Archive of ‘Body Basics & Wellness for Dance’ category

Record Your Holiday Feasts

Have you ever stepped on the scale and been surprised to see that you weigh more than you thought? Have you ever tried to pull on your favorite skinny jeans and have them not fit after a summer/fall of shorts? Have you ever had this dilemma and thought “but I’ve been eating well and dancing most days of the week?” – How did this happen?

Maybe you’ve been taking in more calories than you’ve been burning. A good way to see what’s been happening is to start keeping a food journal. The concept of a food journal can be daunting to some. It sounds hard to have to record everything, even if it is “just a bite of cake.” But it doesn’t take long to do and there are even cool smartphone apps out there if you never have paper handy.

Doing this journal for a week can help you see what you are eating. This is beneficial from several standpoints. First, it will allow you to see whether you are getting adequate nutrition. Do you eat enough vegetables, or does your diet consist mostly of carbs? Secondly, it will help you see the quantity you take in both in terms of calories and amounts of servings. Are you sedentary? Then you will need take in fewer calories than someone who dances who needs more fuel to be able to exercise.

With Thanksgiving right around the corner, take the time for this next week to keep a food log so you can see where you are. My challenge – continue your journal through the holidays to document where your weaknesses are so that you can be more mindful. Say you have a glass of wine but are trying to lose weight – that’s your dessert for the day. Do you go to a birthday party and eat cake? How many servings of pie did you have on Thanksgiving and Black Friday? Those calories add up. 1 pound is 3,500 calories. If you don’t compensate for your splurges or exercise to negate the extra calories you take in then you’ll end up with more than just a food baby after the holidays passes.

The holidays are often times when people want to indulge. But consider this trick for this year – how about indulge in your company of family and friends. Be mindful of your servings and if you need that leftover pecan pie slice for breakfast then watch what you eat the rest of the day. Try convincing your party to go for a light digestive-promoting walk after the big meal.

And the best part of having kept your food journal is you will have a wonderful record of all your holiday festive fun.

 

Exercising. Period.

I was surprised when I ran into one of my students in the hallway and after I remarked that I missed her in class that morning that she responded she had been sad to skip but she had no choice since it was that time of the month for her. I followed up to ask my other students if they also had the misconception that they couldn’t exercise during their periods. I was shocked when three fourths of my class said they had that impression.

Unless we’re discussing the female athlete triad, I’ve never really heard any arguments for not working out on your period. Well except for the excuses from girls who claim they are too tired, feel gross, are bloated, have cramps etc. Actually, I’ve read a lot of studies about how beneficial exercise can be for your menstrual cycle. While I am not a physician, and everyone should consult theirs before beginning an exercising regimen – from a physiological standpoint, exercise is amazing for everything from your cardiorespiratory fitness to weight loss to regulation of your metabolism to hormone fluctuations.

Yes. Exercising during a period can be sweaty. But with the invention of Playtex sport and other such brands you don’t have to sweat having “aunt flow” come to visit.

Being active during your period can help relieve cramps by sending energy to your muscle tissues to help them move and de-constrict. It boosts your endorphins so that your mood swings can be kept under control and it even can help fight the inevitable bloating. I’ve been there – curled up in bed with horrible cramps and I recognize that it can then be a challenge to motivate yourself to be active and get moving when it feels like there is a boxing match going on in your lower abdomen. But I can honestly say from experience that it is worth it to take the effort and make yourself exert some energy. It has helped that I’m an instructor so I can’t just cancel a class because of cramps but if I can get through a class teaching at least at 110% on my period then you could show up and just move around lightly to get your blood flowing.

So next month, put down the Ben & Jerry’s & take off your chubby sweats and go take a class, dance in your room or go for a walk – your body will thank you!

It’s Hot for Our Skin

The heat has been turned on in apartments across the city. It’s the law in New York City that once the outside air hits a certain temperature, central air conditioning must be replaced by central heat. Unfortunately, for me that means that the heat is on and not adjustable. The choice with my thermostat is either On or Off. No regulation of the temperature is possible.

I’ve been dealing with a room that feels like a sauna or a hot yoga studio. I open my window and keep a fan circulating fresh outside air, but the room is still stuffy. It feels strange to put away the down comforter I needed on my bed all summer because of air conditioning now that snow drifts against my window.

And, yes, I’m writing this at the end of October, and in New York there was indeed a snowstorm just in time for Halloween.  When I tried on my German fraulein costume I was shocked to see that my skin looked like I had just come back from a day at the beach – without sunscreen!

Here are some tips to help you get through the cold winter months while the heat is on full blast inside. Keep your skin in good condition so that you won’t hesitate to wear your sleeveless dresses when you go out on the dance floor to warm up.

  • Open your window (s). You’ll get some fresh air, which is important since the heat is using stale air. You’ll also introduce more moisture from outside into your rooms.
  • Buy a humidifier. The heat is pumping in dry air. This can dry out your nasal passages, your throat and especially your skin.
  • Lather up with lotion when you get out of the shower so that your skin has a barrier of protection from the elements. Make sure your shower or bath water is not too hot, because hot water is also drying.
  • Stay hydrated. This will help you fight the light-headedness caused by too much heat. It can also help cool you down internally.
  • Change your light bulbs to more energy efficient types that don’t give off as much heat. Keep your lights off when you aren’t using them.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside – Bundle Up

It’s getting to be that time of year when it’s cold outside. Walking to and from the gym or studio, it’s becoming necessary to wear a coat again.

It’s important to make sure that you bundle up when you go out during these coming months. You can catch a cold if you go outside wet with sweat. The sweat on your skin will attract the cold air, which not only will chill your bones but also leave you susceptible to catching something.

At least bring a scarf, hat and gloves to retain your heat. Your head, hands and feet are the first places for your body temperature to escape from. When you cover these areas of your body you will feel much warmer.

One fashion look that works surprisingly well is a long warm scarf. You can wrap the scarf around your head and neck while you are walking outside to get to the subway or the next club – then, once inside, use it like a pashmina to drape over your shoulders when you’re not dancing.

I’m still learning techniques for coping with temperature changes between my apartment and the gym. Last week it was really hot and stuffy inside, so before going out I stuck my arm outside the window. The air felt crisp, not cold. But once I got outside and had walked a few blocks I realized that the air had felt so invigorating in contrast to the heat in the building – and despite picking up my pace I was getting chilled.

Layers are a smart fashion choice – I’ve started keeping a cozy sweatshirt in my workout bag so once my body heat cools down after exercise I can pull it on to keep warm. I also like to layer an attractive tank under a sweater, so if the sweater is too much when I’m not just sitting still, I can take off the sweater and still look presentable.

Even when you forget to wear enough clothing in the winter, don’t forget there are other time-tested ways to keep warm. Nothing beats walking in the crisp winter air snuggled against your date with his arm around you, unless it is wearing his gallantly offered suit jacket!

Healthy Events

Your heart is your most precious organ. Taking the precautions to care for it correctly can go a long way for preventative medicine or stopping damage from getting worse by bad habits.

This past Saturday I volunteered at the Women’s Heart NY conference on “Love your Heart: Living a Heart-Healthy Life.” This event was put on by the Continuum Health Partners comprised of staff from Beth Israel Medical Center, St. Luke’s Hospital and Roosevelt Hospital. The program was targeted towards women who have a history of heart disease or are at risk for it.

As a dancer, athlete or fitness-inclined individual – your heart is necessary for functioning. This event described effective ways for women in the community to educate themselves on healthy eating to health screenings. It included a Q&A to get common misconceptions fixed and learn pertinent information.

The 50 or so women (and some men) who attended learned about heart disease, the effects of smoking, cholesterol’s role, exercise’s benefit, how to stock a healthy pantry and participate in free screenings before devouring a nutritious and healthy lunch.

I really enjoyed eating the tabouli at the lunch – I’ve amended Roxana Picado of Olla New York’s recipe to my tastes so it includes my favorite foods. You can eat your heart out on healthy foods like this! Also see below for a few quick healthy checks you can do yourself for follow up with your doctor.

Quick Check using the American College of Sports Medicine figures to see if you have a higher risk for developing heart disease:

If you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions follow up with your doctor.

  • Do you smoke?
  • Do you have high blood pressure [140/90 is high, but be aware even if you are pre-hypertensive]?
  • Do you have high blood cholesterol [LDL >160 is high, <100 is good; HDL <40 raises your risk while an HDL >60 is helpful; your total cholesterol should be <200]?
  • Are you overweight or obese [look at your BMI, over 25 is overweight over 29.9 is obese; look at your waist, >35 for women and >40 for men]?
  • Are you sedentary [if so, start moving!]?
  • Do you have Diabetes?

 

Tabouli:

Serving size=6 ppl

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup bulgur wheat
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • 1 garlic clove diced
  • 4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup mint, loosely packed, rough chop
  • ½ seedless cucumber, peeled, small dice (about 2 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 cup sliced or diced cooked chicken, or cannellini beans
  • ½ cup chopped nut of your choice (pine nut, natural almonds etc)

Directions:

Place bulgur in medium to large bowl. Boil water, pour over grain and cover bowl with foil. Let sit for 20 minutes (until liquid is absorbed). Then add other ingredients and mix.

[You can do substitutions such as tofu, tomatoes, raisins, peas, finely diced carrots]

Healthy Snacks to Prevent Weight Gain

As fall approaches it is beginning to cool off on the East coast. Rather than retreat behind comforting layers of clothes to hide your excess pounds try these snacks to keep your physique. And remember that snacking is actually good to keep up your energy level, curb your appetite and help you stay strong for weekend nights of dancing!

This semester with school and research my time for cooking is limited and needs to be quick. These are some of the snacks on my grocery list so that I always have them around for when I feel hungry in-between meals or even just need something to get me through a lecture to a late dinner.

  • Orville Redenbacher’s Smart Pop 100 calorie mini popcorn bags: delightfully filling yet low calories!
  • Grapes: also help hydrate you and when they start drying out you could try to even make raisins!
  • Bananas: excellent source of potassium, helps prevent headaches
  • Natural Almonds: a handful will give you the strength to manage a few more hours
  • Non-caffeinated tea: warm, no calories (unless you add milk like I do but if you use skim it’s not bad for you and also provides a bit of protein), fills you up, hydrates you [remember even in fall and winter when it’s not hot out you could still get dehydrated especially if you are an active individual]
  • Chunky peanut butter: only a tablespoonful but it gives you protein and can stop your stomach from talking to your neighbors when it’s empty
  • Hummus: only a tablespoon, filling, light
  • Carrots: my favorite are the new ridges cut – they are great with hummus or on their own
  • Fage 0% Greek Yogurt: ½ cup with fresh berries on top can also substitute as a healthier dessert
  • Artic Zero: my latest obsession – 1 pint is only 150 calories so if you need to indulge you don’t feel as guilty

The majority of these items are available at any grocery store. Artic Zero is at Whole Foods and specialty food stores.

Many nutritionists recommend that we eat smaller meals throughout the day. Snacks are a good choice when you need a pick me up after your dance class. Snacks help you prep yourself throughout the day so that you’ll have the energy to make it to the gym before you hit the books. A light healthy snack before you hit the sack can help you relax and fall asleep faster. Try these healthy options to satisfy your appetite!

Dancing after Death

Did you know that a squid can dance even after it is dead? I for one, had never seen this until a friend of mine posted this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzj95jHuPiw&feature=related

Apparently, the sodium in the soy sauce can cause the motor neurons in the body to fire causing the legs to move as if dancing. This makes sense neurologically since sodium is used to open the gated channels, which allow for action potentials to fire from the dendrite down the axon and across synapses to send messages throughout the body.

Usually we move our muscles deliberately. The brain sends an intentional message to the muscle. People can also have involuntary muscle movements, such as the knee jerk response, tremors and muscle spasms. Muscle spasms can occur if you overuse your muscles. These don’t require soy sauce to get you to move.

Often when we exercise our muscles can twitch or after we’ve danced for hours we may get a muscle cramp.  Fatigue, stress and even what we eat can cause involuntary movements like these.  Remember how the sodium in the soy sauce activated the limp squid in the video? Sodium and other electrolytes are important for muscle contraction, and when we’re not properly hydrated our muscles let us know.

There’s a good reason why experts recommend drinking water while we exercise, and making sure active people consume a good balance of nutrients. Potassium is often recommended for better muscle health. Foods like bananas, avocados, nuts and beans are good sources of potassium.  Even chocolate and paprika enhance our potassium intake.

Another way to tame involuntary muscle movements is to work the renegade muscle or the nerves nearby. Try stretching or contracting the muscle, or try exercises for strengthening the area around the muscle that is affected.  Yoga is a good way to reclaim control of the body.  Relaxation helps to calm involuntary muscle movement.

A Grain of Salt

Salt is the first seasoning we usually reach for and appears on tables everywhere from truck stops to gourmet restaurants. I love to sprinkle the salt blend Adobo made by Goya on rice or potatoes or veggies. Yet we hear a lot about how salt leads to high blood pressure and should be avoided.

For active dancers and athletes, though, salt is essential. Not only does it taste really good after a workout, but did you know that salt is also important for the physiological functions of our body? Salt, or sodium chloride, functions as a catalyst for the reactions in your body that allow for our movements and interactions. Sodium plays a role in our metabolism and digestive system. It helps control our body fluids as well as the muscular and nerve functions. Chlorine is a key component of bodily fluids. Salt plays a role in balancing our acids and bases in the body.

While too much salt raises blood pressure, highly concentrated flavorful salts don’t need to be used in quantity. In the picture below, see a few blends of concentrated salts my mom bought from Salt, a boutique at the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island, Florida. From left: citrus, black olive, Bolivian rose, Yakima smoked applewood, Hiwa Kai with detoxifying charcoal, Alaea Hawaiian clay with minerals and iron oxide. These salts require just a pinch to infuse a strong, curated flavor.

We’ve all heard the saying ‘take this with a grain of salt’ – this phrase means to accept what is being said but to maintain a healthy skepticism that it is totally true. That’s because salt makes anything more palatable, and so the saying implies that we are more likely to believe what is being said.

I apply this outlook when I seek balance in my activities and my diet. Savoring the salt on the rim of a margarita glass helps this tart yet sweet drink delightfully sipped slowly. So not only am I drinking in moderation, but I’m also being mindful of my student budget, as even happy hour cocktails add up.  Another trick to fulfill cravings is to add a pinch of salt to a sweet dessert like chocolate fondue or ice cream. The sweet and salty combination is more satisfying than either taste alone.

Browse Your Dancer’s Body

A dancer must know her body. She must learn her limitations. She must know her functions. She knows how to express herself through movement. She understands the impact her actions have on her body. Her body is her medium that she uses to engage others, share techniques, teach others moves and live in. A professional dancer has learned the anatomy of her body so that she can master new movements, improve her abilities and stretch herself to new limits. Now, thanks to a new program by Google, it is even easier to check out how the body works: http://bodybrowser.googlelabs.com/. This site, which works best in Google Chrome browsers, allows you to select a virtual body to use as you discover the skeletal system, the venous pathways, the muscular makeup and the internal organs. It becomes an interactive tool helping you create new understanding and develop knowledge of how your body works.

Here you can see the Google demo of the system: http://googlesystem.blogspot.com/2010/12/google-body-browser.html The Google Bodybrowser has very cool functions for learning. You can look at one layer at a time if you’d like. Or switch and use the pins to see certain areas no matter what part of the body you’re examining. It creates a realistic center to figure out how the systems work together. It has a helpful label tag to learn the muscles or main points on the body being shown. It even has a notes feature to allow you to remember your questions, confusions, thoughts or analysis.

This method of dividing up complicated material so it is easily accessible is so important for more of the population to become more knowledgeable about their bodies. This set up makes learning anatomy not scary and intimidating but rather interesting, informative and fun.

So the next time you finish dancing and feel a pull you can look up exactly what muscle you likely pulled or strained on the dance floor. You can see where your bone that you broke attaches to other ligaments or even just how it all is put together. You can look beneath your skin to understand and better care for the amazing structure of your body.

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