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Spacious

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!

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spring loaded fern

Spring is loaded with energy, growth, potential.

We can load the joints – our body’s movers – with the same quality.
Joints allow for power, grace, change … and they can be vulnerable.

To cultivate spring-loaded joints, offer space and support.
Breathe into the buoyant openness between the bones.
Concentrate on supporting that space with connective tissue and muscle.

Our hearts and minds can also have a responsive, easeful, spring-loaded quality.
Offering harried minds or difficult emotions space and support can free up stuck or drained energy and get things flowing again.

Body, mind, emotions: offer them a wide pasture with a strong fence.

spring loaded plants growing
Yesterday, I waxed celebratorial about the spaciousness of spring and creating that same feeling in the body and joints in particular. Space and support are the keys to healthy, easy-feeling joints and movement. But how to expant those practices and to other aspects of life.

Mind

Not surprisingly, what works for the body also works for the head. Stressful, over-busy lives can leave us feeling compressed and contracted. Just as physical energy can get stuck around compressed joints, mental energy can be stuck (or drained away) under the compression of stress.

To infuse the breath of spring into a harried mind, create space and support. Find even a few minutes to meditate or to sit quietly. Support your mind by beginning each day identifying at least one thing that you will feel great about having done at the end of the day ~ and do it first. My scramble brain is supported with an online calendar that gives me reminders that let me relax around remembering every detail. Ask yourself, how can you give your mind space? How can you give your mind support?

Emotions

Emotions are often equated with the element of water ~ moving and changing form all the time. And yet we often think of them as solid and permanent. When the emotional flow goes in an uncomfortable direction, we tend to freeze up around them.

When strong or difficult emotions show up, give them some spring energy: give them space and support. See if you can let go of the story and simply feel whatever you’re feeling. As tempting as it is to assign blame or dig into the justification (and the even distribution) of negative feelings, experiment with noticing the physical sensation associated and how it flows and shifts.

Getting support around emotional issues is a bamfoozler for me. When I’m up to my eyebrows in it, the last thing I want to do is ask for help. For that reason, I have a list of things that I keep in my wallet that I can do for myself when sticky emotions arise. The list ranges from “take 5 deep breaths” and “look at the sky” to “have a cup of tea” and “stretch and/or shake ~ even just your hands.” Once I’ve done something for myself and felt that internal support, it’s much easier for me to ask for help, even if it’s just for someone to listen when I’m scared or worried or angry.

Body, mind, emotions, the whole package: space and support is what infuses everything with spring loaded energy.

Redbud FlowersRight now in central Virginia, spring is springing like nobody’s business.

Everything is blooming. Ev. Ery. Thing. (Just ask my allergy-tormented husband.) The place is awash in color: white and pink and purple and yellow and tons of tender baby green. Pollen notwithstanding, it’s a wonder to be outside. I can practically watch the world grow and bloom.

Spring!

Word geek that I am, spring is my favorite season name. It’s such a rich, multi-faceted word: spring forward, spring out of bed, a fresh water spring, a sproingy spring in a clock, springing the news, springing for dinner, springing someone out of prison. Spring is loaded with energy, life, potential. (In Spanish the word for spring is primavera or first green. In French it’s printemps or first season. Both are descriptive but in English, spring is an action, a movement, a feeling.)

Spaciousness

Spring is the most spacious of the seasons. What with its pushing out of the ground into the cool air, stretching of branches and unfurling petals and leaves, it’s practically yawning awake. Spring is free from the contraction of winter’s cold, the oppression of summer’s heat or fall’s dying back. No matter where you live (Southern Hemispherians are in autumn now and there are plenty of places in the Northern Hemisphere where *shudder* it’s still snowing), the feeling of spring is worth cultivating in body and mind.

To cultivate spring in ourselves (at any time of year) is to cultivate spaciousness.

Joints

In the body, spaciousness – the spring in the step – comes at the joints. The more space and support we have around the joints, the more responsive and buoyant is our movement. Often as we age and eventually if we misuse use the body, compression and contraction can happen around the joints. It takes awareness and conscious practice to maintain the spaciousness that allows light, graceful movement.

The body’s language is sensation. Pleasure says yes. Pain says no. Most of us have a joint or two (or three) that speak to us rawther noisily about not having enough space and just generally not being happy about how we’re using them. For me right now it’s my left knee and right big toe joint. For you it may be a shoulder or hip. For your friend, it may be their lumbar spine or neck.

Knowing the pressing places that need the most attention is a great place to start in spring-loading and spacious-making our joints. Whenever I feel particular tension or pressure in a joint, the first thing I do is to look at the joints above and below it.

Okay, that’s totally not true, the first thing I do is go right to the place that hurts and rub it with liniment or ice it or both. Then I get very worried and absolutely sure I will never dance or hike or bike again. THEN I look to the surrounding joints.

Very often, pain in a joint is a result of tightness or weakness in a joint nearby. That tightness or weakness causes the hurting joint to compensate in some way. Expand your attention to notice how you are using your hip and ankle if your knee hurts. Notice what’s happening in your upper back and elbow if your shoulder hurts. Notice what’s going on with your middle back and hips if your lower back is sore.

Joints are where movement happens. This makes joints the places in our body that have the most power and potential – and the places that are most vulnerable. For all your joints, whether they are bitching and moaning or whispering sweet nothings, allow them both space and support.

Space

As you move and sit and stand and walk, see how much ease you can create in your joints. Imagine your joints breathing. Dippy trippy hippie as it sounds, this joints-breathing image allows me to bear down less and open up more even in the middle of a long hike or the tae kwon do section of a class.

Support

Moving with ease and grace actually takes strength and determined practice. A balance of strength and flexibility around your joints allows upright alignment, soft placement of feet and easy movement from floor to standing and back again. There are lots of ways to do this but the most natural is to use your body weight and move in a variety of orientations, planes and directions. I love yoga for this, but there are lots of other modalities that offer similar benefits including Pilates, Tai Chi, 5 Stages of Self-Healing and many more.

Space and support creates a spring-loaded body, but we can do the same in our hearts and minds. Tomorrow, a bit on that.

le que high bridge state park 101813 011Riding on the High Bridge Trail, 100 feet above the river. Big sky. Trees below.

A bad-ass gang* of vultures on the bridge warming their wings.

We approach.

They casually lift off and fly, no flapping.
We are at their level; high enough to see eye-to-eye. They dip fast, lift, and circle.
Looking for food? Stretching flying muscles? Showing off for pretty Lady Vultures?

Maybe.

Or do they soar because it’s fun? For the pleasure of it? For the Joy?
Sometimes, does it take their breath away?

Maybe.

I hope so.

Do you?

* Actually, a “venue” or “kettle” whilst flying.

le que high bridge state park 101813 024SPACIOUS is my word in 2013. Every year, I pick a word, focus on it in varying degrees of intensity, and follow it where it leads. Airborne, the routine I’m launching this week, was inspired by my experience with SPACIOUS.

This is how it came to be.

For me, winter can be like wearing a too-tight, too-short turtleneck. I tend to be little cold, fidgety, and cranky in winter. This year is no exception. So as I start 2013, I am feeling constricted, itchy, and goosebumpy. SPACIOUS? Yes, please, I’d like some of that.

I start with the sky. No matter the weather, whenever I look at the sky, my body relaxes and my breath deepens. (Go look and see if it’s true for you.) Even though I know that sky gazing helps me, especially in winter, I sit at my desk, drive my car, teach in the studio. I live boxed in most of my days. So in 2013, I make a point to look at the sky every day to encourage myself to relax and to remind myself how much space there really is all the time.

Years ago, my Nia teacher Carlos Rosas, created a routine called SkyDancing. Given the name, I always imagined Carlos up in the air, dancing in the clouds. But as I look at the SPACIOUS sky every day, I realize that the sky isn’t “up there.” The sky comes all the way down to the ground, all the way to me. Wherever we are, we are moving and living and dancing in the sky. I like this and feel far less cranky.

Every human life begins with an inhalation and ends with an exhalation. Breath means alive. In January, I begin a Bikram yoga practice. Deep, conscious breath is a big part of it. Breath work in yoga — pranayama in Sanskrit – expands the space in the lungs by increasing their elasticity. In my first few months of practice, I can feel my breath lengthen and deepen. The little intercostal muscles between my ribs stretch and feel more pliable. One afternoon, while doing Nia on my back deck, find myself blending my two practices: as I dance, I breathe in the sky. “Sky Breathing” feels physically SPACIOUS inside my chest and lungs. It also opens up space in my heart and mind. My breath stretches gaps between my thoughts and (sometimes) allows me to be with whatever happens to be happening.

Spring arrives, and I notice the essential, life-giving power of air. Humans can live three weeks without food, and three days without water but not three minutes without air. As flowers bloom and the garden sprouts, I notice that every element needs air. Earth without air is too hard to grow anything. Water without oxygen is just hydrogen gas. And fire without air sputters and dies. Air breathes life into everything.

le que high bridge state park 101813 021All of this is swirling around in my days: the spaciousness of the sky, dancing in the sky, breathing space in, the essential quality of air. And then, in August, my husband gives me a new, red bike for my birthday. Huzzah! I start riding it to yoga. Sweet Sweaty Summer Sensations, my friends! Let me tell you what! Coming out of the hot yoga studio, flushed with heat and wet with sweat, I get on my bike and fly home down Locust Avenue. It is beyond breathtakingly glorious. (And the day it rains on my way home? Durn near orgasmic.) With the wind in my face and on my skin, I feel expansive, free. I ride every chance I get: on trails, on the beach, in nature preserves, on gravel roads, to teach, to run errands, and, of course, to yoga – especially if it’s raining.

All together, focusing on the word SPACIOUS this year leads me to create the routine Airborne. The music is about sky and earth and wind and water. The movements are designed to expand breath and space inside the body and accentuate the external sensation of air on skin. The magic of aliveness that emerges from awareness, breath, and space runs all the way through.

We are born of air. There is no life without air. As long as we are alive, we are airborne.

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