Polynesian Dances: a mix of fitness and self expression

If you are like me, gym-style workouts aren’t your favorite. I’ve been dancing for almost all my life, and I even have a degree in dance, with Hawaiian hula and Tahitian being my specialty. Ten years ago there wasn’t anything I loved more than going on stage with a more — grass-looking skirt — and a coconut bra (tapea titi), and performing an ōte’a with the rhythm of the drums vibrating through my veins. 

I don’t dance on stage anymore, but I still enjoy dancing at home as a way to reconnect with my art and burn some calories. 

I’ve heard a lot about dances like latin and zumba as effective techniques to get fit and lose weight (and dancing in general brings a lot of benefits to your health), but I couldn’t help but wonder if Polynesian dances were good enough to be considered your go-to physical activity to lose weight and gain strength. 

After some research, I found a study that proves that these type of dances aren’t just good for aerobic, but anaerobic exercise too. The study states that on average, aerobic and anaerobic energy expenditure contribute 83.4% and 16.6%, respectively. These aerobic energy contributions are comparable to other endurance exercises, like distance running and rowing. And across dances, the Hawaiian hula had the highest aerobic energy contribution.

So, if you’re looking for a physical activity that’s considered moderate-to-vigorous intensity, but keeps you out of the gym, Polynesian dancing is a perfect exercise for health promotion and disease prevention.

Tone your body and use it for self expression

Aside from the health studies, I can tell you from personal experience that Tahitian dance and Hawaiian hula can do wonders for your body, and can make you have this feel-good experience after a workout. 

Since these dances focus on moving your hips it requires you to have your knees bent for a long period of time. Like doing a small squat while dancing. This is obviously reflected on your thighs, calves and glutes. Because of the movement, you’ll also notice toning on your hips and abs. These dances usually tell a story, and you use your arms to do so, which eventually tones them as well. 

Tempo is crucial here. There are some songs that are mostly storytelling, so they are slow and graceful. But there are some, especially in Tahitian dance, that have a very fast paced, and there’s nothing like a cardiovascular workout like having to last a complete song on your tip-toes moving your hips as fast as possible. 

Additionally, these dances will help you improve your coordination and enhance your memory. Most dances will help you with memory because you have to learn the steps, but Polynesian dances are more than just steps: you have to learn the story you’re telling and what the signs of the arms and hands mean. 

Regarding self-expression, these dances help you explore different forms to express yourself and consider non-verbal communication in a different way. Since you’re telling a story while you’re dancing they way you move and the facial expression you have become part of the story, and since you don’t use words you learn how to use your body to convey the message. This has helped me become more aware of my body and my movements even when I’m off stage.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Polynesian dances nurture your soul as well. For me, it’s not just about moving and learning the steps, these dances are culture. With every dance you get to learn about the culture of these islands, their history and their values, which are a lot about respect for nature. 

Because of that, especially when I’m feeling stressed or overwhelmed, instead of going for a more traditional workout, I prefer to turn up the music and dance to the rhythm of drums. Soon I feel the tension go away and my mind disconnects from whatever was providing stress. I focus on the movement of my hands, the story I’m telling and the music that’s taking me through the journey.  

Need some inspiration?

Three years ago I had the chance to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii. Nothing is as impactful as the way all these dancers come together to perform.

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and it has invited me to go through my videos and photos of that amazing experience. During my visit to the Polynesian Cultural Center I got to connect with the culture, history and heritage of the different Polynesian islands, and it was a gratifying experience. I mostly admire the devotion these cultures have for nature.

One of my favorite moments of that visit was watching their dance performances live. Especially when they danced on a moving canoe!


Looking for a health booster? Try Chinese Cabbage

Something I believe strongly in is the power of food to heal our bodies. Food is a wonderful ally to prevent illness, to fight chronic health issues and to aid traditional medicine for a faster recovery. 

And when we’re thinking about food as medicine, it’s crucial to analyze the so-called “superfoods” first. Each month I’ll dedicate one post to one of these superfoods that I’ve been eating lately to see the benefits they have for our bodies and how to add them to our diets. But before we start, I’m sure many of you are wondering what makes a food “super”. It’s considered a superfood when it has a very high level of nutrients, such as antioxidants, fiber, or fatty acids, that are considered beneficial to a person’s health. 

One way to determine this is a scoring system called ANDI (Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) developed by Dr. Joel Fuhrman that rates whole foods on their nutrient content. To do so, the formula measures how healthy of a food is when you divide its nutrient per calorie. This gives a result from 1,000 to 0, being 1000 the most nutrient dense food. 

Think green

To get this series started I wanted to dig deeper into a category that is by itself considered a superfood: green, leafy vegetables. Although all the vegetables that fall into this category are extremely beneficial, I’ll be reviewing them individually, since they all have particular properties to highlight. 

As a category, green, leafy vegetables, also known as cruciferous vegetables, are wonderful for your brain health. They help slow cognitive decline, because they are rich in vitamin K, lutein, folate and beta-carotene. Another great benefit is that they can help inhibit the growth of cancer cells, because they contain glucosinolates.

Get acquainted with Bok Choy   

Also known as Pak Choi, this type of Chinese cabbage is a bomb of nutrients. Although most green, leafy vegetables are best eaten raw, Bok Choy is recommended to be cooked. It doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be eaten raw, it’s possible to have it in a salad, but because of its taste and nutrients it’s better when it’s cooked. I particularly love it in ramen soups (my recipe here). 

Bok Choy is ranked sixth in the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index, with a score of 895. This vegetable is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients. Chinese cabbage is 95% water, 2% carbohydrates, 1% protein and less than 1% fat. 

One of its biggest benefits is that it provides a big percentage of what you should consume daily of vitamins A, C and K. 

Here are five things Bok Choy can do for your body:

  • Diminishes chances to get cancer – There are several compounds that can help prevent cancer and that are found in this vegetable, such as vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, folate and selenium. These compounds are also antioxidants, which means they prevent cell damage from free radicals. Selenium, in particular, slows down the growth rate of tumors.
  • Fights inflammation – Green, leafy vegetables have a flavonoid called quercetin. This nutrient can help fight inflammation in the body. Inflammation is one of the worst things we can deal with because it affects our system in a number of ways, from arthritis to heart disease, so having something there to keep an eye on it is always useful.
  • Takes care of your heart – In order for your blood vessels to be strong and healthy they should receive vitamin B6, and Bok Choy is rich in that. Blood pressure is also key for a healthy heart, and potassium, magnesium and calcium — which are also found in this vegetable — help reduce it. In particular, potassium lowers high blood pressure caused by ingesting a lot of sodium, which is common in diets that include a lot of processed foods. 
  • Keeps your eyes and skin sharp – Carrots aren’t the only ones that promote healthy eyesight. Although it’s not orange, Bok Choy also has beta-carotene and vitamin A. For your skin, Vitamin C is essential. It fights free radicals that hurt its looks and texture, stimulates the production of collagen to prevent signs of aging, and reduces the risk of damage caused by the sun, smoke and pollution.
  • Strengthens your bones – People don’t usually think that vegetables are good for their bones, but there are some, like Chinese Cabbage, that are actually high in calcium. However, calcium is not the only responsible for a strong bone structure, phosphorus, iron, magnesium, and vitamin K are essential to keep your skeleton sturdy, all of them in this vegetable. 

These are only a few things that Bok Choy can do for you, but certainly not the only ones. This green vegetable is also good at keeping a healthy immune system, increases your consumption of folate, helps your body detoxify, improves your sleep and helps with memory.

Have you tried it? Share your recipes! Would love to try them out.    

Picture: Pexels

One-minute meditation. Does it work?

When the pandemic started I—as many of you can relate—was feeling anxious, worried and stressed. I was having trouble sleeping and concentrating, and I had this annoying knot in my stomach I couldn’t get rid of. On top of that, I had lots of things to do and my work was keeping me much busier than usual.

I started participating in some online group meditations, which I loved, but I wasn’t making the most of that time. At first I could focus on the meditation, but after a few minutes my mind started thinking of my to-do list, all of the things I hadn’t gotten done and how tired I felt. Other days I was so busy that I started to worry about not having time for my meditation, and I stressed out, hurrying to finish my work to get to my meditation on time. 

Meditating was stressing me out more than it was helping me relax. Have you felt this way?

Then is when I decided that a daily 30 minute meditation practice wasn’t for me. I had seen several one-minute meditation videos and audios online and on the meditation apps that I use (Headspace and Journey) and I was a little skeptic about it, but I knew it was worth the try. For World Meditation Day I wanted to share with you this super quick practice that I do everyday to take care of my mental health.

Is one minute enough?

I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t just wasting one precious minute of my time, so I did my research and then started practicing it. If there’s something you should know is that meditation is not like medicine. There’s not a particular amount of meditation that you must practice for it to work. Even a minute can help you connect with yourself. Meditation is a personal thing, and you should practice it for as much time as you feel comfortable with it. 30 minutes won’t work if you’re using the time to worry about all the things you are not doing, whereas a minute can be enough if you fully give yourself to the experience. 

According to the meditation app, Headspace, 60 seconds can completely reset your mindset. Giving yourself a minute to take a break from whatever it is you’re doing and breathe is a recharging experience. 

Start right away

If you’ve never meditated before, starting with a minute can help you understand how it works and get used to the experience. If you’re busy, having a minute to relax during the day is the perfect stress-free excuse to stop what you’re doing and enjoy a moment for yourself. 

To do it, find a comfortable seated position. It doesn’t have to be something special. You can do it on your bed when you wake up, in your car or at your desk. Now, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Feel how the air fills your nostrils and travels through your body. Feel how your breath moves your body as it goes in and then as it goes out. Set a timer on your phone, or listen to a one-minute recording so you don’t have to worry about the time you spend in the practice. 

If it helps, you can think of a mantra, like “breathing in”, “breathing out.” Especially when your mind is super busy, repeating these words in your head helps keep your thoughts out of sight. Another option to prevent your mind from drifting through your thoughts is counting your breaths. A different strategy is doing a mental scan of how each part of your body is feeling. 

Don’t worry if your mind wants to wander off. Just bring the attention back softly. 

On the Headspace site, they say that breath control in a 1-minute meditation is quite beneficial for immediate cognitive connection, which creates a calmer state of mind. It also helps with decision-making, focus, communication and energy levels. They even state that meditating daily, even if it’s just for a minute, reduces stress in 10 days, improves focus by 14% in four weeks and increases happiness by 16% after 10 days.

From personal experience, I can tell you that after those 60 seconds I feel much better: my mind is clearer, I feel less stressed, I feel calm, I’m in a better mood and I’m motivated to take on the day. When you do this every day, it helps ease anxiety, improve your mood, and be more focused.  

Now, I start my day with a one-minute meditation. Before I jump out of bed I set my timer and focus on my breath. However, sometimes I do it more than once during the day. Whenever I’m feeling a lot of stress, or if I’m lacking motivation or energy, or even before I feel like I’m about to be angry about something. It helps me regulate my mood, my anxiety and makes me feel better in general. 

Here’s a one-minute meditation you can start doing right now!

How to have meaningful conversations to nurture your relationships

As human beings our nature is to socialize and to create deep connections with others. That’s what brings us the most happiness. 

Something that people usually think when they hear the word “relationship” is that it means romance, but that’s not the case. We nurture our souls from all types of relationships, like parents, siblings, friends, coworkers, and many others. It’s a myth to think that one person can provide everything that you need emotionally. The connection you have with your husband is not the same as the one you have with your mother or your best friend. This doesn’t mean one is less important than the other. They all add value to your happiness and wellbeing and should be treated with the same care. 

Relationships must be nurtured constantly. Just as we crave for connection, we also suffer deeply when that connection is broken. When that happens, anxiety reigns and our overall health can be damaged. 

I have a very large family, where everyone is very loud and is always eager to make their voice heard. If you were ever in one of my family’s parties you’d think that communication is king here. Never a silent moment. But that’s not really the case. Lately, I’ve been analyzing the different relationships in my family and I noticed that even though we all talk a lot, many relationships are pretty broken. When I stopped to listen to what was actually being said, I noticed that people were mostly trying to make their point, defend their argument, attack the other or limit the conversation to superficial stories about people who weren’t even in the room just so they wouldn’t talk about the elephant in the room. The reason: there’s too much talk, but too little conversation. 

Listening is one of the hardest things to do. But it’s one of the most important things we must learn to build healthy and lasting relationships, as well as care for the ones we’re already in. So that’s how I got very interested in listening techniques, like mindful listening and safe conversations. These techniques are not just to repair relationships that are struggling, but also to prevent a strong one from debilitating. 

I hear you and you hear me 

For this post I’ll talk about Safe Conversations. I believe this is a wonderful technique because it touches two key aspects of a relationship: the need to have an understanding through conversation and the need to feel safe in each other’s company. As I mentioned above, this is something we should have in all types of relationships. 

The technique was created by the founders of Imago Therapy,  Harville Hendrix, Ph.D, and Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D. The objective is to actively listen to the other in a safe space, free of judgement and without criticizing, in order to understand our differences and similarities, and to see the other’s point of view not from where you stand, but from where he or she stands.

Something very important that they point out is that to create a safe space it’s not just about the verbal communication, but also about the non-verbal. Specifically, they mention eye contact. You don’t have to say anything, but if you’re glaring at the other person, your eyes say that you’re judging and you’re not open to what they have to say. This will either prevent them from saying what’s on their mind, or they’ll say it in a defensive way. So, to get started, turn it into a gaze, so the other person feels you’re open for this. 

The creators of this technique consider there are three foundational tools to have a safe conversation. Here are the steps.

Mirroring – This step is where you actually listen to the other person and make an active effort to understand what they are saying, feeling or experiencing. It’s not about what you interpret, but what is actually being said. To do so, after the person talks you follow up with a summary: Let me see if I’ve got it, you said (add info here). Don’t assume you got it right. Go for an accuracy check: Did I get that? Now, dig deeper: Is there more about that? 

Validation – After going through what the person has to say, they’ll probably feel vulnerable. This is a moment to reinforce that this is a safe place. So continue with a phrase that implies validation. What they are saying has value, so make sure they know it with something like: That makes sense to me.

Empathy – Now is the moment to process what you’ve heard. Don’t think about how this makes you feel, but how this makes the person you’re talking to feel. Now that you’ve thought about it, start the conversation with this phrase: I imagine you might be feeling (add your information here).

As you can probably imagine, this goes both ways. 

Something important to have in mind is that this is a process, and it won’t be easy at first. Relationships require time and dedication, especially when a part of it has been broken. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, to trust and to feel safe won’t happen in one conversation, but with time it is possible. Don’t give up if the first time doesn’t go as expected. Try again. Then make it part of your routine and, with time, it’ll even become the normal way to communicate with the people you care about. A conversation has more value when it goes deeper and when what’s being transmitted is more than just words, but also emotions.

What is HIIT training? Is it for you?

There’s always a new fitness trend to try, and I think that’s great news. We’re all different, with our own interests, needs, likes and lifestyles. And not just regarding taste, our bodies are different too. This means that not all bodies react the same way to a type of workout. So having a wide variety to choose from is refreshing.

I like to try these new trends at least once. This way I can see if I connect with the workout, if I enjoy doing it, if it adapts to my lifestyle and how my body responds to it. 

One of the workouts that has grown in popularity is the high-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT. What HIIT consists of are short bursts of high-intensity exercises, followed by a short period of rest.

This training has become very popular because it doesn’t take much time, and those who have tight schedules (including myself) appreciate this. The idea is that the intervals are short, but to compensate, the exercises are very intense. This efficiency even got HIIT a spot in the American College of Sports Medicine’s top fitness trends for 2020.

How does it work?

HIIT workouts are a combination of high and low intensity. You perform a period of really intense exercise, then either rest or do a low intensity exercise for a little while, and then you repeat. You’ll find some workouts that focus on aerobic training, but there are others that combine aerobic with resistance training. 

The objective is to get your heart pumping. These exercises increase your heart rate at least 80 percent of its maximum capacity during the high intensity moments, which tend to last from one to five minutes. When you’re exercising you’ll feel that you’re giving your max, and the circuits will feel like a challenge, but don’t worry, it’ll all be over in a few seconds. 

Nonetheless, when I heard about putting my heart pumping in an intense way I couldn’t help but wonder if this is good, if this is healthy. In a nutshell, it’s much healthier than I thought. As a matter of fact, it improves heart health. 

A study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine says that cardiorespiratory fitness (CPR) is key to combat morbidity and mortality. CPR refers to the capacity of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to skeletal muscles to produce the energy the body needs during physical activity. So, what the study found out is that high-intensity interval training is superior to moderate-intensity continuous training in improving cardiorespiratory fitness. 

And it’s not only pertinent to work on your CRF as you grow older, it’s very important to do when you’re young. Healthy CRF is positively associated with cardiovascular health, academic achievement, and mental well-being in young people. However, only 40% of U.S. youth currently have a healthy CRF.

Will it help you lose weight? 

So we already know that HIIT is time-efficient and it’s good for your heart. What about your figure? 

Exercising is always good to burn calories. However, when you’re doing HIIT it’s a little tricky. By default this training is meant to be short, so the shorter it is, the less calories it’ll burn. For weight loss, workouts should be a little longer, around 25 to 30 minutes (including warm-up and cool-down). Consistency is also important, so you should be doing this three times a week. However, for efficient weight loss, it’s not just about the exercise, it’s also about the diet (stay tuned for a post on calories vs carbs, and how that affects your weight).

Nonetheless, there are studies that show that even in short intervals it does burn fat. Running in short, intense intervals decreases body fat while increasing aerobic capacity.

Something very important to consider is not to miss warm-up and cool-down. Because of the intensity of the workout it’s very important to prepare your body before the intense training to avoid injuries, and help it settle once the training is over. 

Is this for you?

There are many types of HIIT training, so you should look for the one that suits you the most. 

If you just started exercising, don’t push it. Stick to shorter periods (not even a minute, even) of high intensity, and longer periods of recovery (two or even three minutes). Listen to your body and rest when it asks you to.

How do you know it’s enough? The idea is to get your heart rate to 70 or 90 percent. A heart rate monitor, like the one on a fitbit or an intelligent watch, can be useful. But if you don’t have one just do the math: 220 minus your age. That’s the maximum heart rate, so stay below that number. 

If you have a heart disease or other health problems you shouldn’t do HIIT unless your doctor approves. 

Was it for me? I’ve never been very keen on gym-like workouts. I’m a dancer and I enjoy exercises that touch that nerve much more. However, my schedule is always tight and I can’t be consistent with longer dance routines. So, for me, this was a great alternative. I get to have an efficient workout in a short period of time. And it even helps me be in shape for my dancing classes. When I combine these I feel in better shape and I also feel stronger.

Last tip: for HIIT workouts at home I love the ones MadFit has in her YouTube channel. Here’s one of them:

Figs: Natural sweeteners and great source of fiber

When I was in college I lived in a house with a huge fig tree in the front yard. I left very early in the morning and got back home pretty late, so it was hard to find a good moment to cut the figs. However, on the weekends I enjoyed watching the birds fight over the fresh fruit, and it was a wonderful show. Although they were the first ones to pick the best, ripe figs, from time to time I found a few that were left untouched on the tree and enjoyed them to the fullest.

I don’t live in that house anymore, but I remember that fig tree fondly. Still, my taste in this sweet treat hasn’t diminished. And one great thing about May is that figs are in season!

There are multiple varieties of figs, and the main difference is in color and texture. Also, because of the different varieties there’s more than one fig season each year. The season begins in mid May. It’s usually hard to find figs by mid summer, but they come back in season by late summer and early fall. The ones that you can find during May tend to have a fresher taste, whereas the ones you can find during the fall are sweeter and have a thicker skin. The differences are minimal, though.

There are tons of ways to eat figs, they can be used in salads, turned into jam, in desserts and as snacks or appetizers. They’re eaten both fresh and cooked, and the skin can be eaten too. A quick appetizer can be mixing figs with Serrano ham and melon.  

I love having one or two figs as a snack in the mid afternoon to get something sugary in my system, minus the calories. Since they are a natural sweetener, I sometimes add one or two to my morning smoothie. 

I also love this quick dessert: toast with goat cheese, figs and honey. Delicious! 

Picking figs is key

Figs have a very short shelf life. In the refrigerator they’ll last only a few days, not even a week. And although they might get softer, figs don’t continue to ripen once they are off the tree. Because of that, it’s super important to pick them right. 

Choose those that are soft and plump. Make sure that they don’t have major bruises or tears too. The color must be rich, a deep purplish or brown. And the smell must be sweet, never sour. 

To make them last longer you can always freeze them.

A treat for your body

Figs are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. 

Here’s what they can do for you:

  • Potassium.  This is one of the most important minerals you should consume. One of its benefits is that it helps lower blood pressure. This is important because we tend to have a diet with too much sodium, due to packaged and fast foods, so having something to balance our diet by adding potassium is fundamental. This mineral also helps keep calcium in the bones, making them stronger.     
  • Fiber. Figs are allies for your intestines and your digestion. They have a very high fiber content, so they help you have a healthy bowel movement and prevent constipation. Because of that, eating too many can have a laxative effect, so have them in moderation. High fiber foods also make you feel satisfied, thus reducing hunger and cravings, which is why having figs around as snacks can also help you watch your weight and keep you away from sugary cravings. 
  • Prebiotics. A healthy digestive system requires a good amount of good bacteria to fight infection and help the system digest food. Figs contain prebiotics, which make the good bacteria in the gut better and easier to multiply. 
  • Natural sugar. Because they are very sweet, figs were used as sweeteners in the past. You can use them for this purpose. One fresh fig is about 30 calories. It’s important to know that dried figs provide much more calories, since the sugar becomes concentrated when fruit is dried. 100 grams provides about 200 calories. 
  • Other nutrients. Figs also contain manganese, iron, copper, calcium vitamins A, B, K and C.

Fun fact: figs aren’t technically fruits. They are actually a cluster of inverted flowers!

Have you ever tried mamey fruit?

Mamey fruit is by far my favorite fruit. I love it when spring finally comes because that means I get to eat as much as I want. Because it’s sweet, It’s almost like a comfort food to me. I love it as a smoothie in the morning, or as an afternoon snack during a long work day. I used to eat an afternoon mamey with my grandmother when I was little (she was also a fan), but now, it’s not just that it’s tasty and sweet, but I’m also drawn to it for its multiple benefits it has to your health. 

I love this fruit, but I’m also aware that not many people really know it. So, here’s a small explanation. Mamey is a tropical fruit that grows in Mexico, South and Central America. It’s particularly popular in Mexico, and in the U.S. it’s popularity has recently started growing, mostly in Florida. 

From the outside it resembles a football, with a rough, brown, sandpapery skin. But, just like an avocado, when you open it, it has a soft, creamy texture. Inside it has a vibrant orange color. To eat it, you just have to remove the pit, like you would an avocado, and get the fruit out of the skin. It can be eaten just like that. I love eating it directly from the skin with a spoon, while watching TV, but it’s also great for desserts, like ice cream, or for breakfast smoothies. To a smoothie, you can also add some spices, like cinnamon, vanilla, ginger or nutmeg, and nuts, since they mix wonderfully well.

The taste is very hard to explain, because mamey is unique. For starters, it’s sweet and tropical, like a mango, but not too sugary. You can also find some hints of apricot, peach or raspberry. Perhaps, even a hint of sweet pumpkin. Knowing when it’s ripe is super important, since it’ll completely change its taste. An unripe mamey is even bitter. The mamey has to be firm, but not hard. 

Why should you eat it? 

Mameys are rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Among these are Vitamins C and A, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Phosphorous. Here are three additional reasons to include it in your diet.

  • Let’s start with its color. The reason mamey has such a vibrant orange-reddish meat is called carotenoids. These are powerful antioxidants. Carotenoids are also great for preserving healthy tissues, and contribute to healthy eyes. 
  • A friend for digestion. If you’re looking for something that will help you have a healthier colon, look no further. The recommended daily amount of fiber is from 21 to 38 grams, and this fruit contains 9 grams per cup. Mamey fruits also help combat inflammation. 
  • Keep your nutrients high. One of the causes of anemia is lack of iron in your diet. Not many fruits or vegetables have this mineral, but mamey does. Most importantly, it also contains Vitamin C, which helps the body absorb iron.

Pictures by me.

Want to be fit, happy and energized? Just dance

International Dance Day is very special for me. I’ve danced for most of all my life, and I even got a dance certificate while I was in college. I’ve danced many styles, from ballet, to samba, jazz, ballroom dancing and flamenco, to mention a few. However, I hadn’t danced in almost ten years. 

When I started working full-time after college, I stopped dancing. But I never stopped missing it. A silver lining this pandemic had for me was letting me reconnect with this passion. Dance academies opened up to virtual lessons, and, being at home, I had time to take them. Now, I’m dancing five hours each week, and I love it! I never would’ve imagined that in my thirties I’d be dancing on pointe, or doing splits. It took less than a year for my body to remember what it was capable of. 

Dancing is about style and rhythm, but it’s much more than that. It’s actually an amazing physical exercise and a wonderful ally for mental health. 

There are lots of studies that list the benefits of dancing for brain health, emotions, depression, and blood pressure. In addition to burning calories, gaining flexibility and strengthening your muscles, here are five reasons why you should dance, for the sake of your body and your mind.

1 – Keeps your brain sharp – According to researchers, dancing boosts your cognitive function. This type of exercise for brain health is usually attributed to solving crossword puzzles, but in the case of dance, not only does it involve a mental effort, but it mixes it with social interaction; a combination that lowers the risk of dementia.

2 – Improves your balance – dancing has a direct impact on the hippocampus, which is responsible for equilibrium.

3 – Strengthens neural connections. Dancing helps develop the connections related to control of behavior, long-term memory, learning, decision-making and spatial recognition. This happens because this activity integrates several brain functions at once: kinesthetic (movement), rational, musical and emotional. Just feel the music, your brain will do the rest. 

4 – Boosts your mood. A research on Zumba lessons showed that it improves mood, since it increases levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin. And dancing, in general, has even been used as therapy to combat depression. 

5 – Reduces stress – When you dance you fight some of the effects stress has on our body, such as tension and chronic fatigue.

You don’t have to be a professional dancer to enjoy this day. Just turn up the music and let your body move!

Picture: Pexels

Here’s why you should eat more red beets

When I was a little girl I loved it when my grandma cooked beets. I found it fascinating because not only did I like the flavor, but it was like a game. My fingers got purple and I even pretended it was lipstick and I colored my lips. 

This is one of the foods I have a special connection with. And this is why I was very surprised when I found out my husband hated beets. He dislikes the flavor and how they stain everything. I started to think about ways to make him fall for this vegetable and I came up with two ideas: change the recipe and let him know why they’re so good for your body.

When you think about superfoods, red beets are not usually top of mind. However, this root vegetable does magic to your body. They’re low in calories and fat, and are packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other essential nutrients. 

5 reasons to include them in your diet

  • Rich in nutrients – they have many of the vitamins you need, like vitamin C, B9 or folate, manganese, potassium, iron, and vitamin C, vitamin B6, magnesium, phosphorus and iron. They’re also high in antioxidants. The list of benefits this brings would be endless, but some of them include improving your skin, helping your liver fight toxins, prevent cancer, boost your immune system, and many more. 
  • Improve digestion – fiber is the king of digestion, and beets are a great source. Having enough fiber in your diet helps absorb nutrients and move the food through your system. This also includes preventing issues like constipation. Just remember that they can change the color of your urine and stools, making them a little red, pink or purple. Don’t worry, that’s normal.  
  • Allies to your heart, circulation and brain power – because beets have a high concentration of nitrates, they can improve blood flow, lower blood pressure and keep your brain with the right amount of blood and oxygen to be healthy. Because of this, they improve your memory, and help you think better and learn and faster. Having beets in your diet can also increase your physical condition. If you exercise and want to enhance your performance, this vegetable helps you produce more energy, which you can take to the gym, court or track. If you consume them two or three hours before training or before a game, you’ll see immediate results!
  • Fight inflammation – the reason why beets are this color is because of a pigment called betalain, which has a lot of anti-inflammatory properties. This is a huge problem in many diseases, and having this root as a regular in your diet reduces pain and discomfort.
  • Good for weight loss – because they are high in water and low in calories, they don’t hurt your weight. And, because of the high fiber in them, which reduces appetite and promotes feeling of fullness, you won’t need much more in your plate.

Roasted or raw?

I love beets, no matter the preparation. However, some of my favorite ways to prepare them are roasted with other vegetables like carrots and kale.

I also tend to make beet juice with ginger, carrots and lime. And a great snack is having them raw, grated with lime and salt.

Although the effects are stronger when the beets are raw, the nutrients and benefits aren’t lost if you cook them.

Meditation for the end of a hard-working week

Working eight hours a day — sometimes more — can take a toll on your body. Especially if you tend to have a sedentary lifestyle, you’re probably sitting down with your eyes fixed on the screen for most of the day. 

Since I started working from home because of the pandemic, I realized that even if I worked out everyday I was sitting and barely moving for many hours. I don’t even have to walk to the car anymore! On top of this, the stress of work has an additional impact on the body. By the end of the day I was feeling stiffness all over my body, I had some muscle knots, especially on my neck and shoulders, and my energy and motivation were pretty low. The reason behind this is a mix of being at my desk for many hours, but it also has a mental health element to it.

Have you felt this way too? According to a study published by The Guardian, since the pandemic started, people are working at least two additional hours everyday, take shorter lunch breaks and are feeling more stressed and anxious. Bottom line: you’re not alone.

One of my tactics to deal with this is meditation, but not any kind of meditation: movement meditation. This is my favorite practice to do every Friday. I like doing it about noon, so I can finish my day with energy and I have the right mindset to really disconnect at the end of the day and enjoy the weekend.

Here’s how to do it

There are many types of meditation and movement meditation is one in which you don’t stay still. Movement is what guides you and where you drive your thoughts. You focus on the movement of your body, how it feels and how it connects with your breath. You activate your body and you relax your mind at the same time. 

  Start with your back

  • Stand up. If you prefer to stay sitting make you have room to twist and more your arms.
  • Notice the muscles you use to stand up.
  • Take a deep breath. As you breathe, feel your spine elongating. As if you had a string pulling you up. Feel your neck going up and your shoulders winden. Don’t pull your shoulders back. 
  • Breathe into the spaces between your vertebrae. Elongate your spine more,
  • Let the breath out and relax.
  • Breath in one more time, elongate your spine and stretch your shoulders. 
  • Breathe out and relax.
  • Breathe in. Stretch as much as you can. 
  • Let all your breath out

Move into the head

  • Move your head in circles. Move your chin down, into the right side, let it go back, to the left side and down. 
  • Make one big circle. Stop if you feel any crunches or need to stretch there a little more. Notice any pain or areas of stiffness. 
  • Breathe in and do it one more time. 
  • Breathe out and move your head in the other direction
  • Notice if there are any differences in any other areas.  
  • Do one more circle. Breathe in as you move your head to the back and breathe out as you bring it down.
  • Return your head to neutral. 
  • Move your head to your right and hold it there. Notice as you breathe what you see around you. Notice how far your head moves to the side. 
  • Breathe in and stretch your head up. 
  • Breath out and maybe turn it in a little more. 
  • Breath in and as you breathe out bring it back to the center.
  • Breathe in and as you breathe out move your head to the other side.
  • As you’re breathing in and out, notice how this side is different from the other side.
  • Breathe in and lengthen your neck.
  • Breathe out and pull it a little more. 
  • Return to center. 
  • Move your head to one side and then to the other, as if you were saying no.
  • Breathe in as you turn and out as you bring it back to center. In as you turn to the other side and out as you bring it back to center. 
  • Do it three times and return to center. 
  • Move your ear as if you wanted to touch your shoulder while keeping your shoulders down. If it feels good put your hand on your head and feel the stretch. 
  • Breath into the areas where you feel tightness. 
  • Breath out and then in again. Imagine how the air loosens up all the areas. 
  • Breath out let it relax. Hold it one more breath.
  • Take your hand off, and with your head still tilted, turn it so your nose points to the ground. 
  • Give it one more stretch like this. Feel the stretch for a couple of breaths.
  • Return to neutral and shake your head a little.
  • Move your other ear down to your other shoulder. If it feels right put your hand on top of your head. Only if it feels right. 
  • Breathe into all the tense areas. Have the air open up those areas. As you breathe out relax and feel them soften. Hold for two more breaths. 
  • Remove your hand and then look down, pointing your nose at the ground. Feel that stretch for two breaths.
  • Return to neutral and shake out your neck.

Shoulder rolls

  • Start with small shoulder rolls. Up, front, down and back
  • Gradually make them bigger until you include all your arms. 
  • Notice the difference in the areas of your arms and shoulders. Notice the difference as you change the size of the roll. Find the size of the movement that works for you.
  • Pick the one that fits the best. One more: shoulder up, forward, down and back. 
  • Change direction. This time start as big as you can. Down, back, up, forward. 
  • Gradually make it smaller. Find the size of the movement that works best for you. 
  • Stay in the best movement for you. One more roll.
  • Return your shoulders to neutral and notice your breath.
  • Inhale and bring the shoulders up to your ears.
  • As you exhale, release them down.
  • As you breathe in, raise your shoulders up. Hold for 1, 2, 3, 4. Let it go and breathe out. Repeat. 

Expand your chest

  • Do a few standing cat-cows to open the chest and the back.
  • Put your hands on your knees or upper thighs.
  • When you breathe in, really expand your chest and raise your chin.
  • Breathe out and curve your belly and your shoulders in. 
  • Breathing in, open up your chest and your neck. 
  • Breathing out, roll your chest closed.
  • Repeat two more times. 
  • Breathing out all the air, return your spine to neutral.
  • As you breathe in, raise up and feel your vertebrae open up.
  • As you breathe out, twist to your right. Put your left hand on your right hip and your right hand on your lower back.
  • Breathe in and let in space. 
  • Breathe out and twist a little more. 
  • Hold it for two breaths. Notice what your body and thoughts are telling you. How are you reacting to this pose? 
  • Return to the center.
  • Breathe in and straighten up.
  • Breathe out and twist. Put your right hand on your left hip and your left hand on your lower back. 
  • Hold here for two breaths. Noticing where you’re pushing your body. Can you find that space where you’re stretching but not pushing?
  • Return to center. 

Stretch your legs

  • Sit on the floor and make a V shape with your legs.
  • Breathe in and elongate your spine.
  • Breathe out and lean forward to your right foot.
  • Stay there for a couple of breaths. Pick a pose where you’re stretching, but not pushing. 
  • Breathe in and sit up straight.
  • Now breathe out and go forward to your left foot.
  • Relax forward for two breaths. Hold the space that feels best for you: stretching and relaxing. Open the places you need to be open.
  • Sit up.
  • Now make circles with your right foot. Three breaths to one side and three to the other.
  • Switch to the left foot. Three breaths to one side and three to the other.
  • Stand up again.
  • Use the last minute to make free movements. Choose something that makes you feel good and energized. You can swing your arms from side to side, jump or shake out. Whatever feels best for you.
  • Go back to stillness. Take a deep breath in and now breath out all the air.

You’re ready to go! Body energized and mind relaxed.

Picture: Pexels