Help Yourself

Every Hour on the Hour

Every Hour on the Hour

What fun! Last night while tucking my kids into their beds, I was discussing with them the importance of keeping the body moving throughout the day. I try to impart that doing 30 minutes to one hour of intense physical activity per day does not cancel out the negative effects of prolonged sitting. This article written in 2011 from The New York Times discusses the subject: The Hazards of the Couch.

“Many of us sit in front of a computer for eight hours a day, and then go home and head for the couch to surf the Web or watch television, exchanging one seat and screen for another. Even if we try to squeeze in an hour at the gym, is it enough to counteract all that motionless sitting?

A mounting body of evidence suggests not.

Increasingly, research is focusing not on how much exercise people get, but how much of their time is spent in sedentary activity, and the harm that does.”

It is the kids summer holidays after all, and aside from registering our kids for some half day camps or a week of one hour swim lessons, as a family we have agreed that summertime is the kids time to have their own kind of down time. My husband and I are a lot more lenient about how much time they spend on screens each day. I am usually busy in the kitchen, grocery shopping or doing various household chores and when I’m lucky I can sneak in an hour here or there of my own screen time to write posts like this one; but not all at once. I usually have to jump up from my desk to let the dog in or out, or for various other Mom-job reasons. For example, I started writing this post about forty minutes ago and have gotten up from my seat about twenty times already.

View from Top of Grouse

Both my husband and I are hyper sensitive to the immobility induced factor which is screen time of any kind. My husband works from home and all of of his work involves screens and conference calls. He has figured out how to ensure that he does not become chained to his desk. Quite simply: He moves. He stretches at his desk. He does push ups. Between calls he’ll run ten flights of stairs, which at most takes a minute and a half. He’ll do a set of chin ups. He’ll walk the dog. And a couple of times per week from Spring till Fall he’ll hike Grouse Mountain (Grouse Grind). Aside from that he spends 15 minutes in the gym three times per week lifting heavy weights and sprints a mile at the track once or twice a week. He just turned 52 years old and is getting better all the time.

So back to the kids. Last night I was pointing out how easy it is for them to spend hours a day on their handheld device, Wii or desktop computer, without moving. My son paraphrased that he should get up and do something every forty-five minutes. So I leaped at the opportunity and offered that starting in the morning we could experiment with a little bit of activity every hour on the hour! They loved the idea. Concepts are fantastic, but meaningless without action.

By 8am this morning, my son had already spent one hour on his computer! I had already done my bed stretches and morning routine and while putting in the first load of laundry of the day, I told my son that it was time to start his Hour on the Hour Practice. But he countered, “It hasn’t been an hour yet.” It’s quite amazing how quickly time slips away when we are staring at a screen.

True to his word, he got up from his chair and did 50 high knees, then got back to his screen. (He did eat breakfast)

9am: Son did 10 Push Ups followed by a doorway chest stretch. then back to his screen. (I did them after him and he complemented me on my form which made me laugh).

9am: Dot slept in but did her first set of 25 Jumping Jacks to start.

10am: Son and I did 25 Jumping Jacks, then back to his screen./ Dot did 5 Pull Ups.

11am: Son, Dot and I did 10 times flight of stairs.

12 noon: Son will do 5 standing roll downs, I will do 5 Sun Salutations, Dot will do 50 high knees.

We will do nothing until later in the day because we will go to the pool for 1:30pm. I will swim for 30minutes while the kids have their one hour swimming lesson.

I wanted to share this with you today. It is simple, yet it takes self-discipline to make it happen. Precision of movement is paramount but we cannot even begin to work on that if we haven’t got a regular daily practice under our belt. We have to know what we are doing before we can work on the details.

Try to understand this very important point: The amount of time we spend doing an activity is meaningless if what we are doing is done mindlessly without precision.

Exercise is multifaceted.

First things first. Take responsibility for your health. Once you develop a consistent daily body maintenance practice I can help you to see and fine tune the details.

And while you are at it, drink some water every hour on the hour!

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On Valuing Your Life

How to Be Compassionate

Valuing Your Life

by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“So, this human life is a precious endowment, potent yet fragile. Simply by virtue of being alive, you are at a very important juncture, and carry a great responsibility.

You can achieve powerful good for yourself and others, so becoming distracted by the minor affairs of this lifetime would be a tremendous waste. Resolve to use this lifetime in this body effectively, urging yourself on from the inside and seeking whatever assistance there is from the outside.  You should use your fleeting life for your benefit and that of others.  Physical happiness is just an occasional balance of elements in the body, not a deep harmony.  Recognize the temporary for what it is.  Do not assume that there will be time later.

Meditative Reflection

  1. It is certain that I will die.  Death cannot be avoided.  My lifetime is running out and cannot be extended.
  2. When I will die is unknown.  Human lifespan varies.  The causes of death are many, and the causes of life comparatively few.  The body is fragile.
  3. We are all in this same tenuous situation, so there is no  point in quarrelling and fighting, or wasting all our mental and physical energy on accumulating money and property.
  4. By mistaking what deteriorates moment by moment for something constant, I bring pain upon myself as well as others.  I should reduce my attachment to passing fancies.
  5. From the depths of my heart, I should seek to get beyond these cycles of suffering created by mistaking what is fleeting for permanent.
  6. In the long run, what helps most is my transformed attitude.

Being aware of impermanence calls for discipline – taming the mind – but this does not mean punishment, or control from the outside.  Discipline does not mean prohibition; rather, it means that when there is a contradiction between short-term and long-term interests, you sacrifice the former for the latter.  This is self-discipline, which is based on understanding the cause and effect of one’s own actions.  This type of discipline offers protection.  A tamed mind makes you peaceful, relaxed, and happy, whereas if your mind is not disciplined in this way, no matter how wonderful your external circumstances, you will be beset by fears and worries.  Realize that the root of your own happiness and welfare lies in a peaceful and tamed mind.  It is also a great benefit to those around you.

Human beings have all the potential necessary to create good things, but its full utilization requires freedom.  Totalitarianism stifles this growth.  Individualism means that you do not expect something from the outside, or that you are waiting for orders; rather, you yourself create the initiative.  Therefore, Buddha frequently called for “individual liberation,” meaning self-liberation, rather than freedom achieved through large-scale political or military action.  Each individual must create his or her own discipline.  If they are exploited by afflictive emotions, there will be negative consequences.  Freedom and self-discipline must work together.”

 

From: How to Be Compassionate, pages 51-53. 

Translated by Jeffrey Hopkins, Ph.D. 

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

 

 

Navasana into Handstand

Navasana

I practice physical (Hatha) Yoga

and mental (Raja) Yoga.

I am not sure it is possible to do one without the other; just as we cannot inhale without exhaling – they go together. However, as we all know, there are different levels of practice to any art or science. Similarly, it is possible to be breathing every waking moment of the day and yet by days end be completely unaware of having experienced the incredible life giving exchange of oxygen.

“When the word Yoga is mentioned, most people immediately think of some physical postures for relaxing and limbering up the body. This is one aspect of the Yogic science, but actually only a very small part and relatively recent in development. The physical Yoga, or Hatha Yoga, was primarily designed to facilitate the real practice of Yoga – namely, the understanding and complete mastery over the mind. So the actual meaning of Yoga is the science of the mind.”

-From the Introduction The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Yoga is subjective and in Western culture this is very much the case. No one can define for another what Yoga should be. Once we choose to practice anything, we make it our own.

We can choose to simply go through the motions and be done with our practice, whatever that may be (Yoga, running, swimming, Tai Chi, etc.), and check it off our master list of things to do for the day, or we can choose to practice with intention, focus and purpose. It takes the same amount of time to do either and no more effort. It comes down to choice.

My Yoga practice over the last eighteen years has had its own evolution; years of intense continuous practice to some years with very little to none at all. There were moments when my ego subconsciously struggled with attaining physical goals to moments like right now where I feel deeply satisfied in practicing without a goal. The practice is the practice – just as I am beginning to understand, to really understand that there is only now.

It is definitely an interesting state of mind to observe oneself; like a spectator to my own thoughts and to my own physical practice. With this in mind I am sharing a video that I put together as an example of what practice can do.

I began filming myself as a tool to analyze my alignment. At the same time I realized that there aren’t many videos out there that actually show, through the progression of time, how we can improve with consistent practice. We often see photographs of the final product, or experts demonstrating the final product, which is important, but I think it is equally important for beginners to see that regardless of ability, we all have to start at the very beginning – our own beginning.

This video shows what 12 weeks of practice looks like (bloopers and all).

At this point, I would like to bridge the idea of practice with time. In this video I am demonstrating my attempts at doing Navasana (boat) into Handstand, which is the thirteenth posture in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary series. I get to Navasana by the fifty-minute mark and only spend about three to four minutes on this particular sequence. I proved to myself what an impact short duration practice can have. I only spent three to four minutes, two to three times per week on this.

But in the same breath, achieving the physical is actually unimportant. I realize this may come across as a contradiction, and I am fully aware of this, but I think that this is what makes it such an interesting state of mind. An important element of the physical and mental Yoga practice is about confronting one’s ambition and learning to manage it.

“Real yoga is what you can’t see. It’s invisible.”

-David Williams

I filmed this after about a year of an on-again regular home-based Ashtanga Yoga practice, which included Surya Namaskara A & B, the Standing Series, the first twelve seated postures, three backbends followed by the closing sequence, practiced two to three times per week. (A total of forty-five minutes for each practice session).

I did very few jump through or jump back vinyasa because doing them in previous years seemed to cause irritation (in hindsight, I realize now that because I was out of balance I would unknowingly compensate at my shoulders or neck or back etc.), so I made the executive decision to leave those vinyasa out and see what would happen.

July 2012, I felt that it was time to add on. The thirteenth posture in the series is Navasana. From all my years of practice I never attempted the handstand, which is part of that progression. I would always just do a seated lift, and carry on, which was typically taught in classes and I was not told to do the handstand by my teacher in Mysore class. Since I was reviewing and studying from John Scott’s manual, I took it as a sign that I should attempt it. Again, this felt like walking the tight rope of ambition…

Traditionally, in Ashtanga Yoga, the student should not proceed with postures until the preceding postures are attained with adequate proficiency. This makes perfect sense to me. In previous years though, when I would go to classes, students of all levels would be herded through the entire primary series regardless of ability. I decided I wouldn’t do this anymore. There is a reason for practicing the same thing over and over again until the body and mind is ready to add on. Western culture, tends to override theory with the customer is always right and wanting a perceived moneys-worth-of-a-workout. It is OK to proceed at a snail’s pace because being able to contort oneself into a pose doesn’t mean anything without Raja Yoga.

“Real yoga lives in everyday interactions, like being nice.

It’s the unity we can create around us.

If it were just about gymnastics, then Olympic medalists would be swamis and gurus. “

– David Swenson

In the video you will see that at the beginning I couldn’t even do a handstand to gradually understanding the transition from the seated lift attempting to pivot into the handstand. Now, hold on a second. I feel like I should clarify something. Yes, of course I could do a handstand in a gymnastics kind of way. But doing a handstand in a Yogic state of mind is very different. Try it sometime.

But what is important for me to share is that it is the process of practice that is the goal, not the goal of attaining the pose or sequence. I may never be able to move seemlessly from Navasana to Handstand, but that really doesn’t matter to me. If we truly understand what practice means, then we understand that a pose is never attained, no matter how beautiful of an image we see of one, because it continues to grow and transform with each practice.

We age. Life happens. We change. We grow.

And naturally so does everything we do.

Our body shifts and changes so much with every day as does our mind (from thoughts and experiences) that each day when we practice we are completely different from the previous day.

To me, this type of physical Yoga, is an incredibly thorough system of physical therapy, which makes its ancient beginnings so remarkable. As we progress through the system, if we take care and not rush through with ambition, our body will become innately prepared for the next posture. But this takes time and practice.

“Practice, and all is coming.”

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Practice without ambition. Practice with focus and with a desire to learn with each breath. Practice being in the moment and not thinking about what comes next.

;

You will notice that I have sped up the video in some areas; however, I have not slowed it down at all. Shortening twelve weeks of practice (approximately 144 minutes of total practice time into a 5minute video has its challenges).

As an aside, I just wanted to explain that most of the seated postures in Ashtanga Yoga are only held for five breaths, which amounts to approximately one minute each. In the big picture, this does not seem like a lot of time. But when you practice regularly, then you will know that when we focus our attention on a task, a lot can happen in one minute; this is more profound than spending more time without focus. It makes a difference and it this which contributes to change.

I will talk more about focused practice vs. duration next time.

What Is Normal?

We Are All Weird, by Seth Godin

Seth Godin published a little book in 2011 called We Are All Weird. Click on the title to read an excerpt.

You’ve really got to think hard about this:

Being normal is based on what the average person does, through conformity.

Following this logic, I am, therefore, far from normal. Not in every way but in many ways. But I’ve known this since I was a kid. Most of us so called “weird” ones have been OK with our standing. We know we’re different. But there are many who are still learning to accept their differences and with every ounce of their being resist their nature and struggle to fit in or to be “normal-like-everyone-else”.  I would like to encourage everyone to be true to who you are, not who you think you should be; there is a difference.

Let’s talk about food for an example.

On occasion people say this phrase to me: “Well, you’ve got to live!” Often in reference to doing things that they know that they shouldn’t be doing; for instance consuming certain foods or drinks.

Eating Contest

Eating Contest

Since when, why and how did engaging in risky behavior equate living? And why is it so often about consuming substances? Is it that charge of adrenaline that is so titillating – oh, how it wakes us up like we have never been awake before and bang! we feel alive. Again, let’s do it again, but let’s push the envelope a little further this time. It is a heavy question with reasoning that could fill the infinite scroll down potential of any blog. I think the adrenaline rush associated with extreme sport is a little different from the rush derived from consuming substances, but they straddle the same hemisphere. So if you will, allow me to ramble for a minute.

At a restaurant, about sixteen years ago, when I was just dating my husband, he said to me, “If I’m going to risk my life why would I choose to do so by doing something as unadventurous as eating mussels?” I fear, most people are ignorant of the toxins present in the foods or drinks they choose to consume. Some restaurants actually have a disclaimer on the menu where items such as mussels, clams and raw oysters are served.

Cooked Mussels

Cooked Mussels

I am very aware that how I conduct myself is not the norm. The fact that I feel like I am “living” everyday without sacrificing anything, would categorize me once again as weird.

Definition of Sacrifice:

“an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy. We must all be prepared to make sacrifices.”

Must we?

Ah…sacrifice. It is such an interesting word, such an interesting feeling. It has been a long road of learning, but I can honestly say that I am at such a place where sacrifice does not exist. There is nothing that I would have to give up to be where I am. I make time to focus and take care of myself everyday because that is where I want to be. I eat well all the time because I want to – because it makes me feel great; and because really, for me there is no alternative.

It seems to be more difficult for others to accept that I have accepted that celebration and reward does NOT come in the form of food or alcohol or excess. I am right where I should be and continue to learn more about my body, mind and health each day. I have chosen to represent this sentiment with a photograph of a bee in flight, just approaching a flowering chive. Why? Because bees have focus and it seems to me like they enjoy what they do. It comes down to perspective.

I choose not to eat or drink anything that disagrees with my system. I choose not to eat or drink anything just to please a host or because it was a gift. The story of The Hungry Coat: A Tale from Turkey comes to mind when I think about this, because one thought always leads to another.

I won’t finish off something just to prevent it from going to waste. Forcing food to go through my body before it becomes garbage is no different than just throwing it away in the first place. Both are equally wasteful, but the former causes bodily harm. Better to learn not to prepare so much or order so much food. It is OK to have leftovers…I rely on them.

We can choose to make a thoughtful, informed choice or we can choose to sacrifice. In the end we have still made a choice. If we are going to bother to choose, shouldn’t we choose wisely?

“You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;
I will choose a path that’s clear-
I will choose Free Will.”

~Rush the Band, Freewill

But clearly, weird is subjective. I think it is pretty weird to consume things that are known toxins, which contribute to lowering life expectancy, have potential side effects, which may contribute to birth defects, known diseases and cancer. And yet in the normal universe, which is parallel to my weird universe, this is considered living, by letting loose and not being so serious.

“I want to be normal!” – not me, thanks.

Just about everyone wants to be normal. Kids want to be normal; they want to fit in. They learn it at a young age. If they don’t conform they will be excluded.

“Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone…

In the high school halls

In the shopping malls

Conform or be cast out…

In the basement bars

In the backs of cars

Be cool or be cast out…”– Rush the Band, Subdivisions

They want to be able to eat or drink what everyone else does without thinking about the after effects or repercussions; they want to live in the moment. They want to live.

A few years ago when my husband and I were hosting our annual Canadian Thanksgiving feast, one of my guests, knowing that I was deep into the experimental phase of eliminating certain foods from my diet (to heal myself), said that she just couldn’t do what I was doing. So I asked, “I didn’t realize there were any foods that disagreed with your system.” Her: “Oh, yeah there are, but I eat them anyway and pay the price the next day.”

What?!

To me that’s CRAZY, insane even. I told her that I thought so. 🙂 

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. ~Albert Einstein

Except in this case I don’t think people are expecting different results. And we call THAT normal?! Only because the masses are doing it. If everyone is doing it, then it must be OK.

After that conversation, I started asking other people if there were foods or drinks that they knowingly consumed which caused a delayed negative reaction. One person told me that they would eat certain foods knowing that they would have to be practically connected to the toilet for the following three days. “OH! But it’s so worth it going down.”

Really?

This is the original more familiar version of the famous song Crazy – by Gnarles Barkley. I’ve transcribed the lyrics below so you can read or sing along. While looking for the song I came across this slower version, which is outstanding. I have posted the link here in case you want to have a listen.

“I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind

There was something so pleasant about that place.

Even your emotions had an echo 
In so much space

And when you’re out there Without care,

Yeah, I was out of touch, But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough

I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy? Does that make me crazy? Does that make me crazy?

Possibly [radio version] Probably [album version]

And I hope that you are having the time of your life


But think twice, that’s my only advice



Come on now,

Who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,

Ha ha ha bless your soul


You really think you’re in control

Well, I think you’re crazy, I think you’re crazy, I think you’re crazy

Just like me

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb

And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them

Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun

And it’s no coincidence I’ve come, And I can die when I’m done

Maybe I’m crazy, Maybe you’re crazy, Maybe we’re crazy

Probably

Uh, uh”

We need to practice thinking about what we practice.

We can choose.

Modified Sun Salutation

Upward Salute – Urdhva Hastasana - Person perf...

“If this is how my body feels at twenty-one,

it worries me to think about

how it will feel in ten to twenty years.”

– Travis Nelson

Travis is a swimming coach and lifeguard at the pool where I swim. One day last year (September 2011) he asked me if I could recommend some exercises for his back. He told me that his lower back was sore and he thought that he should do some exercises to strengthen it.

I offered that it might be more complex than that and that focusing on strengthening the back could very possibly make things worse. There could be a whole host of possibilities as to why he feels pain and discomfort in his lower back. Oftentimes, this type of pain stems from imbalance. Meaning that some muscles may be over developed while others are underdeveloped and therefore being overworked. When our muscles are balanced, “not too tight and not too loose” then our joints are better supported and will work better on demand. Anyone can use brute force to blast through a set of an exercise or sprint to the finish line while in pain or not. But as far as exercise and physical movement is concerned, in my mind, exercise is about establishing a bio-mechanical functioning body. Sport on the other hand is about times and points. But as you will see, most professional athletes spend an inordinate amount of time perfecting the accuracy with each micro-phase of each movement.  It is this concept of precision, which is what I hope to relay in this site.

My conversation with Travis lasted no more than 4 minutes. I suggested he start with the 3-Hip Stretches and I showed him very quickly (pool side) how to stretch his psoas. He is the ideal student. He actually followed-up and did these exercises.

For quite some time afterward, in my mind I could not stop hearing him say: “If this is how my body feels at twenty-one…” and I wanted to share these words with you. So, I caught up with Travis and asked him if I could film him saying what he said to me in that first conversation. It was funny, because I wanted to assure him that I could edit the filming in the case he was uncomfortable, to which he assured me that it wasn’t a problem because he is an actor. Fantastic! He surprised me by walking me through what I had taught him in those few minutes from a few months earlier. You will see, I think he did very well.

Below is the long overdue video that I promised Travis that I would put together so that he would be able to see what the sequence looks like in its entirety. This is the modified Sun Salutation that I do each morning.

My Morning Routine (20 minutes):

  1. Bed Stretches (2 – 5 minutes)
  2. Wall and floor stretches with Travel Roller ball & roller (3 – 5 minutes)
  3. Modified Sun Salutation (3 – 4 minutes)
  4. 4 Minute Morning (week 3 – DAY 7) (4 – 5 minutes)
  5. Walk in a figure-8 (30 seconds)

Down the road I will put together a video to break down the finer points of the modified Sun Salutation. The first step for anyone is to learn the sequence by memory; once that is achieved then we can begin to fine tune and deepen our understanding.

Note: These stretches/ exercises are appropriate for my body but may not be for yours. Use caution when trying anything new. I find it works best to err on the side of caution. Begin with one exercise and repeat that one exercise for a week or so, until it is committed to memory, only then consider adding on.

Related Articles:

One One-Hundredth of a Second Faster: Building Better Olympic Athletes 

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

 

Fast Results

Pumpkins

Yesterday, Monday night, I had to get to the grocery store. After the long Canadian Thanksgiving weekend of eating Roast Turkey and homemade Turkey soup, my refrigerator was running low on supplies. Around 5pm I announced that I’d be going to the grocery store, but somehow didn’t manage to get there until 7pm. I’m telling you this because it was due to this delay in timing that I ended up speaking with this woman (who would like to remain anonymous). I walked into the health section of the store, where this woman was looking around. She asked if I worked there, since there wasn’t any staff in that section at the time. “Do you work here?” Boldly, and actually quite surprising to me I blurted out, “No, but I can help you”. She laughed. We both laughed. The store was closing so we talked very quickly and covered quite a bit of information. She offered to send me the comment that you will read below.

Thank you for stopping and speaking to me and giving me encouraging advice. For the last 10 years, I have been suffering from:

  • extremely high blood pressure that did not respond to any medication;
  • excessive sweating;
  • extra weight;
  • arthritis in my hips and knees;
  • swollen legs, and especially feet;
  • sores that did not heal;
  • several acid reflux;
  • varied digestive problems.

This all resulted in many visits to my family doctor, every possible specialist (including cardiologist, skin specialist, endocrinologist, gastroenterologist) as well as many very expensive and time consuming tests.  Not one of the doctors seemed to help and my situation was getting worse and I was becoming quite desperate.

I am a very active female (both professionally and socially) in my late 60’s and I could not see going on like this for the rest of my life and did not see any solution.

Three weeks ago, I spent a weekend with friends and I mentioned to them how well I felt after it.  What I did not realize is that they have no wheat in their diet.  They lent me the book “Wheat Belly” and I decided to cut out the wheat.  In just two weeks, most of the symptoms disappeared and I have lost almost 10 pounds without trying.  In addition, I have no cravings for bread which I had before.  I can also go without eating for many hours, which I could not do before.

My advice: give it a try for a few months and see what happens.  I have started with the resolution to give up wheat for six months.  I may never go back to it although may miss the taste of the fantastic breads I have been buying over the years. I am not a vegetarian and eat everything else.  This has been much easier than I thought.  Today I had a most fantastic gluten free chocolate cake in a mainstream restaurant.  Everyone is becoming more aware of the problem and I am sure that as the time goes by, there will be more choices. So, thank you again for your help.

Wheat

Wheat (Photo credit: Big Grey Mare ~ on vacation for 2 weeks)

The big, heavy question that came up last night was: “Why don’t the doctors tell us?” The answer is that most of them don’t even know themselves. Doctors are put up on a pedestal, by us. They are human and get tired and have to deal with a lot. Most often their own health suffers as a direct result of their demanding profession. They believe what they are taught or told from the powers that be  (as do we) – it is a cycle. We should be grateful for those who are medically trained, who can help us in case of emergency. But sadly, our entire population has become ‘infected’ by a system of going-with-the-flow, more is better, all-you-can-eat type of mentality. With an attitude that THEY, those doctors and scientist will surely come up with something to fix our chronic state of disease to keep us comfortable as we age and decay.

We need to understand that we have to help ourselves. Banning certain foods, in my opinion, is not the answer. Rather, we need to educate ourselves and learn to make the right choices for our unique systems. And most likely, the direct result from choosing to NOT buy toxic food products is that they will lose their popularity and strong-hold on the market. If we don’t buy it they won’t produce it. No demand = no supply.

I’ve mentioned this article before: “Is Sugar Toxic?” by Gary Taubes and the video by Dr. Robert Lustig: “Sugar: The Bitter Truth“. The video is long (1.5 hour), but if you really want to be healthy and understand WHY what you are doing may not be working, then you need to watch this video (maybe many times) and read this article (maybe many times) until you really understand the information. My goal is to be able to explain this information to my children so that they are able to make their own decisions. Not just tell them that they can’t eat or drink certain things because those things are “bad for you”.

Slowly, I try to explain to my kids in basic terms what I have learned. This morning my daughter said: “Well, if you hadn’t given us those foods in the first place, we wouldn’t have gotten used to them.” My answer: “I didn’t know the information then, but now I do. We will educate ourselves and make these changes together.” Additionally, the important lesson for the kids to take away from this is that adults – even highly educated doctors – don’t know everything. We are all learning new things all the time. Each of us is an experiment of ONE. It is crushing when we discover that what we are doing is contributing to our disease. Belief is a powerful thing.

The natural state of the human body is to be healthy. You see how quickly this woman’s body responded to eliminating wheat/ gluten. She is not an isolated case. At a cellular level the human body tries so hard to maintain a natural homeostasis. But in order to do so, we have to participate and support an environment in which this incredible community of cells can do its work. Read Dr. Bruce Lipton’s book, Biology of Belief. He is an educator/cell biologist who explains this complex subject with ease.

Of course, I could go on forever but will end it with this one thought. In the day, do you hear yourself saying: “I can’t live without my…” or “I need my…” Consider that you actually can live without it. If you NEED it you are being controlled by it. It all takes practice.

I’ve embedded Dr. Lustig’s video for your convenience.

“A calorie is NOT just a calorie.”

Practice Makes

Best 7min. 1-mile time

No “thing” just happens.

Everything takes practice. The Dalai Lama talks about practicing compassion. The key word is practice. It takes practice to be compassionate just like it takes practice to be able to run a 7-minute mile or to be punctual. Nothing just happens. And the list goes on. Life is about practicing, not always about perfecting. Learn new things and practice them forever. I don’t believe in mastery. There is always room to grow and more details to find, we are all eternal students. And so this is why I word my new learning in this way.

This year I’ve learned:

  • How to practice a freestyle flip turn
  • How to practice being compassionate
  • How to practice taking photographs
  • How to practice living in the moment
  • How to practice uploading photographs to Flickr
  • How to practice editing photographs
  • How to practice eating healthy food all the time
  • How to practice making a lot of different food at the same time for my family’s needs and health
  • And so on…

Want to Try?

Choose ONE thing you would like to improve or better yet something you have always wanted to do but held yourself back because of an excuse (valid or not!). Choose just one thing – maybe the first thing that pops to mind. Now make a commitment to practicing it consistently. You don’t have to sign anything or make a public declaration; it’s your word, your honour.

The “thing” you choose might have to be practiced every hour on the hour. It might be more often, like every time you open your mouth (?!), or once per week.

Every “thing” takes practice.

I’ve been practicing to be compassionate to everything. Even mosquitoes. I have made a conscious effort to assist any insect that happens into my house, back to the great outdoors (where I think they’d rather be anyways).

 Here’s how I did it:

  • First, I enlisted my husband to catch the insect and gently put it outside.
  • When he wasn’t around I’d have to build up the courage to approach the insect on my own.
  • With practice and experience I became less fearful and more comfortable with the task.
  • I found myself spending many minutes in a dance of catch the insect, often letting more in house in the process.

Now, I know I have reached a state of compassion for all bugs. I look at them with fascination, curiosity and kindness. They have as much right to life as do I. As a result I have found one of my pleasures is to photograph insects. Who knew this could happen? All because I decided to practice compassion.

Lady Bug

Friendly Flyer Insect

Injured Dragonfly

Spider

It takes practice to wake up a few minutes earlier every morning to practice my bed stretches. It takes practice to time my meals so that I am well fueled and adequately digested in order to practice my body maintenance exercises.

There is nothing special about me which enables me to run a 7-minute mile, to do a freestyle flip turn or take the time to relocate an insect to the great outdoors. All I’ve done is learned how to apply this magical element that is within each and every one of us, but has taken on an out-of-this-world status.

PRACTICE.

And it’s not that practice makes perfect. I’m not after perfect. “Perfect is a moving target.” Practice Makes. That’s it.

As my husband says: “It’s all about Discipline. And sure it’s Simple, but its only Easy if you Practice.

When we practice and focus our energy on something meaningful it seems like amazing things happen. But those amazing things are actually just run of the mill kind of things. Ask anyone who looks as though they are doing AMAZING things. They’ll just nod and shrug it off; to them its just a natural part of living – simply, who they are and what they do.

 

Flag Girl

This is Flag Girl Amanda.

Driving home from my 10 minute morning hill sprint with dog Ruby and my 9 year old son, I happened to see Amanda doing some Prisoner Squats at the side of the road.

Amanda is a Flag Girl with the city’s sewers crew. I parked my car and high tailed it over to chat with her about what she was doing. With my son and dog in tow, I told her what I had witnessed. She explained that she had been in a motor-vehicle accident on March 27, 2012 and since has been in a lot of pain. She had gone through all the required active rehabilitation for the soft tissue damage. However, since the physical treatments that were covered by insurance had come to an end she had to become self-sufficient and consistent with doing the prescribed exercises throughout the day on her own. She quickly showed me the list of exercises on her phone.

Yay, Amanda!

Because her job requires for a lot of standing she finds that the immobility is what contributes to her pain. As a result she does whichever exercises she can while on the job.

I can’t tell you how happy I was to see this. On one other occasion I noticed a Flag girl doing some lunges and now wonder if it was Amanda then also!?

I’ve often wanted to contact the city and offer to give a workshop on how workers can help themselves throughout such long days of mostly stationary work – because standing around (though at least there is movement), can be equally difficult on the body as sitting at a work-station all day. In addition, I think that long hours, like what Amanda does can often leave workers fatigued by days end and the last thing they want to or feel motivated to do is think about doing a ‘workout’. So what if people in this situation could be shown (and convinced) that some, focused exercises done with precision, specific to their needs could do a world of good!

This is why I love the 4 Minute Morning concept as well as Stretch B4 Bed idea too. Each session doesn’t have to be an event, but rather a few minutes of focused attention, a moving meditation, which is what Yoga is; time spent inwardly focusing and becoming aware of our physical being, which subconsciously trains our body to function correctly when we are not able to be focused inwardly…like, most of the time!

Here is a little video of what I saw Amanda doing that morning. She re-created the moment for me so I could post it here. Of course, my preference would have been to catch her spontaneously, but this will give you the gist.

I just wanted to reinforce here, how beneficial and necessary micro-breaks are for all of us, regardless of injury or as daily maintenance. I think our culture has gotten a lot carried away with the more is better philosophy with regards to exercise. We need to step back and focus more on how our body functions and less on doing exercise for the sole purpose of looking a certain way.