The group gathered at the Family Learning Center in North Menomonie on a cool November evening included men and women of different ages, backgrounds and fitness levels. What they had in common was the fact they are devoted to a style of fitness activity that is new in the Menomonie area.
Nia (pronounced “NEE-ya”) stands for Neuromuscular Integrated Action and combines movement forms in martial arts, dance and healing arts such as yoga.
“Nia is like chocolate. You can’t describe it; you have to experience it,” explained teacher Dotty Bacon.
Jennifer Zech, Bacon’s teaching partner, described Nia as being, “all about the joy of movement.”
The pair are so confident that people will return after a “taste,” the first class is always free. Since the first introductory session back in August, classes have proven so popular that they have already expanded to four sessions a week.
Bacon and Zech are certified white-belt Nia teachers. Zech experienced Nia when she lived in Michigan, but Bacon had never heard of it until a year ago.
A sample class at Northwestern College got Bacon enthusiastic about bringing the program to her community. She teamed up with Zech, and the pair embarked on the extensive Nia training course, culminating in a final week of training in Milwaukee where both women earned their white belts.
During the training, Bacon and Zech learned skills in cognitive and experiential knowledge, as well as the movement forms that comprise the program.
Nia’s principle is that if it feels good, keep doing it; but if it hurts, stop. Teachers like Bacon and Zech must be in tune with the class to ensure that everyone listens to their bodies.
Easy to learn
During the hour-long Menomonie classes, Bacon and Zech often share leading the routines. The movements and routines are easy to learn, and are performed to music while the teacher calls out the steps. The routines have names like “Rumble” and “Ninja,” while the steps are identified by terms like Sumo, Tap, Bow Stance, “A” Stance, and Block.
Each series of steps within each routine are repeated with variations. Even a beginner has no trouble following along. Interspersed inside some routines are periods of free movement, allowing an element of self-expression and creativity.
Nia is low or no impact, depending on the person. Each person chooses his or her own level of activity for each step.
“I’ve had joint surgery,” said Sandy Miller, one of the evening’s participants. “This is one exercise program that has never bothered my joints and has improved them. I’ve always been afraid to exercise, but this I can really do.”
Joyce Robbins, another participant, noted, “Nia is a well-thought-through hour of very enjoyable exercise. After my first session, I realized that everything under my skin has been moved, stretched and invigorated. I sweat more than in any other plan I have experienced, yet I’m not out of breath. I love it and look forward to each session.”
Participants wear comfortable clothing and are barefoot, as they adapt each step and routine to their own fitness level.
The routines provide cardiovascular benefits as well as working core muscles and stretching. Being aware of your breathing is important, as well as listening to your body’s needs.
Effective, not painful
The originators of the program, Debbie and Carlos Rosas, first created Nia in the early 1980s when they were fitness professionals in Marin County, Calif. Their goal was to have a program that was effective, yet not painful.
By the 1990s, they were building their instructor training program from their new international headquarters in Portland, Ore. Now there are teachers, community sites and training centers in 40 countries around the world.
The Rosas combined nine movements to create the new program. From the martial arts, Nia incorporates elements of T’ai Chi, Tae Kwon Do and Aikido. From dance was added three more forms from jazz, modern dance and the dance movements of Isadora Duncan.
The final movement forms come from yoga, the Alexander Technique and the teachings of Moshe Feldenkrais (a method of increasing self-awareness through movement).
People are drawn to Nia for many different reasons. Some, like Jenny Elliot, are battling illness.
“I joined the class to build my strength,” said Elliot. “My doctor says I need more oxygen and exercise, and here it is!”
Others are drawn because they are bored with their current programs, want new challenges, or want a fitness routine that is safe, effective, and has a creative element.
Tera Wells explained her reasons, saying “One of the things I like about class is it uses whole body and rhythm. It opens you up. Also, it is totally acceptable at whatever level you are at. There is no pressure to be at a certain level.”
Wells summed up for many in the class, when she noted, “It is so much fun!”