Saturday, September 15, 2012


Had a conversation today that inspired me to write.  I just want to share something cool about arms and hands that I like to do/think about from time to time.  For the most part, our hands (and by extension - haha - our arms) are doing things all day long.  Think about it.  From the moment you wake up, you may grab your phone and turn off the alarm, hold things, pick things up and put them down, type, open doors, carry bags or keys or other things, and grip the wheel while driving.  And these things are complex.  Our hands are very sensitive and can respond to and manipulate the environment in highly intricate ways without our being very aware.  You can probably cook an elaborate dinner from raw ingredients to final plated presentation without ever noticing what your hands are doing. thing I like to do is spend a minute or two sometime during the day to really STOP DOING ANYTHING with my hands.  What is it like not to have to tell your arms or hands that they have to do something?  When I stop for a moment and really tell my arms that they are not doing anything, that they don't have to prepare and contract to allow my hands to start doing something, it really affects the way they feel.  Doing this allows me to find a level of relaxation and release that I don't normally experience in places I don't often think about or move.

This is related to the way our thinking affects our body's shape and movement.  When you think something, especially about doing a task or performing a movement, muscles in your body start to react and move, even if you're not doing the thing proper yet.  And this obviously affects the tone and shape and organization of your body.  So it's interesting to play with thinking of this super active part of our body, the hands, as doing NOTHING for a little while, to sort of "unshape" the normal shapings that your brain and hands spend so much time practicing!  Try it, it's fun.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Big Body Bang

I've been interested in approaching the body and movement from other than a musculo-skeletal perspective. This is not done that often in our paradigms of exercise and physical therapy. I think I've mentioned Philip Beach's Muscles and Meridians in which he describes a whole-organism approach to manipulating shape in his manual therapy and acupuncture practices. He has a really beautiful passage explaining that to reduce "core support" to the transversus abdominus muscle is a useless oversimplification, and that you can't exclude the role of the pumping mechanisms of the fluids and the actions of the viscera (basically the subject of Stanley Keleman's Emotional Anatomy). This is just an example of applying a more holistic approach to the body.

So last night lying in bed I had an interesting body experience related to all of this. I was not even sitting in meditation, but thinking about it. Sometimes I imagine what I would be saying to my yoga class if I had one to teach right now. Having a class to talk to or a reason to start speaking about my experience in movement tends to change and enhance the experience for me. As images start sprouting, my body changes and I feel much more alive. It's fun. One sensation that often arises is that of spaciousness, heaviness, and fullness in sitting. Some yoga teachers talk about really settling into your seat and being in your spot. Maybe as your attention comes to where you are, you feel more full because more of you (your energy, your attention, your mind) is there.

I took this a little further in my mind. I was imagining my attention as little acupuncture needles, seeing what happened as I sent it to different places. This caused me to really consider the quality of my mind and my attention as I focused it on my body. I considered my attention as energy meeting and affecting the parts of my physical body it touched. I was really interested in parts of myself meeting. I was thinking about the image of an explosion, or the big bang or something. For something to ignite, at least two things have to meet. I was imagining the meeting of my physical stuff -- tissues, energy, etc -- with my mind energy and attention and thoughts as being as reactive and important as an explosion somewhere in the universe. What I ultimately felt was that if I could wait, in my mind, and only let my attention "touch" my body when it was with a spirit of total awe for the...awesomeness (?) of what it was meeting, then the energy or the feeling was super alive and I was moved by how explosive this could be. I felt a shimmering and humming when I met myself this way. It was fun to consider trying to be totally awed by both my mind and my body and let them meet in this spirit and feel the change. Hard to explain, but try it! Can you feel an intimacy when the different parts of yourself meet with excitement? And this reminded me of Charlotte Selver and Sensory Awareness in which she instructs not to "reproach yourself in any way." That's sort of what I was playing with. Also reminded me of Eric Franklin and his work with positive imagery for health and posture. I was playing with how to actually do this for myself.

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Flurry of Thoughts, and the Linguistics of Pilates

Was just stretching my right leg using a thera-band, and thinking about leg swings in modern dance. My dear teacher Killian Manning likes to say that in the battle of the torso vs. the legs, the torso always wins. This means, in part, that when performing leg swings moving down the floor, the torso wants to keep its integrity so that the leg can work to achieve height rather than sacrificing pelvic and spinal ease and stability for the lift of the leg. I was thinking about this last night on a car ride home from the movies. When I was doing a lot of yoga and taking dance, I worked a lot with the imagery of dropping the sitting bone of the "working" leg (the leg that is performing a stretch, lift, or other gesture -- not the standing leg). This is imagery we encounter a lot in the dance world. We are told to drop down the back in order to swing the leg forward, or brush deeply into the floor with the foot to lift, or to think of lifting the leg from the underside of the leg, even though it is the flexors on top and inside the leg that lift the femur. So what does this imagery do?

In my right leg stretch, I again was using the imagery of the sitting bone dropping away from the thigh bone to let the leg stretch more freely. This is really a supine version of a leg swing. Something I used to say in my yoga classes which I think is similar to Ms. Manning's comment of the tug-of-war between the torso and the leg is in this supine stretch to let the pelvis and spine drop into the floor and become relaxed and "let go" of the leg. So both spuine and standing, I believe this imagery is a good way to teach leg strength and autonomy, and how releasing general tension into gravity can improve stability and range of motion. We know that the more an antagonist is able to lengthen and release in a given motion, the more range and easier time the working muscle will have to do the job. In this case, with the imagery we let the extensors of the hip loosen giving the flexors more range with which to work. Also, as general tension drips into the floor and the hip's natural coordination becomes easier, the core of the pelvis becomes increasingly free to do its job of stabilizing and organizing the spine. So what we're getting at here with a simple image applied to a simple exercise is increased coordination and range of motion, and stability and ease. I believe all this imaging puts space for breathing in the place of unnecessary muscular tension. How awesome!!!

Finally, in my stretch I was also thinking about my inner thighs and pubic bone. Another image I was using were the planes of movement applied to my hip socket. I like to imagine planes intersecting a joint in a given movement while imagining a very free, breathy, 3-dimensional joint. For me, this allows my brain access to an aspect of a joint's structure or movement which tends to be difficult for me to sense or move. This brought my to how we tend to discuss and refer to the pelvis in Pilates classes. Imagery is a powerful tool because it brings a certain type of attention to certain areas. My sister's dissertation deals with how the language in the court room affects the outcome of the trial. Language and imagery in a movement class similarly affects how you are able to access and use your body. I find the inner thighs and pubic bone in most Pilates classes are a place of limited range and the language and imagery about them tends to refer only to using them for strength and stability, with a rare moment to achieve a stretch. But we don't often image ease and breath around the pubic bone creating space and openness in the pelvis. I miss that. My pubic bone craves breath! I believe our language toward the front belly and inner thighs in Pilates limits how we are able to image these areas and may generally cause us to overwork these areas and create unnecessary tension that will ultimately limit range of movement and the ability for other areas to fire when necessary.

Which all leads me to now consider language and imagery as a part of the exercise itself, not separate from the "work" you are doing in a class. So if you are finding you are overworking an area, notice if you are overworking its image in your mind and its words in your mouth...

Friday, June 24, 2011

Shortest Post

Have been busy. There will be more in the coming days/weeks, but for now:

Let your experience of your body challenge what you have been told!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Hip Hop, Motivation, and Joint Spaces

This post is not meant to be a composed paper. It will be bits and pieces of images and thoughts I want to get out. Indeed this whole blog is sort of that; selfish.

The way I want movement classes to be structured and dance to feel has a lot to do with the fact that I have a tight body. I just feel bound and tight in my joints and spine these days. Going into a dance or other class I sometimes have a hard time feeling aligned because the movement has nowhere to flow. As I was saying before about walking, I am deeply interested in joint freedom. Movement flows through joints and when it does things feel juicy and great. So I am very motivated to open and lubricate my joint spaces.

Motivation in general is also a theme in my movement. In BMC we talk about a deep sense of ease even down to the cells and movement being initiated or motivated deep within the body. I often look for that initiation as deeply as I can and sometimes have trouble finding it. Pam Pietro asks rhetorically in class how you get your motor humming. Inside I ask where do you find the motivation and initiation to move a tight body that feels out of whack and doesn't feel delicious regeneration from the breath?

And I was thinking this today as I was walking to work with my ipod on. And then Snoop Dog's "Drop It Like It's Hot" came on. All of a sudden I felt energy and many of the joints in my body busted wide open. I felt like I could breathe better. I remember how much I love to teach hip hop dance classes. And here come the thoughts and images about some of my motivation and why I love hip hop...

I know music motivates a lot of people and motivates dancers to choreograph. What I noticed was a distinctly physical energizing. I felt like a guitar string that had been plucked and began to vibrate, energy flowing from the ground up enabling me to move. I recalled a similar feeling any time I practice African dance. And then I thought about my joints.

What do I get from African and hip hop dance that I really don't find anywhere else in life? Bouncing! Jiggling of all the joints of the body in concert! It feels so good! And this helps me loosen my joints so that movement can flow. The Trager method is a whole method of bodywork devoted to jiggling the body. Milton Trager also developed a movement protocol he called "Mentastics" that involves shaking and jiggling the limbs and joints to lubricate the joints and loosen the soft t issue around the bones. T'ai Chi and other practices employ this strategy of using shaking to bring synovial fluid to the joints. And Snoop helped me realize today that my favorite place to get this is from certain types of dance.

I was just glad to feel that there is indeed something in this world that helps me bust open my joints and get my motor humming.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Word about "Dynamic Alignment" and Therapeutic Exercise

Many events came together to inspire this post. One is this post on Movement's Research's blog by my favorite dance teacher, Jennifer Nugent. Another is the yoga class I took last night with all-around beauty and BMC practitioner, Julee Snyder. These two things highlighted something I have been thinking about and experiencing a lot lately.

In Pilates and yoga and such we talk about "dynamic alignment" -- that alignment is not a static thing, the body is always in motion, trying to right and balance itself with reference to gravity. But we easily (at least for me and my attention span) abandon our dimensional, dynamic being responding to gravity in favor of the rules of forward-focused alignment and specific muscular engagement. At the end of Julee's class, we sat. During class we got to keep in mind our organs and our depth so that movement undulated from deep inside with respect to our contents. In sitting, I had a sense of a dripping feeling down the back of my skull which reminded me that, even though my eyes are on the "front" of my head, I am a cylindrical being who does not necessarily have to orient front-ward. So often in the beginning of a yoga class we hear what we are supposed to do to sit upright; how this and that should engage and how our chin should be placed to have proper alignment. But these rules or suggestions come about because we naturally do just sit and balance in all directions with's like a constant dance...oh my god, how beautiful. (I've said before to my yoga classes and others, I secretly just want everyone to be dancing all the time. Well, guess what, we are.) And in Pilates we engage this in the front and that in the back to bring the spine into a neutral alignment so we can be "at the ready." Again, the body does this on its own because it is. It lives with forces that it constantly balances.

This is not to say I do not enjoy Pilates and yoga nor find them fun and helpful. I've just been thinking about bodies in space without the rules. And I guess the point of this post is that for me, dance (or the kinds I like to practice based on weight and momentum and proprioception) asks for an acceptance of the force of gravity and a willingness to feel how the body can balance them in movement. Dance asks to forget forward orientation through its disorientation and to let go of the rules a little bit to simply experience the body's ability to balance, as the movement asks you to go off balance. Without this context, postural guidelines and muscular exercises lose their meaning.

That's about it for now. Enjoy gravity and pretend you have eyes on the back of your head.

Friday, June 10, 2011

confessions of a movement slacker

Part I: :dancer:

i have always rejected broad labels as predicates to the self, or as descriptive relations to others. “i am a dancer.” “i am his or her girlfriend.” “i am a slacker.” oops. i guess i’m okay with the self-depricating predicates??

i quit dancing in november 2009.

i no longer felt authentically connected to the experience. teaching ballet and modern dance had become a habit. i had co-produced my first dance performance in summer, 2009, only to find that i had not stayed true to an artistic intent. i had never set or taken time to think about artistic intent.

my MOVEMENT had become something i did not want to do. ballet class hurt my body. i didn’t feel like there was a place in my community to safely explore modern or ballet technique without falling into my old patterns of judgment, pain, i stopped teaching dance after 9 solid years of it. i forgot that dancing, moving, was artistry. i lost connection (or maybe never even had it) to feeling what is good for myself while running headlong toward that which did not feel good to my physical and emotional body.

last sunday i went to the pool with my beautiful buddy, Tara. she wants me to find an hour a week to teach her ballet technique. i have been hesitant to agree, but i decided that in July i will start an hour ballet technique class at my Pilates studio. i will try to offer the parts of the technique i miss: the delicious wrapping of muscle to bone, the incredibly powerful feet and ankles, the levity. so, in the pool, we just started doing barre exercises. and it felt good! if only i could harness in my body on solid ground the freedom/resistance that is inherent to the properties of water. what element is your favorite to harness? the solid growth of wood? the heat and effervescence of fire? the mysteriously invisible wind? the density of metal?

for now, i hit the dance floor in our local dj scene. because that, i feel. in anusara yoga this week with Paul and Sommer, they mentioned becoming so engaged with what you are doing that it warps time. i love to warp things, so on my own, i am trying to truly “show up” for myself (as my other main yoga teacher, Ti Harmony, says) and quit my habit of movement addiction. i want to love it.