"The complexity and subtlety of this inner world is vast, infinite and ultimately wordless." -- Vajra Ma
My first contact with the “Dance” was a talent show of sorts with a small gathering of friends in 2004.
I witnessed four women moving in a way I had never seen before. Evocative, rhythmic music filled the space... but they were not dancing to the music. Their movements were subterranean, extremely slow, serpentine and fluid. Delicately each woman, with sinuous spines and unique in her expression, explored the space with exquisite awareness. Then, in unison, they walked toward the audience in that very, very slow manner like four willows in the wind. The effect was visceral. My spine came alive and my heartbeat quickened. Energy moved up into my throat and tears spilled down my face as this wave of feminine grace and power wafted through me.
Though new to me, something ancient and familiar stirred. I was captured by Beauty. In that moment I knew in my body and soul that I was called to dive into this mysterious Dance.
I chose to call it the "Deep Feminine" because in my experience of the practice, that the well of wisdom and beauty that springs forth from within is bottomless.
If you are a Nia student or Nia teacher you may have heard me say that Nia and the Dance of the Deep Feminine go hand in glove. They are stand-alone movement modalities and they complement one another greatly. Here a few of the ways:
1) Nia and the Dance are both based on the pleasure principle. We learn through pleasure instead of pain and crisis, always tweaking to move towards what feels good in our body.
2) In Nia we talk about being Sensation Scientists where through giving our attention to sensation in the body we begin to develop body literacy. Sensation is the language of the Body. It is a continuous exploration and an awareness that develops with practice over time. This is also Principle #5 of the White Belt: Awareness.
3)The heart and soul of Nia is The Joy of Movement and this holds true for the Dance as well.
4) In the Dance you will recognize a couple of the principles from The Body's Way, namely #4: the body demands simultaneous mobility and stability. And #5: the body itself reveals the body's way.
5)Slowing down in order to move to heal.
6) Moving the core of the body: pelvis, chest and head with an emphasis on the spine and intrinsic movement.
7) Exploring the 3 M's: Music, Movement and Magic. And for the Dance I will add a fourth: Mystery!
How Ann Came to the Dance
My experience of witnessing the Dance as part of a performance is, I think, not typical. Generally one attends a workshop, class or private session with an experienced Tantric dance teacher. I began my journey of private sessions and classes with my teacher/mentor Karin Pedersen in Ashland, Oregon, and also occasional workshops with Vajra Ma in Grants Pass Oregon. There were a lot of road trips to southern Oregon in those early years of my study. After sponsoring Karin to come to Seattle several times for workshops on the Dance of the Deep Feminine it was time to start facilitating classes of my own.
So, what is this Dance? Originating in Tantric traditions, the Dance is a sensual moving meditation that taps into the womb-sourced portal to explore our deepest feminine essence.
In the words of Vajra Ma, "No dance experience is necessary. Every woman embodies this power and wisdom; she only needs to feel herself deeply enough."
As women, we hold a universal truth that cannot be understood through the mind. To embody your feminine wisdom it must be awakened through your womb as a second "brain". Tapping into the mysterious fluid rhythms of your unique feminine essence, this movement allows for an effortless flow of energy leaving one feeling more sensuous and alive. Pleasure is the portal.
In my years of studying and teaching the Dance the gifts have been many. It along with Nia has brought me home to my body, integrating inner beauty with outer beauty. There is the joy of knowing at a cellular level that beauty is not about shape. In witnessing, in myself and others, the healing that comes from slowing down.
Our nervous system requires this in order to heal from trauma. I have seen many women deepen their healing from physical and sexual abuse and the emotional injury that comes with that. It might be reclaiming the womb space after a hysterectomy or coming back into health after debilitating depression or chronic fatigue.
There is great healing and power that comes from women gathering together in a safe sanctuary, to give and receive positive messages, to witness and be witnessed in the Dance of the Deep Feminine.
Another gift has been experiencing the holding of opposites. From the beginning of my journey and exploration of the Dance I have experienced simultaneous familiarity and something unfamiliar and surprising. Sensation arising that is new and ancient. The tension between form and freedom. Simultaneous stability and mobility. Feeling vulnerable and powerful. It is not a matter of "either/ or." It is both.
There are more parallels and intersections of Nia and the Dance of the Deep Feminine but this gives you an idea as to how very compatible and complimentary they are to one another.
In describing what a Nia class is like we often say it's like attempting to describe the taste of dark chocolate, or trying to describe the color red. In other words, you really need to let your body have the experience. The same holds true for the Dance of the Deep Feminine.
My hope is that this will give a little form to the formless, a few words to help create a better sense of what you can expect if you decide to join me this coming Saturday, April 28th from 6:00 to 9:30 pm. Like Nia, the Dance of the Deep Feminine is for me a love based path.
Yes, the Dance is transformative and healing and let me assure you -- it is also full of sensuous delight, pleasure and empowerment!
Ann and I been exploring the routine Feeling over the past four or five weeks, a brilliant movement experience that focuses upon the Three Body Weights: the pelvis, the chest and the head. The student feedback we've gotten on Feeling has been wonderful, and I can sense that my body has been profoundly affected by its extraordinary chemistry.
Whenever a routine hits me like this, the curious researcher in me -- the Sensation Scientist -- yearns to to explore why that is. So I dove into studies about the mind-body-emotion-spirit connection as they pertain to these areas of the anatomy.
This, in turn, resulted in a Sunday Sacred Athlete class where we moved with the "spirit" energy of each body part: drawing upon the energies of the head (guidance, intuition, vision), the chest (the energy exchanger, the engine of the heart space) and most powerfully, the pelvis.
One of my favorite terms that I discovered in my research about the pelvis is that Taoists refer to it as the Cauldron of Desire. It is our body's refinery and generator of, and a central storage space for, creative energy. The importance of nurturing and tapping into this energy cannot be underestimated. And I only know a tiny amount about it.
Black Belt Nia instructor Susan Tate knows far more than I do. That's why we're so excited that she' s chosen Move2Center to host a four-hour mini-retreat on Sunday, May 20, that's all about the pelvis.
One might think of her workshop, Igniting the Power of the Pelvis and Maintaining the Flame, as an ownership manual for this all-important body part. But its value extends beyond that simple description.
In amplifying the power of the pelvis, she writes on her blog, we can make "choices to create a wildly healthy relationship with sex, money, and power is only one option of caring for your body, mind, spirit, & emotions. You are advised to listen to your intuition to see what other joyful activities can be added to your life."
Full disclosure: the workshop comes with side effects. Some she lists include "frequent bouts of choosing love over fear," "a refusal to engage in self-rejection or self-sabotaging behaviors," "un-bonding from past wounds" and "a release of anger, guilt, & fear." And those are just a few! Check out the full list by reading her wonderful blog post about the workshop. And by the way, if you've taken this workshop with Susan before, be aware that this is an expanded and upgraded experience with new information, including a full Nia class with choreography designed to seal the experience.
Igniting the Power of the Pelvis and Maintaining the Flame takes place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, May 20. Register before May 19 to save $10 off the $75 day-of fee by clicking here.
I am very lucky to spend most of my days barefoot. Most people aren't as fortunate. I know this from experience.
From the moment many people in Western cultures get up in the morning, we may slide into slippers, only to trade in our house soles for shoes that take us into the workday. Heels or flats, or maybe athletic casuals, shoes encase our feet all day, often until the moment we crawl into bed at night. And this includes specialized shoes for working out, cushioning our feet in foam, vinyl or leather.
As for me, I work from home, spending most of my day shoeless – hooray! When the weather is warm enough, I saunter around my house sock-free. This enables me to appreciate the smooth texture of the hardwoods in my kitchen or the nubby sensation of the (admittedly WAY too old) carpet in my office and bedrooms. My workdays are more comfortable than they were when I was trapped in shoes, and inside an office. I notice that I have more energy during the weeks I spent mostly in bare feet, especially in comparison to weeks I am obligated to spend on business trips, requiring me to wear shoes. Days spent without footwear have changed my definition of a “good” shoe, too.
When Nia was created 35 years ago, Debbie Rosas and Carlos AyaRosas recognized the healthy benefits of moving in bare feet. This discovery began with their study of the martial arts, but also is validated by our physiology.
“The foot, by design, is meant to spread,” explains Nia trainer Holly Natasi. “It is like a fan that opens with each step. It is sprung with a series of tough ligaments and tendons with can get rigid if not used regularly. You suffer loss of mobility in the ankles if your foot is not able to do its job. When the shoe offers all the support, the foot begins to atrophy.”
To wit: Each foot consists of 28 bones, 30 joints and more than 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments. Together these anatomical features provide support for the entire body.
When we dance in bare feet, this improves our sense of balance and mobility, allows the feet strengthen and augments our sense of proprioception, defined as “the unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body itself.”
Heightened stimulus is another benefit of dancing barefoot. We have 7000 nerve endings in the soles of our feet. Wow, right? This explains why having a tiny pebble in one shoe can have a huge impact upon our entire nervous system, or why being trapped in uncomfortable shoes can affect a person’s whole sense of well-being while, say, wearing other items of uncomfortable clothing may merely amount to a bearable nuisance.
On the flipside, it also explains why walking on a lush field of soft grass, or a flawless beach, can feel like a mini-vacation. On a perfect day, such actions exhilarate the spirit and emotional realms as much as the physical.
Our feet deepen our connection to sensation, to feeling good, a key element of pleasure-based fitness.
So next time you join us at Move2Center – even if it’s for the first time – kick off your shoes and take a moment to sense the pleasure and relief that comes from freeing the feet. Even before we step in to the dance, that is where our connection to wellness begins. Revel in it.
“Girls do not dress for boys. They dress for themselves and, of course, each other.” -- Betsey Johnson
In one of my early Nia trainings, I recall the sight of a friend jangling a piece of jewelry she wore on her wrist. It made a faint bell-like sound as she moved, and clearly it gave her joy. Then, when she caught me observing her, she smiled brightly. “One of the reasons I love Nia,” she said, “is the sparkle.”
Few other fitness modalities encourage people to bring adornment into their practice. Sometimes this happens as an outgrowth of engaging with the music, the 52 moves and that special sensation created when they combine to create magic. In my case, I needed a little push.
When I first began practicing Nia, my teacher started one particular class by inviting us to consider what we were wearing as we stepped into that morning's practice. That day, like every other class before it, I had on my rattiest t-shirt and some old leggings. When I say rattiest, I mean that it had holes in it and was flecked with paint stains. It was a hot mess, and at the time I felt like one. We were going to get sweaty, so what was the point of putting on anything pretty?
Jill, my teacher, wore fabulous flare-cut workout bottoms, skirts and dresses, rings and earrings. Once she wore a tiara. And on that day, she invited those of us in attendance to give ourselves the gift of something to dance in that made us feel beautiful and energized. That amplified our sensation of joy. It didn’t have to be workout fashion – it could be anything that we made us feel good that we could move in. Nobody had ever suggested such a thing to me before. “Really?” I thought. “I can move and sweat and strengthen and play in…something nice?”
So I found a shirt that was ablaze with rhinestones, and wore that to the next class. She was right – seeing the flashes in the mirrors created a different sensation in my body. For the first time, in a long time, my outside reflected the way I felt inside.
This story captures the essence of the “Naughty and Nice” experience: When women feel good and sexy, why not show the world? Or if not the world -- not yet -- why not start with our community?
Nia is a pleasure based fitness practice. Sensation informs every movement, and by honoring our relationship with sensation, we find greater health and we cultivate a better relationship with our physical selves.
In spite of this, many people associate the words “sensation” and “sensual,” and “pleasure,” with privacy and secrecy, even embarrassment. Although we’re creating a controlled, women-only setting for “Naughty and Nice,” some folks are still hesitant about indulging in this experience. We get it! Maybe you’re thinking…
I'm not up to dancing around other people in my lingerie.
It’s a bold choice. But guess what? You don’t have to!
The invitation is to move in something that makes you feel sensual and wonderful. Maybe that’s a matched set of pajamas. Maybe it’s a little black dress. Maybe it’s a cotton shift that you put on in the heat of summer when you want to show off your fabulousness to the world.
Or…maybe it’s a bustier. Maybe it’s that sexy Halloween costume languishing in the back of your closet. Your favorite club outfit. Your prom dress. Heck, it could be a gorgeous kaftan that flows with every turn and shimmers with every shimmy.
If you can move in it, if it makes you feel fabulous -- and it's not a workout outfit -- then wear it! The only things we ask you to bare are your feet. (May we also suggest an outfit made of breathable fabric?)
Wear anything that gives you a new sensation while you move, that awakens a special spark in you when you put it on and look in the mirror, that makes you feel wonderful. Now imagine externalizing that spark, bringing it out to play with others, appreciating their sparkle as they appreciate yours.
Doesn’t that sound… sensational?
Why is it important to move in something other than our usual workout wear?
The answer varies according to the individual, but in my experience, my initial experiences of adding “sparkle” to my Nia experience stealthily built a spirit bridge within me. Little by little, I began cultivating that sensation in my life outside of my Nia classes.
I began to add a little shine to other parts of my life I’d been neglecting: my work wardrobe, my grocery shopping outfits, my skin, my hair, my relationships. I’d throw off sparkle as I walked down the street, both in the actual and metaphorical respects. This was the first step on my path becoming a Sensation Scientist...a journey I'm still on.
OK, but what if we already “sparkle” in our Nia classes? How is “Naughty and Nice” different?
It’s true, a lot of Nia practitioners show up in some slammin’ dance wear. You already look marvelous! In fact, during a typical week, I often look and feel my absolute best after I put on the bottoms and tops – and earrings, bracelets and beads -- that I wear to teach and take class.
But I also consciously pick those outfits for the compression of the fabric, moisture-wicking, etc. Those reasons don’t factor in when I dress up to seduce myself –- like, say, when I’m going to a dance club, or out to hear live music whether it’s created by a DJ, a rock band, or a symphony orchestra, or to a luxurious dinner.
That’s the difference with “Naughty or Nice”. The invitation is to move in the sensation of seducing yourself, in an outfit that reflects that inner seduction dance. Wear a sexy full coverage outfit…and wear a beautiful bra underneath instead of athletic support! Sense how freeing dancing in lace or satin feels on your skin, as opposed to fabric engineered to hold.
Play with your outer appearance to sense a new kind of freedom, inside and out!
Why did you suggest dancing in lingerie in the first place?
That’s how “Naughty and Nice” began. Here’s what Jill Pagano wrote about the first one in 2009:
“’Naughty and Nice Nia’ came from a profound experience. Practicing Nia in my home office, I got hot. So I took off my jeans and was left dancing in a camisole and underwear. Two things happened with different clothing on:
1) I felt different and thus danced differently and 2) catching subtle glimpses of myself in my office windows I began to see and appreciate my body and its movements.
I was shook. If I could have a profound moment simply by changing what I was wearing...maybe others would too.”
Any time we do something brave and boundary-pushing we experience an energy rush. That’s the reason human beings voluntarily do things that seem frightening but are typically quite safe, like ziplining or riding rollercoasters, or watching scary movies.
"Naughty and Nice" is WAY safer than any of those pursuits. This is "slumber party," "Lady Land" fun, where we can appreciate and support each other, and fuel our collective spark and our inner sparkle.
We all need that for ourselves. And the world needs that from us, too!
Are you ready?....Yeah, you're ready.
The pearl of "show off your golden heart" has come back to me time and again recently, particularly during the Ride song called "Shine." The Arabic word habibi is the centerpiece of the song's refrain, and it means "dearest one" or "my darling" or, yes, "sweet heart." It's a term of endearment. But it also speaks to the central energy of the heart, that most essential part of our body's machinery. Our hearts love to be loved, and to connect with other hearts.
As I wrote before for our NiaSeattle blog, the heart as a muscle. But it’s actually more neuron than muscle tissue -- around 65% of it consists of neurons, in fact. This is part of the reason that the heart is a guiding, driving force, the centerpiece of passion. We “know in our hearts” when something is right for us, or wrong, and a happy heart can transform the world around us.
This is not merely a psychosomatic coincidence.
As stated in an article posted on NiaNow.com, “[the] heart field is 60 times greater in amplitude than brain waves. It can be detected and measured several feet away, in a circle above and around us, and blends between two individuals in close proximity. The heart connects everything around us, and can trigger our deepest yearnings, which is why it is often said that we should follow our hearts’ desires.”
The energy generated by our heart's electromagnetic field is truly extraordinary. Did you know that if you place living heart cells from two different people near one another in a Petri dish, that after a while they will synchronize their pulses? "Some scientists speculate that this method of communication may be able to cross great distances and may explain how social animals bond, or how pets seem to sense when their masters are coming home," says author Pete Nelson, "or even how people fall in love, one heart calling to another.”
This also explains why our sense of community can feel so potent and nourishing to our heart connection, which is central to the mind-body-emotion-spirit aspect of our Nia practice.
“The world today is chaotic -- you know this," wrote Aikido sensei Linda Holiday. "But the age of the heart will come. ”
So this week, let's focus on the heart with the intent of cherishing its role in connecting with others, and to our sense of self-love and well-being. Open your heart, whether with shimmies or chest isolations, or simply by showing it to the world through your smile, habibi. -- Melanie
The adventure of embodying the new Nia routine Ride has led to a lot of “a-ha” moments, particularly as I’ve slowed down and embarked upon the process of decoding the routine. One of the greatest “a-has” gets back to a Nia core teaching, which is to trust the body’s wisdom.
I thought about this a lot after a recent class, when a student approached me and shared that she was confused about which way to turn in direction during one particular song. That is, until she “stopped thinking about it.”
“Then,” she said, “it just clicked.”
“You allowed yourself to flow with your body’s --” I searched for the word, then it came to me “ --momentum.”
Momentum is a fabulous word, and one of the fundamental terms that describes a principle of physics. Remember Newton’s First Law? “An object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an external force.”
When we practice Nia, our muscles and movement range consistently act as external forces. Moving with purpose and a plan, whether in specific directions or through certain katas, creates momentum. It is the practice of sensing our body’s mass in motion.
This allows us to connect more fully with the sensations of mobility and agility while sensing safety in space.
Our brain maps direction and the placement of the feet, the upper extremities and the core within the patterns of the routine. Our nervous system works with our muscles to sense what the body needs to do – more than that, what it wants to do – in order to complete one set of movements and flow into the next. When change occurs, the brain translates what to do in order to effect that change…but even then, if we let our bodies surf the momentum of the experience, we can relax and embrace the pleasure of the dance while remaining present and in the moment.
Simply put, your body knows what it needs, how to move and where it wants to go.
Trust your body.
That’s why we teachers remind our students that there’s no wrong way to move in Nia, that “your way is the right way.”
That’s the simplicity underneath the bells and whistles of Ride: coast with the momentum while being mindful of any shifts that occur. That’s also one of life's big lessons, isn’t it?
Actually, I suspect the routine Life probably has different and unique lessons to impart…but that’s a post for another day. -- Melanie
Have you ever been in a movement class when one of your favorite songs comes on?
When that happens I immediately smile, maybe say something to convey my delight (“Yes!” “I love this one!”). But I also notice my body switch into its own version of “ready” position. The brain tells the muscles, “Alright…we know this!”
Then the dance begins.
The human brain is an extraordinary pattern-recognition machine. Our brains seek out patterns, in fact. It’s our way to make sense of the world around us. Nia taps into this science by incorporating patterns and repetition into each routine. These are known as katas.
The concept of kata comes from the martial arts. In essence, it is choreography: detailed pattern of movements that are taught to allow students to embody the fundamentals of each move until the whole pattern becomes second nature.
The intent is enable the students to Learn the Move, i.e. recognize and understand movement patterns; to Move the Move, i.e. to embody a pattern, and then to Energize the Move – to personalize the pattern.
We learn new patterns over time to embody their benefits and in doing so, more deeply tap into that connection between mind, body, emotion and spirit.
For example, Ride¸ the new routine Mel is learning and sharing, contains katas that repeat – and shift – throughout the playlist. This conditions the physical body while simultaneously conditioning the mind’s memory recall. With sustained practice, Ride promotes deeper relaxation into these patterns (soothing emotion) and allows a body to explore the routine's vast opportunities to personalize (spirit).
Ann is teaching Wild, in which she encourages students to experience reflexive conditioning in the body, encouraging exploration of agility – the action of “start-stop.”
Cell-Ebrate, Juliann's current routine, promotes relaxation through repetition during its warm-up, inviting the class to sink into ease via rich pattern of simple movements incorporating relaxing breaths and sounding, before diving into an inspiring Get Moving cycle.
As we experience each of these routines bit by bit over several weeks, mind and body develop an intimacy with these patterns. “New to me” movements become familiar: We learn, we move and we energize our way to that place of, “Alright…I know this!”
And here’s a secret: Your body already knows these moves, because Nia is designed to move in the body’s way and to be adaptable to your body’s way.
Give your self time to learn, move, energize and relax into Ride, Cell-Ebrate and Wild.