Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Nia is my exciting new discovery of the morning that I just have to share with everyone.

Nia stands for Neuromuscular Integrative Action and this is the latest exercise THING for me. Yes, I have found IT for the moment. A while back, I wrote about how I am now embracing new exercise fads and more recently about how I want to seek more outlets for creative expression. Well, Nia takes the cake for both of these.

I first experienced Nia a little over a month ago when I went to a breastfeeding and parenting conference. On the second day of the conference, this being Colorado, they had early morning exercise classes for those who must exercise each day. One of those early morning options was Nia. I had heard about Nia, but was a little intimidated to try it since I didn’t know what it was. (In fitness-obsessed Boulder it is easy to get in over your head.) But at this conference, most everybody was new to Nia so it seemed a safe place to give it a go.

I had a great time, so I asked around for good places to do Nia in Boulder, then picked up a schedule from one of them and finally, this morning, over a month later, I had time to give it a try. It was fantastic.

In the lobby they sold interesting clothes and jewelry and I was told the first class was free. I walked back into a dance studio painted a rich, dark red. The mirror-lined walls were draped with strings of lights. Candles sat on a railing. It was exotic and inviting. Not like the sparse gyms or yoga rooms where exercise classes are usually offered.

The instructor welcomed everyone and said that if anyone felt lost at any point and couldn’t grasp the movement, her advice was to not think too hard about it, but to just feel it, to make a kinesthetic connection. I liked that. It seemed easy to be transported away from your mind and into your body in this funky atmosphere. This wasn't about discipline or effort or skill, but about expression. There were no harsh lights or pictures of proper form.

Nia is like yoga, martial arts, and dance, with a good combination of structure and freedom. You could say it is also like aerobics, but it seemed to me that the aerobic exercise part of it was just a nice side effect of the movements: incidental, but not the goal. To me, it was like a really fun dance class where you were first guided a few times in a simple step, and then encouraged to embellish it and elaborate in your own way. It was everything I like about Yoga Booty Ballet but with more freedom.

Some of my favorite parts of the Nia class this morning were the parts that seemed to be based on martial arts. We punched, we kicked, we yelled, and nobody was judging us or watching us. I feel that it was a great kind of self-defense class, a great release, a chance to pretend to be something else. It reminded me of the one time I tried (and liked!) African dance. It was dynamic and expressive and powerful. I felt strong and good.

The music was interesting, funky, and varied: lots of world music and good dance beats. Sometimes the instructor would be didactic and tell us to “do this for four counts,” other times she would direct us to free dance. Mostly she would give more interesting directions like “follow your hands,” “open yourself,” or “melt.” There was no strict “technique” but more suggestions and images that pushed you in new directions. It was like being quickly taught a song, singing it together a few times, and then being encouraged to lose yourself in harmonies.

Basically, though, it was just dancing. So I ask myself, why don’t I just put on a CD and dance? I guess that would simpler. But it would be similar to saying, why don’t I just sing any old song or make up my own tunes? That just wouldn’t be the same. It was great to have the basic structure of the steps to work with and the atmosphere of the room and the other dancers to work off of. It was great to have the instructor telling me to do something specific and then telling me to do whatever I wanted. If I was just told to dance for an hour, I don’t know what I would do. I would get bored or get into a rut, but this was a perfect balance of structure and freedom. It was demanding and creative at the same time. I know with Yoga I can and do practice on my own, but I benefit immensely from a teacher and a more structured class. I do more in class, I have guidance, and I go farther.

Yoga is great and I hope will always be something I practice, but Yoga is more about discipline and correct form and structure. It too is about combining body and mind, but I would not say it is creative in the way that Nia is. I loved that creative part of Nia, it was like the missing link. A Pilates DVD that I have (thanks again Clare!) is presented by a female student of Joseph Pilates as the “true Pilates method.” She has something in there about how music should never be allowed into a “real” Pilates workout, that the movement should be “pure” and there should be no distractions. Oh bother! That was such a boring DVD! I was not motivated by it at all. As far as I could tell, it was full of strict, nearly impossible, “pure” movements, with a rigid, didactic instructor yelling at these perfect women to do better. Not for me. Not at least until I am a physical goddess like the women in that one!

But back to the wonderful Nia. To conclude my rant about how enthralled I am by this new-to-me discovery, and in case you still have no idea what I am talking about, I will close with the description of Nia given by its founders, Debbie and Carlos Rosas. Their description is still vague (you really have to try it to understand), but it rings true to me, and at least then you have it from the horse’s mouth:

Nia is a personal growth, mind-body-spirit fitness program. It is a "living system," that works with the natural wisdom and intelligence of the body, mind, spirit and emotions. Nia supports the Pleasure Principle: If it feels good keep doing it, if it hurts, stop! The blueprint of Nia is practical, experiential, and focuses on internal guidance to change and develop awareness. Process oriented, the format is user-friendly. Nia empowers students and teachers to make their own movement choices by offering students a flexible structure they can personally modify to suit their needs. Nia combines a diverse blend of Eastern and Western movements, concepts and philosophies from the worlds of the healing arts (love), martial arts (mindfulness), and dance (technique). Nia reaches people emotionally, in their hearts, motivating them to get fit and healthy by creating a deep personal desire to explore their potential and love their growth. Fitness, health, well-being, and self-love naturally result from the magnetic Nia experience. What makes Nia so innovative is its unlimited adaptability. Not only can people of all kinds participate, but a wide range of therapeutic, wellness, self-growth and educational models can effectively integrate Nia.

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