For this month's continuing education focus, Awareness of Sight, we're pleased to feature four masterful voices from the worldwide Nia community. Here's what they have to say about developing body literacy and self-knowing, by exploring and using our sense of sight in The Body's Way.

Ken Gilbert, Black Belt Certified Nia Trainer (USA) says:

Our sense of sight brings awareness to the Nia philosophies of Dancing Through Life, Living Meditation and Life as Art, by directing energy to the head of our bodies. Through sight, our bodies connect to the world within and outside of us. I am continually playing with the possibilities of seeing more of myself in the world through the act of expanding my vision—by “looking up and looking out” at everything around me. This takes practice and conditioning of the nervous system.

I am a visual / kinesthetic learner, and receive information most efficiently from the sensation of sight, which is influenced by physical stimulation and body perceptions. I love to challenge myself to keep my head up, “dangling at the top of my spine”; to keep my eyes open and looking out while letting the world in. This practice keeps me in the “moment of my body” in whatever I am doing—teaching class, training a White or Green Belt, walking to my car, talking to someone in person or on the phone, texting or emailing. I allow my eyes to stay open and receive.

There is also another aspect of sight: transmitting from the eyes. This involves a much deeper connection to seeing and insight (but this is another article!).

Ken's tips on sight:

  1. Make it your intention to find an item you know is located at a particular place in a familiar room—with the lights off. In the dark, rather than closing your eyes, keep them open. Enter the room as if the lights were on, walk to where this item is and fetch it. This practice stimulates my memory of where I have put a particular item. By using my memory of sight, I can use my eyes, open in the dark, to stimulate my proprioception / sight coordination.
  2. Take a walk with the intention to focus on a particular shape, color, texture, etc. Without thinking or giving particular attention to this focus, stimulate your body during the walk, letting any and all sensations energize your body. Later on, recapitulate your walk by re-sensing what you saw. Notice which details you recall and which ones fall away.
  3. During Nia class, either with mirrors or without (using sight to see your reflection, or using inner-sight when a reflection is not available), move without narrative, comment or judgment, and allow what you see to be a part of your experience. Develop your sensitivity to X-Ray Anatomy and “Zorro” of yourself, in your body.

Ann Christiansen, Black Belt Certified Nia Trainer (Europe) says:

When our eyes receive light—a type of energy—they focus it onto the sensitive nerve tissue on the back of the eye. This light energy is then passed on via the optic nerve to the “sight center” of our brain, where it is interpreted into a rich visual picture: our sight.

In the environment of Nia, we use our sight in even more dynamic ways. For example, in the Nia White Belt, we learn to use our eyes with "X-Ray" vision—with the ability to “read” the lines our bones make from the base up. White Belt also introduces Nia’s music-coding system, the 8BC System, which uses the colours red, blue, green and black to symbolize parts of the music that we dance to, much like the way our eyes receive visual colour-coded input to connect sound and movement. All of this makes for an in-depth alchemical learning environment—a very unique way of embodying information.

We also stimulate our sense of sight with the different “energy personalities” of Nia, from Martial Arts (eyes used like weapons; alert and aware), Dance Arts (eyes used for expression), and Healing Arts (eyes used to relax the body). Further, we use our eyes to self-heal and perceive Life as Art, by allowing sights to flood in and inspire all we see. In the higher Nia belts, we deepen this education even further, teaching keen observation skills (Blue Belt), how to enter into a "Zone" via the eyes (Brown Belt), and much more.

NLP practitioners will argue that eye directions reveal how a person is thinking. In Chinese medicine, the eyes represent the liver. Some metaphysical workers say eyesight connects us to the “energy body”; and that the eyes are the “window to the soul.” In Western medicine, we know that looking at certain colours can strengthen or weaken the body; and that the urge to wear or look at certain colours can indicate a lack or a need in our lives, coming from subconscious levels.

So in aspiring to become sensation scientists, can we perceive sight as a physical sensation? Can we apply the principles of The Body’s Way to eyesight? Yes, I think so. I can find dynamic ease in my sight, by allowing images to come into my eyes, instead of looking out and straining my eyes. I can find balance, Yin and Yang, in my sight—the Yin world, the inside, accessible when I close my eyes and practice balancing in the dark; and the Yang world, looking out into the light. Yes, I can find stability and mobility simultaneously in my eyesight.

Ann’s tips on sight:

  1. Each day, practice eye rotations and eye movements, slow and fast, to keep the muscles that control the eyes agile and healthy. Do this with both closed and open eyes.
  2. Every now and again, give your liver some TLC, resting with a hot water bottle on your stomach. Also, eat foods with a slightly bitter taste.
  3. Throughout the day, practice "X-Ray" eyes, look at colours to stay inspired, and allow images in—be seduced by the beauty that surrounds you, including yourself.

To learn more about X-Ray Anatomy and Zorro, become a Nia White Belt and dive into a whole new world of sensation!

Chris Friedman, Black Belt Certified Nia Teacher / Alexander Technique Teacher says:

To explore seeing and moving, I lie face down on the ground and imagine my way back through the millennia, to when I was first tossed from the ocean onto shore; to when my body weight landed into gravity, mud and darkness. I am a curious being—I imagine—and slowly over time I learn to lift my head and turn it to one side. I am flooded by light: I SEE! I do this very slowly, so that my eyes truly lead the way. I see a world to my right and to my left as my head rotates, awakening my back and body. I discover that my fingers move, and bring them gradually up to my face, where I SEE MY HAND! The world opens. I see, I reach, I grasp and I take. The world is rich in possibility and I am a part of it!

Our senses guide us to gratification, safety, and gradually to human uprightness and the Joy of Movement. My practice on the floor reconnects me to a neuromuscular developmental process: the eyes lead, the head follows, and an organized, sequenced activation down the length of the spine coordinates my movement. Seeing and moving are integrally linked.

How seeing works:

Seeing is letting light in. Seeing happens as light travels into the eye through the cornea and lens. It strikes the receptor cells of the retina, which are called rods and cones, and then is transferred as energy via the optic nerve to the visual cortex, located in the occipital lobe of the brain, at the back of the head. Here the “energy information” is organized and interpreted into the images we call sight.

Tension causes us to narrow our vision, to see less of what is available, such as when we stare at a computer screen or when we contract with worry. Becoming aware of this tension and then releasing it allows us to open up to an expanded field of visual awareness—into panoramic, three-dimensional vision. We are better able to receive and interpret light when we allow our eyes to release slightly away from each other, so that information can flow freely in.

Chris’ tips on sight:

  1. Refrain from reaching out to see. Instead, let your body and brain receive light. Invite an expanded field of visual awareness inas you release your eyes away from each other, becoming simultaneously aware of what is above, below, to the sides, and all around you.
  2. Take time to practice allowing movement of your eyes to lead your head, and then allowing the movement of your head to lead your whole body into action. Practice in slow motion, to better experience the process of neuromuscular connections being made.
  3. Avoid glazing the eyes when you listen inwardly to sensations or when your thoughts wander. Allow the back of your neck to soften, to release tension, remembering that you actually see from the back of your head, where the brain makes sense of the light. Allow yourself to see with an open and free mind and let the world blossom before you!

Gloria Gonzalez, Brown Belt Certified Nia Teacher / Somatic Experiencing Practitioner / LMT / Craniosacral Therapist says:

As I enter the classroom to teach Nia, my body and eyes are Relaxed, Alert and Waiting (RAW). My sight encircles the students to make contact, silently gesturing a shared affirmation, "I am now here," before Stepping In (which is the first cycle in a Nia routine). Silently, I speak to the students with my eyes, receiving and transmitting energy in the space. In doing this, I am honoring The Body’s Way.

My eyes are one of the most complicated organs in my body. Attached directly to my brain, they are really an extension of my brain itself. In fact, the eyes are so important that four of the 12 cranial nerves are committed exclusively to vision and eye muscle movement. The muscles of my eyes share a deep connection with my sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The circular muscles of my iris decrease the size of my pupils when there is excess light via the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The PNS is associated with the body’s relaxation response, which decreases breathing rates, heart rates and blood pressure. Contracting and releasing my iris signals a reflexive resonance to most sphincters in my body (including my heart, which has a similar muscle), causing a pulsation, an exchange of energy within my entire body. Essentially, the circular muscles of my iris powerfully draw and condense energy inward from the classroom.

The radial muscles of the iris dilate the pupil, via the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The classic SNS fight or flight response increases breathing rates, heart rates and blood pressure. Thus, the radial muscles of my iris extend energy out, both in the immediate space of the classroom as well as across long stretches of the horizon.

With The Body’s Way, I know the proper use of sight increases my sense of security. My primal nervous system scans my environment for potential threats, in a movement called orienting. As my primal wiring orients by turning my eyes, head and neck to scan the class, my nervous system settles, acknowledging, “I am safe here.” This felt sense of safety grounds my body, my teaching and my students. Simply and subtly, using sight in The Body’s Way I become present to the moment and ready to begin Nia.