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.