It’s amazing that when we have children or animals who misbehave (not to mention husbands, siblings, etc.,) it is usually quite easy to be loud and vocal to state our intentions. Being vocal with breath, vowel sounds, grunts, moans and groans in a Nia class with many other participants is totally something separate though. As a teacher in the Nia practice (and someone who finds it difficult to deliver vocal commands) it can be quite challenging to teach sounding.
I’m quiet, but a part of my Nia journey has been learning to be heard by allowing my voice to come out. One aspect of Nia is ‘sounding’ or ‘vocalizations’. When taking a Nia class, the teacher will invite sounding as part of the movements. This can be breath work, such as huffing, quickly pushing breath out and into the lungs with noise, and sounding letters through long breath. With Nia’s martial arts movements, we use sounding to emphasize strikes, punches and kicks. Sounding can be used almost anywhere during a Nia dance class experience.
As Nia embodies total body, mind, spirit and emotions within holistic fitness, it is only natural to invite participants to exercise their voices and all the muscles and body parts used to allow that voice to strengthen and grow. I know from experience that when my voice is not allowed to speak, the energy of thought becomes blocked within my organs. My throat closes up, or becomes shaky or squeaky. When my voice is weak, it also weakens me, my vitality and spirit. During a Nia class though, it feels so good to ‘let it go’ and allow vocalizations to flow, thus allowing complete energy to move and swirl from inside out. It adds the final element necessary to receive a fully embodied workout.
It can be intimidating for students to vocalize, especially in a group setting. Some people are naturally shy. Loosing inhibition while dancing is a big challenge for new students, and now they are being asked to yell out sounds and words; i.e. let out a resounding “HA”; or some other tone too! Students may be so intent on learning movements, that they may ignore the request to be vocal. However, there is great benefit to making sounds during class.
When learning, some participants may unknowingly hold their breath feeling anxious with all that is going on. Adding noise helps the students and teacher become aware of breath, because the minute we open our mouths and force a deep breath out, automatically the body takes a deep breath in, relaxing the body and tense muscles. This allows for ease of movement.
Making sounds also conditions and provides strength to the core and abdominal muscles. Breathing out with sound on exertion causes the abdomen to naturally tighten, strengthening the core and leading to stability. Nia’s kicks and foot movements play with balance, so a stabilized, conditioned core is beneficial.
Some Nia moves involve punches, blocks and kicks, where support of the spine is necessary. When leaning the body ready to do a side kick, it is important that the spine is straight and supported. Letting out a loud ‘HA’ or similar sound ensures a straight spine, tight abs and strong base.
I know from holding my in emotions at times, it feels fantastic to be able to let it all go. It’s wonderful that sounding also offers emotional release. I’ve discovered it is fun to let go and belt out some sounds or words, maybe even sing or hum! Noises like HOOOO, HAAAA, SHOOO, SHAAA, WHOOO, YES, NO, can be yelled or pulled from the lungs in long drawn breaths. Some Nia moves demand a sound or two through natural rhythm, and movement, so sounding becomes easy. I’ve danced with ladies who have a vast amount of life experience, and they love it when they can sing throughout the class.
Nia sounding comes to me more easily with each class I teach. It’s still challenging, but what a fun challenge to have. The act of just blurting voice with body movement – wow, what a release! Isn’t it great when students can use breath, sounding or vocalizations to reach their inner child, allowing the vibration of sound to heal the body, mind and spirit. It is fun, easy to do, and becomes more and more natural with practice (this I am learning for sure).
Patricia L. Atchison
Nia Blue Belt Teacher, Airdrie Alberta