Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Article I just submitted to the Timberhill Athletic Club newsletter

Let the beauty you love be what you do.  ~ Rumi

In this article we will explore some of the benefits of a body/mind/spirit practice, such as the Nia Technique.  Humans are intelligent, we have so much research on the right way to organize ourselves to live long healthy lives.  We know that if we don’t smoke, or quit smoking, we can have greater quality of life as we age, free of a multitude of diseases that effect smokers:  greater risk of cardiovascular disease, lung, bladder, throat, and esophageal cancers, to name a few.  We know that if we consume a healthy, mostly plant-based diet, we can reduce our risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and we have studies to back that up.  We know if we exercise regularly we reduce our risk of a multitude of physical and mental health problems, and we have clinical research to help us understand how that works.  We know from Dean Ornish, and other researchers, that we need social connections to be healthy, we need to “exercise” our hearts by giving and receiving love.  Dean Ornish, in his studies about reversing heart disease also recommends a meditative or contemplative practice. We know that a contemplative practice, such as meditation or prayer helps us to slow down and reconnect with what it means to be human when our busy lives sometimes leave us a little disconnected from a sense of meaning and purpose.  And we have so many daily responsibilities that the best way to get all of our health conscious behaviors in, is to segment them into little boxes we can check off:  exercise – got that done, doctor’s appt – check, lunch with friend – done, birthday present for daughter – done, church committee meeting – check. 

When we ride our bike to the grocery store, we can cancel out two things on our list at once.  When we take a walk with a friend in a beautiful place – we get the benefits of social and spiritual connection, and exercise.  This is how a body, mind, spirit practice works:  we meet the essential human needs of exercise, connection, contemplative awareness, and hopefully color the experience with stimulating imagery – to engage you on many different levels at once.  This creates a deeper, richer experience.  When we connect with ourselves, our essential selves – where the heart of compassion lives – we tend to be nicer to ourselves.  We rely less on comfort foods and nourish ourselves with healthier fare – not because we should, but because it feels better.  We give ourselves just a little more time to unwind, a little more time to listen.  We are nicer to others. These are some of the side benefits of a body/mind/spirit program.

The Nia Technique combines movements and insights from martial arts, dance, and healing arts (such as yoga) into a body/mind/spirit practice that enriches my life and I love to share it with others.  We move with a variety of rhythms, from slower, to faster, to more contemplative.  Music moves us physically and emotionally through different spaces, allowing the release of mental and emotional tension, the most common cause of fatigue.  Moving to music in new and unfamiliar patterns stimulates our brains and increases connectivity between the left and right hemispheres.  The slower movements, include balance training – increasing intrinsic strength and general stability, with the benefit of slowing the mind and improving focus and grace.  (Yes, you become more graceful with practice!)  The faster movements increase our heart rates and improve physical conditioning, and add a sense of fun and playfulness to our workout.  We begin every Nia class by connecting with each person, introducing a focus and intention for the class, then stepping into the space to release distractions and bring ourselves fully present to the sensation of our movement.  The language of the body is sensation and each person is encouraged to follow her or his own sensation – moving into pleasure, and if pain or discomfort occurs, listen to the body and explore ways of moving that increase pleasure and eliminate pain. 

We are all so unique, and in a Nia class we celebrate that uniqueness.  It is not about fitting everybody into the perfect mold or model of ‘doing it right’ (or even the perfect body shape or size) – it is all about doing what is right for YOU.  If you feel out of shape, take it slow, takes breaks when you need to.  If you have never done a group fitness class, allow yourself several weeks or more to get accustomed to it in your own natural time.  The gentle, body/mind/spirit orientation of the class will give you all of the support you need to feel more comfortable with something new.  And the other students are 100 percent supportive of newcomers.  You are welcome to experience Nia on Tuesdays and Thursday at 7:00pm and on Sunday mornings at 11:30am at Timberhill Athletic Club, and on Mondays and Wednesdays at 11:00am at the Corvallis Senior Center.  To paraphrase Rumi, let the beauty you love be what you do – for health and wellness.

Leela Devi, MSN, RN
Black belt certified