Setting the Focus

In Life skills, Nia, Nia Class, teaching on November 20, 2011 at 10:28 pm

The focus that is described at the beginning of a Nia class gives the opportunity to become more aware of something. It can be physical, emotional, mental or spiritual in nature; and it could be all of these or any combination of these things, at once. At the very core of Nia, the focus is physical health. This is just the first building block. From the physical we can deepen and extend our growth towards optimal health in all areas of life.

Each Nia routine that is created comes with a prescribed focus. The focus of Sanjana is ‘dynamic ease’. R1‘s focus is ‘connection’. Earthsong’s focus is ‘the one point’ (our centre of gravity, or the hara), and so on. When I became a teacher of Nia, I learned that there was a formula of sorts, to help describe the focus for each class. In fact, teachers would use myriad foci over several weeks/months while dancing the same routine. This fascinated and intimidated me. I was confident with dancing, but not speaking about the dancing. How did they think of all these different foci? Where did they get the ideas for them? And more importantly, how was I going to come up with my own foci when I started teaching?

I asked a few of my Nia mentors for guidance in this area and, then, as a white belt teacher, I was told to connect with the 13 white belt principles. I thought about going in order and doing one a week. But that would only get me through 3 months. What would happen after that? Well, I thought to myself, I would just cross that bridge when I got to it, since my mentors only said, “Connect with the white belt principles, and you’ll be fine.”  So I did. I wondered whether I should go in order from 1 to 13, and figured I might as well. There’s no point in re-inventing the wheel.

Now, I have been teaching Nia for nearly 2 years and giving focuses for every class. And you know what? I still use the 13 white belt principles… but I use other stuff too! I now have my blue belt training in Nia and I have more Nia family members to call upon for guidance and inspiration. Our community is strong, creative and very supportive. We come together at Jams (movement based fundraisers for various causes), playshops, paloozas, trainings and regular classes when we can, and as a result of this contact I was inspired to do the following: Over the last year I allowed myself to explore my intuition as it effected my Nia practice. This meant that I would not only come to class fully prepared with a particular routine, but I would leave room for spontaneous changes that came to me. These changes could take the form of changing the direction the class usually faces, or making a choreographed tune a free dance, or changing the prepared focus at the last minute! For the most part, this exploration, this PLAYfulness, has been very rewarding and enjoyable.

So, back to the focus. I suppose that over the months I taught my own classes, I was able to glean snippets from speech on the Nia teacher’s DVD for learning routines, and turn the snippet into a focus. Debbie Sterwart-Rosas and Carlos Aya-Rosas speak so beautifully and clearly about movement and sensation, that their narration through a class is almost like an essay on Nia. As I said, I also revisited the 13 white belt principles regularly, and found I had favourite ones. I also played with ways to combine several principles into one focus. With each Nia training intensive, playshop and Jam I participated in, I was introduced to more and more information to educate myself with. Each belt intensive provides us with a 2 inch-thick manual as well as a few pages of suggested reading. Each gathering of Nia-phites leads to conversations about personal discoveries and reflections on journeys and lessons learned. These experiences all create a web involving Nia, and how Nia has changed, healed and uplifted our lives. I take all these elements now and use them to create my foci for class. I listen to my intuition for guidance into a general subject area, and then whittle something down with my rational brain to make it simple enough and memorable enough to apply in class.

And then one day, a client of mine asked me, “How do you choose a focus for the Nia class?” At the time I didn’t answer as we were just stepping into class, so I resolved to answer her later. And this is why I now have a blog about it! To be honest, creating the focus for the past few months has not been the most intimidating thing for me anymore! I feel confident when thinking about what it will be, and sometimes I even leave the planning of it to the day of the class!

There is one more part of this journey I want to share. As I began to think of how I create the focus for each class as an answer for my curious client, my thoughts strayed to a woman and Nia sister, who I hold in very high regard. She has taught me Nia (before I got any belts), she has loved and supported me before and after I got trained, and she totally inspires me to be the best Nia instructor I can be; and I don’t think she realizes quite how much she does for me! Anna Schantz teaches in Burlington, Ontario and has her black belt training and has been teaching for over 10 years. Check out her website: Zensation Fitness. I asked her about creating foci and she said, “I like to play the ‘What if?’ game.”  What if I was to challenge myself today? What if I were to use the same focus as last week? What if I wasn’t going to talk during class? What if…? This game opens up so many doors and it tests my creative muscles about how to describe such focuses in class! This part of Nia is my favourite! The part where my brain is forced to create new neural pathways. These feel difficult and sometimes uncomfortable in process, but in the end my 2 brain hemispheres are more integrated and I feel wiser! It’s REALLY awesome!

So that concludes my ‘How I choose a focus’ blog. I use the 13 white belt principles, Debbie and Carlos’s wisdom, my Nia education manuals, the Nia community’s wisdom, and my own intuition. I hope you have more clarity around the subject, and I hope you can understand that this idea of having a focus can be applied to anyone in any situation. Choose a focus for yourself each day… or maybe just each week… or month – time just flies by these days! And see what happens when you bring consistent awareness to a specific focus in your life. Some focuses I have used in the past which are easily adaptable to anyone’s life, are listed below:

Calm simplicity Anything goes – do not judge
Always do your best The Joy of movement/life/love/shopping
Tai-Chi – slow motion to de-stress We are all connected

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