healing with Nia

just hands belly bw

In Nia, we are invited to move at levels 1, 2 or 3. Here's what that means for us in class, and here’s what it means for us for all the other parts of our lives.


Level 1 is done in a small range of motion, and its intensity is about the same as going for a walk. In Level 1, I may not reach my arms as high or squat as deeply. This is the level we use for deep awareness of sensation. It’s also a level we use when we’re healing an injury or illness. If we are tired or grieving, level 1 allows us to move in a centered and connected way, keeping us safe and supporting us. Keep moving.


Level 2 is more vigorous than Level 1. We move in a way that builds a sweat. We are building strength and increasing stamina. Our range of movement is higher, deeper, wider. Move more.


Level 3 is an all-out level. We can sustain it for only a short burst, as we might in intervals training (usually 20 seconds to a full minute). This level relies on our having firm technique and heightened body awareness so that we can push our boundaries a bit while moving safely and consciously. Nia uses the word "Enough!" to designate we got just the right amount of intensity, not too little and not too much. Go for it.


In Nia, all movements are ones that everyone can do as long as we’re willing to do those movements within our current capabilities in levels 1, 2, or 3. 


I’ve talked a bit about Level less-than-one or Level one-half. There really isn’t any such level in Nia, so this is a way of talking about moving with extra care. I read a very wise article recently about returning to running after a hiatus. The author advised us to do 20% less than we can do. Instead of doing as much as we can, we should pull back to what is easy and safe. Just as sometimes we should take a risk and push ourselves to our level 3, sometimes we should advance our healing by doing less than we feel we’re ready to do. 


There are times when what our bodies need is lots and lots of rest and very little stimulation. I’m recovering from surgery, a risk-reducing bilateral salpingo oophorectomy, which means both my ovaries and fallopian tubes were removed because I was considered high risk for ovarian cancer. since the surgery, most of the time, I’m resting. I’ve gone for a few walks. On those walks, I can feel that I’m not swinging as much as usual. I walk a bit more slowly. At first, I felt as if I was not taking full breaths, that my breaths weren’t expanding my lungs fully. After a few walks, my breaths deepened and my tension eased. Each day, I feel the surgery receding behind me, the trauma, the lingering effects of the anesthesia and medications. 


Each day I can move a bit more, and as I move, I stimulate healing. My body has to be ready to do that. By sticking with the idea of moving less than I can, by not pushing, I’m able to move enough to encourage my body and my spirit to regain mobility. Once I’m feeling stable and mobile, I can work on regaining strength. 


I won’t get stronger if I wait until I’m fully healed to move. Moving is part of healing.

The promise of Nia is that we heal through movement. Sometimes students tell me they’re ill or injured and haven’t been to class, and I want all my students to know that you can come dance at any level, even sitting down, and for any length of time. If you dance for 30 minutes, mark your card with me as a half class. 

I may not even feel that I’m capable of moving or healing until I’m in class, surrounded by movers and dancers who invest their spirit in the class. That is, I’m healing more than my body when I’m dancing Nia. The studio, the music, the moves, the other dancers - - all of these are part of what is healing. 


Part of why we dance Nia each week is to learn more about our bodies and to become more intimate with the sensations of our bodies. That’s how we’ll know when we’ve found just the right amount of movement for what we need that day. It’s a practice, and we’ll get better at it the more we do it. 


Nia is a great cardiovascular workout. It’s fun. I love to go and get my ya-yas out. If that’s all class meant to me, though, I’m not sure I’d still be doing it after all these years (coming up on 15). A good Nia class helps me feel more connected. A great Nia class nurtures and energizes my spirit. Every Nia class is an opportunity to learn about myself and to practice living with intention and awareness. 


Here’s the invitation that I extend to you. If you’ve been waiting to come to class, please come to class. Whatever you need in life, nurture it by practicing Nia. If you want to be in the back of the room, using the wall for support, wearing shoes, and leaving after 20 minutes, then that’s good. Do what you want and what you need. Do your best not to compare yourself to others, including comparing yourself to whoever you used to be. Be happily, contentedly present, and let whatever you can do be enough. 


Once we get really good at finding Enough in Nia, we can take it everywhere— our work, our relationships. What does it mean to be levels 1, 2, and 3 in my relationship with food? What does it mean to be at level 1 or 2 or 3 during my work day? Knowing how to move in class in all 3 levels increases our sensory awareness so that we can move through our day with that same awareness and choices. That’s why Nia calls this practice Dancing through Life. This is how I use Nia to heal through movement.