NIA (previously Non-Impact Aerobics, now Neuromuscular Integrative Action) is a physical conditioning program based on a premise that movement is a pathway for self discovery and personal transformation. NIA is intended to deliver cardiovascular,aerobic exercise and whole-body conditioning. NIA was created in California 1983 by Debbie Rosas (now Debbie Rosas Stewart) and Carlos Rosas (now Carlos Aya Rosas). The fitness industry then was bursting with high-impact aerobics classes and strenuous muscle-building workouts.
Debbie and Carlos had studied martial arts, but not dance, when they started NIA. They wanted to create a fitness system for a lifetime of movement. NIA draws from a variety of disciplines, including martial arts, dance, aerobics, improvisation, and self-defense. A typical class might include a few chaine turns followed by a series of karate chops and then instructions to walk around the room like a penguin. Students are encouraged to relieve stress by shouting "Woo hoo!" or "Yes!" at various times in class. Instructors use imagery to help students begin moving. "Imagine you're playing with the clouds,"
NIA encourages the body to follow the path of least resistance, rather than forcing positions. That is why Daniels wasn't sore after his first class. "NIA isn't about doing it right," he says. "It's about doing it right for you." For dancers, NIA can help undo the torquing and clenching used in some technique classes. "It can bring your body back to center," says Dennis Daniels.
Each NIA step is taught at three different levels. Those who are injured or interested in a low-impact workout will gravitate toward Level One, while Level Three offers a high-energy, aerobic workout. NIA can also help dancers build confidence and capacity for self-expression. Caroline Kohles, an NIA trainer and former professional dancer who is a wellness consultant in New York City, says NIA is great training for auditions. "It helps people feel comfortable in their bodies and take risks," she says.
Carrie Peters, an NIA teacher who lives in Berkeley, CA, agrees. "We are often taught as dancers to mimic," she says. "NIA is about embodying movement so that whatever you're doing, you're present."
NIA urges people to adhere to "the pleasure principle"--in other words, have a blast. "If you're a dancer, no matter what age you are, you have to try it,"
NIA emphasizes creativity, self-expression, and enjoying movement for its own sake, NIA nevertheless falls more into the fitness program category than mind-body movement technique. NIA has only recently become popular as mind-body awareness programs have infiltrated health clubs (a la yoga and Pilates). There are now over 1,000 certified teachers and 22 certified teacher trainers around the country.