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Tag Archives: Tara Brach


How many times do I say (or think), “I’ve got to figure this out.” This week we danced the possibilities of resting the “thinking mind” — the one that over-manages and over-plans and instead living from our “working mind” – the one that gracefully resides and chooses in the present moment. As Sarah Susanka reminds us:

“When you are trying to figure out the right thing to do, you are in thinking mind. You have set up a duality between what is right atnd what is wrong, with the implication that if you don’t pick the correct option, you’ll be screwing up. But in reality, you can’t screw up. Whatever you pick will produce a set of life experiences that will continue to reveal you to you, whether the content of what happens is pleasant to go through or miserable. All of it contains food for your growth. The part of you that’ trying to determine what’s correct is lost in appearances, whereas the nutrients for self-understanding lie in that vast ocean of peace beneath the surface.” ~ The Not So Big Life p. 195

In addition to Susanka’s book, inspiration for this week’s focus came from two talks by Tara Brach, meditation teacher and author. Those talks are Impermanence: Awakening Through Insecurity, Part 1 & Part 2, they are wonderful and I hope you’ll listen to them both.

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, some upcoming awesome things!

Author Fest 2019 at the Waynesboro Public Library on March 16
On Saturday, March 16 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Waynesboro Public Library will host its 5th Annual Author Fest. The event is free for both authors and the public. Buddha Cat and friends will be there and you can find out more here. I do hope you’ll join us!

Nia Jam on Friday, March 29, 5:45-7pm
The acac Nia team will offer a Nia Jam on Friday, March 29 from 545-7pm! More details soon!

First Friday Freedance with Kate ~ April 5 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, April 5 from 11:25 -12:25.

Honoring the Effect of Trauma in our Lives with Larry Goldstein and Wendy Hubbard April 27
Larry Goldstein and Wendy Hubbard lead a workshop on releasing the grip of trauma using structures work, personal stories, and group work. Structures enable a person to go back safely to a traumatic memory with crucial support that was missing then and offers fresh options — an alternative memory – a different outcome in which basic human needs are met and longing for love and protection are fulfilled. This reconstructs inner implicit memory maps in the brain and helps people become viscerally acquainted with feelings that were lacking early in their lives. Pre-course online class Saturday, April 20, 3-5pm, In Person One-Day Class Saturday, April 27, 10-6p, Post-course online class, Saturday, May 4, 3-5pm. Cost $150. Limited to 12 participants. To register and for more information, contact Wendy Hubbard at whubbard0@gmail.com.

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

Monday, Mar 11, 2019, 1045am ~ Feel (Rather Than Figure) It Out

Delirium [Dub Mix] 6:15 Euphoria
Back to the Earth 5:27 Rusted Root
Sweeter Love 8:09 Blue Six
Serpentine Fire 3:50 Earth, Wind & Fire
Mothership 3:14 Kid Beyond
It’s Alright 3:28 Dar Williams
Crazy Knowledge (Soul Of Man Remix) 6:29 Dreadzone
Feel On Baby 5:07 The Rolling Stones
CAN’T STOP THE FEELING! 3:58 Justin Timberlake
Domination 7:26 Peace Orchestra
Elephant (Dub) 6:07 Spiral System
Far Away The End 2:19 Jeroen Elfferich

Tuesday, Mar 12, 2018, 840am ~ Feel (Rather Than Figure) It Out

Delirium [Dub Mix] 6:15 Euphoria
Serpentine Fire 3:50 Earth, Wind & Fire
Mothership 3:14 Kid Beyond
It’s Alright 3:28 Dar Williams
Crazy Knowledge (Soul Of Man Remix) 6:29 Dreadzone
Dance Little Sister 3:55 Terence Trent D’Arby
Domination 7:26 Peace Orchestra
Elephant (Dub) 6:07 Spiral System
Far Away The End 2:19 Jeroen Elfferich

Wednesday, Mar 13, 2018, 11am ~ Feel (Rather Than Figure) It Out

How Does It Feel 4:57 Afterlife
Back to the Earth 5:27 Rusted Root
Sweeter Love 8:09 Blue Six
Mothership 3:14 Kid Beyond
Crazy Knowledge (Soul Of Man Remix) 6:29 Dreadzone
I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ 4:48 Scissor Sisters
Feel It All – Band Jam 3:50 KT Tunstall
Domination 7:26 Peace Orchestra
Elephant (Dub) 6:07 Spiral System
The Essence One 3:24 Jeroen Elfferich

Thursday, Mar 14, 2018, 840am ~ Feel (Rather Than Figure) It Out

How Does It Feel 4:57 Afterlife
Back to the Earth 5:27 Rusted Root
Sweeter Love 8:09 Blue Six
Mothership 3:14 Kid Beyond
Crazy Knowledge (Soul Of Man Remix) 6:29 Dreadzone
I Don’t Feel Like Dancin’ 4:48 Scissor Sisters
Feel It All – Band Jam 3:50 KT Tunstall
Domination 7:26 Peace Orchestra
Elephant (Dub) 6:07 Spiral System
The Essence Five 2:21 Jeroen Elfferich

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!

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In May, my mother-in-law and sister- and brother-in-law are driving from Minnesota to Virginia for a visit. After the excitement of getting the dates in the calendar, my first thought was, “I need to figure out what I’ll cook for them!”

After a sleepless night, I walk to yoga thinking, “I’m tired so I should figure out how many Wheels to do in class today.”

A friend announces her upcoming birthday party and I think, “Hmmm, now to figure out what to wear!”

It happens when I’m driving. And when I’m falling asleep. And doing chores. It happens a lot.
I catch myself figuring things out that aren’t actually things that need to be figured out.

In her book, The Not So Big Life, Sarah Susanka makes the distinction between “working mind” and “thinking mind.” She says,

…the spontaneous response to situations in the present moment is “working mind,” a label coined by the author and teacher Ramesh Balsekar. This is mind without baggage, with out preconceiving and second-guessing. As soon as you find yourself planning how to cope with a situation or with an eventuality that might come about as a consequence of a projected sequence of events, you are in “thinking mind” — the mind that believes it is up to it to orchestrate reality. (p. 186)

I notice that when I say “I need to figure out…” the space between my eyebrows contracts, my eyes (and brain) get a little tight. This is the sensation of “thinking mind” and it not only takes me out of the present moment, it is exhausting.

“It is not half so important to know as to feel.” – Rachel Carson

I’m married to a man who was born to build things. He creates furniture, cabinetry and beautiful spaces to live in. One of the results of his gift is that I’ve moved quite a lot in the past 20 years. We’re about to move into our sixth home together (not including our rolling camper home and various other places we stayed when we were between houses). Usually when faced with a move, I go into full-on FIGURE IT OUT mode so I can “cope with an eventuality that might come about as a consequence of a projected sequence of events.” This time, I’ve done my best to approach the move from “working mind.” I’m doing my best to be more in the flow and the inspiration, clearing spaces and making decisions from how it feels rather than from between my eyebrows.

This is not to say that planning is a bad thing, or even that thinking is a bad thing. Planning and thinking are tools that are extraordinarily helpful. Instead, I’m practicing noticing when I am over-planning, over-controlling, over-managing. When I find myself spinning and grinding and trying really hard to figure something out, instead I’m feel it out. Often, this means trusting that I will know when I need to know with more wisdom than I could possibly know now.

In her dharma talk on impermanence, Tara Brach quotes poet John O’Donohue:

“We’re so busy managing our life so to cover over this great mystery we’re involved in.”

What would happen if you dropped unnecessary managing and controlling and stepped into the mystery? What might it be like to trust that the present is unfolding and that you can sense what is the most skillful next step.

Instead of figuring it out, feel in.


This week’s focus – No Time To Rush – was inspired by two talks by Tara Brach, meditation teacher and author. Those talks are Impermanence: Awakening Through Insecurity, Part 1 & Part 2, they are powerful good and I hope you’ll listen to them both.

One of the stories she refers to is this:

Before saying a word, he [Ajahn Chah*] motioned to a glass at his side. “Do you see this glass?” he asked us. “I love this glass. It holds the water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”
*Ajahn Chah, 20th Century Thai Buddhist Monk

Imagine walking through the world with the understanding that everything is already broken and how that understanding would invite you to deeply appreciate and savor your life.

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!

In this week’s playlists, a tip of the hat to Leslie Luxenberg who sent me On The Way Home by Buffalo Springfield (I’m a fan, but I’d never heard this one before) that was spot on our focus:

Though we rush ahead
to save our time
We are only what we feel
And I love you,
can you feel it now.

Thank you, Leslie!

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, some announcements of things that are happening!

Author Fest 2019 at the Waynesboro Public Library on March 16
On Saturday, March 16 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., the Waynesboro Public Library will host its 5th Annual Author Fest. The event is free for both authors and the public. Buddha Cat and friends will be there. More information and details to come!

Nia Jam on Friday, March 29, 5:45-7pm
The acac Nia team will offer a Nia Jam on Friday, March 29 from 545-7pm! More details soon!

First Friday Freedance with Kate ~ April 5 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, April 5 from 11:25 -12:25.

Honoring the Effect of Trauma in our Lives with Larry Goldstein and Wendy Hubbard April 27
Larry Goldstein and Wendy Hubbard lead a workshop on releasing the grip of trauma using structures work, personal stories, and group work. Structures enable a person to go back safely to a traumatic memory with crucial support that was missing then and offers fresh options — an alternative memory – a different outcome in which basic human needs are met and longing for love and protection are fulfilled. This reconstructs inner implicit memory maps in the brain and helps people become viscerally acquainted with feelings that were lacking early in their lives. Pre-course online class Saturday, April 20, 3-5pm, In Person One-Day Class Saturday, April 27, 10-6p, Post-course online class, Saturday, May 4, 3-5pm. Cost $150. Limited to 12 participants. To register and for more information, contact Wendy Hubbard at whubbard0@gmail.com.

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

Monday, Mar 4, 2019, 1045am ~ No Time To Rush

Sofa Rockers [Richard Dorfmeister Remix] 8:34 Sofa Surfers
Living In The Moment 3:55 Jason Mraz
Fingerbeat 5:57 Drumspyder
Illusion (Rollercone Remix) 4:35 Limbo Experience
Further in Time 6:32 Afro Celt Sound System
Go2006 Mix 4:23 Moby
La Da Da 3:32 The Makepeace Brothers
Dust in the Wind 3:30 Daughter Darling
Desert Dancer [Zeb’s Slow Camel Ride Remix] 6:05 Nickodemus
Forget About The Future 5:13 Sting
Slow Dawn 5:19 David Darling

Tuesday, Mar 5, 2018, 840am ~ No Time To Rush

Sofa Rockers [Richard Dorfmeister Remix] 8:34 Sofa Surfers
Living In The Moment 3:55 Jason Mraz
Fingerbeat 5:57 Drumspyder
Illusion (Rollercone Remix) 4:35 Limbo Experience
Further in Time 6:32 Afro Celt Sound System
Go2006 Mix 4:23 Moby
La Da Da 3:32 The Makepeace Brothers
Dust in the Wind 3:30 Daughter Darling
Forget About The Future 5:13 Sting
Slow Dawn 5:19 David Darling

Wednesday, Mar 6, 2018, 11am ~ No Time To Rush

One Good Dub 8:16 Kaya Project
Living In The Moment 3:55 Jason Mraz
Fingerbeat 5:57 Drumspyder
On the Way Home  2:56 Neil Young & Bluenote Café
Illusion (Rollercone Remix) 4:35 Limbo Experience
Go2006 Mix 4:23 Moby
Adagio for Strings [Remix by Ferry Corsten] 6:35 William Orbit
La Da Da 3:32 The Makepeace Brothers
Dust in the Wind 3:30 Daughter Darling
Dobro 4:55 Kaya Project
Slow Like Honey  5:59 Fiona Apple

Thursday, Mar 7, 2018, 840am ~ No Time To Rush

One Good Dub 8:16 Kaya Project
Living In The Moment 3:55 Jason Mraz
Fingerbeat 5:57 Drumspyder
On the Way Home  2:56 Neil Young & Bluenote Café
Illusion (Rollercone Remix) 4:35 Limbo Experience
Go2006 Mix 4:23 Moby
Adagio for Strings [Remix by Ferry Corsten] 6:35 William Orbit
La Da Da 3:32 The Makepeace Brothers
Dust in the Wind 3:30 Daughter Darling
Dobro 4:55 Kaya Project
Slow Dawn 5:19 David Darling

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!


I had a dream that I died. Or that I was about to die. I had gotten some kind of diagnosis and (true to my food-centric, vegetarian form) the plan was to eat my lunch salad, then take a pill that would end my life.

This might sound like a bummer of a dream but it wasn’t. First, I was overjoyed to wake up. Then I was intensely aware of the unspeakable sweetness of living…and of its impermanence.

Since The Dream, I’ve been renegotiating my relationship to time. I’ve been paying attention to when I rush through, scrabble over, gobble up my life. I’m doing my best to slow down, savor more, embody presence.

Sometimes it goes better than others.

Last week, I was having a rough go of it when I came across two dharma talks by meditation teacher and author, Tara Brach. Her words often inspire me but these connected straight to everything I’ve been feeling about transience. The two talks are Impermanence: Awakening Through Insecurity, Part 1 & Part 2, and I strongly recommend them both. Listening to them brought me to tears and to laughter. Her stories and words reverberate in my heart and mind still. (These two talks have planted seeds for a whole slew of focuses for our movement together, so stay tuned for more on them in coming weeks.)

In the second talk, Tara tells the story of a woman who’s been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer with the prognosis of one year to live. She has a 2-year-old daughter. Her mantra, her mission becomes this:

No Time To Rush.

When we are truly aware, not in an intellectual way but in a heart and soul way, that our lives will one day be over, what becomes important? What matters? Perhaps counterintuitively, all my hurrying to accomplish things, all my squeezing as much as I possibly can into every single day suddenly seems like the opposite of what is important.

Yesterday, at the busy, noisy grocery store, I waited in the cashier’s line to pay for a cart full of vegetables. When it was my turn, the cashier hastily picked up my reusable bags, “I’m sorry, hold on, please,” he said as he set them up on the counter, “Let me get your bags ready to load.” With the dharma talk words moving around in me, I looked at him and said, “It’s no rush. Take your time.”

He stopped propping the bags up and look straight at me.
“Did you say, ‘It’s no rush’?” he asked.
“I did.”
“Well, let me take a sip of coffee then,” he smiled and stopped long enough for a swig from his travel cup.
He took a breath and so did I.

Rushing is contagious. I wonder about the countless times I’ve impatiently checked out of grocery stores, silently urging the cashier to go faster. In all those hurry-up encounters, the humanness of the moment, and actually, the moment itself was lost. In our Get ‘Er Done culture, it is a gift to give each other a little time, a little breathing room, a sip of coffee.

It’s been a curious exploration to slow down my rushing. Coincidentally (if you believe in those things), I am reading Sarah Susanka’s book The Not So Big Life. In it, she invites the exploration of priorities, questioning of choices and an examination how we spend our time. She writes,

Now is experienced not as time but as presence and although we are aware of flow, it’s as if its duration is incidental, it barely touches us, much as a leaf floating along on a stream would barely be aware of the water’s movement. (p. 147)

This is the dance of No Time To Rush. Allow time to be a flow rather than a commodity. Allow myself to be the leaf floating effortlessly rather than the dam trying to control it.

It is inexpressibly precious, this life. Even with all its messiness and pain and confusion, it is exquisite and worth savoring. None of us has time to rush.

You are stronger than you think you are.
Each of us.

A friend of mine moved away a couple of years ago. Unexpectedly. Quickly. She was anxious and in (what seems now to be) a misguided attempt to soothe her mind, I suggested that she write down all the things that she was afraid would happen when she and her family moved. I suggested that 3 months later when she looked a the list, that she would see that none of them had happened.

She moved away and three months later, everything on her list had happened. Every. Single. Thing.

I felt like a jerk and a bad friend.

But when I talked to her not long ago, I had this thought: all those things she was afraid of happening (and more, as it turns out), she figured out, she managed, she handled, she lived through. And now, she is stronger.

She did more than she thought she could.

– – – – – – – – – –

We are stronger together.
All of us.

Yesterday, on the anniversary of the death of Heather Heyer and the terrorist attacks in downtown Charlottesville, I went to Heather’s memorial and walked through the downtown mall. While I walked, I listened to a dharma talk by meditation teacher, Tara Brach called Evolving Beyond Unreal Othering.

It was the perfect thing. Given all that’s happened and is happening in our city, it is easy to point fingers. It is easy for me to blame and accuse and say that those people did this to us.

Instead, Tara Brach was reminding me that we really are all in this together. All of us. We are all part of the problems and the solutions. Even and especially people we don’t agree with. I hope you’ll give yourself the gift of listening to her wise words. You can find her talk here.

Charlottesville is grappling with its painful history and the reality of its present. We are (albeit slowly) facing things we don’t want to face and gathering our collective resources to move forward in a healthier way. It seems to me that the only way we can make our way through more than we thought we could, is to do it together.

How do we, as civil rights activist Ruby Sales says, “weave together the “I” with the “We” and the “We” with the “I?” That’s where the real strength lies.

yes-111716

“…instead of resisting emotional pain, we [can] say Yes to our experience. The instant we agree to feel fear or vulnerability, greed or agitation, we are holding our life with an unconditionally friendly heart.” – Tara Brach

Imagine yourself sitting at a holiday table with your nearest and dearest. The table is set with shining glasses and dishes and is heavy with steaming, delicious food. As you get ready to eat, you ask everyone to say what it is that they are grateful for. The first person says:

“I’m grateful for my family, my friends and this food.”

The next person says:

“I’m grateful for making art with my step-daughter and niece. I’m grateful for my husband’s resourcefulness and his creative mind. I’m grateful for my friend Rebecca’s honesty and deep compassion. I’m grateful for smooth, satisfying potatoes, for rich roasted brussels sprouts, and sweet creamy pie.”

How do these two feel different when you hear them?

The first response is an idea, a thought about those people and that nourishment. The second, a more embodied gratitude, is based on noticing details and specifics about the objects of gratitude.

Gratitude. People have expounded upon it for as long as people have expounded. In this space alone, I’ve written about gratitude not once, not twice, but more more more more times than that. The reason everyone else and I write about it so often is that gratitude, if deeply felt, is a powerful transformational force. Gratitude can change everything.

Going back to our holiday table, I see that I can get stuck in the idea of gratitude instead of living the felt experience of gratitude. At its most basic level, gratitude is about appreciating what is happening now…whatever that is. We will have preferences, likes and dislikes, but real gratitude, gratitude that stretches our capacity to feel our lives, makes space for everything that is happening.

Once when I was all twisted up in my feelings about what was happening in my family, a friend said, “How do you know this isn’t exactly what needs to happen?” I sputtered around for a while about how it was obviously not what should happen, and she said, calmly and peacefully, “How do you know?” I had to admit that I didn’t.*

I think of that conversation often when I’m resisting my feelings about whatever is going on. And I recall that conversation when I read these two extraordinarily wise pieces by two teachers far more articulate and insightful than I could ever be. I recommend them highly.

Tara Brach, The Practice of Saying Yes

John Tarrant, How To Welcome the End of The World

Rumi’s classic poem, The Guesthouse, speaks succinctly of this gratitude practice of welcoming everything fully.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

Gratitude is being present to whatever feelings are happening and saying yes, welcoming it all. My ability to fully embrace the challenging parts allows me to be fully present with the joyful, pleasurable, loving ones.

“Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.”

Happy Thanksgiving.

*An important post script: I am in no way suggesting that anyone who has suffered trauma or loss should say “yes” to the loss, only to allow for any feelings that arise. As Tara Brach says in the piece I reference above:

I do caution my students, however, that it is not always wise to say Yes to inner experience. If we have been traumatized in the past, old feelings of terror may be triggered. We might not have the balance or resiliency in a particular moment to meet our experience with unconditional friendliness, and our attempts at Yes might actually end up flooding us with fear. It would be better instead to find a way to alleviate the fear, perhaps by seeking comfort with a friend, doing vigorous exercise, or taking prescribed medication. For the time being, saying No to what feels like too much, and Yes to what simply works to keep us balanced, is the most compassionate response we can offer ourselves.

Deepest regret for my inadequate words and any resulting misunderstanding on this point.

keep relaxing standingTension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” ~ Chinese Proverb

We’re moving house. Every day, we pack more things into boxes. Little by little, Frank trucks our belongings into storage. Every day, as I thread my way through echo-y rooms full of boxes and packing paper, I say to myself, “Keep relaxing.” Sometimes, when I feel really stirred up, I imagine myself leaning back into a soft bed or dissolving into the earth. “Keep relaxing. Keep relaxing.”

So far, it seems to be working. I haven’t yelled or growled at anybody yet. I’ve hardly even snapped at a hard-working, well-meaning husband.

Hardly.

Stress is everywhere. No news flash there. We all know all about it.

Even if you aren’t in the middle of a stressy mess, we all have ongoing situations that get us twisted up. For you it might be raising children or caring for an aging parent or managing a team of co-workers (and/or a difficult boss). On top of those daily things, we’re also confronted with immediate, short-term anxieties like being stuck in traffic or waiting for the doctor to call back or languishing on hold listening to loud static-y Musak.

We all know the situations and we all know the sensations, too.

When I’m stressed, I get a familiar tightening in my eyes and jaw, my heart throbs and either I breathe faster or I hold it. {CURLY BRACKET NOTE: We have the breath-holding reaction so our lungs can pull as much oxygen as possible to the muscles so they can leap into action.} When I’m under pressure, I feel a tightening, a narrowing of my perspective and a laser focus on whatever I think will make the stress go away.

Stress puts the lizard brain in action: flight, fight or freeze. Neurologically speaking, these sensations are my Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) turning on in the presence of a threat. Neuroscientist and Buddhist teacher, Rick Hanson, explains

Danger, pain, upsetting feelings, low blood sugar, excitement – and stress in general – all activate the sympathetic nervous system. And so does the anticipation of something bad (or really wonderful) . . . even if that anticipation is exaggerated or flat wrong. (from Wise Brain Bulletin, Vol 1, #5)

Fascinating, right? It doesn’t matter to the brain if the danger is a real or perceived. Either way, for the SNS, it’s game on.

[RESOURCE NOTE: Dr. Hanson’s prolific work is a brilliant resource for understanding neurological biology of the brain and body and for practical approaches for developing inner skills that promote balance and well-being. In particular, I highly recommend his book Just One Thing and in particular from that, I recommend the section called Relax on pp. 26-28.]

The good news is that I have a choice. We all do. We have the ability to consciously unhook the grip of the SNS when it isn’t helping us.

“You cannot relax too often.” ~ Tara Brach

The SNS helps me kick into high gear when I need to but often (and habitually) I spend entirely too much time there: over-scheduling, focusing on what isn’t working, rushing from one (apparently) urgent thing to another. If I let it, my modern life feeds on the edgy rush of stress. The problem is, I tend to be a big cranky pants when my SNS is over-active. Just ask the people who helped me move 5 years ago. It’s a wonder I have a single friend (or family member) left.

{CURLY BRACKET NOTE: An over-achieving SNS isn’t just bad for relationships, it’s bad for your body. Rick Hanson explains that,

Bottom-line, lighting up your SNS is not just a fleeting experience, but something that has a real stickiness to it, a lasting impact. For example, chronic activation of the SNS burdens five major systems of your body: gastrointestinal, immune, cardiovascular, endocrine, and nervous. (from Wise Brain Bulletin Vol 1, #6)}

My unskillful behavior and general tendency toward irritability are main reasons I dance, do yoga, meditate and write. Mindfulness, it turns out, is one of the activities that turns on the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS): the part that is calming and relaxing and that which allows us to digest (both food and experiences), reason, and recover.

In a recent guided meditation, Tara Brach offers the instruction, “You cannot relax often enough.” More and more, if I don’t know what to do, I do something to help myself relax. Especially these days, when I’m routinely looking for something that is snugly packed away in storage, I keep saying it to myself over and over. You cannot relax often enough.

[RESOURCE NOTE: Tara Brach is also an incredible source of great writing — her book, Radical Acceptance, was a breakthrough for me – and Tara Brach meditation teaching]

“The more relaxed you are, the better you are at everything.” ~ Bill Murray

New Nia teachers sometimes ask me what I recommend they do to get ready for teaching. The first thing, I always say it that their relaxation is the greatest gift they can give their students. No matter what I’m doing, the more I can relax, the more skillful I will be. That’s because relaxation, the PNS, is who we are. Amazingly, if you were to disconnect your SNS, you would live just fine (although a bit lethargically) but if you disconnected the PNS, you would die almost immediately.

The key is knowing that you have the ability to turn on your PNS and then practicing doing it. Simple things like deep breathing (particularly emphasizing the exhalation), mindfulness on the body, meditation and even yawning will slow your heart rate and get your PNS on line.

It’s not difficult to trigger relaxation, we only have to remember to do it (especially when we’re caught up in the swirl of SNS). So while it’s a brilliant move to relax when something tense is happening, it’s also a great idea to practice when things are chill and the stakes aren’t so high.

Practicing relaxation is essential for our health and well-being — and it helps us do everything better. Turning on the PNS is actually bringing us into our true nature. Again, Rick Hanson explains that

The PNS is wallpaper, sky, taken for granted, undramatic, in the background. Human culture, and definitely the modern media of television and movies, are largely about the SNS. Action, conflict, sex, million dollar moments, death, crisis, fairy-tale endings, etc. are different and dramatic. It’s therefore easy to start thinking that chronic stress and living awash in the SNS are what’s really natural, the bedrock of existence. But in reality, cooperation, relaxation, and equilibrium are the hub of the great wheel of life.

So keep relaxing. As the Chinese proverb says, “relaxation is who you are.”

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