Archive for Nia and Dancing around…
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 mind 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 email@example.com
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?
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.
When something comes to an end, there are times when it feels more appropriate to celebrate and times when it feels better to grieve. There are also times, when both celebration and grieving go hand in hand. This moment has sort of crept on me. I did not realize or even dream that I would ever be here. But yet, here I am.
It has the spirit of a confession what I am about to say, and the specter of shame around it, but it something I am standing with, regardless of how little of big it sounds to you. I can tell you, it is a big deal for me. I feel like for the first time in my life, I am making choices and decisions that that do not arise from the fear of getting fat. There you go. A whole career and lifestyle that I created for myself has come from this. And yet, the journey out of fear, out of all the ways I have learned to control my environment so that I could stay healthy and thin has brought me to this place: freedom and the sensation of truly loving my body no matter what.
I want to get down on my knees and weep with joy about this, and also weep for all those things I did not do because of the fear that I would not be able to control things. Restaurants I did not go to, trips I did not go on, people I did not hang out with…can be seen as deprivation or choices made from love. Either way, they entered into the equation.
In all this there has been dance. In choosing how I wanted to move to stay in shape, I chose something that I love to do. Something that makes me feel so happy to be in a body. Dancing to music is heaven on earth for me. And even here, I have made my journey away from dancing to burn calories to dancing for joy. My professional practice, the Nia Technique has been instrumental in bringing me to this new place. Nia has taught me how to make choices that bring me more energy, choices that help me stay connected to my emotional body, choices that keep me feeling alive.
This new feeling, as it is dawning on me, is making me question everything around me. Why I do what I do, and how I can make other choices now that I absolutely know for sure that this schism within me is healed. That all that energy that went into fear and control is now able to go into expressing my love for life and the people around me.
To see the truth beyond my personal epiphany, I have to say that the world itself is not inherently set up for us to feed ourselves with true nourishment. Maybe it was at some point, but I can tell you for certain that when I go into a regular supermarket, there are few things that I want to eat in there. I am not advocating that you do anything that I do. What I know is that for myself, I have created a whole new culture around food that centers on freshness, realness and simplicity. The most credit for this came from the work of Sally Fallon and Nourishing Traditions and the work of Donna Gates and the Body Ecology. And yet, I feel like I have moved beyond their prescriptions to something even more simple.
Lately I have been ruminating on one of Nia’s 52 Moves, the Cat Stance. As one of Nia’s 6 stances, we hold the stance for at least counts and we connect to the sensation of stability and rest. Although this can seem pretty simple, it requires attention to detail and conscious intention to truly rest into the feet. Energetically, this is what we might call grounding. The stances invite me to take the attitude of staying, if only for a moment and to rest with my energy connecting to a peaceful place within. Sounds easy, but do this: Stand with both feet on the ground and bring all your energy to rest into your feet. Then stalk your energy field. Is any part of you already moving off your feet, anticipating what may come next, preparing for what I might next ask you to do? If you are already moving off, take a deep breath and on the exhale melt into your feet. This is how I find the sensation of a stance. Even if I am only going to be here for one count, or 2 beats in non-Nia nomenclature.
When I bring all this to bear to Cat Stance there is a whole other set of sensactions and skills to develop. A classic Cat Stance comes from the Martial Arts. Shift your weight to one leg, bend the knee of the other and bring the knee up to hip level. The standing leg becomes the sole support for the body, the core is activated more dramatically than in the two legged stances and we are now more specifically into the realm of balance. And indeed, in the less pure form, in Nia, any one legged stance is called a Cat Stance and gives us the opportunity to develop more balance.
Cat stance, balance stances, develop the intrinsic muscles near the core of the body, near the spine. The small movements that we need to do to keep the integrity of stability and mobility gets stronger when we are supporting ourselves on just one leg. We engage our psoas, the deep core muscle that originates on the 12th thoracic vertebra, travels below the viscera, and attaches at the lesser trochanter, a small notch on the medial side of the upper femur – the inner thigh. By holding a Cat Stance, we also strengthen the innermost muscles that connect the small bones of the spine to each other. If these muscles are not used they become marbled with fat and we lose mobility and stability of the spine. Without challenging obalances ce, it is possible to have strong extrinsic core muscles but not so strong intrinsic core muscles. And practicing Cat Stance while dancing makes it so easy to develop strength in all the layers of muscle in the core of the body.
Dancing a Cat Stance is another thing altogether. Even more of the core gets engaged, especially when we play with on and off balance, using our body weights, the pelvis, chest and head, moving in and out of alignment as we dance. When I begin extending the leg in a Cat Stance, I find kicks which can be done in a Martial way or expressive Dance Arts way.
Dancing Cat Stances are often the most challenging to students who first come into a Nia class. They often come in with a story about not being “good” at balance. As if this was something that could not change. But it does change and greatly improve, balance does, all practice of all the stances, but especially Cat Stance. Why all the stances? Because before we have the ability to stand on one leg we must achieve the ability to truly rest into two legs. Building the foundation from the ground up, we can shift the weight to stand on one leg and allow the core of our body to grow down into the standing leg. Like a tree trunk that gets wider with time we can cultivate the sensation of width into that standing leg so that it feels as sturdy as the trunk, the standing leg merging into the core of the body, even as we dance to the beat.
It is exciting, to feel like I can dance as creatively and be as expressive on one leg as I can be two. Simple fascination.
During my fist Blue Belt Intensive back in 2000, Debbie Rosas, my Blue Belt Trainer, noticed that many of us at the Intensive were not incorporating much Martial Arts when we were first asked to teach. What exact words she used, I don’t recall. What I took away was that the only way we would change the shape of our bodies was by embodying the Moves and embodying the Movement Forms. I think back then, I still thought of Nia as primarily a cardiovascular practice. I had not yet tapped into the way in which the 5 sensations could condition my body in a multitude of ways.
I remember the exact moment in a Nia class that I was teaching when I noticed he sensation of strength coming from inside of me and felt like I was watching myself mold my shape from the inside out. This was a sensation primairly linked to my core and specifically originating in my psoas muscle. It was a real WOW sensation. That was the day when my body truly began to consciously take shape. It was the day when I realized that ,not only was I dancing through life with Nia, I was also sculpting my body from the inside out. Life As Art took on a deeper meaning.
Since then, I have experienced again and again the truth of Debbie’s words. When I execute the Moves in The Body’s Way, my body changes. I become more balanced and shapely. It is this precision, the gift of the Martial Arts, that when I bring to the relationship with all of the 52 Moves creates the sensation of body as sculpture.
Diving in to anatomy has also helped to enhance my relationship to body as living sculpture. Anatomy made no sense to me when I was just looking at the books so I created and Experiential Anatomy class at my studio. Each week I focused on on muslce, had the class look at pictures, palpate the muscle (if possible), and then move the muscle. We sometimes worked in partners, one person touching the origin and insertion point of the muscle (when possible) while the other person moved, using touch to stimulate awareness. I taught a Nia class right after this class and brought the muscle we were focusing on in the Experiential Anatomy class into the focus for the Nia class. I took one year to go through this process and by the end of the year, I felt like I could sense my body as a three dimensional sculpture and had more definition than ever before. I also felt more emotionally connected to my body from the inside out. Familiar, had traversed it’s inner landscape. The power of sensation ~ imagination ~ expression.
Enter Brown Belt and Principle #10, Symbology. Fill my body with energy. If I had accomplished the sensation of filling my form with physical energy with my anatomy class, Brown Belt initiated me into the world of shaping and reshaping my light body. I actually love working the relationship between all the #10’s, X-Ray Anatomy, Floorplay and Symbology. They all remind me to view myself as a multi-dimensional being. Using X-ray anatomy, I can consciously explore loosening and tightening to change my form, to find more balance, ease, grace and strength. Using Floorplay, I can consciosly explore my relationship to gravity and use the floor, the earth as a place to grow in and out of. Using Symbology, I can explore my body moving as one whole living organism and allow the shapes that I take on to be full and passionate and fulfilling.
When people ask me what is is that I do when I move that make my movement feel so full, I tell that that what I do is fill my whole movement with me. Systemic for sure. And emotionally connected. And spiritually authentic. I fill it with me. I become the sculpture and I become the artist and I become tha audience in the for of the Witness taking it all in. One thrilling shape seamlessly becoming another, each breath, each movement another chance to be fully alive in my body, my home.
It takes me a long time to integrate anything. On the one hand, I “get it” with my mind. I am quick that way. But to truly be able to make something mine, to get it with my body, it takes me time and earnest practice. I feel that double taskmaster of time and space telling me that there are no shortcuts other than the shortcut of being truly present for the practice.
So here I am, teaching a movement form that encompasses many practices that are meant to be embodied one by one and then integrated to create the Music~Movement~Magic that is Nia. Each practice is part of a foundation and the wholeness of a teacher who embodies these practices can be felt. I know this, no magic tricks but only true magic is allowed into my world.
I have found that even within each practice, I have had to break it down again and again to get to the essence. To embody the essence and then build upon it, I am constantly breaking it down. Letting go of what I know to discover something new.
I have been doing this lately with each of the 52 Moves of the Nia Technique. I have written before about bringing just one move, finger extensions or foot directions, for instance into class and making that Move the focus the sole focus. Using other Moves, of course, but always in relation to the ONE. This practice has helped me integrate the essence of each Move like nothing else. For those of you who practice Nia, I highly recommend it.
If at first read, the potential for boredom enters your mind, I assure you, doing this has only made my relationship with each Move far more exciting. Like monogamy, there have been moments of wanting to break out, but overall, the more I stay and ask myself and the Move for MORE, the more I get and the more I want to stay with it.
Last week I had a rash of one Move only foci:
Wednesday: Stepping Back Onto the Ball of the Foot
Thursday: Cross Behind
Sunday: Bow Stance
All three are actually a variation on the theme of exploring the relationship to the space behind the body. We do this by stepping into the back space, by finding support from behind and by allowing the back space to propel us forward.
Aligning the body from behind and underneath also calls in the relationship to the smile line in Nia. The smile line relates to the journey of the hara as we shift weight to locomote. By going deeper, we can go higher and by playing with range of motion we can create exciting dance experiences. We also have the opportunity to condition the legs and the core of the body using gravity and strength as our body weights travel that deeper smile line.
Settling into the back space before the shift happens also brought to body and mind the energy of receiving. As I step back onto the ball of my foot, cross behind or step back into a bow stance, I find my back foot and receive the support from the ground and underneath. I settle into myself, maybe for a long time or maybe just for a moment as I prepare to push down to shift or kick or jump. However, that moment when I am purely receiving, aligning into the back space, filling my body with breath, is delicious.
I found myself being so relaxed after these classes. In their wake, I noticed how much more anxious I feel when I align myself with a forward and up orientation. The stallion at the gate sensation is familiar to me. Life as a race. However these three moves gave me an opportunity to realign and ask, what’s the rush? Why not be here now? Now is where the power is.