The Nia Technique

Today I’m excited to introduce Ann Topalian. I met Ann two years ago when we both participated in a yoga teacher training.

Ann is an ACSM cPT, AEA, Ace Certified Group Fitness Instructor and currently serves as the Director of Fitness at Entrada Country Club at Snow Canyon in Saint George, Utah.

Ann is a White Lotus Certified Yoga teacher, a certified Kundalini Yoga Instructor, and a Nia Technique certified instructor. Ann has worked in the fitness industry for over 10 years. She has trained in multiple regiments of exercise; Balletone, Power Pilates, Spinning, Poolates, Drums Alive, Reebok Core Board, and Ai Chi (a water variation of Tai Chi).

I used to take a lot of exercise classes at Studio Soma in Denver and I loved the Nia Technique. Since Ann is a certified Nia Dance Instructor, and one of the most genuine, upbeat and kind people I know, I asked her to tell us all about this fun and unique Healthy Discovery.

Here is my conversation with Ann.

Jolene: What exactly is Nia?

Ann: Nia (Neuromuscular Integrative Action) is pronounced Knee-Ah. The Joy of Movement. This fitness fusion class was first created 25 years ago by Carlos and Debbie Rosas. Nia incorporates elements of Martial Arts, Dance Arts and the Healing Arts. Nia believes in moving for pleasure; if it feels good continue, if it doesn’t tweak it until it does. Imagine dancing to great music with the emotion of Jazz Dance, the precision of Tae Kwon Do, and the freedom of the Alexander Technique. As a teacher, we lead you through choreography, as well as, invite you to find your own way through the movement so it feels good somatically (in body). ‘Through movement we find health’, this is Nia’s tagline. We move in joy to balance our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual body.

Jolene: I like “through movement we find health”, as the instructor how do you design each class to bring that concept to those participating?

Ann: Every body is meant to move in precise alignment. When we walk forward our bodies natural tendency is to walk heal, lead and roll to the front of the foot with our toes pointing forward. After years of ballet, sitting at a desk, or poor sleeping positions we can throw off even a simple heal lead walk by either turning our toes out or in. Each time we walk we are slightly off neutral alignment and have a new “normal” for our individual bodies. In Nia we teach “The Bodies Way” which is to move toward healing and central alignment within the individual uniqueness of our misalignments. We all have “The Bodies Way” of moving that will bring us closer to neutral alignment, and we also have “Your Bodies Way” that brings you closer to healing. When we do Nia dance we are seeking the movement within the choreography where our body screams “yes!” and move away from the movement within the choreography were our body cries “no!” We tweak our movement until our body is in a state of active relaxation and within that we find our path to health. As an instructor, I am continually leading the class into sensing their bodies and giving them the freedom to enjoy moving as a physical being.

Jolene: I usually don’t like to dance (nor do I think of myself as a good dancer), but I really like Nia Dance classes, do you have people in your classes who feel the same way?

Ann: Many first time Nia participants state, “I am not a dancer and I hate dance classes.” I will ask, do you turn on music in your home? and do you find yourself dancing through your chores? If the answer is yes, then you will enjoy Nia! Nia is choreographed, and it also has an element of Freedance. You can let loose, no choreography, just moving in different sensations, as well as, be lead through precise, controlled movements. It feels more like a tent revival meets a beach party than a dance class. Each individual is sensing and concentrating on their own movements, they soon begin to realize that no one else is paying attention to them because others are caught up in their own sensations. There are 52 movements in Nia put together a million different ways. The energy of the movement forms (Tae Kwon Do, Ai Kido, Tai Chi, Modern Dance, Duncan Dance, Jazz, Yoga, Feldenkrais, and the Alexander Technique) and the five sensations (flexibility, agility, mobility, strength, and stability) are all used to choreograph a class. You will master it quickly, yet never get bored. Nia literally is for “Every Body”.

Jolene: When was the first time you experienced a Nia class? What attracted you to then become a certified Nia instructor?

Ann: The first Nia class I experienced was at the 2001 IDEA convention, an International Fitness Convention, in Anaheim California. It was the first cardio class that I experienced where I was told to take off my shoes and experience the pleasure principle of exercise. This was very different from the no pain, no gain fitness philosophy. We were moving our hips, knees, ankles and arms through a full range of motion while dancing to amazing music. No more linear movement! The freedom I felt after just one class was somatically memorable and my body could not wait to take it again. It was hard to come by a Nia class in Southern Utah (where I live) so if you can’t take it, teach it! We called the Nia head quarters, rounded up 10 local fitness instructors who couldn’t wait to learn about Nia and Debbie and Carlos, the creators, came to train us in the practice. It was not only a certification spent on leading the class, but a personal growth program as well. No other certification has prepared me more thoroughly to lead a class than the Nia teacher training certification.

Jolene: Can you give some examples of the growth you went through as an instructor?

Ann: My personal growth evolved through the Nia training by teaching me to be impeccable with my words and to not speak for anyone else. Like when you are having a conversation with someone and they end each sentence with “Ya Know”. In Nia we do not presume to know what you do or do not know. I feel like I no longer have to put that qualifying statement on the end of sentence to connect with someone. I believe it also gives an open ended option to the conversation, rather than just a yes or no. I also learned to express myself better by not using words like, “try” “can’t” and “hard”. I leaned to be more descriptive and more emotionally present from the Nia training.

Jolene: If someone is feeling emotionally “stuck”, insecure, sad, etc about any area of their life right now, how could the Nia Technique benefit them?

Ann: In leading a Nia practice we intentionally use verbiage which will excite the four realms of experience (physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual). We use cueing phrases such as, “everybody sense your hips”. ‘Sense’ is a word that puts you in touch with bodily sensations, ‘Feel’ is a word to describe emotions. We would also say “everybody feel sad” or “everybody feel happy” during movement to invite participants to practice feeling emotions they sometimes do not allow themselves to feel. When we bottle our emotions they literally get stuck in the muscles. Dancing with emotion allows us to release feelings we may not be aware that we are holding onto. I will often ask the participants at the end of a class to give me one word which describes how they feel and most say “FREE”. I think this is because they are able to let go of emotions that have them stuck in one specific way of thinking. Physical movement through multiple disciples, multiple planes and multiple emotions can literally realign our neural pathways and open up new ways of thinking.

Jolene: What resources (books, websites, DVD’s) do you recommend for people who want to learn more and try Nia?

Ann: Go to NiaNow where they have a teacher finder link. You can learn more about Nia by purchasing the book “The Nia Technique” by Debbie and Carolos Rosas. You can also purchase one of their movement DVDs such as, “The Nia Technique”, “Global Unity” or “Nia Unplugged” through the Nia website.

Jolene: Thanks so much Ann! I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy day to share your Nia and fitness knowledge with us.

Post Interview Note From Jolene: While Ann and I were emailing back and forth and working on this interview, I received an email from the Alchemy of Movement in Boulder (I’ve been on their email list for a couple years). Debbie and Carlos are on a national tour right now and they just happened to be at the Boulder YMCA last night. Synchronicity, Good Timing, Coincidence? Funny how those things happen, huh?

Anyway, in the name of taking my own advice and adding some variety into my life and exercise routine, I decided to go! As mentioned above I’ve taken Nia dance classes in the past but I’ve never met, nor have I taken a class from the actual Nia founders, Debbie and Carlos Rosas.

What fun. I had a great time (and a fabulous workout)!

There were over 200 people moving their “Bodies Way” last night at the Boulder YMCA.

Debbie and Carlos led us through two-hours of intense, sweaty, and relaxing Nia movements.

They shared their 25-year fitness journey with the group. Debbie is passionate about encouraging people to Love Their Bodies, whatever shape or size!

After this timely interview with Ann and then taking a class with the Nia founders; I’m re-invigorated by this workout. Keep your eye out for classes in your area, Nia is a wonderful Healthy Discovery for the body, mind and spirit!

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  1. Thanks for sharing the info on this. I had a coworker in KY who was certified and taught some workshops at conferences I planned. Unfortunately, I was never able to try it. 🙁

    It looks like so much fun. I hope it spreads more and becomes more available in the eastern/southern part of the US.

  2. Thanks! I think they may have something like this at my fitness center!

    By the way, why is most everyone wearing black? At my center, all the personal trainers wear black.

  3. Very fun! I like to do a Total Conditioning (75 minute high intensity, full body)class 3-4 times a week at LifeTimeFitness.

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