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Sensation


If I asked you to list your senses, most of us would go with the obvious five: touch, hearing, taste, smell and sight. These are huge, for sure. To deepen mindfulness and awareness, these are rich and important to pay attention to.

There are, however, two additional sense systems that are essential to our healthy, integrated functioning: Proprioception and Interoception.

Proprioception is the 6th sense: the body’s ability to sense itself in space. It’s a fascinating system that resides largely in receptors in the joints and the hands and feet. It’s the system that allows you to scratch an itch you cannot see, to move without looking and to move fluidly. I love playing with proprioception and I’ve written about it before.

For a deep dive into it, please go to The Secret Sense post from Nov 29, 2015. For proprioceptive practical particulars, please check out Art In Action: 4 Ways to Strengthen Proprioception from Dec 1 2015.

The 7th sense is Interoception: your ability to sense yourself from the inside. Interoception is what allows you to feel your heart beating and tells you when you are thirsty, hungry or need to go to the bathroom. Interoception also allows you to feel your emotions. Many of us don’t pay close attention to these sensations and can confuse them. Ever eat when you’re actually thirsty or bored or stressed? That’s just muddled interoception. (This great article about Interoception and Autism isn’t just for people on the spectrum, I certainly find myself having similar experiences as those described here.)

The practice of mindful movement invites us to pay attention to both proprioception and interoception with focus and clarity. Strengthening the 6th and 7th senses allows us to move through the world with more ease and grace.

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On a sunny Friday morning, I rode my bike to the gym for a yoga class and a workout. Yoga was on the deck in the balmy summer air with a teacher I love. I was looking forward to a swim and then a leisurely ride home.

As I walked to the locker room, the sky suddenly went dark and rain roared on the roof. I threw my gear in a bag, ran out to my bike, and was soaked through before I had the lock off. I bumped my bike through the puddles in the parking lot but pedal as I might I couldn’t make it through the first traffic light before it turned red.

As the rain poured through my helmet and dripped down my nose, I stared angrily at the red light. I imagined riding home miserably, uncomfortably, grimly.

I’d missed my swim, but realized I was still getting wet on a summer morning. I took a breath and felt the rain on my skin. It felt tingly and alive. I wondered what would happen if I rode the rest of the way home happily. Or gratefully. Or joyfully. What if I changed the adverb to adventurously or curiously?

I felt the muscles in my face and shoulders soften. The light turned green and I turned onto the next street gleefully.

What happens when you choose your adverb with intention? How does that change the sensation? How does the adverb transform the experience?


I’m teaching extra classes and will be diving into the Adverb Dance with three classic Nia routines:
TranceVision ~ Monday 1045am acac square, Tuesday 840am acac downtown
Moodfood ~ Wednesday 11am acac square, Thursday 840am acac downtown
Fantasia ~ Friday, 6pm acac downtown (101 at 545pm), Saturday, 1245pm acac square (101 at 1230pm)
Inspired by the teaching of Brad Stoller as well as the Nia Blue Belt, we’ll explore how intention and focus changes movement, sensation and experience! Please join me.



My first book! Coming Soon!

I’ve finalized the pages and the cover mechanical is done (doesn’t that sound official and cool? I have no real idea what it means). Please join me in the adventure of the publication of my first book. Go to http://www.susanmcculley.com and sign up to be a Buddha Cat Backer! You’ll get updates, insights, goodies and discounts! Can’t wait to do this together.

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.

A NOTE ABOUT THE ART:

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!

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“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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