Rediscovering the joy of movement

I attended an Introduction to Nia Techniques class tonight at the Pinelands High School, as part of their ongoing Continuing Education Programme. The class was supposed to be given by the enthusiastic and funny Kathy Wolstenholme, who brought the Nia Technique from the States (where pretty much all exercise programmes seem to come from!) to South Africa.

As Kathy wasn’t available, we were taught by Zanéta (pronounced ‘Zanietta’), who looked like a ballet dancer. I tend to find it a bit disconcerting (and frustrating) if exercise instructors look so perfect, and are so flexible and supple, because I think “Ah, this is all so easy for them – what if I can’t get my leg that high up, or arch my back into a bridge…” Thank goodness, we weren’t required to do anything bendy or twisty, nor to jump and leap about vigorously like a bunch of 6-year-olds in at breaktime. Given the average age of tonight’s participants (40-50?), Zanietta prudently gave us what must have been a very basic introduction.

BUT WE ALL HAD A TOTAL BLAST!!!

As Zanéta explained it,

“Nia is for people who love to feel good, who love to move and play with life in a conscious, artistic, and sacred way. … Adaptable at every moment, Nia gives everyone the opportunity to challenge their co-ordination, grace, muscle endurance and flexibility. Nia delivers a cardiovascular workout without stress
to the musculoskeletal system, and provides balanced body work that is versatile, fun, energetic, expressive, and creative.”

Sounds mos lekker, né?! And check out these benefits:

“Nia opens mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual doors. It firms and trims abdominal muscles, without doing searing sit-ups. Nia increases flexibility without conventional stretching. It increases lung capacity without aerobics. Nia changes your body posture and teaches you how to move efficiently and safely. Nia works all your muscles thoroughly, and pumps your heart efficiently and steadily. It gently opens your joints and integrates your body-mind-spirit wisdom.”

And it does all this by integrating the following movement forms:
(1) Martial Arts – T’ai Chi, Tae Kwon Do, and Aikido
(2) Dance Arts – Jazz Dance, Modern Dance, and Duncan Dance
(3) Healing Arts – Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, and Yoga.

To start us off, Zanéta put on some fairly slow-moving music, and showed us a couple of basic steps. We repeated these for a long time, allowing us to tune more and more into the rhythm and flow of the music. She got us to repeat these steps in various different styles – e.g. like a very shy person, like a very outgoing person, like someone who is tearful, like a young child, like a warrior, like someone doing meditation in action, and gradually we overcome some of our inhibitions of moving in these unfamiliar ways. She pointed out that it didn’t matter how we were feeling at the time – we just needed to acknowledge it (to be mindful of it) and to move accordingly. So if we weren’t feeling very confident or strong, we could adjust the movements and make them slower and more careful. But if we felt powerful and flexible, we could express that with our bodies too.

What I thought was so interesting about this experience was the realisation that how I feel inside affects how I move! Even more amazing was the fact that I could change how I felt inside by moving differently!

So, even though most of us initially felt quite shy and withdrawn – which made it easy to ‘act out’ the ‘shy person’ – by the time we were asked to move like a warrior, everyone was feeling less inhibited and nervous of being ‘judged’ by the other participants – so it was wonderful to pretend to be warriors! I felt so invigorated and vibrantly alive – AWESOME!

Definitely keen to explore this further…

In case you have never heard of Nia before, check out the South African website of the Nia Association, or the original American website, which has a very accessible FAQ section.

One thought on “Rediscovering the joy of movement

  1. Thank you for this post. As a new Nia White Belt and teacher I love to hear how other teachers approach things. That is another wonderful gift of Nia, teachers can use their own approach to the routines and so it is always different and changing.

    Terre Pruitt
    Certified Nia White Belt
    Licensed Nia Teacher

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