The Body’s Way

I love this quote and was confused since I kept finding it attributed to both Jay Z and Shawn Carter (turns out the latter is Jay Z’s given name).

Ricky Gervais wrote a good post about this a while back. You can read it here. 


Kelly is my yoga teacher. She’s all about waking up and breaking habit.

Andy Hunt is a programmer and author. You can find out more about him here.

One of the sub-foci of the Sacred routine choreographed by Kelle Rae Oien is spirals and rotations. Since I’m not ready to leave Sacred entirely, this week I’ll be spiraling the routine with others. This post from a few years ago plus some new spiralicious art captures some of my fascination with the spirals around us and in us.

(originally posted on November 9, 2012)

I’ve been an admirer of straight-shooting for most of my adult life.  Tell it like it is.  Say what needs saying.  Cut to the chase.  I’m a bit ham-handed with it, to be honest, often saying the blunt rather than incisive thing, but in principle I’m down with telling it straight.  After reading Real Love by Greg Baer  and A Complaint-Free World by Will Bowen, as well as living with my kind and clever husband for 13 years, I’m beginning to understand the wisdom of less-direct, more spiral communication.

Especially in regards to sensitive topics, my husband, Frank, has shown me the skillfulness in quietly listening.  Where I might jump in and say my piece, he will be still and then circle back to something later when everybody’s more receptive to questions and conversation.  The wisdom of spirals.

I started the complaint-free challenge on October 26: endeavoring to go 21 consecutive days without complaining, criticizing or gossiping.  It’s been humbling.  So far, I’ve made it as long as 3 days before having to restart, and my tongue has a definite bite mark in it.  I’m being far less direct than usual, and I’m discovering that spiraling, when it comes to relationships, is often the wise way to go.

Not a surprise, really, since spiraling is The Body’s Way, too. There are few straight lines in the body.  As Amanda Latchmore’s beautifully writes in her Harrogate Yoga Blog:

Our bodies are composed of spirals. The heart is both an organ and a muscle that spirals in and around itself – formed by the gushing of blood from the Mother’s placenta into two tubes of spiraling muscle. The bones spiral, recede and curve, the striations within them spiraling downwards, so that the force of weight can be transferred to the earth. In turn, our muscles wrap around the bones in a continuous network of spiraling movement.

Nia movements reflect the power of spiraling and invite movements that rotate, wrap and revolve.  Moves like Knee Sweep, Palm Directions, Sink and Pivot Table Wipe all create systemic spiraling that echo the spirals in the body.

And the spirals are, indeed, systemic in the human body!  In her article, The Double Spiral Arrangement of the Human Musculature, Carol Porter McCullough describes Raymond Dart, a 20th Century anatomist, anthropologist and Alexander Technique enthusiast who discovered the double spiral design of the body.  She explains,

The spirals of the human musculature are mirror images of each other. Designating the right side of the pelvis as a starting point, the muscle sheet of one of the spirals travels diagonally around the side of the torso, crossing over the front mid-section to wrap diagonally upward to the left side of the torso, where the road of muscle makes a “Y,” one avenue junctioning with the muscles of the left arm, the other avenue snaking its way diagonally across the back, continuing on its diagonal journey across the neck to hook onto the head behind the ear in its original hemisphere of the right side (Dart 1996, 69).

Dart  believed in ‘the universality of spiral movement’ and said “all things move spirally and … all growth is helical (Dart 1996, 57).”  I can see the truth in this when watching a morning glory bloom or a baby roll over.  And when I circle back around to a conversation a few days later and find that it is easeful and healing to say what I want to say and that my words can actually be heard.

This week, we’ll focus on rotation and spirals in class.  Whether we are dancing together or not, I invite you into the practice of noticing how spirals have a healing effect on body, mind and relationships!  I’d love to hear what you discover!

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

“Assuredly, I say unto you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” ~ Matthew 25:40, New King James Version

It’s my left ankle.

When I was visiting my sister, I went for a jog on a favorite trail near her house. I don’t run often but I do love to go out in the woods and dart around between the trees. The trail is uneven and rooty so I should have known better, I should have walked instead of run but I didn’t. And a couple miles out, I twisted my ankle. Of course I did.

Oh my ankle, I thought. It’s been weak since college. Silly ankle, there weren’t even any roots where I fell. Oh ankle, I said, you’ll be fine.

I walked for a few steps then ran the rest of the way home.

I did put ice on it but not for very long. I took some ibuprofen but not consistently. I rubbed some arnica on it but hours after it happened. I took yoga the next day. I didn’t really give my poor ankle much attention or care.

 “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” ~Matthew 25:40, New International Version

Nearly 19 years later, what I remember is how kind he was to the waitress.
When we went out for the first time in January 1998, I had been on my share of restaurant dates. In my time, I’ve gripped my chair and swallowed hard while dates treated wait staff with superiority, curtness, impatience and even (I shudder) ridicule. Mostly, though, my experience had been that waiters were treated as though they were invisible.

I remember other things from our first date, of course. I remember what I wore (black turtleneck sweater and jeans), where we went (Mono Loco before it was only tacos), what we drank (that amazing hibiscus tea) but what has stuck with me after all these years is that he was kind to the waitress. He offered a friendly smile and gratitude. He saw her.

Verily I Say to you, That inasmuch as ye did so to one of these my little brothers, ye did so to me. ~Matthew 25:40, Aramaic Translation

I am neither a church goer nor Bible reader but Matthew 25:40 cuts straight to my heart. The truth of this: however you treat the least of these, so you treat me. YES. THIS is the measure of any person, group, organization or country. Not how much money they make or the awards they get or the number of followers they have. Nothing is as great a measure of character than how they treat the least among them.

If an executive treats the boss with cooperative respect but doesn’t acknowledge the maintenance team when she passes them in the hall, that says something about her.

If a congregant offers the worship leader compliments while he complains about the difficult and talkative octogenarian who sits in the front pew, that says something about him.

If a company pays executives high salaries but the hourly employees minimum wage, that says something about the organization.

If the richest corporations and individuals get tax breaks and access to political leaders while the poor, immigrants, minorities and the environment get less and less support every year, that says something about the country.

Look at any individual or group and ask how do they treat the least powerful among them. The answer to that will speak volumes. It will tell you everything you need to know about who they really are.

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“Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything.” ~ Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

The horror of middle school gym class is so universal that it’s practically a cliché. I know even gifted athletes who suffered the torments of junior high squat thrusts and rope climbing. But it’s not just the smelly, unflattering uniforms and gang showers (heavens above, do schools still use those??) that make 7th grade PhysEd a tragedy. The problem with the gym classes of my youth was their narrow focus on sports, competition, and everybody doing things the same way. (Note: I was taking those classes 40 years ago. I would love to hear from current physical education teachers about how they teach gym these days.)

True facts about my physical education history:

1. I am terrible at sports.

In elementary school, the only sport available to girls was softball. I was terrible. TERRIBLE. Softball is a game in which at every moment, one person is supposed to be doing one thing correctly: hit the ball, catch the ball, throw the ball. As an anxious kid, the pressure of all eyes on me as I inevitably missed the ball, dropped the ball, or threw wildly off target made my stomach hurt. I never got better. I never had fun. In high school, I played on the volleyball team. I got the award for following directions.

2. I was terrible in gym class.

I got nervous learning sports skills in front of the class. I could never figure out which knee was supposed to go up when doing a lay-up. I couldn’t jump so spiking a volleyball never went well. And somehow, soccer balls either ended up behind me or they tripped me up so I was in a heap picking grass out of my teeth.

3. The President’s Physical Fitness testing was an annual exercise in humiliation.

This was a week of doing a list of skills deemed important by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. The Frasier twins could do everything. Doris and Natalie could hang on that bar for a full minute without quivering. They probably loved Physical Fitness week. I did not. I couldn’t run fast, I wasn’t strong, and in an effort to save some sort of face, my tendency was to give up. (I could force myself to do 50 sit ups but then I was so sore that I could barely get out of my chair.)

4. I hated dancing.

In a progressive move brought on by the late 70s popularity of Saturday Night Fever, dance was added to the PE curriculum. We did dances in gangly tangled lines in the gym but I have a trouble with my left and right and I was usually stepping on the person next to me. I hated it. If you know me, my lack of coordination or athletic prowess is unlikely to be a surprise but it is absolutely true that until I was in my early 30s, I was so self-conscious and uncomfortable that I could barely move on a dance floor.

5. As I got older, I saw exercise as punishment for whatever I’d eaten or for my body not looking how I thought it should.

Over-indulge on the weekend? Extra time on the stair-stepper on Monday morning. Too many restaurant meals on the business trip? Get up at 5am to hit the hotel gym. Don’t look slender and buff like Linda Hamilton in Terminator 2? Hire a personal trainer. Movement that was pleasurable, healing, joyful, or fun was never ever my experience.

The human body is designed to move. Sports games and disco dancing a la John Travolta are not the only ways to move. As a culture we tend to focus on competition and performance. If you thrive in that environment and love it like the Frasier twins did, that is wonderful. But even if exercising in squads was great for you, it’s important to remember that sport is just a small part of what the body can do. The tragedy is that many of us take this narrow view of physicality and generalize it to “I’m not athletic” or “I hate exercise.”

Lucky for me, I came across a practice that I love, a practice that isn’t about winning or competition but about awareness, healing, and feeling good. Lucky for me, after a few years of moving my body in a different environment than the no-pain-no-gain, sports-y world, I started to feel differently about my body and my physical abilities. I don’t have to run a marathon or clear the hurdles. I don’t have to dribble any kind of ball. I just need to find a way to move my body that feels good. I just need to invite myself to the edge between challenge and healing and find the joy of moving there.

Even if you flourish in the traditional athletic system and love playing of the game, it’s worthwhile to remember that competitive sports aren’t the only way to be an athlete. I can admire the talents of my beloved UVA basketball team and be amazed by the feats of Olympians and find my own sacred athleticism in other ways.

May physical education for everyone lead to understanding how the body works, how to move with awareness, and how to cultivate joy in our physical abilities, whatever they are.

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Our Provider who has given all
from the appearing way – East,
from the cold way – North.
from the disappearing way – West,
from the warm way – South
You Have Spoken

Medicine that you have gotten ready
You have given us
Air, water, fire, soil of the world
Come cleanse us
Our bodies, our mind, our hearts, our accumulative wisdom
Shall be washed thoroughly

~ translation of Cherokee Going to Water ritual

Jane was totally lost. We met her at a trail intersection in Grayson Highlands State Park in southwest Virginia. She’d lost the trail and had been wandering around alone for an hour and a half. We compared maps, realized we were hiking back to the same parking lot and offered to walk the rest of the way with her.

Jane, it turns out, is a High Pointer. It is her goal to reach the highest point in each state (or 41 of them, anyway, since nine exceed her technical abilities). She’s done about 30 and she’d just checked Virginia’s highest point off her list by hiking to Mount Rogers. She was in pretty good spirits given the way her day was going but I think she found the Virginia endeavor unsatisfying, what with no view at the summit and then the whole 90-minutes lost debacle.

We had also climbed up Mount Rogers that day on the recommendation of a friend. We loved the dark boreal forest at the peak (unusual so far south). The sweet-smelling spruce trees, moss-covered boulders and deep green quiet was so surprising, we half expected a wood nymph to lead us to the summit. No view, it’s true, but potential fairies!

Jane’s goal motivates her to keep hiking and I appreciate that, but I will never be a High Pointer. I love a view as much as anybody, but while a sweeping vista can be breath-taking and perspective-offering, climbing to a peak will never be my first choice for a hike. I’ll always choose water over a summit.

If given the choice, I hike along rivers, streams and creeks. I have walked for hours to see a single waterfall and on one glorious trail in Pennsylvania saw 21 strung together along a single glen (read that story and see the pictures here). There is something restorative about walking near water; something grounding that connects me to the music and movement of life. Hiking along a river offers a flowing stream of sound and images to admire along the way rather than the single goal of reaching a single high point. A moving river reminds me of life’s illusion of permanence. The river may seem to be the same, but it is always moving and changing. No man can ever, as Heraclitus reminds us, step in the same river twice.

People in the Cherokee tribe practiced the ritual of “going to water” most days. They stood waist deep in the water and prayed to be washed clean of whatever bad feelings distanced them from God, their friends and family. This is a practice that makes total sense to me.

After a hike or bike ride, there is nothing I love more than to spend time in moving water. It washes away the sweat, but much more than that. Even when not near a stream or river, I use water to literally and symbolically clear away any accumulated gunk in my system. A shower, a splash on wrists and face, a tall glass drunk deep: water approached with intention is my own version of the Cherokee ritual.

While I admire the fitness and determination it takes to reach a high point and the view a summit (sometimes) offers, I will always choose to go to water.

big mind knitting eyebrowsMy whole adult life, I’ve been a student of movement. I started in college with traditional aerobics classes and strength training. In those situations, the instruction was clear: do this as much (or as fast or as hard) as you can. Simple. Boom. Go.

Go all-out or go home. Black or white. This, my mind could grasp. And grasp it it did. Tight like a vise.

When I started taking more holistic, mind~body- focused classes, everything got fuzzy and gray-zy in a hurry. Starting with my first yoga class more than 20 years ago until just this morning in my vinyasa practice, my teachers are always tossing around little phrases like,

“Choose the level that’s right for you.”


“Find the variation on the pose that feels best right now.”


“Move in a way that is both challenging and healing.”

All these yoga teachers and Nia teachers and movement teachers tossing little grenades around that lodge in and then immediately explode in my tight mind.

“Choose the level that’s right for me”? What the Sam Hill is that?

My mind reels. (Poor thing is nostalgic for the black and white days of “go all out, period.”) The trouble, it turns out, is that crammed into my tight little mind are two voices (that’s not true, there is a teeming throng of voices in my mind but on this particular subject there are two): Lazy Daisy and Eager Beaver Overachiever.

When my teacher says “Find the variation that is best for you right now,” Lazy Daisy pipes right up. Lazy Daisy absolutely hates anything that is uncomfortable or difficult or awkward. She wants to take it easy. She is afraid of discomfort of any kind.

“Let’s just go easy,” she says. “Let’s just take a breath and…”

In two-tenths of a second, Eager B. Overachiever interrupts her. “C’mon! We can do more than this! No pain, no gain! More is better! Bigger is harder and harder is better! Arrrghh!” (Eager B. is a big fan of pirate noises.)
“Wait, hey, that feels like too much,” says Lazy Daisy. “The teacher says to move in a way that’s easy…”
“ ‘EaseFULL!’ ” says Eager Overachiever, “not easy. And she says to challenge ourselves! So let’s go deeper and do more! ARrrgh!” (E.B.O. also loves exclamation points!)

“But we hurt our foot (hip/knee/ankle/shoulder) is injured,” Lazy Daisy whines. “We need to rest it and stop moving.”

“Oh pul-ease. It’s not that bad. We can work through the pain. That’s the best way to heal it,” says The Dread Pirate Eager Overachiever!

Well. I expect you can see where it goes from here. It’s a crazy shouting match between the two of them and I’m standing by listening as they go back and forth, watching it like a ping pong match. Meanwhile, my body is moving in the medium, habitual way I always do. I’m hypnotized by the two quarreling residents of my snarled up mind. The noise from the fighting is so loud, I completely forget to listen to my body.

In Nia, Principle 7 suggests choosing from the Three Levels of Intensity: Level 1, movements close to center; Level 2, larger movements away from center; and Level 3, full range of motion. As a teacher, I say this like it’s obvious. As a teacher, I gently toss these little mind grenades of “both challenging and healing.” As a student, it’s not that simple. As a student, I feel confused as I grapple with figuring out the right level of intensity for me…because I’m listening to my mind.

Or rather, I’m listening to my Tight Mind. My Tight Mind knits my eyebrows and makes my breath go shallow. My Tight Mind has been trained by almost 51 years of living, and by the messages from much of mainstream fitness and popular culture. The trick is to shift the mind I’m listening to, to listen instead to my Big Mind. My Big Mind is the mind that feels sensation in the present moment. Big Mind draws on the wisdom of millennia of evolution. Big Mind understands the Three Levels easily.

My yoga teachers invite me to choose movement that is challenging enough to keep me focused and compassionate enough to allow full and even breath. Rather than the Tight Mind approach thinking and figuring out what level of intensity I need, yoga teaches me to feel it with my Big Mind.

Approaching my practice from Tight Mind will keep me twisted up and confused, moving out of habit. The trouble with Tight Mind is that it’s like expecting two over-tired, anxious 7-year-olds to sort out a disagreement. When I follow this Big Mind, body-centered approach, Lazy Daisy and Eager B. Overachiever curl up in the back seat and get some rest.

The Unofficial Guide
to the 13 Nia Principles
~ Practical, Nia-or-Not Applications for EveryBody

(Wondering what the devil the Unofficial Guide is and why I’m writing this series of posts? Click here!)

p11 CEO parking

Principle 11 – The Sacred Business of Your Body

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

This principle introduces you to Creating a Sacred Livelihood, the business of your body and life. When you do what you love, you live into your greatness. Creating a Sacred Livelihood is about living into your purpose and into the unique way you exist in the world. Your purpose is a powerful compass. When you are aware of your purpose, everything you do naturally guides you into living into your greatness. Using your time, consciousness, and life force energy to share your purpose as a healing gesture is the highest expression of a Sacred Athlete.

… Make every action in life personal, a creative and sacred act. Commit to consciously transforming your body and life with love and recognize that you are a teacher to the world. Seek your destiny, walk your talk, and discover what is meaningful and sacred to you. … Awaken your inherent power to change, to be better and happier, and you will awaken others.

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

The Sacred Business of Your Body emerges from the ten preceding principles … and then adds purpose, the why.

Officially, Principle 11 is about the sacred business of becoming a Nia instructor. Unofficially, Principle 11 isn’t about launching your Nia practice into the world (although it can be) but is simply a useful way to see your life practice with clarity. No matter who you are or what you do, everybody is the CEO of the Sacred Business of their own Body.

If you were the CEO of a business, you’d create a mission, a north star by which all your company’s decisions would be guided. Your body and your life are two of the most precious assets you have so why not become CEO of that Sacred Business? With Principle 11, you have the opportunity to get crystal clear about what your mission is and – most importantly – WHY.

Most of us are pretty haphazard with our Body Business: we feed it and move it and heal it as best we can given available time, energy and resources. Most of us don’t think about it that much. We have an idea of eating better or moving more or stopping smoking or meditating every day but without a “big picture” view, it’s easy for life to distract us with all its hullabaloo and shenanigans.

Principle 11 offers a chance to look clearly at what is most important to you and set your intention — your mission — from there. Look at the big picture of how you want to live in your body and life and WHY you want to do that. Observe the choices you make and the WHYs behind them to see how they line up with your mission.

Just like the Witness from Freedance in Principle 4 and X-Ray Anatomy in Principle 10, Principle 11 invites us to see ourselves clearly AND to release judgment and criticism and have the flexibility to change when we need to. Principle 11 is about being both honest and kind to ourselves.

I’ve been the CEO of the Sacred Business of my Body for a while and I’ve given my mission a good deal of thought and energy. But I’m sort of like IBM: I started out with a certain approach that worked for a time but needed tweaking and eventually and overhaul when I saw that my mission had to shift.

For years, my explicit mission was health and fitness for my physical body but the WHY, the unwritten subtext was largely motivated by anxiety and self-punishment. I would often find myself in patterns of over- or under-eating and over-exercising that would leave me feeling depleted, depressed and inadequate. Principle 11 allowed me to witness how I felt, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually. By focusing on the purpose behind the choices, I can get honest with myself especially when insecurity and anxiety are driving my mission.

Principle 11 helps me notice when the WHY behind my choices is fear rather than love. I’m always reminding myself that I need time under the sky in the air and time with the people who fill me up. That extra yoga class this week or that third piece of chocolate? Am I reaching for that because I’m worried or afraid? Or because it would really feel nourishing?

Today, I wrote down my mission for your Sacred Business of Your Body. In all the years I’ve played with this principle, I’ve never done this before.  I notice that it makes my mission much clearer to see the words in front of me and feel how it feels to read them. Give it a whirl.  Write yours down and see if it’s true for you, too.

I’ll put mine in the comments below and in the comments on the Focus Pocus Facebook page. If you’d like to share yours, please do. Your willingness to share may both clarify your intention and be helpful to others as they create their own. Remember, it’s a starting point not a destination. It’s always a rough draft written in pencil, always a business plan in flux.

So ask yourself: how do I want to be in my body and my life…and why?

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