Tag Archives: Dan Siegel

PLAY 051416

Friday 8am. Julia’s yoga class. We’re in a wide-legged forward fold called
Prasarita Padottanasana. No surprise, we do it in most classes.


“From here,” she says, “Why not take Firefly?”

Firefly? I’ve experimented with several arm balance poses with little success but Firefly? An arm balance with the legs wide and lifted off the floor? But, shazam, why not? It’s Friday morning with Julia!


I lower my hips, bend my arms and gingerly lift my toes. For a second, just like its namesake, I hover over the ground…and then tip over and dump awkwardly onto my butt. I snort because, butt-falling.

Julia is all for it. “Yeah! Falling is great! Yoga can be so intense, serious and challenging, it’s important to bring a sense of playfulness to it.”

“Samuel L. JACKson,” I think. “LIFE can be so intense, serious and challenging. It’s important to bring a sense of play to everything!”

Years ago, I read Stuart Brown’s book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul and it profoundly changed the way I think about play in my work and in my life. We’ve all experienced the State of Play at some point. Executives call it The Flow. Athletes call it The Zone. No matter what you call it, according to Dr. Brown’s research, some characteristics of play are:

  • Purposelessness, that is, the activity is done for its own sake. It is intrinsically rewarding.
  • Timelessness – an engrossing activity in which the player loses her sense of time (you know, “time flies when you’re having fun”).
  • Safe – In the state of play, we are incapable of failing.
  • Pleasurable – of course, play is fun!

Our culture tells us that play outside of childhood is silly and pointless but research shows that it is essential to people of all ages. Part of the reason the practice of Nia has been consistently interesting to me for more than 16 years is this element of playfulness. It’s also a big reason I love my husband (and cat) so much.

In Nia we use play to train, condition and heal the body and by practicing play we develop an effective way of learning, improving processes, increasing creativity and solving problems. In his May 2, 2016, post “Thoughts on Play” Todd Hargrove defines play as repetitive movement with variations. This definition gets directly to the integrated nature of play.

Imagine seeing someone doing a repetitive movement with no variation. This would look rigid, like work, not like play.

Now imagine seeing someone doing movement that had no repetition at all and was only variation. This would look like crazy chaos, not play.

But if you saw someone repeatedly doing something with slight tweaks and variations – like throwing a ball or skipping rope. That would look and feel like play.

Dr. Dan Siegel, UCLA professor of psychiatry and overall neuroscientific badass says, “Integration is health.” Without integration, a person, group, system, or organization swings either to rigidity or chaos. Play, then, is a healthy place to be.

Playing with play is the human way of learning, creating, and healing. How can you play today? In anything you do ~ from dreaded chores, tricky conversations, creative conundrums or physical challenges ~ incorporate playful tinkering to see what happens.

Integration is health and play is integration so go play.

inquiry 2Focus Pocus:  The Magic of Inquiry and Intent.

Inquiry seeks truth, information, knowledge.  Inquiry -> curiosity -> focused attention -> distraction-resistant mind.  Undistracted minds are calm and creative.  Good.

In Nia, inquire into your experience of sensation, movement.  Tweak as needed to sustain and increase pleasure.

The spirit of inquiry offers space.

“In between stimulus and response is a space.  In that space lies our power and freedom to choose.  How we wield those choices determines our happiness.”  — Viktor Frankl

Dan Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness offers space.  Highly recommended.

Does inquiry shift intense, uncomfortable situations or repetitive, familiar ones?  Do tell!

inquiry 1As I helpfully pointed out last week, the title of this blog is “Focus Pocus:  The Magic of Inquiry and Intent.”  I’d love to tell you that to come up with the name, I researched and did focus groups and hired a marketing consultant.  Actually, it came to me like a hiccup as I drove over the Spudnuts Bridge on the way to teach class.

Not a terribly sophisticated process, I grant you, but it’s a good name and I believe in it.

Last week, I wrote about Intent, and some of you shared your intentions (thank you for that!).  Intent is the fuel for what we do.  Intent is WHY we do what we do.


So what about Inquiry?

Inquiry means (among other things) a seeking or request for truth, information or knowledge.  Inquiry presumes some amount of curiosity.  Curiosity provides some amount of focused attention.  Focused attention trains the mind to resist distraction.  An undistracted mind is calm and creative.  So inquiry is really about directing the energy of the mind in a calm and creative way.  Worth pursuing, I must say (to quote Ed Grimley)!

Inquiry in Nia

In Nia, our inquiry is the mind’s exploration and investigation of the body’s experience.  When an instructor (invoking Principle 13) says, “Everybody sense your feet,” it is an invitation to inquire into your experience of your feet.  When we do a repeated movement, the invitation is to inquire into your body’s experience of that movement – and how you can tweak it to sustain and increase pleasure.  When emotions come up, these too are invitations to inquire and investigate the sensations and experience (no need to analyze!).

Inquiry in Life

The practice of inquiry isn’t limited to Nia class, though.  Approaching all experiences in the spirit of inquiry can offer a bit of space between ourselves and our sensations, thoughts and emotions.  That space, in turn, gives us time to respond with curiosity and creativity.  To simply to be present with what is happening.  The truth is, that although I resist this truth, the truth really is that everything changes and mostly we don’t have to do anything but simply observe.

The Wheel of Awareness

Dan Siegel, psychiatrist, researcher, author and award-winning educator, created a practice of inquiry called The Wheel of Awareness.  Dr. Siegel’s Wheel practice begins with the image of sitting at the bottom of the ocean where all is calm, quiet and peaceful.  At the surface of the ocean, storms may be raging or waves crashing, but we are observing those movements from the stillness of the ocean depth.  The practice is then to turn attention, shift the dial of awareness, to various experiences:  the breath, physical sensation, thoughts and emotions, connections with others and even awareness itself.  This curious inquiry is one that allows investigation without needing to change or fix any experience that is occurring.  The wheel gives us the opportunity to “change the channel” rather than getting stuck on one experience or another.  Dr. Siegel’s Wheel demonstrates we do have the ability to observe but not get tangled in what is happening.  Rather than bobbing like a cork on a turbulent sea, we can sit a bit apart and watch what is happening on the surface.  At the same time, The Wheel of Awareness practice can offer insights and clarity into an otherwise muddled or stormy situation.


In class and in life this week, inquire into your experience and see what you observe.  Resist the temptation to change, fix, analyze or understand.  Simply notice and respond with calm, curious interest.  See how inquiry can shift either intense or uncomfortable situations as well as repetitive, familiar or even boring ones.  As always, I love LOVE to hear about how you are using this and what you notice as you practice.

Focus Pocus, y’all!

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