A Lesson from Zorba the Greek: Movement as a Path for Psychotherapeutic Healing

Jule Aguirre, M.Ed., LPC, NCC, is a Nia Next Generation Trainer and Nia 5 Stages practitioner who has been facilitating movement for body-mind integrators, urban athletes and adventurers in wellness for over 26 years. To learn more about Jule, visit www.juleinthelotus.com.

Let’s start with a metaphor from the movies. In the final scene of Zorba the Greek, the intellectual, uptight writer, Basil, asks the exuberant older man to teach him to dance – and thereby learns to embrace life.

Dance is one of the oldest art forms, and depends on the body to communicate feeling and emotion through movement. In ancient tradition, dance has been used to therapeutically lift spirits. Dance has also been an important part of ceremonial events, self expression and health practices in most cultures throughout history. Medicine men and women of many Native American tribes used dance as part of their healing rituals.

As Nia has developed over the last 30 years, utilizing organic and authentic movement from nine distinct disciplines, the practice naturally found its place in the world of psychotherapeutic healing. A nonverbal vehicle for self-realization, Nia opens doors to rational thinking, personal growth and transformation. For those with mental illness, Nia can be a noninvasive solution to the mental or emotional blocks that hold them back from enjoying life and reaching their full potential. Shared expression of emotions allows participants to see and be seen, and to break through some of the isolation caused by their mental or emotional imbalances. The ability to verbalize emotion is often impaired by mental illness. Nia's approach to movement (The Body's Way) becomes a pathway for insight and expression, providing a foundation for healing.

Many people often venture into self-defeating patterns. Nia gets them into their bodies, into new worlds they can’t manipulate. Once the music begins and movement patterns and non-patterns are activated, the “spell” is broken. Habits and self-perpetuated illusions can be overcome.

Movement helps people develop positive body images; improves self-esteem; reduces stress, anxiety and depression; decreases chronic pain and body tension; and improves communication skills and increases feelings of healthfulness. Physical activity is known to increase endorphins in the brain, which creates an overall feeling of well-being. Total-body movement enhances the functions of other body systems, such as the circulatory, respiratory, skeletal and muscular systems. Regular aerobic exercise helps with glucose metabolism, cardiovascular fitness, and weight control.

Since we are our bodies, the experience of Nia occurs within the self as it moves, with no transitional “object” to mediate it. Movement is fundamental to human life. In fact, movement is life. Contemporary physics tells us that the universe and everything in it is in constant motion. We can move our body, and at the most basic level, our body is movement. According to the somatic educator Thomas Hanna, "The living body is… a constantly moving body." The poet and philosopher Alan Watts eloquently states a similar view, saying, "A living body is not a fixed thing but a flowing event, like a flame or a whirlpool." The great Western philosopher Socrates understood what modern physics have proven: "The universe is motion and nothing else."

Nia, in a sense, is a psychotherapeutic use of movement for emotional, cognitive, social, behavioral and physical conditions. What is the aim of this psychotherapeutic approach to movement that Nia uses? It is a quest for self-revelation through bodily movement. When we tune in to the deepest well springs of our being, we learn new things about ourselves and others, without having a need for the spoken word.

Nia provides an opportunity for emotional reactions and insights to emerge. Various styles of movement – from the dance arts, martial arts and healing arts – are used, but the emphasis is not on technique or performance. What this approach offers is not a cure, but a means of discovery through which one can achieve greater harmony between the body, mind, emotions and spirit. By creating a safe, non-judgmental environment, Nia enables the student to express struggles, unhappiness, hopes and fears through movement.

Zorba the Greek wasn’t a therapist, but with his freeing affect on Basil, as they kicked up their heels, he might as well have been.