Tag Archives: toes

FOCUS POCUS NOTE! FocusPocus is now one complete post (art, focus, playlists and announcements) all together on Thursdays! So whether you come to the blog for the art, the information, the music or the latest happenings and offerings, you are in the right place. Every Thursday, you’ll get it all. Thank you so much for being here.

A dear friend of mine had a stroke several years ago. I love spending time with her and witnessing her courage and determination to keep her body moving and to heal. She is positive and optimistic and is grateful that the stroke happened on the left side of her brain so she is able to use her right, dominant hand. Sometimes we talk about how different her life is now. I asked her once what she missed most and without hesitation, she said, “I miss walking smoothing and being able to do things with both hands.”

So often do I take for granted my ability to move through spaces easily, open a jar of tahini, and drive my husband’s big red truck (both hands on the wheel!). Spending time with her reminds me to appreciate the small miracles my hands and feet, and in particular my thumbs and big toes allow me to perform.

As my friend points out, it’s not just one opposable thumb, but TWO that make our daily tasks so amazingly easy. Have you ever had an injury to one hand or thumb and suddenly realize what you are unable to do? I loved this piece about just that.

The thumbs are, of course, the largest finger on the hand and the strongest. It’s how we grip and pull and squeeze. It can also be where we hold tension. Right now, take the thumb of one hand and massage the big muscle at the base of your other thumb. Then give it a shake out and see if you were holding tension there.

Thumbs also are helpful in orienting the upper body. The whole hand is full of stretch receptors which are part of the proprioceptive system which allows us to sense ourselves in space. The thumb is a big part of that system that helps the nervous system to relax by knowing where we are and how to get where we’re going. The orientation of the thumb is also how we shift the orientation of the shoulder joint. You can do it right now by turning one thumb left and right with the opposite hand on your shoulder. Feel that rotation? Pretty cool, right?

Energetically, the thumbs are the nurturing finger. Think of a baby sucking its thumb for comfort and how when hands are in prayer, the thumbs rest at the heart. Focusing on the thumbs gives us a chance to mindfully choose what we want to nurture in this moment.

It’s in my yoga practice that I tend to notice my big toes the most. Balance is challenging for me but pouring awareness into the big toe helps me find and keep myself balanced. Focus on the big toe directs energy down the inside of my leg where it is most stable and roots me strong.

The big toe isn’t just about rooting down. This largest, strongest toe is also about propelling us when we walk and move. Many of us spend most of our time with our feet encased in shoes. So even if you’ve never had a foot injury, it’s likely that your feet have been in “casts” of shoes for most of your life. The restriction that happens when we are in shoes prevents the full range of motion through the toe and foot and that has surprising ramifications.

As this piece from Yoga Journal points out, big toe movement strengthens the arch of the foot and the arch of the foot is connected with the chain of muscles up the back of your leg, so “weak big-toe flexors, the muscles that bend the toe, may change the strength and effectiveness of your largest glute muscle, gluteus maximus.”

Focus on strength and mobility in thumbs and big toes ripples throughout the body. I’d love to hear what you noticed this week in your practice. Leave a comment below and we can all learn from each other!

Here 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!

There are THINGS happening, you guys! So before the playlists, here is all the details on what’s coming up!

Nourishing Movement Classes at the Studio at Dancing Water on Thursday mornings at 11am!
Nourishing Movement classes with Susan on Thursdays at 11am ~~ my mix of guided and unguided movement, meditation and creativity! Please go to for the details. Come join us in the trees by the river for grounded, flowing, spacious movement. Second Thursdays are followed by a pot luck lunch! Nourish yourself with movement and bring something nourishing to share! There is space in upcoming classes so please go HERE to sign up!
* The Studio at Dancing Water is at 2370 Old Lynchburg Road ~ detailed directions at and via email when you sign up!

Four Thursdays of Nourishing Movement Classes at the Studio at Dancing Water in February!
Let the love flow in February! Four Nourishing Movement classes on Thursdays, Feb 6, 13, 20 and 27 from 11am-1215pm for just $40. Put pleasure and movement and yourself on the top of your list. Go here to join us!

Charlottesville Climate Collaborative Plant-Based Cooking Class on Monday, February 3, 6-8pm ~ CLASS IS FULL ~ GET ON THE WAITING LIST!
This is something I’ve been wanting to do for years: I am excited to be leading a plant-based, whole-food cooking class in collaboration with the Charlottesville Climate Collaborative on Monday, Feb 3, 6-8pm at Bread & Roses at Trinity Episcopal Church off Preston Avenue in Charlottesville! We will be preparing a simple, versatile, delicious, fun, whole food, plant based meal and sharing it together while talking about easy ways of giving plants a bigger place on our plates. Our class will introduce the concept of the Buddha Bowl – a nourishing, plant-based meal that is essentially a little bite of everything. The Buddha Bowl is a one-stop shop for proteins, grains, and veggies. It’s also super versatile – break it down for picky eaters or dress it up with sauces to impress your dinner guests. You can also prepare ingredients ahead of time and then repurpose for multiple weekday meals.
Space limited to 12 participants so please register by sending an email to and submitting a $10 donation here: Can’t wait to share a meal with you!

An Extra Day To Play ~ Guest Teaching on Saturday, Feb 8, 9-1010am at acac downtown!
It always feels like a special occasion when I get to guest teach for Anne on Saturday mornings! We’ll explore music and movement, sensation and space around the courageous choice to feel good AND to tolerate discomfort! See you then.

Full Moon Restorative Yoga with Shandoah ~ Moonday, February 10, 430-6pm CLASS IS FULL ~ GET ON THE WAITING LIST (THERE ARE ALWAYS CANCELLATIONS) AND Moonday, March 9, 430-6pm!
Shandoah Goldman returns to The Studio at Dancing Water (2370 Old Lynchburg Road, Charlottesville) to continue the full moon restorative practice! The full moon is a time of completion. The fullness of the cycle lends itself to a practice of non-doing. Join Shandoah for a deeply nourishing practice of restorative yoga. Using props to offer support and comfort, the body is invited to profoundly let go and unwind. Rather than efforting or stretching, this is the practice of releasing and relaxing. We’ll celebrate what is finished and soften into the next cycle. Shandoah is a gifted guide for deep release and is a Shiatsu practitioner offering hands on assists during class. All bodies welcome, no experience in yoga or anything else is needed. Email Susan at to get on the waiting list.
Monday (Moonday!), February 10, 430-6pm at The Studio at Dancing Water is FULL and please let me know if you’d like to be on the waiting list.
Monday (Moonday!), March 9, 430-6pm at The Studio at Dancing Water ~ $30, $25 if registered before Feb 28!

First Friday Freedance with Kate ~ Feb 7 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, Feb 7 from 11:25 -12:25.

Resetting & Balancing the Nervous System with Mindful Practices & Herbal Nourishment: Book Signing and Workshop with Susan & Heather ~ Saturday, February 29, 2020 ~ 10am-12pm at Nourish Louisa

“Stop the glorification of busy….It is OK not to be busy. Repeat this with me: it is OK not to be busy.” ~ Joshua Becker
Mid-winter is the perfect time to look inward at the rush and tumble of our days and practice ways of reconnecting and restoring our frazzled nervous systems. Join teacher and artist Susan McCulley and Clinical Herbalist Heather Wetzel to explore a realignment of our busy, over-scheduled days at the beautiful Nourish Louisa shop ( at 205 W. Main Street, Louisa, VA 23093
10:00-11:00: Book signing and conversation about the counter cultural choice for presence and less busyness with Susan, author of Octabusy: How to Let Go in a Sea of Doing. Come talk with Susan, watch an art demonstration, and have a cup of something warm.
11:00 – 12:00: Susan and Heather will present a short workshop focusing on re-balancing body, mind, and spirit using mindfulness life hacks and herbal strategies for moving from the habitual responses of our nervous system’s “fright, flight, or freeze” reactions into a more balanced, flowing, and peaceful state of “rest and digest.”. Topics include:
· How to support yourself to be more centered, calm and relaxed.
· Physical and mindful practices that can bring you back to center and be done anywhere, no matter what is happening around you.
· Tastings (including recipes) of tried and true adaptogenic herbal preparations to enhance your resilience to stress
· New ideas to support and encourage graceful adaptation to change and less reactive to stress
We all need encouragement and new ideas to support us as we move through our fast-paced, stress-ridden world. Reserve your seat now as space is limited at! Saturday, February 29, 2020 ~ 10am-12pm ~ $15 ~ includes lunch and small drink of your choice / Limited to 12 participants.

Interview about Octabusy & Other Things on Lisa Jakub’s Embrace Your Weird podcast!
It was my honor and pleasure to have a conversation with Lisa Jakub about the seduction of busyness and ways of navigating it on her fantastic podcast, Embrace Your Weird. Please listen, share, review and spread the word! Go here to check it out!

Support local retailers by buying Octabusy
at New Dominion Bookshop on Charlottesville’s downtown mall (, 434-295-2552,
and at The Telegraph Art & Comics
and at the beautiful Nourish Louisa shop in downtown Louisa! Go here for more. I’ll be sharing more soon on events at this super-cool spot!
And just this week: both Buddha Cat and Octabusy are now available at the lovely Wine & Country Shop in Ivy! Please check them out here. It’s an amazing store full of wonderful finds, not just super-cool books!
You can also order signed copies of Octabusy (including discounts on multiple copies) now on my website at
and get Kindle and paperback editions on Amazon!
(And wherever you buy it, please leave a review there!)

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

Monday, Jan 27, 2020, 1045am ~ Thumbs & Big Toes

The Rising 4:47 Bruce Springsteen
Bubble Toes 3:57 Jack Johnson
Luna 6:06 Ganga
Spinning the Wheel 6:24 George Michael
Under My Thumb (Paradise Mix) 3:28 Anakelly
Work That Body 5:35 Rodney Hunter
Toe Jam (Feat. David Byrne And Dizee Rascal) 3:22 The Bpa
Thumbs 3:36 Sabrina Carpenter
Catu (Vienna Sub Mix) 6:21 Ikarus
Popsicle Toes 4:34 Michael Franks
Sunsethighway 4:00 Kiln
Onwards 5:27 Afro Celt Sound System

Tuesday, Jan 28, 2020, 840am ~ Thumbs & Big Toes

The Rising 4:47 Bruce Springsteen
Bubble Toes 3:57 Jack Johnson
Luna 6:06 Ganga
Under My Thumb (Paradise Mix) 3:28 Anakelly
Work That Body 5:35 Rodney Hunter
Toe Jam (Feat. David Byrne And Dizee Rascal) 3:22 The Bpa
Thumbs 3:36 Sabrina Carpenter
Catu (Vienna Sub Mix) 6:21 Ikarus
Popsicle Toes 4:34 Michael Franks
Sunsethighway 4:00 Kiln
Onwards 5:27 Afro Celt Sound System

Thursday, Jan 30, 2020, 11am at the Studio at Dancing Water ~ Thumbs & Big Toes

Nature Boy (Live) 8:51 Beautiful Chorus
The Rising 4:47 Bruce Springsteen
Bubble Toes 3:57 Jack Johnson
Luna 6:06 Ganga
Under My Thumb (Paradise Mix) 3:28 Anakelly
Work That Body 5:35 Rodney Hunter
Toe Jam (Feat. David Byrne And Dizee Rascal) 3:22 The Bpa
Thumbs 3:36 Sabrina Carpenter
Catu (Vienna Sub Mix) 6:21 Ikarus
Popsicle Toes 4:34 Michael Franks
Sunsethighway 4:00 Kiln
Onwards 5:27 Afro Celt Sound System

fingers and toes manWe use fingers and toes all the time and they’re easy to take for granted. Until you stub one. Mindfulness of them enhances fitness, happiness, and presence – even without anatomy or Nia principles.

Toes tend to tighten. Relaxed toes relax the whole body.

4 Mindful uses of fingers offer big benefits:
1. Use them – Stretching, shaking, squeezing, flicking fingers strengthens hands and engages the body.

2. Relax them – Like toes, relaxed fingers help the body relax.

3. Break habit – Use non-dominant fingers. Wear rings differently. Burn new neural pathways!

4. Be expressive – Using fingers to express emotion is intimate…and healing.

fingers-and-toes babyHave you ever stubbed your little toe and suddenly noticed how much you actually use it?  Ever cut a finger and find it impossible (or at least highly clumsy) to do even the most basic things?  We use our fingers and toes so much that it’s easy to take them for granted.  The truth is that fingers and toes allow us to do much of what makes us human, but that’s not all.  Using fingers and toes with awareness makes us more expressive, more fit, and more connected to the world.

What with the World Wide Internet Web, there is plenty of information to be had about hand and foot anatomy and finger and toe function, as well as any number of foot and toe maladies and abnormalities (I’ll leave those searches to you).  Nia has its own take on fingers and toes and dedicates some of the 52 moves to them, too.  All of this is interesting and insightful and I’m all about inquiry so definitely explore what interests you.

But that’s not what I’m writing about.

I’m writing about what you can experience without knowing a blessed thing about anatomy or the Nia principles (cool as they may be).  Fingers and toes are largely ignored in fitness and movement classes (and in life in general) which is too bad since they offer huge benefits for physical fitness, emotional expressiveness, and our overall presence and connection.  Our ability and willingness to pay attention to these oft-overlooked phalanges can make a big positive impact on our day-to-day experience.

“It’s a pleasant thing to be young, and have ten toes.”  – Robert Louis Stevenson

In our culture, our toes are almost always tucked away inside shoes but we talk about them all the time.  Someone can “keep you on your toes” or “make your toes curl.”  You might be a Red Sox fan “down to your toes” and plan to be until you “turn your toes up.”  Toes are pretty communicative parts even though we rarely let them see the light of day!

One of the repercussions of wearing (often tight, sometimes high-heeled) shoes is that toes get accustomed to being crammed together.  When this happens, we start to lose the strength, mobility, stability, and balance that are all available with healthy, relaxed toes.  Toes are designed to work independently (just stand on one foot and feel each of them firing to keep you upright) as well as together.  So it’s no surprise that yogis, martial artists, and Nia movers all take their shoes off for their practice.

As you stand and walk, notice if your toes tend to tighten up.  See if instead, you can relax and spread them – whether you’re sitting at your desk, going for a run, or doing a heel lead in Nia.  By relaxing and spreading your toes, you allow the lower leg to function as it’s designed without undue tension in the muscles and ligaments — and that increased ease reverberates through your whole body.  Relaxed toes also allow the body to move more systemically since the whole nervous system can relax into the power, support, and balance that healthy toes provide.  So if you want a better workout, let your toes relax.

Awareness of your feet and toes is a great way to center and be present.  In any moment, but particularly ones that are challenging or emotionally charged, one of the best things you can do is breathe and feel your feet.  Whether your boss just called you into her office, or you’re standing up to a podium to deliver a speech, you’ll bring your best self to the proceedings by feeling your feet before you do anything else.  And if Great Aunt Lulu starts in about your hair cut again at the dinner table, wiggle your toes.  It’s a great reminder to breathe, relax, and have fun no matter what deleterious things she may have to say about your style.

Who knew?  Relax and wiggle your toes for more health and happiness!  And check back in tomorrow for how using fingers with awareness can offer even more benefits to body, mind and spirit!

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