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Until 2006 I had never heard of Nia, little did I know back then that this movement practice called ‘Nia’ would become such a integral part of my life. Recently I had the great honor to telephone interview the Co-Creator and Founder of Nia, Debbie Rosas.
Debbie continues to inspire humans around the planet with this incredible body of work called Nia. Debbie shares the message of Nia with such integrity, love and passion. I invite you to read on and discover how Nia can benefit your health, well-being and life….
Debbie Rosas Bio
Debbie Rosas is the co-creator and founder of Nia. Credited with shaping the mind-body fitness category, she is a leading fitness innovator, teacher, author, choreographer, performer, healer and artist whose work greatly influences the lives of thousands of women and men worldwide.
Debbie has co-authored two books – Non-Impact Aerobics and The Nia Technique. She also collaborated with Carlos AyaRosas to write the Holistic Fitness section of the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America Instructor Training Manual. Debbie has served on the Mind-Body Committee for the IDEA Health and Fitness Association, and has presented at numerous IDEA World and Inner IDEA fitness conventions. She was also a presenter for the Northwest Fitness Summit, National Wellness Conference, Whole Life Expo, International Spa and Fitness Association, Science and Consciousness Convention, and Sound Healers Convention.
She is particularly proud to have played a key role in developing programs at The Naturopathic School of Medicine, Shriners Hospital and Oregon Health and Sciences University. These programs continue to positively impact students, women, teens, and those diagnosed with arthritis and autism.
Debbie first worked as a medical illustrator, which sparked her fascination for the human body. In 1976, she established a tremendously successful exercise studio in Marin County, California called The Bod Squad. After becoming frustrated and unfulfilled by the “no pain, no gain” fitness mantra of the time, she set out on a creative journey to define a new approach to health, wellness and fitness. The result was Nia. Since then, Debbie has been committed to evolving the Nia practice and growing the Nia community.
Currently Debbie lives with her husband, Jeff Stewart, in Portland, Oregon where she teaches classes & trainings at Nia International Headquarters. Visit Debbie’s personal website to learn more about Debbie’s latest endeavors.
I have the great pleasure in welcoming Debbie Rosas.
Tracey: Q1) Can you please tell me about Nia as a Practice?
Debbie: Nia is a practice and a lifestyle because for me personally Nia really gave me a life and through movement itself I discovered that while at the beginning I was separating my movement practice from my life. What really has allowed me to bring a quality of vitality and life into my every hour was realizing that movement is a part of what sustains life. Movement is what sustains all life, including my body and the universe. So in order for me to stand for health, and to promote health and well-being it was necessary for me to bring movement into my everyday life. The statement that I stand for, which is a philosophy behind Nia is “Through movement we find health” So not only do we find it but we create it as well. Nia itself simply put is not only a workout but it is a sensation science. What came first was the workout and the workout was originally designed to deliver cardiovascular conditioning without jogging and jumping. What was unique was that we took off our shoes. And when I say we, I had a partner Carlos Rosas and I developed the programme back in the early eighties. Carlos is no longer part of the company but he helped me develop Nia back in the early 80′s. We took off our shoes and we stopped jumping up and down and this was stimulated by going to a martial art dojo. We were asked to move and we didn’t know how to move. All we could do was exercise, and it the process of stopping exercising and starting to move we realized that wow, through exercise we had lost our bodies innate ability to, the organic ability to move. So we set to regain what was natural to a human body, that is the ability to move and in the process realized that what martial arts provided was something that exercise didn’t and that was a practice.
Exercise seemed to be about something that we did and then went about our day, and there was always a separation. What was unique about Martial Arts was that it was a practice and here in lies the word lifestyle. A practice it something that has a philosophy. A philosophy is something that you believe to be real and true and often becomes a foundation for one’s life, and that is true of most practices. So the foundation for the life we have and for the health and well-being is one where we allow our body to move in its own way and its own time. This again came from the Martial arts. So this movement and lifestyle thing grew from just a workout into something that has effected my life on all levels.
In the beginning the programme was built about three Arts, Martial Arts, Dance Arts and Healing Arts. It started with the studying of Tai chi, then Taekwondo and then finally Aikido from the martial arts. Which gave me a tremendous amount of knowledge about the body, the energy and the function of the body. In an energy field in relationship to other things outside of myself. Then we went on to study more expressive arts, and that was bringing in the expression of Dance Arts, Jazz, Modern and Duncan dance. And then finally looking at bringing in the concept of healing, and the fact that if we are going to be moving our body it makes sense to learn how to move in more functional ways and actually heal and improve how we do what we do.
The result of all this exploration and Nia has now been around for 30 years was the development in about 2006 is something I call a sensation science. Sensation science is an applied science, we apply all of our methods and technology to the body using sensation, which is the voice of the body. To learn how to make right decisions and choices for our selves. And that works for someone who is well or someone who is dealing with a short of long term illness.
So this thing that what is Nia, is it practice? I say it is a science, it is based on the body’s way. A way of looking at the body as a map and following this map to understand not only how the body is designed to function but how we can function in harmony with our body and the world around us. And then this sensation science is how we define how and why we do what we do. Which was very important to me in developing a practice that is as rich and deep as Martial Arts were. And the practice itself has allowed me to step into what I would see as the new archetype of a human being, and that is what I say is a Sacred Athlete. That is someone who is dedicated to their health and well-being, who looks at life as a professional and looks at the playing field of their life, including when they workout in the gym as time to practice, so they are always prepared for the game of life, that they want to win.
Tracey: Thank you Debbie, I loved how Debbie described the Sacred Athlete here, the game of life, the professional and looks at the playing field of life..
Debbie: I think for a lot of people, people are looking for more and more and certainly people who are going to a health spa are looking for a sensation, and Nia provides that. It provides a healthy and passionate workout, it provides tools for a lifestyle and a philosophy that one can take out into their everyday life. An archetype, something to strive for, which is not dependent on a particular shape, size or age. I know the more I am willing to go deeper and deeper into the body the more I grow and evolve, the more Nia evolves. It all happens in the body and I am very thankful that I took my shoes off that day and got into my body and started to research pleasure and let go of the pain.
Tracey: Whilst interviewing Debbie I was presenting Nia at Kamalaya, Koh Samui, Thailand`s award-winning Wellness Sanctuary and Holistic Spa resort, where people can experience a life-enriching healthy holiday.
Tracey: I spoke about the environment I am currently in @ Kamalaya. A Spa resort which offers many many benefits to people to nurture their health and well-being. As Debbie shared so beautifully, Nia is a lifestyle practice. Many people who visit Kamalaya, discover incredible ways to enhance their life’s journey into better health and wellness. Nia for me is a wonderful example of such a practice. A movement practice that empowers people to become sacred athletes.
Debbie: When you look at what a spa offers, they call them treatments, spa treatments. Well what does that treatment do? It allows one to relax, it allows one to be touched, one to receive, for one to feel good, allows one to slow down and all of those things we do in Nia through movement. From the very beginning to setting the focus and intent to stepping in to providing a body centered movement practice to including a language that is dedicated to keeping people in their bodies and out of heads, because of that we talk about Nia as a somatic practice. The benefits of Nia go far beyond the cardiovascular conditioning or reflex of conditioning, muscular conditioning or body/brain conditioning. All those things people get in Nia but they also get the opportunity to take time out to feel, to sense, to notice to become aware and to cultivate pleasure in their body and I can think of no better place to do that than on the dance floor, so you feel like you have just come out of the spa.
Tracey: Q2) By dancing Nia how has that changed your life?
Debbie: It has created my life and it continues to develop how I am as a human being. Change is that constant of the universe, it is the one thing that you can count on. So if you look at the universe or if you look at a piece of choreography or someone’s wife, it’s in change its in flux, its in constant motion. So what Nia has allowed me to do is to be in motion with my body and my life and to have tools to live my experience in my body and not in my head. Its taught me and still continues to allow me to develop levels of consciousness, awareness, being attentive to all aspects of my life. Its allowed me to basically use movement as medicine. It’s taught me how to become a partner, in partnership with my body, it’s taught me to not be afraid of people, to be a good leader, to be a good teacher, to be compassionate. As we say in Nia it taught me to step into my greatness. You know the word athlete comes from the great word “athlos”, which means one that competes for Athlon or for the prize. The prize that I want and what I tell people is that I want to live well, and die well and that is the prize that I want.
Tracey: Q3) If you were to only describe Nia in only 3 words what would those words be?
Debbie: It would be sensation, pleasure and potential
I can get really normal and say its a workout, a lifestyle and a profession but you know Nia provides me with the optimal opportunities for healing and for personal development that can only occur if I treat myself as a separate individual, unique and also an individual connected to the whole. So I would say I am the part and I am the whole and the one. I think those would be 3 words words as well part, whole and one.
Tracey: Q4) Can you give us any tips to someone who is new to Nia?
Debbie: Wow, I say free falling, free falling is a really great thing to jump into things that you have no experience in, if you feel a little nervous anticipation then that is good. As it really good to do things that are a little scary once in a while. I think its important for people to not think “should I do this” but their hands on their gut or their belly and say does my body want to do this? To begin to stop isolating oneself from the body but integrate oneself with the body, by asking the body.
I think a lot of time someone can look inside a gym and see people moving and they say oh I can’t do that and that ‘I’ is a separation from their body. When they ask their body, their body would probably say well I would really love to do that. So how do they get to get themselves to do it? I think the first thing, they have to reclaim, what I call the rapture. To discover the magic of living in your body, and to begin to enjoy moving for yourself. For no other reason than to enjoy developing a relationship with their body. This is how they can live well and die well. And once they start moving, and not to keep up with someone else but to develop an intimate relationship, as intimate a relationship as they develop with their lover, develop that relationship with their body and if they move, as they move they start to get a feeling that this is right, to keep on doing it and to not question it.
Letting your body tell you, you are on the right path. If you keep doing it and your heart and spirit is letting you know this is right, then keep doing it. I tell people that beginners its really a combination of inspiration, motivation, education and movement that is going to fuel your desire to get up and do it again and again. It’s not about creating results when you begin it’s about creating a sensation that no matter how many times you do it you want to go through that door again and do it again and again. So it’s like a intense positive emotion that you want to cultivate, an intense positive sensation that you want to cultivate. And to know the other option to not move, it not going to get you to where you want to go.
Tracey: Q5) What do you think is the biggest misconception about Nia?
Debbie: I would say the biggest misconception is that it is not a workout. That it is for fat, old people!!! That it doesn’t have anything to offer someone who is younger or fit!
The beautiful thing about Nia is that its greatest strength is diversity, and that diversity sometimes makes it difficult to market and brand. So imagine if Coca Cola had 140 different packages you would walk into the store and you may not find it. But we are not a one package, Nia is something that is uniquely expressed and received by every individual, and everyone is and looks differently. The teachers are different, the people you see in class are different and so the strength is the diversity. To understand that in that diversity is what makes it powerful. So anyone can find a piece of Nia for them.
The fact that it looks like people aren’t working out hard, that’s the beautiful thing about Martial Arts. When you learn to use the body functionally and work with energy you take our the agitation and the unnecessary aggression and the movement become to look more softer, more fluid, more rounder, more graceful. This is the sign of greater strength, so that is a misconception as people look at agitation and hard fast movements and people think this is going to work, but that has no sustainability for a body.
Tracey: but there is so much of that type of movement around that so I suppose people feel that’s the way to go? So with Nia its really about educating people in a different way so…
Debbie: It’s really about different culture. Right now you live in a different culture than say I do in the United States. So I need to understand the cultures needs and I have to understand what attracts that culture. And so the knowledge of what fitness is and how you get fit, that has been sold to people since the mid 70′s, so people have an idea of what that is.
Nia is 30 years old, years ago when we were doing yoga, no one had heard of it, you couldn’t find a yoga class in a gym 30 years ago. You couldn’t find Tai chi years ago unless you took Martial Arts. So it is a process of re-educating people and just as technology is expanding and making it possible for us to see things that we didn’t see yesterday. Part of Nia’s education is to educate people and give people an opportunity to see other ways that they didn’t know, and this is what takes time and takes patience.
Tracey: Yes I agree, in the culture that I am currently teaching in (I am based in Hong Kong) I definitely agree that it is time that is needed to really educate people to see other ways that they didn’t know….
Debbie: I think sometime teachers make the mistake that they fall to much into the soft category and they dont balance it enough with the yang movements. So there is a real thin line of how you blend the yin and the yang. So people do get the workout and they do feel the physicality of soft.
Tracey: Q6) What is your vision for Nia in the future?
The vision for the future is something I have been working on from day one, the vision is that we expand our programming. We have right now, what we call classic Nia, which is what most people teach. And then from there we developed a healing movement practice called the 5 stages and most recently we will be doing a hard launch in July of this year for the 52 Moves, which is more of an athletic programme. This focusing on delivering 4 different kinds of conditioning to a more athletic fitness orientated market.
We have expanded our training faculty from 14 to over 40. This means that these extra 40 trainers will now be sharing the White Belt Trainings to special markets and we want to expand those markets so that the work of Nia is shared in a bigger way. To healthy and unhealthy populations that could benefit from the movement and also benefit from the philosophy, the science, craft and art of the work.
We are expanding our community interaction. And that means we are involving more of the training faculty in writing material in our newsletters and we are also expanding our out reach in terms of social media and getting our teachers and trainers involved in this years tidal wave. Collective marketing that we started in the year 2000 and it was designed to bring teachers and students together. For communities to collaborate and grow and share the message of health through movement.
This year being as it is Nia’s 30 year anniversary we are going to be having 13 unique events and those 13 events are meant to provide 13 unique waves to create knowledge and awareness for Nia to help build the intensive White Belt success for trainers and to help bring more people into classes and to help build awareness throughout the world as Nia as a workout, movement practice & lifestyle.
We are also now have trainers collaborating and creating the routine material. And the routines that were once isolated to just the teacher is now going to be expanded. We are going to be expanding the routine library to the general public. The NiaWear programme, which is our clothing line, which is really a beautiful representation of our culture that is expanding as well as is our Nia Sounds, which is our unique music label. Which makes it possible for our teachers to have music and to be legally licensed to use music.
Tracey: Q7) What are you working on right now and what is next for you?
Well the big piece that I am working on right now is a Trainings called The Body’s Way and I have been working on a book since about 1993 and started to get more committed to it in 2006, now I am really working on finalizing it. I am also working on completing all of the learn books, which is the books we give out at the intensives for White, Blue, Brown and Black Belts. As well I am going through all the collateral material that I have created, I am being to develop it and package it. I am going to make it a for profit project, which I realize this year that I am so good at putting out putting out and this year I want to balance more with what comes in and what goes out. This is a really important thing for me as a women and the CEO of the company.
I wish to thank Debbie Rosas very much for her time and for sharing with us her knowledge, inspiration and wisdom. If you are interested to find out more about Nia and experience a Nia class near you please click here
Dancing has been part of Tracey’s life since the age of 3 years. Tracey left home at 16 years to attend the Northern Ballet School in Manchester, England. After extensive classical training Tracey graduated & danced professionally for a number of years. Tracey now has almost 2 decades of teaching experience, traveling extensively worldwide. In 2007 Tracey discovered Nia, a path that would change her life forever. Tracey is trained by the Co-Creators of Nia, Debbie Rosas & Carlos Rosas as well as International Master Trainers Helen Terry & Ann Christiansen. Now based in Hong Kong, Tracey has been instrumental in introducing the Nia Technique to the city, and is currently the only Certified Nia Black Belt in Hong Kong. Tracey is the Founder and Artistic Director of Nia Hong Kong and facilitates transformational Nia class experiences, workshops, & retreats around the planet at renowned yoga conferences, academies for performing arts, multi award winning health resorts & destination spas, creating a sacred space for her knowledge & wisdom to inspire others.
Website: Nia Hong Kong
Facebook: Nia Hong Kong
Twitter: Tracey @ Niahongkong
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