The Art of Attention

How did you start your morning today? Did you roll over, grab your phone, and check your messages like I did? Shouldn’t we be checking our bodies’ messages first?

Whether or not we choose to listen, our mental, physical, emotional and
spiritual bodies are in constant communication. Over-scheduled as we are, our workouts can often feel like our only chance to hear the conversation!
But what if we could incorporate more moments of mind/body consciousness throughout the day? These micro-meditations might just have the power the change us, inside and out, through the life-giving power of attention. When we don’t pay attention to the different aspects of our awareness, it is easy to get caught up in the familiar web of rhythms, movement patterns and coping mechanisms that do not serve us. Every time you notice your internal experience spiraling toward negativity, stop the tape and record a new message that aligns more closely with who you are becoming.

So how exactly do we flip the script? The average human being thinks 20,000 thoughts a day. That’s 20,000 opportunities to retrain the brain for change. The first step is to establish a baseline for where you are now. That could take the form of a to-do list for the mental realm, a feelings inventory for the emotional realm, or a detailed body scan for the physical. As your options become clearer, notice how your will to choose becomes stronger. If you like the results of your choice, whether it is a positive thought or pleasant sensation, express what has changed out loud, and with gratitude! Your nervous system will use your verbal feedback to reinforce the new neural pathways you are forming. This is the cutting edge theory of neuroplasticity, the process of changing the architecture of the brain to support you in consciously creating the life you desire!

– Jamie Skinner

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Creating Space for the Spark of Life

After injuring my back in 2006, I stopped going to the gym because working out on machines hurt too much. Soon after, I gave birth to two beautiful babies two years apart, and fitness just wasn’t my focus. My exercise was limited to walks with a double stroller, and breastfeeding was my cardio. Then there came a day in August, three years ago. It was my daughter’s birthday party. I remember laying exhausted, at the end of it, in a bounce house, wearing a beautiful, flattering dress that had received compliments all day. If you had asked, I would not have said I wanted or needed to lose 100 pounds. I didn’t feel bad about myself. I had just thrown an amazing party despite a record heat wave, and I felt accomplished and happy…in pain, exhausted–dehydrated even–and yet satisfied as the party wound down. I felt so good that I could imagine, feeling even better – way better than I had felt in a long time, better than I had ever felt before. I watched my children dancing and bouncing and I could sense their joy. I tried, but I just could not move like they did, at least not for longer than 30 seconds, and that just wasn’t enough for me. I wanted to feel lighter and stronger. I wanted to move with ease and grace like a ballerina. I wanted to move wildly like my three-year-old did, with my whole body, my whole being, like a prayer. I knew to do that, to feel that, some things would have to change. It was just a glimmer in my eye, but it got me to the gym, and when I found that machines still hurt me, it was the spark that kept me looking for what did work for me: Nia, Pilates, and belly dance. I didn’t know where I was going yet, but I knew I was on my way.

– Jamie Skinner

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Balance is Bliss

The spring equinox is one of two days of the calendar year in which dark and light, day and night, are exactly the same length and perfectly balanced. In ancient times, and still in cultures throughout the world, the spring equinox is celebrated as the start of the new year, as the natural world “wakes up” from its winter slumber. Tender green shoots and deceptively delicate flowers emerge improbably through snow and ice, signifying a time of new potential. Opportunities for new growth, beauty, and abundance abound.

Our bodies want to follow this natural time, and so when turning from a period of deep rest and resourcing to brisk and decisive action, how do we find balance between the two extremes, between motion and rest, work and play, darkness and light?

Moving in nature is my way of finding harmony. On the days I feel rushed off my feet, I go to the beach. I stand balanced on the rocks among the shore. Surrounded by the constant crashing waves, I feel a part of something larger than myself. Reassured by their rhythm, echoed in my heart and in my breath, I remember to follow my body’s wisdom. When I feel stuck, I walk in the woods. I listen to the birds’ singing. I watch them build their nests. Alert and awake in the moment, I am at ease, trusting that the path, not the destination, is my true purpose, and everything will unfold beautifully, as long as I continue building the life I desire with joy and grace.

– Jamie Skinner

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Moving From the Heart

The electromagnetic field generated by the heart is is five thousand times stronger than that of the brain, and more than half of the cells that make up the heart are neural in structure, just like those of the brain. Research shows that it is the heart, not the brain, that is first impacted by events and new information, and that the heart takes the lead in relaying information to the brain and the rest of the body. So if we think of the heart as a gatekeeper, what do you we want more of? What should our gatekeepers let in? If the heart is doing our filtering for us, make sure the heart knows what love sounds like. If we want love to be our story, teach your heart to filter out what does not serve whenever possible. Let us keep attuning to the frequency of love, not fear.

 -Jamie Skinner

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Just Breathe

Death_to_stock_photography_bonus_floral_6A human being takes an average of 23,000 breaths each day. We do it without a thought, every day, simultaneously accomplishing all the other tasks of modern life. To live is to breathe, but can breathing better help us live better?

Breathing better has been shown to improve circulation, immune function, digestion and cardiovascular health. Conscious breathing also enhances energy and calms the mind. When we deliberately breathe quick, shallow breaths, it is difficult to avoid a feeling of anxiety, no matter how relaxed we felt before. When our mind is anxious our breath quickly becomes shallow. The energy follows the breath, and the breath follows the energy, as the saying goes. So when we partner consciously with our breath, we tend to approach life with a calm, joyful grace that allows us to live more fully in the present moment.

The moment our adorable infant selves speak our first words, we have begun the practice of conscious breathing. The modern human is uniquely blessed with advanced linguistic ability, thanks to the evolvement of an expansive chest cavity that allows the diaphragm, a plunger-shaped, powerhouse of a muscle, to move unencumbered through the intricate intercostal muscles that, along with the ribs, form the chest wall. Our anatomy and cognitive ability give us the potential to express ourselves – not just with words – but with songs, and yawns, and sneezes, and, my personal favorite, laughter.

Poor posture, whether caused by stress, prolonged sitting, inactivity, injury, or other aspects of living a modern life, can create structural obstacles to the free-flowing expression of our breath. As we stengthen and remove obstacles through our movement, we create new pathways to the breath, following it with ease toward our most vibrant self.

-Jamie Skinner

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Complete the Cycle: Coming Full Circle

Yesterday temperatures dropped and I noticed that my tires needed air. Not a big deal, right? Except that, in my previous 20 years of driving, there had always been a father, boyfriend, or husband eagerly volunteering to do it for me. So it’s no surprise that I had no idea how to start! Luckily, thanks to YouTube and a bemused gas station attendant, I soon solved the mystery of the gauge and was on my way, my tires, and my ego, ever so slightly inflated.

Similarly, there are whole muscle groups lying dormant in our bodies, not because they are lazy, unhealthy, or unimportant, but simply because another muscle group took over the job they were designed to do, so they never learned how.

One of these under-utilized groups is the oddly-named serratus anterior, a muscle group that wraps around the sides of the ribcage and attaches to the the inner edges of the shoulder blades.

When flexed, the muscles of the serratus anterior appear to lengthen the arms by wrapping the shoulder blades forward toward the chest, creating a three-dimensional movement reminiscent of the flapping of wings.

The mobility pattern of a well-functioning serratus anterior allows dancers
to move their arms above shoulder height while maintaining a long neck, open chest, and elegant lifted posture. This same protracting and retracting action is what makes or breaks a boxer’s left hook.

In my case, because of long-held postural imbalances, the upper trapezius muscles in the back of my neck were working overtime, doing their job and that of the serratus. No wonder I suffered from forward head carriage and neck pain! An underactive serratus anterior can also lead to stagnation of the throat chakra, rotator cuff injuries, and numbness down the arm.

Searching for the subtle feeling of flexion in the serratus requires persistence and mental focus. I found it with the guidance of my trainer, Nikki, during a private session this month. Although I have only recently begun to strengthen this “sleeping beauty” of a muscle group, I notice that I am already moving more gracefully and breathing deeper, thanks to my newfound shoulder stability. The serratus anterior serves as a reminder to be patient with the parts of ourselves that may be slower to respond than others. Like me, you may find the strength and support you seek, hidden just below the surface

– Jamie Skinner

 

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Align with Abundance

On the other side of the rainbow, something golden is waiting for you. What is keeping you from receiving and appreciating what is good in yourself, your body, your loved ones, your world? Are you waiting for an engraved invitation? Do you work and work and work on different projects, never quite allowing yourself to finish any of them? Or do you finish but refuse to let the rewards come to you, effectively hiding your light under a barrel because it never quite measures up to the ideal in your head? What would it feel like to be present with your goals and dreams for the future while giving yourself permission to live every moment to the fullest, right now?

If you are anything like me, holding the tension between what could be and what is can feel like walking a tightrope. Several times in my life, I tried to lose weight and gave up, because starting the process of change meant getting up close and personal with the imperfection of the present moment. It meant earnestly calling forth my “dream” body, while lovingly accepting my real body at it’s current size and shape. It meant putting on stretchy pants and dancing in that body, in front of the mirror, in front of the world. In exercise clothes, there is no room for residual self image. I became strong the moment I chose to love myself at my weakest. Everything else was progress.

Transformation is what blossomed from that alchemy of self-love, gentle discipline, and fruitful reimagining. So keep one eye on the sky and one on the ground, lovely dreamers, lest you trip over the pot of gold when you do, in fact, reach the end of your rainbow!
– Jamie Skinner

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Revel in the Rise: The Magic of Ease

I moved to California nine years ago, around the time a severe, record-breaking drought began. Recently I went hiking with friends in one of our favorite parks. This was a hike I’ve been on many times over the years, but this time the landscape was unrecognizable! After weeks of rain, the dull brown hillside was now as lush and green as the Emerald Isle, and the dry riverbed I remembered had been transformed into watery rapids you could practically ride a raft on.

Now, of course, theoretically I knew that the purpose of a riverbed is to channel water, but still I was shocked to find it serving its intended purpose after all this time. How could such a a radical change have happened overnight? The much-needed water rushing toward me was what everyone I knew, including myself, had wished for, but the water obscured the reliably bone-dry boulders I knew so well. Disoriented but curious, we decided to take a steep path in a different direction. We slipped and fell a few times along the way. We got muddy, laughed it off, and eventually discovered our new favorite picnic spot, one with a view for miles around.

Deep down, aren’t we all creatures of comfort? Has “good enough for now” ever become your permanant address? Eventually, suboptimal movement patterns have to be let go of for new ones to emerge, and these transitional moments are when we need strong internal and external support systems to keep us steady. After a lifetime of walking with my feet turned out, doing a lunging motion the “right” way, with my hips and knees aligned, felt all wrong. My nervous system was saying no to the movement, but after working with my trainer Nikki for over a year, I trusted her enough to go out on a limb. When I found center, it took guts and breath to stay there, feeling as if I could fall over at any moment. Just when I was about to give up, my leg started to shake, as my muscles and fascia released years of patterning in just a few seconds. I left the studio feeling supported, softer and stronger, ever grateful and amazed by what this body I love can do.

– Jamie Skinner

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