What's Your Workout: Nia

Sensory-based movement means choreographed dance

By Lauren Dunn
|  Thursday, Jan 26, 2012  |  Updated 8:36 AM EDT
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Nia combines dance, martial arts and yoga.

Lauren Dunn

Nia combines dance, martial arts and yoga.

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Never in a million years would I have imagined that on this particular Tuesday I would end up in a room above Wisconsin Avenue with a group of middle-aged women -- slightly reminiscent of my own Jewish mother -- and join them as they danced around and, yes … moaned and sighed.

Yet here I was, probably the youngest and shyest person in this room of jubilant ladies, who had no shame in making all sorts of sounds and noises, as they practiced what’s called Nia, a mind-body workout that combines dance, martial arts and a bit of yoga.

Proponents of Nia call it sensory-based movement, meaning you float through choreographed dance routines -- but there are no right or wrong steps. You can literally interpret the movements any way you like and it’s totally OK.

Every now and then our instructor, Suzannah Weiss, would throw in some martial arts moves, like blocks and punches. But most of the class felt like free-form dancing, where we’d shimmy, slide, step and shake around the room.

But what got me was what Weiss called “sounding.” This is when you actually add noises and sounds to each movement depending on whether it’s a “dynamic” or “ease” move. So sometimes we are literally "ooooooh"-ing and "aaaaaaah"-ing or roaring and purring, even making Karate Kid-type noises.

Weiss says sounding gives us a “free abdominal workout” because you have to engage the core to make sound. But the only sounding I made was a giggle, especially when all the noises around me became weirdly breathy and, well, you know what I mean.

But here’s the thing with Nia. You spend basically the whole class laughing and smiling, and the next thing you know, you’re sweating.

It was pretty amazing. It truly was a cardiovascular workout.

More Information:

D.C.-area classes: http://www.suzworks.org/schedule.html

Nia-related info: www.nianow.com


Lauren Dunn is the News4 medical producer.

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