Archive

Strength

FOCUS POCUS NOTE! FocusPocus is now one complete post (art, focus, playlists and announcements) all together on Thursdays! So whether you come to the blog for the art, the information, the music or the latest happenings and offerings, you are in the right place. Every Thursday, you’ll get it all. Thank you so much for being here.

The weeks between Halloween and the Solstice are challenging for me: the darkness and cold creeping in, the cultural frenzy of shopping and eating and jingling leaves my nervous system jangling. So for these next few weeks, we’ll be focusing on practical practices that we can do to soothe and strengthen our nervous systems. We’ll be focusing on things we do in class all the time but calling attention to them so we have easier access to them as we move through the world.

This week, we focused on the simple movements of squeeze and release. Even the simplest creatures (think of little water bugs, caterpillars, worms) squeeze and release. All parts of our bodies (think of heart and lungs and esophagus and muscles) squeeze and release.

In our modern human lives, though, we can get stuck in stressful patterns. We can squeeze in and just keep squeezing, creating chronic tension and holding patterns that create disfunction, discomfort and injury. We can release and just keep releasing, collapsing and closing down.

In your body and in your life, which way do you tend to go? Do you brace and contract and walk through the world as the strong one? Do you accommodate and contort and walk through the world as the super-flexy one?

Creating health is a creating an integrated balance of fully squeezing and then fully releasing. Pulling energy in with strength and letting it go with flexibility.

Do it right now. Wherever you are. Squeeze in tight. You can use your hands to squeeze and then expand to let all your muscles hug into the bones. Then let go. Really release and let go completely. See what it feels like to let yourself feel both and then feel the balance that emerges. I’d love to hear about your experience

Below are our playlists for the week. If you’d like to listen to the music, you can find almost all the songs on Spotify (you can listen for free)! As always, please let me know if you have any questions about any of the music we dance to!

Lots of events are unfolding, friends, so before the playlists, here is all the details on what’s coming up!

Nourishing Movement Classes at the Studio at Dancing Water on Thursday mornings at 11am!
Nourishing Movement classes with Susan on Thursdays at 11am ~~ my mix of guided and unguided movement, meditation and creativity! Please go to http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop for the details. Come join us in the trees by the river for grounded, flowing, spacious movement. Second Thursdays are followed by a pot luck lunch! Nourish yourself with movement and bring something nourishing to share! There is space in upcoming classes so please go HERE to sign up!
* The Studio at Dancing Water is at 2370 Old Lynchburg Road ~ detailed directions at http://www.susanmcculley.com and via email when you sign up!

December Nourishment at Dancing Water ~ 4 Nourishing Movement classes for $40!
The light wanes and temperatures drop. It’s now that making a commitment to ourselves and our well-being is essential. Register for 4 Nourishing Movement classes at The Studio at Dancing Water on Thursdays, December 5, 12, 19 & 26 from 11-12:15pm for $40. Must be purchased by December 5!

Full Moon Restorative Yoga with Shandoah Goldman ~ Moonday, Decmeber 9, 430-6pm
Shandoah Goldman returns to The Studio at Dancing Water (2370 Old Lynchburg Road, Charlottesville) to continue the full moon restorative practice! The full moon is a time of completion. The fullness of the cycle lends itself to a practice of non-doing. Join Shandoah for a deeply nourishing practice of restorative yoga. Using props to offer support and comfort, the body is invited to profoundly let go and unwind. Rather than efforting or stretching, this is the practice of releasing and relaxing. We’ll celebrate what is finished and soften into the next cycle. Shandoah is a gifted guide for deep release and is a Shiatsu practitioner offering hands on assists during class. All bodies welcome, no experience in yoga or anything else is needed.
Monday (Moonday!), December 9, 430-6pm at The Studio at Dancing Water, $30 or $25 if registered before December 1. (Mark Your Calendar: Upcoming Full Moon classes will be on January 13 and February 10!)

Scholarships Available for all Experiences at The Studio at Dancing Water
We have delicious experiences coming up at The Studio AND we have scholarships available for them. If finances are stopping you from joining us, please reach out and let me know (PM me or connect at sjmnia@gmail.com).

Book Signing and Art Demonstration at Cville Arts
Saturday, December 14, 11-12noon
Come see how Octabusy was made with an art demonstration and book signing at Cville Arts on the downtown mall!

ORDER OCTABUSY!
Support local booksellers by ordering Octabusy
at Over The Moon Bookstore in Crozet (overthemoonbookstore.com, (434) 823-1144, Anne@OvertheMoonBookstore.com)
and buy it at New Dominion Bookshop on Charlottesville’s downtown mall (ndbookshop.com, 434-295-2552, staff@ndbookshop.com)
You can also order signed copies of Octabusy (including discounts on multiple copies) now on my website at susanmcculley.com/shop
and get Kindle and paperback editions on Amazon!
(And wherever you buy it, please leave a review there!)

Winter Solstice Restorative Yoga + Sound Experience with Shandoah Goldman ~ Sat Dec 21, 2019 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm
Immerse in the return of light as you cocoon yourself by candles and hearth. The experience is set within a quartz faced historic hall. Rest deep into restoring postures while being serenaded by crystal bowl soundscapes + alchemist delights for the senses and an energy gift bag to take home.
WHEN Saturday December 21st optional walk on scenic trails arrive by 3:30pm / Experience begins at 4:30pm and ends at 6pm
BRING a yoga mat/ two blankets/ two firm pillows or 1 bolster / warm layers / water
LOCATION Private home in Esmont revealed after purchase of ticket
WHO Restorative Yoga guided by Shandoah Goldman | Somatic Cville \ Sounds by Waverly Davis | Sacra Space \  Alchemist delights by Chloe Morgan
TICKETS Limited spaces available $44 before 12/1/19 $52 after  https://www.tickettailor.com/events/somaticcville/320206
The Movement Barn offers the GYROTONIC Method
Note from Susan: I recently had the good fortune to meet, move and have a GYROTONIC session with Casey Turner. I love the circular, functional, mindful approach of this technique. And I loved doing it with a view of the mountains in a field of flowers! Please check out her beautiful offerings.
The Movement Barn is a boutique fitness studio in Charlottesville, VA offering private GYROTONIC® sessions in a picturesque setting. Located in a field of wildflowers, The Movement Barn provides a unique workout experience for people of all ages and levels of ability. The GYROTONIC® Method is designed to increase strength, agility, and range of movement. This low impact system uses flowing exercises with circular and spiral motion to open energy pathways, stimulate the nervous system, and create space in the joints. For more information, visit http://www.themovementbarn.com, email catherine@themovementbarn.com, or follow @themovementbarn on Instagram!

First Friday Freedance with Kate ~ Dec 6 at 11:25am
Nia Freedance is an opportunity to play and tap into the creative wisdom in our body, emotions, mind and spirit. For a full hour we get to dance together with the intention of stimulating our own unique movement creativity. The next Nia Freedance will be at ACAC Albemarle Square Friday, Sep 6 from 11:25 -12:25.

As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

Monday, Nov 18, 2019, 1045am ~ Soothing the Nervous System: Squeeze & Release

(after my teaching bag was stolen out of my car one hour before class we danced to this playlist: originally Feb 2 2006 playlist provided at the last minute by Becky Trexler!!)
Sofa Rockers [Richard Dorfmeister Remix] 8:34 Sofa Surfers
The Hush 5:24 Rae & Christian
Journeyman – AO 6:41 Bob Holroyd
Silk Road 8:00 Kitaro
Spellbound 5:43 Rae & Christian
Open Your Heart 5:46 M People
Freedom 4:29 Nicole C. Mullen
Don’t Wait Too Long 3:10 Madeleine Peyroux
Ascension 4:52 Lex van Someren

Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019, 840am ~ Soothing the Nervous System: Squeeze & Release

Damascus 2:03 Conjure One Feat. Chemda
Down To Earth 5:59 Peter Gabriel
Breathe 4:12 Blue Stone
Water Down the Ganges 7:10 Prem Joshua & Manish Vyas
Freedom 2:50 Tyrone Wells
I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like) 3:52 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Knock On Wood 4:13 Safri Duo
Fly 3:33 Bart Hafeman
Amma 6:26 James Asher & Sivamani
Dust in the Wind 3:30 Daughter Darling
Give Me Strength 4:03 Sally Taylor
Jai Radha Madhav 6:27 Deva Premal

Thursday, Nov 21, 2019, 11am ~ Nourishing Movement at the Studio at Dancing Water ~ Soothing the Nervous System: Squeeze & Release

Stretching My Molecules (feat. Al Agami & Hush Forever) 8:30 Mashti & Deep Dive Corp.
Down To Earth 5:59 Peter Gabriel
Breathe 4:12 Blue Stone
Water Down the Ganges 7:10 Prem Joshua & Manish Vyas
Freedom 2:50 Tyrone Wells
I’m Alive (Life Sounds Like) 3:52 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Knock On Wood 4:13 Safri Duo
Fly 3:33 Bart Hafeman
Amma 6:26 James Asher & Sivamani
Dust in the Wind 3:30 Daughter Darling
Give Me Strength 4:03 Sally Taylor
Jai Radha Madhav 6:27 Deva Premal

I love summer.

Despite its signature heat and humidity, I love the long, sunny days, all the growth and abundance and berries and watermelon. I also know that especially in the hot height of summer, I need to stay grounded. All that swirling, rising heat energy requires grounding my body, mind and heart. Summer is a time for meditation, siestas, being near water and sitting in the sand.

For me, it’s also a time for connection: gathering fresh fruit and vegetables (either from a garden, a blueberry bush or Misfit Market!), walking in the forest or near water, visiting and entertaining friends and family. (Conversely, I think this is why I winter holiday parties when my energy is quiet and attention is inward totally do not work for me.)

These dual needs for grounding and reaching, are reflected in the very design of the human body: in particular the lower legs and forearms. Take a look at the bone structure of the lower arms and legs:

On the surface of it, the two structures look almost identical: two bones next to each other, one noticeably larger than the other, the ends of which connect to similar structures — a hinge joint at one end and a gliding synovial joint at the other. But while the forms looks the same, their functions are not. The bones of the lower leg are designed to stabilize and ground while the bones of the lower arm are designed to flow and reach out.

The forearms and lower legs are the Bones of Summer.

The two lower leg bones are the tibia and the fibula. The second longest bone in the body, the tibia runs along the inside of the lower leg, attaching to the femur/thigh bone at the top and the ankle at the bottom. Run your fingers along what you think of as your shin bone and you are feeling your tibia. The fibula is another long bone but is narrower and runs parallel to and acts as support of the tibia. In the lower leg, the tibia provides strength and weight-bearing while the fibula provides mobility and range of motion with stability being primary focus of the lower leg.

The forearm bones are the radius, on the thumb-side of the arm, and the ulna that runs down the pinkie side of the arm. Similar to the leg bones, these bones provide both strength and mobility but in the arm, the focus is on mobility. The structure of the joints in the forearm allow the radius to rotate around the ulna — the only two bones in the body that cross each other! — which allows the hand and wrist to rotate more completely than the foot (thank goodness, that wouldn’t go well). This intricate design allows extraordinary flexibility and dexterity for everything from lifting heavy boxes to doing caligraphy.

The Bones of Summer remind us that when energy is moving and things heat up, we need to stay both grounded and fluid. We need to rest in the support of the earth under us but also reach out and connect to the ripening fruit of the season. Both stability and mobility are nourishing to the body in the summer heat and the same is true for the mind and heart.

To skillfully navigate a heated situation — rising anger, an intense disagreement or a hot political conflict —  we need to stay both grounded and fluid. Feel yourself present and rooted as well as open and expansive. It can help me to feel my feet and legs (maybe even feeling my feet or legs with my hands) and also breathe and reach out for connection and perspective. So when I get tangled in a Facebook morass, for example, I can feel my body and breath and also go outside, pet the cat and get a hug from my level-headed husband. This connection to both stability and mobility are what allows relaxation, a settling of stirred-up energy as well as openness to possibility and solution.

Hot summer days can be full of pleasure but they can also stir me up and get me over-stimulated. I have to remind myself to find strength and support as well as openness and connection. Walks in the woods, resting on rocks in a river and picking berries from the vine offer ancient balance to the heat of the season. However you navigate the heat, connect with the Bones of Summer in the lower legs and forearms for a physical sensation of grounded fluidity.

“Tone your core and let the tension go from your face,” says every yoga teacher I’ve ever had whenever they watch me practice.

Mindfulness notices what’s happening. Mindfulness notices what I mean to be doing and what I don’t.

Sense yourself right now.
Where in your body are you holding unnecessarily? That’s tension.
Where are you intentionally engaged? That’s tone.
Both are muscle contractions but they have different sensations and impact the body differently.

Joseph Campbell’s model of the human psyche is a circle with a horizontal line running through it. Everything above the line is conscious, what we know is happening. Tone is above the line. Everything below the line is unconscious. It’s in the dark. Tension is below the line. (In the art above, notice the difference in the definitions of the two words!)

Our practice of mindful movement is an opportunity to get more of our experience above the line.

As we practice noticing, we discern between the sensations of tension and tone. Tension is rooted in habit and anxiety. Tension is a feeling of bracing for some nameless unknown dangerous thing. Tone is rooted in awareness and intention. Tone is a feeling of strength, support and purpose.

Tension and tone happen in our minds and hearts, too. As you move through your days, play with discerning between the tone and tension. See about moving more moments above the line.

WANT TO EXPLORE MORE? A few months ago, we practiced noticing where we grip and inquiring into what it has to teach us. (You can find the post here.)

You are stronger than you think you are.
Each of us.

A friend of mine moved away a couple of years ago. Unexpectedly. Quickly. She was anxious and in (what seems now to be) a misguided attempt to soothe her mind, I suggested that she write down all the things that she was afraid would happen when she and her family moved. I suggested that 3 months later when she looked a the list, that she would see that none of them had happened.

She moved away and three months later, everything on her list had happened. Every. Single. Thing.

I felt like a jerk and a bad friend.

But when I talked to her not long ago, I had this thought: all those things she was afraid of happening (and more, as it turns out), she figured out, she managed, she handled, she lived through. And now, she is stronger.

She did more than she thought she could.

– – – – – – – – – –

We are stronger together.
All of us.

Yesterday, on the anniversary of the death of Heather Heyer and the terrorist attacks in downtown Charlottesville, I went to Heather’s memorial and walked through the downtown mall. While I walked, I listened to a dharma talk by meditation teacher, Tara Brach called Evolving Beyond Unreal Othering.

It was the perfect thing. Given all that’s happened and is happening in our city, it is easy to point fingers. It is easy for me to blame and accuse and say that those people did this to us.

Instead, Tara Brach was reminding me that we really are all in this together. All of us. We are all part of the problems and the solutions. Even and especially people we don’t agree with. I hope you’ll give yourself the gift of listening to her wise words. You can find her talk here.

Charlottesville is grappling with its painful history and the reality of its present. We are (albeit slowly) facing things we don’t want to face and gathering our collective resources to move forward in a healthier way. It seems to me that the only way we can make our way through more than we thought we could, is to do it together.

How do we, as civil rights activist Ruby Sales says, “weave together the “I” with the “We” and the “We” with the “I?” That’s where the real strength lies.

At the opening of a class at Hot Yoga Charlottesville not long ago, my teacher, Julia von Briesen read this by Roshi Joan Halifax:

All too often our so-called strength comes from fear not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that’s flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that’s soft and open, representing choiceless compassion. The place in your body where these two meet – strong back and soft front – is the brave, tender ground in which to root our caring deeply.

Right away, I recognized the false “strength” of a brittle, defended heart that strikes out in an unskillful attempt to protect.
I do this a lot in traffic.
And while reading the news.
And otherwise being a scared judgy-pants.

Since hearing this quote (and subsequently printing it out and reading it daily), this has been my practice: (1) when I find myself snapping out at someone
(as in “what do you think you’re doing, pulling out in front of me in your enormous SUV with a bumper sticker I don’t like?”
or as in “what kind of heartless, thoughtless, short-sighted politician are you?”
or any other snarky, angryness that pops out of me),
(2) I pause and say a little metta (or loving kindness) for myself
(as in “may I be safe, may I be loved, may I know peace”)
and
(3) I say a little metta / loving kindness for the person I just snarked on
(as in “may you feel safe, may you feel loved, may you know peace”)

When I do this, I feel a little taste of the choiceless compassion that Roshi Joan Halifax tells of. It’s not much, I grant you. But it’s a start.

What can you do today that will strengthen your spine, your core, and soften your heart?

We know this from dancing, but no matter what you’re doing — whether it’s making art or building a house or starting a relationship — a strong foundation allows for spaciousness and possibility above it.

The key is to know what your foundation is and how to make it strong.

It’s true for doing Tree Pose, starting a company, or raising a child.

Ask yourself,
What is my foundation?
What is essential at the base of what I’m doing?
And how can I make that foundation stronger?

The more solid the foundation, the more creative, expressive, and limitless the possibilities in the space above.

This week, we’ll play with the inspiration of two quotes. First, Albert Einstein. What if real intelligence isn’t about what you know or think or do, but rather your ability to shift and change?

Then, from Seth Godin’s book/work of art, It’s Your Turn. Think of a situation – in your body, your life, your community – that is changing and the tension that results. Think of somewhere where there is tension – in a muscle, in a relationship, a company – and the change that inevitably, eventually, results.

Hidden within these quotes is not just the sensation of adaptability but of strength and flexibility.
Are you willing to change?

%d bloggers like this: