The Joy of Being in Relationship

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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”?

Nia As A Lifestyle Practice – Living Meditation

“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 😉

Choice, Meaning and Peace

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

– Dr. Viktor Frankl

In Nia, we say that choice is the first gift we give ourselves and our students. It begins with the choice to sense the body and to choose The Joy of Movement, a universal sensation that can be present amidst pleasure and/or pain. The thread of choice is then woven through a principle called Your Body’s Way, which encourages you to move your body in accordance with it’s natural design and function; a method of personalizing your movement to fit your body’s needs. We also offer the choice between Three Planes of Movement (high, middle, low) and Three Intensity Levels (1, 2, 3). Really, the list of choices just goes on and on…

But beyond this list of somatic gifts that ‘choice’ gives us, there is a more personal growth element at play. What basic human right is so closely equated with choice?

Freedom.

We feel free when we feel like we have choice. When choice is taken away, so too goes our sense of freedom. There’s an incredible story about choice in holocaust survivor Dr.Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning. When Dr. Frankl treated fellow prisoners at Auschwitz , he observed a distinct psychological difference between those individuals whose health faded quickest and those who survived the longest. He found that the people who lived the longest were those who found a sense of meaning amidst the unfathomable suffering of the concentration camps. Those who lost hope were the quickest to die. He concludes, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

For the last two decades of my life, no ally has been so close a friend as choice. Choice has allowed me to find peace and empowerment amidst great pain and difficulty, to sense stability inside when everything outside felt unstable. When I have hovered in the delicate lifespace between “no longer and not yet”, choice has invited me to simply be present with what is, relinquishing my need for things to be other than they are. Investigating choice, I sense how my life purpose and the circumstances in it have as much or as little meaning as I choose to give them. What has given my life the deepest meaning, consequently, is the choice to see every experience as an opportunity to learn something new about myself. Viewing my life this way, viewing my experiences in Nia this way, I know that no matter what happens, I will always grow. When choice is actualized, evolution is guaranteed. 

We say in the Nia Brown Belt that between the emotions of Love and Fear exists Peace – the unconditional sensation of centeredness. When it comes to making decisions, peace is a great sidekick to choice – providing us with a firm foundation from which to respond. If I do not have the personal power to respond from love, can I connect to the omnipresent sensation of peace? The way I see it, the more allies or tools I have to assist me, the better off I am in managing my own emotional energy…

Peace is available at every turn – all we must do is choose it.

Awareness of Hearing: Sensing Silence and Sound

When asked “What is art?” acclaimed abstract painter Ad Reinhardt is said to have replied, “Art is art, and everything else is everything else. Art needs no justification.” I wager the same statement can be made about music.

Like art, music is highly subjective. Music to one person’s ears is noise to another’s. In researching my own curiosity about how music is defined in scholastic terms, I located two definitions I find particularly intriguing.

According to Merriam-Webster, music is defined as, “The science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines music as, “The art of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre.”

These definitions share many commonalities. And yet, as much truth as they contain, they both seem to fall a bit short. For if music is as subjective as art, does it need unity and continuity? Does it need to be ordered and evocative? And if so, who gets to decide whether or not it has these qualities? The answer, in my mind, lies always in the listener. Depending on the listener’s preferences, her likes or dislikes, she may hear certain things as “music” and other things as “non-music.” Ultimately, it is the Nia practice of Music Appreciation that will help determine how healing a piece of “music” will be for an individual, and likewise whether or not that individual thinks of it as music at all.

As a listener, a Nia teacher and a musician, I receive the healing benefits of music by paying attention to music’s primordial energies: silence and sound. (Primordial energies are two complimentary, essential elements, which together create a third element.) I sense music as a product of the alchemical relationship between silence and sound (silence + sound = music). I am sure someone can argue that silence and sound exist independently of each other, and therefore that “music” is possible with only one of these energies present. However, I maintain that neither is recognizable without the other. It’s like the relationship between happiness and suffering: can you recognize one if you have no experience of the other? 

So how do I receive the healing benefits not only of sound, but silence as well? I do this using the Nia practice we call RAW (Relaxed, Alert, and Waiting). RAW invites me to receive the healing benefits of music by helping me appreciate and notice that I’m enveloped in silence and sound constantly. As a ‘yang’ energy, sound gives me inspiration and excitation, and calls me to action. A ‘yin’ energy, silence invites me to sense the “non-sound’ and to perceive that behind all mobility lies intrinsic stability.

I am blown away by the power of RAW. I’m humbled by the sheer magnitude of peacefulness, grounded-ness, and awareness it evokes in me. Standing underground in New York’s bustling subway system, I hear the sounds of coins dropping, people shouting, turnstiles clicking, beatboxers rapping, bags zipping, rails screeching, and the landscape of silence behind it all. All of it is music to my ears, thanks to RAW.

RAW is the listening practice I can take with me anywhere. Being “relaxed” creates in my body a sense of calm that is both grounding and healing. Staying “alert” creates in my mind an expanded awareness or mindfulness similar to meditation. “Waiting” anchors me by giving my brain something to do, freeing up my spirit to be in a state of wonderment. What do I do when I don’t know what to do? I remain relaxed, alert, and waiting. I place 100% of my attention on listening, to witness the ever-fluctuating relationship between silence and sound.

There is this beautiful book called, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, and every single line is written as if the author Jon McGregor lives in the Zone, accompanied by RAW all the time. He writes, “If you listen, you can hear it. The city, it sings. If you stand quietly, at the foot of a garden, in the middle of a street, on the roof of a house. It’s clearest at night, when the sound cuts more sharply across the surface of things, when the song reaches out to a place inside you.”

Music is the ocean in which I swim and the air that I breathe. Each interplay of silence and sound creates its own song, offering my body, mind, emotions, and spirit unique opportunities to self-heal with every listening.

Sounds emerge from silence and return to silence. Meanwhile, I keep listening….

Allison’s tips on hearing:

  • Listen to music and notice silence the way you would notice the landscape in the background of a painting.
  • Perceive the meditative quality in all sound, noticing how every sound helps to anchor you more fully in the present moment.
  • When someone is speaking to you, practice 100% receiving (total listening). Notice the effect this has on your body, mind, emotions and spirit. Notice the effect it has on your relationship with that person.

Life As Art- Altering our Perception to Sense Beauty

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” – Dr.Wayne Dyer

Anyone who has ever taken a drawing class is likely to relate to the Nia concept called Life As Art.  In most high school and college drawing classes, you’re given a still life or model and asked to sketch the object from different points of view. Depending on where you stand, what you see could be very different than what the person across from you sees. Shift your point of view and what you see shifts with it. In Nia, we have a similar perspective practice called “Life As Art.”

In Life As Art, we alter our perception to sense beauty. Ultimately, altering our perception is a function of opening our awareness to receive the countless sources of pleasure and beauty around us. A great story I have about this comes from my daily walk to work at Nia’s International Headquarters…

On average, it takes me about fifteen minutes to walk to HQ. While I vary my route day-to-day, if it is raining, I take the fast route down Park Avenue. Now if you know Portland at all, you know it rains all the time. Consequently, I have had countless opportunities to become familiar with this particular path! About two months after I moved here, I remember walking down Park Avenue past the same maple tree I always walked past, however something was different this time. This time around, I saw the thick scaly chunks of wood that formed the “skin” of the tree and the majestical quality its height commanded. My eyes received the orchestra of colors and observed the rich veins protruding from each leaf. Despite how many times I’d seen this tree before, I felt like I was seeing it for the very first time. In some ways, I think I was….

What I was sensing was life as art. I was attentive to the nuances, perceiving and receiving the gifts the present moment had to offer me. What’s more, it brought me great pleasure to do so! I walked off to work feeling recharged, relaxed, and energized by the experience of witnessing the world around me.

Beauty abounds us. Whether or not we see it depends on the quality of our awareness, our perspective. What is it that allows something to bring us pleasure one day and not another? How come two people can look at the same thing and describe it completely differently? Awareness is a primary factor in the answer to these questions. Life As Art invites us to sense reality through an artistic lens, curious and fascinated by the continuous unfolding of beauty around us.

Marianne Williamson, one of the primary authors responsible for popularizing A Course In Miracles sums it up best: “A miracle is a shift in perception.”

Further Reading: If this concept rocks your world and you’re interested in the science behind it, pick up “The Elegant Universe” by Dr. Brian Greene, Professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University.

White Belt Principle 5: Awareness and Living in the Mystery of the “Now”

In Nia, we have this really cool way of organizing information called triads. As you may infer from its name, a triad is a three-pointed structure- a triangle. I like to think of them as three-step directions- they tell you how to do something in a specific order, going counter clockwise from the bottom left corner of the triangle, to the bottom right, ending at the very top. Typically, whatever is situated at the top of the triad is the culmination or “product” of the points that came before it.

Tonight, I am mulling over White Belt Principle 5 and it’s “Pain Triad”. On this triad there are three points: Awareness, Stimulation, and Self-Healing. In Nia, awareness is defined as paying attention to your body sensations. This is easy to do- just sense your feet on the floor. Sense your in-breath. That is awareness. Stimulation refers to the conscious movement of your joints, which is guided by awareness. Self-healing is what occurs when the stimulation makes you feel better. Awareness- Stimulation- Self-Healing; this is our triad for addressing pain in the body. Inside the triad we have a pain scale which ranges from slight, to moderate, to acute. This allows me to measure the level of pain in my body throughout the healing process. Ideally, with proper stimulation, the pain disappears such that it no longer places anywhere on this scale.

Outside the triad, on the right and left, rest two words: Logic and Mystery. Now this is what I really want to bring your attention to…

Nia teaches us that we have these two beautiful tools for healing at our disposal. We have the practical element of logic- which is ordered and methodical- balanced with the non-linear element of mystery. “Mystery” encompasses any unique, random, perhaps inexplicable form of healing. Together, these two elements present the yin-yang of self-healing. When addressing pain, we can come at it from one or both elements. Logic says, “You broke your arm. Let’s secure it with a cast, protect and elevate it as it heals.” Mystery says, “You broke your arm. Yet every time you gently rotate your ribs, you notice that for some strange reason your arm feels better. Let’s continue this movement, as mysteriously healing as it is…”

There are so many reasons we can experience pain in our bodies and in our lives. Sometimes the cause is apparent i.e. you stubbed your toe and consequently it hurts when you walk. Or, you got into an argument with someone you love and haven’t yet found a resolution. Knowing the cause of the pain can be helpful, however becoming overly fixated on the “why” can become a limitation if taken to extremes. When I am hurting, I care less about what caused the pain and more about healing it. Nia invites us to honor the healing balance of logic and mystery by focusing our attention in the present moment, the “Now.” By releasing our dependence on the “why” of the past we can more effortlessly discover what we require in this moment to be whole and happy.

We have a choice as to how we respond in every situation. Self-healing, ultimately, is the conscious act of re-creation and thus perhaps the highest manifestation of self-love.

And if, as Johann Wolfgang Goethe writes, “Nothing is worth more than this day”, I can see no better way of spending these present moments than by living in the mystery of the now…