Tag Archives: The Nia Technique

The Unofficial Guide
to the 13 Nia Principles
~ Practical, Nia-or-Not Applications for EveryBody

(Wondering what in thunder the Unofficial Guide is and why I’m writing this series of posts? Click here!)

P8 Chakras guy

Principle 8 – The Core of the Body ~ Chakras

(There is so much juicy goodness in Principle 8 that I’m unofficially breaking it into two parts: the physical aspect with the three body weights which we looked at yesterday and here, the energetic system of the chakras.)

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

Chakras are often described as small, rotating vortices of energy that run vertically along your spine, centered in the core of your body. These energy centers are designed to metabolize physical vibrations, essentially breaking energy into parts, much like your digestive system, and distributing it to your whole body via your nervous system, endocrine glands, blood, bones and muscles. In this way, the chakra system provides energetic nourishment for your physical body. Consciously moving energy through these points increases and balances your body—physically, mentally and emotionally. When your chakras are open and freely circulating energy as they are designed to, all of your body’s systems receive the nourishment they need to function at their best.

… become familiar with how each chakra functions and is related to the three body weights, specific emotions and the movement of energy.

Chakras                 Emotions                                         Function
1 and 2 — Pelvis     Security, sexuality and fear             Contains energy
3 and 4 — Chest     Love, sorrow and grief                     Exchanges energy
5, 6 and 7 — Head  Sense of self; input into all senses  Directs energy

Moving all three body weights helps open and circulate energy through your whole body via the chakra system.

Become aware of these centers as you move to locate areas of blockage in your body. Begin by paying attention to one chakra at a time as you dance with your three body weights. Remember: your movements do not need to be big to move energy; all movement stimulates breath, emotions and a shifting of energy. Be gentle—a little movement goes a long way. Always ground before and after doing any chakra work and breathe deeply throughout your practice. Pay close attention to the effects of your experience. If you feel jittery, unbalanced, out of sorts, or edgy, slow down. These signals are the voice of your body telling you to do less. In the beginning, less is more.

[NOTE FROM SUSAN: There are lots of sources of information about the chakra system including a section on page 51 and following in The Nia Technique: The High-Powered Energizing Workout that Gives You a New Body and a New Life by Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas New York: Broadway, 2004.]

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

The first time I heard about the chakra system, I nearly sprained my eyeballs from rolling them so much. Oy, with the new age, woo-woo, freaky energy thing! It sounded like a bunch of hooey to me. I can see and feel my feet and legs and core and arms, but I can’t see my Heart Chakra.

While it is true that most people can’t see the chakras (evidently, some people can see auras which can include the chakras), everybody, even skeptical me, can feel them. Just as physical movement has sensation, thoughts and emotions have sensations and we feel those sensations in the chakras.

Sound like a bunch of bunkum? Check this out:
• Ever felt tightness at the base of your belly when you were worried about money? Or ever known someone insecure who acted like a tight-ass? That’s the first chakra, the base.
• Ever meet someone super-attractive and feel a rush in your stomach? That’s the second chakra, the sexual center.
• Ever had a gut feeling that something was (or wasn’t) the right thing to do? That’s the third chakra, the will center.
• Ever feel heart-broken or like your heart would burst with love? That’s the fourth chakra, the heart center.
• Ever feel a lump in your throat when you wanted to cry? Or a tightness in your throat when you were afraid to say something? That’s the fifth chakra, the throat center.
• Ever just have a feeling that something was happening? Ever get an intuition to call someone? That’s the sixth chakra, the third eye.
• Ever have an expansive feeling of connection far beyond yourself? That’s the seventh chakra, the crown.

We’ve all felt the energetic sensations of the chakra system but often we don’t listen to them. Our culture discourages paying attention to these sensations, but tuning into them is both practical and wise.

Next time you feel emotional in any way – sad or angry or excited – just pause and sense where you feel it in your body. Listening to the subtle energy from the chakra system offers insight and clarity about what is really going on.

CHARLOTTESVILLE NIA STUDENTS:  In my classes on Wednesday (acac Albemarle Squre 1055am) and Thursday (acac Downtown 9am) this week, I will teach the special silent ChakraDancer routine which uses music that is tuned to the vibration of each chakra and uses movements designed to open the physical and energetic centers in the body. Please join us!

The Unofficial Guide
to the 13 Nia Principles
~ Practical, Nia-or-Not Applications for EveryBody

(Wondering what in thunder the Unofficial Guide is and why I’m writing this series of posts? Click here!)

P8 Core 3 Body Weights Ann

Principle 8 – The Core of the Body ~ Three Body Weights

(Once again, this week’s principle is packed with juicy goodness. I’m unofficially breaking it into two parts: the physical aspect with the three body weights today then tomorrow, the energetic side with the chakra system.)

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

In Nia, we view the core of the body as the whole of three body weights: the pelvis, chest and head. When correctly aligned, these weights allow us to move energy along and through our vertical axis, so we can move with intrinsic balance, core power, spinal flexibility and greater relaxation. When misaligned, these weights can throw us off center, affecting not just our balance but our whole body functioning, including our bones, organs, ligaments, muscles, veins, arteries and chakras (energy centers).

[NOTE FROM SUSAN: This principle includes details about the anatomy of the core as well as the 7 Nia moves for the pelvis, chest and head. For details on the Core of the Body, please see The Nia Technique: The High-Powered Energizing Workout that Gives You a New Body and a New Life by Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas New York: Broadway, 2004.]

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

New students often come to class and say they are afraid they can do Nia because they are uncoordinated and have two left feet. Whenever I hear that, I say, “Great. Don’t even move your feet. Just move your spine.” This recommendation is based on something I learned from my friend, Helen, in an unexpected way.

Years ago, I invited my mentor and Nia Trainer, Helen Terry to lead a Nia White Belt training in Charlottesville. I loved hanging out with her and the trainees all week, sitting in on all the sessions and getting a bit of a trainer’s view of the 7-day intensive.

I’d gone through the White Belt several times, so I was a little surprised when we got to Principle 8 and Helen said something I’d never heard before, “Susan, do you mind being a model for a Nia Belly?”

Pardon me?

I’m a little sensitive about my soft belly and I wasn’t sure what she meant. But being the Yes Girl* that I am, I said, “Um, sure.”

Helen explained that moving the three body weights – pelvis, chest and especially the head – creates integrated strength and stability in the core body. To demonstrate, she invited trainees to stand behind me and put their hands on my belly. Then, Helen said, “Susan, do some head and eye movement.” As soon as I started moving, the trainee jumped back a little and said, “Whoa!” She said she could feel my whole core spring to life as soon as my head moved!

These days, I really get it. Most people walk around with their spines (relatively) upright and their head perched on top like a marshmallow on a toothpick. When a mover engages her core and increases her range of movement particularly in her waist and neck, she generates enormous power, flexibility, agility, mobility and stability. Even a little core movement translates into more integrated, fluid movement in her extremities.

See what happens when you initiate movement from your core – especially at your waist and neck. When you do you may see why I say, when in doubt, just move your spine.

* Footnote to Laura DeVault who coined the “Yes Girl” phrase and phenomenon.

The Unofficial Guide
to the 13 Nia Principles
~ Practical, Nia-or-Not Applications for EveryBody

(Wondering what the heck the Unofficial Guide is and why I’m writing this series of posts? Click here!)

p7 pt 2 less is more

Principle 7, Part 2 – Three Intensity Levels

(This week’s principle covers a lot of territory so we started with Part 1 yesterday and today, we’re on to Part 2.)

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

Part 2: Three Intensity Levels

The Three Intensity Levels allow you to personalize every Nia move, encouraging you to adjust your movement to fit the moment. … Use the Three Intensity Levels to choose what is the best for you from moment to moment by monitoring your comfort, breath and the sensation of ease. Practice each move in a way that feels right for you and personalize your practice by making your own choices. Do not force your body to move like any other body; this creates unnecessary tension and can cause injury. When your body moves with ease, it naturally takes care of itself. Choose what feels good and replace effort with ease. Replace will with desire.

This part of Principle 7 encourages you to choose from three intensity levels when moving. Level 1 (movements are close to the core), Level 2 (increased range of motion / exertion) and Level 3 (full range of motion / exertion). The look and feel of the three levels are personal and unique to each person. Each level offers unique conditioning benefits for the body, mind, emotions and spirit and should be explored with equal passion and curiosity.

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

“Less is More” ~ Robert Browning
“Less is more?? More is more!” ~ Susan, circa 2000 and intermittently thereafter

Three Intensity Levels is used in Nia to offer everyBody in every class a version of the movements that feels right – a version of the movements that can be executed with an easy breath and steady balance. The common assumption in Nia is that Level 3 is better than Level 1. In fact, all three levels have benefits for everyone and exploring all three in every class is ideal.

My friend Kate just returned from taking her Nia Black Belt training. In one class, she said the trainer taught the entire routine at Level 1. Kate’s experience was that she was more relaxed and even with complicated choreography, she felt that she had more time … and she still got a workout. My experience is that while I love the energy of Level 3 – reaching far out from my center – I find that my larger extrinsic muscles and my momentum often “skip over” my smaller, supporting intrinsic muscles. Level 1 is about conditioning my body close to the bone.

Practically and officially speaking, I use the Three Intensity Levels to modulate my energy over the course of a day, week, or a year. Just like in Nia, I find that if I’m going all-out Level 3 all the time with a full calendar and a busy schedule, I miss a lot of nuance and subtlety. Meditation, energetically speaking, is my daily Level 1 experience. When I sit, I notice what I might otherwise have “skipped over.” It also wakes up my awareness to what’s around me – the leaves changing in my neighborhood, the expression on my step-daughter’s face, the shift in Frank’s posture.

Most people (in Nia and in life) pick an Intensity Level and stick with it…all. the. time. You probably know people who are all-out, going full speed, burning-it-at-both-ends (Level 3). Others are more laidback, are easy going and doodle along at a relaxed pace (Level 1). Then there are the middle-of-the-road folks who stay the course, steady Eddy, without pushing too hard or taking it too easy (Level 2). Think about how you schedule and move through your days: which Level do you tend to go to? And which do you avoid?

For years, I was convinced that Level 3 was better than the other levels. If I could push it a little harder, reach a little further, do a little more, then it was better. But that’s not the way the body or our Selves work. There are benefits to all three levels and the most healthful way to move through a Nia class or a day is to have some of all three as part of it.

The Unofficial Guide
to the 13 Nia Principles
~ Practical, Nia-or-Not Applications for EveryBody

(Wondering what the heck the Unofficial Guide is and why I’m writing this series of posts? Click here!)


Principle 7, Part 1 – Three Planes of Movement

(This week’s principle is a big, rich, juicy one so we’ll start off with Part 1 and tomorrow, we’ll get to Part 2.)

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

Part 1: Three Planes of Movement

The body is designed to build strength by moving as a whole. When we learn to walk, we begin by creeping on the floor, which prepares us to move into crawling, crouching and finally into standing and walking. These actions strengthen our core, upper and lower bodies, limbs, joints and respiratory and nervous systems. Moving through this process is how we develop strong, agile bodies, as well as emotional and mental adaptability. Nia teaches us that in order to maintain our natural movement potential throughout life, we must maintain the ability to move like a child.

This part of Principle 7 encourages you to move your body through three planes of movement along a vertical line: high, middle, and low. The range of motion within each plane is personal and unique to each person.

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

Principle 7 is a two-part principle with a bunch packed into it. Here is my short unofficial take on it:

Part 1 is physical and highly practical no matter what you do with your body…

Increase your strength, your cardiovascular fitness, and your youthfulness by moving your body up and down in relationship to the floor.

Part 2 can also be physical but it applies to non-physical activities, too…

Vary your intensity levels based on your needs (not just the needs of other or the situation) at the moment to create more health, ease, and longevity.

Part 1 of Principle 7: Three Planes of Movement offers a natural, dynamic approach to creating functional physical fitness. By moving your body up and down along the vertical line, you create more strength (especially in the base and the heart) and – super cool bonus! — more youthfulness. This approach is one of the most powerful things we can do and it is one that is often neglected, even by experienced movers.

As adults, we are trained to stay in the middle plane: moving from bed to standing to chair (and car) and back again. Somehow, it’s not dignified to get down low or reach up high. When people peek into a Nia class, one of the comments I often hear is, “Why do you get on the floor?” My answer is always, “Because getting up and down off the floor is one of the best things you can do for your body.” (Cue eyebrow waggling and skeptical face-making from class-peeker.) But it’s true, moving your physical center — your hara (located two inches below your navel) — up and down even a little has tremendous health benefits for bones, muscles, spine, and heart.

Imagine your hara is like an airplane and it leaves a vapor trail behind it as you move through the day. The more up and down that trail goes, the better for your body. So when you drop your towel on the floor, drop your center down to the floor to pick it up. If your child or your pet wants to play, you go down to the floor with them rather than picking them up to sit on the couch with you. If you need something off the top shelf, see if you can reach it instead of asking a taller person to get it for you. Even small variations in the plane that your body travels in can have a huge positive impact.

Don’t take my word for it: do it yourself. Set a timer for 30 seconds and get down and up off the floor as many times as you can and see what your heart rate does! In Nia class, really experiment with taking your hara (not your head but your center point) up and down in relationship with the floor…see how you feel!

Tomorrow, we’ll get into Part 2 which is not just physical but, well, you’ll see. See you then.

Principle 6 – The Base of the Body…dip your toes in

p6 dipping toes in

Awareness of the base gives you a leg up in creating relaxation and power in body, mind and emotions. Witness how you use your feet and legs in different situations. What are you feeling when you’re dragging your heels, when you are swept off your feet, or when you’ve really stepped in it. What’s happening in your feet is happening in yourself.

Notice the connection between emotional energy, where you direct your attention, and how you are using your base. Whatever you’re doing, Principle 6 helps you put your best foot forward.

The Unofficial Guide
to the 13 Nia Principles
~ Practical, Nia-or-Not Applications for EveryBody

(Wondering what on Earth the Unofficial Guide is and why I’m writing this series of posts? Click here!)

p6 lots of feet

Principle 6 – The Base of the Body

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

Working out in bare feet turned out to be one of the most profound choices we ever made. We discovered the power in our feet, and ultimately, we discovered our foundation: the earth. Being able to sense our bare feet allowed us to ground, to center ourselves and move gracefully, powerfully and efficiently. Shifting our body weight, rather than dropping it, protected the tiny bones in our feet, making them naturally strong and allowing us to safely walk, run, jump and dance through life.

This principle introduces you to the technique of using your feet and legs as a powerful, dynamic and grounded foundation for your whole body. The base of your body includes your feet, ankles, shinbones, knees, thighbones and hip joints. All these parts work together to allow you to walk, run, push, shift, rise, sink, step, stand, kick and dance!

[NOTE: This principle includes details about the foot and leg anatomy as well as the 27 Nia steps, stances and kicks. For details on the Base of the Body, please see The Nia Technique: The High-Powered Energizing Workout that Gives You a New Body and a New Life by Debbie Rosas and Carlos Rosas New York: Broadway, 2004.]

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

I love watching feet. Feet are my favorite spectator sport.

This was not always so.

Before practicing Nia, I thought feet were odd and peculiar and were best snugged up safely in shoes and socks. Once I started dancing on bare feet, though, I was fascinated by what an impact my feet had on my entire experience – physically, mentally and emotionally. And this impact is happening all the time ~ not just in Nia class.

I started by using Principle 5, Awareness, to pay attention to my own base. Whoa. I discovered that I tend to walk heavily (okay, stomp), shuffle a lot (especially going up stairs), roll onto the outside edges of my feet (especially when I’m nervous), lock my knees and cross my legs (all. the. time. right over left.). Then I started watching other people — children, dancers, athletes, people in airports and on city streets, singers, musicians, comics, politicians — to see how they were on their feet and legs.

Here’s what I’ve found after 15 years of foot observation: how relaxed and confident you are is directly connected to how you use your feet and legs. No kidding. It’s that simple. You cannot be relaxed and confident if you aren’t in your feet and legs. (I have a theory that pointe shoes and stiletto heels – beautiful as they might be — were designed to make women less powerful. You might be used to the feeling of high heels and you may feel confident in them but your body cannot be relaxed. They negatively impact your body and put your nervous system is on alert.)

Your feet – how you stand, walk, run, dance on them – affect the alignment and function of your body, your nervous system and your emotions. Don’t take my word for it. Feel it for yourself. Walk through a room on tip toe and then with whole feet or a heel lead. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and then with your heels up or your legs crossed. Stand up to say something at a meeting while pacing back and forth or standing still. The sensations of your whole body will shift by the choices you make with your feet.

Yes, yes, yes, you can find lots of information about the anatomy of your feet and legs (on this blog and on the World Wide Interwebs). You can refer to the Nia Technique book to learn about the way we use the base of the body in Nia. For any activity or sport, there is lots of information available about how best to use your feet and legs. I strongly recommend learning about structure and technique, for sure, it’s good and interesting stuff.

The real power, though, happens when you observe what you do with your own sweet feet.  The real juice of Principle 6 is when you use your legs and feet with awareness and through them feel relaxes, supported, grounded and powerful.

The Unofficial Guide
to the 13 Nia Principles
~ Practical, Nia-or-Not Applications for EveryBody

(Wondering what in tarnation the Unofficial Guide is and why I’m writing this series of posts? Click here!)

First Landing and False Cape 029

Principle 5 – Awareness

Excerpt from the Official Nia Headquarters Description:

There is nothing mystical about awareness. In fact, it is our birthright. Awareness literally means to pay attention. …

In the Nia White Belt, we emphasize awareness of the physical body. Usually this is the last thing we are aware of unless we are in serious or consistent pain. When prompted, people can easily report thoughts or feelings, but rarely do they describe physical sensations. …

Think about it for a moment: Your body can only be aware of sensations in the present moment, providing you a direct, uninterrupted “sensory view” of your current overall state. Your thoughts, however, may have little to do with the present moment. You might be working at your desk while thinking about a trip to Hawaii. Your thoughts may also be tied to deeply rooted or long-held beliefs and stories. For example, if your shoulder hurts, you might just think, “Oh, there is my shoulder hurting again,” without checking in to discover what the sensation is actually telling you. Instead, what if you explore the sensation in your arm? You might notice where it is tight, where it is free and where it aches. Then you might allow other information to arise from this sensation – thoughts, emotions, images – and realize your arm is tight because you have been overexerting it or using it in an unhealthy way.

Unofficial Practical Nia-or-Not Application for EveryBody:

“There is one thing that, when cultivated and regularly practiced, leads to deep spiritual intention, to peace, to mindfulness and clear comprehension, to vision and knowledge, to a happy life here and now, and to the culmination of wisdom and awakening. And what is that one thing? It is mindfulness centered on the body.”
— The Buddha, from the Satipatthana Sutta

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if I could teach only one thing and practice only one practice it would be awareness, in particular, awareness of the body. Okay, maybe it’s not much of a limb seeing how the Buddha was so into it and everything. But you get my meaning. Cultivating awareness in the body is like having a super power.

Principle 5: Awareness is a principle that is officially and explicitly designed to expand beyond the Nia class experience. It is a rich principle, too, with three layers teaching. Last fall, I did a couple of posts on Life As Art (or as I unofficially expanded Living Life As An Artist) which you can find here and here. For this unofficial guide, we’ll focus on what is Nia calls The Pain Triad. I prefer to call it the Self-Healing Practice and here’s how it rolls:

1. First, become aware of the sensations in the body, paying particular attention to pain, discomfort or limitation and noticing if it is slight, moderate or acute.

2. Next, move your joints to stimulate self-healing.

3. Then notice if what you did feels better or not.

Simple, right? Think about it, every time we choose a movement that helps the body feel even a little better, we are creating self-healing! That is miraculously super-cool. Even if you walk into class feeling basically pretty good without any particular pain or injury and you walk out of class feeling better, that’s self-healing.

I have to tell you, though: it’s a mysterious thing, healing. There is something in our human brain that wants the whole story behind what we’re feeling. We want the why. We want both pain and healing to be logical. Even the greatest doctors in the world, if they are honest and candid about it, will tell you that there are a lot of things, maybe even most things, they just don’t know or understand about the body.

Medical professionals can offer tremendous help and support, of course. Go to them. Let them offer their expertise. But when it comes right down to it, nobody knows your body better than you do. Approach the practice of self-healing with trust and curiosity. Something that felt good yesterday, might feel lousy today (the opposite, mysteriously, is also true). Make no assumptions and see how the body responds.

Awareness is paying attention and paying attention is making an investment in yourself: an investment in savoring the pleasure of the moment and appreciating and participating in the mystery of self-healing.

Having a body is a gift. Cultivating awareness of that body is a super power.

Just ask Buddha.

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