NIA: a mind-body workout that’s *breaking* out

Like Pilates, Nia started out as a secret of the dance community. Drawing on yoga, martial arts and ecstatic movement, it gives you the same kind of body-rush

GUEST COLUMN: KATY LEASK— I stood in the doorway of the studio, barefoot and skeptical. After a brutal day at a draining job, I had dragged myself to the gym. My friend, the Nia enthusiast, assured me that I would LOVE this class, so I filed in after a teenager, a couple hard-bodies in Lulu Lemon, a few middle-aged women, and a senior citizen.

It definitely wasn’t aerobics, though there were basic steps and choreography. It wasn’t the dance class of my youth, either.

There was the thrill of dancing in a group, especially with everyone adding frequent sound effects or vocalizations to tighten up the core as we kicked . . .

. . . and shimmied. I giggled my way through most of that first class with my naked feet gripping the floor.


The music is okay-to-good in Nia classes, ranging from ethereal and calming to funky electronica and dance beats. Visual imagery is often used as a stimulus.

I rolled my body like a wave and used my arms as giant swords to strike the air, all the while dancing like I usually do at home in my living room.

niaworkoutIt felt a little strange in the beginning, but by the end of the hour I was dancing, kicking, chopping and shaking myself into a pretty good workout.

The last few minutes were spent in a short meditation where we were guided to stretch what needed to be stretched and relax what needed to be relaxed. I walked out feeling almost giddy, the nasty day forgotten.

A fitness movement created in the 80′s by Carlos and Debbie Rosas in Portland, Oregon, Nia is an abbreviation for Neuromuscular Integrative Action. It combines power and stability movements from martial arts, creative elements from expressive dance and healing arts like yoga.

While martial arts and yoga are well established in the fitness world, throwing the word “dance” into the mix unfortunately seems to scare many people away.

The whole point of Nia is to find the joy of movement in your own skin; to know your body, like it, and to move it in a way that feels good while working up a good solid sweat. Intensity and pace are set by the individual so classes are multi-level and cover a range of fitness levels.

nia_3Over the last couple of years, I’ve taken classes with six different teachers. Classes can be mellow and sensual or athletic and high-spirited, depending on the instructor and your own enthusiasm.

Last summer I spent a week at a Nia intensive near Collingwood, Ontario. I actually completed the week, and all seven days of intense physical activity, with a pre-existing knee injury and somehow felt stronger at the end of it all.

The tagline for Nia is “the body’s way” — meaning that the movements, and the experience of those movements, should be challenging but pleasurable.

If it hurts or strains, you work around that, and find a new way to move. For many people, this concept extends beyond the gym and into their every day lives. Hey, it’s working for me!

You can visit this site to find an instructor and learn more about Nia.

Katy is an educator in Southern Ontario, Canada. She dabbles in art, movement and the pursuit of good food and music.

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4 Responses to “NIA: a mind-body workout that’s *breaking* out”

  1. I liked your description, so I visited the site and found this: “Life lived in a body the Nia way is life lived in relationship to the sacred geometry of life.” which sums up this intriguing experience you so very well describe. Thank you.

  2. Katy, Your is the first thing I’ve read that actually explains what Nia *is*, and how it is experienced. Thank you!

    Please tell us about other new mind-body practices that come your way.

  3. i would love to try nia, i’m going to see if there is a class near where i live…keep us posted on if you continue with nia!

  4. I’ve heard such positive things about Pilates — and this is the first time I heard of it incorporating dance, as well. Thank you, Katy!