CHANGE BEGINS WITH AWARENESS by Erica Kostiuk

We all have different opinions, beliefs and fears about what is going on in in our country and the world, but one thing I’m sure we can all agree on is that it has certainly taken its toll on our body, mind, emotions and spirits.

Financial stress, being socially isolated, feeling like I can’t express myself authentically and anxiety around what the future may hold, have all had a significant impact on my own physical and mental health over the past 18 months. I have personally gained 30kg since January 2020, putting me at the heaviest I’ve ever been. I have judged and beat myself up for this, telling myself “Erica, you know better. What are you doing to yourself?” I have set the intention to “start the diet” every Monday for the past 18 months and every time I don’t follow through, I judge myself more which just makes it worse.

It’s not like I have a lack of resources to overcome these challenges. I know what foods to eat that are good for me, I know what movement practices my body enjoys, I have a coach and good friends that I can turn to for mental and emotional support. So why aren’t I choosing to follow through with implementing these things?

I believe one of the main contributing factors for me is my default survival strategy. This is what we unconsciously default to when faced with danger and is controlled by our amygdala (survival part of the brain). Have you heard of the concept of fight, flight and freeze? When faced with danger, some people will stand up and fight, some will freeze and do nothing, others will run the opposite direction.

I personally am a freezer. When faced with danger, I stop dead in my tracks, my mind goes blank and I just hope for the best. This is a pattern that has recurred throughout my whole life in many different situations. Usually it lasts a couple of seconds, minutes or hours until the threat passes, occasionally it can take a few days or weeks in extreme circumstances. But never before have I experienced consistent stress for months on end like I have recently. I have literally felt unable to move and think properly most of the time. My body has been through so much stress over the past couple of years that it’s no wonder I have stored fat – she unconsciously believes she has to store up for the modern-day version of famine!

Have you experienced something similar? If so, I see you. There are so many of us in the same boat.

So what do we do about it?

Creating any change starts with awareness.

Bringing awareness to our experiences enables us to notice what we are feeling, sensing, thinking, saying and how we are reacting. When we practice awareness consistently, we can begin to notice our patterns of behaviour (ie. Binge eating) and the triggers that cause them (ie. feeling overwhelmed, tired or scared).

With conscious awareness comes choice. We can notice, “oh, I’m doing that thing again” and choose whether we continue with that behaviour or whether we choose something more resourceful. This applies to emotions and thoughts as well as actions.

Principle 5 of the Nia White Belt – Awareness, teaches us to become aware of our body, training us to listen to our physical sensations of pleasure and pain, allowing us to make choices that increase pleasure and reduce pain.

The same principle can be applied to the mental, emotional and spiritual parts of us.

Taking the time and space to become aware of the emotions, sensations and thoughts we are experiencing at any given moment, allows us to notice whether they are causing us pleasure or pain, whether they are resourceful or unresourceful, healthy or unhealthy and to then make a choice to keep them or change them.

For many people it can be easier to notice physical sensation than emotions at first.

In Nia we have a practice called the Body Awareness Walk to bring awareness to our sensations.

Walking around your space, pay attention to what you sense and then give voice to it by saying “I notice…”

Example. “I notice tension in my right shoulder. I notice heaviness in my feet. I notice itchiness under my nose.”

We then dance or practice the Nia 5 Stages in a way that supports us to feel better and then do another walk to notice what has shifted.

A similar technique can be used shift your mental and emotional states.

Becoming aware of feelings of anxiety, restlessness, stress, anger, sadness, frustration, tension, worry, overwhelm etc enables you to choose to keep it or shift your state. Often, when it comes to emotions, just the awareness and acknowledgement of its existence can shift it. But there are also times when we need a big shake up to get out of our own way.

For me the quickest way to shift my state is dancing. I used to think that if I couldn’t dance a full 60-minute Nia routine, there was no point in dancing. I’ve since discovered that if I’m feeling down, low on energy or I need to get in the right headspace for a client, I choose a song that matches the state I want to get in and I dance! After just one song I have generally altered my state and am ready for the next thing that requires my energy and attention.

If you want to try this for yourself, start by setting an intention – “by the end of this song I want more energy, a clearer head, I want to feel more relaxed.”

Then choose a song that will support that intention – softer for relaxation, heavy to release anger, pop or jazz to lift your spirits, or perhaps you have a song that helps you feel empowered.

Then dance!

Dance like your intention is the most important thing to you in that moment. Dance because you know you’ll be a better version of yourself when you’re done. Dance because you are worthy of feeling better than you did before you put on that song.

Dancing isn’t the only technique that will work. Some other activities that shift peoples state are walking, running, meditating, being in nature, playing with animals etc. The trick is to find what works for you and to commit to allowing yourself to feel better.

With all the fear, uncertainty, adversity and triggers that we are dealing with on a daily basis, it has never been more important to take control of the things that ARE within our power.

How are you going to choose to make yourself feel better today?

 

Erica is a down-to-earth, nurturing and compassionate facilitator who brings fun, humour, wisdom and her depth of experience to each class to ensure everyBody feels welcome, accepted and supported. Through her coaching programs and Nia classes, Erica aims to create a safe space for participants to feel, heal and grow on a journey to wellness, self-love and embodiment.

After watching her first class on a YouTube clip, Erica knew she was going to share Nia with her community. Without ever having taken a live class, she signed up for her White Belt and Green Belt trainings to become a Nia Teacher. Erica’s commitment to being an exceptional facilitator has led her to make multiple trips to Nia’s Headquarters in Portland, Oregon to dance and train with co-founder Debbie Rosas and other International Trainers. She has also completed her Blue Belt, Brown Belt, Black Belt, Nia 52 Moves and Nia 5 Stages trainings.

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