Written by Susan Sloan (White Belt Trainer)
I stepped in to my first Nia class in 2003, and although I had done many movement classes, somehow I knew it was very different and had a lot more to it. 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 with others who were also stepping in to find out more about Nia and themselves. We walked away from that seven-day training with a body experience of using tools to become more consciously aware for our body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
I haven’t looked back since. Now, 17 years later, as a Black Belt Nia Instructor and a White Belt Trainer, I am training others to live their best lives, with more intent and body centred awareness.
What makes Nia different from any other workout? Well, for starters, the one-hour Nia class workout has a seven-stage format.
Stage 1 is the Focus and Intent. This sets the focus for the class so the teacher and students can harness the mind to stay present to receive the benefits of mind-body focus for healing and creating more potential in the body. As an example, in a class I taught recently, my focus was the hara, which I explain is an Asian term used in martial arts, and refers to a location in the centre of the pelvis, behind the belly button. This point is perceived as the “sea of qi”, which means a reservoir of vitality and a source of energy. Nia incorporates the energy of Aikido which emphasises 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 was 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 in to leaving distractions behind and to be present in the here and now.
Stage3, is 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, and 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: ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and spine.
Stage 4, is where we 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. 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’re using the four corners of the room, all our bodies in unison. We bring in some hand moves from Nia, to deepen the mind-body connection, and to 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’m 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 five songs in high intensity, we’re all glowing with sweat, exhilaration, and the joy of movement.
It’s now time for stage 5, the Cool Down. Here we bring in Nia’s hand move called “touching”, and we begin to slow down the heart rate. We walk slowly in lateral travel, one hand on the hara and the other hand touching space above, then closed stance, to bring everything inward towards the hara, and connection to ourselves.
Stage 6, Floorplay, takes us down to the floor for integration of all 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’re ready to move into the final stage of the class, stage 7, the Step Out. This facilitates a step out into the rest of our day taking the practice of Nia with us. We’re calm, our nervous systems in balance, and our bodies conditioned. The practice stays with us until the next time!