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“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.” ~ Hugh Downs

At any given moment, there are so many blessings that surround me. There’s the external things and the internal things; from my beautiful apartment, to the forest behind it, to my car, to the heat that warms my apartment, to my laptop, my instruments, the food that stocks my fridge, the maple trees and the lush plants on my front porch that make me feel surrounded by aliveness; my job as a Nia Trainer; my job as a freelance writer. These are some of the beautiful external blessings that feed my body and soul every day. To balance this are all the many unseen, yet vividly palpable blessings that go even deeper than material objects: My resilience, self-awareness, inner peace, ability to transform, acceptance, openness to emotion, love, compassion, expression, self-healing, my healthy body; the Joy of Movement, present in my cells.

Finally, there are the blessings that bridge these two worlds: My family, my relationship, my friends, my students, and my connection to the sensation of life in every living thing. Adjectives don’t do justice to what these blessings mean to me. They are an essential part of my reality that reflect the sacredness of life back to me every day.

After writing all this, I’m left with a sensation that feels not only sustainable, but inspiring and fulfilling. It’s the sensation of gratitude. When I sense gratitude, I sense relaxation in my body, warmth, and I sense my nervous system shift into a greater state of calm as my breath deepens. Literally, gratitude helps me breathe in life more fully.

What is the sensation of gratitude in your body? What are your “go-to blessings” that you turn your attention toward when you’re wanting to choose and sense more of it?

Dr.Robert Emmons, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis, is one of the top researchers on the topic of gratitude in North America. According to Emmons, gratitude is a “chosen attitude.” What I love about this statement is that it so closely mirrors Nia’s process for sensing Universal Joy: we say that the first step is to choose it. Choice is a powerful vehicle for transformation because it puts the response-ability square in our lap. When I recognize that feeling grateful is a choice, my entire reality shifts because I see, feel, and experience my life through a lens of appreciation and abundance, rather than resentment and deficit.

One of my favorite authors, Dr.Joan Borysenko, has an entire chapter in one of her books called Champagne Suffering. Although the term has nothing to do with how to cure a bad prosecco hang-over, it does shed light on the topic of gratitude by recognizing the everyday things that can distract us from sensing it…

Champagne Suffering refers to the little inconveniences we encounter throughout the day that can easily work on the ego to feel like we are “suffering”, when in fact, we’re just experiencing the daily realities of living in a body on planet Earth. Some examples include traffic, broken appliances, sore muscles, lines (at the grocery store or otherwise), arguing with a loved one, undesired weather – you get the idea. They’re the kind of things, that, when put into the greater perspective of life, are small hurdles to overcome. My Nia Trainer friend Jill Factor told me such things have also been called First World Problems, a term I also love! Having an awareness of champagne suffering helps keep my feet on the ground while also widening my viewpoint of myself and the world. When I am unscathed by menial distractions i.e. when I don’t sweat the small stuff, the amount of positive, creative energy within me seems to multiply ten-fold.

Gratitude changes my cells, and being changed, I see the world anew. It brings out the best in me while also bringing the best to me, as I get to witness the many blessings that surround me. Sensing gratitude, I feel the depth of my aliveness and the infinite power of uttering two simple words, “Thank you.”

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” ~ Melody Beattie

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True freedom is being without anxiety about imperfection. 

~ Seng-Tfan, Zen Master

I’ve enjoyed having a number of new students join my classes recently. As they’re warming up before class, I always do my best to check in and offer some tips to simplify their movements, see what’s going on in their body, and find out if they have any questions. Being a person who is fascinated by patterns and synchronicity, I couldn’t help but notice that I’d received the same question from a hand full of new students at a variety of locations, all within the last two weeks.

“Do I need to have good coordination to take this class?”, they asked.

I can’t help but smile when I get this question, because the answer to it is so beautifully simple and is one of the things I love so much about Nia. “No, this is not a class where you need to have good coordination. This is a class where you come to learn how to develop good coordination, amongst so many other benefits.” Then this train of thought got me thinking…

Forget coordination, what do we do when when the body is not functioning at it’s ideal? What if it never has? What’s more, what if we’re not feeling emotionally joyful, and maybe everything in our life is falling apart and the last thing we want is for other people to see us in this state….

Does that mean we should not come to Nia? If you’re anything like me, I cannot imagine a more appropriate time to dance than when some part of me needs healing.

I’ve definitely had my fair share of moments when I came to teach and an area of my life – body or otherwise – was extremely out of balance. Whether it was an injury, a relationship break-up, or receiving a call from a hospitalized parent, I’ve had countless challenging events occur as I was walking in the door to lead a class. Life happens, and sometimes the timing is really inconvenient. What I have learned from being in these types of situations again and again is to embrace a concept that is already deeply embedded in the Nia practice. It’s from a book called The Four Agreements, a concept called Always Do Your Best.

Always do your best. It sounds so practical, yet there really is an art to living this way.  The way I see it, doing our best can be divided into two keys areas: action and self-acceptance. To do my best, I must first put forth a genuine effort towards my desired outcome. Keep in mind that “genuine effort” does not mean throwing my life out of balance to exceed in one area; it just means offering forth the most energy I can in this moment given my overall circumstances. Second comes self-acceptance. I list this second because once I’ve reached my level of “best”, it’s important, from a self-love point of view, I accept that whatever I gave was enough; it was the most I could do right now. In this way, if I gave 70% of my energy to something I normally gave 100% of my energy to, I see that 70% is actually my 100% in this moment. In doing our best, we stop comparing ourselves to the past and future and instead recognize the genuine effort we are putting forth right now.

Two weeks ago I had a beautiful opportunity to experience the power of doing my best. After a great day of teaching, my body felt supple and strong. I went to sleep and drifted off for several hours when I awoke suddenly at 3am with a stabbing pain in my knee. Shocked by the sudden onset of pain, I immediately began testing out my right leg’s range of motion. Nothing felt right. It was as if I went to bed with my healthy, stable knee, then had woken up with someone else’s severely injured knee. As I got up to walk to the bathroom, I discovered I couldn’t even bear weight on it. Something was very wrong.

A little perspective: Knee injuries are to a movement teacher what breaking your hand is to a professional piano player: a big f*ing problem. Our body is a key player in our livelihood, and if it’s not in good shape, our livelihood is in danger too.

Wednesday morning rolled around and my leg was still in acute pain. So I went over to visit my co-trainer and anatomy guru friend Vickie Saito. She did some tests to determine whether or not I’d torn my meniscus, or worse, my ACL. Although my range of motion indicated that I was negative for both (thank goodness), my leg was clearly out of alignment as my knee was falling inward and my right foot was turned outward. Curiously, my IT Band and sartorius muscle were super tight too. Sparing you a long and fascinating journey into the world of anatomy, let’s just say this: I hurt my knee. It’s not clear how or why, but thank goodness I did not tear anything!

Without a clear sense of exactly what was going on, I had to make a choice about whether or not to teach my Wednesday night class at StudioNia. Missing a class is a big deal to me. So Nia-style, I asked my body some questions.

“Body, should I teach?” A clear “no” came in response.

“Body, should I dance?” “Yes, but you need to barely move your legs.”

Ok then, I will dance Nia in a chair.

Seventy percent of me liked the idea of doing this. The other thirty percent was racked with frustration and self-pity inner dialogue about not being able to move at my full range of motion. Emotionally, I wondered how I’d feel watching my best friend teach class and all my students dance behind her, yet not be able to participate at my ideal! Little did I know just how good things would look from that chair…

We got to StudioNia and I placed a chair at the front of the room. From the moment Vickie started teaching, I went into what I can only describe as a “Doing My Best” trance. It was as if the mere choice to show up and do my best had created a wave of empowerment through my entire being. Being in a chair was suddenly the coolest place I could be, as a new wave of expression and creativity moved through me. I also learned just how adaptable my movement vocabulary had become over the years, as I found modifications for nearly every movement. I tapped into such a deep level of Joy I actually felt acceptance toward the pain in my knee, grateful for the new awareness it was bringing me. Not to mention it was so much fun! It felt like one of the most connected classes I’d danced as pure student in a long time…

I am glad I chose to follow the 70%. As it turns out, this 70% was a 100% of my best that day.

What does it mean to always do your best? It means showing up even when we feel less than our ideal. It means bringing what we have, even if it is less than what is asked of us. When it comes to being a Nia practitioner, it also means letting go of the mindsets that keep us limited and our energy stagnated when we know there is a healthy level of “more” can do. A little bit of action is better than non-action. Consistency is key, for the more we choose to show up for ourselves and give something our all, the more likely we are to do it again and in different areas of our lives.

Whether dancing in a chair, sitting on the floor, or moving at level .5, do the best you can do and celebrate the courageous spirit you can bring to each moment of your life.

And do Nia in a chair sometime. It’s cooler than you think. Just check out the movie Flashdance ;)

Israel Group SS

14 days. 2 trainers. 8 trainees. 35 person classes and workshops…
And a 10 hour time change.

About 10 years ago I had a vision that someday I might be able to teach Nia, travel, and witness how the Joy of Movement had manifested overseas. Whether it was watching our trainees count Nia’s 8BC System in Hebrew (a music notation method), placing my hands on the Western Wall in Jerusalem with Vickie and our producer Adi Goren, or looking out as 40 people danced our Touch Routine in unison, I constantly found myself getting chills as I realized how the power of love and community had collaborated to help make one of my biggest dreams become a reality: We traveled and trained the Nia White Belt in Israel.

If you ever find yourself in the fortunate position to be able to travel to Israel, I only have one piece of advice: Go! This is a remarkable, ancient and inspiring country whose spiritual history is so beautifully diverse and ingrained in the landscape that everywhere we went felt sacred in some way.

Although I have traveled to South America, Indonesia and beyond, Israel had something I never encountered in such overflowing abundance: heart. Vickie and I were surrounded with a sense of love and community by the multiple Nia communities we visited, as countless teachers opened up their spaces and invited their students to dance with us. We taught in sweetly rustic community centers, high tech university gyms, a high school music room, an industrial and hip drum/dance school, and a personal home studio that supported our entire training. Did I mention the luxurious salt water swimming pool that came along with the training space?

If our trainees had been any more generous, I think we would have come back 10 pounds heavier! We ate the most delectable foods everyday (no hummus will ever compare) and enjoyed evenings out in Tel Aviv, where we walked along the Mediterranean. Tel Aviv is officially my new favorite city with its progressive attitude, colorful marketplaces, historical architecture, delicious cuisine, beach side restaurants, and cobblestone walkways. I could have easily spent an entire summer enjoying and exploring this incredible city…

More than anything, what I appreciated most about our trip to Israel was the sense of love and community. Family is such a center point of the culture, and this sensation was present amidst all our classes, workshops, and trainings. Whether it was the generosity and stellar producing efforts of Adi Goren or Nia teachers Amy Warshawsky, Hani Sade, Meirav Jones, Il’Il (sp?), and all of their students and fellow teachers, the sense of love was omnipresent. Many of these women I’ve danced with and known from my teaching days in Boston, and it was awesome to reunite after all these years. I am deeply grateful for each individual who shared in the Joy of Movement dance with us, and I eagerly await our next trip to this beautiful land.

Cheers to our 8 new White Belt graduates Adva, Mimi, Einat, Einav, Ravit, Yafit, Idit, and Hila!

May we dance together again and again…

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“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

It’s incredible how many little things and emotions get in my way of accomplishing something. Whether it’s the desire to be perfect, have all my ducks in a row, to find the “right time” to do something, or to be in the most stable emotional state to speak to someone, I am constantly in awe of the number of metaphorical boulders (and sometimes icebergs) my mind creates that prevent me from getting shit done.

Yes, I want to get shit done. Lot’s of it, in fact!

Over the last three months, I’ve been consciously increasing my awareness of these perceived roadblocks that seek to derail my ambitions. I say “perceived” because as I’ve studied them, I’ve found them to be nothing more than fabricated little barriers to my own success. And yet, there is a lot to learn from such a barrier. As I pushed my comfort edge in a variety of areas of my life, I began to get the sense that no matter what “iceberg” I was facing, it was always made of the same substance: Fear. Fear of rejection, judgment, the unknown, or not having enough, to name a few. After many semi-successful attempts at alleviating these fears – à la meditation, yoga, and long walks in the forest – the words of my mentor, Annette Franks, resounded though my mind:

“Are you willing to be comfortable being uncomfortable, Allison?”

This question has served as an incredible anchor and inspiration for me as I’ve moved through a variety of life transitions. To learn how to befriend  discomfort creates a state of pure allowance and acceptance within me, plus I’ve always loved the sensation of stepping in with a courageous heart; having fear but proceeding in spite of it.  Forget being 100% elegant. Authentic is enough.

So I asked myself, what if I just did it, whatever “it” was, and allowed myself to embrace whatever emotions accompanied the choice?

So that’s exactly what I did . I dove 150% into my position as a Nia Trainer, added more classes and events, began traveling, and booked my first international co-training in IsraelTo activate the energy of action has been extremely empowering. In taking action, we sense our fire, our drive, and our ability to manifest. 

My co-trainer Vickie Saito has been an inspiration in this regard. I have never met someone who can get so much done in such small windows of time and still look radiant at the end of the day! What I have learned from Vickie is quite simple: Just do it. Want to lead retreats to the ocean? Drive out there and book it. Want to add more Nia classes? Pick up the phone and call studios. Want to publish a book? Write it first. Want to promote yourself online and don’t know how? Find a cheap website builder and start small and simple. Want to collaborate with other teachers? Reach out. Need help? Ask someone for it. Just. Do. It.

When I recapitulate my 10-year career teaching Nia, I find so many instances of how just doing something brought abundance. From approaching teachers I was initially intimidated by and asking them to mentor me, to building my own website, even to becoming a White Belt Trainer, abundance flowed every time I pushed my comfort zone and put myself out there. Taking action, as it turned out, was much more productive than standing still. Whenever I’m working with new teachers, I encourage them to add not 1, but 2-4 classes per week when they start teaching. Why? It’s the fastest way to get better. If you teach 4 classes per week, you’re going to get better four times as quickly than you would if teaching only 1. It’s a lot like learning to swim: You can read all the books on the topic, watch countless videos, but at the end of the day the only way you’re going to learn how to swim is to get in the water. Our skill and technique can only be refined by the act of doing. 

What do you want most? My invitation is to make like Nike and just do it.

“A year from now you’ll wish you had started today.” – Karen Lamb

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Several years ago long before I became a teacher-trainer, one of my most committed Boston Nia students and I were walking down the street together after a rejuvenating Friday morning class. This student beautifully embodies Nia. Her clear energy, her attitude, the way she takes care of her body and her life – masterful! She is one of those people who just walks into the room and fills it with her radiance. Amazingly enough, she has been doing Nia even longer than I have…

Well as we walked, we talked about her relationship with Nia and how fruitful and influential it has been in her life. Long story short, after she told me all of this, she concluded her passions about Nia by saying, “And that’s why I don’t want to do the White Belt Training.” Cue screeching halt of wheels. “Huh???” I thought, with exactly that many question marks. My bewilderment prompted her to explain more. She then went on to share that she did not want to do White Belt because she was afraid it would take the Joy out of Nia for her. “If I pull back the curtain, I’m afraid it will take away the magic and make me think about Nia more technically, and I won’t be inspired by it anymore,” she said.

Over the years I have mulled over how to best answer this question.Yes, there were answers I gave at the time, stories of transformation and personal anecdotes about what the belts had done for me. Yet I wanted Nia’s answer, an answer that overtime has come to me by way of the Nia Blue Belt.

Side note: If you’ve ever trained with me, you know I love to compare nearly everything in Nia to romantic relationships. After all, Nia is my longest relationship thus far, and I did “get down on one knee” to receive my Orange Belt as a sign of my commitment to the practice…

With any given thing in life, there are so many different planes a relationship can exist upon. For example, let’s relate a romantic relationship to our relationship with Nia. We can date someone casually (take a class when we feel like it), have a one night stand (take 1 class, see the floorplay cycle and say “peace out” before the 60 minutes is over), make a person our girlfriend/boyfriend (take a few classes per week + attend monthly workshops), propose to our partner (enroll in the White Belt), or walk down the aisle looking into our soulmate’s eyes knowing there is no one on this planet or in this universe that could rock our world the way they do (become a Nia Teacher/Trainer).

If speaking to that same student today, who by the way has been happily (did I mention HAPPILY?) married for over 35 years, I would would share the following: If you love Nia now as you’ve loved “her” for years, trust that your relationship with her will only expand to envelop even deeper levels of Joy, transformation, and magic as your intimacy together grows. No, it does not mean the relationship will always be easy. You will need to pay attention to what you bring to the relationship, nurturing constant curiosity, openness, and creativity as you do with your life partner. What is so profound, though, is what Nia will always offer you again and again: to choose Joy. Amidst pleasure, pain, calm seas, rough waters, anything, Nia will always remind you of the ally that exists independent of circumstance: Joy. This is why I do Nia now, 11 years, 7 belts, and thousands of classes later. Nia has taught me the Joy of Being in Relationship.

Intimacy is a choice. We are going to be more or less intimate with different people and/or practices in our lives, creating different levels of intimacy that suite our wants and needs. In relationship terms, Nia and I are married with children (our beloved trainees!). Yoga and I are in a deeply committed relationship (a steady home practice). All levels of intimacy are valid, as we certainly cannot “go deep” with everything at the same time (though quantum mechanics makes this sound more and more possible!).

If you’re feeling a little commitment-phobic about your Nia practice, afraid that attending more classes, workshops, or trainings will take away the Joy, I invite you to open your heart and mind to the well of transformation Nia has already given you. If it’s this good now, just imagine how much better it could be with more intimacy…

After all, who can say no to a philosophy that says, “If it feels good, keep doing it; if it hurts, stop”?

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Spring is almost here
After months of uncertainty
And the dimness of winter
Out peeks a sign that the time of
Struggle has come to an end.

And everything that was done during,
Every investment of energy
In faith and trust;
A belief in the fundamental meaning of all things
Has come to fruition.

The warmth of the sky says so
The lush sway of the grass
And the sweet nectar of birdsong
Speaks to you a simple wisdom,
“All of nature moves in cycles”.

And once again you remember
What you have remembered so many times before
No winter is permanent
No season of life
Is without its sense of resolution

It’s spring.

Nature will see all things through
To their new form
And your subtle exhale of peace will tell you
You have arrived home.

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Practice basics until they’re nothing, for they are everything.” – Sifu Joseph Eager
 
At the beginning of January I added three new classes to Sellwood Yoga, a studio located right on the outskirts of Portland. Simple, healing, and hip, the studio was my ideal place to add classes, as I sought to find a space that cultivated a spirit of movement as a practice, rather than just a 60-minute fitness class. Nearly every person who has walked through the door has been completely new to Nia. There is a magic to teaching new groups that produces more joy in my cells than I can articulate. New students are so open, receptive, curious, and hungry to somatically understand what Nia is all about, and I love it!
 
What’s so cool is to witness the transformative power of focusing on the basics. When we empty our “cup” and go to the place of beginners mind, transformation awaits. In beginners mind, curiosity overshadows doubt and neutralizes judgement. Consequently, you can only imagine the fun I’ve had practicing Nia with the Sellwood Yoga students as we return to the bare essential ingredients that form the Nia practice: the basics. We’ve focused on the most elementary movement concepts in Nia from leading with the heel to paying attention to our foot positions, to shifting bodyweight v.s. dropping it, and moving all three sections of the spine, etc. As we dance, I sprinkle them with short explanations of why we do what we do when performing moves like shimmy, sounding, or entering the floorplay cycle. Most significantly, I focus on the physicality of Nia: the 52 moves.
 
To practice the basics, we do moves in simple combinations and allow repetition to become our anchor. Sustain. Sustain. Sustain. It is one of the best lessons I’ve learned from Tai Chi – to slow down and simplify my movement. I’ll never forget the day I saw Nia’s Co-Creator Debbie Rosas demonstrate a side kick in slow motion, then pausing with her leg fully extended to the side. The simultaneously strength, stability, and flexibility it takes to do this is significant and not without great practice. I have practiced my side kicks in slow motion ever since. 
 
Movement can be such a metaphor for life. Can we really master anything if we’re moving fast? I often share with my White Belt trainees that as a child learning piano I constantly sought to learn jazz standards at topspeed at the expense of practicing my scales. I wanted to be a great pianist, yet I did not understand that part of being a great pianist meant widening my awareness to perceive that it was only by slowing down and practicing my scales that I would one day be able to play fast, syncopated songs. To get to point C, I had to go through A and B first. There were, I discovered, no shortcuts to mastering anything.
 
When I put myself in the place of beginners mind, remembering what it was like to know nothing, I remember where to begin. Teach me how to direct my body e.g. “Sumo Stance, your widest comfortable stance with parallel feet”, or, “Look right when traveling right, and left when traveling left,” and, “Everybody sense your [body part]“. Any additional cues we as Nia teachers sprinkle on top is icing on the cake. Yet without the cake, there would be no need for icing. For this reason alone, simplifying, sustaining, and going back to the basics just might be one of the most profound things we can choose, for ourselves and our students.
 
To master something, we must go back to the basics.

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“A Dark Night of the Soul is the space between no longer and not yet.”

Joan Borysenko

How do you sense gratitude when you’re looking to change something about your present-moment reality?

I love questions like this. They bring the duality of life – the light and dark, happiness and suffering – to the forefront of the conversation. I can think of no better time to explore this question than as we dance into a new year, where we look at things as they currently are and have been, then cast intentions for how we’d like them to be.

I stumbled upon this question earlier this year, when I found myself wanting to radically shift a central aspect of my life, yet recognized that it simply was impossible to do at the time. There I was, clear about what I wanted, desiring it with every aspect of my being, yet getting every sign from the universe that simply said, “not yet.” This is not the first time I’ve heard this message. I’ve become quite accustomed to it, in fact! If you’ve ever found yourself in a situation where you were truly, as Dr. Joan Borysenko says, “between no longer and not yet”, you know that there’s no sugar-coating it: the feeling can be excruciating. It can be so easy to focus on the not yet, particularly when the no longer creates a feeling of disorientation or emptiness. It was this feeling that led me to a several-month exploration into the sensation of gratitude…

Why gratitude? Two reasons. #1: Joy was not on tap. With the mixture of emotions I was experiencing, joy did not feel forthcoming, and after many attempts to use it as my single solution, I realized I needed to expand my options. #2: I became aware how many blessings in my daily life I’d been taking for granted in favor of focusing on this reality I could not yet have. Clearly, it was time for a shift in perspective.

Gratitude and I began fine-tuning and “tweaking” our relationship on a daily basis. In other words, I began to let go of my “champagne suffering” and start paying attention to the blessings in front of me. Every time I found myself placing my attention on the “not yet factor”, shall we call it, I redirected myself towards appreciating something in the present moment: birds chirping, a healthy body, a friend smiling, a sense of relaxation, a meaningful conversation with a student, an energizing walk outside; there was (and is) always something to be grateful for.

At this point you may be thinking, “Of course, Al, practicing gratitude is a given and a requirement for true, sustainable happiness!” Yet what I discovered went beyond this. Practicing gratitude, I noticed something distinctly familiar about the sensation – it felt a lot like Joy. What’s more, the more gratitude I sensed, the more Joy seemed to come back around.

For those of you who are new to Nia’s philosophy on Joy, we say that Joy can be present amidst both pleasure and pain; it’s the omnipresent sensation that exists independent of circumstance. Considering this, I began to wonder, is there a difference between the sensation of gratitude and the sensation of joy? When I felt either, both created the same somatic response in my body: relaxation, warmth, ease, and full, deep breathing. And both could exist amidst any circumstance. While I am still exploring these nuances, I could not help but appreciate how gratitude had been my gateway back into sensing Joy…

Sensing gratitude and joy re-gifts the present moment to me again and again. All it takes is my attention, becoming aware of the simplest, sweetest things that infuse my life with light, happiness, health, fun, and love.

As we move through life transitions, set intentions, and work towards manifesting our ideal reality in the new year, I invite you to consider the wealth of blessings present right now. Rather than being driven by self-criticism or resentment for what has been, allow gratitude for what is to be your motivating force for change and transformation. Sense the gifts right in front of and within you, and invest as much attention, love, and energy in them as you do into new visions.

For as one of my favorite authors, Sonia Choquette writes, “When you love life, life loves you back.”

Happy New Year!

This evening I was sitting outside a Starbucks at sunset reading my favorite Thich Nhat Hanh book, The Miracle of Mindfulness.  Randomly, I opened the book to a section on the concept of interdependence:

“The suffering of others is our own suffering, and the happiness of others is our own happiness,” he writes.

Just as I read this, I became aware of the resounding cry of toddler outside a nearby restaurant. Actually, ‘cry’ is an understatement – this child was wailing. I looked up to see a little girl sobbing uncontrollably, with her arms crossed steadfastly over her chest. Her mom was standing four or five feet away, and it was clear from the child’s body language that she didn’t want anyone to get near her. For nearly 25 minutes, this whole scenario played out, with the toddler sobbing and saying the word “no” everytime her mother approached her. My heart went out to the mother, who, by the way, had the patience of a saint! But even more so, my compassion went towards the child…

Observing her, I was overwhelmed with compassion for how turbulent the emotional body can be. I sensed my interconnectedness with her, recalling the countless times I’ve felt overwhelmed by tidal waves of emotion. How challenging is it in those distressing moments, I thought, to remember that all emotions are impermanent and ever-changing? One moment there’s fear. The next moment there’s anger. Then anger fades, and there is peace. Peace morphs into compassion, and so on.

What this child has not yet learned and what I am still learning at 28 (after years of psychotherapy, I might add), is the practice of emotional agility.  It’s more than the ability to start or stop an emotion or feeling at will. Emotional agility, as I experience it, also denotes my ability to navigate my emotional realm with consciousness (choice & awareness) verses unconsciousness (habit and/or lack of awareness).

There is a brilliant quote shared in the Nia Blue Belt that comes from the creator of Aikido. When asked by his most dedicated students what skills he possessed that they did not yet possess, he responded, “The only difference between you and I is that I come back to center faster.”

Welcome to emotional agility – the practice of coming back to center faster and faster, and faster again.

I recently had an opportunity to “research” emotional agility when retaking the Nia Brown Belt with Trainer Ann Christiansen and Nia Co-Creator Debbie Rosas. Ann asked us to do a practice that explored three emotions. The practice was one of taking yourself into an emotion, then bringing yourself back out, conditioning your emotional agility.

First, we were asked to activate the overall emotion we feel about our life. Immediately, I received the feeling of peace and interconnectedness. We were asked to sustain this emotion, feel it, then let it go. Second, we were asked to feel the emotion of a situation in our life that was challenging for us, something emotionally “derailing”. I immediately brought such a situation into my awareness, activating the emotions of sadness and fear. Now this is where the magic happened. Guiding us carefully, Ann asked us to feel the derailing emotion, yet not get swept away by it – notice it, feel it, but maintain our center. We call this “activating your witness,” in Nia. Forty-five seconds later, she asked us to return to emotion #1, the overall feeling we experience about our life. Like lightening, I directed my attention back to the feelings of peace and interconnectedness. Within ten seconds, I had returned fully to emotion #1.

“Wow!” I thought, “That was like emotional jumping jacks at level 3!” Astounded by how beneficial this practice was, I knew I’d found a new ally and  tool for becoming a “ninja” of my emotions.

Watching my friends who have children, I see how they have cultivated the skill of becoming emotional ninjas, as the demands of parenting often necessitate the ability to put one’s own emotions aside (and re-address later) in order to tend to their children’s needs first.

Returning to the story of the crying toddler, I watched as the mother at the restaurant put aside her own need to eat dinner to stand by while her little girl “processed”. Finally, after 20 minutes and with a sense of peacefulness, the mother found an opening. She knelt to the ground and took several steps towards her crying daughter. As she opened her arms, I saw the little girl’s posture soften. Slowly, the toddler looked up, took two steps forward, then melted into her mother’s arms, relaxing completely into what looked like the emotions of trust, relief and peace.

What a gift to witness such a raw, beautiful process, and what a fantastic reminder of the impermanence of emotion. Whether we’re 2 years old, 28 years old or beyond, we all have access to this incredible well of energy.

Becoming an emotional ninja, as it turns out, is not about being tae kwon do with our emotional realm. Rather, it’s about bringing self-love, compassion, and trust to this incredibly sentient source of feeling and expression.

“Practice is like a roller coaster. Each new high is usually followed by a new low. There are stages at which you feel pulled to inner work and all you seek it a quiet place to meditate and get on with it, and there are stages where you turn outward and seek to be involved with the market place. Both of these parts of the cycle are part of one’s practice. What happens to you in the market place helps your meditation. Likewise, what happens in your meditation helps you to participate in the market place without attachment. At first you will think of practice as a limited part of your life. In time, you will realize that everything you do is part of your practice.” –Ram Das

Practice is a verb – it is something we learn by doing.

More and more, everything I do feels like I am practicing. From washing my dishes, to walking mindfully in the park behind my apartment, to answering the phone at Nia Headquarters, to driving my car along the winding Willamette River downtown – each of these simple actions have become a form of practice. After 5 years of “being out in the marketplace,” I have been magnetically drawn outside the city, living alone for the first time in many years. I’ve initiated a daily 6am yoga practice that is transforming my body and mind with every invigorating chaturanga dandasana I breathe through! My evening walks at sunset bring a sense of aliveness, closure and integration to the hours that came before. Suffice to say, the sensation of ‘practice’ sets a tone that ripples through every aspect of my daily life…

What is the sensation of practice in your life? What are the practices you do that ground you, center you, and connect you to your authentic self?  The beautiful thing about identifying this is that it is an opportunity to witness how you live your life and tweak it accordingly. We say in Nia that “tweaking” is making a small change without altering your overall movement…

What are the small changes you can make in your perceptions and actions that will help you sense every moment of life as an opportunity to practice what you value most?

When we allow ourselves to be fully present and ‘practicing’ in each moment, we are in what Nia calls Living Meditation. In Living Meditation, my awareness practices become something that are not separate from my daily life, rather it’s like I’m meditating through everything I do. In Living Meditation, we have a full attention on “being” even as we are “doing.” Rather than seeing meditation as an isolated practice, we perceive it as the art of being fully present to all that is – on and off the dance floor. In yoga, they call this taking yoga “off the mat.” It’s an awesome metaphor for something so simple, yet it requires a continual recommitment to our own practices.

Once we’ve put-a-practice-into-practice, what do we do when it wanes, when our enthusiasm to infuse our daily life with awareness dissipates? We recommit ourselves. We return our attention again and again to what we want most. I don’t know about you, but the nature of my mind is that it can be easily derailed by bright and shiny things. In my Nia classes, I’ve been using the metaphor of the mind on a retractable leash to denote the method by which we reclaim our attention when our mind goes wandering. Practicing deeply does not mean we can sustain without getting derailed – it simply means that we notice the derailment with self-love, then reorient ourselves, drawing the leash back in. Practice  is continuous.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to take the most “mundane” action in your daily life and bring a warrior-like spirit of practice to it. There is a great gift concealed in every aspect of life that challenges us with the illusion of meaninglessness. Practice living meditation deeply, and reveal for yourself the meaning that every moment of life has to provide.

Ride the roller coaster and ignite the sensation of practice in everything you do….

Then let me know how it goes ;)

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