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Studio Mandala, exercising body and soul

Nia, PACE training bring in ladies young and old.

Women of all ages soft-step to energetic music beating from speakers.

Students of “Nia,” they gently reach, push and stretch their arms from side to side to the teacher’s instructions:

“Gather.”

“Wrap.”

“Push it out of your way.”

For instructor Colette DeWitt, it’s imagination that drives her movements and those of her students.

“That my body gets a workout is a happy accident, because I’m using my imagination,” DeWitt said. “My body flows into that image. It takes the work out of it for me.”

DeWitt’s Studio Mandala on Miller Road is a blossom of movement planted in a colorful garden. The studio offers Nia, an eclectic mix of dance and martial arts techniques.

Christianne Hauber started working out at the studio last December, and credits the regimine with helping her recover from two auto accidents.

“I thought I had physical limitations,” Hauber said. “I discovered that I didn’t. I just wasn’t familiar with my own anatomy.”

Flat-backed, she easily bends her upper body a sharp 90 degrees, something she couldn’t do last winter.

While the Nia movements do not look strenuous – more like a cross between dance and tai chi – by end of class, students look healthily pink with a light sheen of sweat.

Instructor Teri Copley says Nia is good for cross-training and body coordination. And, as each movement can be performed at four difficulty levels, students can adjust any class from easy to vigorous.

The mostly women students range from teens to women in their 90s. They are enthusiastic about the classes not just as exercise but for its mental benefits.

“It’s really grounding, the one place I can get in touch with my own movements. When doing Nia, I’m out of my head,” said Anne Kundtz, a student of 10 years. “Nia is more soul work for me.”

Copley shows how Nia follows movements natural to the body.

“I always lead with the heel, similar to walking... I always step back onto the ball of the foot, so it’s easy to move to the next position,” she said. “The other foot stays rooted and grounded.

“Nia works slowly and fluidly, but also fast and agitated. We play with all forms of movement and try to use the body in as many ways as possible. Everyone has their own process of learning – (there’s) no right or wrong way... It’s about feeling joy in your movements.”

DeWitt opened Studio Mandala after moving here from Portland in 1996, and was the first teacher of Nia in this state.

She trained with Nia founders Debbie and Carlos Rosas of California, who forged the discipline from dance, martial arts and the healing arts some 20 years ago. Nia works a lot with images, an area DeWitt explored further while completing a master’s degree in mythology and depth psychology.

“Dance is pre-verbal. You’re working with basic human experience,” she said. “There’s a way everyone can touch their own feelings in the dance – in that way, it’s therapeutic.”

Complementing Nia at the studio is PACE, a strength-building program of “progressive aerobic/anaerobic/accommodating circuit exercise.”

“PACE is based on a principal of moderate consistent exercise. That’s what makes the difference, the consistency,” DeWitt said. “And it’s convenient.”

PACE equipment resembles a weight training circuit, but builds strength through resistance training without risking muscle tear. It is said to be especially good for rehabilitation from injuries or older members and is used by hospitals and athletes.

The user works at each of 18 station for just 30 seconds. An automated voice reminds the user to switch stations; the entire circuit can be completed, in any order, in 30 minutes.

While Nia and other classes are open to the public, PACE is women-only. DeWitt says the single-sex atmosphere lets women de-stress, something she sees in the “tend and befriend” easy socializing among users.

Carlyn Hooyer needed to regain her strength after having two 9-pound babies too close together. She was in physical therapy for four months, but disliked regular gyms – “too many people and competitive.”

Hooyer started coming to Studio Mandala in January. She saw PACE being used by women from young to old so, she said, “I don’t feel I have to keep up with them. I can stop and get a drink and get back into it.

“The women are great. I take my inspiration from (the older women).”

That’s also DeWitt’s observation, that the studio is attracting “a different population” than regular gyms.

“We want to fill a niche,” Hauber added. “A lot of women normally wouldn’t workout at a gym, but come here because it feels safe and welcoming.”

* * * * *

Work it out

Studio Mandala is located at 9010 Miller Road. Annual membership for an enrollment fee of $75 – waived this month – and a monthly fee of $31.95 includes unlimited Nia classes and use of PACE. Trial classes for newcomers and various membership lengths and configurations are also available, including a special mother-daughter contract. Available for a separate fee are classes for “fit ball,” stretching, pilates mat, yoga and kickboxing. Information and studio schedule: www.studiomandala.com or 842-0622.

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