Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Nia is my exciting new discovery of the morning that I just have to share with everyone.

Nia stands for Neuromuscular Integrative Action and this is the latest exercise THING for me. Yes, I have found IT for the moment. A while back, I wrote about how I am now embracing new exercise fads and more recently about how I want to seek more outlets for creative expression. Well, Nia takes the cake for both of these.

I first experienced Nia a little over a month ago when I went to a breastfeeding and parenting conference. On the second day of the conference, this being Colorado, they had early morning exercise classes for those who must exercise each day. One of those early morning options was Nia. I had heard about Nia, but was a little intimidated to try it since I didn’t know what it was. (In fitness-obsessed Boulder it is easy to get in over your head.) But at this conference, most everybody was new to Nia so it seemed a safe place to give it a go.

I had a great time, so I asked around for good places to do Nia in Boulder, then picked up a schedule from one of them and finally, this morning, over a month later, I had time to give it a try. It was fantastic.

In the lobby they sold interesting clothes and jewelry and I was told the first class was free. I walked back into a dance studio painted a rich, dark red. The mirror-lined walls were draped with strings of lights. Candles sat on a railing. It was exotic and inviting. Not like the sparse gyms or yoga rooms where exercise classes are usually offered.

The instructor welcomed everyone and said that if anyone felt lost at any point and couldn’t grasp the movement, her advice was to not think too hard about it, but to just feel it, to make a kinesthetic connection. I liked that. It seemed easy to be transported away from your mind and into your body in this funky atmosphere. This wasn't about discipline or effort or skill, but about expression. There were no harsh lights or pictures of proper form.

Nia is like yoga, martial arts, and dance, with a good combination of structure and freedom. You could say it is also like aerobics, but it seemed to me that the aerobic exercise part of it was just a nice side effect of the movements: incidental, but not the goal. To me, it was like a really fun dance class where you were first guided a few times in a simple step, and then encouraged to embellish it and elaborate in your own way. It was everything I like about Yoga Booty Ballet but with more freedom.

Some of my favorite parts of the Nia class this morning were the parts that seemed to be based on martial arts. We punched, we kicked, we yelled, and nobody was judging us or watching us. I feel that it was a great kind of self-defense class, a great release, a chance to pretend to be something else. It reminded me of the one time I tried (and liked!) African dance. It was dynamic and expressive and powerful. I felt strong and good.

The music was interesting, funky, and varied: lots of world music and good dance beats. Sometimes the instructor would be didactic and tell us to “do this for four counts,” other times she would direct us to free dance. Mostly she would give more interesting directions like “follow your hands,” “open yourself,” or “melt.” There was no strict “technique” but more suggestions and images that pushed you in new directions. It was like being quickly taught a song, singing it together a few times, and then being encouraged to lose yourself in harmonies.

Basically, though, it was just dancing. So I ask myself, why don’t I just put on a CD and dance? I guess that would simpler. But it would be similar to saying, why don’t I just sing any old song or make up my own tunes? That just wouldn’t be the same. It was great to have the basic structure of the steps to work with and the atmosphere of the room and the other dancers to work off of. It was great to have the instructor telling me to do something specific and then telling me to do whatever I wanted. If I was just told to dance for an hour, I don’t know what I would do. I would get bored or get into a rut, but this was a perfect balance of structure and freedom. It was demanding and creative at the same time. I know with Yoga I can and do practice on my own, but I benefit immensely from a teacher and a more structured class. I do more in class, I have guidance, and I go farther.

Yoga is great and I hope will always be something I practice, but Yoga is more about discipline and correct form and structure. It too is about combining body and mind, but I would not say it is creative in the way that Nia is. I loved that creative part of Nia, it was like the missing link. A Pilates DVD that I have (thanks again Clare!) is presented by a female student of Joseph Pilates as the “true Pilates method.” She has something in there about how music should never be allowed into a “real” Pilates workout, that the movement should be “pure” and there should be no distractions. Oh bother! That was such a boring DVD! I was not motivated by it at all. As far as I could tell, it was full of strict, nearly impossible, “pure” movements, with a rigid, didactic instructor yelling at these perfect women to do better. Not for me. Not at least until I am a physical goddess like the women in that one!

But back to the wonderful Nia. To conclude my rant about how enthralled I am by this new-to-me discovery, and in case you still have no idea what I am talking about, I will close with the description of Nia given by its founders, Debbie and Carlos Rosas. Their description is still vague (you really have to try it to understand), but it rings true to me, and at least then you have it from the horse’s mouth:

Nia is a personal growth, mind-body-spirit fitness program. It is a "living system," that works with the natural wisdom and intelligence of the body, mind, spirit and emotions. Nia supports the Pleasure Principle: If it feels good keep doing it, if it hurts, stop! The blueprint of Nia is practical, experiential, and focuses on internal guidance to change and develop awareness. Process oriented, the format is user-friendly. Nia empowers students and teachers to make their own movement choices by offering students a flexible structure they can personally modify to suit their needs. Nia combines a diverse blend of Eastern and Western movements, concepts and philosophies from the worlds of the healing arts (love), martial arts (mindfulness), and dance (technique). Nia reaches people emotionally, in their hearts, motivating them to get fit and healthy by creating a deep personal desire to explore their potential and love their growth. Fitness, health, well-being, and self-love naturally result from the magnetic Nia experience. What makes Nia so innovative is its unlimited adaptability. Not only can people of all kinds participate, but a wide range of therapeutic, wellness, self-growth and educational models can effectively integrate Nia.

Monday, November 21, 2005


I'm back from my fantastic, refreshing, 48-hour jaunt, and here are a few of the things I learned in Boston:

The T still uses quaint tokens, but now they're $1.25 each.

The buses cost 90¢. An amount that is confusing. But on some buses you pay when you get off, so cheapskates like me can count their change the whole time they are riding.

The landmark for Pine Street in Belmont (of B&K's new abode, THE destination for Saturday night) is a Beech tree.

It is pretty easy to do most of your Christmas shopping at one shop in Harvard Square between the T and the bus.

I really, really like spending time with old friends. It feels so right. (Okay, I already knew that, but it is nice to be reminded anew.)

There is now a Silver Line to Logan airport from South Station. Easy and convienient.

There is a day spa at terminal C, but late on Sunday night, it is not happening.

The grilled chicken salads at the airport Burger King are the same as the ones at Legal Seafood and the deli, but cost half as much.

Thanks, everyone, for such a great time! Let's do it again soon!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Expressive urges

Cathy bravely picked me up from the airport at 5am and I spent the rest of Thursday night and Friday night chez Cathy and Stu who run a delightful bed and breakfast. I enjoyed seeing them and their place and was inspired by their sense of humor and the unique and beautiful collection of objects in their home.

Stu works in a museum and is a fan of folk art or "outsider art" (he himself being the great papier maché artist). It is difficult to separate art from consumerism these days, but something about that drive to create, no matter what, is so compelling to me. Especially now.

Some quotes from a book I found next to my guest bed called John Maizel's Raw Creation: Outsider Art and Beyond I think are worth sharing in a blog (blogs, after all, being their own form of creative self expression done mostly by “outsiders” or “nobodies,” alas!). The book begins with a discussion of what has been called "the art of the insane." As early as 1857, doctors and psychologists were collecting and discussing the art that came out of various mental institutions. First this was done to try to understand more about mental illness, but later it was used also to understand the drive to create.

One of these doctors, Hanz Prinzhorn, published an influential book in 1922 called Bidnerie der Geisteskranken (Artistry of the Mentally Ill) where he detailed his theory of the creative process. He ideas were based on his collection of visual art made by patients in institutions. He was convinced that "visual creativity was to be found not only in the realm of the cultured or the educated, but was an undeniable human trait, present within each of us from childhood onwards." He then came up with six basic human urges or tendencies that in combination could manifest themselves as different forms of artistry: the expressive urge, the playful or active urge, the decorative or ornamental urge, the ordering (rhythm and rule) urge, the copying urge, and the need for symbols." Prinzhorn rejected previous ideas that the art produced by those considered to be mad could somehow have different roots from the 'normal' creative process, arguing that all artistic expression stemmed from the same sources. ...He used the following analogy: As groundwater seeps to the surface and flows toward the stream in many rivulets, many expressive impulses run in many creative paths into the great stream of art. Neither historically nor according to psychological theory does there exist a beginning point. Instead there are many springs which finally transcend all life."

This caught my eye because there are certainly many creative impulses flowing through our house these days. Between the kid's drawings and creations, the house construction, and my own and Greg's thwarted attempts at creating papers or music or things, we are just one big, sometimes dammed up, river of creative energy. I like to think about this theory of six basic impulses and really give these urges the priority they are due, much in the same way that we value sleep and food. I like to think about expressing my urge to be decorative or ordered, or just expressing my expressing urge. It seems so necessary.

Another idea I noticed in the book is how soothing or calming this creative expression can be. There must be something about being in touch with these deep sources and creative urges that is fulfilling. One wood carver, who suffered paranoia and megalomaniacal delusions and had a violent streak, described how he followed some deep intuitions in his work: "When I have a piece of wood in front of me, a hypnosis is in it—if I follow it something comes of it, otherwise there is going to be a fight.” The word “hypnosis” is striking to me. It is the opposite of fighting. It is about following an intuition, an inner form in the wood, not necessarily planning or controlling, but “going with the flow.” That seems so soothing and productive to me. Something to strive for in many parts of life.

Then there is the story of Adolf Wolfli who lived from 1864–1930 and was institutionalized most of his life. When confined, he began drawing and made elaborate books with detailed, compulsive illustrations that told stories about his life. The drawing calmed him.

I was fascinated how his life story changed as he drew. I learned that in the first volumes of his autobiography he describes himself as a “naturalist, poet, writer, draughtsman, composer, farm labourer, dairy-hand, handyman, gardener, plasterer, cement-layer, railway worker, day-labourer, knife grinder, fisherman, boatman, hunter, migrant-worker, grave digger, and soldier of the third Section of the third company of the Emmenthal Battalion. Hooray!" By his last series of volumes, however, he has become "St Adolf II, Master of Algebra, Military Commander-in-Chief and Chief Music-Director, Giant-Theatre-Director, Captain of the Almighty-Giant-Steamship and Doctor of Arts and Sciences, Director of the Algebra and Geography-Textbook-Production Company and Fusilier General. Inventor of 160 original and highly valuable inventions patented for all time by the Russian Tsar and hallelujah the glorious victor of many violent battles against Giants."

Wow, that is quite a transcendence! It seem you can really redefine yourself through creative expression, even if only for a pretend audience.

Finally, to all you bloggers and others with creative urges, met or unmet, I'd like to point out that you do not have to be insane to be creative. Though Wolfli and others were both creative and afflicted with mental illness, that does not mean one is a necessary part of the other.

An alternative theory is that their confinement in institutions allowed them the time and opportunity to express a creativity that was there all along and that this expression calmed them and gave them feelings of purpose and empowerment. Elka Spoerri, curator of Adolf Wolfli's works concludes, "Although Wolfli was not active as an artist before the onset of his illness, he must be viewed as an artist who happened to become afflicted with psychosis. The illness did not awaken any creative capacities that were not already part of his personality. His social origins, however—his life of great poverty and social regimentation as an orphan, hireling and labourer—never permitted him even to think of becoming an artist. His entire life story proved as fateful as his illness and internment."

I am inspired by the ideas in this book. I am inspired to be an "outsider." I'm going to try to notice and to nurture and express creative impulses whether they be to draw, sculpt, organize, compose, write, dance, parent, garden, act, sew, play, build, etc. etc. I like this idea that different people have different combinations of urges and impulses, though we usually don't have the time or the freedom to express them fully. I also like the idea that it doesn’t matter who sees them. The bottom line is that indulging in these impulses feels good, balancing, and fulfilling, so I'm thinking I will try to notice them more and give them a higher priority and a little more expression in myself and in others: Rees' desire to move, Kadin's drawings and stories, Greg's music, your blogs, and so on.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


The construction on the house is not so bad, really. I think what makes all the difference it that I actually like the people who are working on it. The contractor is friendly and very easy to talk to and work with; the carpenters are thoughtful, smart, considerate, tidy, and good at what they do, even if our political views differ. Other people come and go, but these are the steadies. The architect too is good and easy to talk to, so I actually look forward to meeting with these people. Today there was a crowd at the house: the concrete guy Steve, the HVAC guys Tom and Jerry, the drywall guy, etc. I am at the Laundromat doing loads of laundry because it is faster and QUIETER!

The cats love it because they have a dirt floor and the kids love it because there is a big open living room with nothing in it except scaffolding. It’s the perfect setup for boys and pets.

We had dinner at Greg's sister's the other night and Marcy, Greg's cousin who recently moved into a house nearby, was there as well. We were exchanging stories about workmen. Marcy is a very dynamic person who always makes it a point to compliment people and draw out their true nature. She told us how when workmen come, she talks to them about their lives. The result is that at least two have since quit their jobs to find their true path! For example, the security system guy was there and she was making conversation and asking him about his work. At one point she said something like, "It seems that you've made some decisions in life that have really locked you in." An astute observation. He was a security guy, after all. He told her she was right and, when she later called the company, she heard he had quit the next day. She helped free him but needed a new security guy.

My interaction with the workers is not quite so probing. I'm afraid I am not as helpful to them in the long run. I just say, "I am so glad you are here!" Maybe after they are getting close to finishing I can afford to help them find their true calling, but for now I want them here. Remodeling is an expensive hobby, though, so we can’t afford to keep it up for long.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


The kitties are back and endearing themselves to us again. Rex is ever impulsive and ready to jump right in. He has never heard the phrase, "think before you act." Pearl is petite and poised and, as Greg says, "a normal cat." Rex is bigger and clumsier, but really doesn't seem to know that or care.

Stephen, the kitties’ foster father, told us how Pearl would like to jump up on the towel bar when Stephen was taking a shower. She was lithe and good at balancing, and she is tiny. Then Rex would try. He has these amazingly strong paws and arms from trying to clamber up cupboard doors and other improbable surfaces. He will just hang on when he has misjudged a jump. So he would miss the towel bar and hang on with a forelimb or two. It got to the point where the towel bar was coming off the wall, so Stephen had to keep them out of the bathroom.

Rex is the kind of cat who will happily jump into the shower and then be horrified and jump out again. The great part is, he takes it all in stride and doesn't seem to mind being clueless at all. As Greg put it, "you know that pride thing? Rex doesn't seem to have that." And as Stephen put it, "he's missing that feline sense of dignity." And I think that is why we all love him so.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Hip openers

My hips were hurting, and had been for some time. I wasn't sure what it was, but as I was sitting in yoga class, warming up, I overheard another student ask the teacher why he had a hard time opening his hips. The teacher said, "Oh yes, hips are about moving forward in life. You might be having trouble moving forward in your life." Hmmm. Seemed a little presumptuous of her. Couldn't you just have tight hips? Last time, when I hurt my shoulder, it was my inability to open up and accept love. Now it was the hips and how did she know I was at a transition and trying to move forward in life? Well, she didn't, because this conversation had nothing to do with me, but what a coincidence, it was like she read my mind. The one place that felt sore and tight and yes, I do need to move forward in life.

I have been exercising more lately and exploring different yoga DVDs. Some of my favorites include Yoga Booty Ballet (thank you Clare!), which is a very LA sort of cross between yoga and ballet and every other exercise trend of the last decade. In some ways it seems cheesy and superficial, but on the whole it is good, exactly what I need right now. Reasonably interesting, well-rounded workouts with good variety—cardiovascular, weights, abdominals, stretching—and fun music and sets. Then there are the suggestions and adjustments for different ability levels, so I don't feel like a complete failure. Oh yes, and there are helpful affirmations interspersed throughout: "If you don't like what you're doing, change it!" "If you need to rest, rest." "Core strenth build strength of character." "I love myself, I trust myself; I will be myself."

Another yoga DVD features a woman named Rainbeau Mars, also from Hollywood and known as the "yoga teacher to the stars." (Thanks again, Clare!) Her workout is much more traditional yoga, very similar to the classes I take in Boulder. In fact, I wonder if she trained at the same studio. Her mother, Brigitte Mars, lives in Boulder and writes about herbs and nutrition. I met Brigitte at a local store when she sold me some peach-papaya lotion. Anyway, Rainbeau is all about achieving your potential and ultimate beauty. Hip openers definitely being a part of that. Her unique spin is that she sees being self-centered as an important part of your gift to the world. At the end of the workout, during a resting pose where you are lying on the floor like a five-pointed star, she says, "star pose is an opportunity...for deep relaxation...and to have...an active dream...starring...yourself...." Yes, it's all about me, me, me. But maybe in an okay way. She has certainly found her niche.

Finally, on the topic of moving forward in life, I heard a nice quote from BB King when he was interviewed on Fresh Air. He started in Memphis and then when he went to New York for the first time, his agent had some important advice for him. He said, "There will be so many people in New York who are better than you, smarter than you, more talented than you, more attractive than you. And they will be waiting tables. Don't try to be them. You will never be them. Be the one thing they are not: be yourself." It seems BB King took that advice, and I'm glad that he did.

My exciting news of late is that I had a job interview. The first resume I've sent out in nine years. The possibility of a job means a lot to me right now. Rees was up all night the night before the interview throwing up, so that was a bit of a wake-up call: how to go from vomit to interview in less than an hour, but good to know, all the same. Hips have been feeling a lot better too.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005


We did a hasty pumpkin carving on Monday before trick-or-treating. The boys were just so excited and full of energy. Having moved in the day before, the house was just so full of junk and debris. While needing to talk to the contractor, I was able to spend about two seconds helping the boys carve. Of course scraping out the pumpkins was "too hard" for them. But as always, it worked out in the end. Kadin drew an elaborate "grumpy" face and Rees did a minimalist happy face. We are very happy with them. It is so sad when they decay after all that work, but there is beauty in that too. Each year we are forced to make a new ephemeral creation. And each year I am glad that we do.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Duct tape

We've had a lot going on these days. The house has a roof and walls so we've moved back into the construction site. The raccoons have moved out; the Ninjas have moved in. Halloween and daylight savings made it all that much more disorienting. As usual, I was talked into making costumes for the kids. Not that we don't already have a zillion dress-up clothes, but they wanted something new, of course. This year it was Ninja costumes. The ones for sale in the store were okay, but I thought they could just dress in black and we could fashion some shoulder armor for them. Only problem was, my sewing machine was in storage. Undaunted, I bought three different kinds of metallic fabric: silver tablecloth material, sliver fabric, and shiny blue metallic fabric. I started with the tablecloth material that didn’t really need hemming and fashioned the shoulder armor using duct tape. It worked okay, so I planned to continue with the fabric. I thought I could go to a friend's house to borrow a sewing machine, but then thought that by the time I arranged to go over to someone's house, got there, chatted with them, etc., it would end up taking much longer than needed, so I set out hand sewing it. That was fun, but slow. Then I got the brilliant idea that there might be a sewing machine set up and ready to go at Kadin's preschool. Since I was there twice a day anyway, it wouldn’t take so much arranging. I asked the secretary if there was a machine, and she said no but that she could bring me hers by the time I came to pick Kadin up. That worked great. So here are the Ninja costumes, the one on the left is duct taped and the one on the right (reversible, silver or blue) is sewn with Amy’s machine.

Kadin’s preschool has an evening Halloween party every year on the weekend before Halloween. For the past two years, I have opted to go as "my true nature.” Last year I was an ogre. That kind of freaked the kids out. This year, the kids wanted me to be a witch. It wasn't hard, I tell you, came pretty easily. (Last year, Greg went as an Oxford don, this year, just an overwhelmed dad.) So I was happily green and crotchety the day before moving and the Friday before Halloween.

Then on Monday, Rees' class had their party and Halloween parade during the school day. I was stunned to see that Rees' teacher was an angel. Wow, and it truly suited her. She is lovely. At our parent-teacher conference she said, "You know how Rees seems always to be fidgiting or moving about? He needs that. I think that is good for him." God bless her! She does not come across as someone who is especially bright or intense, but she has this amazing ability to just focus on what is important and say the right thing. I have never seen her get flustered, she just takes things in stride. Rees clearly wants to please her. It never would have occurred to me to be an angel for Halloween, but good for her! I'll have to seriously consider that for next year, imagine, emphasizing the positive!