Awareness of Shoulder Girdle - Sensing Wings

I remember returning from my Nia White Belt training in 1998 and sensing the muscle definition of my own “wings.” I was flying emotionally, more empowered than I had ever been as a result of hours of dance, movement, and my first experience of body-centered education. Upon returning to the list of “to-do’s” and problem solving of an office, I noticed an immediate tightening in my shoulders and experienced what I now call “elevator ears." Stress drew my shoulders tightly upwards, rising to my earlobes like an elevator from the first floor to the penthouse, and I heard my new awareness and the voice of my body demand a change. I knew I needed to move with mobility and freedom to be comfortable and creative in my body and my life.

As an experienced instructor and Nia trainer, I now know that my body and the wings of my shoulder girdle had been opened through the movements we performed during the White Belt week, movements which included palm directions and creative arm and hand expressions. Under stress, tension tightens the supporting muscles and restricts my wings, physically and emotionally. I am now aware that that my body seeks comfort organically, following The Body’s Way. My Body’s Way knows the sensation of “elevator ears” and can choose to stay constricted or to let go. If it happens today, I trust my ability to sense and self-heal, relax, breathe deliberately and slowly, roll my shoulders, and release. When this release happens, I sense heavy wings slipping down my back and my chest opens. My jaw also relaxes and drops slightly and my breathing slows. With no more "elevator ears," my wings expand!

I love the poetic imagery Nia Co-Creator Debbie Rosas gives us when describing the function of the body. She says, “When dancing through life, imagine a halo around your shoulder girdle. Walk and move with a sense of space for your head to float up and out of and let your arms hang and move freely from this halo.” My body has a halo! How perfect! I can dance my halo, alter my head position, and spread my wings, extending through my finger "feathers" in every movement of my life as I open doors, reach for that special china on the top shelf, hug a friend, and teach my Nia classes.

According to Nia's Embody & Share Manual, Principle 9 (available to all belt graduates), “The bones of your shoulder girdle—the clavicles, sternum and scapula—are designed to support movement of your arms. The healthier your shoulder girdle, the more freedom your arms have to explore their full range of movement and expression. Unlike your thighbone and hip joint, which are designed for stability, your upper arm bone floats freely in your shoulder joint, allowing for a large range of mobility. Your shoulder girdle is designed to be flexible, so it can support fluidity and relaxation in your upper body and spine. If your shoulder girdle is locked, your neck, head, and shoulders become rigid, which places stress on your whole body.”

During my many years of Nia training, I have learned that I have four bodies: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. The metaphor of cultivating an awareness of my shoulder girdle through "sensing wings" in these realms has conditioned my body and enriched my life. In my physical body, I sense lightness and mobility when my shoulder girdle is healthy. I can swing my arms and express a range of movements in my life and in my Nia classes. In my mental body, my imagination is free to explore, soar, and express my own way. My emotional body is made visible through the freedom in my arms, hands, and fingers, choosing the power of strength in punches one moment and the expansion of my heart reaching towards the heavens in the next. As a spiritual being, I sense the connection of heaven to earth through my wings soaring upward or dropping down behind me, naturally opening my chest and heart to life as a symbol of continually opening and expanding to reach my highest potential.

As somatic practitioners, we all have an opportunity to move the lessons of Nia into the world, creating healing and awareness in our classes, lives, and communities. We are an organizational body rising and soaring together with the common goal of sensing wings.


  1. Visualize your wings. Create a visual of your wings folded back and down, touching the earth. Sense the weight and notice the expansion in your chest and the shift in your head position.
  2. Walk your wings in the world. Move with your wings folded back. Sense your stride, your head position, and the halo inside you as you walk. Drop your hara (the energy center located two inches below the navel and two inches inward), moving through levels in your walk. Notice any sensations in your shoulder placement.
  3. Dance your wings. Spread your arms and sense the tips of your fingers in space, touching the air. Put on music that allows your body and spirit to soar, and express and dance your wings!
  4. Take off! Animate your wings with the movement forms of Duncan Dance and Modern Dance. Sense the shifts in sensation, mobility, and stability.
  5. Soar! FreeDance and spread your wings, allowing your dance to be stimulated by the sensation of freedom in your shoulder girdle.
  6. Honor your shoulder girdle. Dialogue and journal with your body, noticing changes and shifts in your physical, mental, emotional, and spirit body as you dance through life.

Copyright © Gail Condrick, 2013

Gail Condrick is a writer and lover of all things earth and ocean living in Sarasota, Florida. Write to Gail