An Alexander Technique teacher once told me that the best way for me to go through life would be just a little bit drunk. She was alluding to my serious nature. Uber responsible. Anxiety ridden. Since I don’t drink alcohol, well, that was not really an option. But I took her words to heart. What she was telling me, especially in relation to my body, was that in order for me to feel more free, I had to let go of feeling like I had to hold it all together.
Where did the serious one come from? When I was very young, my mother said I would laugh so hard that I would sometimes throw up. And it was because I thought things were really funny. I remember these days, crying and laughing and laughing and crying…and feeling very, very light. And that life was magical.
I have started touching those sensations again doing breathwork and often dancing…touching those places of simple existence when my body so clearly sees that my mind is not in charge and that existence really is funny and light in its realness. Imagine a life without anxiety. Shit would still happen, it always does, it’s part of life. But the possibility that I could not hurt myself with it, that I could be responsible – responding to life – without taking on the weight. Whoa. I am now living for that.
Drunk without drinking. So many layers around this. So many addictions and addicts in my life. Neptune in music and art and drugs and dance and drink of course. If something brings me closer to myself and I want to do it over and over again, is it an addiction? Can I be sober and relaxed at the same time? Escapism versus ecstatic merging. Sex…did I mention sex? Not all the time, but sometimes, sex.
I am seeing it all so clearly these days. I think this is the gift that sobriety has given me. I had to begin looking inside myself for ways to find a release from all the tension I was holding inside of me. A way to move past (or with) the anxiety that is not about escaping but about living in the present moment and in a healthy way.
If you know me, you know that I dance, a lot. But I freely admit that sometimes, even this is an escape. An escape from what, you ask? An escape from my fears, my insecurities, my unhappy feelings, my unfelt life. And most of all, the mundaneness of it all. Sometimes, Calgon is a good option. And as far as ways to merge go, dancing not only makes me feel great, it also makes me look great. And you can’t really say that for all the things we use to feel more than the moment.
To be grounded. The great spiritual nature of this. To be grounded and yet also feel my never-ending self. Living in the moment, in the never-ending river that is life. Okay, it ends at some point, at least in this body. But in between here and there, I would like to be real.
I was almost through the end of April Fool’s Day and thinking, geez, nothing today. Did everyone forget? And then I checked my inbox and found this from Conscious Dancer Magazine
“In a surprise statement today, the American Medical Association did an about face on the pharmaceutical industry, and recommended that before prescribing anti-depressants or mood-altering drugs to people of any age, and especially youth, that a program of holistic dance/movement therapy be implemented first and evaluated before trying medication as a last resort. The new initiative, called “Dance First”, is a call-to-action for everyone in the health care industry and dance/movement fields to be proactive, and is timed to take advantage of the auspicious nature and spirit of levity that surrounds April 1st… ”
In my excitement about this new initiative, I stopped at “a call-to-action” and had a moment of “Wow, the world really is changing!” And then I promptly sent this to the whole Nia Technique faculty and all my dancing friends. And then, someone pointed it out to me… April Fool’s! Awwwwww! I spent maybe one half a second feeling foolish and then thought, but no, this is still a call to action. In fact, I am already manifesting this calling to use dance to bring health and joy to people’s lives.
I think this is what made me really believe and then when it turned out to be a joke, I thought, well, still, why not? If I had a buck for every time a student came up to me after class and said something like “This is my therapy”, or “This is way better than therapy”, or “If I did not do this, I would go crazy” or “My husband insists I come to Nia. He says it makes me so much happier and I am so much nicer to him when I dance”… I would have a lot of bucks! The AMA does not need to prescribe what so many of us already know. A healthy mind accompanies a healthy body and bodies LOVE to move to music!
Nonetheless, I ask myself, what would a world where a Healthcare system encouraged us to “Dance First” rather than prescribed drugs first look like and feel like? That is the wonder question that motivates my call-to-action. I think I became so jaded about our Healthcare system a long while ago. So much of it seems to be based on greed, skimming the surface of what health is and treating people as if they do not know their own bodies. Along with the “Dance First” initiative, I would like to see a “Know Thyself First” initiative as well. That would also say a lot about the new world.
Many of my fellow dancers fell for this prank too, we know it is the truth for us, that dance can alter our moods and turn a bad day into a great day. It can help us move our emotional bodies, creates space for expression and the release of stuck energy. For our minds, we know that dance feeds our imagination and fosters mental clarity. For our spirits, dance sets us free. We are better human beings because we dance. I generalize when I say this, but also speak this as a universal and timeless truth.
I know some of us have also been prescribed and are using anti-depressants and mood altering drugs. And for many, these are a blessing and a great help in leading better lives. But I wonder how many were asked, before being given the prescription, if dance was part of our lives and if we would be willing to explore that as an option first. Dancing creates its own chemical soup for us to bask in; endorphins for one (which we can get from many forms of exercise http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression). Add on the therapeutic component of self-expression with what many of us who dance identify as a sense of meaning when we move and the stage is set up for the desire to be ourselves, in our bodies, here, NOW. That is healthy.
So although this was a prank that Conscious Dancer put out, it is also a truth in its essence, and personally, I do not need the AMA to tell me that “Dancing First” is pretty much the answer for most of what ails me. Join me in spreading the truth behind the prank, if it is true for you.
Maria Skinner is on the Nia Technique Training Faculty and is a Nia Black Belt Instructor. She says find a Nia class this spring and blossom like the lilies in May!
Never 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.
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.
My sweet sister, Sylvia, just recently lost one of her dear cats after it was diagnosed with liver cancer. This cat traveled with her from Greenport, New York to Palm Coast, Florida where she now resides. Still in the midst of grieving, she sent me this story which took place in one of the kindergarten classes she has been substitute teaching for. My mother, who was a teacher for most of her life before she retired a few years ago, has been volunteering at the school where Syl is subbing as well, which you should know before you get to that part of the story where you could get confused… Read and be inspired!
If anyone is looking for a kick-ass elementary school teacher, you can contact Sylvia. Contact info below.
Dearest Soul Family,
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.