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September 2, 2018

How Nia Became My Emotional Lifeline

I started taking Nia as a student in 2010, became a teacher in 2015 and at this writing have been teaching for just over three years. During that time, a surprising thing happened. Nia became a critical emotional resource for me during times of personal difficulty.

It’s not so unusual, I suppose, for exercise to lift one’s spirits in tough times. Goodness knows, the endorphins alone make you feel at least a little better no matter what kind of exercise you do. But Nia works on more than just the physical level. It uplifts you mentally, emotionally and spiritually, addressing your whole personhood. Eight years in to my Nia journey, I am going through some tough personal times right now and am truly astonished by Nia’s supportive power.

I’d like to tell you how I made this discovery.

When I first started taking Nia and experienced for the first time its emphasis on sensation rather than performance – on how it feels rather than how it looks – I felt the stirrings of a new kind of happiness. Something about doing fun, easy, expressive movements to Nia’s incredibly beautiful music took me to a new place of joy. In the various dance classes I’d taken over the years, there was plenty of expressive movement, sure, but it always came with judgment, critique and pressure to dance “well.” In Nia, I could move freely, without judgment, only sensation. Just me, my body and the sensory magic of moving to music.

So Nia class became my happy place.

One day I tried sounding (making sounds) like some of my fellow students did. Using my voice as well as my body added a whole new dimension to my pleasure. I could feel my voice physically reverberating in my body as I said, “Ho!” during a kick or “Ahhh” during a stretch. Wow. Cool! I started experiencing on a new level the emotional dimension of Nia.

In 2015, I was inspired to take the White Belt, the first level of Nia teacher training. I knew I would learn a lot about Nia, but had no idea that I would in fact learn something much more important: that the body is not just a vehicle for living, but a key source of personal truth. The brain can fool you sometimes, but the body never lies. Your sensations are real and have meaning. I learned how to discover my feelings and my truth through sensing my body, and to express myself wholeheartedly using every aspect of my being: my breath, my voice, all of my body parts, my full emotional range and greater freedom of movement.

After the training, I noticed it was suddenly easier for me to tell the truth, especially in this one awkward relationship where I had long suppressed my opinions. Telling the truth to that person felt scary and unexpected – as my lips were moving, I thought “OMG, am I really saying this?” – but my surprise truth-telling led to significant improvement in that relationship. I should have spoken up long ago. It blew me away that my Nia teacher training program would have such a big impact on not just my Nia life, but also my personal life.

I began teaching soon after, and as expected, thoroughly enjoyed it. Teaching Nia draws on so many aspects of me and my background, it felt great and oddly healing to teach – “healing” in that certain things I had not particularly valued about myself before, were suddenly very valuable and on regular public display. I claimed more aspects of myself and lived them out in the company of others. I was amazed all over again at how much Nia supported me in my growth as a person.

Then two years into teaching, the shit hit the fan in my personal life. Family relationship situations developed that were extremely painful for me, challenging on every level. Every day I felt grief, guilt, rage, regret. My sleep patterns got totally screwed up: I’d wake in the middle of the night and immediately think about my troubles. On bad days, I moved through life in a cottony haze, barely able to concentrate, awash in pain.

One bad day happened to be a teaching day. A few hours before class, I looked at the clock and slumped, saying to myself, how can I possibly teach and inspire others when I feel so awful? I made myself go anyway, because I’d rented the space and people would be disappointed if I didn’t show. It wouldn’t be professional, and I was a professional. So I dragged my conflicted, grief-stricken ass to class and hoped for the best.

Literally two minutes into class, I suddenly felt I was dancing under a virtual waterfall of goodness. The goodness of the music, the goodness of the choreography, the goodness of my students, my own goodness as a teacher and person – all of it rained down on me abundantly as I moved and taught. With every song, I felt better about myself and more confident that life could be good again. By the end of the hour, I was cleansed inside and out, emerging radiant, self-loving, able to go on.

Since then, my personal situation has improved in some ways but remained tough in others. And Nia has become absolutely critical to my sanity. Every time I teach class, poof, I feel better. In the space of an hour, Nia picks me up, bathes me in holy water, dries me off with super-soft towels and puts flowers in my hair. The positivity I feel after class lasts for hours, sometimes days.

People do drugs to get that feeling. People pay thousands of dollars for therapy and seldom get this much palpable benefit from any one single hour. Not to diss therapy – I do that too, but the benefits of Nia are of a different kind. Immediate. Physical. Embodied.

I truly had no idea that a mere fitness practice could be so powerful a resource for weathering the storms of life.

But Nia is not merely a fitness practice. It is a space for personal transformation, a hands-on workshop where you can experience your own personal power and become your best, most resilient self.

If you want something that can lift you out of despair or even just make you feel better, step in to Nia.

8 Comments on “How Nia Became My Emotional Lifeline

Mary Baxter
September 2, 2018 at 2:25 am

This mirrors my own experience with Nia, and is beautifully expressed. Thanks for sharing!

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Margot
September 2, 2018 at 4:10 am

Oh my word… this blog is such a gift . Yes, yes and yes. Thank you for sharing this honest and powerful experience with NIA. As I am on the edge, just about to finally embark on the journey of teaching NIA, after two white belts and two Bluebelts, reading this I am reminded of all the goodness available through this practice. I’m reminded of how much I want others to benefit from it and how much more I want to receive from it. This is my sword of “enough” that I take into the next adventure of beginning to teach NIA.

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Janet Hollander
September 2, 2018 at 4:51 am

Sweet imagery: “In the space of an hour, Nia picks me up, bathes me in holy water, dries me off with super-soft towels and puts flowers in my hair.“

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Amy Waterman
September 3, 2018 at 3:50 pm

I love this blog. I have found for myself that there is a kindness in NIA for your own body and also a gentle and supportive community of others. It is a gift, truly.

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Marguerita Drew
September 3, 2018 at 5:49 pm

Paula, this piece is so beautiful! It’s truth is glorious! Thank you for sharing…

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Martha
September 3, 2018 at 6:42 pm

A wonderful sharing of your experience. Teaching has served me on so many levels for 22 years now! Thanks for being you!!❤️

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Paul Denniston
September 4, 2018 at 2:50 pm

This is a beautiful article. You are a transformative teacher! Your joy and liberation becomes infectious as you create a safe space to feel and move. You are a gifted teacher!

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Emily
September 5, 2018 at 3:26 pm

You are so inspiring to me as a student and fellow teacher Paula! I loved reading this post and will keep the joyful sensation of your experience with me always. Thanks for sharing!

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