March 22nd, 2017
I’m Joyfully – and Unexpectedly – Whipping My Mind, Body and Spirit Into Shape
Not long ago, my hubby and I were watching Big Little Lies on HBO. In one scene, the yoga teacher, Bonnie, was leading the class through a very un-yoga-like routine that looked like a combination of kickboxing, aerobics and something a hipster might do in a trendy dance club on a Saturday night.
“What is that?” I said to my husband. “I want to do that!”
As soon as the show ended, I prowled the Internet. Google quickly told me the graceful, groovealicious class was Nia, a yoga-cardio-dance workout that combines 52 official moves designed to gently and joyfully whip your body, mind and spirit into shape. A few keystrokes later, I found a local studio called MoveMe offering Nia (which stands for Neuromuscular Integrated Action), and I signed up for a class.
As I drove to the studio the next morning, I thought back on the few other dance classes I’ve attempted in my adult life: African dance, Latin dance, belly dance, even one ill-fated tap dance class. Thing is, I never danced as a kid – you know, that formative period when information is gathered and processed, when synapses are formed and can’t ever be unformed. (Okay, there was this one time when I was six, and I insisted I wanted to sign up for ballet. Which I did – but only long enough to get my hands on a tutu. As soon as that happened, I quit. Sorry, Mom and Dad.)
Besides the “grapevine” I learned watching Jane Fonda’s aerobics video circa 1982, my dance synapses simply never had the opportunity to form. So, despite my eagerness to try Nia, I was nervous. If my previous experiences were anything to go by, I’d spend the hour jogging in place in the back corner of the room, trying not to hurt anyone as I occasionally lunged in what was not necessarily the same direction as everyone else.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. The music started, and I did my best to follow the lovely, smiling instructor through a perfectly paced routine that engaged every part my body, from my fingers, wrists and toes to my core, quads and glutes. During most aerobics classes, I jump around feeling a little foolish. Nia choreography feels like pure, spontaneous dancing, with just enough jazz squares and cha-cha-chas thrown to give it a solid form and structure. There’s a serious emphasis on fun, too, as I discovered on St. Patrick’s Day when we did a freeform Irish jig with as many kicks, skips and high-steps as we could muster. Basically, there are plenty of moments in Nia when Anything Goes – and when the music’s pulsing through the speakers and the sweat’s beading on my forehead, it’s exuberant, energizing and empowering.
Right now, perhaps more than ever, Nia is exactly what I need. First, it’s a welcome change from my daily exercise routine: I hike (left, right, left, right). I use the treadmill (left, right, left, right). I lift weights (up, down, up, down). I do squats (up, down, up, down). You get the picture. If I ever make a move that’s lateral, let alone diagonal or, God forbid, circular, it’s because I’ve tripped and I’m trying to break my fall. During Nia, I intentionally moved my body sideways, backwards and in circles. I love it. And so far, I haven’t hurt anyone in the process.
Second, when I say Nia is what I need “right now,” you know I’m referring, not-so-obliquely, to the state of the world. I spend too much time these days feeling upset, frustrated and furious. During a Nia class, I feel exactly the opposite. In the studio, the sense of joy, acceptance and community is palpable. (And I haven’t even told you about the gorgeous, colorful, flowing, girly, twirly, frilly workout-clothes that Nia devotees wear.)
For me, stumbling upon Nia feels like I’ve had a chance encounter with a stranger who may well become my new best friend. I’m going back for another class tomorrow.
The blisters are totally worth it.
This article is published by Spring St.
Aunt Dora’s Cuban Black Beans
My Aunt Dora is a brilliant, strong, feisty Cuban who, in addition to a zillion other things, is a great cook. Every year at Thanksgiving, my family would drive from Vermont to Boston to spend the weekend with Dora, my uncle Marc and my cousins, Malka and Daniel (see Read this, below). Our traditional Thanksgiving meal included turkey, stuffing and gravy, plus a huge pot of garlicky black beans, steaming rice and creamy flan for dessert. Yum.
I’ve been making Aunt Dora’s Cuban black beans for more than two decades. Funny thing is, she visited me a few years back and agreed to whip up her namesake dish in my kitchen. I was shocked to discover somewhere along the way, I’d started making an entirely different version of Dora’s famous beans. I have no idea how this game of “Recipe Telephone” happened. I do know that Dora’s original beans, and my tried-and-true interpretation, are both darn good. So here’s my highly unofficial version of Aunt Dora’s official Cuban black beans.
2 cans unseasoned black beans, with the juice
3-4 Tbs ground cumin (add more or less, to taste)
2-3 Tbs ground coriander
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 medium onion, finely diced
¼ c dry red wine
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
Olive oil for sautéing
In a heavy bottom saucepan over medium-low heat, add a tablespoon of olive oil plus the cumin and coriander. Stir constantly, until the spices are fragrant, about 2 minutes. Lower heat slightly. Being careful not to burn, add the garlic and onion and sauté until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes or so. Pour beans and their liquid into the pot, then add wine, vinegar, sugar and salt. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a gentle simmer and cover. Check heat and stir regularly (the beans may stick to the bottom of the pan if the heat is too high) for 30 minutes or longer, if possible. Taste as you go, adding more spices, sugar or salt, depending on your preferred seasoning.
Note: If you cook the beans uncovered, the liquid will thicken up a lot faster.
Infomocracy by Malka Older and The Bone Street Rumba (series) by Daniel José Older
File this week’s book recommendation under “S” for Super Cool. I want to tell you about two acclaimed authors who happen to be siblings – and who happen to be my cousins. Malka Older wrote Infomocracy, a mind-bending sci-fi political thriller which, given the political turmoil currently taking place around the world, could be read as a chilling and, chillingly prescient, prediction of a time to come. Malka has traveled and lived internationally for years, and her global views and experiences are very much in play in Infomocracy, her first novel (the second and third books in this “Centenal Cycle” series are already underway and slated for publication).
For his part, Daniel José Older writes short stories and novels for adults and young adults. His award-winning books (including Salsa Nocturna and Shadowshaper) often combine magical realism and urban grit with his strong Cuban/Latin influences (see Aunt Dora’s Cuban Black Beans, above). There’s a thrumming musicality to his writing, which is no surprise given that he’s a composer on the side.
Since my writerly cousins are busy dominating the “OLDER” section of every bookshelf, I thought it would be fun to share a few links so you can check out their work for yourself. For starters, here’s a link to an interview Daniel conducted with Malka (how great is that!) about her book. They discuss where the idea for her novel came from, the writing process and a whole lot more.
Here’s where you can find out more about Malka.
No doubt about it: These cousins of mine really are Super Cool.
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