Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Nia Haiku...

When trying to decide on a focus for a class for folks that were mostly new to Nia, the following haiku sprang forth, and so we danced it.

Choose joy energy.
Tune with your body 
and dance what you sense.

Friday, October 16, 2009

What Nia Has Given Me

Just having taken a Nia survey, her gifts are fresh in my mind.  Thought I would share.

Physical Benefits
Since I discovered Nia, I have stronger muscles (especially core muscles), greater flexibility, greater balance, and the ability to move more confidently, easily and gracefully.

Mental Benefits
Nia is a treat I look forward to.  It provides me an outlet for peace, an opportunity to let go and play, and a universe to explore. It quiets my mind.

Emotional Benefits
Nia is a tempering, calming force and an ever present source of confidence and overall well being for me.  It allows me to play with moods and visualizations, and brings overall balance to my life.  It tones my love muscles.

Spiritual Benefits
Nia has deepened my sense of connection.  With my body, with those around me, with everything.

There is something magical about the combination of the movement, music, and attitude of Nia that just clicked for me.  

How has it clicked for you?  

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Listening to Your Body's Whispers

Usually it's not till I'm injured and in pain that I listen to my body, but my body is talking to me all the time. It tells me to stretch and shift when I've been sitting too long. It tells me that there's strain on my knees when I bend like that. It tells me that it's perfectly satiated two hours after dinner. I know I can easily tune in and listen, but sometimes I don't. Then my body has to scream louder. It's not nice to make your body scream, and it's no fun to listen to.

There are always little warnings. They start as whispers. Sometimes I hear them when I'm dancing, and I don't listen. It's usually midway through the dance when I'm in the zone. I'm warm and loose and into the music, and I might get little tinge of pain if I turn my knee before my foot. I get so connected with the emotions and energy of the music and movement that I ignore my body's whispers. I'm dancing in my mind, which is an exhilarating place to be. But noticing my body as I dance is gratifying too. And what happens if I listen to my body for the way to move? What if I tune in to what my body is telling me? There are messages all the time.

When you decide to listen, you notice what feels good to your body. It might to step lightly, or maybe it wants to open through your shoulders. You might be surprised to find that following your body's way makes you feel lighter, more graceful and expansive. Guided by what movement your body wants, your dance through life becomes easy and grounded in the present moment.

As you are just beginning this skill of listening, you may have to start the conversations. At those moments when you remember to notice your body, give it little gifts of attention. Here are some examples:
  • When taking steps forward, enjoy the soft touch of your feet on the floor and the gentle roll of the heel to toes.
  • As you stand, engage the muscles in your inner thighs, pushing energy down into the earth to take weight off your knees.
  • Expand your chest where you sit by subtly rolling your shoulders back and down and gently engaging the muscles across your chest, radiating energy from your heart.
Your body is what allows you to do everything that you do, and it is your only mode of transportation through this journey. At the same time, it is also your closest traveling companion. Be good to it. Let it have some say in how you get around. Let it also be a space that you stop and explore from time to time, listening for guidance about where (and how) to go next. Listen to your body's whispers, and you will have a much more joyful journey together.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Right to Bare Feet

Dancing in bare feet is...luxurious, grounding, freeing, comfortable...just, well, right. At least it is for me. Of course, I'm a barefootist by nature. I can't wait until spring each year, when I can finally feel the earth under my feet. I only wear socks in my house if it's freezing, and even if it is, I must sleep in bare feet.

In Nia, the feet are called "the hands that touch the earth." That phrase reminds me to respect and give gratitude for my beautiful feet. Most of us don't know our feet like we do our hands. Sure, maybe we've gone for a pedicure together a few times, but those were special occasions. We are much more likely to spend quality time with our hands, maybe cooking a meal together, or cleaning out a closet. There's more of a day to day familiarity with our hands. We take our feet for granted. Maybe because we can stuff them into shoes and forget about them, maybe because they don't help to get us things.

But, just like our hands, our feet help us sense textures and shapes, and they help us express. Feet are just more foundational, rolling dutifully from heel to toe, following the body's lead, or purposefully grounding down to create a solid base as we seek stability. Sensing our feet as we dance purposefully into a heel lead, step lightly onto a whole foot, or lift up into a releve brings our attention to the roots of our body's movement. Our feet are working all the while as we move ourselves though time and space.

Thank your feet today by spending a little quality time with them. Soak them in a hot bath, give them a pumice scrub, or a yummy-smelling lotion rub. Let them walk and dance, uninhibited by the oppressive shoe! Bare your feet proudly, and feel their power on this earth.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Indulging in Pleasure and Ease

I just returned from a total and complete vacation to the Pacific Northwest. I stayed up late, slept in, ate amazing food, drank wine, hiked, laughed and loved my friends and family. There's something about a vacation away that brings you back to yourself. Letting go and allowing myself to fully enjoy and embrace this precious little window of time reminded me that it's okay to indulge once in a while. It's okay to take pause and notice what feels good, tastes good, smells good. It's okay not to know what you're going to do tomorrow and to search out little adventures, to be curious and to try new things. It's okay to let go and let someone else drive the bus (which, due to a snafu in the mini-van rental became quite literally true, as we trekked around the greater Seattle area in a 15 passenger cargo van.)

Anyway, all this relaxing left little time to dance. So this week, as I transition back into the dance of everyday life, I'm bringing my vacation with me and playing with the focus of moving with pleasure and ease. This is a little bit of a change for me. I tend to constantly push forward. In my dance, this means that I'm usually trying to go stronger, deeper, faster, longer. Even though moving with that kind of dynamic intention can be exhilarating, there's also an inherent strain. My body usually tells me so the next day.

This week, I'm taking the lessons of my vacation into my body and letting go and enjoying ease. My goals are floating, stepping lightly, seeking pleasure in the warm honey of my joints, seeking gentle expansion in my muscles as they warm and stretch. It will be more yin and less yang. After last night's class with this focus, my body felt so good, my movement, so easy. This week, I remind myself that I can extend my vacation. Indulging in a dance of pleasure and ease is a way to treat your body to a relaxing get away. Having experienced the rewards this week, I encourage you not to forget to give that gift to yourself once in a while too.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Nia Al Fresco

I had the privilege of teaching Nia at the Joy Tree Yoga retreat this weekend at the spectacular Inn at the Rustic Gate in Big Rapids, Michigan.  It was a first for me, as I got to teach "al fresco" in the pavilion.  We laid yoga mats down to cushion our feet and danced AO while gazing out at the sunset over Toogood lake and "the Great Green Meadow."  The summer evening was cooling down, green herons glided over the lake, and the breeze danced with us.  It was a magical experience.

Only three of the women in the group had ever done Nia and I got lots of expressions of gratitude and joy afterward.  Many commented how fun and energizing it was.  At breakfast the next morning, one of the participants told me, "I think that's the first time that I have ever really just let myself go.  Just really let myself go.  No judgements about myself or anything.  It was very freeing."  

Yes!  Even better, the theme of the retreat was "Finding Freedom, Inside and Out."

The next morning I got to join the group for a fantastic yoga class taught by Kelly Garner.  She is the owner of Joy Tree Yoga and organized the retreat.  It was a fabulous couple of days.  I got to catch up with my favorite aunts (who happen to be the owners of the Inn, Pat, Marcia and Sharon), I got to eat wonderful food (thank you chef Sharon for all the take home leftovers...I had three pieces of spinach pie today!)  And I got to meet an amazing group of women.  Truly cool ladies of every age and background.  It was an honor to be able to be a part of their retreat, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have shared Nia with them.  Lucky lucky me.    

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Dancing with Myself"

For days that song has been in my head.   Mainly the line, "If I had the chance, I'd ask the world to dance, and I'll be dancing with myself..."  Billy Idol has obviously come back from my adolescence to deliver me a message.

So last night's focus in Nia class was "Dancing with Myself."  As I set our intention, I reminded everyone that at the very heart of Nia is every body's own unique expression.  Even though there is choreography, there is a standing invitation for creativity and variation in order for each person to connect to their own body's sensation and seek their own joy of movement.

As we danced last night we played with the form and the freedom of the routine.  We checked in with our own joints, let our upper bodies fly solo as our steps and stances moved together in unity.  During the FreeDance, Billy Idol made his appearance and we all bopped, spun, shimmied, sweat, and swirled around the room.  As we cooled down, we each "gathered" the heat we created and formed and played with an imaginary "chi" ball, visualizing the light and the warmth it radiated as we floated it though our own fluid dance to bring our bodies, minds, and spirits closer to calm.  

As I carry myself through this week, I am reminded that at it's very core, life is a dance with one's self.  Even though most of us define ourselves by our relationships with "other" roles and people and emotions, these relationships at their essence are shaped by our relationship with our authentic selves.  So connect with that part of you today.  Plug in and be still with it.  Or if you really want to have fun, dance with it!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Path to Nia

I tried my first Nia class about two and a half years ago, and immediately, I knew I was in love. For me, finding Nia was like discovering a magic potion:  amazing music and choreography, the invitation to move in my "own body's way", and the freedom and connection of dancing in bare feet.  Never before had I found myself smiling during a workout.  Nia transformed my idea of exercise from work into joy.  The emphasis on movement in "your body's way" was completely counter to my former belief in "no pain, no gain".

I enjoyed Nia class so much, I began rearranging my schedule to get there.  Not an easy feat with a full time job as a teacher, a 50 minute commute each way, and a 2 year old, but I did what I could to make it happen.  It was a radical shift for me to see exercise as a reward rather than a duty.

Ten years earlier, I had lost about 85 lbs. over a year and a half through diet and exercise.  I had tried every machine at the gym by the time I found Nia, and I had settled into a regular routine of huffing away on the elliptical and distracting myself from the fact that I going nowhere for 45 minutes, or doing a "feel the burn" DVD at home. In Nia class, I am never bored.  No class is the same.  I become a dancer, a yogi, and a warrior, exhilarated, centered and completely present in my body.  

Over time, Nia’s blend of yoga, dance, and martial arts, connected me to  a creativity, power and grace I never knew I had.  After a year of Nia, I was much stronger, more flexible, and I had outstanding balance.  One of the greatest side effects is that I am no longer obsessed with my weight and I see my body in a much more positive light.  I am curvy, fit and strong, and I am proud of my body for all of its new found grace and strength.  

In June 2008, I took the Nia "white belt" training to become a licensed Nia instructor.  I consider myself a lifelong student of Nia, it's principles and movement forms.  They are rich for study, and, in some way or another, every idea in Nia applies to some aspect of life as well.  It has been a good teacher to me.

I now teach Nia classes at the local YMCA and a yoga studio in town.  I love leading people in exercise they enjoy.  I love seeing them come in to class looking serious and stressed and watch them leave sweaty and smiling.  And it still amazes me that someone who used to be obese and spent most of her life at war with her body is now standing up in front of people and proudly saying, "Follow me."