“Joy naturally seduces the body to breathe fully and deeply, oftentimes culminating in laughter, which is to the body like an orgasm.”
—Alexander Lowen, M.D., Bioenergetics
I began my professional fitness career in 1975, with nothing but an idea and my body—the only tool I had with which to do my research. I didn’t realize it then, but my body was the greatest instrument I could have had for exploring what does and does not work in terms of health, fitness and well-being. Back then, I had very little trust in my body and often doubted the messages it sent me. I had no idea that I had lost connection to the most natural and truthful wisdom available—the intelligence of my body, which I today call “Sensory IQ.” 30 years later, this intelligence is a voice I trust more than any other. It is the voice of my body; and it speaks to me in the language of sensation.
Sensation is the voice I trust to tell me what I need to do (and not do) to get fit, move safely and stay healthy. I am on a lifelong journey to know my body, to honor and listen to its voices—to become “body literate." I celebrate this journey every day. I am a sensation scientist, something I believe we are all designed to be.
Each of us is born into an extraordinary experience: life, explored and conducted in a laboratory called the body. I view this laboratory as a sacred place, for its every part and function is dedicated to a single thing: the unique experience of our lives. Every sensation I experience in my sacred laboratory is a new lesson, teaching me how to experience life as pleasure—life as art.
The very meaning of sacred (to be dedicated or devoted exclusively to a single use, purpose, person*), is a constant reminder that my body is wholly dedicated to me, to my life. This kind of dedication deserves my honor, my attention, my love and respect; and certainly, my time. It is out of self-love and respect—for my body and for my life—that I am dedicated to educating myself. I want to be a master of body literacy—and in the end, I just might end up a "movement physician," practicing sensation science. Or maybe I’ll get my Ph.D. in Body Literacy! Of course none of these titles literally “exist” now, but when you think about it in terms of the body, all are real possibilities.
Consider it: You’re a sensation scientist! The first level of wisdom came to you naturally, from a pre-verbal place, where you sensed everything you needed. Thinking was not important because sensing worked just fine. Whether you were wet, hungry, bored or just slightly uncomfortable, you just sensed what you needed and let the world know by making sounds. If your first cries didn’t get attention, well, you upped your tone and emotional intensity. If this didn’t work either, you got resourceful: you experimented with your body to find other actions that did work—and you did it by sensing, not thinking. You were born a true sensation scientist.
As you grew, all of your combined experiments created beliefs. Experience was your teacher, and ultimately, it established the philosophy you live by. At some point along the way, thinking took over sensing. Thinking became your primary method for gaining information; sensing became secondary. As for the sensation of pleasure…well, let’s just say many adults delegate pleasure to what happens in the bedroom.
I often think the fact that the bedroom seems to be the one place people will not stand for even the slightest bit of pain or discomfort. We need to have the right bed, the right pillows, the right sheets and sleepwear—and we’ll pay thousands of dollars for these things. But outside the bedroom, in the rest of our lives, pleasure seems to be something we must "learn" is okay to have—something we need permission to experience.
As a sensation scientist studying pleasure, I am here to tell you that our bodies are coded to cultivate pleasure. The bottom line is: We have to respect pleasure; we have to understand it is a sensation that brings important information and medicine to our bodies and lives. One of the greatest gifts you can offer yourself and the world is to dedicate time each day to educating yourself about the gifts of this sensation—to developing body literacy, the ability to listen, understand and respond to the messages of your body. As Alexander Lowen, M.D., author and founder of the International Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis says, “To free the body and to sense joy freely moving through the whole body is a sign of healing.” Based on my life experience—my experiments in my “body laboratory”—I’ve come to understand that pleasure is the most effective healing and conditioning medicine I can offer myself. And in giving pleasure to myself, I ultimately share it with everyone I touch.
This month, I invite you to re-enter the world of the sensation scientist—to research pleasure in your own body laboratory. Give yourself the gift of time this holiday season, dedicated to exploring and understanding how pleasure affects and guides your body and life. Schedule "lab time" into your week to dance with your Nia DVDs at home, with the fascinated attention of a sensation scientist. Move, dance and research sensation—and enter the new year alert and primed for more pleasure than ever before!
Below are some fun ways to create a "Pleasure Laboratory" at home with your Nia workout DVDs. Practice alone, or invite friends over for a "Body Literacy Dance Lab," and then share your research notes afterward! Take turns hosting "lab night" with your friends and work with a variety of Nia and movement DVDs. Host/hostess gets to pick the routine!
Also, as a reminder of your dedication this month, download and print this new Nia handout, Pleasure 101. Be sure to pin it somewhere you will see each morning, to start your day on the path of pleasure!
Tip 1: Own a variety of Nia and other workout DVDs
Equip your "pleasure lab" with a variety of Nia and other DVDs, to play with different movements, styles, speeds and sounds. Rather than pre-planning which routine to use, simply reach for the DVD your body most desires when the time comes. Develop body literacy by asking: "Which routine sounds most pleasurable to me right now?" It may be the same DVD you enjoyed yesterday and want to explore again—or it may one you've never done before. Trust the wisdom of your body and allow it to reveal what you need.
Tip 2: Choose a Focus
Before beginning each dance-lab session, choose a "pleasure focus" to explore, in addition to the given focus of your Nia DVD. For example, you might research sensations of pleasure in your hands and fingers as you move, and notice how these sensations affect your body, mind and spirit as a whole. How does sensing pleasure in your hands affect your movement choices? How does it affect your energy level and creativity? Notice when and where pleasure is not present, and experiment with making small tweaks in your intensity, speed, alignment and use of imagery to bring it back in.
Tip 3: Activate the left and right sides of your brain
Visualizing and playing with imagery is an excellent way to stimulate the right side of your brain, your "creative explorer"; while using words and "sounding" stimulates the left side of the brain, your "cognitive researcher." To gain the most from each movement experience, activate both "scientists" in your pleasure lab. For example, wherever you sense pleasure today, visualize it illuminating that body part like a radiant light. As you move, watch the vibrant colors of these lights streaking through the air. Notice where you are glowing and where you are "dim." Meanwhile, practice naming each of the 52 Moves aloud as you dance, training your mind to multi-task while developing Nia mastery and skill.
Tip 4: Research and celebrate your natural way of moving.
Each body is unique and has its own natural way of moving. Experiment and play in your "body lab" to discover which parts of your body move easily, which parts are rigid, and which parts don't move at all. Which areas naturally bring the most pleasure, and which parts could use more attention? Let go of any expectation or judgement and simply observe your body with objective, scientific fascination. Study the sensations and patterns of pleasure to discover how to adapt each movement to fit you.
Tip 5: Remember: Your body lab is different each day!
Today, your "body lab" is equipped with different thoughts, sensations and experiences than yesterday—different tools with which to study pleasure. Release all expectation and simply listen to the messages of your body now. If an area is sore, back off a bit. Or, you may want to focus on this area, using gentle movement to relax and heal any pain or tension. If your body is asking for more intensity—if "upping the ante" brings pleasure today—do it! Whether you are healthy or healing, pleasure is available in every part of your body and life, just waiting to be recognized and released.
Now to all you sensation scientists: Let's dance through December together!
What did you discover? We want to know!
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*The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Print.