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flength strexibility reverse warriorStrength and Flexibility.

I use these words when I’m teaching.

“Strength is the sensation of energy moving in toward center.”
“Flexibility is energy moving out along the bones.”

Strength and Flexibility.

I use these words in my relationships.

“I’ve got to be strong for her.”
“The only way this will work is if we’re both willing to be flexible.”

Strength and Flexibility.

I use these words in my life.

“If I was strong, I wouldn’t give in and I would take more risks.”
“I should be more flexible in my thinking about this.”

Strength and flexibility in my body, my mind, my life
have two different sensations:

Energy in.
Energy out.

But what if real health and happiness comes from an amalgamation of the two?
Not sometimes being strong and sometimes being flexible,
not alternating between the two,
but by simultaneously being strong and flexible?
By simultaneously sending energy out and drawing energy in.
Both. At the same time.

In isolation, strength folds me in on myself.
In isolation, flexibility has me flying apart.

But together, at the same time, they create stability, health, peace.

Flength and Strexibility.

Simultaneously drawing in and reaching out.
Energy moving in both directions at once.

I can feel it in my body
Instead of stretching and compromising the integrity of connective tissue,
Or contracting so much that I lose range of motion,
I can extend out while simultaneously plugging in, hugging the muscles around the energy-radiating bones.

I can feel it in my relationships
Instead of I give to you and then you give to me,
I can feel that giving to you also gives to me
and receiving from you also allows you to receive.

I can feel it in my life
Instead keeping meticulous track of who’s given me what
And haven’t I done more than she has?
I can trust that if I move through my days feeling
the inextricably integrated flow of
In and out
Give and receive
You and me
Us and them
That I have the sensation of powerful peaceful balance.

Flength and Strexibility. Those are the words I’m going with.

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breathing along bones boat poseExhale deeply. Then do it again. Then exhale some more.
At some point soon, your body will get depleted and you will have to inhale.
Breath is like that. It has to be balanced: in and out.

Strength and Flexibility are the same way.
Strength moves energy in toward the bones. Flexibility extends energy out along the bones.
It has to be balanced: in and out.

Life works the same way. If I am extending all my energy outoutout, at some time soon I will get depleted (and maybe a little resentful).
It has to be balanced: in and out.

easy 7 runnerAll things are difficult before they are easy.
~ Thomas Fuller

Every other Wednesday at 7am, I meet my friend Howell at Greenberry’s for coffee (him) and genmaicha tea (me). For two years, we’ve been meeting to offer each other encouragement to live with heart, authenticity, and creativity. We support each other as we create the art of our lives. Meeting with Howell has helped me find the courage to write a blog, take a sabbatical, write a book, and be an artist. Everybody should have a Howell.

Turns out that on Wednesdays at 7am a bunch of runners get together for breakfast at Greenberry’s, too. In all seasons and weathers, they stride in with their long, lean limbs dressed in Boston Marathon jackets, sweat-wicking leggings, and super-high-tech sneakers. They kick back, dig into breakfast burritos, and catch up with each other. They have a community, these runners, and I love seeing them hanging out together.

Recently, I overheard two of them chatting as they waited for their coffee. A tall, tousle-haired woman and a 50-something man who looked like his heart beat maybe once an hour leaned against the counter. “So what’d you do today?” asked the woman. “Oh, I just did an easy 7,” he answered casually.

An easy 7.

I laughed into my tea. Easy? Nothing about running 7 miles would be easy for me. But for Once-An-Hour-Heartbeat Guy? Easy peasy lemon squeezie.

No matter how long he’s been running, though, at some point in his life, I’m guessing that 7 miles wasn’t easy for him, either. Maybe when he first started, 7 miles kicked his butt. Or when he was recovering from an injury or an illness, perhaps 7 miles felt endless. But the morning I was eavesdropping on him? It was easy.

A Nia student has been taking classes for about three years. In the beginning, class was tough for her: every step and combination felt complicated. At the time, we were getting ready to do a flashmob in Charlottesville and every week we would practice the flashmob song in class. She really wanted to participate but she struggled with the steps. She practiced and practiced, and when it was flashmob time, she was right there in the front row…rockin’ it.

A couple weeks ago, we did the old flashmob song again. Afterwards, the student laughed and said, “When we learned that song, I thought it was so hard. But since then, we’ve done much more complicated stuff. Now, that song’s easy!”

What is easy? What is difficult? It all depends, doesn’t it? It depends on what experience I’ve had before, how much I’ve practiced, if I’m healing an injury, or if I’m distracted. It depends if I’m nervous or relaxed, happy or stressed. The same routine I’ve done a hundred times feels much more difficult if my teacher is in the room.

For training and conditioning the body and mind, the best place to practice is along the line between challenge and healing. Am I putting in enough effort and energy to challenge myself, while still retaining the healing power of breath and balance? Can I feel the powerful sensation when I push myself enough to feel my edge, yet take care of myself in the process. Discovering and remaining on the edge between challenge and healing is the key to growth, learning, and living our potential. And it’s true not just for Nia and physical pursuits but in all areas of life. Step into your next meeting, decision, conversation, and feel the challenge of pushing your possibilities while breathing deeply and staying balanced.

Is it easy? Is it difficult? The words are meaningless since they are completely relative.

A more interesting question is where is the edge between challenge and healing for you right now? Hang out there. That’s where the juice is.

mountain pose“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.” ~ Yogi Berra

I love me some Nia philosophy and theory.  Yes, I do.  In my post yesterday, I waxed philosophically theoretical about how equilibrium, a state that we can cultivate in the body and in life, is at the heart of The Body’s Way.  What better time to noodle on such things than the spring equinox?

But theory is theory and practice is practice.  So let’s look at how we can actually sense for equilibrium in the body, in our movement, and in life.  Each definition of equilibrium aligns with movement and sensation that we can create in Nia and in whatever we do:

e·qui·lib·ri·um, noun

1. a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces.

2. equal balance between any powers, influences, etc.; equality of effect.

3. mental or emotional balance:  equanimity.

First, we sense “a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces” when we are standing upright or a stances in Nia.  On the face of it, when we take an Open Stance or just stand up from a chair, “opposing forces” may not be the first thing to jump to mind.  But whenever we stand upright, we are balancing the body’s weight and strength into the pull of gravity.  As we align the body weights of pelvis, chest and head, they rest along the plumb line of gravity in that “state of rest or balance.”  If any of those body weights is out of alignment, however, the act of standing becomes a constant effort.

Second, “equal balance between any powers” is the sensation of a dynamic ease that we can feel in both yogic postures or balanced movement.  Watch a yogi in Triangle or Warrior Pose and you can see the lines of equilibrium balancing the body with equal and opposite force.

warrior-2

TrianglePoseBikramYogaWynnewoodEven if they look peaceful, these poses move tremendous energy through the body in opposing directions creating a state of balance.  Lose the energy in one arm or leg and the whole system literally falls!

This quality of balance between powers can happen when the body is in movement, too.  In Nia, when we move across the floor in Lateral Traveling  (or in life when we walk across the room), for example, we are balancing the force of our feet against the floor in order to move.  Feel how one foot pushes left for the body to go right, back for the body to go forward.  The opposite foot is then there, ready to stabilize and then to push the body again.  This collection of movements actually creates its own state of equilibrium.  Put that same movement on a slippery floor, or have one foot weaker than the other and that state no longer exists!

Notice that when executing blocks or punches with alternating arms, one arm is actively performing the movement while the opposite arm is resting in neutral.  Often we can get revved up doing these powerful arm movements and forget to allow the non-working arm to find ease in neutral position.  To be in a state of equilibrium, we let the active arm be full-on while the neutral arm is fully at rest.  By cultivating this state of equilibrium, we actually have more power.

And this flows into the third definition:  the state of equanimity.  Equilibrium in the mental and emotional realms is  equanimity:  the non-reactive witness that allows us to observe what is unfolding.  Nia is often called a movement meditation.  As I place my awareness and attention on sensation and movement, the thinking, critical mind has an opportunity to find that neutral place, too.

The body is always doing its best to find equilibrium, so you may be in the state more often than you realize!  The invitation this week is to notice the state of rest and the balance between opposing forces, as well as witnessing equanimity when the mind and emotions are in balance.  When you notice that you are out of equilibrium, ask yourself how you can regain it.  Action and rest, give and receive, inhald and exhale.  Equilibrium is The Body’s Way and the way of health and well-being — the first of spring is an excellent time to intentionally find it.

As always, my friends, please leave a comment and let me know what you discover!

equilibrium“Spwing has spwung,

The gwass has wiz,

I wonder where

The birdies is!”
~ terrible poem recited yearly by my Dad

This Wednesday, March 20, at 7:02am (EDT) is the spring equinox, marking a balance between light and dark in our days and the first day of spring!  A light- and sun-lover since birth, I feel a sense of relief at this time of year.  I’ve made it through another winter and the warmth is on its way back.  When I lived in New England, this was only true in theory since it really didn’t get warm until May and then it usually went straight to hot.  But here in Virginia at the spring equinox, “spwing,” as my father vernally reminded us, “has spwung” for reals.

Natural cycles are reflected in the human body and movement.  Not surprisingly (or originally), last year at this time, I wrote about balance (clever girl!).  This year, I’m noticing “equilibrium” in my body and in my practice.  While I experience “balance” as a verb, a process; “equilibrium” feels like a state to observe and develop.

Not to get all English-majory on you, but there are three definitions of “equilibrium” that interest me (evidently there is also a chemistry definition which maybe a chemist out there can interest me in, too):

e·qui·lib·ri·um, noun

1. a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces.

2. equal balance between any powers, influences, etc.; equality of effect.

3. mental or emotional balance:  equanimity.

I love how each aspect of equilibrium has its own sensation and each is a state that we can cultivate in Nia … and the practice of dancing through life.  I’ll talk more about that specifically tomorrow, but for today I’ll offer a little body~mind centered theory!

Equilibrium is built into Nia movement and philosophy.  Nia follows the The Body’s Way which is guided by five fundamental principles (click here for complete descriptions):

  1. The Body Thrives on Dynamic Ease
  2. The Body Demands Balance
  3. The Body is Balanced in Yin and Yang
  4. The Body’s Way Demands Simultaneous Mobility and Stability
  5. The Body Itself Reveals the Body’s Way

The names of the principles themselves show that equilibrium is at the heart of The Body’s Way!  The body, Nia, and life are, at their essence, all about a balance between effort and rest, internal and external, upper and lower, left and right, active and receptive, mobile and stable, strong and flexible.  Equilibrium and The Body’s Way are about how opposing forces actually create their own state of release and ease.

A state of balance due to the equal action of opposing forces.  Equal balance between powers.  Equanimity.  Equilibrium is a state of balanced alignment and grace.  Wherever we focus more on one side than the other, the system (be it a body, a practice, or a life) is out of alignment and, therefore, the health of that system is compromised.  In Nia practice, a Type-A person who comes in late to class, dives into the highest-intensity songs full-bore, and leaves before Floorplay and relaxation is out of equilibrium and is not practicing The Body’s Way.  Neither is the person who daydreams during the movement, chats during the “hard” songs, and gets a drink during freedance.  In life, the person who over-schedules every moment, is late to each engagement, and is often in a state of frazzeledness, is out of equilibrium, too.  Similarly, the person who moves through life in auto-pilot, not fully engaged when active and not fully resting either is out of The Body’s Way.

The invitation of Nia and The Body’s Way is equilibrium:  a balanced attention on opposing forces that creates a state of balance and ease.  Tomorrow, I’ll share specifically how we can use equilibrium in our movement and in our lives to enhance our health and well-being.  Inhale.  Exhale.  And come back tomorrow!

I’ve been accused of hyperbole, over-reaching, being too big.  Indeed, it’s true, I do tend to over do.  Then after over doing, I’m pooped so I collapse.  A nasty, energy-sapping cycle that perpetuates.

Instead, a middle way:  strength in length (my experience of Nia’s dynamic ease).  Not too much and not too little.  Embodying movement, my body, life.

Nia helps me remember the sensation of  balance that is neither my Nana (overdoer) or The Dude (underdoer).

A shift in attention and awareness brings me into strength in length.  Extend energy, fill up each movement and still be breathing and balanced.

 

 

 

 

Whoa.  Spring!  In the past couple of weeks, things have sprouted, others have withered, I’ve felt cold to the bone, and I’ve gotten sunburned.  So much feels like it’s moving – and in lots of directions.  Last week alone, we played with cat-like tread and danced Firedance in honor of St. Patrick, I took two of the Nia 52 Moves classes with Jeanne Catherine, and the ACAC Nia Team went on a field trip to the PVCC Cadaver Lab with our friend and Nia student, Professor David Moyer.  I taught a Dharma Dance class that focused on noticing the sensation of living our dharma, cheered my step-son and husband on as they played soccer, and am now getting ready for a few days away in South Carolina.

The Spring Equinox offers a balance of light and dark.  The Earth gets to that balance one little micro shift at a time.  Every day just a few minutes in the morning, and nudging a few minutes toward balance in the evening.  And we’re the same way.  Stand on one foot for a minute.  (Come on.  Stand up.  I’ll wait.)  Our precarious upright posture is maintained by tiny muscle contractions and releases that keep us balanced.  Can you feel those little micro-movements?  Balance isn’t a static state.  Balance is a verb, not a noun.  Constant tiny little adjustments keep us aligned.

As we stepped cat-like steps in Firedance (again and again and again), and we practiced the Nia 52 moves (again and again and again), I was reminded that this is how the body does it.  One little movement, one little choice, one more repetition, over and over.  As I stood awe-struck over a body that someone had lived in for over eighty years, I could see how he had used his muscles over and over, how she had used her joints, how he had used his lungs.  The history of all those little choices was written in the tissue and bone of the body.  In Dharma Dance, as we moved and connected to the sensation of breaking habit, trusting the body and living on purpose, I could feel in my own bones the seduction of habit and the scariness of moving in way I haven’t before.  One choice at a time:  break the habit and face the fear.  As my two soccer players, ran and passed and kicked (to victory, I might add), I could see that their performances were a result of thousands and thousands of repetitions and choices and practice.

Now I’m getting ready for a little time away.  Five days for a break, a change of scenery.  This is the other side of balance.  Even today, on the Vernal Equinox, we are already moving toward the big shift toward “out of balance.”  At 1:14am, the earth was in perfect balance.  Immediately it began its shift toward the longest day of the year when the light far out lasts the dark.  We’re the same way.  Paradoxically, the best way to improve our physical balance is to take the body OUT of balance.  Playing with big movements and changes that throw the body out of equilibrium is what strengthens my sense of balance.

As we did explosive jumps and runs in Firedance and we shifted wildly off center in Cat Stance in the 52 Moves, I could feel my balance getting stronger as my core and legs adjusted to my shifting weight.  In the cadaver lab, I could see the dramatic shifts that happened in the body to bring balance:  the broken bone that actually leaves the bone stronger after healing, the hip replacement, and the sternum wired closed after open heart surgery.  (I’m conjecturing here, but I do note that it is possible that these last two “dramatic shifts” were imposed on the body after all the tiny adjustments were either not enough to bring the body into balance or were over-ridden by the mind.  The twisted posture or mis-aligned walk that wore down the hip made a big adjustment necessary.  The love of milk shakes and French fries made the open heart surgery needed to create more balanced blood flow.  And I really don’t know what the circumstances were.  Just sayin’.)  Dharma Dance invites big shifts in movement and thinking:  a big letting go to paradoxically help us relax and center more deeply.  The soccer team sometimes makes big surprising shifts — a little tap of a corner kick instead of the usual booming one, pulling the keeper out into the field, players switching sides or positions – all to shift the energy and strengthen the endeavor.

So as I take a little break to reset my own balance, I invite you to check in with your own.  Are you noticing the little changes and choices that are happening all the time?  Are you sometimes playing with shaking it up to strengthen your balance?  What do you need to pay attention to this week?  As always, I’d love to hear about it.  See you Monday!

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