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Space

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!

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integrate sky 040216

When I was a girl, my favorite gifts were art supplies. (Come to think of it, you can still seriously score with me with anything arty.) In my elementary school years (before the pressures of homework and the absorption of teenage friendships), you could usually find me nestled in my neon green beanbag chair, drawing with crayons and markers and pastels.

In first grade, I had the grooviest art teacher ever. It was the early 70s. She wore clothes with embroidery and fringe, her brown hair swirling and big rings with sparkly crystals that clicked as she worked. She was the first person I’d ever known to eat yogurt. I hung on her every word.

One April, we were painting scenes of spring. I carefully brushed a stroke of blue along the top edge of my paper. Of course. The sky is up there, so that’s where I put it.

ecm pear tree with sky

Pear Tree by my sister, Elizabeth, circa 1972. Subsequently rendered in needlepoint by my mother.

My art teacher saw my picture and took me to the window. She pointed out across the playground and said, Look at the sky. It comes all the way down to the ground. This was an utter revelation to me. First, to look at (and draw) what is rather than what I think in my head. And second, to realize that when I’m walking to school and swinging on the swings and sliding down the slide, I’m in the sky.

Seeing the true nature of the sky — coming all the way down to us on the ground – feels enormously spacious. I feel like I’m swimming, even flying, in the sky. When I see it this way, I breathe deeper. I feel the bigness of the space around me and that big space can hold anything I bring to it. No problem, no joy, no grief, no worry is too big for a sky that reaches all the way to where I stand.

That big space makes breathing easier and my inside more spacious. As I inhale, I can stretch open tight and twisted up parts and receive oxygen to fuel my body and mind. As I exhale, I strengthen my body and integrate that nourishment. I breathe in the sky and make it part of me.

There is power in the integration of external and internal space. As I move in the studio, on my mat and through my day, I play with connecting breath to movement. Inhale and reach up, exhale and fold. Inhale and lengthen, exhale contract. Inhale get the salad bowl out of the high cabinet, exhale put in on the counter. Inhale, open my arms; exhale, hug. Connecting breath to movement keeps me in the body. Being in the body keeps me in the present moment …where life is actually happening.

Move in the sky. Breathe in the sky. Integrate the sky.


PLEASE NOTE!

Tuesday & Thursday classes this week:

This week in my classes we will return to my 2013 routine, Airborne. You can read about it here. Classes on Tuesday and Thursday at 840am at acac downtown will happen on the rooftop deck, Lord willin’ and the rains don’t come. At this moment, Tuesday looks clear and cool; Thursday looks like a possibility of showers. Check the forecast, wear an extra layer and light shoes, and if you’re not sure, call Member Services at 434.984.3800 to see if we’re on to dance in the sky (I’ll make a decision by 730am). My Monday and Wednesday classes will be as usual at 1045am and 11am, respectively at acac Albemarle Square and all other acac classes will be held as usual.

A mini mini series about dance. sit. write. draw. ~~ early bird rate ends April 7!

Here are three mini videos about the dance. sit. write. draw retreat on May 7 (for more go here). You can binge-watch this mini series in under 10 minutes!

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!)

The early bird rate of $80 (for the whole day! Including amazing food!) ends on April 7. Please join us!

intercostals reindeer-car-costumeThis time of year, I get some serious Scrooge-a-phobia: that’s a word I just made up that means “the fear of becoming a curmudgeonly party-pooping grump.” I enjoy a holiday as much as the next guy, I really do. I like the special break from routine, time with people I love, a little dress-up, a bit of fancy food, music that makes my heart swell. But there is so much of it all. It tires me out, this season that stretches from well before Halloween to New Years, jam packed-to-bursting with exorbitant expectations, forced-frivolity, and so. much. sugar.

Part of me wants to celebrate, but mostly, at this time of year, I just want to put my head down. I feel like an old salmon swimming up the cultural stream of excess. As every day gets darker and colder, and the list of holiday things that I need to do piles on top of all the things that I already do, I feel exhausted rather than energized. All those decorations on mantles and houses and lawns and cars, seem like clutter and distraction and feel like imitation happiness. (Those “Rudolph cars”? The ones with the two antlers stuck into the driver and passenger doors and the red nose on the grill? They kill me. Yesterday, I saw a fallen-off Rudolph antler in a parking lot rain puddle. C’mon people, that’s just sad.) All of the trimmings and traditions, the cards and carols, the tins of ribbon candy and peppermint bark – it all just feels relentless.

Sure, I know, I don’t have to put a blow-up Santa in my yard. I can make choices that align with my values. I can give donations and experiences and homemade gifts. I can avoid the chocolate-frosted, eggnog-flavored butter cream coating on everything. I can listen to The Little Drummer Boy to remind me that the gifts we bring are our talents more than our frankincense and myrrh. I can remind myself to make of the season what I want, and that I don’t have to go along with the consumer crowd. And mostly I do. But sometimes, the piles of plastic toys and the pop holiday music and the dark dark darkness leave me feeling like I can’t breathe.

That’s why at the holiday season, I really relate to the intercostal muscles. (Doesn’t everybody?) That’s right: at this time of year, I feel like a beleaguered little intercostal muscle. Take a deep breath right now and you can feel those determined little dudes between your ribs. Since they are the main muscles that move the chest and rib cage, those poor guys never get a break. Take a nap, and your leg, shoulder, and core muscles all get some time off to relax but not the intercostals. Nope. Those puppies never stop. Which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong. We need breath to live. But still. It’s relentless.

Or it can seem that way.

intercostals greys anatomy

Look closely at the design of the intercostal muscles and you’ll see that there are both external intercostals (which allow inhalation and expansion of the ribs) and internal intercostals (which allow exhalation and contraction of the ribs). The two sets of muscles overlap and work together to allow breath … and they give each other rest during every breath.

If I really stop and pay attention, maybe it isn’t as relentless as I thought. If I relax and let my body breath naturally, there is a little pause at the top of the breath and an even longer one at the bottom. A little sliver of rest right in the middle of the business and busyness of breathing.

Perhaps I can find a sliver of rest in my holidays, too.

Maybe you love this time of year. Maybe you can’t get enough of the tinsel and toffee. Maybe you are itching for holiday music in October. Maybe the swirl and jingle of it all lights you up.

Maybe it does and maybe it doesn’t.

Either way, we can all take a lesson from the brilliant little intercostal muscles. Take a breath and feel the peace that is woven into your body. Even in what seems like the relentlessness of living, they find a little space, rest, and peace.

They need it and so do we.

true refugeAn interesting post script to the launch of the Airborne routine — what with its focus on the sky and spaciousness and all. I’ve been reading Tara Brach’s lovely book True Refuge and on Tuesday night, this was the passage I read. Experience confirmed by science. Nice.

I recently learned of the work of Les Fehmi, a psychologist and researcher who for decades has been clinically documenting the profound healing that arises from resting in open awareness. In the 1960s researchers began to correlate synchronous alpha brain waves with profound states of well-being, peace, and happiness. Fehmi, an early and groundbreaking leader in this research, sought strategies that might deepen and amplify alpha waves. Experimenting with student volunteers, he tracked their EEG readings as they visualized peaceful landscapes, listened to music, watched colored lights or inhaled various scents. But it was only after he posed the question “Can you imagine the space between your eyes?” that their alpha wave levels truly soared. He posed another: “Can you imagine the space between your ears?” The subjects’ alpha waves spiked again. Further experimentation confirmed the effects of what Fehmi termed “open focused attention.” The key was inviting attention to space (or stillness or silence or timelessness) and shifting to a nonobjective focus.

Narrowly focused attention affects our entire body-mind. Whenever we fixate on making plans, on our next meal, on judgments, on a looming deadline, our narrowed focus produces faster (beta) waves in the brain. Our muscles tense, and the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline are released. While necessary for certain tasks, as an ongoing state this stress constellation keeps us from full health, open-heartedness and mental clarity.

In contrast, open-focused attention rests the brain. With a sustained pause from processing information – from memories, plans, thoughts about self – brain waves slow down into synchronous alpha. Our muscles relax, stress hormone levels are lowered, blood flow is redistributed. No longer in fight-or-flight reactivity, our body and mind become wakeful, sensitive, open and at ease.

You may have noticed the effect of open awareness when looking at the night sky and sensing its immensity. Or during the silence in the early morning before sunrise. Or when the world is still after a snowfall. We resonate with such moments because they connect us with the most intimate sense of what we are. We sense the depth of our being in the night sky, the mystery of what we are. We sense the depth of our being in the moments of objectless awareness there’s a wordless homecoming, a realization of pure being. (from True Refuge by Tara Brach pp 259-260)

spaciousSo good to be back dancing and teaching after two weeks away. I missed you…and I missed the sensation of Nia. Yum. Here is the playlist from class today along with the 2012 video of Heather Small’s Proud (with the Olympic theme!). EnJOY, my friends.
See you next week.
xo
Susan

Video of Proud by Heather Small 

Space – Friday, July 26, 2013, 1125am

Wonderwall – 4:09 – Ryan Adams
Marisi – 6:33 – Cantoma
Tears From The Moon – 4:18 – Conjure One Feat. Sinéad O’ Connor
Shadow – 4:28 – Big Blue Ball featuring Juan Cañizares, Papa Wemba
Drive By – 3:16 – Train
Drop – 4:56 – Cornelius
Breathe (Extreme Mix) – 4:04 – Soulfood
Here It Goes Again – 3:00 – OK Go
Fill Her Up – 5:39 – Sting
Proud – 4:30 – Heather Small
’74-’75 – 4:37 – The Connells
The Space Between – 6:02 – Zero 7

spacious jellyfishIn February, I wrote a post about Making Space. In it, I mentioned that contrary to my charging rhino, get ‘er done tendencies, I’ve chosen the word SPACIOUS for my One Little Word this year. Despite my inclination to dododo, I’ve found that nothing is more helpful, powerful, and healing than making space.

So I’m taking the next two weeks to bask in spaciousness. That, and the sun. Frank and I are going to the ocean to play in the waves, make dribble castles, and do a whole lot of nothing. I’ll also write and dance some and do some yoga but in a less precise way than usual. I’ll do it fuzzier, softer, carelessly.

While I strongly believe that my purpose and practice is one of discipline and determination, persistence and perseverance, focus and concentration, there is a time for being careless. Not careless in the sense of sloppy but in the sense of having fewer cares. It’s important for me to be out there: to walk my talk and share what I create, whether it’s a blog post or a book or a routine. And just like a jelly fishy sea creature, sometimes the best way to move forward is to dive into the space inside and see what’s there.

One obvious way of creating space is to take a vacation. Breaking out of our normal routine, seeing new sights, having different experiences, tasting new tastes, meeting new people is a great way to get some space and give us perspective on our day-to-day lives. Whenever I travel, I always feel a deep appreciation for all the beauty and amazing coolness that is in the world, but I also come back with a deeper appreciation of home.

Going on vacation isn’t the only way to make space, though. Here are a few things that have helped me recently:

Meditation – Everybody from therapists to health care professionals to concerned friends told me for years that I should meditate. I resisted it at every turn. Sitting still was against my nature and I just couldn’t do it, I said. More accurately, I didn’t like doing it. I did dabble in sitting and even went on a couple of mediation retreats but I never stuck with it. When I took my sabbatical last summer, I promised myself that a daily sitting practice was part of my work. For four months, I sat nearly every day. Even if it was for 5 minutes just watching my breath (and my spiraling thoughts). Nothing has helped me get more perspective, relax into the present (see below) and gain more insight. I recommend it highly. Note: There are lots of good resources for introductions to meditation and one which helped me tremendously when I was starting was the Insight Meditation Kit by Sharon Salzberg and Josheph Goldstein

Listen Closely and Breathe before Speaking – I use this particularly when a conversation is difficult or intense, either for me or for the speaker. I find that my “Fix It Filter” tends to go on overdrive and I want to jump in and get to a solution or resolution. What works better for me is to relax and give us both some space. Offering my full attention, listening deeply and then taking a breath before responding has helped me make much more skillful choices in what I do and do not say.

Being with What is Happening – One definition of suffering is wanting things to be different than they are. Whether it is a rainy camping trip or an painful feeling, instead of fighting against it or wanting it to be otherwise, giving whatever is happening space to be as it is can be hugely helpful. When I grasp onto what’s happening or push it away, things tend to go south in a hurry. Just compassionately reminding myself that this is just what is happening right now, can give me the space to deal with it skillfully.

How do you give yourself space? What are the benefits from making that space for yourself? As always, I’d love to know. And though I won’t be teaching again for a couple of weeks*, I will be writing and on line, so feel free to connect that way.

Take a breath, feel the space and go all jelly fishy!

* My next Nia class will be on Friday, July 26 at 1125am at ACAC Albemarle Square. The following week starting July 29, I will resume my regular teaching schedule (M 1045am & W 1055am Albemarle Square, T & Th 9am Downtown).

charging-rhinoEverything needs space:  plants, people, ideas, work, relationships, conversations.  Everything.

Pushing to make something happen is short sighted (hear that, Inner Charging Rhino?).

A healthy body needs space.  Joints, muscles, organs, brains need room to do their thing.  Bodies need to be able to stretch, move, breathe, and see the sky.

How can you make space in your life, your day, right now?  Cancel something.  Schedule less.  Be quiet more.  Put your fork down.  Put your fists down, too.

You might be surprised what emerges into the space you create.  An inspiration, a solution, or even an undiscovered part of you!

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