Crazy workout, dull name

Imagine dancing with joyous abandon, grooving and gliding into soul-kissing bliss. That’s what my morning was like when I took my first “Nia” class. Nia stands for Neuromuscular Integrative Action, which doesn’t begin to hint at the fun cardio workout that lies ahead.

Marie McKay leads a Neuromuscular Intergrative Action class. The technique blends martial arts

Imagine dancing with joyous abandon, grooving and gliding into soul-kissing bliss. That’s what my morning was like when I took my first “Nia” class.

Nia stands for Neuromuscular Integrative Action, which doesn’t begin to hint at the fun cardio workout that lies ahead.

Its name and description as a healing “mind-body class” made me expect calm, slow breathing, gentle swaying and, frankly, boredom.

Boy, was I wrong.

Nia’s been around for 25 years and here in the Twin Cities area for several years.

Nia is for people of all ages and abilities, and the purpose is simple — improve balance, co-ordination, chi-flow, energy and nerve function.

There are generally two forms of classes: “athletic” and “classic.” In athletic Nia, movements are bigger, faster and more intense.

Classic Nia is gentler, slower and aimed at folks who are healing or haven’t been physically active in a while.

Both styles pack in cardiovascular magic — even for multiple sclerosis patients who take classes while sitting in chairs.

At a fitness centre in Eden Prairie, Minn., certified black-belt Nia instructor Marie McKay led 21 of us through a bizarre combination of moves that proved pure fun.

The young, old, able-bodied and coordination-challenged among us all got a great cardio workout that somehow seamlessly combined judo, ballet, karate, salsa, tai chi, modern dance, kickboxing, hip-hop, a dash of tribal dance and a smattering of Rockette chorus line.

We pounded invisible bongos, played patty-cake with the sky, swooped down to pick up imaginary keys and mentally moved water with our fingers.

Being off the beat didn’t matter. Losing yourself did.

The music lured us into motion. Ballads. Racing Indian pop.

Waltz music, rap, jazz, gut-shaking rock and Brazilian and African drums summoned our souls.

I had a ball. And that’s the idea. Shake your chakras free, find the joy and heal by doing whatever movements you can.

McKay moved simply, invited us to follow and then repeated short sequences eight to 16 times until our muscle memory clicked with ease.

“All right, ladies. Find your shimmy! Find that little rattle and shake it around the room,” McKay commanded.

So I shimmied, banged bongos and pranced like there was no tomorrow. I’m sure we looked possessed. I know we felt free.

“It’s an adventure. It’s a way of letting go and finding joy,” said Isabelle Carouge after the class. She’d been strength training at this facility for two years but didn’t know about Nia. “It lifts you up,” she said.

Former yoga-studio owner Annie Fink is hooked.

“It’s an amazing, amazing class,” she said. “It’s great cardio, but I also feel it loosens me up.”

Try it. I’m betting you’ll have a whoop of a time and not even realize you are exercising.

For more information, visit

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