This Holiday Season, bring good health and flavor to your table with a Timeless Mediterranean Tradition: Lebni. Enjoyed in homes and restaurants, particularly in Lebanon and Greece, Lebni is a delicious, thick, and creamy yogurt with a sophisticated texture served as a spread or a dip. As a dip, simply drizzle with olive oil and top with pomegranate seeds. This preparation is both visually beautiful and flavorful, adding just enough sweetness in each bite! Serve with either pita chips or vegetables.
Remember, Lebni may also be enjoyed as a spread and is a classic breakfast or snack. Simply spread on pita bread, add fresh tomato, cucumber, fresh mint, and a dash of *salt, and *olive oil (*optional) and voila!
As always we say, “Sah’tain”! Which means, “To your Health”!
Pomegranates are in abundance, and what a wonderful winter addition this fruit is! Pomegranates add visual and flavorful interest to our winter fruit options, and they are packed with powerful antioxidants to fight cancer and to boost our immunity. In the Middle East, pomegranates are a kitchen staple. Children from a young age learn to de-seed these babies like a professional! (And believe me, nothing makes this RaqiSa Momma more proud than to hear her kids request for, “More pomegranates, please”!) In addition, pomegranate seeds are used frequently for decoration. *See our “Baba-Ghanoush Recipe Photo. So, bring this delicious tradition into your home and start with one single pomegranate and enjoy three simple ways to use the whole pomegranate, today!
Start by de-seeding the pomegranate. The easiest way is to cut it in quarters, and open the wedges, letting the seeds fall into a bowl. It requires some finger work, but kids love it, so if you have kids, recruit them to help! With the exception of a small handful, keep the rest of the seeds in a baggie and freeze them.
Make pomegranate ice-cubes with fresh lemon. For extra vitamin C, Squeeze the juice of one lemon and mix with water, then add the set aside pomegranate seeds into each ice cube with pieces of lemon. Enjoy in your favorite flavored or plain bubbly water or add flavor and nutrients in your hot or cold teas. Speaking of teas…see #2.
In the Middle East, we are known for not wasting our foods! That means, keep the Pomegranate Peels and Freeze them…because once you feel a cold coming on, pull out your peels and boil them to make a delicious tea! Cover peels with ample water, bring the water to a boil, then reduce to low heat and cover – allow the peels to seep on low for approximately 4 minutes. To serve, discard the peels, and pour the tea into a cup and add the lemon and pomegranate ice cubes to cool the tea (and add nutrients). *Optional, add 1 tsp of honey.
We love our yogurt in the Middle East. It’s got so much to offer for muscle, bone and gut health because it’s a probiotic, with protein, potassium, and calcium. So try this recipe as a refreshing sunrise smoothie or a post workout recovery treat featuring the frozen pomegranates. This smoothie packs a powerful nutrient dense punch. Simply add all the Ingredients into Your Blender and Blend!
2 Tbls of vanilla yogurt
1/2 cup of non fat milk
3 ice cubes
1/2 of a banana (preferably frozen too)
1 Tbls of frozen pomegranates (plus more to dress the smoothie)
1 tsp of honey (plus more to drizzle on top)
As always, we say, “Sah’tain”! Which means “TO GOOD HEALTH”!
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.”
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 Summation, 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!
“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.
KEY 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
“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________________
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.
I am going to have a heart to heart with you in this blog. You will learn things about me I have shared with only a select few. With this information, I hope to bring you closer to the possibility that you too can enjoy a certain freedom as you move toward good health and fitness…because, true be told, I am not all proud of this story.
In some respects, I am very fortunate, because I have always enjoyed working out. I think I was born with a rare interest in fitness. In fact, my sister Leila will tell you that I was born “buff.” Admittedly, there are a couple of pictures of me as a three-year old with pretty ripped arms and legs that I seemed to have earned just from “playing.” Unfortunately, my relationship with food is not so impressive. You see, despite being “set up for success” with loving and supportive parents, I naively fell into the “comparison trap” as a teenager. So as the magazine age of the über thin super model rose, I morphed my once healthy idea of beauty to something über unrealistic…especially for my fit, full-figured, body type.
Maybe you can relate to some of my story.
To achieve this morphed image, I dabbled with crazy fad diets. I invented restrictive methods such as eating all my calories for breakfast and nothing else the rest of the day…only to lose steam come 3:00 pm during softball practice when I needed the energy most. How stupid. But there is more. A couple of the girls on the team thought that if we wore this wet suit contraption that was advertised on TV during practice then we could “sweat off” our excess fat. So, I spent my hard-earned money from my first paying job to buy this ridiculous wet suit thing so I could sweat off my fat, (which I didn’t even have looking back!).
Then it got uglier. I dabbled with bulimia. The worst part for me with bulimia was that it went against my personal commitment to follow Christ…You see, me and God we were (still are) tight. I always talked to God. So when I would throw up, well, I felt guilty because I knew better….I’d push out the rationals thoughts such as, “how is doing this, honoring the body I was given?” Mind you, I kept talking to God…only, with each conversation I had a lot of explaining to do…I never blamed God or felt abandoned…I just kept praying and seeking throughout my awkward conversations. Seems that God knew my heart and answered my prayers with two significant women: my mother and Wenda. My mother had this gift of encouragement. She never really knew about my bulimia till after the fact…(and let me tell you, I was so ashamed to tell her). But she was fully aware that I struggled with a negative body image and so she constantly reinforced a positive body image saying repeatedly that I was beautiful and perfectly healthy. My figure was like “Sophia Loren” she’d say with her sweet Lebanese accent. “Why be so skinny, anyway? This is not healthy…and you are gorgeous!” She was the “good cop.” Wenda, well, she was the “bad cop.” Wenda was my childhood best friend and she was tough. She called me out on my bulimia many times. One time she turned off the water so I couldn’t flush the toilet and forced me to confess! I am grateful to have had such support, because with it, I became even more determined to stop.
First step, I began to educate myself. One of the books that really helped me during this time was a book called, “Diet’s Don’t Work,” by Dr. Bob Schwartz. This book helped me move away from the whole “diet” cycle. I imagine we all have that one book that helped us get past a “hump.” This book was mine. Next, I began to study about fitness and exercise. And, the truth be told, a large part of why I even went into the fitness industry as a group exercise instructor (besides loving fitness) was because I wanted to pay it forward. I wanted to be like my mom and tell my students what they probably needed to hear, “You are gorgeous and healthy.” I wanted to be like Wenda and challenge my students…maybe hold them accountable…the solution being fitness. I wanted to encourage my students to learn to enjoy cooking healthy recipes. I desired, in earnest, to be the one with the microphone sharing the good news of health! Today, with RaqiSa Fitness, this is the mission; this is the message.
But the story is not over.
CRISIS POINT: PUTTING MY MESSAGE INTO PRACTICE
Everything was going pretty well until I became pregnant with my first child and I gained 40 lbs of extra weight, even though I worked out daily. I was fit. Sure. I was fit and fat. I suppose, subconsciously, I thought I could compete with what I ate through exercise. You see, before that, I really never was over weight. And I was managing my weight smoothly with healthy eating and working out. But with pregnancy all bets were off – the only thing that seemed to make me feel better were: food, sleep, and exercise. In that order. I can remember when my daughter was born, I went for my 6 week appointment and was weighed. Right there and then I realized exactly HOW MUCH weight I put on. I came home, stood in the kitchen and panicked. So, I started a conversation with myself, “Okay. You have 40 lbs of weight to get off. You’ve never had to lose this much. I want it off fast, but healthy. How do I do it?” For a split second bulimia crossed my mind and I felt this fear sweep over me. “No, you’re just going to have to do this.” I told myself. I remembered to keep my priorities straight: I gave God thanks daily for my baby and my health. I desperately wanted to be a good role model for my daughter like my mother was for me.
Meanwhile, I returned to teaching my classes two days a week. To be honest, when I looked at myself in the mirror, I didn’t recognize myself. On top of it, there were a couple of other women who also just had babies…but didn’t gain weight at all. I felt embarrassed and frustrated with myself. As I was teaching my class, I was also coaching myself. I told myself to just hang in there, to not be hard on myself. I pushed out the negative thoughts. I ate reasonably and weighed myself weekly.
It took me nine months, but I finally arrived to the last 10 lbs. I was at a plateau and tired of being my own coach. I needed someone to help ME. I was also physically tired from being a sleep deprived new mother. By this time, I had stopped breast-feeding, so, I decided that I would try Jenny Craig because the food was prepared; and I needed something easy. I loved it. I loved it because it was a no-brainer, the food was pre-portioned and seeing the portion sizes really helped me. The calories were pre-measure and this was helpful. I learned a lot of methods to “add volume” with “free vegetables” to various foods as well. I was able to lose the weight, but guess what? The day I returned to my svelte pre-pregnancy weight, I found out I was pregnant with my son!!!!! And YES, I gained weight AGAIN! This time I didn’t panic. I knew that I could get it off myself; and if I needed additional support, I would go on Jenny Craig again, (which I did).
To be sure, I got the weight off and learned many lessons along the way. The first being, “no matter how hard we work out…if we are not mindful of what we put in our mouths, we will gain weight.” Ultimately we need to learn how to have a healthy relationship with food. Let me be clear that this is by no means a promo for Jenny Craig. It was simply an option I chose for convenience as a new mother. My beautiful sister Leila lost over 100 lbs on Weight Watchers and I am inclined to believe this is the best solution for long-term weight loss. With RaqiSa Fitness, I promote life-style and cooking. Because the best way to gain control of what we put in our mouths is to fall in love with cooking delicious foods as we measure our portions.
Below, I hope that you will try this delicious and easy Americanized Arabic Pizza; and I hope that you will be mindful of having the proper serving with a healthy salad to honor your personal portion size meant for your body. In addition, if you are seeking support, my sister Leila leads a Facebook group called, “Biohacking Glamazons for Weight loss and Well being.” Request to be added to the group. Leila also embraces the RaqiSa Message; after all, we shared the same precious mother!
As far as my personal story goes. Well, I hope the parts that will resonate most are to:
1) Learn to love yourself as you educate yourself on health and fitness; 2) Learn to coach yourself; 3) Learn to control your portions; 4) Learn to seek additional support when needed.
So, in my house, when I need to lose some extra weight, my daughter and son have learned to say that “mommy is going on a LIVE-IT…not a DIE – IT.” I explain carefully that I am grateful to be healthy and that good eating actually FEELS better…I feel more ALIVE! I try to let my kids see me enjoy the foods we always eat, but with a portion size that is catered toward weight loss. I try to limit eating out and I try to cook at home. And yes, I still love finding support from friends or professionals who can coach me through as needed.
In summation: It’s the 80/20 rule. What we put in our mouth does matter. Working out is so important because our bodies were MEANT to move and we were designed to have muscle balance to function in life. In addition, exercise lifts our spirits! RaqiSa Fitness offers fun, flirty, results based solutions to help motivate you to move! It is my hope that you will learn to enjoy exercise not as a punishment to “lose weight,” but as joy. And if you happen to be full-figured like me…Well, start to believe what my mother said, “You’re Gorgeous! You look like Sophia Loren!” ….Hey, why not?
What’s for dinner? Americanized Arabic Pizza!
Enjoy this fast and easy family friendly recipe in your home today!
1 lb. of ground beef
1/2 cup of finely chopped onion
1 (14.5 oz) can of diced tomatoes (drain excess juice)
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp of cayenne pepper
1 tbls of olive oil
Combine all the ingredients and mix well with hands.
Pat meat mixture to cover a 10” wrap (or tortilla) and place on a baking sheet
Preheat oven broiler and place rack in center
Broil pizza for 4 minutes or until meat is cooked to your preference.
Place Individual Pizza on a Plate and Drain excess liquid carefully.
Serve with Fresh Squeezed Lemon, Tomato, Pickle and Wrap Tightly. Enjoy!
*Add additional cayenne pepper or salt to your taste on individual pizzas.
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RaqiSa Fitness: We believe that strong and healthy is beautiful!
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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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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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 andbackward), 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.
The Mediterranean Lifestyle enjoys gracious living. Based on the belief that hospitality requires serving fresh, quality, natural foods, the Mediterranean host keeps her pantry prepared to feed her family as well as the unexpected guest. But above all, it is the sincere and welcoming spirit, and the sheer joy, in seeing others enjoy food in good health, that feeds the soul.
Traditionally when you compliment the chef, they will respond to you, “sah-tain” – which means, “to your health.” This is the food perspective seen in the Middle East, “food equals health.” RaqiSa Lifestyle embraces this belief. We believe in serving graciously to all, (including ourselves), with a joyful spirit. Why not see food as both delicious and as good health?…Gaining this perspective may eventually help you lose the excess weight you may be carrying.
To be sure, training yourself to see food as “health” will take time. More over, learning to cook delicious foods that happen to be healthy, may tempt you into thinking you can eat more…after all, “it’s healthy,” you may reason. Well, tis the season to see things differently. And what better time than the present, especially as the New Year’s Resolution list is likely to be in the making? May I propose a toast to living a quality life free from constraints? To help you inch into the “New Year, New You” mode, I offer three seemingly simple rules to live by, followed by one single (and do-able) fitness goal:
1) Eat what you want when you are hungry. Why waste time eating something you are not even craving? Within reason, accept that you enjoy certain foods, keeping the portions small. One time I was craving “Arabic Pizza.” All week I ate Arabic Pizza. It seemed that my body needed the carbohydrates and protein and the fresh lemon and tomato in this recipe because I was training for a competition and I was rehearsing routine after routine and I needed “energy.” Mind you, I am referring to food. Craving sweets often indicates a lack of sleep (fatigue) or an emotional trigger has been tapped. Listen to your body and listen to your emotions. One could easily over eat in an emotional state saying, “Well, you said eat what I want,” and end up bypassing whether or not hunger was even present. Which leads me to rule #2.
2) Be aware of every bite you are savoring. This may require some planning on your part because we are often eating on the fly and in actuality, we end up consuming more calories than we realize because we are grazing all day long. If you are a grazer, no problem…simply pause as you graze to really taste the food you are enjoying. After all we are so fortunate to live in a country with abundant food. We ought to honor this moment. Personally, I pray before I eat anything. (My personal faithful prayer: “Thank you Jesus for this food; bless the food to my body; bless the hands that prepared this food. Amen”…I even envision the factory worker who may have assembled a packaged or canned food I am eating as part of the hands who prepared my food!) As I eat, I try to savor the flavors. Everyone in my family will tell you that I am a “fast eater.” This is true. Nonetheless, I do savor my foods…quickly. But yes, I am working on slowing it down. (I suppose I should add “Chew at least 30 times!” as a personal goal.) Still, to be clear, being aware of your eating will also steer you clear from eating while feeling overly emotional.
3) Stop eating when you are full. This one is tough even for me. Why? Because a lot of times I am actually THIRSTY. I teach several fitness classes a week and if I am not hydrated well enough, I risk losing my measurement of hunger for thirst. However, the more we are in tune with #2, the easier #3 will be. May I also suggest that if you are packing a lunch, you can put aside any unfinished food and resume eating again when you are feeling hungry. This way, you have a measure of how much you have been consuming. Pack extra fruit and a handful of nuts if you are concerned you may need extra energy. This is the Mediterranean thinking. Eat fruits and nuts as snacks.
While these rules seem easy enough, you may need additional support from friends or a computer gadget that helps you keep track of your calories. To be sure, I too like to have someone on my side rooting me on days I feel weak. Nonetheless, I believe in this “Mediterranean Thinking” because it is both liberating and healthy. We all have days we feel more emotional or overwhelmed. Having loved ones and friends who are on your side is a good thing. Saved for another blog, I can say first hand that adopting this thinking rescued me from a vicious cycle of fad diets in my younger years.
Finally, I’d like to offer you one and only one “New Year, New You” fitness goal as you strive to gain perspective…and not weight:
MOVE At Least Six Days a Week. We were MEANT to move. Our bodies are capable of doing amazing things! Find whatever helps you get into “move mode,” whether it be good music, a great (RaqiSa;) workout, or simply a walk to enjoy at your leisure. You are ALIVE! Honor your body with movement! Give thanks every day for your precious body and all that it has done for you! Move because you CAN. This New Year, I challenge you to commit to doing something at least six days of the week, that involves moving your body throughout the course of a day. I submit to you that as you make this commitment, and simply begin to “move” you will enjoy many health benefits. Once you have secured “moving” as a habit, then and only then experiment with intensity and duration during specific movements you enjoy. *Naturally, watch for upcoming RaqiSa workouts which will help challenge you even further. But for today, get a pedometer and strive for 10,000 steps a day. Gather a group of like minded friends for support and make this year exceptional.
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