The other night I realized just how important it is to move the way the body calls to be moved rather than just forced through the motions of some higher authority.

That “higher authority” just so happened to be a DVD called Crunch Cardio Dance Blast.

I had come home from work feeling pretty blah but with a desire to move, dance, and sweat. I contemplated doing a solo 5Rhythms practice in the living room but had little patience to compile a playlist. I wanted someone to do the work for me, to get my heartbeat up within 2 minutes and push me through till the end. I didn’t want to dilly-dally in Flowing; I just wanted to get going, amp it up, and have a smiling fitness model tell me I was doing OK.

Netflix doesn’t have many workout DVD options on its Instant queue. The few it has have mediocre reviews, and most are outdated. Cardio Dance Blast seemed the most promising, and soon I was standing in front of my laptop getting ready to do the “Island Jam,” “Fast and Funky,” and “Diva Dance.”

To counter the “cheese” effect of the DVD, I found myself dramatizing the dances, throwing myself into each combination as though I were at the head of the class, being filmed. I made gaudy faces and exaggerated each move, trying to fake it till I make it. Soon I was sweating and admitting to myself that, Hmm, OK, I am kind of having some semblance of fun.

However, somewhere between the Island Jam and Fast and Funky, something weird started to happen. There was pain. But it wasn’t my hips or my sacrum or my back that started hurting…it was my elbows. And not just “Eeek, I hit my funny bone!” feeling but a “OMG, it really f**king hurts to lift my arms, and is there such a thing as spontaneous arthritis of the elbows, because I think I have that.”

I’ve experienced muscle spasms and post-workout soreness and achy hips, but this was pure fire-like pain directly in both elbow joints. It soon dawned on me that this was most likely the result of hyperextension, as all of the Island Jam moves had related arm motions, and there I was exaggerating every single one. My elbows are already hypermobile, and this was not helping the situation.

Because it only hurt when I lifted my arms from the elbow joints, I still continued with the DVD, focusing mostly on the lower half of the body and resorting to noodle arms for the upper half. They still ached afterward, and through the rest of the night. Brushing my hair was not fun!

What I learned that night was that my body just no longer wants to fake it till it makes it. 5Rhythms and its yogic-dance-related ilk have taught me about the importance of engaging in a movement practice in which MY body is the teacher. I sucked it up and did the repetitive “Island” arms over and over again as the DVD teacher guided me along. It hurt. However, last night in my monthly 5Rhythms class, I found myself deeply engrossed in my own kind of repetitive movement akin to Bharata Natyam, or classical Indian dance. I don’t know where it came from, but that’s the movement that emerged from my limbs. It was rapid, precise, and repetitive, yet I felt so fully into it. My heart was in it, my breath was in it. Later, I moved like an African dancer, swinging my arms and legs wildly to the drumbeat. And after that, during an exercise in experiencing release of control, I stood between two classmates who held my hand and danced me down the studio floor, my upper body succumbing to Chaos as my partners moved my arms helter skelter.

Two hours of that last night, my body letting loose to the music. I port de bras‘d my way into a waltz; later I bent and flung my arms here and there to a honky-tonk beat. Fifteen minutes of Cardio Dance Blast had me clutching my elbows and self-diagnosing myself with arthritis; 2 hours of 5Rhythms had me ending the night in a state of fulfilling exhaustion, peace and presence of mind. I’ve been doing 5Rhythms for nearly two years now, and even on my most wild, let-loose nights of wild-woman banshee dancing, never have I experienced that kind of immediate and red-flag kind of pain I got after Cardio Dance Blasting. Even 45 minutes of freestyle swimming has never caused such sensation!

The elbow experience was not enjoyable, but in a way I’m kind of glad I had it. It gave me a whole new appreciation of 5Rhythms, the simple act of–to quote Nia–to move “the body’s way.” Next time I come home feeling the urge to move, instead of scrolling through Netflix workout DVD reviews, I’ll use that time to set up a 5Rhythms playlist.

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