The Intentional Structure of a Classic Nia Class

erin-curren-nia-maine-dance-fitness-teacher

Did you know there are seven cycles to every classic Nia class? If you have experienced Nia with me, you are likely aware of a few of these, but maybe not all. Let’s take a closer look at the meaning and value of these different cycles, and how they can enhance your experience of the whole. 

Cycle One: Setting the Focus and Intent for Class

We begin each class with a focus and intent. This is a way of narrowing the field of awareness to a particular area throughout the class. It helps give purpose and structure to the particular class and invites a new experience of what may be a familiar routine. I love the way the focus brings intimacy and new awareness to my movements, my listening, my experience of the whole, and what I am noticing in my students and myself. In my experience, a focus can completely transform a routine simply by shifting my awareness. 

Cycle Two: Stepping In

This is the part of class when we consciously leave behind distractions and take two (or more) steps forward (or back) to become fully body-centered and ready for class. I like to think of it as a kind of entry point into the class experience, like a portal I am stepping through, in which sensation and pleasure reign supreme and my body is Art in motion! 

Cycle Three: Warming Up

Now we begin to move. We actively seek to mobilize all thirteen major joints of the body: ankles (2), knees (2), hips (2), whole spine (1), shoulders (2), elbows (2), and wrists (2). This is done through a combination of choreography and guided FreeDance. This cycle generally continues for the first song or two of a routine. We keep our movements smaller, softer, and use this beginning time to actively check in with our bodies as we warm up. We move through the three planes of movement —low, middle, high— actively engaging with all the space, inside and out. We use awareness of breath to sense the inside of our experience. 

Cycle Four: Get Moving

We now come to the heart of the class, the main portion of movement, and, eventually, the climax of cardiovascular —even anaerobic— intensity of the workout. In this cycle we are actively checking in with our energetic levels, asking ourselves if we have reached ‘enough’ or if we have more to give. We aim to sense an energetic edge, wherever that lies for us — on any given day it will be different: level one, two, or three. We check in with our CPT, Conscious Personal Trainer, throughout this cycle, and perform regular body scans. Where is my breath? How am I feeling? Am I holding tension? Can I increase the intensity of my movement while maintaining a relaxed jaw? Are my feet relaxing and rooting on the earth when I am in stances, or am I gripping the ground with my toes? Am I getting an intense enough workout? Am I choosing pleasure? Am I listening to my body’s way and following my natural time? These are some of the questions that may guide us during cycle four, and throughout class. 

Cycle Five: FloorPlay

This cycle wins the flirty name prize! It’s one of the cycles that has grown on me over the ten years I have been practicing and teaching Nia. During this cycle, which may last anywhere from two or three songs, to half a song or less, we are moving up and down off the floor, or moving entirely on the floor. This cycle invites a new relationship with gravity simply by changing our orientation to the earth. We use our own body weight to condition our muscles by pushing, shifting, reaching, rolling, twisting, spiraling, lengthening, folding, pulling, sliding, gliding, and resting. We use pauses to listen, and we generally move seamlessly into cycle six…

Cycle Six: Cooling Down

Already on the floor, in most cases, this cycle takes us to a slower pace. We now sense our breath soften and our body welcomes the respite from the higher intensity movement. We may stretch, roll, rest, or remain still during this cycle. Sometimes the Cool Down” cycle comes before or alongside the “FloorPlay” cycle. Regardless, we relax and begin to take it easy. We intuitively begin to sense gratitude for the practice, and everything that made today’s practice  possible: our body, mind, spirit, emotions, our community, the space, our teacher, the Nia technique. We receive these gifts of awareness as the end of class approaches. 

Cycle Seven: Stepping Out

In the final cycle of class, we consciously bring our practice to a close. We pause and reflect on how we are feeling in the moment. We receive the gifts of our grounded yet energized being, an entire sense of well-being inside and out. We intentionally leave behind whatever is no longer serving our greatest good, and we take two steps out, onto the path that is ours, free and clear of obstacles…

Voilà! There you have it, all seven cycles of a classic Nia class. My hope is that this brief description of each will enhance your appreciation of the whole, and invite you to bring even more awareness to where you are in the class at any given point. Just like a human life, and all the lifeforms of the natural world, the hour-long class moves through stages of development, growing in intensity, fulfilling its potential and purpose, then reaching completion in an organic way. Allow yourself to receive the quality of Universal Joy present at each stage, honoring where you are at in the whole at any given moment.