The Art of Giving Freely

Usually at this time of year I write about New Year’s Resolutions. This year I thought I’d do something else. I was reading a translation of the yoga sutras and this morning’s discussion centered on giving without obligation. Giving freely.

As I finished my practice I began thinking about how one might give freely to themselves. How can I give to me without obligations? As this idea continued to grow in my brain I began thinking of how this concept could be applied to my fitness, my exercise, my free time, my family, my friends, and so on.

What if I gave myself freely to my exercise? This means no “I worked out today so I get to eat anything I want” no push – pull with my body and its shape, no deals made with myself regarding what I will get for “making” myself workout.

What if I just exercised because it feels better when I do? What if instead of bargaining the time so I can “make myself do it” I just enjoyed moving? What if I let go of all the numbers – my weight, how much I lift, how many minutes “I should” continue and just did what felt good for that day at that time? I know some of you are wondering how in the hell would I reach my goals or get clients to workout if there wasn’t some carrot at the end of a stick. I wonder, too and I am open to the possibilities it presents. We’ll have to see how it unfolds.

In the Sutra the focus was on giving for the sake of giving. Not for greed or expectation of something in return. It was giving for the goodness of it. Were you able to practice this over the holiday season with friends and family or were your gifts tied to invisible strings you’ll pull in someday? Interesting idea to give and not expect. Be honest with yourself and notice who you gave freely to and who you didn’t. Then take the next step and let go of your expectation of return and favors tied to your invisible strings.

The art of giving is really a selfish act. We feel better when we give freely and aren’t all tangled in those invisible strings – both those we have given and those we’ve received. Isn’t it time to be free?

Exercise Doesn’t Have To Be So Serious

Many of us work the grind. Over and over we do what we are “supposed to” only to feel a little bored and uninspired in our workouts. Kinda reminds me of the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercials. What if you exercise was more like play? Here’s how big kids (aka adults) can play!First, find activities that you like to do. Usually, these are challenging, stimulating on multiple levels, have a sense of focus and one pointedness. They allow us to do nothing but focus on the task at hand.

Second, don’t worry about numbers and goals, and “have tos”. I was watching my children play the other day and they have no sense of how much they are learning as they play – only that they are having fun. Try to create this element in your own play. Of course you are doing great things for your body and it feels like activity, maybe even like exercise, but you want to create a sense of fun, excitement, and frivolousness. Adding in goals, heart-rate numbers, sets, reps, time lines, and body weight can dampen spirits and drudgery creeps in. You are no longer doing the activity just because you enjoy it. You are no longer being mindful in the moment focusing on the activity at hand, instead your mind has gone off to charts and graphs of future goals.

Third, try something new, take your game to the next level, introduce a new skill, or attempt to focus on one element of your activity. For example: downhill skiing – when I attempt to focus only on my breathing the rest of my body follows and I become much more mindful of my body in space. This allows me to focus on one element of the technique with a sense of wonder and curiosity rather than goals and future benefits.

Finally, the sense of wonder and joy are key to keeping playfulness alive. If you have forgotten how to do this spend some time watching children play. They bring a sense of curiosity and wonder to their games. Some questions to ask might be:

What if we try it this way next time?

I wonder if I can make this jump again?

What if I move my foot that way?

What happens when I run this fast or in zig zags or stop and start?

How is it different when ________?

Playing is just as important for adults as it is for kids. So get your game on and take yourself to the park. Get moving, stop worrying, and reap the benefits of activity and mindfulness all in one fun, exciting, and inspiring movement session.

Find the Essence of Life

How do your days go? Do you move through the days looking for something, anything to light you up or do you find yourself loving your life experience? Many of us can probably relate to both experiences with one being more dominate in our lives. In addition, many of us tend to “go through the motions” of life rather than fully experience each moment as it passes. Have you ever thought of trying to get more out of life? Would you like to learn to live yours differently? You can. For many just the process of doing their daily tasks is too much. It sucks the life and our joy right out of us so we need to be vigilant and have an understanding of what makes us happy. If I let my planner get too full of all the things “I have to do” rather than balance between the have-tos and want-tos of course I’m going to be crabby!

You can make small and simple shifts in the way you think that can bring balance back to your life and your life will naturally become filled with essence. Begin by noticing where your attention goes all day. Who saps your energy, who brings your more, what tasks do you cringe at doing, and which ones can you let go of and delegate to others? Just begin to notice without trying to change anything. Jot your findings down if you’d like. Also, begin to notice what brings you joy, energy, happiness, and contentment. Who are you with, what are you doing, can you repeat these experiences? Again, just notice, write it down only if that feels like a good idea.

As you begin to notice what brings you joy, happiness, and contentment begin to notice not only the emotion but also your posture, physical feelings, actions, thoughts, and facial expressions. How do you change with your whole body? How do you send those positive feelings out into the world? Do you smile at people you don’t know, do you say kind words, do you let trivial things pass? These simple things have the power to change the world and they all begin with you living your life to the fullest and experiencing your essence each day.

Think it is too simple to work? Don’t underestimate simplicity. Try it for 5 days and notice what shifts for you. Notice your thoughts, feelings, physical symptoms, and how you treat yourself and others when you are living life more fully. Only begin to shift your activities when you feel ready to do so. Sometimes all it takes is slowing our thoughts down enough to get off auto pilot. At that point the pain of staying the same becomes to great to continue living the way we have been and we can begin the process of small changes toward creating the life we want.  A life full of essence – yours.

5 Ways to Beat Fear of New Challenges

I was thinking today about a new challenge coming up in my life. I am beginning a PhD program and for all my excitement I began to feel a bit scared. First it started with small, subtle, and simple doubts. Then it grew into a bigger voice telling me I would never be able to finish this program & I was crazy for thinking I could. I did what I usually do when doubts creep in – I kicked them out. I realized not everyone (including me) can do this all the time and sometimes we need reminders that we are stronger than our doubts. Here are 5 things you can do to let go of fear and move forward in your life today.

1) Make a list of all the ways you can accomplish this goal and the strengths you bring to the table already. Then find ways to learn the ones you still need.

2) Find quality support people – look outside your family and close friends if needed or to a professional if necessary.

3) Tackle it one step at a time. We often make challenges “larger than life” and therefore never tackle them at all. Break it down into bite sized pieces.

4) Understand life gives us what we can handle and no more. Even when it seems so overwhelming remind yourself if you follow number 3 – YOU CAN DO IT.

and

5) Have faith, understanding, and compassion for yourself and in yourself as you attempt challenges in your life.

Believe you can and you will – Believe you won’t and guess what … you won’t. Tackle any life challenge with confidence by following the above simple guidelines, maybe add some of your own, and don’t shy away from your big goals anymore! One foot in front of the other finishes the race 

Take Time To Breathe

So many of us run from one thing to another while life passes us by so quickly we can’t keep up. Today take time to breathe, slow down, and notice. Here are 5 ideas to heighten your awareness.

1) Stop – right now, whatever you are doing and notice how your body feels
2) Take 5 deep breaths – allow your belly to rise and fall and notice how it feels to breathe deeply
3) Notice all the colors around you – what do you see? Describe it in detail
4) Watch the clouds moving by – just notice and don’t focus too hard on any one
5) Pick three and try them at least 2x each today

By taking time each day to notice how we are connected to things around us, our life becomes richer. In addition, we begin to see the small ways life is beautiful, perfect, and mystical. Enjoy!

How To Improve Mental Health Using Exercise

Many of us have good days and bad days. But what happens when our worry, fear, and sadness take over? It can be hard to exercise and find the energy to take care of ourselves during those times. For some those times are situational and fleeting however for others the situation leads to prolonged feelings of sadness or worry. Exercise can improve our mental health. Exercise can improve mental health by helping our bodies release endorphins. In an article by Jennifer C. Panning titled “Mental Health Benefits of Exercise” she points out that endorphins are our bodies natural way to help us create feelings of happiness. In addition to releasing endorphins exercise helps us focus on caring for ourselves.

When we take time to care for ourselves we are better able to realize our own value. As we realize our own value our self-esteem and confidence go up. As these rise so do our feelings of well being.

According to Daniel M Landers, “We now have evidence to support the claim that exercise is related to positive mental health as indicated by relief in symptoms of depression and anxiety”. This is important because the CDC states 1 in 5 Americans suffer from these illnesses. Landers highlighted studies which show both conditions are helped by exercise (without medication) with similar effectiveness to just using medication.

For many the decision to take medication is a tough one. There are side effects such as weight gain, loss of libido, and feeling “flat” which are compounded by worries about how long one will have to take the prescribed pill, not to mention the financial cost. Personally, I am not against medication and I know it can be effective and helpful, but my opinion is that a combination of treatment is most effective.

By focusing on healthy lifestyle choices like adding exercise into your daily routine you make positive steps to feel better, learn new and healthy ways of coping, and take charge of your life conciously.

*It should be noted that exercise is not a cure all and professional help and advice should be sought before beginning any exercise program and for your mental health concerns.

References:
CDC. Treatment Works – Get Help for Anxiety and Depression.

Landers, D. M.(1997). The influence of exercise on mental health. The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Research Diegest. 2, 12. http://www.fitness.gov/mentalhealth.htm

Panning, J. C.(2000). Mental health benefits of exercise. Mental Health Journal. http://www.findcounseling.com/journal/health-fitness/

Rose, T. (2007). Depression and Weight Gain.

10 Ideas to Help You Sleep

How are you doing on sleep these days? Are you taking care of yourself or are you running ragged now that the sun is out longer? Don’t forget how important sleep is to your health. Here are some tips to make sure you get enough each night.

1) Create a calm sleeping environment
2) Play soft, soothing music
3) Use aromatherapy – scents like lavender can help calm you
4) Dim the lights 60-30min before going to bed
5) Take a hot bath
6) Drink a cup of bedtime tea
7) Follow the same routine daily
8) Keep your bedtime and wake time the same – vary it no more than 30min on each side
9) Get a good pillow and comfortable blankets
10) Eliminate TV, Computer, Video games (screen times) 30 min before bed – they keep your brain working

The End of 2009 – Are you ready for 2010?

Here it is… The end of the year. How will you make the new year count?  For many Americans health and fitness fall in the top three on their resolution list.  Unfortunately for many it falls off their New Year’s resolution list pretty fast.  What will you do to continue to reach for your fitness goals this year?

I know we have spent time discussing planning, goal setting, and getting ready to reach our resolutions in 2010 a few weeks ago. Go back and re-read the archives. There are 3 series of questions to help you reach your fitness goals in 2010.  Are you ready?

Weight loss, better fitness, more strength, greater endurance, better finish times do not just happen. They take work, they take responsibility, and they take planning. Have you done your homework, and are you ready for the new year?

If you have taken on this goal in the past, what will you do differently this year to make sure you reach it? Are you ready to move beyond what has held you back in the past and forward into the future? I advocate writing down your goals and the steps you will take to get there. This will help make your goal “real” to you. Once we see things on paper it helps us become more committed to accomplishing it.

Remember to prioritize your resolutions. Many well meaning resolutions get derailed because people are overwhelmed when they look at the long list and know they will not be able to accomplish all the worthy goals upon it. Decide what tops your list and stick to it. You will feel much better when you have accomplished a goal and are able to cross it off knowing you gave it everything you had and finished.

Are your goals realistic? If you have trouble figuring this out contact a personal trainer. If you are attempting a goal that is not realistic you are setting yourself up for failure. Although, failure usually leads to success it also leads to low self-esteem, lack of motivation, and the chance that you will pitch the whole idea and give up. Being realistic about a goal will help keep you on track from the beginning.

Once your list is pared down, you can begin to break the bigger goals into smaller ones. It is important to find small things you can do daily to complete your goal successfully. Small chunks are much easier to manage and they can be quickly adapted if needed. Remember, you are responsible for your choices, and your daily choices determine if you will make it or not. You can accomplish anything, but you must be accountable to you.

Chose positive strategies for dealing with problems. There will be some, so expect them, and be ready to deal with them. Contingency plans are important. What will you do when your day does not have twenty-six hours in it? What about when you are home with a sick child, or you suddenly have a huge project dumped on your desk? How will you handle cold days that derail your efforts at an outdoor workout? Thinking through these issues is a must because they will crop in your life.

As we move into the new year, look at the old. What would you like to give up? Create a ritual to let that habit, pattern, or whatever change go. Write down what you’ll let go of this New Year’s Eve and then dispose of it. Many like to burn the slip of paper, others make a ritual by writing it down and then throwing it away. Still others write it down and stick it in a safe place (say a box or jar) so when they go back to the habit they are able to pull it out and dispose of it again. If you make a conscious effort to make the change it is important to honor that it is part of who you are today and who you will become in the next year. Give purpose to the release of old and the acceptance of new behaviors that will help move you towards your goals this year! You are worth the extra effort.

Building Self-Esteem to Accomplish Your Fitness Goals

We’ve discussed wanting lifestyle change.  We’ve talked about ways to do it, why you should, how, when, and the science behind the reasons.  Today we are going to explore why you don’t do it.

I can hear the collective exhale, “thank god”, you sigh, finally an answer to my issues. Nope, sorry, just some more ideas on exploring where you really are in the process. I repeatedly get clients who want instant gratification.  Remember this is a slow process and it can be a very spiritual experience as you peel off layers of identity, excuses, habits, routines, and other activities that are not working anymore.

Let’s talk about self-esteem. I find this to be a huge stumbling block for many people. Even if self-esteem is there in other areas of life, say work or parenting, when it comes to health it can be dented. Many who are in the process of change doubt what they are doing, are in an uncomfortable place of change, and are facing other issues that may work against their goal further adding to the doubt and insecurity. In an article a few years back (but worth repeating) Brian Tracy , “People with high self-esteem are more positive, more likable, and more effective in every part of their lives. Your job, therefore, it is to keep your self-esteem high and positive on a continuing basis.”

He goes on to outline six critical elements of self-esteem building: Goals, Standards, Success Experiences, Comparison with Others, Recognition, and Rewards. Striving toward each element helps build, grow, and maintain your self-esteem. High self-esteem is directly related to accomplishing your goals, and the more you accomplish the goals you set the more confidence you have, and the more you strive to live by your standards and values. When your values and standards are congruent with the lifestyle you lead the more self-esteem you have and the more peace you feel in daily life. See the process? The elements build upon each other to help you be the best you can be.

We are typically taught not to compare ourselves with others, but here he refers to positive comparisons where you feel you have room to grow and accomplish your goals while using another’s success as a benchmark for your own. This is a tricky place to be. Similar to setting realistic goals you must choose comparisons that will allow you to be successful and continue to build your success experiences. He does note that we come to a place where we are no longer competing with others, but rather our own past successes.

Another factor in cultivating self-esteem is self talk. Many of us have an inner critic. For some this can be a voice that spurs us to strive harder and make the finish line, and for others this critic derails us and we pretend not to hear it as we sit on the couch with the whole bag of potato chips, only to hear it loud and clear when the bag is gone and the opportunity for exercise missed. Victor M Parachin, Mdiv writes (again and oldie but goodie), “Avoid becoming your own worst enemy by talking back to nasty voices in your head.” Next time you hear yourself saying I am fat, I am lazy, I will never make it, I can’t, talk back and tell the voice to be quiet. Treat yourself as you would treat a friend.

Look for areas in your life where you can implement these elements and begin to build yourself up. Draw on your strengths and downplay your weaknesses. Find successes in your past to use as comparisons for new goals, and find people you admire to model your direction after. Tracy states, “…you need to build your own structure and take full responsibility for building yourself up on a regular basis.” If you won’t take the time on you, who else will?

“Cultivating Your Self Esteem”, Brian Tracy, Club Solutions, June 2005 pg 36 www.clubsolutions.biz

“Cultivating Confidence”, Victor M. Parachin, Mdiv, American Fitness, July/August 2005 pg.36-38   www.americanfitness.com

Don’t Let Fear Stand in Your Way To Health

Many people say they want more health in their life. They can dream big but something stops them from taking action and creating the life they want. This something is … Fear. What fears do you harbor about changing your life? Many of us realize that to change means we’ll have to give something up. Is fear of the unknown keeping you from reaching your fitness goals?According to Brian Tracy in, The Courage to Take Action, there are three factors which predispose us to being afraid. They are childhood conditioning, ignorance, and illness or fatigue.

Look at your own list, do you find examples of these factors? Are you afraid to succeed or fail, because fear of rejection was a strong influence as you grew up? Are you hurt or not well? What can you do to be pro-active about your situation?   I know a wonderful woman in our who survived cancer more than once, is vibrant despite heart trouble and joint complications. She is a great inspiration because she has taken the situation handed to her, faced it squarely, and over came the obstacles in her path.

How can you take fear, look at directly, even if uncomfortable, and how can you climb over, under, or around it to continue walking your path?

Brian Tracy poses these questions:

  • How does this fear hold me back in life?
  • How does this fear help me, or how has it helped me in the past?
  • What would be my pay-off for eliminating this fear?

Ponder these questions, and then allow your imagination to soar, with your pen and paper handy of course, writing down all the wonderful possibilities you have for accomplishing your healthy lifestyle. Do not hold back, write down all your dreams and prioritize!

Brian Tracy’s Article the Courage to Take Action – Club Solutions Nov 2005