Nia classes have been blowing my mind lately. For those who don't know - 99% of everybody ever - Nia is a fitness class based on a few different styles: dance, martial arts, some yoga-style moves thrown in there. It's cardio with choreography, not unlike, say, a step aerobics class. But unlike at a step class, if you screw the pooch on the moves in Nia, the instructor is likely to laugh gently and say something like, "Yes, you just do you!" whereas in step aerobics, the instructor will scowl and say, "Even babies can do this! Harder! FASTER" and then you just want to crawl under the elliptical machine and die.
Nia originally stood for no-impact aerobics, and is generally practiced by well-heeled white ladies who don't have day jobs - many of the Nia classes currently on offer in Toronto are held at 10 AM on Tuesdays or 5:10 on Thursdays, when us drudgers are drudging home. There are a lot of Lululemon pants at Nia. There are a lot of natural greys, a lot of warm hugs. I sound like I'm making fun of that, but I'm really not.
I always feel a little silly at the beginning of a Nia class: there's a lot of free-dancing, which, for me, involves hopping around and feeling stiff. Then we start to flow into the choreography, much of which is intense enough to make me sweat. Vocalization is encouraged, so there are plenty of zips and growls as we move through a class. The music is soaring, bassy, earth-mother, primal. By the end of a class, I feel emotionally open and physically powerful.
Growing up, I was never much of a dancer - I took a couple jazz dance classes in middle school, and the outfits we had to wear for the final recital (black bodysuits and blazing yellow sateen raincoats; we were dancing to "It's Raining Men") were humiliating and made me feel pudgy. My sister has always been the dancer, since she's lithe and flexible and confident. The shame I felt over my body was enormous; although I love, and have always loved, moving to music, performing dance was just never something I enjoyed. I felt singled out and shamed. All eyes on me.
Besides, there isn't a lot of joy in working out sometimes. If you're in the best shape, fitness classes are a maintenance need. And if you're trying to lose weight or tone yourself up? Forget it. Each step reminds me of where I'm not, and how much work I need to do to get there. I've left aerobics classes on the verge of tears, unable to enjoy myself because I was busy hating that my roly-poly body needed cardio in the first place. It's self-defeating.
Nia changes the rules for me. It's making me feel empowered in my body (practically a cliche, but cliches are lined with truth). It makes me actually kind of love my body - because Nia is based on what you want to/can do in the moment, I feel less bad if (actually, inevitably when) I fail to meet the instructor's benchmark of "how it should be done." Instead, I'm grooving. Still sweating, still working out, but not left out. And my body loves it too. I can feel how my muscles have become more toned, how I feel flushed and pink after a good class. Moreover, I feel grateful for my body - imperfect as it may be - and, miraculously, at peace with it. It makes me feel at good.