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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.

Feel a place in your body where there is tension and you know that it changes you – maybe your breath changes, or your movement, or your emotions. Feel a place in your life where there is tension and you know that changes happen there, too.

The opposite is also true when we change something, it feels different, less comfortable, challenging. What Seth Godin says is true, “Change creates tension and tension creates change.” Practicing surfing this cycle of change and tension is a skill we all need all the time.

The playlists from the week are below. If you’d like to listen to them, you can find almost all the music on Spotify where you can listen for free! Put the music we dance together with other pieces that lift you up, calm you, and challenge you!

But first, here are a couple of things you want to know about:

Nia classes for people with cancer, survivors, caregivers & staff at UVA with Susan Tate ~ starts October 16
Join Susan Tate, Black Belt Nia Instructor for Nia classes with a focus on moving to heal on Mondays, 5:30-6:30pm & Wednesdays,12-1pm on the 4th Floor of the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center.These free classes start October 16 with a kick-off celebration class at 5:30 pm.  Registration is not required. Contact Susan Tate at susan@susantate.orgfor more information.

Inbetween Halloween Jam on Tuesday, October 31 at 840am Downtown AND 535pm Albemarle Square
Celebrate Halloween in a traditional way with Mary Linn, Susan and Rachel. Originally, the day marked both the harvest and the change into the darker half of the year (the shift from orange to black).  It was considered an “in between” time where the boundary between spirits and humans thinned. In that spirit, we’ll use music all from artists who have passed. Put on some orange and black and join us on Tue, Oct 31, 840-940am Downtown, Group Ex Studio and then again at 535-635pm at Albemarle Square, Room B.

Writing & Wellness Yoga Retreat in Boone, N.C. with two amazing teachers ~ Nov. 2 – 5th, 2017
Join Lisa Jakub and Cecily Armstrong (two of my favorite yoga teachers and people on the planet!) for a fun, restorative and empowering retreat exploring various aspects of emotional and physical wellness. The retreat will include: • writing exercises to understand anxiety & the inner critic • nutrition talks, on both physical and emotional nourishment • discussions on purpose, connection, and authentic power • yoga, meditation and pranayama • healthy Ayurvedic meals • free time at the retreat center – massage, pottery, hiking ‣ You’ll return home with tools to help you live a more happy, healthy, vibrant life. And we’ll have a whole bunch of fun, too! No writing or yoga experience necessary! Find all the information here
Writing & Wellness Yoga Retreat in Boone, NC!
and for questions, contact Lisa at LisaJakub108@gmail.com.

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 https://www.spotify.com/us/ 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, Oct 9, 2017, 1045am ~ Change Creates Tension Creates Change…/h4>
Sacred Light 4:56 Bob Holroyd
Clouds 6:33 Feuerhake
forever changes 5:34 ZKT
Succumb to Me 5:15 Terence Trent D’Arby
SexybackClean Version 4:03 Justin Timberlake
Coolsville 4:53 Rick Braun
A Change Would Do You Good 3:50 Sheryl Crow
What Do You Say 5:00 Haley
All People (feat. Gina René) 4:09 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Change 4:36 Melissa Etheridge
A Change is Gonna Come 3:43 The Neville Brothers
Lydia 5:58 Tim Story

Tuesday, Oct 3, 2017, 840am ~ Change Creates Tension Creates Change…

Sacred Light 4:56 Bob Holroyd
Clouds 6:33 Feuerhake
Succumb to Me 5:15 Terence Trent D’Arby
SexybackClean Version 4:03 Justin Timberlake
Coolsville 4:53 Rick Braun
A Change Would Do You Good 3:50 Sheryl Crow
What Do You Say 5:00 Haley
All People (feat. Gina René) 4:09 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Change 4:36 Melissa Etheridge
A Change is Gonna Come 3:43 The Neville Brothers
Lydia 5:58 Tim Story

Wednesday, Oct 4, 2017, 11am ~ Change Creates Tension Creates Change…

State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.) 5:17 Jim James
Rafiki (Sidewalk Mix) 6:25 Bob Holroyd
Don’t Say 5:47 Deep Dive Corp.
What Do You Say 5:00 Haley
Oye Como Va (Latin/Trance Mix) 4:17 Celia Cruz
Blood Stud (Ray Mang Remix) 8:36 MB Disco
Sometimes 4:06 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Freedom (feat. The Mail Pilots) 4:39 Nossa Toca
Sure Thing 6:03 St. Germain
Shanti (Peace Out) 6:59 MC Yogi

Thursday, Oct 5, 2017, 840am ~ Change Creates Tension Creates Change…

State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U.) 5:17 Jim James
Rafiki (Sidewalk Mix) 6:25 Bob Holroyd
Don’t Say 5:47 Deep Dive Corp.
What Do You Say 5:00 Haley
Oye Como Va (Latin/Trance Mix) 4:17 Celia Cruz
Blood Stud (Ray Mang Remix) 8:36 MB Disco
Sometimes 4:06 Michael Franti & Spearhead
Freedom (feat. The Mail Pilots) 4:39 Nossa Toca
Sure Thing 6:03 St. Germain
Unchosen 3:54 Jesse Cook

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!

This week, we’ll play with the inspiration of two quotes. First, Albert Einstein. What if real intelligence isn’t about what you know or think or do, but rather your ability to shift and change?

Then, from Seth Godin’s book/work of art, It’s Your Turn. Think of a situation – in your body, your life, your community – that is changing and the tension that results. Think of somewhere where there is tension – in a muscle, in a relationship, a company – and the change that inevitably, eventually, results.

Hidden within these quotes is not just the sensation of adaptability but of strength and flexibility.
Are you willing to change?

In February, meditation teacher and author, Sharon Salzberg sponsors a 28-Day Meditation Challenge. Everybody is invited to commit to meditating every day for the month and join the mindfulness community. As part of the challenge, I’ll be blogging throughout the month (along with other meditator/bloggers) about the experience. You can find the posts on Sharon’s site and I’ll share mine on Focus Pocus.

28-Day Meditation Challenge ~ Day 14
Saturday, February 14, 2015

28 Day Challenge aspen leaf pub dom

For two months, I’ve been creating a new routine called No Words ~ all instrumental music, taught in silence. For a word-centered, lyric-loving, chatty-Cathy like me, it is a creative edge. Last night I taught it for the first time.

This morning, as I “meditated”, my mind obsessively analyzed and chewed on every part of the class. I could have been simpler, more impeccable. I could have set it up more clearly. I should have taught it differently and it would have been better. In the pit of my heart sat the dull ache of disappointment.

My writer friend, Whitney (aka The Coconut Girl), reminds me that any work of art, however flawed, that is brought out into the world is infinitely superior to perfect art that remains in our heads. Without question, Seth Godin would agree that we have to take the vulnerable step out and share our work. (One of my favorite Godin quotes is, “This may not work.”)

Even so, the gap between my vision and its execution yawns wide.

All of which reminds me of the Three Noble Principles. Pema Chödrön describes them as moving through any practice or work focusing on “good in the beginning, good in the middle and good at the end.”

In regards to the No Words routine, I certainly started with “good in the beginning.” I began with an aspiration to create a fun, meditative, movement experience focused on the mover, undistracted by lyrics in the music or teacher shenanigans. My intention was for No Words to lead to happiness and reduce suffering.

First of the Three Noble Principles? Check.

The second principle, the “good in the middle” part maaaay be where I went astray. Pema describes this as proceeding through an endeavor with openness and, as best we can, without grasping. Oh, see? There’s the rub. I really, really wanted the routine to turn out just like I envisioned it. I was attached to the outcome. Yes, I was.

This is the paradox of practice: to set a clear, pure intent that I care deeply about, then proceed without attachment to what actually happens. When I am grasping for things to go certain way, for me to be a certain way, for others to feel a certain way, I have dropped the proverbial ball of the Second Noble Principle. Plus, the next morning I’m obsessing on my cushion feeling poopie.

Right here, smack dab in the middle of the challenge is a good place to focus on “good in the middle.”

connection confection camille seaman tornadoIt’s truly uncanny. Every week, as I set the focus for my upcoming classes and begin writing these posts, life dishes up a slew of ways for me both to learn more and to experience what I’m working on.

Funny that.

This week was extraordinary in this regard.  I bumped directly into the power of interconnection so many times that I thought I’d share some of the serendipity that has popped up in just the past few days:

connection confection mandela

• In the middle of writing this post, I heard the news that Nelson Mandela had died. I heard about it not on NPR or on TV, but from reading this moving post by Lisa Jakub. Her beautiful, personal piece reminded me that no matter who you are or where you are, your actions, choices, and thoughts touch the people around you. There is no way around this. Who we are and how we are affects the world. Nelson Mandela was a shining example of how one person’s choices even in the most horrendous of circumstances, made the world better.

connection confection ubuntu

• In the middle of Lisa’s post, I clicked on the term “Ubuntu,” a term that I vaguely recognized as a South African humanist philosophy that roughly translates to “human kindness.” As I read more and watched the video of Mandela talking about it, I realized that Ubuntu is an approach to living that acknowledges that we are all connected and that no one is more or less important than anyone else.

connection confection charles eisenstein

• While working on a project with a friend, she told me about the work of Charles Eisenstein, the author of Sacred Economies. I watched this brilliant 12-minute film about his work that explains the lie of separation that our culture tells and the truth of connection. I was both saddened by what he says and encouraged by the possibility of seeing, living, choosing another way.

connection confection camille seaman

• A while back a friend had sent me a link to a long interview with artist and photographer, Camille Seaman. The interview’s epigraph was a quote from my hero, Seth Godin, which intrigued me so I printed it out to read later. In the middle of writing Connection Confection, I picked it up to read before bed. Seaman, born of an African-American mother and a Native American Shinnecock father, is living a rich, courageous, artistic life. In the interview, she talks about what her father’s father taught her about being still and noticing, and about how deeply human beings are intertwined with Nature. Once he pointed out a cloud in the sky and said, “Do you see that? That’s part of you up there. That’s your water that helps make that cloud.” Much later, she finds herself walking to the edge of the Bering Sea (I know, right? You’ve got to read it.) and she has an epiphany: “One this extreme part of our planet I was realizing that I was a creature of this planet, that I was literally made of the material of this planet – that we all are. And in those moments, I realized the absurdity of tribe, of border, of culture, of language—because at the bottom of it all, we are all made of this material. … there is no separation. There is no distinction.

connection confection world-peace-in-our-hands

Life is connection. Integration is health. Knowing this can change everything.

pleasure pain weakness t“Pain is weakness leaving the body.” ~ t-shirt on a (very fit-looking) guy at the gym

“There is no gain in pain. The treasure is in pleasure.” ~ William, my friend Laura’s Bikram yoga teacher

Our culture has a lot of ideas about pleasure and pain. In general, we Americans spend a huge amount of time and money making sure we are comfortable. Very very comfortable. We really, really want to be warm but not too hot and cool but not too cold and feather-bedded and gel-soled and silk-undied. It is the goal of the first world to eliminate discomfort.

Recently, three of my very favorite bloggers have written about various aspects of this:
• Seth Godin on Seth’s Blog. He writes particularly about avoiding fear both here and here
• Leo Babauta on ZenHabits. He writes about the tools for mindfulness and the discomfort of sitting with urges
• And Mr. Money Mustache on, um, Mr. Money Mustache. My hero of frugality, independence and bad-assity writes about the novel and powerful idea of “voluntary discomfort.”

I highly recommend all three of these blogs.  These smart guys talk about embracing discomfort as a cornerstone to creating lives of creativity, kindness, and freedom. I am into living that kind of life – and I’m still making my way there. Here’s a look at my evolving perspective on pleasure and pain … in three bumper stickers.

pain pleasure voluntary discomfort no_pain_no_gain_bumper_sticker

In my late 20s /early 30s, I was a card-carrying citizen of Type A Land. In Type A Land, we go crashing through the forest like hell-bent rhinos. Perfectionism, based largely on insecurity, drove most of my choices. I over-exercised and I over-exercised hard. I believed in “No Pain, No Gain.” I didn’t think it counted unless it hurt. It’s not surprising, then, that when I was introduced to Nia, I was confused, since their bumper sticker reads:

pain pleasure voluntary discomfort no_pain_all_gain_bumper_sticker

Wait a minute…what? In many ways, Nia retrained both my body and mind. Nia invited me to entertain the possibility that exercise could feel good. Instead of overdoing and pushing, Nia offered the choice of pleasure. As a dedicated Type A Landian, this was an essential choice and one that was often a conundrum for me. After all the years of self-punishment, choosing pleasure was a way of re-framing my choices both in and out of the studio. It was a revelation. After practicing for a while, though, I started to ask, “How am I going to challenge myself and improve if I’m only choosing pleasure?”

Good question. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the answer and a middle way.

body artOne of my favorite parts for being a movement educator is leading retreats. I love having time away from our regular schedules to deepen our practice and get to know each other and ourselves better. In the flurry and rush of our day-to-day-ness, it’s easy to be caught in the press of to-do lists and the stress of obligations that can distort our perspective about what’s important. A retreat offers the chance to be inspired and refreshed, to build connections and friendships, and to intentionally create space for what matters most.

I love leading retreats, and it’s been a while since I have. I was waiting for the inspiration, the spark of something that I couldn’t wait to share. This is it.

First, I was inspired to work again with my friend, colleague, fellow-mover, and fellow-artist, Rebecca George. Her brilliance, curiosity, and creativity in everything she does ~ from parenting to sewing to cooking to writing ~ has been a steady source of delight, play, and joy for me for years. Just being around her makes me want to create things and dance swirly.

Second, I wanted to play with a Nia concept called Life As Art. Practicing life as art is to perceive everything in life as art, including your self and your body. Noticing details and reveling in the pleasurable beauty that surrounds us and is us is what Life As Art is all about. While I find this to be a powerful and important practice to have, on some level, it separates me from art: the apples in the bowl are art, the sun shining on the bright red truck is art, the spiraling bones of my forearms are art…but what about me?

Whilst casting about, I heard this interview with Seth Godin on NPR. He said that the industrial age was about following the leader and doing as we were told. Now, in the post-industrial, connected age, we all must be artists. I was blown away by his insights on living a remarkable life that makes a difference, I read his latest book, The Icarus Deception, and wrote about it on this blog.

Now, Rebecca and I take these ideas from Nia and Seth Godin (and other sources of wisdom and play) and are creating a whole weekend of movement and artistic experiences…perhaps ones that will surprise you.

Whether you absolutely think of yourself as an artist or you absolutely don’t, this weekend is for you. I warmly and sincerely invite you to join our tribe of people who are passionate about dancing through a life with purpose! We are offering special discounts for those registering before October 10, or those bringing a friend, so please go here for the details and registration and please, of course, just let me know if you have any questions.

Earth without Art is just “eh”…
xo
Susan

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