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."