Tag Archives: habit

What is the valid, important need below our habitual choices?

When we’re under stress, we go back to our oldest patterns and habits. We tend to look for what’s easiest for our bodies and brains to give us what we need. But as James Clear points out, that can have a downside.

Every habit produces multiple outcomes across time. Unfortunately, these outcomes are often misaligned. With our bad habits, the immediate outcome usually feels good, but the ultimate outcome feels bad. With good habits, it is the reverse: the immediate outcome is unenjoyable, but the ultimate outcome feels good. The French economist Frédéric Bastiat explained the problem clearly when he wrote, “It almost always happens that when the immediate consequence is favorable, the later consequences are disastrous, and vice versa. . . . Often, the sweeter the first fruit of a habit, the more bitter are its later fruits.”

This mindful practice that we do together is an opportunity to go below the surface of our habit to find our valid and important need (thanks to my genius therapist, James Yates for the phrase). When we give ourselves space to actually feel the need, we can make choices about how we want to do that rather than getting caught in the swift current of habit.

Today’s Dancing Water Daily is an All Out All You Dance Party that dives into valid, important needs that may be buried under habit. Make some space in your calendar and in your living room to move into the sensation of what you really need. Find the video here.

Title song for Dancing Water Daily:
Kate’s Waltz 3:44 Bad Snacks, YouTube Audio Library

Playlist for Fri Apr 24 2020 ~ All Out All You Dance Party:

Chill – Disco Ultralounge 3:51 Kevin MacLeod YouTube Audio Library
The Emperor’s Army 6:07 Jeremy Blake YouTube Audio Library
Together With You 3:47 JR Tundra YouTube Audio Library
Hip Bone 3:42 Quincas Moreira YouTube Audio Library
Infados 3:43 Kevin MacLeod YouTube Audio Library
Exit the Premises 3:30 Kevin MacLeod YouTube Audio Library
Hit the Streets (Version 1) 3:43 Kevin MacLeod YouTube Audio Library
The Creek 3:31 Topher Mohr and Alex Elena YouTube Audio Library
Sunflower 3:57 Topher Mohr and Alex Elena YouTube Audio Library
Drifting 2 3:58 Audionautix YouTube Audio Library
Dream Culture 3:34 Kevin MacLeod YouTube Audio Library

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Help me to continue to create Dancing Water Daily practices! No matter how far apart we are physically, we are all connected. The path that we all move along together is held by an Invisible Net of Love that is always there even if we can’t see it. The Dancing Water Daily practices is my thread in that net. Please support my work by offering a donation so I can keep creating these practices for you. With your generous support, I can continue to invest in making these classes available to anyone who can benefit. Please click here to be part of the Dancing Water Daily Net of Love. And please “Send to a Friend” to avoid PayPal fees! Suggested donation: $5 a class or $15 a week ~ and truly, any amount helps enormously.

Shout outs to this week’s generous anonymous donors and Avril Somlyo , Kristin vonThelen, Susan Perry and Kathie Anzalone! A thousand thanks, friends! Together we can extend this Net of Love to reach everyone who needs it.

AND if, like me, your finances are akimbo, I get it. Another way to help is to share these video practices. Send a link to a friend! Post it on social media! Help spread the word about nourishing movement and moving together apart.
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Help to increase community engagement (and assure me that you are out there)! PLEASE:
• leave comments on the Facebook videos and share them with friends
• subscribe to my YouTube channel (it’s FREE, of course), like, comment and share them
• subscribe, comment and share these blog posts
• email me at with ideas and suggestions for what would be of the most help and support in these days

Monday, Apr 20 ~ Dancing Water Nourishing Movement: A Great Need ~ find it here
Tuesday, Apr 21 ~ Dancing Water Nourishing Movement ~ find it here
Wednesday, Apr 22 ~ Moon River Restorative Yoga ~ find it here
Thursday, Apr 23 ~ Dharma Dance from Dancing Water ~ find it here
Friday, Apr 24 ~ All Out, All You Dance Party from Dancing Water ~ find it here Saturday, Apr 25 ~ Ajna (Self-Guided) Practice
Sunday, Apr 26 ~ Moon River Restorative Yoga

I always love to hear from you ~ please reach out with email or a comment and let me know how you’re doing and how I can help more!
Until soon, my friends!


The adage, “No pain, no gain”? Utter horse hockey if you ask me. It does noBody any good to seek out pain. But awkwardness? Confusion? Frustration? Difficulty? Heck yeah. That’s where new skills, habit-breaking and possibility lie.

The day after writing this week’s post, I came across this great article that explains the neuroscience behind our focus this week. Enjoy it.

Our From Preference to Skill playlists from the week are below or you can listen to them by going to Spotify! Dance for free at Spotify! Sign up, follow me at “susanmcculley” and you’ll find my public playlists ~ just click and listen!

And first the announce-y things:

• New Nia 5 Stages class with Anne at acac downtown on Friday mornings
Black Belt Nia Instructor, Anne Wolf is now offering a Nia 5 Stages class on Friday mornings 8:30-8:55 am at ACAC downtown. Nia 5 Stages is an integrative practice based on the five stages of human development: Embryonic, Creeping, Crawling, Standing and Walking. Each stage is a foundation for the next. Combined, all 5 stages help people to integrate physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. When practiced daily and in the correct sequence, these stages facilitate optimal alignment and function. Come join Anne to explore these stages and cultivate your  practice.

• Finding Your Focus with Mary Linn & Susan ~ January 28, 3-5pm –NEW LOCATION: The Quaker Meeting House at 1104 Forest St in Cville
These days, there are seemingly endless worthy causes that could use our money, time, and energy. Many of us are left feeling overwhelmed, scattered, or even helpless.
In this free workshop, we will explore what matters to you most, ultimately discovering the unique purpose to which each one of us may give our devotion.
As we share our insights, we will create a sense of relaxed readiness, knowing that we are not taking on the world alone.
Bring a journal, something you’re comfortable sitting on and a friend!

This is a FREE heARTful Action gathering~ Saturday, January 28, 2o17, 3-5pm
given the number of people attending it will now be held at The Quaker Meeting House at 1104 Forest St, Cville 22903. Please bring a friend and a donation for the use of the space.
*Please RSVP to or on the Facebook event page ( so we know how many will be there.

• Make a Donation and Get Art on
For the foreseeable future: You Make a donation and I sent you art! It’s SIMPLE:
(1) Make a donation to (or your favorite environmental organization) or to Human Rights First (or your favorite human rights organization).
(2) Send me a copy of the receipt to (alternatively, you can mail a check written to the organization to 1255 Sunset Ave Ext, Charlottesville VA 22903) and include your mailing address and the equivalent value art that you would like.
(3) I’ll mail you the art right away.
Go to to see the full line up of available art. Make a heARTful difference today.

• dance.sit.create. day-treat on Saturday, Feb 18, 2017, 8:30am-5pm
There is still some space for dance.sit.create on Saturday, Feb 18 (snow date, March 4) at Buck Mountain Episcopal Parish Hall, 4133 Earlysville Rd, Earlysville, VA 22936
What better way to spend a winter day than in giving power and time to your unique creativity? As a human being, you are an artist. While we can’t make creativity happen, we can provide fertile terrain for inspiration to land and take root. In this supportive, delicious, fun experience, step into your own creative life. Join Susan McCulley, Nia Black Belt, mindfulness teacher, writer and artist for a day-treat playing at the intersection of movement, stillness and your artist self. If you have dance.sit.created before, new surprises await. If not, this is the perfect time to join us.
Susan provides guidance and inspiration for the day. Rebecca George’s Dragonfly Kitchen provides extraordinary vegetarian, gluten-free, seasonal food (tea, snack, lunch). ALSO INCLUDED is a new 6-week series of music, meditations, and prompts to keep the flow of the day going. $125 / please register by February 15. Limited to 20 participants. Go here for all the details and to register.

As always, please let me know if you have questions or how I can help more.
Dance on. Shine on.
Susan sig

*** PLAYLIST NOTE: My playlists can also be found on Spotify by following “susanmcculley” (no space) and look for Public Playlists. Sometimes music is not available on Spotify so I may replace with another version or skip songs . ***

Monday, Jan 9, 2017, 1045am ~ From Preference to Skill

Awake My Soul 4:16 Mumford & Sons
Little By Little 5:30 Groove Armada
Barely Breathing 4:15 Duncan Sheik
Good Life 4:13 OneRepublic
Sweet Inspiration 4:41 Derek Trucks Band
Everybody Got Their Something 4:23 Nikka Costa
Thank You 4:55 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Yahoo 7:33 Veeresh & The Humaniversity Sound
Once a Day (feat. Sonna Rele) 3:58 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Below My Feet 4:52 Mumford & Sons
Wild Horses (Live) 6:05 Alicia Keys
Mad World 3:03 Alex Parks
Gentle Exit 4:15 The Happening*

Tuesday, Jan 10, 2017, 840am ~ From Preference to Skill

Awake My Soul 4:16 Mumford & Sons
Little By Little 5:30 Groove Armada
Barely Breathing 4:15 Duncan Sheik
Good Life 4:13 OneRepublic
Sweet Inspiration 4:41 Derek Trucks Band
Everybody Got Their Something 4:23 Nikka Costa
Thank You 4:55 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Once a Day (feat. Sonna Rele) 3:58 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Below My Feet 4:52 Mumford & Sons
Wild Horses (Live) 6:05 Alicia Keys
Gentle Exit 4:15 The Happening*

Wednesday, Jan 11, 2017, 11am ~ From Preference to Skill

Damascus 2:03 Conjure One Feat. Chemda
Center Of The Sun 5:01 Conjure One Feat. Poe
Tears From The Moon 4:18 Conjure One Feat. Sinéad O’ Connor
Wristband 3:18 Paul Simon
Sweeter Love 8:09 Blue Six
Waking the Spirits (African Travels Re-Awakening Remix) 5:56 Bob Holroyd
Diavolo In Me (Devil In Me) 4:05 Zucchero & Solomon Burke
Yahoo 7:33 Veeresh & The Humaniversity Sound
Once a Day (feat. Sonna Rele) 3:58 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Below My Feet 4:52 Mumford & Sons
Wild Horses (Live) 6:05 Alicia Keys
Mad World 3:03 Alex Parks
Gentle Exit 4:15 The Happening*

Thursday, Jan 12, 2017, 840am ~ From Preference to Skill

Damascus 2:03 Conjure One Feat. Chemda
Center Of The Sun 5:01 Conjure One Feat. Poe
Tears From The Moon 4:18 Conjure One Feat. Sinéad O’ Connor
Wristband 3:18 Paul Simon
Waking the Spirits (African Travels Re-Awakening Remix) 5:56 Bob Holroyd
Diavolo In Me (Devil In Me) 4:05 Zucchero & Solomon Burke
Yahoo 7:33 Veeresh & The Humaniversity Sound
Once a Day (feat. Sonna Rele) 3:58 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Below My Feet 4:52 Mumford & Sons
Wild Horses (Live) 6:05 Alicia Keys
Gentle Exit 4:15 The Happening*

* This is new music from one of Jamie Catto’s creative projects! You can find it here.


For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at…
If you’re traveling or moving, you can find a teacher or classes wherever you’re going.
Interested in teaching or deepening your practice? Check out the Nia White Belt Training. They are offered all around the world so you can find one near you or where you may want to go!

sensation all 041116

Art in Action is a weekly post: a simple, 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.

As I walk into the memorial service for a 23-year-old friend, I see an image of his beautiful face on the wall, and I felt my heart buckle. I put my had on my friend’s arm. I don’t think I can do this, I said. I can’t bear it. She takes my hand and says, Our ability to feel grief and sadness is directly proportional to our ability to feel love and joy. Stretch your heart. You can do it.

At the most basic level, why are we here? Why are we in these bodies, on this planet, in this life? Why do we connect with each other, why do we work, why do we create things, why are art and music and stories are so important to us?

Why? We are here to feel. The reason we are here is to feel it all.

And yet in the ultimate irony, we avoid or minimize how much we feel. We create environments that are not too hot and not too cold. We resist intensity of all kinds, go on auto-pilot and hang out mainly in a neutral, not-feeling-much-of-anything space.

Staying in sensation is an investment in life. By paying attention, I have the chance to actually be present for my days. It’s a matter of bravely stretching our hearts, minds, and nervous systems to be able to sustain awareness and presence – even when life gets intense.

It’s a practice that’s as simple and profound as one single question:

What sensation am I feeling now?

In any moment, I can pay attention and ask the question in regards to my body, my mind, my emotions, my life:

  • Monday morning yoga class: I’m in Warrior II pose. When I ask, What sensation am I feeling now? I realize that I’m a little checked out. I don’t feel much in my legs and my arms are noodly.

By asking the question, I stop thinking about my to-do list and how my yoga top has ridden up over my belly. I can drop into the intensity of Warrior II. My legs get stronger when I make this choice and my nervous system gets stronger, too.

  • It’s a Tuesday evening, and I’ve spent the day doing all the things I always do on Tuesday. I’ve done chores around the house, I’ve taught a class, I’ve run the errands, I’ve written a post, I’ve gotten dinner ready.

When I ask, What sensation am I feeling now? I realize that much of the day, I’ve been habitually doing what I do and I feel a fuzzy, cotton-wool-in-the-head feeling.

By asking the question, I can choose to drop into sensation and engage. Instead of zoning out in front of the TV or scrolling through Facebook, I can read an interesting article or listen to some jazz or watch a film that challenges me. Waking up with something unfamiliar and unexpected expands my mind and in general makes me more open to whatever arises.

  • Out of nowhere, memory of my step-son at age 6 comes to me. He’s on the edge of the auditorium seat at kindergarten orientation radiating excitement. The teacher leads a song and he sings and smiles and my heart could break for loving him. In just over a month, this boy who still radiates excitement about learning, will graduate from college.

When I ask, What sensation am I feeling now? I realize I have set aside his graduation in my heart. I haven’t felt it.

By asking the question, I can feel how happy I am for him, how amazed I am by all he has accomplished and the man he is becoming. And I can feel how sad I will be when he’s far away. By asking the question, I feel my love for him.

In May, when I see him in cap and gown, and I am inevitably in tears, I will be able to feel them instead of holding them back or setting them aside.

Staying in sensation is the edge at which change and transformation happen. It’s where I build the strength, endurance and presence that allow me to feel my life. Life will give us intensity one way or the other. We can practice being with it by being in sensation now.

energy leaks leaky-boat-continue-to-paddle
Like everybody, I have a certain amount of energy: physical, mental, emotional, financial, life-force energy.

Lately, I’ve noticed some energy leaks ~ holes in my boat that swamp me.

Sometimes it’s the way I fret or worry, or the way or with whom I spend my time. Sometimes it’s the way I literally or figuratively wiggle around or hold tension.

When I’m leaking energy, I have less to direct toward the things that matter.

Energy leaks are habits. My practice is to pay attention, set an intention for change, and get curious about what happens.

Where is your boat leaking?

DragonLily purpleYears ago, my teacher Carlos approached me at breakfast.
I was so excited and moved so quickly that I spilled tea all over his shoes.

I am agile. A dragonfly.
Sometimes, I could use more mobility.
A little more water lily.

Knowing how we do what we do is powerful. Awareness of my tendencies gives me choices.

Mobility: the constant flow of movement around the joints.
Agility: quick, crisp starts and stops.

Both increase fitness in the body (and mind) but most of us tend toward one more than the other.
Dancing with both creates health and well-being.

Be a DragonLily.

DragonLily whiteCarrie usually flows into 4:30 yoga just as it starts. I overheard in the locker room that she is a teacher, so she just has time to make it across town from the middle school. With her loosely braided, long blonde hair, her complicated earrings, and her Heely high tops, I was sure she taught art or English, but no, she’s just the coolest math teacher you ever did see.

I’d seen her many times, but for the first time on a recent afternoon she slipped into class and unrolled her mat next to mine.

For better or worse, I find myself affected by the yogis and yoginis who are practicing around me. It happens during Nia class, too, that I am touched by the energy of the dancers around me. Depending upon what’s happening in the neighboring spaces, I can get distracted or inspired. If someone’s fidgety or anxious, focused or rock solid, it ripples onto my mat. I focus on my own movement, I do, but somehow I can feel the practice that’s happening near me.

When Carrie set up next to me, a graceful softness unfolded as she unfolded her towel. It felt like a flower had just bloomed next to my mat. She moved from posture to posture like a time-lapse nature film of a water lily. Opencloseinout.  Her movements glided together with no sharp edges, only petals folding over each other and then unfurling again. Lovely to behold, it was.

Breathing in her gracefulness, I shifted my attention more clearly back to my own postures. And I was aware of a certain, how shall I say?, contrast. I noticed that I stopped and started quickly and sharply. Palms snapped together. Twist, shift, open, close. My first reaction was one of negative comparison which in my head was a whining 7-year-old, “Noooo, I want to be a flowwwer like Carrrrie!!” But as I watched my own crisp movements and sensed Carrie’s fluidity, I could see the gifts in both.

I was the dragonfly to her water lily.

In Nia, we train, condition, and heal the body with 5 Sensations of Fitness — Stability, Flexibility, Strength, Agility, and Mobility. Each sensation contributes in different ways to the health and well-being of the body. We all tend to gravitate toward some more than others.

For some people, one sensation comes to the fore. You might call it a “Signature Sensation.”

Carrie’s Signature Sensation appears to be mobility: the constant flow of movement around the joints. My Signature Sensation (in yoga, anyway) is agility: quick, crisp starts and stops. Both are essential for increasing fitness in the body. Mobility creates ease and relaxation in the muscles and nervous system, lubricates the joints, and activates supporting, intrinsic muscles. Agility strengthens connective tissue and large, extrinsic muscles, and sharpens the nervous system with its precision.

My yoga habit is to hang out in my agile dragonfly style, but practicing next to Carrie, I started playing with letting a little flow into my flitting. I stepped my feet more softly in and out of postures. As we moved to the floor, I let my hands gently float down to my sides instead of plop and firmly flip. I experimented with relaxing my eyes and breathing more deeply. I let the postures emerge and evolve more; sharply start and stop less.

Offering the body both mobility and agility creates balance and flow. Both sensations increase our fitness and well-being. And, of course, we can benefit from our awareness of mobility and agility not just in the body.

Notice if you tend toward dragonfly (agility) or water lily (mobility) in your physical movement. How do you move on your mat, in the studio, at your desk*, across the parking lot, or around the kitchen. Then notice your thoughts: do you flit from one thing to another crisply or flow seamlessly? Emotions, too: to you tend to swing sharp or drift fluidly?

Once you recognize your tendency, experiment with its opposite (if neither really feels like you, stay tuned, next week we’ll play with Strength and Flexibility **). Play with introducing more lily-ness if you are a dragonfly and vice versa. Breaking habits of all kinds create new pathways in the brain and new possibilities in everything we do.

Since she usually comes in after me, I just have to hope that Carrie will blossom on her mat near me again soon. In the meantime, I still like to scoot and shoot around on my mat, but I am enjoying letting my hands and shoulders flow more lily-like and softening my sparkly dragonfly eyes.

* In the midst of writing this post, my hand shot out across my desk, knocked my cup and spilled my tea on my keyboard. I zoomed around, cleaned up the mess, found a screwdriver and dried the inside of my keyboard. Dragonfly. Very dragonfly.  And evidently, dragonflies swear like sailors.

** A Note About Stability: Stability is the first and last of the 5 Sensations of Fitness. Stability, defined as energy radiating out from center equally in all directions, is necessary for any of the other four to happen. As you notice mobility and agility this week, also notice how stability plays a role.

choice scarecrow“Gratitude is a Choice” ~ church sign in Stuarts Draft, Virginia July 5, 2013

Do you ever say (or feel), “I have no choice”? Is it ever really true?

Do you sometimes find yourself caught in a activity, a relationship, a job, a feeling and believe you have no choice but to keep doing it? Are you sometimes doing something you love and feel like you have no choice but to stop?

There are costs to all choices. By definition, choosing one thing means you are not choosing another. Some choices have big ramifications. But there are always choices.

If I don’t sleep because the rainrainrain was beatingbeatingbeating on the corrugated roof of my cabin, I can choose to focus on how tired I am or I can choose to be grateful that I have a delicious breakfast awaiting me that I didn’t prepare. If I don’t sleep for 4 nights, I can choose to tough it out no matter how terrible I feel or I can choose to go home a day early.

We always have choices.

This week, notice when you feel like you have no choice. Ask yourself, if it is really true. What other possibilities are there? Recognizing that there are costs and benefits to every choice, breathe and expand your mind to feel the freedom of those possibilities.

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