Tag Archives: The Body’s Way

spring equinoxTomorrow is spring.  Light and dark in balance.  This week, a friend died.  Another is having a baby.  The invitation is equilibrium:  balance between opposing forces, equanimity.

Nia is The Body’s Way; The Body’s Way is equilibrium.  Work when you’re working.  Rest when you’re resting.  So often we do both half-way.

Feel equilibrium, the balance between powers, when standing (head lifts, feet press down), in yoga postures (creating length), walking / dancing (one foot pushes, the other balances), or executing blocks or punches (one arm active, the other neutral).  Equilibrium offers more power.  The body loves equilibrium…notice when it is happening!


equilibrium“Spwing has spwung,

The gwass has wiz,

I wonder where

The birdies is!”
~ terrible poem recited yearly by my Dad

This Wednesday, March 20, at 7:02am (EDT) is the spring equinox, marking a balance between light and dark in our days and the first day of spring!  A light- and sun-lover since birth, I feel a sense of relief at this time of year.  I’ve made it through another winter and the warmth is on its way back.  When I lived in New England, this was only true in theory since it really didn’t get warm until May and then it usually went straight to hot.  But here in Virginia at the spring equinox, “spwing,” as my father vernally reminded us, “has spwung” for reals.

Natural cycles are reflected in the human body and movement.  Not surprisingly (or originally), last year at this time, I wrote about balance (clever girl!).  This year, I’m noticing “equilibrium” in my body and in my practice.  While I experience “balance” as a verb, a process; “equilibrium” feels like a state to observe and develop.

Not to get all English-majory on you, but there are three definitions of “equilibrium” that interest me (evidently there is also a chemistry definition which maybe a chemist out there can interest me in, too):

e·qui·lib·ri·um, noun

1. a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces.

2. equal balance between any powers, influences, etc.; equality of effect.

3. mental or emotional balance:  equanimity.

I love how each aspect of equilibrium has its own sensation and each is a state that we can cultivate in Nia … and the practice of dancing through life.  I’ll talk more about that specifically tomorrow, but for today I’ll offer a little body~mind centered theory!

Equilibrium is built into Nia movement and philosophy.  Nia follows the The Body’s Way which is guided by five fundamental principles (click here for complete descriptions):

  1. The Body Thrives on Dynamic Ease
  2. The Body Demands Balance
  3. The Body is Balanced in Yin and Yang
  4. The Body’s Way Demands Simultaneous Mobility and Stability
  5. The Body Itself Reveals the Body’s Way

The names of the principles themselves show that equilibrium is at the heart of The Body’s Way!  The body, Nia, and life are, at their essence, all about a balance between effort and rest, internal and external, upper and lower, left and right, active and receptive, mobile and stable, strong and flexible.  Equilibrium and The Body’s Way are about how opposing forces actually create their own state of release and ease.

A state of balance due to the equal action of opposing forces.  Equal balance between powers.  Equanimity.  Equilibrium is a state of balanced alignment and grace.  Wherever we focus more on one side than the other, the system (be it a body, a practice, or a life) is out of alignment and, therefore, the health of that system is compromised.  In Nia practice, a Type-A person who comes in late to class, dives into the highest-intensity songs full-bore, and leaves before Floorplay and relaxation is out of equilibrium and is not practicing The Body’s Way.  Neither is the person who daydreams during the movement, chats during the “hard” songs, and gets a drink during freedance.  In life, the person who over-schedules every moment, is late to each engagement, and is often in a state of frazzeledness, is out of equilibrium, too.  Similarly, the person who moves through life in auto-pilot, not fully engaged when active and not fully resting either is out of The Body’s Way.

The invitation of Nia and The Body’s Way is equilibrium:  a balanced attention on opposing forces that creates a state of balance and ease.  Tomorrow, I’ll share specifically how we can use equilibrium in our movement and in our lives to enhance our health and well-being.  Inhale.  Exhale.  And come back tomorrow!

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.

“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small. A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” ~ Lao Tzu

May 1, 2012.  The first day of my Radical Sabbatical, and it was a glorious spring day.  The sun was out, the breeze was cool and the sky was azure blue.  I was dying to be out in it.  I wanted to feel the warmth and the wind on my skin.  I wanted to see what was blooming and how the river was flowing.  I wanted to sweat in the open air.  So I went for a run.  Okay, more of a jog.  Maybe a walk decorated with brief moments of elevation.

It wasn’t pretty, my friends.  Since a bout with plantar fasciitis last fall/winter (click here for the posts on that), I hadn’t attempted any running at all and in addition, my left hamstring was tighttight.  Even in the best of my running days, I was more Clydesdale than gazelle and on this morning, I was decidedly warthog.

But what the heck?  My sabbatical had begun!  It was a time for experimentation and the call of the outdoors was strong.  So tally ho and all that!  Out I went.

When I’d run in the past, sports watch and Walkman were my constant companions (oy, Susan, how old are you?  I mean iPod, of course).  I wanted to know how fast I was going and how long I’d been out.  I was always preparing for a class or learning or choreographing a new routine, so earbuds inserted, I mentally tracked the music as I moved along the river trail.

This time though, on May 1, I ran “naked”:  no watch, no music.  As I shuffled along, I took in the scene and scents along the river, and received (a boatload) of information from my body.  Did I mention that it wasn’t pretty?  It wasn’t pretty.  I didn’t go fast or far.  When I came to the hill up Hazel Street that led back home, I groaned (audibly) and walked up it (slowly).

Everybody knows Aesop’s fable about the tortoise and the hare.  Slow and steady wins the race, right?  And here’s the thing about it:  the only way the tortoise wins is if it’s a long distance race.  In order for persistence to prevail, I have to be looking at the long view.  And the only way the whole enterprise makes sense is to be present in (and, with luck, enjoying) the moment.  That is the philosophy of Turtle GO!:  be present and persist, with kindness and care just a little at a time.

Turtle GO! is a way of making choices about where I put my energy.  One of the ways I think about the choices I make is to ask myself, “If I keep doing this thing over and over, where will it take me?  And am I interested in going there?”  If I want to be able to enjoy running outside, but I consistently choose to have a second cup of tea and hang out on Facebook, I’m not likely to be gliding along the river trail in September!  If I want to eat more vegetables, I can move in that direction one meal, one snack, one bite at a time.  If I want to mediate more often, the best way I know to get there is to keep doing it, a little at a time.

Turtle GO! is about a certain kind of discipline.  One of the important learnings for me has been that it is not a perfect, absolute discipline and in fact, it is a discipline of presence and kindness.  There was a time when nothing could get between me and my workout.  Nothing.  Not family, not a holiday, not an ice storm, nothing.  That kind of obsessive intensity didn’t support me, and didn’t take me to a happy place.  It took me to a closed and disconnected place.  I don’t have any interest in going there now.  For me, it is important to have ease and care within the long view.  It all works best if I don’t put a vice grip on myself, but look at the big picture with soft eyes.   I can ask myself, “Am I generally moving in the direction I want to go?  Am I making the choices that take me there most of the time?”  If I am, then a day or two of not running as far as I did the day before or not running at all, are not just totally fine, they actually help me stay connected to the process.

The second piece of the Turtle GO! approach is the importance of being present and in the moment.  This relates to the Discipline-Without-Going-Crazy-and-Obsessing idea.  That first morning I went out along the river, while I did enjoy the sun and the air and the scenery, my body was saying, “Holy Moly, woman!  What are we DOING??”  My body wasn’t used to running, and it was uncomfortable in the unfamiliar movement.  I listened to her protests.  I didn’t go far, and I walked when I needed to.  When I got home, I drank lots of water and stretched for a long time.  Pushing is not what Turtle GO! is about.  Turtle GO! is about listening closely to what is happening in the moment, and nudging myself forward a little at a time.

A little at a time is The Body’s Way.  Our physical forms react most positively and most long-lastingly to small changes made over time.  My friend and Nia trainer, Helen Terry, tells the story of a student who came in to her classes with widely everted feet (commonly known as “duck feet”).  He wanted to work toward parallel feet to protect his joints, so whenever he was in Nia class, he would consciously and studiously line up his toes and make his feet parallel.  And as soon as he walked out of class – quack! – his feet would splay out again.  Helen suggested that instead he make the change more gradual and consistent.  She suggested making the change “a thumb’s width” at a time.

Turtle GO! is about a consistent change made little by little with awareness.  Rather than forcing or bullying myself, it’s about lovingly encouraging myself to make the small choices and micro decisions that help move me in the direction I want to go.  If I find lots of resistance, it is a chance to look at what is at the root of the resistance.  Am I afraid of failing?  Afraid of succeeding?  Have I changed my mind about where I want to go?  Depending on what the answer is, I can make choices from there.  Always gently and easefully; consistent and persistent.

Within the process of Turtle GO! there might also be great epiphanies and break-throughs.  There are days when I go faster and farther along the trail than I thought I would or could.  There are moments of huge expansion and growth.  And just like the times of contraction or resistance, I don’t make it the expectation or the norm.  I just keep taking steps in the direction I want to go – sometimes big strides, sometimes not so big – just moving myself along.

I’ve used my Turtle GO! approach for lots of things:  from eating habits to teaching Nia classes to writing this blog.  I keep asking myself, “If I keep doing this, where am I likely to end up?  And is that a place I want to go?”  For me, it’s much more approachable and easeful to say “I’m going to sit on my mediation cushion for 5 minutes and increase gradually” rather than “I’m going to meditate every day for 30 minutes.”  Yikes.  In my experience, lots and lots of small choices and little decisions add up in a big way and in a hurry.

In the two months since May 1, I’ve continued to get out and run along the river trail a couple times a week.  Every time I go out, I go just a little tiny bit further.  Maybe just a few yards.  On that long Hazel Street hill back to my house, I started running up just a little part of it, and then just a little more.  The day I ran all the way up Hazel Street, it didn’t feel like a strain.  It felt like a natural part of the process.

Let’s be perfectly clear here:  I am still no gazelle and I will not be entering any marathons any time soon but I feel pretty good on my jaunts along the river and soon I may change my route to play with going a little further.  Or maybe I’ll see someplace else I want to Turtle GO!  This week, ask yourself where you want to go and what is one small thing you can do to move in that direction?  Then take just one little step consistently and persistently, remembering the famous words of Mother Teresa, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

GO! with great love, my turtle friends!

For the past 13 years, I’ve been a vegetarian.  I eat fish and eggs and dairy, but not meat or chicken of any kind.  I love eating this way:  it feels good in my body, and it’s healthier for the environment (not to mention healthier for the animals!).  Living in Charlottesville, when I tell people this, I hardly get a reaction.  People here, at least to my face, seem to take it in stride and not to think much about it.

This week, we traveled with friends to visit their Midwestern parents who are wintering in Myrtle Beach.  When our friend told her parents that we were vegetarians, I think they were worried.  They had no idea what to buy for us or how to find places where we could eat.  Although we did our best to assure them that (a) it isn’t difficult to find vegetarian alternatives in grocery stores and restaurants and (b) that we were self-sufficient and would bring food with us, they were concerned about how it could possibly work.

Once we arrived, they were kind and welcoming and were obviously delighted to have us with them.  Yet when it came to food, they seemed baffled by our plant-based choices.  It was strange for me, after all these years, to be with people who seemed to find my diet to be eccentric or even bizarre.

Sometimes this happens to me with Nia.  Someone asks me about what I do or at the club they see me teaching a class and they make a comment (either spoken or unspoken) that tells me that they think what I do is odd.  Some people make jokes about how silly they would look or how much alcohol they would have to drink before they would join my class.  And when that happens, I sometimes can feel myself shrink, ever-so-slightly, from my Body’s Way.  Even in class, there are times when I am moving in my own particular, peculiar way, and I see that nobody else is moving that way, and a part of me wants to be not-so-different.

We all have a range of tolerance of being different.  It is my hope as a Nia instructor, that Nia offers a safe place to be ourselves without judgment or comparison.  Yet it is in our own minds that the real safety is created.  How does it feel when you are the different one?  Or when someone comes to class and they move differently – maybe taking up more space or (gasp!) standing in your spot?  Play with what it feels like to fully be yourself, and allowing others to be completely themselves.  Imagine how it would feel to live in a family, a community, a country in which nobody – and everybody — was a weirdo.

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