For this month's continuing education focus on the shoulder girdle, we're excited to feature the following masterful voices from the worldwide Nia community. Read on to hear what they have to say about sensing wings by exploring The Body's Way. Be sure to also register for the March 4th telecourse with Nia Co-Creator Debbie Rosas and Nia Trainer Kelle Rae Oien.
Debbie Rosas, Nia Co-Creator, says:
Like my body, your body is constantly adapting to changes within its external and internal environments. Throughout the day, all tiny movements your body unconsciously makes are a reflection of living in an intelligent body, a body doing what it knows best: to find balance and return to homeostasis.
I love the word homeostasis. When I read it, I see it spelled like this: HOME-e-o-stasis. It reminds me that there is a place I can go, a home, and a dynamic position my body can go to when I let it do what it does best to feel good—move. I know I’m "home" and in a state of homeostasis when I sense pleasure and when I can’t seem to control myself from verbally sounding, “Ahhhh.” I connect to a sensation of homeostasis when I stop, sense, and become aware of the messages my body sends me via sensation. Once I receive a sensation, my primary job is to listen and tweak, altering what I’m doing to feel better. I do this by getting into the body.
How do I get into my body? Recently, I've been going to the chiropractor and acupuncturist as often as I can. When I'm lucky, this happens once a week. Investing in these services is something I do for myself. As a mover and a dancer, I am reminded just how important it is to take time to heal, to make self-healing an integral part of my exercise prescription. Lately I’ve been experiencing a lot of discomfort in the back of my body, in the upper right quadrant around my ribs. Because I’m in my body and have a high Sensory IQ, I'm able to read my body's signals and notice these levels of discomfort and/or pain. I’m able to notice sensations that feel healthy and sensations that feel unhealthy. This is how I keep myself fit, healthy, and feeling well.
I was surprised when my bone shaman - my savvy name for my chiropractor - decided not to make his normal adjustment to my spine. Instead, he decided to work on my organs. I should never have doubted him! He’s extremely intuitive and works in conjunction with my acupuncturist, co-creating results in my body that are both magical and alchemical. As he began to place his hands on my neck, barely moving them, I could feel myself letting go and sensing more space and freedom. I could feel the tension of the day unraveling in my connective tissues by the second. When he placed his hands on my ribs, sliding gently and firmly into my tissues, I felt more than my muscles relaxing; I felt my liver relax, my breath deepen, and my shoulder girdle (my clavicles and shoulder blades) rest into the table. I felt the tension release and melt away. I couldn’t help but think how easy it is for me to forget the importance of organ health.
The need to mobilize not only our bones, joints, and muscles, but also our organs, cannot be overstated. Everything in the body is connected. My organs, bones, blood, and tissues are all parts of the whole. This means that any sign of tension coming from anywhere in my body means there’s tension in my whole body. If I sense tension in my organs, then my entire body is sensing tension. My nervous system and endocrine system are speaking to me and they want my attention. They need more circulation, more loving energy from me, more movement and blood flow, good nutrients, oxygen, and yes, human touch. It’s all medicine.
Looking back over the last eight months, I see how my lifestyle and all the computer work I’ve been doing, including the lack of exercise (yes I said lack of exercise) has contributed to the pain I experienced. As part of my journey as a Sensation Scientist, I had decided to not exercise at all as a way to reconnect with what it feels like to be in a body that doesn’t move. How do people who are sedentary feel? It feels bad. If I didn’t have the body knowledge I have, I'd likely think all those aches and pains meant I had some form of cancer, fibromyalgia, arthritis, or just plain "old age." After all, I’m 62! But I know better. My aches and pains come from not moving and from doing repetitive activity for hours, like sitting at the computer and typing.
How does this all fit in with this month's focus, Awareness of Shoulder Girdle - Sensing Wings? Simple: When you have tension anywhere in your body you can’t fly. You can’t even stand up straight, breathe deeply, or for that matter, feel really good.
While you may not be able to go to a hands-on practitioner to feel better, there are a lot of things you can do to have more control over your health and wellbeing. Every bit of body knowledge gained gives you the power to move better, feel better, and look better. It all begins with getting to know the body’s design and function, which is what the course “Becoming a Sensation Scientist” is all about. This month you have the opportunity to go even deeper as we focus on learning about the shoulder girdle, the upper part of your body’s trunk, located between your neck and chest area. The part of you above the abdomen where vital organs and other internal and external structures lie are all affected by the way you move and live with your shoulder girdle. Even your liver can let you know that you're holding tension! Tension in the jaw, neck, stomach or shoulder girdle - it’s all tension to a body. Reduce this and you’re on your way to living a healthier and happier life.
- Get to Know Your Body’s Design and Function: By design, the shoulder girdle includes two groups of bones: two clavicles and two scapulas. These bones work together as one unit. The muscles of the shoulder girdle attach to and move these bones. Two horizontal “S” shaped bones, the collarbones, form one set of bones. These bones lie on the front of your body between your shoulders. Touch them and sense their horizontal, fluid shape. Your shoulder blades, the two flat triangle-shaped bones, your “wings,” lie on top of your upper back and float over the first seven ribs. Draw your elbows behind you to sense your wings coming closer together and away from your back. Hold the squeeze for five seconds and then release, reaching your arms and hands out, moving them freely in space to sense freedom in your shoulder girdle.
- Get In Your Body. Get into the sensation of your shoulder girdle by listening to the voice of your shoulder girdle, which says, “I am the voice of your shoulder girdle, a bony arch, a halo with wings. Allow me to move freely, to give life and freedom to your arm and hand expressions. Keep me healthy by shrugging your shoulders up and down, by stretching your chest and back muscles, and by breathing deeply.”
- Use Movement as Medicine. Throughout the day, take 60 seconds to freely move your hands up toward the sky, down to the front, and to the back of your body. Create movement from the inside out by breathing deeply, making sound, and laughing out loud.
Helen Terry, Nia Trainer says:
Did you know the shoulder girdle has been called the most unstable area of the entire body? I remember the first time I heard that, thinking how bad it sounded! Truth is, stability and mobility work together. The more unstable something is, the more mobility it has, and vice versa. Think about a heavy, strong dining room table: sturdy and difficult to move (more stable, less mobile). Now compare this to a flimsy, folding card table: easily moved, knocked over or collapsed with excessive weight (more mobile, less stable).
By being unstable, our shoulder girdle is extremely mobile. The definition of the word girdle is, “to encircle.” The shoulder girdle encircles the chest and connects the arms to the body. It connects to the body in one place, center front at the breast bone (sternum). From this long, flat, vertical bone between the two sides of the rib cage, each collarbone (clavicle) struts out to the side of the body to meet the shoulder blade (scapula) which wraps toward the back of the spine. Together, the collarbone and shoulder blade create an open joint for the upper arm bone (humerus). The entire structure of the shoulder girdle floats from the center of the chest, aided by an intricate organization of ligaments, muscles, and tendons that connect, support, and provide the opportunity for countless movements.
The shoulder girdle works like the padding of an American football player's uniform or a raincoat draped over the shoulders. It’s the body’s internal structure that hangs over the chest. Its design supports the upper arm bones to float elegantly from the core of the body and helps move whatever is in the hand.
The shoulder blade is my all-time favorite bone. Shaped like a wing, this thin, flat structure is the only triangular bone in the entire 206+ bones of the body. When held up to the light, it appears translucent – how angelic is that?! The shoulder blade is also very similar in size to the hand. This is a curious observation, as the shoulder girdle is what supports whatever the hand wants to do (push, pull, lift, carry, turn, throw). Each shoulder blade has its own spine, a ridge that extends outwards to create the acromial process, the bony part near the top of the shoulder. Wonderful “Christmas tree-like” muscles called rhomboids drape down the back of the body. When our hands are in front of us, the rhomboids are more likely to relax, allowing the shoulders to swing down and out as the arms lift. When our hands are beyond our vision, the rhomboids are likely to be tighter, holding on, causing our shoulders to slide in and up (like an elevator) when our arms move up.
Unless we walk frequently on our hands, the shoulder girdle is relatively free of any weight-bearing function and is highly mobile in most directions. There’s a direct correlation between how much we move our fingers (particularly thumbs) and how much the shoulder girdle has to stabilize. When we perform many of the small fine motor skills required by the hands, the arms move less and the shoulder girdle stabilizes. One of the principles of The Body’s Way is, “The Body Demands Balance.” When working at a computer or doing activities that demand excessive hand use, the shoulders move less. To counter this tendency, our arms and shoulders need a full range of motion on a regular basis. This makes a justifiable answer to the question, why do Nia?
- Next time you find yourself in a room with a skeleton, get your hands on its shoulder blades! Look at the intricate bone structure. It’s as if a master sculptor has delicately molded the form. Notice the double bone structures on the outside above the upper arm bone and imagine them like biplane wings. Close your eyes and feel the smooth details of this amazingly shaped bone.
- Shoulder girdle muscles sound like a fabulous spell from Harry Potter. Play with saying these anatomy words out loud: trapezius, levatator scapulae, major and minor rhomboids, serratus anterior, and pectoralis minor.
- Allow your shoulder blades to float like buoys rather than sink like anchors in the ocean. Sense how they ride the ribcage like a surfer on a wave, allowing the upper arm bones to be effective and free.
- While standing, cross your fingers (middle “power” finger over index “desire” finger), with your arms hanging by your side. Notice your breathing and how your shoulders and back feel. Repeat with fingers crossed the other way, (middle "power" finger over ring “commitment” finger). Notice enhanced sensations of ease, increased breathing capacity, chest openness, shoulder relaxation, and any increase in general wellbeing.
With your hands near your ears slightly outside your peripheral vision, move your arms up and down. Then bring your hands into peripheral vision and move your arms again. Notice any improvements in breathing and range of motion.
Gail Condrick, Nia Trainer says:
I remember returning from my Nia White Belt training in 1998 and sensing the muscle definition of my own “wings.” I was flying emotionally, more empowered than I had ever been as a result of hours of dance, movement, and my first experience of body-centered education. Upon returning to the list of “to-do’s” and problem solving of an office, I noticed an immediate tightening in my shoulders and experienced what I now call “elevator ears." Stress drew my shoulders tightly upwards, rising to my earlobes like an elevator from the first floor to the penthouse, and I heard my new awareness and the voice of my body demand a change. I knew I needed to move with mobility and freedom to be comfortable and creative in my body and my life.
As an experienced instructor and Nia trainer, I now know that my body and the wings of my shoulder girdle had been opened through the movements we performed during the White Belt week, movements which included palm directions and creative arm and hand expressions. Under stress, tension tightens the supporting muscles and restricts my wings, physically and emotionally. I am now aware that that my body seeks comfort organically, following The Body’s Way. My Body’s Way knows the sensation of “elevator ears” and can choose to stay constricted or to let go. If it happens today, I trust my ability to sense and self-heal, relax, breathe deliberately and slowly, roll my shoulders, and release. When this release happens, I sense heavy wings slipping down my back and my chest opens. My jaw also relaxes and drops slightly and my breathing slows. With no more "elevator ears," my wings expand!
I love the poetic imagery Nia Co-Creator Debbie Rosas gives us when describing the function of the body. She says, “When dancing through life, imagine a halo around your shoulder girdle. Walk and move with a sense of space for your head to float up and out of and let your arms hang and move freely from this halo.” My body has a halo! How perfect! I can dance my halo, alter my head position, and spread my wings, extending through my finger "feathers" in every movement of my life as I open doors, reach for that special china on the top shelf, hug a friend, and teach my Nia classes.
According to Nia's Embody & Share Manual, Principle 9 (available to all belt graduates), “The bones of your shoulder girdle—the clavicles, sternum and scapula—are designed to support movement of your arms. The healthier your shoulder girdle, the more freedom your arms have to explore their full range of movement and expression. Unlike your thighbone and hip joint, which are designed for stability, your upper arm bone floats freely in your shoulder joint, allowing for a large range of mobility. Your shoulder girdle is designed to be flexible, so it can support fluidity and relaxation in your upper body and spine. If your shoulder girdle is locked, your neck, head, and shoulders become rigid, which places stress on your whole body.”
During my many years of Nia training, I have learned that I have four bodies: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The metaphor of cultivating an awareness of my shoulder girdle through "sensing wings" in these realms has conditioned my body and enriched my life. In my physical body, I sense lightness and mobility when my shoulder girdle is healthy. I can swing my arms and express a range of movements in my life and in my Nia classes. In my mental body, my imagination is free to explore, soar, and express my own way. My emotional body is made visible through the freedom in my arms, hands, and fingers, choosing the power of strength in punches one moment and the expansion of my heart reaching towards the heavens in the next. As a spiritual being, I sense the connection of heaven to earth through my wings soaring upward or dropping down behind me, naturally opening my chest and heart to life as a symbol of continually opening and expanding to reach my highest potential.
As somatic practitioners, we all have an opportunity to move the lessons of Nia into the world, creating healing and awareness in our classes, lives, and communities. We are an organizational body rising and soaring together with the common goal of sensing wings.
- Visualize your wings. Create a visual of your wings folded back and down, touching the earth. Sense the weight and notice the expansion in your chest and the shift in your head position.
- Walk your wings in the world. Move with your wings folded back. Sense your stride, your head position, and the halo inside you as you walk. Drop your hara (the energy center located two inches below the navel and two inches inward), moving through levels in your walk. Notice any sensations in your shoulder placement.
- Dance your wings. Spread your arms and sense the tips of your fingers in space, touching the air. Put on music that allows your body and spirit to soar, and express and dance your wings!
- Take off! Animate your wings with the movement forms of Duncan Dance and Modern Dance. Sense the shifts in sensation, mobility, and stability.
- Soar! FreeDance and spread your wings, allowing your dance to be stimulated by the sensation of freedom in your shoulder girdle.
- Honor your shoulder girdle. Dialogue and journal with your body, noticing changes and shifts in your physical, mental, emotional, and spirit body as you dance through life.