Nia has Profound Affect on Alzheimer Patients and Healing Populations
By: Casey Bernstein | July 25, 2013
I was exposed to Nia in 1988 in Syracuse, NY through Dani Riposo. She had just attended the IDEA fitness conference where Debbie and Carlos had presented Nia for the first time. It was at the peak of the Jane Fonda aerobic craze. I moved to Albany, NY and attended my first Nia White Belt Training in 1990. Despite the aerobic craze, just like Debbie and Carlos, I knew there had to be people that would love Nia as much as I did.
My first official class was teaching Nia at a Women’s Health center. I was a nurse and nurses managed it, so this was a good fit. I become certified to teach aerobics to gain a presence in gyms and aerobic studios. I rented studio time in a dumpy performance space in order to teach independently. All these environments gave exposure for me to build Nia in my community, but what I craved was an aestheticly beautiful environment that Nia deserved and where I had the creative control to create Nia community. It all happened in 1993, and the first body-mind Nia studio found its home in Albany! The Center for Body-Mind Awareness opened and grew rapidly. After three years I needed to move into the larger space that is my current home for Nia training and community development. At my 20th anniversary, I continue to thrive!
Having had worked as a nurse with a wide range of clinical experience and an underlying philosophy that wellness was equated with one’s ability to move to their highest potential, I was always drawn to bring the joy of movement to healthy and healing populations.
What actually intrigues me the most is bringing Nia’s joy of movement to populations that don’t even know they are missing it, and even more, I enjoy alleviating their fear and resistance to it.
My first attempt was a battered women’s shelter. It wasn’t a good fit; the space was not adequate; and the women were very distracted by basic needs. Upon telling a Nia student, who happened to be a social worker in my class, about the technique, she informed me that a long term women’s drug rehabilitation center was right across the street from my studio, housed in an old nunnery. The program director was willing to let me give it go, and they were able to come to my studio. I have been in association with that facility for 20 years. In addition, I have brought Nia to women with breast cancer, emotionally disturbed children, the elderly, Parkinson’s groups, prenatal moms, brain injury clients, and Alzheimer patients.
However, the most profound experiences I have had is working with Alzheimer patients as part of a grant that was created to look at the effect of quality of life with the visual arts, story telling and movement for these individuals. I thought, “Wow, what an amazing experience this would be!” My full intention would be to bring and keep them with me while experiencing the joy of movement and not be afraid. My confidence and “tool box” was being a Nia White Belt Trainer. I wanted to play with deconstructing aspects of the 13 White Belt principles and make them accessible to these clients, since I knew I could not present a regular Nia routine format to them. Every time I went, I never introduced myself or gave a verbal introduction. Instead, I simply wore the same bright red patterned top and played the same three songs, three times in a row. This was my warm-up. Eventually I brought in new concepts and White Belt principles. In addition to experiencing movement, I wanted them to sense music and rhythm, so I filled small individual hard plastic juice bottles with beans, which create weight, sound, and vibration. Using a song with a strong beat, with shakers in hand, I set the shaker rhythm to the music, and they all started to follow. We worked with fast and slow speeds. Then I did the same song with no shakers, but instead used our hands up and down counting 1 up to 8, and they got it! I couldn’t believe their attention and consistency. It was amazing and awesome.
Every time I unlock the door to my studio, there is a sensation of being welcomed home. When Nia students arrive for class, I want them to feel the same way. It’s the almost indescribable sensation of coming home to one’s self and one’s community. It’s the anticipation and the hope of healing through movement and transformation that keeps me and others connected to Nia. I feel a spirit connection to the location of my studio. Of course, I love the old hardwood floor and brick walled-structure of the 1872 building.
I have always believed that the joy of Nia is a strong force and feel the entire building beams with potential. We have a dream of an expansion of Nia along with arts, education, health, and a NiaWear shop all housed within the same building. The fourth floor, that we rehabbed for Nia’s 30th anniversary party to honor Debbie, has a footprint similar to Nia Headquarters in Portland, Oregon. I can envision 50 pillows in a circle waiting for the energy of a Nia Black Belt on the east coast of the US.
Each time I lock the door behind me and leave the studio, I am filled with the joy of having my dream come true. Everyday is another day of appreciation for my home for Nia and the opportunity to do this work. I am deeply grateful.