That I love Nia is a given. To me, Nia offers the perfect combination of components beginning with the moves and how they are put together: I like how they challenge my brain with pattern recognition and how those moves are just repetitive enough to leave me wanting more.

Patterning is important for health. It fills our innate need for order and form, but it needs the right combination for optimum stimulation. For example a ’grapevine’ is a fairly complex move for a lot of people, but repeated over and over it is going be tedious at the least. (A lot of fitness moves are tedious in my opinion, which I guess is why treadmill and Stairmaster aficionados zone out with magazines or video while exeNia gaphic NIACrcising.)

The perfect patterning for me are combinations of movement that are a little challenging and maybe a bit quirky or unexpected. Patterning (or choreography) does a lot of things for the body; besides engage our interest, it creates new pathways in the brain. Nia moves (which usually begin with the feet and/or base, and add upper extremities as levels) are so well designed and creative they keep me absorbed in my home practice to music or a DVD, and when I do them with a group, either as the teacher or a participant, the experience goes to whole different level.

There is something healing about moving in unison and rhythm with others; it holds the ‘I-Thou’ relationship in which we have a shared reality. We are all doing the same thing at the same time, but each in our own way. There is authenticity in movement and it is quite evident that we can do the same thing, with more or less the same intent, but so differently. It is a way of truly seeing and acknowledging one another without judgment.

Moving to music activates the pleasure circuits of the brain and in that sense all movement to music is healing, but more than other fitness modalities I’ve experienced, Nia goes a step further by using what I call ‘regular real music’, not music created for fitness with predictable beats per minute,  but rather the music you might listen to, that you might hear at a concert or on CD. And like regular music there are varied genres and topics. Some of it is even *gasp* sad and moody.

I had to really think about the role of the music in Nia, especially the moody stuff. I was a little apprehensive with popular dance fitness modalities that emphasize the party aspects of music for movement. Other than its popularity, I’m not sure what the message a movement class of all up-tempo party music conveys (is it just to keep time?) but here is the thing: we can’t be ‘up’ all the time and normally we aren’t. Admittedly we can feel down in the dumps and go to a pumped-up aerobics class and feel better afterwards. But what then? To me it is a little like a sugar-rush that feels good at the time, but is eventually going to wear off with a crash.

There is a tendency to value positive states more than others, but it is only when we label one emotion as better or preferable over another that there is a problem. Society would have us pretend we are all blissfully happy, all the time, and the alternative is to mask our feelings. We don’t talk about those things in polite company.

Sadness, depression, fear, loneliness, anger, and anxiety are emotions all of us face, along with happiness and joy.  When I know that participants in my class are going through a difficult time – emotionally or with chronic pain, I think about how Nia classes might be helping them. Movement helps process pain of all kinds, moving it through the body, getting it out of the head.

It is healing to have a movement practice that acknowledges a wide range of emotional states as a normal and valid response to stress – to life. Through that ‘moody’ music – through the choice of all the music for each routine, Nia gives the space to express all our natural emotional states. Many of the great pieces of art (in literature, music, theatre and opera) are sad or tragic and we value them, in part because they are cathartic. They let us experience it all, even if only through identification, and it makes us more compassionate people.

On the flip side there are playful pieces of music used in Nia routine where you can’t help but smile, especially when combined with free dance. One of my current favourites is in the Nia routine Awake called Just for Joy by Emergence. (I love this live version, but on the Awake routine it a bit faster and it kind of makes me want to get out my cowboy boots and hat!)


I appreciate the creation of a micro mood-climate through the choice of music, and how, through pairing the movements with a song, the healing opportunities are presented. I appreciate how the songs create a theme that is woven throughout the class. I feel like I have been given opportunity and gone through a whole range of emotions: including the connection and expression with free dance, and acknowledging the humanity of each person present.

Present: here and now, showing up with our hopes and fears, joys and sorrows. In fact, some people have coined a healing acronym for NIA: Now I Am.

This, I consider is the foundation of how Nia is a healing movement form – though I am sure I will discover others. Through this foundation I read about Nia being used for cancer care and addiction recovery, for grief trauma, depression and autism, as well as a long list of physical ailments. Each week on the Nia teacher’s forum I read how teachers are using Nia as a catalyst for healing of all types and it gave me the inspiration to move beyond fitness, to shift the focus of how I see both my personal Nia practice and teaching Nia as a healing movement practice.

© Deborah Redfern 2013. All rights reserved.


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