Category Archives: RaqiSa Core Training

RaqiSa Fitness: Why I Train RaqiSa Dancers for Spinal Flexibility and Trunk Stability with A Fitness Ball.

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RaqiSa students love to work with the veil.  But what they may or may not realize is that there is a RaqiSa training method behind learning how to express this beautiful dance which includes trunk stabilization and spinal mobility training. Learn how belly ball training tones and sculpts as well as prepares the body to dance all RaqiSa styles, (but especially this popular veil dance), with the proper RaqiSa Posture and Grace!

I have been teaching belly dance for fitness for a long time.  What you may be surprised to know is just how rewarding my job is on several levels.  Sure, I help women get fit, and that’s just fantastic.  As the obesity epidemic in America tops the charts, I know that my job is helping tip that scale toward optimal good health and well-being in active participants.  Ask any fitness professional…I am inclined to believe that across the board each will say,  “I love my job.”

But RaqiSa Belly Dance for fitness is special.  Based on my humble observation, and the many years of teaching, women who initially participate in a belly dance for fitness class, will walk in with hesitation.  The exception may be if the participant is Middle Eastern, and they are aware of the cultural aspects of belly dance and her many traditions and roots.  Otherwise, for most, there is a certain mystic and uncertainty that ensues.  I suppose there is this projected film image, that is emblazoned in the mind, of tantalizing women in movies who wiggle and move their hips seductively during a scene filled with men, who are foaming at the mouth.  This is unfortunately a grave misconception of this timeless, elegant art form with deep cultural roots.  And, please, let me be clear: RaqiSa Dance is in actuality a beautiful, (and dare I say) respectable dance enjoyed with and for women to celebrate her beauty, to celebrate family, and even love.

In due time, women who grow in the signature RaqiSa formats, such as Belly Barre, Belly Dance, and Belly Ball often share with me three amazing things:  1) they are acutely aware of their posture throughout the day, 2) they are complimented by others as they walk with a renewed confidence, 3) they are becoming more fit and flexible, with the added benefit of noticeably more defined abdominals! Do you realize how that makes me feel as a fitness professional?  It’s pretty awesome, I can assure you.

To help speed the muscle development as well as the necessary mobility and stability required to be an effective RaqiSa dancer, I train with a fitness ball.  Seriously, who doesn’t love playing with a ball?  It’s probably the first word most children say, and it’s the one sportive equipment enjoyed at any age.  It also happens to be the perfect solution toward effective RaqiSa fitness training.  But before I offer my summation, let’s talk essential ball and fitness logistics:

Safety & Guidelines

♦  There are two standard fitness ball sizes: 55 cm & 65 cm.

♦  Standard rule: When seated on the ball the knees should be in line with the hips or slightly above the hips, this determines which ball to use for you. (Test this on a 55 cm or 65 cm ball to see which is best for you).

♦  Maintain good postural alignment by contracting abdominals and keep the chest lifted.  Note: shoulders dropped in opposition (and relaxed) if ball is over head.

♦  When learning choreography, master the foot pattern first, then add the ball.

♦  When learning seated ball exercises, beginners should hold on the ball until they are securely engaged through the core for stability. Tip: Find neutral spine and keep shoulders and hips “squared.”

Benefits 

Working with a fitness ball trains all three planes of motion which enhances overall athletic performance and serves as a method to prevent injury.  In addition, other benefits include:

♦  Improved coordination, balance, and body awareness

♦ Optimal upper body conditioning as both arms are in constant action, unlike unilateral movements performed with a    dumbbell.  (This is very much like working with a veil)

♦  An increase in muscular strength and endurance in the upper body.

♦  An improvement in deep abdominal stabilization and an increase in hip range of motion when training seated on the ball.

In SRaQuisa SM_Logo_2c-JPEG 2.11.2014 copyummation, training with a fitness ball will help prepare the body to effectively DANCE.  Of particular interest to RaqiSa enthusiasts, the upper body movement is likened to that of a veil and the seated movement enhances hip awareness as it increases hip range of motion.  Consider if you will the three dimensional upper body and hip movements one must master with balance and precision. And how about the many stretching options when working with the ball?  The possibilities are endless.  So if you see Belly Ball as a RaqiSa option, careful to not dismiss this amazing workout, (and effective dance teaching technique).  Try belly ball.  You can expect to enjoy rapid results with a bonus “fun factor” as you add “play” to your day.  Seriously.  I. LOVE. MY. JOB!

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The Belly Ball workout is currently in production, so stay tuned for this amazing RaqiSa Fitness solution!

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RaqiSa Fitness: Develop These Five Easy Fitness Habits

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“Health is like money, we never have a true idea of its value until we lose it.”  – Josh Billings

Fitness is about your health.  It’s about your well being. You do not have an imperfect body; and a fitness program is not a punishment for an imperfect body. Nope. Love your body; it’s the only one you’ve got. Rather, fitness is an investment in you.  If you struggle with motivation, begin to take steps toward making fitness a habit.  Choose to redefine your whole approach to fitness with these five easy habits, so on days when you feel unmotivated, you can stare it the face and say, “Nope. This is just what I do.”

Supposedly, it takes a minimum of 21 days to develop a habit.  But I say go the distance and commit to 30 Days.  You will go through a “honeymoon phase” where it’s easy, but it’s when it gets tough that you will need to rely on the key strategies.  I believe in these habits and practice them myself.  In fact, I am inclined to believe that most athletes you admire subscribe to these fitness habits.  Now it’s your turn.  Commit to These Five Fitness Habits toward a more focused and fit you for 30 Days:

1) MAKE A 10 MINUTE MINIMUM RULE– Consistency is key.  Commit daily to doing a minimum of 10 minutes of exercise.  Do something. Anything. 10 minutes of something is better than nothing! In fact, don’t go to bed until you have done SOMETHING. Begin to make exercise just “what you do.” As long as your doctor gave you the green light, you aren’t going to break! You will be surprised by the muscle tone you can enjoy rather rapidly simply by doing something e.v.e.r.y.d.a.y. Remember, you have all of eternity to “rest.”

2) CHOOSE TO RESPOND TO YOUR FEELINGS WITH A HEALTH OR FITNESS SOLUTION – Feeling overwhelmed? Try grabbing weights or begin a muscle training class and notice how centered you feel. Feeling irritable? Pay attention to your nutrition. Feeling restless? Go for a walk or a run. Listen to your breath as you move. Feeling worried? Draw inward to your breath and practice deep diaphragmatic breathing.

3) CREATE VISUALS –  Post daily a visual list of your objectives. (Post it somewhere so you can see it!) Doing so will help you keep the course more vibrant and alive. Or create a check list of a variety of exercises that work various muscles and actively check off (one by one) a goal you have accomplished for the day or week.  Keep it positive.  Write a note to yourself at the top of your calendar. If you belong to a gym, think outside of the box and try new group class.  If you workout on-line, review a list of workouts and post which you’d like to try so you can see it.  To keep you encouraged and your perspective healthy, have a friend take a picture of you doing something active, where you feel alive and energetic and post it as a refreshing reminder of  your love for good health and fitness.

4) CHOOSE TO STOP MAKING EXCUSES AND BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF – Nothing has power over your health and fitness plan unless you give it power. Look excuses head on and toss each one in the path far away. This is how you begin to develop WILL POWER.  Coach your way out of a bad thought. That’s right – become your own best coach – It’s great to read up on other people who are inspirational. Most, if not all, have developed an inspirational inner voice that they keep alive. Now its your turn; develop a few key phrases that resonate with you. Figure out what your objective is and tell yourself you can do it. I walk around the house talking to myself all the time! My childhood nick name is “Siso” (See – So) and for some reason when I am having a coaching time, I am “Siso” all over again! Maybe because of the young athlete I remember myself to be! Keep your pep talks optimistic and solution oriented!

5)  CHOOSE TO FOSTER YOUR DETERMINATION:  GET RIGHT BACK UP WHEN YOU FALL – You will succeed; you will fail, trust the process, nonetheless.  The word “determination” is just so lively!  Truthfully, no one can give it to you, this is something you must relish and develop on your own.  Ironically, the more you participate in a fitness program, the more your determination is exercised. 

RaQuisa SM_Logo_2c-JPEG 2.11.2014 copyKEY STRATEGIES TO HELP YOU SUCCEED:  1)  Progress slowly – I am going to give the new exerciser both a word of advice and some good old-fashioned, tough love:  Doing too much exercise too soon may deter you from the point of enjoying fitness. I have seen it countless times in my fitness classes…new or returning participants will take back to back classes, or overload the first week – never to return again. Strategize wisely and begin to develop a love for how great it feels to be fully alive.  2)  Remove obstacles that may draw you away from your objective.  For example, going on a media fast may be a solution for many as it may be the one obstacle that is preventing you from actualizing many of these habits.  3) Narrow The List – Pick one of two to master initially if it feels too overwhelming.  Or choose one habit that resonates with you the most.

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RaqiSa Fitness:  We Believe Strong and Healthy is Beautiful

The FIVE Major Components of Physical Fitness

RaqiSa Fitness

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“One who is physically fit has an enhanced functional capacity that allows for a high quality of life.”  

American Council on Exercise

It is very likely that one of your New Year’s Resolution included getting in shape. But what does that even mean? “Getting in shape” is synonymous with fitness. And while there are several habits one should begin to practice in effort to see rapid results; there is a more pressing issue one must first grasp: what does being “physically fit” entail?

Learn the five major fitness components and measure yourself with this quick quiz to see where you currently stand. On a scale of 1 – 10, (10 being perfect) rate yourself in general terms whether or not this is an area think you excel or where you know you can improve.  This is not a scientific testing, rather a simple method to help you test your knowledge of the five components and  where you believe you currently stand.  The goal is to celebrate your strengths; and acknowledge the areas where you may need to improve. If you are serious about actualizing an improved fitness level, then your goal is to strive to include these five fitness components as you train toward optimal fitness.  I invite you to retake this quiz after 6 months. Share your improvements with me, and I will post it on my blog to celebrate your success!

(Pssst! Great news! Currently we are filming a series of workouts which will cover all five fitness components! In addition watch for a series of guest trainers who excel in various topics to educate you further!)

The Five Major Components of Fitness:

1)  Muscular Strength – How much weight can you handle during a muscle contraction? What is the maximal force your muscle (or a muscle group) can exert during a single contraction? For example, with a basic bicep curl, I am comfortable with 10 lb. dumbbells in each hand, repetitively lifting and lowering.  My maximal weight is closer to 20 – 25  lbs dumbbells in each hand.  In earnest, I am satisfied with this weight.  I will say, as I get older, I will aim to increase this number as it is good for my bones.  Rate yourself in general terms if you don’t have weights.  How many gallons of milk or bags of groceries can you handle before it gets to be too much?  ***To help you further with this, be sure to watch for one of Boston’s leading fitness experts to lead us in a workout to train for muscular strength.  

Your score  (1-10)  ____________

2)  Muscular Endurance – How many push ups or tricep dips can you perform before you become fatigued?  Muscular Endurance is the ability to perform a fitness task repetitively before becoming fatigued.   In effort to increase muscular endurance through exercise, perform exercises with low weight and complete a high number of repetitions. *** Belly Barre and Ball are excellent workouts to improve muscular endurance.

Your Score (1-10) ____________

3)  Cardiorespiratory Endurance – Often referred to as “aerobic fitness;” dancing, swimming, walking, are all ways to improve your cardiorespiratory endurance.  If you are easily winded during any of these basic exercises, then your goal is to build cardiorespiratory stamina. *** Belly Ball and Belly Dance will train for optimal aerobic fitness.

Your Score (1-10)____________

4)  Flexibility – If you are able to move (all) your joints through their full range motion comfortably, then you enjoy optimal flexibility.  Maintaining a level of flexibility is essential to prevent injury.  One of the leading causes of lower back pain,  as well as compromised posture, is due to tight muscles. *** Belly Barre pays close attention to flexibility.  (Never say never, many have learned to do the splits after training effectively in my belly barre classes!)

Your Score (1-10)____________

5)  Body Composition – Lean body mass to body fat ratio. In physical fitness, body composition is the percentages of fat, bone, water and muscle in human bodies.  In essence, you want to have more muscle than fat.  There are a variety of ways to measure body fat which go beyond the scope of this blog.  Learn from your doctor which percentage is best for your body and aim to meet this by watching your diet and training effectively.  Pay special attention to weight-bearing exercises designed to  improve your muscular strength and endurance – doing so elevates your resting metabolic rate – which means you burn more fat at rest!  To be sure, eating healthy is key. *** RaqiSa Lifestyle, provides healthy recipes and insight to give you support as you strive toward a leaner total body composition.

Your Score (1-10)_____________

TALLY YOUR TOTAL SCORE________________

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In Summation: Clearly your total score is meant to be 50. And as long as your doctor has given you the green light, then be assured that no matter how old (or young) you are; no matter what your current fitness level is – if you begin to get serious about your health, and you train in effort to meet all five fitness components, then you will likely be one of the few who can actually put a “feather in their cap” because you will have officially become “more physically fit in 2015!”

To be sure, recognize that each component is equally important; in addition, striving to meet each component will be a life long process.   If it feels too overwhelming, begin by discovering what motivates you to move.   Then layer in these essential components little by little.  Trust that the process will be tough at times – but it’s so worth it.  Keep your eye on what’s important:  “A life time of fitness allows for quality living.”

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RaqiSa Fitness:  We Believe that Strong and Healthy is Beautiful.

RaqiSa Fitness: WHAT DOES YOUR POSTURE SAY ABOUT YOU?

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There was a time in my life I wanted to be an actress.  A professional actress. Not necessarily famous…just paid to do what I loved. So, I studied the Theatre Arts for both my BA and my MA. I did my professional internships; I learned to juggle, tap, and belt a song nearly as big and loud as Ethel Merman… Eventually I met my goal and became a “paid” actress…

But this blog is not about my theatre accomplishments.  I promise.  It is about posture.  So stay with me.

One of the the many acting forms one studies as an actor is “Improvisational Theatre.” Now with improv, you have to establish a character for your audience pretty quickly because the script is being made up the moment it is performed.  Therefore an actor needs to convey his or her character rapidly; and an instant way to convey a character “type” is to demonstrate it through POSTURE.  In essence, your posture reads a certain way which can place you in a “class” or in the theatre…it establishes your “status.”

To be sure, a leading “high” character who may be the hero would likely have a strong and confident posture. Chest lifted, sure-footed, and seemingly “anchored.” Whereas the “lowly” character would have forward rounded shoulders, their feet may shuffle, and probably their hips would be pressed forward out of natural line. Then there may be the character who has a sway back, only to add an increase to the belly. An actor may gesture as if the belly is large, just to add humorous interest. Oh, boy, did I LOVE playing a character. It was so fun! Just change your posture and instantly the audience could pick up on the “status” of the character.

So. Tough question: Right here and now. How would your posture read to an audience? Which character might you play? Which would you prefer to play? Sure, in reality, you are loved by your circle of family and friends…but a stranger – someone who has never met you. Without opening your mouth, how would YOUR posture read?

For me personally, I can say honestly that I had to work on my postural stamina. Sure I could make it appear like I had good posture…after all, I was an “actress!” But I wanted elegance in my posture even if I wasn’t “on.” I just wanted it to be me. Soraya. Soraya, the woman known to have great, elegant posture.  So, I began by planking daily and adding to my repertoire of exercises.  That was nearly 18 years ago. Over time, I noticed great progress in my postural stamina. Today, I like to think that me, Soraya, is a leading character. And I want you to share the stage with me as the leading character. To be sure, RaqiSa Fitness stresses postural alignment and works toward enhancing overall posture by training each muscle involved. I call it “RaqiSa Posture.” I like to think of “RaqiSa Women” as women who are fit, feminine, and confident.  While muscle development isn’t instant, trust that in time, with the many RaqiSa exercises, you will see progress. Please be aware, that total muscle balance is the goal. But for today, seize the moment and practice these three exercises daily toward better posture for tomorrow:

Deep Core Muscle Engagement:  You have probably been mesmerized by watching a belly dancer “roll their belly.” This deep muscle contraction begins by learning how to isolate the transverse abdominus muscle – separate from isolating the upper half of the rectus abdominus muscle. It is quite impressive, I must say. But for today, let’s just work on isolating the transverse abdominus muscle because it’s our “powerhouse” or anchor muscle which provides pelvic stability. All movement should be performed first by engaging this muscle, and it is essential to amazing posture.

Try this: Begin by placing your hand on your belly button. Without moving your hand, draw your navel in toward your spine, engaging your deep abdominal muscles. Release so your belly button returns back on your hand. Repeat engaging and releasing with a steady inhale and exhalation for a total of 3 sets of 12. Ultimately, your goal is to learn how to keep your navel drawn into your spine all day long. Especially when you are about to do a functional task such as lifting, twisting, or reaching or any single leg balance activity.

Gluteal Contractions:  You may be surprised to learn that a RaqiSa Drum Routine is quite intense and athletic. In addition to core stabilization muscles, the gluteal muscles aid in what are called “locks” as they help to bring fast hip movement to a halt. In addition, learning to recruit the gluteal muscles for stabilization is an excellent primer for balance and posture and is a great “fall prevention” technique.  Working the front and back muscles are important toward an enhanced posture.

Try This: There are two ways I suggest to train.  The first way is quite easy and can be done while you are driving. Seriously. Next time you are in your car, engage, or squeeze your gluteal muscles, then release.  Contract and release your glutes to the beat of at least three upbeat songs on the radio. The second way is to try to isolate and contract the right glute, then the left. I don’t recommend this while driving as it does take more thought and we don’t want to get into an accident…unless you are at a stop light…then it’s okay!  *To test for posture from a standing position, repeat #1 and draw you naval in, then squeeze and hold your glutes and elongate your spine upward. (Careful not to tilt backward, stay “stacked” with ears, shoulders, and hips in line. Relax those shoulders) Squeeze, then release the muscles. *Challenge – Keep knees and ankles glued and stand on your tippy toes.  When you feel as if you are going to fall or tip over, squeeze, or tighten your glutes. Observe how you can recruit your glutes to aid in balance.

Scapula Retraction Pulses – Keeping the spine sturdy and elongated is an essential part of the RaqiSa carriage. This is where the “grace” is initially observed well before there is any hip movement. With RaqiSa, it is your “presence” or your “grace” that is so captivating. As we live in a computer age world and we are seated for long periods of time, we tend to slouch. Overtime, this will cause stretched and weakened Rhomboids, as well as Trapezius muscles. (These muscles “anchor” the shoulder blades to the spinal column along the back.)  Meanwhile, our chest will cave in, causing the pectoral muscles to take on all the slack.

Try this: Begin by elongating your neck upward, as you slide your shoulders in opposition downward. Bend your arms and bring your elbows into the posterior part of your ribcage. As you pinch and release your shoulder blades together in a pulsing motion, your chest will expand and open. Keep your head level. Pinch and release 30 times daily. This works your back muscles.

In Summation.  These are just three exercises to work on as a starting point.  But be assured, in time, with RaqiSa planking and Belly Barre exercises, your posture will ripen beautifully in due time.  No, I no longer feel the need to take on a new character for a live audience.  For today, I just want to be me, Soraya – playing myself.

As for you.  Just be you, as you try this last exercise: In a natural standing position with shoulder and hips forward like “head lights”, draw in your naval as in exercise # 1 and keep this hold. Elongate your neck upward, and slide your blades downward in opposition. Expand your chest. Remember to keep thinking “up” from the crown of your head. Smile. Always smile. Smile from behind your eyes. Walk naturally. If you feel you are going to tilt or fall, well, recruit those glutes!  Be the leading character daily with these three instant RaqiSa exercises!

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Make it Mediterranean: Reclaim Your Health with This Recipe.

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Happy New Year!

Momma’s Lebanese healing soup. When I was a single woman, I would come home to see my mother on the weekends; she would have a large pot of this special soup just for me to enjoy through the weekend. After years of teaching me to eat healthy, she had finally arrived – I was fully on board her “health train” and I whole heartedly ate this soup, guilt free. Sometimes she would add Garbanzo beans or potatoes. She was a free spirit like that. I adored most how she oozed her love, and “health facts” into each delicious recipe. I can still hear her say, “The bone marrow has the most nutrients, this is why we use the beef bone marrow!”

I speak every bit to me as to you, when I say that between Halloween and the New Year, surely, treats have passed our way and our system has been compromised.  Together, we may need to gently cleanse our system toward optimal health. Please, enjoy this soup – I recommend one to two days, with at least 2 pieces of your favorite fruit, and a generous handful of your favorite nuts. Drink plenty of delicious water. One of my favorite ways to drink water is to make lemon and mint ice cubes. Adding these ice cubes not only makes your drink look desirable, but chewing the lemon and the mint, once the ice-cube is melted, is a delicious treat. And yes, my mother would tell you to eat the lemon peel too because of the nutrients! “Sah-tain!” May you enjoy this toward good health!

Momma’s Healing Soup Ingredients:

10 cups of Water

1 cup of Beef Broth (optional)

1 Beef Marrow Bone

1 12 oz can of tomato paste

1 Cinnamon stick

1 Small Onion Chopped

2 Cups of cut Green Beans

2 Cups of Chopped Cabbage

2 Cups of Chopped Celery

2 Cups of Chopped Broccoli Florets

1 Cup of Chopped Carrots

1 Cup of Chopped Yellow Squash

Add Salt and Pepper to Taste.

Directions: Simply put all the ingredients together in a large pot, on high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce to medium heat.  Cover, and cook until all the vegetables are tender.

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An Ancient Solution To Our Modern Day Problems

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I TRULY MARVEL. We are beautifully and wonderfully made. Consider this: each muscle is designed in delicate order to serve a purpose so we may function daily “doing life” with ease and precision. Seriously, let this sink in for a moment. Each muscle in your precious body has a purpose. But there is more. We were not only designed with a delicate balance of muscle, but our bodies are capable of moving lyrically through space and time because we are beautifully divided into upper and lower extremities; our hips and arms can abduct and adduct; our trunk can rotate, flex, and extend!  Why?  Because we are designed with the ability to move in three brilliant planes of motion, properly known as: The Saggital Plane (movement forward and backward), The Frontal Plane (movement side to side), and The Transverse Plane (movement that is rotational). But there is a catch. If we neglect these beautiful muscles, in due time they will begin to weaken or become inflexible and we risk injury…or with an aging body…we risk a serious fall. And, if we don’t train all three planes of motion, injury may ensue.

AN ANCIENT SOLUTION TO OUR MODERN DAY PROBLEMS. It occurred to me during one of my fitness workshops, as we were studying movement patterns, and the many benefits that come with “multi-planar training,” that the women who gathered in the ancient dance of the Middle East,  knew something about our need to achieve and preserve optimal health and fitness for function. While there are limited resources, and there is much debate on the true origins, oral history suggests this ancient dance was a practice originally shared with women as a means to ease child-birth.  Only later was it coined “Belly Dance” because of the cool belly tricks observed by Westerners.  Indeed, belly dance is a non-impact, weight-bearing, multi-planar, workout.  Envision if you will: Belly Dance is primarily a torso-driven dance, with an emphasis on articulations, mostly through the hips, (i.e. hip twists, slides, and figure eights to name a few). Add any one of these articulations to a lateral travel or a forward or backward walk (or even a lunge) and guess what? You have multi-planar movement!

Let me be clear, I didn’t make this dance up. No, it’s as ancient as it comes; but it was passed down to me at a very early age as a part of my culture. RaqiSa embraces this age-old dance, and strives to revive this “girl power” practice into the here and now, because in addition to the many health benefits, it’s good for the soul.  Belly Dance notoriously promotes a positive body image for women of all ages and all sizes.  While the RaqiSa choreography is fun & flirty, the training is a series of intense, results based formats, which will tone, sculpt, and stretch your muscles. Each workout is uniquely designed to demystify belly dance and speed the learning curve, so that you can enjoy the many benefits that come with belly dance.

IN SUMMATION.  Your motivation to stay fit may be because you want to look good. Sure, we all like that as an added benefit. But truth be told, there should be an expectation – an urgency on our part to prioritizes fitness simply because we ought to be balanced and fit so that we may “do life” physically with ease.  So why not train like the women who gathered in dance?  Belly Dancing works the body as a unit, connecting all the parts at once, relying on deep stabilizer muscles to maintain precision.  Oh…and it’s a lot of fun.

Realize your body’s potential to achieve a higher standard.  Because if we don’t train or condition our muscles evenly and on many planes, then we are doing our bodies a disservice.  So go ahead!  Marvel at how beautifully you were designed.  Walk in front of the mirror and dance around and say, “Wow!  It’s me moving in 3-D – and I’m amazing!”

RaqiSa 2015 Workouts are in production.  So please stay tuned for these RaqiSa signature formats:  Belly Barre, Belly Ball, and Belly Dance.  Be sure to LIKE us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for more updates.