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FOCUS POCUS NOTE! If you’ve been reading Focus Pocus for a while, you might notice that I didn’t post about our focus this week on Sunday as I usually do. Instead, I’ll roll the two weekly posts (art and content on Sundays, playlists and announcements on Thursdays) int o one all-encompassing post. 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 week on Thursdays, you’ll get it all. Thank you so much for being here.

Last week, we paid attention to how the technology we use shapes our bodies. (link) We played with lifting through the arches of the feet, exhaling fully to lift the diaphragm, and lifting the eyes to look out and release the neck. I make a practice of doing this ~ feeling my feet, taking a deep breath and looking around ~ every time I see someone hunched and buried in their phone. (Please note in the comments if you are playing with this and what you notice!)

The body is an integrated system of dynamic energy, so LIFT (where ever it happens) doesn’t happen on its own. For each lift we feel and create in the body, something else needs to root. So to create that dynamic energetic balance, we focused on rooting down AND lifting up.

Your heels are designed to connect you to the earth and keep you grounded and stable. Most of us have spent (almost literally) our entire lives in shoes with a heel. Whether you are male or female (even if you are a child!), check out your shoes: almost all of them have at least some kind of heel. This constraint on the body is at cross purposes with its form and interferes with its function.

You are designed to walk and stand with your heels rooted, your arches lifted and your toes relaxed. Next time you are in a shoe with a heel, notice what’s happening in your feet. It may feel “normal” if you’re used to heels, but listen for signals from your body about what compensations may be happening.

Your tailbone is mobile and can move in lots of directions, but when we put ourselves in heels and lift the calcaneus bone off the floor, in order to keep ourselves upright, the tailbone lifts up. This is a perfectly fine movement for your tailbone to do, but when it’s held chronically it can lead to a whole host of other compensations.

In relationship to the lifting of the diaphragm, take a deep breath and as you exhale, feel the rooting of your sacrum.

Many of us do work (read: phone, computer or tablet work) or repetitive tasks (read: cooking, changing diapers, making art) that drops the head and eyes and rounds the shoulders. As we lift the eyes, we automatically drop the shoulders down the back.

We can work it the other way, too. If you feel stiffness in your neck and shoulders, drop them down and free up your neck so your eyes can look around.

Our culture puts our bodies in all kinds of compromised and compensating positions. Our practice is to notice them and to give the body an experience of what it feels like to move in alignment with its form and function. The more we practice and recognize the sensation, the more we can access it out in the crazy, smartphone-using, seated, shod world.

Please tell us in the comments below how you are noticing this dynamic energy of rooting down and lifting up. Sharing what you’re noticing helps us all connect to the sensations in our own experience.

Below 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!

And friends, I am always ALWAYS looking for new music. Do you have a song that you love to move to or that moves you? I’d love to know what it is! Please respond in the comments below or email me at sjmnia@gmail.com!

Before the playlists, here is the scoop on a whole slew of great things happening this summer!

Nourishing Movement Classes at the Studio at Dancing Water on Thursday mornings
Nourishing Movement classes with Susan on Thursdays at 9am (through the end of September ~ in October, we’ll return to 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 brunch/tea/snackie! 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!

Nia Jam: Balance is a Verb ~ Saturday, September 21, 1230-145pm at acac Albemarle Square Studio A with Susan & Jeanne (No Nia 101 and class will start at 1230!)
Balance isn’t something we have, it’s something we do. Balance is a constant dance of push and pull, squeeze and release, reach and root. In our fall equinox jam, we’ll focus on balance in the body and in particular in shoulders and hips. Jeanne & Susan will play with all the balances that happen between upper/lower, left/right, front/back, diagonal lines as well as fast/slow, challenge/recuperation, sharp/fluid and everything in between. Please note that there will be no Nia 101 and that the jam will begin at 1230!

Saturday September 28, 9-12noon – Moving & Writing with Light: Nourishing Body & Eyes with Susan & Rebecca
Susan & Rebecca offer a morning to expand your perspective on two things that everybody has: a body and a smartphone. The word “photography” means “writing with light.” A photo isn’t a copy of something— it’s a story written *by light*! And light is weaving stories all around us, all the time. Using the simple cameras that we all carry —the ones in our phones! — we’ll play with the stories of light around us and experience how changing our perspectives can change everything. Susan will weave movement and mindfulness into the morning to practice being with light & shadow. No experience in photography or movement needed, just bring a phone or tablet with a built-in camera and your body. No experience with movement or photography is needed or expected. If you like, from 12-2pm, bring a lunch and savor it on the porch, on the bench overlooking the river or on a rock in the middle of it. $75. Register at http://www.susanmcculley.com/shop.

NEW OFFERING ~~ Saturday October 26, 9-12noon – Nourishing the Nervous System with Mindful Movement
NOTE from Susan: I am thrilled, honored, excited to welcome Emily Wright to teach at Dancing Water. She is an extraordinary, approachable, gifted teacher. I can’t wait to do this with her. Will you join me?
The body is a central portal to nervous system regulation. When we are regulated and integrated, we have the capacity to be our most awake, available, creative, curious, flexible selves. Using a blend of guided movement work, journaling, visual art-making, poetry, and mindfulness practices, participants will explore states of autonomic nervous system regulation as a means to establish safe, nourishing connections to ourselves, each other, and the natural world.
About the instructor:
Emily Wright, MFA, PhD, is a movement educator, author, and practitioner. She offers classes and workshops in functional movement, contact improvisation, and intergenerational community dance informed by her extensive background in dance and other somatic disciplines.

Nia resumes in Studio A at acac downtown
Nia is back in Studio A at acac downtown:
Mondays 4:15–5:15pm ~ Rachel
Wednesdays 6-7pm ~ Jeanne
Fridays 9-10:10am ~ Loring
Saturdays 9-10:10am ~ Anne
Sundays 3:30-4:30pm ~ Anne
PLUS
at acac Albemarle Square, Tuesdays 11-12pm Nia Moving to Heal ~ Rachel (starting Sept 3)

Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom ~ Video Series with Cecily Armstrong
Over the past few years I’ve been inspired and energized by the teaching and guidance of Cecily Armstrong. She is so generous with her offerings ~ her latest is a three-part video workshop Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom. If you’ve ever felt confused about how best to nourish yourself and live your healthiest, happiest life, Cecily offers amazing insights. You can sign up for the video series here. And/or you can get access to a longer 1-hour on-line workshop with Cecily here! https://cecilyarmstrong.com/decoding-your-bodys-wisdom-workshop/

Decoding Your Body’s Wisdom [optin]

First Friday Freedance with Kate ~ Sep 6 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, Sep 6 from 11:25 -12:25.

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

Monday, Aug 19, 2019, 1045am ~ Root Down AND Lift Up

Roots 3:42 Bob Marley & The Wailers
Souvenir 5:39 Kaledj feat. Neko
Ibuki Reconstruction 3:33 Kodo
Say Hey (I Love You) (Featuring Cherine Anderson) 3:56 Michael Franti
No Roots 3:56 Alice Merton
Voulez Vous Cousez 4:25 Moulin Rouge
All The Way Down 3:14 The Rolling Stones
Adouma 4:15 Santana
Yahoo 7:33 Veeresh & The Humaniversity Sound
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free 4:09 Derek Trucks Band
Salala (featuring Peter Gabriel) 3:24 Angelique Kidjo
Hit the Ground 3:31 Lizz Wright
Shanti (Peace Out) 6:59 MC Yogi

Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019, 840am ~ Root Down AND Lift Up

Roots 3:42 Bob Marley & The Wailers
Souvenir 5:39 Kaledj feat. Neko
Ibuki Reconstruction 3:33 Kodo
Say Hey (I Love You) (Featuring Cherine Anderson) 3:56 Michael Franti
No Roots 3:56 Alice Merton
Voulez Vous Cousez 4:25 Moulin Rouge
All The Way Down 3:14 The Rolling Stones
Yahoo 7:33 Veeresh & The Humaniversity Sound
I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free 4:09 Derek Trucks Band
Salala (featuring Peter Gabriel) 3:24 Angelique Kidjo
Hit the Ground 3:31 Lizz Wright
Way Down 5:08 The Happening

Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019, 11am ~ Root Down AND Lift Up

Snakeroot 7:58 Lis Addison
Souvenir 5:39 Kaledj feat. Neko
Ibuki Reconstruction 3:33 Kodo
Drop 4:56 Cornelius
No Roots 3:56 Alice Merton
Voulez Vous Cousez 4:25 Moulin Rouge
Drop It Low 3:45 Kat DeLuna
Adouma 4:15 Santana
Bust Da Drop 3:32 Discowboy
Salala (featuring Peter Gabriel) 3:24 Angelique Kidjo
Floater 4:51 Waldeck
Way Down 5:08 The Happening

Thursday, Aug 22, 2019, 9am Nourishing Movement at the Studio at Dancing Water ~ Root Down AND Lift Up

Edge Hill 7:00 Groove Armada
Snakeroot 7:58 Lis Addison
Souvenir 5:39 Kaledj feat. Neko
Drop 4:56 Cornelius
No Roots 3:56 Alice Merton
Voulez Vous Cousez 4:25 Moulin Rouge
Drop It Low 3:45 Kat DeLuna
Adouma 4:15 Santana
Bust Da Drop 3:32 Discowboy
Floater 4:51 Waldeck
2/1 8:54 Brian Eno

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT NIA?

For more information about Nia and this rich system of training and learning? Everything Nia is at http://www.nianow.com…
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!

spine tatYour spine is a strand of love: 33 bead-bones threaded with the spinal cord. The top is deep behind your eyebrows. The bottom is low at your tail. Your spine is solid and electric: it makes you human. Relaxed rootedness and visionary creativity emerge from mindful, spinal movement.

At the base of the spine are the sacrum and coccyx. Fused and solid, they look like a curved palm. Inherent in the structure of your spine’s base is support and grounding. (See Diane Goodbar’s story about this.)

The top two vertebrae are the atlas and the axis. Your eyes and head direct your attention-energy. Inherent in the structure of the top of your spine is vision and imagination.

Inherent in the spine’s form and function is grounded support and vision to see beyond what is. Just like love. So, you’ve got love running through your core. A strand of love. Feel it?

spine woman externalIn yesterday’s post, we explored the possibilities of focusing awareness on the design and structure of the spine, in particular the very top and base of it.

At the base are the sacrum and coccyx which are more solid that much of the rest of the strand of spinal bones. In fact, when seen from the side, they look much like a curved palm of a hand. When I imagine that hand behind me, something in relaxes a little.

Relaxed Rootedness

A few years ago, Nia practitioner Diane Goodbar shared a Nia story* that comes back to me every time I’m in traffic. After a Nia class in which we focused on the supportive “hand” of the sacrum, she was stopped at a light and saw a car barreling toward her from behind. She had no way of getting out of the way so had no choice but to allow herself to be rear-ended. She writes,

…as I “braced for impact” I just sat in my car totally relaxed, looking straight ahead, and feeling that hand [of the sacrum] supporting me. My car was hit really hard but I ended up with absolutely no injuries. In fact, I wasn’t even slightly sore and in less that 24 hours was back at the gym doing my normal workout. (You can read Diane’s whole amazing story here.)

Right now, imagine the relaxed support and the dynamic rootedness provided by the sacrum and coccyx. Experiment with adjusting what you’re doing to enhance that sensation.

The Spine’s Design: Top

The top two vertebrae of the spine are the atlas and the axis which allow the head to nod and turn. Most people move their head very little, opting instead for the “marshmallow on the toothpick” approach. This lack of movement over-stabilizes the muscles and joints in the neck and constricts the flow of energy. No shock that neck and head aches are miserably common.

The top two cervical vertebrae are positioned right behind the center of the eyebrows. The eyes and head direct our attention and energy, so movement of the top of the spine is essential for us to see and connect actively with the world. We call strong leaders and courageous creators “visionary” for their ability to see beyond the obvious. (Think of one of your heroes, and I expect that in your mind’s eye they are not looking down but are upright and looking out!) Mindfully moving the spine from the top connects us to this visionary nature that we can all access.

Spine Divine

As the main conduit of the nervous system, tremendous energy is moving through the spine in every moment. Enhancing our awareness and honing our movement particularly at the top and bottom of the spine offers more physical ease and comfort. I’ve also noticed that after moving the spine mindfully, when I quiet down, I also have access to insights, ideas, and creativity that was not accessible before.

Experiment with both big and small movements at the atlas/axis and at the sacrum/coccyx. Then sit or lie down quietly, letting both the body and mind settle down and see what comes to you from this aware and relaxed place.

This post is one of the things that came to me. I’d love to hear your experience.

* Do you have a Nia story?  Something big or small about how the practice has affected you or how you use the practice outside the studio?  I’d love to hear it!  Send it to me at sjmnia@gmail.com and maybe we’ll use it as a focus for class and the blog!

spine divine xrayThe human spine is an amazing design. This necklace of 33 bones threaded with the spinal cord runs through the body with both spiny strength and delicate flexibility. The spine is solidity and movement, protection and communication, bone and spark. These dual qualities are essential for human movement and our upright posture, but also allow us to be the expressive, dynamic, passionate creatures that we are.

The Nia Technique celebrates these qualities in the spine with its varied and contrasting movements. Often, when new students come to class, I suggest that if they move nothing else, just move the spine. I love teaching about the spine (e.g., two posts from 2012: Explore from the Core and Core Galore). But even given my spine partiality, since combining a Bikram yoga practice with Nia, I’m even more of a spine believer. Lately, I am increasingly aware of both the relaxed rootedness and the spacious, creative energy that emerges from mindful, spinal movement.

The Spine, The Whole Spine…

Relaxed rootedness and spacious passion from mindfully moving the spine — more specifically, the distal ends of the spine. Many of us tend to think the spine begins at the neck and ends at the low back. Actually, the spine begins deep inside the skull and extends all the way down to the tailbone. Awakening movement and awareness at the very top and bottom of the spine helps us both ground as well as move, see, and think more creatively. Grounding and creativity are borne out of the physical design of the spine itself and the sensations associated with movement from the top-most and bottom-most vertebrae.

The Spine’s Design: Tail

At the base of the spine are the sacrum and coccyx. These structures are more solid than any other part of the spine (some are fused) and, if you squint a little, they look like the curved palm of a hand.

It’s common (especially when standing) to tip the pelvis forward uprooting the tail and disconnecting from the support inherent in the sacrum/coccyx design. When sitting (especially in the car), we frequently tuck the tail under and actually sit on the low back. This “bad dog” posture is a one of lower lumbar spine strain and energetic stagnation. It’s no surprise that low back pain is so common particularly in folks to sit and drive for much of the day.

The very structure of the base of the spine is to offer support and root us to the earth. This supported rootedness is easier to access with awareness of its design and function.  Tomorrow, we’ll continue this spinal exploration with a fascinating Nia story and a look at the uniqueness of the top two vertebrae.

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