I’ve Found A Way To Joyfully Whip My Mind, Body and Spirit Into Shape

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Not long ago, my hubby and I were watching Big Little Lies on HBO. (Admit it. You were, too.) In one scene (during episode four, to be precise), Bonnie (Zoe Kravitz) was leading her yoga class through a very un-yoga-like routine that looked like a combination of kickboxing, aerobics and something a hipster might do in a trendy dance club on a Saturday night.

“What is that?” I said out loud. “I want to do that!”

As soon as the show ended, I prowled the Internet. Google quickly told me the graceful, groovealicious class was Nia, a yoga-cardio-dance workout that combines 52 official moves designed to gently and joyfully whip your body, mind and spirit into shape. A few keystrokes later, I found a local studio offering Nia (which stands for Neuromuscular Integrated Action), and I signed up for a class.

As I drove to the studio the next morning, I thought back on the few other dance classes I’ve attempted in my adult life: African dance, Latin dance, belly dance, even one ill-fated tap dance class. Thing is, I never danced as a kid — you know, that formative period when information is gathered and processed, when synapses are formed and can’t ever be unformed. (Okay, there was this one time when I was six, and I insisted I wanted to sign up for ballet. Which I did — but only long enough to get my hands on a tutu. As soon as that happened, I quit. Sorry, Mom and Dad.)

Besides the “grapevine” I learned watching Jane Fonda’s aerobics video circa 1982, my dance synapses simply never had the opportunity to form. So, despite my eagerness to try Nia, I was nervous. If my previous experiences were anything to go by, I’d spend the hour jogging in place in the back corner of the room, trying not to hurt anyone as I occasionally lunged in what was not necessarily the same direction as everyone else.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The music started, and I did my best to follow the lovely, smiling instructor through a perfectly paced routine that engaged every part my body, from my fingers, wrists and toes to my core, quads and glutes. During most aerobics classes, I jump around feeling a little foolish. Nia choreography feels like pure, spontaneous dancing, with just enough jazz squares and cha-cha-chas thrown to give it a solid form and structure. There’s a serious emphasis on fun, too, as I discovered on St. Patrick’s Day when we did a freeform Irish jig with as many kicks, skips and high-steps as we could muster. Basically, there are plenty of moments in Nia when Anything Goes — and when the music’s pulsing through the speakers and the sweat’s beading on my forehead, it’s exuberant, energizing and empowering.

Right now, perhaps more than ever, Nia is exactly what I need. First, it’s a welcome change from my daily exercise routine: I hike (left, right, left, right). I use the treadmill (left, right, left, right). I lift weights (up, down, up, down). I do squats (up, down, up, down). You get the picture. If I ever make a move that’s lateral, let alone diagonal or, God forbid, circular, it’s because I’ve tripped and I’m trying to break my fall. During Nia, I intentionally moved my body sideways, backwards and in circles. I love it. And so far, I haven’t hurt anyone in the process.

Second, when I say Nia is what I need “right now,” you know I’m referring, not-so-obliquely, to the state of the world. I spend too much time these days feeling upset, frustrated and furious. During a Nia class, I feel exactly the opposite. In the studio, the sense of joy, acceptance and community is palpable. (And I haven’t even told you about the gorgeous, colorful, flowing, girly, twirly, frilly workout-clothes that Nia devotees wear.)

For me, stumbling upon Nia feels like I’ve had a chance encounter with a stranger who may well become my new best friend. I’m going back for another class tomorrow.

I know I’ll never move and groove like Zoe Kravitz, but the blisters on my toes are still totally worth it.

This article originally appeared in Spring St.


Willow Older is a nationally and internationally published writer and a professional editor. She lives in Northern California where she runs her own editorial services business and publishes a weekly newsletter called Newsy!.

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