become my drug that I needed every single day, and when I didn't get it I felt fat and weak, and viewed myself a failure.
Alongside this, my perfectionist tendencies led me down a dangerous path with food. I controlled my diet as strictly as I did my exercise regime, getting a kick out of denying myself "guilty pleasures" and believing that I had the strength of character to deny myself the foods I secretly fantasized about. At times, the pressure to restrict and control got the better of me and I'd lose control altogether, bingeing manically only to purge myself of my overwhelming sense of guilt and disgust. These emotions motivated me to run double the miles the next day. Indeed, swinging between anorexia and bulimia, abusing my aching body with harsh exercise, and self-deprivation was the reality of my life throughout my twenties.
I did hit my rock bottom. In a rehabilitation centre in Cape Town, I received counselling and treatment for my addictive behaviours and am immensely grateful for the tools I learned there. But what I am most grateful for was a single Nia class one Sunday morning in that rehab. That one class touched me in a way that no other modality of therapy had ever done, and inspired me to take my white belt training in 2007.
I returned to Beijing where I had been living and working for years, and began my Nia teaching path. My recovery from addiction was long, and with plenty of setbacks. But the more I practiced and shared Nia, the happier, more balanced and healthier I became. The easier I found it to get out of my stinking-thinking head and trust my own bones. To be guided by my own sensations and not some numbers on the bathroom scale. To love my body the way it is, and to want to nurture it rather than punish it. The self-healing and self-love I have received and continue to receive though this practice every single day of my life is profound.
For me, Nia has everything I want out of a fitness practice and more. It conditions, strengthens and tones my entire body like no other practice I know. Even my fingers, toes, and skin. It gives my brain a workout! It teaches me about how my body is put together and how it all works, so that I am informed about my body. It gives me the gift of awareness so that I can perceive what my body needs at any moment. The space to play like a five year old kid again. Joy and pleasure. It calms my busy head when I'm thinking too much, and soothes me when I'm feeling emotional. It allows me the freedom to reach out and touch my potential. It always brings me home to my body.
In 2017 I decided to make the jump to a fulltime career with Nia. I moved from China to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where I live with my partner and three Khmer cats, and dance every day in my beautiful wooden house. I teach Nia classes daily to people from all over the world, in which I get to share the joy of movement with others, and inspire people to fully inhabit their own bodies.
The main theme of my love story with Nia is transformation. I've always LOVED to dance. My mother reminds me of my sister and I prancing around the kitchen like fairies as soon as our favourite song would come on the radio, and how she was compelled to buy tickets and made to judge our weekly dance competitions that we held in the living room. I would do everything I could to skip school sports, and was only interested in my modern dance classes. Music and movement has always held magic for me.
Somewhere along the line, I forgot about this magic of dance. I had put on weight in high school, and when I went to university I chose long distance running as my method of controlling my weight. I quickly became quite obsessive about running and exercise in general, competing with myself on a daily basis, and pushing my body to go further and faster. It was simply never enough. There was nothing enjoyable about these hours of running. It was lonely and painful most of the time. But it somehow made me feel physically and mentally strong and disciplined. Exercise that hurt had
Debbie-Lee was the gardener who planted Nia in my heart, who nurtured it and allowed it to go grow through her love, passion and mentoring. Nia is one of the true spaces of vulnerability, courage, love, tenderness, strength and expression in my life. It’s been a friend to my body and soul as I have nurtured my first baby in pregnancy, and has helped me discover determination, hard work and passion as a Nia White Belt teacher.
Sarah Marie Battye, Nia White Belt instructor, Melbourne