Maria Skinner

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Walk My Talk: Say What?

Bring it home, baby. Bring it into the body.

What does it mean to walk our talk? I had a beautiful experience of this with Sheila Peters. We were exploring a grounding and integration movement practice that unites the upper body with the lower body and while we were doing it, I had this tremendous visceral sensation of how above and below connect in that phrase, “Walk Your Talk”. This was a beautiful “aha” moment of taking something that up until then had been conceptual for me and bringing it into my body as a felt truth. Strengthening the awareness of the relationship between my lower body; my legs, my walkers… my lower chakras – what I do, what I want, what I have the power to do, the actions I take… with my upper body holding my talkers, my arms, voice, mind… what I say, my beliefs and my communication with the world definitely gives me the ability to sense if the two match up. The meeting place of the lower and upper chakras is the heart. When I walk my talk, I feel the integrity in my heart. I feel joy and I feel love, even if what is happening is not so good. I like being in the truth. And the way to know is so simple… is what I am doing what I say I am doing. Looking at it with the lens of my heart, I can take responsibility and breathe in the truth of what I do.

Alignment of the upper and lower body urges can help me sense integrity. Yet the word alignment can also be more ideal than real. In Nia, we are practicing being aware of and playing with alignment of the body via the feet, pelvis, chest, head, spine. Aligning, centering, balance and off balance creates awareness of that moves from the conceptual into the real.

It is possible that I do not even realize sometimes that I am not walking my talk, that I am not in alignment. I can certainly address this through my body awareness practices, but then I also need to unite it with my mind and my heart. This is where self-inquiry excels. Here is a great set of questions from the Charmm’d Foundation website whose mission is to Strengthen tax-exempt community leaders through the practice of emotional intelligence and ethical reflection. Although this applies specifically to leaders in the community, it also applies to the personal choices that we make every day that keep us healthy and aligned. As you ask yourself these questions, sense your body (breath and skin is a good place to start) and open up to the possibility that you might learn something about yourself you do not know.

• Understand the phrase “walk the talk” by breaking it down to what it means to YOU.
• What is your “talk?” (What are the values or purpose that you speak about?)
• What is your “walk?” (Your regular actions that support what you’re saying.)
• Is your walk and talk aligned?
• Is it creating the environment you want?
• If so, is this environment helping to facilitate your goals?
• If not, what can you do to change that?

My personal belief is that the world is a better place if what I am doing and what I say I am doing matches up. Ever since I had this realization working with Sheila, I realize that this creates a sensation of trust and safety in my body. This allows me to bring confidence and compassion into all my interactions since I am coming from a place of knowing myself to be in the process of being in the flow. When something feel off, this simple way of noticing helps me take responsibility for what is happening. Would I want to follow myself in this situation? Are my feet following in the path of my beliefs and my heart? What is manifesting in my life as a result? If I do not like where I am, is there a misalignment between what I say am doing and what I am actually doing? Can I sense it in my body? If I realign in my body, will I automatically make a new choice by creating space for a new belief? What needs to be brought in line, the walk or the talk?

Ever since I had this realization working with Sheila, I am more aware in my Nia classes of how I share this practice with others. We are constantly exploring grounding by staying connected to our base and steps and stance and by honing the mind body connection; can I bring my body to the places my mind wants it to go to. When I invite people to sense something, am I actually sensing it too? Am I walking my talk by crafting with sensation? And on the flip side, can I allow my body to go to the places my imagination invites it to? New neuropathways in my brain will bring me to new places. We create these most efficiently by uniting the mind with the body. 2015-07-11 10.58.36If compassion and confidence are byproducts of this practice, can I bring that spirit to share with my students too? And thereby be a loving leader for them, someone they are following that is leading them to themselves?

Energy Medicine with Sheila Peters: Do it First and Last

Have you ever had a situation appear in your life that defied logical means of addressing it? I mean irrational stuff. The kinds of internal spaces that make you want to turn off all the lights inside and outside. Or moments that keep repeating even though you made pact after pact that you would never be there again. Or reactions that keep you feeling stuck in a loop that is just no good?

In the same way that the mind affects the body, the body affects the mind. I can be stressed out and make myself physically ill (think hives), or I can have a certain physical pain patterns that bums out my mind (think neck pain that does not allow me to turn my head). Sometimes the stuckness is physical, sometimes it is mental, sometimes it is emotional – however, it is always energetic. And by that I mean that everything, and this means every thing, has a vibration to it and one way I define vital health is that the vibrations within an organism are in harmony such that the organism thrives.

Working energetically does not require that we know how something got stuck or where the stuckness originated. Since the practices affect us on a cellular and dare I say, atomic, level, the whys and doubts of the mind have no place in their release. With practice, changes that happen in this way are real and lasting.

A few years ago, a good friend and local chiropractor, Pam Jarboe told me about Donna Eden, a Master teacher of Energy Medicine. There was talk about us starting a group to explore her work and I bought her book, Energy Medicine for Women. I began looking at it, but the group never materialized.

A few months ago, another good friend and my Spiritual Pilates teacher, Meghan Brennan, insisted that I contact Sheila Peters. I instantly took to Sheila and went to have a session with her, not really knowing what to expect… and lo and behold, among the treasure chest of energy medicine that she shares, many of the practices are based on the work of Donna Eden. I fell in love with Sheila and with the work.

Back to the questions I posed at the top. Situations that defy rational problem solving, loops that seem to have no exit, stuckness… I am working my way through one of these right now. It looks like this: No matter what I intended, I did not make time for what I know I want to do. One of the reason this was happening is that “others'” agendas barrelled over mine. I let them, without knowing how or why, leaving me frustrated and mad and overwhelmed. Sheila saw this in my energy field and showed me two exercises during our first session. One of them involves a spoon and is a grounding exercise. The other is a movement mantra meant to connect me to my core and my personal power. These two have literally changed my life. Evidence being that I am here writing this blog.

Being on the other side of it, I see how she gave me the tools to shift the energetics and my awareness. In some cases, connecting through the exercises gives me the ability to say no, or to know that I can choose, or to shift my schedule around so that I can be in a flow that allows me to thrive.

Back to Sheila, who is also a beautiful dancer and poetry in motion. She and I, we are intentional movers. Body language as primary communication and body mantras to shift the energy make perfect sense to me. Along with the practices, Sheila also does a unique type of body work that feels like she dancing my energy fields. And believe me when I say I am a very practical being who does not know exactly how this works to bring me into sweet harmony within myself, only that it does.

On Saturday, September 12th, I have invited Sheila to come to Yoga & Nia For Life and share this work. You will learn some of these practices and learn to open up your body so that everything flows more smoothly bringing more health to your physical, emotional and mental body.  Please come and bring anyone in your life who is ready to create more moments when they are thriving than stressing.

Shiela Workshop

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.

Grounding

Maria LightGetting Grounded: What is it and why do it?
Although the concept of grounding may have an esoteric ring to it, the practice itself is the most practical act you can imagine. As someone who moves a lot, I see this practice as the way to begin any kind of movement practice or anything at all.  It is the way in which I consciously get into the body and into the present moment so that I can get the most benefit and pleasure from what I am doing.

Grounding is about sensing the ground under my feet and the support it gives me. The simplest way get there is to pay attention the my breath and to the support from underneath, be it under my feet if I am standing, a chair if I am sitting or the space beneath me if I am lying down. I do not have to wait for a special moment when things are quiet to ground. I can do it right now at this very moment regardless of where I am or what I am doing.

Try it. Grounding in this way is about of bringing one pointed attention to your physical body and like a tree, rooting into this moment. Although this sounds simple, my unruly mind, running between the future and the past can easily abscond with my attention and before I know it, I am no longer sensing my body but wondering what I am going to make for dinner or wondering why I said what I said to somebody yesterday or worse… judging myself for not being able to stay attentive.

The first thing to bring to a grounding practice is curiosity. Can I do it? Can I stay? Can I sense more?

The second thing to bring to a grounding practice is deep compassion for the moments when I veer off, when my mind drifts me away from my body sensations.

The third thing to bring to a grounding practice is perseverance and determination to keep coming back again and again and again to drink from the well of sensation.

So why do it? Ground…

Along with coming into the moment and becoming more present, grounding in this way uses a part of our brains that activates the healing response. We begin to settle our nervous system which in a cyclical way quiets our mind which allows us to sense more which settles our nervous systems and that quiets our minds and so on…

This cycle of relaxation creates a safe place to move from. It creates an intimate relationship to our bodies so we not only get more out of the movement, but also use more of ourselves to execute it.  Because we feel more whole, we have the potential to move as a whole.  We also have the opportunity to get in touch with our bodies based on sensation and how it feels to move and not on how it looks or should look.

Grounding also creates a resonance that others can feel and also… ground into. My ground becomes your ground and in that way, I contribute to a vibration that invites you to come into the moment with me. It works both ways, like that cyclical settling of the nervous system, the more chill and grounded I am, the more ground you have access to and the more chill and grounded you are, the more ground I have access to…and so on.

This can work in the opposite direction too. I have been in the upward spiral of ungrounding many times, energy escalating out of control… anxiety, panic, freaking out… forgetting that I had a choice about it. When I am able to catch myself feeling ungrounded, the way to return to the moment if to ground, to plug back into sensation… the breath, the space beneath me, the support from underneath.

So I do it for me. And I do it for you. Holding hands like the trees.

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 saw American Sniper & this is what I came home with

imageMars, the God of War, was born out of Hera’s rage. This was the phrase that kept going through my head as I watched American Sniper today, holding my husband’s hand in a dark movie theatre. I know it is Hollywood and it somewhat one-sided and while fairly graphic, the reality of war is actually way worse than what I was seeing. People’s lives are destroyed, families are devastated – sometimes for generations. To what end? Is Hera’s rage ever vanquished? And how many wars are actually fought for a different master, or mistress, as the case may be?

Hera is the Queen of the Gods and wife to Zeus who is the King. When Hera birthed Mars, in her rage, it was through parthenogenesis. She was in enraged because Zeus had dared to birth a child without a woman. Athena came out of his head, fully armed and ready to do battle. Athena is the Goddess of War among other things.  Hera was appalled by Zeus daring to birth a woman from his won body, and probably angry at him for all his infidelities as well. She said, “Watch this”, and gave birth to Mars… without a man. So the Goddess and God of War were born each in their own unnatural way. Unlike Mars, who is the berserker, the savage pillager and rapist, Athena represents the strategic aspect of war and war as a civilizing force and the laws that control our primal urges. Although we may see her as the sane one, and indeed, she does prefer diplomacy, she can also be cold and calculating when standing behind an idea or a principle. Athena looks down in disdain on Mars and yet, she could not win the battles she stands behind without him. Mars, on the other hand, has no desire to look civil or cover up his acts in the mantle of morality. In the most primal of ways, he is coming from the heart.

I see this play out in the way we look at and treat our soldiers when they come back from war. They experience the ravages of Mars both in body and mind and yet, when they come home, the Athena in us is disgusted by what they have done, even as we romantically support it with holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day. It makes for psychosis within us. Mars is the baser cause, Athena is the higher cause, yet the polarity and collusion between them results in so much pain and numbness that whitewashing is often the easiest thing to do. Taking sides, you are either with us or against us. Is life precious or is life expendable?

As Hera and Mars are intertwined, so are Zeus and Athena. Hera and Mars are the feminine & the body and Zeus and Athena are the masculine & the mind. In argument, Athena is the cool logical one who can look past the personal and Mars is the one who fights passionately and is selfish and very personal in his reaction.  The two diads exist as a dichotomy only when we see them as disconnected. However, when we are dealing with our selves, it is easy to see that they actually are ONE and that when we separate them, when we polarize them, when we choose to call one bad and the other good, we create a rift within us that can only be resolved with violence.

Life is so much messier than myths. While I sense the symbols within myself, I wonder if there is a way to embrace both the brutishness of Mars and the loftiness of Athena? Can I love the part of me that is emotionally savage and the part of me the part of me that is purely logical… at the same time? No separation.  Just as an experiment, I am wondering, and maybe it is naive, if I can make peace on the inside, will it actually reflect in the outer life too? And would the outcome actually be peace or some kind of truce. I am longing to know.