Exercise Your Mind, Body and Spirit with Nia

A workout that explores the joy of movement

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By Lisa Browdy

Health Blogger

To celebrate the first Friday Fitness feature of the OakPark.com health blog, I’m turning my tiny little spotlight on Nia, an empowering fusion of dance, yoga and martial arts. Nia has been around since the early ‘80s, and is now taught in 45 countries, though it is unfamiliar to most. I started it about a month ago and love how it is both calming and exhilirating at the same time.


“We need to get out of our heads and give our bodies more credit,” says Pamela Berk, who has been a Nia instructor for five years. “Every body is unique, and your body will instruct you through sensations on how it wants to move.”


Nia is practiced in bare feet, to a unique range of music that that could be described as New Age, World music or smooth jazz. The movements are usually repeated many times, with opportunities to do variations based on your energy level and what the music inspires you to do. I’ve never been much of an athlete, but I have always loved to dance, so my favorite part of Nia is the “free dance” section.  I’m sure I annoy my classmates with my exuberant leaps and spins.  We are encouraged to just let our spirits take our bodies where they want to go.


“When I first started Nia I hated the free dance part,” Pamela says, “because everyone else seemed so good.” After retiring from her long career as a teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, she became a Nia instructor at the age of 60 because she knew it was a form of exercise that she could do the rest of her life. It is not uncommon to see a range of ages from twentysomething to senor citizen in any given class.


Andrea Edwards started taking Nia when her seven-year-old son was an infant. She was adamant about not liking fitness classes, but two of her friends encouraged her to try it. “They told me that Nia is like chocolate, once you try it you want more,” she recalls.  A few years later she trained to be an instructor so she could share the method with others.


“I found that a Nia class could be like a good therapy session,” Andrea says. “The movement encourages a release both physically and emotionally.” 


“No matter what your state of mind is, you step out of it and let your movement be joyful,” Pam explains.


Pam’s local Nia classes are offered at the Park District of Oak Park -- registration is open now for the session that starts Sept. 17 -- (www.oakparkparks.com) and Fitness Formula Club (www.ffc.com).  Andrea teaches Nia at The Tennis and Fitness Center (www.tenandfit.com) and Ahimsa Yoga (www.ahimsaoakpark.com).  A comprehensive listing of Nia classes can be found at www.nianow.com

Email: healthwithinsight@gmail.com Twitter: LisaBrowdy

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Pat Thomas from Oak Park  

Posted: September 9th, 2011 12:10 PM

I've been taking Pam's class for two years. I always found most exercise classes a chore that I did because it was good for me. I love Pam's Nia class as it is the first time I actually look forward to exercising. Many of her students have become good friends. One of the best things about Nia is you don't have to mirror exactly what the instructor is doing. As long a you are moving and enjoying you are "doing" Nia.

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