Upper Extremities


What DOES, your little pinky finger have to do with compassion, anyway?

You can find Brene Brown’s audio course here. 

Here’s what she says in the course: “The most compassionate people I have interviewed in the past 15 years…oh my God, what do these people have in common? They are SO compassionate. I thought it was going to be spirituality, religion, faith, inherent kindness, tragedy in their past. I didn’t know what these people were going to have in common. But when we started digging in we found they only had one thing in common. There was only one variable threaded through every single one of their life experiences. And you know what it was? Boundaries.”


In her course, Brene Brown says: “The most compassionate people I have ever met and interviewed are by far the most boundaried. Because it is impossible to extend an assumption of generosity to someone who is taking advantage of you, being disrespectful, hurting you, not hearing you, not seeing you. You cannot be generous toward those people. We can only be generous to people with whom we have set boundaries, demand boundaries and stay in our integrity.” 



Here’s what Dr. Brown says, “But this gets up in how many of us were raised: To be easy, to not ask for what you need, to suck it up. But that is the only way we can extend true compassion to other people is from a place from where I am clear on my boundaries, I’m clear on your boundaries, I’m standing solidly in my integrity and from here I can be generous in my assumptions of you.”

So many times, I’ve attempted to be kind and compassionate but without boundaries and it NEVER went well. Judgment and resentment were always immediately in the mix. And uncomfortable as it might have been, I always feel genuinely open-hearted and generous when I am clear about my boundaries. What about you? What do you notice about the connection between generosity, compassion and integrity?

Want to learn even more about fingers and toes? Check out this post from 2013!



core is to extremities as... SAT testRemember logic analogies on standardized tests? Those equation-y things that read:

A : B :: C : D (or in English: A is to B as C is to D).

Remember those? The whole testing thing made me crazy. I would begin those tests with an anxious heart and knitted eyebrows and end in a hyperventilating heap. Logic analogies were simply a microcosm of the tests.

I’d start out okay…

wave : crest : : _________ : peak
a. water
b. top
c. moving
d. mountain (this one, definitely)

And then get into more tricky territory…

falling : gravitation : : collapse : __________
a. balloon
b. electricity
c. pressure (um, yeah, this one)
d. destruction

And then I’d start getting a scrambly brain…

extort : obtain ::
a. pilfer : steal (this one…or wait is it??)
b. plagiarize : borrow (maybe this…)
c. explode : ignite
d. purify : strain
e. consider : appeal

And then the wimpering would begin…

equanimity : harried ::
a. celebrity : infamous
b. erudition : urbane
c. moderation : dissolute (I think it’s this but I’m not exactly…ahhh!)
d. distinction : singular
e. intuition : logical

The whole process left me quivering. I’m grateful beyond measure that it is unlikely that I will EVER have to take a standardized test again.

But lately, logic analogies have piqued my curiosity. Logic analogies are really all about relationships between thing and relationships interest me a lot.

So here are a couple of logic analogies Frank and I came up with:

Tree trunk : leaves :: torso : hands

Right? The trunk holds the space for the leaves to reach and grow and move, just like the torso stabilizes so the arms can reach out with more freedom. For most of us, most of the time, this is the way we use the core and extremities. But what about this one:

Ends of a Slinky : middle of the slinky :: feet : core

Can you see how this is also true? The ends of a Slinky ground down so the middle can move – and we can do that in the body, too. Think of Downward Facing Dog or Wheel Pose (photos below) in yoga: in both cases, the extremities stabilize to allow for more movement in the spine and core.

core is to extremities as... downward dogcore is to extremities as... wheel pose

So what is the relationship between the extremities and the core of the body? What is the logic that connects the core to the arms & legs? In the introduction of his routine SkyDancing, Carlos AyaRosas invites us to cultivate a sensory relationship between these different physical structures: the three body weights of pelvis, chest & head and the arms & legs. Like any long-standing relationship, it is a rich and varied one in which the players can change roles with ease. Through movement, we can play with variations on this complex relationship in our own bodies.

Logic analogies show just a few of the ways the relationship can manifest …

Extremities : Core :: Mobility : Stability
Extremities : Core :: Stability : Mobility
Extremities : Core :: Freedom : Foundation
Extremities : Core :: Foundation : Freedom
Extremities : Core :: Agility : Strength
Extremities : Core :: Strength : Agility
Extremities : Core :: Flexibility : Strength
Extremities : Core :: Strength : Flexibility

There are as many variations on this relationship as there are bodies. Unlike the cursed SAT, there are no wrong answers. I’d love to hear how you experience it in yours (add them in the comments below or at the Focus Pocus Facebook page. Your participation is a gift to everyBody) !


NOTE TO CVILLE NIA MOVERS: I’m back from a couple of weeks away and am teaching lots before I leave again!
Sun, Jul 12, 330 – 445pm, acac Downtown
Mon, Jul 13, 1045-12noon, acac Albemarle Square (SkyDancing with Mary Linn!)
Tue, Jul 14, 840-940am, acac Downtown (SkyDancing with Mary Linn!)
Tue, Jul 14, 530-630am, acac Albemarle Square (SkyDancing with Mary Linn!)
Wed, Jul 15, 1055-12noon, acac Albemarle Square
Thu, Jul 16, 840-940am, acac Downtown
Thu, Jul 16, 630-730pm, Albemarle Square
Sat, Jul 18, Nia 101 1230-1245pm, then class 1245-145pm, Albemarle Square
Mon, Jul 20, 1045-12noon, acac Albemarle Square
Tue, Jul 21, 840-940am, acac Downtown
Wed, Jul 22, 1055-12noon, acac Albemarle Square
Thu, Jul 23, 840-940am, acac Downtown
Sat, Jul 25, Nia 101 1230-1245pm, then class 1245-145pm, Albemarle Square

Principle 9: The Upper Extremities of the Body

P9 Bhairava-mudra-crop

Right now: what are your hands doing? How do they feel? What are they touching?

We use these amazing instruments of dexterity and expression all the time so it can be easy to forget that the hands and arms are capable of both power and creativity.

Train, condition and heal shoulders, back and core by moving fingers, hands and arms with intention. What’s more, just by paying attention to everything my hands feel throughout the day, I add a whole dimension of pleasure and aliveness to everything I do.

Let your hands lead.

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

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

P9 two women hand_gestures

Principle 9 – The Upper Extremities

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

[Principle 9] introduces you to the practice of integrating your upper extremities into your movement. Your upper extremities include your fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, upper arm bones, shoulder joints, clavicles and scapulae. In every Nia routine, we practice a variety of moves and dynamics with our upper extremities to naturally condition our arms, hands and fingers, while exploring new ways to express ourselves.

* * *

The Body’s Way shows us that it is just as important to pay attention to our upper extremities as it is to our base and core. Your arms, hands and fingers are key players in your personal expression, in your ability to maintain balance as you shift weight, and in conditioning the muscles of your core—which in turn supports your base. Everything is connected. This is why throughout any Nia practice, we focus on keeping our arms, hands and fingers alive and engaged at all times. … To keep your upper extremities alive in everything you do, imagine energy flowing continuously through your arms, hands and fingers as you move, like water through a garden hose, and practice sustaining this sensation throughout your day.

[NOTE FROM SUSAN: This principle includes details about the arm and hand anatomy as well as the 18 Nia arm, hand and finger movements. For details on the Upper Extremities, please see The Nia Technique: The High-Powered Energizing Workout that Gives You a New Body and a New Life by Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas New York: Broadway, 2004.]

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

In my twenties and early-thirties, I took all kinds of fitness classes and a few dance classes, too. In all my leotard-clad years of traditional aerobics, I don’t remember anyone ever talking about the hands. We just let them hang there as we jogged and jumped and stepped and leapt. In ballet class, there was exactly one conversation: we kept our hands in one single delicate, lily-like position.

P9 ballet_hand

One of the most profound and practical things I learned early in my Nia practice was the importance of mindfully engaging the hands and arms in movement. The first routine I taught, Sanctuary, focused on use of the hands. I worked for months to learn that routine. After practicing dozens of times in my living room, when I got in front of studio mirrors — whoa! — my arms and shoulders were more toned and defined just from moving my hands with focus and awareness!

We use our hands constantly from the moment we wake up and snap off the alarm to the moment we pull the chain to turn out the light. It can be easy to use our hands unconsciously and to stop noticing the sensations we receive through them.

On the other hand, just by shifting attention, we have the chance to feel everything from the slightly rough computer keys, to the smooth-worn steering wheel, from the warm water and foamy soap, to the weathered skin on a loved-one’s face.

By focusing on using the hands and arms with awareness, we train and condition the upper body safely and effectively, we integrate movements in the upper and lower body, and we wake up our hands and arms for our everyday movements.

Try your hand at it and see.

fingers around fingerAfter a week of dancing fingers and toes, I can feel the effects far beyond those distal digits! I hope you can, too.  In addition to the week’s playlists, a few videos:

My favorite toe song this week was Michael Franks’ Popsicle Toes

And of course my favorite finger song was The Police, Wrapped Around Your Finger. I just don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that third verse: “I will turn your face to alabaster. When you find your servant is your master.”

And check out the details of hand movements in Indian classical dance, as well as a demonstration. Amazing what the human body can do.

And also information about the mudras I mentioned this week:
the grounding Apana Mudra
the energizing Prana Mudra
– and Garuda Mudra for opening intuition.

Have fun with those 20 digits, everybody!
As always, let me know how I can help more.

10 Fingers, 10 Toes – Monday, Jun 10, 2013, 1045am

Bubble Toes – 3:57 – Jack Johnson
Letitgo – 5:36 – Prince
Lovers House – 4:49 – City Reverb
Spinning the Wheel – 6:24 – George Michael
Wrapped Around Your Finger – 5:14 – The Police
Freek – 7:16 – Shakatura
Ali Click – Trance Mix – 7:29 – Brian Eno
Unwritten – 4:19 – Natasha Bedingfield
Popsicle Toes – 4:34 – Michael Franks
Fingernail Moon – 5:04 – Annie Lennox
Sleep – 4:24 – Euphoria

10 Fingers, 10 Toes – Tuesday, Jun 11, 2013, 9am

Bubble Toes – 3:57 – Jack Johnson
Freedom – 6:31 – George Michael
Shadow – 4:28 – Big Blue Ball featuring Juan Cañizares, Papa Wemba
Wrapped Around Your Finger – 5:14 – The Police
Freek – 7:16 – Shakatura
Toe Jam (Feat. David Byrne And Dizee Rascal) – 3:22 – The Bpa
Ali Click – Trance Mix – 7:29 – Brian Eno
Shining Path – 7:23 – Dreadzone
Popsicle Toes – 4:34 – Michael Franks
Fingernail Moon – 5:04 – Annie Lennox
Sleep – 4:24 – Euphoria

10 Fingers, 10 Toes – Wednesday, Jun 12, 2013, 1055am

Fragile Beauty – 4:20 – Chris Coco
Childhood [2000] – 4:44 – Dusted
Sun Is Shining (Out Of Sight Remix) – 7:30 – ReUnited
Wrapped Around Your Finger – 5:14 – The Police
Break The Chain – 4:32 – Tena Clark
One Billion Hands – 4:05 – Lourds Lane
Star Power (Rui Da Silva Remix) – 7:56 – City Reverb
Shakin’ It Up – 6:15 – Ganga Girl (the moment when the wheels came off!)
Tamacun – 3:26 – Rodrigo y Gabriela
Bodyrock – 3:36 – Moby
Shine – 4:12 – Joshua
100 Billions Stars – 5:10 – Lux

10 Fingers, 10 Toes – Thursday, Jun 13, 2013, 9am

Bubble Toes – 3:57 – Jack Johnson
Childhood [2000] – 4:44 – Dusted
All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints – 3:15 – Paul Simon
Sun Is Shining (Out Of Sight Remix) – 7:30 – ReUnited
Wrapped Around Your Finger – 5:14 – The Police
Shadow – 4:28 – Big Blue Ball featuring Juan Cañizares, Papa Wemba
Break The Chain – 4:32 – Tena Clark
One Billion Hands – 4:05 – Lourds Lane
Star Power (Rui Da Silva Remix) – 7:56 – City Reverb
Tamacun – 3:26 – Rodrigo y Gabriela
Bodyrock – 3:36 – Moby
Fingernail Moon – 5:04 – Annie Lennox
100 Billions Stars – 5:10 – Lux

fingers Indian danceFingers and toes don’t get much attention, but awareness of these distal ends of our hands and feet can enhance our fitness, our happiness, and our presence in any situation.  Yesterday, we looked at the many benefits for body, mind and emotions of relaxing, engaging, and wiggling the toes.  Now, let’s look at how we can do similarly cool things by paying attention to fingers.

My dad used to joke that all he’d have to do to get my grandmother to stop talking was to tie her hands down (gratefully, he never tested the theory).  Hands and fingers are some of our most expressive body parts, both literally and figuratively.  When they use their hands, I don’t have to hear what that another driver is saying to know what they are feeling.  I can see by their gestures if they are calm (as they thoughtfully wave me in front of them) or angry (as they furiously flip me the finger).  And there are dozens of idioms in English that illustrate how fingers are intertwined with how we see ourselves.  Whether I’m “all thumbs” or have a “green thumb,” whether I “don’t lift a finger” or “work my fingers to the bone,” how I use and talk about my fingers says a lot about who I am.

While it can be cool and helpful to understand finger anatomy and Nia’s take on fingers, I’ve noticed that simply paying attention to the fingers and using them mindfully is good for the brain, body, and spirit.  As a movement instructor and student of the body, I’ve put my finger on the ways people use (and don’t use) their fingers.  Here are the top four ways to get all the benefits that we all have at our fingertips:

1. Use them

Most people use their fingers in limited and unconscious movements both during their day and in their dance.  Fingers are designed to do a huge range of movements – not just typing and texting!  Stretch them wide, shake them out, make a tight fist and flick them.  By engaging the fingers in more ways, the hands become stronger, more powerful and more flexible.  What’s more, the entire arm gets benefits that only finger movement can offer.  (Do an experiment:  flick your fingers like you have water on them repeatedly for 30 seconds and notice the sensation in your arms and hands.)  The more fully I use my fingers in my movements, the more I am moving as a whole, the more of my body I am using, the more of me that is engaged.  Want a better workout?  Use your fingers.

2. Relax them

During freedance in Nia, I can be standing in a room full of dancing, jumping, swirling bodies.  But the fingers?  Frozen in a claw.  Or splayed out tight.  Or even held in a fist.  Like the tight toes I talked about yesterday, fingers often hold lots of unconscious tension.  When I notice I’m tensing my fingers, I like to vigorously shake mine out.  Shaking out my hands and fingers, restores circulation, moves energy, and shows me where I’m holding tension (for me, in the big muscle at the base of my thumb).  And like relaxing my toes, relaxing my hands and fingers lets my whole body let go, too.  Want to feel more relaxed and have more possibilities in your movement?  Relax your fingers.

3. Break habit

Almost everybody is dominant on one side.  Whichever side you write with you probably do most everything with and, most likely, you hardly notice that you do.  Overuse of the dominant side can lead to imbalance in the muscles and even injury, but also it entrains the brain into only one pathway, one way of doing things.  So it’s great for the body and the brain to play with your non-dominant side.  Brush your teeth, write or draw, eat your breakfast, and use the computer mouse with your non-dominant fingers.  Play with grasping doors handles and carrying bags with your non-dominant digits.  If you always wear a ring, watch or bracelet on one hand, really light up your brain by wearing it on the other side.  Want to burn new neural pathways in your brain?  Break finger habits.

4. Be expressive
Expressing emotion with the hands and particularly the fingers can move stored emotional energy and be tremendously healing.  However, given their delicate movements, it can feel intimate and vulnerable to use the fingers expressively.  There at the edge of our bodies, at the end of our arm, our fingers are where we most often meet the world.  I’ve used my fingers to prepare every meal I’ve ever made, to steer every mile I’ve ever driven, and to write every single blog post — including these very words.  It’s with my fingers that I caress a baby’s cheek, plant my garden, and squeeze a grieving friend tight.  When I stop and notice, I realize how sensitive and personal every movement with my fingers really is.  So be gentle.  Approach expressive fingers with curiosity and awareness.  Choose finger movements that feel both challenging and healing.  Want to free up emotional energy?  Be expressive with your fingers.

We use our fingers for so many familiar gestures, many of them vulgar, that I can already hear the jokes and snickers in class.  And that’s okay, this week, you can flip me the bird.  I genuinely invite you, though, to look beyond the stereotypical high-fiving, scolding, fist-bumping, swearing, peace fingers.  Those movements we share are fun to recognize, but what’s really interesting is the way you uniquely move and express using your very own fingers.

fingers-and-toes babyHave you ever stubbed your little toe and suddenly noticed how much you actually use it?  Ever cut a finger and find it impossible (or at least highly clumsy) to do even the most basic things?  We use our fingers and toes so much that it’s easy to take them for granted.  The truth is that fingers and toes allow us to do much of what makes us human, but that’s not all.  Using fingers and toes with awareness makes us more expressive, more fit, and more connected to the world.

What with the World Wide Internet Web, there is plenty of information to be had about hand and foot anatomy and finger and toe function, as well as any number of foot and toe maladies and abnormalities (I’ll leave those searches to you).  Nia has its own take on fingers and toes and dedicates some of the 52 moves to them, too.  All of this is interesting and insightful and I’m all about inquiry so definitely explore what interests you.

But that’s not what I’m writing about.

I’m writing about what you can experience without knowing a blessed thing about anatomy or the Nia principles (cool as they may be).  Fingers and toes are largely ignored in fitness and movement classes (and in life in general) which is too bad since they offer huge benefits for physical fitness, emotional expressiveness, and our overall presence and connection.  Our ability and willingness to pay attention to these oft-overlooked phalanges can make a big positive impact on our day-to-day experience.

“It’s a pleasant thing to be young, and have ten toes.”  – Robert Louis Stevenson

In our culture, our toes are almost always tucked away inside shoes but we talk about them all the time.  Someone can “keep you on your toes” or “make your toes curl.”  You might be a Red Sox fan “down to your toes” and plan to be until you “turn your toes up.”  Toes are pretty communicative parts even though we rarely let them see the light of day!

One of the repercussions of wearing (often tight, sometimes high-heeled) shoes is that toes get accustomed to being crammed together.  When this happens, we start to lose the strength, mobility, stability, and balance that are all available with healthy, relaxed toes.  Toes are designed to work independently (just stand on one foot and feel each of them firing to keep you upright) as well as together.  So it’s no surprise that yogis, martial artists, and Nia movers all take their shoes off for their practice.

As you stand and walk, notice if your toes tend to tighten up.  See if instead, you can relax and spread them – whether you’re sitting at your desk, going for a run, or doing a heel lead in Nia.  By relaxing and spreading your toes, you allow the lower leg to function as it’s designed without undue tension in the muscles and ligaments — and that increased ease reverberates through your whole body.  Relaxed toes also allow the body to move more systemically since the whole nervous system can relax into the power, support, and balance that healthy toes provide.  So if you want a better workout, let your toes relax.

Awareness of your feet and toes is a great way to center and be present.  In any moment, but particularly ones that are challenging or emotionally charged, one of the best things you can do is breathe and feel your feet.  Whether your boss just called you into her office, or you’re standing up to a podium to deliver a speech, you’ll bring your best self to the proceedings by feeling your feet before you do anything else.  And if Great Aunt Lulu starts in about your hair cut again at the dinner table, wiggle your toes.  It’s a great reminder to breathe, relax, and have fun no matter what deleterious things she may have to say about your style.

Who knew?  Relax and wiggle your toes for more health and happiness!  And check back in tomorrow for how using fingers with awareness can offer even more benefits to body, mind and spirit!

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