A Balanced Immune System
Ten Nia Educators/Health and Wellness Professionals Offer Advice
Story and Illustration by Randee Fox – Nia 2ndDegree Black Belt Educator
It’s March 2021. I am sitting in my home office in our 12th month of sheltering with my family at home in Sammamish, Washington. We have taken every precaution to stay healthy and safe since early March, 2020. We’ve all become proficient ‘Zoomers’ and have stayed connected with our various communities. My spouse and I are engaged with our perspective artistic and professional endeavors from home while our niece who lives with us and is a high school senior and attends classes online from her bedroom with our rescued cat, Percy, snuggled up beside her.
The rest of the world is in much of the same place. Sheltering. And sadly, many have suffered great losses. Though we both have now had both vaccinations due to our age and living situations, many still await theirs.
Nia teachers across the world have been teaching online classes for a year now utilizing newly learned ‘meeting’ technology. The classes have been their main form of income from their homes or dance studio spaces. This has opened up opportunities for students, both local and across the world, to stay healthy, balanced, moving and connected with others through the practice of Nia. I am grateful to be a Nia practitioner at this time.
I am not teaching for the first time since 2004 due to two hip replacements in the past six months however I have had the pleasure of healing while attending many online Nia offerings including Classic Nia, Nia FreeDance, Nia MoveIT, Nia Moving to Heal and Nia 5 Stages classes all over the world. I love this connection to my practice and with the global Nia teachers and communities. I also completed “Nia Evolution”, a seven week course January and February.
Nia’s belt trainings have all moved to online and in April I will retake my Nia Brown Belt Training with Nia’s co-founder and creator, Debbie Rosas - a belt I originally took with her 15 years ago.
Our family has been preparing and eating healthy meals – with special attention to what is available seasonally. This has given me a chance to create new offerings like fermenting vegetables. My niece and I planted a huge vegetable and herb garden last April, which we will do again this April. She tended it every day through the fall, allowing all of us to enjoy the delicious and fresh bounties of greens, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squashes and herbs daily through the fall. We all take vitamins and probiotics daily and enjoy creating interesting fruit and green smoothies. I drink my water or herbal teas with a bit of apple cider vinegar, lemon or honey daily.
Getting outside, in rain or shine, to absorb the extra needed doses of vitamin D especially now during the shortest days of winter has been helpful too. I go for walks and FreeDance with my horses in a Nia and HorsesFreeDance session – something I developed through the past ten years with my horses and offer clinics to the public in normal times. Horses offer a powerful, healing and joyful grounding force and remind me to breathe, move and play.
I recently began thinking about my body’s immune system and what it needs to stay balanced in order to do its job most efficiently. Like many of us, over the past year, I have navigated through both emotional and physical hurdles. I have had time to tend to my well-being with a special spotlight on my nervous system. The sensations of ‘sympathetic nervous system state’ of ‘fight, flight, freeze’ might be tightness in my chest, shallow breath, increased heart rate, joint pain, fear, sadness or anger. These are cues for me to reach into my 21 year old Nia satchel of energetic movement tools and utilize what is needed in order to return to a place of balance, and back to a ‘parasympathetic nervous system state’ of ‘rest and digest’. The variety of offerings, whether they be live streaming Nia classes, NiaTV.fit offerings or the tools I have learned in all of my belt trainings, allow me to sustain buoyancy, creativity and peace and return to feeling good.
I wondered what the Nia teacher health and wellness pros had to say about all of this so I put out a call. Ten Nia Teacher/Health and Wellness pros responded with their contributions – three of which are wellness book authors.
I also included several links about dance and nutrition and the effect on our body’s immune system.
Enjoy the stories and advice and please stay safe. I hope to see you in a Zoom room, learning, dancing and healing somewhere in the world soon!
Nia Faculty Trainer
From the perspective of mental and emotional health, there is widespread evidence that a healthy mind and a healthy body, go hand in hand, especially as it relates to the body’s immune system. Chronic stress, depression, and anxiety are key players toward weakening the body’s defenses. From increased cortisol levels, to altered sleep patterns, to unhealthy coping behaviors (such as drinking or drug use), the mind-body connection is imperative in the delicate balance of supporting a healthy mind and a healthy immune system.
Exercise, along with stress relieving methods, and activities that affect brain chemistry and manage depression are a few of the top pillars of maintaining a healthy immune system.
The Nia Technique is an ideal practice, as it addresses multiple aspects of brain-mind-emotion-body balance and health. There are many techniques that escalate the practice into more than just a physical workout. Built in to the practice are components that address the sympathetic and parasympathetic mechanisms of the autonomic nervous system, balancing the act of “doing/acting” and “non-doing/relaxing”, creating stability in the nervous system and balancing cortisol levels and inflammation response. Practices such as mindfulness, breathing techniques, sensory body awareness, and movements that trigger both the active response, and the relaxation response all align to mitigate stress, and allow for a well-balanced immune system.
The Nia practice also possesses elements that build and sustain emotional integrity and balance. Nia’s use of explosive movement, dynamic sounding and breathing techniques, and shaking are phenomenal tools for discharging pent up energy, emotion, and stress, leaving the participant feeling free and clear of emotional blocks. The sense of community invites a feeling of being connected and supported. These emotive tools also work to combat depression and support immune health.
Now more than ever, in these Covid-times, it is important to maintain mind-body-emotion balance in order to maintain overall physical health, mental and emotional health, and to optimize the homeostatic mechanism of our immune health.
Rebecca Boedges, MA, MS, LCMHC
Nia White Belt Teacher
Burlington, VT 05401
According to Polyvagal theory, we have three branches of our autonomic nervous system, which just means the part of our nervous system that is out of awareness, like breathing, digestion, immunity. When we are activated in fight/flight we are using the sympathetic branch, and when we are activated In freeze/faint our dorsal vagal system is active. In either state, energy is moved away from immunity and going toward mobilizing or hiding from a threat.
Our unique, human nervous system, has a third component, the ventral vagal system that is active when we are socially engaged and doing something like moving for the simple pleasure of moving. In this state, we are calm and alert, and our immune system is working most efficiently. When we move in Nia, in community, we are encouraging ventral vagal activation which is where we want to hang out for optimum immune function. Because it is cardio fitness, we are also activating sympathetic arousal, but intentional activation of the sympathetic nervous system discharges stress, allowing us to hang out in a ventral vagal state afterwards.
The key is vagal tone, meaning moving between these states freely throughout the day for optimal immune function!
Founder of Vibrantly Living You, Health and Wellness Coaching
One of the reasons Nia is great for boosting immunity is that, as a movement fitness practice, it stimulates the cardiovascular system. With each move causing the heart to pump more blood to every cell in the body, it’s also mobilizing protective white blood cells to get them to where they can do the most good. Left on their own, white blood cells are rather sedentary.
Even a gentle workout is the “shot in the arm” the immune system needs to be more effective. That simple fact explains why so many students will often feel better after a class than when they began. I experienced this myself many times even as I taught Nia classes while battling mild fatigue. Rather than draining me, a Nia workout, which enables anyone to personalize the range of motion and intensity, would serve to boost my energy for the duration of the session and hours later.
Nia also has the advantage of relieving stress. A body under chronic stress carries high levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which suppress the immune system. The brain remains on high alert, ready to act against the perceived threat or stress. Conversely, a fun Nia dance workout signals the brain to relax. It gives the brain something productive to do all while releasing the feel-good chemical messengers dopamine and oxytocin to help the body and immune system return to a more positive, health-promoting state.”
I can’t imagine my life without Nia. I’m proud to have taught this incredible technique for more than 20 years.
Nia 2nd Degree Black Belt Teacher
Nia Faculty Trainer
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Nia is the only movement technique that I know that was created by asking the body what it needs and how it wants to move. Our science of The Body's Way means that everything we do, structurally, is based on the form and function of the body. As a Rolfer, I respect this. As a human being, my body appreciates this! I have been doing Nia since 1994, beginning when I was 21. Now I'm 46 and feel better than I did at 21! I know no other movement form that builds the body up instead of breaking it down, the way Nia does. Nia, it's YOUR body's way too!
Nia Brown Belt Teacher
I work with Trauma survivors and one of the many benefits of Nia is that it provides a mechanism for re reintegrating parts of the body, mind and spirit .
Parts that either froze in terror or were buried far from consciousness as a primal response to threat. Nia is a wonderful way to ground, self soothe and choose joy whilst gently introducing sometimes forgotten moves, gestures and emotions that could not be processed often from an early age.
Many of my students can name when certain moves or body parts were shut down and some only realize these lost sensations when they effortlessly “switch on” in natural time . The body’s way may not involve one spoken word . Single or repeated gestures through the wisdom of the 52 moves evokes love, safety , joy or power . Shut down parts of the soul defrost sometimes magically and tears of relief, loss or joy roll .
My students gain confidence in the wisdom of the body to self-heal.
I am in awe of this gift to every body. Every body holds the story and Nia is a powerful way to rescript the story and rewrite the brain one move at a time.
Nia 1st Degree Black Belt Teacher, Nia 3rdGeneration Faculty Trainer
What a healthy immune system means to me:
To be ready to do the work it needs to do, reading information and knowing what belongs and does not belong, physically and frequency-wise in the body, the immune system needs to be relaxed, alert and waiting inside the various tissues of the body.
This requires a relaxed autonomic nervous system, a nervous system that is free of fight, flight or freeze responses within our internal and external environments. This supports creating a high vibrational energetic system.
Dancing Nia or moving on the floor through Nia FloorPlay and Nia 5 Stages - helps
relax the body and autonomic nervous system, connecting both to the earth where everything began. The earth connection calms the body and provides a sense of safety and allows for deeper breathing and calmer thoughts and emotions. This sense of safety, grounding and belonging allows the body to return to its natural state. By dancing Nia in this safe playful environment where the body can explore as well as move in its designed way, the body knows what is good right now in this moment of time. When we listen to the voice of the body – sensation - and trust it, we move in a way where the body tells us to choose what feels right, pleasurable and good.
Chemistry-wise, in this relaxed state, the body releases less stress hormones, more oxygen is traveling freely though the blood stream and to the cells of the body, cleaning out what is no longer needed. Muscles become less tense and the body discontinues sending out inflammatory hormones. Thus, this creates a healthier environment for our immune system. Through loving thoughts and emotions, the body vibrates on a higher and more aware frequency.
Practicing Nia during this time, through the virtual spaces, can give us the sensation of being connected and belonging to a group. Chemistry-wise this releases the “cuddle hormone” or “feel-good hormone,” oxytocin, from the pituitary gland which helps in creating feelings and emotions of magic moments. This supports our cardiovascular as well the immune system health.
Some helpful ideas:
Eat and drink less processed food and less sugar which may cause inflammatory reactions in the body. Instead, use fresh, healthy and self-made food to create a balanced diet and a peaceful immune system with a heightened state of awareness.
Think and choose to feel in positive, lovingly ways. Laugh a lot, especially about yourself. Enjoy Nia FreeDance to stimulate your creativity and allow your unique spirit to show up!
In your home and work environment, make healthy choices and surround yourself with what you love. Feed yourself with things that inspire you. Choose creative, unique and inspiring acts and to be with people who make you feel comfortable, supported, relaxed, happy and joyful.
Be aware of what causes tension and/or resistance to build up in your body, mind, emotion and spirit realms. Remember what we resist persists. Breath it out, dance it out, laugh it out!
Move your body in comfortable, pain-free, joyful and pleasure-filled ways trying out different intensity levels to increase your cardiovascular health.
Engaging Nia’s 52 Moves is healthy for your immune system. Utilize the core moves (pelvic, chest and head) along the spinal column in order stimulate your lymphatic, autonomic nervous and immune systems.
All of this will keep your body’s immune system boosted, healthy and agile, ready and able to kick into gear and help if needed.
Nia Black Belt Teacher, Nia 3rdGeneration Faculty Trainer
Chapel Hill, NC
Dancing the Nia Technique way supports the immune system holistically. In addition to decreasing stress hormones, dancing increases blood flow and cytokine production. Cytokines are small proteins released by the immune system that help fight infection by regulating and facilitation our immune response.
Susan Tate, M.A.
Nia Black Belt Educator,
Observe how you talk to your body:
We now know that your immune system responds to your thoughts—and that we have over 60,000 thoughts a day. And many of them are the same ones we had yesterday! May you enjoy creating more wellness-focused thoughts as you lovingly observe how you talk to your body. May these suggestions support you in creating an enhanced immune system.
“The more we accept ourselves, the more fully we experience the world.”
How do you talk to your body? If you like, just observe your self-talk as you go about the day today. Will you hear a critical voice saying, “I’m so fat, I hate my thighs, look at those wrinkles, I hate my belly, I am so tired, I hate this mole on my neck, these veins are ugly, I always get sick, my arthritis is acting up again …”? You get the picture. Well, the immune system gets the picture too and does a great job of being quite the creative artist in your body. Your immune system actually responds to your thoughts. Yes, really! It’s now a proven fact.
Candace Pert, Ph.D., has done significant research to identify a substance in the body called neuropeptides. These chemicals are released in the body with every emotion and they are actually measurable. Any time we feel various emotions, our neuropeptides can detect them and can actually record and store them on a cellular level. Our emotions truly affect our physical bodies. The good news is: our pleasant emotions create positive cellular responses. And that is something good to remember.
For an incredible example of how our emotions and thoughts profoundly influence the body, read Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, My Stroke of Insight. Dr. Taylor is aHarvard-trained neuroanatomist who, in 1996, experienced a rare form of stroke that affected the left hemisphere of her brain. She combines her brilliant training as a neuroanatomist with the recounting of her personal experience of her recovery from this stroke. She boldly discusses how we can consciously influence how our brain chemistry is affected by our thoughts, feelings, and reactions to life events.
Simply observing the little inner voice that criticizes you can be the first step in becoming aware of the thoughts that flow through your mind. This observing self is often referred to as the “witness”—the loving, non-judgmental voice that simply watches and listens. I love to call it the “observette,” a term my friend Donna coined years ago.
You can create a higher level of wellness consciousness simply by lovingly observing your self-defeating thoughts. Then instead of saying, “My thighs are so fat,” you might affirm, “My thighs are toning up and looking better every day.” Observation leads you back to that intentional part of your thinking. If you say an affirming statement, intend for it to happen, and act on that intention, you’ll soon find yourself making choices that create positive change.
I do want to point out that this idea isn’t a magical fix. You can’t tone your thighs by sitting on the couch, eating cake and ice cream every night chanting, “My thighs are toning up and looking better every day.” Sorry, life doesn’t work like that. Act!
In his inspirational work, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz suggests being “impeccable with your word.” I understand this agreement to mean that we not only speak our word of truth to others, but that our self-talk also benefits from a truthful tone. Learning to speak lovingly to yourself holds a higher level of truth and integrity than talking to yourself in a self-deprecating manner. Observe how you talk to yourself and make choices that will allow your self-appreciation and your wellness wisdom to expand.
Three Suggestions to Support You:
- Lovingly observe how you talk to or about your body this week. Become a non-judging “observette.” Just notice. Note: You may find yourself becoming increasingly aware of how otherstalk about their aches and pains and bodies. It’s best to just observe this too, with love and non-judgment.
- If you find your inner voice is critical, stop and take a deep breath, then decide if you are ready to reframe that thought. For example, the initial thought “My thighs are so flabby and out of shape” might be re-framed to “My thighs are beginning to tone up since I started to take the steps more than the elevator!”
- Make loving observations a fun practice until you find you no longer, or rarely, think or speak self-deprecating or un-flattering thoughts or words. Eventually, you will have fewer of these thoughts to weed out of your mental garden!
Excerpt From “Wellness Wisdom”, Chapter 4
31 Ways to Nourish Your Mind, Body, & Spirit
By Susan Tate
Copyright © 2007, 2010
The Voice of Self-Care:
You are invited to listen closely to that tenderly loving voice that exists inside you. Change any words that don’t resonate with you so you and your immune system can hear them as a supportive voice you can embrace.
I am the voice of self-care, a knowing and wisdom available to all.
My job is to help you maintain wholeness, strength, and peace within so you can joyfully thrive.
I reorganize your relationship to living in a body so that you connect more deeply to love, joy, and your inner wisdom.
I am the voice that beckons you to care for yourself first,
so, you can then fully care for others—when that is your sacred task to perform.
I support you in consistently choosing acts of self-care.
I am the voice inside of you that beckons you to care for yourself with the love and intensity you would bestow upon a beloved child entrusted to your care.
I am the force that vibrates your trillions of cells into aligning to be you, as a whole human being, the whole you that you came to this Earth to be.
You sense me as the breath of your body breathing fully through you, as the beat of your heart pulsing in perfect rhythm—your senses delicious with anticipation of all that is nourishing.
Slow down and go inward and you can perceive my presence as a gentle friend standing next to you, offering constant and loving support—support that comes wholly and freely without a trace of judgment or criticism.
You have the ability to choose, seek, increase, and sustain the sacred acts of self-care, no matter what is going on in, or around, your life and world.
Choose me and you will sense a wholeness of body, mind, and spirit that over time will compel you, without thinking, to choose me again and again, until the path of self-care is the way you live.
Excerpt from “Into the Mouths of Babes”
By Susan Tate
Wellness books by Nia Teacher authors:
Jan Jensen – Nia Black Belt
“Get Cultured – A primer for delicious fermented veggies that will rock your palate and your health”
Just as we move our whole bodies in Nia to find health, so do our digestive systems need to move to maintain and build health in all our bodies’ systems. Cultured (fermented) veggies are a simple way to support our gut to efficiently and effectively digest food into components that nourish our whole body.
A simple example would be that fermenting creates extra Vitamin K, which helps with absorbing Vitamin D, our immune booster extraordinaire. With lots of Vitamin D in our body we can handle most immune challenges.
In terms of Nia, having a healthy gut enables us to get nutrients to the right place at the right time so that our body can move in the most beneficial ways in each moment.Just as we move our whole bodies in Nia to find health, so do our digestive systems need to move to maintain and build health in all our bodies’ systems. Cultured (fermented) veggies are a simple way to support our gut to efficiently and effectively digest food into components that nourish our whole body.
A simple example would be that fermenting creates extra Vitamin K, which helps with absorbing Vitamin D, our immune booster extraordinaire. With lots of Vitamin D in our body we can handle most immune challenges.
In terms of Nia, having a healthy gut enables us to get nutrients to the right place at the right time so that our body can move in the most beneficial ways in each moment.
Michele Kaye – Nia First Degree Black Belt,
“Eat Dance Shine: How to come alive, gain energy and push back the years”
I believe stress is one of the biggest factors in developing a disease. And having a strong immune system is one of the most important ways to prevent a disease from developing. So how do we reduce stress to boost the immune system? Here are some ideas:
· Move your body
· Shake and jig
· Express yourself
· Connect with others
· Be mindful
· Be physical
· ‘Still’ the mind
· Be creative
· Be imaginative
All the above are available when you practice Nia. I love that nowadays this can be done in a class (on zoom or in-person), on NiaTV or simply FreeDancing to some music that you enjoy.
Susan Tate - Nia Black Belt
This updated edition combines the latest science-based and mind/body healing strategies to lead you gently forward on your wellness journey.
“Into the Mouths of Babes”
My intention is for this book to be love in action–to support the nourishment of children and their families–all across the globe.
Additional links on dance and nutrition and their effects on the body’s immune system:
- The Power of Dance, Health and Healing
- Four Ways Dancing Supports Your Immune System
- COVID 19 Nutrition Essentials to Boost Immune System and Fight Infection
- DANCE NUTRITION | Boost Your Immunity