Nia fitness method adapts to all levels
When 72-year-old Carla Magarity moved to Richmond from Los Angeles, where she had lived for 35 years, she was thrilled to spend more time with her daughter and grandchildren here. A health insurance broker, she had been flying back and forth for years until deciding to retire.
And Magarity wasn’t worried about finding a group of friends to connect with when she settled here. During her earlier visits, she had already discovered a community by taking classes in Neuromuscular Integrative Action (Nia), a fitness practice drawing from no-impact aerobics as well as martial arts and dance.
“Nia created the opportunity for me to meet people [in Richmond] and build an incredible community,” Magarity said. “Many of us have been dancing together for years.”
This community of women of all ages was brought together thanks to Richmond native Marybeth Grinnan, who brought Nia to her hometown in 2008 and opened a studio here earlier this year.
“While the group is diverse, we focus on how much we have in common,” Grinnan said.
What is Nia?
The Nia technique was created in 1983 by Debbie and Carlos Rosas, owners of an aerobics studio in Santa Rosa, California. Practiced barefoot, Nia’s cardio-dance workouts are based on 52 simple moves combined into different 60-minute routines.
“Combining dance, martial arts and mindfulness, Nia tones your body while transforming your mind. More than just a workout, Nia is a holistic fitness practice addressing each aspect of your life — body, mind and soul,” according to Nia’s website.
Grinnan learned about Nia more than 20 years ago when trying to lose weight after having her second child. At that time, the then-30-year-old lived in Chapel Hill, N.C., and she was struggling to find a form of exercise she enjoyed.
When she first tried Nia, Grinnan immediately loved it. She had never thought of herself as a dancer, but with Nia, she didn’t worry about what she looked like or whether she could keep up with the choreography. “It is adaptable for literally everybody,” Grinnan said.
Grinnan also loved that the exercises attract all kinds of participants. “The class had women of diverse ages — some were younger moms, others were grandmas — and I was turned on by that,” she said.
About a year later, she decided she wanted to become a Nia teacher and began training. When Grinnan returned to Richmond 11 years ago, she enjoyed teaching Nia at ACAC, where she inspired many of her students to become teachers as well.
Earlier this year, with two of those students, Jessica Forsythe and Niki Schemmel, Grinnan pursued her dream of opening a boutique Nia and yoga studio.
Called SoulShine Studios, the facility in Stony Point Fashion Park also offers other programs of interest, including book clubs and acupuncture.
It features a lobby that feels like a family room. “It is a really uplifting, amazing space,” Grinnan said. “We want to be the home for Richmond Nia, the place people want to come hang out and support one another.”
Freedom of movement is key
In SoulShine Studios classes, the teacher guides the class in choreography, but with Nia, there is freedom of movement, allowing for participants to adapt to their needs.
“Students can move very little and keep their arms and legs close,” said Forsythe, “or take up more space as they feel comfortable.”
Unlike with other dance classes, participants don’t face the front of the room the entire time. Instead, they move throughout the space, weaving between one another.
When this author tried it, I found Nia a bit daunting at first. But it soon became magical as I encountered the warm, smiling faces of the other participants, who ranged in age from their 30s to 70s. We were all too caught up in the joy of moving to think about what we looked like.
Grinnan is thrilled when she sees that joy. “Pretty quickly, all that outside stuff about what people think they should look like falls off, and they start enjoying moving in their body,” she said.
While the Nia classes at SoulShine Studios are interactive, the yoga classes are more personal and inward-focused, Forsythe said. As with the Nia classes, however, SoulShine Studios yoga instructors encourage participants not to overdo it.
“The classes are conducive to all levels of practitioner, regardless of age or ability,” Schemmel said. “A lot of older students think they can’t do things, but this philosophy lets them be more open in the moment.”
During her recent recovery from ovarian cancer, Magarity participated in SoulShine Studio’s Moving to Heal — Gentle Nia classes. “During that six months I was on chemotherapy, I couldn’t dance,” she said. “Every muscle in my body got tight from inactivity.”
But Grinnan’s class helped Magarity recover and feel less isolated. Nia is “a lot of fun,” she said, but there is an “incredible depth underpinning it. We’re moving every muscle and every joint with no impact, but we don’t have to know that. We can just come have fun.”
For a class schedule, visit soulshinestudios.com. Watch a Nia class at nianow.com.