Thursday, February 25, 2010

notes from Healing Arts of Nia: student playshop in Houston

This playshop was a fantastic experience, despite not being what I had planned.

Instead of following the syllabus I had created and followed in the New York version of this playshop, we went into a discussion of how to make each Nia class a self-healing experience.

The main pearls of this playshop were:

"You need to be in the driver's seat of your Nia class experience"
"Add your personal focus to the teacher's focus"
"Be aware of yourself first"
"Explore the best way to do each movement"
"do it your way"
"you have permission to do it 'wrong'"
"every sensation you experience is your choice"
"choose pleasure"

Here are some comments made by students in this playshop:

---I had a blast dancing with Jason this weekend. It is always so cool to watch a master at work, then have him discect what he did and why it was so effective. Especially enjoyed the male energy he brought to "Bond Girls".

---I thought Jason’s workshop/playshop was excellent. It helped to remind me about the contributions within Nia that are drawn from the Feldenkrais and Alexander Techniques – about the most significant purpose of each and how they are incorporated into Nia movements. The class reaffirmed that that the focus of Feldenkrais is “the conscious awareness of sensation” and that the Alexander Technique’s focus is to “find the position of mechanical advantage in order to maximize the amount of ease in motion”. Both help us to break old habits of movement and contribute to creating new neural pathways which stimulate self-healing. I also thought our discussion regarding the aspects of yoga in Nia was insightful, primarily the focus of the alignment of the bones. But most of all it was fun and I learned new “pearls” which will help in my practice and in my teaching down the line.

---(after the playshop) I did try some self-healing in both my classes today. So I did get something from the workshop - just not as much as I wanted.
Jason here: I agree, we can never get enough of this stuff. But a little bit each time is sufficient. Self-healing is a lifelong endeavor.

---Jason’s Sun. Morning -Bond Girls WAS DANGEROUS, very dangerously FUN. I wish I could channel the Beyonce/Sasha Fierce a little more successfully. I felt I definitely had moments where I thought I did. Thinking about Pierce Bronson helped and Jason was inspirational too. Thanks very much for having him in for special guest teacher. 72 second pearl was my favourite.

---As a teacher, I really benefited from hearing Jason use specific language with participants: owning awareness and choices, tweaking as self-healing, etc. I also really enjoyed going off syllabus and learning what is in the minds of students and how to reach out to them differently. As a student, without his prompts, I probably would never have thought to change my palm direction in Traveling, and thus always felt that twinge in my shoulder. I realized that I want to be a student more.

---I loved the workshop. I've been wondering for about 6 months if I wanted to continue to teach. After the workshop, I realized how deep and important the Nia approach to health and fitness is. I have recommitted to teaching and am excited about continuing to learn more to share with the folks back home. I thought Jason was an excellent teacher who is responsive and sensitive to the needs of the workshop participants. I very much appreciated his flexibility - beecause of the additional time spent on Feldenkrais principles, I feel that I developed a new level of body and movement awareness. I'm only sorry that we didn't get the whole "healing arts" curriculum, but that will be something to come back to.

---I had a fun experience playing the wii with my kids this afternoon. Today I was dead on balanced in several of the games. I attribute my increased performance to your great self healing guidance. Thanks!

I had a great time taking this work and sharing it with my Houston sisters and brothers. Thank you, Houston, for being so receptive, playful and open to this work. Please keep the comments coming, and continue to explore your self-healing in and out of Nia class.

Pearls for Self-Healing from Feb 20 Nia Playshop

February's Playshop-of-the-Month was an exploration of how to recognize and utilize the Healing Arts in Nia. These Healing Arts are, namely, The Alexander Technique, The Work of Moshe Feldenkrais, and Yoga.
The common elements of all three of these arts is an inward focus and awareness with a desire to change old habits and to move in a way that is more in keeping with our natural-born ease and simplicity.

Many of our movements are learned and then relegated to 'habit'. This allows us to do things automatically and prevents us from having to use a lot of brain energy for simple things like walking, getting up out of a chair and tying our shoes. The downside of these habits is that they aren't necessarily always the most efficient nor simple way of doing the activity. Our body will recognize it as "familiar" and we will interpret that familiarity as "correct" even though it may be fraught with lots of excess tension, physical imbalance and extraneous movement. The work of these healing arts is mainly to explore and learn new, simpler ways of doing these basic activities and preserving a lot of wasted energy and releasing a lot of unnecessary tension.

Every Nia class offers an opportunity to not only express creativity and to condition our bodies by improving strength, flexibility, agility, mobility and stability, but also to explore ways of improving and simplifying our habitual movements.

This past weekend, I spent an afternoon with about 16 Nia teachers in Houston, exploring ways we can create the space for our students to have self-healing experiences in our Nia classes. We came up with many "pearls" which are cues that we can give our students to be aware of while moving. Here is a list of many of them:

Inspired by Feldenkrais:

"invite your heel to relax"
"notice that first moment"
"make choices"
"micromovement"
"cottonballs"
"relax through your shins"
"do just enough"
"feel your toes squish"
"slow motion pelvis"
"the sensation comes"
"go at your own pace"
"eyes follow hands"
"time is your friend"
"as small as possible"
"relax underneath your feet"
"sense a pause to start your movement"
"find time between the movements"
"butterfly wings"
"find stillness"
"wings tied to wrists"
"notice what's not moving"
"sense stillness"
"sense what it means to do less"
"space between your hips"
"breathe between your joints"
"go inside your body"

Inspired by Alexander:

"effortless"
"watery spine"
"lift the back of your head"
"body float"
"dangling below"
"helium head"
"move from the top"
"escalator head"
"spine like a string of pearls"
"survey"
"uplifted"
"area between vertebrae"
"relaxed throat"
"follow your hands"
"space"
"shoulder blades dripping"
"space between"
"sense a palm in the back of your head"
"water fountain"
"foam up"
"clouds"
"forehead kissing the space"
"move energy up and out"
"wings on your upper arms"
"up"
"chin slides down"
"balloon"
"heavy face"
"chin to sternum"
"your body dances beneath your head"
"as one"
"look up with the top of your head"

Inspired by Yoga:

"breathe power and energy"
"sense both pelvic bones facing the front"
"align your feet and knees"
"feet facing same direction as your knees"
"sense what happens in your hips when you move your feet"
"shin bone perpendicular to the floor"
"shin bone parallel to the mirror"
"spine of the sole of your foot"
"use palm directions to affect your shoulder joint"
"consciously align your bones"

I invite any Nia teacher or student who has a particularly helpful pearl to leave a comment and share it with us. Let's help the world self-heal one Nia class at a time.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

notes from February Healing Arts Playshop in New York

Dear Participants of the 2010 Healing Arts of Nia Playshop,
Thank you so much for being there today and helping to make this playshop such a success. I had a great time and learned things and I hope you did too.

Here are my notes from the playshop:

THE WORK OF MOSHE FELDENKRAIS:

PEARL: relax in order to idealize

We did three exercises.

LAYING ON OUR BACKS, LIFTING OUR ARMS FROM THE SHOULDER
MOBILIZING THE PELVIS USING THE CLOCK
SITTING AND TWISTING OUR TORSOS USING OUR EYES

The purpose was to slow down to such a degree that we heightened awareness of choices about our movements that we were making unconsciously. Extraneous effort. And eventually our bodies find the least amount of effort necessary.

We learned to examine our own movements through repetition and relaxation, which is directly relatable to when you're in Nia. Each movement starts anew. Rather than letting the repetitions build on each other, you relax into a neutral position in between each movement so it starts from the beginning each time.

We became aware of the miniscule but very important pause between impulse and action. Especially because it made us aware of our habits.
Our habits aren't always the most efficient ways, just the most familiar. The choices that you make allow the work to go deeper because it is more personal for you.

Envision your movements powered by the core, but directed by the muscles of the extremities.

Be aware of the power of using your eyes to direct the energy of your head and your whole body.

Remember that you are always making choices; conscious or unconscious. If you want to heal your body, then you want to change it. And if you want to change your body you have to change what you're doing with it. So, if you're moving habitually, you're not changing what you're doing. Therefore, the healing work is to pay attention to avoid habitual movement. Each new movement is a new experience. (That's what causes the mysterious haze that overcomes you when you make the shift into the healing art of Feldenkrais.)

Feldenkrais energy is seeking the efficiency that is inherent in your body. It is internal, introspective, creative, self-adjusting, relaxing, body therapy.

The main goal of using Feldenkrais energy is to improve our abilities by decreasing effort and increasing ease.

And here is the book I use and recommend. It was Moshe Feldenkrais' first book. He lays out his theories from the ground up. It's fascinating stuff. And at least half of the book is exercises that you can do to get more of the benefit of this powerful work.



ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE:

PEARL: Float Effortlessly

The exercises we did were:

WALKING ACROSS THE ROOM DIFFERENT WAYS
STOPPING DURING AN ACTIVITY TO OBSERVE TENSION PATTERNS
SITTING AND STANDING
HANDS ON THE BACK OF THE NECK TO OBSERVE TENSION PATTERNS
PICKING SOMETHING UP OFF THE GROUND WITHOUT LOSING OUR POISED ALIGNMENT
WALKING WHILE GUIDED BY THE BACK OF THE HEAD
STANDING UP FROM LAYING ON THE GROUND
CLOSING OUR EYES AND ALIGNING OUR FINGERS OR FEET


The Alexander Technique teaches us poise through relaxing the unnecessary tension and imagining all movement originating from the top.

We can't always rely on our self-image. It is unreliable. But we also learned that it can be strengthened and improved by self awareness and healing.

It's important to remember that this technique isn't meant to be a burden. It shouldn't restrict your freedom to move. But it should certainly alert you to the way to maximize your bodies power and energy. When we hold ourselves in the "Position of Mechanical Advantage" as Alexander calls it, the body feels lighter, easier to move and stronger. So it should serve as the home base to always come back to. Think of it when lifting things or doing larger heavy movements.

Remember when you really relaxed and let that hand push you, how easy it was to suddenly move really quickly. That ease is reproduced by relaxation in the back of the neck and slightly letting the face fall forward in the 'nodding off' movement. You can experiment with this anywhere. You will be surprised by how easy it is to increase your speed of walking while expending less energy.

The book I used and recommend is not the original work by Alexander, but a workbook written by one of his students. I like it because of all of the exercises. Again, half the book is theory and half is filled with stuff that you can actually do yourself at home and learn this work. And Nia teachers can get great ideas for foci and floorplay.



YOGA:

PEARL: conscious alignment of bones

You can self-heal in Nia by paying close attention to the placement of your bones. We discussed specific Nia positions and how the bones should be. Your level of attention to these details will heal your body.

We paid specific attention to how the direction of the palms effects the arms and shoulders and how the direction of the feet effects the knees and the hips.

In the BOW STANCE we are aware of the relationship between the soles of the feet and the spine; the distance of the stance; the pelvis facing forward; and the thigh of the back leg and the shin of the front leg being parallel to each other and perpendicular to the floor.

in the CROSS BEHIND we are aware of the shins crossing each other, but not too far; the pelvis facing forward; the sole of the foot parallel to the spine.

in the CROSS FRONT we step to 11 o'clock or 1 o'clock.

in the TURN we place our feet on the floor and rotate in the hips. To turn left, we first lift our left foot, rotate the left hip out and place the left foot down with the toes turned out. Then we lift the right foot and rotate in the left hip until we're facing the back of the room, then we turn inwards in the right hip and place the right foot on the ground with the toes turned in. Then we shift our weight into the right leg and lift the left foot off the floor, rotate the right hip out which will swing our body back to face the front of the room where we can then put our left foot with toes facing forward. Then bring the right foot into a parallel position. Remember that all of the movements come from the hips and that once the foot touches the ground it is not to twist or slide, but remain fixed to the floor.

Don't worry if you don't turn all the way.

Here is a link to the Nia Technique book, where it discusses all of the 52 Nia Moves in detail with great pictures. It also goes into details about how the healing arts, martial arts and dance arts are in Nia.



And by the way, just in case you're interested in learning more about Yoga from a book, this is the one I use and recommend. It goes into all of the aspects of yoga in just enough detail so that you understand it, but doesn't go overboard. Again, half the book is exercises and half is theory. (Obviously I like books like that). It goes into the poses with special sections for children, elderly and pregnant but also goes into diet, meditation, health practices, breathing and spirituality.




Again, thank you SO much for being a part of this wonderful playshop.
I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to hear your feedback.
And if you had any further questions please feel free to ask.

You can either comment on this blog or email or call me.
I look forward to seeing you all again soon,
Jason Alan Griffin
JAG Fitness

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fifteen Reasons Why I Prefer to Work Out at Home Rather Than at a Gym

1- I can control the music

2- I can control the temperature

3- I save about half an hour each workout just on the commute alone

4- I can wear whatever I want

5- I save about $1000/ year

6- I don’t have to wait my turn for anything

7- I know it’s clean

8- I don’t have to be self-conscious or compare myself to others

9- I don’t have to hear other people’s inane conversations while I’m trying to focus

10- I can do it any time of the day or night and on holidays

11- I can take my workout with me when I travel

12- I can choose to do it outside

13- I can work out with friends even if they’re not “members”

14- I’m not distracted by people dropping weights, grunting or yelling

15- it smells much better

Full Page Ad in New York Times

I don't get the Times, but I started getting emails from my friends asking if that was me in the cheese shop in the New York Times.

I checked it out and it was definitely me. Or, at least, it was my head.

Capital One Bank had taken a shot of a guy standing in a cheese shop and photoshopped my head onto it. It was pretty surreal to see me with a completely different body. I've never had a gut like that.
The best scan I could get, because of the size of the ad and the size of the scanner, is here:

It's a pretty good job. I can't tell it's photo-shopped, but it kind of gives me the creeps to know that someone was meticulously cropping my head and neck and cutting and pasting it onto that other guy's body.

It showed up on Page 7, Metropolitan section, Sunday, Feb 1. New York Times. If anyone can get a scan of the entire full-page ad, I'd love to get a copy of it.

The original shot, where my head was taken from, is here: