In 1983, two disillusioned aerobics instructors started to look for a more meaningful, expressive way to get an exercise workout. What they (Carlos and Debbie Rosas) came up with was ‘Nia’ (pronounced ‘nee-a’), a unique mixture of yoga, martial arts and dance moves carried out to music.
What is ‘Nia’ exercise?
‘Nia’ stands for ‘neuromuscular integrative action’, as well as ‘non-impact aerobics’ – but perhaps the best representation of the word is its Swahili translation, ‘with purpose’- because if Nia is about anything at all, it’s about giving purpose to movement.
In Nia, instead of striving to do exactly as the instructor does, you focus on how a particular movement feels to you, and examine how best to express yourself through it. For example, rather than endlessly running on the spot or doing jumping jacks, you might focus on rooting your energy to the earth though the soles of your feet.
Nia blends elements of yoga, martial arts and tai chi with dance and yoga movements and, like aerobics, is set to music. In a single class, you might move to classical, cabaret, pop and/or hip-hop music - so the word ‘eclectic’ could definitely have been invented to describe Nia! One minute you could be stomping your feet like a furious caveman, while the next you could be raising your leg in front of you as gracefully as a ballerina, or shuffling face-up on the floor on your hands and feet like a crab. It’s a lot of fun - which is an element that has disappeared from some modern fitness classes.
What to expect from a Nia class
Nia classes usually last around an hour and are suitable for people with all levels of fitness. The classes aim to engage the mind and emotions through exercise and are completed in bare feet, to help you feel a connection between you and the earth. As the sessions are low impact, there is less chance of injury - another added bonus of Nia.
The classes generally start with your instructor taking the class through breathing exercises against relaxing music to get you into the Nia frame of mind. This is followed by a warmup that gets the muscles and joints prepared for the main part of the session.
The tempo of the music will increase after the warmup is complete and your instructor will guide the class in connecting their feelings, mind and emotion through the exercise. The idea is that you can release built up emotion through the movements and engagement of fitness.
Nia and fitness training
Nia certainly sounds like an attractive way to work out, but will it get you fit? Well, its creators certainly think so - claiming that Nia can improve cardiovascular fitness, strength, flexibility and balance. That is probably the case if you are new to exercise - but for aerobics veterans, the true benefits lay more in Nia’s multi-directional movements, diversity, and subtle way of engaging your mind and body without you even noticing - rather than calorie expenditure and muscle firming.
Still a skeptic? That’s not a problem - the great thing about Nia is that you don’t need to believe in its power for it to work. If you can leave your inhibitions in the locker room, you are sure to come out of your Nia class feeling far better about yourself than you did when you went in!