Archive

Stances

Every once in a while, I’ll be all balled up and struggling with something and a friend will say, “A wise friend of mine once said…” And then they proceed to tell ME something I told THEM when THEY were struggling. I love/hate it when that happens. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been feeling tired and I thought about writing a post about stopping…until I remembered that I’d written this one in 2015. Since I am in the midst of a writing class at Writer House in Charlottesville and I’m working like crazy on pieces for that, I thought it would be a good time to revisit.

go stop 101715

(Originally published on October 18, 2o15)

How bout no longer being masochistic
How bout remembering your divinity
How bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
How bout not equating death with stopping
~ Alanis Morissette, Thank you

It’s crazy. For 15 years I’ve been teaching and practicing movement and mindfulness but sometimes, I just don’t pay attention.

Last week, I taught some extra classes. Then I taught my regular classes and a (super fun) day-long retreat. I took a day “off” but worked on follow up and class preparation and did yoga and played catch up at my desk. Then I taught my regular classes again. By Wednesday, my battery felt not just drained but like someone had ripped it out and stomped on it.


On a Monday morning, I overhear two colleagues chatting in an office at the gym where I teach:
— Oh man, I am so tired. Are you tired?
— Me? I’m always tired.


About three-quarters through a 90-minute yoga class, I’m on my belly, doing my best to slow down my breathing. I can feel the sweat dripping off me and I can see a drop of it quivering at the tip of my nose. Take a deep breath, says Kelly. Let yourself really rest.

As she says this, I realize that the muscles in my hands and belly and feet are tense. I know class isn’t even close to being over. I’m bracing for what is coming.

Much of the time, she says, we don’t give it our all when we’re working and we don’t really stop and rest when we’re stopping. That’s why we’re tired all the time. Work when you’re working. Stop when you’re stopping.


At a Nia training years ago, my trainer asked us to choose a simple piece of choreography for a self-observation exercise. I chose something in which the base movements were only Closed Stance and A-Stance. The idea was to observe how we did the moves and to clean up our form, and here I’d gone and picked the simplest thing ever.

And yet.

When I paid attention to what I was doing, I realized I was wiggling my toes and adjusting my feet and not ever landing and stopping in my stances at all. My stances never rested.


The most common complaint of new Nia students is that they develop blisters on the soles of their feet (it happened to me when I started). Blisters usually appear when movers repeatedly slide, shuffle, or twist on their feet. When they are stepping, they aren’t really stepping but “dragging their feet.”


When I’m wrestling with an essay or a tricky post for my blog and I hit a lull in inspiration, I will often stop and check email or troll Facebook or send a text. When I work, I’m not really working.

After a full day, I feel exhausted, but when finally roll into bed, I find myself rolling through what I accomplished and planning what to do tomorrow. When I stop, I’m not really stopping.


Last week I had a dream about a student. He’s been coming to my classes for a decade and I don’t think he’s ever been in the room for the first song. He always comes once we’re moving and jumps right in. At the end of class when I invite everybody into stillness, he usually does some sit ups or leg lifts and often he leaves early. In my dream, he was in class doing his thing and a voice asked, When does he stop?

For some reason (overriding the creepiness of “I had a dream about you” intro), I awkwardly mention this to him after class. He laughs uncomfortably and then says, Huh, that’s funny. I’m 75 and I’m still working. I can’t seem to figure out when to retire.


Go when you go. Stop when you stop.

Advertisements

go stop 101715

How bout no longer being masochistic
How bout remembering your divinity
How bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
How bout not equating death with stopping
~ Alanis Morissette, Thank you

It’s crazy. For 15 years I’ve been teaching and practicing movement and mindfulness but sometimes, I just don’t pay attention.

Last week, I taught some extra classes. Then I taught my regular classes and a (super fun) day-long retreat. I took a day “off” but worked on follow up and class preparation and did yoga and played catch up at my desk. Then I taught my regular classes again. By Wednesday, my battery felt not just drained but like someone had ripped it out and stomped on it.


On a Monday morning, I overhear two colleagues chatting in an office at the gym where I teach:
— Oh man, I am so tired. Are you tired?
— Me? I’m always tired.


About three-quarters through a 90-minute yoga class, I’m on my belly, doing my best to slow down my breathing. I can feel the sweat dripping off me and I can see a drop of it quivering at the tip of my nose. Take a deep breath, says Kelly. Let yourself really rest.

As she says this, I realize that the muscles in my hands and belly and feet are tense. I know class isn’t even close to being over. I’m bracing for what is coming.

Much of the time, she says, we don’t give it our all when we’re working and we don’t really stop and rest when we’re stopping. That’s why we’re tired all the time. Work when you’re working. Stop when you’re stopping.


At a Nia training years ago, my trainer asked us to choose a simple piece of choreography for a self-observation exercise. I chose something in which the base movements were only Closed Stance and A-Stance. The idea was to observe how we did the moves and to clean up our form, and here I’d gone and picked the simplest thing ever.

And yet.

When I paid attention to what I was doing, I realized I was wiggling my toes and adjusting my feet and not ever landing and stopping in my stances at all. My stances never rested.


The most common complaint of new Nia students is that they develop blisters on the soles of their feet (it happened to me when I started). Blisters usually appear when movers repeatedly slide, shuffle, or twist on their feet. When they are stepping, they aren’t really stepping but “dragging their feet.”


When I’m wrestling with an essay or a tricky post for my blog and I hit a lull in inspiration, I will often stop and check email or troll Facebook or send a text. When I work, I’m not really working.

After a full day, I feel exhausted, but when finally roll into bed, I find myself rolling through what I accomplished and planning what to do tomorrow. When I stop, I’m not really stopping.


Last week I had a dream about a student. He’s been coming to my classes for a decade and I don’t think he’s ever been in the room for the first song. He always comes once we’re moving and jumps right in. At the end of class when I invite everybody into stillness, he usually does some sit ups or leg lifts and often he leaves early. In my dream, he was in class doing his thing and a voice asked, When does he stop?

For some reason (overriding the creepiness of “I had a dream about you” intro), I awkwardly mention this to him after class. He laughs uncomfortably and then says, Huh, that’s funny. I’m 75 and I’m still working. I can’t seem to figure out when to retire.


Go when you go. Stop when you stop.

thin ice 4When those enormous earthquakes hit Japan in 2011, I remember hearing a story about a man walking down an avenue in Tokyo.  He felt himself stagger and as his legs give out, and he thought he was having a stroke or a seizure.  His first reaction was, “There can’t be anything wrong with the Earth…it must be me.”

In my post earlier this week, I suggested that many of us spend much of our time standing, walking, moving as if we are walking on thin ice:  not relaxing into the support under us and trusting that we are held.  My invitation was to become aware of how you may be holding yourself up with unnecessary effort and to relax into the support beneath us.

This is a powerful practice that you can do right now:  just sense your body wherever you are and see if there is some tension or feeling of lifting yourself off the floor (or your chair).  See if you can take a breath and relax into the foundation below you.  Can you feel that soft letting go?

But what about when there is an earthquake?  What about when the foundation we count on gives way?  It’s happened to all of us at one time or another:  a phone call in the middle of the night, a surprising shift from someone you thought you knew well, an unexpected death.  These times can take our breath away and feel frighteningly like a solid avenue is crumbling beneath our feet.  What do we do then?

It is absolutely true that life is full of uncertainty.  It could actually be argued that life IS uncertainty.  In the face of this reality, one approach is constant vigilance.  If I am always bracing for the earthquake, I’ll be ready for it, right?  Another approach is to pretend that earthquakes will never happen and move through life denying that we really don’t know what will happen next.  Neither denial or vigilance really work, though.  Either way, our nervous systems just go on autopilot.  Either we expend lots of energy holding ourselves in hyper-alertness or we expend lots of energy pretending that the unexpected won’t happen.

Instead, what if we let go and relax even though we know that nothing is certain and the bottom may fall out at any moment?  What if we trusted that there really is nothing to be done but to keep letting go?  It can feel scary and even unwise, but when we look at what is so, the way things are, there really is no other choice.  As the saying goes, “Let go or be dragged.”

As I’ve suggested, this is graduate level practice, my friends.  Let’s do it together – reminding each other that there really is no better choice.  So thin ice or not, earthquake or not, just relax into it and let go.

thin ice 2What does it feel like to be on “thin ice”?  Tension?  Anxiety?  Upper body holding?  Shallow breath?  I often feel effort even when standing still.  I forget I can relax and be supported by my legs and the floor.

There are six stances in Nia – closed, open, “A,” sumo/riding, bow, cat (see descriptions to right) – and each offers a different way to feel that strong foundation and support.

Notice how you stand.  Notice effort and relaxation, tension and ease.  Notice how you breathe.  The more you let yourself be held, the more power, grace and choice you have!

thin ice 1The house where I grew up in Connecticut was on a pond.  As soon as it froze, we all put on our skates and were out on it.  My dad is Canadian by birth and is an excellent skater but he also has a healthy respect for ice.  He was always the one to test it before we were allowed to skate and he was always the one to assure us that the pops and cracks we heard were just “safety cracks.”  It was not without irony, then, that one sunny winter afternoon it was he who broke through the ice and fell in.

He was okay, and didn’t even need us to fish him out with the long-handled rake that we kept on shore just for that purpose.  But I never felt the same going out on that ice again.  I remember, even when we were sure it was perfectly safe, the sensation of trying to skate without actually touching the ice.

Standing without touching the floor

Do you ever have the feeling of attempting to stand without actually touching the floor?  I notice that I feel this way when I’m afraid of someone’s reaction or I think I’m not welcome or if I just feel like I don’t want to be there.  Of course, we have an idiom in English, “walking (or skating) on thin ice” for any situation where we feel like something could go seriously wrong, we could get in trouble or ruin something easily.

When you are “walking on thin ice,” what does your body feel like?  My shoulders come up, I start to hold tension in my core and my breath goes all shallow-y.  I can feel tightness in my neck and upper back.  This holding becomes habitual for many of us, since I see this “thin ice” posture in myself and in students all the time.  If I really check in with myself, it’s unusual for me not to have some kind of tension in my body all the time.  In some way, most of the time, I am efforting to hold myself up rather than relaxing and trusting that I really am supported all the time.

Relaxing into Six Nia Stances

In Nia, we have six stances to help us break the “thin ice” habit.  Six stances that invite us to fully let our legs and the floor support us:

1.       Closed Stance

2.       Open Stance

3.      “A” Stance

4.      Sumo Stance

5.      Bow Stance

6.      Cat Stance

All power and grace in human movement comes from our connection to the Earth.  Each of the six stances gives us a different sensation and opportunity to relax ourselves into that constant foundation.  (See complete description of each stance in the Helpful Info menu to the right.)

This week, I invite you to focus on how you stand – both in class and in your day.  Do you effort to hold yourself up?  Do you hold tension in your upper body in an attempt to avoid resting fully into the floor?  How much can you relax into any standing position and trust the support that is always under you?  Ironically, by giving your full weight to your stances, you have much more power, grace and far more choices about how to move from there.

NOTE FOR THE CURIOUS:  Later this week, I’ll offer a “graduate level” practice to combat “thin ice” standing (and thinking!).  For now, stand tall and relaxed in the knowledge that you have support in you and beneath you.

One of the benefits of being a compulsive note-taker is that when I feel stuck and I’m randomly searching through my computer, sometimes I find juicy gems of information.  That’s what I am doing this morning:  planning classes for the week focused on the 6 stances of The Nia Technique (click here for the details on the 6 stances) and I stumble across notes from a workshop with Nia co-founder, Debbie Rosas, in September of 2006.  My notes (in part) read:

Feet: inside of foot (heel up to big toe and out to 3rd toe + the arch between) is the most stable. In any stance or move, all toes need to be relaxed. If (toes or) any body part above the base is tense, this is a sign that the base isn’t stable enough.

My experience with stances has been:  first relaxation, then power.

Stances seem so easy.  Stances are just standing.  I do that all the time.

For years in my Nia practice, I kept saying, in essence: “Yeah, yeah, I got the stances: ClosedOpenASumoBowCat.  Let’s move on to the interesting stuff.”  At my Brown Belt training (emphasizing here: this means I’d already taken my White and Blue Belts and had been teaching for 4 years), Carlos Rosas asked us to do a simple move and really notice the details of our movement.  Simple?  Closed Stance is simple.  So I took a Closed Stance.  And I noticed that my toes were wiggling around.  My feet just wouldn’t get still.  So I scowled at them and they tensed up.  Especially my toes.  When that happened, I could feel how the rest of my body tensed up, too.  So I just stood there in my Closed Stance and did my best to relax my feet and breathe.  (Carlos came over to me in the midst of this.  “A little less simple, Susan.  Could you actually do a MOVE?”  When I told him what I was noticing, he left me to it.)

Back home after the training, I noticed that when I was uncomfortable in a conversation or situation, when I didn’t know the answer or I didn’t want to tell the truth, my feet would either move around or they would tense up.  And I couldn’t think.  My brain would stop working and my feet just wanted to get me out.  So I experimented.  When anyone said the four most terrifying words in the English language (for my readers with relaxed feet, those words are “We need to talk.”), I would focus on my stance and let my feet get still and relaxed.

Lots of times it didn’t work.  My feet would roll around and my toes would tense.  When I could manage it, though, my whole body would relax (no matter what frightening thing the person wanted to talk about) and I could actually hear the other person.  And then, my brain would actually work and I could respond.  Amazing.

If you’ve ever taken my class, you might notice that I almost always begin with inviting everybody to sense their feet.  This is why I do that.  If the feet are relaxed, then the whole body can relax and that seems to me to be a good place to start.

AND when the feet and body are relaxed, we have power.  Whether I am executing blocks in Nia or explaining to my friend why I didn’t do what I said I’d do, relaxing into my foundation, my stance, gives me support, strength, and choices.  Relaxing into my stance gives me the power to take a stand, stand up for myself and stand up for what I believe in.

This week in class and out of class, notice your stance.  Experiment with relaxing into it and notice where you take a stand.

%d bloggers like this: