Tag Archives: habit

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.

This quote from Aristotle has been the foundation of my Nia focus this week:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

My invitation is to investigate what you do repeatedly – in your movement, your mind, your emotions, your day.  For while we tend to measure and mark life by looking to the big decisions, the big events, the truth is that it is the thousand little events and decisions, the things we do over and over that really shape our experience and who we are.

This can be mind-bending.  In a culture that focuses on the drama and the trauma, it can be unnerving to think that it is actually the tiny little things that we do over and over (and over) that make the biggest difference.  One way to look at it is to see what my experience is, what I have created, and work backward to notice the thousand little habits and practices that got me there.  (This can be particularly helpful when I find myself saying, “How in the world did this happen AGAIN??!”)  Another perspective is to look at what I WANT to create and get there by making the thousand little choices that will get me there.  Aristotle says “we are what we repeatedly do” and for most of us, it is the habits that we do without even thinking that create our reality.  The trick is to make what I repeatedly do conscious.

So I’m doodling along with my focus for the week, and this morning I get an email from The Universe.  I’m not kidding.  I get a note from the Universe every day.  (And you can, too!  Just click here to sign up!)  And here’s what my note said today:

It’s not as if one could be bored enough, feel frustrated enough, or complain enough that their life would suddenly turn around. Doesn’t work that way.

Whatever anyone “is,” Susan, they become more of. And anyone’s is’ness is whatever they say it is.

The Universe

Universe, your timing is, as ever, impeccable.  I love this reminder that no matter what is happening, I have a choice about how I think, feel and act on it.  And those choices, those repeated habits on a moment to moment basis are what really make my life and my experience and ME.

So what is my “is’ness” today?  Today, I my “is’ness” is curious, determined, excited, scared and open.  What is your “is’ness” today?  Do tell.




“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

What do you practice?  If someone had asked me that before I’d started doing Nia, I would have said that I didn’t have a practice; that I didn’t practice anything.  A practice is something that one consciously chooses to do regularly, right?  Meditation or yoga or the piano.  I didn’t do anything like that.  “Having a practice” seemed like something for the deeply spiritual or the doggedly disciplined and exceptionally talented.  I certainly wasn’t any of those.

The truth is we all practice something.  Our practice is whatever we repeatedly do.  So the truthful answer would have been, “I practice worrying.  I practice arguing with myself.  I practice comparing myself to others.  I practice irritability and annoyance as well as cheerfulness and optimism.”  I still do practice those things sometimes.

“We are what we repeatedly do.”  I would only amend Aristotle’s quote by offering that whatever it is we create in our lives — whether it’s excellence, kindness, or acceptance, grumpiness, stinginess or nervousness — is what we practice.

So ask yourself:  what is your practice?  What is it that you repeatedly do?  Can you find evidence that what you repeatedly do is a habit and that, at least in some respects, it is who you are.

And then the follow-up question:  is that what you want to practice?  Is that the habit you want to cultivate?  Is it what you want to become?

As we get older, habits can get more and more deeply entrained.  So choose wisely.  The things that you “repeatedly do” get deep down in.  And habits can be broken.  Brave people stop drinking and smoking.  Others choose to sit on the meditation cushions every day.  And some break their habits of criticism and judgment.  Sometimes it takes a “wake up call” – a cataclysmic event or trauma – to break us out of our habits.  But why wait for that?

Take a look at what you repeatedly do.  In Nia, we call this “stalking the Self.”  Watch what you do and how you do it.  And then ask yourself, “Is that the practice that I want?  Is that what I want to create?”  If it is, then, by all means, continue and in a conscious and mindful way.  If it isn’t, take a breath, forgive yourself completely, with the recognition that you have done your best with every choice you’ve made so far.  Then ask yourself what your choice is now:  what do you want to create, what you do want to become?

The next step is to repeatedly come back and make that choice.  Over and over.  And over.

As many of my teachers have said:  “It’s a practice, not a perfect.”  I still worry.  I still argue vehemently with my own self in my own head.  And yet, as I practice, I notice what I’m repeatedly doing.  “We are what we repeatedly do.”  We are what we practice.  Keep practicing noticing what you repeatedly do.  Keep practicing the choice of what we want to become.

%d bloggers like this: