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What is the Nia Technique?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 06, 2024
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The NIA technique, which formerly stood for neuromuscular integrative technique and now is better known as non-impact aerobics, is an exercise program developed in 1983, in Santa Rosa, California by Carlos and Debbie Rosas. In the early 1980s, as aerobics dance classes started to become popular, some people found the practice potentially too difficult to do. Pounding music and instructors inciting people to work hard could feel jarring to some, and injury was not uncommon especially with high impact work.

The Rosas’ sought to change this by putting together a more “gentle” program in the NIA technique that would integrate a number of fitness disciplines but still create a healthful, calorie-burning workout. Many disciplines are included in the NIA technique, but all include the idea that anyone taking a NIA class needs to stay firmly grounded in body awareness. Doing what feels natural and good, and modifying exercises as needed so that all fitness levels can participate helps people retain that body awareness, focusing less on pain and gain, and more on natural movement.

Disciplines utilized to create usually one-hour long NIA classes include yoga, tai chi, dance aerobics, modern dance, and martial arts. An instructor gently invokes people to move in different directions, often evoking nature metaphors to help people express movement in their own way. Music used is just as variable and eclectic. A number of different types may be present in a NIA technique class, including jazz, drumming traditions from Africa, contemporary music, and a variety of other types.

Though the Rosas’ NIA technique was at first only known to a few, interest in the program surged in the 1990s, and even more so in the 2000s. In addition to finding classes in your local area, the Rosas’ company now sells NIA workout tapes, collections of music, and even earrings. The company also demands certification for anyone who would teach NIA classes. There are both online and mentor courses that help people become practiced in this new aerobic tradition.

Any single NIA technique class can vary. Some focus most specifically on raising heart rate through a variety of movements that feel good. Others may hone in on stretching the body, or working a specific muscle group. Prices for classes range from $10-$20 US Dollars (USD), though if you belong to a gym that offers NIA technique classes, you may not need to pay any additional fees. Studios that offer these classes may give discounts if you purchase a series of classes.

Even though NIA is considered suitable for many fitness levels, it’s a good idea to check with a doctor before initiating a workout program, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve exercised. You should also let the instructor of the class know if you’re new to the NIA technique or if you have physical limitations. Instructors are usually very good at adapting modified movements for people new to this form of aerobic exercise, and will encourage you to listen and pay attention to how your body responds to each type of movement so that you don’t overdo it.

Sports&Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Sports&Hobbies contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

By anon251995 — On Mar 03, 2012

OK, so when I tell people I practice Nia, 95 percent of the time, their response is in some form of a question, like "Huh, what's Nia?" or sometimes just a plain "What?" and I have to repeat myself and spell it. Then I have to explain what Nia is, and it's really hard to do that. So, I just encourage people to try it and see and feel for themselves.

I wonder why they never changed the name? I mean everyone knows Zumba by now and what that is. I suppose in the past, yoga had the same problem, so maybe it's a matter of time and Nia will become a household name. I hold faith.

By anon251923 — On Mar 03, 2012

I love Nia! To me, it is joyful, freeing, feel-good movement! Thanks for describing it, wiseGEEK!

Danielle E. --Pullman, WA

By anon47926 — On Oct 08, 2009

I attended a NIA class recently. While I freely admit that not every technique has broad appeal, I honestly feel that this is a jumbled, polyglot. I fail to see the point in it.

By anon43694 — On Aug 31, 2009

I love how you call Nia a "New Aerobic Tradition". this is how it feels to me.

At the leading edge of the new "fusion fitness" trend, yet returning to sensations that feel ancient and natural!

That's why I became a Nia techer. Thanks WiseGEEK. Mary Baxter

Nia Teacher

Milton, Ontario

By JAGFitness — On Apr 12, 2009

That was a nice article. I always love seeing Nia getting talked about.

I just wanted to clarify something you said in the first sentence. It's not a big deal, but actually, when Nia was first created, it was dubbed "Non Impact Aerobics." It wasn't until later, after Nia grew, deepened and expanded, that they changed the name to mean Neuromuscular Integrative Action.

By the way, Nia also means "a small movement" in Hebrew and "(done) with purpose" in Swahili.

Jason Alan Griffin

Black Belt Nia Teacher

Manhattan, NY

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Sports&Hobbies contributor, Tricia...
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