dance, dance, dance

Off-beat bop. Wild shoulder shake. Index-finger-point with hip-shake. Y-M-C-A. Lawnmower. Sadly, that’s about  the extent of my dance moves. But I love dancing and take every opportunity to bust this short repertoire…in the privacy of my own home, of course. I’m sure my cat thinks I’m nuts.

So, readers, you can imagine how much I love watching great dancers perform. I become mesmerized by their grace, style and flawless ability to move their bodies like they’re part of the music. I start dreaming of the day, where after years of living room shimmying and shaking, I confidently declare “no one puts Shannon in a corner,” rush onstage, and wow the audience with my jaw-dropping talent. If only…

No one puts Shannon in a corner!

No one puts Shannon in a corner!

This past weekend, I watched my friend, Ali, along with many other talented U of T dancers in the Only Human Dance Collective, showcase their stuff in “Pieces: A Collection of Choreographic Works” at the Winchester Street Theatre. I was impressed with the range of dance styles – like hip-hop, modern, ballet and jazz - that the dancers fused together to pull off creative, energizing and passionate performances. But, most of all, I was inspired by the obvious love of dancing that came through with each step by every dancer on stage. Regardless of their level, experience and technical ability, it was clear that these dancers were having a great time.

The Only Human Dance Collective (OHDC) has “a unique all-inclusive mandate, which is to welcome all dancers regardless of experience and draw on all members of the university community – students, staff, faculty, and alumni.”  This means all dancers - from living-room hip-shakers like me to seasoned experts -are welcome to take part in classes and work towards a professional dance performance that the group puts on every year.

Initially, I was a bit surprised when Ali told me she was going to be in a dance show. I never would have described her as a “dancer,” just “someone who loved to dance.” Now, after seeing her talent and flair on stage, I’d say she’s a “Dancing Queen!”

Watching the range of skill levels that “Pieces” showcased made me wonder how many of us lovers of dance hold back from getting more involved out of fear of that we aren’t quite the “dancers” we see on stage, in movies or in music videos. But chatting with Ali made me realize how important it is to keep doing the activities we love to do, especially when our busy lives as students can cause us much stress and anxiety.

She got involved with OHDC after seeing a poster advertising the club at Hart House in September, which emphasized that, “dancers of all levels were welcome to join.” Since Ali loves to dance and thinks it’s important to have a healthy, active lifestyle, she went to an information session where choreographers led demonstrations of what their classes would be like. After sampling her options, she signed up for a weekly contemporary/jazz class aimed at intermediate-level dancers. This experience gave her the opportunity to meet new people, and forced her to take a break from her busy student life each week to do an activity she enjoyed.

If you’re someone who loves to dance, Hart House offers registered dance classes like contemporary, street jazz and ballroom dance so that beginner to experienced dancers can stay fit and healthy while doing something they love.

Readers, have you made an effort to get involved with a physical activity you’ve loved this year? What was it? Please send me your stories so that I can keep getting inspired to take my bopping, shimmying and shaking out of my living room! Or maybe, you’ll introduce me to a new passion altogether!

-Shannon

Gettin’ Frosh Fitter

Here's an idea of what a Frosh Fit class looks like!

Here's an idea of what a Frosh Fit class looks like!

Thirty seconds of lunges. High-five Dara. Thirty seconds of bent-over band rows. High-five Dara. Repeat. Repeat. Jog to next station. Thirty seconds of mountain climbers. High-five Dara. Thirty seconds in plank position. High-five Dara. Repeat. Repeat. Jog to next station. Continue bootcamp-esque work-out for four more stations.

I survived Frosh Fit with the UpbeaT bloggers. Actually, we all survived. Dara, great teamwork! You really pushed it, which motivated me not to slack off. Lori, Cynthia, and Danielle, I was impressed with your positive attitude, especially since you hadn’t been to the Athletic Centre before. From reading all of your posts, I learned that your bodies were in quite a bit of pain on the weekend. I felt like that the first time I went to Frosh Fit, too. And Cynthia, I was sweating and working hard (although I appreciate that you described me as graceful).

Frosh Fit is a free drop-in work-out class for all students and members, which is structured as a circuit training program that combines resistance training, cardio intervals, and core strength exercises. It’s a forty-five minute workout offered three times a week: Mondays at 6:10 pm, Wednesdays at 4:10 pm, and Fridays at 2:10 pm. Participants even get a few educational visits from a nutritionist and a personal trainer.

For me, this recent Frosh Fit experience was quite different from my first session in September.  Back then, I was incredibly unfit from a summer of traveling through Europe. So, I struggled through the session:

Five pathetic attempts at push-ups (meant to be thirty seconds). Thirty seconds of sit-ups (where I barely lifted my shoulders off the floor). High-five’d partner (who was doing everything he could to motivate me). Repeat. Water break. Limped to next station. Water break.

While the program’s designed so that all fitness levels, from beginners to die-hards, can go at their own pace, I pushed myself way harder than my body wanted me to. In the end, I got a great work-out, learned some new exercises and was motivated to get into a regular work-out routine. But, my body was in soooo much pain the next day. Sore quads, abs, chest, back, hamstrings…actually, every muscle in my body ached.

After that first Frosh Fit session, when I tried to get into a regular routine, I found every excuse possible to avoid the gym. But, I persevered, and overtime, I started exercising more regularly. For me, the trick was finding a workout buddy to go with. Unfortunately, my class schedule prevented me from being able to squeeze Frosh Fit into my schedule on a regular basis. Too bad, because it would have been a lot easier for me to go to these classes three times a week, then plan the work-outs on my own. But, my work-out buddy and I have been doing yoga classes, and the Hart House circuit twice a week, and managed to find a routine that works for us.

Unlike the first Frosh Fit experience, from which I’d limped away as though I’d just been on the losing end of a boxing match, this time, I surprisingly didn’t feel that sore. I felt like I challenged myself physically, but recovered quickly from the work-out after we did some stretches.

Yes! Finally!! I thought. I’m getting fitter!

Then I thought, wait a minute…what does “being fit” actually mean? How do I know if I’m actually there?

Rosie Posca, strength and conditioning manager at the Athletic Center, tells me that you’ll know you’re getting fitter when you’re “climbing up stairs and it finally feels effortless.” I have noticed that hiking up stairs with my heavy backpack has gotten easier (but not exactly effortless). So, I’m getting there. And readers, if I can do it, so can you!

The challenge now, for me, is to keep up with the routine, so I’ll continue to improve my fitness and will have more energy to participate in the activities I enjoy, like playing sports with friends, or going on hikes in the summer.

It was also really fun to exercise with the UpbeaT bloggers. Being with friends definitely made the whole experience seem less like work, and more social. Hey, Cynthia, Lori, Dara and Danielle, what are your thoughts on having active meetings?

Just dooooo it!! Turn those resolutions into healthy habits

This year, I will get to the gym more.

I’ll confess, that was last year’s resolution too. But I was teaching in the UK and traveling most weekends, so it was hard to get into a routine. Well, that’s my excuse. Yes, 2011 WILL be the year I get fit.

Gyms are always PACKED in January with those of us trying to stick to tour resolutions and sweat off holidays sweets (OMG- I have no self-control when it comes to shortbread or those chocolate oranges).  And then we trickle off. Too tired. Too busy. It conflicts with our dates with “The Bachelor.”  Yes, our excuses are endless.

So, how can we avoid becoming just another “January gym-goer?” How can we turn our resolutions to get healthy into regular habits?

Matty Kwan, a PhD student in the Faculty of Physical and Health Education, had some advice to offer. He researches why university students tend to be less physically active than they were in high school. He shared a few tips on how we can make physical activity part of our busy student lifestyles.

Action Plan. Kwan encourages us to “establish a routine and make it a priority.” He also reminded me that many students often skip physical activity for schoolwork.  But, in fact, being physically active has been shown to help students succeed by improving our concentration, memory and sleep habits. It also reduces our stress and anxiety. So, making an action plan to get fit will also help us get better grades.

Be specific. According to Kwan, “routines need to be structured and specific.” Instead of telling ourselves “I’m going to the gym this week,” we need an action plan like, “on Monday from 6:10-6:55pm, I’m going to Mylene’s Zumba class in the field house at the Athletic Centre” or “on Tuesday, I’m going swimming at 12:10 in the 50m pool at the Athletic Centre for 20 minutes.” We need to write these into our weekly schedules, the same way we prioritize our academic classes.

Key Reminders. Little things like putting a yoga mat next to your school bag before you go to bed if you’ve planned to do a morning yoga class, putting a drop-in fitness schedule on your fridge with the classes you want to go to circled, or setting an alarm on your watch 30 min before you were planning on heading to the gym to lift weights, are simple strategies to keep you on track with your goals.

Enjoy physical activity. Really? Is this possible? According to Kwan, one of the main reasons that students stop doing physical activity in university is that they tend to play less sports and do more exercise. They stop doing the activities they liked to do in high school. When you are on a team, and have committed to practices and games, you stick with it to avoid “letting the team down.” But, it is much easier to put off exercise. A few ways to get involved in campus sports are:

Intramurals: This term’s sports include basketball, volleyball, ultimate Frisbee, lacrosse, inner-tube waterpolo, field hockey, and hockey. Contact your faculty or college intramural rep to join a team!

Drop-In Recreational Sports: At the Athletic Centre, you can play recreational sports like basketball, volleyball, tennis, and badminton. You don’t need to register- just show up and have fun!

Registered Programs: Sign up for activities like yoga, spinning, ballet, and hip hop, karate, fencing, and skating. Last term, I did Tae Kwon DO and it was definitely worth the 60 bucks. Each class, I got a great work-out, met new people, had fun, and learned new skills. AND, I think that forking over a bit of cash helped me stay committed to it.

Regardless of what physical activities you choose, whether it’s sport, fitness classes, lifting weights at the gym, or a nice walk in the park, make sure it’s something you enjoy! You ARE doing these things during your limited free time! And, sadly, readers, simply having a resolution is not enough. You need some serious action planning!! Like Cynthia advised, ““C’MON. GOOO. STOP MAKING EXCUSES! YOU CAN DO ITTTTTT!”

-Shannon

It’s crunch-time! Staying physically active during exams

Crammed with school-work? Make time for your health!

Frozen fingers, frozen toes, and it seems, a frozen commitment to staying active as a busy student. Yes, I’m hanging my head in shame. Several times this month (urgh…daily), I’ve taken the subway from St. George to Spadina Station to avoid the cold. I have put my bike away for the winter, and have become committed to getting my money’s worth from my Metropass.

Yes, it’s a clever survival tactic for enduring cold Canadian winters, but it’s also exam-time. This means that the over-achiever in me has kicked in and I’m not replacing the 10 minutes it takes me to walk from St. George to Spadina with other physical activity. The only sustained movement I seem to be prioritizing these days is the occasional trip to Starbucks for a dose of “essential” exam-fuel.

Earlier this year, I made a commitment to staying healthy and active, but is it okay to put my health and fitness goals on hold during exams?

Don't become a potato head during exams. Give your brain a break!
Are exams turning you into a study spud? Give your brain a break!

I had a chat with Dr. Guy Faulkner, a professor in the Faculty of Physical and Health Education and head of U of T’s Exercise Psychology Unit. He has initiated the “Walk@Work” program to help U of T staff become more physically active on the job.

Dr. Faulkner indicated that we need “a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-vigorous physical activity a week to be healthy.” What is moderate-vigorous activity? “It’s walking at a pace you would if you were late for a meeting,” Dr. Faulkner explained.

Dr. Faulkner told me that many students “report lack of time as a barrier to being physically active.” Like me, they care about doing well academically first and foremost. However, he emphasized that “you are not wasting your time by going to the gym.” In fact, university students who are active are reported to have less visits to health services, experience less stress, have improved concentration, and better sleeps. So, staying healthy during exams needs to be a priority if I want to do my best.

Take a 10 minute walking study break!

Take a 10 minute walking study break!

Dr. Faulkner stressed that physical activity doesn’t need to happen at the gym. If lifting weights, running on a treadmill, or doing a fitness class isn’t for you, you can still find other ways to reap the benefits. The minimum target of 150 minutes can be broken up into bouts of 10 minutes (turns out that short walk I’ve been missing by taking public transit was doing a lot for my health).

Even though ten minutes doesn’t seem like a lot, you still need to schedule it into your day. “It is really all about planning. If you don’t plan for it, it won’t happen,” Dr.Faulkner warned. “Part of the planning process is identifying barriers to being physically active and coming up with strategies to overcome them.” For me, this means making time to be physically active without drastically altering my precious study schedule. It also means dressing appropriately, like remembering to bring my hats and mitts, so that I’m prepared for winter weather.

Dr. Faulkner also suggested finding social support for being active. “The majority of people find it easier to do physical activity with friends.” I usually study at the library with my friend, Ali. So next time, instead of taking our breaks at the café at Gerstein, we could go for a walk through Queen’s Park, to refresh, re-energize and re-charge.

So, newly inspired and informed, I am recommitting myself to my goal to stay fit; I shouldn’t let the stress of exams and the cold of winter freeze my commitment to being physically active on campus. Simple things like getting off one subway stop early, having walking study breaks, walking to a further coffee shop than I normally would, having “walking meetings,” or walking “catch-ups” with friends will help me survive the exam crunch and hopefully, help me to get better results.

Readers, do you have any strategies for being more physically active during exams? Please, tell me your secrets! Gotta run, have a meeting to go to…guess I’ll bundle up and walk there!

-Shannon

Get in the zone with Break Zone

The last week of classes are looming upon us and before you know it we get a taste of sweet freedom (aka Holiday break). But before we can take that breath of fresh air, we have to endure the stress and anxiety of final exams. Sometimes it makes you question: “Is it really the most wonderful time of the year?”

I’m sure at some point we’ve been there before. You lose sleep, forget to eat and stock up on energy drinks and caffeine. For some, exam time becomes a high pressure stress fest where BYOB means bring your own books and Robarts library is filled to its thirteen floor brim. Lunch time is forgotten because your mind knows it’s crunch time and every minute spent snoozing is a minute taken away from precious study hours.

Although we can’t fully set our minds on vacation mode just yet, who says you can’t take a breather right now? Taking study breaks allow you to reduce stress, focus better and make your study time more effective. Have you ever forced yourself to read for hours and hours on end and come out not retaining a single thing? I know I’ve been there and most of the time it’s because my mind is too distracted thinking about either of the following:

a) how I am unprepared and therefore doomed for the upcoming exam

b) how stressed I am about my other classes

or c) what I could be doing instead of studying.

If your mind is racing about these things (among other problems), it’s difficult to concentrate and maybe a study break is exactly what you need!

I don’t want you taking that as permission to use this time to go on Facebook* and aimlessly stalk your friends list, or whatever internet getaway you frequent in favour of studying because there are better ways to rejuvenate your mind and reduce stress from exams.

U of T’s faculty of Phys Ed and Health have partnered with an organization called The Youth Wellness Network (YWN) to bring a new program to campus called Break Zone, that will be based around Exam Stress Reduction. The first execution of the program will take place every day at Hart House on December 7-9 from 12pm – 4pm.

So how exactly will it work? There will be 4 stations running at a time with 6 themes on rotation. Each station will be offering 20 minute sessions on the hour and half hour, so students can use the station as their study break and return to their studies refreshed and rejuvenated.

The themes of the program will be Physical Activity, Body Work, Meditation, Laughter, Sound Therapy, and Anger Release.

Along with these six stations, there are additional resources available including the Exam Stress Survival Kit, filled with sponsor samples, coupons, and helpful information, a Healthy Exam Meal Guide, and prizes/giveaways.

For more info, you can check out their website, Facebook event and fan page *(okay I know I told you not to use Facebook as a study break, but you can at least redeem yourself by checking it out!)

Lastly, don’t forget that you’re not alone! Listen to what students have to say in the following promo video and check out Break Zone!

- Danielle

“Ice is nice”

The days got shorter and the weather’s getting colder everyday.  I’ve already worn my ski jacket, wool mitts and unfashionably warm toque. So, in the true spirit of winter, and to continue my commitment to staying active, this week I decided it was time to hit the ice.

I checked out the drop-in recreational skating schedule online and decided to head over to Varsity Arena on Monday from 2-3pm for a free skate. Now, I am not an expert skater and was a bit nervous of embarrassing myself, perhaps losing control, perhaps wiping out. Sure, I’m from Ottawa. I’m no stranger to the annual skate on the canal, but my repertoire of moves is pretty limited: “the forwards skate,” “the stop,”  “the backwards skate” (sort of) and the odd “forward cross-cut” (only possible when I really concentrate).

When I got to the rink and started lacing up the skates I’d borrowed from my grandma, I saw the range of abilities on the ice and knew I’d be fine. There were almost 20 skaters, a mix of staff and students, young and old, male and female. A few were in the centre of the ice, practicing some impressive-looking figure skating spins and jumps, but most were doing laps along the boards at various speeds. Some skaters, like me, were there on their own, while others went as a group to get a bit of exercise and hang out with their friends.

I came across a former figure skater and fourth-year commerce student named Amy. She told me she regularly comes to skate on her own during the 12:10-1:30pm Friday sessions for the nostalgia of being able to participate in an activity she loved when she was younger. This Monday, however, Amy convinced her friend Ally, a master’s student in biological anthropology, who had never been skating at Varsity Arena, to join her. With a smile of regret on her face, Ally said that she probably wouldn’t have gone if her friend hadn’t convinced her, but that she had fun and would go again.

Then I met a law student named Vince. He goes skating at Varsity Arena three times a week. As a former hockey player, he prefers getting his exercise at the rink, doing an activity that he enjoys, as opposed to working out at the gym. “Ice is nice,” he told me.

Similarly, Erica, a master’s student in public health, who had figure skated for 16 years, goes skating every Monday.  Erica told me she goes to the rink to clear her head, manage her stress, and most of all, to indulge in her love of skating. “I call it my happy place,” she said with a sigh.

After chatting with these students, I was inspired by how they all manage to make skating, something they are passionate about, a priority. As I left the rink that day I noticed a poster for an event that might be a good way to see if you still have, or might discover, a similar passion. “Skate ‘n Create” is happening on November 25th.

It’s a night for the crafty and the active at Varsity Arena next Thursday from 9-11pm. There will be free skate rentals, free hot-chocolate, and free Timbits: a great opportunity to get to the rink, especially if you don’t have access to your own skates.

I won’t be able to make it until after my Tae Kwon Do class, where we have been applying the kicks we have learned to different “attack” and “defense” situations, but hopefully I’ll see you there after!

-Shannon

Excuses in September…Tae Kwon Do in October

After a whirlwind summer of backpacking through Europe, sleeping on overnight trains, and pushing my body past its limits on grueling bike rides in the Italian Alps, I arrived at U of T slightly dreading the school year. I cringed at the thought of late nights spent on my butt, eyes glued to my computer screen, overdosing on Diet Cokes while picking at sour jujubes. Something needed to be done. Urgently.


I came up with what I thought was a master plan. A “New School Year Resolution” as I called it. I’d sample as many campus activities as possible in hopes of getting fitter, discovering a hidden talent and meeting new people. I would prove that even on a budget, students really could “live the dream.”

My first stop was the Athletic Centre. I figured it to be the hub of student recreational activity (since this visit, I’ve learned that Hart House has just as much to offer). After picking up a drop-in fitness schedule, I dreamed of how worldly I’d feel doing exotic-sounding classes like Nia, Zumba, or Ashtanga Yoga…whatever they were. I flipped through an Activity Guide, and wondered if I had the guts to try middle eastern belly dancing, fencing, or trampolining. So much to choose from, so little time!


Maybe I got too ambitious, so determined to do everything that I became overwhelmed when I tried to squeeze it all into my schedule. Whatever the reasons, by mid-September I realized my  plan failed miserably. I sincerely apologize to all the adventure-seekers out  there who had hoped to be inspired. I am disappointed in me too.

Disheartened by the fact that my mission to transform my student experience would likely be replaced by extended-hours sessions at Robarts, I started thinking about why it’s been so hard to fit “fun” into my schedule. Isn’t maintaining a balanced, healthy lifestyle vital to my success as a student…so why has it been so difficult to achieve?


I wracked my brains. I’m motivated to go to class, study, and get my readings done because my marks would suffer if I didn’t. I realized that I needed someone, or something, to drag me off my butt and whip me into action…


Luckily, last Friday, a friend convinced me to go “Frosh Fit,”
a free drop-in fitness class which runs on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at the Athletic Centre. It combines circuit training with education on both fitness and nutrition- the perfect bootcamp to turn my resolutions into realities! So, I got reacquainted with my neglected sneakers and shorts and found myself standing in the brightly-lit dance studio with six other fitness newbies and an energetic instructor, ready to sweat.


During the workout, we squatted, crunched, skipped  and lunged at stations with a partner, alternating between 30 seconds of weights and cardio intervals. “Go! Go! Go! Three more,” the
instructor belted, in the most cheerful tone possible. Thankfully she was not the drill-sergeant-type fitness instructor I fear. My partner, on the other hand, an impressively fit, middle-aged staff member, shook his fist at me when I flopped on the mat during push-ups. Just the work-out buddy I needed to kick start my routine!


After the class, we met with a nutritionist for an hour. She taught us about the importance of eating “nutrient-dense” foods as opposed to “empty calories” (so, for bread that means seedy, whole-grain or brown beats anemic, bleached and white). It made me realize that I need to start packing my lunch to avoid satisfying my mid-day cravings with over-priced, calorie-packed muffins or greasy (yet delicious) pizza slices.


Motivated by how energized I felt after the “Frosh Fit” session, I immediately headed to the Athletic Centre office to check out other
activity options. Staying faithful to my plan to try something new, I signed up for a Tae Kwon Do class. Sure, I had to put a little coin behind the commitment, but that might motivate me to actually go.


The first session is tomorrow night! I am feeling a little nervous, wondering what I am getting myself into (What, by the way, do I wear to such a class?) But I am also excited to learn a new sport. Check in next week and I’ll let you know what it was like! Maybe I’ll find that hidden talent after all!

-Shannon