the SPIRIT of Nia

I come from a sports background. After I got out of school, I no longer had an outlet for my athleticism so I got into dance. I felt it was a discipline that offered me a good physical challenge. I had considered going into boxing or martial arts, but I had a problem with the fighting mentality that pervaded. Being a dancer eventually led me to become an aerobics instructor, professionally.
This satisfied me for several years until I started to notice my body breaking down. I was in constant pain and it was not uncommon to see overuse and misuse injuries in my field.
So it was this that led me to Nia. I read about it as a practice that combined the best of all worlds. The martial arts barefoot practice of self discipline, the healing qualities and self awareness of Alexander and Feldenkrais, the spiritual connections of yoga and tai chi, the freedom and expression of modern and jazz dance.... it was perfect for me. It combined exercise with self improvement with healing.

And as I scientist I appreciated that Nia had taken the time to research all of these modalities and gleaned the most germane aspects and combined them into one single practice. I fell in love with it immediately and my body was immediately healed by the shifts in paradigm it offered me.

Another thing happened too. I was exposed to some mystical concepts like following an ancient Mayan calendar as opposed to our Gregorian; like belief in the powers of certain rocks and crystals and seemingly magical abilities of the oils of plants and flowers to alter us psychologically, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I was also introduced to the concept of chakras. There were several other things of this ilk that I consider as extra-curricular to Nia's pedagogy. I learned more about it during breaks by talking to women who actually considered themselves goddesses or witches; a concept that was new, but fascinating to me.

I investigated. I bought some rocks and some essential oils and some books about chakras and magic. I was confused by how there seemed to be no one answer to the meanings of the chakras or the powers of the crystals. If I compared one source to another, I would come up with different answers. Eventually I learned that there is no agree-upon scientific basis for it. So I accepted that it was a belief-based practice. Like religion or astrology, I respected that other people got value from it, but I didn't buy into it.

The years went by and I explored adding some of those mystical things into my classes here and there, and the responses ranged from feeling blissful to being called out as a charlatan. In the end, I have concluded that if I am going to include any non-science mysticism in my class, I will be sure to frame it as such. I see no harm in playing around with different beliefs as long as I am not passing them off as true. Just as my skin crawls when someone tries to convince me that their God is real I would not force my beliefs on anyone else.

One event stands out for me when I was teaching a routine called ChakraDancer as part of a larger workshop on the chakras. I noticed a very faithful student of mine not participating fully by the end of class. And afterward, she shared with me a phrase that stuck with me.  She said it felt like I was "rearranging her gem garden".  It hurt me to think I was having that effect on someone and it taught me a valuable lesson in how to approach mysticism. Now if I ever broach a mystical or metaphysical subject, I will always frame it as opinion, theory or belief and leave it open to individual interpretation. I know the difference between something I can state as a scientific fact and that will be supported by a consensus among respected professionals and when I'm dabbling in an inexact science that it largely interpretive, subjective and unprovable.

In order to be taken seriously as a professional in a medical-based field, I protect my reputation by limiting my use of magic and emphasizing science. I do still enjoy exploring theoretical and mystical topics when they are approached in a way that doesn't imply that they are solid fact.

I have, on occasion, been confronted with someone who I'm trying to interest in coming to my Nia class, but they balk, by saying "I've tried Nia before and it's too woo-woo new agey for me." I think that's a shame because while I see that "new age" aspect as an integral part of Nia, it can be abused and overshadow the fact that Nia is ultimately a physical fitness practice based on sound medical principles. But when teachers use crystals and dance with scarves it sullies the intellect and dilutes the integrity of what I believe Nia can be.

So if you come to my class, you will be in a class that is based in science and that is focused on improving our ability to live fully and comfortably in our bodies. To me this includes addressing the contribution of our minds and the energy of our emotions as well as a bit of attention to acknowledging our spirits. But you will not be asked to believe in anything unscientific. If I do present a mystical topic, I will describe it as such and ask you to imagine it, consider it and make your own determination as to it's value to you.

I sometimes catch myself attempting to police other Nia teachers from being too 'woo-woo'. Mainly because of how I see it effecting me in my efforts to attract serious legitimate students. But I know better than to do that and when I do catch myself issuing citations, I retreat. I wouldn't want anyone telling me what to believe, and I certainly don't want to ever again rearrange anyone's gem garden.

Now, after teaching for 22 years, I am a First Degree Black Belt in Nia and am going to get my Second Degree in January, '19. Some time ago I came to the conclusion that if I speak about spirit energy, then I'm doing it wrong. I made a commitment to myself to transit spirit energy in the way I believe it lives, which is beyond words, beyond thoughts, beyond feelings and emotions, to a place that cannot be properly outwardly expressed. My students often say they feel a spirit in my class and are often surprised when I tell them I didn't say anything about it, but I do believe it and make a conscious effort to transmit it. I believe that my hands-off approach to this aspect of the work not only preserves my integrity as a scientist but also allows the spirit to be present in class. It can be available for anyone to interpret their own way but without forcing itself on someone who isn't ready.


Helene Gozani said…
Jason, I really enjoyed reading this post. To transit spirit energy in the way it lives, which is beyond words, beyond thoughts, beyond feelings and emotions, to a place that cannot be properly outwardly expressed is a lofty aspiration. I agree with you 100%. I look forward to one day taking your class and in the meantime hope to be able to transit spirit energy as eloquently.

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