Taking Risks & Discovering Nia

Julie earned her B.A. from Brown University and her J.D. from Boston College Law School. At age 24, she was diagnosed with narcolepsy with cataplexy during her second year of law school.This story first appeared on Julie Flygare's REM Runner website

“One hour of life, crowded to the full with glorious action, and filled with noble risks, is worth whole years of those mean observances of paltry decorum.”
- Sir Walter Scott

Out of Habit:

Like most mornings, I awoke a creature of habit. I had no intention of stepping out of my comfort zone on this day. Nor did I plan to throw a temper tantrum. Yet, a temper tantrum was exactly what I needed.

It was the final day of the Narcolepsy Network Conference 2011. I put on a business casual dress, fixed my hair and makeup and headed to breakfast. At the breakfast table, I leafed through the conference schedule. The couple next to me discussed the Nia class.

I'd heard of Nia, a sensory based movement practice incorporating martial arts, dance arts and healing arts. Some people with narcolepsy love Nia, but I'd never considered it for myself. It was.... new and different; out of my comfort zone.

When my entire breakfast table decided to try Nia, I couldn't think of a good enough excuse to skip out. So, I tagged along - nervous and unsure what to expect.

Stepping into Nia:

Problem #1 - I was wearing a dress. The Nia instructors, Sue and Stacey, said this was no problem and welcomed me into the circle to begin class. "Just do whatever feels comfortable," Sue said.

Soon, we picked up the pace. Nia is Non-Impact Aerobics. The music was timed perfectly with each movement. My dress and long hair flowed along like waves in an ocean.

Problem #2 - my lack of coordination. Although the steps were simple and easy to follow - I mixed up my feet and fell out of sync quickly. I smiled and laughed. A "serious athlete" in other places, I had to let go here and embrace the awkward innocent beginner in me.  

In one step sequence, our feet touched the four corners of an invisible square, outlining our personal space. "Remember, you are the center of your own world," Stacey said.

This was a refreshing reminder. All too often, we prioritize the hopes and expectations of others. Sometimes we lose touch entirely with our own needs. Outlining my square, I re-claimed my position at the center.

Losing My Temper:

Towards the end of class, the practice moved to the floor. Not wanting to expose myself - I followed along from a seated position in a chair. Some of the movement was organic and interpretative. And then, we stretched our legs and arms out.

"Shake it out! Yell! Have a temper tantrum!" Sue instructed

Did I hear her correctly?

According to my older siblings, I was an expert temper-tantrum thrower as a kid. It had been a while... Yet, I'd already stepped out of my comfort zone more in the past 45 minutes than I had in the last 6 months. Why stop now?

So, I joined in - flailing my arms and legs aggressively and letting out a childish loud "Ahhhh!"

My inner child emerged quickly - bringing me back to a time before I found the words to express frustration and before I learned to seal this frustration neatly behind my lips. After a long busy conference weekend, this temper tantrum was right on time.

Dancing Through Life:

In conclusion, I loved Nia because it was FUN and easy to pick up. Nia IS for every body.

The Nia website describes: "Every class offers a unique combinatino of 52 moves that correspond with the main areas of the body: the base, the core and the upper extremities. Stiff beginners and highly fit athletes alike can adapt Nia to meet their needs by choosing from three intensity levels."

Yet, trying Nia was still taking a risk for me. Risks are scary, but certainly not boring or sleep-inducing! Since returning home, I've taken a second Nia class at a local studio. Classes are offered in over 45 countries all over the world.

I hope to continue practicing Nia, and most of all, I hope to remember the feeling of stepping out of my comfort zone, throwing a temper tantrum and walking away a little more alive than ever before.  

About the Author:

Julie Flygare is a writer, runner, photographer and health blogger living in Arlington, VA. She is the author of the health and wellness blog, “REM Runner.”

Julie earned her B.A. from Brown University in 2005 and her J.D. from Boston College Law School in 2009. At age 24, she was diagnosed with narcolepsy with cataplexy during her second year of law school.

After graduating in 2009, Julie moved to Washington DC to pursue her interests in writing a memoir and health advocacy. On April 19th, 2010, she took on the greatest athletic challenge of her life, running the Boston Marathon.

Julie has given presentations and spoken about narcolepsy to medical students, researchers, and the media. Her story has gained national press attention from the Boston Globe, Marie Claire Magazine (October 2011) and NBC Universal Washington News.