Zumba For Life

Dear Zumba Fans and Zumba-Phobes,

I’m often hesitant to try new things, super clumsy, shy around strangers, I’ve never taken an aerobics class, I’m not a dancer, and half of me suffers from a lack of coordination. Perfect combination for someone doing Zumba, right? Well, as irony would have it, I think I may just be addicted to Zumba. I’ve been taking a weekly class for the past few months and I can’t imagine my life without it. Oh, and the class is in the morning. I’m not a morning person- especially if it involves any level of physical activity (actually, if it involves anything other than sleep, I’m really not a fan).

Zumba is a Latin-inspired, total body, calorie-burning dance fitness-party™ that incorporates hip-hopsocasambasalsamerenguemambo, and even a few Bollywood and belly dance moves. I first heard about Zumba 3+ years ago and as much as I wanted to try it, I put it off because I was scared. Scared of not catching on to all the faced paced choreography. Scared of tripping and falling over my own feet. Scared of making a fool of myself (yes, scared of a Zumba class. Are you shaking your head? Yeah, me too!).  So I kept making excuses……….. Ever wanted to do something really bad but you allowed fear to talk you out of it? Tisk, tisk to us both! But Zumba has awakened me to a whole new world of fearlessness. And I love it! This class has reinforced seven valuable life lessons for me. Wanna hear ’em? Here they go!

1. Just DO it! There are some things you don’t need to pray about (assuming those things are godly, good, healthy, ethical, legal, wise, etc.). More often than not, Christians use prayer as an excuse for procrastination and/or a cover-up for passivity or paranoia. So, when faced with a tough decision, challenged to change for the better, or even impassioned with pursuing purpose, we say things like “let me pray about it.” You can stand in the back of the class and pray you’ll perfect all the steps; you can even stay home and watch a beginner’s DVD. But until you put the moves in motion you’ll never get the hang of it. Want to try something new or make a change for the better? Just do it! Start somewhere or you’ll go nowhere.

2. Commit to It! I don’t care how physically fit you are or how “easy” the pros say the steps are supposed to be, it takes us amateurs a while to catch on to all the moves. Repetition is key. Each week we have a few new Zumbians in our class. And without fail, most of these new members either leave in the middle of class or stay ’til the end and never return. Happens all the time. I don’t get it. Listen ladies, you’re going to make mistakes. Get over it. The more you practice, the fewer mistakes you’ll make. Just because you mess up doesn’t mean  you should give up. Commit to the process so you can start making progress.

3. Follow the Leader. For me, the best way to learn the choreography is to carefully follow my Zumba instructor. She gives more visual cues than vocal cues (except for the instances where she stops to correct our form. Improper form leads to injury!). So we must follow her lead. Once I perfect the footwork, then I focus on mastering my core and upper body movements. Now that I’ve learned the basics I catch on a lot easier when she adds new routines to the repertoire. Here’s my point: Just because God is sometimes silent doesn’t mean He’s not trying to show us something. Follow His lead. Focus on the steps He’s already ordered and it will be easier to do what He’s destined for you to do- even when the course changes. And you’ll be far less likely to get hurt in the process.

4. Position Yourself. When I first joined the class my favorite spot was in the back corner of the dance studio (which is situated in a large fitness center). That way the folks working out in the gym couldn’t see me thru the large glass wall that separated the two areas (’cause clearly, they were checking to see how well I was doing… NOT!). I felt comfortably invisible. Only problem is that I could barely see the instructor. So I was left to depend on the confusing moves of all the half-stepping sisters in the back of the room. No good! Not to mention the one dude in the class who seemed completely unwilling to follow any of the choreography. Talk about distracting! I have since moved out of my comfort zone towards the front of the class where the Zumbian Queens get it in. Ladies, if you want to go for yours, you must position yourself around others who share the same goals and around those who “dance” better than you. And don’t allow a man to distract you from pursuing your passion. Position yourself for greatness!

5. Humble Yourself. It’s reeeeally easy to start believing your own hype when it seems you’ve mastered all the moves. I was so proud of myself when I finally started catching on to those crazy, fast-paced, high-energy routines. There were several times when I caught myself spending more time in the mirror checking out my fancy footwork instead of keeping my eyes on the trainer. And surprise! I would mess up every time. It’s alright to make sure you’re on point… just don’t make it a point to stop focusing on the One who is always on point. Get the point? 🙂

Brooks PureCadence in Knockout Pink. These shoes are so bright, they glow in the day light! Love ’em!

6. Invest in Yourself. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made during my quest for Zumbaliciousness is not wearing the right shoes. Until recently, it hadn’t dawned on me that the Nike cross-trainers I was wearing to class were not the best shoes for the high-impact moves of Zumba. Amongst other things, they were too heavy and the soles prevented smooth pivoting. My knees were starting to feel it. Upon the recommendation of my instructor, I recently invested in a pair of Brooks PureCadence Running Shoes. Oh what a difference! These shoes are so light, flexible, have great arch support and cushioning, and the soles are perfect for Zumba-ing. The price was much higher than my frugal liking, but hey- investing in the right shoe is a lot cheaper than the cost of knee surgery. (Of course, being the Practical Chick that I am, I still managed to get a lil discount on mine. And you know this, maaa’am! ;-)). Want to pursue your passion? Invest in yourself. It will improve your overall performance, help you produce greater results, and quite possibly keep you from getting injured in the process. What an awesome return on investment!

7. Embrace Change. What a wonderful world it would be if we never experienced change. Right? Wrong! Change is necessary. And so is sweat. Sweat is our body’s way of releasing toxins. Sometimes change is necessary to help rid us of complacency and fear.  If we always rehearsed the same dance moves in class, none of us would ever go to the next level of Zumbadom. Our bodies would grow accustomed to the same boring workout and we would never build and tone our muscles (or our confidence). Given that our flesh is naturally opposed to change, our Heavenly Instructor will often switch up the music and shift the routine to a faster-paced number. He’s trying to take us from the Beginners Class to the Master Class. Don’t hold up your progress by resisting change.

Zumba is sweaty. It’s challenging. It’s good for your body and your self-esteem. And it’s so much fun! That’s probably why I’m addicted/committed to it. Whatever it is that you’re committed to, determine to have fun while you’re doing it. Sure, you’re going to make mistakes- you’re bound to make mistakes. We’ve already established that. Who has a good time focusing on mistakes? No one. So focus on letting loose. Get out of your stuffy little predictable box. You’ll breathe so much easier and you’ll lose so much weight (physically and emotionally) in the process.

Everybody ought to have something they look forward to waking up to (even if they’re not a morning person). We should all strive to be more and do more. We all need something that will burn the fat of fear, build our confidence, confront our pride, and safely soothe our stress. What passion have you procrastinated to pursue? Lookey here, girlfriend… it’s not gonna happen until you make it happen. Time out for standing in the back of the classroom of life, watching everyone else have fun and get in better shape (physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, spiritually, etc.). Get out there and start making some power moves. Pursue it up and do it up! Should you happen to screw it up, don’t give it up- forgive it up! And follow your Faithful Leader so you can live it up!  =D

Zumba for life, baby!

~The Practical Chick

Run for Your Life

Dear Fellow Runaways,

During a friendly game of tag in 3rd grade, I was tripped by a boy named Keith. There were a gazillion kids chasing each other in the school yard that day, and I was the one person who managed to fall. Wearing a cute little dress and my favorite Winter coat (khaki-colored with creme trim… I loved that lil coat!), I fell face down on the concrete. My big Urkel-like glasses flew off my little face and landed a few feet away. I could hear a swarm of kids circling around me, and my best friend, Julie, came running to my side. My head hurt and my knees were sore, but I was OK… or so I thought. As I was being helped up, I couldn’t help but notice my blood hugging the cement. Julie picked up my glasses and screamed “part of your brain fell out!!!” I looked at my ginormous glasses and saw something green and bloody smashed on one of the lenses. That’s when I lost it. I began crying uncontrollably and was escorted to the nurse’s office. My cute little coat was now khaki and crimson. My dad picked me up from school and took me to the hospital where the hole in my forehead was stitched shut (and I’m pretty sure they didn’t use anesthesia… it hurt so bad the doctors had to strap me down!!). We caught the bus- yes, public transportation- back home and I went to school for the next week with my forehead bandaged like an Egyptian mummy. Go ahead, you can laugh.

From that day forth, I vowed to never run again. I ran away from my fear instead of facing it. I was truly traumatized by that fall! I hated running. Didn’t even like running for the bus! Didn’t even want my nose to run (LOL). I was probably suffering from PTSD or something. It was pretty pathetic. As silly as it sounds, I was scared to death to run! So, what did I do? One day, many years later, I decided to start training for a marathon (’cause that’s what any rational person would do, right? :-D).

My girl, Denine, and I both signed up and started training in May 2004. Our endurance was negligible at best. Being one of the world’s most non-athletic individuals, I could barely run a quarter of a mile at that point. But I committed to the training program, running alone 3 days per week and with the training group every Saturday- rain or shine! We completed the Philadelphia Distance Run (a half marathon, which is 13.1 miles) in September 2004. I managed to run 10 miles straight without stopping… only because I had to go to the bathroom really bad, and all the port-a-potties I passed were disgusting. So I kept running, hoping to find a half-way decent “facility” (never found one, by the way). By the time I reached the 10th mile, I gave myself a break and started walking (HUGE mistake! It’s hard to start back up once you stop. Momentum is key!). I thought my legs were going to fall off and I’m pretty sure that would have been far less painful… but I managed to cross that finish line anyway. Two months later (November 21, 2004), Denine and I ran the Philly Marathon (the full 26.2 miles). It took me nearly the entire 6 hours allotted to complete the race, but I did it. And Denine recently finished her 2nd half-marathon. God bless her!!

There are some folks who run marathons on a regular basis. They can finish a full marathon in less time than it took me to finish the 1/2 marathon. Shoot, there were folks who walked the entire race, and still finished before me! There was even a woman- 7 1/2 months pregnant- who finished before I did!  I tip my hat off to them all. My goal was not to win the race (as evidenced by the way I began slacking with my training as the days grew shorter and the weather waxed colder)… I just wanted to face my fears and finish the race.

I can not begin to express the sheer excitement, pride, joy, and ultimate satisfaction I felt when I finally crossed that finish line. It is a feeling like no other. To keep pressing forward in spite of your fears, in spite of your pain, and in spite of your flesh begging you to give up ….it was exhilarating (SIDE NOTE: don’t keep going if your heart tells you to stop. I mean that literally and metaphorically. Running a race that’s killing you is not worth it!). And to cross that finish line, knowing that you gave it your all and you finally reached your goal… that’s a blessing in and of itself!

When is the last time you faced your fears and challenged yourself beyond your perceived limitations? What fear has paralyzed you from doing more, having more, or being more than you are today? What’s that  “one thing” you’ve always wanted to try? What race have you started but failed to finish because the road was too long or too tough?  It’s normal to want to give up when times get hard. Your flesh will attempt to dissuade you every time. But when you set your mind to something, train properly, and commit to reaching your goal, then you, too, can cross that finish line of victory. It’s not too late. Have you started 2011 with a list of goals that you have yet to reach? Pick up where you left off, change your thinking (that’s where the training comes in), and start running again. The better you train, the less likely you are to suffer injury when the going gets tough. You can do it with God’s help. “God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1:7). You already have the tools you need to run the race. You just have to put your faith (and your feet) in motion.

The marathon aggravated a prior knee injury, so no more long distance running for me. But I’m so proud to say that I am one of only 1% of the world’s population that has completed a marathon. I have faced many tests and trials since 2004, and I can now look back and remind myself that I finished those races in spite of literally wanting to quit with every step I took. If I survived that grueling (albeit self-imposed) conquest, surely I can get through anything! In March 2012,  I’ll be participating in the Philadelphia Stair Climb (climbing 50 flights of stairs to raise money for The American Lung Association… less damaging to my knees than a marathon, but challenging nonetheless!). It’s been a while since I really provoked myself physically and I’m ready to get it IN. Physical training is much more of an emotional and mental feat than anything else. Challenges stimulate growth which is necessary for life… Anything that isn’t growing is dead. I’m too young to die and so are you. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, change your thinking and get to stepping. You have an abundant life to live. Get out your comfort zone. Try something new. Stretch beyond your circumstances. Face your fears and finish your race victoriously. With all due respect, get a life… and run for it! 😉

Practically Yours,

~The Practical Chick

P.S. Although some may beg to differ, my brain didn’t fall out when I fell in 3rd grade. That bloody green thing stuck to my glasses was a piece of shrub. Just goes to show: when you’re in the midst of a traumatic experience, everything looks worse than it is. Don’t believe the hype… believe the Hope! 🙂