Posts Tagged ‘dance fitness’

Moving to Heal reflections

M2H-LOGO-2015

 

It’s been three months since I took the Moving to Heal training in Santa Fe. Moving to Heal is a Nia training geared towards adapting movement to enhance the healing process. This can include healing from a physical injury, moving through depression, working with aging populations, and more.

It was my first time meeting Debbie Rosas, co-founder of Nia and a force of nature in her own right. Initially, I was a little intimidated by the idea of meeting her and taking a training from her. From the weekend I spent with her, I can say that she’s an incredible source of Nia wisdom. She’s curious, loves to learn, and has great passion for what she does. I heard from others that she was softer at this training than they’d observed and experienced at other trainings. Since it is largely about self-healing, Moving to Heal requires a softer touch, and she held that type of space for the weekend beautifully.

Dancing, Studio Nia Santa Fe

Painting on one of the walls of the Nia studio

Reflections on what struck me, moved me, made me think:

The first day concentrated mainly on self-healing, on following the body. While I’ve gotten better at this, I still sometimes am more focused on the moves and having the movement help me feel a certain way. I realized during a recent bodywork session that I often want an “easy fix” when I’m experiencing physical pain or discomfort, and it doesn’t always work that way; it often takes more time. Tuning in and asking my body what it needs and following that can lead to more awareness and even a shift in sensation.

The second day, which was a little more externally focused, we did exercises where we limited at least one of our senses so we could have more of a sense of what it might be like for people who can’t hear, see, or move as well. I chose hearing and put earplugs in. It brought my attention more into my body and into each sensation; my intereoception (sense of the internal) was more activated as a result.  However, it also meant that I was straining to hear the music and Debbie’s voice. She said, “Close your eyes,” at one point. I did, and it was even harder to hear. It was as though I had been cut off from the room and the experience. Those who limited their vision (by putting Vaseline on eyeglasses) said that they felt like their hearing became more acute, but it was disorienting and even dizzying to not be able to fully see what was going on. It’s very easy to take being able-bodied and having full (or close to full) ability in the senses for granted; it was eye-opening to gain insight on what it might be like for someone with these limitations to do a chair Nia class.

Speaking of chair Nia: It’s definitely different. We first tried it at the end of the first day without much instruction, just rotated among several Nia teachers in the room, following their movements. It was playful, silly, sometimes intense, sometimes more gentle. The next morning, Debbie gave us more tips about doing Nia in a chair: first, use your core and your upper and lower extremities as much as possible. Without doing that, she said, we — and our students — would be more likely to be sore afterwards. While movement is more limited in a chair, it’s also active in a different way. It requires creativity in doing adjustments or modifications. I can, for example, do choreography/moves originally intended for the feet with my hands. Or I can modify on the ground with small foot and leg movements. Or I can stop altogether and just follow the movements with my eyes. There are so many options that I normally don’t think of when I’m dancing or teaching. With all the options, doing Nia in a chair seems less limited and more like a different experience.

The second day, we played with some of the 52 moves, and it was great to see how I could repeat one move in a variety of ways. Repetition doesn’t have to be boring or limiting, and there can be variations within it.

There were also moments that were sweet, such as connecting with a partner during an exercise and creating a deep sense of safety and security. At the beginning, each of us danced in the center of the circle when Debbie called our names, one by one, creating the space.

There was connecting with other Nia people, sharing our love of this holistic form of dance fitness, creating a strong sense of community. Spending time with dear friends and meeting new ones.

I remember the conversation during the first day’s lunch, when I shared with my assigned group about how Nia had helped me with depression and my sensory processing issues. Nia has been so healing for me, and I want to continue that process. I want to be able to share that with others.

I’m still sitting with how to take my Moving to Heal practice to the next level — I’d like to be able to teach a regular Moving to Heal class at some point soon. That requires having a space and regular students, and I’m still figuring out how to establish that. In Nia, we refer to “natural time,” doing things in the time needed, at my own pace, as they unfold. I remind myself of that when I feel time pressure, when I want to start doing things right this instant. I’m taking steps. And in the meantime, I’m learning new routines and occasionally reading the materials/guidebooks.  I can also continue my own self-healing movement practice at home.

Sometimes, it can be fun to “turn up” the Nia moves to the highest level, full expression, more of a cardio workout. There is also a lot of value and beauty in slowing and scaling the movements way down. When I slow down, I can sense better into where I’m at, how I’m feeling, and what my body needs. While I can certainly turn to the external and explore how I can give that experience to others, I move first for myself, for my own self-healing. And that is what I learned and received from the Moving to Heal training.

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Trying out the movement forms: Contemporary Dance.

Nia is based on the energies and movement forms of the dance arts, healing arts, and martial arts.
I have been curious if trying out some of these movement forms individually would help me gain insight and more body awareness in my Nia practice, and possibly help me on the whole. The dance arts include modern dance, jazz dance, and Duncan dance. In January, I tried a contemporary dance class.

I had taken a few modern dance classes before, but it was more of a sampling: a few in sixth grade, a lesson as part of my Dance History course in college, and a class with my expressive arts movement teacher.

The contemporary dance class I took over a month ago was the first I’d taken since before I started taking Nia classes. I vaguely remembered my experiences before: it was sometimes challenging for me to feel fluid and present in the moves. I remember feeling self-conscious as I moved across the floor.
This time around, I was in better physical shape and could keep up better. When the teacher talked about the 8-count, I could hear it in the music. I have more body awareness.

We started with a 20-minute warm-up. I realized then that while I could keep up to a certain extent, I wasn’t in that kind of shape. I haven’t done that kind of intense conditioning, at least not consistently. Also, a big part of the class was learning a section of a routine. Since it was a mixed-level class, there were varying degrees of skill and experience. I felt like I was straining to keep up.  Also, I’m still not that familiar with modern dance/ballet terms.

Nia allows more freedom; this dance class required more precision. Having to learn parts of a routine within a short period of time also makes it feel more performance-based. Nia involves more simultaneous leading and following; this class involved a demonstration, trying it out, more demonstrating, and trying it out again.

Overall, I care less than I did before about whether I do things right or wrong. I know from my experience in learning Nia routines that repetition is key, and sometimes I will repeat movements again and again and again until I get it, and sometimes that’s after many times of fumbling. I have to throw away thoughts of good or bad and be with what is. My perfectionist tendencies can get in the way of moving freely, so I often acknowledge the thoughts and then push them to the side and continue moving. Overall, this meant that I was less hesitant about trying the movements. I was still somewhat self-conscious, but I went into it and did the best that I could.

I would say that that particular class wasn’t the best fit for me. If I could find a beginning contemporary/modern dance class, that might be more my style. It would be ideal for me begin closer to the beginning, to be able to keep up more easily with others in the class. What I did take away was that more warm-up and conditioning could be helpful for me in my regular movement practice.

Beginning.

The Fool card

The Fool card from my Oracle Card deck

The Fool: Beginner’s Mind. Stepping into the Unknown. Spontaneity. Trusting the process.

It’s challenging for me to be a beginner. To acknowledge my mistakes and use them as learning tools, instead of weapons. I’m a recovering perfectionist with high standards. While I have generally learned to adjust my standards to a more realistic level, I still sometimes find myself doubting my abilities when I’m learning something new.

I step into teaching Nia and I am determined. I practice often, I watch the DVD to review the moves and cueing. When I don’t get something the first or fourth time, I listen, watch, and try again.

I step into teaching and I am vulnerable. After class, I sometimes have this feeling like I’ve just shared an important piece of myself. It’s vulnerable to show where I am in the learning process. I’m not exactly polished; there is a rawness to some of my movements. I I stumble at times, which sometimes causes the students to stumble or pause. In those moments, I make a mental note and keep going.

I’ve been given a gift: One of my Nia teachers, who teaches three classes a week, needed a little bit of a break. She offered me one of her weekly classes for the next two months, which is most of my remaining time here before my wedding and move. Yes, I have to pay rent to the studio, but I don’t have to promote my own class. I can still dance with my regular early morning Nia community – I get to teach people I know.  While subbing for my teachers, I appreciate the experience, and it’s not consistent enough. In order to learn to teach, I need to teach regularly. For the next two months, I’ll be teaching every Monday.

Now, I have the opportunity to practice. I get to practice being a beginner. I get to practice hearing my doubts, the voices that speak to frustration. I’m learning to hear what they have to say, take any useful feedback, and keep going.

I’m learning. I’m beginning. There’s something beautiful and raw about a time where not knowing gradually becomes knowing. Where doing something new slowly becomes an intentional practice. And hopefully, where teaching Nia becomes a vital and regular part of my life.

Nia: Continuing to step in

I have now been practicing Nia for two years. As of this week, I have taught five Nia classes, filling in as needed when my teachers are on vacation.

When I’m in the middle of teaching, I am very present. I stumble at times, and I keep going.  I also find more ways to play, to be silly, to decide and say things in the moment.

Sometimes, afterwards, I feel exposed, vulnerable. Like I’ve opened myself to others and it was beautiful and heart-ful and also very deep. Sometimes, when I get home after teaching, I want to crawl underneath the covers for a few minutes and stay there. In reality, I don’t, but I acknowledge the feeling. I tell myself to keep going, that this feeling doesn’t mean that something is wrong or out of place. The truth is: as I dance more, as I teach more, the more in place I feel. There’s something about this that feels natural, and other parts of it feel uncomfortable. It is exposing. It is new. And it also feels like home.

I find myself thinking: I want to do this more. My body and spirit crave it.

On Tuesday, I found myself giving suggestions for modifications for someone with an injured hip and I realized I sound like I know what I’m talking about. I’m going to check an anatomy book out of the library so I can become more familiar with specific muscle names.

I see the ripple move throughout my life, the confidence I’m gaining, how the strength and agility of my body helps me feel like I’m more solidly here. The way I experience music continues to change, the way I sense the beat and how I move to it. I feel more connected to the energy and around me, more connected to myself.

Stepping in: Teaching my first Nia class

I taught my first full Nia class today. One of my main teachers had a work-related training and asked me to substitute for her. Over the past week, we had gone over the steps of opening and closing the studio, how to hook up and turn on the music and the microphone. As for the content of the class…well, I’ve been learning and practicing for months.

And so this morning, as a hint of snow fell from the sky, I walked into the studio. I was fairly calm as I set things up. There was time to breathe and wait for people to come. Four students came. It was a small class, and enough. 

We stepped in; my focus was play. I asked them shake off anything they didn’t need to keep with them during class. I switched on the music and began. 

Sometimes I felt out of sync, leading with imperfect steps, and I kept going. I know my enthusiasm, my playfulness, my love of Nia came through. Sometimes, I felt so incredibly present – the steps were there and they mattered, but the experience was about so much more than the steps of the choreography. It was about being with myself, being with others, being in the moment,

The body and movement are sources of inspiration, wellness, vitality, vibration, connection. I know that doing Nia as a student helps regulate me; as a teacher, it stretches me to the edge of my capacity and allows me to hold more, even if just for the duration of a class. 

There’s a spiritual element in teaching, too, that feels somewhat akin to leading a centering exercise or a blessing/prayer. I remember being in my White Belt training and realizing that the best way to feel grounded and safe was to be fully in my body; that  through being connected to my body, I could also be more spiritual, emotional, and connected with the energy around me. This connection feels stronger to me when I teach. 

Today, I found my breath at points where it became ragged. I found spaces to step to the side and take sips of water. I found spaces to soften when I needed to. Still, it is a different kind of workout to move while using my voice while my heart is beating quickly, and I have to be very conscious of my breath. I now feel a little stiff, a little more winded than usual. I also feel strong. 

After we were done, after we stepped out, one of my friends – another Nia morning class regular – came up to me and gave me a hug, telling me I did a good job. “I remember when you first taught a song; you seemed unsure and a little unsteady. And now…what a difference.”

I felt exhilarated afterward, and that energy carried me for at least an hour more until I felt the waves of tiredness hit me. This was a big step for me. It is the first full movement class I have ever taught. And it is the first full class of any kind I have taught since I last co-facilitated a class in San Diego nearly two years ago. 

Although I am tired now, I can still feel the sensations of the experience in my body and spirit. I know I want to teach again. I want to continue strengthening my Nia practice as a student and teacher. This practice feeds me, brings me a joy beyond words.