Dance is a way to honor our bodies and celebrate our lives. But to truly honor and celebrate something, we must first become conscious of its value.
Our bodies carry us through our entire life, supporting us and enabling us to do the things we love. Our bodies are our only true home from the moment we are born until the moment we die, growing and changing and transforming with us. Our bodies even have the capacity for creating life and bringing it forth into this world... yet how do we treat those bodies of ours?
How often do we speak about our bodies with shame, how often do we talk to our bodies with disdain, how often do we think about our bodies with sadness? How often do we feel frustrated for the things our bodies "can't" do or for the way our bodies look?
How rarely do we take the time to appreciate all the amazing things our bodies already enable us to do? How rarely do we marvel at the perfect balance of our automatic bodily functions that keep us alive and healthy in every moment?
Most of us think and speak about our bodies only with frustration and negativity and rarely if ever with appreciation and positivity. We take for granted all the amazing things we have to be grateful to our own bodies for.
And then maybe we learn to appreciate our body's ability to function, to move freely without pain, only after an accident or illness impairs that ability. Only then do we tend to learn how precious our bodies are and have always been, and how insignificant the criticisms over the way our bodies look or the things we think our bodies can't do really are.
It's time to start shifting the way we think and talk about our bodies every day. Let's move away from the frustration and move towards more love and appreciation. Let's try replacing criticisms of our bodies with wonder and gratitude, today and every day.
I like to end all of my belly dance classes guiding my students to give themselves a hug and thank their bodies for everything they do; all the functions we take for granted that keep us alive, healthy and in balance and free from pain.
And I'm not the only one. In one of her online classes, Brazilian belly dancer Ju Marconato spoke about the importance of expressing gratitude to our bodies for those very things. She talked about not waiting until we become sick to see the value in our health. She expressed this so beautifully that I decided to translate her message into English and share it with you today:
"Today I am thankful for the air that I breathe deeply through my lungs. I am thankful for my skin, my hair, my nails.
Have you ever stopped to thank your kidneys? Imagine life without your kidneys working. How much are your kidneys worth? How hard would you work to have kidneys that are perfectly healthy and whole? Is there a price for that?
That is true wealth! I am thankful for my kidneys.
I am thankful for my intestines, my spleen, my liver, and the perfect synchronized functioning of my internal organs. I am thankful for each cell of my body, each one perfect and healthy. How I am richly blessed...
I am thankful for my eyes. How wonderful it is to see colors, lights, to see the faces of the people I love. How important it is to have this channel of communication with the world. Do you see it?
Try putting a blindfold over your eyes for a day or just a few hours, and go about your daily activities or try to go outside.
When you take off the blindfold your perception will be more accurate, and will show you the grandiosity of being able to see.
This way a feeling of pure gratitude is installed in your heart, so you don't have to lose your health to be thankful for it.
I am thankful for my ears. How wonderful it is to be able to hear songs. Do you understand the magnitude of that?
Cover your ears for just 24 hours. When you uncover them you will be jumping in gratitude for the gift of hearing.
I am thankful for my legs that take me where I need to go. I'm thankful for my arms that hug and do work. I'm thankful for my hands that caress, nurture and cook. I'm thankful for my metabolism.
I am thankful for my heart. So much gratitude for my heart. This perfect and tireless machine that works 24 hours in my favor. Atria and ventricles working in perfect synchrony. It's a miracle. My heart is truly precious, it's invaluable.
I am thankful for my brain, my nervous system, my endocrine glands, my defense sells.
I am thankful because I am a magnificent expression of life. I am nature manifested in all its wisdom. I love my body. It is home to my spirit. I love my temple. Today I am grateful."
You are a magnificent expression of life. Your body is a marvel, a microcosm of nature, a unique and beautiful temple that deserves to be honored and respected. Cherish the wonderful things your body does for you today and every day, and observe how much more easily the dance of life begins to flow.
To get what you want, you have to want what you get.
-Paraphrased from an unknown author
There is so much truth and wisdom in this short yet powerful sentence. It is, in a nutshell, the best advice I can give regarding acquiring new skills, building your goal body, becoming healthier, attracting great relationships, progressing in your career, making more money, or just in general creating the life of your dreams!
Appreciating what we already have opens our eyes to notice opportunities that are already available to us... opportunities which are impossible to detect when we are spending our time focused on what we don't have. That attitude of gratitude then goes on to attract more new outcomes that bring us the same feeling, resulting in a beautiful cycle of awesomeness.
As it relates specifically to raqs sharqi (belly dance), this means that if you want to become a better dancer or achieve specific dance goals, the best way to go about it is to not be frustrated by the level you currently find yourself at, not to look at other dancers who are "better" than you and compare yourself to them in a way that puts you down, but instead to fully appreciate where you are at right now, all while keeping your goals in the back of your mind as you enjoy every moment of your journey towards achieving them.
Look at me, your dear author, fully appreciating the fact that I am dancing to this incredible live band on a stage in LA ;)
Does this seem vague, abstract, or too "woo woo" for you?
Then let me put it a bit differently... I'll give you two scenarios, and you tell me which one will lead to more progress for the dancer in question.
Dancer A took up belly dancing classes because she was enchanted by the gracefulness, elegance and femininity of raqs sharqi. But every time she comes to class, she can't help but look around the room and feel horrible about herself. She hates the way her body looks, and she struggles with new steps and movements. When she looks around, she sees that other students are "getting it," which only adds to her frustration. When she sees a professional dancer, there is a nagging voice inside her head that says things like "You'll never be able to dance like that," "you started way too late to ever be any good," or "you're too ugly to perform in public."
Dancer B also took up belly dance because of its feminine elegance and gracefulness. But when she comes to class, she does not focus on what anyone else is doing; she only focuses on herself and her own learning. She appreciates her body and the fact that it is healthy and functional and able to learn this amazing art form. If she does look around the room, it's to appreciate how wonderful it is that all these people are gathered together to learn new ways to move their body and express themselves to complex, poetic music. When she sees a professional dancer, she thinks "I'm so lucky that I get to see this performance" "that'll be me some day," or "I'm so inspired by this dancer!"
If both these dancers take the same exact class, practice the same amount of time, and take the same actions to improve, which one do you think will see more visible progress? Which one will be happier in their journey? Which one is most likely to stick with it longer? I think the answer is so obvious I don't even need to say it!
Still skeptical? Then I'll leave you with this: why not give this whole attitude of gratitude thing a try, starting now? It is Thanksgiving week, after all! Jot down a couple of positive things belly dance has brought into your life. Note a couple of positive things about your own dancing, as it is right now. Lastly, write about the dancers you love the most, and then visualize yourself embodying all those characteristics you just wrote about.
Feel like sharing what you wrote? Post it in the comments below!
If you do this regularly and consistently, you will notice a visible difference in both your attitude and your dancing, and you won't want to stop that beautiful cycle of awesomeness. Bring that gratitude attitude into every aspect of your life, and you will reap the rewards as you see yourself flourishing in every possible way.
I hope you have an amazing Thanksgiving this week.
We all have different backgrounds. Most of us came to belly dance at different stages of our lives, for different reasons and with different goals, and we all started with differing amounts of natural skill. We also have different learning styles and prioritize the dance differently in our lives.
Belly dance can mean different things to different people. Some do it for fun and socialization, or as way to get to know more about a foreign culture and its enchanting music and dances. Others do it as an outlet for artistic expression, or as a form of exercise to get in touch with their bodies at a deeper level. Some just belly dance to feel more sexy and beautiful, while others want to reach the highest levels, dancing at professional venues or competitive stages.
No matter your reasons for being drawn to belly dance, always remember that your journey through this dance is unique to you, and honor that unique journey by looking within yourself for the reasons why you do this dance, so that every time you do it, you can seek to get out of it the feelings, experiences, and results that you need.
There is no reason to look at other dancers with judgment if you think they are worse than you and therefore not "worthy." There is also no reason to look at other dancers with envy if you think they are "better" than you or that they have some unfair advantage. Those dancers are walking their own paths that are different from yours, for their own reasons that are different from yours, encountering their own roadblocks that are different from yours, towards destinations that are also different from yours.
If you spend time comparing yourself to others, you lose sight of your own journey and give up control of your destiny! You miss out on lessons you can learn from your individual struggles and on the unique insights you can offer, because no one else has walked the same path as you. You miss the opportunity to learn more about yourself and carve a path that truly fits your own needs, hopes and dreams!
Respect your unique journey through belly dance, honor and own all the reasons why you dance, and don't worry about what others are doing. This way you will feel happier throughout your journey, and it will take you to the most incredible destinations!
This Valentine's Day has me thinking about some of the notions people have about belly dance.
To the general public in the Western world, the words "belly dance" tend to conjure up thoughts of harems where half-naked concubines dance to seduce the sultan...
But did you know that's actually an incorrect stereotype?
Belly dance originated from folkloric dances of the Middle East... dances that are regularly done informally at family and social gatherings, by children and adults alike, both female and male.
It is a dance of joy and celebration, with a rich history and culture behind it that is now studied and performed all around the world.
Reducing it to nothing but a "dance of seduction" is really a wild inaccuracy!
Then again, it is also easy to see how this dance--which can indeed be very sensual--could actually be used for this purpose. After all, who can possibly think that a slinky undulation or precise controlled hip shimmy isn't attractive? Even if it's an inaccurate stereotype, there is still truth to the fact that belly dance can be a sensual and mesmerizing art form.
Yet there are ways to use this quality without reducing the dance to something that is done solely for the pleasure of leering men. Because if there is one person you should definitely try to use belly dance to seduce... that person is you!
You can use it to see beauty in the diverse people who perform it, and in turn to see beauty in yourself.
You can use it to teach your body how to do new and amazing things that you will feel beautiful doing.
You can use it to express the music you love and the deepest feelings inside your soul.
This Valentine's Day, do a little belly dancing, and fall in love with yourself!
Are you overwhelmed by expectations of what your body should look like? Are you bogged down by feelings of not being attractive enough? Does your displeasure with your body cause you to miss out on things in life that should be enjoyable? Are you unhappy with your shape, size, or weight?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are among something like 90% of women, who feel unhappy with their bodies and want to change them. But before you go and start trying to “fix” your body, why not work to change your mindset? Here are some steps you can take to start loving your body and developing a healthier body image, starting right now!
1.Realize that you are more than just the sum of your parts, and you are worthy of happiness
The most important thing to work towards when trying to develop a more positive body image is the attitude that your value as a human being is not tied to your physical appearance.
That can be difficult to realize when you live in a society that might constantly be telling you otherwise, but it is the truth. You are as worthy of happiness as the next person, and you are valuable for the simple fact that you are a human being with a unique set of genes and experiences that have shaped you into who you are.
If you do not feel valuable as you are right now, try tapping into your existing talents and abilities to make someone else happy or lend a helping hand. Do more of the things that make you happy, and surround yourself with people who love and value you as much as you can.
If you are able to love yourself in broader terms, it will be much easier overcome the negative perceptions you have of your body.
2.Focus on the positives and compliment yourself
You already know there is a lot of power in a compliment. A few nice words can totally make a person’s day! But are you applying that knowledge to the way you treat yourself?
It is easy to look in the mirror and see only flaws… after all most women are surrounded by messages that tell us all about these flaws and what we can do to “fix” them (hint: it usually involves buying their products or services).
Don’t let any person or entity who is financially vested in making you feel flawed so they can sell you stuff get the best of you! Make the active choice to see your physical qualities over your perceived flaws, every time!
This might be difficult for some, but with regular “practice,” it can be done. Pick a few of your favorite things about your body, write them down if you need to, and go over them regularly until you start seeing yourself in a more balanced way.
3.Nip those negative thoughts in the bud!
We all know that “practice makes perfect,” right? The more we practice something, the better we get at it.
But have you ever thought about how much this applies to your own thoughts? If you are constantly thinking negative things about your body, what you are essentially doing is getting better at telling yourself those bad things about your body.
It is a vicious cycle, and endless loop of self-disrespect and you are the only one with the power to end it. How can you ever love your body when you are constantly practicing ways to hate it?
You may not be fully in control of your thoughts, but you can choose to take charge and say “No!” to that voice in your head saying you look ugly. Interrupt that nasty thought pattern and consciously replace it with a positive one.
At first it might seem difficult to control, but the more you do this, the better you will get at doing it, until your thought patterns become more positive, and therefore healthier!
4.Tune out the noise
It will be easier to control negative thoughts when you are able to turn off or tune out the very sources of those ideas that have gotten in your head. Maybe it’s TV or magazines, maybe it’s a friend or family member, maybe it’s things you see on the internet…
Whatever it is, you can get rid of it altogether, distance yourself from it, or simply tune it out. If the beauty magazines you read are constantly showing you unrealistic images of photoshopped, well-posed, and professionally-photographed models and holding that up as the ideal you and all women should strive for at all times, ask yourself if you really need to continue reading these magazines. If you have toxic people in your life who make you feel awful about the way you look, try to address it with them and see if it improves. If not, you can distance yourself from them or cut them off, depending on the particular situation.
You can take charge of your happiness by controlling how much negative input is getting into your head in the first place!
5.Find body positive role models
Seek out some positive role models. These can be people who are body positive and whose attitudes and philosophies you can emulate… people who have the same “flaws” as you but have a healthy mindset about them and are out there living their lives and just generally being awesome without letting these things hold them back… or just people who have a similar body type to yours that you can look at and find the beauty in, to help you find that same beauty within yourself!
6.But Remember that comparison is the thief of joy
As you find role models, remember never to get caught up comparing yourself to them, or anyone else for that matter. It is great to find inspiration in others, but comparison and jealousy will absolutely steal away your happiness and self-love!
No matter how perfect you think someone else might be, they go through struggles just like you. You really have no idea how hard they may have worked for that thing about them you envy, or the challenges they face in life, or the kinds of thoughts that go through their heads that they have to deal with every day.
Focus on yourself, the things you can do to better yourself, and keep your progress in perspective. As you progress towards your goals, don’t let your pride and joy be taken away by jealousy because you perceive someone else as having gotten there more quickly or more easily than you.
Give yourself kudos for overcoming your own struggles, compare yourself only to yourself, and give yourself realistic expectations that are based on your own situation and needs so that you can avoid the pitfalls of jealousy.
7.Stop gossiping/talking trash about other women’s bodies
The practice of trash talking about other women’s bodies—including celebrities’—is not only cruel to the women who are being talked about, it is also self-destructive to the people doing the talking. It is very unfortunate that this seems to be a common practice among many women, a form of bonding even…
If this is how you bond with other women, stop. Just, stop… you are creating an entire culture where it is acceptable to say things about other people’s appearance that you would be devastated to hear said about yourself, you are projecting your insecurities onto others instead of taking care of them, and you are creating or contributing to a toxic environment that will only backfire on you and potentially your loved ones in the form of more negative attitudes and body issues.
You can quit this practice by changing the subject when other people bring it up, or choosing to say something nice instead, or saying nothing at all and just avoiding these conversations altogether. You can choose to surround yourself with kinder and more positive people, or continue to surround yourself with the same people but tune out these topics.
Either way, you are in control of the things you do and say, so choose wisely!
8.Support and empower other women instead
I truly believe that the more supportive you are of other women, the more supportive you are able to be to yourself. It’s a bit of a case of “the chicken or the egg” here… many women are able to support and empower other women because they already have a healthy relationship with themselves. But even if you are not totally on board with the body positive, self-acceptance bandwagon, you will find that as you project positive attitudes onto other women in your praise and support of them, as you see other women being empowered by your beautiful words and actions towards them, you will begin feeling empowered as well.
In this case, you are creating a positive environment that will foster growth for all involved!
Exercise not because you hate your body and need to “improve” it, but because it feels good physically and mentally and will help your longevity and quality of life.
Taking up a form of exercise that takes away the focus from how your body looks to what your body can do is one of the best ways to battle insecurities and develop a more positive body image.
As you begin to appreciate your body for its newfound abilities, you will put less focus on how it looks and more focus on how it functions, which is what really should matter the most! You will also begin to treat your body better, as you figure out that healthier foods, habits, and thoughts will lead to improved performance in your chosen activity. It’s a much better motivator than exercising for the sole purpose of looking a certain way.
Regular exercise also has the added benefit of enhancing serotonin production and release, so it should make you feel happier, too!
10.If all else fails, do seek therapy!
There is no shame in talking to a professional who can help you if your body image issues are more serious and you can’t work through them on your own. In fact, even if you can work through them on your own, it can still be beneficial to speak to a therapist!
Even individuals who are perfectly mentally healthy can benefit from therapy. By talking about what you think and do, you will discover things about yourself you wouldn’t otherwise have, which can help you set your life in the right direction for you.
And if your body image issues are keeping you from doing things you enjoy, negatively affecting your relationships and interactions with others, or otherwise hampering you in your daily life, then it is definitely time to consider therapy. Therapy can help get to the root causes of your issues and send you on a path to healing.
Remember you are not alone… someone can help!
Good luck on your journey to a more positive and healthy body image. If you find yourself sinking back into old habits, come back to this list or read other advice like it to find some grounding and get back to work on fixing your thought patterns.
You can do it!
Yamê is a Brazilian-American
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