Nia is designed to be danced in bare feet. Understanding the form, function and facts about the feet can help us train, condition and heal the body from the ground up. So kick off your shoes and take a step into the Joy of the feet:
- The 52 bones in your feet make up about one quarter of all the bones in your body.
- There are 7000 nerve endings in each foot, so the feet are giving the whole body information all the time.
- The average person takes 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day. Those cover several miles, and they all add up to about 115,000 miles in a lifetime — more than four times the circumference of the globe.
- There are times when you’re walking that the pressure on your feet exceeds your body weight, and when you’re running, it can be three or four times your weight.
- Your feet mirror your general health. Such conditions as arthritis, diabetes, nerve and circulatory disorders can show their initial symptoms in the feet — so foot ailments can be your first sign of more serious medical problems.
- There are approximately 250,000 sweat glands in a pair of feet, and they excrete as much as half a pint of moisture each day.
The practice of Nia encourages us to look at the form of the body to understand its function. While we want to know the anatomical names of body parts, our focus is on sensing and understanding shape, form, and therefore, function (rather than on memorization). A great place to begin an exploration of the body’s structure is the feet: intricate and beautiful structures of bones, connective tissue and muscle.
If we look at the bones in the feet, without knowing anything more than their shapes and sizes, we can understand a great deal about their function. With that understanding, we can make choices about the way we use our feet in Nia class and in life!
In the diagram below, check out various bones:
- The large bones in the heel (talus, calcaneous) – Large, heavy bones are designed to bear and receive weight, so the bones in the heel tell us just by their design that they are the ones meant to strike the ground while walking. As you step onto your heel, feel the connection to the ground and the reverberation of energy moving from the step up into your body. Experiment with stepping onto your toes and see what that feels like (I usually feel tentative, unsure, or like I’m sneaking up on something). One of the many benefits of mindfully stepping onto the heel is that by doing so, the bones in the ankle and knee automatically align! This is such an important part of Nia, that the very first move of the 52 Moves of Nia is Heel Lead. (And it is so good for the body, sometimes I call it the Heal Lead!)
- The irregular bones in the mid-foot (cuboid, navicular, and three cuneiforms) – Irregularly shaped bones indicate that they are designed to move in a variety of ways. Imagine your feet walking in soft sand or grass. These are the bones that make tiny adjustments to keep you balanced while walking, standing and balancing.
- The long bones in the mid-foot (metatarsals) – Long bones are designed to send energy out along them. Unlike the chunky bones in the heel, these bones are meant to extend every time you take a step. As you walk, imagine these bones lengthening out in front of you.
- The small bones in the toes (phalanx bones or plural phalanges) – Look at shape of the little bones in the tips of the toes. What do they look like? They are neither chunky, heavy, irregular, nor long. These small bones most resemble a pacifier or nipple! These little bones are designed to disperse the energy of each step ~ like milk oozing from a nipple! May sound funky, and yet imagine it as you step and notice the sensation of ease!
Whenever you step into a Nia class, or into your day, notice how you place your feet ~ the hands that touch the earth ~ onto the floor. Allow your foot to roll from heel, to ball, through the toes. Feel the grounded, lenthened, senstive sensation in every step!
For more information, investigation and inquiry:
An article written in 2010 by Nia co-founder, Debbie Rosas:
with more information about the history of Nia and barefeet.
Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery by Eric Franklin:
An informative and playful guide to sensing alignment and movement through visualization.
BodyStories: A Guide to Experiential Anatomy by Andrea Olsen:
A beautiful, artistic look at the body.
Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Calais-Germain:
One of the best ways to investigate the structures of the body.
The Anatomy Coloring Book by Wynn Kapit & Lawrence M. Elson (there are lots of good ones, though):