This summer, I'm beating the bloat and feeling better about my belly! I participated in two 30-day belly dance challenges online, first Jasirah's Belly Challenge and then a summer challenge by Mahtab of Best Belly Dance Workout. I chose these two because of the kind of challenges they were--not strenuous and sweaty but instead technically difficult. I am at a healthy weight that I want to maintain, and I am recovering from moderate to severe anemia, so I wanted to avoid anything exhausting or high-impact. This summer, I worked on balance, joint flexibility, and the kinds of technical skills that work out the brain and nervous system, and I targeted the "corset" muscles that cinch in the waist, deep beneath the outer ab muscles. I've said thanks and goodbye to the visible abs I had in my slimmer 20s, which are now obscured by an age-appropriate skim of subcutaneous belly fat that I don't want to starve myself or go under the knife to banish.
And besides, after my pregnancy and all the body changes of motherhood, I've become more interested in the transverse abdominis, which are more important than the outer rectus abdominus muscles for tucking the abdominal organs into their natural homes and supporting the spine. Aesthetically, the transverse abdominis create the hourglass silhouette that is more desirable to me than a six-pack on a midriff shaped like a barrel. (Although that arrangement of body shape and texture can be a desirable look for others--so no judgment! It's a personal preference.)
Because I'm not as thin through the torso as I was before, due to pregnancy and life stage--even my ribcage has expanded--and because I am focusing on invisible skills, feelings, organ functions, and inner muscles, there isn't as much to see in a photograph after two months of training. But there are some differences that show up. I took both sets of pictures below during the most bloated phase of my menstrual cycle (so brave, I know, LOL) to see whether my brief, focused run of daily practices (mostly 10 minutes or less each morning) had any effect on busting the bloat.
It looks to me like it did! I certainly feel better--stronger, less encumbered by pains and discomforts, and more energized. And although there is no sign of a six-pack anywhere and my lower belly remains pleasantly poofy, I can see that the bloat has reduced and that my waistline in the middle has swerved in at a sharper angle. The transverse abdominis circles the waist, so it pulls in the sides and scoops in the back a little bit as well. The top two photos were taken two months ago and the bottom two yesterday. The photos on the left show the full extent of the bloat with a completely relaxed diaphragm and belly, and the photos on the right show me sucking in and engaging my core.
Welp. Those pasty stretch marks still show in a bikini, but I notice that my dresses and tops fall into my waistline more elegantly. More importantly, my back feels great! My posture is improved, my whole body feels strong and supple, and my digestion and menstrual issues have been noticeably alleviated. And although most of that is gross TMI, it's also a real flex for a mom entering middle age.
Below is an account of how this all started, a throwback Thursday post about the first time I did a two-month belly dance workout challenge, when I had the willowy body of a silly girl and a different set of problems unique to the young who don't have their stuff together quite yet. It did wonders for my quality of life then, and it does slightly different wonders now. Always, belly dance practice is a joy and a fun way to begin the day.
Two-Month Belly Dance Challenge in My 20s
In June, Miss Moppet took me to a hippie store at the mall, where we bought matching jingly-coin hip scarves. Then she bought an instructional belly dance DVD by Sadie. We had these grandiose plans of getting together once or twice a week to practice together and then, I don't know, quit our day jobs and start a dance troupe.
We did practice together twice, which was lots of fun. But of course, being poor and hardworking ladies, we are often busy and do not always have reliable transportation. (We live too far from each other to bus or bike.) You just never know when a deer's face will take out one of your headlights, or kids from the trailer park will use your car as a trampoline.
Anyway, thank goodness for online and DVD belly dance lessons. If you already have a TV/DVD player, you can get a good instructional video for the price of one "real" lesson. Or if you're like me and don't have a functional TV but do have internet, you can get free online lessons. I went to an instructional website and practiced in my living room, about three times a week in 30-minute sessions. That is not a lot of time spent on working out. Also, I had to buy absolutely no equipment. No ab machines from infomercials, nothing. I did buy the jingly scarf, but I suppose that was not absolutely necessary. It just makes practicing more fun.
Two ailments that disproportionately strike the poor in America are mushy tummy and back pain. Why? I'm not exactly sure. But the two are definitely related. Core muscles stabilize the spine. I have slight lower back scoliosis that has plagued me with pain and weakness since my early teens. Team sports and cross-country didn't help. Martial arts helped a little. But belly dancing has strengthened and flexed my core (abs, sides, and back) like nothing else. At age 26, after two months of little internet lessons, I have better abs than I've ever had in my life! And I'm feeling absolutely no pain or weakness in the lower back, even after a couple hours of bending over in the garden. Wow, I feel like writing a song about it or making an infomercial... but there wouldn't be anything to sell, because you can belly dance anywhere, with no equipment, using free lessons.
OK, drumroll please... Here, below, is my belly in June. I have always been thin and moderately active, but not exactly athletic.
....and KAPOW! Here is a photo of my tummy taken a few days ago.
GRRAAARRRR! I cannot express to you how excited my husband is about all of this.
For anyone embarking upon a belly dance regimen, I would recommend doing virtual lessons only if you have SOME dance or martial arts or cardio fitness training (so you know the correct postures to prevent injury) or do the lesson with a friend who knows about these things and can help you with your form.
A note of encouragement: When I started my online lessons, the cute little instructor on the screen would show me a move that looked easy enough. But when I tried to copy it, I would fall down or fail to locate the muscles I was supposed to be moving or just stare in befuddlement between the computer screen and my mirror. But with continued trying, I would go from awkward confusion at the beginning to a pretty decent replication of the movement by the end of 30 minutes. It really surprised me. Try it out, and don't give up right away!
Besides, just by attempting belly dance moves, you'll build your core muscles in a hurry. Then if anyone makes fun of your inept monkey dancing, you can CRUSH THEM with the AWESOME POWER of your SUPERIOR ABDOMINAL MUSCLES!
Yeah. Go have fun!