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Limiting Ideas, Intuitive Eating, and the Gym

First of all, check out this funny gym picture:

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I love how everyone is smiling. I don’t know about you, but my gym looks a whole lot different 🙂

Several months ago, I posted a piece I wrote in college about why I hate the gym. I meant every word. Yesterday though, Sam and I decided to get a gym membership at our local fitness center, which is actually a really nice facility with really reasonable prices.

I usually can’t stand exercise machines because I feel like a hamster on a wheel. I don’t like “artificial” feeling exercise. I’d much rather walk or run outside, do yoga, go for a bike ride, or go hiking.

It’s kinda hard to keep that up in the winter though.

I resisted the idea for awhile. The main reason was that it seemed silly to pay to exercise when I have a few perfectly good workout dvds at home, a yoga mat, and walking shoes. The other reason is that the gym didn’t fit with my idea of living as an intuitive eater/exerciser. It liked it to counting calories and measuring portions rather than listening to what my body needs.

Over the past few months though, I’ve realized that there’s no one way to live intuitively. For some people, this looks like a daily walk and three square meals a day. For others, it’s a gym membership and nibbling all day without set meals. Others may eliminate certain foods from their diet for health reasons. Some might use calories or measuring as a way to gain consciousness of their eating before they’re comfortable to fly on their own. For me, intuitive living is different at different times of year. During the summer, it’s little meals and snacks all day long and lots of walking with a little running and yoga thrown in. During the winter though, I’ve realized that I need something different. I’ve had to change my ideas about my lifestyle, which I was surprised to find were a little rigid despite flexibility being the whole point of intuitive eating.

Here are a few reasons why I no longer hate the gym and why I feel it’s necessary right now:

  • My body has been asking for more intense exercise than I’ve been giving it lately, and though I can bundle up and walk in the cold or do one of the exercise DVD’s that I have memorized, but it gets old. The gym has lots of different options like classes, the pool, plenty of machines, a track, free weights, and sports if for some reason I decided to experiment with that.
  • My knees have been hurting like they always do when I start sitting at a desk for most of the day. I really don’t have a low to no impact cardio option at home, but at the gym I have the pool, a stationary bike, or an elliptical. Any of those are a great way to build strength without taxing my knees further.
  • Sam and I barely see each other with both of us working weird hours and him going to school. He’s been wanting to exercise, so this might be a way to spend some time together in a healthier way than going to Buffalo Wild Wings at 9pm.
  • I’ve been wanting to build a little muscle because I have very little upper body strength (I can’t even do one full-on push up. Not even close.) and I’ve noticed that my abs are feeling a little weak as well. I could certainly do this with yoga or just with old school body weight exercises at home, but I hate the body weight exercises, I don’t really push myself with yoga at home, and I’d rather  do gentler yoga at home. The gym does have a Saturday yoga class I could go to, but weights offer a lot more variety and they’re faster. I even had fun even though years ago I likened the weight room to a torture chamber.
  • This might be a better way to blow off stress after work than munching. I don’t tend to be hungry in the evenings, but I often snack when I get home just because I feel like I should because it’s dinner time or something, and also because I usually feel spun out. Going to the gym after work a few days a week might help me regulate work stress and eating a little better as well as giving me an energy boost, because I tend to come home and crash until bedtime. Sometimes I paint in the evenings, but I’m a morning person and I do most of my artmaking in the morning before I leave. Going to the gym won’t give me more time for my art, but my body needs it. I could use a little more energy to push through these last few weeks of winter.

Flexibility isn’t about rebellion or avoiding things that you think don’t fit in your flexible lifestyle. It’s about adjusting your ideas according to what your body and spirit actually need. Rethink some of your limiting ideas such as “intuitive eaters don’t go to the gym” or “artists don’t worry about what they eat.” Yes, these are kind of silly ideas, but our subconscious can hold a death grip on silly things like these. Pay attention to your limiting thoughts. We all have them. Examine them. Question them. Are they serving you, or do you need something different right now? Do you need rest, or would a short trip to the gym make you feel amazing?

There are no rules, only consciousness, caring, and a little humility.

Are you hanging on to any limiting ideas?

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Winter Solstice and Winter Self-Care

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Although it’s been freezing and frosty for weeks, today is the first official day of winter, or the day the Winter Solstice occurs. Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are the furthest we’ll ever  be from the sun, that life-giving source of heat and light.  Today, the gradual shortening of the days ends and many cultures around the world celebrate rebirth. Today is the shortest and darkest day of the year, and time seems to stand still as nature lies dormant. The trees have shed their leaves, the sap has frozen, the birds have migrated. All is silent.

I was going to create a painting to celebrate this special day, but my spirit and body seems to have aligned with nature because I too have slowed down. I’m ok with this, because I think it’s what my body needs.

My big goal with winter and winter blues this year is to make peace, while giving my body and spirit the best support I can. Dark days are hard for me. I’ve been fatigued and melancholy lately. Not depressed, just less enthusiastic.

I’ve also been reading all I can about the effects of winter on the body and spirit.  Though it seemed a little “woo woo” at first, I’ve really come to understand the concept of yin and yang, the two complementary energies that govern the universe. Yin is slow, cool, wet, feminine energy while yang is fast, hot, dry, masculine energy. Winter is yin, while summer is yang. These two energies exist within us and we feel better when they’re balanced. Makes sense.

Today is the slowest, most yin day of the year.  During the winter, we have very little yang energy to spare and quite a bit of yin energy. This can look like we have no energy, but yin energy is just slower and more  contemplative.

In the winter, we can balance these energies by building and conserving what yang we have, and releasing excess yin. Do yin exercise, like restorative yoga and walking while avoiding strenuous yang activity like running and aerobics. Eat yang foods (warming spices like ginger, garlic, cayenne, cinnamon and tumeric) and avoid cold yin foods like cucumbers, lettuce, and mango (i.e. “summery” foods).

This concept was galvanized for me yesterday when I felt kinda bla and attempted my favorite exercise DVD, hoping to gain some energy. I made it about ten minutes in before feeling like I was going to keel over. However, I was all warmed up for a walk, so I bundled up and took a stroll around the block instead. It felt great, then I for a yummy, yang-building lunch I had eggs scrambled with onions, tumeric and garlic salt.

So instead of burning yang energy that you don’t have today, try slowing down. Trade your kickboxing class for some gentle yoga, have a spicy stir-fry for dinner, and enjoy a quiet evening rather than running around Christmas shopping, preparing for parties, or doing chores.

Take the hint from nature. This is a time to slow down, focus inward, and renew.

What’s in Your Toolbox?

 

We all get stressed out sometimes. We all get angry, tired, anxious, or plain burnt out. So what do we do when we get there? How do we take care of ourselves? How do we learn from these emotions?

If you can’t  think of the answers to these questions, don’t worry. It’s ok if you don’t know how to handle these emotions yet, because most people don’t. Most of us see these emotions as bad things that should always be avoided, and that something is wrong with us if we experience them. This isn’t always the case.

Uncomfortable emotions aren’t there to get us, they’re often our greatest teachers and road signs. If we’re stressed, anxious, or  depressed all the time, we know that something in our life or attitude needs to change. If we get angry, we might have stumbled over an emotional block that we get to work through and release so we can live better.

But how do we do this?

We use a toolbox. Everyone has one. This toolbox contains the tools we use to handle emotions.

Sometimes these toolboxes are well-stocked so that we can handle any job life throws at us. Some of our toolboxes are rather sparse. Others are full of hammers when what we really need are screwdrivers.

Let’s take a look at our toolboxes. What kind of tool could we find in there? Let’s take a look at my toolbox first. It may not look like your ideal toolbox, but it sure works for me:

  • Journaling
  • Yoga, walking and hiking outside
  • Uplifting reading like my religious texts, blogs, and books like Healing from the Heart by Dr. Judith Moore (this book was key in my recovery)
  • Talking to my husband, Mom, or friend.
  • Cleaning my apartment, artmaking, and cooking. Great activities for when my hands need something to do while I think.
  • iPod: good music, inspiring podcasts and my SoulArt courses.
For me, this is a well-stocked toolbox, and these things work  for a lot of people. This is what I do when I encounter difficult emotions that I need to work through, think about, talk about, or ride out.
My toolbox used to contain a lot of other things that didn’t get the job done, like eating to cope with anxiety. Actually, I think that was the only tool in there for awhile. Here are some other unhelpful tools we might use to distract, numb or release feelings:
  • Dangerous behaviors like using drugs, smoking, self-inflicted injury, having unprotected sex or drinking.
  • Zoning out in front of the TV or computer
  • Blowing up at someone to express anger
  • Shopping
  • Wearing ourselves out by overworking or overexercising
  • Bingeing or restricting food
  • Bottling up emotions until they make us sick.
If you constantly feel stressed, irritable, or worn out, you may want to examine your toolbox to make sure you have the right stuff. Otherwise, you’ll waste your time try to pull out nails with a wrench.
So what’s in your toolbox? Here are some ideas of tools you could use instead of the harmful ones listed above.
  • Supporting rituals like “you-time”
  • Supportive friends, family or a counselor you can talk to
  • Journaling and creative expression
  • Exercise
  • Service to others
  • Good books and other resources to help you work through emotions
  • Activities that help you unwind without tuning out. Yoga, reading, and that old self-care cliche, the hot bubble bath.
  • Anxiety-soothing activities that keep your hand or body busy while your mind is free to think like cleaning, knitting, wire-jewelry making, kneading bread dough, whatever.
What’s in your toolbox? Did I miss anything? Let me know!

Release your Tension: Let go of the Urgency

Yesterday, I made an interesting discovery that I’d like to share with you this glorious, rainy Friday morning.

I’ve struggled to eat intuitively this week and my body started feeling awful. Stomach cramps, heaviness, headaches and very stiff. I came home for my lunch break last night and sat down to figure out what underlying feelings were messing with my body and driving me to eat when I wasn’t hungry. 

My go-to method of emotional exploration is to simply sit quietly and list whatever pops up in a notebook, and yesterday I came up with several things.

  • We haven’t had sunshine in a few days; I feel a little gloomy.
  • Feeling rushed, overwhelmed with balancing my full-time day job and my creative work. Feeling insecure about getting my career started.
  • I can’t relax.
Ah. I can’t control the weather, but I realized that I needed to wind down. I then noticed a lot of tension in my body, especially my shoulders and I took a few minutes to let it out. At work I notice several times a day that my shoulders get super tensed and I end up hunching them around my ears, and I constantly have to remind myself to relax. I don’t mind my job, but when problems and to-do’s start rolling in and piling up as they tend to do, the tension stays with me long after I’ve finished everything and all the issues are resolved.
The flip side of this is that though I’m working less than I used to, I’m also juggling more creative projects like blogging, my novel, art, and learning to market it all. I want to get my career going as quickly as possible, so I have this imagined urgency around my creative work that both causes tension and creates the idea that I never have enough time.
 Time management is important, but I unconsciously feel that I have to strictly budget my time around my 40 hour workweek, and some important things get pushed to the bottom, my yoga practice for example. I’ve noticed a lot more stiffness in my body lately and I know it’s because I haven’t been practicing. Why? Because I feel I don’t have the time. I haven’t been meditating like I meant to and sometimes I don’t allow myself the time to sit and stare at the tree outside my window or read a book. I don’t  spend my time foolishly, but rest and keeping my head clear are vital to emotional health and creative flow.
The solutions?
  • Keep preparing for the future and creating my career, but enjoy creating now.  Enjoy where I am in my life now, which is working a day job while I create to embody my purpose while learning to market myself.
  • Cultivate a mindset of abundance with time, and then slow down a little. I have the time to write, study, paint, and perform self-care. Get back into my yoga practice and meditation to keep my body limber and to release tension. Before and after work is a probably a good time to do this.
  • Dissolve the feeling of urgency that causes me to feel rushed. I can take all the time I need to accomplish what I need to.
See what an amazing tool emotional eating can be?
So how about you? What buried emotions and blocks are creating tension in your body and life?
  • Are you taking time for self-care and your creative work, whatever that may be?
  • Are you allowing your “work thoughts” to follow you home and keep you running on high even when you’re not on the clock?
  • Are you operating on an imagined sense of urgency?
  • Are your expectations too high?
I urge you to take a step back and look at how  you allow your obligations to affect your health and your passion. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep those things from leaking into one another, but it’s a vital skill to develop. Take the time to clear your head and work out residual tension in your body. Let yourself relax a little and remember, you have all the time in the world.
TGIF
McKella

Body Connection

“Learning to do back flips is so scary! Like when you can’t see the ground yet and you’re just up in the air…”

Most of my cousins are athletes. Runners, dancers, gymnasts, quarterbacks, you get the idea. I’m not. PE is a distant memory I’m still trying to erase and my nickname in grade school was “Slowpoke.” Didn’t bother me too much, I knew it was true.

I overhead two of my gymnast cousins talking about learning backflips, and these are the kind of kids whose bodies just seem to move effortlessly to their command.

“Not me.” I said. “If I’m going to do crazy things with my body, it’ll be on a yoga mat. Not flying through the air.” Then I realized, most of my life I never thought of doing anything with my body. I was just a brain riding around in my body, the idea of actually doing something with it, connecting to it in a way that comes so naturally to my cousins, was radical.

I thought about it for awhile. I used to be a couch potato but now I run (run/walk actually), do yoga, hike, and actually know how to feel my body; to live in it instead of just using it as a container for my brain. I’d learned to see it in a realistic way, but connecting to it was something else entirely. My body is actually a part of me. It’s not all me, it’s not my essence, but it’s part of me.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. Many of us only really feel our bodies when they’re uncomfortable, like if we have a stomach aches or if we pulled a muscle. How often do we think to feel it when it’s just being? Or when it feels good? Learn what it feels like to be sated, slightly tired, or a little hungry. Know what your body feels when it needs exercise, or a certain food, or sunshine.

Try “body meditation”, just by sitting quietly and consciously occupying part of your body. Pay attention to your stomach, your legs, or your shoulders and really feel what’s going on there. Tune in a few times a day to get an idea of what’s going on in your body.

I’ve found that learning to occupy our bodies is a huge step towards a healthier body image as well as intuitive eating. How will we learn the subtleties of gentle hunger and fullness or nutritional needs if we can’t listen to our bodies? How will we love them if we practically forget they’re there?

How do you connect to your body?

 

My Happiness Project: Health

Continued from Learning to be Happy: Part 3

Happy Monday everyone!

I’ve spent the last week on part one of my personal happiness project, and I’ve focused on improving my health through a short list of guidelines I made for myself.

Here’s how I did:

–          Do a little yoga each day– Didn’t happen every day, but most days. I’ve noticed on the days I did practice, I had more energy and I felt all loosey-goosesy instead of my usual achey upper-back and tight hips. I’ll keep working on this one.

–          Learn to move more– Being a full-time nanny is draining sometimes, so instead of sneaking out for a cookie-dough shake in the evenings or diving into my hidden pint of chocolate hazelnut fudge ice cream, I took walks in the evenings, which helped me unwind and calm down much better than a sugar jolt.

–          Take my vitamins– I remembered about 70% of the time. Whole food vitamins are usually multiple pills taken several times a day. I remembered in the  mornings, most of the time at lunch and only a few times in the evenings. I didn’t used to believe in supplements because I reasoned that good food should have all the nutrition we need, but healthy food isn’t what it used to be and I’d have to eat a ton to get everything I need. I currently take a women’s  multi, herbal iron, fish oil, and an herbal complex called MindTrac to help with anxiety. Also an herbal tincture when I feel overwhelmed or panicky. I plan to add a B complex soon and D3 during the winter.

–          Honor my hunger and fullness– this one is always hard for me, and I’m still working on it. Most of the problem is that I rarely feel hungry. I’m a snacker, so when I feel a glimmer of hunger, I eat and don’t get hungry for awhile. Sometimes I just nibble throughout the day without giving myself a chance to get obviously hungry. I can’t decide if this is a good thing or not. Also, I’m a textbook emotional eater. If I’m stressed out, you can bet I’m searching for the nearest chocolate bar. I’ve been trying to take walks instead.

–          Treats should stay treats– I’m the kind of person who loves dessert every day, so I try to stick to a couple pieces of dark chocolate or a scoop of chocolate hazelnut butter when I want something sweet and then have a real dessert twice a week or so and really pay attention to it.

–          Spend time outside every day– Also hard sometimes, because when I get a break, I usually plop down on the couch to write or read and only go outside to dump the compost bucket, feed the dogs or throw away dirty diapers. I take walks outside though and try to enjoy the time I do spend out there. Maybe I’ll throw in a few park visits with the kids this week.

Nobody’s perfect, but progress is much more important than perfection. I’ll continue to work on my health.

Next week: mindfulness

-Be here now

– Sing like I mean it

-Keep better track of spending

-Honor my emotions

-Limit screen time

PS: if you’d like to join me in the Happiness Project, leave me a comment and/or post it on your blog!