Cultivating Comfort with X-Ray Anatomy

In Nia, we pride ourselves on cultivating comfort and pleasure—I personally have been called a "Pleasure Revolutionary." It’s true! I believe cultivating pleasure is one of the healthiest things we can do for the world. I’m not talking about the kind of pleasure that comes from indulging, but rather the kind that comes from listening very carefully to what your body desires. Desire and pleasure: these are words that can bring a sick body back to feeling better.

If you think about it, “feeling better” is a phrase physicians make lots of money from. It's the affirmation they listen for after giving you advice, medicine, or surgery. Throughout any treatment, the hope of helping you feel better is in their heart and on their mind. How wonderful it would be—and how healthy we would be—if feeling better was in the hearts and minds of all people. Would we be healthier as a society? I think so.

As we teach in Nia, "feeling better" begins with self-healing, which is something we can learn to do on a daily basis—on a moment-to-moment basis—by listening to our bodies. Every part of our body is talking to us all the time. Our kidneys let us know when we have to go to the bathroom, for example—and when we get puffy and bloated, they are speaking loud and clear, telling us we've forced them to work overtime in effort to cleanse our bodies of excess toxins. These voices help us manage our future choices—if we listen. Another example is unusual irritability and agitation, which are often the voices of our liver speaking, telling us when “we” need to detox. When our lungs can't relax enough to properly fill and empty, they speak to us about their need for more rest through sensations of tightness, pressure and stress.

So—do you listen to these sensations? Do you consciously observe your body and its many voices? Here is one easy way to begin listening to your body so you can self-heal—so you can feel better. The process is called X-Ray Anatomy, and it begins with simply observing what’s going on.

X-Ray Anatomy is a technique from the Nia White Belt (Nia's first level of training), which provides you with a specific process for guiding your movement. More than just a technique, X-Ray Anatomy is a methodology with multiple elements, and is also the name of one of the 13 White Belt Principles we follow to self-heal, get fit and stay well. Ultimately, it becomes a lifestyle practice that uses your eyes, your intuition, and the sensations of pleasure and comfort to understand what "healthy movement" feels and looks like.

While it creates powerful results, the process of X-Ray Anatomy is simple, and starts with becoming self-aware. Begin by observing the signals of pain and pleasure in your body—and listening to pleasure as the voice that tells you, "This is the right way to move." The next step involves using your eyes, your understanding of anatomy, and your intuition to "get under the skin" and look inside your body, which allows you to gain information about your current movement habits and alignment. From this point, you can take the knowledge you gained through observation to foster changes in how you move.

Originally, X-Ray Anatomy began as a method of showing teachers how to witness their own alignment, as well as the alignment of their students' bodies. As Nia teachers learn the basics of anatomy (The Body's Way) in their White Belt Intensive Training, they are taught how to observe the body in a way that illustrates the musculoskeletal alignment of each person's unique structure, including their own. By learning, moving, sensing and observing, we are able to see what is going on beneath the skin of ourselves and others.

As X-Ray Anatomy developed over time, it came to include a technique called "Zorro"—the practice of looking with our eyes, and then drawing a few simple lines to reflect a person's postural alignment and movement flow. The idea is to track these quickly, simply capturing what is observed and then using the drawings to analyze a person's movement. This process allows teachers to offer suggestions for more efficient movement choices—to support people in moving in ways that help them feel better.

Eventually, X-Ray Anatomy came to include a concept called "200/700," referring to the 200+ bones and 700+ muscles in the body. Exploring the concept of 200/700 opens up a whole new world of movement possibilities, giving teachers a larger lens through which to observe movement and direct choreography. By observing the endless variations each unique body expresses, teachers gain a deep understanding of the mechanics of each person's movement, so they can best support healing and conditioning in their students and themselves.

Today, X-Ray Anatomy is more than just a tool for interpreting musculoskeletal alignment; it also includes observing the ligaments, connective tissues, organs—and even blood. How do you do this? By somatically applying your anatomical knowledge—by turning it into sensation. Sensation is the language—the "voice" of the body—that enables you to track physical pain and pleasure, so you can avoid and correct imbalances that lead to poor functioning, illness and injury.

To support your ability to track, observe and change, X-Ray Anatomy introduces the "Witness," the objective voice within you who observes, and then describes what it sees to another inner voice—your "Conscious Personal Trainer." Your Conscious Personal Trainer acts as a real personal trainer with your best interests in mind, guiding you in making the best choices for your body and your life. Together, your Witness—the one who observes and describes—and your Conscious Personal Trainer—the one who guides your decisions—help you notice what you do, and without judgement, guide you toward healthy changes. Basically, they help you move and feel better!

Developing the art and skill of X-Ray Anatomy relies on your ability to sense for what is working—what is good for your body—and then using this information to evaluate your posture and movement. To apply X-Ray Anatomy to your life is to track comfort and ease in everything you do, seeking the perfect tension of tight-loose, contract-release. These sensations are voices that support you in moving safely and freely. At the heart of it all is your ability to be aware, to notice what feels good—and to take a stand for cultivating comfort and pleasure in your body and life. And I promise: with desire, awareness and a little practice, X-Ray Anatomy is easy!

Here’s how you bring X-Ray Anatomy into your body and life:

Each day ~

1. Sense
The moment you wake up, become consciously aware of sensation. Go about your day and track the sensations of pain and pleasure. Choose pleasure by consciously placing your bones in alignments that feel good. Listen to the voice of pleasure, which tells you, "This is good. This is a healthy choice—keep doing what you're doing."

2. Witness
Throughout the day, notice what you are doing with your posture when you feel comfort and pleasurable sensations—notice the alignment of your bones and joints. Pay attention to any level of slight, moderate and acute sensations that feel bad or uncomfortable, and then proactively say "no" to pain. The moment you sense pain and discomfort, shift your bone and/or joint alignment until the sensation of pleasure returns.

3. Adapt
Play with altering what you normally do throughout the day, while focusing on the desire to feel better. Move your bones and joints in ways that tighten or release your muscles, until you feel more comfort and pleasure in your movement. Remember: Comfort and pleasure are the voices that tell you when your actions are right for you.

Sense, Witness and Adapt: Keep these three things in mind each day, and I promise you will notice wonderful changes in your body and life! 

So to you, your Witness, and your Conscious Personal Trainer this month: Let's take a stand for helping ourselves and the world feel better, by moving with awareness and cultivating comfort and pleasure in everything we do.


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