Mastering the Basics

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Practice basics until they’re nothing, for they are everything.” – Sifu Joseph Eager
 
At the beginning of January I added three new classes to Sellwood Yoga, a studio located right on the outskirts of Portland. Simple, healing, and hip, the studio was my ideal place to add classes, as I sought to find a space that cultivated a spirit of movement as a practice, rather than just a 60-minute fitness class. Nearly every person who has walked through the door has been completely new to Nia. There is a magic to teaching new groups that produces more joy in my cells than I can articulate. New students are so open, receptive, curious, and hungry to somatically understand what Nia is all about, and I love it!
 
What’s so cool is to witness the transformative power of focusing on the basics. When we empty our “cup” and go to the place of beginners mind, transformation awaits. In beginners mind, curiosity overshadows doubt and neutralizes judgement. Consequently, you can only imagine the fun I’ve had practicing Nia with the Sellwood Yoga students as we return to the bare essential ingredients that form the Nia practice: the basics. We’ve focused on the most elementary movement concepts in Nia from leading with the heel to paying attention to our foot positions, to shifting bodyweight v.s. dropping it, and moving all three sections of the spine, etc. As we dance, I sprinkle them with short explanations of why we do what we do when performing moves like shimmy, sounding, or entering the floorplay cycle. Most significantly, I focus on the physicality of Nia: the 52 moves.
 
To practice the basics, we do moves in simple combinations and allow repetition to become our anchor. Sustain. Sustain. Sustain. It is one of the best lessons I’ve learned from Tai Chi – to slow down and simplify my movement. I’ll never forget the day I saw Nia’s Co-Creator Debbie Rosas demonstrate a side kick in slow motion, then pausing with her leg fully extended to the side. The simultaneously strength, stability, and flexibility it takes to do this is significant and not without great practice. I have practiced my side kicks in slow motion ever since. 
 
Movement can be such a metaphor for life. Can we really master anything if we’re moving fast? I often share with my White Belt trainees that as a child learning piano I constantly sought to learn jazz standards at topspeed at the expense of practicing my scales. I wanted to be a great pianist, yet I did not understand that part of being a great pianist meant widening my awareness to perceive that it was only by slowing down and practicing my scales that I would one day be able to play fast, syncopated songs. To get to point C, I had to go through A and B first. There were, I discovered, no shortcuts to mastering anything.
 
When I put myself in the place of beginners mind, remembering what it was like to know nothing, I remember where to begin. Teach me how to direct my body e.g. “Sumo Stance, your widest comfortable stance with parallel feet”, or, “Look right when traveling right, and left when traveling left,” and, “Everybody sense your [body part]”. Any additional cues we as Nia teachers sprinkle on top is icing on the cake. Yet without the cake, there would be no need for icing. For this reason alone, simplifying, sustaining, and going back to the basics just might be one of the most profound things we can choose, for ourselves and our students.
 
To master something, we must go back to the basics.
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Traveling in Directions – Science and Philosophy of the 52 Moves of Nia

“There are two questions in life we must ask ourselves. First, where am I going? And second, who will go with me? If you ever get the order of these questions reversed, you’re in big trouble…” – Author unknown

Traveling in Directions is one of the 52 Moves we use in the Nia practice. It may strike you as odd that “traveling in directions” is considered a move, but when you look at the architecture of a Nia class it actually makes a lot of sense. We use directions to orient and re-orient ourselves, break out of our habitual movements e.g. always facing the front of the room and looking at the teacher; as well as to sense our body in three dimensional space. We do this using 360 degree awareness. Traveling in Directions encourages us to play with space- moving forward and backward, left and right, upward and downward, diagonally, and sensing the space inside of us as well as the space outside of us. We can sense space in specific directions e.g. north, south, east, and west, and we can sense space in relationship to each other. In Traveling in Directions, we fine-tune our ability to measure (a part of White Belt Principle 2) and sense our proximity to things.

My Next Generation Nia Trainer friend Kelle Oien calls this “spatial architecture”- observing how we arrange our bodies in space. From a more philosophical point of view, this move invites us to pay attention to where we are going and observe what kind of attitude/energy we are carrying with us along the way. As in all Nia moves, we have a choice as to how we perform them- intensity level, range of motion, speed, accuracy. Recognizing our power of choice can empower us to own the decisions we make as we travel in particular directions, dancing through life

What The Nia Technique Book says about this move: “Practicing Traveling in Directions keeps your body agile for moving through space in all directions, able to change directions with ease”. Ease is the ability to perform a movement with maximum efficiency and minimal effort.

I’ll sign up for that any day.