Mastering the Basics

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.

Navigating the Spaces in Between with Gratitude + Joy


“A Dark Night of the Soul is the space between no longer and not yet.”

Joan Borysenko

How do you sense gratitude when you’re looking to change something about your present-moment reality?

I love questions like this. They bring the duality of life – the light and dark, happiness and suffering – to the forefront of the conversation. I can think of no better time to explore this question than as we dance into a new year, where we look at things as they currently are and have been, then cast intentions for how we’d like them to be.

I stumbled upon this question earlier this year, when I found myself wanting to radically shift a central aspect of my life, yet recognized that it simply was impossible to do at the time. There I was, clear about what I wanted, desiring it with every aspect of my being, yet getting every sign from the universe that simply said, “not yet.” This is not the first time I’ve heard this message. I’ve become quite accustomed to it, in fact! If you’ve ever found yourself in a situation where you were truly, as Dr. Joan Borysenko says, “between no longer and not yet”, you know that there’s no sugar-coating it: the feeling can be excruciating. It can be so easy to focus on the not yet, particularly when the no longer creates a feeling of disorientation or emptiness. It was this feeling that led me to a several-month exploration into the sensation of gratitude…

Why gratitude? Two reasons. #1: Joy was not on tap. With the mixture of emotions I was experiencing, joy did not feel forthcoming, and after many attempts to use it as my single solution, I realized I needed to expand my options. #2: I became aware how many blessings in my daily life I’d been taking for granted in favor of focusing on this reality I could not yet have. Clearly, it was time for a shift in perspective.

Gratitude and I began fine-tuning and “tweaking” our relationship on a daily basis. In other words, I began to let go of my “champagne suffering” and start paying attention to the blessings in front of me. Every time I found myself placing my attention on the “not yet factor”, shall we call it, I redirected myself towards appreciating something in the present moment: birds chirping, a healthy body, a friend smiling, a sense of relaxation, a meaningful conversation with a student, an energizing walk outside; there was (and is) always something to be grateful for.

At this point you may be thinking, “Of course, Al, practicing gratitude is a given and a requirement for true, sustainable happiness!” Yet what I discovered went beyond this. Practicing gratitude, I noticed something distinctly familiar about the sensation – it felt a lot like Joy. What’s more, the more gratitude I sensed, the more Joy seemed to come back around.

For those of you who are new to Nia’s philosophy on Joy, we say that Joy can be present amidst both pleasure and pain; it’s the omnipresent sensation that exists independent of circumstance. Considering this, I began to wonder, is there a difference between the sensation of gratitude and the sensation of joy? When I felt either, both created the same somatic response in my body: relaxation, warmth, ease, and full, deep breathing. And both could exist amidst any circumstance. While I am still exploring these nuances, I could not help but appreciate how gratitude had been my gateway back into sensing Joy…

Sensing gratitude and joy re-gifts the present moment to me again and again. All it takes is my attention, becoming aware of the simplest, sweetest things that infuse my life with light, happiness, health, fun, and love.

As we move through life transitions, set intentions, and work towards manifesting our ideal reality in the new year, I invite you to consider the wealth of blessings present right now. Rather than being driven by self-criticism or resentment for what has been, allow gratitude for what is to be your motivating force for change and transformation. Sense the gifts right in front of and within you, and invest as much attention, love, and energy in them as you do into new visions.

For as one of my favorite authors, Sonia Choquette writes, “When you love life, life loves you back.”

Happy New Year!

Becoming An Emotional Ninja

This evening I was sitting outside a Starbucks at sunset reading my favorite Thich Nhat Hanh book, The Miracle of Mindfulness.  Randomly, I opened the book to a section on the concept of interdependence:

“The suffering of others is our own suffering, and the happiness of others is our own happiness,” he writes.

Just as I read this, I became aware of the resounding cry of toddler outside a nearby restaurant. Actually, ‘cry’ is an understatement – this child was wailing. I looked up to see a little girl sobbing uncontrollably, with her arms crossed steadfastly over her chest. Her mom was standing four or five feet away, and it was clear from the child’s body language that she didn’t want anyone to get near her. For nearly 25 minutes, this whole scenario played out, with the toddler sobbing and saying the word “no” everytime her mother approached her. My heart went out to the mother, who, by the way, had the patience of a saint! But even more so, my compassion went towards the child…

Observing her, I was overwhelmed with compassion for how turbulent the emotional body can be. I sensed my interconnectedness with her, recalling the countless times I’ve felt overwhelmed by tidal waves of emotion. How challenging is it in those distressing moments, I thought, to remember that all emotions are impermanent and ever-changing? One moment there’s fear. The next moment there’s anger. Then anger fades, and there is peace. Peace morphs into compassion, and so on.

What this child has not yet learned and what I am still learning at 28 (after years of psychotherapy, I might add), is the practice of emotional agility.  It’s more than the ability to start or stop an emotion or feeling at will. Emotional agility, as I experience it, also denotes my ability to navigate my emotional realm with consciousness (choice & awareness) verses unconsciousness (habit and/or lack of awareness).

There is a brilliant quote shared in the Nia Blue Belt that comes from the creator of Aikido. When asked by his most dedicated students what skills he possessed that they did not yet possess, he responded, “The only difference between you and I is that I come back to center faster.”

Welcome to emotional agility – the practice of coming back to center faster and faster, and faster again.

I recently had an opportunity to “research” emotional agility when retaking the Nia Brown Belt with Trainer Ann Christiansen and Nia Co-Creator Debbie Rosas. Ann asked us to do a practice that explored three emotions. The practice was one of taking yourself into an emotion, then bringing yourself back out, conditioning your emotional agility.

First, we were asked to activate the overall emotion we feel about our life. Immediately, I received the feeling of peace and interconnectedness. We were asked to sustain this emotion, feel it, then let it go. Second, we were asked to feel the emotion of a situation in our life that was challenging for us, something emotionally “derailing”. I immediately brought such a situation into my awareness, activating the emotions of sadness and fear. Now this is where the magic happened. Guiding us carefully, Ann asked us to feel the derailing emotion, yet not get swept away by it – notice it, feel it, but maintain our center. We call this “activating your witness,” in Nia. Forty-five seconds later, she asked us to return to emotion #1, the overall feeling we experience about our life. Like lightening, I directed my attention back to the feelings of peace and interconnectedness. Within ten seconds, I had returned fully to emotion #1.

“Wow!” I thought, “That was like emotional jumping jacks at level 3!” Astounded by how beneficial this practice was, I knew I’d found a new ally and  tool for becoming a “ninja” of my emotions.

Watching my friends who have children, I see how they have cultivated the skill of becoming emotional ninjas, as the demands of parenting often necessitate the ability to put one’s own emotions aside (and re-address later) in order to tend to their children’s needs first.

Returning to the story of the crying toddler, I watched as the mother at the restaurant put aside her own need to eat dinner to stand by while her little girl “processed”. Finally, after 20 minutes and with a sense of peacefulness, the mother found an opening. She knelt to the ground and took several steps towards her crying daughter. As she opened her arms, I saw the little girl’s posture soften. Slowly, the toddler looked up, took two steps forward, then melted into her mother’s arms, relaxing completely into what looked like the emotions of trust, relief and peace.

What a gift to witness such a raw, beautiful process, and what a fantastic reminder of the impermanence of emotion. Whether we’re 2 years old, 28 years old or beyond, we all have access to this incredible well of energy.

Becoming an emotional ninja, as it turns out, is not about being tae kwon do with our emotional realm. Rather, it’s about bringing self-love, compassion, and trust to this incredibly sentient source of feeling and expression.

Nia As A Lifestyle Practice – Living Meditation

“Practice is like a roller coaster. Each new high is usually followed by a new low. There are stages at which you feel pulled to inner work and all you seek it a quiet place to meditate and get on with it, and there are stages where you turn outward and seek to be involved with the market place. Both of these parts of the cycle are part of one’s practice. What happens to you in the market place helps your meditation. Likewise, what happens in your meditation helps you to participate in the market place without attachment. At first you will think of practice as a limited part of your life. In time, you will realize that everything you do is part of your practice.” –Ram Das

Practice is a verb – it is something we learn by doing.

More and more, everything I do feels like I am practicing. From washing my dishes, to walking mindfully in the park behind my apartment, to answering the phone at Nia Headquarters, to driving my car along the winding Willamette River downtown – each of these simple actions have become a form of practice. After 5 years of “being out in the marketplace,” I have been magnetically drawn outside the city, living alone for the first time in many years. I’ve initiated a daily 6am yoga practice that is transforming my body and mind with every invigorating chaturanga dandasana I breathe through! My evening walks at sunset bring a sense of aliveness, closure and integration to the hours that came before. Suffice to say, the sensation of ‘practice’ sets a tone that ripples through every aspect of my daily life…

What is the sensation of practice in your life? What are the practices you do that ground you, center you, and connect you to your authentic self?  The beautiful thing about identifying this is that it is an opportunity to witness how you live your life and tweak it accordingly. We say in Nia that “tweaking” is making a small change without altering your overall movement…

What are the small changes you can make in your perceptions and actions that will help you sense every moment of life as an opportunity to practice what you value most?

When we allow ourselves to be fully present and ‘practicing’ in each moment, we are in what Nia calls Living Meditation. In Living Meditation, my awareness practices become something that are not separate from my daily life, rather it’s like I’m meditating through everything I do. In Living Meditation, we have a full attention on “being” even as we are “doing.” Rather than seeing meditation as an isolated practice, we perceive it as the art of being fully present to all that is – on and off the dance floor. In yoga, they call this taking yoga “off the mat.” It’s an awesome metaphor for something so simple, yet it requires a continual recommitment to our own practices.

Once we’ve put-a-practice-into-practice, what do we do when it wanes, when our enthusiasm to infuse our daily life with awareness dissipates? We recommit ourselves. We return our attention again and again to what we want most. I don’t know about you, but the nature of my mind is that it can be easily derailed by bright and shiny things. In my Nia classes, I’ve been using the metaphor of the mind on a retractable leash to denote the method by which we reclaim our attention when our mind goes wandering. Practicing deeply does not mean we can sustain without getting derailed – it simply means that we notice the derailment with self-love, then reorient ourselves, drawing the leash back in. Practice  is continuous.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to take the most “mundane” action in your daily life and bring a warrior-like spirit of practice to it. There is a great gift concealed in every aspect of life that challenges us with the illusion of meaninglessness. Practice living meditation deeply, and reveal for yourself the meaning that every moment of life has to provide.

Ride the roller coaster and ignite the sensation of practice in everything you do….

Then let me know how it goes 😉

Choice, Meaning and Peace

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

– Dr. Viktor Frankl

In Nia, we say that choice is the first gift we give ourselves and our students. It begins with the choice to sense the body and to choose The Joy of Movement, a universal sensation that can be present amidst pleasure and/or pain. The thread of choice is then woven through a principle called Your Body’s Way, which encourages you to move your body in accordance with it’s natural design and function; a method of personalizing your movement to fit your body’s needs. We also offer the choice between Three Planes of Movement (high, middle, low) and Three Intensity Levels (1, 2, 3). Really, the list of choices just goes on and on…

But beyond this list of somatic gifts that ‘choice’ gives us, there is a more personal growth element at play. What basic human right is so closely equated with choice?


We feel free when we feel like we have choice. When choice is taken away, so too goes our sense of freedom. There’s an incredible story about choice in holocaust survivor Dr.Viktor Frankl’s book, Man’s Search For Meaning. When Dr. Frankl treated fellow prisoners at Auschwitz , he observed a distinct psychological difference between those individuals whose health faded quickest and those who survived the longest. He found that the people who lived the longest were those who found a sense of meaning amidst the unfathomable suffering of the concentration camps. Those who lost hope were the quickest to die. He concludes, “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

For the last two decades of my life, no ally has been so close a friend as choice. Choice has allowed me to find peace and empowerment amidst great pain and difficulty, to sense stability inside when everything outside felt unstable. When I have hovered in the delicate lifespace between “no longer and not yet”, choice has invited me to simply be present with what is, relinquishing my need for things to be other than they are. Investigating choice, I sense how my life purpose and the circumstances in it have as much or as little meaning as I choose to give them. What has given my life the deepest meaning, consequently, is the choice to see every experience as an opportunity to learn something new about myself. Viewing my life this way, viewing my experiences in Nia this way, I know that no matter what happens, I will always grow. When choice is actualized, evolution is guaranteed. 

We say in the Nia Brown Belt that between the emotions of Love and Fear exists Peace – the unconditional sensation of centeredness. When it comes to making decisions, peace is a great sidekick to choice – providing us with a firm foundation from which to respond. If I do not have the personal power to respond from love, can I connect to the omnipresent sensation of peace? The way I see it, the more allies or tools I have to assist me, the better off I am in managing my own emotional energy…

Peace is available at every turn – all we must do is choose it.

Awareness of Hearing: Sensing Silence and Sound

When asked “What is art?” acclaimed abstract painter Ad Reinhardt is said to have replied, “Art is art, and everything else is everything else. Art needs no justification.” I wager the same statement can be made about music.

Like art, music is highly subjective. Music to one person’s ears is noise to another’s. In researching my own curiosity about how music is defined in scholastic terms, I located two definitions I find particularly intriguing.

According to Merriam-Webster, music is defined as, “The science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity.” The American Heritage Dictionary defines music as, “The art of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre.”

These definitions share many commonalities. And yet, as much truth as they contain, they both seem to fall a bit short. For if music is as subjective as art, does it need unity and continuity? Does it need to be ordered and evocative? And if so, who gets to decide whether or not it has these qualities? The answer, in my mind, lies always in the listener. Depending on the listener’s preferences, her likes or dislikes, she may hear certain things as “music” and other things as “non-music.” Ultimately, it is the Nia practice of Music Appreciation that will help determine how healing a piece of “music” will be for an individual, and likewise whether or not that individual thinks of it as music at all.

As a listener, a Nia teacher and a musician, I receive the healing benefits of music by paying attention to music’s primordial energies: silence and sound. (Primordial energies are two complimentary, essential elements, which together create a third element.) I sense music as a product of the alchemical relationship between silence and sound (silence + sound = music). I am sure someone can argue that silence and sound exist independently of each other, and therefore that “music” is possible with only one of these energies present. However, I maintain that neither is recognizable without the other. It’s like the relationship between happiness and suffering: can you recognize one if you have no experience of the other? 

So how do I receive the healing benefits not only of sound, but silence as well? I do this using the Nia practice we call RAW (Relaxed, Alert, and Waiting). RAW invites me to receive the healing benefits of music by helping me appreciate and notice that I’m enveloped in silence and sound constantly. As a ‘yang’ energy, sound gives me inspiration and excitation, and calls me to action. A ‘yin’ energy, silence invites me to sense the “non-sound’ and to perceive that behind all mobility lies intrinsic stability.

I am blown away by the power of RAW. I’m humbled by the sheer magnitude of peacefulness, grounded-ness, and awareness it evokes in me. Standing underground in New York’s bustling subway system, I hear the sounds of coins dropping, people shouting, turnstiles clicking, beatboxers rapping, bags zipping, rails screeching, and the landscape of silence behind it all. All of it is music to my ears, thanks to RAW.

RAW is the listening practice I can take with me anywhere. Being “relaxed” creates in my body a sense of calm that is both grounding and healing. Staying “alert” creates in my mind an expanded awareness or mindfulness similar to meditation. “Waiting” anchors me by giving my brain something to do, freeing up my spirit to be in a state of wonderment. What do I do when I don’t know what to do? I remain relaxed, alert, and waiting. I place 100% of my attention on listening, to witness the ever-fluctuating relationship between silence and sound.

There is this beautiful book called, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, and every single line is written as if the author Jon McGregor lives in the Zone, accompanied by RAW all the time. He writes, “If you listen, you can hear it. The city, it sings. If you stand quietly, at the foot of a garden, in the middle of a street, on the roof of a house. It’s clearest at night, when the sound cuts more sharply across the surface of things, when the song reaches out to a place inside you.”

Music is the ocean in which I swim and the air that I breathe. Each interplay of silence and sound creates its own song, offering my body, mind, emotions, and spirit unique opportunities to self-heal with every listening.

Sounds emerge from silence and return to silence. Meanwhile, I keep listening….

Allison’s tips on hearing:

  • Listen to music and notice silence the way you would notice the landscape in the background of a painting.
  • Perceive the meditative quality in all sound, noticing how every sound helps to anchor you more fully in the present moment.
  • When someone is speaking to you, practice 100% receiving (total listening). Notice the effect this has on your body, mind, emotions and spirit. Notice the effect it has on your relationship with that person.

Self-Love and the Realm of High Magic

“In the realm of high magic, the highest magic is love and the only technique is choice.” ~Lazarus

No skill has served me more as a Nia teacher than the skill of self-love. In fact, I believe it is the greatest asset and tool a person can choose in any profession and in life. Self-love- the transformative ability to love myself unconditionally and to recognize that I am valuable, worthy, and lovable no matter what. In every situation, I have a choice whether I step in with self-love, or fear.

An individual who embodies and models self-love is a magnet and a light for others to follow. I have had two primary models for self-love in my life. One is a woman who has been my mentor since age thirteen. The other, is German Nia Trainer Ann Christiansen. One of the funny things about this is that I do not know Ann personally at all, yet I don’t have to to perceive that this individual has cultivated a skill within herself that is as good as gold to the spirit. Her radiance speaks for itself.

No tool has transformed my Nia classes like the skill of self-love. Loving myself, I allow my natural radiance to shine through and do the teaching for me. Yes, there are important skills to teaching like cuing, embodying and learning the choreography ahead of time, and preparing the focus- but these are secondary skills. The most important preparation and energy I can model as a Nia teacher is self-love. When I step into class with self-love, I invite my students to step into their greatness with me. This is the place of no self-importance and no self-pity. We may ‘get’ the choreography or we may fumble it up. If we love ourselves, we’ll have fun and feel good no matter what happens. Now that is personal empowerment! As Nia Trainer Winalee Zeeb says when missing a cue, “nobody dies.” 😉

Similarly, self-love allows me to stand before someone like Ann or Winalee, both individuals I esteem highly, and meet them with a sensation of equality. To sense their radiance as an invitation and to be empowered by their self-love rather than intimidated by it- this is a great thing. Radiance is a choice each of us can manifest and it comes from evenly developing our self-love. We are all models and mirrors for each other. After all, we are one…

All choices from love. All actions from a place of self-love. What is it that we need to do to remove ourselves from choosing anything less? To step out of the way of concern and into the energy of self-love is a manifestation of the highest magic of all. I am all that I am and will ever need to be. This is the power of “enough.”

The choice is ours.

Life As Art- Altering our Perception to Sense Beauty

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change.” – Dr.Wayne Dyer

Anyone who has ever taken a drawing class is likely to relate to the Nia concept called Life As Art.  In most high school and college drawing classes, you’re given a still life or model and asked to sketch the object from different points of view. Depending on where you stand, what you see could be very different than what the person across from you sees. Shift your point of view and what you see shifts with it. In Nia, we have a similar perspective practice called “Life As Art.”

In Life As Art, we alter our perception to sense beauty. Ultimately, altering our perception is a function of opening our awareness to receive the countless sources of pleasure and beauty around us. A great story I have about this comes from my daily walk to work at Nia’s International Headquarters…

On average, it takes me about fifteen minutes to walk to HQ. While I vary my route day-to-day, if it is raining, I take the fast route down Park Avenue. Now if you know Portland at all, you know it rains all the time. Consequently, I have had countless opportunities to become familiar with this particular path! About two months after I moved here, I remember walking down Park Avenue past the same maple tree I always walked past, however something was different this time. This time around, I saw the thick scaly chunks of wood that formed the “skin” of the tree and the majestical quality its height commanded. My eyes received the orchestra of colors and observed the rich veins protruding from each leaf. Despite how many times I’d seen this tree before, I felt like I was seeing it for the very first time. In some ways, I think I was….

What I was sensing was life as art. I was attentive to the nuances, perceiving and receiving the gifts the present moment had to offer me. What’s more, it brought me great pleasure to do so! I walked off to work feeling recharged, relaxed, and energized by the experience of witnessing the world around me.

Beauty abounds us. Whether or not we see it depends on the quality of our awareness, our perspective. What is it that allows something to bring us pleasure one day and not another? How come two people can look at the same thing and describe it completely differently? Awareness is a primary factor in the answer to these questions. Life As Art invites us to sense reality through an artistic lens, curious and fascinated by the continuous unfolding of beauty around us.

Marianne Williamson, one of the primary authors responsible for popularizing A Course In Miracles sums it up best: “A miracle is a shift in perception.”

Further Reading: If this concept rocks your world and you’re interested in the science behind it, pick up “The Elegant Universe” by Dr. Brian Greene, Professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University.

White Belt Principle 5: Awareness and Living in the Mystery of the “Now”

In Nia, we have this really cool way of organizing information called triads. As you may infer from its name, a triad is a three-pointed structure- a triangle. I like to think of them as three-step directions- they tell you how to do something in a specific order, going counter clockwise from the bottom left corner of the triangle, to the bottom right, ending at the very top. Typically, whatever is situated at the top of the triad is the culmination or “product” of the points that came before it.

Tonight, I am mulling over White Belt Principle 5 and it’s “Pain Triad”. On this triad there are three points: Awareness, Stimulation, and Self-Healing. In Nia, awareness is defined as paying attention to your body sensations. This is easy to do- just sense your feet on the floor. Sense your in-breath. That is awareness. Stimulation refers to the conscious movement of your joints, which is guided by awareness. Self-healing is what occurs when the stimulation makes you feel better. Awareness- Stimulation- Self-Healing; this is our triad for addressing pain in the body. Inside the triad we have a pain scale which ranges from slight, to moderate, to acute. This allows me to measure the level of pain in my body throughout the healing process. Ideally, with proper stimulation, the pain disappears such that it no longer places anywhere on this scale.

Outside the triad, on the right and left, rest two words: Logic and Mystery. Now this is what I really want to bring your attention to…

Nia teaches us that we have these two beautiful tools for healing at our disposal. We have the practical element of logic- which is ordered and methodical- balanced with the non-linear element of mystery. “Mystery” encompasses any unique, random, perhaps inexplicable form of healing. Together, these two elements present the yin-yang of self-healing. When addressing pain, we can come at it from one or both elements. Logic says, “You broke your arm. Let’s secure it with a cast, protect and elevate it as it heals.” Mystery says, “You broke your arm. Yet every time you gently rotate your ribs, you notice that for some strange reason your arm feels better. Let’s continue this movement, as mysteriously healing as it is…”

There are so many reasons we can experience pain in our bodies and in our lives. Sometimes the cause is apparent i.e. you stubbed your toe and consequently it hurts when you walk. Or, you got into an argument with someone you love and haven’t yet found a resolution. Knowing the cause of the pain can be helpful, however becoming overly fixated on the “why” can become a limitation if taken to extremes. When I am hurting, I care less about what caused the pain and more about healing it. Nia invites us to honor the healing balance of logic and mystery by focusing our attention in the present moment, the “Now.” By releasing our dependence on the “why” of the past we can more effortlessly discover what we require in this moment to be whole and happy.

We have a choice as to how we respond in every situation. Self-healing, ultimately, is the conscious act of re-creation and thus perhaps the highest manifestation of self-love.

And if, as Johann Wolfgang Goethe writes, “Nothing is worth more than this day”, I can see no better way of spending these present moments than by living in the mystery of the now…

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.