True freedom is being without anxiety about imperfection.
~ Seng-Tfan, Zen Master
I’ve enjoyed having a number of new students join my classes recently. As they’re warming up before class, I always do my best to check in and offer some tips to simplify their movements, see what’s going on in their body, and find out if they have any questions. Being a person who is fascinated by patterns and synchronicity, I couldn’t help but notice that I’d received the same question from a hand full of new students at a variety of locations, all within the last two weeks.
“Do I need to have good coordination to take this class?”, they asked.
I can’t help but smile when I get this question, because the answer to it is so beautifully simple and is one of the things I love so much about Nia. “No, this is not a class where you need to have good coordination. This is a class where you come to learn how to develop good coordination, amongst so many other benefits.” Then this train of thought got me thinking…
Forget coordination, what do we do when when the body is not functioning at it’s ideal? What if it never has? What’s more, what if we’re not feeling emotionally joyful, and maybe everything in our life is falling apart and the last thing we want is for other people to see us in this state….
Does that mean we should not come to Nia? If you’re anything like me, I cannot imagine a more appropriate time to dance than when some part of me needs healing.
I’ve definitely had my fair share of moments when I came to teach and an area of my life – body or otherwise – was extremely out of balance. Whether it was an injury, a relationship break-up, or receiving a call from a hospitalized parent, I’ve had countless challenging events occur as I was walking in the door to lead a class. Life happens, and sometimes the timing is really inconvenient. What I have learned from being in these types of situations again and again is to embrace a concept that is already deeply embedded in the Nia practice. It’s from a book called The Four Agreements, a concept called Always Do Your Best.
Always do your best. It sounds so practical, yet there really is an art to living this way. The way I see it, doing our best can be divided into two keys areas: action and self-acceptance. To do my best, I must first put forth a genuine effort towards my desired outcome. Keep in mind that “genuine effort” does not mean throwing my life out of balance to exceed in one area; it just means offering forth the most energy I can in this moment given my overall circumstances. Second comes self-acceptance. I list this second because once I’ve reached my level of “best”, it’s important, from a self-love point of view, I accept that whatever I gave was enough; it was the most I could do right now. In this way, if I gave 70% of my energy to something I normally gave 100% of my energy to, I see that 70% is actually my 100% in this moment. In doing our best, we stop comparing ourselves to the past and future and instead recognize the genuine effort we are putting forth right now.
Two weeks ago I had a beautiful opportunity to experience the power of doing my best. After a great day of teaching, my body felt supple and strong. I went to sleep and drifted off for several hours when I awoke suddenly at 3am with a stabbing pain in my knee. Shocked by the sudden onset of pain, I immediately began testing out my right leg’s range of motion. Nothing felt right. It was as if I went to bed with my healthy, stable knee, then had woken up with someone else’s severely injured knee. As I got up to walk to the bathroom, I discovered I couldn’t even bear weight on it. Something was very wrong.
A little perspective: Knee injuries are to a movement teacher what breaking your hand is to a professional piano player: a big f*ing problem. Our body is a key player in our livelihood, and if it’s not in good shape, our livelihood is in danger too.
Wednesday morning rolled around and my leg was still in acute pain. So I went over to visit my co-trainer and anatomy guru friend Vickie Saito. She did some tests to determine whether or not I’d torn my meniscus, or worse, my ACL. Although my range of motion indicated that I was negative for both (thank goodness), my leg was clearly out of alignment as my knee was falling inward and my right foot was turned outward. Curiously, my IT Band and sartorius muscle were super tight too. Sparing you a long and fascinating journey into the world of anatomy, let’s just say this: I hurt my knee. It’s not clear how or why, but thank goodness I did not tear anything!
Without a clear sense of exactly what was going on, I had to make a choice about whether or not to teach my Wednesday night class at StudioNia. Missing a class is a big deal to me. So Nia-style, I asked my body some questions.
“Body, should I teach?” A clear “no” came in response.
“Body, should I dance?” “Yes, but you need to barely move your legs.”
Ok then, I will dance Nia in a chair.
Seventy percent of me liked the idea of doing this. The other thirty percent was racked with frustration and self-pity inner dialogue about not being able to move at my full range of motion. Emotionally, I wondered how I’d feel watching my best friend teach class and all my students dance behind her, yet not be able to participate at my ideal! Little did I know just how good things would look from that chair…
We got to StudioNia and I placed a chair at the front of the room. From the moment Vickie started teaching, I went into what I can only describe as a “Doing My Best” trance. It was as if the mere choice to show up and do my best had created a wave of empowerment through my entire being. Being in a chair was suddenly the coolest place I could be, as a new wave of expression and creativity moved through me. I also learned just how adaptable my movement vocabulary had become over the years, as I found modifications for nearly every movement. I tapped into such a deep level of Joy I actually felt acceptance toward the pain in my knee, grateful for the new awareness it was bringing me. Not to mention it was so much fun! It felt like one of the most connected classes I’d danced as pure student in a long time…
I am glad I chose to follow the 70%. As it turns out, this 70% was a 100% of my best that day.
What does it mean to always do your best? It means showing up even when we feel less than our ideal. It means bringing what we have, even if it is less than what is asked of us. When it comes to being a Nia practitioner, it also means letting go of the mindsets that keep us limited and our energy stagnated when we know there is a healthy level of “more” can do. A little bit of action is better than non-action. Consistency is key, for the more we choose to show up for ourselves and give something our all, the more likely we are to do it again and in different areas of our lives.
Whether dancing in a chair, sitting on the floor, or moving at level .5, do the best you can do and celebrate the courageous spirit you can bring to each moment of your life.
And do Nia in a chair sometime. It’s cooler than you think. Just check out the movie Flashdance 😉