Maria Skinner

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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

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?



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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Body Temple: Altar Chakra Explored

Picture 012Never knowing what will emerge but opening anyway; this has been my mode in the past few years when I dance and when I bring a theme into class. Sometimes I am surprised by having something I knew intellectually suddenly meet me as a sensation. It is the difference between having the map and finally arriving at the destination. It is that clear and the potential for this kind of transformation, from concept to reality, is what I bow down to.

So I read that there is a chakra at the knees. It is called the Altar Chakra and its color is gold. Intrigued I began doing what I do whenever I hear something like this. I began exploring the relationship between this information and my actual knees. The knee is an amazing joint; a hinge joint connected by strong criss-crossing ligaments and muscles the reach from the iliac crest of the pelvis and intersect around the knee joint with muscles that reach up from the feet. All in all, a pretty amazing structure. I love my knees.

That there is a chakra called the Altar here was a very moving discovery for me.  I do not spend a lot of time on my knees and when I got down on my knees, I felt like getting back up right away. Can’t move too quickly here, or reach as high as I want to, fight nor flight is easy on my knees.  I am not a church goer, I do not kneel to pray on a regular schedule, however, there have been several experiences in the past that have literally brought me to my knees, in prayer, in supplication, in surrender, crying, screaming, and sometimes laughing very hard. And then on my knees, I met the Altar. The Altar is the experience, yet the Altar is also within myself.  Playing with getting on my knees to explore the chakra brought back so many of the feelings that brought me down. I wanted to get up, but I stayed and prayed and played and something happened.

Ruminating on the knee, there are so many symbolic and real images around coming to my knees. Other knee images are feeling weak in the knees or like my knees are made out of rubber.  Those are real for me. The sexual connotation around getting on my knees can be good or bad depending on whether I am choosing to get down on my knees, and this becomes a metaphor once again for bowing down. Am I bowing down by choice or by force? Am I bowing down in reverence or in humiliation?

The questions I posed to my class before dancing were: what brings you down to your knees? What is the altar you kneel down to? What softens your knees into pure devotion? As we went around the circle around I heard again and again surrender, humility, supplication, respect, gratitude and also humiliation, powerlessness, capitulation.

There is a sensation to this kind of folding down and giving in and giving up that I wanted us to dance with. What are the real Altars, the ones that we want to bow down to? Can any Altar, any experience that brings us to our knees, potentially be a true Altar?  When am I bowing down in devotion and when am I bowing down in fear? And how can I keep my relationship to my knees, this joint of structural integrity and stability so healthy that I can fold and unfold from a place of reverence with ease? When we danced, we stayed aware of the knee joint, spring loaded, alive and in relationship as the portal between the feet and the core of the body. Ending in Child’s Pose I offered the prayer: May what you want to bow down to always be in your life…

And then it came to me, the embodiment of bowing down to my life. I felt it for the first time, the sensation that I could love whatever is bringing me to my knees, the Altar, in the moment rather than resist it or whine about it. And in this moment of devotion, I can choose to be with all the feelings I have about this without hating myself or my knees or those who inhabit my Altar.

Intimate Balls

Excerpt from Nia Blog, my 2 cents on the hip joints. Hips don’t lie…

Maria Skinner, Nia Trainer, says:

The hip joints form the junction where the base of the body (feet, ankles, knee joints and leg bones) meet the core of the body (pelvis, chest and head). Anatomically, the hip joint is formed by the ball of the femur (the thighbone) rolling in the socket of the pelvic bones, or the acetabulum. Although the hip joint is fairly large in size, the movement available in this joint can feel very intrinsic and intimate, as if the movement is coming from a place deep inside of us. Because this joint has the potential for so much mobility via the ball and socket, it also requires a very strong and layered ligamental structure. Numerous muscles surround and connect to this structure that articulate the hip joint: the gluteal muscles, psoas, adductors and lateral rotators.

From Nia’s 52 Moves, Hip Bumps, Pelvic Circles, and Spinal Undulations (starting at the base of the spine) activate the aforementioned muscles, as well as the pelvic floor and abdominal wall. When I move my hips, I sense intimacy in the way this movement activates my visceral organs. When I feel relaxed and safe, my hip joints feel fluid, juicy and powerful. When I feel angry or fearful, my hip joints feel tight and stuck. This is the way my emotional body speaks to me through my hips. When I become aware of the “stuck” sensation in my hips, I can breathe into this area and bring movement to release the tension and change my emotional state. This is how I cultivate a more intimate relationship between my body and mind. Awareness comes from my body and the choice to move comes from my mind.


  • Practice Hip Bumps, Pelvic, Circles or Spinal Undulations when you need to stand for long periods of time. Small movements can be done in public without attracting too much attention.
  • Practice Nia’s pelvic moves in Closed, Open, “A”, Sumo, Bow and Cat Stance.
  • Practice the yoga pose called Pigeon to create more flexibility in the muscles surrounding your hips.
  • Practice Creeping, from the Nia 5 Stages practice. Get on the floor and motor around on your belly, using your legs to help push you forward and backward.
  • Practice “Legs up the Wall” to release the muscles surrounding the hip joint. Do this by lying on your back with your buttocks against a wall, then extend and rest the legs on the wall perpendicular to your spine.