Bringing Awareness to the Body with Nia Dance

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Getting grounded. This was the first assignment for my first Nia dance session. The instructor wasn’t just talking about mentally preparing for the class. She was also referring to the phrase in the physical sense. Nia dance relies on a solid connection between ground and body.

What is Nia dance? That’s the same question I had. I was minding my own business at the grocery store when a women commented on my Good Feet fleece jacket, which has The Good Feet motto on the back: Changing lives. Two feet at a time. She said it could very well have been a motto for Nia dancing. My interest was piqued, and I looked into a local class.

Nia stands for non-impact aerobics. It’s based on the movement forms of martial arts, healing arts, and dance arts and includes fifty-two unique movements. In this way, Nia is a bit like a pot of soup. You never know what your instructor will choose for practice, or how the moves will be combined.

Many of its grounding movements come from tai chi, which is similarly foundation-focused. Portland, Oregon based Nia instructor Siere Munro told me that “getting grounded” means embodying the base or foundation of the body — the feet, legs, and pelvis. When we’re not grounded in our body, we tend to hold extra tension and anxiety and become more reactive.

A large part of Nia is simply about bringing awareness to the body. Students are encouraged to think about their body and how it feels during the class. Are the legs tight? Do the shoulders feel flexible today? When we’re aware of our body, we can move in a way that feels right and begin to heal parts of the body that might not feel as good. This awareness starts at the base of the body. We have over seven thousand nerve endings in our feet. When we move with awareness, we stimulate these nerve endings.

Being mindful of the body isn’t just a buzzword. Nia dance incorporates many ancient movement techniques and encourages body awareness. In the Nia class I took, being mindful of my body wasn’t a vague, ambiguous idea. It was as simple as spending a moment walking the hardwood dance floor noticing how I felt. With repeated check-ins, one can become better at identifying how the body feels at any particular moment.

Mindfulness aside, Nia is an active, engaging activity. Don’t let the non-impact part fool you. A not-so-faint layer of sweat had dampened my forehead by mid-session. A little like Zumba in that it has repeated choreography, the music is not necessarily as bass based. The movements tend to be more fluid as well. I felt a little like a ballerina as I executed wide turns and graceful bows.

Walking into a fitness class — dance or otherwise — can be an unnerving experience, especially the first time. But it’s ok if you don’t know a move or if your range of movement is limited: free-dance is a part of many Nia classes. The opportunity to move freely at your own pace is essential to the principles of Nia and can come in handy if you don’t yet know how to ‘cha cha cha’.

Nia dance is versatile and people of all ages and abilities can participate. Online video routines make it possible to practice Nia alone, but it is also beneficial to participate in a group practice. The instructor can help adjust your body and answer any questions you may have. Everyone, from newbies to seasoned dancers, should approach Nia with a beginner’s mindset, ready to learn and grow. The class encourages expression of the body at every stage.

One essential part of Nia involves bringing awareness to the body. The other essential part is its founding principle: moving with joy. Instructors give modified movement options to help you move your body’s way based on the pleasure you get from moving. It truly is, as instructor Siere Munro says, “feel-good fitness.”

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