|Any western athlete who's sought a little Eastern inspiration to ratchet up his sports performance understands this: Martial arts can teach body awareness, but they're tough. Rookies to Far East disciplines might try starting with a neuromuscular integrative action (NIA) class, a choreographed sampling of martial arts, yoga, dance, and more. It's being touted as the only cardiovascular workout that equally taxes mind and muscles — without candles, chanting, or the droning of a sitar.
Designed to improve balance, coordination, and flexibility, an hourlong NIA class will have you striking yoga's downward facing dog pose one minute, grunting out a round of tae kwon do-inspired punches to amplified Beck riffs the next, and then gracefully segueing into a slow, shoeless shimmy. "Martial arts teach mental focus and discipline but are extremely linear and tend to work in programmed patterns," explains New York City instructor Megan MacArthur. "NIA, on the other hand, helps your body to explore all angles." By which she means that the fresh-air athlete will be more closely mirroring the real motions of outdoor sports.
NIA won't leave you huffing like a step-aerobics class — the workout goes in peaks and valleys — but it will defuse some of that workaday wired feeling. It dovetails nicely with most programs because it's low-impact, and the risk of injury is practically nil. Unless, of course, your neighbor gets carried away trying to toss off a kick-boxing move while you're deep into tai chi.