Prompt: Body integration. This year, when did you feel the most integrated with your body? Did you have a moment where there wasn’t mind and body, but simply a cohesive YOU, alive and present?
It’s funny. When I first read the prompt, I thought I should write something about yoga. it is, after all the thing I do that is supposed to ‘yoke’ the mind and body together. And yet, when I really think about this it’s not yoga that’s been doing this for me. It’s dance.
I have started attending the occasional NIA class again. It’s been wonderful. In class, I am alive, present, and so very happy. I’m also sweaty and using muscles that I keep forgetting I have.
What’s NIA? Well, I dug up an old post about NIA. Back then I felt “the need to explain my attendance at NIA classes,” as well as explain what it is. I’ve pasted the old post below, but I have to admit how embarrassed I am by my embarrassment back then.
… It’s this kind of dance class that is a mix of modern dance, aikido and jazzercise. Sounds pretty stupid. The NIA instructors call it Neuromuscular Integrated Action or something and talk a lot about movements that balance each other, work muscles and connective tissue, and honor people’s bodies. Sounds pretty shady. The lady who took my money the first time talked about how she was in the middle of a NIA class after her divorce and had a ‘life changing moment’ and discovered her true calling. Sounds pretty, well, wacky.
And I spend a great deal of my time feeling duped and wacky and stupid as an instructor leads us through a series of movements to music that make me feel like a kindergartener at a recital. On top of that, they want me to make noise. “Say YES to the sky!” and “You are a warrior! Make a warrior sound as you slice the air!” Please. I am not making sounds. I am not saying yes and I am not grunting and I am not going to make the ‘siren call’ sound while twisting my hips. I am sure as hell not gong to say “Yip!” at random times like the woman who is always in the front row. She scares me. (However, she’s at least 45 and has a nice, toned body – so she’s crazy but hot. Besides me, she’s the youngest person in the class which makes things a little strange.)
I will follow along because most of the movements are fluid and familiar and challenging. I will follow along because the whole thing leaves me drenched in sweat and sore for three days afterwards. I will follow along because I am so busy following along that I do occasionally forget that this is exercise, that I paid way too much money to be there and that I am an adult. I occasionally find a breath escaping me that sounds like my inner child is way down inside and saying ‘yes!’ Eventually, we are told to ‘go freestyle’ and ‘touch the space around you’ ‘interact’ and other euphemisms for dance around the room. I’m usually so out of myself at that point that I actually do it – a fact that never ceases to amaze me afterwards.
When all is said and done it makes me happy. I leave the studio totally gross and sweaty but with a huge smile. And lunch tastes so good!
I’ve also learned something valuable. Let me try to explain:
The first lesson was by a French woman, no more than thirty, who had those amazing zero-body fat arms that look like ropes. I was sure this was going to be a no-holds-barred workout. She wore these big float-y pants and a big float-y top and studded belt. But she liked Celine Dion. A lot. I’d also put good money down that she made us dance to Amy Grant because man that music sucked. The workout was good but a little diss-jointed, and I figured if the music was always that bad I was not going to make this a habit. I was tired after, but nothing felt like it had been worked except my heart, which after all, is the main reason I wanted to go.
The second woman was at least 65 and had obviously had a couple kids. Regardless of this fact she wore short lime green pants and a black crop top that really hugged her chest. She – no doubt as advertisement – brought her husband, who was hot and at least 20 years her junior. I was sure that this was going to be gentle and sweet where the French lady had been aggressive. But she put on world music. I swear there was Robert Miles in here and a little Delirium thank goodness. She was a great teacher. The moves built on one another and finally I understood why you could have a ‘life changing’ moment in one of these classes. It’s like the emotional rush you get during a really good yoga class. When she stopped and the music changed and she said ‘focus on what you are grateful for right now’ and then made us try to express that emotion with our bodies I almost welled up with tears. Almost. And holy cow did my back, waist, and hamstrings hurt for three day after.
So I’ll be going back for the foreseeable future. The teachers rotate every Sunday and there are 8 of them, so I have a few more to go through. I will not, however, be making any assumptions about the teacher based on age or body fat. I’ve learned that lesson the hard way. Who knows, perhaps there is a teacher out there that will get me to say ‘YES! to the sky.’
I’ve found a great teacher this time around. Also not a hard body but very sexy in her own way. NIA is her way of ‘living big’ and she’s clearly having fun, getting as much out of it as her students. My first class was on Halloween, and her regulars showed up in costume. The music for the day was all Halloween-inspired, and the class ended with Thriller. We all had to dance like zombies. Sounds strange, but it was actually really hard!
There are also moments when we stop dancing in lines, facing the mirror and are asked to dance in a circle that feel, well, downright powerful. Like the dancing I’ve done in ritual space, or for meditation. It’s as if we are creating something as we dance. I can’t explain it more than that.
These days, I’m going to NIA, but I’m also occasionally dancing in my living room after I get home from work. I used to dance around when I was younger, lip-synching songs and re-creating dances I’d seen in musicals. Somewhere along the line I stopped. Somewhere around 16.
Now, well not only is it a great way to get out the angst from a hard day, it’s a great way to get some exercise. I also have to admit there is something really freeing about doing something so potentially embarrassing. It’s therapeutic to be so goofy and so in the moment that you don’t care what anyone would think if they saw you.
And, more to the point, when I am dancing – really dancing – there is no mind and body, but simply a cohesive ME, alive and present.