Tag: Movement Lab

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.






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.


Just Breathe: A Lesson in Listening to My Body

I write a lot about food on this blog, but there’s more to life than food and there’s more to me than recipes. Sometimes I’m hit with truths about life that I feel compelled to share with you as they happen. If you ever feel disconnected from your body, dismissing what it needs in favor of what you think you “should” do, especially when it comes to movement, I invite you to read this post.  


“Should I take hip hop dance or yoga today?” I asked my friend, Lola, the owner of Movement Lab, a mind-body studio in Baltimore.

She responded in a way that I wasn’t anticipating.

If you close your eyes and check in with your body, what is it asking from you?

More dance, cardio, sweat?

Something deeper, more stretch, more mindful?

movement-labMy weary, rundown body knew the answer.

The body that said, “Yes,” to one too many commitments over the past few months. The body that started to get sick last week as a result of being so exhausted. The body that performs for me at such a high level each day, carrying me from one event, presentation, and meeting to the next.

My physical body wanted to keep moving at its normal, breakneck pace. Dance! Sweat! Work it OUT!

But my soul knew I needed something else.

Rest. Stillness. Peace.


As I made my way through rush hour traffic to get to class, a new song came on the radio. A song I hadn’t heard before. A song with a message that I needed to hear.

Breathe, just breathe
Come and rest at my feet
And be, just be
Chaos calls but all you really need
Is to just breathe

Off to yoga I went.

As I left class, Lola saw me, smiled, and asked, “Did you serve your body today?”

I smiled back, still experiencing the peace and stillness from class, “Yes, yes I did.”

I couldn’t help but reflect on the lyrics of the song, the class itself, and our conversation on either end of it.

What if we were more intentional about listening to our body, noticing what it needs, ignoring the “shoulds” and aligning ourselves with what would serve our body?

Have you ever forced yourself to work out and move your body in a way that ignored how it was feeling, neglecting to check in with yourself to find out what would feel best for you in that moment?

Maybe you pushed too hard on a day your body was crying out for rest.

Maybe every fiber of your being was whispering to you to slow down, but you added another mile to your run.

Maybe you wanted to take a peaceful walk in the woods or try a yoga class but didn’t think you’d sweat enough, so you didn’t do it because it wouldn’t “count”.

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve ignored my body’s inner voice and pushed it when I needed to rest.

I want to be clear. This is not about slacking off or not trying.

Some days your body will tell you it wants to be pushed or that you have pent-up energy and want to take that kickboxing class, go spinning, hit the trail for a long run or hike, or dance until your feet hurt.

Other days it will tell you that it needs a quiet nature walk, a yoga class, a relaxing swim, or a Nia class.

I invite you to pay attention to your body this week, to heed its whisper.

To get curious and notice without judgment how you’re feeling.

To be honest about what would serve your body best in that moment.

To pursue movement that brings you joy, freedom, and restoration.

To breathe, just breathe

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