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.

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.

Mental Gymnastics

motivateMHPopti
Photo:Pixabay.com

By Peg Ryan
Mile High Pilates and Yoga

Custer, SD – Most of us already know that exercise can contribute to improved physical health.  Studies continue to demonstrate that even small amounts of moderate exercise can reduce or delay the risk of a variety of diseases and disease precursors including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, and osteoporosis.  Exercise can also help sufferers manage back pain and depression.  Balance, flexibility and postural training can help prevent falls.

According to an article  from the National Center for Biotechnology Information although “compromised bone strength (osteoporosis) and falling, alone, or more frequently in combination, are the two independent and immediate risk factors of elderly people’s fractures . . .  of these two, falling, not osteoporosis, is the strongest single risk factor for a fracture.”  The article goes on to say that “in fall prevention, regular strength and balance training, reducing psychotropic medication, and diet supplementation with vitamin D and calcium have been shown to be effective.”  Another article from the British Journal of Sports Medicine echoes this finding:  “Exercise is effective in lowering falls risk in selected groups and should form part of falls prevention programmes.”

Exercise is not only an important to our physical well-being but it contributes to our mental health as well.  Recentstudies , including one published in the Archives of Neurology, show a link between physical exercise and cognitive function.  ” ‘Our findings contribute to the growing body of literature that indicates the potentially beneficial relationship between physical exercise and cognition,’ Yonas E. Geda, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and colleagues concluded.”  Anothera rticle  asserts that exercise may even reduce the risk of dementia in people aged 65 and older. According to these researchers:  “Regular physical exercise is an important element in overall health promotion and might also be an effective strategy to delay onset of dementia.”  Exercise in this case was defined as a physical activity in which the subject engaged for a minimum of 15 minutes at least 3 times per week. Seems like a small price to pay for a potentially big benefit.

The importance of exercise to the physical body should come as no surprise, especially to regular exercisers.  The bonus of improved mental health is similarly not unexpected among those who recognize that all systems in the human body are related and interconnected.  (And, yes, that means our teeth, eyes and feet are all contributors to our overall health despite the fact that our health care system considers them separate.  But that’s a topic for another day.)

What may be less well-studied, but no less apparent to active people, is that the converse is also true.  Lack of movement contributes to decline of many physical and mental functions.  Recently a participant in one of my classes was lamenting the fact that the decline seems to accelerate with aging and become that much more difficult to overcome.  This means that if we stop moving, it becomes that much harder to get moving again.  The less we move, the less we want to move so lack of movement ends up contributing to further lack of movement.  Nobody really knows why this happens, but one thing is certain.  It takes mental as well as physical strength to get back in gear.  This is the function of the Warrior in yoga.  It’s not about destruction or revenge, it’s about exercising courage and overcoming obstacles.

Most of the time, we create our own obstacles.  We are really good at making excuses for not doing the things we want to do.  Of course, we are only hurting ourselves by constructing these fences, but sometimes that gives us another rationale. We fall into a self-pity trap that begins “if only . . . ”  You can fill in your own blank here.  Examples, “if only I hadn’t gotten injured” or “if only I wasn’t overweight” or “if only the weather was better”, etc. etc.  You get the idea.

Here is one of the most common obstacles I find when people are trying to get back into moving:  “if only I could still do what I used to be able to do.”  This is simply imposing unrealistic expectations on ourselves.  The way things were will always be part of the past and unless someone invents some kind of time machine, we can never go back there.  All the lamenting and nostalgia in the world won’t make that possible.  Our old frenemy change will always come back to haunt us.  Nothing stays the same.  Change is constant regardless of how fervently we resist it.

So the best we can do is use the present to pave the way for the future.  There are no guarantees.  We can’t go back, but we also can’t see into the future.  Stuff happens and despite the pronouncements of various pundits and so-called experts there is no way to tell what will happen tomorrow.  But we can do the best we can to deal with what we are presented with today.  If you’re trying to start or get back into a regular movement practice, there is no better time than right now.  But you may need to get out of your own way to do it.  Instead of making excuses for why it is not possible, try to make it a priority.  Carve out the time just as you would if you were making an important appointment.  After all, what good are you without your health?  You can’t help anyone else unless you first help yourself. If you’ve ever flown in a commercial airplane you might remember the admonishment of the safety instructions:  put on your own oxygen mask first.  You can’t give what you haven’t got.  And we all have much to give.  Instead of fixating on what you can’t do, try focusing on what you can do and move from there.  Start with a small dose and move from there.  Get up and walk around the house.  Stand up and stretch.  You can do it!

Getting started is hard.  That’s true.  But call on your inner Warrior.  Take baby steps.  Start with 5 minutes.  Like we used to say in ultrarunning, start slow and back off.  If you want to take a class, just go.  Let go of vanity.  We all look funny moving around in a class.  A sense of humor is a great ally.  Remind yourself that you can stop any time.  There are no class police.  No one will arrest you for doing something different from what other people are doing. You don’t have to force anything.  Just stop when you need to.  Any movement is better than no movement at all.  Once you get started, it becomes that much easier to keep going.

The simple act of moving will help reduce your stress levels and improve your overall health.  It is almost guaranteed that you will feel better after you’re done than you did before you started.  And once you have the experience of knowing you can do it, draw on that strength to keep at it.  Changes can be subtle and sometimes we don’t notice them right way.  Don’t let that discourage you.  Just keep moving.  If you keep at it you will see a difference.