In today’s society, the standards we are bombarded with can seem impossibly high. One hour of television or internet consumption will yield an average of twenty-three minutes of advertisements that show attractive, healthy, young, slim people living their best lives with seemingly minimal effort. This model contrasts the reality of any given day in the ordinary adult in America, when the sound of the alarm (often after too little or low-quality sleep) can begin the first of a series of physical, mental, and emotional challenges that, while very valid and a normal part of the human route, create the illusion that “everyone has it all together except for me.” The result can be a “why bother?” attitude: when the rest of the world appears to be happily running a metaphorical (or actual) marathon, it’s hard to even get out of bed. America has thus become the land of the sedentary, home of the couch potato, substrate of the barely-making it, and island of the lone wolf, with many suffering from unspoken feelings of disconnection and loneliness.
There is a simple solution, and it doesn’t involve setting rigid parameters designed to achieve unrealistic standards. It’s called MOVING. Like the old adage, “the journey of one thousand miles begins with a single step,” we can start plugging into health and happiness immediately by simply by moving our bodies. Feeling blue? Move! Tired? Move! Achey? Move! Ate too much stuffing for Thanksgiving? Move! Got an overwhelming to-do list? Move! A marathon is not required. As my mother always says: “Life is a cinch by the inch, but hard by the yard.” Harvard Health advises us that most Americans spend at least half of their days sitting, which is a primary cause for chronic inflammation and the many diseases that stem from it, as well as obesity and depression. By contrast, regular bouts of movement throughout each day such as a short walk, stretching, dancing, and other simple and accessible movements have immediate physiological and mental benefits, to wit: increasing heart health and circulation, elevating mood, moving lymphatic fluid, building bone mass, increasing sex drive, lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, increasing energy, and promoting better sleep, to name just a few.
While any bit of movement is good for us, we can magnify its benefits by setting the intention for self-love. Too often, we live in a subtle but all-too-debilitating state of lack, of “I’m not enough.” Enter the power of intention. Even if we don’t feel it, “fake it till we make it” actually works; by giving ourselves permission to care for ourselves in small and large ways on a daily or even moment-by-moment basis, self-compassion takes form and does its healing work. And for those of us raised to believe that self-love is selfish or even narcissistic, take note: everyone around you benefits when you take care of yourself. Not only can you inspire others by taking these small but meaningful steps (pun intended) towards personal nourishment and happiness, but self-compassion always translates to general compassion, and you end up being in much better shape to more easefully take care of and support others around you. A win-win!
Belly dancing is a particularly effective way to move with self-love, as it hones in on the power of subtle movement and mindful attention to the beauty and wonder of our bodies exactly as they are. There is no impossible standard to meet, as all bodies, all ethnicities, all socioeconomic levels, all ages and all life stages are accepted and celebrated in this timeless art form. Available to people who identify as non-binary, male, or female alike, belly dancing is nonetheless an expression of the divine feminine, which is present in all genders and embodies the qualities of unconditional nurturing, support, sensuality, and acceptance. And because it is often done in community, it fosters a sense of immediate connection with others, regardless of ability level. The dance community also includes musicians, audience members, and even blog writers like myself: one moving organism of familial support and inclusion.
Each small act of intentional movement is also a small act of self-compassion that is cumulative. If we can redirect our focus from the seemingly impossible task of achieving media-hyped standards and just take it one day, one step, one hip shake and shoulder roll at a time, we may discover that the secret to happiness, health, and self-fulfillment has been with us all along.
Author’s addendum: apropos to the “movement” theme, Hip Expressions has moved to an incredible new location at 1045 9th Avenue North, St. Petersburg FL, 33701! Come join us!