we really need.

Carlos was right. As a kid, I remember being scolded for eating lunch early because it wasn’t time for lunch – even though I was hungry. And I know I’ve felt a certain way on a Monday and Friday just because it’s a Monday or a Friday. In school, in sports and in business, it was important to keep up, regardless of my own natural rhythms or skills. In all those arenas, I had experiences of being chastised for going too slow and too fast.

My conversation with Carlos reminded me of following the freedom within the form. Show up to class on time, and release attachment to getting the choreography right. Be punctual to the meeting, and have the courage to think beyond the agenda. Set aside time for writing and creativity and if I sometimes stare blankly out the window, well, that’s just the way it goes.

As a practice of art, intention and creativity, I love following the 13-Moon Calendar to shake up my attachment to the 12-month Gregorian calendar. The 13-Moon calendar is both simple and complex and I only understand its most basic underpinnings. Even so, following it shifts my perspective on time. The calendar tracks 260-day cycles in which every day is a unique combination of four colors, 13 tones and 20 tribes. You can find your personal signature by decoding your birthdate which might give you some non-linear, radial insights about you. You can even get an application on your phone that tells you about the signature of the day (search “13 Moon Calendar”)!

One of my favorite parts about following the 13-Moon Natural Time calendar is that I play with choosing what I wear every day based on the signature of the day. Check it out, you can always tell what the color of the day is by something I’m wearing.*

We all have to live in the world with its timetables, schedules and agendas. Natural Time is the invitation to expand our thinking within that form and to allow our awareness, rather than the calendar, to drive our choices.

Principle 2 has two parts, so stay tuned ~ the second part, the Nine Movement Forms, comes Tuesday!

* FOCUS POCUS NATURAL TIME MUSIC GIVE AWAY:  Email me ( a picture of yourself wearing the 13-Moon Calendar color of the day one day this week and I’ll send you (or hand it to you if you’re in Cville) a CD of Nia music!  I’m not going to announce this anywhere else so only Focus Pocus readers are in on this!  [And even though it sounds like a McDonald’s contest disclaimer:  good for the week of Aug 24-28, 2014; US only; limit one per person; while supplies last; void where prohibited.]


2012-10-19 flash mobMy friend Kate and I led three flashmobs in Charlottesville (see them here and here and here).

Once we made a YouTube video of me doing the choreography in Kate’s kitchen so people could learn it and join in.

Someone commented that I looked stupid in my polka-dotted pants and I was too old to be dressing like that.

I must have had some of those voices in my head, since at first it hurt my feelings.

But then Kate turned off the comments on YouTube and I turned off the comments in my head.

What comments are you listening to?

IMG_3417“It takes a very long time to become young.” ~ Pablo Picasso

Today is my 50th birthday.

Damn. That number can make me want to put my head down.

But as a friend recently sang to his turning-50 wife (and the assembled celebrating masses), “we’re younger now than we’ll ever be.”

Depending on where you are on life’s continuum, you may have different responses to the number 50. Born more recently, and you might saying, “Well YEAH, you are OLD.” Or if you were born before me, you might say (as I do to myself when people bemoan turning 30 or 40), “Oh, pul-EASE. You are a babe. A mere child.” Or, if you, too were born in 1964, you might swallow solemnly and say, “Yeah. 50.”

I completely get all of those responses, since age, as it turns out, is mostly about perspective. It is my sincere hope that I will look back on this day, five or ten or twenty-five or even fifty years hence and think “Damn, I was so young in 2014!”

Better yet, what if I could think that right now?

Hazel is 84 years young and is living in the apartment in our basement. She wields a hoe like a demon and has whipped our weedy gardens into well-tended beauty. She still works several days a week “taking care of old people.” Hazel reminds me every day that the way we think of ourselves has a huge impact not just on our attitudes and perspectives, but on our physical body.

In more than three decades of research, Ellen Langer, has discovered that the way we think of ourselves has a powerful effect on our physical health. In her famous 1979 Counter-Clockwise study, she found that elderly men who acted as if they were twenty years younger for a week showed measurable improvements in their height, weight, gait, posture, vision, joint flexibility, and intelligence. They even looked younger.

Our youth-loving culture wants us to think that after we’ve lived a certain number of years, we should act and look and feel a certain way. Sometimes I find myself rejecting an outfit or an activity because I think I’m too old. When I notice this belief pop up, I take the opportunity to consider where that thought is coming from. Is that the voice of my parents or my children or a magazine? If I want to wear polka dotted pants or a two-piece bathing suit or my hair in pig tails, who is telling me I shouldn’t? According to whom am I too old?

Especially when see Hazel out in the garden or I recall Dr. Langer’s Counter-Clockwise study, I figure the younger I act, the younger I’ll be.

savoring seeing signsRecently, I got a speeding ticket in a construction area. The officer said I’d been going 40 in a 25 zone.

“25?!” I said. “I didn’t see any signs that said that.”

The patient officer sighed and pointed to a huge sign that said

25 MPH

It had two big orange flags on it.

I hadn’t expected it, I wasn’t looking for it, so I hadn’t seen it.

I want to savor what I see, not just look for what I expect.

For fun, watch this video about looking and seeing. In the comments, please share what you notice!

socks on socks off housekeeperHow I perceive the movement I do has a powerful impact on my health. In Ellen Langer’s study of hotel housekeepers, those that saw the work they did as exercise got markedly healthier.

The movements these housekeepers did at work increased their fitness – but only when they saw themselves as exercising while they vacuumed and made beds.

Functional fitness can work both ways: the exercise in our practice can make everyday movements easier, and the everyday movements we do can make our practice richer and deeper.

Experiment with seeing every movement as a choice for more health and well-being.

brave clogsI teach barefoot, practice yoga barefoot, and live in a shoe-free house. Most days, I wear clogs that I can kick off easily even with my hands full. A while ago I noticed that whenever I take off my shoes, I take my right shoe off first. Every time. Right shoe first.

This may not strike you as an earth-shattering news flash. That’s because it isn’t. Who cares, right? What difference does it make? None. No difference. It doesn’t matter.

But here’s what’s more interesting to me. For about two years, I’ve said to myself, “When you take your shoes off, take your left one off first.” For the fun of it, I set an intention to break my right-shoe-first habit. And here’s the thing: in two years and hundreds of unshoddings, I’ve managed to take my left shoe off first all of three, maybe four, times. I’ll be standing in the mud room and before I can stop myself, I’m taking my right shoe off. I walk into yoga and – whoops – it’s my right clog that slides off first.

Mindful practices of Nia, yoga, and meditation have helped me notice how I do what I do. This is always the first step toward change: paying attention and noticing what’s actually happening. Awareness alone is challenging: much of what we do is so deeply entrained in our bodies and minds that we do it automatically. Once we struggled and puzzled out how to brush teeth, drive, touch type, pour coffee. Then for efficiency’s sake, the brain flips into auto-pilot for those things and saves its gray cells for complicated tasks like refolding road maps and figuring out which TV remote to use.

Habits are not just physical, though. Since adolescence, I have wobbled under the weight of a debilitating negative body image. I have spent years judging (what I saw as) too-big thighs, too-soft belly, too-wiggly arms, too-thick ankles and in general the not-enoughness of my body. I have a deeply ingrained habit of obsessing about my body and basing my worthiness and value on what I look like. This habit has scuttled me with a wake of shame, despair, fury, and grief.

Untold amounts of time, energy, emotion, and resources have gone toward my negative body image habit. I’ve done every workout imaginable, dabbled in dozens of diets, and habitually beat myself up for the character flaw that is my physical form.

Unlike taking my right shoe off first, this habit matters. It is exhausting and humiliating. It feels isolating and hopeless. It has filled me with misery and has distracted me away from the people and pursuits that I love. It is a habit of madness.

Just like the right shoe off first habit, however, even when I realized I had a body-hating habit, even when I could see how damaging and painful it was, I kept finding myself in my old patterns. I told myself and others that I wanted to stop obsessing about my body. I made a commitment to love myself and be kind to myself. But no matter how many times I reminded myself that I didn’t want to do it anymore, I kept finding myself caught in the same loop of body-hating thoughts and feelings.

This week, I launch a new routine called Brave — a routine that I have been working on in one way or another since I was 14 years old. Brave began with the title Body Love. I wanted to create a routine to embody a new habit of loving my body.

Even grown in the weak soil of years of body-loathing, it has blossomed into much more than that.

It is an act of courage to love my body. To love my physical form as I am right now with no changes is, as Brene Brown says, to dare greatly. Second, these body image habits are so old and this pain is so deep that I (and I posit that none of us) can do this alone. We need to stand up for ourselves and we need to stand up for each other. We need to gently but firmly tug each other out of painful patterns and to remind each other of our respective and collective awesomeness. And as I play with each song, as I weep over lyrics, as I uncover movements to tell this story, I see that proudly being ourselves, completely and fully, without apology, is the bravest thing any human being can do. To be myself without hiding the not-so-pretty bits, to be myself with gratitude and pleasure, to be myself without pretending and masking is Brave.

I still slip my right shoe off first almost all of the time. And I still fall into my habits of criticizing and judging my body and wanting it to be different than it is. But I do recognize now what I’ve been doing to my body and myself. My body is my oldest friend and my most loyal companion. I have never done a single thing without her. She has stuck with me through everything and she has always done her very best for me. When I can remember and celebrate this, I break a long-held habit and start the healing.

I know it will take a long time, probably all the rest of the time I have. I know I will fall back into my old habits, of course I will. And I want to make a commitment to pay attention and make a different choice. Who’s with me?

* I am indebted to many for helping me create the playlist for Brave, including but not limited to: Christine Bergland, Jane Belisle, Joy Brown, Tamy Eustis Audrey Gelb, Pam Gibson, Kimber Hawkey, Virginia Hill, Beth Kariel, Anna Mairs, Sara Marks, Lynette Meynig, Laura Parsons, June Rivers, Kellie Silico, Joy Tanksley, Todd Waters. Especially since I’ve been on radio silence for most of the past year, I could never have found all this music without you. Thank you!

movement and meaning signs of life bookIn Angeles Arrien’s book Shapes of Life: The Five Universal Shapes and How to Use Them, she identifies five universal shapes that carry the same meaning across time and culture. The five universal shapes are:

movement and meaning signsoflife shapes

To take the Preferential Shapes Test, rank the five shapes in order of preference. Without thinking too much about it, rank from your most preferred (1) to your least preferred (5).

The following comes directly from Arrien’s book and may offer insights into your internal processes. I’ve also found it interesting to look with a different eye at advertising, art, logos, and business cards, architecture, furniture design and, well, everything!

movement and meaning signsoflife painted shapes

From Signs of Life by Angeles Arrien:

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….

The meanings of the positions:

Position 1 – Where you think you are.

The shape placed here, in this most preferred position, signals the process that now has your attention; it describes the part of yourself of which you are most aware and with which you are most comfortable at this time…. BUT – and this is critical for proper interpretation of the test results – it is not the most accurate indicator of where you actually are right now. It only shows you where you think you are or where you would like to be.

Position 2 – Your strengths.

The shape you have chosen as your second preference exhibits an inherent strength predominant in you at this time, whether you know it or not. You demonstrate this strength to other people without effort. The shape in this position indicates areas of your nature that are currently fluid, strong, and resourceful. This shape reveals the innate talents you are using to assist the growth occurring in Position 3. Many people who have taken this test, report that recent positive feedback and compliments they have received from others correspond to the qualities of the shape found in Position 2.

Position 3 – Where you are.

Though this shape is third in your order of preference, it is the most significant: the shape you put in this position shows your true current growth process. This shape stands for the work that is really going on, right now, at the core of your being. Very often this process is unconscious or overlooked, yet you must be aware of it in order to fully manifest the potential it represents…. The shape in this position can be a source of unlimited creativity and healing when you support the process it signifies.

Position 4 – Your motivation.

Position 4 points to past challenges, tests, and circumstances that have motivated your current process of change. The fourth position of preference and the shape within it discovers the motivation that triggered your move into the core work to be done that is symbolized by the shape in Position 3. This shape furnishes clarifying information about the underlying incentive that has provoked you to do things differently now. Many people have reported that the shape found in this position also describes situations they have resolved or moved beyond.

Position 5 – Old, unfinished business.

This shape, your least preferred, identifies a process you have outgrown or one that you dislike, still resist, or are judging. It indicates old, perhaps unfinished, business. This fifth position is associated with unresolved issues you now wish to put aside. The shape placed here carries a process that you will reclaim and integrate at a later date. It is work to which you should attend in the present; instead, it show areas of boredom, patterns of denial, or disowned parts within yourself.

The Circle Symbolizes: Wholeness, Unity, Independence, Individuation (The Hero Myth)

In Position 1: If the circle is in Position 1, it indicates your desire to be independent and self-sufficient. This is the process that has your attention and that is a source of inspiration to you.
In Position 2: The circle in Position 2 means that the heroic journey currently is effortless for you, whether or not you are aware of that. Your heroic behavior points out to others that your strengths are self-reliance and resourcefulness.
In Position 3: In Position 3, the circle shows that the process of individuation is occur9ing at the core of your nature. When fully engaged, this process of achieving and experiencing independence will allow your natural creative and restorative abilities to flow into all areas of your life.
In Position 4: The Circle in Position 4 denotes that a past heroic journey motivated you to become responsible and self-reliant. The process of individuation was the past challenge that caused you to move to your present core work (defined by the shape you have placed in Position 3 — ).
In Position 5: When the Circle is in Position 5, you may be resisting or denying the process of individuation. The heroic journey currently does not have your attention and you have no interest in exploring it at this time.

The Spiral Symbolizes: Growth & Change, Evolution (Life-renewing stories & myths), Coming to the same point again & again but at a different level, New Perspectives

In Position 1: If the spiral is in Position 1, it shows that the process of growth is the one you believe to be the most important for you at this time. You want to develop flexibility, to handle situations differently from the way you have in the past, and to implement tangible changes in your life.
In Position 2: The spiral in Position 2 denotes that it is easy for you to handle change, whether you know this or not. Your actions let others see that your strengths are flexibility and the ability to do many things at once.
In Position 3: In Position 3, the spiral symbolized that you are profoundly engaged in the process of change. It is essential to honor the changes occurring within your nature. Change and variety are necessary in your life. When you are able to trust this process, great energy will be released into all areas of your life.
In Position 4: Locating the spiral in Position 4 lets you know that you were challenged in the past to make significant changes in your life. Meeting those challenges readied you for your current breakthrough work as shown by the shape in Position 3 – The .
In Position 5: When the spiral is found in Position 5, it means you are unlikely to show interest in the process of growth or change.

The Triangle Symbolizes: Goals, Dreams, Visions, Self-discovery, and Revelation

In Position 1: If the triangle is in Position 1, the process of envisioning seems most significant for you now. You desire to manifest certain goals and dreams within reachable time frames.
In Position 2: The triangle in Position 2 indicates that you carry the gift of vision naturally, though you may be unaware of that. Your behavior indicates to others that you are a visionary that you can create goals and attain them.
In Position 3: In Position 3, the triangle means that the process of envisioning is central to your current development. It is essential for you to honor the goals and dreams that are important to you. When you are completely involved in this process your efforts will assure that your full powers of inspiration and envisioning are easily accessible to you. Now is the time to actualize your goals and dreams.
In Position 4: The triangle in Position 4 shows that your own process of following dreams in the past motivated you to make meaningful changed in your life. Past visions and goals prepared and inspired you to move in the direction of your core work in the present, designated by the shape you have paced in Position 3 — .
In Position 5: When the triangle is found in Position 5, you may be resisting the process of honoring your dreams and establishing goals. The need to manifest your goals or to envision new possibilities is not a desired process for you now.

The Equidistant Cross Symbolizes: Relationship, Integration, Coupling, Synthesizing, Integrating, and Balancing (Twin or Couple Myths & Stories)

In Position 1: If the cross is in Position 1, it means that the process of relationship is what you believe to be most important in your life.
In Position 2: The cross in Position 2 means that the shared journey is currently an effortless process for you, though you may not know this. Your behavior makes it obvious to others that your strength is in people skills, that you develop relationships easily, and that achieving balance is natural to you.
In Position 3: In Position 3, the cross shows that the relationship process is occurring deep within your nature. When you participate fully in this process, your originality and regenerative powers will be fully available to you.
In Position 4: The cross in Position 4 makes clear that a past-shared journey inspired you to become more attentive to partnership and teamwork endeavors. The past challenge stimulated you to begin your core work in the present as designated by the shape in Position 3 — .
In Position 5: When the cross is found in Position 5, you may want to ignore or dismiss the importance of the process of relationship in your life.

The Square Symbolizes: Stability, Solidity, and Security

In Position 1: If the square is in Position 1, stability and authenticity have your attention and are sources of inspiration to you. You value the alignment of words and actions
In Position 2: The Square in Position 2 indicates that your inherent strengths are responsibility, authenticity, and the ability to be fully committed when you give your word. You may not be aware of this ability. Your actions tell others that you are reliable and you are known and valued for your integrity.
In Position 3: In Position 3, the square means that the process of stability is occurring at the core of your nature. It is vitally important for you to stabilize and implement your creative endeavors. You need things to be tangible and productive. Expressing your authenticity is essential for you at this time. When you participate in the process with all your attention, untapped creativity and well being will become available to you.
In Position 4: The square in Position 4 announces that past issues of responsibility and accountability led you to make substantial changes in your life. Past situations requiring consistency and stability prepared and motivated you to move in the direction of your present core work as shown by the shape in Position 3 – The .
In Position 5: When the square is in Position 5, you may be denying the process of stability and responsibility. The need to be consistent and congruent is not a primary focus for you, nor are you interested in exploring it now.

Personal Integration

Tension always exists between the tendencies symbolized in Positions 1 & 5. This tension is sometimes experienced as a conflict…. The first and last positions define an internal struggle. Resolving the struggle means finding a middle ground. Look to Position 3, which often contains the key to personal integration and increased well-being.

Drawing Mandalas

One simple and powerful technique for becoming aware of and empowered by the processes working within you…is to draw or paint an ongoing series of mandalas.

Mandalas are geometric combinations that create a unified whole. Mandala is Sanskrit for “that of essence” (manda – essence, la – of).

Using the symbols that occupy your Positions 1, 3, and 5, experiment with different combinations of these three shapes….As Jung pointed out, symbols are linked with the deep structures of the human psyche. Integrating symbols externally sets up an inner experience that contributes to personal harmony and balance. That is why the mandala exercise, drawn with your primary symbols from Positions 1, 3 and 5, begins to create a symbolic structure that will support personal transformation of energy.

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