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When my husband, Frank, and I moved into a smaller house this summer, we designed the living space to optimize efficiency and ease. And when I say “we,” I mean Frank.

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A wide hallway had enough space for recycling and laundry and a kombucha-making station. One small, efficiently organized bathroom is provides both storage and a double shower. Frank’s office is actually elegantly built into a closet.

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In my office, instead of the oversized desk that I had, Frank built a small built-in one with cubbies for storage. He also made a little “standing desk shelf” so my computer can be easily shifted when I want to stand and work. And when I want to sit, I do it on an inflated physioball instead of a chair.

I love my ball-chair (except for that one time the cat miscalculated her jump into my lap and punctured it). I love the movement and comfort and awareness of sitting on a ball. And holy obliques, my core loves it, too. By sitting on an unstable ball, my core muscles are constantly firing to keep me from rolling off. Sometimes when I’m watching (yet another) TED Talk*, I’ll pick up my feet and let my core have an all-out stabilization party.

I’ve noticed the same sensation of core awakening as I learn Pulse, a new routine created by Kelle Rae Oien, one of the Nia Faculty Trainers. Kelle’s focus for the routine is the movement variety through the three “Arts” – Martial, Dance and Healing – but what *I* noticed immediately was that when I do this routine, my core wakes up and gets busy.

Pulse provides movements of balance and control, undulation and extension, explosiveness and (duh) pulsing to engage and stimulate the layers of muscle and connective tissue through the center of the body.

The core is the body’s source of power and grace and it requires more than crunches to function at its potential. Interested in waking up your core body? Find a variety of ways of moving to stimulate stabilization and mobility: contracting and crunching movements are great but also play with extending and reaching away from center, breathing deep and making sound, moving with precision and agility, fluidity and flow. Nia is a great way to do all these things, but so is yoga and dancing and, yep, sitting on a physioball with a cat in your lap.

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* Here are some of my current TED Talk favorites

Kathryn Schulz, On Being Wrong
Maragret Heffernan, Dare to Disagree
Bejamin Zander, Music and Passion
Elizabeth Gilbert, On Genius

And those don’t even include the ones from TEDx Charlottesville 2015:

Dr. Neal Kassell, Curing with Sound
Elliott Woods, Ever After: Finding Fulfillment in the Aftermath of War
Leslie Blackhall, Living, Dying and The Problem with Hope
Geoff Luck, Beyond Human

Like this post? You might also enjoy Explore from Core and Core Galore from the Focus Pocus archives.

 

 

 

whole hearted brene brownWhat’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done? It may be something physical like jumping out of a plane or running a marathon or speaking in front of a crowd. It might be something more intimate like telling the truth in a tender situation or telling the doctor that’s not the treatment you want or saying gently but firmly that enough is enough.

Whatever it is, think of the bravest thing you’ve ever done and recall the sensation. What did it feel like in your body? What emotions did you feel? What thoughts ran through your head?

Brave feels both scary and exciting. There is often push/pull sensation of “Yes, I really want to do this” and “Holy Crap, what if I do?” Making the brave choice by its very nature means that you are allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

Brené Brown’s ground-breaking TED Talk, The Power of Vulnerability (2010) explains that connection is essential to the human experience. Connection is why we’re here and it is what gives our lives purpose and meaning. Her research demonstrates that in order to truly connect with others, we be vulnerable. Vulnerability is absolutely not weakness (a common misconception) but means that we allow ourselves to be seen, to love without guarantee, to risk failure, and to believe we are enough.

For most of my life, vulnerability scared the bejeezus out of me. Sometimes it still does.

In her talk, Dr. Brown also identifies shame – an epidemic in our culture – as the fear of disconnection. Shame is the fear that if someone sees this about me or knows this about me, I will not be worthy of connection, love, and belonging. Shame is the belief that something is intrinsically wrong with me. Shame is different than guilt. Guilt is “I’ve made a mistake.” Shame is “I am a mistake.”

Shame, I get. Since adolescence, I have been ashamed of my body. I thought it wasn’t thin or beautiful enough for me to be worthy of love and connection. My body felt like a character flaw and I was sure something was seriously wrong with me.

I’ve done a number of brave things in my life: marrying a man with two young children, teaching Nia, taking a sabbatical from teaching Nia, sharing my writing, walking all the way to the top of a fire tower. But when it comes to my relationship with my body, the bravest thing I’ve done is to relax.

At the height of my disordered body relationship, I was doing whatever I could to tighten up. Aerobic exercise, weight lifting, obsessive food monitoring — all of my energy was poured into having nothing soft or flabby or pooching out or sagging. I was always, ALWAYS walking around sucking in my stomach. I believed that if I was thin enough and lean enough and tight enough that I would be confident, safe from criticism, that I would be loved, that I would be happy and whole.

I thought that if I looked just right, no one (including me) would judge me. I would be invulnerable.

I wanted to be thin so I wouldn’t be vulnerable … so I wouldn’t have to be brave.

Of course, this totally didn’t work. Having my internal experience (feeling love and belonging) be dependent on an external circumstance (my physical appearance) will never work. I kept thinking that the reason I didn’t feel confident and relaxed in myself was because I wasn’t perfect enough and that if I just worked a little harder, I would be. On a good day, this circular logic makes me laugh; on a bad day, it can have me twisted up and tripping over myself.

Even when I lost weight, got leaner, and sucked in my tummy all the time, I didn’t feel any more worthy or connected or loved. I thought perfection was the way to those feelings but it’s actually the path away from them. Real love and connection requires that we be seen with all our imperfect softness showing.

Brené Brown calls it whole-heartedness. I am living whole-heartedly when I am willing to be vulnerable and when I believe I am worthy of love and belonging. Whole-heartedness means taking emotional risks, telling the truth with no guarantees. It means not sucking in my stomach and relaxing into being my brilliant, messy, beautiful, spazzy self.

What’s the bravest thing you’ve done today? How about making the courageous choice to be imperfect? Be kind to yourself first, then to others. Let go of who you think you should be so you can be who you are.

Take a breath, relax your belly. Brave feels both exciting and scary. When you feel it, you’re on the right track.

woman punchintAmy Cuddy’s amazing research shows that not only do my body postures communicate to others, they actually communicate to me!  By intentionally holding our bodies in a powerful posture, we actually become more powerful.  Did you know that Nia does this, too?

Principle 9 of The Nia Technique is Creative Arms & Hand Expressions.  On a strictly physical level, this principle is revolutionary in regards to how it trains and conditions the body.  By intentionally using the hands and arms in different ways, the upper and lower bodies are integrated, the core is activated, and the joints are both strengthened and freed with a  variety of movement.  If you want to get a feel for it, do Finger Flicks (four fingers under your thumb and flick out like you are flicking water off your fingers) or Creepy Crawlers (use all ten fingers – especially the thumbs – as if you were plucking berries off a branch) for 30 seconds and see what sensations you have in your forearms!  (When I do it, I can feel all the muscles in my forearms turn on and get a heated up.)  And that’s just finger movement!

Nia uses a wide range of arm and hand movements in its choreography which stimulates the body in a variety of healthful ways (see the whole list of movements here) — and not only physically.  In alignment with Amy Cuddy’s research, Nia arm and hand movements allow movers to use their body language to show up differently – in their bodies, in class, and in life.

It can be challenging to move our arms and hands in ways that are outside of our usual style.  Some people feel awkward with punching or blocking moves.  As a generalization, women often not only haven’t done these movements, but they’ve been discouraged to use strength, fierceness, or power in their upper body.   Others are challenged with the more fluid, dance-like hand movements in Nia.  Many people, men, in particular, are culturalized not to move expressively.

“It’s just not me,” they’ll say.  And to that, I say, “Actually, it is you.  It’s just an un-exercised part of you — just like an un-exercised muscle.”

It is human to have strength and fierceness.  It is human to have tenderness and gentleness.  It is a cultural phenomenon to abandon some gestures and movements and over-develop others in order to fit into social norms.  In my classes this week, we’ll focus on hand and arm movements.  If you’re dancing this week, notice how different movements make you feel physically as well as mentally and emotionally.  If you’re dancing through life this week, notice how you tend to use your hands and arms.  See if you can experiment with using them in different ways and see how it changes how you feel and how you show up.  And if you’ve got something challenging to do, go into the bathroom and stand like Wonder Woman for two minutes before you do it.  Then, go get ’em!

Arms and hands are how we connect with the world and with ourselves.  I’d love to hear what you observe in your practice and your life.  Please do leave a comment below!

Wonder_WomanAirports are emotional places.  Lots of people saying good-bye, anxious about catching a flight (or storing their carry-on, or making their meeting, or the TSA finding their 4.5 oz bottle of shampoo).  People worrying about what they’re missing and anticipating coming back.  Just a whole stew of emotions.  When I’m traveling, I love to watch people interact.  I’m not a big eavesdropper, but I love watching the physical language of conversation.  Even without hearing the words, I can often see what is being said:  the sharp hand gestures speak anger, the outstretched arms show longing, the bowed head displays disappointment, and the hands to heart reveal tenderness.

What I see at the airport is how our bodies communicate to each other.  And it’s true:  research shows that more than half of what we communicate comes from our body language and gestures rather than our words.  That’s really interesting, but did you know that  my body language also communicates with me?

In her brilliant TED Talk, Amy Cuddy talks about the science behind how powerful body postures actually make you more powerful.  Dr. Cuddy tells her own story about how she changed the way she felt about herself by acting as if she deserved to be where she was (I cry every time I watch it).  By consciously using body language, we change the way we feel and … the way we ARE.  She speaks about the “impostor syndrome”:  the common feeling that we don’t belong or that we’ll be found out as a fraud.  (I know a woman who was a gifted and beloved teacher for 35 years.  Every September, she would be in her room and she would think, “This is it.  This is the year they will come in here and say, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing!’ and I’ll be found out.”  I’ve had that feeling many times in my life.  Have you?)  Dr. Cuddy’s experiments show that we can empower ourselves by the way we hold our bodies.  She doesn’t believe in “fake it ‘til you make it,” her research shows that body language allows you to “fake it ‘til you become it.”

So do watch Dr. Cuddy’s wonderful talk (it’s so well worth the time!) and when you do, try out her experiment:  stand in a powerful pose for two minutes (my favorite is The Wonder Woman pose – feet wide, standing tall with hands on hips) and see how you feel!  The idea is not to do the pose for others but to communicate with your own nervous system and actually feel — become — more powerful!

What’s supercool to me is that Nia has been doing this for 30 years!  Tomorrow, I’ll post about how.  Come back and play!

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