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FOCUS POCUS NOTE! FocusPocus is now one complete post (art, focus, playlists and announcements) all together on Thursdays! So whether you come to the blog for the art, the information, the music or the latest happenings and offerings, you are in the right place. Every Thursday, you’ll get it all. Thank you so much for being here.

On New Years Day, I stood in a friends kitchen that was full-to-brimming with amazing people. To my right and left were two women who I love and respect and don’t get to see often enough. And while we were enjoying some truly delicious food, I also wanted to gobble up their wisdom.

I asked the woman on my left what she knows now that she didn’t know at the beginning of 2019. With no hesitation, she said, “I know now that it is my job to feel good.” She went on to say how taking her self-care seriously and choosing practices that allow her to feel great has made her a better coach, teacher, artist and human being. While she credited Gabrielle Bernstein with the approach, I like the way she says it even better.

We are taught to put others first and that somehow if we suffer and struggle we are some how better and more virtuous than if we take care of ourselves and let ourselves feel really good. Instead, what if we make it our job to feel great?

Then I turned to the woman on my right and asked her what she’d learned in 2019 and she told me about incorporating positive psychology into her coaching. The next day she sent me this fascinating interview. What struck me about it was the healing power of finding a balance of building the ability to tolerate discomfort AND to feel good, feel gratitude, celebrate ourselves and what we do well.

We are taught to do whatever we can to avoid discomfort and when we feel it (even a little) we are taught to run, numb or lash out. What if we make it our practice to tolerate the awkwardness of discomfort without needing to do anything about it. Paradoxically, this ability allows us to expand our capacity to feel the good stuff of pleasure, comfort and joy. (With thanks to Denise Stewart and Marga Odahowski for generously sharing your genius!)

As James Clear says, “When life doesn’t challenge you, challenge yourself.​”

Here are our playlists for the week. If you’d like to listen to the music, you can find almost all the songs on Spotify (you can listen for free)! As always, please let me know if you have any questions about any of the music we dance to!

Things are happening, friends! So before the playlists, here is all the details on what’s coming up!

Nourishing Movement Classes at the Studio at Dancing Water on Thursday mornings at 11am!
Nourishing Movement classes with Susan on Thursdays at 11am ~~ my mix of guided and unguided movement, meditation and creativity! Please go to http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop for the details. Come join us in the trees by the river for grounded, flowing, spacious movement. Second Thursdays are followed by a pot luck lunch! Nourish yourself with movement and bring something nourishing to share! There is space in upcoming classes so please go HERE to sign up!
* The Studio at Dancing Water is at 2370 Old Lynchburg Road ~ detailed directions at http://www.susanmcculley.com and via email when you sign up!

An Extra Day To Play ~ Guest Teaching on Saturday, Feb 8, 9-1010am at acac downtown!
It always feels like a special occasion when I get to guest teach for Anne on Saturday mornings! We’ll explore music and movement, sensation and space around practicing the courageous choice to feel good AND to tolerate discomfort! Some special Saturday morning songs, too! See you then!

Full Moon Restorative Yoga with Shandoah ~ Moonday, February 10, 430-6pm CLASS IS FULL ~ GET ON THE WAITING LIST (THERE ARE ALWAYS CANCELLATIONS) AND Moonday, March 9, 430-6pm!
Shandoah Goldman returns to The Studio at Dancing Water (2370 Old Lynchburg Road, Charlottesville) to continue the full moon restorative practice! The full moon is a time of completion. The fullness of the cycle lends itself to a practice of non-doing. Join Shandoah for a deeply nourishing practice of restorative yoga. Using props to offer support and comfort, the body is invited to profoundly let go and unwind. Rather than efforting or stretching, this is the practice of releasing and relaxing. We’ll celebrate what is finished and soften into the next cycle. Shandoah is a gifted guide for deep release and is a Shiatsu practitioner offering hands on assists during class. All bodies welcome, no experience in yoga or anything else is needed. Email Susan at sjmnia@gmail.com to get on the waiting list.
Monday (Moonday!), February 10, 430-6pm at The Studio at Dancing Water is FULL and please let me know if you’d like to be on the waiting list.
Monday (Moonday!), March 9, 430-6pm at The Studio at Dancing Water ~ $30, $25 if registered before Feb 28!

First Friday Freedance with Kate ~ Feb 7 at 11:25am
Nia Freedance is an opportunity to play and tap into the creative wisdom in our body, emotions, mind and spirit. For a full hour we get to dance together with the intention of stimulating our own unique movement creativity. The next Nia Freedance will be at ACAC Albemarle Square Friday, Feb 7 from 11:25 -12:25.

Resetting & Balancing the Nervous System with Mindful Practices & Herbal Nourishment: Book Signing and Workshop with Susan & Heather ~ Saturday, February 29, 2020 ~ 10am-12pm at Nourish Louisa
“Stop the glorification of busy….It is OK not to be busy. Repeat this with me: it is OK not to be busy.” ~ Joshua Becker
Mid-winter is the perfect time to look inward at the rush and tumble of our days and practice ways of reconnecting and restoring our frazzled nervous systems. Join teacher and artist Susan McCulley and Clinical Herbalist Heather Wetzel to explore a realignment of our busy, over-scheduled days at the beautiful Nourish Louisa shop (http://www.nourishlouisa.com/) at 205 W. Main Street, Louisa, VA 23093
10:00-11:00: Book signing and conversation about the counter cultural choice for presence and less busyness with Susan, author of Octabusy: How to Let Go in a Sea of Doing. Come talk with Susan, watch an art demonstration, and have a cup of something warm.
11:00 – 12:00: Susan and Heather will present a short workshop focusing on re-balancing body, mind, and spirit using mindfulness life hacks and herbal strategies for moving from the habitual responses of our nervous system’s “fright, flight, or freeze” reactions into a more balanced, flowing, and peaceful state of “rest and digest.”. Topics include:
· How to support yourself to be more centered, calm and relaxed.
· Physical and mindful practices that can bring you back to center and be done anywhere, no matter what is happening around you.
· Tastings (including recipes) of tried and true adaptogenic herbal preparations to enhance your resilience to stress
· New ideas to support and encourage graceful adaptation to change and less reactive to stress
We all need encouragement and new ideas to support us as we move through our fast-paced, stress-ridden world. Reserve your seat now as space is limited at http://www.nourishlouisa.com/! Saturday, February 29, 2020 ~ 10am-12pm ~ $15 ~ includes lunch and small drink of your choice / Limited to 12 participants.

Interview about Octabusy & Other Things on Lisa Jakub’s Embrace Your Weird podcast!
It was my honor and pleasure to have a conversation with Lisa Jakub about the seduction of busyness and ways of navigating it on her fantastic podcast, Embrace Your Weird. Please listen, share, review and spread the word! Go here to check it out!

WHERE TO FIND OCTABUSY!
Support local retailers by buying Octabusy
at New Dominion Bookshop on Charlottesville’s downtown mall (ndbookshop.com, 434-295-2552, staff@ndbookshop.com)
and at The Telegraph Art & Comics https://www.telegraphcomics.com/
and at the beautiful Nourish Louisa shop in downtown Louisa! Go here http://www.nourishlouisa.com/ for more. I’ll be sharing more soon on events at this super-cool spot!
And just this week: both Buddha Cat and Octabusy are now available at the lovely Wine & Country Shop in Ivy! Please check them out here. It’s an amazing store full of wonderful finds, not just super-cool books!
You can also order signed copies of Octabusy (including discounts on multiple copies) now on my website at susanmcculley.com/shop
and get Kindle and paperback editions on Amazon!
(And wherever you buy it, please leave a review there!)

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

Monday, Feb 3, 2020, 1045am ~ Feel Good & Tolerate Discomfort

Wonderwall 4:09 Ryan Adams
The Obvious Child 4:10 Paul Simon
Love The One You’re With 5:03 Luther Vandross
Something To Believe In 4:44 Parachute
Inside 4:18 Toad the Wet Sprocket
Sometimes 5:14 Kaskade
Amor Real 7:26 Jon Anderson
Hurts So Good 3:42 Johnny Cougar
Sweet Child o’ Mine (Rick Rubin…) 3:56 Sheryl Crow
Feeling Good (feat. Audra Mae) 3:50 Avicii
Deep Inside 5:06 Kid Beyond
Halving The Compass 5:27 Helios

Tuesday, Feb 4, 2020, 840am ~ Feel Good & Tolerate Discomfort (including the discomfort of the iPod stuck on shuffle)

Wonderwall 4:09 Ryan Adams
Love The One You’re With 5:03 Luther Vandross
The Obvious Child 4:10 Paul Simon
Something To Believe In 4:44 Parachute
Inside 4:18 Toad the Wet Sprocket
Hurts So Good 3:42 Johnny Cougar
Amor Real 7:26 Jon Anderson
Sweet Child o’ Mine (Rick Rubin…) 3:56 Sheryl Crow
Feeling Good (feat. Audra Mae) 3:50 Avicii
Deep Inside 5:06 Kid Beyond
Halving The Compass 5:27 Helios

Thursday, Feb 6, 2020, 11am at the Studio at Dancing Water ~ Feel Good & Tolerate Discomfort

Webs 7:29 Glen Velez
Wonderwall 4:09 Ryan Adams
The Obvious Child 4:10 Paul Simon
Love The One You’re With 5:03 Luther Vandross
Something To Believe In 4:44 Parachute
Inside 4:18 Toad the Wet Sprocket
Amor Real 7:26 Jon Anderson
Hurts So Good 3:42 Johnny Cougar
Life Is Better With You  3:19 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Feeling Good (feat. Audra Mae) 3:50 Avicii
Deep Inside 5:06 Kid Beyond
Halving The Compass 5:27 Helios

Saturday, Feb 8, 2020, 9am Guest Teaching for Anne ~ Feel Good & Tolerate Discomfort

Dr. Feelgood (Love Is a Serious Business)  3:21 Aretha Franklin
The Obvious Child  4:10 Paul Simon
Love The One You’re With  5:03 Luther Vandross
Something To Believe In  4:44 Parachute
Feel It (feat. Mr. Talkbox)  4:40 TobyMac
Inside  4:18 Toad the Wet Sprocket
Sometimes  5:14 Kaskade
Amor Real  7:26 Jon Anderson
Hurts So Good  3:42 Johnny Cougar
Sweet Child o’ Mine (Rick Rubin…)  3:56 Sheryl Crow
Feeling Good (feat. Audra Mae)  3:50 Avicii
Deep Inside  5:06 Kid Beyond
Halving The Compass  5:27 Helios

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:

Play
Taking safe risks
Slowing down
The Elements

IMG_20151006_105806791
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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