Susan Sloan, White Belt Nia Trainer and Black Belt Instructor
I was teaching my 08:00 class at the Virgin Active gym recently, and noticed how, slowly but surely, some of the previous Nia students were returning after six months of not having danced since before lockdown. On that particular morning, I saw how a couple of them had transformed from feeling tight and pinched, to being exhilarated from being in the class, and resuming their Nia practice. I sensed that they hadn’t been doing so for all these months.
When I started putting together – and advertising – the online Nia White Belt in April this year, South Africa was in level 5 lockdown. I had no idea what it would be like to deliver an online White Belt Training over 16 weeks. I had done an online post-White Belt Learn-a-Routine workshop with a group of White Belt graduates in mid-April, and felt the sensation of intimacy and growth with the participants. It was as if I was in the White Belt with them again, as I had spent such dedicated alchemical time with them on their training. I knew that chances were high that I would experience the same alchemy and depth with a new White Belt group.
I had no idea how my expectations were going to be exceeded. In every way. The journey with my online White Belt group over the 16 weeks (June to October 2020) was incredibly rich and rewarding. All the participants were fully engaged and committed to their White Belt journey of embodying the 13 Nia principles. The transformation was palpable, and seeing the trainees in the Zoom classes every week, I noticed how they were getting more and more homed in to the magic of what Nia brings to their body and life. They were completely invested in moving through their blocks and life issues, and through the alchemy of the White Belt, they got to know themselves, love themselves, and could taste the feeling of what it feels like to ‘Dance Through Life’, no matter what was happening in their lives. They took the cognitive information and movement experiences and applied them to their lives. It was wonderful to feel their embodiment of the Nia principles each week in our sessions, and it was clear that they were really applying the principles. This group is a true testimony that the design of the White Belt is a gift to the body and the best investment for your body and life! I feel so proud, and look forward to seeing how the alchemy will continue to weave its magic throughout the next 13 moons and beyond.
Here are blogs from three of the participants.
I was stranded in Bali for nine weeks at the start of the South African lockdown. When I returned home, I found it very challenging to be surrounded by fear, death, infection statistics, and the heavy-duty restrictions that hadn’t existed in my lived experience of daily life prior to my trip. My Nia White Belt was THE antidote. Fear had no chance against self-love; gratitude for my body and health grew in the flow of movement and universal joy; my thoughts, emotions, spirit, and my body embraced the FAMSS [flexibility, agility, mobility, strength, and stability], and this expanded my experience of being grounded, resourceful, and resilient in life no matter the external circumstances. Sixteen weeks of soaking in the Nia White Belt principles, making meaningful connections, and sharing in the safe cocoon of my close and loving community of fellow Nia White Belts, has not only given me wise friends for life, it was also a truly life-transforming experience. Susan is an amazing human and an awesome teacher. I recommend the Nia White Belt journey to everyone!
I decided to gift myself something special for my 70th birthday, and the Nia White Belt Training was top of my list. Then COVID-19 hit, and I thought that my dream was gone. Our wonderful trainer, Susan Sloan, saved the day with an online training, although at the time I was disappointed as I desperately wanted an ‘in-body’ experience. It became the joy of my life and uplifted my spirits, and with each session I got stronger and stronger, and my White Belt Training carried me on a positive wave right through COVID-19.
Moving into each session – and using the tools given to us – has been the most enlightening event of my life. I’ve noticed my body becoming more agile, flexible, and much more stable; my mobility increased and, with that, strength emerged that I didn’t know I had. The joy of movement in my body’s way brought more awareness and spontaneity, along with new-found energy. The sensory studies filled me, and my spiritual awareness grew, swelling and filling me, expanding outwards, and I found my enjoyment overflowing inexplicably. I immersed myself into the training, and as I kept moving the Nia way, my emotions were positive and upbeat. Everyone I met outside of Nia was so envious, and it gave me great joy to explain that it was my Nia practice that was keeping me filled with joy and helping me through COVID-19. Graduating and receiving my White Belt has been the highlight of my life.
Nia and the online Nia White Belt Training delivered by Susan Sloan in South Africa has been a life-saver for me during the COVID-19 lockdown and in the face of various challenges that this pandemic has thrown my way. In fact, registering for the online Nia White Belt Training has been such a gift for me, as I live in Perth, Australia and was also able to attend the training for three weeks while in Canberra. My challenges included that my husband and I have been separated during this time due to travel restrictions (he is in South Africa); and that I accompanied my daughter when she relocated to Canberra in July to follow post-graduate studies there. These factors would normally have caused me to retreat into fight, flight, or freeze mode, or into depression. However, I was able to stay grounded in my body and to even experience intense universal joy by immersing myself in the Nia White Belt principles and carrying these into ‘normal’ life; also by experiencing these principles while dancing over Zoom with Susan and my wonderful fellow trainees. I’m also very grateful for Nia TV, and particularly for being able to learn and move the 52 moves with Debbie and Carlos Rosas (the founders of the Nia Technique).
Learning the principles and tools in the training took the benefits of Nia to a different level for me, and this has truly changed my life. It has given me a different perspective, allowing me to experience emotions and then work through them by using the tools that I learnt during the training. I have achieved a level of agility and strength that I didn’t think possible, while honouring myself and dancing in the body’s way by using the different levels as needed. I’m very excited to further the insights and knowledge gained during the training through workshops and practice. I have continued to take part in Nia classes on Zoom with Studio Kairos in Johannesburg, on Nia TV, and in person with Andrea in Perth. I’m enjoying dancing with Nia through my life’s challenges and joys.
Cape Town 18 to 24 March 2017
PJ Olivier Art Centre, 3 Blom Street, Stellenbosh
Enjoy the experience in the delightful quaint town of Stellenbosch in the tranquil setting of the Cape Winelands surrounded by two mountain ranges.
On Sunday I got to see what it looks like to experience how movement truly can change your quality of life, no matter what age! I spent an entire Sunday in my Mother’s “neck of the woods”, Pretoria East, South Africa. This is where she teaches 13 exercise classes a week including: 6 Core conditioning/Pilates, 5 Yoga/Nova and 3 Nia Technique classes. She teaches classes of 30 plus people of all age groups from teenagers to seniors, all cultures and fitness levels.
I was amazed how in the particular Sunday morning Yoga/Nova class of regulars, most of the students were about 40 years younger than my Mom, and in good shape. My mother is 74 years old.
My Mom, June Esterhuizen, (on the left), Blue Belt Nia Instructor, with Debbie Rosas at my Trainer Graduation at Nia HQ in Portland 2012.
Here is a link to a video of her teaching Yoga/Nova (a yoga Pilates fusion) class:
My Mom epitomises the statement: “Through Movement we find Health”. Her entire demeanour is vibrant and one of a healthy, fit and youthful person. She is truly doing what she loves to do and is thriving!
It is well known in many studies of the brain that “Dancing makes you smarter”:
I put my Mom’s ability to learn how to use her latest smartphone down to all the neuropathways she’s created through movement, and especially the Nia dance classes to music.
I believe in cross-training and that all modalities of movement have a place. Since I became a Black Belt Nia Instructor in 2009, I have learnt how to take my own Nia classes to the higher levels of cross-training, which I need to get all of my “five vitamins”:
I know without a doubt that I would not have been able to birth a healthy baby at the age of 48 without the Nia training and my regular practice. I can truly say I have been able to access my potential in every way and I know there is more to discover.
I believe in the philosophy that you can “Live well and die well” (quoted by Debbie Rosas-co-founder of Nia Technique). I believe you can live a quality of life that unleashes and enhances your own individual potential at any age, including 70’s and beyond.
To reflect on the question of how connective tissue defines the shape of my body and how this knowledge impacts on my movement and how I relate to my anatomy, I took myself down a journey into the “rabbit hole” of my past. I revisited the therapy room of my Postural Integration Therapist (www.posturalintegration.co.za), where I, for two and a half years (2005 to 2007), went into deep process work of changing the shape of my connective tissue, body and my holding patterns. My Therapist commented that I presented a fragmented body; tight-chested, upper body smaller than lower body and my neck and head separate from each other.
During that period , together with Gestaldt Therapy, we worked with my belief patterns and body re-shaping. Four years later the issues I was dealing with at the time have been resolved, and upon seeing me that week, 4 years later, he commented that my core looked much more integrated. I can certainly notice my bra size has changed by a few sizes since then.
So, where did this “rabbit hole” take me in answering my blog question this month? It leads me to a place of knowing I have developed and grown to become my own Therapist and Self-Healer. We mold our bodies into certain positions; over time the connective tissue becomes “set” with less fluidity and flexibility. In my daily life depending on how much outside pressure there is, I can build up tension in my weak spots, which are my neck and shoulders. I can actually sense the tension building up, moment by moment, when I’m on the computer and chasing several deadlines; “just one more e-mail to read and answer, one more project to complete, then I’ll move on….” . It feels like compacting energy like bricks on top of each other. This can happen on a month-end day when I’m finalizing admin for my two businesses. Amongst this, I had a day one week when I had to teach 2 Nia classes. The second class came at the end of one of those month-end days. I knew I had to “take my own class”; I tuned into my realms and came up with my focus and intent for the class: “Self-healing and regeneration of the body, mind, emotions, spirit.” I “took my own class”, and my body went from bunched up shoulders, with balls of tension between the shoulder blades, to a relaxed, tension-free body in 1 hour. My spirit felt energized and I was ready to take on more tasks and deadlines with lightness and humour.
My acute awareness of how my connective tissue feels in my body as muscles tense and become rigid, brings me to shape my movement through pleasure sensations. The opportunity to move in Nia at least 7 times/ week, on a regular basis, constantly shifts any emotional holding in my body. As I practice the 52 moves- and as an example, do the Cross Front, I sense the measurement of The Body’s Way, by aligning my foot, knee and hip, I know I am improving My Body’s Way each time to be more of the ideal. I affect my Posture, Walk, Voice by this consciousness. I shudder to think if I hadn’t developed this ability, what “shape” my body would be in. And this is just a perspective of day-to-day life. I know with my life’s issues that I’ve been born with, I am faced with opportunities to hold awareness space for myself to become more fluid. I love Linda Hartley’s words on page 124, :“when we are in a state of healthy balance, we can respond appropriately to the changing environment, transitioning easily from one quality of “mind” to another. The capacity to be both mindful of the present moment and willing to let go and change in the moment is what allows our energy to flow freely and be continually renewed.”
Reading “ Wisdom of the Body Moving”, confirms what I believe and know: that everything is connected on macro and micro levels and how this is mirrored in my body. All the joints, organs, nerves and tissues of the body are inter-connected by fascia, which is a form of connective tissue. This fascia acts like strings or cables, which can transmit mechanical tension from one part of the body to any other part. The more I learn about how my body works, the more body wisdom I gain, and the more I can live a life of my highest potential. It’s Linda Hartley words on the meaning of Philosophy (philos= “love” and Sophia=”wisdom”) that I come out of the rabbit hole with, “….yet this definition is closer to the work of all those who seek to bring healing to others through wisdom, caring, and skill developed from their own direct experience and learning”.