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A Journey in Mind and Body Fitness

by Jawahare

NIA, an acronym for neuromuscular integration, is a form of movement that brings balance and energy to one's mind, body, and spirit. Additionally, the word "nia" in Swahili means "with purpose". Apropos to this meaning, it was with this intention that in the early 1980's, Debbie and Carlos Rosas, a team of aerobics instructors, created an alternative to the repetitive, jarring movements of the traditional high impact aerobics. Through their exploration of various dance disciplines, martial arts and yoga, they derived a base for NIA.

NIA provides a workout that effectively tones the cardiovascular system while enlivening the spirit, and opening the channels of the emotional body.

The NIA technique provides a rich experience on many levels for students of all fitness abilities. In each class, movements are demonstrated at three levels of intensity. The participants can then choose at which level they will work, depending upon ability and comfort level. One notable thing about NIA technique is that it is done without wearing shoes. Foot awareness is one element that surprised me about NIA. Having one's feet free, able to feel and be flexible is very important in being able to sense the quality of many of the movements.

The actual movements of NIA are structured upon steps (both in place and traveling) and stances. These steps and stances incorporate elements from modern dance, ethnic dance, Jazz dance, Tai-Chi, Tae Kwan Do, Aikido and Yoga. This variety of movement with fluctuating tempos moves the muscles and joints in different ways. For example, the quality of a floating hip circle followed by a Tae Kwan Do style kick adds an exciting dimension to the movement focus. Add to this the use of imagery and breath work; each NIA instructor has a unique way of inviting sensation into its technique utilizing the powerful tool of visualization. This brings an acute awareness into the mind/body realm of each person for each individual will interpret a visual cue into a somatic experience differently based on what they hear, see, know, and intuit.

For me, visualizations have a way of refining movement, making it more tangible. For example, when moving the hands through space, the quality of movement will be different if I am slipping my fingers into a glove, if I am pushing against a heavy box, or if I am swishing through layers of silk fabric.

Sometimes, visualizations can have an emotional connection. There have been times in class when I have felt joy, vulnerability, love, anger, and melancholy. These emotions seem to be revealed or released by moving energy through areas of my body where I am holding tension. By the end of most classes, this tension appears to drift away and I feel tranquil and relaxed .

NIA has changed my life in so many ways. Physically, it has altered my body shape and composition. I have lost body fat, decreased clothing size and increased muscle tone and definition. I have a greater sense of balance and strength and my stamina during dance performances has improved. My dancing has become more grounded and direct. I feel stronger in my belly and more rooted in my feet. My hips feel like sharp fire during drum solos and like cool honey during taqseems. I am more 'in the moment', and feel I am open to the spontaneous feelings of the audience and the musicians. I am enabled to express what is happening through the music because I can allow myself the freedom to connect emotionally to the music through movement.

My personal life has also benefited from my NIA practice! I am learning to communicate in new ways, to ask for what I want, to forgive, to empathize, to listen and to expect change at every juncture. Now that I teach NIA, I have a whole new set of lessons to learn along with what I teach. I believe that I am on a fascinating journey and that on of the destinations is the path, itself.

There are NIA classes throughout North America and in several European countries. To find a NIA class in your area, visit the Nia website at or call (503) 245-9886.

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