Going Blue

As shared in a previous post, I completed the first level of Nia training, the White Belt Intensive, in March 2017. Nia White Belt teaches the Art of Sensation, which means living and functioning in your body while guided by sensation. It is very much centered on body awareness: learning to listen to your body and moving in a way that feels good and brings pleasure. Nia Blue Belt builds upon that foundation through the Art of Communication, which focuses on relationship and intimacy – being with ourselves and others. Successful relationships and teaching come from learning to communicate intimately, mastering both speaking and listening skills.

Finding my voice

I had been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to attend Blue Belt once I learned that the focus was on communication. This may come as a surprise, but communication is something I have struggled with most of my life – despite all of my education, training and professional experience in that arena. On the surface, I think I do a decent job with both written and verbal communication, especially in my professional roles. But when it comes down to speaking the truth – my truth – I often stumble.

More than once I have sought out “assertiveness training” to help find that balance between passivity and aggression. The first time I attended such a program I was really excited…until the instructor indicated that learning to be assertive meant being okay with some people not liking you. That didn’t sit well – after all, I was a recent college grad and “fitting in” was still an important part of my social experience. In the years since then, I have experienced several situations in which I did not speak up for myself out of fear of hurting someone else’s feelings…only to find that I was the one who wound up hurt due to my silence. My growth in this area is still very much a work in progress, which is why I was excited to jump into Blue Belt.

On the first day, we were asked to write down what we hoped to receive from participating in Blue Belt training. Here is what I wrote:

I want to be comfortable using my voice on and off the dance floor. I want to be heard without stepping on others and without being stepped on either.

I felt both anxiety and anticipation when I wrote those words. I longed for them to be true, but I also know myself and the lingering doubt and fear I face when it comes to speaking up. Thus, I entered the week with a sense of realistic optimism, hoping it would be the start of a journey to finding my voice. Now, after six days of immersion into the 13 Blue Belt principles, I can say with confidence that it is.

It feels near impossible to convey the power and full picture of what I experienced last week, but I hope the following highlights give you just a taste of what it meant to “go Blue”:

  • I had the great fortune to spend the week with 12 beautiful and courageous Blue Belt sisters, as well as our amazing Nia trainer, Winalee Zeeb, and fearless producer/trainer, Kate Finlayson. Although we came from four different states and diverse backgrounds, we bonded instantly, I think in part due to our maturity (we are all 40+) and the willingness to share openly and honestly from the moment we met.

 

  • I gained a valuable tool around body-centered, mindful communication. We defined communication as a two-way exchange of energy – one person is transmitting (speaking) and the other is receiving (listening). The goal is to communicate with 100% clarity and that often means slowing down, especially when you are the speaker. We have a tool in Nia called RAW – Relaxed (body)-Alert (mind)-Waiting (spirit). In White Belt, we learned how to use this method to listen to the music for each song in a routine. In Blue Belt, we expanded its use to everyday communication, whether in our personal or professional relationships. Taking a moment to pause before we speak – simple, yet so effective.

 

  • One of the simplest yet profound concepts we explored is the power of three in relationships. In any given relationship, there is the self, the other and the relationship itself. The self and other both bring things to the relationship and also have needs to be met. The idea is to establish peaceful and healthy relationships by creating clear agreements based on the needs of the relationship. In many ways, this is the art of compromise, but for me this principle provided a clear road map to help reach such compromise. And once again, it can easily apply to both personal and professional relationships.

 

  • The final takeaway that I want to share is that of applying the 7 cycles of a Nia class to your everyday life. I created this chart to show how the cycles are applied in class and how you could apply them to your day as well:

 

Cycle

Nia class Your day
Cycle 1: Set Your Focus + Intent Where you place your attention during class and the desired outcome you want to achieve Where you place your attention for the day and the desired outcome (set it before you get out of bed in the morning)
Cycle 2: Step In A way to leave behind distractions as you start the class (usually a physical gesture) A way to help remove distractions before you start your day (e.g., meditation, journaling or other grounding practice)
Cycle 3: Warm Up Gentle movement to get energy flowing in the 13 joints Some gentle movement or mental exercise to help get energy flowing (e.g., walking, stretching, or reviewing your schedule for the day)
Cycle 4: Get Moving Dynamically moving in the space, varying movement and intensity to condition the whole body Moving through your day with awareness of your peak energy times and aligning tasks to them; varying your work tasks to help sustain your energy
Cycle 5: Cool Down Decreasing exertion to lower heart rate and prepare to move to the floor Winding down your day in a way that allows you to prepare for a restful night’s sleep
Cycle 6: FloorPlay Energy of “play” guides structured and unstructured movement on the floor Moving to the floor for some gentle movement (e.g., stretching) or play (your choice!)
Cycle 7: Step Out Physical gesture to consciously quiet down, center, self-reflect and prepare for next activity Intentional gesture to quiet down as you close out your day (e.g., meditation, journaling, listening to soft music, reading for pleasure)

Some people may think Nia is just an exercise class, but it is so much deeper than that. It truly is a lifestyle and a practice that promotes physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing. I left Blue Belt inspired to find more ways to integrate Nia with my health coaching. Stay tuned to see what unfolds!

Click here to learn more about Nia!

Cross-pollination

Given the “pollenpocalypse” we’ve experienced here in North Carolina, you might think this post is related to spring and how to survive allergy season. I covered that topic last year so click here if you need to review those tips. Instead, I want to share two recent experiences that demonstrate the power of cross-pollination and collaboration.

The non-botanical definition of cross-pollination is “a sharing or interchange of knowledge, ideas, etc., as for mutual enrichment; cross-fertilization.” The term first popped up for me a month or so ago as my fellow Triangle Nia teachers and I were planning our annual spring retreat on the NC coast. The retreat involves a teacher jam, where we all select two to three songs to teach when we dance together. Every Nia class has a focus and intent and the jam is no different. A few teachers tossed out ideas related to spring and the idea of enriching one another through cross-pollination. With a little finessing, we eventually came up with the following:

Focus: Visioning how we enrich each other with cross-pollination with the intent of buzzing into the magic of limitless possibilities.

This focus and intent became the theme for the whole retreat and manifested itself in a number of different ways. The weekend involved a great deal of sharing personal stories of growth and development, both in our roles as Nia teachers as well as other personal and professional pursuits. It was amazing to see how seven women from various backgrounds found ways to connect and share knowledge and advice with the goal of nurturing one another.

I was grateful to be on the receiving end of this cross-pollination. At one point I shared with the group some of the challenges I’ve had around my desire to engage in creative writing. I currently have a couple of projects underway, but I tend to work on them in fits and starts. I’ll have a spark of inspiration that translates into just a paragraph or two on the page and then I’m not sure where to go from there. As much as I enjoy writing, it can also be a painfully slow process for me. I’m not sure how or when it started, but I developed the habit of editing as I write…which any good writer will tell you is a no-no.

Enter Robin, fellow Nia teacher who also happens to have degrees in Creative Writing and English. She shared a story with me that led to an “a-ha” moment. It had to do with the composition styles of Beethoven and Mozart. Apparently, Beethoven experienced a great deal of angst as he composed – he would scribble a few notes, then scratch some out and start over. It was almost as if he had to pull the notes out of his mind, one at a time, and perfect them on the page before moving on. On the other hand, Mozart would essentially “vomit” an entire composition onto the page and then go back and tweak it until he was satisfied. Such different methods but both ending in musical masterpieces. The amazing part was that I hadn’t even mentioned my own writing style to Robin before she shared this story, but I am clearly more like Beethoven than Mozart.

Robin had a couple of suggestions for me to make writing a little easier and hopefully more enjoyable. She recommended meditating before I write and more importantly, she advised either turning the monitor off completely or lowering the brightness so that I can barely see what is on the screen. The idea behind this approach is to just get the words and thoughts out of my head without the need to edit as I write. Genius! I am definitely willing to give it a try although I am curious about how it will work if I can’t see what I am writing. (Confession: I did not try it as I was writing this post, but I do plan to give it a shot when I work on my other writing project later this morning. Baby steps!)

Given the gift I received from Robin during this retreat, I hope that something I said or did had a similar impact on one or more of my Nia sisters. I did experience the benefits of mutual enrichment in my next venture, which was a workshop I attended in Philadelphia last week. For the last 18 months or so, I have been part of a group of health coaches who contribute items (questions) for the national Health & Wellness Coach Certifying Exam. We draft the items individually and submit them to the organization that administers the exam. We receive suggested edits to address on our own, then we come together as a group to finalize the items, ensuring that they are suitable for use on the exam.

You might be surprised to learn that there is a whole science behind constructing test items. I had no idea initially how challenging the task could really be, but I have learned so much being part of this process. Even with feedback from the testing organization, I sometimes struggled to format the questions appropriately. Thus, I relished the opportunity to go through the editing process with other health coaches.

We came together for two and half days to tackle about 125 exam items. Some items were easier to finalize then others. For example, there were some simple recall questions related to general health and wellness content, such as risk factors for certain chronic conditions. The more difficult items involved scenario-based questions testing the examinees’ knowledge and application of various coaching skills. I noticed that my items were quite wordy compared to my colleagues, so I appreciated their ability to help tighten up the scenarios I drafted. They seemed to have a knack for getting the same idea across in two sentences versus the four or five I had written. I think I contributed to the process by helping bring clarity to the central idea the item authors wanted to test.

It took working through several items before the group hit our stride, but then it became clear how we each brought our unique perspectives to the process. In the end, the exam items were stronger as a whole based on the input from each group member. I also gained some insight into how to draft stronger questions next time around, which will hopefully help the writing process go a little more quickly in the future.

I think the bottom line on cross-pollination is that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. I know it seems cliché, but it is hard to deny when you see the enhanced outcome based on the contributions of many versus just one.