Posts Tagged ‘growing’

Aikido life lessons.

Me, after my Aikido instructor complimented me on a specific technique:  “I get that I got that, I just don’t know if I can do it like that again.”

Him: “Hopefully, you never will, because every attack and every partner will be different. Even if any of us [gestures around the room] attack at another point, it could be totally different, and you’d need to react differently.”

Me: “Oh…”

So, sure, there’s repetition and technique.

And there’s also knowing that, in this case (and perhaps many others), it’s not about being exact. It’s mainly about knowing how to respond appropriately — and recognizing that that may never look the same.

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Trying out the movement forms: Contemporary Dance.

Nia is based on the energies and movement forms of the dance arts, healing arts, and martial arts.
I have been curious if trying out some of these movement forms individually would help me gain insight and more body awareness in my Nia practice, and possibly help me on the whole. The dance arts include modern dance, jazz dance, and Duncan dance. In January, I tried a contemporary dance class.

I had taken a few modern dance classes before, but it was more of a sampling: a few in sixth grade, a lesson as part of my Dance History course in college, and a class with my expressive arts movement teacher.

The contemporary dance class I took over a month ago was the first I’d taken since before I started taking Nia classes. I vaguely remembered my experiences before: it was sometimes challenging for me to feel fluid and present in the moves. I remember feeling self-conscious as I moved across the floor.
This time around, I was in better physical shape and could keep up better. When the teacher talked about the 8-count, I could hear it in the music. I have more body awareness.

We started with a 20-minute warm-up. I realized then that while I could keep up to a certain extent, I wasn’t in that kind of shape. I haven’t done that kind of intense conditioning, at least not consistently. Also, a big part of the class was learning a section of a routine. Since it was a mixed-level class, there were varying degrees of skill and experience. I felt like I was straining to keep up.  Also, I’m still not that familiar with modern dance/ballet terms.

Nia allows more freedom; this dance class required more precision. Having to learn parts of a routine within a short period of time also makes it feel more performance-based. Nia involves more simultaneous leading and following; this class involved a demonstration, trying it out, more demonstrating, and trying it out again.

Overall, I care less than I did before about whether I do things right or wrong. I know from my experience in learning Nia routines that repetition is key, and sometimes I will repeat movements again and again and again until I get it, and sometimes that’s after many times of fumbling. I have to throw away thoughts of good or bad and be with what is. My perfectionist tendencies can get in the way of moving freely, so I often acknowledge the thoughts and then push them to the side and continue moving. Overall, this meant that I was less hesitant about trying the movements. I was still somewhat self-conscious, but I went into it and did the best that I could.

I would say that that particular class wasn’t the best fit for me. If I could find a beginning contemporary/modern dance class, that might be more my style. It would be ideal for me begin closer to the beginning, to be able to keep up more easily with others in the class. What I did take away was that more warm-up and conditioning could be helpful for me in my regular movement practice.

Perspectives on being a beginner

I wrote this a few weeks ago. It’s still relevant to my process, and a great reminder.

My Tai Chi and Aikido instructor said this to one of my classmates recently (paraphrased): “I’m kind of envious of the beginner space you’re in. I love being new at something. When I realized, at age 50, that I was basically good at everything I had been striving for, I decided to learn an instrument. I chose bagpipes. After four years, I still suck at it. And I still love it.”

Perhaps there is – or can be – a certain joy in beginning, in being new at something. Yes, it’s raw and vulnerable and full of mistakes. It’s also, for someone who loves learning, a chance to gain new knowledge, experiment, do something in a new way. My instructor practically beams when someone asks him about an inconsistency in his own form; it becomes a learning moment for him and also helps him be a better teacher.

As a recovering perfectionist, there is still part of me that wants to “get it right” in my recent pursuits, from Nia to Tai Chi and Aikido to proofreading legal transcripts. But perhaps the way to get there is through not getting it right, through stumbling, correcting, modifying. Maybe someday my form and movements will be more precise and closer to the original. But the only way to get there is to be new, to practice, to feel how repetition makes my muscles remember. To throw out concepts of good or bad, and learn so I can improve. And most of all, to enjoy how it feels when I begin to feel more at ease, and take that into my practice.

Recognizing my experience of depression in the pages of the DSM-V

A few weeks ago, my assignment for my Abnormal Psychology class – choosing a disorder and writing about it from a specific therapeutic perspective – gave me a reason to look through the DSM-V, the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. I went to the local library, sat down with their reference copy, and flipped through the pages. I skimmed the criteria of different disorders, searching for one that might seem intriguing, but not too triggering or something that I have directly experienced.

Major Depressive Disorder did not meet my second requirement; nonetheless, I stopped skimming and read through the criteria. And as I read, I recognized that two and a half to three years ago, I met nearly every point of the criteria, line by line. Part of me suspected this, but I hadn’t looked it up, not even in my old copy of the DSM-IV that I’ve had for years. If the page had been a checklist, it would have been full of check marks.

On one hand, the realization was sobering: I was severely depressed. That’s scary and serious.

On the other hand, I can also say that it’s factual, it’s true, and that reading the criteria simply confirmed what I already knew. I had a depressive episode, the worst I’d ever had. I acknowledge that before I experienced that episode, I likely struggled with mild depression, or dysthymia, on and off for years, perhaps since I was a teenager.

Alternately, I can also look at it like this: I was severely depressed. I went back to my hometown. There, I got the help and support I needed. I don’t know if I can say that I am necessarily better off because of my depression, but the support I got helped me get to where I am today. I like and appreciate my life now.

There is also something validating in seeing what I experienced written in words on a page. It tells me that other people have experienced this, that people have researched it, that treatment continues to be looked at and further developed.

I do recognize that a diagnosis is primarily a measurement used for medical, prescriptive, and insurance reasons. It isn’t consistently a defining factor in my life; at this point, the main thing is that I take two pills each morning. I also keep better track of my moods and I regularly use skills to deal with challenging situations and emotions.

I remind myself that I don’t have to make too much meaning out of the pages of the DSM; it’s a reference manual used in certain contexts. I know that if I experience and recognize the symptoms of depression again, I am more equipped to deal with it. I am therefore less likely to experience another major depressive episode. And that’s what really matters to me.

Stepping through and past stuck-ness.

I remember taking Intro to Drawing in college. I went to a college with a block plan, which meant I took one class intensively for three and a half weeks. That meant my mornings were filled with instruction and demonstrations, and I spent my afternoons and evenings doing homework.

At some point in the middle of the course, as we were working on drawing boxes with dimensions, shading, and foreshortening, I began to feel stuck. I wasn’t the only one; the professor commented that many of us seemed stuck within the technique. We weren’t necessarily having fun. I know that I was focused on getting it “right,” and there wasn’t a lot of joy in it.

So my professor gave us a creative assignment, to draw whatever we liked, to draw without a subject, be abstract, whatever we needed to be. For me, it had the effect of shaking off the previous weight and allowing me learn the techniques while being a little less attached to the final result, and most of all, enjoying the process of working with the materials, such as ink and charcoal.

Sometimes, as I continue to deepen my practice of Nia and learn how to teach, I get caught in getting in wanting to be accurate, precise. I’ll get some feedback, I’ll think about it, I’ll take it into my movements. And maybe, as I practice, my movements will become more precise. But sometimes in this process, I lose the sense of pleasure in my movement. And since White Belt Principle #1 in Nia is the Joy of Movement, and Nia is something I genuinely enjoy, this feels problematic and counterproductive. During these times, I feel stuck in a similar way that I did in my college drawing class — in short, creatively stymied.

The other night, I went searching through emails from Nia Headquarters, trying to find a specific phrase that another teacher had referenced. Instead, I found this, a section from a newsletter written by Debbie Rosas, co-founder of Nia:

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, know this – feeling overwhelmed comes from believing that you have to perform a certain way and at a certain time….Learning Nia has never been about performing. It is about connecting, relationships, joy, meaning, purpose, health, and well-being. And about saying what you sense and know. The result of doing Nia has always been the gift of self-healing and conditioning.

“I’m here to tell you: I don’t care if you miss the music cue or you cue between the three and the six. It is okay if you can’t do all the moves perfectly. It is okay if you can’t find the beat. What is not okay is if you deny what you know and don’t know. That keeps you down and stops you from getting where you want to go and be…”

I read this and felt relieved almost instantly. Yes, it’s important that I continue to learn and improve. It is absolutely essential that I continue to play, be creative, and enjoy what I do. Yesterday, I danced through a routine and focused only on finding and sharing what I sense. I gave myself permission to Free Dance through parts of it, too.  Afterward, I felt both more grounded and more joyful. It was good reminder for myself that I don’t have to tackle a bunch of approaches at once; one or two at a time can be more than enough, and that it doesn’t necessarily have to look a certain way.

And some more encouragement for me: Today, I talked to a studio owner about teaching Nia there, and I’m planning to teach a series (likely in April!) to try it out. So here’s to taking steps towards what I want to do.

 

Deciding to Live Again: The value of DBT

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) has helped me regain faith in life again and come into my own in the past year. I came into the program with some skills, but they weren’t working effectively in my state of crisis. I struggled with regulating my emotions. I was quick to react or suppress my reactions. I was often in distress, and questioned the meaning and value of my life. It felt as if the life as I knew and planned it had collapsed. I needed a new foundation. DBT has definitely empowered me with the skills to build one for myself.

DBT programs teach a variety of skills in four different categories: mindfulness, interpersonal skills, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance. While the program is generally geared towards people who are struggling and in very difficult situations in their lives, I personally believe that anyone who is open to learning and growing could benefit. DBT teaches life skills, concepts that aren’t often taught in schools or elsewhere.

Now, over a year into the 14 month program, I more often respond instead of react. I’ve found it’s easier to make choices about how to approach situations in my life. I have gone from cautious and skeptical to more hopeful and trusting. I strive less and pay more attention. I am more mindful, more engaged in my relationships with others, and committed to finding my own definition of a life worth living. I still struggle with acceptance and being kind to myself, and at the same time, I realize I am much more accepting of myself and the path I am traveling.

I am so grateful for my wonderful therapist and my weekly group. And I am grateful for myself, for my determination, persistence, and commitment. It hasn’t been an easy road, and it definitely has been worth it.