I stepped into my first Nia class in 2003, and although I had done many movement classes, somehow I knew it was something very different and had a lot more to it, and it was something I had to do and learn more about.
So, I signed up for the White Belt Intensive Training to become a Nia teacher. I was amongst others who were also stepping in to find out more about Nia and themselves. We walked out after the 7-day training with a body experience of using tools to become more consciously aware for the body, mind, emotions and spirit.
I have not looked back since. Now 16 years later, as a Black Belt Nia Instructor and a White Belt Trainer myself, I am training others to live their best lives, with more intent and body centered awareness.
What makes the class so different for any other workout? The one-hour Nia class workout has a 7-stage format. Stage 1 is Focus and Intent . This stage sets the focus for the class so the teacher and students can harness the mind to stay focused and present for the hour and receive the benefits of Mind Body focus for healing and creating more potential in the body. As an example, for the class I taught recently, my focus and intent was The Hara, which I explain is an Asian term used in Martial Arts, referring to a location in the centre of the pelvis, behind the belly button. This point is perceived as the “sea of qi”, meaning as a reservoir of vitality and a source of energy. Nia incorporates the energy of Aikido which emphasizes the importance of moving from the hara i.e. moving from the centre of one’s being, from one’s body and mind. Moving from the hara, is thought to be the intersection point of the mind and body and the seat of all intuitive or ‘gut’ knowing. This awareness is the elixir that helps you become more resilient, grounded and balanced. Moving with this awareness helps you to relax your body, mind, emotions and spirit.
So, in this class, my focus was the hara, and the intent to find more balance and relaxation in all realms of the body, mind, emotions and spirit.
Stage 2, is the Step In. In this class of about 18 bodies , we all step into leaving distractions behind and be present in the here and now.
Stage 3, the Warm up, here I use a song which takes us through some of Nia’s moves for the base of the body called the stances, for grounding:- closed stance, open stance, a-stance, sumo stance. The moves for the arms are slow and very Tai Chi-like, to connect to earth to ground and to use the breath mindfully. During this warm-up song, the focus is also on the 13 main joints of the body; wrists, elbows, shoulders and spine.
Stage 4, Get Moving , the tempo of the music starts to increase, and the movement becomes more cardiovascular. We use the hara to create greater stability, mobility, agility, strength and flexibility. Today my choice of music is stimulating rhythmic weight shift, and then Tae Kwon Do moves like punches, blocks and strikes for agility and strength. We build up to a peak where the music is fast and vibrant and we are using the 4 corners of the room, all our bodies in unison. We bring in some hand moves from Nia, to deepen the mind, body, connection and condition the body: chop cut, claw hand, finger extensions, pumps and webbed spaces. At the same time, I am sounding to release emotions and connect to sounding for empowering emotions like determination and confidence. I am using the hand moves to transform emotions sitting in my body and energy field into “energy in motion”. The whole room is sounding with me and the music in unison, and the transformational energy of connecting to the hara is palpable.
After about 5 songs in high intensity, we are all glowing with sweat, exhilaration and the joy of movement. It is now time for stage 5, the Cooldown, we bring in Nia’s hand move called “touching”, and we begin to slow down the heart rate and walk slowly in Lateral Travel, 1 hand on hara and the other hand touching space above, then closed stance, to bring everything inward towards the hara and connection to ourselves inwardly.
Stage 6, Floorplay, takes us down to the floor for integration of all the previous stages. We continue to focus on moving from the hara and vary the movement speed and flow. The movement is vertical, horizontal, diagonal and in spiral lines using the Healing Art of Yoga, Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais to deepen body awareness. Every cell of our bodies is being earthed and aligned.
We are ready to move into the final stage of the Nia class, stage 7, the Step Out , which facilitates a step out into the rest of our day taking the practice of Nia with us. We are calm, our nervous systems in balance, and our bodies conditioned. The practice stays with us till the next time!