Nia & The Body’s Way Principles (adapted from The Nia Technique: The High-Powered Energizing Workout That Gives You a New Body and a New Life by Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas, © 2005)
Nia is based on The Body’s Way, which means Nia uses the body according to its design and function. Nia was developed, not by following books or classes, but by following the design and structure of the body itself: a profound guide, indeed. The relationship between the body’s structure and its function is the focus of anatomical learning in Nia because “function follows form.” The proper way for the body to be used follows the way it is built.
Nia demonstrates that the most effective and powerful ways of moving are based on the body’s own anatomy. For example, when analyzing the action of a leg-kick from a one-legged stance, it is best to place your weight on the inside of your standing leg, instead of the outside because the shinbone that’s on the inside of the leg (the tibia) is thicker than the one that’s on the outside (the fibula) and therefore, provides better support.
From hundreds of little lessons like this, Nia became The Body’ Way. The Body’s Way is a method of using the body in accord with its specific design and structure. It involves looking at the body as it really is, instead of viewing it in an idealized, conceptualized way. Nia’s Way is always in alignment with The Body’s Way.
When you begin to understand The Body’s Way, you start to forge a new relationship with your own body. You’ll learn – based upon the design of your body’s bones, joints, muscles, and connective tissues – how to get optimum power, propulsion, fitness, and flexibility from your body without pain. Your movement choices will change. They will no longer be based upon habit, but upon science and your experience.
The Body’s Way is guided by five fundamental principles:
1. The Body Thrives on Dynamic Ease
Dynamic ease is the ability to perform a movement with maximum efficiency and minimal effort. When you achieve dynamic ease, you’ll know it, because it creates a distinct physical sensation, a feeling of effortless power, elegance and grace. To get a feel for dynamic ease, think back to when you learned a challenging physical task – it could be when you learned to ride a bike or ski or even type. At first, you felt weak, clumsy, intimidated and frustrated. But you persevered until one day, suddenly: Bingo! Dynamic Ease!
Dynamic ease uses only the needed amount of tension to do the work. While it refers to the whole body, muscle efforting is what is most often felt and perceived (however, one can also pay attention to ease of breath, joint comfort, and balance as signals that dynamic ease is present). A muscle is a group of tissues which have a common property; they all can shorten and lengthen without external forces. It is this action we strive to balance and use with dynamic ease. While the efforting or work is a part of physical action, so is relaxation. If, for example, the muscles that flex the elbow do not relax, then the elbow can't straighten. Connect to the sensation of relaxation, the ease part, to balance the doing, the efforting, or dynamic part. Connecting the body to relaxation as well as dynamic movement helps muscles develop that can work and also relax.
When you reach a state of dynamic ease, you not only achieve power and grace, but also a sense of neuromuscular creativity. Dynamic ease allows you to do variations of movement without even thinking. Creativity is a natural aspect of movement, but creativity is thwarted when you have to struggle with a movement. People who just work, work, work at movement never experience the joy of creativity that springs naturally from dynamic ease. When you’re fixated only on work, you become entrenched in the survival mode and creativity vanishes.
2. The Body Demands Balance
How do we know that the Body demands balance? Because the body tells us so: the body itself is in almost perfect balance and symmetry. The body balances left and right: two arms, two legs, two eyes, two ears, two lungs, two ovaries, two testicles, two brain hemispheres, two kidneys, etc. There is also balance among the major organs (e.g., the heart is on one side and the liver on the other), and between the upper body and lower body. Therefore, when you do movements, you should aspire to achieve balance in your movements from left to right and top to bottom. This will help to promote balance in your musculature, in your skeletal system, and even in your brain and peripheral nervous system.
Furthermore, to better achieve balance, many of your movements should be circular. Circular movements are not at all common in most other exercise programs, which are generally based on linear movements. However, any time your motion takes a curved path, it better engages your whole body, including both hemispheres of your brain. It also activates the full range of your muscles tissues, including both the small and the large fibers. In contrast, linear movements tend to work with a more limited range of muscle fibers and generally involve more compartmentalized neurological pathways. Balance is better.
3. The Body is Balanced in Yin and Yang
The body is balanced in yin and yang and therefore, you must respect this balance, and reflect it in the movement choices you make. We can tell that the body is comprised of both yin and yang energies simply by observing the body itself. Yin – soft, “female,” inward-directed energy – is constantly being manifested by the body’s smooth, melodic movements. Yang – hard, “male,” outward-directed energy – is reflected by more explosive, rhythmic movements. Inhaling is yin, while exhaling is yang. Intense activity is yang, while rest is yin. Warming up is yang while cooling down is yin. All of these aspects of living and moving are indispensable and equally important. For example, how could you possibly inhale without exhaling?
Yoga is, in its pure form, a beautiful healing system that balances yin and yang energies within the body. However, many Americans who practice yoga become overly yang in their movements, due to a highly physical, “do-more” atmosphere. Some people who begin to practice Nia after training in Americanized yoga, need to be reminded to balance their yin and yang. These people have trained their bodies to function in only one style, focusing on specific asanas. When our bodies become entrained to only one system, whether it is a series of yoga poses or running 10 miles, we are weak and we lose the ability to adapt to the variety of rhythms and movements in real life. That’s why Nia is such a wonderful “cross-training” complement to yoga and other physical practices.
4. The Body’s Way Demands Simultaneous Mobility & Stability
Having just mobility or stability isn’t enough. We know the body insists upon mobility because of the abundant presence in the body of flexible joints. There are thirteen primary joint systems in the body (the wrists, elbows, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles and spine), and each was designed to provide various forms and degrees of mobility, when empowered by adjoining muscles and connective tissues.
However, the same muscles, connective tissues, and joint designs also provide stability. Without stability, muscles and joints would be useless. When we have the proper balance of stability and mobility, we have the power to move energy vertically, horizontally, and in circles, providing three-dimensional movement capabilities for living in our three-dimensional world. Many exercise programs present mostly two-dimensional movements.
Some people have too much mobility, not enough stability. For example, a baseball pitcher’s shoulder joint may be excessively stretched and stressed over long periods of time. This type of hyper-mobility injury is quite common among the general public these days, because – like baseball pitchers – many people make the same repetitive motions in their jobs every day and erode the stability of their joints, muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Others have too much stability, at the expense of mobility and flexibility. This condition is extremely common among the vast number of people who sit in office chairs for many hours each day. Their joints, muscles, and connective tissues become rigid and inelastic.
Excessive mobility and excessive stability can both lead to osteoarthritis, chronic pain, injuries and fatigue. They are both enemies of fitness – and enemies of feeling good.
5. The Body Itself Reveals The Body’s Way
The Body reveals The Body’s Way in two ways: through the language of design and through the language of feedback. The language of design is simple: “This is how I’m built, so use me accordingly.” For example, the design of the shoulder girdle shows that it is not meant to bear heavy weights, because it is a flexible, circular, free-moving joint.
The language of feedback is equally easy to comprehend. Through neurological connections, every part of the body constantly provides you with either positive feedback or negative feedback. In their most fundamental forms, positive feedback is pleasure and negative feedback is pain. Negative feedback is not necessarily a bad thing; it’s simple a signal to stop. When you feel pain, or any significant discomfort, alter your movement’s intensity level or range, or change to another movement. Forget “no pain no gain.” That’s an anachronism and it works against The Body’s Way.
There is, however, a state of healthy physical stress that precedes pain. This state, which we call “positive tension,” supports healing and builds balanced strength. In a state of positive tension, you will feel a vibration in your muscles, you will be breathing deeply, and you’ll probably be sweating. You may become exhilarated, because you will feel physically challenged without feeling as if you’re damaging any part of your body.
Positive tension is much different from the feeling you get when your body is saying “This hurts—I want to stop.” In Nia we say, “Don’t go for the burn. Go for positive tension.” When people enter into a prolonged state of dynamic ease, they sometimes express this condition as “being in the Zone.” Professional athletes commonly reach this Zone, due to their mastery over their movements. In contrast, we also teach Nia to many people with aggressive, Type-A personalities, and these people are generally too yang in their movement choices. Some people who practice certain yang styles of yoga can become aggressive and “hard” in their movement approaches, while others who practice purely restorative or yin yoga may be passive and “soft” in their movements. Nia helps people who are overly yin as well as those who are overly yang. Both can achieve balance with Nia. Its diverse menu of movement options encourages a natural harmonizing of yin and yang.