Self-Care Year-Round

 

For those of you who follow my blog and website, you may have noticed I’ve been pretty quiet around the New Year. I don’t know about you, but my inbox is full right now with promotional offers from gyms, trainers, and online exercise programs promising me all sorts deals for a new me in the new year. Thank you, fitness industry, but I think I’ll stick to the me I have right now. I like her just fine 🙂

Recently, I led workshop for youth at the Rainbow Community Center in Concord, CA about self-love and exercise. One participant brought up that he feels frustrated because it’s hard to get a machine at the gym in January, but, by February, gym attendance is back down to a more moderate rate. I used to work at a gym where the staff would take on extra shifts in January to deal with the influx of members. Again, by February, attendance would return to “normal.”

His observation brings up the question:

How can we develop habits of self-care and movement that stay with us year-round?

Here are some of my thoughts, stemming from my own experience, and my work with clients. I’m curious to hear what resonates with you, and what you would add to this list.

1) Exercise Doesn’t have To Be All or Nothing:

So often, resolutions fail because we think we have to do them to the extreme, or it doesn’t count at all. If we don’t go to the gym 5 days a week (for example), we throw in the towel, and think that none of it was worth it.

Exercise (and life) doesn’t have to exist in this all-or-nothing binary. Everything “counts.” Walking counts. Doing a few squats while waiting for the laundry to finish counts. Playing with your kid on the playground counts. We can think outside the box about how to incorporate movement into daily life. It doesn’t always have to be regimented.

2) Do What Makes You Feel Alive

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Take a moment and sit or stand with your feet on the ground. Notice your breath. Picture a time in your life when you felt joyful in your body. It could be sometime recently, or sometime when you were a child. Take a moment and feel this feeling in your body. What are some of the sensations you experience? You can close your eyes to help you dig in deeper.

What if movement could feel like this right now? What is one activity that might make you feel this way?

This is a really big question, and, often, a really difficult or emotional one. Often times there is not a simple answer. It is a question that you can gently pose to yourself, and continue to come back to.

3) Focus on intrinsic, rather than external motivations

If you are motivated to exercise for health reasons, focus on what is important to you about your particular health goal.

Exercise can bring benefits such as stress reduction, greater energy throughout the day, regulating sleep and digestion.

When we are motivated by weight loss or by looking a certain way, we become more focused on what others think of us.

Focus on the feeling you want to have, and the health benefit that is most important to you.

(Source: HAES Curriculum: Developing a Healthy Relationship with Food and Exercise)

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4) Find a supportive, non-judgmental space

Find a place to move/exercise where you feel welcome and where no one will make comments about your body or your weight. Do you have a supportive friend you can go to the gym or to a new dance class with? Do you know any gyms, studios, or personal trainers who are reputable for being welcoming? And, whether you answered yes or no: how can you create a kind and non-judgmental space within yourself? Do you have a positive mantra you can say to yourself while exercising? One I say to myself is: Slow and Steady.

5) Failure is an opportunity for assessment

It is so easy to get into the habit of beating ourselves up when we “fail” at diet, exercise, or some new intention. What if this “failure” is actually a great moment for you to dig deep and evaluate what it is you truly do or don’t want to be doing? Failure is an opportunity to identify what are your intrinsic versus your external motivations, and to reconfigure your goals and plans. Failure is also a great time to say “fuck it” to something you truly don’t want to do. Health priorities look different for every single person. What is a good idea for your friend isn’t necessarily best for you.

6) Set manageable and achievable goals. Be realistic. Celebrate your successes!

Making goals that you are likely to follow through on (even if they seem small to you) allows you to feel proud about your successes, and keep building on them. Try this concept with fitness. What is do-able for you today, in this moment?

As always, I’d love to hear from you!

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xo,

Rachel

Self-Care 2015: Taking Breaks at Work

As December comes to a close, many of us are getting ready to go back to work.  Some of us may be dreading it.  And, some of us may be setting intentions on how to do things better in 2015.

Many of us work in a fast paced environment where it is hard to get a second to breathe — whether it is in an office, a technology company, a restaurant, a non-profit job, social services, teaching, etc.  Taking a break may feel too luxurious when there are so many demands on us.  This is a common thread I hear from so many of my clients.

However, many of us are probably taking breaks at work in ways we don’t even realize– by checking our phones, going on facebook, going out for coffee or a snack, schmoozing with a co-worker.  By the end of the day, we feel really unproductive, guilty, and tired.  Does this sound familiar??

The good news is: breaks are great for our health, and we don’t need to feel bad about it!  In 2015, I encourage you to keep taking breaks, and to be more intentional about how you break.  

Our brains were not meant to think continuously on one thought or project for an extended period of time.  When we are off doing something else, our brain is still processing the day’s previous events in the background.  Physical motion, in particular, helps our brain get a different perspective and figure out problems.  Many of us have had the experience of a great idea coming to us when we were out on a walk or running an errand.  Albert Einstein claims he came up with his theory of relativity while riding his bicycle!

einstein-on-bike

 

We live in a culture in the United States that places a high value on working around the clock, and always being available for work.  But, it does not have to be this way!  In fact, studies have shown, productivity increases when people get a chance to take a break or a vacation.

A short 5 minute break every hour can go a long way to help:

– Alleviate stress

– Increase focus. memory, and productivity

– Break up some of the postural issues that come with staying in one position too long

– Get some physical activity

– Connect to others

– Connect to nature/ the outdoors

– Create new neural pathways, and help us see things in a different perspective.

There are all sorts of apps and timers that you can install on your computer at work to remind you to get up and stretch or walk around.  But, I encourage you, if you use this software, to take it as a suggestion, rather than a mandate.  I’ve known several people who have installed these types of programs on their computers, rarely follow them, and end up disabling them after a few months.  This repeats the cycle of feeling bad about oneself for not being able to adhere to a break regimen (much like the cycle of feeling bad about oneself for not being able to adhere to a diet or exercise plan).

We don’t need an external source to tell us when to break.

What break sequence feels right to you?  What chunk of time can you best focus for: is it one hour, 45 minutes, 10 minutes?  Play around with different timing of work and break intervals throughout your day (if your job allows you that ability).  You can even keep a journal and record how different increments of work and rest feel for you.  Know that some days you will feel distracted, and some days you just want to plug on through.  Try to find a balance between harnessing your creative energy, and taking breaks when you can.

Listen to your body.  Become aware of the patterns you develop in your work, without judgement.  Notice what time of day you tend to break, or to feel “burnt out” and try to build that into your schedule.  For example, instead of feeling badly about being sluggish at 3pm, if you know you get weary at this time, plan to take a 10 minute walk with a friend.

What types of breaks are useful?

– Get up and move around: do jumping jacks, take a walk, jog up and down the stairs, throw punches in the air (for example)

If you tend to be in one posture all day, a break can help you press the “reset” button and bring awareness to parts of your body that may be tight or sore, or held in uncomfortable positions

Increasing your heart rate for just 5 min a day can go a long way in having more energy, increasing metabolism, and improving sleep

– Stretch

Muscles get tense with stress, and we develop chronic postural problems with sitting all day (or even standing all day).  Stretching can relieve tension and can also help us to be more mindful of where we hold tension in our work day.  Not sure where to start?  How about posting this in your cubicle?

– Call a friend, or say hi to a co-worker

Socializing is great for our mental health because it breaks the isolation many of us can feel, especially if we’re in a job where we’re not actively collaborating with others, and it adds a positive social element to the day.

– Meditate for 5 minutes

There has been so much research about mindfulness and its ability to help brain function and mental clarity, and reduce stress and anxiety.  New to meditation?  This website gives some easy tips on how to get started.  

– Look at cute animal pictures

It’s so hard not to smile when looking at cute animals!  Just be aware to also take some time away from the screen.  If you have a real animal nearby, even better!

This is just a partial list, I’d love to hear from you what you will do in 2015 to take a break!

cute cat

The Other War on Christmas by Guest Blogger Kristy Fassio

Kristy Fassio is a personal trainer working in Seattle, WA.  She is, in her own words, a “body positive warrior and fitness fanatic.”

She writes for our holiday blog hop about “The Other War on Christmas… and how to begin to shut it down!”  Great tips for staying sane and navigating all the unfortunate diet messaging we get during the holiday season.

“Healthy people eat during the holiday season. Healthy people sometimes overeat during the holiday season. And healthy people really don’t care that much about it, because they just aren’t afraid of the food.”

To read more click here!

On Working Towards Self Love

I had a great time on Sept. 30th leading a workshop at the Graduate Women’s Project at UC Berkeley about Exercise and Self-Love.

Displaying some of my favorite books as resources

Displaying some of my favorite books as resources

A funny thing happened when I started preparing for this workshop. I was getting ready to lead people in examining their own critical voices. And, I noticed that my own critical voice, when I went for my own workouts, seemed to be getting stronger. I would go for morning jogs and notice I was berating myself for not being faster, not going longer, not being as intense about my workouts as I was 5 years ago. Even after all this work in body acceptance and Health At Every Size, I still have this critical voice that follows me around, and resurges mightily from time to time.

Exercise was such a source of shame for me when I was younger. When I became a more athletic person in my mid-twenties, I also became really compulsive about it. There was a part of me that needed to prove myself to my family, my friends, to the people I grew up with that finally, I was fit, I was “healthy” and they could get off my back about it.  Pushing myself hard was my way of proving myself to them.

There was also an unhealthy side to my fitness regime. If I didn’t exercise intensely every day, I thought I was a failure. I would walk around planning my workouts or feeling miserable for those I didn’t complete. I would hate how so many people seemed to be faster and stronger than me, without much effort. I spent a lot of mental energy obsessed with this stuff… and just think what I could have been doing with all of those hours instead!

Now, as a personal trainer, I am so grateful to work with clients who are able to express some of the critical voices and negative self-talk that come up for them. We all have it, to one degree or another. We are surrounded by a culture that bombards us with messages about weight loss, diet and a militaristic approach to exercise. It is no wonder that we internalize it to some degree. Yet, when we can have a space or a good friend to talk with about these critical voices, when we can let it out and get some perspective, then, in time, we can begin to change. In my work, I remind people to show up for their best intentions, to show up for self-care, to honor their bodies through exercise, to notice how their bodies feel. In these reminders, I am also really reminding myself as well.

Over the years I’ve loosened up some of my excessive planning around exercise. I decide each morning what I’m excited about doing at the gym that day (and, some days, it’s nothing at all!). I don’t plan weeks in advance. I don’t panic or beat myself up when things don’t go as planned. When I train for a race, I make a plan, but I don’t worry too much if something prevents me from following through 100%. I do what I can, as best as I can, and let the rest go. This approach has taken many years of practice, and it is counter-intuitive as someone who is used to going all-out when I am excited about something. And, some days are better than others.

In the workshop at UC Berkeley, we talked about positive things we can say to ourselves while working out. Genuine mantras that can, in time, begin to replace our own negative thinking as well as the weight-driven, negative body image messaging that we are bombarded with daily.

Why do we exercise in the first place if not to lose weight? What are some of the weight-neutral benefits? Mental clarity, increased energy, better sleep and digestion are just some of the things that I know to be true for me.

My positive mantra of the month has been: “Thank you, body. Thank you for all that you do!”

In the workshop at UC Berkeley, we noticed how when we are in a place of self-love and positive self-talk, our posture shifts, our heads lift up, and we are more able to see and acknowledge those around us.

I am looking forward to more opportunities this fall to explore the themes of exercise, the critical voice, and self-love. I will be talking at two very exciting events this fall! See below for more details. I hope you can come!!

New Tools: Old Oppression: Challenging Weight Stigma with Creativity and Wit
I will be speaking on a panel entitled “Diverse Experiences of Weight Stigma” moderated by Jessica Wilson
October 25, 2014, 10:30 a.m.—4:30 p.m., Oakland, CA
Registration fee: $25* Registration deadline: Monday, Oct. 20
*Sliding scale; no one will be turned away for inability to pay.

Lose Hate Not Weight Babecamp

A virtual 30-day intensive course designed by acclaimed body image expert, lecturer and author, Virgie Tovar, to change the way you think about and relate to your body.

I will be speaking as a guest lecturer about exercise, self-love, and shifting your critical voice.

Let’s Talk About Breasts

I’m getting ready for another round of running groups to begin, and it is time to talk about breasts. Seriously. For the longest time, I didn’t think I could become a runner because of my chest.  And, I hear this same concern from women I work with all of the time. Several half marathons and marathons later, I’m proud to tell you that there are bras out there designed for you! Not everyone is a runner, but big-chested women, and big people, in general, absolutely can run, and can get some great support along the way.

Here are some tips for bra success:

1) Research what’s out there 

Get to know the different types of bras: there are sports bras that cross in the back, ones with traditional straps, ones that buckle in front, ones that have  molded cups, ones that separate the breasts, and others that don’t.  Each of these features has it’s benefits and drawbacks, and no one bra is best for everyone.  
Here are some places to start:
My favorite brands are Enell and Moving Comfort. They are designed specifically for athletes with big chests, and they are designed with high-impact activity in mind.

 enellEnell’s Last Resort Bra has been my absolute favorite for years

Title Nine is a store specializing in women’s athletic wear.  They have locations in the Bay Area, and an online catalogue.

Check out About.com‘s reviews of bras for big chested women. I wholeheartedly endorse all of these!

 2) Go Into a Store and Try Things On

It may be easy to order something online, but it’s hard to really know how it’s going to be for you unless you try it on and jump around a little!

A specialty athletic store, (or even better, a specialty women’s athletic store like See Jane Run) have staff who are knowledgeable and will help you out.

 Nordstrom’s does bra fittings. Bra fittings can change lives. If you don’t feel comfortable with getting sized up, they also have an online resource for how to tell if you have the right fit.

3) Be Willing to Spend Some Money!

This is the most important piece of advice! I get it. I am living on a budget too. The bras I’m recommending are expensive! But, honey, you are worth it! I can assure you that buying cheap bras that don’t fit or that wear out often will be far more expensive in the long run than investing $60-$70 in a quality new bra.

 4) Consider Doubling Up

This may be controversial… In my experience, some bras fit better in some ways and not in others. I have a bra that gives great support overall, but I tend to chafe under my breasts with it, especially on my longer runs. Wearing a less supportive bra underneath my really good bra helps protect me from this chafing. Doubling up can help prevent some of these chronic pains and scrapes as well as give extra support.

 5) Prevent Chafing 

If you find yourself having chafing at your breasts, belly, or thighs, applying Vaseline is a great way to prevent this. There are many anti-chafing products on the market, but, really, just some simple Vaseline will do!

According to Nordstroms, 4 out of 5 women are walking around in the wrong bra size. But, we don’t have to be uncomfortable. Go out there, bring a friend, and find what works for you.

Got any bra tips? I’d love to hear them!

5 Steps to Happy Cycling

This Spring/Summer, I’ve been leading an 8-week cycling class. Riding a bike is really my first and favorite exercise passion. I love this cycling group and helping people discover new rides and get out on their bikes. For those of you unable to join us, here are some tips for getting out there and enjoying the ride.

Give Your Bike a Tune Up

Before riding, make sure that your bike is in working order. A local bike shop can take a look at your bike, and show you what needs to be fixed. If you’re interested in learning more about how your bike works and how to fix it yourself, many bike shops offer basic mechanic classes. If you’re in the Bay Area, check out these spots below (and, these are just a few of many awesome biking resources in the area):

Biketopia Berkeley – offers classes, do it yourself repair, and community space to connect with other riders

Missing Link – a cooperatively owned bike shop that has a wide range of gear, offers repairs, runs classes on fixing your bike

Bike Kitchen San Francisco – a place to get assistance working on your bike or to build a bike from scratch!

 

Plan Your Route

You’re likely to be more enthusiastic about your ride with a particular destination in mind. Do you want to ride to a local café or park? Curious to check out a bike path? Seeking a scenic destination? Plan your route before you go. There’s a great series of cards of bike rides in different urban areas. This is the one for the Bay Area. These are great because you can shuffle the deck, and pick a card at random. This blog post gives a great overview of some of the best rides in Oakland.  We’ve already done two out of the five in our bike group 🙂

Ride Safely

I don’t care what this guy says, WEAR YOUR GODDAMN HELMET.  It saves lives.  Seriously.

Remember that cyclists must obey the same traffic laws as cars.  This means

– Riding on the right hand side of the street

– Stopping at stop lights

– Signaling your intentions

turns

Ride with awareness of what is in front of you, as well as in your periphery.  Be prepared to react to sudden motions from cars.  Anticipate what is ahead!

Ride with confidence!  Even if you’ve only been riding a short while, riding with confidence, and “faking it until you make it” will help signal to cars that you know what you’re doing.

Make eye contact with drivers.  Make sure you are seen!

Wear bright/reflective clothes and use blinking lights at night.

Check out these great blog posts about riding safely from East Bay Bicycle Coalition and Bike Sense

 

Find a Friend, Group, or Class to Ride With.  Train for an Event or Charity Ride!

It’s so much more fun to ride with others, and there are so many great groups, classes, and organized rides out there!

Meetup.com is great wherever you are to find cycling groups for whatever level you are at.

In the Bay Area:

East Bay Bicycle Coalition – offers a great cycling safety series for beginners or anyone looking to brush up on urban cycling skills.

For folks looking to go on longer rides, these groups are open to people of all levels and offer a wide variety of longer distance rides.  It is a great place to meet people and discover new routes.  They are “no drop” groups, meaning that no one gets left behind 🙂

Grizzly Peak Cyclists

Oakland Yellow Jackets

Velo Girls (an all women’s group)

Training for a charity ride or long-distance ride is great motivation to get into a regular cycling habit!  These are some of my favorite charity rides and long distance rides.

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: Scenic Shore Bike Tour

Aids Lifecycle Ride from San Francisco to LA

Bike MS Waves to Wine Ride

Grizzly Peak Century

Marin County Century

Seattle to Portland Ride

Cycle California Magazine – a great listing of organized long distance cycling events in California

 

Just get out there!

There’s no perfect way to ride. So much of bike riding is just getting out there and feeling it out for yourself. Get to know your bike, get to know your neighborhood. Enjoy it!

beautiful machine