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It’s a miracle that I never threw my computer out the window when I was building my web site. Not a Mother Theresa kind of miracle, but a miracle nonetheless.

All I needed was a simple site where I could tell people about my teaching and events, showcase my writing and art and maybe, if I wanted to get fancy, take payments for my work. The site-building platform ad said “the simplest way to create a beautiful website.” Simple and beautiful was what I wanted. The ad said I could have a site up in 15 minutes. I’m not a dimwit. I am well aware that I’m a not-tech-savvy middle-aged artist. I figured it would take me 45 minutes. Maybe 50.

It took me weeks. Weeks and weeks. I watched dozens of tutorial videos starring hip groovy people younger than my step kids. I looked at pages and pages of templates. I had an intimate relationship with the help desk. (Those poor people must have seen my facile messages come in and arm wrestled for who had to respond to me. They were always kind and cheerful, bless them.)

I didn’t want to build a web site. I would have preferred to hire someone to build it for me. But my business is small and not only did I not want to spend the money on a designer, I wanted to have the flexibility to make changes and additions on my own.

It took me weeks and weeks to build my site. I swore a lot. And more than once I really really wanted to throw my computer out the window. But I didn’t. And now I have a simple site where I tell people about my teaching and events, showcase my writing and art, and it even takes payments.


Here’s how I like to do Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana): I like to put my elbow on my bent leg and extend my top arm over my head. Annoyingly, my teacher Kelly often has us do the pose differently. Sometimes, she’ll have us “cactus” the top arm so the shoulder blade draws toward the spine, opening the chest. Sometimes, she has us lift the bottom arm so it’s parallel with the top one to build core and side-body strength. I hate it when she does that.

Here’s what she says when I make grumpy faces at her: “Move into skill by moving away from preference.”


In his fascinating book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg says that 40-45% of what we do every day is habit. Many of those things feel like decisions, but they are actually deeply ingrained unconscious patterns.

Habits are the brain’s way of being more efficient and saving energy. But if we want to keep our brains and bodies strong and robust, we have to be willing to recognize and break habits. Or as Kelly says, we have to be willing to move into skill by moving away from preference.

Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, researcher, author, essayist and poet, Dr. Norman Doidge explains in his book, The Brain that Changes Itself that

…just doing the dances you learned years ago won’t help your brain’s motor cortex stay in shape. To keep the mind alive requires learning something truly new with intense focus. That is what will allow you to both lay down new memories and have a system that can easily access and preserve the older ones. (p. 88)

This is why mindful, attentive movement is more beneficial to the whole body-mind system than mindlessly watching TV or texting while on the treadmill. It’s not just the muscles of the body we want to keep strong and healthy but the “muscles” of the mind/body system.

Feldenkrais, one of the foundational movement forms of The Nia Technique focuses on moving out of habit and preference and into a wider range of possibility. By paying attention to the details of how we do what we do, we can recognize parts of the self that are not moving, efforting unnecessarily, or are out of awareness. As the brain recognizes additional possibilities, the new information is organized and distributed through the whole body leading to overall improvement of ease in the nervous system. Practicing mindful movement like yoga, Feldenkrais and Nia helps us live more fully, comfortably, and effectively by expanding the repertoire of possible ideas, options, and movements.

Paradoxically, moving away from preference (and perhaps through some uncomfortable computer-throwing moments) not only moves us into skill but into greater health and ease. Move into skill by moving away from preference.
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Art in Action is a 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.

We use our eyes from the moment we wake to the moment we sleep, so it’s easy to forget about them (until they stop working!). By intentionally using our gaze, we have clearer access to our internal experience — undoubtedly helpful in all circumstances but is a big reason for using a gazing point or drishti in yoga. Even beyond this, though, are many big benefits — for body, mind, emotions and relationships — in bringing awareness to how we use our eyes.

1. Balanced Body – Resting the gaze is particularly helpful when looking for physical balance. Experiment with standing on one foot and look around the room. Then stand on one foot and gaze at an unmoving object. BONUS: Give your balance extra challenge by standing on one foot with one eye closed or both eyes closed!

2. Brain Challenge – Play with breaking brain habits by moving your eyes. For example, turn your head left but slide your eyes right and vice versa. Tilt your head up but look down and then the other way. In yoga, challenge yourself to use a different gaze or drishti, just to see what happens. In Nia, instead of following your hand with your eyes, look away from your hand. If it feels awkward and messes you up…perfect! BONUS: The Feldenkrais Method engages the eyes in most exercises with the philosophy that the whole system needs to be included to change movement patterns. You can read more and play with some exercises here.

3. Settled Mind – The eyes can help bring balance to the mind. In unfamiliar or uncomfortable circumstances, the eyes will often dart and flit around in a counter-productive effort to gather information. If you’re feeling rattled, let your eyes soften on something that is unmoving and let them relax. BONUS: Sit in meditation and experiment with eyes closed and eyes softly resting on an unmoving object. See what feels best to you given your energy levels (for example, if you’re sleepy, see if eyes open and softly gazing works better; stressed out? See if closed eyes feel better.).

4. Stay alert – Ever notice yourself walking with narrow attention and your eyes on the ground? Experiment with walking with your eyes broadening your view – noticing the details of what and who is around you. You can also do this in the car if you find your attention narrowing down, by looking through the whole wind shield and using all your mirrors (even the side mirror on the passenger side!).

5. Conversational Support – Play with how you use your eyes in a conversation. We all have habits about where we look when we’re talking to someone, so start by noticing what you do. (I notice that my eyes often start on the person and then lift up and look away.) Then use your eyes with intention in conversation. Different people have different tolerances for connection. For some people, the best way to connect is having a conversation when we are not looking at each other (in the car, cooking together, doing a puzzle or a project) and for others, the best connection happens when we are looking directly into each other’s eyes. Notice what you do and what offers the best communication (and that might NOT be what feels easiest).

6. Connected Heart – Eye gazing is a deep way of connecting to yourself and to another. Simply relaxing and gazing into either your own eyes in a mirror or another’s eyes (I find it works well to gaze at one of my partner’s eyes to avoid the back and forth flitting) can be a transformative practice. Gazing softly for 5-10 minutes can allow us to see beyond the surface of roles and images and expectations. You can find out more about eye gazing here.

And remember that even if all you do this week is appreciate your eyes and all they allow you to do, that’s a powerful practice!

Principle 2 (Part II) – Nine Movement Forms…in nine nutshells

The Nine Movement forms invite us to use our posture, walk and voice to communicate clarity and receive with openness.  Use their energy and essence in class and in life.

Tai Chi for grounded relaxed power

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Tae Kwon Do for emotional strength and confidence

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Aikido for blending and redirecting energy

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Jazz for expressive playful fun

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Modern Dance for creative choices and possibilities

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Duncan Dance for childlike, authentic ease

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Yoga for alignment of mind and body, restoring balance

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Feldenkrais for slowing down, reconnecting internally

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Alexander Technique for creating space and grace with consciousness

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

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

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Principle 2 (Part II) – The Nine Movement Forms

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

In traditional fitness, choreography is constructed by changing steps and patterns frequently, presumably to hold students’ interest or challenge them. In Nia, we use the energy of the [nine different] movement forms [from the dance arts, martial arts and healing arts] to emphasize specific and unique feelings and sensations. Thus, Nia approaches choreography from an energetic point of view; we repeat the same step and pattern, but change the movement form in order to change the energy. This allows us to stay with the same pattern for longer periods of time, giving both teacher and student time to deepen their connection to body sensations and form. When choreography stays simple, people can feel and express themselves more playfully [and, I would add, in a more healthy and integrated way].

For the official scoop on all nine movement forms, click here.

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

The first part of Principle 2 is Natural Time. Which I’m sure you know about since you read about it, right? As you know, then, the 13-moon calendar is based on a 13:20 code that recognizes the natural cycles of the Universe. Which sounds a bit woo-woo and highfalutin but actually, 13:20 is right there in your bones: the human body has 13 major joints and 20 digits.

The second part of Principle 2 is a natural extension of the first. Part 2 of Principle 2 addresses how Nia trains, conditions, and heals this 13:20 body using the energy and essence of the nine movement forms. In a Nia class, we can do any movement in these different ways, each affecting the body differently. For example, a front kick executed with Tae Kwon Do energy is going to emphasize strength, power and stability, while the same front kick executed with Alexander Technique will focus on lift through the crown of the head, length in the spine and an graceful, easeful alignment. As we practice, any movement can be infused with the energy of any of the nine movement forms which offers both teacher and student enormous freedom within the form.

This is all excellent and juicy-good, but even if you’ve never done Nia, you can use the energy and essence of the nine movement forms in anything you do. We all have our style and habits around how we approach the world. Take a look at the descriptions of the movement forms (or even better, move them), and you will notice that some come easily and feel familiar and others feel awkward and strange.

Notice which movement forms you tend to gravitate toward and then explore the ones that are outside your habit. By exploring all nine of movement forms we have access to a broader range of options for approaching anything. Especially if my habitual way isn’t working, the nine movement forms give me options for another approach.

Me? I tend toward Jazz and Tae Kwon Do. The energy and power of these two movement forms is great for some things but in lots of situations and relationships, they work about as well as wearing a red sequined dress to a funeral.

For example, if I have a daunting pile of work to do around the house, instead of powering through it Tae Kwon Do style, I can choose to take the Tai Chi approach of mindful, relaxed grace or use the creative possibilities of Modern Dance. When I’m talking to my step-kids, instead of being my Jazzy expressive self, I might choose a Feldenkrais approach by slowing down and reconnecting or tap into the harmonious, circular flow of Aikido.

There are lots of ways to move through the world. The nine movement forms give us more options to explore what energy might serve each situation, each relationship, each moment best.

nia mover 1Last week, I agreed to participate in The Eleanor Project. Sisters Terry and Jen (a photographer and writer, respectively) want to use the project to change the perception of what is beautiful. As they say on their blog, “We don’t buy into the ideal of beauty pushed by Hollywood and glossy magazines; not when there are so many incredible women all around us.”

Well, amen.

This is important to me. Women, even in 2013, are diminished and sexualized in the media and in our culture. Like a salmon swimming up the stream of objectification, I want to absolutely support efforts that highlight how amazing women and all people are beyond superficial appearances. (And besides, I was flattered to be considered.  My profile isn’t up yet, but check out who is there – lots and lots of amazing people!)

The Eleanor Project creators ask four questions:
How would you describe yourself?
What inspires you?
What makes you feel powerful?
What is your favorite part of yourself and why?

For days, I had fun thinking about the questions. The first one was the trickiest. I admit it; I really wanted to seem awesome. I wanted to be Eleanor-worthy. I thought about words that I thought described the best sides of me – the parts of me that I love to show to the world. And then I thought about it. The truth is that I am those things…except for when I’m not.

I am, we all are, a collection of personalities: shy and dynamic, passionate and indifferent, confident and insecure, powerful, graceful and clumsy. How would you describe you? What are the things that you’d love to have printed in an article about you and what are the things that you wouldn’t be comfortable owning up to?

The practice of Nia reflects that we’re all a whole bunch of everything. One way Nia reflects this is that the choreography is based on nine different movement forms.  Each of those forms has a distinctive personality, energy, essence. Practicing Nia allows me to experiment with my full range of personalities – the ones I comfortable with and proud of and the ones that I tend to hide.

The Nine Movement Forms of Nia are:

Jazz – Fun, Showmanship & Expression
Duncan Dance – Spirited, Honest Movement
Modern Dance – Playing with Balance, Shapes & Space
T’ai Chi – The Slow Dance
Tae Kwon Do – The Dance of Precision
Aikido – Harmonious Spherical Motion
Feldenkrais – Conscious Feeling of Movement
Alexander Technique – Movement from the Top
Yoga – The Conscious Dance of Alignment

We don’t teach these forms in Nia, we use their energy and essence to transform our movement. All nine movement forms train and condition the body in unique ways. All nine require our focused and imaginative minds.  All nine expand the range of movement expression.

I appreciate the humanness of this diversity. We are all a whole bunch of everything. We may make sincere efforts to show what we think are the most flattering sides of ourselves, but rest assured, all of us are all of it: angry, ecstatic, patient, frustrated, dramatic, pensive, frightened, fierce, focused, aimless…you name it and you are it.

The nine movement forms allow me to be who and how I am and to try on different personalities for the benefit of my body, mind, emotions, and spirit. If I come to class angry, I can use the energy of Tae Kwon Do to direct it, or the energy of Duncan Dance to let it go. If I’m feeling emotional, I can play with Modern Dance to exaggerate it, or Feldenkrais to allow in awareness. If I’ve been sitting around eating chocolate all weekend, I might want to engage the fun of Jazz to energize my body, or the consciousness of Yoga to pay attention to sensation.

This week in my classes, I’ll offer playlists that take us through each of the nine movement forms. The invitation is to try on each of the personalities. Ask yourself which seem like familiar friends and which are like aliens. With practice, we can integrate our full range of personalities into our movement and our lives … and be proud of them all.

For fun, please write nine words that describe you in the comments below!  I’ll start.

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