Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sunday Scribblings #30 - Dance (Nia)

There could be no better post topic for Sunday Scribblings today than this - dance has given me new life.

Specifically, Nia has given me life. Nia, meaning "with purpose" in Swahili, has awakened my body's way.

Nia, a spirited blend of dance, martial arts, and healing arts, is not a "work out". No, it's more of a "play in". Don't get me wrong - it's not just a an unstructured free-for-all. It's challenging, but not in the militaristic body punishing way that many physical activities are. It's intelligent body movement, and it has transformed me.

How can I help you understand Nia better? Hmmm... well, it's comparable to the pleasure of silky melt-in-your-mouth chocolate, the release that comes from a deep warm gooey massage, the way a softly worn t-shirt caresses your skin, the deep bone chills you get the instant you realize you're loved, and the relief of coming in from the cold, wet rain.

Best of all is that, for me, Nia offers the safety I can only usually find beneath my heavy down duvet.

I've written recently about my experience of living life with Bipolar Disorder. Nia has played an enormous role in my healing journey and continues to be my most reliable wellness management strategy.

When my mental health started declining in 2004, I used exercise to cope. Actually, I over-used exercise and became addicted to it, compelled to engage in it. My passion for exercise began quite innocently, with the occasional short run or trip to the gym. Before long, running to and from the gym became the routine.

Gradually, however, I began challenging myself and soon enough created a network of people who enjoyed physical fitness and fed my growing preoccupation. I pushed myself to keep up with this athletic crowd. Eventually I came to rely on the thrill and escape from the feelings of unworthiness that physical fitness offered. There was nothing like that assurance of a burst of vitality that came from every bench press, soccer kick, stroke in the pool, pushing off of my foot on the pavement, revolution of my bike wheel, puck/stick contact and downward dog.

Over time, my well-being depended on more and more exercise, and I began to equate my worth with the growing number of hours spent exercising. Physical activity was a dependable, predictable, and reliable partner in my life, and was there when major stressors and life changes came about. It helped me cope with the transformational identity-crisis-causing turmoil of marriage, the death of a loved one, job changes, and this serious turn in my mental health.

Like any dependency, my relationship with exercise soon became quite a dysfunctional one. It began poisoning my sense of priority, occupied my thoughts, and kept me from sleeping and eating. I began to have “moving meals” (on my bicycle) had became fixated with excessive physical activity. Predictably, next came the diagnosis of anorexia (or exercise bulimia, depending on who I talked to), followed by osteoporosis, stress fractures, and iron and Vitamin D deficiencies.

Then I found Nia. At first, it was difficult for me to accept this body-loving movement practice. I only knew about the "no pain no gain" mantra, and was taken aback by the "all gain without the pain" way of moving. Initially seeking a way to get more exercise, I enrolled for a Nia teacher training intensive. It wasn't long before all the self-abusive forms of exercise in my life appealed to me less and less and Nia called to me more and more.

Through Nia I was introduced to a community of people who were not there to “exercise” – they were there to embody the “joy of life” through dance. Without being conscious of it, I was learning break the cycle of numbness that I had been putting my body through with all that demanding body-punishing exercise.

Nia, this intellectually stimulating, spiritually based and fun type of movement practice soon began to penetrate my very being. I learned of the wellness and restorative potential in the movement-music connection. As my body became more alive through my Nia practice, I could physically feel the energy flow and magic that engulfed and fulfilled me.

In finding Nia, I let go of perfectionism which allowed my unique movement style to flourish. Nia has enabled me to find all my basic energy needs of movement, music and magic through one practice. The ties to spirituality, healing, dance, and martial arts that this practice offers has given me a nearly indescribable gift.

Through my practice and teaching, I've learned to listen to and respect my body in a way I had never experienced before. Now when I exercise, I am much more aware. I dance, I have fun, and I’m part of a community that emphasizes happiness and self-directed wellness over skill or physique. Now that I focus on sensation rather than results, my body has come home to itself, my body image has vastly improved, and I have managed to make my eating disorder a thing of the past.

So, you see, an integral part of my treatment for anorexia and bipolar disorder has been Nia. Nia has not only gave me a focus and kept me connected, but has helped my self confidence, and allows me to be fully present during physical activity. It has vastly improved my body image, taught me about self-compassion and has rendered my eating disorder a thing of the past. I am also grateful to Nia for mood management. I can find balance, creativity and healthy expressive outlets through my daily practice and work with students. I can live my life, knowing that I still have bipolar, but because of Nia, have faith that I can make healthy choices about coping.

Here's some YouTube footage you may want to take a look at to see classes in action:

From Nia International - A promotional video.

From Germany, this one offers a good at-a-glance understanding of the
Nia class experience

Have I inspired you to try a class?

Look at these websites for scheduling information where you are!

Nia International
Nia Canada
My Nia schedule in Toronto


  1. your post is an inspiration, both in its subject matter and the message it gives to the reader. i too believe that healthy and creative activities help to quiet and steady the mind.

  2. I so agree with you - body and mind working together create a better one...Nia looks a little intense for me so I'll continue with yoga, even though several of my friends insist I change to Nia. Hmmmm.

  3. Really enjoyed reading this. I know many people who are bipolar. I can relate to a lot of what you have experienced and the information you provide makes me want to take a another look at Nia. Thanks for the post.

  4. Very interesting and inspiring post. I had never had of Nia before. It is fascinating how dance can be used to heal both the mind and body. Keep dancing!

  5. One very informative post. Inspiring too. Thanks!

    Dance of Life

  6. wow, great post... what an interesting journey ... glad to found relief in dancing nia, tho i have never heard of it... it looks like a lot of fun ...i will be thinking of nia as i life my 3 # weight in so many reps... it sorta looks like what i am dancing in my kitchen during the break from cleaning