deStentor - Playing Ping-Pong With The Hips
By Henriëtte Aronds | deStentor :: January, 2011
"I really enjoyed the way I could express myself through Nia, and later I became fascinated by the combination of all the different movement forms. It had a tremendous effect on me. I learned to be in my body. I gained strength and flexibility, my body alignment improved and my endurance increased. Once back in the Netherlands, I started missing Nia incredibly. In Hamburg I took the training to become a Nia teacher. I’ve been teaching for several years now and lead workshops at businesses."
Below is a translated version of this article:
“Kick you right leg to the front. Step. Now your left leg: step, as if kicking a balloon up in the air. Cross your arms and hands in front of your chest like kickboxing, and move back with your arms up then wide and stretched out. Shake your shoulders seductively…”
With a happy face, teacher Esther Arends, microphone on her head, gives up-tempo instructions for the warming-up section of class. She totally surrenders into her movement and into the stimulating music. Using loud cheers, she encourages us to follow her. We, a group of women in a studio in the centre of Amsterdam, need not be told twice. We see our bodies in the enormous mirrored wall. We kick and shake as this was our last dance. Our bodies are sweating.
We are doing Nia: A fitness workout developed in America. Nia means ‘intention’ in Swahili and was created by Debbie Rosas and Carlos AyaRosas. These two California fitness-instructors saw no salvation in the motto ‘no pain, no gain’ in the battle for a fit and slim body. Moreover, they felt that classical fitness was too static, too hard on the body, and way to serious. They wanted a dynamic, safe and playful way of moving.
The duo studied various movement techniques, which they then combined. They borrowed movement from the martial arts like Taekwando and Tai Chi, which help develop flexibility, precision and strength. They integrated the expression and pleasure of modern dance and jazz dance. Yoga inspired them to pay attention to posture, balance and concentration. Nia has become a way of moving that is focused on the body and mind. Above all, it is an exercise in which the joy of movement comes first. Debbie and Carlos believed that while we are working out, we sometimes forget that exercise most of all needs to be fun.
To IT engineer Wilma Notermans (40), who brought Nia to the Netherlands several years ago, the essence of Nia is indeed the joy of movement. She came in contact with it when she was living in California for a while. “I really enjoyed the way I could express myself through Nia, and later I became fascinated by the combination of all the different movement forms. It had a tremendous effect on me. I learned to be in my body. I gained strength and flexibility, my body alignment improved and my endurance increased. Once back in the Netherlands, I started missing Nia incredibly. In Hamburg I took the training to become a Nia teacher. I’ve been teaching for several years now and lead workshops at businesses. I hope my passion becomes my sacred livelihood next year.”
The program, also called “wellness fitness,” has been around for 27 years and has a big group of loyal and enthusiastic practitioners across the United States. For many people, Nia is a way of life. It has spread over the rest of the world. Notermans: “Especially the last two years, Nia has been expending in the Netherlands. Through the communal website of Nia teachers in The Netherlands, the requests for a local Nia class increased throughout all parts of the country. We hope to have more trained teachers soon, so that all regions are covered and everybody can practice Nia. “
In The Nia Technique book, Debbie and Carlos explain the technique step by step. They describe how the program suits every level, every age and every body. And yes indeed, it is physically easy to do. You don’t make any high jumps or perform endlessly repetitive movements like you do with traditional aerobic classes. Besides that, the choreography is so easy to follow that you don’t have to worry about the next step.
Student Mathilde (46): “Since so little is fixed, you always make a slightly different movement. You will use muscles and tendons you have not used for a while. For my job, I sit still for long periods and this is a beautiful antidote.”
Everybody can practice Nia, yet so far, mostly women feel attracted to this way of moving. Notermans thinks that this is because dance is an important aspect of Nia.
“The majority of men are a little uncomfortable with dancing in the gym. “
Martial art teacher Mike (50) who watched part of a Nia class upon request, suspects that men are quickly turned off because of the dance element. Besides that, he believes that martial arts practiced to music are really aerobics. “You simply cannot put all your attention and strength into a kick or a punch when it has to fit the rhythm of the music. “
It’s true that tuning into awareness of sensation will not appeal to everyone. And the visual instructions – let your armpits yawn, catch flies, pull the grass, play ping-pong with your hips, laugh loud and walk like a Native American with stomping feet through the room – make you giggly. But to be honest: once you cross the threshold and surrender to the catchy music, this workout improves the well-being of the body and mind. It’s not clear how it works precisely. But it is a fact that it works.