An Introduction to Nia
In the most general definition, Nia teaches you to harness the joy of movement. During the hour-long class, an instructor leads you through choreographed dance routines. The routines vary in style, focus, and intensity and the movements are a fusion of Western/Eastern elements of dance, yoga, and martial arts. Each Nia class has a focus to turn your attention to, for instance your feet or your core. Regular practice of Nia has increased my overall mobility, strength, flexibility, agility, and stability. I think of it as a one-stop shop for making sure I am maintaining my body and helping myself to be healthy.
I took my first Nia class about a year and a half ago on the recommendation of a friend who’d labeled it a great exercise to sweat the weight off. I am not a sweat-er, by which I mean activities that involve tremendous sweating are things I generally avoid. Desperate to lose baby weight I’d toted around for almost 18 months, I figured, eh…why not?
It has transformed my body; my sense of connection to myself has improved. I know when I attend a Nia class, I am—for an hour—going to be so engaged that my mental chatter shuts off, and I will feel like a dancing goddess while doing it (oh, and…I can burn 300+ calories per class). My teacher at the JCC, Brenda Morgan, is fantastic. On the days she has a conflict, we have the treat of being taught by highly experienced Nia instructors like Adelle Brewer.
Adelle owns, operates, and instructs Nia classes at the Synergy Studio in the Pearl Development on Grayson Street. I reached out to her about writing this post, and I was happy to learn like all San Antonio residents new to Synergy Studio, I could take a week’s worth of classes for free. I chose Adelle’s 6:45 AM Nia class.
The studio room is warmly lit, the wood floors have a great feel and a great sound under bare feet. Nia is best practiced when you can feel the floor beneath you; it allows for access to balance. Personally, I know the increase of flexibility and the decrease of soreness in my feet and toes is from the tiny muscle-building that happens when I dance barefoot.
Like the room where I practice at the JCC, Synergy Studio’s dance room has a wall of mirrors we face a majority of the workout. Initially, I found dancing in front of mirrors intimidating—I’d rather watch almost anything else, but I now use the mirrors as a guide of where I am in terms of my form and alignment. I work toward making them a place for me to express myself, uninhibited, like the instructors.
Adelle begins our class with a circle; we all share our names before we dance together. When she explains I am writing a review for Alamo City Moms Blog, I tell everyone my motivation: I want other women who are in my age bracket to catch on to Nia. Look around a Nia class, look at the instructors—the folks who attend regularly are incredibly agile and fit; talk to them—they’re incredibly balanced people. If I look and feel half as good as they do when I am their age, what an accomplishment that will be.
We find the space in the room that feels good to us, and from the first beat of the song, we are on our journey to syncing our spirit, body, and mind. Through pelvic pulses and circles; front, side, and back opening stretches; steps, knee sweeps, and kicks; blocks, strikes, and punches, I can feel my awareness of my body increasing. With every hi-ya tribal chant, every ahhh with an opening stretch, I take myself less seriously, basking in the feeling of my whole body opening up, my mind totally void of any negative speak. As I have continued with my practice, I have increased my ability to shut off overused muscles (to relax them), causing long-dormant muscles to fire. I can distribute weight in my body so evenly, sometimes, the series of movements feel effortless and beautiful.
Nia emphasizes participating in “your body’s way,” at the level that is appropriate for you. Adelle echoed this principal of Nia when, during some balancing steps of the routine some of us were teetering a bit, she’d say, “You’re not losing your balance; balance is about seeking…about finding.” This is another aspect of Nia I admire—the belief that everyone can get a workout tailored to their abilities, there isn’t one way to execute a movement. Being an active student means taking stock of your body, adjusting your workout to how you feel that day. Some days, I dance (or try to) at a level three—I might graze the floor with my fingertips during a Charleston kick, or kick my heels toward my toosh when we’re hopping backward. On the days I don’t feel like exercising but know I will feel better taking time for myself, I back it up to a lower level, making smaller movements.
Adelle’s intensity and energy kept my heart-rate up, the opposition of sharp movements followed by soft movements, and having to pay full attention to the side of the body to use, the direction to turn, my brain popped with the increase in oxygen and the demanding level of concentration. “Feel the movement,” she kept saying; “It’s not memorization, it’s imprinting the movement in your body;” phrases like this in Nia keep urging you to connect to yourself, yes, but because others are involved in the very same practice at the same time, you take that connection and invest it somewhere else, out into the class community.
In Nia classes, you’re regularly called on to engage as a group—to stand and move together pretending, for example, to be a water droplet or to all crawl around like tigers and growl. Yes, it’s a bit silly, but in that silliness is a freedom and a reconnection to the fun parts of your mind. At the end of my regular classes with Brenda, we take in the group energy for ourselves, then spread it out with open arms, “stepping out into our day.”
At the conclusion of Adelle’s class that morning, we were all called to sit in a circle together, legs extended, feet touching, and stretched out our feet by completing a foot wave (just like the kind you do with your arms in a crowded stadium but with feet). As we sat there together during the cool-down, I was (not so surprisingly) aware of a feeling of community. Here was this group of ladies, mostly familiar with each other and then there was me, the Synergy Studio newcomer. And yet, the feeling of community was there, the peacefulness of being surrounded by others who want to build themselves up, who embrace their being, who seek to maintain comfort in their own skin.
If there’s any class I make at the gym, it’s Nia. In the time I have been a student, I have noticed internal changes in my body—lower back ache has virtually vanished; my shoulders, legs, glutes, back, and core have gained muscle strength that makes carrying a toddler, cleaning my house, and lifting groceries easier. On the days I am able to go to class, my mind is clearer, and my appreciation for my body and for health have increased. Nia has dozens of routines, with more always in the process of being created by teachers like Adelle. Several local gyms offer Nia classes, and Synergy Studio provides enough opportunities for Nia (and a host of other classes) to fit into any schedule. See their class listing here.
I think my teacher, Brenda, at the JCC offers great advice to the newcomers sampling our class: try it today; if you don’t like it, come back and try another routine.
I attended Adelle’s class at the Synergy Studio for free. All opinions expressed in this posting are my own.