Sound has vibration and vibration creates sensation. Notice what it feels like to hear big drums or cellos or flutes. Or what it feels like to hear a friend laugh or an ambulance siren or birds sing.

Sound elicits a variety of movement. Some sounds encourage swinging, expansive expression, others tight contraction. Notice the movement inspired by sweeping strings, fast bluegrass or hot tango. Or a child’s cry, a summer rain, or a thunder crack.

Sound connects to the space in different ways. A loud shout in a small room feels different that one at the top of a mountain. A gentle rustling feels different in a protected glade than it does in a crowded theater.

There is a sensation of moving in space as if it was tangible: leaning into it, flowing through it, breathing it in.

Whether you’re moving in the studio or moving through your days, notice your relationship to sound, sensation and space. Allow yourself to sense each of the three and then to let the three interplay with each other to heighten your awareness and deepen your experience.


Sometimes, I know exactly what I want to make when I’m making art. Other times, things just seem to happen one after another and I’m just following the thread. That’s the way this piece went…ending with three threads!


When I’m looking to make changes in the way I do things, I need to know what’s actually happening first. Otherwise, I’m working from faulty information.

Recently, I’ve been playing with going deep into what I’m actually feeling.
Not what I’m thinking about what I’m feeling
or what I’m afraid of feeling
or what I plan to do about what I’m feeling
but what I’m actually feeling.

A freaking revelation.

Here’s my habit. I feel a little something and quick-like-a-bunny, I wrap an idea around it.

Instead, what happens if I look at what’s under the blanket?

When I do this, I can respond and take care of what’s actually happening instead of the blanket idea I’ve wrapped around it.

This happens a LOT with hunger.

In an effort to avoid the feeling and the fear around getting hungry, I quick wrap it up and go eat something. Or a bunch of somethings.

Instead, I can determine if that’s really what’s happening. Or if I need to support myself in another way. (Often, I need water.)

This “blanketing” habit happens with lots of feelings.

Distraction is sneaky and can draw me away from something I want to avoid. If I find myself doing something mindlessly like a zombie, then it’s a pretty sure sign that I’m wrapped up in the blanket.

Again, looking under the blanket tells me more about what’s actually happening and what I really need. (As in, “Ah, I don’t want to do my taxes. If I just get it done, then I will free up time and energy to do what I want to do and not mindlessly scroll through Instagram.” OR at the very least, I know why I’m doing what I’m doing so I have a choice to keep doing it or not.)

The best place to start is in the body. If you feel the blanket descending, take a moment to feel whatever physical sensations are arising (including numbness or “no feeling”).

When I drop the blanket, I can make real choices for change that get to the heart of what’s really happening.

Not long ago, I watched this short video about deafness and music. The piece talks about how sound isn’t something only to be listened to but to be felt with the whole body. It’s really worth watching.

Hearing impaired and deaf folks know that sound is a vibration, a wave that can be felt — not just heard. Anyone can experience what it feels like to listen with every bone, with every cell.

Don’t just listen to music (and birds, and conversation, and the highway breathing and LIFE!), bathe your whole body in sound!


“What do you do when you meditate and dance and you still feel angry?”

Her hair is sweaty, her cheeks are pink and her eyes exhausted.

It’s a good question…and I draw a complete blank. What do we do?

Alice Walker said “Hard times call for furious dancing” and heaven knows that’s what I’ve been doing. But the knot in my heart doesn’t seem to shift. The tightness in my belly and the swirl in my brain don’t go away.

As I look into her tired face looking for an answer, what pops into my mind is what my therapist, James Yates says: the only way out is through.

Gah, I hate it when he says that and he says it all the freaking time. I usually roll my eyes and make a face at him since it means I can’t skirt around the pain. I can’t take a pill or say a mantra or distract myself and think it will shift or heal. The bumper sticker truth is: The Only Way to Heal it is to Feel it.

One of the Nia Technique founders, Debbie Rosas told me once that when people ask her about what she does for work, she says, “I teach people to feel.” Which I thought was all woo-woo and gauzy dresses and Enya at the time. But after 17 years of teaching, I see that she is right. Somatic practices like Nia and yoga (and any body~mind method) are all about feeling sensation.

And doesn’t take much self or human observation to notice how much effort we put into avoiding feeling anything.

Maybe it’s natural to do the easiest thing. Water flows down the path of least resistance, why shouldn’t we? Our car seats have gotten cushier and smooshier. Our houses and offices can be heated and cooled to the precise degree. Our sneakers have air pockets, our jeans are prewashed, our fleece jackets are so soft and light that it’s like wearing a warm cloud. In the midst of all this comfort, we spend most of our time denying, avoiding, and running from any intense feeling.

Life has a way of overturning all our ardent efforts to make our days comfortable, easy, and convenient. It doesn’t matter how much money I pour into my custom-made luxuriousness. It doesn’t matter how obsessively I secure myself against difficulty (Check out Evan Osnos’ New Yorker piece, Survival of the Richest on people who are attempting this now.). It doesn’t matter. One way or another, discomfort and challenge will happen. It is the nature of human life.

The question is, how will I handle it when it inevitably arises? The answer lies in how much I’ve practiced being present in the face of difficulty. The skillfulness of my thoughts, words, and actions in adversity comes down to how comfortable I am with discomfort.

“Hard times call for furious dancing.” I’ve always thought that meant that dancing makes it feel better, makes the hardness not so hard. But now I’m realizing that furious dancing allows us to feel.

She asked a good question: what do you do when you’ve practiced and you still feel angry (or sad or afraid or…)? The answer is that practicing Nia or yoga or meditation isn’t meant to make the sensations go away. Practicing is meant to increase our capacity to feel all of it. Since without feeling it, it will never ease, it will never heal.

Dammit if James isn’t right: the only way out is through.

If you enjoyed this post, great! Please share it!
And you might also like this one from November 2013: Voluntary Discomfort

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When Frank and I were traveling this month, we made a practice of moving in some way every day. I noticed that when faced with an unfamiliar hike or ride (which was practically every day!), I often defaulted to an old habit of thinking I wouldn’t be strong enough and wouldn’t be able to do it.

I suspect this line of thinking started in middle school gym class. We’d be riding or walking along and I’d notice myself thinking, “I can’t do this” or “I’m not strong enough” or “I’m going to fall and break my tuchus.” I could feel myself withdrawing and contracting away from whatever we were doing physically, mentally and emotionally.

Which was a drag since I’d get sad or grumpy and we were in beautiful places together, forcryingoutloud.

Instead, I’d play with saying other things to myself like “I’m fit, I’m healthy and I can do this” or “Just focus on this step right now” or “I can rest if I need to.” It felt a little unfamiliar and awkward to be running these lines in my head like a mantra but dang if I couldn’t do more than I thought I could.

Which brings me to 4 ways of triumphing over the tragedy of middle school gym class and becoming a sacred athlete:

1. Changing it up is good.

The body thrives on variety. We found that hiking one day and biking the next felt good in that different muscles got attention in different ways. My calves got tight when I hiked and then stretched when we rode. But even if you run or walk every day, change up your route or your focus (e.g. experiment with going a little further or not as far, faster or slower, pay attention to how your feet touch the ground or how you hold your hands, shoulders or mouth). If you do Nia or yoga regularly, just changing where your attention goes can change how it lands in your body, so practice giving yourself a focus (e.g., connecting breath and movement, go more slowly, make more sound, etc.)

2. Moving a little is better than not moving at all.

As Colleen Patrick-Goudreau says, “Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything.” When we were in the car for long stretches, I circled my wrists, did deep belly breathing, circled my shoulders, and stretched my neck (that one might have been more difficult if I’d been driving). When we stopped, I’d do hip circles (what the heck, I’m not going to see the people in that rest stop again), do some squats and stretch my hamstrings. When we got to a campground late, even a short walk around the campground loop was better than nothing. Now that I’m spending more time at my desk, I’m doing the same thing.

3. Having fun and feeling good is an essential part of healthy movement.

When I’m riding my bike down a hill or I come to a vista at the top of a hike, I get a feeling of exhilaration and joy that is an essential part of being a sacred athlete*. Find a movement that you can do that you love, rather than one that you think is good for you or that you should do. There may be things that you used to do that no longer bring you joy and there may be things that you would never have considered doing at another time in your life that appeal to you now. Whatever bubbles some joy juice into your bloodstream, go do that.

4. My body has wisdom that my mind knows nothing about.

Especially if you’ve ignored your body (perhaps by not moving it or by overriding the sensation it has given you), it can take some time and practice to know the difference between listening to your body and letting your mind talk you out of (or into) something. But when I listen to the subtle nuances as well as the more intense sensation AND feel how I feel AFTER I do something, I can start to hone in on when I need to rest and when I need to GO!

Movement is your birthright no matter what your physical condition, experience or age. Become a Sacred Athlete by starting exactly where you are now and moving with awareness, intention and joy.

* Potentially annoying vacation story: One day we drove for what seemed like hours on a dusty bumpy road, then got to a ride but found it was dusty and bumpy and rocky and not well marked. After an hour of that I was grumpy and cranky and frustrated. Then we got a road with not too many cars and long swooping hills. The first hill I road down smooth and fast, I could actually feel the grumpy crankies clear out of my head.

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“Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything.” ~ Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

The horror of middle school gym class is so universal that it’s practically a cliché. I know even gifted athletes who suffered the torments of junior high squat thrusts and rope climbing. But it’s not just the smelly, unflattering uniforms and gang showers (heavens above, do schools still use those??) that make 7th grade PhysEd a tragedy. The problem with the gym classes of my youth was their narrow focus on sports, competition, and everybody doing things the same way. (Note: I was taking those classes 40 years ago. I would love to hear from current physical education teachers about how they teach gym these days.)

True facts about my physical education history:

1. I am terrible at sports.

In elementary school, the only sport available to girls was softball. I was terrible. TERRIBLE. Softball is a game in which at every moment, one person is supposed to be doing one thing correctly: hit the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball. As an anxious kid, the pressure of all eyes on me as I inevitably missed the ball, dropped the ball, or threw wildly off target made my stomach hurt. I never got better. I never had fun. In high school, I played on the volleyball team. I got the award for following directions.

2. I was terrible in gym class.

I got nervous learning sports skills in front of the class. I could never figure out which knee was supposed to go up when doing a lay-up. I couldn’t jump so spiking a volleyball never went well. And somehow, soccer balls either ended up behind me or they tripped me up so I was in a heap picking grass out of my teeth.

3. The President’s Physical Fitness testing was an annual exercise in humiliation.

This was a week of doing a list of skills deemed important by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. The Frasier twins could do everything. Doris and Natalie could hang on that bar for a full minute without quivering. They probably loved Physical Fitness week. I did not. I couldn’t run fast, I wasn’t strong, and in an effort to save some sort of face, my tendency was to give up. (I could force myself to do 50 sit ups but then I was so sore that I could barely get out of my chair.)

4. I hated dancing.

In a progressive move brought on by the late 70s popularity of Saturday Night Fever, dance was added to the PE curriculum. We did dances in gangly tangled lines in the gym but I have a trouble with my left and right and I was usually stepping on the person next to me. I hated it. If you know me, my lack of coordination or athletic prowess is unlikely to be a surprise but it is absolutely true that until I was in my early 30s, I was so self-conscious and uncomfortable that I could barely move on a dance floor.

5. As I got older, I saw exercise as punishment for whatever I’d eaten or for my body not looking how I thought it should.

Over-indulge on the weekend? Extra time on the stair-stepper on Monday morning. Too many restaurant meals on the business trip? Get up at 5am to hit the hotel gym. Don’t look slender and buff like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2? Hire a personal trainer. Movement that was pleasurable, healing, joyful, or fun was never ever my experience.

The human body is designed to move. Sports games and disco dancing a la John Travolta are not the only ways to move. As a culture we tend to focus on competition and performance. If you thrive in that environment and love it like the Frasier twins did, that is wonderful. But even if exercising in squads was great for you, it’s important to remember that sport is just a small part of what the body can do. The tragedy is that many of us take this narrow view of physicality and generalize it to “I’m not athletic” or “I hate exercise.”

Lucky for me, I came across a practice that I love, a practice that isn’t about winning or competition but about awareness, healing, and feeling good. Lucky for me, after a few years of moving my body in a different environment than the no-pain-no-gain, sports-y world, I started to feel differently about my body and my physical abilities. I don’t have to run a marathon or clear the hurdles. I don’t have to dribble any kind of ball. I just need to find a way to move my body that feels good. I just need to invite myself to the edge between challenge and healing and find the joy of moving there.

Even if you flourish in the traditional athletic system and love playing of the game, it’s worthwhile to remember that competitive sports aren’t the only way to be an athlete. I can admire the talents of my beloved UVA basketball team and be amazed by the feats of Olympians and find my own sacred athleticism in other ways.

May physical education for everyone lead to understanding how the body works, how to move with awareness, and how to cultivate joy in our physical abilities, whatever they are.

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Robert Plant’s, Song to the Siren, was the last song my teacher, Carlos AyaRosas, played in a Nia class. One of the lines is:

Oh my heart, oh my heart
Shies from the sorrow

We all do this– we pull away from difficult or intense feelings and sensations. Intensity of all kinds can feel scary even though feeling is the reason we’re here! The practice is to lean into all sensations and allow our bodies and minds to become accustomed to feeling. Then, when life presents us with intensity, we have practiced feeling it and staying in it rather than shutting down or running. The practice is to feel life.

This week we danced to my routine, Unity which is based on Carlos’ routine Humanity. You can find all playlists below or you can choose to listen to them by going to Spotify! You can listen for free at Spotify! Sign up for free, follow me at “susanmcculley” and you’ll find my public playlists ~ just click and listen!

Here are the upcoming special classes and events — I hope you’ll join us!

• Earth Day, Friday, April 22, 545-7pm, acac downtown ~ Group Ex Studio
Susan & Mary Linn are teaming up for a special class celebrating our big mama, Earth. Join us for a playful exploration of how the elements of earth, wind, water and fire manifest in movement and in our bodies.

• A Spring Thing, Friday, April 29, 545-715pm, Buck Mountain Episcopal Parish Hall*, Earlysville
Join Susan & Mary Linn for an evening of movement choices. Spring can be a time of both riding the ebullient wave of upward energy and finding peace in the midst of all that blossoming and growing! The first portion of the evening will be a look at some of the basics of Nia movement and how each can be adjusted as to the needs of your body in the moment. Then we’ll practice those movements in a Spring Thing Nia class experience. Free to everybody (donations gratefully accepted for the Buck Mountain Health and Wellness Ministry).
* 4133 Earlysville Road, Earlysville VA 22936 ~ GPS will take you to the church; the Parish Hall is the small white building just past the church.

• dance. sit. write. draw. returns! Saturday, May 7, 830am-5pm – EARLY REGISTRATION RATE OF $80 EXTENDED TO APRIL 15!
Did you know that Albert Einstein used the practice of “combinatory play” to help him solve difficult problems? He would spend a few hours playing his violin and when he was done, he had the solution! Spending the day blending the practices of movement, meditation, writing and drawing is a way of opening the channel of your artist self ~ giving it some oxygen and space no matter what your experience is. Join us for a delicious day. Early registration rate of $80 extended to April 15! If you’re on the fence, my friends, now’s the time to hop off.

The dance. sit. write. draw. four-part mini-video series is complete. You can watch them all in about 10 minutes to get more information about the retreat and why you might choose to join us.
Why dance. sit. write. draw.?
Wait, why dance. sit. write. draw., again? (Or, Why Pablo Picasso and I Want You To Come To The Retreat)
Dance. sit. write. draw. (It’s a thing!)
Dance. sit. write. draw. (Your medicine)
Go to for the details and to register. Or email with questions.

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

*** PLAYLIST NOTE: My playlists can also be found on Spotify by following “susanmcculley” (no space) and look for Public Playlists. Sometimes music is not available on Spotify so I may replace with another version or skip songs . ***

Monday, Apr 11, 2016, 1045am ~ Stay in Sensation (Unity based on Humanity)

Aquarius 4:48 Hair, the Musical
What I Got 3:21 Gift Of Gab, Michael Franti & Spearhead
When Doves Cry 4:04 The Be Good Tanyas
Qalanderi 7:10 Cheb i Sabbah
Sunshine 3:34 Matisyahu
Legend In My Living Room 3:46 Annie Lennox
Give Love (Infinite Love Mix) 5:29 MC Yogi
Nataraj 6:02 Ganga Giri
Body Language / Interpretation 5:00 Booka Shade
Common Threads 4:17 Bobby McFerrin
Don’t Leave 4:03 Faithless
Song To The Siren 5:51 Robert Plant

Tuesday, Apr 12, 2016, 840am ~ Stay in Sensation (Unity based on Humanity)

Aquarius 4:48 Hair, the Musical
What I Got 3:21 Gift Of Gab, Michael Franti & Spearhead
When Doves Cry 4:04 The Be Good Tanyas
Qalanderi 7:10 Cheb i Sabbah
Legend In My Living Room 3:46 Annie Lennox
Give Love (Infinite Love Mix) 5:29 MC Yogi
Nataraj 6:02 Ganga Giri
Body Language / Interpretation 5:00 Booka Shade
Common Threads 4:17 Bobby McFerrin
Don’t Leave 4:03 Faithless
Song To The Siren 5:51 Robert Plant

Wednesday, Apr 13, 2016, 11am ~ Stay in Sensation (Unity based on Humanity)

Aquarius 4:48 Hair, the Musical
What I Got 3:21 Gift Of Gab, Michael Franti & Spearhead
When Doves Cry 4:04 The Be Good Tanyas
Qalanderi 7:10 Cheb i Sabbah
Legend In My Living Room 3:46 Annie Lennox
Give Love (Infinite Love Mix) 5:29 MC Yogi
Nataraj 6:02 Ganga Giri
New Sensation 3:39 INXS
Common Threads 4:17 Bobby McFerrin
Don’t Leave 4:03 Faithless
Song To The Siren 5:51 Robert Plant

Thursday, Apr 14, 2016, 840am ~ Stay in Sensation (Unity based on Humanity)

Aquarius 4:48 Hair, the Musical
What I Got 3:21 Gift Of Gab, Michael Franti & Spearhead
When Doves Cry 4:04 The Be Good Tanyas
Qalanderi 7:10 Cheb i Sabbah
Legend In My Living Room 3:46 Annie Lennox
Give Love (Infinite Love Mix) 5:29 MC Yogi
Nataraj 6:02 Ganga Giri
New Sensation 3:39 INXS
Common Threads 4:17 Bobby McFerrin
Don’t Leave 4:03 Faithless
Song To The Siren 5:51 Robert Plant


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. They are offered all around the world so you can find one near you or where you may want to go!

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