Why do we seek to connect with spirit, both inside ourselves and outside? I think it is because we sense something in ourselves that instinctively reaches out to its counterpart in other people.

Also, if we are reflective at all, we know that life is bigger than ourselves and is about more than our mere survival or the gratification of our personal desires.

The poet Rainer Marie Rilke famously wrote, “Love is simply this: That two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.”

There are myriad ways for such connections to happen, and lots of them have nothing to do with religion as it is known and practiced in mainstream America.

One such avenue is a form of exercise called Nia. The name is a condensation of “neuromuscular integrative action,” according to Nia teacher Maggie Bokor of Portland. The technique — a combination of various forms of dance, martial arts and healing arts — was developed 25 years ago by a couple of exercise physiologists who wanted to come up with something that was less stressful for the body than aerobics, she explained.

Bokor was first exposed to Nia when she was living in the Washington, D.C., area and working at a high-stress job that had burned her out. At the time, she was overweight, was having panic attacks and has lost confidence in herself, Bokor said. By the end of her first class, “I was lying on the floor in a trance and felt like I had come home to myself.”

As a result of doing Nia, she lost more than 50 pounds, stopped having panic attacks and learned to see the world less critically. “No matter who showed up in class, you could see how beautiful they were,” she said.

She was trained as a Nia teacher in 2004, and came to Maine in 2006 because she wanted to bring the technique to people here. Nia uses a belt system similar to some martial arts to mark an individual’s increasing ability; Bokor is now a blue belt. Nia’s popularity is growing in the state, she said, with teachers not only in the Portland area, but also in Auburn, Augusta and Saco.

People do Nia barefoot, which gives them “an unbelievable relationship to the Earth,” Bokor said. Music, and even singing, are also part of the experience. A workout consists of seven segments of varying intensity and “allows [participants] to be very sensation-based,” attending to what is happening in both their body and mind, she said. Those who are open to a spiritual connection can find it, she added, while those who are simply seeking exercise can participate on that level.

Bokor usually starts her classes in a circle, so the students can see each other. Participants are free to focus on whatever they want — the music, their body, their feelings — because Nia emphasizes doing what is right for oneself rather than following the teacher exactly.

When everyone is doing basically the same movements, she said, there’s a sense of “unity, but personality,” with each person making the movements their own. She likened Nia to a meditation in motion, saying it is, “being in the bliss of your body.” It is usually done in a group setting, but could be done alone at home, following routines that can be found online.

She has seen students lose weight, get stronger and become more confident, she said, and feels an “unbelievable sense of pride” in the ways her students transform.

Doing Nia “feels like you’re alive. … You just feel connected,” she said.

Bokor can be reached at 899-5939 or maggie@dancenia.com.