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Stability

 

Both mobility and stability are movement sensations that train, condition, and heal the body uniquely. Creating the mobility of fluid, constant movement around the joints lubricates connective tissue, stimulates intrinsic muscle, and creates more ease in the nervous system. Sensing that stability is not only a rooting down, but an energetic radiation from center, creates stability even in the inherent instability of our bodies and the world.

But put them together and…

Shazam.

Totality.

(Okay. I didn’t actually SEE the totality when it happened this summer. I was actually kind of MEH about it. This art was inspired by Rebekah Wostrel and Annie Dillard’s extraordinary essay that Bekah shared with me.)

If you’re interested in more good writing, check out this post that I wrote while I was in the midst of a big move. Read it here!

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elements interconnected 041816

Art in Action is a weekly post: a simple, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

Earth.
Water.
Fire.
Air.

The basic elements of life are inextricably interconnected and intertwined. We may look at a boulder and think “Earth” but the stone was born of Water and Fire and Air, too.

Since they are of this planet, our bodies are made of the same stuff — all the ingredients blended inseparably together. The brilliance of this design is that in any moment, we can choose to emphasize whatever element is most needed.

Like a sound system mixing board, we can turn up the volume on whatever track needs to be highlighted. Use sensation and awareness to guide yourself toward healing and well-being.

Earth

Feeling over-excited or anxious? Have you been up in your head solving a problem or analyzing a situation? Feeling spacey or zoned out? Grounding with Earth energy can get your feet back on the ground

  • Drop in. Stand up, lift up onto the balls of your feet and firmly drop your heels down to the floor several times. Relax your hands and jaw and shoulders.
  • Get on the ground. Lie on the floor (or extra bonus points for lying on the actual Earth) and relax into the support (without going to sleep). You can roll and stretch but whatever part is in contact with the floor, let it soften.
  • Focus on the exhale. Extend your exhale as long as you can to relax and integrate the energy.

Water

Feeling hot or irritated? Been in an argument or had someone pushing your buttons all morning? Feeling jagged and sharp? Smoothing out the edges with Water energy can help calm your prickly pointy parts.

  • Move smooth. Roll your neck and shoulders, stand up and circle your hips, rotate your ankles and wrists. Imagine your body flowing especially in places where you tend to hold tension.
  • Get in touch with water. Take a shower or wash your hands. Drink a big glass of water or a cup of tea. Listen to a recording of ocean waves, rain, or (my favorite) water running over rocks.
  • Breathe evenly. Inhale and exhale for the same count (say, 4 in and 4 out) with no pause between them.

Fire

Sleepy or bored or distracted? Feeling lethargic or low energy? Sparking the Fire element can wake you up and get your attention.

  • Shake. Do some jumping jacks or simply shake your hands, feet, shoulders or head. Literally shake yourself up.
  • Fire up the iPod. Listen to your favorite up-tempo energizing music. Two of my favorites are Sandstorm by Darude and Raging Fire by Phillip Phillips. Dancing is optional, unless the song is super good and you can’t help it.
  • Bellows breath. Sit tall and forcefully exhale and inhale using bhastrika breath or bellows breath. Find instructions here.

Air

Feeling tightness in your muscles or your mind? Find yourself in a contracted position on a plane or around an issue? Been slumped in front of the computer or TV for a while? Opening up space with the Air element can release tension and offer a broader perspective.

  • Stretch. Lengthen your body along the bones. Let your whole body find length from feet to spine, from legs to fingers. If you’re on a train or at a meeting, stretch what you can – maybe your hands or sit up taller or imagine yourself in a big open space reaching long in all directions.
  • Look at the sky. On your way to the car, take a moment to look up and see how much space (even on an overcast day) there is all around you.
  • Breathe in. Expand your internal spaciousness by breathing deeply in. Let your ribs expand to the front, sides and back.

* The mind is a powerful tool. If you can’t move due to injury or circumstance, move what you can (e.g., shake out just your right hand if your left hand isn’t available) or imagine yourself moving. Just using your imagination will have almost the same effect!

feet roots
One way to understand something is to look at another thing. The Body’s Way is really Nature’s Way, so what can I learn about my feet by understanding roots?

Spread out.

Most tree roots grow in the top 18 inches of soil – spread platter-like under the tree. For balanced movement, spread and relax your feet. Unclench your toes and your heart may follow.

Resting but ready.

In winter, tree roots don’t go dormant but instead are resting and poised for even a few warm days to enliven and grow. Keep relaxed aliveness in your feet and You will leaf from there.

Turkey Run State Park 004

Turkey Run State Park, Indiana

… tree roots seem to maintain a readiness to grow independent of the aboveground parts of the tree. … This winter quiescence – where roots are resting but ready – is extremely important for the health of individual trees and, by extension, for forests in general. ~ Micheal Snyder, Northern Woodlands, Winter 2007

Most of the time, I don’t give tree roots a whole lot of thought. But I think about tree roots plenty when I trip on one (a perfect opportunity to use John Larroquette’s timeless line from Stripes: “Have that removed.”). I think about tree roots when I’m riding over them on my bike. When I’m bouncing along and every other sound out of my mouth is “ooohff”? That’s when I think about tree roots.

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Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania

On our trip this summer, we saw roots everywhere: on the trails, curving around rocks, clinging to river banks and lake shores. We saw the roots of up-ended trees fanning up toward the sky with the awkward vulnerability of a teenager who’s tripped and fallen in a high school hallway.

When I’m bumping and tripping over them, I think of roots as solid and fixed, grasping the earth to keep the tree upright. But of course, roots aren’t that way at all. Roots are alive and growing and finding their way through soil, around rocks, always deepening their connection and finding ways to offer support and nourishment.

Rigid, solid roots would serve the tree no better than rigid feet would serve us.

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Grundy Lake Provincial Park, Ontario

Feet offer stability and make it possible for us live upright. Tight, tense feet that live in ill-fitting shoes are unstable feet – and are likely attached to an uncomfortable person. A couple of years ago, I noticed I tense and lift my big toes a lot when I walk and when standing I often “grab” the floor with my toes. No wonder balance is a challenge for me: my feet are holding on instead of relaxing down. Check out how much tension you hold in your feet. Relax your feet and toes, and your whole body gains stability and mobility. You might also smile more.

One misconception I had about tree roots is that they mirror the branches above them. I always imagined that roots reach down as far as branches reach up. Instead, most tree roots grow out more than down – mainly in the top 18 inches of soil where the most water and nutrients are available. Imagine a wine glass standing in the middle of a dinner plate. Roots create support and stability by spreading wide.

Except for maybe in super soft sand, our feet can’t really dig down, but they can spread out. Notice if, like me, you roll to the outside edges of your feet (you can also look at the wear on the soles of your shoes to see if you have this tendency). The inside of foot — heel to big toe and third toe plus the arch that spans the space between — is the most stable. As you stand and move, focus on pressing down through the big toe mound to engage the muscles and connective tissue in your feet and legs that offer you stability and relaxation. You can also pay attention from the top down: if any body part above the base is tense, this is a sign that the base isn’t stable and relaxed.

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Ricketts Glen State Park, Pennsylvania

As winter approaches, tree branches go dormant and wait for spring before they grow again, but roots go into a different state as the weather gets colder. Roots are inactive, but if temperatures rise even briefly, they will “wake up” and get growing again. In the winter, roots aren’t totally alseep; they are in a state of “resting but ready.”

When our human bodies are moving easefully and efficiently on the earth, our feet and legs are in this state of resting but ready each time we place a foot on the ground. The foot’s intricate architecture of 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles plus connective tissue all allow it to move, be still, and balance on sandy, grassy and rocky terrain. When we say “stability” sometimes it’s mistaken for solidity or rigidity. Instead, every step and stance is alive with powerful and readiness for whatever movement may (or may not) come next.

Nature knows how to make a tall life form like a tree or a human stable and resilient. Awareness and intent can let your roots come alive.

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Quetico Provincial Park, Ontario

Plus, more resting but ready, means less tripping over tree roots.

stability within instability grand canyon
We think our bodies are solid, but they are mostly liquid and space. Ask a physicist.

We think stability is grounded and down, but it is energy radiating from center in all directions. Ask a yogi.

We think reality is solid and predicable but really it is more like floating in a vast, ever-changing ocean. Ask anyone whose life changed on a dime one day.

Rock Logic is our desire for things to be solid and unchanging. Water Logic is realizes the open fluid nature of everything. Water Logic trumps Rock Logic. Ask the Grand Canyon.

Find ground in groundlessness.

stability within instability person swimming underwater“It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”—Thich Nhat Hanh

I wake up with the oddest sensation. It is as if I am floating, dizzy and disoriented — as if all lines that tether my little balloon to the earth are sliding out of my hands. As yellow sunlight leaks into the room, I let myself feel this lightheaded drift-y feeling. It makes perfect sense that I would feel this way. In less than a month, my husband and I will be hovering between houses: one sold in June, one available in September. Three months of peripatetic* adventure await … and I feel a mix of excitement and anxiety.

It feels like all my stability is gone. But is it?

First this: all movement depends on stability. Without stability, the body cannot find mobility, agility, flexibility or strength. Stability is the sensation that supports everything else.

Then this: reality is inherently fluid, constantly changing, fundamentally unstable. Reality is more like an infinite swimming pool of change than a black and white, rule-based chess board. We are all one phone call, one freak accident, one moment away from our lives being completely upended and utterly changed.

So if all movement depends on stability and if life is fluid and always changing, how do I find stability in an inherently unstable world?

“You don’t” is my answer when my head is spinning and I don’t know what box my socks are in.  But actually I can and do find stability by aligning the way I think with my direct experience.

This may sound a little like nailing jello to a wall but hear me out. Ready? We can do this.

Let’s begin with the body. Early in my Nia training, I was introduced to the sensation of stability as it relates to movement. My expectation, my mind’s idea was that stability was about DOWN ~ rooted, grounded, anchored. In my mind, stability was a solid connection down to the rock of the earth. But that was (and often still is) my mental concept of stability. Real stability isn’t only the pull down, it’s not belly to the dirt. That is immobilized collapse.

Real stability is expansive and allows for everything. Real stability is the sensation of energy radiating out from center in all directions equally. Turn on your awareness as you stand up or walk across a room: the stability you feel isn’t only down, it’s forward, back, up, out, all around.

This radiating out is the direct experience of stability in the body, but my mind wants stability to be something solid, something unmoving and unchanging. My flight/fight/freeze lizard brain (a.k.a. my sympathetic nervous system or my amygdala) is looking for a nice, solid rock to attach my sticky lizard feet to.

To recap: my direct experience of physical stability is one thing (fluid and expansive). My concept of stability is another (a rock).

That which is true in my body is also true in my larger experience. The direct experience of my life is one of constant flow, shift, and change but I think of it as solid and fixed. In a dharma talk in her Noble Heart series, Pema Chödrön says (paraphrase alert),
No matter what we’re given, we turn it into rock. Wisdom or prajña refers to a way of seeing that realizes the open fluid nature of everything.

Pema calls it the difference between Rock Logic and Water Logic. Rock Logic is the desire for everything to be solid and unchanging: our personalities, our relationships, everything. Water Logic recognizes that we are always swimming in and always part of a fluid, boundless vast reality. Water Logic, like stability, is that which holds everything. (You can hear Pema talk a little about this here particularly at 5:00 and after.)

We know this, yet our minds resist. My direct experience of reality is that it is fluid and always changing. My mental concept of reality is that it is solid and predictable. I think of myself as walking solidly on the earth and when it is actually more accurate to think of myself floating in a endless ocean of reality. Imagine yourself swimming deep under water: stability in this environment is not about contraction or rooting down, but rather in expanding, opening, relaxing.

So how do I find stability in an inherently unstable world? Through awareness of and letting go into the boundless fluidity of life rather than resisting against it.

So relax and paddle on, my friends, that’s where stability really lies.

*VOCABULARY NOTE: I had to look up “peripatetic” – it means moving from place to place – it is now officially my favorite word. I think I need a t-shirt.

(Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness grounded feetAll movement requires stability. The body must be grounded somewhere in order to create flexibility, strength, mobility, agility … anything.

Stability is sometimes described as energy moving out from center in all directions equally. (Nice, but a little all-over-the-place and counter-intuitive.)

Grounded is sometimes described as planting and rooting down into the earth. (Physically understandable but gets a little heavy.)

What if I get grounded and stable through clarity and simplicity? Focus on clear and simple, and the body finds its stability.

But true stability does not come with harshness. Be kind, too, with that simple clarity.

Grounded = (Clarity + Simplicity) Kindness

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