Archive for the ‘physical health’ Category
I just dread this time of year. When the weather starts getting colder, I start to feel panicky and desperate. I really should have been born in a warmer climate.
See, I’m by nature a very indolent person. Lounging around is my art form. All summer long you’ll find me sprawled out on the porch swing with my book and my iced tea, or stretched out on a blanket with my music and my SPF 70, or chilling in a hammock with a crossword puzzle. I’m not one for throwing frisbees or doing cannonballs. I’m the one that stays behind and watches everyone else’s stuff for them.
The hot weather is great for a lazy person like me. But it’s a different story in the wintertime. Sure, I still lounge around, but I just can’t get warm. I pile on the sweaters and afghans and sit there with my book and my boiling hot tea, and I’m freezing to death. Everyone else is roasting, and I’m getting in arguments because I want to crank the heat up. I wear my mittens in the house.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I’m proud of my sloth-like ways. In fact, inertia is something I work on and struggle against all the time. (Main reason being that, let’s face it, laziness does not help the figure one little bit. Being zen-like is fine, but looking like the Buddha is not. Fat seems to follow the law of the jungle: it preys upon the slowest.)
So this winter I need to find a way to conquer those twin demons, laziness and chilliness. And I think I’ve worked out a scheme.
Whenever I’m sitting around reading a book, if I get the urge to crank up the heat, put on another sweater, or dig another afghan out of the closet, I’m going to do this instead: haul my lazy butt out of the recliner, put on some music, and dance until I get warmed up enough to finish the next chapter.
And if any of my readers out there are of a similar zen-like nature, I invite you to try the same thing!
We post-feminists and latter-day Jazz Babies owe a lot to the New Women of the 1920s. To that intrepid brand of vintage female we owe the right to cut our hair, to show some skin, to wear makeup, and to do anything we damn well please with whomever we like without fear of social ostracism. And most indispensably, the flappers taught us to Charleston.
They achieved momentous things for us, and we should be grateful.
But not every habit bequeathed to us from the Jazz Age generation was beneficial. For example, smoking. The flappers made folks accustomed to seeing women smoking cigarettes in public. Thank you, but no. They also had a disturbing tendency toward giving themselves alcohol poisoning.
Nearly as harmful was what the flapper did to our spines.
Here is what fashionable posture looked like a generation before the flappers:
Here, in contrast, is fashionable flapper posture:
And here is what fashionable posture looks like today:
The visual record is clear. As dancers in a culture that places little value on the spine, we need to be flappers with our attitude, but Victorians with our posture.
Also, don’t smoke.
This is just so weird, I gotta tell you.
First of all, the part of the story that doesn’t have to do with dancing.
My whole life, I’ve had what they call “stereoblindness.” I don’t see in stereo. Everything looks flat, like a painting, and the concept of a 3D movie doesn’t even make sense to me. I can’t parallel park or catch a frisbee, but other than that, it’s never been much of a big deal.
Until this last spring. That’s when I started reading up on this stuff, and what I learned kinda started to bug me. See, both my eyes work fine individually, they just don’t work together. They can’t focus at the same spot. So what happens is that when your eyes don’t point the same direction, in order to avoid seeing a double image all the time, your brain actually has to suppress half the information it’s getting from your eyes.
Well, that bothered me. I just didn’t like the idea that my brain was working against itself that way. You know, using energy working to suppress information from itself. That just sounded like such a waste.
So I got this book, called Fixing My Gaze, and it’s by this lady who had stereoblindness and fixed it by going to a vision therapist. After reading her descriptions of what it’s like to see in stereo, I got kind of obsessed. I just had to experience it for myself. So I tracked down a vision therapist. And last week I went to my first session.
Okay, so what does this have to do with dancing? Well, let me tell you.
See, I’ve been having this problem with my dancing. Whenever I try to have perfect posture and alignment and do all the things my dance teacher is always nagging, er, teaching me about, I get this weird pain in my lower back. But only on the right side. And then I get a lot of popping and snapping in the front of my left hip. Only the left.
Doesn’t take a genius to figure out there’s an imbalance somewhere.
So I’ve been working on this for a while, trying to figure it out, and just recently I started noticing that when I’m not paying attention, my right foot turns out slightly while I’m walking, while my left foot points straight ahead. It’s the weirdest thing.
Well, when I went to my first vision therapy session, the therapist noticed right away that my left eye doesn’t move around as much as my right eye does.
Now, the muscles around your eyes are really tiny muscles. And one of the ways they train your eye muscles is by working on the bigger muscles. In your legs, of all things. Get this? In some weird way, your eyes are connected to your legs.
So she had me do a couple of exercises.
In one, you have to touch the inside edge of each of your feet, alternately, to the same spot on a wall. And guess what? My right foot did it just fine. My left foot couldn’t do it.
Then she had me stand on a wobble board and then tip it to one side and then the other. When I tipped it to the right, no problem. When I tipped to the left, I stumbled every time.
Turns out my eyes and my legs have the same problem!
So my vision therapist is going to fix my eyes by fixing my legs.
And maybe, who knows? Maybe fixing my vision is going to fix my dancing.
Is that not just the weirdest thing?
At the age of forty-five, I have finally learned how to run.
See, I grew up bookish, in a bookish family. We lived purely from our necks up. Nothing involving anything lower than the chin was considered of any value – no dancing, no athletics, no pretty clothes, and sex? Hell, no. Just endless reading and talk, talk, talking.
I never thought of myself as athletic, and as I entered my thirties I was starting to put on pounds. Imagine my surprise when I discovered Lindy Hop, and began to learn that I do, in fact, have hips. I have a cardiovascular system. I have muscles. I have a spine. Who knew?
But I could never run. Even though I could dance long, hard and fast, running was a whole ‘nother thing. As soon as I even thought about running, my chest would constrict, my muscles would tense, and I’d be breathing hard before I even stepped outside! I could maybe run a block or two before I’d have to stop, gasping for air, with a stitch in my side, thinking I was going to die. So the fact is, I developed a fear of running.
I asked a college athletic trainer about it one time. Her helpful advice? “Maybe you’re just not meant to be a runner.” D’oh!
Well, last weekend I was doing a jazz dancing workshop with my friend, teacher and dance guru, the fabulous Brenda Russell, dance maven extraordinaire. And she had us do this thing where we had to move around the room, falling forward from foot to foot in a really relaxed manner. She kept reminding us to breathe and to relax, and after about fifteen minutes of this, I thought to myself, “Hey! Isn’t this just jogging?” Blew me away. It certainly seemed like jogging, yet I wasn’t out of breath, I wasn’t tired, I wasn’t struggling. I was just falling forward from foot to foot.
So the next day, when I went to take my dogs for a walk, I decided to try this falling forward business. I started slowly jogging, and every time I started gasping or dying or freaking out, I would just remind myself to relax and fall forward. And you know what? I made it the whole way like that. I ran, in other words. Slowly, but still, it was running. The whole way! My doggies, Max and Chewy, were certainly surprised. But they weren’t as surprised as I was! I seriously have never done anything like that before.
Okay, so what does this have to do with dancing, you ask? Let me tell you.
As a Lindy Hop scene, I’m sad to say that Portland doesn’t have the best reputation. We seem to have a lot of really arm-y leads who yank their follows in and then shove them out backward in this really rough manner. Correspondingly, some of our follows are pretty heavy and hard to move. And I’m one of them. My main struggle has been learning to negotiate the dreaded lindy swingout – every time a guy looks like he’s going to yank me into a swingout, I instinctively tense up, brace myself, and get really heavy so I don’t get thrown on my ass. Which obviously doesn’t help anything. And then I tend to sort of jump forward on “one,” before the guy has a chance to yank on my arm.
It’s fear, you see. Early on I learned to be afraid of doing a swingout, and now, even though I know better, I’m still fearful, and I still have that tension in my body.
So when I was experimenting with running last week, I was comparing my new way of running with the way I used to run before, when it didn’t work very well. Used to be that instead of falling forward and letting gravity and momentum do their job, I was fighting against both of them. I was tensing up and then sort of springing up and forward on each step, using muscle tension to try and get somewhere. No wonder I was exhausting myself.
And what I realized is that the fear of running that I had, that made running so difficult for me, is the very same fear that I have when I’m dancing and doing swingouts. And it results in the very same tension in my body.
So now, I see what my next step is. I need to learn to take the principles that fixed my running, this business of falling forward and using gravity and momentum instead of muscle tension, and apply them to my swingout.
I’m very hopeful. This running business has given me confidence. If I can learn to run, surely I can learn to do a proper swingout. Wouldn’t you think?
Here’s a thing I do; you might like to try it.
Next time you feel like working up a sweat, instead of going to a cheesed-out aerobics class at the gym or zoning out on the elliptical, stay home instead. Put on your favorite swingable CD or playlist. Then as each song plays, pick one of the following maneuvers and do it for the duration of the song:
- Hopping step-kicks while pushing forward with your hands, in fours, twos or singles.
- Rock step, kick step, moving all around the room.
- Step, scoot, step scoot. By scoot, I mean slide. Try this in all directions, scooting forward, backward, inside, outside, and in place.
- Happy feet, while making extravagant arm motions, chest pops, etc.
- Plain vanilla Lindy, Balboa, or Charleston footwork, moving all around the room.
- My turning exercise.
- Fall off log with scissors on the break.
- Squat Charleston.
- The ab killer: walk around the room doing swivels.
If a song comes on that is ridiculously too fast or slow for any of these, use that song to stretch or to do any muscle-building exercise you can think of. I suggest squats or holding plank position.
Now how do you like that? It’s aerobics without the cheese!
This is kind of a goofy topic, but it’s on my mind today, so here goes:
Dancing can literally save your life.
Specifically, today, I’m talking about balance. The physical ability to not fall down and break your neck.
I remember this one time, maybe twelve years ago. I was out taking a walk. Probably trying to lose weight, I don’t know, I was about forty pounds heavier back then.
Anyway, at one point during this walk I crossed in the middle of a street, somehow missed the curb, and fell down, plop, right on the sidewalk. Total pratfall. Collapsed like a bunch of broccoli, for no apparent reason at all. Just tripped and fell.
So embarrassing! People walking by, avoiding eye contact, trying not to notice the thirty-something, overweight lady struggling to get back up onto her feet. Not wanting to embarrass me further by trying to help. Probably assumed I’d been drinking.
Well, that’s a sad story.
Okay, so fast forward to last winter. After eight years or so of dance classes and social dancing, I was back to a semi-normal weight, and in much better condition. One afternoon I was out walking with Cholula, my Chihuahua.
It had recently snowed, frozen, and then snowed again. Things were pretty slippery out, but Chewie and I were fed up with staying inside.
The only proper boots I owned were zip-up ones with high heels. Just asking for trouble, right? But at least they were warm.
Well, I was making pretty good progress along the sidewalk. Then I got to a spot where a big old tree had encroached on the pavement and deformed it into a lumpy patch of rubble. Not only that, it had dropped big branches all around, and no one had bothered to do anything about it.
So I’m in my high-heeled boots, with my spastic Chihuahua on a leash, picking my way through this treacherous area in the snow.
With my right foot I unknowingly step on a long bent stick. It makes a loud crack, and one end of it flies up in the air.
Chewie freaks out and dashes between my feet.
To avoid stepping on her I take a giant step to the side.
My left heel gets hooked into the stick.
Chewie is pulling on me with her entire eight pounds’ worth of craziness. Her leash is looped around my right leg.
Nothing. A graceful little skippity skip, and the whole thing is over. A total non-event. You’da thought I’d practiced it or something.
I actually continued on my way without even thinking about it. It was only after a couple of blocks that I realized, Hey, wait a minute…
Why am I not lying on the ground right now?
Why? What made the difference between splatting on the sidewalk for no apparent reason, and a decade later staying upright in the most challenging of circumstances?
I can honestly say it was all because of dancing. Dancing saved my life. You want to know the secret of not falling down and breaking your neck? It’s dancing.
Whenever I tell non-dancers about my dancing fixation, I get the same response as when I tell people I like brussels sprouts. “Well,” they say doubtfully, “I guess it’s good for your health.”
If dancing were horrible for your health I would still do it. I can’t help myself. I’d be a helpless dancing addict sleeping in a doorway. My friends would have an intervention for me and I’d be dragged off to the dancing detox where they make you sit around every evening watching television. I’d probably run away.
But as much as I hate to admit it, I think dancing actually IS good for your health. Yeah, exercise, blah blah. But I mean I think it helps your immunity.
I used to get colds all the time. Every year I’d have one really bad cold that lasted forever. Plus about every other year I’d get something like an ear infection or bronchitis. You know what? Since I started dancing in 2004, I’ve had maybe two little colds that lasted about four days apiece, and that’s it.
Obviously, I’m not a scientist, thank God. But my theory is that dancing toughens up your immunity. Think about what you do when you go dancing: In the middle of the night you leave your nice cozy home to go out in the (usually, here in Oregon) freezing cold and damp weather, to go to some public place where you put yourself into close personal contact with a lot of germy people you never even met before. You run and jump around for about three or four hours, getting all hot and perspiry, and then go out in the cold again. You may or may not stop off for some beer and greasy food before going home and to bed about three hours before you have to get up again and go to work. How could that not be great for your health?
Here are a couple of articles. This is an article that says kids who are exposed to a lot of germs have better immune systems. If it’s good for kids, surely it’s good for grownups, right?
This article says that endorphins, which you get from dancing, are good for immunity. See item #1 but kindly ignore #3.
And item #2 says vegetables are good for you too. So eat your brussels sprouts.
Here’s a weird topic that might be of interest to other dancers. You know, as much as I love dancing, and no one loves it more than I do, there is this one little downside. I basically hate the effect dancing has on my sleep schedule. I’m sure a lot of dancers with “real jobs” can identify with this.
I never get home from a dance until at least midnight, if not three or four in the morning. And then when I get home, I can never just fall straight into bed and sleep; I’m too wired and I usually have to putter around for about an hour to unwind. So on dancing nights I’m getting to bed at anywhere from one to five a.m.
But I’m also one of those people who finds it impossible to sleep in. Even without an alarm clock, even with all the shades drawn and the house quiet, I just cannot sleep past about eight a.m. at the very latest. And sleeping in that late makes me feel like a slacker and more or less ruins my day anyway.
Lately, I’ve also gotten into this deal where even on the nights I don’t go out dancing, my sleep is messed up. Either I make myself get into bed early, and then lay there not sleeping – probably wishing I was out dancing – or I fall asleep straight away but wake up at 3 a.m. and can’t get back to sleep again. Then I just lay there worrying that I’m going to turn psychotic from sleep deprivation, and that if I do turn psychotic, people won’t want to dance with me anymore.
But recently I’ve been reading about something called biphasic sleep. Basically, it’s where your eight hours of sleep are divided into two four-hour chunks that are just as healthy. In one version, which you can read about here, you go to sleep at a normal time, wake up naturally in the middle of the night, stay up for an hour or so, and then go back to sleep until morning. Apparently that’s a very traditional way of sleeping – who knew?
The other way is described here, and in this version, you do part of your sleeping in the daytime and part of it at night, and according to some people, it’s still all good. If this is true, I could theoretically take a nice long nap on the days when I’m going out dancing that night, then sleep from, say, only two to seven a.m., and manage not to turn psychotic!
Anyway, I think the approach I’m going to try is a) I’m going to not stress out about it and b) I’m going to do as much napping as I can. And if anyone has advice for me about how to make dancing fit in with a normal schedule, I’d love to hear it!