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continued...

William O. Roberts, MD, vice president of the American College of Sports Medicine, agrees.

Roberts, who acknowledges he had to read up on the still relatively obscure NIA before speaking with WebMD, says, "Anything that keeps people moving is great. So if NIA is what gets them up and going, that's fantastic."

There's no doubt the workout improves strength and flexibility, adds Roberts, a family practitioner in private practice in White Bear Lake, Minn. "How much your heart rate gets going will dictate your cardiovascular benefit," he says

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.

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