When does cutting edge, ahead of the curve, and on the cusp of discovery become common knowledge? When does a revolutionary idea become obvious? How many years does “discovery” take? When an idea manifests into a body of work, how does it “prove” itself? Some ask, why does it need to? It seems to be the nature of our culture. Perhaps it is the curiosity of the human, the wiring in our head. I know that I want to see the details of what I know. Today we have the means to study the smallest aspects of ourselves. The patterning of our neuronal firing, changes in chemical reactions, these miracles of our body can now “be seen”. Science takes up the ideas and “studies” them. But who decides what should be studied?
In regard to academics, Brian Martin, author of The Bias in Science (1979), makes a compelling argument that education produces “scientists who are strongly committed to the values which are built into the scientific enterprise.” He suggests that indoctrination into the scientific world comes through conforming to the authority, discouragement of original ideas and that curriculum establishes what is valid knowledge and creates boundaries between subjects. I have witnessed this in my own “interdisciplinary University program”. I am not to cross into the physiological world as I have my training in psychology. Unless, of course, I want to begin my educational career again!!
Further, Martin notes that in advanced degree programs, students are encouraged to choose topics that are conservative and unexciting. I would add that students are not necessarily allowed to choose, especially if the topic is something revolutionary like The Nia Technique. I was this student. I did not have the right background (to study Nia), I was deficient (in physiological knowledge), I was independent (strong willed), I was rejected…..twice. I was also 45 years old, a full-time fully trained practitioner of Nia for 9 years and I was passionate about exploring this cutting edge aerobic activity. I was already 34 credits into a Health Sciences program. I had the support of several professor mentors, just not the “right” ones. Three is a charm and this time I prevailed. I am still not studying the Nia Technique at this point. Where does choice of study enter in?
My curiosity lies in the little miracles (and there are some BIG ones) that happen when I participate in and teach The Nia Technique, a fusion fitness body/mind practice. Over nearly 30 years, its founders, Debbie Rosas-Stewart and Carlos AyaRosas, developed and honed this body of work. The Nia Technique was launched in 1983 as an alternative to high impact aerobics. Questioning fundamental aspects of aerobics, such as wearing shoes, and the jarring nature of most classes, the founders began to explore other ways of moving. They no longer bought into the industry belief of NoPain/NoGain. This questioning led to an exploration of other ways to move the body and resulted in a barefoot, grounded, body/mind/spirit workout that is steeped in the Pleasure Principle of AllGain/NoPain.
Debbie and Carlos discovered that they could deliver a cardio workout that improved physical fitness in large and small muscle groups, enhanced weight loss, improved cardio conditioning and more. Students also began to feel that Nia was helping them mentally and emotionally as well. Debbie Rosas-Stewart will tell you that improved mental and emotional health was not intentionally built into Nia, but is indeed quite a powerful aspect of this program. In fact, many people continue with Nia for these reasons and the physical conditioning become the “icing on the cake” so to speak.
So the question becomes “How does that happen?” “What is the mechanism?” It is already fully established that simply aerobic exercise will improve a person’s feelings of well-being, production of endorphins, etc. But in Nia we have hundreds of personal stories about people healing from physical abuse, sexual trauma, emotional abuse, severe asthma, and depression to name a few. These people will attribute their healing to Nia, to the practice of Nia. Individual anecdotal stories are interesting, but studied qualitatively, a scientist could begin to paint a broad story of possibilities. Chemical shifts, neuronal changes, life outlook, emotional intelligence, a calmer nervous system, and a general sense of overall happiness. Not necessarily because external aspects in their life are better or different, but because their internal life is different. Nia has the potential to alter physical, mental, and emotional patterns and to enliven one’s Spirit, that unique piece of Self that sometimes get hidden.
I know, I haven’t answered the “How?” yet. For better or worse, I once heard Carlos AyaRosas say (I paraphrase) “I don’t care how it works, I just know it does.” And I go with that. Those who describe Nia often fall back on “It’s so complex, so many layers or nested systems, that you really just have to experience it yourself.” I don’t go with that. We can talk about the nested systems and the benefits of each one separately. The basic moves and more importantly the energy or essence of nine different movement forms that Nia utilizes will provide us plenty to discuss. Some have been empirically studied, like Tai Chi and Yoga. Some have generations of practice behind them, like Mondern Dance, Tae Kwon Do and the work of Moshe Feldenkrais. By blending the nine movement forms a tapestry of sensation arises through intention and imagery. The power of Tae Kwon Do, the free spirit play of Duncan Dance, the floating up of the Alexander Technique are just a sample of the richness of each movement practice. Nia can be an anatomy education that everyone can understand, such as “We take off our shoes because our feet are loaded with sensation information from the combined 14,000 nerve endings in the bottom of our feet.”
Students leave with information. Debbie Rosas coined the term Sensation Scientist. When we are taught to “teach” Nia, the first thing we are coached to do is to listen to our bodies. Yes, crazy cool. We dance to the music, we sense our body moving and choose a sensation to share with our class. Nia teachers steep their students in physical sensation: of elbow, knee, top of head, fingers, etc. etc. And each one comes from inside the teacher’s body first. A Nia teacher is sensation driven, intimate with the music, and connected to a Joy that is much bigger than enjoyment. It’s a deep connection to all there is through the doorway of our own SELF. There are many more nested concepts within Nia that contribute to its power. These things cannot be taken apart to see if “that” is a primary contributor. The “nested” aspect of Nia is its power and is contained in 13 foundational principles of the first level of training. There are 13 nests right there and each of those nests has some within. In addition to learningthe 13 principles, the Nia 52 Moves, and the music system, there is an opportunity to explore one’s dreams, philosophies and life purpose.
This stuff is rich and I propose that we turn Nia’s perceived complexity toward the simplicity of a nested system. It cannot be separated for study, it can only be studied in its wholeness.
Thus, how it works becomes less important than “What does it do?” How it works is found in the power of each of the nested concepts. It is the results of that power that I am interested in. Just to discuss the potential changes in brain functioning is profound. We know that imagery is powerful, music is powerful, movement is powerful, making sounds is powerful, exercising in an environment that encourages expression and interaction with each other is powerful. Let’s study the results of this power-filled experience.
How do we begin to study? Debbie and Carlos are not the first by any means to be ahead of the curve. Bill Bryson in his non-fiction, A Short History about Just About Everything (2003), describes for us many instances of people not receiving credit due to a lack of money, education, not “knowing" the right people, being in the “wrong field” to discover what they did or just plain too wild of an idea for the current culture. Alexander von Humboldt would probably concur. Back in the 1700s he claimed there were Three Stages of Scientific Discovery:
• First people deny that it is true
• Then they deny that it is important
• Finally they credit the wrong person
Yes, this is tongue in cheek, but our culture is curious and skeptical at the same time. What if this Nia Technique fitness program were as powerful as those who participate in it claim it is? How would that change the landscape of fitness?
It’s time for those with the money to again begin to spend it on the study of things novel and complex, including fitness programs such as the Nia Technique. I challenge the academic and research communities to take Nia on. To put Nia through the rigorous of scientific study. Universities need to begin again to ride the edge of possibility, not the comfort of what is known. There is much science about different aspects of health, alternative care, exercise. The Nia Technique brings so many facets to the table, it’s time science took a look at this phenomenon, this revolutionary idea, this cutting edge fusion fitness. Just as the general public learned about the power of Yoga and Tai Chi after science began to take a look at it, Nia falls within this elite of mind/body fitness and the public deserves to know. Through movement we find health. Through sensation and the pleasure principle we heal ourselves.
Let’s get research moving in the study of Nia and alert the world that there is another way to get fit that also nurtures our mind, emotions and spirit as well as the physical body. I dare you.
I am willing to do the work, I need your research dollars to begin. Who will step up to the plate?