What is Nia?

Having just returned from a week of my Nia White Belt Intensive, I’m getting a lot of questions from you, most notably “What is Nia?”

Nia is a holistic fitness program that is all about how to get in your body and how to learn to feel so you can heal (stay tuned for more posts about how to get into your body, which will share what I learned during my Nia White Belt training.) Nia originally stood for “non-impact aerobics” and evolved to mean “neuromuscular integrative action.” But to me, Nia is “naturally integrated awareness.”

A combination of martial arts (Tai Chi, Tae Kwon Do, and Aikido), dance arts (modern, jazz, and Duncan) and healing arts (yoga, the Alexander technique, and Feldenkrais), you might trivialize Nia down to a workout class, much like Zumba or step aerobics or spin class, but you’d be missing out on the most important part of Nia. While it is a complete fitness program (and damn, when you see Nia founder Debbie Rosas do a one-armed pushup while in a full split at 60 years old, you know she’s not fooling around), Nia is also a lifestyle program that’s all about living a fully embodied life tuned into sensation, pleasure, health, and fulfillment (sign me up!)

Being In My Body

Before this week, I had only taken two Nia classes, both with the glorious Debbie Rosas. And while they were fun, enlivening, empowering, and a great workout, I wouldn’t say they were actually transformative for me, even though they often are for other people. I now understand why.

People have been telling me to “get in my body” for years, and honestly, I had no clue what they were talking about). When Debbie Rosas and I became friends, she had the same message for me – “Lissa, it’s time to be in your body.” Say what?

So Debbie invited me to come stay with her in Portland and take the Nia White Belt Intensive – 7 days of 12 hour training for God only knows what. Because I adore Debbie, and because something in my gut told me she was right, I agreed to drop everything and devote myself to Nia 24/7 for a whole week. And damn, am I glad I did!

The Nia White Belt Intensive

So what happened during those seven days? Even for a writer, it’s hard to put into words.  I could tell you how, after years of being in a dance company as a teenager, I had forgotten how much I love to dance until I spent this week using Nia to reclaim the joy of movement. I could tell you how I felt empowered to choose to feel, rather than choosing to numb my body and live in my mind.

I could tell you how I learned to notice, not just my skin and my joints, but the actual connective tissue that fuses it all together. I could tell you how I learned to use pain sensations as self-healing signals that told me when it was time to tweak a movement or rest.  I could tell you how I learned to tap into the sensation of pleasure, so I could feel the quivery, ecstatic, heart-opening somatic sensation of movement.

The Art of Life

I could tell you how I learned to dance through life, considering every movement, even the mundane ones like squatting onto the toilet or tripping over a bump in the sidewalk, as a form of dance. I could tell you how I learned to appreciate non-doing as a form of meditation (like when I’m sitting on the bus, my ass is meditating. When my elbows are on the table of the cafe as I await my tuna melt, my elbows are meditating.) I could tell you how I learned to see life as art, not just paintings and sculpture, but the beauty in leaves that have fallen on the ground in a pattern, in electrical wires twisted into a nest on the ground, in the skin on a lover’s neck or the curve of a friend’s calf.

52 Moves

I could tell you how every day we practiced 52 moves the body wants to do naturally, moves that bring strength, flexibility, and agility to all 13 large and 20 small joints of the body. I could tell how you I had forgotten how to move, how even though I hike every day and practice yoga, I had forgotten how to shake my booty or shimmy my shoulders.  I could tell you how isolating the movements of my joints brought awareness to where my body needs self-healing so I can keep my body young and nubile, like it once was. I could tell you how practicing 52 moves unlocked parts of my body that probably haven’t moved in decades and how doing so unleashed issues in my tissues that stimulated emotions I forgot I had.

Free Flowing Emotions

I could tell you how much I learned about how I resist expressing feelings of anger or fear and how easy it is for me to express joy and sadness. I could tell you how I giggled when I skipped and did cartwheels and how I wept when my body crouched into a fetal position in the corner of the room. I could tell you how much got unlocked when I kicked and punched and cut while screaming “NO!” and “STOP!” I can tell you how much juice I felt when I yelled “YES!” and threw my arms in the air.

Free Dance

I could tell you how my dance changed from the kind of white man’s overbite, dance-to-the-beat boogie you do at weddings to a freely expressive, dancing-how-my-body-really-longs-to-move free dance that opened up my soul.  I could tell you how I danced my story, how I danced my doubts, how I danced my grief, my triumph, and my passion. I could tell you how I danced my authentic self and didn’t care whether anybody was watching.

Relearning The Body

I could tell you how I’m a doctor who never looked at or touched a skeleton the way we did this week, how I came to appreciate the anatomy of our form in a whole new way that focused more on function than sickness. I can tell you how I fell in the love with the body again, not just in an abstract way, but in a very personal way. I fell in love with MY body this time, the way it can move, the way it supports me, the way it keeps on ticking away even when I sleep, repairs itself when I abuse it, and gives my soul and spirit a comfortable place to live through this life.

Sacred Livelihood

I could tell you how we all got to speed date our life purpose, clarify our personal philosophy, and learn how to generate sacred livelihood in our personal and professional lives. I could tell you what I learned about what I believe is real and important about the world, how to earn a “cosmic salary,” and how to value my time and my gifts so the world values them too.

Sacred Athlete

I could tell you how I learned to be a sacred athlete – loving my body and loving my life so I can serve out my life purpose, activate my potential, and achieve what is possible with joy, pleasure, and meaning. I could tell you about the letters of gratitude we all wrote to ourselves, the vision boards we drew for ourselves, the mission statements we wrote for ourselves.

I could share with you the killer book Debbie gave us, which only Nia White Belt Intensive trainees get. I could let you listen to the music we shook our booties to. I could send you a DVD of one of our dance routines.

Really, there’s so much I could tell you.

There’s More

But this is where words aren’t enough. I could tell you all that, but it wouldn’t express the electric energy in the room generated by women gathering with the clear intention to heal themselves and each other. It would be hard to tell you how, after hours of dancing, when we were tired, we sat on the floor and cradled and rocked each other like a mother holds and nurtures a tired child. You might not understand what it felt like to get a foot rub from another woman who has just danced her heart out and knows how much your feet long to be kneaded. I’d have trouble explaining the love that was as palpable as the muscles in our thighs.

My words might not adequately explain the rapture in the room on the last day when we were all dancing in our bodies, most of us for the first time ever. They wouldn’t explain how my whole body felt like one big neuron, rather than the numbed-out, dissociated, walking cerebrum I’ve been for most of my adult life. I’d have trouble explaining how I got seduced by the music and the movement and how that seductive feeling followed me out onto the streets and into the evenings, when I met with friends who said, “Wow, you look really beautiful tonight.”

The Aftermath

Mostly, I’d have trouble explaining how when I showed up on the first day, I couldn’t feel my elbow floating in space. I mean, I could feel my elbow if I touched it, or if I rolled around on the ground and the floor touched it, or if I banged my funny bone and my elbow hurt. But just my elbow floating in space while I danced? Nope. I couldn’t feel it.

But the morning after I finished the Nia White Belt Intensive, when I woke up in Debbie Rosas’ guest room, the first thing I noticed was how slippery slick the sheets felt against my bare legs. (Mind you, usually the first thing I notice is my brain spinning into action.) Can you say “Holy sheet?”

Then, when I got up to take a shower, I felt my elbow. I just had a sensation of elbowness, not a cool breeze on my elbow or a soft sheet on my elbow or someone’s hand on my elbow – just pure elbowness.

I knew in that moment I had learned something priceless and beyond explanation.

Here’s What I Know For Sure

Nia is much more than how to get fit, how to lose weight, or how to have fun free dancing your ass off. It’s about all that, but it’s also about living an embodied life, tapping into your inner healer, feeling the pleasure of every moment of this one wild and precious life, connecting with the Divine within yourself and others, living out your purpose here on earth, and being healthy in all aspects of your life.

After a week with Nia founder Debbie Rosas, I’ll say “I’ll have what she’s having.” And the words still won’t be enough.

What Comes Next?

I can only guess what transformations will evolve now that I’m feeling the sheets and my elbow and my hips and my shoulders. What’s next? Killer sex? Better fitness? More presence and sensation in my own skin? Comfortably stepping into my greatness? Greater awareness?

Check. Check. Check. It’s already happening.

Do You Want to Live An Embodied Life?

Learn more about Nia and Debbie Rosas at NiaNow.com.  Take a Nia class in your area. Sign up for the next Nia White Belt Intensive. Order a Nia DVD so you can do Nia at home. Take the first step. I’ll be right there with you.

Do you have any experience with Nia? Do you have trouble being in your body? Have you learned the joys of being in your body? Tell us your story!

A spirit in a body,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.



Laure H.
Laure H6 years ago

Don't feel left out. Go to Amazon and order one of the videos and the book. I was so glad I did, I'll bet you will be, too.

Darice M.
Darice M6 years ago

Never heard of it so want to learn it and can not find a NIA class or anything in south west Michigan area....Now I feel left out....

Julija S.
Julija S6 years ago


Emma S.
Emma S6 years ago

I'd never heard of it - but it sounds as if no one can do without it! I'm off to see if there's any Nia in Cornwall.

Emma S.
Emma S6 years ago

I'd never heard of it - but it sounds as if no one can do without it! I'm off to see if there's any Nia in Cornwall.

Jill P.
Jill P.6 years ago

Lissa ..wow! You really GOT it. Thank you for sharing your experience with your world. I have been studying Nia for 15 years and am now a Nia Trainer. I so appreciate hearing your experience and transformation. You gave a beautiful account from the "brand new to Nia" perspective. I still remember and can recapitulate my White Belt experience and it has opened portals within me I never would have expected. For those of you looking for Nia, you can go to the website (www.nianow.com) and search for a class in your area. If there isn't one...well...maybe that someone to start the revolution in your neighborhood is YOU! I was the third teacher in Seattle in 1997 and now we have a bustling, healthy and loving community of students, teachers and two trainers. Nia has been Magic for me.
From a Sister who Sizzles (remember my talk radio show...?)
Jill Pagano

Patricia W.
Patricia W6 years ago

Very interesting. I have to locate a place for NIA. Would love to give it a try.

Rose Becke6 years ago

never heard of it till now thanks

Carina Engstrom
Carina Engstrom6 years ago

I went to a day course and it was fantastic! A creative journey in the mind and body. I just loved it!

Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago

Interesting. Thanks Lissa.