Month: December 2017

Nia: Reclaiming the Joy of Movement

We are born with an innate desire to move, to explore, and to find joy and freedom in our bodies.

We move for pleasure, responding to our body’s call to express and release itself through movement. As children, we climb, dance, skip, jump, twirl, and run. When I was younger, I played soccer and softball and loved jumping rope and roller skating.

Yet as we grow older, we become self-conscious, reserved and restricted, and even disconnected from our bodies. The idea of moving our bodies as freely as we once did when we were kids can trigger feelings of anxiety or fear of embarrassment or shame.

We stop moving in ways we enjoy and turn movement into a means to an end, usually so we can lose weight or tone up, especially for women.

Once I entered college, I opted for movement that would be a good calorie burn and keep me in shape. I took part in group exercise classes like spinning and boot camps, spent hours on treadmills and elliptical machines, and lifted weights. I convinced myself that the endorphin rush I felt at the end of the workout made it worthwhile, even if I didn’t look forward to class and was counting down the minutes until it was over..

About a decade ago, I was introduced to a form of movement that made me feel alive – Zumba, a choreographed, Latin-inspired dance class. The music brought me back to my semester abroad in Southern Spain, and the dance steps made me feel free, sexy and playful. Unfortunately, after a few years, my favorite Zumba instructors left my gym, and I found myself going to class less and less over time.

Then, about three years ago, I discovered Nia.

Nia is a sensory-based movement experience that blends 52 moves with movement forms from dance arts, martial arts and healing arts. Flexibility, agility, mobility, stability and strength are the five sensations at the foundation of Nia. The class empowers people of all shapes and sizes by connecting the body, mind, emotions and spirit.

Lola Manekin, who married into the family of friends of my parents, tried to expose me to Nia at a time when I had no interest or openness to trying it. She’s from Brazil and learned at a young age to trust her body and its wisdom. Nia was a way for her to share that gift. Each time I saw her, she encouraged me to check out one of her Nia classes. I had no idea what Nia was, but when I looked up a class on YouTube to see what it was all about, I was further dissuaded from trying it.

“What are those people doing? They’re moving in all sorts of weird ways. No thanks. Not for me.”

I have a tendency to be tightly wound and a strong desire to be in control, and what I saw in the video challenged both of those inclinations. It almost seemed as though the people in the videos were too free.

Each time I ran into Lola, she would nudge me again to come to one of her classes…and I would politely decline, hoping she would eventually stop asking.

About three years ago, my friend Dori and I decided to try a Nia class. We’d been taking Zumba together for some time and were curious to see what this Nia thing was all about and if it was as great as Lola had said. We nervously entered the room on the first day of class, and were greeted by Alba, who welcomed us with enthusiasm, love and kindness. She assured us that there was no wrong way to do Nia and encouraged us to move our bodies in ways that felt good.

I don’t remember everything that happened in that class, but I do remember how it made me feel in my body and in my soul.

Open

Playful

Alive

Flowing

Free

Something in me was awakened.

I was invited to move my body without judging myself or worrying about how I looked.

Photo Credit: Billy Michels Photography

I was reminded of the joy of movement.

I continued taking classes and eventually found my way to one of Lola’s classes. After all of those years of nudging, I finally responded and realized why she had been so intentional about inviting me for so long.

Over the past three years, Nia has helped me reclaim the joy of movement. I regularly practice Nia at my favorite mind-body studio in Baltimore called Movement Lab.

Nia has given me permission to release, to move freely, and to connect with my body and embrace its desire to dance and play.

Nia is an invitation to shift from confinement to openness, from restriction to freedom, from judgment to joy. It helps me loosen up and not take myself so seriously. It makes me feel like a kid again.

Nia is about reconnecting with and loving my body rather than trying to shame it or fix it. As we find freedom and connection in our bodies, we experience freedom and connection in our minds as well. We open up to whatever it is our body is telling us it needs physically and emotionally in that moment – more flexibility, strength, agility or stability – and we respond.

Nia calls us to balance and embrace both our masculine and feminine energies. The masculine energy leads and gives; it is contracting and tight (think martial arts moves). Feminine energy receives and invites us to soften; it is expansive and fluid (think undulations and twirling).

For me and many others, Nia is the foundation of a community of people who love, support, and encourage each other. We come together in times of celebration and lift each other up in times of struggle.

This past year for my birthday, I invited friends to join me for a Nia class, and Lola was kind enough to put together a custom playlist with some of my favorites 90s hip-hop and pop music. It felt more like a dance party than a workout class. We had so much fun! At the end of class, Lola had everyone form a circle around me and sing Happy Birthday to me. I experienced a profound sense of gratitude and love that day as I joyfully danced my way into my 34th year of life.

What a joy.

What a life-giving gift.

Alba, thank you for creating such an open and inviting initial Nia experience for me, one that helped me overcome my reservations and explore freedom in my body.

Heather and Steph, thank you for the spaces you have created as Nia instructors to invite me to be myself and embrace my femininity.

Lola, thank you for how you lead and love. I’m so grateful to you for bringing Nia to Baltimore and for your vision to create Movement Lab, where we can move our bodies so freely and joyfully and reconnect with ourselves and each other. Thank you for being so intentional and insistent about inviting me to be part of such a special community.

Thank you all for helping me reclaim the joy of movement.

Photo Credit: Billy Michels Photography

If you want to join me for a Nia class, let me know, or check out Movement Lab’s schedule here. If you are outside of the Baltimore area, find a Nia class near you here.

Dig Deeper

This is Lola’s TED Talk about the joy of movement and her journey with Nia. She shares how she helps women in her community find balance, be authentic and celebrate themselves and one another through Nia.

My friend, Heather Huddleston, also did a TED Talk about her experience with Nia and how transformative and healing it has been for her. She suffered from painfully paralyzing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) that overtook her body. After seeking answers and healing from a number of other modalities, she discovered Nia and has since found freedom from years of pain.

 

Chai-Spiced Almond Butter Smoothie

We just had our first snowfall in Baltimore this weekend.  With the colder weather comes an innate craving for warmer comfort foods, like this chicken tikka masala dish we had for dinner in our Instant Pot last night.

Because I try to eat seasonally and pay attention to what my body is craving at different times of the year, I find myself eating fewer salads but more soups and fewer smoothies but more oatmeal.

On days I do want a smoothie, I shy away from tropical flavors and other combinations better suited for summer and load up my smoothies with warming, grounding spices!

That’s how the idea for this Chai Almond Butter Smoothie came to be. I’ve made other spiced smoothies like this Snickerdoodle one, this Turmeric Golden Milk one (two of the most popular recipes on my blog!), and this newer Apple Cinnamon version. Today’s smoothie contains some similar spices, but it pays homage to one of my favorite drinks.

Chai tea.

Chai tea is made with a blend of spices, including cinnamon, clove, cardamom, ginger, and a hint of black pepper. All of these spices are highly anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, and digestive-supporting and some even have anti-viral properties.

We tend to forget about spices when we are focusing on upgrading what we are eating or drinking, but, as you can see, they are powerhouses of nutrients!

Today’s smoothie uses a blend of those spices and some almond butter for protein, fat and creaminess, all of which will keep you coming back for more!

Print

Chai Almond Butter Smoothie

This fall-spiced smoothie is packed with anti-inflammatory compounds and tastes like a cup of chai tea!

Course Breakfast
Cuisine Smoothie
Prep Time 3 minutes
Total Time 3 minutes
Servings 1 person
Author Rachel Druckenmiller

Ingredients

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground clove
  • pinch black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 Medjool date pit removed
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter
  • 1 frozen banana (peel it first!)
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1 scoop unflavored protein powder or collagen peptides (optional)

Instructions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth, about 45-60 seconds. Add up to 1/4 cup more almond milk, if needed. Pour into a glass and enjoy!

If you like chai-flavored foods, try some of these other recipes on my blog:

I’m Into It! Grainful, Chickpea Croutons & Yoga with Adriene

I started this “I’m Into It” series back in the summer, and I’ve gotten great feedback from you about it, so thanks for taking the time to let me know what you think! With all the rage about Instant Pot these days (especially post-Black Friday and Cyber Monday), make sure you check out my last post in the series about my favorite Instant Pot recipes.

Today, we’re going to be looking at one of my favorite frozen meal options, what I use to add some crunch and protein to just about every salad I make, and take a look at my #1 channel on YouTube for at-home yoga classes. I hope you learn something that inspires you to take action and try one of these!

Grainful

I found out about these guys at the Natural Products Expo in Baltimore in September. I almost missed their booth because it was off the beaten path, but I’m so glad I stopped by. Grainful puts a savory spin on a breakfast favorite…steel cut oats!

Most of us don’t think that oats can be used for anything but oatmeal, but we’re selling them short when we think that way.

Grainful products are chef-inspired frozen entrees and meal kits made with 100% whole grain steel cut oats. They are certified gluten-free, non-GMO (not genetically modified), high in fiber and protein, and made with REAL ingredients. Many of them are vegan or vegetarian, too.

Most frozen meals have an ingredient list as long as your arm, but what I love about Grainful products is that I recognize everything on the ingredient list. Take my favorite meal they make – Tuscan Bean and Kale. Here’s the ingredient list:

Water, Kidney Beans, Garbanzo Beans, 100% Whole Grain Steel Cut Oats, Tomatoes, Kale, Tomato Paste, Onions, Garlic, Tomato Flakes, Olive Oil, Salt, Spices (Granulated Garlic, Parsley, Oregano, Basil).

That’s what the ingredients would look like if I were to make that dish at home, which is exactly how it should be. We don’t have to sacrifice quality just because we’re not making it ourselves.

Buy It: You can find Grainful products near you by using this store locator. Where I live (Baltimore area), you can find their products (frozen case and in the natural food aisle) at ShopRite, Safeway, Giant and Wegmans.

Biena Snacks

Over the past few years, roasted chickpeas have become a pantry staple for us. They are a good source of fiber and protein, make a great substitute for the crunch of croutons on a salad, and are a filling snack. I’ve even added them to trail mix for a protein boost and a hint of salt.

I love knowing the stories behind the companies I support, and Biena’s is worth sharing!

Biena started with Poorvi Patodia. While pregnant, she was searching for a healthier way to satisfy her snack cravings. Inspired by a favorite childhood snack, she started experimenting with roasted chickpeas in her own kitchen, developing a unique way to roast chickpeas to make them light and crispy, yet still maintain the protein, fiber and nutrients of a whole chickpea. Poorvi launched Biena in 2012, at a time when the trend around plant-protein snacks was still in it’s infancy.

They have a ton of flavors, but I’d say the Sea Salt and Rockin’ Ranch are my favorites. Both are vegan, too!

Buy It: Find Biena Snacks near you by using their store locator. For all of my local peeps in Baltimore, you can find them at Target, Giant, and CVS.

Yoga with Adriene

If I lived in Austin, Texas, I would want to hang out with this woman ALL THE TIME. I’ve been using her yoga videos for the past three years for my at-home practice. She posts hundreds of FREE videos on YouTube, and with 2.8 million subscribers, she clearly has a huge fan club.

My favorite series (so far!) is 30 Days of Yoga, but she has others like Morning Yoga, Yoga for Digestion, Yoga for Beginners, Yoga on the Road, and even Yoga for Anxiety.

If you’re looking for an easy way to move more without having to leave the comfort of your home, you have to check out her videos. You could even go through a series with a friend, so if any of you want to start one of her series and want me to partner with you, so we can hold each other accountable, let me know!

Try It: To subscribe to Adriene’s channel and check out all of her free yoga videos, click here.

There you have it, my friends! Those are just a few of the things I’m “into” at the moment.

What about you? Have you tried any new recipes or products that you think I should know about? Feel free to email me or leave a comment below!

With a whole lot of love and gratitude for YOU,

Rachel

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