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speak it 092815
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.

There are benefits for body, mind, emotions and spirit to using sound, but it can be challenging to find ways to begin to integrate sound and breath and satya (truth in Sanskrit) into an average day. Here are five simple ways to make more sound and speak more truth.

1. Use audible breath while meditating. If you sit to meditate and your mind is bouncing around like a drunken monkey, gently make an audible breath (imagine fogging a mirror then do that with your lips sealed). The sound of your breath will quiet your monkey mind and give you a focus for your attention. If you’ve never meditated, begin by simply taking 10 mindful (and audible) breaths and build from there.

2. Sing. Sing to yourself in the car, the shower, while cooking! Sing along to the radio or be your own iPod. Open your mouth and let it out. Just like dancing, it’s not about your song being “good,” it’s about the healing feeling of singing. BONUS: Sing a song that is particularly inspiring to you and really let it rip.

3. Say your preference. If someone asks what you’d like to do, say your preference. Even if you are on the fence and don’t care that much, pick your preference and say it.

4. Say a kind thought out loud. If you think a generous thought about someone, even a stranger, say it to them. Tell them they look great or that their work makes a difference to you or that you admire their courage. BONUS: Say it to them in person, out loud with witnesses.

5. Notice a tight throat. Pay attention to the sensation in your throat, particularly in emotional or challenging situations. A tight, constricted feeling in your throat is a sure sign that you have something to say. Throat awareness can help you sort it out and say what needs saying in an authentic way.

BONUS: What’s the truth that needs saying in your life? Is there someone who you’ve held the truth from? Have you been stingy with encouragement or have you swallowed bullying behavior? Have you said I love you to everyone who you love? Speak your truth, your satya.

Speak it 092515When I moved to Charlottesville in 1996, I took a job with a little software company on the downtown mall. My first day, the founder of the company gave me an office tour – programmers’ office, conference room, marketing department. Down there, he said, pointing down the hall, are other people’s offices. A travel agent, a massage therapist. And right here, he said, pointing to the door just to the right of where we stood, is some woman who teaches some kind of exercise classes. I don’t know what it is but they are yelling Yes and No and making noise all the time.

He rolled his eyes and half laughed. Clearly, he thought she was crazy and annoying. Being the new-comer, go-alonger that I was, I laughed nervously and agreed that she sounded perfectly wackadoodle.

Three years later, that woman teaching those crazy classes was Chris Friedman, my first Nia teacher.

When a friend brought me to Chris’ classes in 1999, I was skeptical and reluctant – even more so when I realized that this was the lady telling people to shout and make sound. But something in the classes captured my imagination and I found myself jealously guarding my Wednesday nights so I wouldn’t miss her class.

I loved Nia but for the first year or more, I completely rejected the whole sound-making thing. Making sound in an exercise class seemed silly and embarrassing and I very much wanted to avoid being those two things.

So I never made a peep.


Spiritual traditions, martial arts, and yoga, all use sound to support them in their practices. Native American tribes used war cries and Confederate soldiers had the rebel yell. Whether the goal is connecting with a higher power, delivering an elbow strike, or sustaining Warrior II pose, some kind of sound-making, chanting, audible breath, or all-out whooping is part of the endeavor. And with good reason.

Making sound supports the physical body. The expulsion of air contracts the muscles around the spine, strengthening the core and protecting the low back from the inside out.

Making sound focuses attention, energy and power. Whether using a percussive “Huh!” when performing a martial arts punch, or sustaining a long sound when singing or an audible breath when doing yoga, sound narrows our attention to this very moment.

Making sound moves emotional energy of all kinds. Like an emotional jackhammer, sound unblocks feelings and gives them space to move. I can almost always keep it together during a funeral, but when I open my mouth to sing a hymn, the sadness lets go.

Making sound connects us with each other and all that is. When we sing, chant, breathe, or whoop as a group, we know we are in this together. And on a basic human level something about allowing an internal vibration out into space connects us with the bigness of the world, the Universe, Nature, and God.


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The Sanskrit word satya means truth…but more than that. Satya means sincerity, honesty, integrity and power of the word. Making sound, showing up, and speaking truth reflects this power and integrity. There is both tender vulnerability and the fire of truth in satya.


A beautiful and reserved student has practiced Nia for nearly a decade. For most of that time she barely made any noise, both literally and figuratively. She silently took Nia, laughed quietly, never rocked the boat. About a year ago, she joined her church choir and something opened up in her. She started making more sound in Nia and breathing audibly in Pilates. She started speaking up – sharing her vision, her observations, herself. She started telling the truth in her relationships when she used to stay silent. She said No to things that weren’t right, and also Wow, and Help, and I love you. As her teacher and friend, I feel her presence, her realness more than I had before. Her whole life shifted from the inside out by opening her mouth and letting out satya.


For me, the shift happened in martial arts movements. I loved the powerful feeling of kicks and blocks and punches. When I finally opened my mouth and connected sound with the movement, I felt a deep satisfaction, groundedness, and presence. And it felt good: the vibration, the strength, the connection to myself and others. For other people, sound begins with audible breath or singing or simply opening up and saying I want that.

Whatever it is for you, say it. Speak it. Live your satya.

Principle 3: Music & The 8BC System…a little ditty

P3 person listening

 

 

John Cage’s piece 4’33” illustrates that there is music everywhere, all around us.

The difference between sound, noise and music is how I think about it, how I approach it. Listen with body relaxed, spine upright; mind alert, without preferences; spirit open and curious about what sounds appear next.

Music is everywhere, all around. The state of Relaxed, Alert and Waiting (RAW) invites listening with awareness, insight and clarity. Whatever I am listening to, the practice of RAW invites me to increase, circulate and use the energy within me and around me


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wagmore sticker“Wag More
Bark Less”
~ Bumper sticker

A sleek, black cat is the queen of my house. Phoenix purrs when she is happily nestled in Frank’s lap as he watches the Twins. When I’m late with the wet food (she has some kind of crazy-accurate tummy clock), she speaks in a sharp tone that expresses her annoyance with crystal clarity. Phoenix also wags her tail, but I’m never quite sure what she means by it.

Every dog I’ve ever known, however, has communicated clearly with their wagging. Gina, my rescued greyhound, could wag herself silly. From nose to tail tip, her whole body would swing and undulate whenever I walked in the door. Even if I’d just forgotten my keys. I bet you know a dog who has an all-out-full-on-whole-doggy-body tail wag that radiates pure rapture. That kind of tail wag is the embodiment of joy.

This is unlikely to surprise you, but I would love to have a tail. Rest assured that all outfits (especially Nia teaching outfits) would be designed for optimum tail comfort and expressiveness. Wouldn’t it be nice to thump it approvingly when you saw the food coming out? Or to flip it half-heartedly to indicate that “yes, I am paying attention but I don’t really want to get up”? Or to offer high-octane, coffee table-clearing, shout-hallelujah-he’s-home wag when you’re really feeling the love? I would.*

And I guess, as a daisy-pants-wearing Nia teacher, I do.

In my practice, I’ve discovered that tail-wagging is actually great for body and mind -– and people just don’t do it nearly enough. As I wrote about last fall in Explore from Core, the spine is designed to move in six directions: front, back, left, right, and spiraling both ways. When I wag my tail, I am creating mobility in the notoriously stiff and achy lower (lumbar) spine, as well as creating strength and flexibility in my waist, back and abdomen. By wagging my tail, I am creating movement in my hip joints which can release not just the leg muscles but (perhaps surprisingly) also tension in the jaw.

A nice slow, wide, alligator-tail kind of wag is particularly good for increasing range of motion and strength in the core, hips, back and legs. A fast happy-puppy tail wag can loosen up intrinsic muscles and shake out chronic tension. And a subtle, mid-range, walking-around-town tail wag is a great way to just keep the juices flowing.

In addition to all the physical benefits of some healthy, human tail wagging, a little tail wag reminds me to loosen up, lighten up, and not take myself so seriously. By wagging our tails, we invite ourselves to play, let go, even smile while we’re moving (click here for even more on the benefits of smiling)! Seriously, if your tail wag gets you (or someone else) to smile or even laugh a little, there are immediate and long-term benefits for body and mind.

Not to mention relationships.

Don’t get me wrong. Barking has its place. It’s important to say what is true, to set boundaries, and ask for what I want. In Nia class, by making sound, I not only strengthen my core and protect my back, but I release energy so I can relax more. So I’m not dissing barking, but as the bumper stickers says, my preference is mostly wagging with barking as needed.

Let’s face it, do you want to hang out with the dog that’s always yapping and making a rhubarb about every little thing? Or do you want to be with the pooch that wags her whole self to say hello after you’ve been gone for 27 seconds? I know I want to both be and be with the wagger (who can bark clearly to say, “Um, it was dinner time, like, 40 minutes ago.”).

So this week, whether you’re in class or out and about, wag more, bark as needed, and embody friendly love. I’d love to know what really gets you wagging (or barking) this week!

* Somewhat alarmingly, in the research for this post, I came across this Kickstarter campaign for the Tailly: a wearable, wagging tail that is connected to the wearer’s heartbeat. I’m not kidding. And this is not what I have in mind.

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