For this month's continuing education focus, Awareness of Emotion, we're excited to feature four masterful voices from the worldwide Nia community. Read on to hear what they have to say about developing body literacy and self-knowing, by exploring emotion in The Body's Way.

Debbie Rosas, Nia Co-Creator, says:

There’s no getting around it – we are emotional beings. Besides sensing and thinking, we’re built to emotionally feel, and what we feel can shift in a split second. Within five minutes you can feel happy, sad, agitated, curious and furious! While you may think you can avoid certain feelings, you can’t.

Every emotion you experience, your body feels! And to your body, all emotions are good; they represent vital life-force energy and different levels of arousal. When you become aware of what you emotionally feel, you can begin to heal, grow and change behaviors into healthier, more powerful ones.

Healthy emotion is the sensation of life-force energy flowing through you, providing you with access to vital information you can use to make positive choices and decisions. Unhealthy emotion is the sensation of life-force energy imploding in. You may feel blocked, stuck or bound, making it impossible to think and act consciously from a place of empowerment.  

Kelle Rae Oien, Black Belt Certified Nia Teacher / Nia Next Generation Trainer / Rolfer of Structural Integration, says:

I remember walking into my first Nia class in 1995. I had no idea what to expect. Within minutes I was throwing my hands up into the air yelling “Yes!” and pounding my fists down toward the earth shouting ʻNo!” Out of the blue, I started laughing and crying – and I was having the time of my life! At that moment, I realized how disconnected I had been not only from my body, but also from my emotions. When given the chance to dance and experience what I was actually feeling, I discovered that there was so much more inside of me than I thought. I wanted more of this feeling of being alive! I signed up for a whole semester of Nia classes right then and there, and have never looked back.

According to Wikipedia, the definition of emotional intelligence is “The self-perceived ability to identify, access and control the emotions of oneself.” Unfortunately, most of us are taught from an early age to be “cool, calm and collected.” Having a large emotional range is often frowned upon. Thus, many people become disconnected form their emotions, especially strong emotions such as anger, fear, sadness and joy. But disconnecting from these emotions essentially means disconnecting from life and disconnecting from others! Since we cannot eliminate these emotions from our lives, we must learn to understand them and to intelligently communicate our feelings and emotions to those around us. Nia has been the greatest tool in my life to help me do this.

One way Nia helps me understand and communicate my emotions is through the practice of FreeDance. There are two stages of FreeDance that directly connect us to the emotions: One is called “Feelings and Emotions” and the other is called “The Creative Source.” “Feelings and Emotions” asks us to “Pretend, Fake it, Act As If”. Itʼs all about acting (even if it’s bad acting!). Itʼs a lot of fun to exaggerate and play with a variety of emotions.

Through play, we often brush up against an emotion that is real for us. Thatʼs when we begin to access “The Creative Source” otherwise known as “The Real You.” This gives us the opportunity to experience our real feelings and emotions in our dance. It allows us to move through them in a safe, comfortable way. As a practice, this makes us emotionally intelligent, as we gain the skill to identify, access and maintain a healthy relationship with our emotions. By accessing and acting out these emotions, whether they are real or not, we engage our core muscles and build our core strength! Believe me when I say this is much more interesting than doing one hundred sit-ups.

Stanley Keleman, author of “Emotional Anatomy,” relates our physical posture and expression to the emotions we have experienced in life. A collapsed posture may be a sign of defeat, or a rigid posture a sign of fear. As a Rolfer of Structural Integration, I know this to be true. I work to align the muscles and soft tissues of the body in order to help others gain more comfort and ease. As I do this, emotions often come to the surface. Accessing these emotions in relationship to the body is often the beginning of the path toward healing. And through my journey with Nia, I know there are many ways to explore and heal emotions in order to lead a more satisfying life.

Kelle's tips on emotion:

  • Play! Humor and laughter are natural remedies to lifeʼs challenges. They help us keep things in perspective when emotions are high.
  • At any time during the day ask yourself, “ What kind of relationship do I have with my emotions now?”
  • Pay attention to physical sensations that may accompany strong emotions, such as stomachaches or chest pains. Getting to know the voices of your body will help you understand your emotions.
  • Give yourself time to refuel. Emotions can become overwhelming when we are stressed, overworked or tired.
  • Know that there are no “bad” emotions. Itʼs important to feel both subtle and powerful emotions in order to be emotionally healthy.

Kate Finlayson, Black Belt Certified Nia Teacher / Next Generation Trainer, says:

“How are you feeling?”

“Fine.”

How many times have we heard this exchange between others or responded to this question ourselves in the same exact way? Do we really know how or what we are feeling? If so, do we share these feelings honestly and openly? Even if we are “fine,” do we know what that actually feels like?

I believe many of us are not truly aware of our emotions. And we often assume it won’t be acceptable to express them truthfully. As humans, we have an unlimited bounty of emotions, and yet, some of us do not know how to access these feelings. We long to “control our emotions” so that we “fit in” and don’t “overwhelm” others.

Sadly, many people use and abuse drugs, food, sex and other addictive substances and behaviors to avoid what they are really feeling. Keeping emotions under control without conscious awareness creates discomfort and disassociation from the body.

The beautiful thing about Nia is that it creates a safe place to explore, express and blend all emotions into a dance. Through Nia, I condition my physical body to a whole different level. This practice is the juice, the fuel and the igniter that allows me to be in a healthy loving relationship with my body. I can seek truth in my feelings. I can check in with my authentic self. I can be myself as I dance to the music. I can feel to heal.

I will never forget diving into FreeDance during my White Belt Training and having the opportunity to explore and discover a new way of being with my emotions. All emotions were accessed. None were forbidden. Even though I had been an award-winning actor, I was tapping into uncharted territory. I was experiencing the real me, not a character. For the first time, I wasn’t using my emotions to provoke, perform or entertain. Instead I was just swimming in them and playing with them.

A love affair blossomed between my physical and emotional self. I experienced sadness when the violins played and my spine rounded forward. My heart leapt with pure joy as the trumpets announced the harps, and I raised my arms upward into the sky. Forceful and strong, I kicked and sounded “No!” from a deep voice in protective anger. I was learning to accept all parts of myself, even the most hidden and fearful aspects. I felt brave and powerful. I felt beautiful and graceful. I felt like me.

After each class, I was calmer. I did not feel “out of control” or afraid of my emotions anymore. By trusting my emotions, and allowing them to flow in Nia class, I was more grounded in my authentic nature. I began to live in sensations and feelings, and recognized the voices of my body. By expressing and honoring my emotional body, I was healing. I was feeling my life-force energy and embracing love. I loved my body, and my body’s pain transformed into pleasure.

In Gabrielle Roth’s book, “Maps to Ecstasy” she believes that emotions are elemental forces with their own vibrations and functions, and that they are essential to our health and well-being. She writes, “The expression of our true feelings constitutes the essence of loving… Love is essentially the primal energy of all our emotions flowing, of really feeling and responding moment by moment, situation by situation.”

Through Nia, I let go of fear and step into love.

Kate's tips on emotions: 

  • Put on your favorite music and outfit. Move, sing, express, shake, rattle and roll! Be the performer.
  • Take a walk in nature. Breathe into the moment. Really see the sky. Listen to the bird’s song. Smell the recent rainfall. Touch the soft leaves. Sense your body as a part of this magnificent natural world.
  • Connect to water – in a pool, a river, a lake or an ocean (even a bathtub will do!). Allow your body to sink into the water. Float and flow with it; splash and swim in it.
  • Watch a favorite movie that tugs at your heartstrings. Respond to the actors.
  • Use the mantra “ I feel to heal” as a daily affirmation.

Susan Sloan, Black Belt Certified Nia Teacher / Next Generation Trainer, says:

In Nia we give our body a workout, as well as our mind, spirit and emotions. Emotions are energy in motion, and they are often stimulated by the music we dance to in class.

When I invite sound in, I am using my body as a tuning fork. Sound has the ability to move beyond the physical realm – beyond making me want to simply shimmy and grapevine. I know through experience, when certain chords are struck, the sound resonance activates my entire being on a deep level. I have been surprised by unexpected emotional responses.

As Jean Housten writes (in “The Possible Human”), “Music, like all sound, comes through the air in waves that flow over the entire body, subtly interacting with the frequencies around our bodies and the hair follicles, which are particularly sensitive. You know this already because you can remember all too well what happens to your body (not just your ears!) when chalk scratches on the blackboard.”

In Nia we get to explore FreeDance and stimulate movement creativity. This powerful technique teaches us to find more movement variety. It enables us to condition the body and nervous system to handle the stresses encountered throughout life. We become stronger and more adaptable. We avoid getting weighed down by our emotions.

Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing a children’s stage production put on by a group of kids from Rena Le Lona in the very poor community of Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa (renalelona.org). The aim of the Rena Le Lona centre is to offer support to children who have lost their parents to AIDS. Through an immersion into the arts, these kids experience emotional healing.

It was a delight to witness the transformation within these children as we watched them singing, dancing and acting. Their joyful faces showed what happens when we move emotions through the body using creativity. You too can discover ways to become empowered by your emotions, to celebrate your uniqueness, to feel what’s real while seeking joy.

Susan's tips on emotions:

  • Move your ribcage and diaphragm in a “chewing” action, contracting inwards. Refer to “Chest Isolations” on page 137 of “The Nia Technique” by Debbie Rosas and Carlos AyaRosas, where you are guided to move your ribcage in all directions between your hands.
  • Notice what your breath is doing when you are experiencing an emotion. Are your inhalations short and rapid, or are your inhalations longer than your exhalations? Refer to “Free Your Breath, Free Your Life: How Conscious Breathing Can Relieve Stress, Increase Vitality, and Help You Live More Fully” by Dennis Lewis. Page 163 covers for breath techniques to transform anger into an energy that is useful.
  • Practice sounding to energize your movement. Play with emitting vowel sounds at different volumes.
  • Act, fake and pretend to simulate emotions as you move in FreeDance.
  • Allow yourself to listen to music with your whole body. Select unfamiliar music, lie down and allow yourself to relax. Focus on your breath, feel your body melting into the floor, letting go of tension.

Resources

"The Nia Technique" by Debbie Rosas and Carlos AyaRosas

"Emotional Anatomy" by Stanley Keleman

"Maps to Ecstasy" by Gabrielle Roth

"This Is Your Brain On Music: The Science of a Human Obsession" by Daniel Levitin

"Free Your Breath, Free Your Life: How Conscious Breathing Can Relieve Stress, Increase Vitality, and Help You Live More Fully" by Dennis Lewis

"The Possible Human" by Jean Houston