Get a Move On

I took a walk outside today with two of my co-workers. We weren’t out for long, but it felt great to take a 20- or 30-minute cruise through the neighborhood adjacent to the office during our lunch hour. It reminded me that I haven’t done it in a while, and also that it’s better than caffeine as an antidote to afternoon sluggishness.

While it’s certainly not a mind-blowing revelation that many of us could stand to move more, it’s still something I need to remind myself from time to time. My husband and I got new Fitbit Surge activity monitors last month. I had a Fitbit Ultra but lost it over a year ago, and I was on the fence about whether to get a new one. I don’t like to be beholden to a device, and I have certainly fallen prey to the admittedly strange thought pattern about “uncredited” steps taken when I forgot to wear my Fitbit… despite the fact that my body obviously “counted” them!

Seeing friends’ step counts, or even participating in challenges with them, can be fun, as long as they aren’t taken too seriously. The comparison trap is always a risk, and I generally try to encourage myself (and others) to compete and compare less, not more. Still, I’m happy I have a Fitbit again. I’m even doing a “weekday hustle” challenge with my aforementioned co-workers, and so far it’s not driving me into a frenzy of competitiveness.

It turns out that I simply like to be able to track how much (or little) I’m moving during the day. My new Fitbit has reminded me what I knew all too well when I had my previous one: If I don’t deliberately incorporate extra steps and walks into my life, my general activity levels are pretty low. I work a desk job, and while I try to get up and walk around the office, it doesn’t always amount to much. I also have a standing desk for certain tasks, but I sometimes forget to use it.

Use it or lose it. We’ve all heard that old adage. While it may not apply to my standing desk (it’s still there in my office), it’s pretty spot-on when it comes to our bodies. I happen to think staying active — in smart, healthy ways — is akin to a fountain of youth. For me, it’s important to weight train and do mobility exercises to preserve and even build strength and flexibility. I’ve seen enough proof that it’s possible, not just at 47 but well beyond, to improve ourselves, inside and out.

Beyond weight lifting, yoga, and other designated strength/mobility training, I know it’s a good idea to just plain move around more. Increasing my step count and upping my general activity will help me burn more calories and get my waistline back in check. I also find that it can boost energy, alertness, and creativity. I’m sure walking with my husband, friends, family, and co-workers could improve my relationships, as well. Dare I say that taking a walk is just as good as going out to eat when it comes to catching up and sharing some laughs?

Winter is on the way, and I’m not a big fan of being cold. But with the right shoes and outerwear, it’s possible to walk safely outside for most of the year. And there’s always the mall, which does the trick in a pinch!

I’ve recently been reading about Original Strength (OS) and similar programs, which teach about “resetting” our bodies and restoring some of our inherent, but neglected, movement patterns. Things like crawling, rolling, squatting, and, yes, walking. These are simple, free activities that we have known how to do for quite a while… though, in fact, some of us probably stopped most of them a long time ago. Even walking, which is hard to avoid entirely, seems to decline more with every passing year thanks to technology and suburban sprawl.

When was the last time you got on the floor and just played around? It’s worth making time for. Rolling on the ground feels like a massage. Squatting is great for increasing range of motion and getting out of overused chair- or couch-shaped postures. Crawling helps with balance, strength, and may even enhance brain function. Plus it’s honestly just fun to be down there. It is reminiscent of simpler days, and it gives a different perspective of the world (and perhaps the dust bunnies under the couch). If you have pets, they might find it strange at first, but soon they’ll join in and play right along with you!

As I mentioned, plain ol’ walking is another reset, according to OS. Whether or not you subscribe to their terminology, it’s evident that walking works heart, lungs, and muscles. Most medical and fitness experts agree that it’s extraordinarily good for the brain and the body alike. Sadly, I think many of us take it for granted. Unfortunately, if we avoid it at all costs, we may find ourselves missing it some day, perhaps far sooner than we’d expect.

Don’t wait until it’s too late. Crawl, stretch, dance, roll, skip — and walk more than the bare minimum — as often as you can. Moving regularly is one of the best ways to ensure that we can continue to do so in the days and years to come. Most importantly, it’s a fantastic way to spend time now… and now is where our lives transpire. Show your body some loving kindness, today and every day. You deserve it!

Yoga Nightcap

In addition to lifting and metabolic workouts, which I generally do three to five mornings a week, I try to add at least a few minutes of stretching, mobility, and/or yoga most evenings while we watch TV, to get off the couch for a bit and increase my activity.

Today I had a pretty low-key, lazy day (sometimes those are needed!) but by evening, I was feeling rather stagnant. To change things up a bit, I popped in my Candlelight Yoga DVD. I haven’t done this one in ages, so it felt nice to revisit and unwind with a formal yoga session.

I really like Sarah Ivanhoe’s instructional style. I have another Crunch yoga DVD of hers (also need to dig that one out), which I think may have been my first real experience with yoga.

I later practiced at a studio for a while and really gravitated toward hot Ashtanga. I haven’t been to a studio in a couple of years, but I do yoga almost every day in some shape or form, even if it’s just a few stretches at my desk. That said, I realized after tonight’s practice that my body’s mobility deserves a bit more attention, so I’ll be making more time for yoga DVDs and may even get back to a studio class or two soon.

A dear friend of mine was a yoga instructor and she helped me so much, in my practice and also in life. She died in March and I miss her more than I can say. Her beautiful light, her love legacy, are with me always, but especially when I’m doing yoga.

Love you always, chica. Namaste and cheers. ❤

Simply Begin Again

This message — “simply begin again” — seems determined to find me this week!

As I wrote yesterday, I’m getting “back to blog” and it feels really good. Apparently I wasn’t the only person feeling that pull yesterday. As Diane DeGiorgio at The Everything Yoga Blog so eloquently wrote, “… this post started off with confusion and has ended up with a lesson for me. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been putting off posting — I just wanted to hide a bit longer behind my ‘I don’t have anything to say’ excuse.”

Wow, did her words speak to me, loud and clear. What an excellent reminder that, most of the time, we need to actually begin in order to figure things out! Waiting for inspiration (or “the mood”) to strike often means waiting indefinitely. And we don’t have time to wait. Now is where life happens, so it’s essential to begin — and begin again — now.

Fortunately for me, I read that message in more than one place this morning, just to make sure it sunk in. I really enjoyed Dan Harris’s book 10% Happier (and highly recommend this part memoir, part guide for its humor, humility, insights into the benefits of meditation, and easy steps for practicing). Through the Change Collective, Dan and teacher Joseph Goldstein have created a 10% Happier meditation course, and I just signed up for a free trial. One of the neat features is a meditation “coach” who sends text reminders. Today’s included this quote from the course: “The three most important words in mindfulness meditation are: simply begin again.”

I didn’t even realize how much I needed those succinct and beautiful reminders until I read Diane’s post and that 10% Happier text!!

I love that, for meditation, this message is applicable on two levels. If our meditation practice falls off our radar, all we need to do to revive it is simply begin again. And during an individual sitting, when our focus drifts away on a river of thoughts, we need only return that focus to our breath to, yes, simply begin again.

The best part, though, is that this message is even bigger!! It is relevant not just to meditating or writing my blog, but to everything: fiction writing, exercising, eating like a grown-up, getting organized, being a better wife and friend and family member. In short, practicing loving kindness to myself and others. From time to time, we can all lose sight of that and all the other stuff that matters to us.

Begin again, and everything follows. Things fall into place. Life, already glorious, gets a little bit (and then a lot) brighter. I will be keeping this message in mind in the coming days and weeks, and perhaps writing about it again as well. I’ll also be sharing more about my mindset studies, meditation, and other pursuits!

Does “simply begin again” resonate for you? What can it help you with today? I’d love to hear what you think!

Back to Blog

A few weeks ago was Back to School time, and I was just talking about how much I miss being in school. I don’t know if I’ll ever get another degree, but it’s fun to reminisce about books and supplies, new backpacks, shiny shoes, and all that jazz. Of course, learning happens all the time, without the need for a classroom setting. If we’re not learning, we’re probably not paying attention.

This week, my friend Debbie mentioned that she is going to blog every day in October. I was once again reminded that, hey, I have a blog! I hopped over here to reacquaint myself and discovered that I haven’t posted since LAST October 1st. And that was a re-post.

So I’m going to dust off my keyboard and participate in Blog-toberfest. I’m not going to commit to writing daily, per se, but I’ll see how close I can get! Even short posts count, so I’ll keep reminding myself it’s okay to write, even if I don’t have a lot to say (or a lot of time to do so).

Speaking of Debbie, she and I met through the Women’s Fitness Summit and we both have an interest in studying mindset, so her post today resonates loudly for me. Check it out! I will be sharing my own thoughts about mindset going forward, as well as updates on my training, sites and people I like to follow, and more.

Cheers, happy October… and happy Blog-tober!!

Girl Power, Literally: The 2014 Women’s Fitness Summit

I had an amazing time at the Women’s Fitness Summit.  The speakers and attendees alike inspired me immeasurably and have given me a lot to think about regarding my training, habits, and career path.

This incredible recap by Emily Torockio is worth reading. Twice. I can’t wait for next year!

Size Strong

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to head back to my home state of Missouri for the first annual Women’s Fitness Summit. The vision-turned-reality of Dr. Cassandra Forsythe and her colleagues at Girls Gone Strong, the Women’s Fitness Summit is an initial and crucial step in addressing a major imbalance in the fitness world – despite the fact that women make up half of fitness population, the overwhelming majority of the speakers at major fitness conferences are men, and the topics they address are overwhelmingly male-centric.

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Much like Size Strong, the Women’s Fitness Summit is not about alienating women from the rest of the fitness community, but rather about creating a safe and productive space for open dialogue and the sharing of knowledge and resources amongst women who are passionate about their health and strength. Over the last three days, women from all over North America gathered to…

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Training for Life

If someone were to ask me today why I exercise — why I lift weights, practice yoga, walk, all that fun stuff — I’d answer: Life.

I know that’s not exactly original, but it’s oh-so-true. I’ve finally figured out that moving makes me feel better, more capable, more energetic, and happier. Sure, I’ve understood this intellectually for quite a long time. But only in the last few years has it truly sunk in. Now I know it, not just in my head but in my guts and my limbs (muscles, bones, joints and all).

That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with training for some other reason or reasons: a race, a sport, or even the desire to change one’s body comp and physique. I’ve trained to get myself ready for an event, and a similar pursuit could happen again at some point in my future. What’s more, I’d be lying if I claimed it wouldn’t please me to see a bit more muscle definition here, a little less muscle camouflage there.

The difference now is that I see all of those potential benefits as the cherry on top. The sundae is how I feel every day, inside and out. Knowing this, I more often choose to make time for play. Come to think of it, that last sentence nicely sums up how I’m starting to think about exercise:

  1. it’s a choice, not an obligatory task I must suffer through to achieve X or Y result;
  2. I deserve time to play, and it’s up to me to ensure that I take it, rather than waiting for it to magically appear in my schedule; and
  3. as children know and adults too easily forget, it can bring real joy and fulfillment.

It’s no wonder that I’m now less attached to the outcomes than to the experience of moving and trying new things.

In fact, the real result lies in the habit itself. In the process, not the outcome. That’s why it’s key to find activities that are fun for us, as I hinted at earlier. It’s not meant to be a grind, so why would we ever cultivate a habit of something we dread doing?

There are so many options that something is bound to resonate. I’ve also learned that it pays to try things again, things I didn’t think I was suited for (or vice versa). I’ve changed a lot over the course of my life, so it stands to reason that my taste in activities would evolve, too. My food preferences and choices certainly have expanded and shifted quite significantly over the years.

Not only does this new perspective make me feel pretty great, I’m also starting to see the potential applications in other pursuits. If I can fall in love with the process of meditation, novel writing, and other things that matter to me — and begin to detach from the desired outcomes — well, that would seriously rock. Again, these aren’t entirely foreign concepts to me, but sometimes a new light hits an old idea and suddenly, voilà, it’s time to shine.

Cultivating Consistency

To get results in any area, it pays to be consistent. Practicing guitar once every few months won’t turn me into a guitar player, as much as I’d like it to. Churning out a 50,000-word chunk of novel (with a substantial percentage of gibberish*) every November for National Novel Writing Month, then abandoning those words for the next 11 months, will never help me finish writing a book.

Similarly, training without consistency rarely leads to progress. Lifting weights, practicing yoga, working on handstands, you name it – we can’t make strides if we don’t regularly make time for our activity (or activities) of choice.

I’m happy to note that I’m in week 3 of my current weight training program and I’ve done every session I scheduled. Three times a week, I’ve planned, lifted, and logged my weights, reps, and sets. After months of rest that veered precariously close to inertia, it feels really good to be in the groove of moving more each day.

But that’s not quite right. I want to stop putting it that way, because doing so implies I can just as easily fall out of said groove. I’d rather cultivate an activity habit that’s as automatic as turning right when I exit my townhouse, because that’s where I’ll find my parking spot.

I don’t have to get motivated to turn right. It just happens, because I’ve created a habit. In the parlance of authors who write about the “habit loop” of cue-routine-reward: the cue is leaving my house, the routine is turning right, and the reward is getting to go somewhere in my car.

This particular habit may seem oversimplified; why would I do anything but go right if that’s where I’ll find my car? But, in essence, our entire waking life is comprised of a thousand and one habits like these. In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes extensively and eloquently about the habit loop and how it can be a far more effective tool than those old standbys, motivation and willpower.

More than once, I’ve read another good analogy to explain this dichotomy: we don’t typically need to call on motivation or willpower to go to work each day. For most of us, going to work when we’re expected to be there is a fundamental habit. Brushing our teeth and showering are a couple more oft-cited, habitual acts or tasks. There’s not much motivation involved; we do many such things almost entirely without thinking.

It’s smart to cultivate habits for the things we’d like to do consistently because motivation is an emotion. Just like joy or frustration or white-hot anger, it comes and goes (in the case of that anger, let’s hope it does a lot more going). So when we plan to rely on it for sticking to our workout (or healthy eating, or writing, or guitar practicing) schedule, we might as well tell ourselves that we’re not really too concerned about consistency.

Alternatively, when we develop (or change) a habit – to lift, stretch, write, strum – then we don’t need to muster that elusive feeling of motivation. The action is as automatic as putting the key in the ignition before we try to drive our car.

One thing I’m learning as I apply all of this habit-loop intel is that I can’t get too hung up on instant gratification. Creating a regular practice of almost any kind will yield results over time but, in most cases, not immediately. That’s one of the reasons we need consistency to begin with. Two lifting sessions won’t give me the muscles I want; two guitar classes won’t earn me a respectable open mic showing, much less a regular gig.

With that in mind, I remind myself to appreciate the process. Every step along the way is valuable. If I’m not able to find joy in the act of practicing – in each kettlebell swing, chord, or sentence – then why am I even doing it?

My life, and my capacity for satisfaction, is not on hold until I achieve X or Y outcome. It’s there in every moment. So for me it’s important that those moments contain experiences that I enjoy on their own merits, not solely as means to various ends.

Once we embrace the fact that practice can be so fulfilling in and of itself, it’s even easier to get on the habit train and cultivate consistency. It’s there that we’ll spend our time and create our life’s work, in every sense of the term.

So more and more lately, I turn right when I leave my bedroom in the morning, because that’s the way to my workout space. Cue: tumble out of bed. Routine: move my bod. Reward: getting stronger in more ways than one.

*And a higher percentage of decent prose, perhaps even incorporating a few hidden gems… or so I’d like to think.