POWER IN COMMUNITY

Photo:Pixabay.com

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates And Yoga

January has come and gone.  According to just about every article on the subject, most New Year’s resolutions have now reached the graveyard of good intentions.  Fortunately, any time is appropriate to get back on that bandwagon and try again.  As we all know, every day is a new day and a new opportunity.  There are many tips for setting goals and maintaining resolve, but the one I’d like to focus on here is the value of community.  A group of like-minded and supportive practitioners can help keep you motivated, especially when barriers start appearing in your path.

The great Vietnamese philosopher Thich Nhat Hahn wrote “A good [community] is crucial for practice.” He continues “A good teacher is important, but sisters and brothers in the practice are the main ingredient for success.”  Of course, he may be referring to a different type of practice here, but I would venture that even he would not object to expanding the meaning more broadly to include many types of practice.  Especially those practices with the ultimate goal of self-improvement.

If one of your self-improvement goals is to add more movement to your life, a group can be a huge help to keep you on that path.  A recent article in the Washington Post  cites two new studies that demonstrate the value of even “light activity” as being “helpful for outcomes like daily functioning, mental well-being, good quality of life and so on.”  Improved methods are now being used to conduct such studies.  In the past they have mostly been based on self-reporting which is notoriously inaccurate.  But with new technology such as Fitbits and similar activity tracking devices, more objective data can be collected.  The result of these 2 studies show that the benefits of movement, even light movement, are far more impressive than previously thought.  In fact, these studies found that “the most active subjects had a 50 to 70 percent decline in mortality during a defined follow-up period compared with the least active, most sedentary participants. Previous self-report research had pegged this benefit at about 20 to 35 percent.” This is comparable to the health benefits gained by non-smokers vs. smokers.  So it is particularly significant.

Interestingly, these studies tracked individuals (male and female) in their late 60’s and 70’s.  The researchers believe that the results will correlate to younger people also.  But the results add further evidence to support the notion that it is never too late to start moving.  Furthermore, any movement beats being sedentary.  The studies show that “all physical activity counts toward improving health status. You don’t have to play basketball for an hour or run three miles to accrue benefits. You simply have to move . . .”

One great way to do that is to join a group.  That’s what exercise classes provide – a group that is working together to keep moving.  Classes also provide a specific time and place for this activity.  You can set that time aside in your schedule and like any other appointment.  Not only will this help you remember, but it can also help you keep other appointments from interfering.

The word “yoga” is translated as “union” from Sanskrit.  This can mean many things.  It can mean union of mind and body.  Or union of movement and breath.  For this purpose I would suggested that “union” can also refer to a group that practices together.  This is true not just of yoga, but of any group that practices movement together.

Recently one of the members of our Pilates group was sick.  We missed her while she was gone and worried about her sending healing energy for her quick return.  When she got better we were elated to have her back and welcomed her accordingly.  As part of a group your well-being becomes important to others as well as yourself.  Of course, your friends and family will also benefit from your good health, but wouldn’t it be great to have a supportive group to share your efforts with.  You can and should continue to move on your own, but a group can encourage that also.  The more you move, the better you will feel which will encourage more movement.  So if you’re still hoping to at least try to fulfill your pledge to yourself, let a group help you.  We all need each other.  Take advantage of the benefits of community.

Keeping What’s Right From Going Wrong

Photo: StockSnap/Pixabay

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga
October 30, 2017

Our bodies are made up of so many parts and systems that it’s almost impossible to think about all of them at once.  There are numerous muscles, bones and nerves, but also fluids like blood, lymphatic and spinal.  Then there are the energetic systems that enable all of those parts and systems to interact with each other.  At the cellular level, there is an entire universe within each of us.   If you think about the precision with which everything needs to interact in order to move us, it’s no surprise that sometimes things go wrong.  In fact, it’s often more of a wonder that things go right!

Among the goals of both yoga and Pilates is to help us get to know our bodies and really start to pay attention to how the different elements of mind and body work together for optimal movement.  “Optimal” is a subjective terms and may mean different things for different bodies, but the more we learn about ourselves, the more we can move toward optimization.

This week I read a great little book  called “The RBG Workout”.  What is “RBG” you ask?  It’s the initials for our Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an inspiration to all of us at any age.  Tag line for the book is “How she stays strong and you can too!”  Of course, I’m sure she is also blessed with good genes, but she has certainly had physical challenges including two bouts with cancer.  The book was written by Bryant Johnson, who has been her personal trainer of almost 20 years.  Throughout the book he talks about how tough and strong she is, but also how she progressed during those years.  The workout described in the book seems pretty challenging, but Mr. Johnson takes pains to remind readers that it took time and persistence to get her to the point where she can now do the whole workout.

One of the quotes in the book that I especially like is this:  “. . . exercise is a great equalizer.  A push-up, a squat , a lunge, or a plank doesn’t care who you support or . . . about your race, religion, color, gender or national origin.  You may have a powerful job . . . but your body will still have veto power over you.  . . . If you don’t use it, you will lose it.”  One more reminder that we are mutually dependent on all of those systems described above.   We need them, but they need us, too.  Taking care of our bodies is no guarantee that things won’t go wrong, but it will certainly improve the odds.  And if things go wrong, you’ll be better able to deal with the problems if you’ve made that effort to stay strong, flexible and mobile.

The message here is that it’s never too late to start moving and no matter where you start, you can improve.  It might take some time – maybe longer than you thought it would – and there may be moves that will continue to elude you, but if you stick with it you will make progress.   As I’ve often said throughout these blog posts, the hard part is starting.  Once you start you’re already making progress.  After that, the only obstacle standing in your way is you.  In her foreword to the book, Justice Ginsburg talks about the demands of her job.  Yet she prioritizes her workout.  When the time comes, she sets everything aside and maintains her commitment to her body and, ultimately, her health.

As Mr. Johnson says, if Justice Ginsburg can do it so can you!  Maybe not in the same way that she does, but if you can move and breathe there is still a level of exercise that each of us can manage.   The terms “balance”, “strength” and “flexibility” have multiple meanings.  Balance is not just about standing on one foot, but also about maintaining a balance in your life.  If one aspect of your life starts to overwhelm all the others, stress will result and your body will react.  Exerting strength will help you maintain the discipline you need to take care of yourself.  And flexibility will help you to go with the flow when life takes a turn you hadn’t planned on.  All of these qualities are part of what you will build when you commit to movement.

So next time you’re tempted to blow off your workout because you think something else is more important, remember that all the systems in your body are depending on you to keep them running.  All the important things in your life need you to be functioning at your best.  You’re no good to anyone if you can’t function.  Help yourself to be the best that you can be!

A Little Goes a Long Way

Photo: Pixabay.com

Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga
July 31, 2017

Last week I received an e-mail from a dear friend thanking me for continuing to remind everyone that there is always value in making an effort no matter how small it might seem.  If you participate in available activities at whatever level you can, you will almost always be glad you did, even when that effort is sporadic. This has been a recurring theme throughout these blog posts.  But consistency of effort has also been a theme.  And here we are in the middle of summer when consistency in any aspect of our lives seems elusive. If we’re not busy travelling, we’re hosting visitors. When I first moved to this tourist town I remember being told, “if you live in the Black Hills, everyone wants to come and visit you”.  Many of my friends make their living during the summer months which doesn’t allow much time for anything else. As the saying goes, we all need to make hay while the sun shines. Sprinkle into this mix that kids (including children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and friends) are out of school and you have a recipe that’s guaranteed to throw your usual routines off-kilter.  So how do we reconcile the need for consistency in our practices in the face of so much disruption?

My first suggestion is to do what you can.  If you find some space in between commitments take advantage of it. Bring your visitors to a class or if you are the visitor, ask where you can find a class.  It can fun to try something different.  And if you don’t like it, you never have to do it again!  Takes all the pressure off so you can just have fun.  Still all the traveling and hosting can be exhausting.  But according to an article in the Harvard Health blog, exercise beats caffeine when you’re feeling tired. One more reason to squeeze it in whenever you can.

Maybe you can’t fit in a class, but you can probably manage a walk. Even 15 or 20 minutes is enough to revive your energy levels and bring some color to your cheeks. If you’re out of town and don’t know where to go, head for some trees. There has been a huge amount of research lately touting the benefits of connecting with nature.  A recent book called “The Nature Fix: Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative” by Florence Williams cites numerous examples from this research.  Summer is the perfect time to take advantage of these benefits.  Greenery abounds.  Even in inner cities.  Ms. Williams says that even if you can walk down a city street where trees are growing you will feel the difference in your mood.  Another article in the Harvard Health blog echoes this sentiment and takes it a step further. The article refers to an analysis published by the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences which shows that time spent in “green” places is linked to longer life in women.  “Specifically, there was a 13% lower rate for cancer mortality, 35% lower respiratory disease-related mortality, and 41% lower rate for kidney disease mortality in the women living in the areas with the highest levels of green vegetation.” Green things are growing all around us no matter where you live.  Smile as you walk by them.  It just might extend your life!

Another suggestion: remember that anything you do is better than nothing. One thing we know is that summer will end.  Even if the weather doesn’t change much, the kids will go back to school, travelers become less frequent for a while and routines can resume.  Anything you’ve done during the hiatus will be helpful when you get back to your regular activities.  Coming back and regaining your former strength, stamina and flexibility will be that much easier if you’ve been able to practice at all, even intermittently.

Which brings me to my third suggestion:  be patient and gentle with yourself.  Doing a little here and there can be frustrating. You might recognize that you’ve lost some of the gains you made during regular practice.  Getting them back might seem daunting and be a bit slower and more difficult than you hoped.  Take heart.  You got where you were once, you can get there again.  Of course, if you’re recovering from a physical setback modification may also be in order.  But no matter where you are, set your expectations aside and focus on the process.  Try setting goals related to process rather than specific achievements.  In other words, rather than saying, “I will be able to touch my toes in six weeks” try making your goal something like “I will practice regularly for the next six weeks”. The term “regular” can have any definition you like (e.g. daily, every other day, bi-weekly, weekly, whatever).  Just make it something you can maintain on a consistent basis.  Try to be consistent for as long as you can. Another thing you can be sure of is that life will throw curves into your best intentions. When that happens, go back to the suggestions above and return to consistency when you can.

Finally, relax and enjoy the novelty of change.  Accept what is and go with the flow. Life is finite.  Time is precious. If you can’t do everything you want to do, don’t beat yourself up. Just do what you can.  Focus on the positive.  Do what you can with what you have now and you will always be right.

Improving Independence

Cave Painting of Lascaux

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga

This past week we celebrated Independence Day, a milestone in American history.  On that day we recall our fledgling nation’s successful effort to separate itself from British rule and establish our own local government.  Since that time the concept of independence has become a significant pillar of American culture.  As a society we place a high value on individual independence.  We love the idea of the self-made person who succeeds by using his/her own wits and ingenuity.  A lofty ideal for sure, but a myth nonetheless.

Of course, we can often improve ourselves and sometimes even our circumstances through hard work and determination.  That’s true.  But everyone who does succeed at anything owes that success to external factors as much as internal drive.  Start with the accident of birth.  If you were born here in the U.S. or have had the good fortune to obtain citizenship or permanent resident status, you can thank that one fact alone for many of the opportunities you’ve been able to take advantage of in your life.   You can’t credit your birth to any ability of your own. It just happened that way and you are the unwitting beneficiary.  Maybe you were born into a privileged family, maybe not.  Or you might have had access to great schools and teachers.  Or not.  The amenities in your area – roads and transportation options, clean water, accessible food sources, etc. – may have served to add or detract from your quality of life, but either way they certainly contributed.  Sometimes the ability to change surroundings is available and sometimes not.  So in many ways, we are not as independent as we think.

Even those who are “off the grid” will probably find that they are still dependent on some external sources.  For example, if you grow your own food, you still may need certain weather conditions.  The availability of clean water is always a factor even if you use indoor gardening options.  As human beings we are neither infallible nor immortal.  We need food and water no matter what.  And we are subject to all kinds of illnesses and other physical problems.  At this point you might be wondering if I’ve been reading too many dystopian novels.  In fact, my intention is not to paint a bleak picture of human frailty, but simply to remind us all that we need each other.  We are all interconnected. Like or not.  And when that fact is accepted, the potential exists for all of us to get along with each other much better that we do.

A recent article in Yoga Journal reminds us that we are “supported in countless ways through each moment of your life”.  The article is about gratitude, but it is also about independence and interdependence.  The 17th-century author and pamphleteer, Roger L’Estrange, is quoted as saying that we often “mistake the gratuitous blessings of heaven for the fruits of our own industry.”  Thus not only do we need each other, but we are dependent on everything on the planet and even the universe to support us.  Without all of it, we could not exist.

Having said all of that, one of the most common refrains I hear among older people is that they (or should I say “we”) want to maintain their independence for as long as possible.  Becoming completely dependent upon others for daily needs is something many of us dread.  We want to keep driving our cars, walking on the trails, choosing our own food, living in our own homes, seeing other people when we want to or being alone when we prefer.  We don’t want to be a “burden” on our families, or on society.  And yet most of us will at some point lose at least some of our ability to take care of ourselves.

Still medical research suggests that this doesn’t always just happen simply due to aging.  Sometimes it is a result of inactivity.  As I’ve often said, the less you move, the harder it is to get moving again.  Another of my mantras is that we all need to move while we can move because one never knows when their ability to move will be altered.  Illness or accident can immobilize any of us at any time.  When people tell me they are afraid of flying, for example, I often respond that they could get hit by a car tomorrow.  Or trip getting out of bed.  Anything can happen.  These are just more ways in which that illusion of control over our own lives can go awry.  Sometimes a post-traumatic stress reaction can set in.  Once you experience pain from any source, it is easy to become fearful that the same pain will return.

So it all comes back to letting the lure of potential benefits overcome the siren song of fear.  In “Exercise:  A Guide From the National Institute on Aging” the authors state that “just about every older adult can safely do some form of physical activity” and, in fact, “studies suggest that not exercising is risky behavior.”  If motivation is a drawback, dangle that carrot of independence right in front of your nose every time you try to erect barriers.  Too hot or too cold outside?  Set a timer and walk around your house for 20 minutes.  Better yet, walk up and down some stairs.  You don’t have to go fast.  Just move continuously at whatever pace is available to you.  Or take a class!  Most classes are indoors and some are even air conditioned.  Afraid to go by yourself?  Call a friend or relative to go with you.  Remember that a class can be a source of support and strength.  These are two of the many qualities that help us to maintain independence while still recognizing our interconnectedness.  Leave your fear of looking funny at the door.  There was a wonderful article in this week’s “On Being” blog called “Perfection Will Do You In“, by columnist Parker Palmer.   In it, there is a poem by a 94-year-old Benedictine monk named Kilian McDonnell which is a must read.  Here is my favorite part:

“the Venus de Milo
has no arms,
the Liberty Bell is
cracked.”

Bottom line:  nobody is perfect and we all need each other.  And remember – the independence you may save or extend could be your own.

Curbing Judgment – By Peg Ryan – Mile High Pilates and Yoga

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Curbing Judgment
By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga
February 13, 2017

CUSTER, SD – One advantage to getting older – at least for me – is that experiences accumulate.  Through the years, just like all of you who are reading this, I’ve encountered many challenges.  Recently it has occurred to me that there is at least one positive result of living through difficult circumstances.  Each of them helps me to become less judgmental of others and of myself.  The word “never”, as in “I would never respond that way”, is gradually disappearing from my vocabulary as I loosen my grip on fixed ideas coming from years of conditioning. Increasingly the truth of constant change becomes more evident as well as how little in life is really under our control.

Even though we have similarities as human beings, we are all also uniquely different.  Each of us has our own individual characteristics as well as our own gifts.  There is really no “one size fits all”.   That also means there is sometimes no universal notion of right and wrong or good and bad.

Still we all want to do the “right” thing, even when we’re not really sure what that is.  And we are often quick to berate ourselves (or others) when we think we (or they) have gotten it “wrong”.   We often hold ourselves to impossible standards.  Some of this comes from all the things we’ve been told by others throughout our lives. Experiences of praise or punishment, consequences of actions we’ve taken or witnessed – all of these things contribute to the person we are today and the ideas we’ve formed.  We may no longer even know where those ideas originated, but they are part of us nonetheless.

Changing these ideas, or just finding ways to be open to new ones, can be really difficult.  Maybe, though, instead of being daunted by that prospect and giving up before even trying, we can learn to recognize this challenge as an opportunity for practice.  An article in Yoga Journal by meditation teacher Sally Kempton titled “Make Peace with Perfectionism and Make Mistakes” provides an example of one idea for this type of practice – retraining your inner critic.  The article cites Patanjali‘s advice to “Practice the Opposite” from Sutra 11.33.  The Yoga Sutras are a collection of verses describing yogic philosophy.  This practice suggests that you talk back to your inner critic.  So, for example, when you find yourself saying “I shouldn’t be doing this because I can’t do it right” counter this with “I can do lots of things right and my way of doing this is just as good as anyone else’s.”  Similarly, if you start to think “I can’t possibly survive this crisis” remind yourself that you’ve survived numerous crises in the past and you can survive this one also.  I’m sure you can all think of many other ways to try this out.  You might even find it interesting to come up with a counterstatement for every negative thought about yourself (or someone else!) that comes to mind.  Here’s another example:  “I keep forgetting to do this practice so I might as well give up”.  You can counter that with “I’ve remembered before and I can remember again.”  Each new moment is a new opportunity to try again.  Just recognizing that you forgot is a huge step in the right direction.  Give yourself a big pat on the back for that.

Recently when I mentioned to a woman that I am a yoga teacher, she said “I can’t do yoga because I can’t relax”.  All of you, myself included, can probably relate to that statement.  We all felt that way at some point when we were new to yoga.  Some of us may still feel that way. In fact, sometimes yoga itself can be stressful if we put too many expectations on ourselves.  Also I know many “Type A’s” who don’t like yoga because it’s “too slow”.  My response is “it’s a practice thing”.  The more you do it, the easier it becomes.  However, I also know that I didn’t always feel that way.  Finding it difficult to relax could be one more reason to keep trying.  But it could also be another example of how we are each different from each other.  We all need to find our own way to what will best serve us.

As I get older I’ve noticed that I’ve become more open-minded and less likely to automatically dismiss or condemn another point of view. That also has made me less likely to try to impose my opinions on anyone else.  My classes are a judgment-free zone.  Come as you are and do what works for you.  And if it doesn’t work for you, that’s OK, too.  Maybe the timing is not right or perhaps there is a different type of practice waiting for you down the road.  Just try to keep an open mind and remember that everything is always changing.  What you feel today may be different from what you feel tomorrow.

Is Yoga Exercise ?

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Is Yoga Exercise ?

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga

Custer, SD – A friend arrived early to one of my yoga classes this week and told me that she had just come from a Weight Watchers class where the group discussed nutrition and exercise.  This caused my friend to reflect on her yoga practice.  She had been taking yoga fairly regularly for a about 6 months now.  A bit skeptical at first, she had come to realize how differently she felt now from when she began.  Yet she marvelled: “If people were to look into the room”, she said,” they wouldn’t think we were doing anything beneficial”.  Think about it.  Sometimes we just sit on our heels or with our legs crossed, often with our eyes closed, simply breathing.  Or we might be on our hands and knees rolling the spine in a movement called cat and cow.  Sometimes we lie on our tummies and just lift our legs or arms in what might look like an easy move. Then there is Mountain Pose which can look like just standing in place. Finally, of course, there is Savasana, the yoga pose that is practiced at the end (and sometimes elsewhere) in every yoga class. This can easily look like nap time.

So why are these seemingly simple movements so powerful and, in fact, sometimes quite challenging? It is important to remember that one of the main reasons we practice yoga, and I would add Pilates in here, too, is to connect the mind with the body.  Surprisingly, many of us have lost touch with our bodies.  Perhaps we have experienced some kind of physical trauma, or suffered from an injury or illness that has left us with a difficult recovery and maybe even permanent changes to our bodies.  Sometimes we have struggled with our weight, trying all types of programs and practices to achieve some kind of ideal that media projects to us.  In all of these cases and more, the body becomes the enemy.  It just won’t respond the way you want it to.  Why would you ever want to get in touch with a body like yours?

Yoga and Pilates can help you change that thinking.  For one thing, all of these reasons why your body no longer works the way you want it to are just stories you tell yourself.  Sometime others have contributed to those stories in ways that are less than honorable, but the end result is still a story.  You or someone else made the story up, but you’ve allowed yourself to believe it all these years.  Believing it doesn’t mean it’s true.  Since you’ve bought into the story, you can also change it.  Yes, physical trauma and other changes in your body, including aging, are real.  But if the story you are telling yourself is that the changes are bad and interfering with your ability to do the things you want to do, that’s the story you can change.  “Good” and “bad” are simply value judgments.  They have no meaning unless you give them meaning.  In some cases you may not be able to do the exact moves that you used to do in the same way you used to do them, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a different way you can at least do some of them.

This is why bringing your mind back to your body is so important.  Your body is not the enemy.  It is a miraculous apparatus that breathes and has a myriad of systems working in concert to keep you alive.  Your body wants you to live.  And it wants to move.  Sometimes not everything will move well, but the body is also an amazing healing machine.  Healing can take much longer than we want it to.  In fact, it can take so long that we think it won’t ever happen. And there may be barriers that won’t allow the body to heal the way we want it to.  Our lives may not be long enough to accommodate all the healing we think we need.

But every living thing clings to life.  And every day is a new day in which change can happen.  We all know examples of incredible instances of survival.  If your body had given up on you, you wouldn’t be here.  So don’t give up on your body.  Get to know it.  Feel its limitations without discouragement and find its abilities for celebration.  You might be surprised to find that you are capable of much more than you think you are.  There are no promises in life, so no particular outcome is guaranteed.  If you let go of expectations for outcomes and just concentrate on what you can do right now, you might find that no matter how little that seems, you will begin to feel better. Just standing in Mountain Pose or sitting upright in a chair, feeling your feet connecting to the earth, adjusting your alignment and breathing can improve your posture. That’s huge!  I constantly marvel at the people who come to my classes and say things like “I can’t get down on the floor because I can’t get back up again.”  Time after time I’ve seen the look of amazement on their faces when they find themselves standing.  They had been concentrating so much on following the moves and helping their bodies in and out of changing positions they didn’t even realize they had moved from the floor to standing.  What’s an hour of peace from your constantly chattering mind worth?  In my book it’s priceless!

So when your sitting in “Easy Pose” or lying on your back, recognize that this is a time to check in with your body.  Where do you have sensations?  Can you allow your breathing to help you relax any tension you’re feeling?  Is your neck tense or your jaw or your shoulders? If you’re experiencing pain, does releasing tension help you to feel less pain?  Maybe not this time, but practice is what it’s all about.  Each pose may not look like much but there is a purpose.  Certain muscles are being strengthened.  Others are being permitted to relax.  Most of us have pain due to a lifetime of creating imbalances.  Our lifestyles – sitting, driving, bending and lifting improperly, moving without paying attention, being in a hurry, and on and on – all contributed to those imbalances.  Yoga and Pilates light the way to getting back in touch with how your body is actually built to move. This is different for each of us.  Human beings come in all shapes and sizes.  All are right.  None are wrong.  They are just different.  Get in touch with your own body and it will accept that attention and return it with a little greater ease of movement and maybe, even, peace of mind.

Maintaining Motivation

 

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Maintaining Motivation – Photo:Pixabay

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga
October 10. 2016

Custer, SD – A recent article in the Yoga Basics newsletter cited “Five Things to do Every Day for You”.  First on the list – as it should be in my opinion – is “Move Your Body”.  The prescription is no more specific than that.  It doesn’t need to be.  Any kind of movement, any length of time, or any intensity will fill the bill.  You can walk outside or around your house, take a class or just get up from your desk, chair or bed and stretch for 5 minutes or so.  At first a myriad of excuses may arise:  I’m too tired; it’s too cold outside; I’m in a hurry; I’ll get sweaty and mess up my hair; I need to do x, y or z first (which, of course, is more important); and so on.  You know the drill.  Everything takes precedence over the things you need to do for yourself.

When this happens it can be useful to take an honest look at why it is so difficult to maintain the motivation necessary to prioritize your own needs.  You know that if you ignore your excuses and move anyway, you always feel better.  In fact, whatever movement you choose usually feels so good that the 5 minutes or so you were going to allow yourself quickly turns into 10 or even 30 minutes.  The class you were going to walk out on if it felt too hard suddenly isn’t that bad.  In fact, you may even find yourself making moves you thought were beyond your skill level.  Why is that so difficult to remember?

There are many obstacles that can arise when we set goals and try to accomplish something.  Some of them are genuine circumstances beyond our control that arise without prior notice.  But some obstacles are ones we create.  In fact, there are times when it is hard to tell which is which.  After all, there really aren’t that many things we can control yet somehow we still manage to live our lives.  Still it’s easy to blame our own lack of inner resolve on some external circumstance.  Mostly, though, it’s really a matter of prioritizing. When in doubt it helps to stay motivated.  If you find yourself consistently confronting obstacles in the way of your plans to exercise, maybe lack of motivation is the real problem.

So what can we do to regain motivation?  First thing you can do is remind yourself why you want to move in the first place.  Maybe you want to overcome some chronic pain.  Or perhaps you’re trying to lose weight.  Is there a trip you are planning or an event that would be more fun if you were in better shape?  How about a walk for charity that you would like to complete?  Can you remember how good you used to feel when you moved regularly?  You can get there again.  You can’t turn back the clock, but you can feel better than you do right now.  A repeated mantra in this blog is that the more you move, the more you want to move, and the easier it becomes to keep moving.  It doesn’t happen overnight, although you might feel better right away once you get started.  But the key is practice and consistency.  Don’t give up.  Let others help you.  If you take a class, the other participants will support you.  Find a friend to walk with.  Or walk your dog.  Or walk someone else’s dog.  There are always dogs in need of walking.  Make it easy and fun!

When we’re young, time seems endless and unlimited.  But as we age we begin to recognize the importance of using our time wisely.  In this case “wisely” means using time in ways that will contribute to your overall well-being.  When you feel good, everyone around you benefits.  So you needn’t worry about the others in your life.  Just focus on yourself.  If you want to bring more movement into your life but can’t manage to make it happen, you will feel bad about yourself.  Whatever condition you’re trying to overcome won’t get any better.  This is not a contribution to your overall well-being.  Remind yourself that the time you take to move your body is a small amount that won’t be missed later in the day.  But that small investment will eventually yield a big reward.  That’s certainly a carrot you can dangle when you need motivation.  It’s never too late.  If you can move and breathe you can improve.

Exercise! A Little Goes a Long Way

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Easy Does It.

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga

This blog has been touting the benefits of exercise since its inception.  Any of you who have ever been involved in marketing know that repetition is the key to getting your message to penetrate.  As a movement evangelist I agree with the importance of driving that message home.  So here is another round of research that not only reinforces how important it is to keep moving but also shows that even a little can have significant results.

For those of you who are concerned that exercise might be dangerous, a clinical perspective published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicates that “even small amounts of physical activity are associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease”. “The evidence with regard to exercise continues to unfold and educate the cardiovascular clinical community,” said JACC Editor-in-Chief Valentin Fuster, M.D., Ph.D. “The greatest benefit is to simply exercise, regardless of the intensity . . .”.  The article does make mention of the problems that can occur when trying to be too intense too soon without proper preparation.  So often I see people who try to go from zero to maximum in an effort to make up for lost time.  Perhaps they are thinking of what they “should” be able to do instead of accepting where they are right now.   Then they wonder why they get injured or worse decide that they can’t exercise after all.  Unfortunately, we can’t change the past.  What used to be is gone.  But we can start today to change the way we feel right now.

It turns out that it is not necessary to run a marathon or climb Mt. Everest to experience health improvements.  Recent studies show that exercise in lower intensities still significantly lowers disease risk.  So the best advice is still to start slow and gradually increase, especially if it has been a while since you’ve done any regular moving at all. Increases can be made in a variety of ways:  time spent moving or movement intensity such as distance, speed or difficulty.  Only one of these factors should be increased at any one time. Then the body needs time to adjust to each increase before adding anything new.  If you keep this moderate movement in mind and continue to remind yourself that any movement is better than no movement, perhaps you can control the urge to do too much too soon.  This applies to all forms of movement including yoga and Pilates.  There are modifications for all moves so that new participants can start slow.  The trick is to listen to your own body, focus on your own needs and ignore what you see anyone else doing.  Regular practice will enable your body to adapt and at your own pace you will begin to notice improvements.

In addition to the heart health benefits, the mind-body connection is also increasingly demonstrating how important physical movement is for brain health.  Contrary to long held beliefs, our brains are capable of forming new pathways throughout our lives – even as we age.  In an article from Boston University Medical Center researchers found “that higher levels of cardiorespiratory fitness were associated with enhanced brain structure in older adults. . .”  Corresponding author Scott Hayes, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and the associate director of the Neuroimaging Research for Veterans Center at the VA Boston Healthcare System, noted that “physical activities that enhance cardiorespiratory fitness such as walking, are inexpensive, accessible and could potentially improve quality of life by delaying cognitive decline and prolonging independent function.”  Another study, also dealing with physical activity and brain health, further reinforces these findings.  “Our study provides the strongest evidence to date that fitness in an older adult population can have substantial benefits to brain health in terms of the functional connections of different regions of the brain,” said Beckman Institute director Arthur Kramer.  Michelle Voss, who led that study while a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois, further noted that “the benefits of fitness seem to occur within the low-to-moderate range of endurance, suggesting that the benefits of fitness for the brain may not depend on being extremely fit.”  More evidence that a little movement is all you need.

The best news is that the medical profession is finally beginning to get the message.  A recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal provides a “How-to Guide for Prescribing Exercise for Chronic Health Conditions”.  The article notes that “Exercise helps to alleviate the symptoms of many chronic health conditions such as knee osteoarthritis, low back pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, heart disease and more, yet it is often overlooked as a treatment.”  “Many doctors and their patients aren’t aware that exercise is a treatment for these chronic conditions and can provide as much benefit as drugs or surgery, and typically with fewer harms,” states lead author Dr. Tammy Hoffmann, Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice, Bond University, Robina, Australia.  Some examples of the chronic conditions that can benefit from exercise include osteoarthritis of the knee and hip, low back pain and prevention of falls.  In particular, movements that aid in improving muscle strength, range of motion, coordination, and balance are mentioned as some of the interventions that can help with these and other conditions.

As you know, Pilates and yoga specialize in practicing these types of movements.  So doesn’t it make sense to give movement a try?  It costs less than doctors visits, medication or surgery.  All it takes is an investment of time and a commitment to practice.  As noted above, you don’t need to be an expert or even an athlete to get started.  You can start where ever you are.  If you can move at all, there is something you can do. Make a decision to be kind to yourself and take it slow.  If you are already following a medical protocol you should, of course, check with your medical professional before starting any program.  But try asking before you assume that you are incapable of exercise or that it won’t help you.  You’ll never know until you try.