Friday, August 23, 2019

Fitness and "The Traveler's Gift"

Have you ever read "The Traveler's Gift: Seven Decisions That Determine Personal Success," by Andy Andrews? As I read the book in one sitting I was struck how its principles apply to pursuing fitness as well as various other aspects of our life. Success depends on the decisions we make. All seven decisions that Andy explores are superpowered by a spiritual component.

First Decision: The buck stops here. I am responsible for my past and my future. The book takes our discouraged out-of-work hero on a time-travel adventure where he meets historic characters who inspire him to look at and conduct his life in a different way. The first is Harry S. Truman, who schools him on personal responsibility. Where ever we are on our fitness journey, whether it be losing weight or reaching a new level of strength, it's empowering to realize its up to us where we go from here. It's in our capable hands to find out what we need to know and do what we need to do to get where we want to go. Taking baby steps, changing one small unhealthy habit for a healthier habit, time after time, adds up to a transformed body and life. I am still traveling that road.

Second Decision: I will seek wisdom. It's amazing how little most of us really know about getting and staying fit. If you were/are a high school and/or college athlete, physical education major, fitness professional, health nut, or such, you're likely an exception. The average person knows less about what makes the body function at its best. Until late 2009 when I began my career shift to fitness I had only a basic understanding. Now I have good foundational knowledge and continue adding to it by keeping abreast of current exercise science, nutrition and other health-related research as well as consulting with allied health care professionals. The more I know the better I'm able to train/treat my body and help my clients. Please check out some of the health resource links on this site to learn more about exercise, nutrition and other ways to improve your health.

Third Decision: I am a person of action. I seize the moment. I choose now.
Some day may never come. Today is here. Every time we exercise (in a prudent and safe manner based on our health profile) we improve our health. It's a scientific fact that the benefits of exercise begin to accrue almost as soon as we start our first exercise session. Also, when we add the right fuel to our body, in the form of healthy foods, we get an almost immediate benefit as the macronutrients and micronutrients are digested. Talk about instant payoff! The more such healthy actions we take, the more we'll see significant improvements in how empowered we feel as well as how mentally and physically healthy we are. We get healthier step by step by pursuing fitness.

Fourth Decision: I have a decided heart. My destiny is assured. It's not "if I become more fit," or "if I lose weight," it's "as I become more fit," or "as I lose weight." Decide you're going to adopt specific healthy lifestyle behaviors and do it by tackling those behaviors step by step. When you get 100 percent behind your commitments to yourself success is pretty much guaranteed because you just don't let anything stop you. If you look hard at what stopped you or others from achieving certain goals in the past, you'll easily realize that it's because you or the other person gave up the fight. When I look back at failed attempts at weight loss or increased fitness, I have to admit I gave up too easily. As my Dad always told me: "You can do anything you really want to do."

Fifth Decision: Today I will choose to be happy. I am the possessor of a grateful spirit. Abraham Lincoln said we're just about as happy as we choose to be. Happiness isn't about what's outside of ourselves or whether we have a perfect physique in the world's eyes. It's about how you look at yourself and your life. Do you focus on how you have been blessed and what you do have, or do you focus on what you don't have? Are you unhappy because you feel entitled to something you don't have? I have to admit that periodically in my life when the going gets tough I think "If only X, Y, or Z, I could really be happy." Fortunately so far I've been able to get past that over time and look at the world again with gratitude through an optimist's eyes. I'm happy to be alive.

Sixth Decision: I will greet this day with a forgiving spirit. I will forgive myself. This is a particularly good one for fitness. It's way too easy to get down on ourselves for not meeting our expectations for fitness and/or weight loss goals. Unfortunately that can lead to our sabotaging ourselves with self-defeating behavior creating more problems for ourselves. The classic is eating the whole sack of potato chips because you ate a half a bag of chips and hate yourself for it. It's best for our long-term success with health and fitness as well as the other aspects of our life to be gentle with ourselves. If you stumble, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, resolve not to repeat the error and go on. Love yourself the way you love or would love your own child, unconditionally. And forgive others. Holding a grudge not only poisons our spirits but also our bodies

Seventh Decision: I will persist without exception. I am a person of great faith. Faith has been the key element of any success I've ever had, especially with weight loss and fitness. Praying and meditating give me the strength to keep seeking what I need to do to continue to improve my health. After I kept failing to lose weight a number of years ago I had a "V8" moment and realized I needed to pray for help. That moment of transformation led me to find the right resources to educate myself on what I needed to do to lose weight. A "healthy lifestyle and weight loss" program set me off in the right direction. Then I started yoga, strength training, Zumba, etc., and I continue to work on my fitness levels. I persist because I have faith that my Higher Power will continue to help bolster and guide me.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Mind and Body

It’s so easy to get absorbed in our worries, plans and dreams in this busy, high-tech world that we lose touch with ourselves. Somehow when we spend too much of our time in our head we become disconnected with our physical and sensory being. We may easily come to think and feel like it doesn’t matter so much if we don’t give our bodies enough rest, hydration, nutrients and movement. Or if we stuff processed food mindlessly into our mouths while trying to zone out in front of the TV.

Luckily exercise, especially mindful exercise, is a great antidote to the many ills caused by overthinking and the harried “monkey mind.” Exercise naturally leads to a more focused mind, elevated mood and honoring our bodies. It can help us to get back to sensing, being and reconnecting with ourselves. More like we felt as children in wonder over the magic of experiencing our world in the moment. 

Any exercise, including walking, weight lifting, etc., can help integrate brain and body - especially when done mindfully. But some exercise modes, such as yoga and tai chi are specifically designed to focus our awareness on the here and now. Those disciplines in particular teach you to breath slowly and deeply, noticing and concentrating on the sensations of your physical self, including the activation of your muscles.

One of the greatest benefits I’ve received from exercising regularly, especially practicing tai chi and yoga, is to have reawakened my sensory system and developed a more unified sense of my mind-body. I'm more often present and aware, experiencing more moments vs. being on autopilot. In general I feel I'm living more fully and intentionally. A greater sense of mind-body unity has made me feel more confident, positive, relaxed, patient, empowered and spiritually centered. Not that I never feel agitated, anxious, bummed out or disconnected, but just less often and less intensely.

The body and mind are one and the same on both a physiological and spiritual level. And the mind-body system works much better in harmony, when our sense of the here and now is not always ignored and suppressed. The good news is that if we consciously choose to spend more time focusing on our sensations and reconnecting with ourselves we will feel more comfortable in our own skin. We will develop more energy and will power to shape not only our bodies but our lives.

Being dominated by non-stop thinking can leave us feeling unhappy and stressed with little relief except to sedate ourselves with food, medications, alcohol or other less-than-healthy relaxation options. As an alternative, we can choose to relax and reconnect by becoming mindful of our breath, noticing our surrounding and the sensations of our body as we exercise and/or even when we go through the activities of daily living. Mindfulness makes us more aware and boosts our feelings of gratitude for the many blessings of our life - which is the key to happiness. Try it! All you’ve got to lose is some stress, disconnectedness and self-doubt. And maybe even some extra weight!