Music, Movement, Magic

Many of our Nia students come from the medical and physiotherapy professions. As a barefoot practice, grounded in increasing the movement options available to the body, Nia creates pathways to optimal well-being and is adaptable for all. Mandi Cavallaro, was recently interviewed by one of her students, a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist, to explain a little bit more about Nia for the new student…

Nia – a refreshingly freeing movement class!

By Samantha Cattach, Pelvic Health Physiotherapist and Restorative Exercise Specialist 

This week I participated in a Nia class in Brisbane. Going in I didn’t really know what to expect, except that it was done barefoot (sign me up!) but I’m so glad I went! 

The best way I can describe it is simply freedom of movement to beautiful music. The teacher guides you through the moves but there is really no strict focus on technique other than to let your body just feel the music and to do what feels right, exploring all of the motions that are available to you. I felt a little self-conscious initially but I honestly had a smile on my face the entire time and soon enough felt very relaxed and free. 

As someone who loves music and whole body movement, I have often thought about looking for a local dance studio, but since I really have no dance training (and not always the best coordination) I was always a bit intimidated by it. Nia was such a perfect choice for me to express myself physically, without any rules, while getting in some fantastic whole body movement. There’s no judgement, no pressure, and even though I’m sure I went the wrong direction multiple times, I just felt beautiful and caught up in the music. 

From a Pelvic Health perspective, it also fantastic way to practice an increased awareness of your body and lots of great pelvic mobility. Nia is low impact, and completely allows you to move at your own pace – no one is pushing you to work harder, lift heavier, or force that stretch further. In the particular class I attended, the existing mirrors in the room are actually covered to aid in keep you from placing judgement on yourself or how you look. Instead you are encouraged to really feel all of the sensations in your body, focusing on all the positives – like not having an itchy face, or pain in your eyeball, or NO TOOTHACHE (how great is that feeling!) – without ignoring messages of discomfort that your body is sending you.

To help me explain the principles of Nia, I contacted the teacher, Mandi Cavallaro, to ask a few questions: 

Sam: Thanks for such a fun class Mandi! Can you tell me a little bit what Nia is all about? 
Mandi: Nia is a movement and lifestyle practice grounded in body-centred awareness. Classes are often described as a “feel-good, dance like no one’s watching” experience that leave you feeling uplifted and alive in your own body! The classes are a unique mix of dance arts, martial arts and healing arts. They blend music and movement with mindfulness and joy.
Nia has a holistic approach to wellness – classes are a rich experience for the whole body, engaging everything from the larger muscles of the body to the details of the feet and fingers.
Classes are a unique blend of both Form and Freedom. Each Nia class is crafted using 52 foundational moves that provide whole body conditioning in harmony with the bodies natural design and function. This foundational form is combined with the element of freedom to explore the movement in your own body & to express yourself uniquely!
S: Cool. So how did you personally get into Nia? 

M: I had been teaching and participating in traditional fitness classes and I was riddled with injuries and health issues! I started looking for a movement class that was designed to be more sustainable and nourishing rather than punishing on the body. With Nia, rather than the “no pain no gain” mantra of hard core fitness, I was invited to deepen my body awareness and move by tapping into body sensations. Rather than just copying an instructor and spending more time “in my busy head” I was actually grounded in my BODY! 

While I had looked “fit” by our cultural standards, I was actually not “healthy” and I didn’t have a healthy relationship with my own body emotionally.  Nia has been, and continues to be, a healing practice in many ways for me: both physically and emotionally.

S: Can anybody do a Nia class?

M: Absolutely! Nia welcomes all ages, all body shapes and sizes, all levels of movement experience – come as you are!  Nia is a very welcoming practice.

S: And finally, can you do Nia while pregnant?

M: Yes! I danced and taught Nia classes throughout my third pregnancy, right up until a week or so before giving birth. The movements are all adaptable & scalable. Everybody is invited to listen to their own body and make movement choices that work for them. In any given class there may be a wide range of people working with different considerations, from pregnancy, postpartum, injury, limited range of motion in their joints, low energy and endurance levels, mood disorders, chemotherapy treatments, etc. Nia is about coming home to your own body and feeling empowered to make choices about the ways we move in our own skin. 

Of course, as per the general recommendations for beginning any new movement program: we encourage you to touch base with your health provider/pregnancy care provider before beginning any new program and also touch base with your teacher to inform them of any health considerations, including current or recent pregnancy.

In this busy modern world we live in, we don’t often get to just play. Going to a Nia class is like giving yourself permission to play for an hour and to move in whichever way feels good. I’d encourage anyone to give it a go!

Mandi continues to be enthralled by natural movement and how movement is as essential to our body’s ecosystem as food and oxygen are! She is currently completing studies in Nutritious Movement with Biomechanist Katy Bowman and Yoga Teacher Training along with her ongoing Nia practice and training. Mandi teaches in Windsor, Brisbane.

This article is reprinted, in full, with permission by Samantha Cattach –!blog/hx6gq


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