For this month's continuing education focus, Awareness of Taste, we're excited to feature the following 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 taste in The Body's Way.

Debbie Rosas, Nia Co-Creator, says:

I’ve always known taste was important for two reasons: safety and pleasure. We learn the safety thing early on. Our body is naturally coded to alert us to things that are unhealthy through taste – specifically through sensory organs called tastebuds. It’s the pleasure part of taste that gets us in trouble. Both harmful and beneficial things contribute to the relationship we have with our tongue (taste) and our nose (smell). The question is, what is a healthy taste, and how can we cleanse our body and bring our tastebuds back to their pure state where a little bit goes a long way? Join us for a free telecourse call with Dr. Aimée Gould Shunney on Monday, June 6th at 5:00 PM PST to learn more, and read on to hear about taste from two Nia sensation scientists.

Jayne Mielo, Black Belt Certified Nia Teacher and NGT, says:

From sweet summer strawberries to crisp, tart apples to savory winter stew to garden spring asparagus, taste flavors our life experiences. But what makes taste so rich? Our sensuous tongue – home to thousands of taste buds, nerve impulses registering sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory – and an intimate connection with the sense of smell.

Taste buds, scientifically known as gustatory calyculi, are our receptors for identifying flavors. We have an average of 10,000 taste buds, predominantly in the tongue, but they are also positioned on the roof of the mouth and near the pharynx. Generally, the taste buds, close to the tip of the tongue recognize sweet tastes, whereas those in the back of the tongue are sensitive to bitter tastes. The gustatory calyculi on the top and on the side of the tongue are sensitive to salty and sour tastes. At the base of each taste bud, a cranial nerve receptor sends the flavor sensation to the cerebellum in the brain, and it floods the information throughout the body.

Our sense of smell complements our sense of taste. In fact, 80% percent of the sensation of taste is due to smell. Taste and smell together give us the sensory impression of a flavor. Molecules from food in our mouth enter the naval cavity, stimulating olfactory receptor cells. Aromas and odors reach the mouth through the pharynx, dissolving in saliva and activating the taste receptors. We are designed to taste both beneficial and harmful things. Basic tastes are classified as appetizing or aversive, depending upon their effect on the body. According to Ayurvedic medicine, practiced in India for more than 5,000 years, our taste buds lose sensitivity if we eat too much or too often. They also become desensitized by concentrating on just a few taste sensations.

Jayne's tips for enhancing your taste sensations Ayurvedic-style:

  • Consider an Ayurvedic consultation to determine the most healthful food tastes for your dosha (your Ayurveda mind and body type). Ayurveda classifies flavors as: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent.
  • Eat fresh, local, colorful foods in a balanced variety of flavors.
  • Love your nose. Love your tongue. Enhance your flavor receptors with Neti Pot Therapy (a nasal wash) to keep the nasal passages clean and fresh for perceiving aromas and tasting.
  • Keep the tongue fresh and clean by using a tongue scraper daily.
  • Next time you’re in class, slip on the sensations of pleasing tastes, titillating your cells into a whole-body, happy, healthy dance.

Casey Bernstein, Black Belt Certified Nia Teacher and Trainer, says:

Taste, also know as gustation, “refers to the ability to detect flavor of substances such as food, minerals or poisons. Humans receive tastes through their sensory organ called the taste buds (gustatory clayculi) concentrated on the upper surface of the tongue. Taste is categorized in to five basic categories: sweet, bitter, sour, salty and savory” (Wikipedia).

So, how does this relate to Nia? I had my “light bulb” moment while I was practicing Nia’s 5 Stages. I was moving through Stage 2, Creeping, and realized that after eye-hand coordination is established, a baby looks, grasps and brings whatever it is to be experienced into the mouth! The tongue is a portal through which we experience the world. It is the sensory organ that first allows a human to be a “sensation scientist” by taking in and testing out the world!

The scientist who provides theory and insight on this notion is Jean Paiget, a Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher best known for his work as a genetic epistemologist. Epistemology is a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge. Paiget theorized four significant developmental stages.

The stage most significant to the topic of taste is the stage of sensorimotor/adaptive model of intellectual development. Within this stage this is interplay of intellectual thinking with the biological process of adaption. Adaption has two parts: assimilation and accommodation. The act of assimilation occurs when a baby takes everything within reach into the mouth to suck. Paiget theorized that infants transform all objects into an object to be sucked. Piaget then made the assumption that whenever one transforms the world to meet individual needs or conceptions, one is, in a way, assimilating it.

Accommodation is the process of changing cognitive structures in order to accept something from the environment. An example of accommodation would be when the child needs to modify a sucking schema developed by sucking on a pacifier to one that would be successful for sucking on a bottle. When they do this, they modify their reflex response to accommodate the external objects into reflex actions. Because the two are often in conflict, they provide the impetus for intellectual development.

The process of assimilation and accommodation, intellectual development and interaction with our environment is with us for life. And, this is actually the process in which we “embody” a Nia routine. I know I am in constant interplay with assimilating and accommodating a Nia routine as I witness The Body’s Way and My Body’s Way in the intellectual and physical process of learning the routine. My whole body is my mouth; it wants to take in and “taste” a Nia routine and the world.

My sense of taste also slows me down into natural time, when I call upon it. I must admit I frequently eat and drink without even bothering to taste what I’m consuming. When I slow down and taste what I am taking in, it then enlivens me to all of my sensations!

Casey's tips for exploring taste:

  • Notice how your body responds to sweet, bitter, sour, salty and savory tastes. Does your breathing change? Are you relaxed or tense?
  • Keep a journal for a week, and track your eating habits as they correlate with your emotional state. Create a t-chart and don't make judgements. Simply observe.
  • Track your eating habits before and after you take a Nia class. How do you feel when you eat certain types of food before the class experience? What do you crave afterwards?