How Nia is Helping Brain Injury Survivors at Jodi House in Santa Barbara, CA

Jodi House is a community nonprofit that provides support services, information and programs in a nurturing environment to help brain injury survivors and their families recover and connect to their community. Offering two unique programs–a clubhouse day program and a family and caregiver support program–Jodi House is located in Santa Barbara, California, and has more than 100 active members.

One of the classes provided at Jodi House is Nia, thanks to Nia Teachers Joann Rothman and Jo Williams. As Luciana Cramer, the executive director of Jodi House, explains, “The groundbreaking work that Nia teachers Jo Williams and Joann Rothman do with Jodi House members is a most fantastic adventure that inspires all of us to reach higher and expect more of ourselves. Because of their efforts, we have seen amazing improvements in mobility, flexibility and self-esteem among brain injury survivors. Joann and Jo's commitment, coupled with their brilliance in designing solutions to motivate even the most severely disabled participants, continues to provoke people to challenge and conquer their own limitations.”

The following is Rothman’s account of her experience sharing the practice in such a wonderful, positive environment:

My desire, after taking the Nia White Belt Training, was to teach Nia to a population with special needs to move. I was immediately invited to teach at The Brain Injury Support Center. The director of Jodi House, Luciana Cramer, was attending Nia classes in Santa Barbara and knew that I had just finished my training. She asked me if I would be willing to teach people with acquired brain injuries.

I responded, "Can I team teach?" She was delighted and said yes. I then asked Jo Williams to teach with me. Cramer was instrumental in mentoring us through the process.

Agolo (an old Nia routine) was the first class we ever taught at Jodi House. I was quite nervous and worried about participants falling. They were so eager to mimic us. They were all doing their best to keep up. Looking back at our innocence, we did not know that certain types of songs were best, or that increased repetition was key. We didn’t even how important facing them was. But what I noticed were their huge smiles. It was exhilarating to see participants enjoying themselves! I was in heaven. It was inspiring. I felt deeply honored to have the opportunity.

Both Jo and I take our work at Jodi House very seriously, but, in general, we take ourselves lightly. We learned long ago how important it was to provide stability and to establish trust in our relationships with our students who have traumatic brain injuries.

Before every Nia class at Jodi House, both of us participate in a percussion class offered at Jodi House. It has now become the platform for us (and participants) to step easily into Nia. Showing our students flexibility and the ability to include others is important. We recently teamed up for an inspiring drumming and dance event held at Jodi House. We also do not miss an opportunity to promote Jodi House and Nia in various ways. For example, this past March was designated “Brain Injury Month.” We had an opportunity to promote Jodi House and Nia at the Women’s Festival in Santa Barbara. Our Nia students feel they are important to us. It’s a team effort, not only while we’re dancing, but also just walking around living our daily lives.

There is a lot to learn about acquired brain injuries. Our students are grand teachers for us. It is not possible to forget using our beloved Energy Allies, as we are constantly being reminded that we cannot assume anything. We are challenged to speak impeccably; they are really listening. They are shining examples of doing their best and reminders to us of the meaning of being truly present and grounded.

And even in the absence of some functions, other abilities show up, such as the ability to give love, love and more love. Jodi House is that kind of place. Our Nia classes awaken our participants’ senses, relax their minds, move their joints, and stir their souls. We always hear them say, “Thank you. I feel good! I feel relaxed. I feel at ease. ”

We recently taught a class focused on the Nia 52 Moves. This involved passing out large, laminated cards of the Nia 52 Moves from The Nia Technique book. We asked each student to learn the move, and then we played charades with the moves. Each person willingly demonstrated his or her move without telling us what it was; we had to guess. They loved switching roles with us.

The real magic happened when one member demonstrated a Front Kick. We witnessed him find his way to incorporate his arm with the kick, while still keeping his balance. It was beautiful to see him repeating it several times after his turn was over.

To close our Nia classes, we often repeat a chant developed by Jo. It goes: “I am grateful, I am thankful, I am loved.” This is an affirmation that brings comfort and trust to the room, and warms the heart of those who chant it. We make eye contact with each other. We take our time to recognize the presence of each other. And we honor the healing power of movement. We step into the rest of our day knowing we are all cherished and loved.

Teaching at Jodi House reminds me to slow my energy down and to approach others with an open heart. It is a place where I can actively listen to the mandate of spirit. Before each class, I remind myself to be mindful of my words, my facial expressions, and my tone. And since spontaneous outbursts abound, I can practice not taking anything personally. As Jo says, “I have learned to use my right brain to always accept students as ‘whole in the now.’”

This population reminds me that there are many unsung abilities that show up in the world. Why not look for them?

I can choose to either ignore problems, or I can look for the obstacles that prevent success in order to creatively address dissolving them. The essence of our work at Jodi House is to earn our students’ trust, and to then introduce them kinesthetically to the world again. Respect, love and appreciation for one another is alive and well at Jodi House. As one of the Jodi House members said, "Considering that after my brain surgery I’d been given a 3% chance to survive by my doctors at UCLA, I am very happy to be alive and have been given the privilege of being a part of the Nia program at Jodi House. Thank you, Debbie and Carlos, for all your help.”

To learn more about Jodi House, visit or call (805) 563-2882.