Do you ever see learning opportunities in everyday experiences and notice lessons in unexpected places.I think of my Zumba practice as my religion, my meditation and my workout – so I think about it a lot. I realized, I’ve learned some pretty valuable life lessons that have nothing to do with dancing.. Or music.  

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say Zumba changed my life. It sounds funny but Zumba class is basically a spiritual experience for me. It’s when I get some of my best ideas, it’s when I get clarity. I think moving my body is helpful and keeps me young. As I think back over how I’ve changed and what I believe now, I see so many realizations I learned or became aware of either during my workout or because of it. 

Here are the top 5 lessons I’ve learned so far from Zumba.

See if I Like It

My first experience with Zumba started way before I ever stepped into my first class. About 10 years ago, I was working on a degree program and got out of track with my own class group, so when I joined a new group, all the learning teams had already been formed and I had to join an existing, established team. Luckily, the smallest team was actually a duo – so it made perfect sense for me to join them as the 3rd wheel. Even more luckily, these 2 friendly classmates were the prettiest, most fun ladies in the class- so I was so glad I got to join them instead of some of the more tired, boring teams. 

It turns out, these 2 ladies both taught Zumba at a gym near my house and usually came to our  class in cute workout clothes. When they found out I lived near their gym, they encouraged me to try out Zumba, or at least come to the gym to work out. So, after a few weeks, I did go to the gym for a trial membership. 

I wasn’t that interested in Zumba (it sounded weird to me) and based on the name and their description of what it was, it didn’t sound like it was for me, but I was interested in joining a gym and I liked that they personally recommended it and that they worked there. 

So, I joined the gym and signed up for personal training and took some of the other non-Zumba classes and started going pretty regularly. I would go after work and spend some time on the elliptical or the bike with my headphones in and since the elliptical machines and bikes were facing the group fitness studio, I could watch the classes while I was working out. I noticed, the Zumba class. 

I watched them dance and twirl and wave their arms around all in synch. I saw them jump and clap on the beat. I noticed the fun, spunky attitude that the teacher and students sometime had. And as I watched, I thought it looked like fun. I didn’t think it was for me. But finally, after watching them have so much fun for so many weeks, I just decided to try it out for myself instead of watching from the outside looking in …and I was hooked! I loved it! 

So, for almost the last decade, I have enjoyed this amazing experience that I almost didn’t even try because I assumed it wasn’t for me. The lesson here is I can stay on the outside looking in – doing what I’m comfortable with and what I know.. Or.. if something is catching my interest, I can just try it to see if I like it. Maybe it will change my life!

Isn’t it interesting to think how this lesson could apply to so many things. What’s something that you’re on the outside of looking in right now and thinking it looks fun, or interesting and you might like it. But you just haven’t tried it yet. What if you did go ahead and give it a try?

Thief of Joy

During those first few months of getting into Zumba, it was really important to me to be in step, to do the the arm motions correctly, and to go in the same direction as the class when we “traveled” or turned. 

As we were dancing, I’d notice other people in the class. Some people were really good. They had all the choreography down! They were able to add a little style and flair as they danced and moved. They looked amazing! 

I noticed other people who were never on the beat, who always seemed to be a step behind, who went left when the class was going right. I compared myself to all of them. 

I wanted to be as good and as graceful and as smooth as my classmates who looked like professional dancers. I remember thinking “I’m doing better than her.. Or those 2” when I noticed the class members who were doing their own thing – in fact, I remember thinking really judgy thoughts about them like “can they even see the teacher? 

This move happens 4 times during this song, can’t they get it during the 4th time? Or they’ve been coming to this class for over 2 months, they still don’t know the steps.” 

Not cool, right? But that’s what I was doing. I was noticing the other dancers watching themselves in the mirror and seeing them making music video faces at themselves and I wondered what they were thinking. I was comparing myself to women who just joined for the 1st time and noticing that I had caught on faster during my first class.

I was so involved in everyone else’s business during those early classes and I didn’t even know that I was. 

Robbing Myself

Around that same time, I loved scrolling through Pinterest and seeing all the motivational phrases and quotes graphics. One of the quotes I saw that really stuck out to me was “comparison is the thief of joy” and when I thought about that phrase during Zumba, I recognized that it was true -I was robbing myself of my own joy during my workout by noticing other people and thinking about them and putting myself on a ruler next to them and deciding if I was “better” or if they were “better.” It wasn’t great.. It took the joy right out of it. 

So, I started reminding myself of that phrase whenever I caught myself “look at how she’s not even extending her arms…comparison is the thief of joy” or how does she do that little kick when she shuffles to the right?…comparison is the thief of joy.”  It worked! I stopped comparing myself. Once I stopped comparing, my mind had so much more time and space during Zumba to do so many other great things for me. 

Suddenly I had time to solve problems, to think of metaphors, to daydream, to make mental lists.. So many great things.  And, that habit that I cultivated for myself specifically during that 1 hour class every day spilled over to other areas in my life when I noticed myself judging other people -that’s not joyful at all! It’s not helpful. There’s no upside. It’s none of my business. 

The lesson here- that I practiced during Zumba but can now use anywhere is that comparison really is the thief of joy. 

And, a little side note to this lesson, in case it wasn’t obvious- that’s comparing both up and down. I really didn’t feel any joy when I thought I was better than my classmates. So, is there something in your life right now that could be more joyful for you, but that’s not because you imagine you are “more deserving” than someone else?

Momentum Works

About 2 years later, I had been going to the gym semi-regularly and tried a lot of different programs there, they had a really fun bootcamp one summer and my friend and I loved going to Tuesday night Barbell with Julie. We also had a favorite Wednesday night circuit workout where we always got in trouble for talking too much. 

I still mixed Zumba in and still did the elliptical, but I had probably fallen out of the habit of a frequent routine. 

As the days and weeks went on, my gym-friend and I would frequently make excuses for not going. If she didn’t go, I probably wouldn’t go.  In my non-gym life, I was going through a little bit of a crisis. 

My job was in major upheaval and uncertainty. I was feeling pretty hopeless and purposeless in general. 

I didn’t realize it at the time but I was already a few levels down into a spiral. I don’t remember what it was, but something made me notice that the gym’s Zumba schedule had a Zumba class each day for the next 5 days at times I could go. 

5-Day Zumba Goal

So I decided to make a goal for myself to go to 5 days of Zumba in a row. I don’t remember if I had a purpose or reason for that goal.. Or what I expected it to do for me -but it was life-changing! Those 5 days turned everything around for me! 

When I look back at why, I think it must have been 3 main things: the daily influx of dopamine over a 5 day period from a great cardio workout to loud music, the rush of setting a goal and achieving it and the reconnection with something I loved, that made me happy. 

Those 5 days got me back onto a regular Zumba schedule, I had a new outlook about my work situation. I got motivated to do other fun, engaging projects. I get so many lessons and reminders for myself out of this one little story even though I can’t even remember most of the specific details about what I did after those 5 days- but I remember the feeling of Momentum I got and I learned… Momentum works. This is such a valuable lesson because if I ever find myself just past the entry point of even the most gradually-declining spiral, I can look for a quick win with a another 5-day goal, or a way to reconnect with something that brings me joy, or something that will flood my system with the good kind of dopamine. Do you know what kinds of activities kick off momentum for you? Do you have a mental list of joyful things to go back to when you feel yourself slipping?

I Don’t Need to Stay

If you’re keeping track of the countdown, we’re down to the 4th lesson I’ve learned from Zumba: I don’t need to stay in a situation that is not serving me. 

As much as I love my dance addiction.. It’s not always rainbows and daisies. In fact, sometimes it’s literally the opposite. Sometimes people have very strong body odor.. And I am very sensitive to smell. Or, sometimes a class is just off for me- maybe I don’t like the teachers’ style, or maybe the volume is too high and I don’t have my earplugs with me, or maybe the class is too crowded and people are standing too close to me. 

Whatever it is that’s taking me away from my ideal Zumba experience, I always give myself permission to leave if I want to.  This permission is so liberating! So if I’m dancing and smelling someone and it’s driving me crazy, I know, I can stay and see if my mind adjusts. I’ll see if can I get into my zone, but I don’t have to. 

I can just leave without guilt and without regret and it’s fine. And sometimes I end up staying for the whole class and having an ok class, and sometimes I end up leaving. This is such a great reminder for me about other things in my life that I want to do or think I should do… I always have permission to do whatever I want in any situation. I can stay, I can adjust, I can leave. 

Can you relate to this? Do you give yourself permission in any situation to stay? To adjust your thinking? And to leave if you want to? 

Can you imagine staying in a situation that felt uncomfortable, just to see what would happen? Can you think about intentionally adjusting your thinking to something different, even when your initial thought was I don’t want this? Would you walk out, of a relationship, a job, or even just a party if it wasn’t right for you?

Seasons Change

Ok, the 5th lesson I’ve learned from Zumba is that Seasons Change and it’s fine

I am a creature of habit. I thrive in routine! When I find something I like, I just commit to it on auto pilot and enjoy the ride. So, I had been going to my classes at my gym for a few years, I had my favorite teachers and my favorite classes. I schedule lots of my free time around those classes so I wouldn’t miss them. I was friendly with the other regulars. Life was good! 

Then one day in December, as my favorite teacher was making some of her pre-class announcements I heard something that piqued my interest. 

She was saying something about “be on the look out for more information, we’ll be sharing more as we know more and make sure you’re on the list.”  I was like “What’s happening?” and this expression of “not wanting to be the bearer of bad news” came over her and she said “You didn’t get the letter?” The gym is closing in January. 

I don’t think “There’s no crying in Zumba” is a real expression but that is the phrase I kept repeating to myself in my mind as I tried to hold back the tears as I danced that morning. This was just about 6 months after my 5-day Zumba life changing experience. I had tied so many benefits back to these classes, with these instructors at this gym. 

No Crying in Zumba

I felt heartbroken. I literally had to wipe my eyes multiple times while tapping, clapping and twirling over the next few weeks. 

Once the gym closed, I was a little lost – and I didn’t have a place to go dance or a weekly class schedule any more, but over the next few weeks, I tried out a few different places, I found an amazing teacher at a different gym for my Saturday morning class- it started an hour earlier than my previous Saturday morning class. I was surprised to discover, that actually worked out so much better for my weekend! 

Within a few months, I finally got the long-awaited email from that favorite teacher who had broken the news to me. She let us all know where she was now teaching, so I signed up there, and happily greeted a few of the other familiar regulars. 

And, in the past few years, I’ve followed that teacher to a few different gyms, but now I’ve lost touch with her. My other new Saturday morning teacher ended up having a baby a year later, so, even though there’s no crying in Zumba, I cried again during our last class together. 

As sad as I was about getting “kicked out” of my Zumba birthplace, what it taught me is that seasons change and it’s fine. Now, as instructors move on, or as gyms change their class schedules, or as my own life schedules change, I know I can just look for the next gym, the next instructor, try out a new class. 

It reminds me that even though this workout is so important and valuable to me right now, it doesn’t always have to be. Maybe 10 years from now, you’ll find me doing the Reggaeton to a Pitbull song.. Or maybe I’ll be doing something completely different. Either way, it’s fine. 

I learned this lesson through Zumba, which in the grand scheme of things, may be pretty insignificant, it’s just a workout, right? But knowing that Seasons Change and It’s fine can get me through heartbreak, and loss, and disappointment. It reminds me that I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know what’s around the corner, and even with all my intention and planning, I really don’t know what is next for me. But I do know, it will always be fine. 

So Many Lessons

When I started putting this episode together, I actually came up with 10 lessons I’ve learned from Zumba.. So I could go on and on.. But for now, these are the 5 lessons I wanted to share with you:

  1. I can stay on the outside looking in, and I can just go ahead and go on in and try it for myself if something is calling to me. It might turn out to be life changing. 
  2. Comparison is the thief of joy
  3. Momentum works
  4. I don’t need to stay in a situation that’s not serving me 
  5. Seasons change and it’s fine

Even though this post is supposedly all about Zumba- it’s not about that at all! It’s a metaphor for life!

This is making me wonder, what other lessons can I find in other everyday life experiences? I’m on the look out and maybe, as I encounter them I’ll share them with you. 

In fact, I have been thinking of starting some kind of resistance training… since, apparently, learning all about resistance is my thing. I wonder what I’ll learn from that!

Thank You!

Before I go today… I just wanted to thank you for hanging out with me every Friday this month! Can you believe we’ve had our weekly conversations together for a full month now? I have LOVED making these blog posts for you and I’ve appreciated all the amazing comments, feedback and support – thank you so much!

I also want to thank my magnificent LAUNCH SQUAD who helped support and encourage me as I was preparing to launch the podcast at the beginning of the year! 

We had a Launch Lunch to celebrate after the first 3 episodes went live. I am so happy that everyone came out to celebrate and spend time together. We had the most perfect weather that day.

That’s it for today. I wanted to share these 5 lessons because I think they’re so helpful in life, not just Zumba.   Now I want to hear your thoughts and your reactions. Do you see these metaphors for your life in your everyday experiences?

Do you have a “no crying” rule where you sometimes do cry? Let me know in a comment below!

Dance Notebook

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