Better & Bolder the Blog

31 Days of Movement: Spiritual Journey


The past few days I’ve been pondering how I’ll end my movement blogs this month. I’ve been curious what will show up.

Here’s what has shown up, all year in bits and pieces, and again here at year’s end. Spirit. 

This year as I ran, sometimes I would picture healing energy flowing through my body. I said a kindness prayer for myself and for the land around me and the people I love and then people it’s more difficult for me to love. May all beings be well, may all beings be joyful, may all beings receive love and care. 

I don’t pray when I’m not moving. Moving evokes my prayer. Dancing does that, too, though I’m usually moving too fast to stay with a prayer for long. The slow, steady pace of a run invites me to this prayer, and I’m thankful for that. I need more prayer in my life. 

The whole of this year has been marked by intense emotions, and often I dealt with them by eating a lot. I didn’t really notice that’s what was happening, which I think is the way it works. I don’t think I wanted myself to notice it because then I’d notice that these emotions were too much for me. I couldn’t process them and be with them; I needed a buffer, and my buffer was not just food but eating too much food at once. 

I didn’t want to notice the emotions, so I wasn’t willing to notice that I would experience an uncomfortable emotion and then respond by eating. Once I made that connection (about a week ago, while writing one of these blogs), I became fully aware of when I’m eating in such a way as to deal with an emotion. It’s not a bad thing, by the way, eating to nurture our emotions. It’s just a thing.

If I look at this from my body’s perspective, it was a failed strategy. My body suffered. If I look at it from my emotions, it was not a bad strategy. It bought me time. It soothed the edges while I kept at my life. 

If I look at it from a spiritual perspective, I see this was me caring for myself, which is really quite sweet. I was feeding my emotions, giving them extra love and support. I don’t want to romanticize behavior that to me often feels addictive, driven, and harmful. I just want to acknowledge that I was comforting myself the best I could right then. 

In 2012, I adored the sensation of a long run. I felt accomplished and spent after running 10 miles. I couldn’t do that in 2013 because my achilles was injured. I was forced to slow down. I went to strategy B, eating a lot. It got me through the year. I’m on to strategy C then, which apparently will involve more patience. 

My achilles injury is not just a physical manifestation to be dealt with physically. The repercussions of the injury affect other aspects of my life. Think of it as answering the call to spirit when we look at an injury and see invitations to make our lives more whole. 

A recent Better and Bolder post focused on a study that showed surgery to repair tears in the meniscus (in the knee) was not more successful than PT. A friend, my Nia black belt roommate Jane Rosen, wrote a lovely reply to that post in which she explained the many ways she changed her body and her movement practices in order to change the dynamic that caused the pain in the first place. That’s the thing. Far more important than making pain go away is preventing it from reoccurring. What were the dynamics that caused that pain and injury to develop? 

In Nia, the word “stalking” is used to indicate we are relentlessly pursuing something in our lives. Natural Time is the way we describe letting things evolve in their own time rather than mechanical, clock time. I’ve been stalking my achilles issues in natural time, which means pretty darn slowly. The issues that caused the injury and pain have been with me for years. 

Jane’s doctor told her that 10 pounds of body weight equals 40 pounds of pressure on her knees. I put on more than 10 pounds in 2013, and ate foods that have been linked to inflammation, and it’s possible my body aches more because of it. While the achilles tendon is very slow to heal (it doesn’t have great blood supply), I could have slowed down that healing further by not being my best with my nutrition. My injury may or may not resolve when I eat better. It seems a good change to make anyway. This is one way that my injury is an invitation to improve my life. 

Another physical change to make is to rededicate to eccentric heel drops, which studies show are one of the best ways to elongate and promote healing in the achilles. The heel drops are recommended twice a day with 3 sets of 15 reps for 12 weeks. Twice daily for twelve weeks is a lot of remembering to do something and having the patience to do it. 

Patience means the ability to stick with something even when it’s a bit boring, and that is not my happy place. It’s important to concentrate on form while doing these, so I cannot distract myself too much. I have to be deeply involved with the process, interested in what I’m doing right then, and not thinking about the next thing. If I can do that, just that, just being interested in the minute I’m doing that exercise and not thinking about anything else, that in itself will be a transformation.

I need a way to track that I’ve done each set. I could set out pen and paper and write it down, which is effective, or use an app, which is efficient. Instead, I’m going to use two small, beautiful bowls. 

In one bowl are 3 talismans. One is an earring (its match is lost) made from a watch piece. This reminds me that in my  relationship with time, I can be patient and kind. 

The second is a pendant that includes this attributed to Walt Whitman: “If anything is sacred, the human body is sacred.” 

The third talisman is a glass pendant, beautiful bright green, supposedly made from ash from Mt. St. Helen’s. I have a long, deep personal relationship with this piece, and it feels good to bring it back into my daily life. 

When I complete my first set of the day, I move the talisman to the second bowl. When I complete the second set, I move a second talisman. When I do some kind of active healing work (foam rolling, tennis ball massage, heat on my calf muscles), I move the glass talisman. 

Every day, I will be active in my recovery, and those activities will be charged with a spiritual purpose, which is to be patient and to move slowly enough to notice what I’m doing. 

This kind of change has been happening for me already in 2013. I discovered this year that for much of my life, I have been stomping around, slamming my feet into the earth as I hurry to the next place. I stopped doing that. That’s a huge shift. 

Sure, I still stomp and hurry a bit, though taking off my shoes helps me slow my pace a lot. In fact, my friends and my husband didn’t want to go for a walk with me anymore because I slowed down so much. It’s cold and my shoes are on outside all the time and my pace picked up again. So did my hip and achilles pain. Huh. 

I can choose to stomp and hurry or choose to sway and savor. Isn’t it interesting how much of my life I chose stomping and hurrying over swaying and savoring? Humans are so funny that way.

2013 was in many ways a huge shift for me, and I’m still unbalanced. There was nothing bad, by the way, just inevitable changes of life. My hormones are still shifting, and some of my physical pain stems from those shifts. So, I’m patient. This lasts a long time, but it doesn’t last forever. My weight gain, too, seems to be influenced in part by hormonal shifts, and this has required for me to be far kinder to myself than previously I have had the capacity to be. 

My ultimate goal is to love my body unconditionally, and that means loving my body that cannot run long distances or fast, and loving my body when I weigh more than I like, and loving my body that aches. That’s one beautiful thing about turning 50: I lost some of my resistance. It’s just too much work and there’s no benefit to harassing myself over my body being as it is right now instead of being how it was or could be or how someone else’s body is. 

This doesn’t mean that I’m not motivated to eat well and move well. I’m still going for better and bolder. It means I don’t have to hate myself on the journey. The invitation is for me to spiritualize the journey. I add prayer. I add talismans. I practice patience, faith, hope, and gratitude. I learn to love better. I allow myself to change, to age, and still to grow and strengthen. 

Better and Bolder: Hold It

fierce close up

This is kind of a fun idea in part because it’s something that can be done in so little time and yet yields such good results. It’s a 30 day plank challenge. Every day, hold plank. 

The first day, hold for thirty seconds. Every third day, add 15 - 30 seconds until by the 30th day, your hold is 5 minutes. This article includes tips for posture as well as a chart showing the increments to increase. 

Plank is excellent for building core strength, both front and back, which means abdominals and back muscles get stronger. It’s less about the shoulders and arms than it is about the core, which is why it’s important to tighten your butt and abdominals just a bit. Don’t hold your breath or squeeze your muscles, just lightly contract the muscles to help you keep straight (which means your butt isn’t up in the air or sagging close to the ground). Know where your tail bone and pubic bone are. Concentrate on elongation.

Do you need to get all the way up to 5 minutes? Probably not. While the core muscles are considered to be endurance muscles (they keep us upright and twisting all day), we aren’t static for that long in our daily lives. You may prefer to build up to one or two minutes and then begin playing with variations. Here’s an article that shows a few dynamic ones. Remember to go for form and not speed. 

This Wiki article with pictures explains the points to remember for form. 

Below are some video suggestions. 

This one features guys with great British accents -- really, it enhances the experience quite a bit! The first few variations are very helpful for those who find they cannot hold plank with the best form yet for any amount of time. It is much better to be in a position that’s safe and effective rather than straining to maintain a position that’s too difficult. For instance, I don’t do the variation with one leg and one opposing arm off the ground. I can do it, but I strain to do it and that can set me up for an injury. So I bring it down a notch, bringing up just one leg or one arm. The variations that the Wiz guys show includes resting on the knees, another way to create stability. The same principle applies - start with 15 seconds and over the month build up the time spent in that position. We’ve got months and months ahead of us. You can start with one variation and the next month move to another. 

This clip shows plank as a position in yoga, so she has very specific tips about how we extend through our bodies and exactly where we place the weight in our feet. She’s fun, and the clip is helpful and brief. 

This one is slightly odd and I love it for being odd. It’s brief and clear, too.

If you’re looking to increase your strength this year, plank is one of the most perfect exercises to do. Just start at the variation and time that feels stable, comfortable, and just a tiny bit challenging. Increase the time or go to a more difficult variation when you’re ready.

The trickiest part? Remembering to do it daily. Tie it to another part of your routine. Brush your teeth, hold plank, get dressed for the day. Come home from work, change out of your work clothes, hold plank and then get on with your evening. Favorite TV show? Hold plank during commercials. Get your family to do this with you. After all, the family that planks together, stays together. 

31 Days of Movement: New and Different

Friday's post was about improving our sex life with exercise. I want to talk here about date night (or date day, or date 20 minutes, or what the heck date nookie). 

Tara Parker-Pope reports that doing something new and different will enhance the romance in a relationship. Parker-Pope writes, “New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine. These are the same brain circuits that are ignited in early romantic love, a time of exhilaration and obsessive thoughts about a new partner. ...Several experiments show that novelty — simply doing new things together as a couple — may help bring the butterflies back, recreating the chemical surges of early courtship.”

Doing something active and different with your sweetie is a win/win/win. The romance goes up. Both of you are primed for sex. The sex itself is more satisfying. 

It’s also not a huge investment in time or energy. Go for a twenty minute run together, slip into the shower, get busy. Sweet. 

If you often run together, simply go to a new place to run every now and then. 

If running isn’t happening, go to the gym together. When my kids were little and money was particularly tight, it was a big deal to get a babysitter and go out. I joined a cheap gym that had free childcare (we totally got what we paid for, too). A couple of times “date night” was dropping the kids in daycare and working out on weights together. We were out of the house (win!), together-ish (win!) and not taking care of the kids (score!). It counted as a date.

If you’ve been going to the gym together for a while, amp up the novelty factor by trying a new class format at the gym. Look up on your phone some new exercises and try those together. If you belong to a gym that has multiple locations, go to a new location. 

If neither running nor the gym is your thing, go for a walk together. It won’t amp up your heartbeat and prep you both for sex in quite the same way; however, it’s great for intimacy and can still stimulate the novelty response.

In the spring, I often ask my husband to walk the dog with me, and a few times a month, he says yes. We look for beavers swimming in the river or acequias. We sometimes talk work or family or politics. Last summer we drove to a neighborhood not too far from home but a place we hadn’t been before. We talked about the houses and the neighborhood. It was stimulating to be some place new and it made going out for a walk together a bit more fun. 

My husband and I have been on hiking dates and climbing dates. In Albuquerque, there’s a parkour gym and a big trampoline gym for the agile and adventurous. Competition also amps us up for sex, so try something like Paintball. Beware that if your activity is too active, there’s probably not going to be any post-workout nookie. A full day of skiing is really fun, but it may be the next morning before either of you is ready to take a roll in the hay. That’s okay. You can give each other a massage or soak in a hot tub together. You’ll be ready for action soon enough.

Get playful together. There’s miniature golf or bowling or archery. Admit it, you haven’t done those things in years. 

Go dancing! Try a dance class or sign up for a series of classes to learn tango, swing, or other partner dancing styles.

Take a walking tour. There’s an Old Town Ghost Tour in Albuquerque, for instance. It’s a night time thing, so maybe put it on your calendar now for May. Really, it will be fun to flip to May and have this great idea for date night ready for you. 

Grab your sweetie and do something besides dinner-and-a-movie.

31 Days of Movement: Cold

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I’m keeping at bay a flu or cold or something. Perhaps it’s just a sugar hangover. Whatever it is, I’m very tired, and I just don’t feel right. 

Yesterday (Friday) I was even more tired. I skipped the gym. Both my shoulder and achilles are sore and achy, and neither weights nor the elliptical were going to be good for them. I thought about skipping a workout entirely, but this is December, and I’m moving all 31 days in December, and damn if being public about that doesn’t motivate me. I know you all don’t care whether I work out or not. I’m just saying: you want motivation? Announce what you’re doing.

So on Friday, I practiced the Touch Remix that I began on Wednesday and taught on Thursday and again today. Nia is a lovely way to keep moving, and it's easy to amp it up or keep it easy.

31 Days of Movement: Nookie

So it’s a few days after Christmas. There’s a ton of yummy food in the house, it’s still very cold and dark outside, and it’s tempting to wait for the new year to start on a program of health and fitness. Now, I know you’ve been keeping up with your movement all month long, so we’re good. But just in case, this is a reminder that to sustain a healthy movement lifestyle, it helps to know why you’re moving.

Exercise may be the thing that stands between you and a bad mood. Exercise may be what you do because you know it keeps your brain healthy, including a good memory. 

Those can be powerful motivators. I move first and foremost because it’s fun, second because it makes me feel good emotionally and spiritually, third because I like the look and feel of muscles, and fourth because I know it’s good for me (prevents diabetes, keeps my mind sharper, that kind of thing). The “it’s good for me!” is pretty far down the list because it feels more remote. It’s not a benefit that I can sense immediately.

For most of us, disease prevention is a great goal but it’s so far away. Unless a doctor has warned us, “hey, move now or get on this medication,” many of us will find that the immediate reward (relaxing with a good book, for instance) is more powerful than the unknown and far off reward (if I live long enough, having exercised today probably will make me a healthier older person). 

So let’s pull out the big guns, shall we? You are going to exercise this week because exercise improves your sex life. A lot.

 Exercise improves blood flow, and that’s a primary reason sex is better when we exercise. It’s also good for confidence. Exercise makes us feel sexier. Check out this article for the details. 

From the same More magazine article I referred to in Wednesday’s post, here’s the low down on getting down.

Melinda Dodd writes, “Over two decades, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have demonstrated that when women spend 20 minutes on a treadmill or stationary bike, then watch an erotic film, they increase blood flow to their vaginal walls by an average of 50 percent compared with when they just watch the film. The effects of exercise can last up to 30 minutes, making it a boon in the bedroom, where your partner's body (or other sexual stimuli) could work in lieu of the movie.” Please note that the effect doesn’t last for long, so go for a short workout with your partner and then plan some time for nookie right after. That’s what we call a win/win. 

For men, blood flow is crucial for an erection, and exercise combats erectile dysfunction.  One study showed men who engaged in moderate cardiovascular exercise three or four days a week reported experiencing "more satisfying orgasms." For women, blood flow helps with desire as well. Having strength and stamina can help both men and women as well as mobility and flexibility for a variety of fun positions.

In addition, when we’re physically active, we’re more in touch with our bodies. We’re primed for sensation. 

If you want more spark in your love life, it’s true that the most important element is your imagination, your brain, your desire. We’ve already determined that exercise strengthens our brains, makes us stress-resilient, and brightens our mood. Heck, yes, that will make our sex lives better too. 

31 Days of Movement: 5 hours

After several recent posts in which I focused on how little we can do each day, today I had a lovely day of moving slowly and often. 

I took a nice long walk with Lola and a friend. Slow, easy, comfortable. 

Then I worked on a Nia routine for an hour or two. I moved enough to get plenty warm but barely broke a sweat.

An hour later, I taught that routine, keeping it at a relaxed pace. 

It feels good to move, and move again, and move again. It feels good to keep going at an easy pace.

Some days are 12 minute days. Some days are for intervals. Some days are rest days. Some days are long, slow, easy days. Keep moving, and choosing, and playing. There isn't one way to workout or to exercise. 

31 Days of Movement: 12 minutes

I’d planned a Christmas Day run, and my achilles vehemently disagreed. I realize that I have had an issue with my achilles/ankle/foot for all of 2013, and this makes me feel discouraged. Still, I have kept active throughout the year, teaching Nia four times a week and additional movement on the other days -- walks, body weight exercises, weights at the gym, my Elliptigo, the elliptical and stationary bike, plus as much running as I could. 

Since it’s December and I’m moving 31 days out of 31 days, today will not be a total rest day. Still, I don’t need to do much, and I don’t need to do it intensely. 

A good option for me is to follow along with a Nia video. That helps me begin to learn some new routines, increases my mobility, gets my blood flowing and my energy circulating, and probably helps me sleep at night. My body will be better able to work out well tomorrow when I've moved a bit today. I don’t need to go hard or for long. If I’m happy after 10 minutes, I’ll keep going and if I am not feeling it, I’ll stop and do something else. Easy. Quick. 

That’s one of the most important things to remember to keep moving each day. Don’t make it a big deal, and be unafraid to go light and easy and to stop when you want. 

More magazine reported in 2011, “A number of new studies show that you can significantly upgrade your health by working out for less time than is typically recommended. ...For instance, in a recent Taiwanese study, researchers found that doing just 15 minutes of daily physical activity cuts your risk of dying over the next eight years by 14 percent and could help you live three additional years.”

The author, Melinda Dodd, suggests just 12 minutes of a moderate-intensity cardio exercise, such as climbing stairs, lowers the risk of stroke and heart attack by 27 percent. “In a review of two decades of data on 27,055 female health professionals ages 45 to 90, researchers found that doing just an hour of moderate cardio exercise (such as biking) each week decreased a woman's risk for heart disease, stroke, heart attack, coronary bypass operations and death by 27 percent.” It doesn’t have to be an hour at a time. It could be 15 minutes four times a week or 12 minutes five times a week. I know you have 12 minutes.

I have 12 minutes, for sure, and I’m spending them right now with Nia. 

31 Days of Movement: Helper's High

According to the New York Times, it’s estimated that in 2009 people who participated in runs for charities generated $1 billion in funds (2010 article). 

While there are many reasons to run a race, running for a charity often is what spurs someone to start training or for the casual runner to decide to enter a race. I did the May 2013 Run for the Kenyans because it was a fun way to donate (money raised went to birthing centers in Africa) and because it gave me a reason to raise awareness by talking and FaceBooking about the event. 

Just as there is a runner’s high, a flood of endorphins for someone engaged in cardiovascular activities, there’s also a helper’s high, which is a flood of endorphins we get when we help others. We’re hard-wired to give. It’s in our biology to be rewarded to give to others and to support them ("Why Giving Makes You Happy"). 

If you want to live a long healthy life, eating well and moving well is a good start. But it’s got nothing on developing meaningful relationships with others and helping others. Christine Carter writing in Psychology Today says, “People 55 and older who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44 percent lower likelihood of dying—and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor, including physical health, exercise, gender, habits like smoking, marital status, and many more. This is a stronger effect than exercising four times a week or going to church; it means that volunteering is nearly as beneficial to our health as quitting smoking!”

Giving our money to others makes us feel good about ourselves. We feel good that we’ve done a good deed. We also feel wealthier (referred to as “subjective wealth” by this article) because we recognize we have enough money to give it away to those who have less money. Even giving just five dollars is enough to make us feel happier (here's the experiment they did, one of many that shows people get more happiness out of spending on others rather than on ourselves). 

This morning I taught a Nia class by donation at Studio Sway (thank you, Sway and Ashley Biggers, for donating the space for our class). We raised $500 for the Malala Fund

The first time I did this was 7 or 8 years ago at Midtown Sports and Wellness, and the turnout was huge, over 60 people, on Christmas Eve morning. About a week before Christmas, I realized I wanted Christmas to feel good by focusing on giving to others, not just my family.  I decided that I would match the amount the group raised, and that prompted Margie Polito to decide to do the same (this is what psychologists mean when they say giving is contagious -- and it's one reason I tell this story). 

The Helper’s High I had that Christmas was the strongest I’ve ever experienced. I was a bit euphoric, and it transformed that Christmas for me. 

Since then, interestingly, I don’t really notice a helper’s high. I feel this is what I am supposed to be doing, and doing it doesn’t feel special and doesn’t make me special. I don’t volunteer (one estimate is that 1 in 4 of us volunteer every year), so this is my way of supporting others. We all should be doing something to help others. It just seems natural to me. I am so blessed, and that may sound canned or corny, but, no, I’m really clear that I’m safe and warm and well-fed, every year, and that is not the normal state for most people; that’s luxury.

What does feel extraordinarily special is that we gather each year on Christmas Eve morning to dance together. If it weren’t a fundraiser, we’d still gather, just as we do for Thanksgiving morning, for instance. It feels transformative to share music and dance together. There’s the extra power of coming together for a cause. It feels transformative to put our donating power together.

Today in class there were at least 2 sets of siblings and 2 sets of mother/daughters. I got to see them hug each other and dance together. I get a wee bit of helper’s higher knowing that my being there to teach class provided the space for them to have that time together. Again, this may sound corny, but here it is: it is an honor to do this. I'm blessed with a devoted, happy, active community of dancers. Yes.

Seeing smiles on people’s faces as we played air guitar to Powder’s “Christmas Don’t Be Late” was my Christmas present. We got to play this morning. 

If you’ve had trouble motivating yourself to move, do it for someone else. There’s even an app for that. One popular one is called Charity Miles. Here are 10 other apps for giving to charities. 

If you don’t want to deal with a program, set your own goals. Decide you’re going to workout five times a week in January, and for each workout, you put a dollar in a jar to go to your favorite organization. If you don’t workout, you’re withholding money from people who need it! You better work out! Each time you workout, you’ll see the amount in the jar get bigger. 

If you’ve got even a touch of the holiday blues, I highly recommend making a donation to a group about which you feel strongly. I also recommend a good workout to raise your endorphins and get yourself grounded in your body. I recommend further good hugs and good food. I wish you all a good winter’s night rest.

31 Days of Movement: Enough

I struggle with Enough. Do we learn it when we’re young? Are we born with a capacity for sensing and enjoying just enough? Do most of us struggle with enough? Not enough and too much?

Yesterday was active rest day. I took Lola for a walk and stretched for a while. Today I’m still sore. While Monday is often my day for a double (gym plus Nia), I might skip the weights and extra cardio. My achilles is especially angry with me, and my right shoulder is stressed, like it’s taken all it can take for now. Enough is enough. 

I stopped by Cost Plus this morning to pick up a few more stocking stuffers. I spent way too long there, not really finding what I loved but feeling as if it would be good to have a bit more in everybody’s stocking. Then I realized how long was the line to check out. I could read on my Kindle on my phone, but I was hungry, and, really, I’d had enough. If the stockings are less than overflowing, won’t we still have enough? 

For a long time, I took pride in how many songs I have on my laptop. Then I realized I hadn’t listened to many of those songs. I didn’t even like them all. I’ve been going through and deleting songs. I still have over 5000 songs. I could listen for 16 days straight before I got through them all.  Some are great songs, and if I really want to hear them, they’re on YouTube. It just takes a shift in perspective from scarcity (I must keep the songs so I have enough) to abundance (I have more than I can use! joy!). In abundance, I know that I will use and enjoy the songs that I have more when they’re not surrounded by a bunch of songs I don’t love. 

For all things, there is a sweet spot in which we do not too little and not too much. Just enough. 

31 Days of Movement: Rest Day

Sunday has been my day to run. I ran last night, though, and my body has been telling me all week that it may be time for a rest.

Before we go any further, let’s talk about my dog. She’s probably a lot like your dog. She spends a lot of her day doing not very much. When it’s time for a walk, she goes all out, running, sniffing, squatting, leaping. Then she comes home and immediately lies down.

Every now and then, when we take Lola out for walkies, she doesn’t run and jump. She ambles slowly. This seems to us as if something is wrong. Is she injured? Not feeling well? Usually, in a day or two, she’s back to her usual self: totally up for play whenever we initiate it and totally absolutely resting all of the remaining hours. 

Humans aren’t dogs. We live a lot longer, for one thing, and we have a ton more responsibility. However, we’re both animals. Humans could do with playing more and resting more, both. What I want from my fitness, in part, is to be able to jump up and play. 

There’s a concept in fitness called active rest. This means that we are resting from our usual level of activity. For instance, a runner may go for a walk instead of a run. Some websites recommend swimming or yoga or dance as active rest activities, though all of these can be quite active. The idea behind active rest is that we keep the intensity low. 

Ruth Rootberg (such a great name) in this article describes using a lying down position used in the Alexander Technique. This position is used to allow not just the body but the nervous system to renew itself. The more intensely we move and live, the more we need to focus on the quality and quantity of our rest. 

This is December, and I’m moving all 31 days of December. It can be as little as one set of push ups; as long as I define it as exercise, it counts.

I haven’t decided yet what I’d like to do today. Whatever it is, it will be something that allows my limbs to hang and swing easily. I don’t plan on bringing my heart rate up much. There will be absolutely no intervals, no squats, nothing too deep or contractive. I’ve had a lot of that this week, and it felt great, every time. 

What my body requires today is to move freely and easily, possibly with some dance or maybe taking Lola for a short walk so we both get out in nature. I could probably use some time with my foam roller, too, and plenty of active rest laying on my back and really, deeply, intentionally resting. 

In addition to writing this blog, I also write and send an email several times a week to those who’ve signed up for my Better and Bolder list. Besides movement and exercise, I discuss interesting recent research and insights in many aspects of health and well-being. 

Today especially, the Better and Bolder post was exactly what I needed for my personal reflection. Once I got into writing it, I saw that I need emotional rest days just as I need physical rest days. These are active rest days. That means I don’t have to focus on growth or goals. I focus instead of relaxing and receiving.

This article from Experience Life explains how we can increase our awareness of the support we already receive.

The author, Dr. Rick Hansen, says, "There’s a fundamental model in the health sciences that how you feel and function is based on just three factors: your load, the personal vulnerabilities it wears upon—such as health problems, a sensitive temperament, or a history of trauma—and the resources you have.” 

Take a moment and think about your current load. Write down 10 things that you have to care for or deal with. This can be the job you love or the housework you hate or a relationship that requires extra care and attention right now.

How do you feel? What did you notice in your body as you wrote down your load?

The second part, Hansen says, is how we are uniquely vulnerable to those elements in our load. For instance, some people have high tolerance for loathing housework while others may have medical issues that make doing housework particularly taxing and draining. The thing that is no big deal to one person can be enormously challenging for someone else, so it’s not just what’s in your load. It’s your personal relationship to what’s in your load. 

Review the list of items in your load. Jot down anything that makes those items extra challenging for you. It doesn’t have to be a physical challenge. It also doesn’t have to be something you understand. You may not know why something is especially challenging to you, and you don’t need to know why. Just notice.

Finally, focus on your resources. Your resources can be personal qualities (good sense of humor, great organizer, efficient, easy-going) or other people, places, and things that support you. For instance, I’m writing this at a computer (win!) in a warm home (win!) wearing warm clothes (win!) after having eaten a delicious and healthy breakfast (win!). 

If your load has been increasing over time, so too must your resources so that you don’t get depleted and overwhelmed. Simply noticing the resources you already have can increase your senses of empowerment (you can handle this load) and your sense of being supported (you’ve got everything you need).

One of the lovely things Hansen mentions is that when we’re in problem-solving mode, we’re feeling the strain of dealing with our load. That’s important to do, and it’s also important to take a break from problem-solving for a while each day. Problem-solving (or worrying) puts a focus on what’s not right for us yet. Problem-solving, though crucial, is another part of our load. It’s something else we have to do. Giving ourselves a break from this is a way of supporting ourselves. 

I noticed this week that I really want to get lost in a novel. I wanted a day in which I had no obligations and, most importantly for me, I wanted to forget about the real world. I felt kind of bad that I wanted this break. My life is great and my load is quite manageable; so I didn’t understand my need for a break and I was bringing a negative judgement to this need.  

After reading Hansen’s article, this desire to take a day off from the real world makes more sense to me. It now seems like an excellent strategy. I moved from a negative judgement (why should I need a break?) to an invitation to explore (apparently, I need a break, which means there’s more in my load than I’m acknowledging).  

In fact, the moment I valued my need for a break, I was able to see clearly where my load has been taxing me. It’s as if I could see the entire past year in a new light. My life is still great and I have a ton of resources. I’m also experiencing change and growth, and that has taxed me. It’s really okay for me to need and take a break. 

Hansen reminds us we can receive support from nature. We can sense how we are supported by breathing air. There’s a medicine man who works at the Nob Hill co-op. When I ask him how he’s doing, he says, “Still breathing.” That sounded to me like a very low bar. Don’t we all want to feel great? Be happy? Now I understand his answer. He has everything he needs. He starts at the most basic, the most fundamental element of support for his life, which means, yes, he is doing great. 

Acknowledging the support we receive doesn’t stop us from acknowledging how heavy our load may be for us right now. We can hold both of those at the same time: wow, I have a ton of support, and, wow, here’s an area right now in which I continue to need additional support. I let myself feel both the weight of my load as well as the depth and warmth of my support. 

Then I can do whatever I need, including sometimes simply resting.

31 days of Movement: Winter Solstice

Use the season.  It’s cold. Public places are crowded. You can stress over it, or you can use it. 

Today I was at Target (and survived!). Faced with the choice of the escalator and the stairs, I ran up the stairs. Fun.

If the parking lots are all full, instead of stressing, rejoice. You’re getting in your walking just going to and from your errands. Take that moment to breathe and to notice what's around you. 

The lights at night really are beautiful. Find a neighborhood and go for a walk at night with people you love. 

It is today the Winter Solstice, and we tip over so that the nights, which had been growing longer, now are growing less dark one minute at a time. I am going for a run tonight, with a few other hardy souls. 

I live just a few miles away from the Botanical Gardens and the Zoo. Each year, the BioPark puts up a River of Lights with light sculptures, some of them moving figures. When my kids were small, we’d bundle them up, stuff them in the double jogger, and walk to the BioPark -- and watch the lights from outside. We did this because we were too cheap to take the family in, and we did this because it seemed the perfect way to celebrate the holiday. It’s dark, it’s cold, and we’re going out to be with the dark and the cold. This ritual felt important to me, though it often took some convincing to get the rest of the family with me. The one year that we drove there and actually went inside was nice for a change, but it didn't have the same feel for me. What I wanted was the journey there, in the dark and cold. 

Neither of my children will be running with us tonight, and my husband will stay behind to start warming the tamales and beans. I am excited to be outside in the dark. I’m excited to run with others at a time I would not choose to do so alone. I’m excited to be with the moon and the dark and then to see the festive lights  -- then turn around, head for home and warmth, hot drinks and hot food, and the company of family and friends. 

Let the season inspire you to move. Let it be an invitation. Put on the holiday music and dance together. Walk outside and see the lights together. Go howl at the moon.

31 Days of Movement: Angry

I woke very early this morning, 4 am. I hadn’t gone to bed until after midnight. I’m reading a novel, and when a novel is good, I just keep reading.

I got up, put on warm socks and a warmer sweater, and went downstairs to read on the couch. It felt like Christmas morning. I was awake, in the quiet, doing one of my favorite things. 

I had a lovely early morning reading and then a lovely late morning taking care of business in my office. Then I crashed. I was angry about something small, angry in that way that means whatever I’m angry about is not really what I’m angry about. 

I was angry going into my workout and stayed angry for the first 15 minutes, which fueled the workout. Finally the movement took over, and I was just sweating and moving. Friday is gym day -- the elliptical, weights, and body weight training. I held plank until my arms were shaking, which was when I knew I was done for the day.

I was better, briefly, but soon after the workout, I was angry again, angry with the feeling of wanting to hit something just to make it shatter. 

I spent a while following my thoughts, considering my anger and its source, and really wanting not to be angry anymore because it was tied to being judgemental. That’s really what’s been happening for me. I am stuck in judgements, and it feels wrong. I don’t want to be that person. 

I didn’t want to work out today, but I did. I just did it. I didn’t think too much about it. I knew it would be good for me, and I did it.

I didn’t really want to write this blog. I’d rather be reading. Plus, it’s taken four tries to get to something that feels true and worth sharing. But I just did it.

Today is the day to be the person I want to be. Today I faced both my anger and judgement. I thought about my judgements and instead of letting them grow, I thought them down to size, made them small in my mind again, and let them become not important. Today I worked out because that’s the person I want to be. I wrote this blog entry because that’s the person I want to be. As soon as I post, I’m back on the couch, reading my book, because that, too, is the person I want to be. 

That's all I'm saying all month: movement is about being the person we want to be. That's why we do it all the time, not just some of the time, not just when we're in the mood, not just in January, not later. Today.

31 Days of Movement: Wild Geese

Exercise is a physical thing, for sure, and it does a lot for our bodies. We know it benefits our minds, too, making us smarter and more stress-resilient. Exercise positively affects our moods as well so it’s good for our emotions. We were born to move, and we are rewarded on many levels when we do so.

Exercise is really too bland a word for what I want to say here. I’m talking about movement, focused and intentional, that springs from joy and produces bliss. This is beyond emotional. This is the spiritual element of movement.

When I walk outside, I am with nature, and it’s different than sitting and looking at the trees. I’m moving with nature, and this is a spiritual connection.

When I’m dancing, I’m dancing with the music. Often I’m dancing with others. This moving-with is a spiritual connection. It’s a celebration. 

But anything, even push ups, even slogging away on the exercise bike inside a stuffy gym, any movement can be celebration, gratitude, exploration, and play. When it’s transformed with one of those intentions, exercise becomes a spiritual activity. 

Tonight at Nia we danced together for the solstice. It was a powerful coming together of movers. We wanted to be dancing this day. We wanted to dance in the dark together. We wanted to transform through moving together to the music.

Before class, and then again after, I read the beautiful “Wild Geese” by poet Mary Oliver. This is a poem about so many things, so many aspects of the human condition, and also about our animal selves. 

It is when I think of myself as animal that I most connect movement to spirit. It’s me-as-animal and me-moving that is my deepest spiritual connection to nature and the world. 

“Wild Geese” Mary Oliver 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

31 Days of Movement: on Vacation

I’m heading out of town (just up to Santa Fe) for an overnight trip with my husband. Ya-freaking-hoo. If you’ve ever been to 10000 Waves, you know the bliss that awaits us. 

I hope we’ll be able to hike a bit, that the snow won’t be too deep. It’s possible that we won’t end up hiking, though, and since it’s December and I’m working out every day in December (you too, right?), I’m going to start the day with a workout so that I don’t have to think about it the rest of the day and can let whatever happens, happen. A good vacation includes flow, moving from one activity to another without a lot of planning, and working out early means I get in my workout, which is crucial on vacation because I want to be sure my mood stays good. So right after I post this, I’m heading to the gym. My husband likes to sleep in, so by the time I’m back and showered, he’ll just be getting up. 

When we go on trips, that’s usually how I get in my workout, by going out before anyone else wants to get up. I especially love to run in a new city. I love exploring by running. It’s part of what gets me excited about a trip, that I get to run in that new place.

I also check out ahead of time where and when there might be a Nia class. That’s not always as easy to fit in when I’m on a trip with my family because in that case, family comes first. 

Many of you may be planning trips around the holidays. Or you’ll have people visiting you. Instead of this being a reason to not exercise, let it be the inspiration to enjoy some special workouts. 

Make sure to pack some clothes that will work for going for a walk and some that work for a workout or yoga class. Be ready for whatever.

Explore! I adore taking a long walk in a neighborhood I haven’t seen before. 

Get a one week pass to a gym or studio. You may find places where you can try the first class for free. If whomever you’re visiting has a favorite place, go with them. Or encourage them to come try some place with you.

If people are visiting you, you may feel as if you can’t leave them. Actually, they probably would appreciate some down time and some quiet. They might be delighted to have you leave for an hour or two. You also can offer to have them join you for your walk or class or whatever. It’s fun to share what you love with friends and family.

Remember, early in the day is good. If you move first thing in the day, it for sure happens. If you have a big day planned, or you want to keep the day open, do some movement or exercise first thing. There are a ton of videos available online that you can access from your phone, and you can do them in your room in your jammies (or your tighty whities). Many of these are 20 minutes or less and some interval-based workouts are under ten minutes.  Go to and search for “ten minute workout hotel room.” Don’t worry if it’s good or if you can do everything. Just play around. It’s just one morning of exercise. No big deal. Pick something and go for it. 

Before you head out on your trip -- or use the time you’ve got traveling in the car or plane -- set a short-term goal. Write it down. Make a plan for the week. Each day, check the plan and figure out how you may need to alter it to make it work. 

Here’s why you want a plan, even though you’re on vacation and you want to go with the flow. One thing that helps us this through this time of year is a sense of control and empowerment. We want to feel as if we’re making good choices and not being pressured or pulled or pushed around. By making a plan and setting your intent, you set up a situation in which it’s easier for you to get that sense of control. That makes anything else difficult during the week just a bit less upsetting. Whether you’re navigating difficult relationships, handling competing feelings of loss and love, or simply dealing with the stress of vacation, winter, cold, and dark, you’re just one workout away from feeling calmer, stronger, and stress-resilient.

Besides, working out is fun, and vacation is a great time to have fun. I am on break from my teaching term at CNM, and that’s why I fit in a double workout on Monday. I did it because it’s fun and this is my vacation and I get to do some fun things. 

If what you really want is to take a week off, take a week off. Maybe you want no plans and no pressures. Maybe you’ve been working out hard and your body and spirit want nothing more than to rest and relax. Do it. 

But if you know you’d feel better moving, move. Don’t neglect exercise because it seems easier not to do it. All you need is 20 minutes and the desire to feel great. 

31 Days of Movement: consistent

Working out every day feels like no big thing to me. In fact, it feels natural and necessary. 

Getting in two workouts a day feels divine. I loved working out hard at noon on Monday and then powering through a Nia class that afternoon. I loved that I was already a bit tired and sore for Nia. 

Today, oh, we were all feeling pretty slow and low. I’m always so cheered when people show up even though they’re tired. I know they’re trusting that the class will be worth it.

What does feel like a big deal is writing this blog every day. Every day! We’re halfway through the month, and I haven’t missed a day.  I’m pretty tired tonight, so I’m keeping this one short. That’s key. 

What do you do that’s consistent? How do you make that happen? 

How have you done at keeping moving through December? What’s working well for you? What shifts or changes do you want to make now? You can still make this month go just the way you want it to go. It’s still up to you.

31 Days of Movement: more winter blues, more moving

I woke depressed again this morning. Sh#t. F**k. Okay. 

I got up and went to sit in a comfy chair by a window where the morning light hits my eyes. Morning light, good for winter blues. I ate more protein for breakfast so there wouldn’t be any carb crashing later. I did something easy and productive on my computer because I like accomplishing things. Then, I went to the gym. Because I’m just one workout away from feeling much better.

I usually work out on Mondays after Nia, but I didn’t want to wait that long for my movement medicine. I didn’t want the depression to increase. I wanted my fix.

When I first got to the gym, though I wasn’t as tired as I had been when I first woke this morning, I wasn’t feeling peppy. So I got on the bike and started a leisurely ride while reading further in Machine Man by Max Barry on my Kindle. This is such a great book for reading one chapter or even a few pages at a time. It’s funny enough that I laugh aloud sometimes, it’s easy to follow, and it’s easy to put down. It motivates me to get on the stationery bike, which I don’t really enjoy otherwise. I’m like, oh, goody, I get time to read.  It just happens to be a comfortable way to read, while I’m pedaling. 

About 12 minutes into my leisurely pace, I got the urge to amp it up so I pushed up the levels, stood up and went hard for 30 seconds. I didn’t really like it but 30 seconds later, I went again. Somewhere around the fourth interval I promised myself I only needed to do one more. But after the fifth, I was starting to like it, and at the sixth one, I was shaking from the exertion. I did a few more, working hard enough that I thought I really couldn’t do much more (I probably could have) and hard enough that I was really sweating. I still hate the bike, but I love that feeling of having worked hard. I’d do it again.

Next I pushed myself through some floor work and weights, all the way up to the point where I felt as if I never wanted to stop. I go deep enough into a workout and it becomes reinforcing, and I want to keep going. 

There was not a sign remaining of my earlier blue mood. I felt great. I felt accomplished, and my brain hormones were happy, happy, happy. I felt like I coulda been on drugs, if I did drugs, which I don’t. I do intervals. 

When I say depressed, I mean lack of affect and enthusiasm. Tiredness, inexplicable and saddening tiredness. Feeling as if everything is no good. When I feel depressed, I feel some level of despair. Or I just feel kind of bad. 

Because these past two days I have been able to shift my mood so quickly, this depression hasn’t had a chance to build, which is good, because sometimes the depression does build, and weighs on me, and increases each day. Depression can trap me, and it frustrates me so much.  I live a good life, a blessed and abundant life, and it feels miserable when I’m not able to appreciate the bounty. It happens, and I learn to forgive myself. 

I learn to be proactive, too. I take my anti-inflammatory supplements, like Omega 3s and D. I focus on getting enough sleep. I make sure every day includes hugs. I plan time to be outside in nature. I know sometimes even all of that isn’t enough, and then I use self-talk to remind myself that it’s temporary and it will pass because so far, it always has. I’m really grateful that I love to move, too, because that sh#t is like magic. 

31 Days of Movement: Winter Blues

I woke depressed this morning. Maybe it’s the dark, or maybe it’s all the extra sugar I’ve been eating. Maybe it’s just because. 

I’d planned to run later in the day when it had warmed up, and I also knew that the daylight could get away from me, short as the day is. Besides, exposure to light early in the day is supposed to help with winter blues. So instead of breakfast, I ate a small snack, drank some water, waited 20 minutes, bundled up, and headed outside. 

I left my sunglasses at home so I’d get extra sunlight. I wanted to soak in the brightness.

I’m keeping my runs short and infrequent (just once a week)  in order to coax my achilles and hip into healing, so I was back in 25 minutes. In that 25 minutes, I was transformed. I felt energized, satisfied, and clear. The depression had lifted entirely. I felt resilient and able to cope. 

I felt grateful.

31 Days of Movement: it's time to Dance


We officially began the Christmas season today. In Nia, we danced to holiday music with a lot of remixed jazz tunes and some silly hip hop. My husband and son put up the tree and made the garland while my daughter put on Ella and we all danced. 

My husband’s vision for our tree this year was of skulls and bones and art dancing in the air, so he made some mobiles and attached a few of the skulls he has collected to the ornament holders that spin. Slowing spinning in our living room is the crow’s skull along with fish carved from bones, a flying man, and others. 

If you’re not sure what to do, if you don’t know how to keep moving, if you’re feeling stuck, it’s time to dance. 

31 Days of Movement: surround yourself with movers

IMG 0341

My daughter is home for the holiday break, and so for the first time in three months, the four of us were gathered in the kitchen, talking. Here’s what happens every time. One of them will say, “Can you do this?” And we all have to try. This time it was a push up pressing from our fingers instead of our palms. Hugh, who plays guitar, tried one and opted out in order to save his fingers. This led, though, to a series of hand stand push ups and discussions about how to practice using the wall. 

Every family has a dynamic, and this is one of ours. “Can you do this?” is both a challenge and a way to play. It’s a way to learn and experiment and share with each other. 

Siobhan is on the UC Santa Cruz campus this year, and it’s a huge campus with acres on which to hike and tons of tree houses, 100 feet up, she says, with hammocks up top for studying or napping. I don’t really want to hear about the 100 feet up part or how she was jumping off buildings earlier this week. I know where she gets this from (and it’s not from me). Her father can’t hike without finding the highest point to hike to. His jumping-off-buildings days are over, but if there had been parkour in his day, he would have been doing that. He was climbing, and leaping, and flying.

Surround yourself with people who move. Let movement be your play together. 

31 Days of Movement: one workout away

So, I haven’t been eating as well as I’d like. I’ve been eating lots of sweet stuff. Once I get started, it’s hard for me to stop. Which is why, several days ago, I ate ice cream for breakfast. 

Immediately after, I panicked. I knew my blood sugar was gonna rise and then drop, and I’d get that sick feeling, anxious and nauseous, as my blood sugar spun. I really really hate that sensation. 

Fortunately, there’s a cure. I’m always one workout away from steady blood sugar. 

A MacMaster University 2011 study “found that 30 minutes of high-intensity exercise a week -- a total exercise time of 75 minutes a week with warm-up and cool-down included -- could lower blood sugar levels for 24 hours after exercise, and help prevent post-meal blood sugar spikes in people with type 2 diabetes” (Serena Gordon writing for USA Today). 

The study was done with obese participants with type 2 diabetes, all in their 60s, who performed high intensity intervals, one minute of activity paired with one minute of rest, for a total of 10 minutes of activity (total time was 25 minutes including warm up and down).  The study took place over two weeks with 3 sessions a week. That’s just 6 sessions total, and researchers found amazing results in such a short period. 

Gordon writes, “The investigators found that blood sugar levels dropped from 137 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) to 119 mg/dL. In addition, blood sugar levels after meals were also reduced long after training sessions were complete. The biopsies from the thigh muscles showed increased skeletal mitochondrial capacity, an indicator of improved metabolic health.”

I hope y’all feel better knowing that I’m not always eating broccoli for breakfast, though that is what I had this morning. There’s a saying that a person can’t outrun a bad diet, and I agree with that. I have to fuel myself well; otherwise, my energy drops and I won’t perform well or be motivated to move. When I’m moving well, however, the negative consequences of my less-than-my-best diet are mitigated, and I’m thankful for that. If you, too, are not at your best as an eater during December, I want you to work out, briefly but intensely. It’s not about the calories. It’s about the medicine. 

31 Days of Movement: Just enough

Tonight I tried a new class, Insanity, and I kept it very sane. 

My goal in trying a new class is to get a good sweat and perhaps be mildly sore the next day. But I don’t push myself too much. I want to discover first what the class is like and get to know the moves. I want to see how my body responds. 

The Insanity moves weren’t new to me for the most part. After teaching Nia for 13 years, I feel confident in my ability to adapt a move to make it easier or lower impact. I backed off on the jumps, and I amped up on the moves where I'm strong (deep squats, frog jumps).

I also knew which moves can be tricky for me, so when it was time to take a plank position and then pick up my right arm and left leg, I picked up my arm but kept my leg on the ground. I could do the move, something I’ve done before, and I’ve strained doing that move. Some other time I’ll do it, but this week isn’t the time. Experience and confidence guide me in making those choices. 

I also use what I know from Nia to know when I’m starting to feel the strain and I can choose to back off. Could I have done the push ups more quickly? Yes, but my right shoulder was overworking. There’s no need to go until I’m shaky and unstable. I got nothing to prove. I don’t gain anything from going so hard today that tomorrow I can’t do more. I’ve got a class to teach tomorrow and weights to lift on Friday. I’d rather work less hard today and have something left for the next day. 

So when it came to the power jumps (that's them in the picture above), I didn't power jump.  I did back kicks instead and some half-power jumps. I will not get insanely fit, and that's okay. I will not get shredded, and I can live with that. 

There’s an ethos in fitness today that says we should go until we have nothing left, until we’re shaking and exhausted. I’m calling bullshit on that. Going hard is good. Sweating a lot is good. Getting breathless is good. There’s growth when we push ourselves. We want to push just enough.

The Insanity class was more fun than I thought it might be. Some of it felt surprisingly like Nia. Pretend you’re throwing a basketball! Now you’re skiing! The punches, the knee lifts, turning in a circle, plank walks are all things we might do in a Nia class, too. 

It’s good for me to try new classes and do new things. I learn about myself. As a  teacher, I learn from seeing how other classes are formatted, watching how students respond to the class. Our bodies like diversity, too, and trying new things with new people is stimulating and motivating.

Still, I have my limits. A friend suggested a yoga + kettle ball class, and I knew, to the core, this class was not for me, pretty much in the same way I knew that lifting the right arm and left leg from plank taxes me too much. Swinging a kettle ball around while in a yoga pose could be something I could work up to, but I don’t feel clear that I could modify and stay safe through the class. So I’ll pass for now. Knowing my limits and choosing no is as important as trying new things and choosing yes. 

31 Days of Movement: beauty and joy

I talked with a friend today who’s feeling the stress. She knows she should work out more when life is stressful, but once she’s stressed, it’s tougher for her to get herself to go to a class or to go run in the cold. 

December is a time of high expectations. When it’s cold and dark, this can be stressful in itself. Add in expectations around family, food, and gifts, and no matter how many times we say that we’re not going to get sucked into the holiday drama, we often find ourselves, even if just for a short time, being pulled down by the weight of what should be a beautiful, even spiritual, time.

This is a lovely article about finding peace during the holidays ("Holiday Maintenance: Finding Peace Within” by Eve Hogan) from Spirituality & Health. Below are some of the points I liked the most. 

Take a moment, several times a day, to simply stop and become self-aware. While the article suggests we become aware of our spiritual nature, I suggest the opposite. Become aware of your physical body. Hungry? Tired? Stiff? Delightfully sated? Do this as you brush your teeth in the morning. Wear a special piece of jewelry, such as a bracelet, and each time you look at it, remember to check in with yourself physically. Enjoy being aware of your sensations. Take a breath. 

Take a moment to “enter the shrine.” 

If you’re putting ornaments on a tree, stop for a moment to note that you are embarking on a ritual, one you enact each year, one that connects your past to your present. It’s just a quick moment, this noticing, and it’s a bit like a prayer or the experience of gratitude, or the deep inhale of breath.  Hogan suggests, as “you send your holiday cards and gifts, and as you lick the stamp, say a prayer that the person at the destination receives far more than the package being sent.” What a truly lovely idea, that we’re sending not just greetings but our prayers. 

Practice conscious acts of kindness and compassion.  Hogan says, “Let someone turn left in traffic, allow someone else the good parking spot at the mall....”  Be just a tiny bit nicer and more patient as your gift to yourself. This makes you feel good about yourself, which is enormously helpful if you’re struggling with food or family issues in December. One of the most powerful mood-lifters we have is doing something for someone else. It’s easy to do something for someone we don’t know. It often takes very little time and energy, yet the pay off is huge. 

Allow time for silence. Part of what unnerves me about this time of year is the constant hustle. This is in stark contrast to nature, which has grown more spare. The world around me is inviting me to slow down, be inside, and come to quiet. While it’s enormously fun to dress up, go to parties, and have others come to our home for meals and celebrations, I’m quickly overwhelmed. Hogan writes, “Most of us require silence in order to hear the answer to life’s questions, the whispers of our own wisdom, the voice of God and our intuition.” When is the best time for you to come to quiet? Can you unplug earlier at night? What if you lit a candle and just sat with the candle for five minutes each night? 

We’re just a few weeks away from Christmas. Take a moment to decide how you’d like those weeks to be. Set a vision, check in if it’s realistic, adjust your expectations waaaay down (as a friend once taught me: low expectations, high participation) and then do your best. 

Adjust your expectations for your workouts downward as well. You don’t have to run 4 miles if all you have time and energy for is a twenty minute run. You don’t need to walk for an hour. You can go to an exercise class and leave halfway through. Really, you can. You’re totally allowed. You paid, and you are in charge of your workout. Hit the sauna early, soak in the quiet as well as the steam, and allow the stress to roll off you. 

If you can’t quite muster the energy to work out, start small (sit down, stand up) and see if that energizes you. I can feel awfully small and vulnerable at this time of year, and going to a noisy class with a lot of people can be a bit overwhelming. Find a class online and let yourself be led through a workout in your own living room. Nurture yourself with movement. Keep your expectations low and your participation high to get you through a stressful time. 

When we move our bodies, we move our lives. Everything lightens up. Use movement to support you in finding beauty and joy this December. 

31 days of movement: sit down, stand up, rah rah rah

Push ups and squats are two of the best ways to strengthen our bodies with natural, functional movement. Here’s one more action to do, daily if you can.

Sit down, stand up, rah rah rah. 

I mean, lower yourself to the ground without using your hands on a support. Then, again without your hands or arms as supports, raise yourself back up. You’ll need strength in your legs and core, balance, stability, mobility, and flexibility. Your ability to do this may well indicate how well you’re able to handle moving through the world. 

The ability to get up and down without support is an indicator of longevity in people over 50, according to one study. Those who can perform this move are less likely to suffer life-threatening injuries in a fall, for instance. 

Instead of push ups every morning, get your heartbeat going, your energy rising, and your work out checked off by doing a set of sit down, stand ups. I suggest you add this to your afternoon break at work, too, if you sit and work at a computer, for instance. 

31 Days of Movement: delight! delight! now, today

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We don’t get snow all that often in ABQ, so when it happens, most of us experience a visceral delight: we want to get out in it while it lasts. We are the same with the rain. In the summer, instead of running inside to get out of the wet, we strip off our shoes and maybe our shirts and dash outside. 

So when I woke up this morning and the snow was still on the ground, and the sky was lit up blue with the reflected light, I was excited to get out for a run. 

I hate the cold, and I love the light. Love wins.

I layered up and, knowing my running shoes quickly would be soaked, I set out on my Sunday morning run. It felt great. 

 I slipped and slid a bit in a few parts. I was careful going up the bridge to take a picture. I knew running in cold and ice was a risk. I could feel my hip was sore and my achilles was tight before I set out, and I knew I had to run loose. I did. I ran with joy.

For a long time, I didn't like to call myself a runner. I teach Nia, and that's how I identify. Now that I'm running much less frequently, I am certain I'm a runner. I know this because instead of saying, well, I have this ache that won't go away and running makes it worse, I devote energy to making the ache go away so that I can run. I know I'm a runner because when it's 30 degrees out, I want to be outside running because, well, there's snow and I want to experience running through the bosque with snow. I want to experience that now, today. 

Never resist the urge to move. Be your animal self, the one that is called to play by moving. 

31 Days of Movement: super quick, in, out, and done

So, first, I lied yesterday. I didn’t mean to. 

I said I was heading to the gym, but right after I posted, I checked the hours at the gym, which closed at 6pm. I’d already taken Lola for a walk, so I could have stopped there. I felt compelled, though, to do a bit more so I did some body weight training. 

Body weight training is just what it sounds like: we use pushing or pulling our bodies to add resistance or weight. Holding a plank or doing a push up are examples of this. There are a ton of ways to do a push up (with one foot up, for instance, or with hands very close together or wider apart). 

One of the best exercises ever known to humankind is the push up. Holding the plank position, too, is excellent for increasing strength through the whole body. If you do just one exercise, push up.  The squat ranks up there pretty highly, too, so go ahead and squat your day away. In this New York Times article, both squats and burpees are nominated as the single best exercise we might do. 

Squat as you brush your teeth. Why not? Wash a dish, do a squat. Been sitting at your desk too long? Get up and get squat. In fact, put on fun music and do ten squats. Permission granted to sit back down and keep working. 

In this article, a guy did about 30 seconds of either burpees or mountain climbers as his way of refocusing his energy while at work. He tested his mental alertness after this short burst of exercising versus when he takes a caffeine break instead. His accuracy on an online cognitive task was twice as good after the exercise break than it was on 250 mg of caffeine. That's a huge pay off in energy for a very short period of intense exercise.

We make exercise this separate thing we do. There are 24 hours in a day, and we relegate exercise to special clothes in a special place doing special moves. 

This separation of movement into exercise we do at the gym and the other hours of the week is one reason why sitting is so hazardous to our health (see this Runner’s World article or this one from the New York Times). It’s not that we’re not exercising. It’s that our one hour of exercise is all we do all day long.

So add more bits of movement into whatever you do. Instead of walking up the stairs, run them. Or crawl them. Or go up them backwards (that’s really pretty fun). 

Stuck in line? Kegel time! Guys can kegel, too, by the way. Everybody, kegel now, whoooo. 

Have fun. Play with your body. Exercise in tiny bits a lot, in longer bits sometimes, and with vigorous effort other times. Vary it. Work out super intensely and short. Work out super easy and short. Work out long and medium intensity. Or super long and low intensity. Spend your time noticing opportunities to move as well as sensing your body’s desire to move, play, explore and interact with the world.

31 Days of Movement: how long, how hard?

How much exercise do we need?

The answer lies in knowing your goal. What’s your intention for working out?

My personal goals are to feel great physically and emotionally. I enjoy working out hard because I get an emotional lift from it that I don’t get when I work out less intensely. I enjoy feeling the muscles on my body, which is a motivator, but, honestly, it’s a lot about the sensations while I’m working out and the mood lift. 

Not everyone gets this lift. I listened recently to a woman who explained that after a long time away from running, it took her months to achieve the runner’s high that had come so easily to her before. It’s possible that some people don’t stick with a workout long enough, or go intensely enough, to experience the mood boost. If you’re looking to alleviate depression, there are ample studies that show that walking is enough to do so. 

It may be individual, however, and you’re the only one who knows what works for you. You may need to experiment; you may not know what works for you if you haven’t experimented. Would you feel better working out 6 days a week instead of 3? Or 3 instead of 6? Would you feel best working long and easy or going short and fast? If you’ve always done it one way, you may not know what happens if you change it up.

The Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT) is a longitudinal study that examines many issues, including how much we should exercise and for how long.  Try their NTNU fitness calculator, and play with the numbers. 

I plugged in that I work out almost every day for more than 30 minutes since that’s my constant (of course, in December it's every day). My intensity varies, though. So I plugged in moderate intensity (some sweating and heavy breathing) and my fitness age was 41 (I’m 50 years old). When I changed this to going all out as my intensity level, my fitness age dropped all the way to 28. Now, I do not expect I could maintain going all out 6 days a week. As we age, our tendons are no longer as elastic, and working out that intensely at any age often comes with a cost. Some of my workouts include periods in which I’m going all out, which might make a difference in my fitness age; they don't include an option for some sweating some days and really quite intense activity other days, though that's the style that works best for me and is one I'd heartily recommend.

Plug in what you do and then see if you changed what you did (worked out longer or for less time, worked out more days or fewer, worked out more intensely or more moderately). Then consider your fitness goal. If you work out because it’s good for you, you may wish to modify how often and how hard you work out. If you work out to feel good, then these numbers may be interesting but irrelevant. What they’re going to show is that there may not be a huge difference in health benefits if you worked or more or less, harder or not. 

They do recommend interval training, and they’re very specific about how to do this. I am not excited about checking my pulse while I exercise, so I do interval training more loosely, but this video explains exactly what heart rate we should aim for. In general, they suggest a ten minute warm up, and then four cycles of 4 minutes going hard alternating with 3 minutes lower intensity activity (for instance, running hard versus a lighter jog or fast walk). We should feel the last interval is about as hard as the first and we should finish feeling as if we could do another one, not as if we’re so wiped out that we couldn’t possibly do more. I’ve seen some recommendations for going out even more intensely, which I recommend only if it’s fun. After all, the only good amount of exercise and intensity is the one you’re willing to do every week.

I’ll say that again: when you’re deciding how much to do and how intensely, you consider your goals and then what you’re really willing and able to do. It’s not helpful to decide you must work out hard five days a week when what feels really good to you, and what you’re willing to do, is three days a week of hard and a nice walk with friends or family one other day. 

In fact, while studies often give conflicting advice about how little or much exercise we need, what isn’t in conflict is that exercise induces stress. A little stress is quite good for us. A lot of stress can cause damage as well as benefits. It’s important not to rely on what you think you should do but come to a clear understanding of what you really need and are willing to do. If there’s a gap (you’re willing to do less than you know you truly need), then you need to get support to accomplish your goal. Sometimes the gap goes the other way (you do more than you truly need because you think for some reason that you should), then you need to consider again your goals and how best to accomplish them. 

Here’s a study on women in their 60s and 70s. This one study shows that working out 4 times a week was somewhat better for the participants’ energy level than working out either 2 or 6 times a week. They all had been sedentary and they all gained comparable benefits. It’s possible that if they did this study on women who had been active, not sedentary, that they would find differences in benefits as well as energy levels. 

The point I’d like to emphasize is that more may not be better. If you work out 6 days a week and feel tired, back off, and know that you may be just as happy, or happier, and just as healthy with fewer workouts. 

If you work at 4 days a week and don’t feel as great as you’d like, maybe you would benefit from a program with 5 or 6 days a week of movement. If your movement is low intensity, such as walking at a moderate pace, there’s no reason why 7 days a week could not work well for you too. 

In general, 120 minutes a week is probably the minimum amount for everyone, and we need at least some huffing and puffing in there (moderate intensity, enough to feel your pulse go up and some sweat to pop). 

Know your goal, and be willing to stick with a program for at least 6 weeks in order to assess whether that program is helping you meet your goal. Six weeks is long enough to see some changes, but it’s not necessarily long enough to reach your goals. 

Here’s the thing -- wait for it. It can take a year or two to see real transformation. I know you were hoping to lose weight, gain muscle, be energized, and sleep better right now. Some of you may experience that. Some of you may find that your body and mind will adapt over time. Be willing to experiment, be willing to research, and be willing to stick with something if you feel it’s heading you in the right direction. 

In the meantime, for December, do at least something every day. If it's too cold to walk outside and you do not have energy to go to the gym or to a class, then put on great music and dance around for one song. As for me, well, it's Friday, and on my schedule, Friday is gym day. Shalom out, I'm heading to the gym now.

31 Days of Movement: blame it on the dog

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This morning, in my clunky Ugg-like boots and a long down jacket, I went outside to bring in the garbage can from the curb. As I opened our gate, Lola began her happy dance, thinking we were going for a walk.

Lola went into play pose. So I did, too. Lola barked, and so did I. I’d feint toward her and then run back. We did the stuff dogs do. 

I have an entire workout based on animal play. When I teach these, we all warm up and move slowly through the variations. But when I’m playing with Lola, I just play. I just move, and so does she. 

It was beautiful this morning, with snow falling lightly, so I ditched my before-work chores, grabbed her leash, and we went for a short walk. I wanted to go further, but I did have to return home and get dressed for work. I hadn’t dressed for the walk, though. I hadn’t put on walking pants or walking shoes or a special hat or scarf. I didn’t make a production out of getting outside. I just figured my big coat was enough, and it was. 

Sometimes we make too big a deal out of exercise. We overthink movement and we overplan every outdoor adventure. Do enough movement every day so that you can do any movement you like any day.

When someone, or some dog, invites you to play in the snow, say yes. 

31 Days of Moving: Up. Out. Done. Better.

I am being tested.

After posting that I go to the gym on MWF, today is W and I didn’t go to the gym. It was the plan, but after only 3 hours sleep last night, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to take a rest day. This is true. One rest day a week does not hurt and often helps. However, it’s December. And we’re exercising every day in December.

Let me repeat that last night’s sleep was quite brief, and the morning at work was a bit intense as it’s the last week of the term. Naturally, it was time for what I fondly call a stupid human trick in which a human does that thing she knows she shouldn’t and does it anyway. I ate a large, high carbohydrate mid-morning snack and then skipped lunch. At 1:30 pm, instead of getting ready for the gym, I was finishing up at work, I was tired and hungry, and I decided I really had to go get my hair cut, so I did. I was outta there by 3:00 pm and, being very tired and quite hungry, I stopped at the co-op to buy and subsequently consume copious amounts of food. It’s winter, it’s cold, and after a big winter’s eat, I lay down in front of the heater for a rest. My dog looked at me longingly. Weren’t we going for a walk? Alas, no. 

It is now nearly 7 pm.  I’m still pretty full from my late lunch. I’m already in my cozy clothes, and I’ve got something queued up to watch on my laptop. All signs point to inertia. I’ve broken my schedule already (I’m always done with the gym by now). What’s to motivate me? I already said we’re working out every day in December. I committed. I’m working on a streak. When there are barriers (I’m tired, it’s cold, it’s late, I’m already home, I’m ready to call it a night, I’m full and don’t want to get moving), it takes much more energy to move forward. 

I could do one or more sets of push ups. But geez almighty mother of hooha, it’s Wednesday, and on Wednesdays I go to the gym.

And that’s what I did. 

There is power in a schedule. There is power in a commitment. There is power in announcing our intention to others. There is power in flexibility: I went later than usual and I worked out less hard than usual, and exactly what was supposed to happen, happened. I felt much better once I started moving.

31 Days of Movement: super quick, call it a day

This is day 3 of 31 Days of Moving. I’ll be quick. Super quick. This post is about doing the barest minimum amount of exercise and calling it a day.

My husband does a set of handstand push ups in the morning. Then some time in the day, though not all days, he does sets of push ups. Sometimes he’ll announce it to our son, who’ll drop and do a set of 30 with him.

Watching this, I’m reminded that my way of doing things is not the best or only way. Beware of advice from fitness professionals. We like working out way too much.

If you avoid exercise, or if you decide you don’t have energy for anything today, and you don’t want to bundle up and go for a walk, stop making a big production out of it.

Drop down, do a set of pushups, however many is a set for you. Do it a couple of times during the day if you like, or not. Call it your exercise for the day and be done. 

It’s that easy. No one said exercise had to be done a certain way for a certain amount of time. We just said it had to be done. 

31 Days of Moving: it's not about motivation

My 17 year old son is taking a weight lifting class at school 3 days a week, MWF. He’s found he’s working out less at home and asked me how I stay motivated. I don’t.

I don’t stay motivated. I don’t have to be motivated. That’s a lot of work. Instead, I have a plan.

When I was running regularly, here was my schedule. I ran Wednesday (tempo run) and Friday (speed work) when I got home from work and before eating. I couldn’t eat until I ran. This wasn’t punishment. It was just the schedule. On Sundays (long run), I ran two hours after a light breakfast, about mid-morning. I could vary, a bit, but with very few exceptions, I ran only those days and always those days.

A schedule is a marvelous thing.

After explaining to my son about having a schedule, he thought about it and then talked with me again the next day. He likes to work out in the evenings. At 6pm, his father watches the news so he’s not playing guitar in the room that serves as the weight room and music room. That means his dad sitting down to watch the news is Ailin’s cue to go work out on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It’s perfect. It’s when he likes to workout and there are no barriers (the room is available for him). He’s got a cue and a set time. He can set his phone to remind him too. Because it’s a set time rather than varying, he’s mentally prepared each day.

I now go to the Duranes Community Center, which is 1/4 mile from my house, new, and free. I go Monday after Nia plus Wednesday and Friday before dinner. I don’t make this choice daily. I don’t wonder if I’ll go to the gym. I made a plan, and I made that plan when I wasn’t tired, hungry, or sore. Now I just keep to the plan. It’s like going to work in the morning. It’s part of my schedule so I do it. 

The plan works because I removed obstacles. It’s close and it’s free. Since I don’t have to spend ten minutes driving there and back, through traffic, I have less resistance. There’s no cost so no reason to decide I shouldn’t do it this month. My total workout time is 30 - 50 minutes. If I get there and am not having fun at 30 minutes, I go home. 

A friend said he stopped running due to an injury. But he hasn’t started back up again because it means a 4:30 am wake up. I feel that. Nothing I do for my health is more important than sleep. 

He doesn’t want to run at lunch time because then he’s sweaty for the afternoon, and in the cold winter, that’s a problem. See the barriers? He has to have a plan that removes the barriers. 

One option is to bring his shoes and clothes so the minute the work day ends, he’s out there with his little head lamp (high tech = more fun). Instead of five mile runs, he should go 2 or 3. He’d be done in under 30 minutes. If he goes home first, he wants to relax with his wife and eat (obstacle). 

All he needs is two nights a week and one weekend time, and he’s back to running three times a week. He needs to run less far but not less often. He needs to run when it’s dark and cold, but it’s a lot warmer at 5 pm than at 5 am. He needs to remove barriers, insert a new cue (it’s Tuesday at the end of work so it must be time to run), and adapt the workout (go for less time). If he thinks about running, he’ll feel tired and overwhelmed and opt out. If he’s already opted into a plan, he just has to do what the schedule tells him.

So that’s the first step. Create a plan that removes obstacles or barriers to success. Include some kind of cue so that it’s easy to follow the plan and it can become a habit. 

If I’m injured or ill and I know that working out won’t be good for me, I don’t force myself to keep to the plan. But if I’m tired or overwhelmed, I know I’ll feel better after movement and I stick to the plan. 

How do I get myself to stick to the plan instead of talking myself out of it? There’s a reward to sticking to the plan.

One friend liked putting a star on her calendar after every workout. This showed her progress. She liked seeing what she’d accomplished. It was her reward. Another is posting on FaceBook her daily workout. Her reward is a continuous stream of people clicking Like and telling her she’s doing great. 

I’m not running regularly due to a persistent and annoying calf/ankle/achilles/what-the-heck-is-going-on-down-there? problem. Not running regularly makes me sad. I loved running three times a week, 5 - 8 miles a run with a long run of 9 - 11 miles. The runs themselves were motivating, but, honestly, without a schedule, I wouldn’t have gotten out there three times a week. 

In order to keep exercising regularly, I think about my long-term goal, which is to be able to do those long runs again. While I give myself time to heal by backing off my total running miles, I have to keep up my leg strength, and I need to increase my core strength. That’s why I added in the gym to my dancing Nia four times a week. My reward is far away, which is much more difficult than an immediate reward. 

My runs are now 3 miles or less and once a week or less, but I do them because they are inherently rewarding. I love being outside on a run and because I am sporadic, I can choose a time and day when it’s not as cold or dark. The run itself is a reward.  

I like weights and haven’t done them for years. So going to the gym is rewarding because, yippee, I get to do some weights. I build muscles quickly so even at low weights, my biceps and triceps are more defined -- reward! I do not like the stationary bike (yuck, ack, pooh) but I can make myself do 15 minutes with something to read, and having 15 minutes to read is a reward.  The elliptical isn’t great (still hurts my achilles/foot/whatever) but after 10 minutes, the happy hormones start lighting up, and there’s my biggest reward. If you want to be moving, and you have trouble motivating yourself, make sure your reward is clear. 

That’s it. Figure out the best days and times and be clear on your goal or reward. 

Plus, it helps to be flexible. If your ideal is five times a week and you can find only three, go with three for now. If your ideal is to run in the morning but it’s too damn dark and cold, adapt to a different time for a few months. Figure it out, and if you’re stuck, ask a friend who may be able to help you find that spot in your schedule. Sometimes a friend will even do the workout with you, which tends to amp up the fun (reward!) as well as increase our commitment. 

Stop working so hard to motivate yourself. It takes way too much energy to do that. Set up a plan, and follow the plan. 

31 days of moving

How important is it to keep our bodies moving during the holidays? Would a short break really be so bad?

Actually, it might be so bad.

This study showed the effects of overeating and not exercising versus overeating while exercising daily.

"After only a week, the young men who had not exercised displayed a significant and unhealthy decline in their blood sugar control, and, equally worrying, their biopsied fat cells seemed to have developed a malicious streak. Those cells, examined using sophisticated genetic testing techniques, were now overexpressing various genes that may contribute to unhealthy metabolic changes and underexpressing other genes potentially important for a well-functioning metabolism.” 

In contrast, "the volunteers who had exercised once a day, despite comparable energy surpluses, were not similarly afflicted.” That is, the exercise seemed to “cancel out” the negative cellular effects of overeating. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t weight gain. If we add calories, we’ll add weight. But it does mean that’s the only negative effect. 

Exercise does a whole lot more than burn calories. It’s not just that it makes us feel good, which is important, but it also changes our cells so that we’re more stress-resistant (I love this Gretchen Reynolds’ article or this other one here). 

Once we stop thinking of exercise simply in terms of burning calories, we can begin to see exercise for what it is: the most powerful and potent medicine for regulating hormones and for growing brain cells so we are less stressed, remember more, and learn better. Exercise prevents disease not because it burns calories but because it changes the way our bodies and brains respond. 

If you want to end the holidays as healthy as you began it, commit to daily exercise, whether it’s your regular exercise class, discovering a new class with friends, a hike out in the mountains, or a walk around your neighborhood. 

If you want to stay inside and don’t want to go to a gym or studio, get exercise DVDs from the library or find exercise programs on the internet. YouTube has more 20 minute workouts than you could complete in a life time, so get online and let yourself be motivated by trying something new. 

Here it is, December 1, and we’ve got 31 days of holiday hoopla. Mark it on your calendar, every day, what you did to get yourself moving. Post it on FaceBook or tell friends or family. Commit to getting your heart beat up and your muscles moving for twenty minutes every day. Before you go to bed, know exactly what you’ll do the next day and when you’ll do it so the day doesn’t get away from you. This is your anti-stress medication, your blood sugar metabolism medicine, your shot of happiness.