For this month's continuing education focus on the pelvis, we're excited to feature the following masterful voices from the worldwide Nia community. Read on to hear what they have to say about sensing grace and power by exploring The Body's Way. Be sure to also register for the October 8th telecourse with Debbie Rosas.
Debbie Rosas, Nia Co-Creator, says:
One of the things I love most about Nia is the freedom to move my pelvis, to shake my booty and use both feminine and masculine dynamics in my movement. Fast, slow, hard, soft, fingers, feet, chest and pelvis - I get to do it all! What is the result? I leave every workout loving how I feel and loving all parts of my body, from head to toe.
Back in 1975, moving like a woman, swishing your pelvis and adding a shimmy was unheard of. As a matter of fact, aerobic teachers were frequently told, “Don’t dance - people can’t follow you. Keep your movement mechanical.” Boy, has a lot changed!
Thanks to Nia, programs like Zumba and TV shows such as So You Think You Can Dance, more people do think they can dance, and so they do. They dance not only to have a good time, but to also get fit and stay healthy. They dance to feel good, look good and express themselves using their pelvis - the part of the body that helps us move with power and grace, on and off the dance floor.
If you’re constricted in your pelvis, you’ll tend to compensate by tightening your lower back. This action of tightening reduces power and grace. Dancing and walking with a loose pelvis is a great way to keep your lower back healthy and strong. Every time you move your pelvis, you free your spine and move from your body’s center to gain more power and grace in your movement. You also stimulate your breathing and increase the tone of your abdominal muscles, moving from inside out to gain more power and grace from your core. Finally, you firm your buttock and leg muscles, moving from underneath to gain more power and grace from the ground up.
Power comes from having strength in your leg, buttock, and abdominal muscles - all of which are stimulated by moving the pelvis! You can strengthen these muscles without doing squats, leg presses or sit-ups and without gritting your teeth and forcing yourself to press on. Follow the path of pleasure and listen to Your Body's Way - the method of using your body in accord with its present design and function.
For sleek, firm abdominals and great looking buttock and leg muscles, focus on using your pelvis throughout the day, including during your workout. Each of the tips below will add more power and grace to your movement.
- Practice Nia's two pelvis moves daily: Pelvic Circles and Hip Bumps.
- Breathe fully and deeply. The simple mechanism of breathing in and out works the muscles between your ribs, stretching, contracting and toning your abdominal muscles.
- Sound the word “Yeet!” You won’t believe what a difference sounding (using expressive sounds and words) makes in toning your abdominal muscles and back. Exhale “Yeet” with gusto, letting an explosive from-the-gut sound add power and grace to every movement you do.
- Move your tailbone. By purposefully engaging your tailbone, your pelvis will stimulate the movement of your entire core (pelvis, chest, head and spine), naturally moving you from the inside out.
- Sink and rise through high, middle and low plane. A little goes a long way when it comes to contracting and releasing muscles. By lowering and raising your pelvis, you can beautifully tone your buttock and leg muscles.
Roberta Mohler, Nia trainer, says:
I love to move my pelvis! As my friend, Nia Trainer Martha Randall, says, “It’s your wow factor.” It is also the place where I am often practicing self-healing. As a sensation scientist who is constantly aware of and exploring sensation, I increase and decrease the movement stimulation in my pelvis on a daily basis to enhance the mobility, stability, and alignment of my pelvis.
I learned a very important lesson about moving the pelvis when I was asked to teach a Nia class at a women’s retreat. The group was gathered together for a religious celebration. Before the class, the organizer specifically asked me not to move my hips too much. I thought to myself, “This is really going to be a challenge for me! Hip movement is my happy place, my mojo.” So I rehearsed my Nia routine ahead of time, being very careful not to move my pelvis any more than necessary. This added a lot of stability to my core. After my rehearsal, I did a body scan. My body said, “This is great; do this more often.” I sensed a strength and calmness in my lower back, as well as in my abdominal muscles. By the way, regardless of my previous instructions, the ladies at the retreat moved their hips with spontaneity and delight!
In the Nia White Belt training, we learn that the word pelvis means basin. We call it the pelvic bowl, a container of energy. This container holds the reproductive organs, digestive organs, the bladder and creates a passageway for the birth canal. Suffice it to say, there is a lot of important, vital functioning happening here!
We also learn that the hara and the second chakra are housed in the pelvic bowl. The hara is the center of gravity in the body, located approximately two inches below your belly button and two inches behind it. When we move as if being guided from our hara, we create safe, grounded, fluid and elegant movements, just like an Aikido practitioner. (Aikido is one of Nia’s nine movement forms). Being "guided" means imagining a gentle hand placed on the back of your sacrum (the triangle-shaped bone in the center and back of the pelvis). The sacrum is the keystone of the whole skeleton. This guidance provides support from underneath and behind, allowing the pelvis to be more integrated with the legs and upper body.
The second chakra, located near the hara, is an energy center that we learn about from the influence of yoga (another one of Nia's nine movement forms). The second chakra is associated with creativity, sensuality, sexuality, emotions and the element of water. Practicing Nia's pelvic moves, which include pelvic circles, hip bumps, spinal rolls and undulations helps to stimulate, release and balance our second chakra energy. We move the pelvis like a bowl, following the form and function of The Body's Way.
- Look at an anatomy book to understand the shape, size, and design of the pelvic bowl. Look at how the spine and thigh bones connect to the pelvis. Look at the strong muscles that support the pelvis on all four sides. My favorite book is Body Stories by Andrea Olsen.
- Play with the idea of being guided from your hara and by a gentle hand on the back of your pelvis as you walk or dance. Imagine the heel of someone's hand at the top of your pelvis, fingers point down.
- Play with increasing and decreasing stimulation in your pelvis as you walk, dance, or move while sitting on the floor. Listen to sensation and pleasure in your body. What feels right to you today?
- Play with placing your feet toes in, toes out, and toes parallel to keep healthy mobility in your hip sockets. The top of the femur (thigh bone) is round and designed for rotation.
- Imagine that you have a tail that extends down to the ground from the tip of your sacrum as you walk or dance. Choose an image that is fun, such as a lion or beaver's tail. This imagery will help your pelvis remain in its natural horizontal design.
Letizia Accinelli, Nia trainer, says:
The pelvis is formed from the two pelvic bones (the hip bones) and the sacrum (the lowest section of the spine). The pelvis bowl has multiple functions. It links the vertebral column with the legs and the feet, provides a base for the torso and also provides a skeletal cavity for the organs responsible for reproduction and elimination.
In the fetus, each of the two pelvic bones are comprised of three bones that are fused together in adults. These include the ilium, ischium and the pubic bones. On the back of the pelvis, the ilium and the sacrum form the sacroiliac joint. On the front of the pelvis, the two pelvic bones are attached at the pubic symphysis, a pubic connection. Men and women have a different level of mobility in the sacroiliac joint and pubic symphysis, a difference amplified particularly during pregnancy when these bones yield to provide space for the birth canal.
You can feel your pelvic bones by starting at the iliac crest, then following down to the pubic bone. If you find the two pubic bones, you can also feel the symphysis and the higher and lower part of the pubic bones. On either side of the pubic bone, both the iliacus and psoas muscles pass over the pelvis. If you follow the interior part of the pubic bone, you can access the ischial tuberosity on either side. These bones are easy to sense: they're the same ones you feel when riding a bike or sitting on a hard chair.
When I was pregnant, I loved sensing my pelvis weighted down and anchored firmly to the earth. I felt my pelvis very clearly during my pregnancies, sensing all sides of my pelvic bowl. At that time, I really sensed my pelvis as a container. Practicing Nia allows me to reconnect to those sensations on a daily basis.
- Be aware of your pelvis moving through the planes as you perform your daily activities such as petting an animal (low plane), tidying up your desk (middle plane), or kissing someone (high plane).
- Move your pelvis as if you are using a hula hoop and vary the size of the hoop.
- Pretend you're shaking water off with your tail. This movement loosens up the lumbar area.
- Use this visualization from Eric Franklin's book Dance Imagery: "Think of the pelvis as a rock on the bottom of a shallow sea. The torso and the head are seaweed attached to the rock. The seaweed undulates upward, hanging freely in the water."
- Imagine your pelvis is a seat and sense your body rooting into the pelvic bowl.
- Palpate your psoas muscle. Do this by lying down in a comfortable position on your back. Follow the ilium crest with your fingers, then move more towards the centre of your belly. Relax and let your fingers delicately press inward until your connective tissue relaxes, allowing you to sense the fibers of the psoas muscle.
Maria Skinner, Nia trainer, says:
In Nia, the pelvis is considered the bottom weight of the core of the body, with the chest and head forming the other two body weights. Together, these three body weights are connected by the spine and house the major organs of the body. They also contain the energy centers called "chakras" in Eastern philosophy.
The pelvis houses the sexual organs, the large intestine, some of the small intestines, and the bladder. Of the chakras, the first and second energy centers are housed here. We often say in Nia that the pelvis contains energy. In many ways, it is the place where things are "cooked" before we are ready to release them back to the earth.
It is said that the largest part of the immune system resides in the gut (the intestines). Here, we also house an internal eco-system of microbes - ideally, beneficial ones - that help us digest, assimilate food and regulate our responses to all kinds of organisms that might want to "set up shop" inside of us. Keeping things moving here is crucial in the regulation of our bodily cycles and in the functioning of the rest of the body. From the nine months we contain a fetus, to the meal we ate yesterday, the health of our pelvis determines, literally, the ground in which we grow the future. Using this metaphor, the large intestines are also the soil we root into. Moving the pelvis keeps this part of the body healthy and vital.
The sacrum, a triangular group of fused vertebrae flanked by the iliac bones, is the place where the energizing of the legs moves from the spine all the way down into the feet. The bottom of the sacrum, the coccyx, is where the first chakra is located. The first chakra is associated with survival and our sense of belonging and feeling contained in this world. The pelvic floor is located at the base of the pelvis. When strong and supple, the pelvic floor helps "close the container" until we are ready to release its contents.
The second chakra is located at the upper part of the sacrum and is associated with creativity and procreation. In women, this is where the uterus and ovaries are found. Movements that support the health of the pelvis include forward and backward bends, squatting movements, pelvic circles, hip bumps and undulations - all movements that are abundant in Nia classes.
- Move your hips and listen to drumming music that inspires the movement of your pelvis.
- Stretch your psoas muscle, the deep hip flexor. Lengthening this muscle will free movement in the hips.
- Do kegels to strengthen your pelvic floor.
- Eat plenty of lacto-fermented food such as cultured veggies, kefir and yogurt to feed your inner ecosystem and keep your intestines healthy and moving with ease.
Use a tennis ball against the wall to massage your gluteal muscles. Look for tight spots and massage into them to free up movement in the pelvis.