Tuesday, August 11, 2009

From the Inside Out- My Nia Story

Hellllloooo ,
First I wanted to send out an apology for not being more regular with the tidbits. I am feeling a lot these days that when my window of opportunity to write opens, it feels like my well is dry, and that I just need time to stare into space to clear the way. The second a creative inspiration comes in , my attention is needed somewhere else and the thought drifts out to the ethers. I wonder if this is what Attention Deficit feels like and I have a new empathy for that challenge. Thank goodness I have Nia to dance a connection to myself, or maybe I would become one of the many mothers I hear from that become so absorbed in their roles, that they forget to care for their own souls and then spend years later recovering!.
So this is one of the rare moments. I have been asked to write about why I teach Nia and feel so strongly about Nia as a fitness and well being practice. It's been an interesting process for me to consider who I was when I first took a Nia class, how I have changed, and what I love most about Nia now. I am considering how much of me changed naturally, whether I took/teach Nia, and how much was stimulated by Nia's principles and movement.
When I first took a Nia class, I have to say I was primed and ready for what Nia is all about. From the very first aerobic class I took in 1987, I knew that I felt better when I moved. I loved music, and that I had a knack for inspiring others to also move. Over the next 10 years I I had taught aerobics, all kinds, and lifted weights and ran generally 15 miles a week on top of 7 aerobic classes and weight lifting sessions. I was a fitness expert on the local News channel, and also a fitness trainer on a radio show called "Lose your belly with Kelly" where people would call in and ask for advice. I was all about fitness, and also very aware of external image and what they call in psychology as a "high self perceiver". I was also a hairdresser and had spent a lot of time helping people to look their best on the outside and listening to clients talk about their lives. You know this is part of every hairdressers job!
What started out as pleasure and movement began to change after 10 years of teaching. I noticed that what once I did to make me feel better, began to become a drug for me that was fueled with self loathing. I would run to burn calories, I would do aerobics to feel better about myself, I would lift weights so that I could feel "normal". Outside of fitness I found myself eating large amounts of food, only to plan in when I cold burn it off. I was driven by my weight, and always felt I wasn't in the range I wished to be. If only I looked more like I thought I should, then I would be happy! . On the surface, I appeared happy and healthy. Under the surface I was depressed, anxious, neurotic and not happy. I was fueled every day with self hatred, judgement on myself ( that also mirrored out to the world to others), and a feeling of being "stuck" and not in control, I had a lot of fear. I began to notice my unhappiness, and also noticed that for some of my students, movement was also a way of feeling "normal" or more connected to something that gave them peace. I knew from this that movement could be healing, and also that it touched me and my students on many different levels. From this I concurred that I would like to learn more about movement as a healing modality and signed up for 2 more years of college to prepare for a career change in physical therapy.
I was preparing to start college in Rochester NY when I saw an ad for a fitness center called "Feels Great Fitness". The ad had women and men of various ages, sizes and types all laughing a real authentic looking laugh, not the typical Barbie doll advertising with washboard ab models depicting the promise that you too can look like them if you join in ! I was intrigued. I went and took the class called "Nia" that was posted all over the schedule and walked away mystified. Between the music, the moves, and the uniqueness of the class, I for the first time, felt a stirring in me of something bigger. Was this my spirit? I knew then that this is what I was seeking. I wanted to connect with others on this level, I wanted to connect with MYSELF in this way. I have to admit, there were parts of the class that I was resistant too. First of all, the women and men where all a full range of sizes, with all kinds of body types, and the women with the fuller bodies moved confidently and wore clothes that showed off their curves, not hiding it. This was new for me. I also noticed how much I was accustomed to everyone dressing and looking alike and moving alike in the classes I taught. I had to be with my awkwardness, yet I knew it was healthy. These people in the class were open, creative, energized. I noticed how fluid other students moved, and openly expressive. Along with this these Nia students were so flexible and strong, after all the fitness I had done, I couldn't sit down in a squat with my tail down to the floor like many of the students of all ages could. I didn't like moving "freedance" style. I was so trained to move "aerobic like" that I had no idea how to move freely. I had lots of judgement about myself, and also was shamed by noticing how this judgement also went out on to others. I could feel my mind searching for a way to find some "order". Yet, something told me this was very healthy, and that I could grow through practice. I noticed my inherent need to feel a certain amount of pain as I exercised, and that I had become dependent on that to determine if I worked out "hard " enough. I became aware , for the first time, that there were different ways of perceiving the world. My way was not the only choice, and that I could notice my thoughts and change them. This was the beginning for me of a new way of living. I was still afraid, and wondered.....and the only thing that kept me moving forward on this path was trusting that what I felt in my body was really good. As my questions came forth, I kept returning to how my body felt, how calm I was after class.
Within six months I changed gears with my plans as my father became sick with a brain tumor. I quit school, returned home and helped take care of him through his last months. I still feel that the experience of those Nia classes opened a world for me that helped me to stay strong during this time of my life. I began to journal and explore my life. I tried to create a class I called "MBF- Movement , Balance, Flexibility" at a fitness studio I opened in the same building as my hair salon was. It was close, but didn't have the same feel as the Nia remembered at college. Soon after I married , moved to Sarasota, and became a Nia White Belt teacher in 2000. I felt like a fish out of water in the traditional fitness world. I had changed, those things that I used to do where no longer helping me, and I was spreading my wings in new territory. It was scary. It was my passion for knowing how much Nia helped me to connect to my body, my emotions, my spirit, that supported me in those times when I had no students and was paying rental in a space.
Today, you can pick up any magazine and read about mind body fitness. It's a trend. Pilates and Yoga are well known and hold less mystery. Yet, both of these modalities ( that I also teach and do feel their benefits are huge) don't offer much in the way of creativity and expressiveness ( both of which are know for their ability to heal). All of our joints need not only to open and close in their full range, but they need to open in a way that we live our lives, and we live our lives as emotional creatures. Emotions are information that tells us about our experience. Too often we become stuck in feeling only certain emotions, and fear is a prevalent one in this day and age. I Nia teaches us to trust the bodies natural healing mechanisms, to feel emotions, and even to celebrate them along with other parts of the body. This is a gradual process in Nia, it's not expected that you feel comfortable emoting to your hearts content on the first class or the 100th, but it is noticeable that this part of our selves is nurtured in every class. Like the subtleties of fine music, it's felt , this nuance. The effect of releasing long held tensions, is an emotional one. Strengthening to the point of being able to recognize an emotion and then to call on a different one to feel, is the agility of the heart center, another benefit I have developed from 9 years and now a black belt level Nia teacher.
Beyond all of this, Nia is a great cardiovascular sweat that you can receive without your feet leaving the floor, it's grounded. This kind of sweat and this deep breathing is necessary for the body and the brain to remain healthy. The joints are supported. The feet are awakened along with all the sensations of living in a body.
So what happens after 9 years of doing NIa? I have become more choosy through the years and that I feel was stimulated through my Nia practice. I no longer will do things that feel unhealthy for me, behaviors like eating foods that feel bad in my body, staying sedentary for more than a day, or doing one type of activity for too long ( like computer or television), or being away from nature for too long . My body has been conditioned to seek pleasure as a way of reaching excellence , and I have become conditioned to listen and respond. I appreciate life, nature, and the moment with reverence. I love and use music and silence as modalities to keep myself balanced, both of which I knew nothing about before Nia. I know that I can teach and practice Nia long into my future and that it has become a way of life for me.
I also feel eager to see the changes in my future, I don't fear them. Something happened in my process of learning to let go, release shame, to open and let my body lead me. The changes that have been supported by my Nia practice have all brought me to more pleasure in my body and mind, and have supported the changes that have happened around me and effected me ( including the death of my father, a divorce, a marriage and the births of 2 sons- both of which I danced right through all 8/9 months of ). I no longer use fitness as a way of avoiding life, but rather , through Nia , I use it as a way of integrating life and my body as one. So this is my positive evidence that Nia works. Thanks for listening! love, Kelly