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le que high bridge state park 101813 011Riding on the High Bridge Trail, 100 feet above the river. Big sky. Trees below.

A bad-ass gang* of vultures on the bridge warming their wings.

We approach.

They casually lift off and fly, no flapping.
We are at their level; high enough to see eye-to-eye. They dip fast, lift, and circle.
Looking for food? Stretching flying muscles? Showing off for pretty Lady Vultures?

Maybe.

Or do they soar because it’s fun? For the pleasure of it? For the Joy?
Sometimes, does it take their breath away?

Maybe.

I hope so.

Do you?

* Actually, a “venue” or “kettle” whilst flying.

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le que high bridge state park 101813 024SPACIOUS is my word in 2013. Every year, I pick a word, focus on it in varying degrees of intensity, and follow it where it leads. Airborne, the routine I’m launching this week, was inspired by my experience with SPACIOUS.

This is how it came to be.

For me, winter can be like wearing a too-tight, too-short turtleneck. I tend to be little cold, fidgety, and cranky in winter. This year is no exception. So as I start 2013, I am feeling constricted, itchy, and goosebumpy. SPACIOUS? Yes, please, I’d like some of that.

I start with the sky. No matter the weather, whenever I look at the sky, my body relaxes and my breath deepens. (Go look and see if it’s true for you.) Even though I know that sky gazing helps me, especially in winter, I sit at my desk, drive my car, teach in the studio. I live boxed in most of my days. So in 2013, I make a point to look at the sky every day to encourage myself to relax and to remind myself how much space there really is all the time.

Years ago, my Nia teacher Carlos Rosas, created a routine called SkyDancing. Given the name, I always imagined Carlos up in the air, dancing in the clouds. But as I look at the SPACIOUS sky every day, I realize that the sky isn’t “up there.” The sky comes all the way down to the ground, all the way to me. Wherever we are, we are moving and living and dancing in the sky. I like this and feel far less cranky.

Every human life begins with an inhalation and ends with an exhalation. Breath means alive. In January, I begin a Bikram yoga practice. Deep, conscious breath is a big part of it. Breath work in yoga — pranayama in Sanskrit – expands the space in the lungs by increasing their elasticity. In my first few months of practice, I can feel my breath lengthen and deepen. The little intercostal muscles between my ribs stretch and feel more pliable. One afternoon, while doing Nia on my back deck, find myself blending my two practices: as I dance, I breathe in the sky. “Sky Breathing” feels physically SPACIOUS inside my chest and lungs. It also opens up space in my heart and mind. My breath stretches gaps between my thoughts and (sometimes) allows me to be with whatever happens to be happening.

Spring arrives, and I notice the essential, life-giving power of air. Humans can live three weeks without food, and three days without water but not three minutes without air. As flowers bloom and the garden sprouts, I notice that every element needs air. Earth without air is too hard to grow anything. Water without oxygen is just hydrogen gas. And fire without air sputters and dies. Air breathes life into everything.

le que high bridge state park 101813 021All of this is swirling around in my days: the spaciousness of the sky, dancing in the sky, breathing space in, the essential quality of air. And then, in August, my husband gives me a new, red bike for my birthday. Huzzah! I start riding it to yoga. Sweet Sweaty Summer Sensations, my friends! Let me tell you what! Coming out of the hot yoga studio, flushed with heat and wet with sweat, I get on my bike and fly home down Locust Avenue. It is beyond breathtakingly glorious. (And the day it rains on my way home? Durn near orgasmic.) With the wind in my face and on my skin, I feel expansive, free. I ride every chance I get: on trails, on the beach, in nature preserves, on gravel roads, to teach, to run errands, and, of course, to yoga – especially if it’s raining.

All together, focusing on the word SPACIOUS this year leads me to create the routine Airborne. The music is about sky and earth and wind and water. The movements are designed to expand breath and space inside the body and accentuate the external sensation of air on skin. The magic of aliveness that emerges from awareness, breath, and space runs all the way through.

We are born of air. There is no life without air. As long as we are alive, we are airborne.

spacious jellyfishIn February, I wrote a post about Making Space. In it, I mentioned that contrary to my charging rhino, get ‘er done tendencies, I’ve chosen the word SPACIOUS for my One Little Word this year. Despite my inclination to dododo, I’ve found that nothing is more helpful, powerful, and healing than making space.

So I’m taking the next two weeks to bask in spaciousness. That, and the sun. Frank and I are going to the ocean to play in the waves, make dribble castles, and do a whole lot of nothing. I’ll also write and dance some and do some yoga but in a less precise way than usual. I’ll do it fuzzier, softer, carelessly.

While I strongly believe that my purpose and practice is one of discipline and determination, persistence and perseverance, focus and concentration, there is a time for being careless. Not careless in the sense of sloppy but in the sense of having fewer cares. It’s important for me to be out there: to walk my talk and share what I create, whether it’s a blog post or a book or a routine. And just like a jelly fishy sea creature, sometimes the best way to move forward is to dive into the space inside and see what’s there.

One obvious way of creating space is to take a vacation. Breaking out of our normal routine, seeing new sights, having different experiences, tasting new tastes, meeting new people is a great way to get some space and give us perspective on our day-to-day lives. Whenever I travel, I always feel a deep appreciation for all the beauty and amazing coolness that is in the world, but I also come back with a deeper appreciation of home.

Going on vacation isn’t the only way to make space, though. Here are a few things that have helped me recently:

Meditation – Everybody from therapists to health care professionals to concerned friends told me for years that I should meditate. I resisted it at every turn. Sitting still was against my nature and I just couldn’t do it, I said. More accurately, I didn’t like doing it. I did dabble in sitting and even went on a couple of mediation retreats but I never stuck with it. When I took my sabbatical last summer, I promised myself that a daily sitting practice was part of my work. For four months, I sat nearly every day. Even if it was for 5 minutes just watching my breath (and my spiraling thoughts). Nothing has helped me get more perspective, relax into the present (see below) and gain more insight. I recommend it highly. Note: There are lots of good resources for introductions to meditation and one which helped me tremendously when I was starting was the Insight Meditation Kit by Sharon Salzberg and Josheph Goldstein

Listen Closely and Breathe before Speaking – I use this particularly when a conversation is difficult or intense, either for me or for the speaker. I find that my “Fix It Filter” tends to go on overdrive and I want to jump in and get to a solution or resolution. What works better for me is to relax and give us both some space. Offering my full attention, listening deeply and then taking a breath before responding has helped me make much more skillful choices in what I do and do not say.

Being with What is Happening – One definition of suffering is wanting things to be different than they are. Whether it is a rainy camping trip or an painful feeling, instead of fighting against it or wanting it to be otherwise, giving whatever is happening space to be as it is can be hugely helpful. When I grasp onto what’s happening or push it away, things tend to go south in a hurry. Just compassionately reminding myself that this is just what is happening right now, can give me the space to deal with it skillfully.

How do you give yourself space? What are the benefits from making that space for yourself? As always, I’d love to know. And though I won’t be teaching again for a couple of weeks*, I will be writing and on line, so feel free to connect that way.

Take a breath, feel the space and go all jelly fishy!

* My next Nia class will be on Friday, July 26 at 1125am at ACAC Albemarle Square. The following week starting July 29, I will resume my regular teaching schedule (M 1045am & W 1055am Albemarle Square, T & Th 9am Downtown).

charging-rhinoEverything needs space:  plants, people, ideas, work, relationships, conversations.  Everything.

Pushing to make something happen is short sighted (hear that, Inner Charging Rhino?).

A healthy body needs space.  Joints, muscles, organs, brains need room to do their thing.  Bodies need to be able to stretch, move, breathe, and see the sky.

How can you make space in your life, your day, right now?  Cancel something.  Schedule less.  Be quiet more.  Put your fork down.  Put your fists down, too.

You might be surprised what emerges into the space you create.  An inspiration, a solution, or even an undiscovered part of you!

space cloisters“How do you catch a unique animal?” “Unique up on them.” – favorite childhood joke, okay, actually, just a favorite joke

I’m at a loss.  I’ve been thinking about writing this post every day this week, and still I’m stuck.  It’s not for lack of ideas or inspiration.  Actually, there are a number of ideas, maybe even revelations, on the edges of my awareness.  I feel them like interesting animals in the woods just beyond my vision.  I can hear them wandering around, nibbling casually.  I bet they can see me with their amused, curious eyes.  I know that they would be supercool to see and get to know, but they are just outside my reach.

Have you ever felt like you’re on the edge of something?  Like there is a story you want to tell but you’re not sure of the plot or the characters only of the exhilaration of the telling?  A break-through you can feel but can’t articulate?  That you are about to step into unfamiliar terrain?  Ever have a feeling that something exciting and special is possible, but it’s just the feeling?

One route is to get all kinds of frustrated — to push and force.  Part of me wants to make it happen, make it appear.  I’m nothing if not determined, and in the face of an elusive something, I can go after it like a cat (or charging rhino).  Do a workshop, read a book, talk to a teacher.  Do.  Something.  Now.

If I really was tracking a shy, exotic creature, though, it’s unlikely that the whole Charging Rhino Technique would bring her any closer to me.  If I really wanted to get to her, I would be still and give her space to come to me.

Gabrielle Roth, the late founder of 5Rhythms movement, taught that everything needs space to grow.  Every plant, every person, every movement, every relationship, every company, every country.  Everything needs space.

Space is The Body’s Way, too.  A healthy body has space.  Joints need space to move.  Muscles need space in which to contract and release.  Lungs need space to move oxygen.  The heart needs space to pump fresh blood to the cells.  When the body contracts or condenses, it stops working smoothly.

Pushing and forcing rarely work well – take it from one who has done a good bit of pushing and forcing in her time.  Pushing and forcing squeezes and tightens and needs to be balanced with space and release.  It’s not an accident that “spacious” is my One Little Word this year.  I’m doing my best to make space in my body, in my conversations, in my calendar, in my practice.  You can do it right now.  Stop reading.  Make some space between you and your computer.  Take a breath and notice.

Making space is a different domain for this charging rhino, but I have to admit that it feels good.  And what’s more, when I make space, whatever I need shows up.  The sweet, elusive animal steps out from the trees – and sometimes she lets me stroke her neck.

This week, let’s make space:  in our bodies, our movement, our thoughts and see what happens, see what we discover around us and in us.  Whether you are dancing with me or dancing through your life, find ways of making space in as many ways as you can.  And let me know what you discover, what changes, what doesn’t.  I would so love to know.

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