Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Notes About Posture

If you attend my classes with any regularity, you have probably noticed that I cue a lot for posture.  (And I can never say everything I want to express about it, not even in this blog.)  Our posture determines how comfortable we are in our bodies.  It even predicts how comfortable we will be in the future.  As a tall child, I was often told to "suck that tummy in and stick your chest out" by folks who never modeled that behavior themselves.  As a result, I copied what I saw, not what I was told.  This could be true for you, too.  We learn to walk from modeling mom's posture, if she was the primary caregiver (eventually, boys may try to copy dad).  So look at your mom's or dad's posture and see if you notice a similarity.  Given that these postural habits predict where we hold tension or pain, is any similarity something you prefer, or not?

We live our lives walking, standing, sitting, and lying down.  Pretty much the same way day in, day out.  Our posture creates patterns of holding which become stuck over time as connective tissue shrinks to fit our posture and becomes more rigid.  The beauty of a practice, such as dance or yoga, is the way it encourages us to stretch and move beyond our habitual patterns.  Dance allows our movement to flow, it introduces grace, fluidity, and increased mobility.  It gets us unstuck from our postural habits and allows us to develop new ones.

Some of my postural cues are: lift your heart, lift your sternum, allow the shoulder blades to slide down the back, float the chin, relax the jaw, sense yourself suspended from the top of your head, allow the spine to dangle or flow down from the top of the head, bend the knees slightly, palms up - opens the heart, and many more I can't think of right now.  The cuing, the flow of the dance, the beauty (or fun) of the music, the joy of being surrounded by other dancers, all allow us to just be - differently - in our bodies.  A lot of the theory the cues are based on comes from Alexander Technique (moving from the top), and Feldenkrais (awareness through movement and sensation).  Both of these healing methods involve gentle changes in alignment, nothing radical -- like tuck your tummy and stick your chest out!  It seems to be working because I have witnessed tremendous postural changes in those who have come to class regularly (and practiced) for several years.  The ultimate goal is to dance out of class and into the rest of our lives, pain-free, with the same grace and ease we practice in class.  It's not just an exercise class - it's about how we live in our bodies, how we feel in our bodies.  When we lift our our hearts, we feel better.  When we feel better, we're more willing to be generous and contribute to making the world a better place.  (Oh-oh, the secret agenda is out!  And you are allowed to think it is just an exercise class, if you want.)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Why do we do it barefooted?

The Nia technique was designed for bare feet. We move differently than we do in shoes. Using the whole foot in our dance creates more strength, flexibility, and awareness of sensation and proprioception in the feet. 'The foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons' (from the Lin article below) - in other words, feet are made to move, as with any muscles you don't use, certain muscles in your feet will atrophy when immobilized most of the time.  I practiced Nia in bare feet for about 13 years without any problems with my feet or knees when I began teaching zumba - with shoes. I immediately noticed knee pain, from hitting the ground harder in shoes than I would in bare feet. The fast, lateral movement aggravated the problem. I found that I had to slowly adapt my zumba to my body in order to avoid pain. So, my zumba class was different than most.

The Nia step comes from tai chi, which is traditionally practiced without a lot of padding on the feet. Even as the music and movement heats up, the contact with the floor remains light and easy. I like to tell my classes that we feel the power primarily in our thighs and core, not by slamming the floor with our feet. That said, some students come into Nia with preexisting foot problems, and their doctors recommend shoes, or they may have diabetes, or neuropathy. You can dance Nia with shoes, there is no pressure to take them off, and, you might consider taking them off during the cool-down to build better balance and stability.  Feel free to start slow with bare feet (maybe just walking around at home or in the slow part of class.   From the Christine Lin article below on exercising in bare feet: "essentially, you're renewing all the neurological connections you formed as a toddler but have lost since you learned to tie your shoelaces."  Welcome home to your body!

For a great story on the benefits of working out in bare feet, see:  http://nymag.com/health/features/46213/  The article has amazing artwork, to boot!   
And yet another very interesting article (Christine Lin):  http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/117003-doctors-orders-take-your-shoes-off/

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Soul Nia workshop -

Join us for a couple hours of deepening our relationship to the 52 basic moves of the Nia Technique.  Here is how Nia Technique describes the music of Soul:  Earthy and raw, this routine blends the percussive, live instrumentation of Native American music with thick electronic beats, awakening the primal dance within. 
Saturday, August 31
2:00 – 4:30 PM
Downtown Dance
223 NW 2nd St., Corvallis
Cost: $25 by August 25
($30 thereafter)
  •  Learn the basic moves we do in every Nia class
  • Practice and build confidence and comfort with the moves
  •  Learn ways to modify the moves to meet your needs
  •  Learn how you can increase intensity for a more dynamic workout
  •  Learn how you can decrease intensity to heal a physical challenge or if you are just beginning your exercise program.
  •  Learn a new Nia routine ~ SOUL ~ which incorporates the 52 basic Nia moves. We will be doing this routine in our regular Nia class for the following week, so you can feel grounded in the moves and in the routine.
Come to class or contact me to reserve your space!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Nia Women's Retreat: Gratitude & Appreciation

When my hubby decided to go to a family reunion in Denver for a few days I was wondering what kind of mischief I could kick up, given that he refused to let me redecorate his office while he was gone;(.  So, I decided it would be a great time to host a Nia women's retreat at my flat at Coho Ecovillage (https://www.cohoecovillage.org/).  It was planned to create more of a sense of intimacy in the small Nia community of my classes in Corvallis, OR.  Sherilyn Sunflower led us in Jade Woman Chi Gong, Deborah Correa guided us in a writing exercise designed to find the poetry in our individual experience of the dance focus, and I led a Nia class with the intention of dancing and playing 'together.'  We shared a potluck feast of great food and fascinating stories from our lives, and took a walk together in the park along the river.  We collectively created the sweetest, sweetest space for each other.  It seems that we were all touched more than we expected, and I have been hearing gratitude (and 'let's do it again!') all week from those who attended.  I feel so much gratitude and appreciation for all the lovely women who shared such beautiful energy, and I feel at a loss for words.

Yasmin Ramahi, ever so eloquent with words, says it best:   ...Those of us who were blessed enough to attend found a richness and connection completely unexpected.  Personally, I knew the afternoon would be about what NIA brings (harmony, growth and generosity of spirit, community) but I did not anticipate how deeply it would extend into my being.  I so enjoyed and appreciated hearing each women's story and her personal interpretation of the sentence "Something you do not know about me".  I wish we could meet again just to hear more.  Why am I not surprised such an amazing array of women are drawn to you and your classes?
Once again, thank you for such a precious and dear time for all of us.
Much love,

Yes, this is an amazing, powerful, gifted group of women we share this dance of life with.  Thank you all so much.

Time and Timelessness: 1 Giant Leap

The focus that frequently comes up for me with the beautiful music from 1 Giant Leap is time and timelessness.  The way we dance effortlessly between the sense of contraction around time and expansion into timelessness facilitates ‘dancing through life,’ one of our Nia principles.
Each time I step into the space in Nia class and see the whole group moving in unison I feel captivated by the magic of the moment.  The uniqueness of each individual flavors the flow of the entire group.  I feel apart of something much bigger than myself – as if we are all connected by the quality of the movement.  Those beginning movements and accompanying breaths are typically slow, to decelerate the mind and bring our awareness into our bodies.  I experience stepping in and slowly moving into a few deep breaths as stepping out of day-to-day clock time, and into the dimension of timelessness.  As we start to connect to rhythm, we contract from that expanded, timeless space into the definitive structure of the music and the choreography.
Time, in class, might be experienced as order, rhythm, as knowing where you want to go and taking specific steps to get there.  Time creates form, a structure tied to rhythm.  Steps and stances.  It is where we ‘get down’ and get it done.  It gets the heart rate up and the muscles moving.  Timelessness can be experienced as formless, chaotic, the sense that anything can happen, moving through the room unmoored from the structure of finite steps tied to a specific place on the floor, or a particular rhythm.  It can also facilitate cardio-vascular movement, depending on the quality of the music.   I can experience timelessness as a sense of spaciousness not bound by the dimensions of the rhythm.  The spaciousness expands from my movement to the space within and outside of my body, dissolving boundaries, sometimes even the illusion of separation, as we are all moving together.
As music changes throughout the class we move between form and formless, time and spaciousness experienced through the different tones, rhythms, and emotions of unique artists.  We slip in and out of timelessness and time.  This effortless shifting between time and timelessness is a big part of what makes Nia a body/mind/spirit movement practice.  I like to use it as preparation for dancing through life:  dancing through whatever comes our way:  joy, grief, wonder, depression, peacefulness, love.  We focus on shifting in and out, moving through space and time and timelessness with the intention of being fully present to whatever comes up.  Dance moves us through life with greater ease – physically, mentally, and emotionally, and provides a pathway for moments of transcendence.

Inspiration for Bollywood Nia

Fun for a cold winter night…
For your viewing (and dancing) pleasure, here are links to the YouTube videos I used for inspiration for the Bollywood Nia routine.  Click on the underlined name of the song below.  If you don’t look at any other video, check out Chaiya Chaiya (next to the last).
  • Awargi I don’t actually know if this song is from a movie. No moves borrowed for the warm-up.
  • Haule Haule This video is hysterical! I don’t know how many times I watched it before I finally figured out the actor is Shah Rukh Khan – just didn’t recognize him.
  • Maahi Ve Another Shah Rukh Khan movie. I thought I borrowed more choreography from this than I did (most moves borrowed from another Nia song). The stick dance at the end of the video is not on my music.
  • Say Na Say Na No moves borrowed from this video (actually borrowed from another Nia routine).
  • Jai Ho Borrowed as much as I could from this one.
  • Sajda As this is not a dance video, I found only one move to borrow for the dance (bet you can guess which one). Another Shah Rukh Khan movie.
  • If you don’t see any other video – watch this one! Amazing dance on the roof of a moving train (some of it was filmed in a studio). People actually did fall off during the filming, unfortunately. Chaiya Chaiya, another Shah Rukh Khan movie.
  • Chalke Re I use a beautiful a cappella version of this song. Did not borrow choreography, only found the video recently.

More of Barefoot Fitness from IDEA

IDEA is a professional organization for people working in the health and fitness industry. Here is the link to a recent article about barefoot training. The gist: it is important for so many reasons (“Most of the population has worn shoes since birth, so foot exercises don’t have to be limited to an advanced or athletic population. Everybody who wears shoes needs barefoot exercise, regardless of whether they want to switch to minimalist footwear or not. The complex machinery of the feet plays a critical role, not only in the obvious realms of gait patterns and ankle stabilization, but also in whole-body balance, nerve conduction and cardiovascular circulation.”) – and take it easy in the beginning. Give your feet time to adapt. The article  offers some foot exercises to get you ready to work out in bare feet (or more flexible footwear) and some training tips.

From Bollywood Nia routine: Sajda

(Reposting from blog on Website:  leeladevi.com)  Thank you to the lovely dancers who participated in the filming of Sajda from the Bollywood Nia routine.  And special gratitude to my lovely hubby, Austin, who filmed.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZwyNwTcHUA