Healing Through Listening

Amy Podolsky teaches adult and kid classes at Yoga and Nia for Life in West Concord, MA, and truly aspires to share the same joy, enthusiasm and generosity of spirit that her Nia teachers have so freely given to her.

As I sit and write this essay, I am 3.5 weeks into a 4-week interruption of my “regularly scheduled” life. I am recovering from surgery (reconstruction after skin cancer removal, and all I will say is this: wear your sunblock!), and according to doctor’s orders, I am unable to perform “any activity that will raise [my] heart rate.” As both a devoted teacher and student of Nia, this mandated pause in my practice has been a big bummer, to say the least.

I felt pretty lousy for the first week post-surgery, and at that time, hadn’t realized the full impact of not having “my Nia” as a part of my everyday life. However, by the end of that first week, I found myself sitting first class on the Pity Pot Express, and the scenery wasn’t pleasant.

Bored and looking for distraction, I put my iPod on shuffle. What emanated from the speakers, (and its subsequent affect on my body and soul), I can only describe as magical. The gentle, soothing piano notes of Aya’s Song #1 (aptly named in this case), “Healing Senses,” washed over my weary shoulders, and I felt them (finally) drop. I sensed the length in my cervical spine. I took a slow, deep breath, as if discovering oxygen for the first time. I sensed my stomach expand and contract as I played with the sensation of breathing in time with the music. I noticed my hands automatically making small circles in front of my body, mimicking the routine’s choreography. I felt alive.

As a relatively new teacher, one of my fears has been, “How will I remember all of the choreography?” I’ve secretly envied my peers who could simply hear the music and immediately connect it to the movement, with seemingly no thinking involved. I am still awed when taking a class with a seasoned Nia teacher (and I’m blessed to live in an area where there several) who can pull a vintage “Debbie" or "Carlos” out of a hat and begin teaching on the spot. Will I ever have that?

As the first song ended, I felt a little flutter in my heart as I anticipated that old-school scratching of the needle on the record (and then plucking of the first banjo chords) of Song #2, “Mulatica Mia.” In my mind I was dancing, 12:00/6:00 and then Bow Stance, swishing my hips in time with the music. And then it occurred to me: my body knows this music and movement! It’s in there! How cool is that?!

As I continued listening, I felt that indescribable “buzz” that for the past four years has kept me coming back for more. I am doing this all while sitting down and obeying my doctor’s orders of no aerobic activity. Amazing! Needless to say, I feel like I have a new appreciation for music appreciation. I’ve listened to these songs countless times, and yet, it feels like I am really hearing the music for the first time. Each song feels like a little bouquet of fresh flowers arriving at my doorstep, each conjuring up its own colorful feelings, sensations and memories. I smile as I recall Carlos "welcoming the chickens" (yes, there are chickens clucking in the 5th song, during which time we "chicken dance.") I sense the tears I cried when I heard the concluding song, “Universalfemalebreathchoir” for the first time, as I lay on the floor during my White Belt Training. And as I continue dancing in my mind, I can see and sense others dancing around me––my teachers, students and fellow Nia devotees. My feet can sense the soft floor at Yoga & Nia for Life (my “home” studio), even though I am not there in the physical state. I feel connected to my sacred community, which I have sorely missed while at home healing my body.

I have since continued this “Art of Listening” practice with other Nia routines, any time I am in need of a pick-me-up or start to feel sorry for myself that I can’t “do” Nia right now. The music, I’ve learned, is the key that unlocks the door, and helps me to feel connected. Without fail, active listening works for me every time. Sometimes I simply practice "RAW" (Relaxed, Alert, Waiting), stalking sounds and silences. Other times I do the “dancing in my mind” activity, either taking or teaching the routine as a class. Either way, the result is bliss.

This week marks a milestone in my recovery; the stitches will come out, and if all goes according to plan, my regularly scheduled life can resume. I am both eager and excited to get back to the studio, and to dance with my Nia peeps. My practice feels invigorated, and I feel a deeper sense of connection to Nia. I appreciate being given the gift of this amazing, multi-faceted practice, which as I’ve learned first-hand, goes so far beyond just a physical fitness regimen.