I tell stories when I teach my fitness classes. Of course I teach the movement, explain the purpose, the anatomy and keep the class as fluid as possible using music to set the rhythm and humor to set the mood. Along the way I try to share stories that amuse, inspire, distract (sometimes you just don't want to think about another set) and connect. Usually I get a knowing smile, a glance of acknowledgement and even outright laughter. We work, we sweat we connect. I love it when I am able to create connection in the group of participants that decided to attend.
Not long ago, I talked about how I had to learn to love the desert. Having moved from a geographically diverse and beautiful area north of San Francisco, I struggled to find beauty in such a different environment. When I first moved here all I saw was brown. The dirt, the buildings, the air, it all looked brown to me. It is also loud and fast. The constant hum of traffic is so pervasive I drive with my windows up to quiet the noise. Mostly flat wide roads make it easy to drive fast and people fly by the speed limit signs as though they are just suggestions. I was incredibly homesick and I sometimes still pine for my wine country roots, but I live here now, and the solution was to look for the beauty around me.
As much as I'd love to recreate Nor Cal in my back yard, it would be too expensive and not sustainable, so I try to find green public areas with trees or water. After I told my class about learning to love the desert and finding places I loved, students approached me and asked where I go? The picture above is the path I walk every day with my dog and where I find my daily dose of calm and green. I also love the Riparian Preserve and walk there often.
I have hiked in several areas around the valley. When you can get away from the freeways, the traffic and the urban sprawl, you can find peace and beauty in the desert. I am a member of the Desert Botanical Garden www.dbg.org/and find peace beauty and tranquility there too. Finding the good in any situation is a skill that translates to many areas of our lives. Nurturing our souls daily and connecting with others is a basic human need. There is nothing more rewarding than finding a way to help others discover what works best for them. Keep looking, and when you find it, make time to do it. Connecting with yourself is just as important, if not more so, than connecting with others. If finding beauty in your surroundings is important to you, here are a couple of resources to get you started.
Today, Wednesday April 5th, is National Walking Day and a great day to get out and start moving more. Walking is one of the best, inexpensive and accessible forms of exercise to improve your health and fitness. I walk everyday, it is sort of a moving meditation for me. I walk my dog about a mile every morning and usually walk again later in the day with my family. It is a great way to relieve stress, connect with nature and spend time with loved ones. Some of the best conversations with friends and family happen on a walk! The American Heart Association has a page dedicated to helping you get off on the right foot (see what I did there?)
People often ask me, "what's the best exercise?" and my answer is, "the one you'll do". Walking is one that most people can do, especially if you have a dog or children. It is a simple way to maintain your health and theirs. A walk to the park is good for the whole family. If you don't live in a walk friendly environment, consider mall walking or visit a nearby school track. Hiking is another great way to start walking, enjoy nature adding interest and cross training to your usual walking routine. If you've been thinking about exercise since the New Year consider walking. Joining a gym, and buying exercise equipment are great but start by putting one foot in front of the other. If you can build a routine with minimal expense and discover you are motivated to add more movement into your life, there are lots of options. To get started KISS, keep it simple sweetheart. To quote Nike, "just do it"!
If you are looking for a way to get started and need a little more guidance than what is offered above, look into WalkIT Arizona, a walking intervention through texting program offered through Arizona Sate University www.walkitarizona.org/
There is a woman that walks her dog in my neighborhood and there's just something about her. She carries herself with confidence. She is a reasonably attractive woman with a nice figure, not stunningly beautiful or super fit, but she seems comfortable in her own skin and you can't help but notice. I wonder if it would be as noticeable if more women carried themselves that way, including me? It seems we are constantly focused on what we need to improve, fix or change rather than all of the wonderful qualities we possess. The truth is, we are all works in progress, we improve with practice. But the world we live in champions perfection, even though true perfection is often subjective and rarely attainable. We hear "practice makes perfect" but I believe practice makes better is a more accurate statement. Better is attainable and a worthy endeavor but sometimes it is important to consider your perspective.
In this great piece by Kelly Roberts, the notion that you have to look a certain way to be an athlete (or anything else for that matter) is challenged by what she is able to accomplish with her body www.outsideonline.com/2156246/dont-tell-me-what-strong-looks
I read the article above on Facebook and was pleasantly surprised to see supportive, positive comments. After the comments on Lady Gaga's body in her Super Bowl performance, I was hesitant to even look at comments. So many people had negative things to say about this incredible artist, it's no wonder the rest of us have trouble putting ourselves out there. Most of those comments were about her body, not her performance, or her ability, but what she looked like in her costume. I thought she looked fantastic, fit & fabulous as does Christie Brinkley on the cover of Sports Illustrated with her daughters. www.yahoo.com/celebrity/christie-brinkley-63-back-her-013240262.html The comments about her were snarky as well but seemed to come more from other women than men. Women that claimed she had the time and the money and anyone could look like that if they had those things. Does it matter how old she is, that she has time and money to exercise, that there is a possibility photo shop was used? She looks amazing, and aside from great genes (as evidenced by her children) she does the work to continue looking amazing, it is her practice.
Tearing another down will never make you feel better about yourself, so what can be done? Champion one another, celebrate the fact that we are in this together, that each of us has our own practice in life. I know how hard it can be to walk through the door, to show up and be seen. I love looking around a room full of women and men and seeing all different ages, bodies and abilities because it is what group fitness truly is to me: A group of individuals doing the best they can with what they have to work with in a group setting. A successful class is one that I managed to encourage, challenge and accommodate all of my participants, maybe with a dash of humor for good measure. I try to bring the same focus to one-on-one training too. I have spent a lot of years in a room full of mirrors and sometimes I have had to fake confidence but if you practice something long enough you get pretty good at it. Practice makes better and we are truly better when we practice together.
There seemed to be less "New Year, New You" advertising this year. Still, on a walk recently, I noticed a "coming soon" sign on a soon to open fitness facility. The advertisement showed barely clad muscled bodies gleaming with faux sweat. Trendy haircuts and edgy body art completed the look. The models were hot! The idea, of course, is that you will be too if you work out there. I'm not knocking them, we all know sex sells, but in a world with an aging, sedentary population, this approach is (pun intended) getting old and fails to meet the needs of most. Very few people look like that, even within the fitness industry, and I couldn't help but wonder why we tell people not to judge others by their appearance and then promptly do exactly that? Just because you look good, doesn't mean you're fit. So often it is struggle to be authentic and align our actions and words. The solution? Practice.
Part of the reason I enjoy Pilates is because it is a practice. I have recently been taking some Pilates classes at different locations (always good to be a student) and one of the other students in class asked me what keeps me doing Pilates after so many years? I replied that Pilates allows me to do everything else. The core strength and body awareness leave the studio with you and help you navigate the physical and mental challenges of daily life. Joseph Pilates said, "with body, mind, and spirit functioning perfectly as a coordinated whole, what else could reasonably be expected other than an active, alert, disciplined person." That person can be of any shape and size.
I've been at a professional crossroad lately, trying to make sense of where to go next. I love what I do, but wonder if I'm out of touch? What I understand as a professional in both the educational and fitness environment do not align with the package that is sold regularly. I often tell stories and make jokes about the history of my industry and my own personal fiascos in navigating the nonsense along with the science. The truth is, I like making people feel comfortable because I know how hard we can be on ourselves, and the way we look. Over the years, I have had many people comment on my body, not all positive. I recognize that I do not have the aesthetic that many have come to associate with a dancer or Pilates instructor but my body is capable and so is yours. It is so rewarding helping people discover the joy of movement, it's fun to watch people surprise themselves!
I don't mean to say we shouldn't strive to be better versions of ourselves but those better versions will be as varied and unique as the individual.
Pilates, among other things, gives me the strength and confidence to try new things. My body functions well and lets me undertake those challenges. Spending too much time in front of a mirror can sometimes cast doubt about what a body should or shouldn't look like. Challenging yourself with a new class, or a different activity will remind you of what you are capable of and what is ultimately important; how well you function. Instead of focusing on your perceived individual figure flaws, pick something fun you've wanted to try and let's work on it. Here's looking at you!
It has been crisp and cool lately and I love it! I am much more of a sweater than swimsuit kinda gal. One of my favorite things to do is join friends for a cool weather hike. Hiking is the perfect way to enjoy nature, take your fitness outdoors and share an experience. The problem? We are smack dab in the middle of the holiday season and that makes taking time for yourself even more difficult. Doing it with a friend definitely helps. Devoting a morning to hiking may not be on your agenda with extra to-dos already vying for your time, I encourage you to remember that something is better than nothing.
When I went to grad school I promised myself I would find 30 minutes a day to exercise for me. health.gov/paguidelines/guidelines/chapter4.aspx Some of my fellow students, especially the single ones, seemed surprised. My daughter was a year old, I was teaching classes and maintaining a home. I had created more time by eliminating television and getting up earlier and 30 minutes was what I had to work with. Sticking to a manageable timeframe prevented me from thinking in all or nothing terms. When you put too much between yourself and a goal, it's way too easy to give up.
I love and have shared this saying many times, though I'm not sure where it comes from: It's not what you eat between Thanksgiving and the New Year, it's not what you eat between the New Year and Thanksgiving. There are a few variations but the point is that taking care of yourself; eating healthfully, moving your body and managing stress more often than not, yields results. It is the 80/20 rule in action. That being said, I am not suggesting you go crazy and call it your 20%, but rather that you keep your healthy habits and allow yourself to be human. Love Aunt Martha's holiday fudge? Have a piece. If fudge is a trigger food and you'll eat the whole box after one piece, pass it on to someone else. No time to drive to the gym for a workout? Take a brisk walk to the post office to mail those cards. All those little choices add up. Don't believe me? Reverse the process. It's not usually a season of poor choices, that cause weight gain or lack of fitness, it's several seasons.
By staying with, but modifying your habits, the transition back to your version of normal will be a lot smoother. Trying to get started building health habits? Slow down and breath whenever you can, this calms the mind and body allowing you to focus. Find movement as often as possible, powerwalk the mall, stretch before bed, whatever works. Finally, since food is so abundant at this time, only eat what you love and stop before you're stuffed. Make your non-party meals as nutrient dense as possible and know yourself, plan ahead. A little awareness can help you navigate the season and be ready to return or start those healthy habits.
If you enjoy hiking or would like to try it, here are a couple of useful links-
Do you ever feel like there is just not enough of you to go around? Well, that is definitely where I am at right now. We are in the final push at the college and I have been inundated with student emails, questions and of course, finals. This isn't my first rodeo but I think it may be my last. I took a break from academic teaching before and stepped back in to see if time had changed my mind. It didn't. I love teaching health, but as any teacher knows, there is a lot of outside class preparation, grading and utilization of learning management systems. I don't find the work-life balance to be equitable, not because of the compensation but because the above often spills in to my family time and more fulfilling work.
Work-life balance has gotten a lot of press lately and with good reason. www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/work-life-balance/art-20048134?pg=2 Like most balancing acts, it is ongoing and there will always be a bit of a tug-of-war between the two. Part of the challenge can be the type of work you do. Combine that with the 24/7 accessibility created in our connected world and you can see how difficult balance might be. For me personally, I have discovered the work is not as rewarding as it once was. It would be easy to put the blame on the student population or the many changes in the college culture, but the common denominator is me. I am ready to let go. I have the benefit of not having to rely on that source of income, so money has become less of a factor. What is a factor is personal satisfaction.
After writing down the things I am grateful for during the month of November I noticed the same few things kept rising to the top; my family (I count my dog as family), friends, student/clients and my health. Yes, it's mostly about people and love which may seem trite, but there you have it. So how do I find the balance between all of those things and fulfilling work? It looks like I am going to have to take a risk and trust that who and what I am as a person and a professional are enough. Taking a step back from what I know and moving in a direction that isn't always certain is scary but I am ready.
How about you? Do you feel a change in the air? Is now the time to make that move, whatever move it is?
I plan on getting back to blogging, connecting with and teaching my group students and private clients, and of course spending time with family and friends. I hope you'll join me and find a way to prioritize those things that really matter to you. It's not easy with the crazy distractions of life and the demands on your time but I have a feeling we can all move in that direction, at least a little. One of my favorite things about teaching is the commaraderie of a very diverse group of people all working to improve themselves. Everyday I see incredible women and men dealing with individual challenges while trying to prioritize the many dimensions of health, and I am amazed. My true joy is to teach, share, and experience that magic. I intend to make more time for that and beautiful sunrise walks. :-)
Book Worth a Look: www.goodreads.com/book/show/23217084-people-over-profit
Emotions have been high this past week, heck, they've been high for most of this election. Social media has been busy supporting and negating both sides of the results, as have friends and families. It's been stressful, to say the least, and people have been telling one another how they feel and how they should feel. In my health class I teach a chapter on Psychological Health. It's a sensitive topic that students find interesting but also disconcerting. Nearly everyone has or will have a mental health issue (anxiety is the most prevalent) in their lives and yet, no one wants to feel like a crazy person. Depression is a common mental health issue but at the other end of the spectrum is mania. www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/basics.htm My observation is that many are swinging like a pendulum between the two. Once you begin to study mental health, you realize how dramatically it impacts every part of our lives and how we can work to improve.
A little empathy might go a long way in restoring personal relationships that may be suffering and create a ripple effect. Empathy does not mean you have to like or agree with what another is feeling but that you can imagine how they are feeling. It is recognizing the joy of winning and the sadness of loss and not being a sore winner or loser. That may be an oversimplification but it is a place to start. People want to share their feelings on social media and that's where things get tricky. This interesting article on social media research shows that some mental health issues can be exacerbated but that some, like empathy can be cultivated. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/07/140703102510.htm
I think intention goes a long way in terms of feeling understood. Many people just want to be heard, to share their opinion and discover they are not alone. The ability to convey your thoughts without the benefit of visual cues such as body language can be challenging. Social media works great for simple issues but the more complex the issue, the harder it is to interpret the intention of the author. Most people struggle with confirmation bias, including me, and that means we can't access our empathy. If we are too busy being right and pushing our agenda, how can we consider or even hear the thoughts and feelings of another, let alone understand them? learning.colostate.edu/guides/guide.cfm?guideid=4
People get to feel the way they feel, no matter what side of the issues they sit on. Being elated because you see an outcome as favorable is valid. Feeling grief that things did not go your way is also valid. www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_Z3lmidmrY More importantly, being able to process feelings in a healthy way is necessary and empathy may be the way to get there. We like to check things off of our to do list, but emotional health usually doesn't work that way. Like exercise, consistent application yields results. We need to access our ability to be patient and kind with ourselves and others even if the way we show empathy is to scroll on by without a "like" or comment. Empathy may be the key to opening the door to better communication, less stress and improved mental health. To learn more, see below:
Lots of great information about empathy at Greater Good, the science of a meaningful life.
Thank goodness it's Friday! This was one of those weeks that makes you appreciate the monotony of life. I won't share a laundry list of the challenges but suffice it to say, I'm glad it's over. I knew it would be a tough week, so I created a little extra space in my daily routine. Usually I would have tried to be super woman but I've been making an effort to wear my cape less often. I still exercised and took care of business but tried and actually succeeded at shelving the guilt, mostly. So often we talk about self care not being selfish but putting that into practice is easier said than done.
I'm sipping a cup of tea as I write this, contemplating doing as little as possible this weekend, aside from recharging. I've noticed a decrease in energy with the shorter days and slightly cooler temperatures. I can tell from my classes I am not the only one. After leading exercise and teaching academic classes, environments where I need to create and encourage energy, sometimes I need to withdraw. A book, a movie, music and of course, movement are my go to methods. Social media holds little appeal for me when I am in this space, and I recognize the irony in posting this on Facebook! 😀
Monday was World Mental Health Day and there has been some research linking depression, and anxiety to social media use.
www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/308273.php Social media can be a fun way to stay connected to friends and family, as well as promote your business but it also has a dark side. The glossy lives other people seem to be living, negative news stories, and less than kind words can take a toll on your energy and happiness. Nearly all of us have encountered such things even with strong filters and careful consideration. The law of diminishing returns applies and when it stops being fun, it's time to disconnect.
Being around people all the time can be exhausting and virtual people can be draining as well. I make a concerted effort not to consume too much and keep my social media use positive. As you read this, remember to honor your feelings. A little mindfulness goes a long way. Notice how you're feeling and if you're feeling drained, try to create space to nurture yourself. That may include social media or it may not. Hang up your cape for a little while, pour yourself a cup of tea and allow yourself to just be. We all need a break now and then, give yourself permission.
A great site to learn about mindfulness and meditation.
It seems that sleep has been in the news of late. Though I have been reading more about it, I have been getting less of it and I don't think I am alone. There are few things more satisfying than a good night sleep and research shows there are many benefits such as muscle repair and tissue growth, as well as cognitive function and memory. We know that eating healthfully, moving our bodies and managing stress are all integral parts to a healthy whole but sleep is a big, if not wholly understood, piece of the big picture. An interesting read can be found at www.amazon.com/Eat-Move-Sleep-Choices-Changes-ebook/dp/B00CRGI0OI
Though I am well aware of the benefit of sleep, changes in my own body, primarily due to hormone fluctuation, have made a good night sleep elusive. I have discovered many things that help tremendously and have conducted several experiments using myself as a guinea pig. Here's what I've discovered:
consistency matters. Going to bed and getting up at the same time set you up both physiologically and psychologically for sleep success. Physiologically, we have an internal clock or circadian rhythm. Most of us are designed to feel sleepy when it gets dark and alert when it is light, though technology often disrupts this rhythm. Psychologically, the routine of getting ready for bed, reading, sipping tea or whatever you do in preparation for sleep create an association. If you have children you know how important the bedtime ritual can be and it is no different for us.
The things we do before bed have become critical in not only getting to sleep but staying asleep. Drinking caffeine or alcohol too close to bed can disrupt your sleep cycle. I usually only drink a cup of coffee in the morning but sometimes I'll have a second cup later and have discovered any consumption beyond lunch time can adversely affect my sleep. I have also noticed that a glass of red wine after 7pm can send me into hot flash hell in the middle of the night. Finally, I try very hard, not always successfully, to avoid using technology in the hour before I turn off the light. Blue light emitted from our devices can wreak havoc on the secretion of melatonin and cripple our sleep quality. Here's more info: www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side
Mindfulness has helped me stay aware of my own habits and the effect they have on my sleep. I do a pretty good job of eating healthfully, moving my body, and managing stress but sleep is a struggle and the struggle is real. In desperation, I have tried melatonin supplements without any success and have found no real evidence, aside from anecdotal, to suggest the efficacy of supplementation. Speaking of anecdotal, I can tell you my college students are not getting enough sleep based on their performance, it definitely plays a role in their ability to pay attention and retain information. Check out the 60 minute "Science of Sleep" piece on youtube for a fascinating look at how much our culture of busy and sleep deprivation is costing us in terms of our health. I am including the link as my website of the week.
It's amazing what you can do with an extra day! A little more time to spend with family, get in a work out, start or finish a project. Have you ever noticed when we find ourselves with a bit of extra time, we feel a need to fill it? Why is it so hard to create space and just let the day unfold? Maybe you are better at this than I am, but I feel like I must accomplish a certain amount before I give myself permission to relax and do what I want. If, like myself, you juggle many roles, you probably feel compelled to do your best and not let anyone down. The problem is that you end up letting yourself down.
In the "Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up" (if you know me, you know there was no way I could resist this book), author Marie Kondo suggests letting go of anything that does not "spark joy" as a method of organization. I love this notion and think it is a great way to look at life choices as well as organization. Certainly, not everything will spark joy but if we can find more joy in the work, food, and habits we have, perhaps our happiness would increase and thus, our health too. This idea is at the heart of mindfulness, and in a world of distraction, is a method that is gaining traction in diverse environments.
So, how exactly does one define mindfulness? According to Psychology Today, "Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you're mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience." Sounds pretty good but also a little elusive. My suggestion is to choose a focus. Bring mindfulness to your workouts, noticing what the body is capable of and how it feels rather than how many calories you're burning. Maybe you choose to eat more mindfully and notice the taste and texture of foods, paying attention to the experience of eating and nourishing your body rather than
eating while you surf the web, drive somewhere or watch television.
It's hard not to get sucked into the culture of busy and thinking multi-tasking will allow us to do more. Research shows that for the most part, multi-tasking is a myth. We are actually switch-tasking and the mind is not really meant to be used in this manner. Watch this short youtube video and try the test to see how well you multi-task. www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCeGKxz3Q8Q The truth is, we might be able to empty the dish washer while talking to a friend on the phone but that doesn't mean we can type an email while talking on the phone. If you've unsuccessfully tried this, you know what I'm talking about. Yet, in spite of irrefutable evidence, we still see people (sometimes it's us!) trying to do too many things at one time. Employers will specifically seek those with the ability to multi-task and the world spins obliviously on while we wonder why we feel tired and wired. Our ability to get things done feels like it is slipping away and an exhausted, unfulfilled existence becomes the norm.
Break the cycle! Let's choose a focus: eating, exercise, family time, and try to attend to and live in that moment. Savor the details and let go of what you might be missing to allow yourself to enjoy what you are not. It's not easy, and like anything takes practice but you can get back the joy of reading a book, snuggling with your spouse or even taking a nap if you can simply focus on one thing. If you are of a certain age, you know what I'm talking about. If you're not, trust me, it feels fantastic! Find 5 or 10 minutes and allow yourself to do just one thing. It may feel strange at first but give it some time and see if maybe, just maybe a little less distraction goes a long way.
Book Worth a Look: www.amazon.com/Organized-Mind-Thinking-Straight-Information/dp/052595418X