Guest writer Jennifer Hicks: Gradually my way of thinking about my body changed

Image by Jennifer Hicks.

When I came to Nia, it’s safe to say I was pretty broken. My anorexia and exercise addiction had taken over my life and my body, and I was in the most physical and mental/emotional pain I have ever experienced.

When I discovered Nia I began learning what it meant to truly listen to and take care of my body. During the time I was embodying Nia, I created a network of supports to lean on and learn from – friends, books, meditation, blogs, therapists, mentors, music, teachers, my journal, creative writing and more. I spent so much time examining old stories and entertaining new perspectives about my body.

Another key for me during this time of self discovery was receiving a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. It was a long road to get to a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder and it was vital – it laid the foundation for my ability to move forward. In concert with embodying Nia and unlearning/relearning through my network of supports, my diagnosis helped form my personal recipe for wellness and movement towards self love.

Gradually my way of thinking about my body changed and I began repairing my relationship with my fractured self. I’m grateful that Nia was part of my wellness plan then and continues to be so now. Physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually I am on the path to learning to be my best self!

Jennifer Hicks




The Finnish word for October is lokakuu. Earlier this fall, I decided to declare October LOVEMYBODY-lokakuu, as the two L:s went so beautifully together. Via social media, I announced that I was looking for stories about relating to one’s body – stories about bodyshame, and bodylove, and everything in between. I was lucky enough to get a few responses, which I have had the pleasure and honour to share. Thank you to the contributors!


PS. Should you be inspired to share your story, please do – through me, or via your own channels. Good bodytalk is precious, and healing.

Guest writer Lisa Sandin: What is the truth we tell ourselves about ourselves?  

The completion of the Nia Black Belt Training.

In our journey towards knowing ourselves we gently, or not so gently, peel away the layers of self illusions to discover our true selves. We learn about our beliefs, the stories we’ve been fed by others, often stories about ourselves that we’ve chosen to believe. Belief and truth are not always the same. What is the truth we tell ourselves about ourselves? What do we believe about ourselves?

Just over decade ago, in August 2007, I wrote an article for National Public Radio’s show This I Believe. I was in the beginning of my yoga training/teaching, and I was learning how to move my body in new ways. My wonderful yoga mentor had helped me to discover new and inventive ways to support my foreshortened left arm. I was learning about my body and my beliefs. I intended to teach yoga to people like myself, people who didn’t live in a perfect body, who weren’t accepted in typical studios. My attitude was “I am not my body.” That was my belief and my defense against years of striving to prove myself equal to able bodied peers. When NPR chose to publish my essay I was just starting to teach yoga. I didn’t understand then that I didn’t love my body or myself. I believed what I wrote, then.

From NPR’s This I Believe:

I believe I am not my body.

Every day, we see images of perfect bodies we can never have, and we become convinced our bodies are who we are. Passing through puberty, into adulthood and now into middle age, I’ve wasted a lot of time lamenting the size of my hips, the gray in my hair, and the lines in my face. Finally, as I approach my 50s, I believe my parents were right all along: I am not my body.
I was born in 1959, at the tail end of the baby boom. Unfortunately I arrived without all my body parts fully intact. My left arm is a short stub with a small hand and three fingers, reminiscent of a thalidomide defect. To my good fortune, I had superb parents. They were fighters who struck “I can’t” from my vocabulary, and replaced it with “I will find a way.” They believed the development of the mind, heart and soul determine who you are and who you will become. My body was not to be used as an excuse; instead it was a catalyst.
My body was not neglected, though. It endured surgery; it was dragged to physical therapy, then to swimming, and finally to yoga. But it was not the focus of my life. I was taught to respect my body, but to remember that it was only a vehicle that carried the important things: my brain and soul. Moreover, I was taught that bodies come in all shapes, colors and sizes, and that everyone was struggling in some way with their physical inadequacies. Infomercials have convinced me this must be true, although through adolescence I found it difficult to believe the cheerleading squad had any self-doubts.
In my alternately formed body, I have learned lessons about patience, determination, frustration and success. This body can’t play the piano or climb rock walls, but it taught all the neighborhood kids to eat with their feet, a skill it learned in the children’s hospital. Eventually it learned to tie shoes, crossed a stage to pick up a college diploma, backpacked through Europe and changed my baby’s diapers.
Some people think I am my body and treat me with prejudice or pity. Some are just curious. It took years, but I have learned to ignore the stares and just smile back. My body has taught me to respect my fellow humans — even the thin, able-bodied, beautiful ones.
I am my words, my ideas and my actions. I am filled with love, humor, ambition and intelligence. This I believe: I am your fellow human being and, like you, I am so much more than a body.

As I moved through my fifties, I continued my yoga training, embraced yin yoga, studied many forms of healing and meditation, opened a yoga studio, and raised my kids. In other words, I continued on my journey towards self discovery. I’d taken one Nia class and didn’t think it was for me. Then through a convoluted series of disruptions by the Universe, I found myself agreeing to take Nia classes from teacher I’d hired to teach Nia at my yoga studio. When she relocated to the west coast, my classmates elected me to take my White Belt training so that I could teach Nia. To say this was out of my comfort zone is an understatement.

I usually danced with my eyes closed, I avoided looking at myself in the mirror and if forced, I didn’t look at my arm. I’d never taken dance as a child because at my first attempt at ballet at age four, the other girls wouldn’t dance with me because my arm was ugly. The instructor thought it best I didn’t return. I stopped dancing in public after that.

I was terrified to step into the Nia teacher role, but my classmates insisted I’d be wonderful and were extremely supportive. They believed in me. So off to White Belt I went. What a transformational experience! I learned so much about myself, and of course about Nia. Who knew Nia was a spiritual practice? I thought it was about dance. At the end of my White Belt, here is the TRUTH I could finally tell myself about myself; although I respected my body, I didn’t love myself. As I write that, it shakes me to the core. I was ashamed I felt this way. After years of yoga, therapy, healing work, I had not released those ugly beliefs I still held about myself. I didn’t know how to love myself and my arm was ugly, just as those girls had told me decades ago. What I had learned in White belt helped me to see my beliefs about myself weren’t true, but they were deeply held.

I still believe I’m not my body, my spirit resides in this biological unit and I am so much more than my biology. And most assuredly, I am my body, every cell speaks to me, influences me, teaches me about being more authentic. We are dependent upon one another, spirit and body, along with those playmates mind and emotions. This journey hasn’t been fast or easy, but I’ve kept on dancing. Nia has taught me to be inside my body with love, attention and awareness, one belt at a time, and one class at a time, one step at a time. Nia taught me not only to love my body, but to love myself.

By the end of White Belt I learned to dance with my eyes open. I could look at my students. I could see their joy of movement and sense my own. Blue Belt taught me to look in the mirror and talk with love to my left arm, and watch myself move. I installed mirrors in my yoga studio. Brown Belt taught me to forgive myself for not loving myself. I apologized to my right arm for making it work so hard and to my left arm for not seeing it’s beauty. I added jewelry to my left wrist and thumb. Green Belt taught me to share what I had learned with confidence and joy. Move It taught me my body could do more than I thought. By embodying the glorious power of Nia over the last seven years I’ve learned the dance of joy. I can honestly smile into the mirror at myself and at my students.

My sixtieth birthday is a month away. A decade of self discovery led me to complete my Black Belt training just a week ago. My goal was to strip off that last layer of self doubt and criticism that I wasn’t enough. Honestly I’m not sure I have the words as yet to fully convey how I feel and to share the depth of what I learned. First, let me share that my classmates were amazing, supportive and filled with so much love that I felt completely safe to be among them diving into the river of uncertainty. To say that Debbie Rosas is a remarkable teacher who walks her walk is an understatement. That I was sharing the space with my previous belt teachers, Winalee and Caroline certainly helped. I am grateful.

Here is what I learned about myself. I am stronger than I knew. Loving yourself is a choice. When you love yourself suddenly everything is transformed. I am a black belt. I did it. I plunged into the river and let go. When I chose love over fear, my spirit, resting inside this body, experienced real joy. When I am the dance, present, aware, grounded, and intentional, there is no separation between spirit and body. It just all is. I can move my body with complete love, connected to the music, to the space, and to my classmates.

Debbie Rosas’ first question to us at Black Belt was, “Is there anybody here who doesn’t love their body?” Full disclosure, I raised my hand. Now, post Black belt, in the truth I tell myself about myself, I can say I love my body and myself. I finally let go of those last fears, shame and judgments that made me feel less. I plunged my body into the river of uncertainty and discovered at I am so much more than I ever imagined and my body is just fine as she is in this moment. I am grateful beyond measure to all my teachers and students who share my journey. I am grateful for this wondrous journey. I am excited to share our Nia dance with joy and love.

Dance On,
Lisa Sandin




The Finnish word for October is lokakuu. Earlier this fall, I decided to declare October LOVEMYBODY-lokakuu, as the two L:s went so beautifully together. Via social media, I announced that I was looking for stories about relating to one’s body – stories about bodyshame, and bodylove, and everything in between. I was lucky enough to get a few responses, which I now, to crown this long month, have the pleasure and honour to share. Thank you to the contributors! A few more remain.


PS. Should you be inspired to share your story, please do – through me, or via your own channels. Good bodytalk is precious, and healing.

Havaintoja Turun Nia White Belt-viikolta

19_Turku_WB_White Belts_ 2019_Blommig ram

Onnittelut tuoreille White Belteille! Grattis till de färska White Belt-bärarna!

On Turun Nia White Belt-koulutuksen jälkeinen sunnuntai. Istun neliöterrassini puolivarjossa ja karistelen tuottajanrooliani kannoiltani hengitys kerrallaan. Punasin huuleni huvikseni ja osittain myös juhlan kunniaksi: perjantaina Hampuriin palannut valmentajamme Ann Christiansen viettää tänään, 9.6., syntymäpäiväänsä (grattis på födelsedagen, Ann! 💕).  Auringosta ja pitkästä työrupeamasta raukeana olen hyvillä mielin: koulutus, jota olen odottanut ja jonka eteen olen tehnyt töitä tavallaan edellisestä koulutuksesta lähtien, on paketissa. Kaikki osalliset vaikuttavat tyytyväisiltä, enkä tiedä jos voin tai edes haluan enemmän pyytää. 😊

Viides kokonaan käymäni ja neljäs tuottamani Nia White Belt oli omakohtaisesti sillä tavalla erikoinen, että siihen osallistui usea kanssani joko vuosia tanssinut tai vuosia sitten kanssani Nia-harrastuksensa aloittanut. Se, että saan olla mukana todistamassa heidän kasvua ja pieniä tai suuria ahaa-elämyksiä viikon aikana on ehkä kallisarvoisin kiitos jonka koulutuksen järjestämisestä voin saada.

Nia-koulutuksen nerokkuus piilee sen intuitiivisessa järjestelmällisyydessä: yksi asia johtaa toiseen mitä luonnollisimmalla tavalla. Oppimiskaari ja sisäistämisvauhti ovat välillä huikeat. Ero ensimmäisen ja viimeisen päivän välillä näkyy niin kasvoilla kuin ryhdissä, puhumattakaan siitä että monet kivut ja epämukavuudet – niin keholliset kuin mielen- tai tunnetasonkin – maagisen mystisesti voivat muuntua ja jopa kadota tyystiin viikon sisällä. “Ainoa” asia jota teemme päivästä toiseen on kehon ja aistimusten kuuntelu, tiedostaminen ja hyväksyminen – niin ohjatussa kuin vapaassa liikkeessä ja hiljaisuudessa, levossakin. Samalla saamme käyttöömme työkaluja joiden avulla muun muassa laajentaa liike-ilmaisuamme (8 stages of Free Dance), soveltaa Nia-liikkeitä tarpeisiimme (Nia 52 Moves: Learn, Move, Energize), tulkita ja kuunnella musiikkia mitä avaamammalla tavalla (Nia 8BC System) sekä katsoa arkeamme ehkä hitusen rakentavammin silmin (Dancing Through Life, Living Meditation, Life As Art). Ja joo, alleviivaan sanoja muun muassa.

Arvostan Nia-koulutuksissa myös selkeitä pelisääntöjä ja rakennetta, joka mahdollistaa sekä yhteisöllisyyden että yksilöllisen oppimisen. Tunteille on tilaa, ja niin on spiritillekin, eli sille omalle ainutlaatuisuudelle. Että tästä White Beltistä tuli juuri tällainen, on osallistujien summa. 😇 Allaoleva kuvakavalkaadi kiteyttäköön sen, mihin sanat eivät vielä tällä hetkellä riitä. Sen lisäksi, että sain viettää viikon Annin mainiossa seurassa ja (välillä oikein liikuttuneena) seurata Nia-taimieni kasvua, palasin omassa Nia-harjoituksessani taas lähtöruutuun ja ruokin kehotietosuuttani ja -hallintaani liiketeknillisiä yksityiskohtia hiomalla. Revähdyksen kokenut oikea pakarani ei ole kiukutellut kertaakaan viikon aikana, vasemman päkiän jumit ovat sulanneet, hartiat ovat taas laskeutuneet kaiken toimistotyön jäljiltä – ja niin on muuten äänenikin. Kuten sen olen kotisivuillani kiteyttänyt: kestävää kehitystä tukevat toiminnalliset valinnat voivat alkaa myös tanssilattialta. Jep. Tervetuloa Nian ihmeelliseen maailmaan.

Kiitos vielä kertaalleen kaikille kurssilaisille, vieraileville kertaajille, drop in-tunneille osallistuneille, ja käytännön asioissa auttaneille – sekä tietenkin Annille ja Nialle.💐 💕

Nia White Belt, Turku 1-7.6.2019:

01_Turku_WB_after class_Ann cracks up

Drop in-tunneilla piipahti viikon aikana ilahduttavasti vieraita. Vi hade många glada gäster på besök längs veckan.

03-Turku_WB_Jeans outfits with Sir DanceALot

Farkkupäivä – ja hölmöilyä Sir DanceALotin kanssa. Vi matchade varandra i jeans – och 14 år av mentor- och vänskap skapar utrymme för tönteri.

04_Turku_WB_upward punch sitting

Nia-tekniikan lyönteihin voi tutustua myös istualtaan. Vi bekantade oss med “punches” det vill säga slag också sittande.

06_Turku_WB_Braiding Pocahontas_Susanna

Tätä on tapahtunut aiemminkin: Ann näkee pitkät hiukset ja alkaa letittää niitä ennen tuntia. Det här har hänt förr: Ann ser långt hår och blir på fläthumör innan lektion.

07_Turku_WB_Laura mathcing the sofa

Laura Hellsten toi aikoinaan Nian Suomeen – ja sointui tietenkin Tanssistudio All-Starin sohvatyynyjen kanssa täydellisesti tunneilla vieraillessaan. Fru Hellsten (f. Karanko) var den första Nia-läraren i Finland. Hon bjöd in Ann Christiansen att hålla White Belt till Åland första gången sommaren 2004.

08_Turku_WB_local views

Kun on arvovaltaisia vieraita käymässä, tulee itsekin käytyä uusissa paikoissa kotikaupungissaan. Sokoksen Walo-tornin näkymät olivat varsin huikeat. Snygga vyer från Walo i Wiklunds hörn då vi tog vår ärade gäst upp i höjderna!

10_Turku_WB_Matching cups

Mun ja Riikan mukit mätsäävät. Vi har bra smak med Riikka. 😉


Nia-koulutuksen harjoitukset tapahtuvat välillä myös vaakatasossa.  I Nia jobbar vi med en härlig variation av kroppsliga övningar.



Yllätystempaus: ohjasimme yhden drop in-tunnin yhdessä, ja Annkin pääsi nauttimaan oppilaana olemisesta (vas. vieraileva tähti Hanna Uusiprosi ja oik. WB-kertaaja Riikka Wallin). Överraskningsmoment: en av kvällslektionerna undervisade vi tillsammans!


Valkotaululle piirtyy viikon aikana Nian kolmetoista keholäheistä periaattetta selitykseineen. Nia bygger på 13 principer som alla är djupt rotade i vår kroppslighet.

16_Turku_WB_Ann and wbs

Viikon viimeisen Nia-tunnin jälkeen hymy on herkässä. Såhär glad kan man bli av Nia!

15_Turku_WB_Belt throw

Ei taida olla toista lajia, jossa saatua vyötä tanssitetaan näin villisti ennen kuin se sidotaan vyötärölle. I Nia får vi faktiskt också ett fysiskt vitt bälte – som det såklart måste viftas på innan vi knyter det kring midjan. 

17_Turku_WB_Exit with train

Lentävä lähtö VR:n kyydissä – ja juna pysyi aikataulussa ja Ann ehti lentokentälle ajoissa (aivan kuten oletinkin). Ensi kertaan! Nytt för i år: tåg till flygplatsen! På återdansande, fina Ann.


18_Turku_WB_WhiteBeltCrew says bye

Sir DanceALot ja tiaraan tykästynyt tuottaja. On helppo hymyillä kun kaikki meni niin hyvin. Erityiskiitos myös Tanssistudio All-Starille jolta saimme ihanan salin lainaan. Det är lätt att le då allt gick så fint och bra. Kanske det blir mer Nia på All-Star i höst!


PS. Studio Fonin maanantaitunnit Turun Nahkurinkadulla vielä 10., 17. ja 24.6. klo 18.15-19.30. Drop in, kuten tavallisesti!

PPS. La 15.6. tuomme toistamiseen Eija Raitalan ja Hanna Uusiprosin kanssa Nia-maratonin Kuopio Tanssii ja Soi-festareille. Tervetuloa koko päiväksi tai osioon – lisätiedot täältä.