fitness

The Intense Challenge of No Workouts for a Week

Over the American Thanksgiving week, I was in Costa Rica on an 8-day retreat; an opportunity to radically slow down and look inward. As part of the retreat experience, I decided to challenge myself to not workout for the week either. 2022 has been an extremely challenging year for me, so far, up to and including my mother’s sudden and unexpected death a month ago. My body has been feeling the accumulation of exhaustion, even as my movement has also felt like my salvation at times. This retreat seemed like an opportune moment to make the choice to not elevate my heart rate.  

A bit of background—I’m addicted to moving my body in a vigorous fashion. I generally workout 6 days a week, with one day of rest. And rest still involves walking or biking around town for 30+ minutes. In weeks when I know I’m absolutely not going to be able to get in any exercise on a particular day that’s not my preassigned rest day, I’ll re-engineer my schedule to extend the number of workout days in row, so that the day I can’t exercise becomes my rest day.

A few sentences ago, when I used that word addiction, I decided to look it up and make sure I wasn’t being extravagant. Nope. The definition talks about occupying oneself with something habitually or compulsively. And workouts are, for me, always habitual and sometimes compulsive (which you may already be thinking from what I’ve said so far).

I didn’t 100% commit to the no-workout idea in advance. I wore my running shoes on the plane. Just in case I decided I wanted to hike or run or go for a walk that was longer or faster paced than my flip flops would support. Normally, even if I was planning on running somewhere, I would not wear my running shoes on the plane. I only wear running shoes when I’m actually running (or hiking) or on my way to or from the activity (I could go on for some time on this topic, but that’s a different rabbit hole). In this case, in the interests of packing as light as possible, I didn’t want to wear street shoes on the plane and add runners to my luggage. All to say that wearing my running shoes, as if they were street shoes, was my first opportunity of the retreat week to let go of my usual way of being.

As soon as I got to Sugar Beach and saw the setup, I understood that running was pretty much out of the question anyhow. We were asked not to leave the property (to maintain our inward focus and group container) and the beach is in a small cove, unconducive to a beach run. There was a gym with a treadmill. That didn’t appeal. And there was wifi, so I could have streamed workouts from my Peloton app. That didn’t appeal either. In the context of being on retreat, those options felt too much in the world. Whereas running outdoors has the potential to feel more unplugged. I have, for example, gone for runs at silent meditation retreats.

I put my running shoes at the back of my closet and didn’t touch them again until it came time to leave for my flight. 8 days later.

What did I do?

Short beach walks. Dips in the ocean. Playing in the waves. Walking from place to place on the relatively small property. And the 60-minute light movement class, which was offered to participants, on 7 of the 8 days. Plus, 5-10 sun salutations before three of those movement classes. The movement class focused on balance, posture, bilateral alignment, stretching, fluidity, and re-learning developmental movements (by which I mean things like learning to crawl). This video of a move called pinwheel (to increase fluidity in the hips, knees and ankles and strengthen the core), is an example of one of the more vigorous movements.

And this heel rocking (to relieve body tension, promote tranquility and activate the parasympathetic nervous system) is an example of the typical level of effort:

How did it go?

Well, the first few days my body felt great. Quiet. Rested. Limber. Easy. Alert. Dipping in the ocean and in movement class, I could feel the strength of my muscles in a new way, as if the noise of their usual fatigue and even soreness was out of the way, making it easier to hear their pleasure in the gentler exertions. By day 5, I was starting to feel restless. Caged. My physical energy didn’t quite know where to go.

I was in need of a steam valve.

And, well, I left out two blocks of movement (on days 6 and 7) in my list above. There was dancing. Once for about 20 minutes and a second time for 45 minutes. I danced my heart out, fueled by the steam energy of my days of rest.

Dancing

Is

Glorious

The dancing was all I needed to feel free again.

I haven’t talked about food yet. To be sure, food has some bearing on my relationship with exercise. Part of the compulsivity that sneaks into my workouts, at times, is the feeling that I need to counter balance my appetite for food. On the rare other occasions, when the counter balance of exercise has been eliminated from the equation, I have cut back radically on my eating. This time, I didn’t do that. If anything, I ate more for breakfast and lunch than is my norm. I didn’t bring any snack food with me. And there was none available. Plus, in keeping with the spirit of the retreat, there was no sugar, dairy or gluten in any of the food that was served. I have no idea if I consumed more or less calories than I usually do. What I know is that my body felt stable. Neither heavier nor lighter. Or maybe that was just my mind. I ate until I felt satiated and then I stopped. A level of simplicity I seem to have difficulty with in the swirl of daily life, in which I’m often either forbidding myself a next bite or groaning and stuffed. The opposite of last week’s simplicity.

All to say, it was an interesting pause for self-investigation and reflection (and I haven’t even talked about the retreat program). I’m glad to be back in the swing of my regular life. I’m back at my workouts and grateful for the sweat. And I’m taking my reintegration as slow as possible, given work and other responsibilities. So that I can stay connected with what I learned and what will emerge as the dust settles on the experience.    

A short list of things I learned (mostly again):

  1. My body loves to move. My movement is not just habitual and compulsive. It’s a joy.
  2. Be more mindful of where the balance lies between joy, habit and compulsion.
  3. Take such rest breaks more often. Then they can be shorter.
  4. No one but me noticed or cared that I was wearing running shoes on the plane.
  5. Dance. Dance more.
ADHD · fitness · meditation · mindfulness

A short reflection on 22 days of meditation

A few weeks ago, I posted about finding ease by doing the easy thing and, at that point, I was on my 9th day of yoga and meditation.

As I write this (on Monday night) I am at Day 22 and I feel really good, really at ease.

A screen cap from a meditation app that shows a small round photo, text reading ‘22 Consecutive Days’, and a row of stars.
I chose this profile photo in Insight Timer ages ago, I didn’t realize until now that the teeny version looks either smug or disconcerted – I’m actually smirking of course. Meanwhile, I love that the app has given me gold stars. Image A screen capture from the ‘Insight Timer’ app that shows a small photo of me, text that reads ‘22 consecutive days’ and a row of 5 stars – 2 bronze and 3 gold.

Not every minute of every day but, at any given point, it’s a little easier to find that space, that breathing room, when I need it.

And, to be clear, I’m not saying that I am meditating here and there in search of that ease. I mean that, because of my short daily meditation sessions, there’s a little bit of extra room in between my thoughts – I just have to choose to look for it.

Given my galloping ADHD brain, sometimes it is a bit tricky to remember to make that choice but I am definitely making it more often than I ever have before.

An up-close view of evergreen needles.
Looking closely at these evergreen needles also makes me feel peaceful so I thought I’d share. 💚 image description: an up-close view of evergreen needles on a tree.

I know that I have tried to develop a meditation practice several times before and my results were mixed, to say the least.

This time, though, doing the easy thing, not making a plan, just taking it a day at a time has worked out marvellously for me.

It has become easy and straightforward to include meditation at the end of my day – sometimes for 10 minutes, sometimes for 2 minutes – and I feel great about it.

In case you were wondering, Khalee is also a fan of my quiet practice…

A light haired dog rests in a burgundy armchair.
When I finished my practice a couple of nights ago, I looked up from my mat to see Khalee looking off in the distance like this. I can only assume she was mindfully paying attention to her breath like I was. Image description: Khalee, my light-haired, medium-sized dog, is resting in a burgundy armchair. Her head is resting on the seat cushion and she is deeply relaxed while she looks forward but off somewhere to left of the camera.

ADHD · fitness · martial arts · mindfulness · yoga

Christine thinks (but tries not to overthink) about how she’s moving

During her Move program in January, Adriene (of Yoga with Adriene) emphasized how important it can be to think about how you move.

She invited us to consider the actual movements we made when relocating our hands to move between poses, the way we moved our legs into downward dog, the process of how we unrolled our spines to stand up.

This wasn’t about making us self-conscious, it was about grounding us in our bodies, about considering the movement habits that serve us and those that hinder us. It was about figuring out where we find ease and what parts of our bodies need more attention. It was about figuring out how to work with or work around the unique abilities of our individual bodies. 

Even though this process made for a tricky line to walk between being mindful and overthinking, it really set me up well for practicing for my recent TKD belt test.

In the course of learning and practicing my patterns and other movements, I had to think about how I was moving. After all, it’s not just that my foot has to end up in a specific spot but I have to move it in a certain way to maximize my power, to increase my balance, to ensure that I can reach the target that I need to reach. 

Even though my TKD skills are a work in progress (and always will be), concentrating a bit more on the specifics of my movements did help me a lot. Recognizing that in one of my patterns, I always place my foot down at the wrong angle gave me the opportunity to correct it and execute my pattern more accurately.

(Sidenote: I actually learned DURING MY TEST that I was getting another movement wrong and the correction from my instruction made a huge, immediate difference in the effectiveness of that technique. Another victory for the ‘how’ of movement.)

My latest stop for this train of thought is a video I did on Sunday. I felt  like doing some yoga but I also wanted to do something a bit different so I had my metaphorical cake and ate it too by doing this video from Liv in Leggings.

A video from Liv in Leggings called Yoga & Mobility Hybrid. Still image shows a person in purple leggings and sports bra doing a twist pose on a rainbow mat against a purple background.

I really enjoyed it. She’s an engaging instructor and I found her ‘how’ explanations very clear even when I couldn’t quite execute the movements yet.

Considering the question of how – her explanations and my personal experience – helped me to be curious about even the most challenging movements. 

That curiosity meant that I was intrigued rather than frustrated by the difference between the strength of my right arm and the strength in my left arm during a wheelish/bridge-ish pose where we had to support ourselves first on one arm and then on the other.

(I mean, I know that my right arm is stronger than my left and I know that I can be more precise with my right. But the difference was especially apparent on that one movement – and I could feel that I was moving differently as I was getting into the pose and I couldn’t hold myself steady in the same way while I was in it. I could support myself on my right arm for quite some time but my left arm started shaking almost right away.)

And it let me pay attention to my movements when doing twists so I could tell exactly which ones made the tight spot on the left side of my back protest. And I could see how small adjustments could bring some ease.

And, of course, overall focusing on the ‘how’ helped me to be more mindful and present while I was trying this new approach. That just seems like a good thing doesn’t it?

How much time do you spend thinking about the how of your movements?

Do you find it helpful? Does it make you more mindful?

PS- While all that shaking was going on I was really grateful for the various online yoga videos I’ve done from Adriene and Joelle Because they always refer to those kinds of shaking movements in a positive light. In their framework, it’s not about weakness in the shaking body part. It’s about energy flowing and about knowing that you’re alive and about putting the effort in. I think that’s a really encouraging way to look at it.

Dancing · fitness · fun · holiday fitness · holidays · meditation · mindfulness · motivation

Making Space: Day 31

Welcome to Day 31!

I hope today finds you with the space you need to take good care of yourself.

And I hope that you can recognize your own efforts to make that space, even if you didn’t always succeed.

You matter, your needs matter and your efforts matter.

And here’s a gold star for those efforts:

A large gold 3D paper star hanging on a white door.
Image description: This is the largest gold star I own. It’s a foldable 3D paper ornament and it is covered with sparkly gold spirals. In this photo, I have hung it on a white door.

Now, onto our movement and meditation for making space. (As always, feel free to do these or to do your own thing.)

One of my favourite ways to get moving is to join my friend Elaine Dunphy in either an ageless grace or a Nia dance class. Since I can’t bring all of you to one of her classes (what with Covid restrictions and the laws of physics and all), I asked her to create a short video for today’s post.

Here’s Elaine, in full positivity and joy, with a New Year’s Eve message and a short and fun movement practice for you to try as you create a little space for yourself today.

My friend Elaine Dunphy with a New Year’s message and a short movement practice for us today. I posted this on my own YouTube channel – the only other video on there is my husband doing the ice bucket challenge, so obviously I am not a prolific YouTuber. The still image shows Elaine in her dance studio. She has very short salt-and-pepper hair and she is smiling and holding her right hand up, palm towers the camera with her fingers held widely apart.

And as for a meditation, I am offering two today.

The first one is for people with a lot of space in their day, the second is for people with just a sliver of time for themselves.

A ten minute meditation from the Great Meditations YouTube channel. The still image is a cartoon drawing of a person in yellow sitting in a classic meditation pose – legs crossed, backs of hands resting on knees, palms upward. The words ‘Clear Your Mind guided meditation’ are on the left side of the image.

And if you just have a minute, here’s a meditation for you.

A mini-meditation from the Headspace YouTube channel. Still image shows blue squiggles against a yellow background with the words ‘Health Mind’ written in purple on the upper left side.

I hope that these posts have helped you find space for yourself during the month of December when time seems to telescope, dragging on or collapsing without any relationship to the clock or to the calendar.

As we move into 2022, may you have the space you need in your mind, in your heart, in your days, in your schedules, and in the places where you spend your time.

See you tomorrow for my first Go Team! post.

fitness · holidays · meditation · mindfulness · motivation · self care

Making Space: Day 29

As we amble along together through the in-between, let’s remind each other that December 31 is a date, not an absolute deadline for everything.

Sure, for some of us, there are some legal things that may have to be finished up over the next few days but for most of us, there is no need to push to finish AllOfTheThings.

It’s ok to find as much space as we can to reflect, to dream, to rest or to have fun.

And however and whenever you make that space for yourself is the perfect way to do it.

Only you know what you need to do to feel like yourself and I wish you the time, space, and energy to do it.

And with this gold star, I celebrate your efforts to find that time, space, and energy – ⭐️

Our videos today are a 5 minute movement break from the Recreation Department at the University of British Columbia and a relaxation meditation from Great Meditations.

Whether or not you do these videos, I wish you ease today and always.

A 5 minute Movement break from the UBC REC YouYube channel. Still image shows the instructor in a blue shirt with her arms in a C-shape with the text ‘5 minute movement break’ next to her in black.
A 5 minute relaxation meditation video from The Great Meditations YouTube channel. Still image shows a cartoon image of a smiling person with long hair who has their eyes closed. The background is overlapping muted shades of blue and grey.

Dancing · fitness · habits · holiday fitness · holidays · meditation · mindfulness · motivation · self care

Making Space: Day 26

We’re officially into that weird point of December where no one seems sure what day it is or what’s open or what they are supposed to be doing. And the range of Covid restrictions in various places is amplifying the confusion this year.

All of that adds up to even more reason to try and make some space for yourself – in whichever way works best for you today.

(That’s often the tricky part of making space for ourselves, I find. It’s hard to know what we are going to need from day to day and how much space we’ll require to give ourselves what we need.)

So, I’m just going to remind you that making space for yourself is a valid and important thing to do. You deserve gentle care. You deserve to have room in your own life. You deserve to feel good.

And if feeling good is out of reach right now, then I hope you can find a way to feel as good as possible in your current situation, even if the only space you can create is 10 extra seconds in the bathroom to squeeze your shoulders up by your ears and then let them slowly sink downward again.

Since we are in the in-between and everyone may need different things, I’ve picked out two choices for each video. Relaxing yoga/energizing cardio and meditation for hope/meditation for energy.

I hope you can find what you need today, in these videos or elsewhere.

I wish you ease.

Here’s your star for your efforts. ⭐️

Your hard work counts.

If you need to relax today, this yoga stretch video could be a good place to start.

A 5 Minute Yoga Everyday Stretch video from the Yoga with Bird YouTube channel. Still image shows a person in exercise clothes lying on a white yoga mat in a white room. She is in bridge pose.

If relaxing stretches aren’t your thing today, this fun dance video might be just the movement you need to create some space for yourself.

A wheelchair/chair dance video from the Sit Down AJ YouTube channel. the still image shows a group of people seated on chairs in a classroom/dance studio all in mid-dance.

If you are feeling a bit overdone emotionally today, this guided meditation could help you untie some mental knots.

A 5 minute guided meditation for hope and trust from the Yoga with Manon YouTube channel. Still image shows a person seated cross-legged (in lotus pose) on a purple mat with gold patterns on it), in the background bamboo plants and a small statuette can be seen.

If you are feeling a bit blah and need some mental energy, this next meditation might be the answer.

I was slightly reluctant to post this (quite lovely) meditation because it is labelled for ‘productivity’ and I hate that word. Not everything has to be ‘productive’ and our cultural push for ‘productivity’ is one big reason we need to consciously make space for ourselves instead of being able to let it happen more organically.

However, that being said, it is an enjoyable meditation and is NOT pushing productivity. I feel like that word is in the title to help the video be picked up in searches rather than being part of the channel’s philosophy per se.

So, to be clear, I am definitely not criticizing the channel for putting the word productivity in the title and I am not suggesting that YOU need to be productive. I found this meditation energizing and I hope you do, too.

I hope you find space today, with these videos or in your own way.

Remember: No one else gets to decide what space you need or how you make that space. 💚 you are the boss of you. 😉

fitness · health · holidays · meditation · mindfulness · stretching

Making Space: Day 20

I’m a bit under the weather today so I need to make as much space as I can for rest.

I’ve pared my to-do list down to the absolute necessities and I have selected these very short but still useful videos.

And I am keeping this post short, too.

Here is your star for your efforts today: ⭐️

May you have ease.

A morning stretch video from Megan Livingstone’s YouTube channel. Still image shows a person in a tank top and leggings stretching on a bed in a room lit with natural light.

A very quick meditation today, just a short wish for you to bless yourself with.

A less-than-2-minute LovingKindness Meditation from an interview with Sylvia Boorstein from the On Being YouTube channel. Still image shows the dark green outline of a triangle against a lighter green background. Text beneath the triangle reads ‘May I feel strong.‘
fitness · holiday fitness · meditation · mindfulness · motivation · self care · stretching

Making Space Day 1: Let’s Start With Our Shoulders

Since my post yesterday was inviting you to make some space for yourself this month, I’ve decided to help you out with that by offering a short movement video and short meditation video each afternoon in December.

I figure that if you don’t have to search for and choose a video, it might make it easier to fit it into your day. And if you subscribe to the blog, it will even show up in your email!

You don’t *have* to do these every day, of course, (I’m bossy but I’m not actually the boss of you) but I’ll bet it will feel pretty good if you do.

Please adjust to your own schedule and abilities, of course, I don’t want anyone to get hurt!

First up, since I seem to hoard my tension in my shoulders and I assume other people do, too, here’s Doctor Jo with some shoulder stretches.

This video from the Ask Doctor Jo YouTube channel shows Doctor Jo doing shoulder stretches while wearing a blue shirt with a superhero dog on it.

And as for meditation, let’s give this one a whirl…ahem, let’s give this one a sit.

Please remember that you don’t have to automatically be able to sit quietly with your breath, that’s a skill that comes with practice. And that practice involves trying to meditate, noticing that your attention has wandered, and then returning to the focus on your breath. Returning over and over is PART of the initial process, it’s not a failure or a mistake.

A video from the My Life YouTube channel that offers a visual of gentle water with a guided meditation.

Feel free to check in to let me know that you did one of these videos, or any other movement or mindfulness practice, and I’ll respond with a gold star for your efforts.

And whether you do these videos or not, please be kind to yourself today. 🌟

ADHD · fitness · habits · mindfulness · self care

Don’t Hold Your Breath, Christine

No, I’m not being snarky with myself here. I’m not stuck waiting for something that will never happen. I’m literally reminding myself not to hold my breath when I’m trying to focus.

Do you do that too? Or is it an ADHD thing?

Either way, it’s no fun. I’ll be trying to work on something and I won’t realize that I have been holding my breath until I catch myself sighing as I exhale. It’s not a good feeling and it involves a lot of unnecessary tension and I really want to stop doing it.

And in the course of figuring out how to break the habit, I’ve started by just being more conscious of when I might hold my breath and trying to stop myself earlier. But I have also been doing some research into different breathing videos and techniques. I figure that if I can practice breathing in more beneficial ways then I can not only stop holding my breath but I can replace my ineffective technique (holding my breath) with one that serves me better.

I mean, even if it doesn’t work, I get to spend some time breathing slowly and chilling out. There’s no downside to that.

So far, I have discovered that I really like having a visual element instead of just audio because it engages more of my brain so I can focus with more ease. (You know, so I don’t end up holding my breath while I practice breathing.)

Here are a few of the useful things I’ve found:

I’m not particularly anxious at the moment but I’ve still found these breathing GIFs for anxiety pretty good.

And I’m a fan of this video:

A video called ‘Deep Breathing Exercise = 2x The Anxiety Relief.’

And I find box breathing very relaxing:

A video called ‘Box breathing relaxation technique: how to calm feelings of stress or anxiety’

And if you are into breathing in shapes, this is adorable!

A video called ‘Deep Breathing with Shapes- Coping Skills for Kids’

In addition to playing around with all of these videos and GIFs, I have been reading James Nestor’s book Breath and I plan to talk about it on an upcoming post. I’m not sure exactly when that will happen yet, though, so don’t hold your breath on that one. (Ha!)

Do you have any breathing videos or techniques to recommend? What do you use them for? What do you like about them?

fitness · mindfulness · planning

Mindfulness and Daily Movement: Christine H Eases Into December

Between holiday commitments, year-end chaos, and, in this bizarre year, stress about the pandemic, about work (or the lack thereof) and about the world in general, December can be a bit of a circus.

No matter how well-organized you are, no matter what you may or may not be celebrating, it’s really hard to avoid succumbing to the ambient stress of this time of year.

Buddy the Elf from the movie Elf (Will Ferrell , a tall white man with  curly hair) in a green elf costume, goes round and round in a revolving door while screaming.
I think Buddy the Elf sums it up nicely here.

In the past few years, I have helped reduce that ‘revolving door‘ feeling for myself by employing an easy and short mindfulness practice. It doesn’t eliminate the stress of course, but it gives me a little more space to deal with it and it helps me keep some perspective.

I’m hoping that will hold true for this strange and anxious year, too.

Here’s what I do:

On the first of the December, I choose an instrumental Christmas album and commit to listening to at least one song from the album each day for the month. I might do yoga, draw, colour, or just breathe while I listen but I can’t do anything that even looks like work while the song of the day is on.*

It’s only a tiny thing but it really does help.

This year, to amp up my self-care, I’m also adding a little extra movement to each day.

I *could* frame this as one of my beloved 30 day challenges but that would put it into the category of things I MUST do.  

Instead, I’m trying to think of the extra movement as a gift to myself – giving myself a little more time and space to be more fully in my body instead of being mostly in my head.

A square present is wrapped in red wrapping and tied with a large red bow.
I have never wrapped anything in this fancy a way in my entire life but I admire those who can make gifts look this pretty!

A gift feels way better than being challenged at this point in the year.

If you like the idea of gifting yourself a little extra movement, I’ve rounded up a few suggestions for you:

Yoga:

Yoga with Adriene’s December Calendar – This year’s theme is ‘Honor’ (or, as we say in Canada, Honour) and is about hono(u)ring yourself.

Movement-based Advent**calendars:

Nutritious Movement’s ‘With a Twist’ Program – This will include daily movements and will likely have a sort of functional-fitness slant.

 Darebee’s Full Body Advent Calendar – Both this calendar and the one below will feature short daily exercises and they include a timer right on the page.

Darebee’s Upper Body Advent Calendar – See above.

12 Day Plans:

If you aren’t jazzed about a full month of movements, maybe a 12 Days of Christmas plan will be more fun for you?

Darebee’s Fit Christmas

Participaction’s 12 Days of Fitmas – this is a link to the information about the program but I think you will need to download their app for the program itself.

*You might be asking: Why doesn’t she do this during the rest of the year with non-seasonal music? It’s because it literally never occurred to her until she was writing this post. Brains are weird, weird things. 

**Speaking of things that haven’t occurred to me before: Why do Advent calendars start on December 1 instead of on the first day of Advent?