Fit for Life

A year ago I found out I was a diabetic. It was discovered during a routine checkup but I wasn’t entirely surprised because my weight had been climbing steadily for a few years, even though I thought my eating habits were good.

I cooked healthy meals, rarely ate fried foods or desserts, didn’t drink alcohol or soda. And not that much meat either – actually I wasn’t that far away from being an ovo-lacto vegetarian. I was eating ‘whole’ foods like eggs, butter, milk, cream and cheese, believing these foods to be healthier than the alternatives. I still believe butter is better for the body than the alternatives, but clearly there was a better choice for me.

Since I was not interested in taking medication I needed to make a dramatic life change. The first thing I did was to go completely vegetarian. Dropping the dairy made a huge difference and my body weight began dropping steadily. When I went back for my next checkup my blood sugars were normal. My doctor didn’t use the words ‘reversing diabetes’ that you hear these days, she just said I was managing the condition by my lifestyle.

It wasn’t just my diet however. The second big life change was to fully commit myself to Nia which I had been doing for about six months.  I went to a Nia jam (a group of teachers who co-teach a Nia routine) and one of the teachers was a woman who, in her 70’s clearly had a body age much younger than mine. Her agility and grace was beautiful and inspiring, and I decided right then and there that was for me. My next step was to sign up for the next Nia White Belt training in Victoria. Meanwhile I continued to lose weight and ‘prepare the vessel’.

My goal was to do Nia at least 5 times a week and to do it I needed to firmly put the intention out there, and also put my money where my mouth was. My job was going to be to teach Nia: there is nothing like the knowledge that you have to stand up in front of a class to motivate a person into action. 

Now that I have enough routines under my belt to comfortably get going as a Nia trainer, my job description needs to be adjusted. Though I have a half a dozen new routines on my shelf to learn, it is becoming easy to relax into the work I put in over the past six months. Being a writer, it often only feels like I am working when I’m sat in front of my keyboard.

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” E.B. White

It is still hard for me to grasp that doing Nia is really my job. Not preparing for a class and learning a routine which can be a lot of start and stop, just ‘taking’ a class for the pleasure of it. Surely, the little gremlin on my shoulder tells me, dancing is what you do after your ‘real’ work is finished, right?  The problem is that work expands to fill the amount of time available. And also if you don’t tell yourself that getting moving is more important than anything else you might do, it will be pushed aside and rationionalised.  

So clearly we need a new vision where play comes first. Like saving money by paying yourself first, we become fit for life by making fitness come first. I’ve learned several things about fitness. One is that it has to be enjoyable. If you aren’t having a good time, sooner or later you’ll fall off the wagon. It has happened to me many times, good intentions swept aside.

Secondly, in a study on what made people happy into their elder years it wasn’t money or lifestyle that was the most important, but health and mobility. It is possible the two are related – that those who have a certain level of wealth and a certain lifestyle have more time to spend on keeping fit. But it needn’t necessarily follow. Though certainly we are all busy, many of the things we do are by choice – watching television for example, or playing games on the computer. When these things are social (that is, time spent with family) I think that’s great, but when we do them alone those activities are time-thieves.

My goal is to be fit for rest of my life, however long that may be, and also have a high enough level of health and fitness to enjoy that life. I found my way through Nia and I invite you to give it a try. No class near you? No problem! Nia has 4 routines you can buy and do at home, or gather a few friends together and have a Nia party. Maybe you will even become inspired to take the white belt training and bring Nia to your community!

© Deborah Redfern, 2011. All rights reserved.

Nia is a Celebration

There is something very powerful about being in a class where everyone is doing the same move. Not identical as the goal is in a traditional dance performance, but each person doing the same move in their own way.

It is a wonderful component of Nia that encourages everyone to dance from whatever level they are currently, so that everyone can participate, whether they are overweight and out of shape — like I was when I started Nia two years ago, or svelte and athletic, which is (closer, at least) to where I am now.

It is a celebration to find a fitness form that encourages self-exploration. Through the diversity of movement styles: dance (modern dance, jazz and Duncan dance), martial arts (T’ai Chi, Aikido, Tae Kwon Do) and healing arts (yoga, Alexander Technique and the work of Moshe Feldenkrais), students have the opportunity to inhabit and be transported into a magical world.

Imagination is encouraged in Nia classes. In one song I am a graceful and fluid ballet dancer, in another I am saucy jazz diva: I am a star! I am strong and fearless with martial arts moves, composed and serene with yoga moves, integrated with Alexander Technique.

It is also a celebration of different facets of being: sometimes I want to be graceful and feminine, other times I want to be athletic. One moment I am serious and composed, the next I am playful. Nia gives an outlet for all these expressions and it stretches me to go into places that I probably wouldn’t explore on my own: it gives permission to be ungraceful, play with being off balance or making shapes that aren’t always ‘pretty’.

What is really interesting is that this play acting spills over into other parts of your life. Nia calls itself a life-style practice as well as a fitness practice. How so? Ask yourself,  were there any times in your life you can remember ‘taking on’ attributes of what you were doing? For example, when I was a dancer, I wore dance workout clothes and carried myself like a dancer. When I was doing yoga people commented on how serene I was. With T’ai Chi it was all about feeling energy flowing in my body.

With Nia, it took me longer to find the connection, and perhaps it is different for everyone, but I find Nia greatly expands my sense of self, with attributes from yoga (composed, grounded, balanced and serene), dance (grace, fluid, playful) and martial arts (strong, fierce, alert, but it can also be balanced and gentle.) 

It results in an increasingly well balanced person, one who is able to express their emotions, who is joyfully ‘dancing through life’ and that is something worth celebrating.

© Deborah Redfern 2011. All rights reserved.

Why I love Nia

It has been a lot of years since I was in a traditional dance class (ballet, modern, jazz, ballroom). In my twenties I was practically obsessed with dance – it even defined my future as I met the guy I married through my ballet class buddies.

Then I dropped out of dance completely. Part of it was that as a full time university student I didn’t have the money or time to take 2 or 3 dance classes a week, and part of it was, well somehow the format seemed unsustainable as a long term adult fitness pursuit. The format was designed for children with a semester of dance and an end of term recital so the parents could see their little ones being adorable in tutus. And while I personally enjoy performing I wished for more choices – the only option was to sit out 4 or 5 weeks while the rest of the class worked on a performance piece. I wanted another model for fitness and personal expression.  

In the years after dance I did yoga. I was pretty serious about yoga, even teaching classes myself, but then during one of my yoga teacher training intensives I got a sacroiliac joint injury. Afterwards, however careful I was, I kept re-injuring that hip and it wasn’t until I stopped doing yoga completely that my damaged hip joint healed.

I tried other fitness modalities too, including aerobics (I took teacher training before realizing that I couldn’t stand doing aerobics!), shallow water fitness, t’ai chi (which I liked, but after learning the complete form I quit – I can’t remember why now). Nothing ‘stuck’ and I could never recapture the feeling that dance gave me. It came as a big surprise that as a ‘50-something’ I would discover Nia (nee-ah) and be drawn right back into the world of dance. I was hooked from the very first class.

Nia is sneaky fitness. It is all about the Routine. Where traditional dance classes focus on conditioning muscle groups in isolation (for example the barre work in ballet), Nia mixes the fitness in with the dance moves. Each Nia class is a choreographed routine done to beautiful and diverse music styles. And although each Routine has a theme or focus, the moves are varied so that by the end of the one hour class it feels like there is no body part you haven’t moved.

It is so much fun it is difficult to appreciate exactly how much conditioning is going on. In Nia we stretch, tone and build muscles; we develop endurance and strengthen our cardiovascular systems; we revitalize internal organs, and as we work out where hands and feet are supposed to go, our brains have a field day creating new pathways.  

Nia satisfies my need for personal expression because each class takes me through a story that can be read on several different levels. The music chosen for each routine often tells a story, as do the movements chosen. Then there is the personal level, — me, my story, my life, whatever has just happened on my way to class that I am carrying with me. In the warm-up portion of Nia, I begin to ground my energy and remember to breathe! With each song I am invited to let go a little more. Often at the peak of the cardiovascular song movements I enter into a kind of walking meditation – a state of being very present and letting go of whatever dramas are going on in my life.

When I was a Nia beginner I struggled with letting go. As my body began to tire I’d find myself compulsively looking at the clock every few minutes to see how much longer there was to go. That is a kind of drama too and by persisting with Nia I learned to become more comfortable with letting go of the need to control; to allow my body to get tired, sweaty and messy. Then of course what happens is the body gets stronger and develops more endurance.

Engaging fully into Nia, suddenly the story is no longer about me. My energy field expands. I look around and see the same thing happening to other dancers. We all loosen up and enter a world of play and imagination. And as the routine winds down I return to myself, grounded, softer and energized, in love with Nia and life.  

© Deborah Redfern 2011. All rights reserved.

Nia Workshop with Deborah

with Heart Land by Tim Wheater. 

Sound holds the essence of magic

This unique Nia workshop invites you to create the essence of magic in your own life.

First you step into the beautiful story told through song. Heart Land tells the story of a warrior who has ‘laid his sword to rest and returns his soul to gentleness’ by calling down the energy of angels. It is a story of reconciling with the past, finding peace within and opening to love.

Secondly as you ‘sound’ and move with the music you become part of the story itself (click on the link above to hear samples of the music.) As I do this routine, at times I step into the shoes of the warrior, other times the voice of the tribe speaks to me, and the words of the angels resonate deeply inside. We have all, at some point in our lives have experienced all three: being the ‘warrior’, the higher voice, and the voice of the collective. 

As I listen to this music and to the ‘warrior’ creating beautiful harmonies, I find myself being transported to an ancient forest surrounded by mists. As a lover of mystery and feeling enchanted by the Mists of Avalon stories, I can well imagine what is taking place. There is a sense of coming home, both to a physical place and coming home to yourself and your true nature. It is a deeping healing experience that has the feel of a moving meditation and creating a very sacred space, a magical space.

This workshop is an opportunity to experiment with breath, sound and movement. You do not need any training in singing or movement to participate. The simple yoga-like movements help to open your throat and heart chakras, with the intent to allow a gentle coming home to yourself. And as you do so, you create your own story. The creator of this routine, Debbie Rosas Stewart, says “We tell stories with our bodies as we move; we tell stories with our voice as we sound.”

I will be introducing this routine at the Sacred Travelers Workshop, July 14-17. For more information see our website: Sacred Travelers.

© Deborah Redfern, 2011. All rights reserved.