She laughed; she cussed a little; she sang her lungs out in the choruses; she spoke with a wonderful, earthy authenticity about her own challenges and journey.
I am fortunate to have discovered Nia in metro west Boston, where almost every studio boasts a brilliant black belt teacher. The first Nia class I ever attended was the Saturday 10 a.m. class at Yoga and Nia for Life, taught by studio owner and White Belt Trainer Maria Skinner. The class was packed to the rafters. Maria moved like water, graceful and fluid, powerful then delicate, cool and warm. She splashed joy and vitality all over the class. She displayed a sneaky sense of humor, deep body wisdom, beautiful spirituality, and complete authority, all while cuing these crazy cross-front and fast clock thingies without missing a beat. The studio erupted in applause as happy, sweaty dancers hugged and laughed, borne out the door on a wave of goodwill and endorphins. After years of semi-anonymous yoga and spin classes, the intimacy of the movement and the sense of community in the class was intoxicating, and Maria was inspirational. OK, so maybe I’d come back next Saturday.
I did, and the teacher was Robyn Maltz on her once-a-month Saturday stint at YNFL. Wow! These Nia teachers had it going’ on; this gal was an energizer bunny. With every move, she exploded up off the floor with an athlete’s grace and energy. She laughed; she cussed a little; she sang her lungs out in the choruses; she spoke with a wonderful, earthy authenticity about her own challenges and journey. Robyn exuded compassion and communicated a deeply spiritual nature when she set the class focus. Her “day job” as a psychotherapist shone through. And she had the most stunning head of perfectly coiffed blonde hair. With every fiber of her being, she radiated good health: physical, emotional, and spiritual. I was hooked and sought out her Friday class at a different studio so that I could learn more from this amazing lady.
Robyn and Maria’s powerful teaching inspired me to pursue my White Belt. My desire to share a fraction of the wisdom and joy that I experienced as their student gave me the chutzpah to try teaching my first class. I am ever in their debt, and to this day, I LOVE taking their classes. I am enriched every time I do.
So how does a person such as Robyn, brimming with health and vitality, respond to a cancer diagnosis? I can attest. She responds with the same courageous authenticity and emotional presence that she brings to every class she teaches. I had just begun designing a new brochure for Robyn’s counseling practice when I learned of her diagnosis. She emailed me: “I’m sorry I didn’t respond to your emails – I’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer.” At first, it seemed like Robyn’s case would be straightforward, just a tiny spot, early stage, simple lumpectomy, no worries. But as one procedure followed another, it became clear to Robyn, her fellow teachers, and her students, that her path through cancer would be typically thorny.
We grieved as she lost her breast, her hair, her energy, and her sparkle. Everyone at Yoga and Nia for Life who was Robyn’s student or colleague worried and prayed that she would recover soon and that her treatment would go easily for her. It quickly became clear to Robyn that she needed to take time away from her teaching at YNFL, and Maria approached me to ask if I would consider subbing for Robyn’s Monday 10 a.m. class. This was to me, a fledgling White Belt at the time, a stunning request. “Well, of course,” I stammered. There is literally nothing I wouldn’t do to support Robyn and Maria, but I was scared witless. Yes, I had been teaching a tiny class on Sunday afternoons that only drew a handful of students, if that. Step into Robyn’s shoes, in a full class of students used to her gifted instruction? I was daunted.
The first Monday I subbed for Robyn was harrowing. I picked over the playlist like a mother monkey; I got all caught up in my head about the focus; I couldn’t find the studio key on the way out the door; I forgot to recharge my Ipad and arrived to teach class with a “low power” warning. I felt that the students deserved so much, that Robyn deserved so much from me. I’ll be honest; it didn’t go so great. But over time, I relaxed and embraced my inner Maltz--“Oh s#@%, I’m off the music, aren’t I? Ha-ha, oh well.” I tried to emulate and honor her by being my most authentic self in every class I subbed for her. I felt buoyed up knowing that Kira Hower and Suzanne Cohen were also supporting Robyn at her other studio, and that in this way, we were all in it together.
I quickly learned how important it was to reassure our students. Robyn has inspired great love and loyalty, and initially, students fretted when they saw me take the mike. “Is Robyn okay this week?” “How’s Robyn’s treatment going?” “Where’s Robyn?” I’m now nearly a year into being her back-up, and students no longer fear when they see me that it signifies anything worrisome about Robyn. I’m pretty sure that having me ready to step up when she needs me has been a gift to her. I am absolutely positive that it has been a gift to me. And I’ll wager that our students have benefited as well.
Such is the magic of Nia. You teach what you need to learn, and miraculously, it is somehow precisely what the students in that class need. There is a mystical quality to the class community, if you choose to go there. I’m so grateful to Robyn and Maria for opening this world up to me as a student and a teacher. It will always bring me joy to “have their backs” whenever and however I am able.
Robyn is now back teaching full time at Yoga and Nia for Life. What a joy for her students! In March, she celebrated a very special birthday at Laughing Dog Studio in Wellesley, MA. Among the circle of women, there were many of her Nia sisters (Maria Skinner, Julianne Corey, Suzanne Cohen, Leslie Appleby, Jenny Silverburg, Jennifer Harvey, Rosanne Russell, the list goes on and on!) as well as students, friends, family, colleagues and patients from her psychotherapy practice. Of course, we danced together! And then we went 'round the circle and shared a "pearl" about Robyn. There wasn't a dry eye in the studio. It was a beautiful testament to a beautiful lady and to the healing power of the Nia community. As for me, I am working to build up my own class at Yoga and Nia for Life, Tuesday mornings at 9:00. Ya'll come on by!