The following post is written by Jodie Allenson, who is a White Belt Nia teacher based in Noblesville, Indiana.

For centuries, many have realized that the mind/body/spirit connection, the relationship between our emotional self and our physical self, is exceptionally powerful. Unfortunately, I had a mind/body/spirit disconnect for most of my adult life. All along I thought that it was my body that wasn’t satisfying me, but now I realize that I wasn’t satisfying my body!

I have always had spinal issues due to Spina Bifida Occulta (a condition where my lower spine did not close completely while I was developing in the womb), but my overall health was never dramatically affected by the condition. However, the first 10 years of my marriage saw many health problems, including infertility followed by a pre-cancerous condition that necessitated a radical hysterectomy. I was prescribed hormone replacement therapy, which caused pancreatitis and liver failure that led to several surgeries. A few years later came the diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis.

My body had become very ill and needed to move in order to release toxins and gain strength. However, my mind was emotional and became angry at my body for not being perfect. Additionally, I felt that I “couldn’t” go into a health club where I assumed that everyone was at their ideal weight/health. Meanwhile, my spirit was crying out for mind/body balance, which created years of anxiety and turning to food for relief and immediate satisfaction. Obviously, this behavior just continued the dysfunctional cycle, and “being mean” to myself became a way of life.

My daughter was at the age where she was comparing her body to her classmates’ bodies, and my body with her friends’ mothers' bodies. I told my daughter that everyone is different and that is okay, and that because of advances in photography technology, not even the models really look like models! However, the words that I was saying to her and my internal thoughts did not match.

One day I realized that if I continued to ignore my body’s need for movement, the possibility was great that my daughter was going to pick up on my negative view of myself. I wondered what chance she would have to love her body when her mother disliked her own so much. I knew that I had to stop that way of thinking and make a radical change--if not for my sake, then for my daughter’s.

I decided to take a small step first. I saw that a fitness class called Nia was being offered through my local parks and recreation department. Although I had never heard of it, the description sounded interesting. I figured that I would try it once, and if I didn’t like it, I didn’t have to go back. However, I instantly recognized that Nia is a fitness practice where there are no “perfect” moves and there is no pressure to look, move or act like anyone else. When I gave myself permission to move in my own way without judgement, it felt like an epiphany!

Midway through that first class, my mind began to align with my body, and my spirit began to rejoice! I burst into tears because I couldn’t contain the feeling of freedom that I was experiencing. I immediately went home and found additional classes. WIthin a month, I was dancing Nia five mornings a week! I may not be able to run a marathon yet, but I can move my body easily every day. That is a triumph that I am exceedingly proud of. While the weight isn’t falling off like it would if I put myself on a fad diet or began an extreme exercise regimen, I notice changes happening everyday. One day I might notice a loss of pain in a particular joint or I might realize that I can kick higher than I could the week before. Those discoveries are lovely and keep me motivated and excited about moving my flawed but strong body.

Additionally, I’ve come to let go of the notion that my body was somehow my own enemy! It was simply reacting to the sedentary lifestyle that I had imposed upon it. I now recognize that my body is an amazing machine, and I am grateful that it has seen me through countless obstacles and illnesses. I trust that with my mind and body working together, my weight will decrease as my body’s need for movement is satisfied.

I have become so passionate about sharing Nia that it has become more than an exercise routine; it has become my way of life. One year ago, after receiving encouragement and support from my local teacher, Maggie Held, I completed the eight-day intensive White Belt Training and received my certification to teach Nia. I returned home inspired and ready to "take on the world" and will be forever grateful to my trainer, Stephaney Robinson, who teaches in Sullivans Island, South Carolina.

While Nia is for all physiques and skill levels, it is my dream to specialize in classes specifically for those who struggle with weight. I’d like to provide a safe haven for those of us who desire to make internal and external changes without the pressure to look “perfect” while doing it. There is so much to be gained from the support of like-bodied women. Nia is a life changer--a daily expression of love for one’s self. I believe that in order to move your body the Nia way, you must come to love your body, which is a major hurdle for some of us. Nia has given me the strength to love my flawed body and all of the challenges that I have triumphed because of its majesty.

I currently rent a studio space and teach 11 Nia classes per week. I am so thankful that I can share my passion for Nia with my clients/fellow dancers. I thrive on the joy that I see during classes. Viewing their freedom makes my heart sing!