speak it 092815
The mission of this blog (and for that matter, my life’s work) is to help people life happier, healthier, more mindful and creative lives. With that intent, I offer movement experiences, writing, and art that are fun and interesting and entertaining and also expand your practice, awareness and vision of yourself and what is possible.

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

There are benefits for body, mind, emotions and spirit to using sound, but it can be challenging to find ways to begin to integrate sound and breath and satya (truth in Sanskrit) into an average day. Here are five simple ways to make more sound and speak more truth.

1. Use audible breath while meditating. If you sit to meditate and your mind is bouncing around like a drunken monkey, gently make an audible breath (imagine fogging a mirror then do that with your lips sealed). The sound of your breath will quiet your monkey mind and give you a focus for your attention. If you’ve never meditated, begin by simply taking 10 mindful (and audible) breaths and build from there.

2. Sing. Sing to yourself in the car, the shower, while cooking! Sing along to the radio or be your own iPod. Open your mouth and let it out. Just like dancing, it’s not about your song being “good,” it’s about the healing feeling of singing. BONUS: Sing a song that is particularly inspiring to you and really let it rip.

3. Say your preference. If someone asks what you’d like to do, say your preference. Even if you are on the fence and don’t care that much, pick your preference and say it.

4. Say a kind thought out loud. If you think a generous thought about someone, even a stranger, say it to them. Tell them they look great or that their work makes a difference to you or that you admire their courage. BONUS: Say it to them in person, out loud with witnesses.

5. Notice a tight throat. Pay attention to the sensation in your throat, particularly in emotional or challenging situations. A tight, constricted feeling in your throat is a sure sign that you have something to say. Throat awareness can help you sort it out and say what needs saying in an authentic way.

BONUS: What’s the truth that needs saying in your life? Is there someone who you’ve held the truth from? Have you been stingy with encouragement or have you swallowed bullying behavior? Have you said I love you to everyone who you love? Speak your truth, your satya.

Speak it 092515When I moved to Charlottesville in 1996, I took a job with a little software company on the downtown mall. My first day, the founder of the company gave me an office tour – programmers’ office, conference room, marketing department. Down there, he said, pointing down the hall, are other people’s offices. A travel agent, a massage therapist. And right here, he said, pointing to the door just to the right of where we stood, is some woman who teaches some kind of exercise classes. I don’t know what it is but they are yelling Yes and No and making noise all the time.

He rolled his eyes and half laughed. Clearly, he thought she was crazy and annoying. Being the new-comer, go-alonger that I was, I laughed nervously and agreed that she sounded perfectly wackadoodle.

Three years later, that woman teaching those crazy classes was Chris Friedman, my first Nia teacher.

When a friend brought me to Chris’ classes in 1999, I was skeptical and reluctant – even more so when I realized that this was the lady telling people to shout and make sound. But something in the classes captured my imagination and I found myself jealously guarding my Wednesday nights so I wouldn’t miss her class.

I loved Nia but for the first year or more, I completely rejected the whole sound-making thing. Making sound in an exercise class seemed silly and embarrassing and I very much wanted to avoid being those two things.

So I never made a peep.

Spiritual traditions, martial arts, and yoga, all use sound to support them in their practices. Native American tribes used war cries and Confederate soldiers had the rebel yell. Whether the goal is connecting with a higher power, delivering an elbow strike, or sustaining Warrior II pose, some kind of sound-making, chanting, audible breath, or all-out whooping is part of the endeavor. And with good reason.

Making sound supports the physical body. The expulsion of air contracts the muscles around the spine, strengthening the core and protecting the low back from the inside out.

Making sound focuses attention, energy and power. Whether using a percussive “Huh!” when performing a martial arts punch, or sustaining a long sound when singing or an audible breath when doing yoga, sound narrows our attention to this very moment.

Making sound moves emotional energy of all kinds. Like an emotional jackhammer, sound unblocks feelings and gives them space to move. I can almost always keep it together during a funeral, but when I open my mouth to sing a hymn, the sadness lets go.

Making sound connects us with each other and all that is. When we sing, chant, breathe, or whoop as a group, we know we are in this together. And on a basic human level something about allowing an internal vibration out into space connects us with the bigness of the world, the Universe, Nature, and God.

Satya 092515

The Sanskrit word satya means truth…but more than that. Satya means sincerity, honesty, integrity and power of the word. Making sound, showing up, and speaking truth reflects this power and integrity. There is both tender vulnerability and the fire of truth in satya.

A beautiful and reserved student has practiced Nia for nearly a decade. For most of that time she barely made any noise, both literally and figuratively. She silently took Nia, laughed quietly, never rocked the boat. About a year ago, she joined her church choir and something opened up in her. She started making more sound in Nia and breathing audibly in Pilates. She started speaking up – sharing her vision, her observations, herself. She started telling the truth in her relationships when she used to stay silent. She said No to things that weren’t right, and also Wow, and Help, and I love you. As her teacher and friend, I feel her presence, her realness more than I had before. Her whole life shifted from the inside out by opening her mouth and letting out satya.

For me, the shift happened in martial arts movements. I loved the powerful feeling of kicks and blocks and punches. When I finally opened my mouth and connected sound with the movement, I felt a deep satisfaction, groundedness, and presence. And it felt good: the vibration, the strength, the connection to myself and others. For other people, sound begins with audible breath or singing or simply opening up and saying I want that.

Whatever it is for you, say it. Speak it. Live your satya.

Both And WebTitleWant to strike fear into my heart? Say, “Can I be completely honest with you?”

Good gravy. I just know whatever you’re about to say is going to hurt like crazy.

And if you’re treating me gently, I just know you’re keeping the truth from me.

Such is my relationship with Honest and Gentle.

I do it in my head and in my practice. Either I get all Dominatrix Discipline with whip harshness, or I go all Gooey Gentle and fall asleep.

Rather than either/or, it’s the space between them, the both/and of Honest and Gentle where awake and alive reside.

honest and gentle Pema-Chodron“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.” ~ Pema Chödrön

Did you catch that title up there? Did you see what Pema said? What do you think when you see the two words “honest” and “gentle” together? For me, “honest” and “gentle” are like oil and water, toothpaste and orange juice, Red Sox and Yankees: they do not get on well together.

Believe me, I know. I’ve been an eighth grade girl. Honest is not gentle. Gentle is not honest.

Yoga teacher, Kelly Stine once opened a class with “You start doing yoga by getting brutally honest with yourself. That’s where it begins.”

Standing at the front of my mat, inches from a wall of mirrors, I gulped. When I hear “brutally honest,” I hear “mean.” I hear “harsh.” I hear the stuff the cool kids say behind your back.

When I asked her to elaborate, she said, “Honesty is an acknowledgement of your life situation right now, in the present moment. Brutal honesty may come across as cruel and ruthless, but it really means acknowledging this moment with full accountability and in a way that is raw, unattached and without judging or evaluating what it all means.”

Unattached and non-judging honesty? This feels as slippery as an oiled water balloon. What does that even look like? If I see something that I’m falling down at, I go straight to “bad’ and “needs fixing” and my favorite, “I suck.” If I see something I think I’m doing right, I’m quick to go to “Hey, I’m doing pretty well!” How can I be really honest and not judge?

It reminds me of grappling with the agreement in Nia to “always do your best.” What does that mean? If I’m giving 110% effort, I’m not really doing my best, I’m over-doing. But if I’m not doing absolutely all I can, am I really doing my best?

My mind, that wily thing, works its way into the gears and mucks with what is so.

An echo chamber of voices, my mind is full of the words of parents and teachers and friends who under-praise so I don’t get a swelled head or over-praise to boost my confidence. These ghost-voices criticize and correct, approve and exclude, sneer and smile until I don’t know what to trust. I beat myself up ruthlessly striving for the ever-elusive perfection or fall into denial, deluding myself that I am either worse or better than I really am.

Pema invites us not just to have “the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently” but that it is a “fundamental aggression to ourselves” when we do not. As I play with the balance between honesty and gentleness, discipline and kindness, I find a sensation. Like the pause at the top of the breath, it is a sweet, elusive space of both/and. It is a yes to clear seeing and kind acceptance.

Kelly is right, the place to start is where I am and the only way to know where I am is to be absolutely honest. Once I have that clear seeing, I can soften rather than narrow my eyes. I can breathe and get curious without beating (or pumping) myself up.

Even though they seem to be opposites, honest and gentle need each other. Finding that sweet balance takes practice in a judge-y, criticize-y world. But honest gentleness and gentle honesty is what we really need to be awake and alive.

christmas letter cover up
Pretending difficult things aren’t happening is a recipe for catastrophe.

Just glance at the headlines and see that we ignore shadows at our peril.

And yet it is the cultural norm to hide the painful stuff. Pretend all is shiny and happy and successful.

What would happen if we really showed up and told the whole truth about our experience. What if we said, I love my university (city/company/community/family/relationship) and some very very bad things are happening there.

What if we stayed both positive and real?

I’ve noticed it creates real connection and encourages others to do the same.


christmas letter cover up card“We turn up … every day pretending
We’re not neurotic and obsessed and insatiable and full of doubt.
And we waste so much energy keeping up
This mutual pretense for each other because we think if people saw
The truth,
If people really knew appetites and self-loathing, then we’d get rejected.
But in fact, the opposite is true.”
~ from Manifesto by Jamie Catto

Ah, yes. It’s that time of year again. Thanksgiving is over and soon they will start arriving in my mailbox: holly-jolly holiday letters. Usually neatly tucked into a card with photos of my friends’ smiling, red-and-green-clad children, these chipper chronicles of accomplishment launch me into a state of unbecoming peevishness.

The reason for my ill temper in regards to these tales of unrelenting success and fulfillment is, of course, that they are happy hooey.

That sounds grouchy and grumpy and Grinchy, I grant you. I really am a proponent of positivity and an advocate of non-complaining, but every once in a while, I’ve just got to call a thing into question.

I expect that these narratives of all that’s  bright and beautiful in the writer’s life are meant to connect, to include, and draw them closer to the recipients. My issue with holiday letters is that they accomplish the exact opposite of what they purport to do.

Even when couched in terms of gratitude and wonder, by sharing the awe-inspiring vacations, jaw-dropping job promotions, stellar academic achievements, and Herculean athletic feats with their friends and relations, they actually create more separation than connection.

Instead of drawing people together, one of two things happens:

(1) The reader either knows full-well that these happy successes are only half (or less) of the story and that plenty of other messy, difficult, crazy things also happened leaving the reader wondering how the writer and family really are,


(2) The reader forgets that life is full of everything and they think that the writer’s life is way WAY better than theirs leaving the reader feeling defeated or ashamed of their own messy, difficult, crazy life.

Either way, more peace on earth, more goodwill…not.

This reality cover-up happens not just with holiday letters, of course, but in cocktail conversation, on Facebook and Instagram, and even in good, old-fashioned email. Everybody puts on a show of happy, easeful success even though everybody knows that that is simply not the way human life rolls.

So how can I stay both positive and real when everything is not sugar plums and figgy pudding?

What if we took a more balanced approach? What if when asked about my holiday, I told more of the truth:
• I had a lovely time with the people who I was with AND I was missing someone terribly.
• I loved visiting with my family AND my feelings were hurt.
• I enjoyed preparing the meal AND it felt rushed and stressful.

Some people will get squirmy and uncomfortable. We aren’t trained to handle the whole story. Taking off the mask and shining the light in the shadows bucks the cultural system. But some people will be relieved.  Some people will relax and say what’s true for them, too.  Either way, it’s the only way I can think of to really connect to each other. It’s the only way to save ourselves from what my poet friend calls the “lonely mass hysteria” of isolation behind the mask of Everything’s-Great.

I don’t have to tell all. I don’t have to over-share. But I can make a step toward sharing both the light and the dark. Share your successes, yes please do, but also share your struggles. Tell about the joy, but also share the sadness.

Join me bucking the system. Tell the truth. Or more of the truth. Stay positive, but be real.  If you write holiday letters, make it a real one and it will actually be a gift of comfort and joy.

In this of all seasons, pretending that the darkness isn’t there is just silly.

Straight shooting is overrated.  We are designed with spirals and for spirals.  Find grace, wisdom and power in spirals.

Spirals in the body generate power and stability (forearms, shoulders, hips, spine).

Body in spiral meets and moves energy (Aikido!).

Emily Dickinson (wise like my husband) on spiral communication:

Tell All The Truth

Tell all the truth but tell it slant,
Success in circuit lies,
Too bright for our infirm delight
The truth’s superb surprise;

As lightning to the children eased
With explanation kind,
The truth must dazzle gradually
Or every man be blind.

We are all born to spiral. 


%d bloggers like this: