20 July 2010

Nia for joy

Do you feel run-down and tired of the same old gym routines? Why not try Nia, an exciting fusion of dance, martial arts and healing arts, that will revitalise your mind and body.


Oh my goodness! I had absolutely no idea that Nia could be so much fun. I went for my first Nia class this weekend, and it was out of this world! I just loved the music and dancing - and the freedom of expression on top of all that was absolutely exhilirating!

I have always heard people rave about Nia and how addictive it can become, and now I finally know why: Nia is all about JOY! I have been initiated.

To be honest, this joyful experience came as a bit of a surprise to me, as the session that I attended in Cape Town actually was a Nia Alchemy Workshop called Beating the Black Dog (Gently) - a workshop teaching tools to combat depression. Yes, that's right: depression - the complete antithesis to joy. So, why were we all so happy?

According to Kathy Wolstenholme, Nia teacher and founder of Nia in South Africa, you don't have to be depressed to benefit from this workshop. "Everyone goes through low periods at certain times of their lives - who doesn't have a little black dog occassionally hounding them?"

(With "black dog" Kathy is referring to the powerful symbol that Winston Churchill attributed to his depressions.)

"This workshop introduces tools that lift the blues and spice up low periods to find joy again," says Kathy. "We practice what it means to choose joy - a separate kind of energy, different to happiness. Joy is a choice, ready for the taking. We learn how the joy and energy of moving your body can help you to re-connect with yourself and restore vitality."

Apart from a short introduction and short but powerful motivational talk by Kathy, the entire workshop was focused on free movement, expression and the awareness of body and mind. "These are the core ingredients of Nia," says Kathy.

What is Nia?

"In Swahili Nia means 'with purpose'," Kathy explains, "and that is how Nia teaches people to move. It is a path to condition, heal and express yourself though movement and sensation. It addresses the whole person."

Kathy describes Nia as "fusion fitness" - a dynamic blend of the dance arts, martial arts and the healing arts. "It creatively integrates the mindfulness of the martial arts and meditative techniques, the grace and fluidity of the dance techniques, and the awareness and alignment of integrative body therapies."

The great thing is that you don't have to be a good dancer or superfit. "Nia is perfect for any age or fitness level, both male and female, and no experience beyond the desire to move your body is required. Practiced barefoot, Nia is designed for any body and effective for every person everywhere - from athletes, dancers and fitness instructors, to children, special needs groups and the elderly," says Kathy.

More good news is that it's not only fun, it's also a great cardiovascular workout. And, unlike a boring aerobics gym class, you forget that you are actually exercising. The high energy freestyle dancing is alternated with slower more meditative movements, and there is a lot of freedom to move your body in any way you feel like, in a safe, fun environment.

My experience

During the first few minutes of the workshop I felt slightly self-conscious, worrying if anyone was watching me and whether I was doing the moves right. But, those feelings soon were replaced by the laughter and joy that filled the room.

The magic of Nia is that no one judges you and that there are no "wrong" moves.

Kathy has an amazing positive energy and a wicked sense of humour; and she soon helped everyone to feel comfortable with themselves and with each other. We were encouraged to try out the most outrageous moves and express different emotions - even shout and jump, if we felt like it. I felt like a naughty child again - like jumping up and down on the mattress in my parents' bedroom!

After the workshop I felt really happy and content, plus I felt that I really had a good workout, which made me feel even more happy. Nia is something that I can recommend to everyone. It's not only the perfect escapism from the stresses of everyday life, but also a fun way to stay fit.

Nia classes are an hour and 15 minutes long. Go to just one class and I can guarantee that you'll be hooked.

History of Nia

Nia was created in California 1983 by Debbie and Carlos Rosas when they felt the need to change the way the world went about getting fit and finding wellness in body, mind, spirit and emotions.

American Kathy Wolstenholme trained with the Rosas and brought Nia to South Africa in 2002. It was an instant hit and today there are Nia classes all over South Africa. Kathy, who has a black belt in the Nia technique, has already trained hundreds of people at the white belt level, the first level, of Nia.

In February 2009 Debbie Rosas came to South Africa for the first time to meet and dance with the Nia South Africa community.

Today Nia has approximately 2 200 Licensed Teachers in more than 43 countries worldwide - a testament to the power and versatility of this unique practice.

Find a Nia class near you

Watch a video of Nia in action

- (Birgit Ottermann, Health24, April 2010)

Read more:

The Nia Technique


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