Tag Archives: Marga Odahowski

When I teach Nia, here is my habit: I start with the focus. I think about it, read about it, draw and write about it. I post what I come up with here on this blog. Then I create playlists for the week based on that focus, choosing choreography and lyrics and energy that lend themselves to where we’re putting our attention. Then I listen to the music, review or create choreography, and BOOM, I’m ready to teach for the week.

I like it. It works for me. And it is definitely, without question my habit.

Several years ago, I read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I found it to be utterly fascinating and I still think about it all the time. I totally recommend the book and you could also read/listen to this NPR interview to get a taste of the science behind how we do what we do. One of the things Duhigg talks about is how much of what we do is habit. Research shows that 40-45% of the choices we make aren’t choices, they are habits. There are excellent reasons for why our brains do this (like efficiency and freeing up space to do more creative things) but it’s worth understanding how habits work so we can make choices about them.

Habits aren’t just fascinating to me but to some of my favorite writers:

James Clear recently wrote about replacing bad habits with better ones (and before that, wrote about how habits work…based on Charles Duhigg’s book!)

Leo Babauta, blogger at Zen Habits writes extensively about habits (obvio from his blog title) so there’s lots to explore on his site but I like his Habit Change Cheatsheet as a starting point.

Seth Godin writes a genius blog with short, wonderful posts. You can see some good ones about habits here, here and here.

In my experience, habit-breaking isn’t just beneficial for the results it can offer (like quitting smoking or meditating regularly or eating more dark leafies). I believe that there are intrinsic benefits to breaking any habitual pattern. Years ago, my friend Marga Odahowski, author of The Way of the Hammock,told me that she would start habits intentionally (chewing gum was the one I remember) in order to then break it. And I think there is something to this.

It is an act of mindful awareness to notice what we are doing and how we are doing it. Do you always step onto the first stair with your dominant foot? Do you always put take your right shoe off first? Do you always dance the same way during freedance? There isn’t anything inherently wrong with doing any of those things and (unlike smoking or eating Hardee’s every day) they aren’t likely to hurt you much. But what if the very choice, the very act of doing something new or doing something old differently has tremendous benefits? Would you be willing to play with the possibility of changing things up?

We’re going to explore neuroplasticity in a future focus (you can read a little about it here and there is lots more to find on the Interwebs) but my short answer is YES. Understanding the way habits work is the first step toward not only building the habits you want to have but also to making your brain stronger and healthier.

So, here’s what I’m doing: I’m breaking my class-preparation habit this week. I’m picking music based on my whim. Then for each class, I will let a focus show up somehow in the time just before class: it might be something someone says to me, something that I see on the drive in, or something that pops into my head as I set up the stereo. It is what it is and we’ll see what it is. For each class, I’ll do a sketch or some piece of art for the focus that arrives. We’ll see what it is and it is what it is.

The idea is that breaking the habit of how I do what I do makes it more than whatever it is.

Focus Gallery

Mon, April 30, 2018, 1045am

Trust. The health of any relationship comes down to the trust that each side has for each other. Think of the relationship you have with a friend, a business, your body, a beloved. What do you trust? What don’t you trust? What is the sensation of trust?

Tue, May 1, 2018, 840am

Chest: the home of the heart. I woke up this morning with a tender, achy heart. A tendency when I feel this way can be to stabilize my chest to protect my hurting heart. Instead, this morning we focused on mobilizing the chest to keep the heart soft and sensation alive rather than numbed. Breathe into the feeling.

Wed, May 2, 2018, 11am

First Chakra. On a physical level, we focused on releasing the low spine/sacrum and engaging the low abdominals. On an energetic level, we focused on the first chakra which resides at the sacrum. The first chakra is the center of security, stability, and your right to take up space in the world. By releasing the low back and engaging the low abdominals, we offer ourselves support from the inside while also resting in the support below us. Any time you accept help or fully relax and let go you are energizing your first chakra.

Thu, May 3, 2018, 840am

Squeeze & Release. Energize and relax your body in the most basic and powerful way. Your heart and lungs and muscles all work in this way. Feel it for yourself.

fluidity 070416

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.

If there is one thing I notice when I hike around water features, it’s this: water always wins. It may look like rock is solid and permanent but let water wash over it for a few million years and *BAM* you’ve got Grand Canyon (or Grand Canyon of the South: The Breaks on the border of Virginia and Kentucky!)

Fluid, water-like movement promotes mobility and strength, grace and power. Here are 4 ways to bring more fluidity into everything you do:

1. Movement ~~~~~~

As you move in your workout, on your yoga mat, or through your day, play with focusing on fluid, seamless, flowing movement. Whether you’re moving fast or slow or even with agility and precision, see if you can create an underlying intention of fluidity: one movement moving into the next. See how this affects your breath, your heartrate, your concentration and the sensation of even mundane movement.

2. Thought ~~~~~~

In her book, The Way of the Hammock, Marga Odahowski recommends taking time to let your mind wander and flow. This is different than meditation and certainly different than laser-focused concentration. The way of the hammock is to let thoughts flow in and wander around and then flow out again. I don’t have a hammock, but I have a swing that is conducive for thought-flowing. I also find soothing, repetitive movements like showering or shelling peas or folding laundry are great thought-flowing times.

3. Emotion ~~~~~~

Emotions are often equated with the element of water in that they are always flowing and changing. It can be easy to disconnect from emotion, though, and feel numb or neutral. Those are great times to pause and check in with the fluid flow of emotion that’s always happening. This can also be done at times of intense emotion: to check in and see what is truly arising (Am I angry or embarrassed? Am I happy or excited?). But I particularly like to check into the subtle feelings in those in between times when it might seem like I feel nothing.

4. Spirit ~~~~~~

Follow your intuition and you are catching the flow of spirit. Choose to be aware of gentle tugs to do (or not do) something and see where it leads you. My mind (and my plans) can be strong and pull me away from the tingling sense of another possibility. It can take practice to listen to the bubble of spirit, but so often that’s the source of the true gifts and gems.

Like this post? You might enjoy these related Art in Action posts on movement variety, habit breaking & water:

Taking safe risks
Slowing down
The Elements

The mission of this blog (and for that matter, my life’s work) is to help people life happier, healthier, more mindful and creative lives. With that intent, I offer movement experiences, writing, and art that are fun and interesting and entertaining and also expand your practice, awareness and vision of yourself and what is possible.

Art in Action is a new 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.

Without exception, everything you do can benefit from experimenting with slowing down. Speed is seductive and when we go fast, we tend to go straight into habit. When we go fast, we go unconscious. Here are 8 simple, practical ways to introduce s-l-o-w into your day.

1. Breathe slowly. Simply let your exhalation extend longer than usual to slow down your heart rate and your thought rate.

2. Eat slowly. Put down your fork between bites. BONUS: breathe and take in all the sensations of eating ~ the smell, the color, the texture, the taste and the amazing miracle of Nature and people that brought whatever you are eating to your lips.

3. Listen slowly. Soften your eyes and your breath when someone is speaking to you. Notice if your mind is rushing ahead to the great thing you want to say. Breathe and listen.

4. Speak slowly. Before you speak, take a breath. If you are angry, anxious, sad or excited, take two. Then speak.

5. Walk slowly. Experiment with slowing down the habitual act of walking. Inhale as you lift a foot, exhale as you place it down. Notice what is happening in your body. BONUS: for extra challenge, inhale and exhale as you lift your foot, inhale and exhale as you place your foot and look anywhere but the ground.

6. Hug slowly. Take a full breath in and out during a hug. Take your time to give and receive the healing benefits of touch and care. As the Makepeace Brothers say, Slow Down Feel Love.

7. Read slowly. Whatever you are reading, pause during your reading to think and let what you’re reading soak in. You can even read about slowing down. I’m (slowly) reading The Way of the Hammock by Marga Odahowski which offers lots of space to think and play.

8. Drive slowly. Give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going. Drive a few miles under the speed limit. Generously let cars into traffic. Please. Slow down. Save lives.

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