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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Great exercise to help with knee strength

Dear Ones --

This Sunday's (Oct. 19th, 2008) Parade magazine had a Special Report about Women's Health by Claudia Wallis. She opens with:

"When I ripped a ligament in my knee on a ski-slope last winter, I had no idea that I was joining a limping sisterhood. A torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) ranks among the most common sports-related knee injuries. But women are five to sevn times as likely as men to sustain this kind of athletic damage."

Ms. Wallis continues with an interview with Dr. Laura Tosi, director of the bone-health program at Children's Natioanl Medical Cneter in Washington, DC. Dr. Tosi, and studies that Ms. Wallis has read, point out that "girls tend to run, jump, and turn with straighter legs and less bending at the knees and hips than boys." This, and other factors, make us more susceptible to knee and other joint injuries.

Ms. Wallis is not alone in her experience of knee problems -- I have them myself, and so do some of my students. (The older we get, the more likely we are to have this as a problem area.)

In fact, one of my favorite dance teachers, Anahid Sofian in New York City, started learning belly dance on the recommendation of her physical therapist. In doing modern dance, she had overworked her knees, and was in pain. She sought help from her doctors, who then prescribed physical therapy. Her therapist recommended belly dance as a therapeutic exercise. She tried it, became entranced by the art form, and from there went on to become one of the world's leading choreographers and teachers in this area.

Fortunately for us, we can ALL use belly dance as a therapeutic exercise. The key ingredient that makes this work? We dance in a "bent-knee" posture. ALL of our movements involve keeping our knees just slightly bent. This means that:
1) We strengthen our thighs AND our abs (we need strong abs to make this work),
2) We lengthen our lower back, getting our pelvis to align straight with the floor -- this helps a LOT to release lower back tension!, and
3) We strengthen the muscles around our knees.

Belly dance is an ancient, beautiful, and sensual women's art form. It is very likely the oldest dance form on this planet, although other "native/folk" dances (e.g., Polynesian, African) could have started around the same time. Because belly dance is such an old art form, it is very aligned with how our bodies are naturally designed to move. (In contrast, more recent dance forms, such as ballet, are much more "artificial," and can actually produce joint damage.)

Our bodies were naturally designed to have - and work best when - we are in a posture where our pelvis is aligned with the floor, our knees are slightly bent (this helps with pelvic alignment), and our spine and neck are "lengthened" so that the top of our heads reaches towards the sky. This is the posture that we practise and use in belly dance.

This pelvic-aligned, bent-knee, spine-lengthened posture helps us be more naturally graceful and beautiful. (Not to mention, it gives the immediate impression of losing ten pounds!) With this as a framework, we create elegant and sensual movements -- all while being non-impact!

For those that would like to add a fun way to strengthen their bodies, and feel and look much better, belly dance would be a great exercise alternative!

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