Three Planes & Levels

FOCUS POCUS NOTE! If you’ve been reading Focus Pocus for a while, you might notice that I didn’t post about our focus this week on Sunday as I usually do. Instead, I’ll roll the two weekly posts (art and content on Sundays, playlists and announcements on Thursdays) int o one all-encompassing post. 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 week on Thursdays, you’ll get it all. Thank you so much for being here.

Last week, we paid attention to how the technology we use shapes our bodies. (link) We played with lifting through the arches of the feet, exhaling fully to lift the diaphragm, and lifting the eyes to look out and release the neck. I make a practice of doing this ~ feeling my feet, taking a deep breath and looking around ~ every time I see someone hunched and buried in their phone. (Please note in the comments if you are playing with this and what you notice!)

The body is an integrated system of dynamic energy, so LIFT (where ever it happens) doesn’t happen on its own. For each lift we feel and create in the body, something else needs to root. So to create that dynamic energetic balance, we focused on rooting down AND lifting up.

Your heels are designed to connect you to the earth and keep you grounded and stable. Most of us have spent (almost literally) our entire lives in shoes with a heel. Whether you are male or female (even if you are a child!), check out your shoes: almost all of them have at least some kind of heel. This constraint on the body is at cross purposes with its form and interferes with its function.

You are designed to walk and stand with your heels rooted, your arches lifted and your toes relaxed. Next time you are in a shoe with a heel, notice what’s happening in your feet. It may feel “normal” if you’re used to heels, but listen for signals from your body about what compensations may be happening.

Your tailbone is mobile and can move in lots of directions, but when we put ourselves in heels and lift the calcaneus bone off the floor, in order to keep ourselves upright, the tailbone lifts up. This is a perfectly fine movement for your tailbone to do, but when it’s held chronically it can lead to a whole host of other compensations.

In relationship to the lifting of the diaphragm, take a deep breath and as you exhale, feel the rooting of your sacrum.

Many of us do work (read: phone, computer or tablet work) or repetitive tasks (read: cooking, changing diapers, making art) that drops the head and eyes and rounds the shoulders. As we lift the eyes, we automatically drop the shoulders down the back.

We can work it the other way, too. If you feel stiffness in your neck and shoulders, drop them down and free up your neck so your eyes can look around.

Our culture puts our bodies in all kinds of compromised and compensating positions. Our practice is to notice them and to give the body an experience of what it feels like to move in alignment with its form and function. The more we practice and recognize the sensation, the more we can access it out in the crazy, smartphone-using, seated, shod world.

Please tell us in the comments below how you are noticing this dynamic energy of rooting down and lifting up. Sharing what you’re noticing helps us all connect to the sensations in our own 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!

And friends, I am always ALWAYS looking for new music. Do you have a song that you love to move to or that moves you? I’d love to know what it is! Please respond in the comments below or email me at!

Before the playlists, here is the scoop on a whole slew of great things happening this summer!

Nourishing Movement Classes at the Studio at Dancing Water on Thursday mornings
Nourishing Movement classes with Susan on Thursdays at 9am (through the end of September ~ in October, we’ll return to 11am) ~~ my mix of guided and unguided movement, meditation and creativity! Please go to 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 brunch/tea/snackie! 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 and via email when you sign up!

Nia Jam: Balance is a Verb ~ Saturday, September 21, 1230-145pm at acac Albemarle Square Studio A with Susan & Jeanne (No Nia 101 and class will start at 1230!)
Balance isn’t something we have, it’s something we do. Balance is a constant dance of push and pull, squeeze and release, reach and root. In our fall equinox jam, we’ll focus on balance in the body and in particular in shoulders and hips. Jeanne & Susan will play with all the balances that happen between upper/lower, left/right, front/back, diagonal lines as well as fast/slow, challenge/recuperation, sharp/fluid and everything in between. Please note that there will be no Nia 101 and that the jam will begin at 1230!

Saturday September 28, 9-12noon – Moving & Writing with Light: Nourishing Body & Eyes with Susan & Rebecca
Susan & Rebecca offer a morning to expand your perspective on two things that everybody has: a body and a smartphone. The word “photography” means “writing with light.” A photo isn’t a copy of something— it’s a story written *by light*! And light is weaving stories all around us, all the time. Using the simple cameras that we all carry —the ones in our phones! — we’ll play with the stories of light around us and experience how changing our perspectives can change everything. Susan will weave movement and mindfulness into the morning to practice being with light & shadow. No experience in photography or movement needed, just bring a phone or tablet with a built-in camera and your body. No experience with movement or photography is needed or expected. If you like, from 12-2pm, bring a lunch and savor it on the porch, on the bench overlooking the river or on a rock in the middle of it. $75. Register at

NEW OFFERING ~~ Saturday October 26, 9-12noon – Nourishing the Nervous System with Mindful Movement
NOTE from Susan: I am thrilled, honored, excited to welcome Emily Wright to teach at Dancing Water. She is an extraordinary, approachable, gifted teacher. I can’t wait to do this with her. Will you join me?
The body is a central portal to nervous system regulation. When we are regulated and integrated, we have the capacity to be our most awake, available, creative, curious, flexible selves. Using a blend of guided movement work, journaling, visual art-making, poetry, and mindfulness practices, participants will explore states of autonomic nervous system regulation as a means to establish safe, nourishing connections to ourselves, each other, and the natural world.
About the instructor:
Emily Wright, MFA, PhD, is a movement educator, author, and practitioner. She offers classes and workshops in functional movement, contact improvisation, and intergenerational community dance informed by her extensive background in dance and other somatic disciplines.

Nia resumes in Studio A at acac downtown
Nia is back in Studio A at acac downtown:
Mondays 4:15–5:15pm ~ Rachel
Wednesdays 6-7pm ~ Jeanne
Fridays 9-10:10am ~ Loring
Saturdays 9-10:10am ~ Anne
Sundays 3:30-4:30pm ~ Anne
at acac Albemarle Square, Tuesdays 11-12pm Nia Moving to Heal ~ Rachel (starting Sept 3)

Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom ~ Video Series with Cecily Armstrong
Over the past few years I’ve been inspired and energized by the teaching and guidance of Cecily Armstrong. She is so generous with her offerings ~ her latest is a three-part video workshop Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom. If you’ve ever felt confused about how best to nourish yourself and live your healthiest, happiest life, Cecily offers amazing insights. You can sign up for the video series here. And/or you can get access to a longer 1-hour on-line workshop with Cecily here!

Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom [optin]

First Friday Freedance with Kate ~ Sep 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, Aug 19, 2019, 1045am ~ Root Down AND Lift Up

Roots 3:42 Bob Marley & The Wailers
Souvenir 5:39 Kaledj feat. Neko
Ibuki Reconstruction 3:33 Kodo
Say Hey (I Love You) (Featuring Cherine Anderson) 3:56 Michael Franti
No Roots 3:56 Alice Merton
Voulez Vous Cousez 4:25 Moulin Rouge
All The Way Down 3:14 The Rolling Stones
Adouma 4:15 Santana
Yahoo 7:33 Veeresh & The Humaniversity Sound
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free 4:09 Derek Trucks Band
Salala (featuring Peter Gabriel) 3:24 Angelique Kidjo
Hit the Ground 3:31 Lizz Wright
Shanti (Peace Out) 6:59 MC Yogi

Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019, 840am ~ Root Down AND Lift Up

Roots 3:42 Bob Marley & The Wailers
Souvenir 5:39 Kaledj feat. Neko
Ibuki Reconstruction 3:33 Kodo
Say Hey (I Love You) (Featuring Cherine Anderson) 3:56 Michael Franti
No Roots 3:56 Alice Merton
Voulez Vous Cousez 4:25 Moulin Rouge
All The Way Down 3:14 The Rolling Stones
Yahoo 7:33 Veeresh & The Humaniversity Sound
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free 4:09 Derek Trucks Band
Salala (featuring Peter Gabriel) 3:24 Angelique Kidjo
Hit the Ground 3:31 Lizz Wright
Way Down 5:08 The Happening

Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019, 11am ~ Root Down AND Lift Up

Snakeroot 7:58 Lis Addison
Souvenir 5:39 Kaledj feat. Neko
Ibuki Reconstruction 3:33 Kodo
Drop 4:56 Cornelius
No Roots 3:56 Alice Merton
Voulez Vous Cousez 4:25 Moulin Rouge
Drop It Low 3:45 Kat DeLuna
Adouma 4:15 Santana
Bust Da Drop 3:32 Discowboy
Salala (featuring Peter Gabriel) 3:24 Angelique Kidjo
Floater 4:51 Waldeck
Way Down 5:08 The Happening

Thursday, Aug 22, 2019, 9am Nourishing Movement at the Studio at Dancing Water ~ Root Down AND Lift Up

Edge Hill 7:00 Groove Armada
Snakeroot 7:58 Lis Addison
Souvenir 5:39 Kaledj feat. Neko
Drop 4:56 Cornelius
No Roots 3:56 Alice Merton
Voulez Vous Cousez 4:25 Moulin Rouge
Drop It Low 3:45 Kat DeLuna
Adouma 4:15 Santana
Bust Da Drop 3:32 Discowboy
Floater 4:51 Waldeck
2/1 8:54 Brian Eno


For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at…
If you’re traveling or moving, you can find a teacher or classes wherever you’re going.
Interested in teaching or deepening your practice? Check out the Nia White Belt Training. They are offered all around the world so you can find one near you or where you may want to go!

A NOTE about the Focus Pocus art: I am in the middle of a book project called Octabusy: How To Let Go in a Sea of Doing. I’m excited about it and want to focus my art-making energy on it in the next couple of months. So instead of making more complex art pieces for the Focus Pocus blog, I will make little cartoons like this one that features characters from the book. This week, Octabusy herself plus a couple of hatchet fish and a crab are promoting our focus of Mix It Up.

Body mechanist, Katy Bowman is an avid promoter of natural movement and more movement in general in our lives. She is a prolific writer (I loved her book Whole Body Barefoot and am in the middle of Move Your DNA now and she offers practical and eye-opening information about the impact of our sedentary or often “active-sedentary” culture impacts our bodies.

Her work showed me that even though I am a freaking MOVEMENT TEACHER, I was “active-sendentary” which means that I would move for a bout or two during the day and be mainly sedentary and seated for hours and hours at a time. This realization has utterly changed the way I think about movement and the way I live my life. Here is a great piece about how to get more movement in through the course of even an office-working day. Do read it. It might change your life, too.

When I read this in Move Your DNA, I got out of bed, got my journal and wrote it down:

“A repetitive environment breeds mindlessness. The human is constantly expending a lot of energy up front to learn, only to put the skill in an automatically run file – no energy (or thought) required. You want to kick some serious health-butt? You’ve got to mix it up.” ~ Katy Bowman, Move Your DNA, p 140

YES. THIS is what I’ve been teaching and learning about for years and I love how she articulates it. Mixing it up is essential to the health of our bodies our minds. And not just that, I think it’s a way to make EVERYTHING* healthier.

If I had a really long bumper, this is the sticker I would put on it:
MAKE ANYTHING HEALTHIER: MIX IT UP (within healthy, intentional boundaries)!

Want to make your body healthier? Mix it up: move in different ways, at different speeds, on different surfaces. Go smooth and sharp, big and small, squeezing in and reaching out. And do it with healthy, intentional boundaries: know yourself and your body and make choices from there. I’m not going to start mountain biking or downhill skiing anytime soon. That’s me. You know your boundaries. Respect them.

Want to make your diet healthier? Mix it up: eat a wide variety of whole foods. Eat A Rainbow, yo. Experiment with a new veggie on your salad (ever have jicama? Or bok choy? Or Easter Egg radishes?) and make a new recipe every week (here’s one source of inspiration that I love and there are countless more). I could go on and on (and on and on) about the powerful health benefits of eating whole foods, mostly (dare I say exclusively) plants and avoiding sugar and processed foods. (If you ever WANT me to go on and on about it, just ask.) But whatever you do, give your body a wide range of nourishment. And do it with healthy, intentional boundaries: know yourself and your body and make choices from there. I will never ever eat ribs or bacon or doughnuts. That’s me. You know your boundaries. Respect them.

Want to make your relationships healthier? Mix it up: do different activities together, have new conversations, ask interesting questions. Especially if you’ve been in a relationship for a long time and even if it’s working really well, mix it up and bring life into how you are together. Be willing to step outside your roles and expectations and refresh your connection. And do it with healthy, intentional boundaries: know yourself and your relationship and make choices from there. I won’t have a romantic relationship outside my marriage and there are some questions I will not ask even my closest friends. That’s me. You know your boundaries. Respect them.

Mixing it up, as Katy Bowman points out, goes against our brain’s tendency to want to put anything new into “an automatically run file.” It can also be scary to go outside our habits and maybe even break social norms. At the very least, it can feel awkward. But be brave, friends. Mix it up and make it healthier.

* The one exception that I thought of to the “Mix it Up” motto is sleep. It’s well-documented that consistent bed and waking times lead to healthier sleep. So I don’t recommend intentionally mixing those up. BUT I do recommend sleeping in different positions, with different pillow arrangements and on different surfaces to give the intrinsic muscles of your body different experiences. So it’s an exception, but only partly. Can you think of other exceptions?

Twenty years ago, Nia Technique Founder Carlos Rosas created the routine Bliss. I was a new Nia student at the time and remember the buoyant, powerful feeling when I danced the routine. I felt like I was flying.

In the intervening years, I come back to some of my favorite songs from Bliss but I rarely teach the routine as a whole. This week, Mary Linn and I will teach our interpretation of this classic routine together on Monday and Thursday* and I’ll offer my own Bliss-ish playlist on Tuesday and Wednesday**.

The original music of the routine is largely selections from Rae & Christian’s 1998 album Northern Sulphuric Soul. I love the variety of sounds and the rich, passionate vocals in these tracks which offer ears and imagination and bones a playground. Bracketing Rae & Christian are three pieces from Shantel’s Higher Than the Funk album, also from 1998. These have a meditative pulsing quality that help my thinking mind relax and my body to explore.

Carlos’ focus was on the balance between gravity’s grounding and the electromagnetic pull up. The image he used was the flame: fueled and rooted to the source while pouring energy up. After dancing this focus in different ways over the years, I think of this energetic balance as the way humans soar. The way we can fly is to push up out of the Earth itself. Earth grounds us and Heaven pulls us. In our bodies, the 1st and 7th Chakras create that even energy pull of rooted and expansive.

And, as Buddha Cat (that wise creature) reminds me, a simpler view of this focus is the balance between up and down.

Please experience Bliss this week — either with us in the studio or wherever you are.

* Bliss with Susan & Mary Linn
Monday, May 14, 1045am-12noon, acac albemarle square
Thursday, May 17, 840-940am, acac downtown
Thursday, May 17, 630-730pm, acac albemarle square

** Bliss-ish with Susan
Tuesday, May 15, 840-940am, acac downtown
Wednesday, May 16, 11-1215pm, acac albemarle square

Dive into the realm of the heart and find layers to explore, sense, and heal.


Build strength in the heart and mobility in the body by moving the heart around in space. Taking it up and down, side to side, front and back — even without moving the feet — develops cardiovascular strength.

In Nia, we use the three planes of movement to build cardiovascular health. Moving the heart, even slightly, low middle and high gives powerful training to this all important muscle. Early in my Nia training, at my Blue Belt with Carlos Rosas we were working through the 52 moves of Nia. We went through them one by one, over and over so we could feel the nuances of each move. There are only 7 Core moves, so when we began them I thought, “Easy peasy!” But when we got to Spinal Rolls, we’d only done about 6 before I was sweating. What in the world? “That,” said Carlos, “is the power of the three planes.”


The emotional energy of the heart is (not shockingly) compassion. The heart chakra (or energy center) has two aspects — one in the front in the center of the chest and one in the back between the shoulder blades. The front aspect is where we feel love, happiness, joy. The back aspect is where we feel sadness, grief, sorrow. A healthy emotional heart is balanced between the two: front and back, light and dark.

Years ago, after a long, drawn-out breakup, I got a massage. Face down on the table, the therapist asked me how I was doing. “Oh, I’m FINE,” I said. “Just FINE. It was a long time coming and the right thing to do.” But when she put her hand on the middle of my back she said, “Your heart feels like concrete.” As the warmth of her hand softened into my back, I started to cry. Grief and sadness were trapped in my “FINE” heart chakra.

I recommend this short piece on healing and balancing the energetic heart.


What is your heart’s desire? What do you feel pulled to do with your one precious life?

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.” ~ Martha Graham

Graham is talking about your heart spirit, that energy which is uniquely yours and which is really a combination of the energy of your Will Center at your solar plexis and your Expression Center at your throat. Be alert to those “urges that motivate” you. Pay attention and follow them. The world needs your heart spirit.

About the Art

Sometimes I get ideas for pieces in the misty squishy place between sleeping and waking. That’s what happened here: an image of a layered piece reflecting the aspects of the heart materialized at about 5am (and then there was no more sleeping).

The first layer is a simple image of the physical heart painted in shades of green (the color for the Heart Chakra).

The second is a collage of green hearts over the painting ~ all cut from a Yoga Journal magazine that a friend gave me this week!

The third is a collage of tissue paper hearts in yellow (color of Solar Plexis Chakra) and blue (color of Throat Chakra) over the other two layers.


The grumbling inside my head gets loud.

“How long is he going to keep us doing this?” it says, all cranky and indignant.

The Nia training was more than a decade ago but I can feel it clearly right now. I’m standing in a room full of Nia teachers, learning the 52 basic moves of the practice by doing each one for a minute. We’ve gone through the stances and steps, and now we’re on Spinal Rolls.* I feel my body temperature and heart rate go up and I’m sure Carlos has made a mistake.

The minute has to be up by now.

We’re all fitness professionals, after all. And we’re all breathing heavier and starting to sweat. But no, in his calmly precise way, Carlos was exactly on time. We had done Spinal Rolls for exactly a minute. You’ve heard of people who are head strong. Turns out, moving the heart up and down and around in a big circle makes us heart strong.

One of the powerful benefits about the Nia Technique is that it builds cardiovascular strength by moving the heart in relationship to gravity instead of jumping and pounding on the joints. By taking the heart through the three planes of movement – high, middle and low – the heart gets stronger. The more we move the heart around, the more heart strong we get.

In both my Nia and Vinyasa Yoga practices, we use the Power of the Three Planes to build the heart’s strength and fitness. By lifting high and dropping low, by folding down and unfolding up, we increase the heart’s capacity. Over time, as I move my heart through the three planes, I can adapt to larger ranges of movement and greater overall health and fitness.

What is true for my physical heart is also true for my emotional heart. My willingness to feel my “lower”emotions of sadness, grief and anger expands my capacity to feel my “higher” emotions of joy, love and passion.

While our culture puts tremendous focus on positive thinking, Tori Rodriguez wrote in the 2013 Scientific American article:

In fact, anger and sadness are an important part of life, and new research shows that experiencing and accepting such emotions are vital to our mental health. Attempting to suppress thoughts can backfire and even diminish our sense of contentment. (Negative Emotions Are Key to Well-Being, May 1, 2013)

This is not about manufacturing drama to create higher highs and lower lows (Life tends to do that without our help). This is about feeling what is there in the moment. Just as I resist getting up and down off the floor or doing a minute of spinal rolls, I can resist feeling the full anger I feel about injustice, or the full grief over the loss of a friend, or the full sadness at the death of a dream. Instead, if I can allow myself to feel it all, I’m stretching my heart muscles to allow in the full range of life.

It may feel more comfortable to stay in the half-way middle ground, but literally and figuratively such mushy middle-ism is the ticket to a slow death. Get heart strong: allow yourself to go low, middle and high.

*How to do a Spinal Roll:
Standing in “A” Stance, inhale deeply and look up and sense the front of your body lengthening and opening. Use your hands for support and slide them down your legs, keep looking up while sinking to a point at which your body says, “Enough, I can’t go farther.” Then gently drop your head and look down, exhale and round up, pushing your heels into the floor, while sliding your hands back up your legs to return to a standing posture. Do the whole movement smoothly, and coordinate your leg and spine mobility. You can also do spinal rolls going in the opposite direction, by tucking your chin and dropping the crown of your head straight down, then at the bottom of the movement, look up and dive back up. Benefits: Practicing Spinal Roll keeps your spine strong and flexible. It’s terrific for self-healing the spine and back and it improves cardiovascular strength while warming up the whole body.

Other Posts about the 3 Planes of Movement are here and here.

big mind Jessica_ScowlingMy teachers (and Principle 7) invite me to choose the level of intensity that is right for me. Say that and – BOOM – I’m in tight mind.

The trouble with tight mind is that it’s crowded: full of “shoulds,” “do I have to?s,” beliefs about getting it right, fear of discomfort.

The trouble with tight mind is that Lazy Daisy and Eager Beaver Overachiever are in there and those two do NOT get along.

When choosing movement intensity, better to go with Big Mind. Spacious, body~centered, present moment Big Mind. That’s where eons of wisdom is. There, the choice is obvious.

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.

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