Awareness of Joints: Sensing Mobility

For this month's continuing education focus, Awareness of Joints, we're excited to feature the following masterful voices from the worldwide Nia community. Read on to hear what they have to say about sensing mobility by exploring The Body's Way. Be sure to also listen to the April 2nd telecourse call with Debbie Rosas and Lita Curtis.

Debbie Rosas, Nia Co-Creator, says:

One thing's for sure: movement is key to living a long and healthy life. Movement is a sign of youth, health, fitness and well-being, and if you practice Nia, you know just how good movement can feel. While there are lots of body parts that make motion possible, joints provide us with some of the most important mechanics for moving.

There are 13 primary joints in the body, and each is designed to provide you with various degrees of mobility and stability. When joints are healthy, you experience the proper balance between stability and mobility. You have the power to move in all kinds of ways–vertically, horizontally, and in circles and spirals–at any speed.

Some people, like baseball pitchers, have too much mobility and not enough stability. In these instances, repetitive movements often end up doing a lot of damage to the body. Other people have too much stability, which limits their mobility and flexibility. This is extremely common among those who sit in chairs for hours each day. Joints, muscles, and connective tissues become rigid and inelastic. Both instances of excessive mobility and stability can lead to osteoarthritis and other forms of chronic pain, injury, and fatigue. Every body needs a good balance of movement and stillness for healthy living.

Take the Nia Mobility and Stability Self-Test and become more body literate about your joints. Keep moving in ways that make you feel good, every time you dance.

Dorit Noble, Nia Trainer, says:

To educate myself on the topic of joints, I began by looking at pictures and illustrations of joints, with a touch of curiosity. I also spent some quality time with a model skeleton I call Joe. I found the diversity in the architecture and shapes of joints to be hypnotic. There are so many sophisticated designs, and each one affects the way that the connected body part(s) can move. How awesome it is, for example, that the little pivot joint at the top of the spine allows my head to wobble, look around and give me the joy of shaking my head in a big "yes" motion?

But let's backtrack for a moment. Joints in the human body are the places where two bones interact. Without these spaces between bones, we would not be able to move through space. The joints not only enable movement in our limbs and spine, but also move energy from bone surface to bone surface. They are like breathing mouths that receive and transmit life-force energy from the ground up, into our body and then out into the world.

As we warm the body in the first song or two of a Nia class, we may notice that after a little while, our joints begin to feel more liquid. This is the yolk-like synovial fluid, which lubricates and nourishes the joints. It's our movement that stimulates the secretion of the synovial fluid. As we move, the fluid changes quality and becomes runny. Its function is to reduce friction between the ends of the bones as they move. This allows our movement to feel watery.

There are three different types of joints: fibrous joints, cartilaginous joints and synovial joints. Fibrous joints are also referred to as "fixed joints" because they do not move, and are connected via connective tissue. These types of joints connect the skull bones. Cartilaginous joints are the doughnut-like intervertebral discs that lay between adjacent vertebrae in the spine. The greatest range of motion available to us is provided by the synovial joints, which include ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows and shoulder joints. A synovial joint is contained in the joint capsule, where a synovial membrane produces synovial fluid.

Turns out, there are different types of synovial joints. The hip joints and shoulder joints are both ball-and-socket joints, and echo each other. Yet their shape, design and weight feel different. The shoulder joint, which is designed kind of like a showerhead, enables us to move our arms 360 degrees. Its open design tells us that the primary function of the shoulder joint is to offer freedom to the arms. By contrast, the socket of the hip joint, where the ball of the thighbone meets the acetabulum of the pelvis, is much deeper and heavier. Its primary function is to bear the weight of the body as we stand, walk or run.

The elbow joint is designed a bit like a hinge on a door. Its design allows the arms to flex and extend, and enables the two forearm bones to spiral over each other as the arm turns. The saddle joints in your thumbs allow you to pick up socks left on the ground or to pull a tissue out of a tissue box. The bones of your wrists have gliding joints called condyloid joints, and these are the joints that you use to wave hello.

The Body's Way invites us to look at the design of the body and to allow it to reveal how the body wants to move. In Nia class, we focus on the 13 main joints as the simplest way to stimulate the flow of energy through the body. The ideal is that we want joints to be liquid, fluid, open and free!

Dorit's tips:

  • The joints are places of possibility in terms of movement. Investigate your 13 main joints and spend time just exploring their potential. What can your ankles, knees, hips, wrists, elbows, shoulder joints and spinal chord do? Find out!
  • Play with consciously moving energy through your joints to wake up your body and keep it healthy.
  • As you sit at your computer, open your mouth just enough to let it hang (in singing, we call this the idiot face). Practice that during your day to release stress in your shoulders.
  • When you stand in a queue, sense for bouncy, spring-loaded knee joints.
  • Exaggerate opening and closing your joints. "Yawn" the joints wide open and let the world shine right through you. 

Yonit Lerner Ofan, Nia Trainer, says:

As a sensation scientist, I love living in my healthy body. I've learned to support and cultivate my healthy body using the tools and concepts that Nia offers and explores. One such tool is awareness. In Nia, we define awareness as paying attention to our body sensations. In doing this, we become our own best healers. Everything we do in a Nia class is guided by personal sensations we receive from our bodies. We learn to choose sensations that are pleasing to the body, regardless of emotional state. If I move and it is not pleasing to my body, this is my anatomy sharing with me, "I am coded to seek pleasure. Please move me by choosing joy and creating a small change or a tweak when pain is present."

If we follow pleasure, we can become fit and conditioned. Whether our "sensation scientist lab" is a Nia class, home living room or store where we run errands, we can dance through life by using each movement as an experiment and opportunity to optimize how we feel. The Body's Way gives us a roadmap for understanding the design of the human body, and also reminds us that each body’s way is unique. Nia encourages uniqueness and believes that we can change our body’s shape. This kind of change occurs when we stimulate our bones, joints, muscles and nervous system to move or function in new ways. When we change our habitual movement patterns and step outside of our boxes, we are more likely to attain a healthier bodies.

Part of our ability to improve body health depends on our dedication to investigating how the body works. Studying the joints is a great place to start. A joint is the location of two or more attached bones. Joints provide both movement and support to the body. Bones are joined together by ligaments–tough bands of connective tissue. The surface of each bone is covered with smooth cartilage to allow the bones to slide easily over one another. Most joints have a capsule of synovial fluid that provides lubrication, shock absorption and nutrient transport. Joints communicate to us via sensations. The form and size of the joints tell us about their function. Look at the shoulder and hip joint. Both are ball-and-socket joints, yet the hip is much bigger and therefore can carry the weight of the whole body. The shoulder joint is small and cannot bear weight.

I have healed myself twice from dance injuries that occured because I ignored sensations of pain. My doctors recommended I never dance again. I chose to listen to the voice of my body, my conscious personal trainer. Today, as a 43-year-old woman and mom of four incredible children, I am a more vital, expressive, creative, passionate, loving human being. My body has become athletic, flexible, agile, mobile, strong and stable. The language and philosophy of Nia became a way of life. As a Nia trainer, I enjoy sharing my knowledge and personal experience in order to inspire and educate people to love their bodies and love their lives.

Yonit's tips:

  • Walk around the room. Notice and receive messages your body is sending you via sensation. Notice if there is any discomfort or pain. 
  • Walk around and choose to embrace the joy of movement. Try walking without activating your hip joints (or any other joints). Notice this sensation in your body. Ask yourself, "Is this my body's way?" Joints are designed to allow movement, and require movement to stay healthy. If we ignore pain or choose to not activate our joints, our body's movement range will diminish. Moving our joints organically stimulates the connective tissues and muscles, and circulates energy systemically throughout the whole body.
  • Upon waking, while lying in bed, activate your joints. Imagine your tail bone is a dog's tale wagging. This will invite the sensation of mobility and agility into your awareness.
  • Take five minutes to practice the Nia 5 Stages. Spend one minute in each stage. 
  • As you brush your teeth, continue wagging your tail and say "Ahhhhh." Heighten your awareness during other daily activities. Are you sensing joy and movement within your joints? Is this stimulation healing for you?
  • When sitting for long periods of time, take a few moments to focus on joint mobility. Awaken your body, mind and soul. Do this in any environment, during any activity.