by Alison Houston
FITNESS and healing without exertion is the secret of Nia - combining dance, martial arts, yoga and mindfulness - with classes now being offered in Toowoomba.
Michelle Harbrow is already known in the area for remedial massage and Bowen Therapy, but became a Nia instructor in January, having sought out a rehabilitative exercise technique for herself as well as her clients.
She offers both Classic Nia classes and, from this week, Gentle Nia, aimed specifically at Seniors.
"I'd always been a sporty person - mountainbiking, snowboarding, horseriding, playing hockey - and I had a lot of injuries, which is how I discovered massage and Bowen therapy," the 45-year-old said.
"But I'd really shied away from sports for the last 10 years because I didn't want to reinjure myself.
"Then I discovered Nia, and now I can get all that fitness in a spirit of play."
Born in San Francisco in 1983, and originally christened Nia for "non-impact aerobics", the technique has been redefined as "neuromuscular integrative action", reflecting its holistic nature.
Elements target the body, mind and spirit and include breathing, stretching, strength training and actions which give you a cardiac workout based around alignment, structure and form rather than major exertion or "pounding".
"Every movement we do with our bodies is mapped in our brain, and if we stop those movements we can lose that ability, but we can also rewire our brains and create more neural pathways, which is particularly important as we grow older," Michelle said.
Michelle said meeting Nia's creator Debbie Rosas during training had given her an appreciation of just what the technique could achieve.
"She's 65 or 66 and she's so fit and lively and passionate and such an inspiration - I thought 'I want to be like that', stay on that path to a healthy body and have a happy life," Michelle said.
"And the beautiful thing is Nia really is for everyone. Every routine offers different levels and can be altered according to ability; you can even do the exercises in a chair."
Nia starts with music, which drives the movements - there are 52 in all - with each routine practiced for up to a couple of months and focussed for instance on stability or shoulder movement, so participants can really see how their abilities are expanding.
"The way we live is generally very repetitive and we forget how to move the full range of motion in our joints," Michelle said.
"Everyone has loved the classes; loved the routines and how they are growing each week as individuals - step by step, little by little - and their capacity is expanding."
If you would like to learn more, Michelle is holding an open day on Saturday, May 19, or to get involved earlier, she currently has a New to Nia offer, with three classes for $30. Casual classes are otherwise $15 each or $10 for Seniors.
She operates out of Mayhem Dance Academy, 4 Foundry St, Toowoomba, with Classic Nia classes at 5.30pm Thursdays and 9am Saturdays, and Gentle Nia Thursdays at 4pm and Saturdays at 10.30am.
For more information call Michelle on 0437 926 862.