Nia: Cardio and Consciousness

Dance Through Life with this Free-form of Exercise

Looking for a cardio workout that engages both mind and body with a side order of consciousness? The Nia Technique may be just the ticket. In each hour-long Nia class, enthusiasts experience the creativity of dance, the precision of yoga and the power of martial arts, as they move to music that rocks the body and soothes the soul.

Nia blends the energy forms of Tai chi, aikido, tae kwon do, Duncan dance, jazz, modern dance and yoga into a holistic, self-healing experience. The underlying principle of it all is finding joy and pleasure in movement.

Renowned physician Christiane Northrup characterizes Nia as “a total mind, body, spirit celebration.” In her book, The Secret Pleasures of Menopause, she notes that regular exercise can add 20 years to a life and encourages individuals to get moving.

A Nia class “celebration” is an active, sweaty, cardiovascular workout currently practiced in 39 countries. In Sarasota, Florida, students ages 16 to 81 dance enthusiastically to music that ranges from inspirational to funky and primal, accented by kicks, blocks, punches and jazzy showmanship. Each person moves at their desired level of intensity, adapting the 52 moves of the form to their body potential. Each hour-long session ends in freeform stretching and relaxation and an invitation that students apply the movements to their daily lives.

Matt McCord, 53, an actor and certified nursing assistant, finds that Nia inspires his art and his work. “Nia engages my creativity,” shares McCord. “When I am moving, my brain gets out of the way and my body dances freely. I am learning how my body wants to move and bringing that lesson to my nursing clients. Now, I feel that I am guiding, rather than forcing, self-healing.”

Awareness makes a difference. In Excuses Begone! Wayne Dyer, Ph.D., concludes that it is this conscious awareness that boosts effectiveness of such physical exercise and creates the potential for self-healing.

Lynn Gillis, 48, an artist and personal trainer in Fairfax County, Virginia, and longtime Nia practitioner, elaborates. “Nia keeps you in shape, yet it’s so much more,” she explains. “It gives your mind a chance to rest and lets your spirit out to play.”

The “more” delivered in Nia class comes courtesy of Nia teachers, extensively trained in the technique’s multiple disciplines, and so able to address a student’s needs, both physically and energetically. At a studio in Asheville, North Carolina, 13 people are dancing to a strong bass and bongo beat. Suddenly, trainer Denise Medved instructs five people to “Freeze!” In the silence that follows, everyone else is invited to look closely at the bodies caught in motion, the details of veins in the hands and the beauty of human living sculpture.

“Nia is a moving awareness practice,” observes Medved. “Through Nia, you become present and conscious in your body and connect to life as art.”

Finding art in the human form and elevating fitness to a conscious, self-healing practice have been the work of Nia founders Debbie and Carlos Rosas for 25 years. According to the Rosas, Nia enables students to use movements learned in class to enrich all aspects of their lives, inside and outside the studio.

“The Nia practice, what we call ‘dancing through life,’ is choosing to make every movement a dance of self-healing,” explains Debbie, who lives in Portland, Oregon. “When I wake up in the morning, I can jump out of bed any which way or I can connect to my body and move organically, the way the body moves naturally. As I move through my day, I can create pleasure by adjusting my movements and practicing a kind of living meditation. All of it adjusts my perspective of life as art.”

Students may not know how Nia works, but they feel it.  “After two classes, I feel wonderful,” comments Diane McKay, a 44-year-old organizational consultant and a new student of Nia in Sarasota.

Nia’s blend of conscious awareness, dance fitness, martial arts and healing philosophy easily puts one’s own creativity into motion. Carlos warns: “Watch out, this can change your life.”

Related Articles:  Tips for Dancing Through Life

Gail Condrick, a black belt Nia instructor, can be reached at

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