Inquiry to Dissolve You

Throw this one around for a couple of days: What happens when you stop trying to become something other than you?

What happens when YOU

STOP

Trying to become something other than

YOU?

I’ll tell you what happened to me. When I first heard this, many other questions arose to meet this one.  Am I trying to be something other than me? How do I stop? Who am I? What if I can’t stop? What if I die?

And here is what happened in my body. I found one of the deepest breaths ever and my heart blossomed up into my throat. And then the tears came.

I am literally exhausted with trying to be something other than what I am.  And I am ready to dissolve that illusion that I can be anything more than what I am. I am not saying I cannot grow and expand and become a more aware person. What I am saying is that I am done “trying” to change and mold myself for the benefit of anyone or anything as a condition of my worth.

I have been exploring this theme in my BeSoul classes. Inviting students to dance without trying to get a workout, without trying to condition their bodies, without trying to release tension, without trying to do it right, without trying to change a state of mind or heart.  What I invite them to do is to simply be to present to sensation and whatever emotions arise.  The relationship between the movement and the music becomes a way to get to know ourselves.

Here is the definition of KNOW that I am using in these classes:  to have developed a relationship with (someone) through meeting and spending time with them; be familiar  or friendly with (in this case yourself).

“Spending time” seems to be a key here. How much time do you spend getting to know yourself versus trying to change yourself?  I expand this out to my time spent with friends and family. How much time do I spend getting to know them (simply receiving them as they are) vs trying to change or help them improve? Not that one is wrong, sometimes I need help, sometime people ask for help. And then the mind and its problem solving genius come into play.  As someone who identifies with “teacher” and “healer”, it comes natural to me to want to both try to be “better” and help others be “better” too.

When I first posed this inquiry to myself I was fascinated by how much better it felt to STOP trying to become something other than me.  My mind got a little freaked out,  yet my body… and my heart… felt so good.  And when I brought this same energy to my relationships, I felt like I began seeing people in ways I never had. Expectations and judgment dropped away and I felt like I was seeing them for the first time. Free the people! Free yourself!

Not that I am trying to change you…

 

Gabz

 

 

 

Dancing with the Shadow (your shadow). Part 1

Have you ever wondered what your shadow is? How to find your shadow? What it means to even be aware of it? This has been a recurring conversation within myself lately. As I look out into the world and experience what seems like extreme polarization, I have been wondering how to find the balance within myself. That which I definitely perceive as being NOT ME and that which I am willing to own as MINE. How do I reconcile this in my exploration of the ONE?

As always, I bring this to my body and find a way to dance it out. Here is what I have to come to. Feel free to play with your version of it, in fact, please do. The more each person owns their stuff, the less it gets warped out into the Uni-verse (the ONE song).  My shadow, as far as I can tell,  is comprised of parts of me I cannot see,  parts of me I am not willing to see, and parts of me I project onto others.  The first one, the parts I cannot see, I will leave for last.  Clearly, what is not shadow is who I think I am, who I aspire to be, and all those parts of me I feel cool with. My ego likes these.  The easiest of the shadow for me to see, and often the most infuriating and humbling, is the parts I project onto others.  The stronger I feel about these, the more I know it is my shadow appearing to me as the other. When I get triggered, when I really hate or really love, I know I am looking at another myself.  The ones I am not willing to see are not as easy to identify, this requires some self-inquiry and yet, I know I meet these when I vehemently assert that I am NOT those things.  The parts I cannot see are the ones I offer to God/dess and pray for willingness to embrace the mystery. The wholeness of the unknown.

Here is a simple story of a shadow interaction I have almost every day walking my dogs. We have two dogs, Duke and Flash. (As I talk about my dogs, imagine I am actually telling you about myself). Duke is super sweet and will roll over for a belly rub in a second. He is a world class hunting dog most days and is also a little bit of a scardy cat. He is scared of thunder and rain. He is also a coffee addict and sometimes forgoes a belly rub to run to the nearest half empty coffee cup on the table and get some licks in before we shout him down. Flash is a force of nature. He is a dog’s dog and is bonded to my husband only. Only has eyes for him.  He pulls on the leash as if the leash was an inconvenience, he’s got places to go and things to eat. He still gets so excited about a dish of dog food, even though it is the same thing we fed him last night and yesterday morning. These two dogs love each other as only dogs can.  I am often the one who gets to walk them in the morning. As I let them out of the kennel that they sleep in (in our kitchen), they  pour out of it like Niagara Falls. Duke runs to see if we dropped any food under the counters. Flash checks the food bowl. I am frantically trying to get leashes on them. Finally the leashes are on and the tug of war begins. Back door open and Flash begins the pull, Duke hangs back… he does not like me upset.  However he is also really controlling the urge to bolt. I can feel it. This happens every day, and yet every day, I have this idea that today I will control them. Every day, I am deeply disappointed. Somehow I get the back door closed and am propelled onto the back lawn where they get to have their first pee. This requires a lot of adjusting and readjusting that usually ends up with Duke peeing on Flash’s head to make sure he is marking right in the same place.  And somehow the leashes are wrapped around my legs in a way that leave me doing gymnastics in order to get free before they are done peeing and bolting down the driveway.  Okay, enough! Suffice to say that by the time I get back from the walk and am feeding them I am feeling not so much love for them and really frustrated at my inability to keep them under control, remorse for the mean thoughts I am having, and the way the walk has exposed my inner peace for the raging volcano that it actually is . And yet, all I am doing is walking the dogs.

That there is my shadow, full blown for me to explore. Are the dogs doing all that to me or am I doing it to myself?  Humbling. Illuminating.

Dog enjoying the day

I have been developing a practice around these morning walks where, instead of imagining that I will not feel what I feel, I imagine the dog walk as my time to be of service to the dogs and to my inner dogs as well. I allow all that emerges, all that I feel to bubble up and I meet is as if I were meeting disavowed parts of myself. All the things I feel on this morning dog walk are things I feel all the time. Sometimes I get to laughing out loud about this. The hubris that I can actually control my animal nature, the frustration when things pull me in ways I do not want to go, my impatience with the parts of me that want to stop and smell the moment, the way I feel other’s needs infringe on my time… I am showing you parts of me I am more than a little ashamed of.

The shadow is not all bad… or rather, stuff  I would rather hide away. What I also find on these walks is a deep admiration for the boundless energy each of the dogs expresses. The way they are so excited to smell things and eat things and meet the wind. I love the way Flash can make a poop and then turn towards the house wherever we are on the walk as if to say… okay, I am done, now lets go eat. He knows what he wants and he goes for it. I admire that. It falls to me to redirect him until we get a poop out of Duke too. That does not keep Flash from repeating his reorienting over and over. Imagine me walking down the road and doing a 360 as I bring the leash over my head pulling back in the direction I want to go. (Tell me you have never done this with a mental loop.)  I admire that in him.  Duke will lift his nose sometimes in the graceful way only and English Setter can and grab something out of the air that makes me wish I had his nose! What is it? Turkeys? Woodcock? Turtles? Deer? Bacon? I don’t know, I don’t smell it. And with that momentary gesture, he becomes part of my senses, an extension of me,  showing me things my humanl body cannot perceive.

Next week (Full Moon), I will share how I  explore my shadow through dancing.  But now, I need to go walk the dogs.

Maria Skinner Presents

Come for the Body, Stay for the Soul, my studio’s motto, came to me in the shower, one of my favorite places to gather inspiration. I love when something enters my mind as if from nowhere, a gift I was not expecting. This motto came unbidden but when I heard it, I knew it was right on.

Let me quote from a James Hillman interview. He is the author of The acornSoul’s Purpose, and one of my favorite writers.  “The Acorn Theory  is a worldwide myth in which each person comes into the world with something to do and to be. The myth says we enter the world with a calling. Plato, in his Myth of Er, called this our paradeigma, meaning a basic form that encompasses our entire destinies. This accompanying image shadowing our lives is our bearer of fate and fortune.The acorn theory expresses that unique something that we carry into the world, that is particular to us, which is connected to our “daimon,”(day-mohn) a word rarely used in our culture. Daimon is an earlier word than demon. It became Christianized as demon because Christian theology doesn’t approve of those figures who speak to us as inner voices and may not agree with the voice of Church authority. The Greek word was daimon, the Roman word was genius, and the Christian word is guardian angel. They are all a little bit different, yet each expresses something that you are, that you have, that is not the same as the personality you think you are. And this part of us has our best interest at its heart.”

I begin with this because from my earliest memories, I could remember connecting to this voice and the times I heard it the loudest and felt my fate the strongest is when I was listening to music & when I was dancing.

This acorn myth also says that the roots of the soul are in the heavens, and the human grows downward into life. The task of life is to grow down into this world and come ever more deeply into our purpose. In my experience, there is no better way to do this than to practice body awareness and live via sensation to come downward into life. All centering and grounding practices begin and end in the body.

How do we come down? And how do we find our place? How do we learn to hear that inner voice, that inner guidance that has our best interest at it’s heart? This has always been a place of rumination for me and deep curiosity.

Being a basically practical person, whenever something comes into my periphery that feels ungrounded, I test it out. For me, the proof is in the pudding. I have found nothing more practical that connecting to myself through my body. This practice of returning to sensation has led to a kind of body wisdom that is born of experience and trust. I know that if I stay with my body, I am able to stay with anything that is happening in my life.

Body wisdom is what allows me to really hear my inner voice. Body wisdom a strong foundation from which to move. Body, mind and spirit come together as movement becomes a metaphor for unity and the class is a place to practice staying connected to the self.

In my dance class or in the yoga classes at my studio, we are giving people an opportunity to come into contact with themselves by learning how to listen and stay with the body and hear the inner voice in a grounded, practical way.

I have countless testimonials from people who feel that the studio is their sanctuary, that their lives work better when they come to practice. I have had dance students who tell me that what happens to them in the studio is better than any therapy session… even as they are also working on looking good… I have also had people come to my classes with injuries they thought they would never heal and are now pain free.

Fitness: my personal perspective on fitness and body image is this. When people come in, I can get them fit, I can give them more access to their bodies, more mobility, flexibility, agility, strength, stability. I can help them learn how to move in ways that will create functional and sustainable fitness for as long as they are embodied. Long time Nia students look good. But most of all, they feel good and that is mostly what they keep coming back for.

We are all teaching what we need to learn is my personal philosophy. I am a good teacher because I am a great student. I am in there with you.

I vet my teachers for that as well. We are a living teaching. The
teacher is the transmission.  We are sharing the practices that help us stay connected and through that gently guiding our students to their whole selves.

Wholeness is what I am after. Multidimensional fitness address the whole person: Physical fitness that is functional too – can I do what I want with my body? Mental fitness – clarity of mind, can I keep my unruly mind focused? How relaxed is my nervous system? Emotional fitness – intertwined with mind, am I aware of stories that fuel my emotional/hormonal roller coaster? Do my emotions move through my body?  Spiritual fitness: am I living in the moment? Is my spirit being fed by my life?

In our American culture, there are so many ways to run away from the self, to tune out, to escape, to have less access to what is really moving through us.  Sometimes this is for good reasons. Although life can be beautiful it can also be full of suffering, not the least of which is created by our own inability to hold all the wonderful and terrifying things that happened, are happening or might happen to us in the future. Once again, enter grounding. I found that if I (and by I, I mean my mind and my awareness) could stay with my body, in the moment, everything else takes care of itself. And so as a student of this, if you are ready to come down into your life and into your body and you love music and you love to dance, I can help you ride the wave.

I want to end with a quote from Stuart Heller, another one of my teachers, and author of The Dance of Becoming:

“To become what you believe in is the challenge of faith. Do you believe in what you believe in? Embodiment offers the opportunity to practice what you preach. Using the mechanisms and laws governing action and response, personal reality can be tested and perfected.

The value of a whole-hearted, whole-minded and whole-bodied presence in the midst of action is unquantifiable. Not everyone desires or even recognizes such a possibility. If the power of this realization has touched you, then the necessity of carrying it through it required.”

And if the power of this realization has touched you, come practice with me.

Riding the Cross Waves

WaveToday, my beautiful friend, Alayne, was sharing her strategy for dealing with the topsy turvy time she is moving through in her life. I am paraphrasing, Alayne, and I hope I got it right… what I heard her say is that when things go down, she finds herself either going deeper or rising above the situation in order to stay connected. When I heard her say this, I caught an image in my mind of cresting waves, when playing on the shore, I either jump over the wave or dive underneath.  In the energetic cresting and  crashing waves of my life, this corresponds to times when I either ground more deeply into sensation or surrender to the will of spirit.  In either case. I am letting go of the grip of the mind and coming into the moment which makes either option a good one.

The image of riding waves evokes the emotional realm. The way feelings move through us has this quality of ebbing and flowing. As a student of nature, I watch and feel this ebb and flow within my breath as well my emotional body. Connecting to the breath is a great way to ground as well as to gain perspective. The first chakra, the chakra that says “I belong here” can be accessed through sensing the soles of our feet. The 7th chakra, the chakra that says “We are ONE” can be accessed through sensing the top of the head.  Both are sensed in the body. Sensing the connection between the feet and the top of the head ignites the whole of us. Regardless of which access point I choose, the potential for my whole being to come to life exists.

Another access point is the heart. Again, the breath and the heart have an intimate dance that they share. Every time I take a breath, my heart gets a delicious massage. The upper chakras and the lower chakras meet at the heart center. Energy is exchanged here between above and below and between inside and outside. The vertical meets the horizontal; this is the sacred cross of life, the symbol living through our heart chakra that says “We are connected.”

All you need to do to feel any of this is to tune into sensation. My feet, my breath, the top of my head, the subtle movement of my spine and ribcage as I move with the waves. I can sometimes feel these waves of energy move up and down or in and out, meeting and transforming in my heart center. This feels like a dance sometimes and like an ordeal at others but always, when I am in touch with it, life feels like a great adventure.

The 4 Elements in Movement

We are all unique combinations of cosmic dust in an organic manifestation of fire, earth, air and water. A study of what is unique and what is the same in us has always intrigued me. One of the greatest gifts that astrology has given my heart and mindMaria is the appreciation for variety and diversity of expression. I think it is human nature to want to know if one thing is better than another. When I begin working with someone astrologically or elementally, they ask things like “Is that part of me good or bad”. And I have to say, “It just is.” It is the awareness, compassion and choice we bring to it that gives us the power to make the best of what we have been offered.

One of my favorite tools for exploring awareness, compassion and choice is the movement of the 4 Archetypal Elements; Fire, Earth, Air, Water as postural intentions. I have students sense each one separately and then how we blend them in dance and as we move through our day. The 4 Elements are symbolic and they are also real. Something is evoked in my body when I  imagine I am fire, when I dance in a fiery way, when I sense the fire within.  Likewise when I imagine I am water, dance as if I am in water, sense the water within me.

There are also relationships between the elements; fire and water can create steam, water can put fire out, fire can boil water. Imagine a fiery person, one who confronts and is full of passion, meeting a watery person, someone who is happy to go with the flow and not interested in getting ahead? Imagine this is you and your partner. Imagine this is two parts of yourself. Astrology gives us the gift of seeing the dance of elements within ourselves and between us and the others in our lives.

From the time I began studying astrology, I knew that for me, prediction or even just description was not going to be enough to offer myself and my students and clients. What I am most intrigued by is the process of becoming whole and living into my full potential. The practice of moving the 4 Elements gives me the keys to achieve that. I also get to play with the energy, try things out… test reality, push beyond my perceived limits. Did I mention this work is fun?

First I need to know where I am at this moment; which postural signature am I expressing. Can I find neutral and make my choice from there? This is the embodiment of what it means to act from a balanced place. That is the simplicity of this work. Instead of going to my habitual response, as if it is just who I am, I am able to witness and make another choice consciously by moving my body to a new place. And by bringing it into the body, I can bypass all questions around what something means. Can is really be that easy? This is what I have found and what my students are finding; fresh and simple ways to work with places where we were previously stuck.

Movement is our first form of expression, before the word, there is movement. In many ways, we react to each other’s body language before the words. What we say, how it sounds, how it is received also has so much to do with the posture we use to deliver it. Life becomes so much more fun when I am playing in the field of awareness and choice!

Next Workshop: The 4 Elements in Movement is April 4th, 4:3.0-6:30pm
at Yoga & Nia For Life, 135 Commonwealth Ave, Concord, MA 01742

For Astrological Readings or Embodied Astrology Sessions contact Maria at ynfl@msn.com

I hate to exercise… but I love to move my body

Bodies are designed to move! Just by looking at the structure of the body, this is easy to see. We have about 200 bones, 700 muscles and 360 joints in the human body. We have so much potential for movement variety allowing us to adapt to almost any situations we might encounter on this planet. So how did we get to this place where we need to go to a gym, usually to do some kind of repetitive motion on a machine in order to get our daily movement? It is just weird.

Gyms have definitely fulfilled a need in that they create an environment that is dedicated to moving our bodies. Lately I have heard the phrase “Sitting is the new smoking”, with so many jobs and daily activities for so many people being primarily sedentary, increasing the chances of developing Type 2 diabetes, contributing to muscular pain and associated with higher risks of developing depression.  Often, having jobs where we sit a lot, begins a downward spiral in health of the body, mind and spirit. Standing desks are becoming more popular but not every workplace is open to providing them.  Some of us still have jobs that keep us moving more than sitting. However, even these jobs offer us a limited range of motion at best often resulting in repetitive motion injuries. And how much sitting is too much sitting? 8 hours a day is the too much mark and this includes time at our desks, time sitting in our cars of commuting, time sitting watching tv and eating meals.

For some people, making a commitment to going to the gym gives them the time and space to move their bodies. The fitness culture in gyms also encourages people to take better care of their bodies. However, for people who are overweight and who are not used to moving much, going to the gym can seem daunting. For people who are looking to lose a lot of weight, feeling like their only option is go to the gym can be a deterrent to starting to move at all.

I often hear people say that they hate to exercise. I hear that it hurts or is too much work or they feel uncomfortable exercising in front of other people. So rather than starting with the word “exercise”, I like to start with the word “move”. We are all already doing that. How are you going to bring more movement into your life? Movement begets movement, especially if it feels good. Is it okay if I hate to exercise but I find ways to love to move my body? So what are you going to do to bring more movement into your life today?

09_Maria

ENTER MOGA

There comes a time when something is just too good to keep to oneself.  Enter Moga: An Adventure in Awareness with Maria Skinner.  A colleague was sharing with me a wish she has to teach classes that feel like ones she loves to receive. I told her my desire when I teach class is to teach the class I would want to take.  We looked at each other like “Are we saying the same thing?” At any rate,  enter Moga, the class I wish I could take every singe day.

Moga is the culmination of my experience with the Nia Technique, Contact Improv, Experiential Anatomy, yoga, self-awareness and self-inquiry liberation practices and my unending exploration of the relationship between the body, the mind and the spirit.

At the root is  a practice that emerged from Principle #5 of the Nia White Belt: Awareness …that each day, choosing sensation from the instant I wake up in the morning, begin to notice the state of  my body and where I might need self-healing. This practice began being inspired by wanting to release aches & pain but has become the way I meditate and spend time with my “myself”.

At first glance,  it is just a body scan laced with love, gratitude and curiosity. I  check in (bring awareness to) and speak to my body beginning at the base, my feet, inviting it to relax. I do this by sensing of that part of my body with my full attention and breath without judgement, noting what is there for me. I make my way all the way up to the the top of my head, stopping at each joint and when I have time also each bone and muscle group. Sometimes I hang out in one place where there is more tension or holding or pain and I stay there with my awareness, breathe into that space, infuse it with love and gratitude and move on when I feel the tightness dissipate and sense what I call ” the flow”. I move all the way up my body, and by the time I get to my head, I am usually in a blissful state of humming vibration where I sense my whole body realigned, my breath deep and full and my spirit fully present.

This is a mostly physical process, I do not stop to analyze why something hurts or why something is tight, I just sense, witness and release. Needless to say, this is a great way to start the day.

I have also used this when waking up at night, times when sleep does not come easily. When I do this practice, it relaxes my mind and even if I do not fall asleep (which is rare) I go into a beautiful restful meditative space that is the next best thing, maybe even better.

This is also a great way to explore my emotional body. Inevitably, as I scan, emotions emerge. Connecting to the emotion as sensation, rather than the story behind it or the story I may create so that the sensation can be justified is extremely liberating. If I find a place in my body that feels tight and the feeling that comes from it is frustration, I go more deeply into that sensation. I use curiosity to sense more, to breathe into it, to move with. If an expression of emotions comes up, tears or laughter or sound, I go with it.

I began to bring this kind of awareness to my slower movement practices, experiential anatomy and yoga. Being in this very present state while I move, helps me release any interference in my energy fields and I can sense my connection to the larger earth and universal fields around me.  If I am focused and my intention is clear, I can sense the field I am creating for my class to connect to the whole as well. And by teaching them to be in awareness, they can partake of the shared awareness  field that we are creating.
What do we do in Moga? We move – sometimes in familiar yoga like postures and traditional stretches, sometimes in organic unorganized ways the emerge in the moment –  we breathe, we sit in holy awareness, we shake, we use the floor and props to release tension. Every class is different and I cater it to the group that assembles for each class. Dare I say it does not really matter what we do as long as we bring clear awareness into it? Vanessa Stone, a beautiful teacher of awareness once said the it does not matter what our practice is, as long as it makes us feel more live. If it makes us feel more alive, that is our spiritual practice. More connection, more aliveness, more knowing the self through movement. That is what you will get when you come to Moga. Sweet connection to yourself.

Here is a great article about the Vagus Nerve… this is what Moga is all about. I hope to see you in class! In December 2013, Fridays at Noon at Yoga & Nia For Life, 135 Commonwealth Ave, Concord, MA.

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