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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.

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.

Move more in the core to free energy for extremities – my connection with the world.

Five sensations of fitness (flexibility, strength, mobility, agility and stability) in pelvis, chest, head and spine:

Flexibility:  Energy moving out

Spine moves in 6 directions:  left, right, front, back, and spiral left / right.  More spine flexibility: breathe more deeply.

Strength:  Energy Moving In

Core muscles run around the body.  Balance and extension (i.e.,  martial arts kicks, punches, blocks) in all directions creates core strength – especially when sounding!  More core strength: clarity, boundaries, tell the truth.

Mobility:  Energy in Constant Motion

Each vertebra moves independently. Mobilize core with spinal rolls and undulations, pelvic circles, and eye movement.  Spine mobility: can adjust and flow with present moment.

Agility:  Quick Stops & Starts

Hip bumps for pelvis and lumbar spine.  Chest isolations for thoracic.  Head and Eye for the neck.  More core agility:  adjust quickly and precisely for ease and power.

Stability:  Energy Moving from Center out in all Directions

More stability:  more relaxed and ready to move into any of the sensations with ease.

Sense five sensations in your core and how that affects your connection with yourself, others and the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Everything is connected:  in Nature, in nations, in families, in the body.  Change something, add something, take something away, and the whole balance shifts.  Energy flows in and out, not in just one direction.

I am fascinated by the core of the body as a physical design and as a container, exchanger and director of energy and emotion (click here to read earlier posts on the core).  The focus of the Miracle and Wonder routine is to release tension in the wrists and ankles with the intent of opening the heart.  By giving attention to joints in the extremities that regularly hold tension, we freed up energy and space for the core.  But energy flows from the outside in and the inside out.  So the opposite is also true:  if we can move more through the core of the body, it frees up more energy and space for our extremities – our primary connectors to the world.

In Nia, we play with five sensations of fitness:  flexibility, strength, mobility, agility and stability.  For all five, I tend to think first about my arms and legs.  But I can cultivate all five sensations in my core, too.  The more engaged and versatile my core movement is, the more engaged and versatile my expression and connection with the world around me is through my extremities.

So let’s look at the five sensations as they relate to the core of the body – pelvis, chest, head and spine:

Flexibility:  Energy moving out

There aren’t many long bones in the core through which we extend energy (the ribs are long-ish but they curve around rather than extend), so how do we create flexibility with the mostly small and/or solid bones of the core?  The answer is in the spine and in the breath.  The spine, the crustacean-like column of bones that encases the spinal cord and connects every part of you to every other part of you, is designed to move in 6 different ways:  left, right, front, back, spiral left and spiral right.  Using the weight of the head and the stability of the pelvis, allow your spine to tip to each side, to open front and back (think, cat/cow from yoga or looking up/lifting your tail and looking down tucking your tail), and twist left and right.  As I create more flexibility in my spine, my breath can flow more fully and deeply and I radiate out and connect more expansively.

Strength:  Energy Moving In

The most obvious answer to strength in the core is the ubiquitous abdominal crunch, but core strength includes the cummerbund of muscle that runs around the body.  Core strength is in the back, sides and front – as well as internal and external.  Playing with balance and extension in all directions and in all three planes is a powerful way to create more core strength.  In particular, martial arts movements of kicks, punches and blocks also engage the deep core muscles – especially if we make sound while executing them!  As I create more strength in my core, I can be clear, set boundaries, and tell the truth.

Mobility:  Energy in Constant Motion

The spine is actually a long series of small joints running from the center of the skull (just behind the bridge of the nose) down to the base of the tailbone.  Each of these joints is designed to move independently, although for most of us there are places in our spine where the vertebrae are “stuck” together.  Spinal rolls and undulations are great movements to stimulate more mobility along the length of the spine.  Pelvic circles can release more mobility into the hip joints.  Looking curiously with the eyes can increase mobility in the neck.  As I create more mobility in my spine, I can make micro adjustments and flow with what is happening in any moment.

Agility:  Quick Stops and Starts

Each of the three body weights has the potential for agility.  Hip bumps (or pretending you have a tail that you want to whip side to side) activate agility in the pelvis and lumbar spine.  Chest isolations wake up the thoracic spine and fire up the core muscles on all sides.  Head and Eye movement, when used with quick, bird-like precision, brings agility into the neck.  (Watch out, though, head and eye movement moves a lot of energy.  If you ever feel dizzy or nauseous, pat your belly and slow your movement down.)  As I create more agility in my core, I can adjust quickly and precisely whenever I need to with ease and power.

Stability:  Energy Moving from Center out in all Directions

Often, when we think of stability we think of density and heaviness (and this is often what we do with the spine:  allow it to solidify and compress).  The actual experience of stability in the body is energy moving from center out in all directions.  I find the best way to connect with stability is to stand with lightness allowing my feet and tail to root and my crown to lift.  Then I can allow the spine to open, creating space between the vertebrae and my ribs to expand and lift away from center.   As I create more stability I feel more relaxed and grounded – ready to move into any of the other sensations with ease.

This week, experiment with sensing for all five sensations in your core: while dancing in class and through life.  Notice how your connection with the five sensations in your core affects how you connect with yourself, others and the world.  A-Ho!

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