Monday, April 12, 2010

Belly dance tips for biking?

I'm happy to report that I am keeping up with the 30 Days of Biking challenge and have biked every day since I started. I even hauled my bike to a belly dancing forum and biked when I had a break from my workshops. Biking through the hotel parking lot I found a path and followed it for three miles or so. It was great fun!

Today was a day when I didn't really feel like biking but I went ahead and rode my bike anyway. Glad I did. It felt good to get out and forget about the day and think only about miles per hour and how fast I was spinning. I'm starting to view riding my bike as a highlight of the day. I never thought I would end up viewing exercise of any sort as a reward but I am starting to view cycling that way. This is progress.

I also never thought that I would come out of a belly dancing workshop with tips on how to better ride my bike. But - surprise! - I did. I attended the Northland Belly Dance Forum on Saturday where the featured guest teacher was a belly dancer named Aziza. One thing Aziza talked about in the first workshop she taught (Upper Body Technique) was how we present ourselves while we dance. She had all sorts of great tips to help us remember that we should present ourselves in a way that is strong and that connects with the audience, if we have one. One thing she said is that dancers have a tendency to raise their shoulders, to tense up and kind of hide our necks when we dance. I could relate, I do this a lot when I dance and have noticed that when I ride my bike I tend to hunch my shoulders up, to carry a lot of stress in my shoulders and forget to breathe.

Aziza suggested that we not think of lowering our shoulders because this visual often doesn't work for people. For me, I know, it often creates a second kind of tension in my body. I end up concentrating so hard on relaxing my shoulders that I forget to breathe or I tense them up in the process. Instead she kept reminding us to "show me your neck." She also had us think of having eyes in our chest, in our upper chest, and to "look" at people while we dance with the eyes in our chest. Sounds kind of weird, I know. But the two tips combined did wonders. As I was trying to do hip hits combined with snake arms and shimmies I would find my shoulders getting stiffer by the second. Then Aziza would remind us to "show me your neck" and look at her with the eyes in our chests and I could feel my shoulders relax a bit. Those two tips worked pretty well for me in class but they didn't click for me totally, probably because I was tired and kind of overwhelmed with all we were learning. Little did I know that these tips would come back to help me the following day on my bike ride.

Sunday was gorgeous. Owen and I wanted to get a decent ride in so we jumped on the bikes after church knowing we would have just enough time for a ride before we headed into Northfield for a Northfield Arts Guild production of the play, Proof (excellent show, by the way. Go see it!) My intent was to ride faster than I have so far this season and to increase my cadence.  Our planned route was a hilly one, and not an easy ride. It's just over 8 miles and involves riding some easy hills in our neighborhood then into Webster, up one monster hill, some rolling hills, turning around, rolling hills the other direction, going down one monster hill and riding up one nasty enormous hill on the other side of town.

I'm not a fan of this ride. Okay, I don't like it much at all, especially this early in the season when I'm not in shape. And I don't like hills, especially big ones. Often, when I see these huge hills I want to quit, turn around and go home. It's no surprise, then, that in the midst of pedaling away I hunched up my shoulders, caved in and forgot to breath. But this time on my ride I heard Aziza saying, "show me your neck" and it struck me as kind of a weird thing to try but I did it. And you know what? It worked! I relaxed my shoulders and felt more powerful in my pedaling. I made it up each hill and enjoyed going down them. And I did, in fact, increase my average miles per hour and my cadence. And today's ride, albeit a short one, was also good. I now know a trick to help me breathe, to help me drop my shoulders so I can cycle more efficiently and have a better time doing it. Who'd have thought I'd learn about biking at a belly dance workshop? I sure didn't - but I'm glad I did.


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