Somewhere in the Dance

November 6, 2012

The framed picture spoke a thousand words in just a few:

“I get up. I walk. I fall down. Meanwhile I keep dancing.”

Your heart can dance even if your feet cannot. As I recently posted, life is a dance. The partners we choose make all the difference. You might not be able to choose the family you are born into, but you can choose the people that surround you. You can choose who to hang out with and who to let go. You get to decide whether to waltz or do the Texas swing.

You might fall down every once in a while, or trip over life’s unpleasantness. But as long as your heart keeps beating, you can remain somewhere in the dance.

Where are you in yours?

Pilates. The single most fabulous way to come into alignment with oneself. Most Wednesdays I take a pilates class at my gym. The teacher is beyond amazing. It is as if we are one, experiencing what it’s like to move our bodies this way. It is a delicious time-out in the middle of the week, a gift I give to myself as often as I can.

Exercise can be an act of self-love, an empowering part of your self-care program. After all, our bodies are the temples of our soul. And when we care for them, great things can happen! Take your feet, for instance. Have you thanked them lately for carrying you every which way? Or your hands? What marvelous instruments they are! They can do all kinds of things (such as playing Mozart ~ yes, I am still just shy of heaven after that Salzburg concert. Sigh.). Or what about your ears? Have you shown them appreciation for all that they do day in and day out? What do you tell those ears of yours? Have you really listened to what you say to yourself?

“I don’t have time to exercise, eat well, sleep enough, have fun, fill-in-the-blank…”

My guess is you have said one of the above a time or two. I know I have.

Taking care of oneself is a fundamental principle in life, yet so often we are torn between our own needs and the needs of others. If you are a helping kind of person, you may make decisions based on the welfare of everyone else and not on your own. That might work well for a while, but soon enough you may start to notice a soul-level wear and tear that can lead to extreme exhaustion and even burnout. That’s where Slow can truly help.

There is Slow in the word ‘no’. As my friend Donald Pillai so brilliantly said recently:

[L]ife is not about being in ‘yes’ with others as much as it is being in ‘yes’ with yourself.

That includes saying ‘no’ to certain things, even if you could do them. It’s not about the ‘could’, but about what’s most important.

If we are going to change the world, we need our rest, nourishment and a high level of fun to sustain us for those times when we need our energy the most.

If you could do just one thing to take care of yourself today, what would it be?

According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 8 out of the 10 million Americans who are estimated to have osteoporosis are women. Almost 34 million more people are estimated to have low bone density, increasing their risk of osteoporosis and broken bones.  National Nutrition Month is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

As I mentioned earlier this month, National Nutrition Month focuses on the importance of developing healthy eating and physical activity habits, including meeting daily calcium requirements and performing various exercises to build strong bones, which is imperative in the fight against osteoporosis.

Nutritionist Heather Bauer, RD, CDN, author of the newly released book Bread is the Devil (from my publisher, St. Martin’s Press), offers tips for people who are trying to change their eating routines to drop the pounds in celebration of National Nutrition Month this March.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, carbs in moderation are all good. Even if bread is not your personal devil, Bauer’s book offers advice on how to build sensible, healthy meals, high in protein with complex carbs and how avoid other food demons – from ice cream and chips to sweet treats.

While taking a mindful view of our eating habits, it’s also important, especially for women, not to skimp on calcium. On average, women  fall short on calcium by at least 20%, getting only 500-700 mg per day – that’s significantly less than the recommended amount—putting them at risk of osteoporosis.

To decrease your chance of osteoporosis, Heather Bauer suggests:

  1.  Think of your bones as living, breathing tissue.  They can be built up and broken down with certain determining factors. These factors include daily intake of at least 1,000mg of calcium supplemented with Vitamin D for optimal absorption and weight-bearing exercise.
  2.  Get your dose of calcium in whole foods such as broccoli or soy milk. (I’m told Adora Calcium Supplement discs are made from rich, all-natural premium chocolate – whatever floats your boat, but I’m thinking broccoli is the better, if not more fun, option).
  3. By the time we hit our 30s, we stop naturally building bone mass and start losing it. Counteract this with anything that forces your body to defy gravity.  Activities include dancing, jogging, tennis, even stair climbing.  Make sure to avoid escalators and elevators!
  4.  Lifting weights at the gym gives you muscle tone, right? Well, calcium acts in the same way to keep your blood vessels toned. Calcium rich foods like milk, cheese, sardines, figs, and dark leafy greens like spinach can be tough to eat a lot of, so consider a calcium supplement if you’re not meeting the recommended daily value.

Even a slow or vigorous walk can have positive effects on your bones. Have you been outside today? Natural sunlight increases your Vitamin D, a necessary component for calcium absorption.

Why We’re So Fat

January 30, 2012

Fat. Now there’s an ugly word. The truth is one in three Americans is considered obese by the Centers for Disease Control. 17% of all U.S. children are too. It’s an astounding number. How has it come to this?

According to FastCompany, our brains aren’t prepared to handle the all-you-can-eat variety of food intake. Based on the primordial need to stuff our faces while we can, we often do. Our brains, apparently, are designed to prepare for rough winters and starvation. So we gorge ourselves, thinking it’s normal.

It’s not. We just don’t realize when to stop because our brains say it’s somehow okay.

Portion control is a term I learned while working on a campaign for Yum Yum Dishes, a fabulous company that creates ceramic dishes to provide acceptable food portions for weight control. We are not only what we eat; but how we eat it too.

So if you’re tempted to belly up to the next buffet and scarf a bit more than you should, think again. Eat a little less than you normally do and see how it feels. Eat slowly. Enjoy your food. If you do, you might notice that less is actually more. Let’s bring down that national statistic with a little more mindfulness.

Courtesy of FastCoExist.com

Gratitude journals rule.

According to research conducted at the University of California at Davis, those study participants who made regular entries in their gratitude journals had a more consistent exercise regime, reported fewer physical symptoms, had a more optimistic view of their lives on the whole and looked more positively toward the coming week compared to those who recorded hassles or neutral life events.

Placing ourselves in a space of thankfulness can truly change our outlook on life.

So when you feel you are time-strapped, you are not in a space of abundant gratitude (thank you for the time I have), but rather in a space of lack (I don’t have enough time).

What if you were to keep a time abundance journal?

Much like the impact of the gratitude journal as mentioned in the above study, a time abundance journal that records all the time that you do have (and how you spent it) could place you in a more optimistic mindset.

And a happy mind is a happy body.

In their new book, The Happy Body, LA-based world weight-liftingchamps Jerzy and Aniela Gregorek suggest other ways to keep fit mentally and physically. One idea I liked in particular came from an email they sent me about diet discovery versus denial. They wrote:

“Many people think of dieting as punishment. Instead, give thanks for the amazing variety of food you have available to you year round, and how that enables you to go on what we call a “diet discovery journey.” What do you love to eat? How can you make that a healthier choice? Eating well does not have to be restrictive and punitive. Instead, be grateful that you have the power to make small changes — such as eating smaller portions, eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, and fewer processed foods.

My tip? Google a new recipe, then go to your local farmer’s market to find fresh ingredients. Try one new vegetable from that recipe. It may take some trial and error, but in my view, fresh veggies taste much better than cellophane-wrapped ones.

And don’t forget to record your experience in your time abundance journal!

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Boundaries ~ the line in the sand that ushers children into adulthood. When my daughter asked why she couldn’t have a mother who said ‘yes’ to everything, I said, “Because you deserve a mother who loves you.”

Blank stare. Non-comprehending stance. Arms parked in a crossed position. Furrowed brow. Then a sliver of light beaming at the bridge of her nose.

“Oh.”

We benefit from signals radiating from our surroundings that say ‘No, not now.’ Sometimes, even as adults, we ignore those signs, plowing forward as if we were invincible.

Today I went to the gym for the first time in two weeks. After having had the flu last week, I was astounded at how weak I still was. I thought about sticking it out to the end of the class, then left half-way through (I’ve only ever done that once before when the step class I was in was clearly over my head!).

I battled with that part of myself that says “You should be able to do this,” even though I was in no shape to do so. I wrangled with myself, wishing it weren’t so that I had overstepped my own limitations.

“Not now,” the power of slow part of myself gently guided me out the door. It is our higher selves, much like the mother who does not always say ‘yes’, that cares the most. It resides in the heart and speaks with a whisper.

Will you listen to your inner voice today?

Winter has Europe in its firm grip. This morning I grappled with myself about whether or not I should go to the gym. My thinking went like this:

Angel side of myself: “I have a manuscript to edit. I really should work on that since I’ve been gone a lot this week.”

Slow side of myself: “You’ve been gone a lot this week. That’s right. And you know are more productive when you’ve exercised.”

Devil side of myself: “I want chocolate.”

Angel side of myself: “Okay, Slow, you can have your way, but remember. Go, well, slow. It’s icey out there.”

The sun blinded me against the white landscape as I pulled out of the driveway, only to get stuck in the neighbor’s parking space. I tried to move forward, but the car spun its wheels.

I rocked the car back and forth and realized I was going nowhere. By now, sleep had fallen from my lids. In an adrenaline rush that only driving in dangerous weather conditions can provide, I carefully pulled back into the garage and smiled.

“Okay, Angel, Slow and Devil. We’re not going anywhere. Manuscript editing it is!”

Sometimes we need to find out for ourselves that no movement is the best move we can make!

My acting coach gave me a great word of advice.

“Stay in the body.” You see, ever since I was a kid, I’ve had this ability to leave my body pretty much whenever I felt like it. It has to do with growing up in Nature on a farm with no cable. Escape wasn’t easy so I did it with my mind.

I like to say that the South grew my imagination as large as the squash and corn you see on roadside farm stands there. My creative mind that dallies off to faraway places at the drop of a hat has served me well. But acting is a craft that requires the utmost presence.

So when I play a role, I have to reside behind my eyes at all time. She gave me a great exercise that I’d like to pass along to you. Because really, the power of slow is about being present as it is in acting.

The next time you get out of the shower, apply body lotion to every part of yourself. Start with really looking at your toes. Wiggle them and thank them for keeping you balanced. Move up to your ankels, calves and thighs and so on, honoring each part of you for helping you out.

Thanking your body is a novel idea. Aren’t we taught to disengage from that part of ourselves that we’ve learned to hate so much? The body today is seen as something disappointing, dirty or worse, worthless. So as you walk around today, hold your head up a little higher and say a prayer of gratitude that your very noggin carries your imagination with you wherever you go. And remember to stay in your body. It may feel heavier than the escape our minds afford, but it will serve you well as you learn to savor the ever present moment of now.

Forest Bathing

August 18, 2010

The Japanese are at it again. No, I’m not talking about their being replaced by China as the second largest world economy. I’m referring to their most interesting way of looking at life, Nature and well-being.

The other day I stumbled upon a New York Times article about forest bathing. Before you think you’ve got to grab a zinc tub and some Ivory soap and head for the woods, think again. Forest bathing refers to the Japanese term, “Shinrin-yoku”, which means to literally surround yourself with forest air. The airborne natural chemicals, phytonides, that plants emit to stave off insects and strengthen their immune system have been proven to increase our natural killer cell (aka white blood cell) activity. In a 2007 study of men who took a two-hour forest walk twice a day, their white blood cells increased by 50% in just a few days!  Japan’s Chiba University conducted another study that found the forest air let to lower concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, a lower pulse rate and lower blood pressure. Now those are even more reasons to strap on your boots and go for that nature walk.

Although the University of Sussex claims a nature walk reduces stress only by 42% (as determined by pulse rate) while reading just six minutes brings your stress levels down by 68%, the side benefits of walking through the woods are very compelling.

So the next time you find you’re teetering toward burnout, push your chair back, walk away from your computer and head for the wooded hills for a slow walk.

Take a dip in the forest air. Your heart will thank you for it.

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On Savoring

April 22, 2010

According to research in the area of positive psychology, savoring can literally expand our sense of time. It is the scooping up of life moments that gives us meaning.

If you’ve ever watched a show such as American Idol, the winners will tell you it was like being in a state of shock. It is a timeless feeling so overwhelming it cannot be savored. While many of us look for that next ‘kick’, the smaller moments such as breathing the smell of your freshly cut grass or cuddling a pet that keep us grounded and most happy. We cannot live in a constant state of adrenaline. It is, in fact, unhealthy to do so.

Life offers us all kinds of choices. This morning I was faced with a simple one. Either I could take the convenient route and drive my car to a local bakery or I could embrace the power of slow and ride my bike.

Which would be the more savoring activity? A car ride offers protection from the elements while a bike ride allows you to experience so much more: the breeze, the dust, the pavement, the cow dung-strewn fields. The fingers of verdant grass literally beckoned me outdoors.

The air’s chill did not deter me as I swung my leg over the saddle of my mountain bike. I used to ride 26 KM a day to and from University. I felt my younger self rekindled.

“I will have a chocolate croissant!” I exclaimed, giggling ferociously into the wind. It was all downhill on the way. In fact, I made it to my favorite bakery within twenty minutes.

Trying hard not to press my nose to the glass, I scanned the remaining baked goods. It was 9 am for pete’s sake! Not a chocolate croissant in sight. I mocked myself for my false bravery as I pointed to an apple danish.

“I’ll have that one.” I mustered a smile.

The ride back was a little more vigorous, but surprisingly less so than I remember (that indoor spinning class this past winter helped). I clamped the bag under my hand as I pumped my way back up the hill, savoring the anticipation of a nice cup of Joe with my danish.

It made the entire experience so much more enjoyable. The journey is the destination ~with a good baked good tucked into your palm, even better!

How will you savor a moment in your day?

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