So You Think You Can’t Dance?

Belly Dance: It’s for Every Body
by Jennifer Bush, Dancing Mountain

I teach and perform Belly Dance. After a recent performance a friend said to me: “Wow! That was fantastic! I could never do that!” To which I replied: “Of course you can! Every body can dance.” Her comment got me thinking. Why do some people think they can’t or shouldn’t dance? It is my philosophy that every movement is a dance and every moment is a chance to dance. But why is it that we so often forget that joyful movement is our birthright? My approach to teaching is to use Belly Dance as a means for women to reclaim and celebrate our whole selves through a joyous dance.

Belly Dance is a term primarily used in the Western world to describe a plethora of dancing styles coming out of the Middle East. Though belly is in the term, students coming into classes are not required to show their bellies and there is not a focus on making the belly move by itself. That’s just one aspect.

I feel compelled to yell out to everyone in the region that Belly Dance is truly for every body. Not just for the thin belly or the voluptuous belly. Not just for after you’ve lost 10 pounds. Why allow self-judgment and perfectionism about our bodies to stand in the way of a chance to move joyfully?

The belly is an all too often chagrined area of our form, oft misunderstood, and certainly under-utilized. While it’s true that Belly Dancing has the potential of waking up movements and muscles throughout that section, and there are the inevitable belly laughs shared by the students that gather, there are no requirements for belly size, shape, or aptitude. All women are welcome and encouraged to give Belly Dance a try.

We each have a belly and we each are ripe with creative potential. My class teaches Belly Dance from the ground up. We start by simply getting the rhythm in our feet and moving it up and out of us, improvising movements as we go, expressing ourselves organically. Isolations are also introduced (the movements of the dance) as well as traveling steps.

There is an art to Belly Dance. The art for me includes isolating movement in one part of the body, such as the hips or rib cage, while the rest of the body remains still. Eventually we get to layer movements on top of others like coordinating Snake Arms while stepping the Grapevine or adding a shimmy to a pelvic circle.

The layers and the isolations are integrated into choreographed or improvised pieces, another aspect of the art. Whether dancing to live musicians (a wonderful dynamic) or to a favorite recorded song, we get to put the moves into a variety of sequences that the teacher may offer or that you interpret from your own experience. The mastery of the art comes with practice, persistence and patience, over time.

But while mastery may come over time, it is not the point. As adults, we are often quick to judge ourselves in a learning environment. We approach dance, or other new skills, with an expectation that we should “get it” right away, or that we need to do the movement perfectly after a couple classes, otherwise we might as well give up. Self-compassion is important in learning anything new. If you get a chance, observe a small child learning to walk and marvel at her persistence. The young child isn’t counting the number of times she’s fallen; she gains more information with each fall, refining her movements constantly.

I invite students to get curious about their own process of learning. How do these new movements feel? What is it like to dance to new rhythms and songs? In class, I provide an environment to explore: to get a feeling of the rhythm of the music being played, to get a general rhythmic sense into the body, and to try out new ways of moving—up-down, side-side, in circles, diagonally, forward-back, in various traveling steps, etc. Let the joy come first and the moves will follow almost magically.

We embark on a journey of getting more comfortable being in our whole selves—body, mind, all our parts into one whole. We get clear about setting an intention for movement, trusting that with time, the movements will come and will come from an authentic place. We begin to get comfortable moving and groovin’ within a group of people. Whenever possible, I relate the Belly Dance moves to movements many people are already familiar with in daily activities.

Every movement is a dance and every moment is a chance to dance.

Women might hold back from Belly Dance because of a misconception about what Belly Dance is. They might think it is an erotic dance performed for men. While any dance or movement can be expressed or perceived as erotic, as I teach Belly Dance, it is by women for women. People also think of it as a solo performer’s dance when it can really be a group experience within a community of women. And it has a deep history in this vein.

In the history of Belly Dance, there is evidence that at women-centered gatherings, women would perform movements that expectant mothers could learn to facilitate childbirth, or at the very least, that could be seen as sympathetic movement to encourage the laboring mother (see the dancer Morocco’s account ( Moreover, women in many Middle Eastern countries (and around the world) come together around various life events, celebrating in laughter, music, and dance. It’s a natural part of being together.

Not only are there many events where women have the opportunity to share dance, there are many different types of Belly Dance. The style of dance I teach and perform is called Tribal Fusion. It’s a generalized term that encompasses a broad base of styles of dancing, music, and costuming. The dancing comes from the Middle East, North Africa, India, Spanish Flamenco, Gypsy Rom, and North, Central and South American dance forms. The costuming has a “tribal” look, though there is no specific tribe to which to attribute the look. Coins, pendants, fabrics, and more originate from India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries. There are crafters and musicians from the U.S. who are also creating costume pieces and music inspired by these cultures and these styles of dance.

The term “tribal” not only describes the style of costuming, but also speaks to a way of life. Women who dance together encourage each other to grow within an accepting community. My students are becoming increasingly more comfortable in their own skin, more connected with each other, more courageous with their movements, and they are taking opportunities to costume up and perform in front of others together. It’s wonderful! The women who come to class are beautiful and varied in size, age, and background.

Dancing to our hearts’ content is a joyful way to celebrate our lives on Earth. Moving, swaying, skipping, etc. to rhythms and to melodies is innate to us. Belly Dance, culturally based in the Middle East, offers us a wide range of expression of our whole selves. Dance is for everyone. Belly Dance is for every body.

Yoga and Grief

by Sandra Helpsmeet

Anyone who has experienced a significant loss knows that one’s body and mind are profoundly affected by it. The normal and natural reaction of grieving simply happens. And it is painful. The pain can be physical, with aching head, neck, chest, and back being common symtoms. The pain can be emotional, such as anger, despondency, sadness, fear, and confusion. Some common reactions are hard to categorize, like the low energy, apathy, difficulty eating and sleeping, difficulty with focus and memory, and numbing fatigue. The body is sent into a stress response, which can make one more vulnerable to becoming ill. As is true in the face of any pain, we frequently contract around it, creating areas of tension in the body that become more painful, or simply numb. Or we organize around the pain. Either way, the pain of grief can easily become the center of our lives at least for a time.

In addition, grief triggers old loss, so we may find ourselves grieving for more than one loss. And all of this occurs in a cultural surround that does not give much permission or safe space for grieving. While it is helpful, important even, to eat well, exercise, get adequate sleep, nurture oneself, and receive understanding, non-judgmental support, that can be easier said than done. Yoga and meditation can be very helpful in this welter of confusion and pain. Yoga is a mind/body/spirit practice, so it is uniquely positioned to help on all those levels. The physical practice (asana), breathing practice, meditation, and spiritual understandings of yoga cannot make grieving go away, but they can help us change our relationship to our grief.

The physical practice of asana invites the practitioner to focus inwardly, noticing body sensations, thoughts, images, and feelings. Keeping attention focused on the experience of the pose helps students see that they focus instead of being at the mercy of their thoughts and feelings. Asana practice helps the student find and release areas of tension, the tension of grief held in the tissues of the body, thus reducing pain. Breathing exercises help bring the mind-body connection into awareness, calm the stress response, and create stillness. The practice of deep relaxation helps integrate experience and bring new awareness into focus. Through the combination of practices, students learn to suspend judgment and step back and observe. This can create greater awareness of how we are responding to our grief.

In the process of trying to hide, deny, or manage our grief, we can inadvertently do things that increase our suffering. We flee our ‘in the moment’ experience by either shutting down our awareness or entertaining worse images of the future out of fear of future losses. We desperately try to believe that we can have ease by escaping our present experience, which can never work. It is only by being in our present experience that we can change our relationship to it. Ken Druck, a grief counselor and yoga practitioner says, “Through yoga, people can learn to modulate the breath, the pain, and the obsessive thinking.” Diane Roberts of Foundation Yoga says: “… I tell students…that rather than trying to ‘get over it’ or ‘work through it’, try to integrate your grief into who you are … Yoga helps you live in your body with your emotions.”

Yoga teaches that everything changes, including what is me and mine. When we think about it, it is obvious that this is true. Yoga also gives us a way to get in touch with our essence, that which does not change. Learning to sit or stand with this touchstone gives us a way to weather the storms of grief. Asana practice, breathing practice, and meditation, give us glimpses of this deep stillness.

To find a yoga class or teacher that can help you when you are grieving, you may need to look around and try things out. A class situation and/or teacher who can provide safe space is enormously helpful because it is possible that the practice of yoga may unlock areas of the body and release emotions or thoughts. You may want to cry, or to stop and reflect or write in a journal. A safe space can help you feel free to do so.

Sometimes when one is feeling lethargic or anxious it can be helpful to do some strong poses to help one get back into one’s body and connected to life energy. Sometimes one needs more gentle movement or nourishing poses. A sensitive teacher can help facilitate what one needs. If there is a yoga class for grief near you, that is ideal. If not, a class that feels safe to you and allows you to do what you need to can be a very good alternative. It is also possible to arrange private lessons with a teacher.

Yoga is often thought of as a practice that helps you feel good, but feeling good is not really the point. Being aware of what is real for us in the moment is closer to yoga’s aim. Being in the moment takes us closer to our essence, and acceptance of what is takes us closer to peace. Sometimes that takes us into pain that we would like to avoid, but as is usually true, the shortest way is through. Yoga teaches us that clinging to pleasure and avoiding pain keeps us trapped. Accepting, breathing, being with what is, helps us come to the point where we can let go and allow a new view to arise.

“He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity’s sunrise.” ­­–William Blake

BONE-afide FACTS about Osteoporosis

by Lori Heck

If you are a female reading this article, you could be the 1 out of every 2 women who may suffer an osteoporosis-related fracture at some point in her life. For men, you may be the 1 in 8 statistic. Though my focus of this article is geared toward women and bone health (women are 4 times more likely to have osteoporosis), men must pay attention as well. Approximately 28 million Americans are affected by osteoporosis!

The National Foundation of Osteoporosis defines osteoporosis as ‘a disease characterized by low bone mass and structural deterioration of bone tissue, which leads to bone fragility and increased risk of fracture.’ This is a preventable and manageable disease provided action is taken through weight-bearing and strength training exercises coupled with proper nutrition and supplementation. Weight bearing exercise is any activity that is done on your feet and causes your body to work against gravity such as walking, jogging, or a group exercise class (swimming and biking would not be considered weight bearing, though great for heart health). Strength training exercises would be the use of dumbbells, bands, bodyweight, or resistance machines to work both your bones and muscles. Both of these types of activities are going to cause impact to the skeleton (bones), which in turn breaks bone down so it can rebuild/remodel to become more dense.

In a woman’s life there are two crucial times that taking action are important. The best time period to begin is between the ages of 9-14, and ideally, she would continue to take action for her entire lifespan. It is during this age range (pubertal growth spurt) that the more impact on the skeleton the most bone building benefit will occur. By the age of 20, women have reached 98% of their bone mass. The goal after age 20 is to focus holding on to that bone mass through continued exercise and proper nutrition.

The next crucial marker on the timeline to begin weight-bearing and strength training exercise to help prevent the onset or slow the process of low bone mass, is the period just before menopause (average woman begins menopause at age 50). Women can lose up to 20% bone mass 5-8 years after her menstrual cycle begins. For women who are in their 50’s and older and have not participated in any type of weight-bearing and strength-training activity- it is NOT too late! In fact, a study that was done at Tufts University by physiologist Miriam Nelson, showed that postmenopausal women that performed two 40-minute strength training sessions per week for 1 year gained 1% in bone density, while women in a sedentary control group lost 2%-SCARY! You will want to speak with and be cleared by your physician, plus, meet with and/or hire a certified personal trainer before adhering to an exercise program. A simple twist or misaligned movement for someone who has osteoporosis could lead to a fracture if movement is performed incorrectly. The certified trainer will also be able to inform you of the exercises that are going to be most beneficial for you.

Proper nutrients also play a vital role in the prevention or maintenance of the disease. John Mamana, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Georgetown University and founder of American Health Sciences, emphasizes the importance of calcium and vitamin D. Bone is living tissue that goes through various processes including building and remodeling- calcium and vitamin D are essential nutrients to help with those processes. Different age groups require different amounts of adequate limits (so be sure to check with your physician). When speaking of calcium, youth ages 9-18 should consume approximately 1300mg, adults 19-50yrs 1,000mg and individuals 51yrs+ 1200mg. Calcium can be found in dairy products, vegetables and many foods are now fortified with calcium. Vitamin D is needed for calcium absorption in the intestines. In the kidneys it is converted to a steroid hormone needed for bone development in children and bone maintenance in adults. Vitamin D can be found in dairy products, fish, eggs and sunlight. Again, different amounts are required for different age groups- for those 6 months and older approximately 400IU, and for the elderly approximately 600IU, unless your physician states otherwise.

The key to overall health and bone health is to get your child active and eating healthy so to set a good habit for later in life. As an adult, get started if you haven’t and be sure to incorporate both cardiovascular and strength training exercises. For those who have elderly parents- learn about their current health status, and if cleared by a physician, encourage them to be or become active! Take control of your health!

* All persons should contact their physician before beginning an exercise program, especially if you have any condition related to osteoporosis. If cleared, be sure to speak with a certified personal trainer to learn about what exercises/movements should be avoided.

Lori Heck, Owner of ASPIRE Personal Training & NASM-CPT. Lori can be reached at or 715-271-9678

The Buff Brain

Two days a week you run, you lift weights, and find your “Om” in a weekly yoga class, but when was the last time you exercised your biggest muscle? When was the last time you challenged your brain to a workout? Just like exercising your body, your mind need equal attention to stay sharp and focused.

Neurologist and author of The Better Brain, David Perlmutter says, by age 40, about two-thirds of people experience some mental decline. Our brains begin slowing down with mild memory problems or fuzzy recollections, and can dramatically increase as we age if we don’t work out the gray matter. By 65, one out of every 100 people have some level of dementia, like confusion, forgetfulness that can be mild to severe, and a have a difficult time living on their own. By age 75, that number increases to one out of every 10 people, and according to the National Institute on Aging, by 85 almost all of us have Alzheimer’s.

This mental decline occurs for the same reason the rest of the body ages: the cells lose their ability to recover from damage, particularly from compounds called free radicals. The process is accelerated by lack of physical exercise, stress, insufficient sleep, toxins in our environment, tobacco, trans fats in our diets, trauma to the head, and other harmful agents, according to Perlmutter.

There is a bright side. A growing number of research says that brain workouts can slow the decline. “We know there’s a relationship between how much people challenge themselves mentally and the likelihood of them developing a disease like Alzheimer’s later on,” says psychologist Elizabeth Edgerly, spokesperson for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Maintain Your Brain program. “People who do things like study another language, learn a musical instrument, or play games like chess or bridge, appear to do better than people who don’t.”

A 2004 study in the journal Natural showed that adults who learned to juggle increased the size of the part of the brain that was used to process complex visual motion.

Another study showed that cab drivers in London had a more developed section of the brain that was important for spatial memory. More interesting was that the longer they had been a cab driver, the bigger this part of the brain was. Although scientists don’t yet know whether these changes resulted from the growth of new brain cells, or simply from new connections being formed, they provide vivid proof that even as adults, we can change our brains.

Mental gymnastics
Keep your brain on its toes by regularly exercising the part of your brain you don’t use all the time. “The things that are good for your brain involve new learning,” says Robbi Peele of Posit Science, which developed the cognitive-health program called Brain Fitness. “Doing a crossword puzzle is good for your brain, but if you’ve been doing crossword puzzles for years, it’s not going to keep it in the learning mode and prevent cognitive decline as effectively.”

Here are a few ideas:

*To keep reasoning skills honed, solve riddles, sudoku, or logic puzzles; join book clubs and discuss different works of literature; discuss world issues with friends. Rhetoric is a great logic exercise.

*For verbal skills, do word games like crossword puzzles, word jumbles, or play Scrabble; really challenge yourself and learn a new language.

*To increase memory, revert to your childhood and actually play the game Memory. Card games are also great for memory stimulation.

*For visual and auditory processing, buy a book with pictorial mind benders, play an instrument, or you could listen to books on tape.

*To maintain coordination and dexterity, you could learn to knit, try racket ball, or use the mouse or a pen with the opposite hand for a bit each day.

Play smart
That’s right. Science is telling you to play video games. If it’s in your budget, go and get Brain Age by Nintendo, Brain Fitness by Posit Science, or MindFit by Cognifit. These games all challenge the mental makeup by improving memory, auditory and visual processing, reaction time, and hand-eye coordination. These games target all ages, even younger people who may have noticed the occasional “senior moment.”

According to Natural Solutions magazine, scientists are testing MindFit to see if it helps people with multiple sclerosis, and there’s a new version of MindFit designed for cancer patients whose chemotherapy drugs have left them with “chemo-fog”—a pattern of memory loss, fatigue, and cognitive dullness that can last for years after treatment. The same article goes on to say that Easter Seals is also using the Brain Fitness program for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who’ve suffered traumatic brain injuries.

But are they effective? The evidence is early but exciting. Research found that three months of playing MindFit significantly improved cognitive abilities in elderly people. “It’s very exciting for people to see that it’s possible to change,” Edgerly says, “that you can work at it and potentially regenerate the brain.”

Healthy body, healthy mind? Let’s face it, if we don’t eat right, our bodies can’t respond, and proper nutrition is essential to getting our minds defogged. Eating antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, as well as foods high in omega-3 fatty acids help improve mind health. Also important is keeping an active social life. “People who maintain and expand their social relationships appear to do better mentally than those who are more socially isolated,” Edgerly says. Finally, get physically fit. When you exercise, your body increases the blood flow and oxygen levels in the brain. In fact, Alzheimer’s is strongly linked to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. By eating right and getting enough exercise you can help keep your brain in tip top shape.

Healthy Heart Workout

by Lori Heck, Owner of ASPIRE Personal Training, Certified Personal Trainer-NASM

This workout can be done anywhere, so no more excuses for not getting in a good workout. As long your physician and/or physical therapist has cleared you, you are good to go! Do each exercise for 20 seconds. Take a one-minute rest and then repeat 1-2 more times. As you get stronger, go for 30-40 of each exercise with a one-minute break in between.

Make sure you warm up first by going through these movements at a slower pace and ease into the movement. Keep the range of motion a little smaller. For the actual workout round you can then add some intensity and increase your range of motion! Have fun!!  (And be sure to check with your physician before beginning a workout program!)

Jumping Jacks or Jump Rope (rope is not needed)

Squat – with arms in the air (make a V with your arms, slightly squeeze shoulder blades together and drop them into your back pockets-hold them there so you feel slight tension in your back as you squat). As you squat, sit back as if you were going to sit on a chair and keep the majority of your weight in your heels. Be sure your knees do not come over past your toes. (right)

Bent Over Row – stand with feet shoulder-width apart, slightly bend at your knees and tip forward so your chest is almost parallel to floor. Pull your belly button to spine and hold to help support your low back and maintain a flat back-don’t round the shoulders. Arms are long and palms are facing each other. Initiate movement by pulling your shoulder blades together and drive your elbows towards the ceiling. Pretend there is an egg between your shoulder blades and you want to crack it! Control your arms back down towards floor and repeat. You can use dumbbells, a resistance band, soup cans, water bottles (yes, full ones)– anything that is weighted and easy to hold. (below)

Stationary Lunge
– Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Step one foot back so your weight is distributed on back toe and front heel. Bend front knee (make sure it does not come over past front toes) and bend and drop back knee towards the floor. Push back up, pushing through the front heel. Repeat in an up and down rhythm. (below)

– Get into plank position on your hands. Drive your right foot to your right elbow and take it back to start point. Then repeat that same movement, but with your left foot. Repeat this back and forth movement for 20 seconds.

Plank Hold – on elbows or hands. Pull belly button to spine, hold and BREATHE! (below)

Overhead Arm Raises
– use light weights and do not excessively arch your back. Again, pull belly button to spine and hold. Don’t forget to breathe!! *** If you have high blood pressure you definitely want to keep the weight light and be sure to breathe out as you lift your arms overhead.

Ball Roll Out – In a kneeling position with the exercise/stability ball in front of you, place your hands together as if you were praying and place them on the ball. Slowly roll the ball out in front of you making sure your hips follow (try not to keep a bend at the hip). Take it to the “sticky” point (point at which you feel you better stop because you may not get back to start position). Keep your abs tight (belly button to spine). (right)

Heart Health Exercise:
* Check your resting heart rate! Best time to take your resting heart rate (RHR) is upon waking before you step foot out of bed. Take your middle and ring fingers of your right hand and place them on your left wrist on the same side and just down from your thumb. Some people have a very prominent pulse, others have a very faint pulse. Just focus and practice. You’ll need a watch or clock with a second hand. Once you find your pulse, take it for 15 seconds. Take that number and multiply by 4. This is your approximate resting heart rate. It is best to take your RHR for three consecutive mornings at around the same time and then figure the average of the readings for more accuracy. The average male adult has a RHR of 70 beats per minute (bpm) and 75bpm for females. Your RHR can tell you a few things:

* An RHR lower than the average 70bpm and 75bpm can indicate that your heart may be becoming stronger and more efficient if you have been adhering to a regular cardio program. Your heart will be able to pump a larger volume of blood in a single beat, therefore, it doesn’t have to work as hard! Many endurance athletes (tri-athletes, cyclists, rowers, etc…) have a low RHR sometimes in the low 50’s and upper 40’s.

* If you have been checking your RHR every morning and it has been a consistent number and then one morning it is elevated, it could be that you may be coming down with the flu (especially if you have been feeling blah), or it could mean you are over training. Time to evaluate and rest if need be.

* If you have a consistent RHR over 100bpm you should see your physician. A consistent RHR of 100+ is called tachycardia. In an article written by Mayo Clinic, tachycardia can disrupt normal heart function and could potentially increase the probability of stroke, sudden cardiac arrest, or death. Same with the other extreme-too low! If your RHR is under 60 it is called bradycardia.

* On the flip side, if your heart rate is very slow, 60bpm or less, that could be cause for concern. However, if you are a young, healthy adult or a trained athlete, and have an RHR under 60, there is not as much concern.

Adhering to a regular exercise program, a minimum of 30 minutes, 5-7 days per week will help keep your ticker pumping strong. Like I stated earlier, your heart will become more efficient and will pump blood and oxygen to all the muscles of the body with less effort! Though exercise is a great way to help prevent many health issues, heart events, such as a heart attack, can still occur. However, you are more likely to survive the event and recover faster.

For those who have had a heart event, an exercise program is going to help you to feel better mentally and physically. You may have a few precautions from the doc and the wonderful staff in the cardiac rehab department, but before you know it, you’ll be feeling great! A great workout, once cleared and ready, is the use of the Peripheral Heart Action System (PHA). This is a workout that utilizes dumbbells, machines, cables, etc… and alternates between an upper body movement into a lower body movement. For example, doing a set of 15 push-ups on the knees, to a set of 15 bodyweight squats, then an upper body exercise, to another lower body exercise. This style of training forces blood flow from one end of the body to the other, it is more demanding of the cardiovascular system, and will have an increased calorie burn!