Nia, a fusion kind of workout, emphasizes the joy of movement



In an Annapolis exercise studio bathed with golden light, four barefoot women step to the left, thrusting their arms and fingers as if banishing a malevolent spirit. "If it's something you want out, push it out," says Nia instructor Andrea Lichtenstein. "If it's something you want in, bring it in," she says as music by Adiemus, a new-age group, plays in the background.

Last spring, Lichtenstein, owner of the Ridgely Retreat, a spa and exercise studio, became certified in Nia, or Neuromuscular Integrative Action, a "fusion fitness" program that incorporates nine movement forms, including tae kwan do, tai chi, yoga, jazz dance and Feldenkrais.

Nia was developed 22 years ago by Debbie and Carlos Rosas to build mobility, stability, strength and agility. The discipline "simultaneously [addresses] the body, mind, emotions and spirit and puts them on the same page," the Rosas write in The Nia Technique: The High-Powered Energizing Workout that Gives You a New Body and a New Life (Broadway, 2005, $17.95.)

The "joy of movement," is the first of Nia's 13 principles and likely the one that has made this exercise technique increasingly popular in among men and women of all ages. "Joy is the primary sensation you should seek from all movement," the Rosas write in their book. "If you momentarily lose joy, tweak your movement until joy again arises."

Lichtenstein's class is geared toward those with arthritis. Mary C. Butler, who has had two hip replacements, says that Nia has helped her regain her range of motion. The Annapolis resident has also benefited from the breathing techniques, designed to foster energy and strength. "I feel like I'll be dancing soon," Butler says.

Baltimore's only Nia instructor, Martha Thomas, currently teaches at the Lynne Brick gym at Belvedere Square. Thomas first discovered the exercise system 10 years ago at the Westside YMCA in New York City. "I got in there and my heart rate went up within 30 seconds and stayed up for the whole time," she says. "It was a really good aerobic workout and you never looked at the clock."

Lichtenstein, trained as a rheumatology nurse, finds that Nia is a low-impact program that achieves the same beneficial results without putting stress on the joints. As her students sway and spiral and parry, she explains that Nia alternates power moves with soft and gentle moves. "Everything is based on the pleasure principle and joy of movement," she reminds her students. "No more going for that burn."

Thomas' Friday morning class takes participants through a choreographed workout of go-go dance moves, crossovers, pivots and tae kwan do strikes, all to the Commitments rock and roll soundtrack. Hip-wiggling gives way to precise martial arts attacks and buoyant free dancing segues into satisfying yoga stretches.

By the hour's end, Thomas' students are beaming and glistening with sweat. It's been a challenging romp, with a blend of aerobic, flexibility and strength training. Best of all, though, the Nia class was even more fun than dancing before a mirror in the solitude of your bedroom.

For more information, visit nia-nia.com.


Where to take an Nia class

Maryland locations that offer Nia classes include:

Ridgely Retreat

203 Ridgely Ave.




Lynne Brick's at Belvedere Square

5911 York Road




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