Let’s play catch up…Spinal Roll and Head and Eye Movements

Well, here I am apologizing for neglecting my blog yet again. It is summer, and it is my favorite time of year. The sun is out, the plants are blooming and growing, and the swimming pool is calling my name. It is also the time of year when I make the eight-hour drive to visit my family for a week. All of these things have conspired against me and my upkeep on my Nia blog. So, here is what I have been up to for the last (almost) four weeks.

I have played with three new moves in my 52 week challenge. In the interest of making my blog a little more reader friendly, I will split these moves into two blog  posts. Here are the first two moves I played with:

Spinal Roll: Standing in “A” Stance, inhale deeply and look up and sense the front of your body lengthening and opening. Use your hands for support and slide them down your legs, sinking to a point at which your body says, “Enough, I can’t go farther.” As if you were a rag doll falling asleep, exhale and look toward the earth; then round up, pushing your feet into the floor, while sliding your hands back up your legs to return to a standing posture. Do the whole movement smoothly, and coordinate your leg and spine mobility. IMagine your spine waving like seaweed in the ocean. Sound the word hummm quietly, as your round up, feeling the vibration in your jaw and skull. Focus mentally on energy leaving you as you go downward, and then filling you again as you rise. Benefits: Practicing Spinal Roll keeps your spine strong and flexible. It’s terrific for self-healing the spine and back. 

Head and Eye Movements: Look in any direction with your eyes, as if you were following a butterfly, and then follow that direction with a move of your head. Use your eyes to “seduce” your head, through natural curiosity, into moving. Look, and then move, in all directions. Next, follow a body part, such as your hand, with your eyes. To enhance relaxation, keep your lower jaw slightly open, and let the tip of your tongue press lightly into the roof of your mouth. Now, nod your head, shake it, and roll it. Your head is the heaviest of your body weights, and this move helps you find the proper balance for it, eradicating the tension that comes from holding it upright all day long. As you do the moves, sound yes, no, and maybe exuberantly, tying them to the body language gestures of nodding and shaking your head. Benefits: Practicing Head and Eye Movements teaches you to look wherever you go.
(From The Nia Technique Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas).

If you choose to play with me, here are the goals: incorporate the move(s) into one’s daily routine. Use the three planes of movement, high, middle, and low, and the three levels of intensity to gain insight into one’s relationships with this move. Allowing sensation to be our guide, let us seek comfort as we play with agility, mobility, flexibility, stability, and strength. At the end of the week report back on your experiences with this movement or journal about your experiences. Have fun!

So, I last left off with Undulations. I really like this move, and it always reminds me of how important mobility and stability are to the spine. One of my Nia teachers used to end each class with Undulations during floor play, and I loved it so much that I have incorporated Undulations into my own classes during floor play. For years I had lower back pain, and whenever I undulate my spine I remember how thankful I am that back pain is no longer part of my daily life. It is just an added bonus that I get to ask my class to undulate.

Spinal Roll also brings back very vivid memories of my days at Dance Underground in Seattle with my first Nia teachers Dara, Dina, and Barb. I remember how good it felt to roll up my spine one vertebrae at a time, and every time I practice this move, I imagine myself in the twinkly lights of DU. In addition to holding sweet memories for me, this move has also helped me strengthen the muscles that support my spine. As I push through the floor with my feet and roll up one vertebrae at a time, I sense space in my spine and strength in my abdomen. I incorporate this move into most of my classes because it feels so good to me. I used Spinal Roll to pick up items from the floor all week long. It may not be the fastest way to pick up your laundry, but I am certain that it is the most comfortable way.

Finally, we come to Head and Eye Movements. I enjoyed slowing down and sitting in awareness as I let my eyes lead. I spent a week watching my hands complete tasks, following birds with my eyes, and thinking about the subtle difference between letting my eyes move my head and just moving my head. I found that I had to remember to let my eyes lead. So, I add this move to the list of moves that I will intentionally work on and think about.

On to the next few weeks worth of moves!

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Undulation

Undulation: Standing in Open Stance, undulate, or wave, your spine–from top to bottom and then bottom to top. Imagine that your spine is a third arm. As you do the move, sense the spaces between your vertebrae. This mental focus will help release neuromuscular energy and chi that may be blocked in the spine. To help make your movements smooth, sound the word yessss. Practice in all stances. Benefits: Practicing Undulation keeps energy flowing along, and through, your entire spine. This move is perfect for releasing tension in the back and bringing power to the Core. (From The Nia Technique Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas).

It is week 32 of my 52 week challenge, and this week the move is Undulation. If you are playing with me, here are our goals: incorporate this move into our daily routines. Use the three planes of movement, high, middle, and low, and the three levels of intensity to gain insight into our relationships with this move. Allowing sensation to be our guide, let us seek comfort as we play with agility, mobility, flexibility, stability, and strength. At the end of the week report back on your experiences with this movement or journal about your experiences. Have fun!

I have been putting off this blog post about my relationship with Shimmy because I knew that I would be writing and sharing about deeply felt personal issues. I finally had to get over myself and just do it. So here is my story and my baggage.

If you have ever met me in person, you probably noticed that I am rather busty. I have been since I was about 11 or 12 years old. Growing up and having a large bust was hard for me, and I have had (and at times continue to have) all kinds of body image issues and emotional baggage about my breasts. For most of my post-pubescent life I have heard endless comments and jokes about my breasts. I imagine that these are the same kinds of comments one might hear if they are really tall or have some other physical characteristic that makes them stand out. My reaction to these kinds of comments was embarrassment and shame. I hated any kind of physical movement because I imagined that it drew even more unwanted attention, so I spent much of my life looking for ways to not participate in things. My large bust became my grand excuse to lead an increasingly sedentary existence.

When I decided that I had to make some life changes that included exercising, I found myself in a Nia class. I was so excited to look around the room and see other people with bodies of all shapes and sizes, and to make the class even more safe and inviting, the lights were turned way down. This was not a class that I could make excuses about; I don’t even think I was the bustiest gal in the class. So, I checked my baggage at the door, and I danced every day for a year. Over that year, I underwent huge changes. I lost weight, I became stronger, I cared less about what people might say or think about me or my body, and I fell in love with the way it felt to move again. It was a magical transformation for me, and the people who are close to me and support me were cheering me on every step of the way. It was fantastic.

So why I am writing about this when I should be posting about Shimmy? Shimmy is exactly the kind of move that I would have avoided in my former pre-Nia existence. This week in my journey with Shimmy these thoughts have been swirling around in my head, and I have been thinking a lot about how Nia has changed my relationship with my body. As I stand in front of my class six times every week and shimmy, I am not embarrassed, and I am not thinking about how I look. I am thinking about relaxing my jaw or about letting my shoulders find the beat. When one of my students recently commented that she wished she could shimmy like me, I actually laughed and made a joke about having a lot to work with. It might seem like a trivial thing to other people, but for me it is a sign of progress. Nia is the “love your body” workout, and while I still have my moments of wishing for smaller breasts, I have learned (and am learning still) to love my body and let go of my embarrassment.

While I did not Shimmy around town this week, I did Shimmy at home and in class. My insights this week were that Shimmy makes me tired, really, really tired. If I shimmy too long, I get a side ache. I find that this move always connects me to the energy of Jazz dance, and sometimes I like to pretend that I am wearing some beautifully beaded dress (because it makes me happy!). I also noticed that I will use Shimmy as a filler move between songs to keep everyone moving. These insights made me happy this week, and I can honestly say that I love Shimmy. It reminds me of just how far I have come on this mind/body/emotion/and spirit journey.

I hope that you all have a wonderful week playing with Undulation!

 

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Shimmy

Shimmy: Vibrate and shake your shoulders, standing upright or moving front and back, as if you are shaking water off. Relaxing your lower jaw, so that the neck and shoulder girdle muscles naturally relax, will allow your arms to hang loosely. Make your movements continuous, instead of jerky. Sound the vowels a, e, i, o, u as you shimmy. Benefits: Practicing Shimmy strengthens your Core and supports your upright posture. This move is great for attaining precision in small movements and building endurance in small muscles. (From The Nia Technique Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas).

It is week 31 of my 52 week challenge, and this week I will be playing with Shimmy. If you are playing with me, here are our goals: incorporate this move into our daily routines. Use the three planes of movement, high, middle, and low, and the three levels of intensity to gain insight into our relationships with this move. Allowing sensation to be our guide, seek comfort as we play with agility, mobility, flexibility, stability, and strength. At the end of the week report back on your experiences with this movement or journal about your experiences. Have fun!

Last week we played with Chest Isolations. One thing that I have noticed about this move is that moving my chest from side to side draws air in and out of my lungs. I re-noticed this again this week. It is an interesting but strange sensation.

I also found that this move requires quite a bit of my concentration; otherwise I find that I move my shoulders as well. I used this move in class this week, and I played all around the house with Chest Isolations. It was fun, but at times, it was a bit tiring. I can only sustain the movement for a little while. My great insight is that I need to keep playing with this move so that it feels a little more natural to my body. I am still learning to relax into this move. That realization would have been hard for my ego not too long ago, but this challenge has me viewing my relationship with each move in a whole new way. I am enjoying finding ways to improve my skill instead of feeling defeated about needing to keep working on my skills. So, on my long-term goal list I shall add “play with Chest Isolations”. Who knew setting goals could be so fun?

I am so looking forward to this week with Shimmy. Ever since I realized that the move this week would be Shimmy, I have had the song “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” stuck in my head. Indeed, it will be a week with a lot of shaking going on.

 

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Chest Isolations

Chest Isolations: Gently move your rib cage in all directions, placing your hands and arms in space so that you isolate and move only the rib cage. Move it to the front, back, and sides. Open it, twist it, extend it, slide it, and circle it. Focus on rhythmic and fluid movements in all directions. Sound ahhh! in a very relaxed way. This move will build the muscles of your Core and will help you improve your posture. Benefits: Practicing Chest Isolations keeps your spine flexible and mobile. (From The Nia Technique Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas).

It is week 30 of my 52 week challenge, and this week the move is Chest Isolations. We will use the three planes of movement, high, middle, and low, and the three levels of intensity to gain insight into our relationship with this move. Allowing sensation to be our guide, we will seek comfort as we play with agility, mobility, flexibility, stability, and strength. At the end of the week report back on your experiences with this movement or journal about your experiences. Come play with me, and have fun!

So last week we played with Hip Bumps, and I spent countless hours at my desk bumping to one side and then the other. I hip bumped through the grocery store, around the house, while playing pinochle, and of course, in class. I found this a much easier move to quietly incorporate into my daily life than say the Knee Sweep. I believe my hip bumping walk had a little more swagger than my normal walk, but it was an easy move to play with all around town.

What I discovered this week is that doing so many Hip Bumps made my sides a little sore from overuse. It was a good sore though, and I think that it will set me up nicely for a week of Chest Isolations. I enjoyed the idea of bumping obstacles out of my way, and I used the move as an excuse to play with the song Sufani from the routine Canta. I LOVE this song, and I have great memories of dancing it as a student with my lovely teachers in Seattle and with Carlos in Portland. This week in class I carried those people in my heart as I danced and hip bumped to the music. I felt powerful all week.

Shall we review? So far we have played with: Closed Stance, Open Stance, A Stance, Sumo Stance, Bow Stance, Cat Stance, Heel Lead, Whole Foot, Ball of Foot, Relevé, Rock Around the Clock, Squish Walk, Duck Walk, Toes In/Out/Parallel, Sink and Pivot Table Wipe, Stepping Back onto the Ball of the Foot, Cross Front, Cross Behind, Lateral Traveling, Traveling in Directions, Cha-Cha-Cha, Fast Clock, Slow Clock, Front Kick, Side Kick, Back Kick, Knee Sweep, Pelvic Circles, and Hip Bumps. On to Chest Isolations!

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Hip Bumps

Hip Bumps: Bump your hips in varying directions, front, back, and each side, as if you were bumping someone out of the way. Sound ooo. Focus on rhythmic precision, and stop the bump before it tugs uncomfortably. Alternate directions. Benefits: Practicing Hip Bumps keeps your upper body agile and connected to your lower body. This move will tone your Core, define your waist, and increase mobility along your spine. (From The Nia Technique Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas).

It is week 29 of my 52 week challenge, and the move this week is Hip Bumps. The goal for the week is to incorporate this move into our daily routines. We will use the three planes of movement, high, middle, and low, and the three levels of intensity to gain insight into our relationship with this move. Allowing sensation to be our guide, we will seek comfort as we play with agility, mobility, flexibility, stability, and strength. At the end of the week report back on your experiences with this movement or journal about your experiences. Have fun!

So it is week 29, and I must admit that this challenge has lasted about 29 weeks longer than most things I attempt to do. I am a serious procrastinator and a dreamer, so I often don’t even get started on all of the projects I think up. This week I am allowing myself to feel a little proud that I even started a 52 week challenge, and I am feeling really excited that I am almost at 30 weeks. I attribute my success so far to the fact that I love Nia so much, and I feel like I get so much out of the practice. One of the many gifts in my life that I attribute to Nia is the gift of focus. Yay for focus! Double yay for finding something that makes me happy enough to keep working toward a goal after 29 weeks.

Last week my focus was Hip Circles, and what I found is that again it is all about keeping soft knees. I didn’t have any earth-shattering insights, but I did find that when my knees were soft they were happy. I was also able to stay in control of my balance. Even though Hip Circles is the first move for the core of the body I re-realized how important a strong base is for all moves in Nia. The base becomes the foundation that allows for free movement in the core and upper extremities. Those soft knees in A Stance let me enjoy free and smooth movement in my hips all week long. I was never a very accomplished hula-hooper as a child, but I had a blast this last week playing with my imaginary hula-hoop. I might not be able to float a hula-hoop for long, but my Hip Circles felt pretty amazing.

As we move on to Hip Bumps I am already imagining all of the things I am going to bump out of my way in the coming week. Have fun and don’t forget to play!

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Pelvic Circles

Pelvic Circles: Stand in “A” Stance and circle your hips in a fluid motion, as if you were playing with a hula hoop. Sense the motion of the ball of your hip joints rotating in their sockets. Circle in both directions to maintain relaxed mobility, and sound ahhh! Alternate directions. Benefits: Practicing Pelvic Circles strengthens your back and Core, so that all upright locomotion is dynamic and free. This move will help bring up energy from your lower chakras and will strengthen your abdominal muscles. (From The Nia Technique Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas).

It is week 28 of my 52 week challenge, and the move for the week is Pelvic Circles. This week I will incorporate Pelvic Circles into my daily routine. I will play with my high, middle, and low planes of movement, and I will play with high, middle, and low intensity levels. Using the five sensations of fitness as my guides, agility, mobility, stability, flexibility, and strength, I will seek pleasure as I play with Pelvic Circles. At the end of my week, I will journal or blog about my experiences. You are invited to join me!

Last week was the final week of base moves, and this week we have successfully moved on to the first of the seven moves that are specific to our core. I am excited that it is already week 28, and it feels like a milestone to move from the base to the core. I will try not to injure myself as I pat my own back for keeping the challenge going. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been fun and a great learning experience.

I am a little sad to say goodbye to Knee Sweep. I really enjoy this move, and I find I always have a smile on my face when this move comes up in class. Perhaps because I watched way too many movies in the ’80’s (thank you Mom and Dad for the satellite tv), I kept hearing a line from the Karate Kid in my mind saying “Sweep the knee, Johnny” as I raised my knee up and pushed it away with the opposite arm. Although the Nia move of Knee Sweep has nothing in common with the film, this phrase was my constant companion for the last seven days. It is probably a good thing that I am moving on to Pelvic Circles this week. Who knows what kind of crazy association might pop into my pretty little head next?

I have really enjoyed bringing my personal focus of a specific move to my classes. This week I learned that I like to keep my Knee Sweeps small when the music is fast. I realized that my soft, spring-loaded knee on my supporting leg deserves more credit than I typically give it. When I slow the move down, it is my supporting leg that allows me to sweep the knee and stay upright. My ankle on my supporting leg also seems to play a much more important role than I had previously realized, and this week my ankles were whispering to me about being gentle.

Just because it is fun, let us review. So far we have played with: six stances, Closed, Open, A, Sumo, Cat, and Bow; eight foot techniques: Heel Lead, Ball of Foot, Whole Foot, Relevé, Rock Around the Clock, Squish Walk, Duck Walk, Toes In/Out/Parallel; nine steps: Sink and Pivot Table Wipe, Stepping Back onto the Ball of the Foot, Cross Front, Cross Behind, Traveling in Directions, Lateral Traveling, Cha-Cha-Cha, Fast Clock, and Slow Clock; and 4 kicks: Front Kick, Side Kick, Back Kick, and Knee Sweep. These are the 27 moves of the base. This week we begin our journey to the core of our bodies with Pelvic Circles. Enjoy!

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Knee Sweep

Knee Sweep: Bring one of your knees up and across your body and, with your opposite hand, push your knee and sweep it out to the side, as if you were stepping over a big box. Then lower your foot to the ground. Walk around the room, pretending to step over boxes of different heights. Keep the knee of your supporting leg spring loaded. To maintain dynamic ease, sound sweeep! Alternate sides. Benefits: Practicing Knee Sweep improves stability and agility in the hip joint and will help you develop power in your whole body. (From The Nia Technique Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas).

It is the 27th week of my 52 week challenge, and the move this week is Knee Sweep. This is the final base movement, and next week we will start to explore the core of our bodies. Join me this week as we play with Knee Sweep and report back at the end of the week about your experiences. Incorporate this move into your daily routine, and allow yourself to play with the three planes of movement (high, middle, and low) as well as the three intensity levels. Let the five sensations of fitness, stability, mobility, flexibility, agility, and strength guide your exploration. Seek pleasure in this movement as you dance through life this week.

Last week I played with Back Kick. I know I have said it before, but I will say it again. I love kicks! Back Kicks are always fun for me because I love the feeling of using my upper body as a counterweight for my kicking leg. I feel a little bit like a super hero getting ready to fly when I do this move. This week, with my imaginary cape in tow, I played throughout my little apartment. If I plan to keep this up, I will have to get a bigger kitchen. No one should have to choose between an oven door and a Back Kick.

My hips played nicely with me this week, and I enjoyed looking over my shoulder at my extended foot. I appreciated my supporting leg for allowing me the opportunity to explore my range of motion and providing a stable base to power my movement. With such a fun and vigorous move, how could the week have been anything but fun?

As I dive into this week with Knee Sweep, I am a little sad to leave my kicks behind. I know that they will come out to play frequently though, and I do adore Knee Sweep. The hardest part of this challenge is to move forward when you are having so much fun playing and exploring. Hard life, right?

I am looking forward to a long weekend to work on a new routine. See you next week!

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