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Genuine Transformation

Genuine Transformation
My cousin Justin Kalef is currently teaching Logic at Rutgers University. I had a chance to chat with him briefly at a family dinner over the 2012 winter holidays. It was around the same time that I was mulling over the contents for the article I was composing on belief. Justin was the perfect person to ask some of the questions that I was working on. He told me what he tells his students on their first day of class, because from his experience teaching, it is inevitable that at some point during the course, one or some students will come to him completely overwhelmed.

We were talking about belief and how our beliefs can affect our ability to make long lasting change in our lives. When he said the following phrase:

“…but it’s only difficult for who you are now.

For the person you will become, 

it won’t be difficult at all.”

How great is this sentence? I think we could all do well to repeat this to ourselves daily. I asked him if I could use it for my belief article, and then I thought better of it…let’s tell the entire speech. So here you are, sit back and soak up these wise words.

“One of the things I do at the start of all my courses

is tell my students to think of the course like thinking of a physical training program (weight lifting or running). Suppose, I say, your goal is to run a 10k run in four months, but you can’t even run down the block now. Or suppose that you want to be able to do a shoulder press with fifty-pound weights in four months, but right now you can only do it with five-pound weights and you can barely lift ten-pound weights.

50 pound weights

These things are possible to achieve in four months’ time. If you go through a training program and are able to reach your goals by the end, you’ll be able to look back down the mountain when it’s all over and say:

‘Wow, I started out that far down and look where I am now!’

Looking down the mountain.

Look How Far You’ve Come!

Ideally, you’ll be able to do that at several points: each month, you should be able to look back to where you were the previous month and be impressed with how far you’ve come. If you can’t do that — if at the end you’re exactly where you were at the start — then that’s a sign that it didn’t work.  If you haven’t progressed in a month, then something went wrong. You didn’t commit enough or your guide didn’t find a way to climb the mountain — maybe both.

So my promise (I tell them) is this: I have worked out a path that you will be able to follow with me to the top of the mountain. There are some things you’ll be able to do at the end that you just can’t do now: here they are (and I set them out plainly). The mountain is high, but my path will allow you to get there a little at a time. If you need to go slower at some points, there are other paths for those times. And if you’re committed to it, you’ll see each month that you’re far in advance of what you could do the month before. That’ll be proof of your progress, and I make the promise to you now that you can make it if you follow my plan.

However, there’s a flipside to that. Logically speaking, if there’s something you’ll be able to do a month from now that you can’t do today, that same something must be out of your range today. And the things you’ll be able to do at the very end are way out of your range today. That comes with the course being a worthwhile one for you, but some people can find it scary.

They say, ‘I can’t do that!’

And they’re completely right:

They can’t.

If they could already do it, there would be no point in their taking the course!

Think of it this way (I tell them): if you can only shoulder-press with five-pound dumbbells and can barely lift the ten-pound ones out of the rack, then of course you can’t shoulder-press the fifty-pound ones. You might resolve to do it anyway, but you’d fail. You just can’t do it. That’s why you’re training toward that goal.

Going in circles

So: if there’s something you want to be able to do and already can do, then any training program designed to get you there is a waste of time and will only take you in a circle. So any reasonable goal must be something you can’t do yet.

And that means that any reasonable goal you have must be something that’s impossible for you to do!

Still, the situation isn’t hopeless. There’s one — and only one — reasonable way to see your training: your training takes something that’s currently impossible for you to do and makes it possible by changing you from someone who can’t into someone who can. So today, you can say ‘I can’t do this — but I can transform myself into someone who can.’ And that’s the key to training: transforming yourself into someone with more powers than you have today.

This is literal transformation: mentally or physically, you’ll be a different person with different abilities. You’ll even have different desires and values: things you find frustrating now won’t be to your future self, and things you find tempting now will be less so.

Genuine self-transformation can be very difficult in the short term,

but it’s only difficult for who you are now.

For the person you will become,

it won’t be difficult at all.

Today, you say to yourself “Living by this routine is so difficult — when will I be able to do the things that I want?” But perhaps you’re only thinking of what the present version of you wants: not the future you. If your self-transformation is to be successful, the routine will not remain difficult. You’ll miss it if you don’t  follow it.

So instead of saying: “This is difficult for me,”

say: “This is difficult for me now,

but I’m transforming myself into a person for whom it isn’t difficult.”

Otherwise, you run the risk of leaving it up to your present desires to choose the values and habits of your future.”

-Justin Kalef

 

 

Meditation – It May Not Be What You Think

Buddha Seated in Meditation (Dhyanamudra), Ind...

I meditate every day.

But not in the way you might typically associate with meditation. When I meditate, I am moving. Sounds kind of wrong, doesn’t it?

Most of us have pre-conceived ideas with what meditation is. We tend to conjure images of a person sitting quietly, legs crossed in lotus, arms extended with the back of the wrists resting gently on the knees. Chanting OM. We imagine a blank mind, so still, devoid of any thing at all. Possibly, why so many people dismiss it as something that they could never do. How does one do, well…nothing?

Meditating Outside

About fourteen years ago, I went to a two-day meditation workshop. We were a small group of about 8 women. Some had a lot of experience meditating, (they taught others how to meditate) and me, with no formal training. We spent the first day reviewing a lot of material and practicing finding the meditative state. The second day, each of us got a chance to be connected to brainwave biofeedback technology.

I was surprised to learn that I was able to easily recreate a “meditative state” while the seasoned meditators were shocked to learn that they had gone too far, into Delta – that means asleep!

Let me give you some backstory. Growing up, I was always an active kid. I was good at imitation and did well in gymnastics and dance. I often got to play the lead in our year-end dance recitals. I remember well, discovering the meditative state then, though I had no idea that that was what it was. I just thought of it as “going on automatic pilot”. The recital began, and before I knew it, it was over and we were taking our bow. How did I get there, having performed every step? It was like a dream. I understand now and from the biofeedback, that I must have been performing in a ‘meditative state’ of sorts.

It still happens today, but now because I understand better what it means and the usefulness of it I enter my active meditation with purpose, it doesn’t so much just happen anymore. This is why I have always preferred to exercise alone. I don’t and won’t listen to music and definitely don’t and won’t have a conversation when I’m doing my body maintenance. When I practice any kind of movement I allow myself to fall into a meditative state. For me, that means focusing on what I am doing – deeply – not falling asleep!  :)

This is what I focus on when I practice active meditation:

  • The repetition, precision and accuracy of each phase of each movement pattern
  • The myriad details that occupy the alignment of my skeletal structure
  • My breathing (pattern, tempo, capacity)
  • Still the fluctuations of the ‘mind-stuff’ (thoughts come and go, this is natural, meditation for me doesn’t mean that I have to have a blank mind – meditation is a dynamic practice).

When I am not meditating, but in full-on-go-mode, as in ok, kids are in school, I’ve got six hours to get as much done as possible mode, my brain is moving very quicklyI often think about a lot of different things at one time. Of late, this phenomenon has been occurring at what seems like an exponential rate. I attribute it, primarily, to having cut gluten out of my diet. I feel more awake; synapses seem to be firing more effectively. I still fall back on my old ways of course, which feels like a paralyzed state of confusion, how do I mentally organize, catalogue and categorize ALL the things that I have to get done along with the things that I want to get done. This is our daily practice and it is always changing. At this point I play a game with myself, as soon as I think it, I do it (within reason of course). So far it is working wonderfully, which segues to the following.

Recently, I came across this sentence:

The human brain processes 40 thoughts every second.

Photographer Isabel M. Martinez captures the beauty of the hyperactive mind in her collection Quantum Blink, which reconsiders the moment as we know it. Her muse? Electroencephalography, a measure of electrical activity in the brain.”

– Fast Company, October 2012

So, I looked her up and this is a portion from her “artist statement”:

“According to quantum mechanics we have forty conscious moments per second, and our brains 
connect this sequence of nows to create the illusion of the flow of time. So, what would things look like if that intermittence were made visible? This body of work explores that hiccup, that blink, that ubiquitous fissure in the falling-into-place of things.”

Perhaps all of us don’t really realize the potential of our awake state. How much we could potentially accomplish by tapping into our seconds of consciousness. Now THAT would be living in the now. If you stop for a moment and really conceptualize the meaning behind the above sentence: 40 thoughts every second. In my mind this encapsulates every possible stimuli, from temperature, sound, light/darkness, smell, touch, texture, images, language, meaning, movement (intentional or automatic), and so on. This is huge. It’s no wonder advertising and media have got us wrapped around their subliminal fingers. This is why we find ourselves buying things we don’t need but think that we do.

By practicing a moving meditation we learn how to distinguish between the fluctuations of the ‘mind-stuff’. We learn how to distinguish between time sensitive thoughts (actions that need to addressed in the moment) and learn how to dismiss those that are not. It is not easy and that is why it is recommended to be practiced daily. It is important in supporting a calm and patient mind.

In Sanskrit: Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah

Yogas = Yoga;  chitta = of the mind-stuff;                                   vritti = modifications:  nirodhah = restraint.

The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

“If the restraint of the mental modifications is achieved one has reached the goal of Yoga. The entire science of Yoga is based on this. If you can control the rising of the mind into ripples, you will experience Yoga.”

-The Yoga Sutras Patanjali, Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda

 

And it is for this reason that I feel that exercise and meditation are such good teammates. The point of exercise in my opinion, aside from enjoyment, because really that goes without saying, is to maintain a functioning dynamic human structure. To do that, we must tap into how we move with intention and precision and be present (in every second) as we effect movement.

So, you see, for me meditation isn’t about doing nothing, but rather the training of a state of complete focus and calm where clarity is nurtured because the fluctuations are restricted. It is a practice that translates into everything we do.

Next time I will discuss the phases of creating movement within the meditative state. I will explain HOW to get to this stage, keeping in mind that everyone’s stages and phases will look completely different. I realize that this idea can seem WAY OUT THERE for the beginner, and with this in mind I will endeavour to break it down!

We have to crawl before we can walk.

Meditation

Related Articles:

The Importance of Brain Waves in Our Everyday Learning

How to Best Support ADHD-gifted Children

 

What If Working Your Butt Off Is Making It Bigger?

A top-down view of a skeletal muscle

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been trying to compose this post for quite some time now. I feel that there is a need for a basic explanation of how our muscles work. Maybe it’s already been written, but I just haven’t found it.

So here goes…

The subject is complex beyond belief and I would err should I give it a simplistic explanation; however, this is for those with very little background in the subject. So forgive me – to all the professionals who may shudder at the following post.

Months ago I innocently left a comment at BodyRock about modifying a workout because my aim was to narrow my hips not expand them.  A few people commented-back: What? You can narrow your hips? So I promised to explain this, but in order to understand it we need to go back a ways. I don’t believe in the ‘bottom-line’, we need back-story and must be well informed to process the bottom-line otherwise we’re just like a fish flailing in a puddle of shallow water – it might look like we’re swimming but we’re so far from doing the same sport.

It can take a lifetime to really get to the root of the following, as with any subject – it is remarkable how the layers continue to unfold as if looking through a microscope. It brings to mind the Origami artist, and in particular Eric Joisel, who “could spend more than 100-hours folding a single piece of paper in order to create his amazing pieces of art.”  Not everyone has passion for details but what if everyone could be more interested in everything they do – from what we eat to how we move, for starters.

The Pilates Method, Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique and Emilie Conrad’s Continuum Movement are a few methods that I have spent time studying over the years, some in more depth than others.  When given the chance, these exceptional methods teach functional movement from the foundation.  These methods aren’t meant to be a ‘workout’ but rather the exercises are tools to better comprehend healthy movement patterning, which in the end can only support ones’ workout or sport.

My task is to explain the following for readers who have no background in physical movement and have spent very little time focusing on how their body actually functions. To have succeeded will mean that your eyes won’t have glazed over.

As the title suggests, what if you’re literally trying to work your butt off by doing exercises that you have been led to believe target a certain muscle group, such as doing endless squats in the hopes of minimizing your gluteus maximus?

What if the infinite number of side leg lifts you’re doing, in the hopes of slenderizing your ‘saddlebags’ is actually giving them the appearance of becoming over-full?

Or what if the long endurance walks or runs you do are not giving you the results you are after?

What if, what you’re doing isn’t very effective at all but you console yourself by saying, “well, at least I’m doing something”.  True, some is better than none, but what if, that ‘some’ is literally a waste of time by making things worse?  And by worse I mean dysfunctional movement patterning.

The spin-doctor in me will tell you that there is no such thing as a waste of time, because it seems to be that through failure we learn the most…with the assumption, however, that through failing we search for another solution, rather than just accepting our fate.

You get the idea…there’s a lot of what if‘s.

Oftentimes, we turn to exercise to tighten loose areas of the body.  Everyone seems willing to put in even a little bit of time to tighten body parts.  Yet, very little time for stretching and lengthening muscles. This is the root of the problem.

In order for muscle fibres to function properly they have to be healthy.  So, what exactly is a healthy muscle, anyway?  A healthy muscle at rest should feel like a bag of water, not a bag of steel; however, ‘Butt of Water’ just doesn’t sound all that sexy and doesn’t have much shelf appeal.  Surrounding the muscle is more tissue called fascia.  This might gross you out, so fair warning, but whether you eat chicken or not (perhaps you have prepared some for dinner at some point), when you peel the skin from a raw chicken you may recall a sticky transparent film, which clings to the skin and the meat.  That transparent film is called fascia – and of course it reacts differently when alive.  It surrounds all of our muscles, nerves and organs.  For our muscles to function properly this film of fascia must slide and glide smoothly over the the muscle fibres, nerves and organs.

Alison Coolican, RMT explains that “the sliding happens three-dimensionally, rotationally, up and down.  So in the forearm the tubes of muscles surrounded by fascia must all slide against each other when your forearm twists to allow for lengthening and twisting of the tubes.  The fascia and the muscles are all connected and exist more in a fluid state, some connections are very loose and airy (more sliding) and some are tight and organized (takes more strain)  the muscle fibres must move smoothly below the fascia.  Injury and repetitive movement (whether with correct alignment or not) can impact this fascia/ muscle glide relationship.”

An unhealthy muscle/ fascia relationship would be one whereby the tissue has been, from correct or incorrect repetitive movement or injury, forced into a dysfunctional pattern.  This dysfunctional pattern thereby impacts the correct anatomical patterning of the skeleton in movement.  Have your eyes glazed over yet?

Consider that the body is made up of guy wires (muscles and tendons) which are meant to stabilize our skeleton providing support and function. Over years these structures become over tight in some areas and weakened in others and therefore can affect the way our structure appears and functions.

Personal example: My bowed legs.  BUT as a child I had very straight legs.  Here’s what happened. I started gymnastics at age 4, Ballet and Track from age 7.  By the time I was 18 my legs had started to bow slightly.  At 21, having spent a lot of time teaching Aerobics/ Step/ Spinning and bodybuilding I had over-developed the lateral aspect of my quadriceps and buttock muscles and over lengthened my inner thigh muscles by working on improving my middle ‘Russian’ split.  I had created an imbalance.  This imbalance caused a painful knee condition called Chondromalacia (Patelofemoral syndrome). Which meant that my femur (the thigh bone) would grind into the underside of my patella (knee cap).  The remedy was to re-create balance by strengthening the medial side of the quadriceps (Vastus Medialis Obliquus – VMO) and Adductors, and to stretch the lateral, over tight muscles.

My over tight muscles and fascia were dysfunctional. My skeleton was not functioning as it should, hence the aberration at the knee cap. Later this sticky fascia caused more dysfunction at my right hip and so on.  If something is stuck at one point the body will compensate elsewhere.  Moishe Feldenkrais said it best:

“Force that is not converted into movement does not simply disappear, but is dissipated into damage done to joints, muscles, and other sections of the body.”

Long story short, the physiotherapy worked only to the extent that I truly understood what I was doing and that I took it on as a daily job – this was the beginning of daily body maintenance, I just didn’t know it yet.

For a moment, let’s return to the bowed legs and dysfunctional movement patterning. When I’m out and about I watch how people move – their mechanics. It’s not a judgement, it’s just what I see and I don’t analyze it all the time. When I see people running or cycling, I watch their alignment.  Sometimes I cringe, because I see faulty mechanics which is being repeated and I can feel the pain that will ensue. And other times I see mechanics that make me stop, take my breath away and hear myself say, wow.  It’s rare to see movement that is pure and effortless but you’ll know it when you see it, as you will know it when you feel it.  Have you ever heard someone point out an athlete and say, he or she runs like a gazelle?

Let me just say that even with the gazelle-like athlete, there can still be injury and dysfunctional movement patterning- there is no perfect – just the aim towards it. Our aim with movement, art, literature, what-have-you, is that “once we accept our limits, we [must] go beyond them.” (Albert Einstein).  So in my opinion, from experiencing a lot of physical movement I have found that refining movement is on going.  Knowing that I swim, people come up to me from time to time and state (more than ask), “Boy, I just can’t swim for exercise – don’t you find it boring?”  I am amazed by this because it is often very accomplished athletes who say this.  People whom I imagined would know about refining.  Each stroke for me is a new combination of possibilities – the accuracy of the kick, placement of pelvis, rib cage and head to the rotation of the arms and angle of pull…who has time for boredom, my neurons and synapses are on overdrive. This is not some mindless activity. If we show interest in what we do, we learn from it and can add on and continue to refine.

Which takes me to the next point, but I’m sure your eyes are beginning to glaze over, so I will return with “What If: Part 2″ another day and go into more detail about the narrowing of the hips comment.

M. Feldenkrais, Awareness Through Movement, (NY: Harper & Row, 1972), p. 58.

It’s Official…I Have Become My Mother

Up until I became a mother, I was not one for house cleaning and was not even much of a tidy-upper, either.  Having kids of my own was the tipping point at which my inner-mother evolved.

I grew up in a traditional middle-class household.  Dad went out to work and Mom was the ‘home engineer’.  She was the perfect role model in terms of eating well; she ate well balanced meals and enjoyed desert from time to time, (she definitely had a sweet tooth, which she did not deny).  I only learned about dieting from my peers whose mothers were experimenting with fad diets. Mom never needed to diet even though she was never a formal exerciser, she just never stopped moving.  And out of the blue, we’d often find her in a headstand.  She’d have her shower, then wipe down the shower to slow down the mildew from taking hold, which in the long run would make her house maintenance more manageable.  She wouldn’t take a flight of stairs without taking something up or down along the way.  She always seemed to be putting a load of laundry in or folding a basket-full. It drove me crazy!  As a tween I couldn’t stand to see her always working.  I vowed I wouldn’t be like her when I grew up…I would only do things that pleased me. Almost thirty years of running from reality, it’s now official…I have become my mother, AND surprisingly, it pleases me!

Just before spring of this year our present day cleaning lady retired.  At the same time, I was starting up this site and decided that I would now tackle our house cleaning on my own.  My reasoning was that if I had time to start up a website then I had time to do all the house maintenance as well.  I made a deal with myself that I had to get a certain amount of cleaning done each day before spending any time working on my site.

It was not so easy to clean the house the way I wanted it clean with infants, toddlers or pre-schoolers, but now that the kids are in school full time I know I can take this on. I’m not very good at it yet and it can be overwhelming at times, but if I tackle a job a day and keep the cycle going it seems to work well, at least in my opinion.

So where am I going with this?  It’s all about NEAT: Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis.   I came across a great article by Tom Venuto, you can read the original here titled “Why Cardio Doesn’t Work For Some People: A NEAT Explanation.”

NEAT or Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis accounts for all of your daily physical activity excluding your scheduled workout.  Common sense dictates that you already know the following, but maybe we could all use a gentle reminder…

From Tom’s article, “NEAT includes all the calories you burn from casual walking, shopping, yard work, housework, standing, pacing and even little things like talking, chewing, changing posture, maintaining posture and fidgeting. Walking contributes to the majority of NEAT.

It seems like a bunch of little stuff – and it is – which is why most people completely ignore it. Big mistake.

At the end of the day, week, month and year, all the little stuff adds up to a very significant amount of energy. For most people, NEAT accounts for about 30% of physical activity calories spent daily, but NEAT can run as low 15% in sedentary individuals and as high as 50% in highly active individuals.”

One of the major pitfalls that happens to people who take on extreme workouts is that they wear themselves down so much that they have no juice left for NEAT.  And then they over consume calories, which negates the calories burned in the first place!

At the bottom of Mr. Venuto’s article, he highlights five important points.  As they are all highly significant, pay close attention to point number two:

“2.  Exercise intensity can affect NEAT for days after a workout is over. Too much high intensity work might zap your energy and activity outside the gym, resulting in a lower level of NEAT. You have to keep up your habitual activity level outside the gym after pushing yourself hard in the gym.”

This is why I am such an advocate for incorporating 4 Minute Mornings and Short-Duration-High-Intensity Training into your life, specifically for those who don’t have time for longer body maintenance workouts.  It doesn’t mean I don’t believe in going for a jog/ run or long walk etc., but what I think happens to so many people is that they put so much belief into those long workouts to help them lose weight that they end up dismissing the significance of NEAT.  And the cycle continues. It’s all about balance. And that is what we mean when we talk about balance.  Exercise to become strong to live an active life.

But then there are those who DO a high level of NEAT all day long, those with physically demanding jobs.  All I can say is that it’s in the numbers: calories in vs. calories out.  How you fuel yourself is the most important factor to consider.

  • Eat real food, experiment with what energizes your body, don’t diet.
  • Exercise each day at a moderate level.  Knock yourself out from time to time, just to test your mettle and because it feels great to,
  • but DON’T overtrain or you’ll burn the candle at both ends, wasting your time and not getting results.

Read Tom Venuto’s article, it will help.

Stand up while you read it though, and go fold some laundry when you’re finished! Just imagine, a nation of hard, happy, highly functioning bodies with really clean houses! :)

Photo:  My Mom, Lea (1934-2004)- named after my Great Aunt Lea.  Doing a headstand at the cottage, age 48.

Today’s 10 Minute Workout

A straight flight of stairs, somewhere in the ...

Image via Wikipedia

I couldn’t find a link for this workout at Mark Lauren‘s website so I’m posting it here.

It’s a time challenge.

Only three exercises:

  1. Burpees +
  2. Mountain Climbers +
  3. Jump Lunges (A.K.A: Iron Mikes)
Instructions: 
Complete 7 Rounds as fast as possible.
Round 1: Complete 5 Reps of each exercise (i.e. 5 Burpees + 5 MC + 5 Jump Lunges)
Round 2: Complete 10 Reps of each exercise (i.e. 10 Burpees + 10 MC +10 JL etc.)
Round 3: Complete 15 Reps of each exercise
Round 4: Complete 20 Reps of each exercise
Round 5: Complete 15 Reps of each exercise
Round 6: Complete 10 Reps of each exercise
Round 7: Complete 5 Reps of each exercise
My times:
2 August, 2010 –   Time  13 min :53 seconds
5 September, 2011 –  Time  10 min :31 seconds
—————————————————————————————————
For my warm-up:
Ran up + down my basement staircase 10 x (12 stairs).  (Up + Down = 1x)
Odd numbers I took the stairs by two’s.  Even numbers I took single steps.
I.e.
1. by two’s
2. singles
3. by two’s
4. singles etc….up to 10.
Lunge style Hip flexor stretches, side bends, quads etc.
Did Mark Lauren’s workout, as I’ve come to call it.
Once finished it took a long time to get my breath back.  This was a super hard workout.  Walked around for quite some time breathing.
  • Cool down with 4 x 100 skips, still trying to bring my heart rate down gradually.
  • Cool down with 5 minutes on the stationary bike.
  • 5 Forward Grip Pull Ups
  • Full body stretches including rolling out ITB & TFL with foam roll.
Post-workout meal & lunch combined:
Romaine Salad with cherry tomatoes/ red peppers/ broccoli / my salad dressing
4 Slices of Roast Turkey (ingredients: roast turkey, salt –NOT processed)
1 leftover BBQ Sweet potato (fresh from last night) with a pat of unsalted butter.
12 oz. Water.

H2O

H2O

Image via Wikipedia

How Hydrated Are You, Really?

This past Monday, July 11, 2011 –  I donated 550 cc of blood (which is the same as 550 mL, which is equivalent to approximately:  2  1/4 Cups) at Canadian Blood Services.  It was my fastest donation to date.  It took a total of 4 Minutes and 20 seconds. Sounds like one of my workout Tabatas. Not that it’s a race and it shouldn’t be, but it was quite comical. I joke that these 4 Minutes are following me everywhere!

The first time I gave blood was in high school at age seventeen –and it didn’t end well.  The nurse suggested I leave it for a few years before I try to make another donation.  I realize now, that the cause was dehydration.  At seventeen drinking enough water was not on my radar. After that experience I was determined to give blood regularly. The idea of giving blood was one of the reasons behind building up my muscle mass; I was falsely under the impression that greater muscle mass equated greater blood flow.  Unfortunately, I never got back around to making a donation until March of this year.

About four years ago when I was at the height of my unwell phase: recurring colds, depleted immune system and chronic cough (I wrote about it here: http://youasamachine.com/inspiration/motivation/)

I got a phone call from a friend telling me that her three-year-old daughter had just been diagnosed with Leukemia.  (Our daughters are the same age). I asked if there was anything I could do?

“Please,” she asked, “if you are able, donate blood.”

I was all geared up to do my part, but I couldn’t -I wasn’t well enough.  I had this chronic cough and just wasn’t well.  This really bothered me for two reasons: 1) I couldn’t help my friends’ daughter and 2) Not being well enough to help out was a testament to my own health.

This was a bit of an eye opener for me, which made me question my health on a larger scale.  If I was not even well enough to donate blood, what did that say about my health in general?  I was now on a mission to change my course.  It was a long road, but I finally made it.

Only to hear news of my hair stylist who was diagnosed with Leukemia this past November.  The same message was sent out: Please, if you are able: donate blood.

So by March of this year I was finally well enough to make my first donation. After two years of building on my ferritin levels, they were finally high enough (one must have a ferritin level of 125 or higher to make a donation). So now that I was healthy, I had to pass the screening questionnaire, which isn’t easy. I have made a donation every 56 days since.  My goal is to be a regular donor every 56 days, which is the most frequent one can.

Now here’s what I have learned along the way.

Water.

You must be very well hydrated to donate blood.  But that doesn’t mean just guzzle a liter of water the day of your appointment. For me it means being very conscious about hydrating myself daily, on a regular basis.  Being an Aerobic instructor from the nineties I had been convinced of the benefits of being well hydrated.  In the nineties it was rare not to bee seen walking around with a litre of water and drinking from it non-stop (which was a little excessive). However, now as a mom always running around with endless errands and chores (like everyone else), it is easy to forget to drink enough water.

My first donation in March went smoothly enough, it took the entire fifteen minutes. (On average a donation takes between five and fifteen minutes). My second donation, in May, took about ten minutes or so just to fill the bag half way!  My blood was moving at a very sluggish pace.  And the nurse stopped the collection. I was disappointed.  What happened?  Did I do something wrong?  Could I have been dehydrated – ME? I always made a point of eating generously leading up to my appointments but maybe I hadn’t focused enough on hydration?

So began my next experiment.  More water every day for 56 days until my next blood donation appointment.

It worked. What a difference. My blood filled up the bag within four minutes and twenty seconds.  This is not great either, however.  There is a concern for our body when a large quantity of blood leaves the body at a rapid pace.  As a result I was kept on observation.  I felt fine though, drank my juice, filled up on water and more food and was cleared to leave. Now that I’ve got my hydration figured out I will monitor the speed of the blood collection and meditate if needed, to slow it down and maybe not squeeze the little hand ball (at such a feverish pace) which they give you to facilitate blood flow. What fun!

In all, I put aside an hour every 56 days to visit Canadian Blood Services.  If you are healthy and can pass the screening, please consider making this a regular habit. It can make such a difference to those around you.

If you are unable to donate blood for one of the numerous reasons that prevent many from doing so, at least you can focus on your own health, which helps everyone:

  • Staying well hydrated. Find the balance and be careful not to over-hydrate.
  • Eating fresh, whole, unrefined and unprocessed foods.
  • Getting eight hours of sleep each night.
  • Maintaining your physical body with daily exercise.
  • Flossing and brushing your teeth consistently.
Update: My friends’ daughter is now a healthy seven year old and my hair stylist has made an unbelievably quick recovery and is back to work.
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For further reading about the importance of maintaining balanced hydration the following is a great, short article by Brendan Brazier – World Class Ironman Tri-Athlete.

TRIATHLON TRAINING TIPS – PROPER HYDRATION

By Brendan Brazier – World Class Ironman Tri-Athlete

Brendan Brazier - World Class Ironman Athlete

“Most athletes, whether professional or those of the weekend variety, understand that drinking sufficient water is an important element of health and performance, but few understand how to properly achieve true hydration.

Today’s the day, you’ve entered your very first race. To prepare, you got a good nights sleep, munched a power bar for breakfast, and now you’re slugging back a sports drink for hydration.

As the race begins, you feel great, your hitting your stride. But what happens next is unexpected: your cadence begins to slow while your heart rate quickens. Your movements are no longer fluid, but angular and mechanical. Breathing becomes labored, and the twitching in your calves spreads to the hamstrings and quadriceps. Dehydration has set in, and no amount of fluid at this point can save your race. The damage is done. What can be done here?

Balance your water intake:
Dehydration occurs when the body sweats out more fluid than it takes in, and one of the first physiological responses is the thickening of the blood, which creates more work for the heart. The added stress on the heart from dehydration significantly decreases endurance. Over-hydration, on the other hand, occurs when more water is consumed than the body can process.

Hyponatremia is the point at which the body becomes over-hydrated. Too much water flushes minerals, known as electrolytes from the body. These minerals help regulate the smooth and efficient contraction of muscles, and when the body’s electrolyte levels become too low, cramping, muscle spasms and other signs comparable to dehydration occur.

Don’t make the mistake many athletes have made by drinking copious amounts of water in the days prior to your running competition day. Instead, consume only a moderate amount of water, sipping it throughout the day, and avoid all caffeinated drinks, since caffeine is a diuretic. Limit high-protein foods prior to any endurance event, since water is “sucked up” during the digestive process. Fresh fruit is the best option!”

Photo: Brendan Brazier – World Class Ironman Triathlete                                                      I found this article from the Official Springbak® Website at www.springbak.net

To Do or Not To Do?

Just Do It Anyway

Image by MikeVC via Flickr

I read this great bumper sticker a few months ago: “Kids who hunt, trap and fish do not mug little old ladies”.  It got me thinking…

The Industrial Revolution brought with it an incredible opportunity for creative thinkers, builders and doers.  Yet, the same seed spawned a cloud of laziness for the masses.

Sliced, pre-packaged bread – no need to make your own anymore…who’s got time anyway? We have gone and replaced the time we’ve gained from these inventions with more things to do.  Because in truth, we are not lazy we are doers – each one of us.  We have gained more time to do more, but at what cost?

My point is that for a large part we have lost the art for having to take care of ourselves.  Not having to explore, create or examine because the fundamentals have been taken care of for us.  This wheel of convenience has run amok.

Humans need to ‘do’.  We are no different from the very busy animal kingdom.  We see the birds preparing their nests for spring: tending, feeding and guarding their nestlings.  This is their natural cycle, which is not so different from ours.  But ours has gotten muddled up.  Historically, our natural drive was to find shelter, be clothed, and eat three meals per day, dance and sing.  Presently, we still have this natural survival energy.  We need to burn it off somehow.  If we do not find a constructive way to utilize this energy we are going to sit around and overeat.  Much like the housebound dog that doesn’t get exercised; he gets himself into mischief to satisfy his natural drive, often in the way of eating a lone leather shoe or digging up the garden. Or, like the “kids who mug little old ladies”!

To think that those of us in Western society who are lucky enough to live in an age where education and personal development is attainable and affordable:  from life coaching, music lessons or personal fitness training to name a few…isn’t that fantastic?

However, it is what we do with this gift of learning that is worth questioning.  Has it become an affordable disposable luxury much in the same way that food has become?  (Read FUEL http://youasamachine.com/fuel-2/ to know what I’m talking about.)

Let me pick on personal training since it is my background.  Does personal training work? It depends. It always depends on a variety of factors. It depends on whether you hire a trainer as an educator or as your motivator.

I know way too many people going to personal trainers and not making progress.  Sure, maybe at the beginning when doing anything new will have an effect.  But as time goes on the people I have talked with admit to not doing any workouts except for when they have a scheduled appointment.  And even fitting in those appointments becomes challenging.

I think personal training would be more effective overall if sessions were viewed more as lessons, like swimming, martial arts or piano lessons for example. A lesson being something whereby you acquire further understanding of a subject.  You learn, practice, refine, learn more, practice more, refine more etc.

For the most part personal training has become a service of sorts, a session in which a client is often mindlessly put through their paces.  They leave feeling wiped out and think they got their money’s worth.  But has the client learned anything in the process?  Money can buy an hour with the best trainer on the planet but I don’t believe that it can buy health or a lean well-conditioned body. But if it does, it is only a temporary transformation. Yes, you’re better off having done a mindless session than none at all. But this reinforces dependence.

Your body doesn’t know how much money you have or don’t have.  You can deceive the mind but not the body.

If a client is seeing a trainer once to three times per week for a year and hasn’t made a significant change, which is to blame, the trainer or the client?  I would think that after one year of private instruction a client would be very well versed and on the road to becoming self-sufficient and accountable.  But that rarely happens.  Why?

In order to make progress in any subject we need to understand the fundamentals.  Before we can read we need to learn our A-B-C’s. In terms of our physical health and fitness we need to have a grasp of basic anatomy.  Does this mean that in order to brush our teeth effectively we should first be schooled in dentistry?  Not quite.  But our brains are able and hungry for knowledge and up for the challenge.

We all should be well versed in our anatomy and physiology, but we aren’t.  We let the experts take care of us!  We let doctors prescribe pharmaceuticals.  We let our governments come up with ‘programs’ to raise awareness to better our health.  It’s all fluff.  We need to take control of us.  En masse, we need to give our heads the proverbial shake.  Just like handing over our hard earned life savings to the expert to invest for us and not having done any research into where or what it is being invested.

Each and every one of us needs to become accountable.  We need to learn about how our body works so we can take care of it – and stay out of mischief.

Be accountable.  Become your own expert.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever.”

- Gandhi (1869-1948)

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