The Thirteen Principles of Nia (a 13 part series)
The Base – Feet and Legs
"Your feet are the hands that touch the earth and through your legs they carry the energy of the earth to your whole body.
Connect to your foundation, your feet, the hands that touch the earth.
Focus on your feet and legs with intent to move in a grounded, functional, and safe way."
Pearls (words to trigger your mind and body to get the most out of the focus of Nia moves and your legs and feet): foundation, hands that touch the earth, balance, support, connected, texture, sensation, toes.*
Commentary by Julia Desmond,
Certified Nia Instructor
In Nia, the base consists of the feet, the knees and the legs. The base provides us with support, stability and a sense of balance. It is literally the foundation of physical movement.
"Listen to your feet." (Nia White Belt Manual) The feet ground us to the earth, support our entire weight and feed us the information necessary for the rest of the body to remain in alignment. We dance without shoes in part to allow the 7,000 nerve endings in the feet to caress the floor. The feet sense the temperature, texture, and imperfections in the floor and the body makes constant alterations in balance and alignment based on this information. Dancing bare footed also strengthens the foot and keeps it agile and flexible. The lack of shoes is beneficial to the ankle as well because it stretches the tendons and muscles healing the damage we ladies do to ourselves when we wear high heels.
Our legs consist of three parts, the lower leg, the upper leg and the knee. Nia considers the leg to extend from the foot to the top of the hip because the muscles that help to move the legs attach to the upper hip. “We use the legs to dance, play, create, move, and express ourselves.” (Nia White Belt Manual) The knees transfer energy from one set of leg bones to the other. For the majority of people the first experiences of mobility were on these amazing joints as we crawled across the floor. Flexible knees promote strength in the entire leg. In order to keep the knees healthy the knee and foot should move together. When the foot moves the knee should move in alignment with it. This simple rule will prevent torque on the knee joint and avoid damage to the knee.
The steps, stances and kicks that are the basis for all Nia routines come out of Principle 6. The movements are designed to strengthen the base and can be modified to suit every one. They work from the ground up and are designed to be fun and creative. All the physical magic that is Nia begins with the base.
Commentary by Allison Frederick
Nia Studio owner/operator
Change Our Bodies from Heavy Burdens to Light Creatures
I've never been in an exercise class that places emphasis on the feet. Perhaps that is because our feet are normally bound in sweaty, cumbersome aerobic shoes. However, no body area is ignored in Nia. We extend and stretch our fingers which not only relieve tension stored in our necks, but can also elongate the arms and tone them. We use our toes and feet in Nia similarly. We are used to the fact that our hands make us highly functioning mammals but could our feet do the same?
When I focus on my toes in Nia, I find that I move in a more determined way. The heel lead method of planting our feet on the ground encourages me to be conscious in my step instead of simply plodding mindlessly along. My toes make contact with the mat, spread and provide not only stability but also a springiness that makes me feel like I can use momentum to launch into a graceful step. I also feel muscles in my legs engage (all the way up to my lower back) when I focus on my toes, arch, and ankles in each step.
If you were in Sandy's class Wednesday night, then you heard her teach those of us who don't feel graceful or who aren't usually light on our feet to move lightly like elves. She taught us to use our ankles and arches to rock our entire foot so that we move in a lilting fashion, or as they call it in Nia, a smile line. The smile line begins at the top of an arch, sways down and then uses momentum to carry ourselves and our energy back up. When a Nia teacher tells us to smile with our hip or with a move, picture yourself moving along this pendulum and your body will actually move with a smile.
Barefoot for Foot and Leg Strength
Julia just shared how Nia strengthens your feet and legs. There is a modern fitness movement encouraging us all to adopt more active movement in our bare feet. Several years ago, Nike created a shoe called Nike Free. Nike Free is a running shoe with minimal support. I have a pair and I love them. You don't wear any socks and can throw them in the washing machine to keep them clean. I take long walks in them and my feet never get tired.
More recently, you may have seen the "shoes" that look like a glove for the feet and have individual toe slots.
I am not so sure about these because the fashionista in me is dubious but I perhaps they are incredibly comfortable and therapeutic. If someone tries them out, let me know what you think.
According to some research, going barefoot strengthens the arch in the foot. Many people today are suffering from fallen arches. This is a painful condition which literally makes it a struggle to take one step. Some forms of therapy encourage arch support but this doesn’t strengthen the arch, it just supports the arch. An arch support may be necessary for short term relief but long term healing may be found with exercises to actually rebuild the arch.
“Our feet are one of the most muscle-rich areas of our body. In fact, there are 18 muscles within the arch of our feet, with additional muscles originating in our leg, inserting into the arches.”**
In this Nia training video, Helen Terry elaborates on what we’ve touched on here and demonstrates the “Heel Lead” move.
More articles on The Thirteen Principles of Nia
"Joy is the primary sensation you should seek from all movement. If you momentarily lose joy, tweak your movement until joy again arises." *
"All of your Nia movements are done in your own personal, natural sense of time and include movements and energy from nine classic forms." *
"Nia is practiced to the sounds and silences of music, using an eight-beat counting (BBC) system (1 - and, 2 - and, 3 - and, 4 - and, 5 - and...) to organize the movements." *
"Anything goes movement-wise. Let go of structure.
"In Nia, you become aware that every movement in life is a dance and that every movement can be used to self-heal."
"Your feet are the hands that touch the earth, and through your legs they carry the energy of the earth to your whole body."
Article Coming Next - Principle Seven: The Three Planes and Three Levels
"Every movement can be done within three planes - low, middle, and high (or as you will hear in class, Level One, Level Two, Level Three) - and can be done with three different levels of intensity. Mixing the three levels and three planes creates a wide repertoire of movement choices. Transfer body weight along a Smile Line, moving from low to middle, to high. Use three levels of intensity to vary your rate of exertion."
If Nia sounds like something you would like to try, we invite you to take your first Nia class for free. Simply fill out the request below and we will send a coupon to you. Our Nia fitness classes are offered in Castle Rock, Colorado.