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Find Fitness Bliss With NIA

NIA, a blend of yoga, martial arts, and dance, is one of the latest trends in mind-body fitness fusion.

The NIA Experience

So just what makes up a NIA workout?

The first step: Kick your shoes off, Bramlett says. Then, as soft music plays, the instructor leads the class in deep-breathing exercises, designed to help students relax while meditating on the connection between their bare feet and the earth.

"We warm up our joints and muscles and get the energy flowing in preparation for doing more, working in space to increase range of motion, shifting weight, stimulating our body with movement so that our breathing increases, helping us to strengthen our heart and lungs," Bramlett says.

As the tempo livens, students start to shake, shimmy, and spin. Some rock and roll, others clap. As the freestyle dance continues, some burst into spontaneous song. Tae kwon do-style kicks and punches let off steam while boosting the heart rate.

While NIA teachers shun the drill-like orders of aerobics instructors, they gently lead the class in visualization and vocalization techniques, Rosas says. For example, students may be asked to shout "yes!" while lifting their arms to the sky, a means of releasing pent-up emotions.

"The more connected your body is to feelings, the more power, strength and grace you have, and the more stress you are able to release," Bramlett explains.

Rosas is careful to pay attention to the physical as well: For example, if she sees a student always lifting his arms with the palms facing down, she will instruct him to turn his palms up to "open up the shoulder joints.

"The healing component of NIA comes from using the body the way it was meant to be used," she explains.

In fact, the biggest benefit of the workout is "getting people in their body and connected to sensation," Rosas says.

She believes that many diseases occur because people don't notice early on that something is out of balance, citing as an example a man whose bleeding ulcer might have been averted had he detected tension in his abdominal wall and seen a doctor sooner.

Exercise physiologist Cotton concurs.

"Body awareness is increased through body movement," he says. "NIA, is new, cutting-edge, so it's hard to find research that proves a benefit like this. But it certainly appears to be making a difference in people's awareness of their bodies, of when something is wrong."

Students say they've noticed other benefits to getting connected to their bodies

"NIA helps you become aware of your own body, of what's painful versus what is pleasurable, so that you seek out pleasure," says Kim Dawson, who has been taking classes for about a year.

"There's genius in its simplicity. It's grounded in that it teaches us to move our joints the way they want to be moved, to use our bodies they way they are designed to be used," says Dawson, creative director of NIA Technique Inc., the Portland, Ore., based-NIA headquarters that trains instructors worldwide.

"Through movement, NIA helps us to find health -- physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually," Dawson says.

But there's more. NIA boosts the heart rate, enhances flexibility and coordination, and improves breathing, which can in turn improve circulation, Rosas says.

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