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
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.
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!
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!
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
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!
Just in time for Christmas, Gillian Byers, of Mindfully Active Training shares some ways to find time for exercise while in the midst of getting ready for a big day
Shelley Lask is a personal trainer based in Melbourne, Australia. She provides a refreshing new take on the New Years resolution, urging us to be kinder and more playful, and to have goals that are attainable and sustainable over the long haul
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.”