I’ve always loved to dance, but have never felt exceptionally graceful or adept at following complicated steps. My early aspirations to become a ballerina were quickly quashed when cast as a toy soldier in the Nutcracker when I was a gangly 11. In Saudi Arabia, I bartered with an Arab woman—clandestine therapy sessions for equally clandestine belly dancing lessons. I would have seen her for free, but she wanted to give me something, and it was all she had. I loved belly dancing, but didn’t continue once back in the States. Still, I dance whenever I can—and I am always among the sweaty crowd of shoeless women closing down the party at weddings and bat mitzvahs.
Three years ago, I discovered Zumba, a class using international music and Latin-inspired dance steps to give you a killer body while making fitness fun. Zumba instructors are energetic, enthusiastic, colorfully dressed, and non-judgmental—classes are loud, friendly, and totally addictive. Zumba’s motto is “Ditch the Workout, Join the Party.” Several times a week, I do just that!
Movement helps me think. When “stuck” while writing, if I stop for a snack or cup of tea, words start streaming—forcing a mad dash back to the computer. When doing Zumba, my monkey mind goes ape-shit! I replay situations, solve problems, come up with writing ideas—and trip over my own feet. Movement stimulates my best creative thinking, but shutting off my mind, getting into the zone, and letting my body take over allows for my best dancing!
Movement is clinically proven to reduce depression and combat stress and anxiety. The reason Zumba is so addictive (in addition to the killer body thing!) is that it makes our body produce endorphins—taking us out of our crazy heads and chaotic lives—one hour at a time. My Zumba zone sometimes transports me to a smoky, candle-lit Argentine nightclub, dancing with swarthy handsome men—how can you beat that?!
This time of year, we all need to de-stress! Before Halloween was over, Christmas lights twinkled and carols filled the air. Thanksgiving was a mere cipher to Black Friday and Cyber Monday—launching us into Holiday Panic! We’ve entered December ill-equipped to handle the stress of the season. Whether we celebrate or not, holidays and the New Year are markers in our lives—stirring up loss and melancholy. For those of us who have lost loved ones in the past year, this season is the first without.
The best way to prevent being swept away in the seasonal undertow is by becoming our own anchors. What I call my Zumba zone is also called mindfulness—the intentional act of being totally present in our bodies. Mindfulness quiets the mind, calms the breath, and stops the body from producing stress hormones—and is best accomplished by engaging as many senses as possible. The simple habit of stopping our looping thoughts and getting back into our bodies for a few minutes an hour can keep us anchored.
So, the next time you stand up, stretch, take a moment to feel your muscles relax and take a deep breath. When you wash your hands, take a moment to experience the warmth of the water and the scent of the soap. Even when you’re rushing to catch a train, take a moment to notice the sights and sounds around you.
And when you have more than a moment, I recommend you take a Zumba class. I might just be there in the crowded brightly-lit gymnasium—among the happy sweaty women imagining ourselves to be excellent dancers in some exotic far-way locale.
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