Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Food 101

I keep hearing from folks who are already resenting the weight they're going to gain during the holidays.  I can tell by the way they talk that they are already resigned to it.  Which, in my mind, is the same as planning for it to happen.  No one is actually saying, "I'm putting into motion a well-laid-out plan to gain 5 pounds over the holidays," but by assuming that it's the inevitable outcome, they might as well be.

I don't ever assume that I'm going to gain, lose, or even maintain a specific weight over the holidays.   I do plan to eat the foods and participate in the activities that make me feel strong, nourished,  and healthy.

I also plan to enjoy myself (hello, Williams-Sonoma Peppermint Bark).  For me, moderation, persnickety-ness, and awareness are key.

Moderation:  Tasty food is ever abundant in our society, and on any given day, I don't like eating so much of it that my tummy has to push uncomfortably against its neighboring organs.  Why would that change because of a calendar date/month?

Persnickety-ness:  Being a picky eater (within reason) can be a good thing!  Offer me a chocolate chip cookie from a brand-name bag off the grocer's shelf, and I'll typically say no; offer me a fresh, homemade cookie from Zoe's Kitchen and I'll love you forever.  Just because the mass-produced cookies are easily snatched from the potluck table doesn't mean the enjoyment factor will outweigh the calories.

What if it's an array of homemade treats ranging from red velvet cake to melt-in-your-mouth brownies?  Step one:  I select the one I think I would most enjoy.  Step two:  I take a bite and pay attention to it!  Does it taste as scrumptious as I thought it would?  Step three:  If yes, I enjoy and skip ahead to the third key, below.  If no, I'd be foolish to cram the rest of it in my mouth anyway.  I get rid of it and try something else if I'm still wanting a sweet, making sure to repeat steps one and two!

Awareness:  Your body will tell you when you're craving something, including treats and sweets.  Most of us listen real well to that sweet impulse, but aren't always super aware of the other signals.  Once I finish that scrumptious brownie (or whatever it was), I owe it to myself to let it "sit" a few moments before diving into the next anything.  Your body will tell you what it wants:  dang, that's a lot of sugar, I feel loopy; boy, sure could use some protein now; wow, I feel so dehydrated; etc.  I stop and listen for those messages.

And I try to remember, listening to our bodies is NOT the same thing as listening to our emotions.   Food is primarily fuel, and often pleasure, but is never love, security, or popularity.  Indulge accordingly and love yourself today, tomorrow, and on January 2nd!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

One Woman's Trash

This past weekend, we attended a costumed event at a friend's house.  My costume called for a pair of evening shoes, which I don't own.  I improvised by digging out an old, old, pair of dance shoes that I remembered having a glittery silver brocade.

As I put them on, I noticed they were in shabbier condition than I had remembered, but hey, it's a costume party at a dining room table - how important are my shoes?

As I tried to buckle the ankle strap, from which the original dye had long since worn off, the synthetic fabric making the strap had sort of melted into a gum-like substance, and couldn't be completely secured.  No matter; it's on well enough to walk from house to car into house.

Anyone else probably would have recognized the signs and selected another pair of shoes.  Not me.

It wasn't until we were seated in the dining room, about forty minutes into the party that I wondered about the breeze I felt on my right foot.  As I shifted around, the right shoe began to feel oddly looser.  And looser.  And a bit flappy.  It was only when I looked down that I realized the extent of the situation:

My shoe had disintegrated (over time in the closet) and had given up at the dinner party.
At this point, if you've made it this far, you're probably wondering why this is a blog post.  See, that wasn't just any pair of dance shoes.  It was my first ever pair of dance shoes.  I probably bought them in 1992 or 1993.  They were 20 years old, had been danced in a lot in their day, and with pretty sweaty feet (oh, the things we share with the world).
I haven't worn them in years, but have been saving them for sentiment.  Finding ballroom dance changed my life.  Finding I could teach it changed it again.  It has made me a little overly attached to what should be trash, but in my heart is treasure.  And that's why I'm keeping them.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

You know what I love about a Zumba Fitness class?  There is no way to mentally "check out." 

Not and keep up with the class.  Believe me, I've tried.  (Not on purpose, of course.)  But on those rare occasions when my thoughts have wandered for a moment or two, I've always snapped back to the present tense suddenly aware that the music has moved on without me.  (And often, the class has, too.)

It's true on both sides of the equation.  It doesn't matter if I'm leading my own classes, or being one of the led in someone else's class - a moment of mental lapse is a luxury you just don't have time for.

If you're paying attention to the music, and the choreography, and monitoring your body's exercise intensity, there isn't much time to pay attention to anything else.  And if you're the instructor, you're paying attention to all of the above, plus cueing the next move, monitoring your students' progress and safety, and maybe even providing a little entertainment.

If you did try to take a class and run the mental hamster wheel at the same time, it would probably go something like this:

"...blah, blah, blah, I know the instructor's name and all her same old announcements, what I really need is to remember to call Sally about...oh wait, the warm-up already started...feet go step-touch, step-touch, got it, so anyway, I also have to run to Publix and get some cookies or something for...oh, man, she changed the arm, OK, arm overhead, got it...where was I?...oh, yeah, call Sally, go to Publix, buy cookies, and then...whoa, didn't see that move coming...OK, 3-step and knee lift, back with a kick, add a punch - hey, that's cool, let's do that again...oh yeah,, what a great stretch...I'm so glad I'm here!"

And by then, most of us really are "here."  Once you get going, the natural pace and rhythm of the class leaves very little gap for reality to intrude.  For many of its adherents, a Zumba Fitness class is a weekly - or daily! - mini-vacation from schedules, stresses, and responsibilities.  A place to set aside the to-do list, work out the stresses in a great workout, and leave feeling totally "checked in" and focused.

I hope everybody has one of those - an activity that demands so much of your attention that for a short hour or so, no physical ailment, no personal problem, no impending event can intrude.  Something that you end feeling better than you did when you started, every time.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Nothing to do with Dance - OK, Maybe a Little

As fascinating as the world of dance is to me, I am fresh back from vacation, and all I really want to talk about is my trip!  So, to compromise, I thought I'd share how I like to credit my hours per week of dance and Zumba Fitness with giving me the cardiovascular strength to do exactly what I wanted to do out west.

I like living in Florida, but if you're looking for challenging hiking terrain, Go West, Any-Age Person!  Cool weather, crisp air, and clean skies - lovely hiking weather, right?  Now add elevation of a mile or more (at the trailhead), uphill climbs at steep grades, plus scrambling over rocks, and we Floridians end up with some challenged lungs!  (Oh, and did I mention that my husband isn't one to just saunter his way along the trail?  It's like he sees a checkered flag waving in the distance...)

I was mentally prepared to be hurtin' for certain, loving the experience, but paying the physical price nonetheless.  But you know what?  For a flat-terrain native, I did pretty well!  Which is not to say that I never got out of breath.  Trust me, there was heavy breathing involved, and I know my happy little core, glutes, and leg muscles were w-o-r-k-i-n-g.  Conversations on the uphill climbs were short, choppy, and winded.

But what struck me, quite noticeably, and what I'm using to gauge my success overall, was how rapidly I was able to recover (cardiovascular-ly) from the more strenuous climbing sections (usually within a minute), and how long it took me to fatigue (one day, we were hours on trails requiring climbing and a lot of uphill before I started to feel it).

I'm sure that adrenalin (exposure to heights = survival instinct kicks in) and euphoria (soooooooo excited to be out there, in such beautiful country) had a hand in my little personal success.  Still, I can compare this experience to past trips with activities requiring more than just a leisurely stroll, and I feel certain that my years of consistent weekly cardio - I probably average 2 hours of cardio, at least 5 days per week (a bit over and above the ACSM's daily recommendations, but that's my career for ya'...) - gave me the capacity and endurance to enjoy my vacation the way I wanted to.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it until someone proves me wrong...     ;) 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Floor Craft

If you are a pro guy, and you competed in Pro-Am events at First Coast Classic this weekend, and you altered your path, adjusted your choreography, or in any way yielded space to the amateur men on the floor, this female teacher says:


For being gentlemen on the floor, for understanding that you can present your student well without mowing over someone else's, for giving those hard-working (hobbyist) male students a fighting chance, I appreciate you!

The irony is that the very guys I'm thanking probably did things so unconsciously, so automatically, with such an in-the-moment type of awareness that if you mentioned it to them later, they wouldn't even remember they had done it.

So it seems less appropriate to single out any specific favors towards my student and more correct to give a general nod of gratitude to all the pros who:  1) have developed the skill to look out for our guys, and 2) still believe it's the right thing to do.  I salute you!

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Carrot Worth Chasing

Last Saturday night was the First Coast Dancing With the Stars event, and it went really well.  I am so proud of Karl for doing such a great job in his first-ever dance anything, and I hope I get the opportunity to work with him in the future, but in a more relaxed, less choreography-driven manner.  I'd love to guide him through the experience of learning social dancing, in which the "stakes" are typically way less stressful, for a newbie especially, than a choreographed routine and solo performance.

In the meantime, it's never a dull moment...this time next week we'll be at the First Coast Classic dance competition.  "We" is yours truly and my student Theo, pictured above at the same comp last year.  The last few months we've been really focusing on his American Smooth and International Standard dances.  Working on our posture translates into mantras of "head, left, stretch, focus, taller...OK, more taller...good, now a little taller, please...".  Improving our quality of movement comes with a chant that goes something like "arches, femur, core, chest, turn...".  Breaking them down piece by piece, trying to put them all together. 

Sound crazy?  Why do it?  Because we live for those moments when it all does come together (we wish we knew exactly how we did it).  We recognize those moments because in them, we're aware that we're working. our. butts. off.  Yet somehow the movement as a whole seems easier, lighter, more fluid.  Effortless despite the tremendous effort.  Everything else is an attempt to capture that same feeling again and again. 

Fortunately, it's a carrot we both quite enjoy chasing.  I hope everyone out there has a carrot like that.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Party in Pink 2013

Know what a Zumbathon® charity event is?   It's a massive undertaking to put one on - an enormous fitness concert that can attract hundreds of participants who buy tickets, dance/workout for 2 hours, and go home a little fitter, a lot pumped up, and happy knowing they've donated to a charitable cause.

Zumba® Fitness "joined the fight against breast cancer" by launching the Party in Pink event about three years ago.  This year is significant because, while 75% of ticket sales still go to research, it's the first time I've seen them describe specifically what kind of research:  "a study of the effects of flaxseed consumption on pre-menopausal women as a safe, low-cost, highly accessible solution to help prevent breast cancer on a global scale."  (I like the prevention message.)

Attend a Party in Pink event this fall (through October 31st) and you'll be contributing to this study, the first medical research grant named for the Zumba® Fitness program, and led by researchers from the University of Kansas Medical Center and the University of Texas at Austin.

You can find a Party in PinkZumbathon® event in your area here.  Just looking for more info

And by the way, since October (National Dye Everything Pink Month) is on the horizon and we're about to be inundated with it from all sides:  can we please stop saying "breast cancer awareness" and shift our focus to "breast health awareness."  If you're a survivor or related to one, you probably know what I mean.  Thanks.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Dancing for a Cause

Meet Karl Schulze.  (He's the one holding the sign.)  Karl and I were recruited to participate in First Coast Dancing With the Stars. 

It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like:  local ballroom pros are paired up with local professionals (AKA Stars) who have no idea what they're actually getting themselves into.  These are successful, busy professionals who may border on work-a-holic.  And yet they carve out time from those busy schedules to learn, from scratch, many with no dance experience whatsoever, a choreographed dance number that they perform in front of an audience and judges in the hopes of winning the coveted mirror-ball trophy.

And, aside from the paperweight-to-be trophy, they let themselves get signed up for this gauntlet for one big reason:  a worthy cause.  This time around, it's Beaches Fine Arts Series, a non-profit organization that brings world-class artists to the First Coast area in concerts that are free to attend.  (There's more to them than that, so I encourage you to follow their link to get the full perspective.)

Our big event is coming up on Saturday, September 21st, at Boleros Cultural Arts Center, and as we near the end of this journey, I just want to shout out to Karl:  you have been, and continue to be, good-natured, fearless, and fun - and that is huge.  Thanks for taking this journey with me - I couldn't have asked for a better Star.  (I could have asked for one with more spare time, but I'd rather dance with you!)    ;)

Friday, September 6, 2013

My (Other) Favorite 3 Little Words

Welcome to my world. Most of us have limited spare time, so I appreciate you spending a few moments of yours with me. I will always strive to make it worthwhile.

Today let me just sum up my thoughts by quoting someone else. Her name is Kathy Kent, and she's in the health and wellness field up in the Chicago area. I get her e-mails, and always learn something I like to share with my students.

This time, she is referencing a continuing education training she attended, at which the emphasis boiled down to some pretty darn good health advice:

"Eat good things. Avoid bad things. Move your body."

I especially like the last bit. Move your body. Three words; many paths; great rewards.