Fitness: Find Fitness Bliss with NIA (cont.)

In fact, the biggest benefit of the workout is "getting people in their body and connected to sensation," Rosas says.

She believes that many diseases occur because people don't notice early on that something is out of balance, citing as an example a man whose bleeding ulcer might have been averted had he detected tension in his abdominal wall and seen a doctor sooner.

Exercise physiologist Cotton concurs.

"Body awareness is increased through body movement," he says. "NIA, is new, cutting-edge, so it's hard to find research that proves a benefit like this. But it certainly appears to be making a difference in people's awareness of their bodies, of when something is wrong."

Students say they've noticed other benefits to getting connected to their bodies

"NIA helps you become aware of your own body, of what's painful versus what is pleasurable, so that you seek out pleasure," says Kim Dawson, who has been taking classes for about a year.

"There's genius in its simplicity. It's grounded in that it teaches us to move our joints the way they want to be moved, to use our bodies they way they are designed to be used," says Dawson, creative director of NIA Technique Inc., the Portland, Ore., based-NIA headquarters that trains instructors worldwide.

"Through movement, NIA helps us to find health -- physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually," Dawson says.

But there's more. NIA boosts the heart rate, enhances flexibility and coordination, and improves breathing, which can in turn improve circulation, Rosas says.

Plus, NIA is a natural stress-buster, says Deborah Kern, PhD, a NIA trainer based in Huntsville, Ala.

For her doctoral thesis in the mid-1990s, Kern followed 40 people who took NIA classes for seven weeks, along with 40 other people who did low-impact aerobics. "Joyful, peaceful, and energized emerged as the three common denominators of those in the NIA group," she says

Both groups saw cardiovascular benefits, says Kern, whose study was not published. But overall anxiety levels, as measured on a commonly used psychological scale, dropped in those who took NIA classes while increasing slightly in those who did low-impact aerobics.

The NIA technique is also being used in rehabilitation programs for cardiac patients, Rosas notes.

The adaptability of the workout to one's fitness level is a real plus, instructors add. One told WebMD of a patient in a wheelchair, while Bramlett says she teaches the mind-body fitness technique to several stroke victims. "NIA helps to improve their coordination," she says.

While no one tracks exactly how many people are taking classes, Rosas estimates the number of participants has doubled in the past three years. Meanwhile, the number of certified instructors grew from 400 in 1986 to more than 900 today, she says.

"The time is right for NIA," Rosas says. "People want to be more aware and conscious of what they are doing."

Originally published March 26, 2003.
Medically updated April 30, 2004.

To find a NIA class near you, check out the National NIA Web site at

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Last Editorial Review: 10/19/2004 8:43:23 AM