Posts Tagged ‘body awareness’

Friday link roundup 6/17

stand here

Quote/artwork from Brian Andreas of Story People


On gay bars as sanctuaries.

A mother’s letter to her LGBTQ Latino son after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando.

LGBTQ Muslims speak out against the attack, homophobia, and Islamaphobia.

On property, and creating spaces (such as gardens) for the greater community.

“The harder you work, the less you will feel.” Life lessons learned from a Tai Chi class.

A new article on Sensory Processing Disorder.



Stepping in: Teaching my first Nia class

I taught my first full Nia class today. One of my main teachers had a work-related training and asked me to substitute for her. Over the past week, we had gone over the steps of opening and closing the studio, how to hook up and turn on the music and the microphone. As for the content of the class…well, I’ve been learning and practicing for months.

And so this morning, as a hint of snow fell from the sky, I walked into the studio. I was fairly calm as I set things up. There was time to breathe and wait for people to come. Four students came. It was a small class, and enough. 

We stepped in; my focus was play. I asked them shake off anything they didn’t need to keep with them during class. I switched on the music and began. 

Sometimes I felt out of sync, leading with imperfect steps, and I kept going. I know my enthusiasm, my playfulness, my love of Nia came through. Sometimes, I felt so incredibly present – the steps were there and they mattered, but the experience was about so much more than the steps of the choreography. It was about being with myself, being with others, being in the moment,

The body and movement are sources of inspiration, wellness, vitality, vibration, connection. I know that doing Nia as a student helps regulate me; as a teacher, it stretches me to the edge of my capacity and allows me to hold more, even if just for the duration of a class. 

There’s a spiritual element in teaching, too, that feels somewhat akin to leading a centering exercise or a blessing/prayer. I remember being in my White Belt training and realizing that the best way to feel grounded and safe was to be fully in my body; that  through being connected to my body, I could also be more spiritual, emotional, and connected with the energy around me. This connection feels stronger to me when I teach. 

Today, I found my breath at points where it became ragged. I found spaces to step to the side and take sips of water. I found spaces to soften when I needed to. Still, it is a different kind of workout to move while using my voice while my heart is beating quickly, and I have to be very conscious of my breath. I now feel a little stiff, a little more winded than usual. I also feel strong. 

After we were done, after we stepped out, one of my friends – another Nia morning class regular – came up to me and gave me a hug, telling me I did a good job. “I remember when you first taught a song; you seemed unsure and a little unsteady. And now…what a difference.”

I felt exhilarated afterward, and that energy carried me for at least an hour more until I felt the waves of tiredness hit me. This was a big step for me. It is the first full movement class I have ever taught. And it is the first full class of any kind I have taught since I last co-facilitated a class in San Diego nearly two years ago. 

Although I am tired now, I can still feel the sensations of the experience in my body and spirit. I know I want to teach again. I want to continue strengthening my Nia practice as a student and teacher. This practice feeds me, brings me a joy beyond words. 

Joy of Movement


A card my therapist gave me.


I’m doing a self-study program of the 13 Principles of Nia – the White Belt principles.  Each month – in my case, from full moon to full moon – I am incorporating a principle into my life and movement and using Nia continuing education materials to enhance my practice. It’s called the 13 Moon Plan.  My hope is to integrate these principles more into my body awareness and base of Nia knowledge. This past month, I’ve been focusing on White Belt Principle #1.

The first principle is Joy of Movement. This joy is beyond emotional joy; it involves seeking the sensation of Universal Joy through movement.

I’ll describe the principle in the context of an exercise:  Take a moment to move around the room, whether dancing or walking. Pay attention to how your body feels. If you find discomfort in an area of your body, change (or in Nia terms, “tweak”) your movement until you find more ease, more pleasure. Once you find this, see if you can sustain the movement and the joy.

When I connect with Universal Joy, I connect to and with energy. My fingertips tingle and it feels like I’m holding a ball of light between my hands. In my body, I find more ease and stability. I give myself more permission to play and experiment.

I’ve consolidated my journal entries from the past month’s exercises to share with you here:

Joy of Movement involves:  Sensations. Physical, emotional, energetic, spiritual. Connecting with my own energy, and the energy around me.

I know I have found it when I connect to my emotions. When I feel my heart open to how my body wants to move.

Universal Joy feels like: softness, ease, an invitation, flowing, free, peaceful, centered. Taking away the noise of the mind and embrace sensation in body and spirit. When I explored the Joy of Movement exercises, I felt soft, alive, present, open. Sensations in my body: tingling, a sense of cool smoothness throughout my muscles; an awareness of the interactions between my skin and the air, of touching and being. For my nervous system, it created more ease and space for breath and smoother sensations. I felt less tense, I anticipated less. And I felt more.

Emotional joy is like keys on a piano. Universal Joy is like a symphony, resonating wider, deeper. I sense the vibrations of the music in the floor.

Universal Joy is like connecting with Spirit or Source. It’s beyond joy as an emotion or even a concept. When I tap into Universal Joy, I tap into a field of energy.  With emotional joy, the energy is still light and beautiful, but it feels less expansive.

On repeating individual movements to find joy: there is part of me that wants to shift movements more quickly. I am definitely curious and present, but I also sense some impatience for the flow of many movements as opposed to connecting with and tweaking one movement.

It’s easier for me to find joy when moving through space: more intuitive, conscious, and creative. In stillness, my thoughts tend to wander more.

Sometimes I tweak moves I find slightly uncomfortable and am able to find more joy in them. At times, the visible difference is razor thin but the difference in sensation is remarkable.

Physically, this principle helps me change the way I move, increase comfort and body awareness. Subtle changes can decrease physical discomfort. Bringing joy to my body brings more flow and ease to my movements, more pleasure and relaxation to my nervous system.

Mentally, in seeking joy of movement, I shift how I make movement choices. My thoughts become lighter, more curious, more experimentation-oriented, like: what does this feel like?  I focus less mental energy on concentrating and striving.

Emotionally, I create more space to feel deeply. Increased sensation increases emotional awareness. It’s like it opens up a field where emotions can move more freely.

Spiritually, Joy of Movement connects me to my own energy.   I feel more connected and at home with myself.

Friday link roundup 10/16

“maybe it’s simply the act of getting up one more time. that maybe that’s all you need to do… that’s all you can do… and maybe that one act repeated over and over again pumps your heart back to life.”  —terri st. cloud, bone sigh arts

(original print here).

According the the Smithsonian Magazine, ancient women artists may have done a majority of cave art painting.

An article from Salon by a woman who has been bullied for being thin.  From The Mighty:  an article by a woman who was told by a stranger at a restaurant to stop eating.  I am sure there are more articles like these out there from women of all shapes and sizes.  My response to these:  please don’t tell women they need to eat more or less based on the way they look or how much they weigh.  Don’t judge them.  You don’t know their stories.

From The Mighty:  Imagining a world without mental illness stigma.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine now defines addiction as a brain disorder rather than a behavioral issue.

Spring Awakening, a musical (and originally, a play) about repressed adolescents in the late 1800s, has returned to Broadway.  This time, it has returned with a twist – the main cast members are deaf and the production includes sign language.

Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets.  I love how she weaves words and makes connections between life and nature.  An excerpt from her new book of poetry, Felicity.

On waiting for a diagnosis.

For my full surgery story, go here for Part I and here for Part II.

I’m discovering that from the outside,

it’s scary.

From the inside, with my own experience, I didn’t fully allow myself to be scared about my tumor, surgery, or potential diagnosis.

Early in the process, after I found out I had some sort of cyst or mass, a friend asked me if it was benign or malignant.  I don’t really remember my answer.  It might have been something about the odds being in my favor based on my age.

I mainly powered through my process, concentrated on other things, distracted myself, did a lot of yoga to minimize pain.

My parents, who came down for my surgery, who got updates from my surgeon and oncologist, told me afterwards, “You didn’t tell us much about the cancer risk.”

Now that I have friends who have had to go through similar diagnostic procedures, I realize, wow, the waiting game can be really intense, the not knowing, the anticipating an outcome.

My recommendation to a friend:  Allow yourself to be afraid if that’s how you feel, but don’t feed your fear.  Research and get information if it empowers you, but don’t spend too much – if any – time on online forums.  I would add:  Advocate for yourself and your health.  Ask questions.  Distract yourself as needed, and also take time to be present.  Ask friends and family for support through the process.  Take care of yourself.  Be hopeful.

My surgery story, part 2.

For the first part of this story, go here.

November 16-24, 2013:  Before my surgery, I wrapped up loose ends at my part-time job and my full-time live-in volunteer position.  It was a whirlwind of a week, and I tried to stay focused on what I needed to do.  Write a how-to list for some of my tasks at work.  Make sure the house had coverage.  Announce that my surgery date got moved up. Cancel plans.  It was exhausting, but I almost didn’t notice.

I remember looking at my stomach in the mirror, which had swelled slightly as the tumor grew.  I touched the unmarked skin, realizing that I would never see that skin smooth and without scars again.

Somehow, I had kept the pain at a minimum.  Sometimes I would have a twinge of sharp pain that would make me flinch for 30 seconds or so, but then it would go away.  The night before my surgery, though, the pain was excruciating.  It was as though my body was saying, “It’s time.”  My parents, who had flown in to be with me for the surgery, wondered if they should take me to the ER.  I did energy work (Reiki) on myself that night, and my pain level went down.  The next morning, I went to the hotel’s hot tub and let the warm water relax me.  I was able to go to the hospital at the scheduled check-in time – 1 p.m. on November 25, 2013.

Considering the situation, I was actually pretty calm,.  There wasn’t much space for me to be anxious – I went into a space of absolute necessity:  it had to be okay for several doctors to not only touch me, but cut into me. I also had to accept any possible outcome.

I signed off on the possibility of a total hysterectomy.  If they found cancer, then that would be the result.  I didn’t know if I wanted to have children, but I appreciated having that option.  I knew that I would lose my right ovary when they removed the tumor. That thought was strange, too.

I remember being in the operating room.  It had white walls.  I remember sending good energy to the doctor’s, nurses, and other medical personnel.  They put the mask on me and I was out.

Upon waking up from my surgery, I remember a vague impression:  someone telling me that I could “still have babies.”  I came to fully with my mom by my side, who explained more in detail.   Result from the biopsy: borderline, also known as a “low malignant potential” tumor.  They removed the ovary with the tumor, along with my inflamed appendix.  Surgical terms:  oopherecotomy and appendectomy.   Borderline tumors are a strange category – they grow slowly, they grow on but not in organs.  They have characteristics of both benign and malignant tumors.  I always thought it was a question of either/or.  Not both.  (If you’re curious, here is a medical article about borderline ovarian tumors. The first page is enough to get an idea). I was relieved when I heard the diagnosis, but I also felt uneasy.

I was in the hospital for 2.5 days – Monday afternoon through Wednesday evening. My mom stayed by my side, sleeping in a chair that converted into a bed of sorts.  I had a roommate who by Tuesday was on the phone coordinating Thanksgiving (which was that Thursday).  After she left, I had a night of quiet before I got another roommate, who was in for followup surgery for a head wound and seemed to be chatting away happily with the hospital staff while saying her pain level was at a “10”. My own pain level ebbed and flowed.

Fear hit me afterwards. Before the surgery, I insisted that I was healthy aside from the growing tumor, and I realized that wasn’t quite accurate.  I repeatedly looked at journal articles about the chance of recurrence (it’s low).  Grief hit me, too, feeling a loss that seemed to go deeper than losing an ovary.  Exhaustion hit me, too, and I spent time napping, resting, and taking short walks.

About two weeks into my healing process, I burst into tears and didn’t really know why.  When I look back, I see that as the beginning of a depressive episode.  This depression would grow much deeper in the coming months and leave me with nagging thoughts that maybe life was not worth it.  It was all so much to go through.  And even though my incision healed smoothly and clean, and I started to regain physical strength, I still felt depleted and out-of-place.

After a few weeks of rest, I returned to my volunteer position.  A few weeks later, I returned to my job. I kept my expectations at the level they had been at before the surgery, and found I could not meet them.  My energy was lagging and my focus seemed blurry.  I continued to try.  It didn’t work.  I could get more into the details, and how other people played into my process and the trauma involved.

However, I think the bottom line was that I needed to take time off to rest and heal.  I needed to hit the pause button on my life as it had been, and restart when I was ready.  I now believe that my system was on overload and I kept on adding things on.  It was too much.   I worked hard and stayed longer than was healthy, and in the end, I collapsed – mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.  This collapse led me to make a huge choice:  to leave and change almost everything, for the sake of myself, for the chance to renew my life.

My scar, while visible, has long since healed.  It will always be part of me.  I had my annual ultrasound a few weeks ago, and it came back clear – no signs of tumors.

Over a year and a half post-surgery, I am pretty healthy. My life looks different and my dreams have shifted.  I do have to say the surgery was a wake-up call, one that began with:  Listen to your body.  Listen to yourself.  Listen deeply.  Now, I am listening more than ever before.

A Snapshot: Releasing through Movement

Nia quote

A snapshot from this morning: I’m lying down on the floor in my Nia class. I have finally caught my breath after an invigorating practice. I have tears in my eyes. I feel vulnerable.

It is now one month before I begin my training for my White Belt, the first stage of training that will certify me to teach, if I wish. In any case, it will certainly deepen my experience of Nia. It is just over a year since I first walked into a Nia classroom. While I had found my roots in dance before that moment, I immediately felt like Nia was my home for movement. It has become a source of strength, fitness, community, and overall well-being.

When I cry when I dance, I don’t usually know why. I can follow my train of thoughts, but often they just lead me to an explanation based on rumination. Today, tears came with sweeping movements when I bent over, and then a chakra alignment sound exercise on the floor.

Sometimes it is challenging for me to release blocked or stuck emotions. I tend to carry emotions and experiences for quite a while, and it feels like they can build up like debris inside my psyche and my body. Sometimes when I release them, like I did this morning, I don’t realize how much I was holding onto until afterwards.

Instead of asking questions, which can feel like reaching for what I was carrying, I take a deep breath.  And I let go.