By Polly Keary, Editor
If Zumba is karate, Nia is Tai Chi.
That was immediately apparent moments after stepping into the exercise studio at Thrive Fitness just after noon on Friday.
To music more soothing and spa-like than the pumped-up rhythms of Zumba, a group of women were performing fluid, graceful motions in sync.
I’d barely sat down when the instructor, Sarah Love, cheerily called out to me to join them. I reflected on my clothing; I’d worn stretchy slacks and a baggy shirt that day, and it was nearly identical to the stretchy black pants and flowing shirts worn by most of the participants. Nia (pronounced knee-ah), is practiced barefoot, so my patent leather wingtips weren’t a deal breaker. I took her up on it.
The steps weren’t challenging; I’ve done most of them before in kick box or Zumba classes, and these were considerably less intense than many of those had been.
What was challenging was the fluidity of the motions. Most exercise classes, especially the martial ones like boot camp and kick box, are based on short, sharp movements. Nia involves flowing, swooping moves designed to be much safer on joints than the more high-impact routines.
Nia was developed by a Bay Area fitness instructor in 1983, after she suffered a series of sports injuries. The technique was created as a way to get aerobic exercise and strength training in a safe and meditative way.
To music including electronica, jazz, new age, Indian and other serene but rhythmic genres, practitioners perform 52 basic movements that draw on martial arts (in fact, belts can be earned in the practice), dance and yoga. Each class is divided into sections including setting an intention, warm up, movement, “floor-play” and cool down.
An emphasis is placed on mindfulness, and the instructor establishes a focus area at the beginning of the class, directing participants’ attention to their feet or their hips, for example.
“I can do the same routine with a different focus and it will feel totally different,” said Love.
There is research that suggests that Nia is effective at improving vascular health and flexibility, toning the body, reducing stress, reducing weight, improving memory, producing endorphins and improving relaxation.
Love became an instructor after Nia helped her cope with a divorce.
“Nia was an answer to my prayers,” she explains on her webpage. “With a frozen shoulder I began taking classes from Debbie and Carlos (Rosas, the founders of the practice). My shoulder healed and I went on to take my white and blue belts from them. I also danced through my divorce (my ex and I are good friends) and decided that the best way to have Nia in my life is to teach it.”
After an hour of Nia, the flowing movements became a bit easier and it became a bit less disconcerting to hear the instructor refer to our arms and legs as “wings,” and to be told that we had “freedom” with a certain movement, resulting in the participants wheeling gracefully around the room like butterflies.
The class was rather soothing, not terribly strenuous, and the steps were relatively easy to learn.
The rest of the day I had a pleasant feeling of having done something physical, and the following day there was a slight soreness typical following a new exercise.
Another year of that, and I might actually develop some grace, too.
The class is currently offered at Thrive Fitness on Lewis Street in downtown Monroe on Fridays at noon, and while Thrive is a membership-based gym, it’s possible to pay for a day pass to take the class.