Like Cereal Soaking up Milk

Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, 

Old Time is still a-flying . . .” –Robert Herrick

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I stepped out of the car and into the liquid sunshine pouring over the park.  Above me, a brilliant flash of red caught my eye.  A red-headed woodpecker landed near the top of an electric pole directly in front of me.  It cocked its head this way and that, scampered around the top of the pole in half a circle, and then, with a quick flap of its wings, darted back across the road to land on the trunk of a nearby evergreen tree.

Smiling, I made my way around my car toward the trunk to stow away my purse before my jog began. Rat-a-tat-tat. Rat-a-tat-tat.  The woodpecker found its morning rhythm; a reminder that I needed to do the same.

Along the sidewalk beside my car, a swishing caught my eye.  It was the friendly sway of a tail of a large shaggy dog of no particular breed, replete with long black and white bushy fur.  Hip-hop, hip-hop, scurried its four paws in a perfect cadence with its owner, leash amenably  loose.

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Inhaling, the crisp morning air rushed in prickly through my nose, and hinted of the day’s warming to come.  Aromatic, earthy scents lingered in the air, a mix of damp earth, decaying leaves, and cold rocks.  Breathing in once more, the fragrant air brought to mind a word a student had recently run across in a book, petrichor, and had asked me to not only pronounce it, but also explain it. 

“Uhm, let’s see, the scent of walking along a wooded path after a rain.”

Inwardly smiling at that memory, in the geeky way of one who loves words, I closed the trunk, started a podcast, adjusted the volume low–in order to listen, but also hear the surrounding sounds–and away I went with my own pit-pat, pit-pat rhythm.

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It was the kind of rare winter day in the Tri-State area in which the chilly morning would give way to golden sunshine warming the air to a relatively toasty 50 degrees. In fact, it was predicted to be the kind of day in which I want to tilt my head back, spread my arms, and embrace the sun’s rays in the same way a small child reaches for a loved one’s arms.  Most January and February days, in our neck of the woods, are often cold, cloudy, and gray–wash and repeat–lacking little in the way of inspiration.  Therefore, gleaming days of full-on sunshine must be celebrated, soaked-up, and gathered like a flower cut for a spring vase.  

It reminded me of Saturday morning cereal as a teen.  During those years, when I tended to sleep late, it was my habit to eat cold, boxed cereal upon my late morning rousing.  Those were the days of pouring large bowls of cereal, hosing them down with milk, and reading the box as if it were a treasured novel.  

Wheaties was a particularly popular brand at the time. I loved the ritual of letting those gingerbread colored flakes soak up the milk, making them thicker, sweeter, and chewier.  Weird as it may sound, I savored each soaked spoonful, one ritualistic bite after another, in my attempt to lengthen the solitary solace of the morning. 

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 That was how I felt on this day.  Like cereal soaking up milk, I wanted to soak up the splendor of the rare, mid-winter sun sighting.  Heading down the path, the sun played hide-and-seek with me, using clouds of varying thickness to conceal its bright warmth.  Nonetheless, by my jog’s end, its rays were resplendent, warming the cab of my car as I lowered my bones inside.  So, so yummy.

How many moments do we have in life in which nothing in particular is happening; and yet, it is everything all at once.  All the simple sweetness of life wrapped up and twisted tootsie-roll tight, just waiting for us to take notice, sanguinely unwrap, and allow its taste to roll  around, lingering on our tongues as we soak up all its sugary goodness.  Those are the days where things flow, go right, feel good, but absolutely nothing special, per se, occurs.  These need to be plucked, gathered, and dried between the pages of life, so we can hold, admire, and even cling to them during our darkest moments.

Life, I am finding, is a vase.  A vase that cannot be filled with salaries, brand-names, large houses, or ranking status.  Instead, it is a vase waiting to be filled with stems topped with colorful petals of memories.  Memories of molten sunshine days, heads tossed back with laughter, tender kisses, and soft touches.  Moments of whispered words and words best left unspoken.  Memories and moments hand-picked over a period of time, arranged, rearranged, and replenished if only we take the time to gather them.

Like cereal soaking up milk, may you soak up all of the nourishment of an ordinary, every day moment.  Fill your vase with the blossoms of these moments.  May they nourish your spirit and feed your soul, even during the darkest days of winter. 

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Find your own way to increased movement: SMART steady steps

“Set goals not for the outcome itself, but for who you get to become in the process.”–Jim Rohn

My husband and daughter recently gifted me with a popular, updated fitness watch to replace the one that I have worn for over ten years. The new watch has numerous bells and whistles that can be quite motivational to encourage movement, healthy sleep, heart health, and so forth.  However, the updated icon, consistent with the former version, tends to focus on unrealistic, outcome-based goals that are not necessarily appropriate for my unique age, gender, body type, and fitness level.  

The gadget, and its programmers, don’t know ME, the individual.  And therein lies the problem in these well-intended gadgets as well as the thousands of fitness plans found, not only on fitness watches, but also found on-line and in-print.  Therefore, in this seventh installment of my “Move into Health” series, my focus is about setting SMART movement goals that focus on your unique health needs and lifestyle.

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It is so easy and tempting to be swept away by programs with tantalizing titles such as, “9-weeks to a bikini bod,” or “8-weeks to your fastest 5-K,” or “Walk your way into a new jeans size,” and so forth, often made popular in January.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these types of plans, I have personally found they tend to set us up for failure when our bodies don’t look like the 19-year old willowy model used in the workout plan, our running pace doesn’t match the 5-K plan designed by a former professional runner, or our jeans still fit the same in spite of all of our best efforts.  

Instead, there needs to be a way to personalize plans in order to adapt to individual health goals, interests, schedule, lifestyle, body type, age, and current health circumstances.  Thankfully, there is! 

This year, consider setting SMART goals that focus on the process of promoting your distinct health needs as a way to focus your movement/exercise habit, rather than predetermined outcomes. There’s no need to make outlandish New Year’s resolutions, despite what the exercise industry would have you believe.  We simply need to take steady, SMART steps.

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SMART stands for Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound processes.  

This acronym has been used for years across a wide array of disciplines and settings.  However, I find it just as useful as a tool for leaning into personal movement and health processes. Personally, I find far more joy, and little to no guilt-ridden feelings of failure, when I focus on the process of a goal, rather than a specific outcome of that goal. 

For example, I am currently training for a half-marathon in March; however, this year, I’ve adopted a SMART approach.  Completing the half-marathon in March is specific, measurable, and based on my own current level of fitness, is achievable within the 16-weeks for which I have been using to prepare for it.  What my plan is NOT attached to is a specific finish time or whether I will run, walk, skip, or even crawl across the finish line.  Instead, my focus is about the measure of fitness I will gain in the process.  

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I am no longer worrying about the pace of my jogging or walking; instead, the focus is how I FEEL before, during, and after each workout with a close eye on how my heart rate is responding.  If it takes me twice as long as it takes others to complete a certain mileage, I am absolutely ok with that.  This journey is about the scenery along my path as well as improved cardiovascular health, better sleep, reduced anxiety/stress, and the gift of time to listen to great playlists, podcasts, and audiobooks.

Your goal may not look like mine, but that is not the point.  Rather, think about what process you want to embrace?  Increased movement throughout your day? Improved cardiovascular health? Increased flexibility and range of motion?  Maybe a little bit of all three, or maybe something completely different.  Once you have decided, work through the SMART process to develop your approach.  Take time to write it down or type it up.  There is something about the power of slowing down your thinking, and then putting your thoughts down in some form of print that brings clarity to your ideas.

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Begin first by simply reflecting on your current health status as well as current lifestyle.  What could YOU realistically do to move the needle towards a gentle process of increased health.  Be honest in your self assessment, but NOT judgemental.  Once your idea is clear, write/type your thoughts using the SMART steps:

  • Be specific:  Is your goal clear and defined?  For example, the ability to walk for ____ minutes without stopping, or increased stamina to finish a 5K, or the strength to carry ____ grocery bags into the house independently.
  • Measurable: Can it be tracked or measured? How do you know if you are making progress? If your goal is to walk without stopping for a certain amount of time, perhaps each week you dedicate three days per week to walking, starting with the length of time you can comfortably walk now, and increasing that time by one minute each successive week as long as your body is comfortably recovering.
  • Achievable: Will the process be challenging but attainable?  This is the sweet spot that only you can determine.  For example, given your age and health status, walking a 5K may not be realistic, but perhaps focusing on the process of walking 15-20 minutes may be attainable with small incremental increases in walking time over several weeks or months.
  • Realistic: Is your goal relevant to your life purpose?  For example, my life purpose is to remain mobile, heart healthy, and mentally agile in order to make a positive contribution to others for as long as I possibly can. Therefore, challenging myself with a process of increased cardiovascular health is one of a handful of processes I can realistically develop.
  • Timely: Can you set a date in order to hold yourself accountable to the process? This is why the process of training for half-marathons works for me.  I can choose an event that fits my schedule, and gradually build towards that goal.  Plus, I make a monetary commitment, which I know will hold me accountable.  Along the way, I find ways to celebrate, enjoy, and embrace each little step in the process.  Once the date has come and gone, I will consider my next SMART process that will further my health and ultimately, life purpose.

You do not have to run/walk a half-marathon like me to embrace the process of SMART goals.  The point is to let go of certain outcomes established by others who don’t know you nor have your same values.  Rather, get clear on your life purpose, then ask yourself what you can do to improve your own health towards achieving that goal.  Don’t beat yourself up with unrealistic expectations of others.  Get quiet, get honest, and get “smart.”  With this clarity, you will be able to come up with the best approach for you.

Here’s to your smart version of healthy in 2023.  May you continue to fulfill your own life purpose with vitality!  And, don’t hesitate to reach out, and let me know how it’s going!  I am cheering for you!

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Reading for fun provides lifelong benefits

There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.”–Walt Disney

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I recently had a high school student ask me, with great sincerity, why reading was important.  

“It’s not like it’s as important as math, science, or even computer class,” he added.

Why read indeed?  It is a question I have had to answer for decades as an educator, and one that occurs with growing frequency.  When all the answers to nearly every conceivable question are merely a few keyboard clicks away, why pick up a book, especially a work of fiction.  The number of inquiries I now field from parents questioning the value of their teen children reading, when their child already has “so much to do” is also increasing.

My observations reflect overall data trends in the United States.  According to one recent 2021 study by the Pew Research Center, approximately 23% of the population did not read in part, or in whole, a book–paper, electronic, or audio–during last year.  Additionally, the number of American children between the ages of 9-13 who read for fun is also dropping according to another Pew Research Center article.  Adults who are reading, are reading fewer books than ever, approximately 12 books per year reports a recent 2021 Gallup Poll. This is the lowest number Gallup has observed since they first began tracking reading in 1990.

Given the fast pace of life, the number of responsibilities we tend to juggle, not to mention all social media outlets and streaming services that vie for our attention, I can certainly understand why reading has become a bottom feeder on society’s list of priorities.  However, research, science, and even the business world have a new message for us.  Reading, including reading fiction, is important, and it is worth considering moving to the forefront of routine priorities.

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Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.”–Margaret Fuller

Habitual reading is now viewed as beneficial to careers and to the business world.  This position is reflected in the growing number of recent articles by respected business publications, such as the Harvard Business Review, Business News Daily, and Business Insider.  This is because one of the benefits of reading fiction is that it helps strengthen several cognitive skills that are critical for developing EQ, or emotional intelligence. Reading increases one’s vocabulary and ability to solve problems creatively.  It fosters empathy, builds critical thinking skills, and increases the ability to understand and respect those whose beliefs and desires may differ from their own.   In fact, businesses are now using reading facilitators, such as Reflection Point, a nonprofit organization, to use shared workplace reading experiences and conversations as one method for strengthening collaboration and inclusion within the workplace. 

Beyond the business world, however, reading offers a wide array of benefits to every individual.  One of the more obvious benefits of reading is pleasure, which, in turn, reduces stress. Science not only backs this fact up, but also reveals both mental and physical benefits of reading, no matter your age.  From the youngest, emergent readers all the way through your senior years, and even those critical teen years, reading can benefit your mind and body throughout a lifetime.

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Reading strengthens cognitive function and may reduce cognitive decline.  MRI and brain-scan based studies have demonstrated that reading dramatically changes your brain.  As you read, a complex series of signals and circuits are engaged throughout your brain.  As your reading skills advance, so do those neural pathways.  Additionally, reading stimulates a flow of blood, oxygen, and other nutrients to the brain, which could help stave off age-related cognitive decline and strengthen cognitive function and enhance memory.  Reading has even been linked to increased activity in the somatosensory cortex, the part of the brain that responds to physical sensations.

Reading can help manage stress. Obviously, reading is not the only tool for managing stress, but reading, as little as 30 minutes a day, has been shown to ease muscle tension while reducing blood pressure, heart rate, and feelings of stress. 

Reading fosters empathy and improves relationships. Empathy, the ability to understand how another person is feeling, is key to fostering social, interpersonal, and work relationships.  Reading about the lives of others, be they real or imaginary, broadens our experiences and offers insight into situations, feelings, and beliefs that we may not otherwise be able to experience.  This knowledge builds what is known as “theory of mind”, which can lead to more tolerant and compassionate attitudes towards others as well as for ourselves.

 Reading builds vocabulary. This one is a no-brainer, but it also exposes us to language outside of our everyday conversational experiences as well as to a variety of sentence structures, voices, and styles that can strengthen and enhance our personal communication skills.

Reading helps adolescents with self identity.  As a middle and high school educator of a so-called “soft-subject”, this is important validation.  Identity development is a critical component of the teen years.  Identity of self is typically developed through real-world relationships, events, and maturity, but it is now known that reading can also play an important role in this development. Reading allows teens a safe and distanced way to develop insight and explore relationships, friendships, cultural identities, and personal values which can help them as they navigate their own feelings, determine their identity/values while transitioning into adulthood.

Reading builds perseverance and inspires creativity.  Reading teaches you to be ok with ambiguity, and it reduces the desire for immediate gratification.  The ability to read a book demands setting a goal, sticking with it over a period of time, and builds our focus/concentration stamina.  These skills can translate into the ability to think creatively and solve problems. 

Reading may add years to lifespan.  While reading won’t replace longevity health habits such as eating well, incorporating movement throughout the day, and getting quality sleep, regular reading has been a proven life lengthener.  According to one study, reading a chapter per day, equivalent to 3½ hours per week, adds nearly two years more to a person’s life expectancy when compared to nonreaders. 

Reading may improve your mental well-being and prepare you for a good night’s sleep.  One of the top six tips for a better night’s sleep, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic, includes reading a print book. Within about six minutes of reading a book, the body begins to relax, the heart begins to beat slower, and the day’s stress begins to fade into the background–all of which can lead to a better night’s sleep. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness encourages reading as one method for reducing anxiety and depression, lowering stress levels, and increasing one’s ability to relax. 

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No matter how busy our lives may become, taking time for reading, even if it’s listening to an audio book during your work commute, is as important now as it was when we were young.  With an endless array of  books available on-line, in bookstores, and housed in local libraries, on any number of topics, why not grab one and start reading today.  Get a friend or family member to join, so you can both reap those wonderful benefits reading has to offer.  

P.S.  If you haven’t yet discovered the Libby app, a free digital library app available through most U.S. state public libraries, I highly recommend this app for its free digital and audio content of books, magazines, and other publications!  It’s a budget friendly, easy way to read on any device! 

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Practical and mindful tips for navigating life’s storms

“Start where you are.  Do what you can. Use what you have.”–Arthur Ashe

There are times I feel as if I can’t think straight.  My thoughts are scattered like fall leaves, colorful shapes of ideas caught in the whirlwind of my mind. I have goals and lists of things to-do for school (I’m an educator), writing, home, family/friends, self, and so on . . . . 

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For example, I may begin my day feeling energized, fully focused, and operating in a flow state, moving from goal A to goal B.  Remaining clear-headed, I move on to task C, when, unexpectedly, an email or text will be sent my way, creating an impending deadline for another task that was not on my radar for the day. 

Meanwhile, another challenge develops, and another issue needs addressed, and the wires in my mind that were moving linearly, now have to bend, zig, and zag.  When time and circumstance finally permits me to circle back to task C, my thoughts are scattered as I wonder how I will ever make it through the day, much less the week.

 Too much to do, too many responsibilities/obligations, and numerous distractions, for many of us.  Is it any wonder we often feel scattered, overwhelmed, and/or agitated/anxious with greater frequency in a culture that fosters and rewards busyness.  Therefore, if hiring a personal assistant isn’t anywhere on the horizon or budget, what are some practical and more mindful techniques mere mortals can practice when feelings of overwhelm threaten to take our minds away.

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Practically speaking, there are organizational strategies.

  • Long list:  I like to start my week with a long list, or a brain dump, of all the things on my mind, mostly for the upcoming week, but some items are more long term.  I typically do this on Sunday or Monday.  I am old school, so I prefer handwriting, but it really doesn’t matter.  The point is to get all my deadlines, worries, ideas, goals visually listed and out of my jumbled mind.  I may add to this list throughout the week as various items pop-up.
  • Short list: From my long list, each day, I try to prioritize 2-4 items to complete and mark off my long list. I typically write these on a post-it note for the day or add it to my reminders app. 
  • Break down big tasks into smaller, more manageable steps: For example, in my world, this may look like setting the goal of grading one class’s (or ½ half of a class’s) essays each day, with the goal of finishing that grade level by week’s end.  I apply this to all other larger/bigger projects, setting mini-goals for each larger job.
  • Create rituals/routines:  For certain tasks, I create rituals/routines. I set aside specific time periods/days for completing certain tasks.  For example, laundry is typically started on Saturday and finished on Sunday.  Food preparation for the week is Sunday afternoon. Early mornings on Saturday and Sunday are set aside for writing and/or school tasks, with a few hours added in the afternoons of both days, if time allows. 
  • Set boundaries on email, texts, and social media: These are rabbit–holes of distractibility if I am not careful, especially when working.  Therefore, I check email at certain times of the day, and that is it.  If I am grading/writing or completing any other type of work that requires my full focus, the phone is face down, silenced, and I set a 50-minute timer with an allowance for a 10-minute movement break  and text check each hour.  
  • But, be flexible: All of these strategies may work, but–and there is always a ‘but’ in life–we have to be ready to bend with life and be flexible enough to throw lists and plans out the door as needed.  Which is why we need mindful strategies . . .
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When life gets in the way, all the best laid plans go out the door, and this is when overwhelming feelings can occur.  Therefore, we need more than neck-up strategies; we also need strategies that speak to and soothe the heart and soul.

  • Breathe, and try not to panic: Take several deep belly breaths and acknowledge that you feel overwhelmed without judgment.  I know this isn’t easy, but be gentle with yourself. Your work may not be coming together as you originally envisioned it or within a time frame you had hoped, but you’ve completed other challenges before, you are trustworthy and committed; therefore, trust that you will get it completed.
  • Take a break: If time allows, take a short break. Consider walking away for a moment, even if only for the time it takes to walk to the restroom and grab a drink of water. If you can’t walk away, look away from the work for a moment.  Close your eyes for a breathing break, focus on an image, look out the window if you have one, pause for a prayer–whatever works to SLOW down your breathing, distract your mind, and reduce the stormy feelings inside. 
  • Switch gears to another job.  This may mean completing a short task that requires little, to no, brain power; or, it may mean jumping ahead to another item on your list and working on it for a few minutes.  The point is to gain a sense of accomplishment to refresh your spirit and put you into a more positive mindset.
  • Be your own cheerleader:  Offer yourself encouragement and supportive thoughts.  “You’re doing great.”  “Two steps completed; you’re on a roll.”  “Two phone calls down.  Only three more to go; you’re making progress.” 
  • Make peace with the storm: Work-life balance is fluid.  Sometimes life is as calm as a cloudless June day; and other times, it is like a room full of toddlers who haven’t had their naps, and they all have colds–you don’t know which nose to wipe first or which kid to attempt to calm because they are all crying.  
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Accepting that life is messy, imperfect, and sometimes turbulent is not easy, but resisting this fact, only makes it more difficult. Just as the toddler teacher cannot leave the classroom of crying kids, neither can we leave the storms of life.

In the end, making peace with our sometimes traffic-jammed brains doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be organized or equipped with strategies, it merely means we accept the process of working through the challenges of life. It’s a commitment to the implementation of daily strategies, mindful habits, and a healthy dose of gentleness in order to recover some semblance of clarity when the chaos of life occurs.

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Through the eyes of a child

“Chin up, chin up. Everybody loves a happy face.’–E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web

“If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”–Thich Nhat Hanh

Landon and Grayson often greet me in the morning with bright-eyed smiles and plenty of discoveries about the morning.

One of the special joys in my life are the smiles of toddlers and young children at the school in which I work.  As an educator working on a school campus setting that provides care/education for children, ages 6-weeks through 12th grade in different buildings, I often see parents and other educators dropping off their children for daycare or preschool.  Some of the little ones are sleepy in the morning, others are crying, some are shy, and others walk in–or are carried in—with a smile on their face and a twinkle in their eye.  They jabber, babble, talk, or even sing with joy, depending upon their age/stage of development.  

I could be having a rough start to my day, but if I happen to walk through the campus parking lot alongside a staff member’s bright-eyed child, smile as wide as the sky itself, I can’t help but smile too.  Before long, the child has engaged me into a conversation, and all the previous negative energy of the morning fades.  I share in the delight of their discovery of a rock or a piece of mulch, and smile back enthusiastically when they show me their shoes, their mittens, or their hat.  They find happiness in the very things I tend to overlook or take for granted.

Then there are the babies–wrapped, swaddled, and layered into their parent’s arms.  Face peeking out over their caretaker’s shoulder, eyes blinking in the morning air.  Those large round orbs, of all shades, take me in, and then, as if I were a royal subject, reward me with a smile.  I can’t help but smile back.

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The babies, toddlers, and young children look at me and the scenario unfolding around them with fresh eyes and innate good cheer.  Eyes that are free from judgment.  Eyes that do see my age, my skin color, my size, or care about my socioeconomic status, religious/political affiliation, and so forth.  They only see me smiling back at them and hear my affirming voice.  

Possessing the ability to look at the world and others without motive is a powerful concept.  This is the lesson young children and babies teach, but because we are so busy, or our lives are so removed from young children, we miss the lesson.  Imagine, looking at each new day, event, person, even the great outdoors with fresh eyes.  What magic, what wonders, what friendly people do we miss because our brains have a tendency to be drawn to to-do lists, work, worries, irritations, conflicts, gossip, bad news, and so forth. 

However, children, until we teach them otherwise, are inherently open and accepting. They have no preconceptions about all the things we, as adults, begin to define, discern, and draw lines of division around.  A dog’s tail is a thing of wonder to a child.  Common dandelions are flower puffs to be plucked, sniffed, touched, and held as an object of fascination.  Birds are special creatures who fly and sing for their amusement. Time is of no consequence, and space is meant to be explored–be the space a sidewalk, yard, a floor, or even cabinets of a kitchen.

Miss Evalynn often greets me in the morning with bright, inquisitive eyes.

Of course, as adults, we cannot conduct ourselves exactly in the same manner as young children.  However, there are certain behaviors for which we can adopt and put into practice more often.  The first of which is smiling.  

The late Thich Nhat Hahn was once asked why someone should smile when they weren’t feeling happy.  He responded that smiling was a practice.  Hahn went on to explain that when we smile, we release tension from our face muscles which in turn releases body tension.  The less tension we have, the more we smile. And the more we smile, the more others notice, and in turn, they smile back, often initiating a chain event of others smiling too.  A smile, he explained, is “an ambassador of goodwill”.

The act of smiling is contagious, as Hahn pointed out, and a sincere smile has the potential to change the trajectory of a moment.  Imagine the power of one person smiling, which triggers another person to smile in response.  Then that person’s smile causes another person to smile, and so the chain continues.  This is the first lesson of young children.

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Another lesson of young children is viewing the world and others with an open mind:  Looking widely, listening carefully, and taking in your surroundings without jumping to conclusions and immediately passing judgment.  Obviously, there are certain situations in which quick judgements/decisions are required; however, by remaining a calm, lucid, and observant presence, the more likely a pragmatic outcome can be achieved.  

Appreciation for the small things is another lesson provided by children.  When my own daughter was young, we would sometimes walk through the woods.  Her dad’s pant’s pockets would get weighed down from all of the “treasures” she would find along the way.  From sparkling rocks to a kaleidoscope of leaves–crimson, gold, and burnt orange, and from a discarded snail shell to a special stick perfect for digging, it was those little delights that added up to big pockets of joy!  The world continues to be full of small treasured moments that we too can collect along life’s path, if we view the world as a child. 

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Finally, there is the lesson of the restorative power of laughter and the healing power of love.  One needs only to observe–or recall–the ease with which a child can transition from tears to laughter with the embrace of a trusted loved one, and then the way in which they can explode into laughter, when afterwards, an adult gives them a raspberry.  Laughter and love are also contagious, and as the children demonstrate to me on a regular basis, can be the salve to a world full of hurt and sorrow.

Therefore, I encourage you to try, if only for one day, or part of a day, to practice viewing the world with the eyes of a child.  Smile at others and even to yourself.  Observe events and others with openness and without motive.  Notice and gather the small blessings. Enjoy a good belly laugh, or five, and, like a child offering you a flower, offer love to others (think: generosity, gentleness, patience . . .), and see what happens.  Who knows how many lives/situations your child-like focus will affect . . . including your own!  

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Exercise your right to JOY

“Around the world, people who are physically active are happier and more satisfied with their lives.”–Kelly McGonigal

“Movement awakes and activates many of our mental capacities.”–Carla Hannaford

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I was going through the movements of getting ready for my work day half-heartedly listening to a podcast whose title had promised much.  Unfortunately, like many podcasts, it ended up being another interview designed to promote the sale of a book. My phone was off to the side, away from my point of focus, so I didn’t immediately stop the interview.  

Despite my lack of focus/interest, my ears perked up when I overhead a nugget of an idea.  Unfortunately, I cannot quote the idea precisely since I wasn’t fully focused.  However, the kernel of its intent resonated with me.  It was the idea that the main focus of exercise should not necessarily be to get “fit,” to maintain or lose weight, sleep better, or any of the other valid reasons.  Instead, the main goal of all exercise/movement should be to increase joy.

This was such an interesting thesis that I had to dive more into the topic, and it turns out science has quite a bit to say about this.  Of course, I nearly always feel better when I can integrate movement into my day.  Plus, I typically felt better after more “formal” exercise sessions.  However, this was all anecdotal.  

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Before diving into the research a few days later, my mind kept going back to the notion of reframing our relationship with exercise.  Dropping the typical exercise narratives–weight management, fitness goals, therapeutic/emotional release, better sleep and so forth was fascinating. Of course, exercise provides all of those goals and more, but the idea of letting those be the side dishes, and allowing joy to be the main course was intriguing.

After perusing numerous articles, I became super excited; I knew this information needed to be shared with my local community and beyond.  This felt especially important since I have previously written pieces fostering the notion that movement is for every unique body–even those with limitations, and it can be incorporated into daily life even on the busiest of days.  Armed with this information, I was ready to spread the word: More Movement = More Joy!  

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Exercise, even in short bursts of time, improves one mood. A study conducted by West Virginia University found that middle school students who regularly exercise feel overall happier.  This was a no brainer! Ask any educator what their students’ behavior and mood is like on days they don’t have recess versus days they get it, and you’ll most likely get an earful.  Kids instinctively know they need movement, and if they can’t get it via the playground, athletics, dance, etc.–they are going to find ways to move more animatedly in the classroom.  Otherwise, if kept from moving, they become sullen, whiney, moody, or even combative/confrontational. And, this is also true for adults.

Interestingly, in one study, researchers determined specific movements that not only are associated with the feeling of joy, but also enhance the joy when completed.  These include: reaching, swaying, bouncing, shaking, jumping, and an action called, “celebration,” an action that mimics tossing confetti overhead with both hands. One researcher, Kelly McGonigal, writing for the New York Times, created, shared, and posted a video in the article, “The Joy Workout”, based upon these specific movements.  The video is approximately eight minutes long, and can be easily accessed through a quick click of keys.  (It is important to note, after giving it a try myself, not all movements are appropriate for those with limited mobility or injuries; however, movements could be modified or even completed while sitting.)  

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Another interesting study I ran across stated that simply standing, sitting, or moving with a more open posture, as opposed to a closed posture, can likewise increase positive feelings.  Moreover, a smaller 2021 study focused on participants who were asked to go through a series of movements similar to those McGonigal studied.  Once more, movement, even those completed in a seated posture, increased feelings of happiness. Clearly, exercising with the goal of joy in mind is not a crazy notion.

My research continued, including studies from the University of Michigan, University of Iowa, University of Texas, and Northeastern University, just to name a few.  What I found was that scientists tended to agree that all forms of exercise/movement are beneficial when performed safely.  That said, aerobic exercise currently seems to have a slight edge overall in brain boosting potential, but that may be because it appears to be the most researched. However, all conclude that exercise and movement benefit the young, seniors, and all ages in between.  Whether a short burst of activity or a more formal workout, movement ameliorates the effects of depression and anxiety by boosting the production of serotonin, and other feel-good chemicals and decreasing stress-inducing hormones. 

Exercise your right to enJOY movement with friends and family.

When we move, we increase our heart rate, which, in turn, moves more oxygen to the brain. As numerous studies indicate, increased oxygen to the brain mitigates symptoms of anxiety and depression. Furthermore, movement/exercise, when repeated frequently enough, can give rise to new neurons in the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for not only emotions, but also memory and learning!  This means that movement/exercise not only affects your brain in the moment in which you are participating, but it also makes positive structural changes over time.

So back to “The Joy Workout.” Does it work?  Well, only you can decide that. I will say that I found it clever, cute, and definitely made me smile.  However, you do not have to do “The Joy Workout” in order to feel joy in movement.  I found multiple, what I like to call, “movement-snacks,” videos and apps that offer 10-minute or less movement breaks if that’s your thing, such as the 7-minute workout, available on-line and in app version.  

Joy can be increased through movement, step-by-step.

Of course, there are so many other ways to increase movement from taking short walk breaks, to parking farther away from your destination, from walking to another floor for a restroom break to simply stretching or walking/marching in place on commercial or pop-up breaks, and so much more. The important thing, researchers noted, is that you find ways to move and/or exercise that you enjoy, that can easily be incorporated into your daily routine, so that you will do them on a regular basis in order to reap all those joyful benefits.

Ultimately, who doesn’t want to feel more joy moving into the new year?  Help boost yourself towards that goal by determining ways you like to move.  The worst movement mistakes you can make are inactivity or repeatedly moving/exercise in a way in which you dread it.  Let’s keep it simple.  Focus on moving more, smiling more, and feeling more joy overall.  It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

Take a leap of faith, move for joy!

Do you disturb the peace, or perpetuate it?

  “If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”–Thich Nhat Hanh

The tail twitches and crouching ensues. Hips raised, ears flattened, the tail twitches more rapidly.

“LJ, stop!”

He remains immobile and continues his focus.

“LJAAAY,” said with slow emphasis on the A-sound.

A look is tossed over his lowered shoulders, signaling he doesn’t feel like listening.

Hand reaches for the spray bottle, and John, my husband, walks towards LJ, trigger aimed.  That is all it took. LJ, our solidly black cat, takes off in an attempt to avoid being squirted, but he’s not to be conquered.  Not yet. 

He circles back around the dining room table and reenters the same room through another entry point as if we can not see him.  Meanwhile, the desire of his pouncing antics, Tippi (Tail), our 14 year old gray cat, with the exceptions of tuxedo white on her chest and tufts of white on the tips of her paws and tail, sits peacefully undisturbed.  The only sign that she is aware of his shenagings is the very slow whishing of her tail along the top of the carpet.

LJ prepares to pounce once more; however, John rapidly squirts water in LJ’s direction.  Although John isn’t trying to precisely hit LJ, the sound and sight of the water sends LJ scuttingly out of the room.

Tippi looks towards where the water missed its target, turns her head back to its original position as her body sighs towards the floor in a perfect cat loaf.  Her tail encircles her body once more.

Throughout LJ’s attack, Tippi remained peaceful, never hissing or spewing.  While her tail signaled her awareness, she did not otherwise bring attention to LJ’s negativity.  Instead, she chose to remain at peace with it.  Vigilant, but non-reactive.  

John and I have watched this play out repeatedly, yet no matter how many times LJ attempts to attack Tippi Tail, she rarely responds out of anger. To be sure, Tippi will occasionally respond if he corners her. Mostly, though, she remains peaceful and at ease.  

LJ is a bit younger than Tippi and has not moved from the self-absorbed stage of life.  He wants to be the center of attention on his terms.  If the humans in his home, family members or visitors, aren’t paying attention to him, he finds ways to draw attention to himself.

For example, if Tippi decides to sit with one of us, due to her arthritis, we find ways to offer her assistance to climb up beside us, such as slightly lowering the reclining portion of a chair or couch.  As she tries to lift herself up to position, LJ will haughtily cross the room and attempt to “beat” her to the desired person.  If we move a step stool near the bay window, in order to assist Tippi’s assent to the cat beds in the window, LJ will try to block her attempts in order to claim the bay window area for himself.

Nonetheless, Tippi Tail finds ways to persist with grace and equanimity.  Her peace remains (mostly) unflappable.  Neither does she appear to hate LJ, nor does she appear to be jealous of his presence.  Instead, she seems to understand with a sense of compassion and patience that he can’t help what is inside him–his tendencies to compete, invade, dominate and exploit perceived weakness.  

Due to her serene perseverance, there reigns an unspoken peace between the two cats . . . most moments.  The more peaceful and tolerant Tippi becomes, the more LJ is learning to become that way.  It has taken years, but there are times I will wake up in the morning to find both cats sleeping at the foot of the bed–not necessarily near each other–but in the same approximate area. Furthermore, it is not unusual during cold days to find both of them soaking up the morning sun in the same room and within the same area, albeit, not touching each other.  

Sometimes, upon waking, I am surprised to discover, after I turn on the bedroom lamp, that both LJ and Tippi Tail had been peacefully sleeping at the foot of the bed.

Thich Nhat Hanh once wrote that, “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over.” When LJ sees Tippi with one of us, he suffers jealousy because he perceives that she is getting all the attention and love.  If he sees that Tippi wants to be in one of the cat beds in the bay window, he suffers fear because he is afraid there isn’t enough secure space for him in the sunlight to cozy for a nap.  

While they both lived their early lives as stray cats, it is possible that something happened in LJ’s past that causes him to remain stunted and insecure.  Then, again, due to the fact, Tippi is older, and lived with us longer; perhaps, she feels solidly secure with her position in our family.  It could also be that she remembers a time when she was the younger cat in the house, competitively trying to exploit the weakness of one of our former cats, in order to gain our attention.  Possibly, she has simply outgrown those impulsive years. 

Whatever the reason(s), Tippi seems to understand that within LJ are potential seeds of love, compassion, playfulness and peace.  However, she also appears to sense that LJ is dominated by seeds of willfulness, anger, fear, and insecurity.  Due to age, circumstances, and/or experience, she is mindful of these seeds both within herself and within LJ.  Therefore, it often appears that she uses this insight to mindfully choose her actions–modeling peaceful behaviors, and only fighting back in order to keep from getting hurt when he corners her.  

Of course, I have personified my cats in order to make a point. To live in peace and harmony with others, we must recognize that all humans have similar needs/desires:  food, water and shelter, safety, esteem/value, love/belonging and so forth.  There is often fear and/or a feeling of lack when humans sense one of these is missing.  Additionally, everyone has the potential to develop and foster seeds of insight, self-awareness, and self-control, but not everyone focuses on developing these, much less developing them at similar rates.  

As the story of Tippi and LJ illustrates, it is important to be aware of our own insecurities, fears, and impulses in order to exercise self-control.  Recognizing our own proclivities with compassion and understanding, allows us to offer that same consideration and empathy for others.  

While this is never easy, and it takes practice, by learning to be less-reactive and modeling more appropriate ways of speaking, engaging, and responding to others, the more we can reduce conflict.  Of course, this is not to say we passively agree or accept all behavior and actions; rather, it is important to recognize that not every word, action, and deed with which we disagree needs a response.  Furthermore, if a response is required, how much more productive and beneficial they can be when given with considered insight/thought, self-control, and discipline   

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all learn to do what Tippi does with LJ– pursue patience, tolerance, and think before acting.  

The more Tippi practices patience and tolerance with him, the more LJ is becoming more at peace with her.

Combating SAD and those winter blues

Dawn is one of my favorite times of the day.  All is quiet and peaceful.  The colors of indigo, purple, and blue gently fade into shades of boldness– cantaloupe and blood orange. Ultimately, such an audacious start cannot last, and those bold colors melt into a subtle blush.  It is as if all of nature is holding its breath.  There is a hush that can be felt, rather than heard. This quiet sweetness is often intercepted by the temerity of a bird singing, “Chip-a-we, chip-a-we.”  Soon other birds echo their harmonies–little melodies of hope.

As the sun rise wipes away the darkness from the skies, yesterday is officially rinsed away.  Lifelong teacher that she is, Mother Nature, hands each of us a new canvas.  We can begin again.  

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But what about those days, when skies are blanketed with the clouds of fall and winter?  When the morning doesn’t possess the grandeur of the symbolic gesture of a slate cleaned.  When, instead, all those burgeoning clouds seem overflowing with all of the errors and mishaps of the previous day, and the sorrows and pains of the future appear to hang low on the horizon of inky darkness.  When the mind, like a glass bottle tossed into the sea, drifts from one fret to another.

Another winter looms larger than ever.  The past feels forever chained to the soul, and the future, oh-the-future, what more frets could it hold?  Our thoughts begin to plague us. We are held in bondage to our thoughts.  Bondaged to the what-ifs, the how will I be able to, and the weight of the unseen dangers lurking within every charcoal layer of gloominess.

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It is not uncommon for many of us to fight this sort of mental tug-of-war as cozy, amber autumnal hues dissipate under winter’s drab, gray overcoat.  An affable cook with whom I worked during my long-passed college days, named Shirley, would say, “Ah, honey, that ain’t nothin’ but them winter blues.”  She’d tell me to be grateful for my life, praise God more, and, “Bundle up, git outside, girl! Go for a walk, and git ya sum fresh a’r. A little cold won’t harm ya, and it’ll chase them ol’ blues away!”   Turns out, Ms. Shirley was on to something.

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According to the Cleveland Clinic, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a form of depression, triggered by the change in seasons, typically beginning in fall, and worsening throughout the winter months until the days begin to lengthen at some point in spring.  It more commonly occurs in young people and women, but men are by no means immune to it.  The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that about 15 million adults, or 7.1%, of the US population experience SAD, with another 10% – 20% of the population experiencing some form of the winter blues.  

With so much of the population already experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or phobias, it felt important to share a few established practices, according to several leading medical institutions, for coping with SAD and the winter blues.  

Go outside. One of the most common techniques is getting outside for a walk, even for a few minutes, like Ms. Shirley suggested all those years ago.  Even on cold and cloudy days, getting outside provides multiple benefits.  It exposes you to light, and the movement increases blood flow and oxygenation, all of which are good for producing those feel good hormones.  

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Regular exercise.  Along those same lines, according to Helpguide.org International, regular exercise–whether you are doing it inside or outside–can be as effective as medication, without the worrisome side effects. Choose a form that is rhythmic and continuous and also incorporates both arms and legs, such as weightlifting, walking, swimming, tai chi, dancing, and so forth, as this provides the most benefit to mental wellbeing.  Regular exercise and/or continuous movement boosts serotonin, endorphins, and other mood enhancing brain chemicals.  Furthermore, exercise and/or movement improves sleep and boosts self esteem. 

Light exposure. Expose yourself to as much light as possible. Open up drapes and blinds during the day.  Sit and work, if possible, near sources of natural light.  Walk outside, and if you can tolerate the temperature, sit outside, even for a few moments.  Natural light is another way to boost serotonin.  Additionally, consider bright light therapy–special lamps or daylight simulation light bulbs–to use while reading, eating, working, and so forth. 

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Be social.  Reach out to family and friends.  Volunteer your time.  Meet friends for lunch, dinner, or coffee.  Join a support group.  It doesn’t matter so much what you choose to do, rather it’s about making social connections.  Even if you don’t feel like it, being social is a mood elevator.

Eat right.  Depression causes sufferers to crave starchy carbs, which leads to lethargy, lack of motivation, and even greater mood swings.  However, choosing fresh fruits and vegetables, along with complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain bread, brown rice, oatmeal, and even bananas, can boost that ever desired serotonin, without the sugar crash. Additionally, omega rich foods, such as oily fish, soybeans, walnuts, and flaxseeds, are known mood boosters, and, if taking antidepressants, may increase their effectiveness.

Keep a regular sleep schedule and engage in stress reduction practices.  Both are beneficial to ameliorating SAD symptoms.   Avoiding naps, or limiting their length, prevents the sluggishness that can often accompany them. Managing or reducing stress through various techniques, such as yoga, prayer, meditation, gratitude journals, and other mindfulness activities may be beneficial.  Other related tips include, completing one activity/thing you love to do daily, and even watching videos, shows, and/or movies that make you laugh are beneficial to reducing symptoms associated with SAD or those winter blues.

Wint-o-green mints.  Ok, so this isn’t an established practice.  However, it is my technique for using mints to remind me that if I “wint” int-o the present mo-mint, I can stop borrowing tomorrow’s troubles.  While I can’t say it’s great practice for my teeth, those round orbs of refresh-mint offer a sweet signal for my brain to slow down my monkey mind, breathe slower, and focus on one moment/thing at time.  Mint = Mind In Now-Time.

Acknowledging that winter can make many of us feel a little sadder is important.  Not only does it allow us to feel more compassion and empathy for those experiencing SAD, but it also gives us permission to recognize those feelings within ourselves, should we begin to experience them.  I can’t say I am a fan of colder temperatures, but I still get outside most days of the week, like it or not.  In the meantime, I can’t help but think Ms. Shirley would be pleased to know science now proves her sage advice to be true.

Unwrap your best holiday health: Ways to keep moving from Thanksgiving through those New Year’s Celebration

“Take care of your body. It’s the one place you have to live.”–Jim Rohn

This is my fifth installment of celebrating and encouraging movement for everyone.  If you’ve read my previous pieces, you already know that my goal is fairly simple.  I want to encourage everyone to move more in whatever manner works best for you, your body, and your schedule.  I do not believe in one-size fits all when it comes to fitness and health goals.  Instead, I am writing to explore techniques, habits, and motivations for incorporating more movement into life, even during the upcoming holiday season.

Why should you consider maintaining your movement/exercise routine during the weeks of Thanksgiving through the New Year celebration?  There are many possible reasons, but only you can decide your why(s).  Personally, it allows me to feel as if I have accomplished one positive thing for the day.  If everything else derails throughout the day, at least I exercised–even if it had to be for a reduced amount of time.  However, there are so many more valid reasons.

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Increased movement and exercise is one positive way to combat the stress that often accompanies this season.  Although stress isn’t a disease, per se, it is the body’s physical, mental, and emotional responses to external events, especially change, which often occur from Thanksgiving through the New Year celebrations. High levels of holiday stress can detrimentally impact mental health.  However, being physically active throughout the holidays is a proven technique to significantly reduce stress levels.

Along the same lines, exercise during the holiday season can provide structure to your schedule. If you have already committed to moving more throughout your day/week, and you have already been consistently applying it, then continuing to follow through with that plan builds at least a sense of familiarity and comfort.  Even if you have to reduce your time and/or days for physical activity, there is at least that semblance of reassurance that you are choosing to still take care of yourself, which can increase the likelihood of making another healthier choice throughout your day/week.

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As counterintuitive as it may seem, exercise gives you more energy during the holidays.  Harvard Health explains it this way. Increased movement and exercise increases oxygen circulation, which in turn, allows your body to energy more efficiently and therefore function better.  Furthermore, exercise increases cellular level changes, including augmenting the production of mitochondria inside your muscle cells. Having more mitochondria translates to your body possessing an adequate energy supply.  Plus, exercise boosts the production of the feel-good hormones that likewise make you feel more energetic.

Exercise and increased movement is a proven way to combat anxiety and depression, often associated with the holiday season. Let’s be honest, for many people, the holidays often serve as a reminder of loved ones and traditions lost to the past.  For others, the increased requirements for more socialization, or so-called holiday-expectations, can trigger the desire to curl up in a fetal position and hide until the season is over.  Furthermore, increased levels of darkness often precipitate seasonal affective disorders (SAD), a form of depression that affects approximately 10 million people annually. Physical activity is a proven method for reducing symptoms by releasing endorphins that increase positive feelings.  

Physical activity can reduce increased sedentary behavior associated with late fall and winter months. Colder and/or inclement weather can reduce motivation to get outside and move. It’s only natural to want to stay in and watch sporting events, stream series, or watch old movies while noshing your way through comfort food snacks and often calorie laden beverages.  While there’s nothing inherently wrong with these behaviors, too much inactivity is not beneficial to the body, mind, and even spirit.  A commitment to physical activity, even if it is laps around your house on commercial breaks during sporting events or between streaming episodes will go a long way promoting your overall well-being.

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In spite of all of these benefits, it can still feel challenging to maintain that fitness plan or movement goals you have established for yourself in previous months.  However, there are ways that can help you overcome obstacles.  The key is finding the ones that work for you as no one method/approach works for everyone.

Walk, march, or even jog around the neighborhood, if weather permits, or inside your house.  Even walking, marching, or jogging in place is beneficial!  If you don’t have time for your usual amount of time, such as 20 or 30 minutes, break it up into smaller time periods spread throughout the day.  If that isn’t possible, even one shorter burst of activity is better than none!

Consider exercising with an app, DVD, or streaming platform.  There are numerous apps and platforms that are free or reasonably priced.  In fact, you can even look up “holiday themed workouts” on Youtube lasting anywhere from 10-30+ minutes!

Inexpensive, portable exercise equipment are the perfect solution when traveling.

Invest in personal, home exercise equipment for use during inclement weather, traveling, or when short on time. Resistance bands and tubing, jump ropes, and exercise mats  are inexpensive, and easy to transport when traveling and/or visiting family/friends. The bands/tubing come in different sizes and resistant levels and require little training.  In fact, most come with a workout plan or can be found online.

Think outside the box, but keep it simple: 

  • Wake up 15-20 minutes earlier for a short movement period.  
  • Be mindful of the number of steps you take throughout the day, and challenge yourself to complete more than the day before.  
  • Wear exercise shoes when shopping and add power walk breaks in between stores or consider more frequent walks to your parked car after a store visit to stow away bags. 
  • Rethink your lunchtime, if your job allows, and use it as an opportunity for a short walk.
  • Challenge a fitness buddy to hold each other accountable to a realistic daily or weekly goal.
  • Complete bodyweight exercises throughout the day, such as push-ups against desk, body weight squats and lunges, chair tricep dips, twists, stretch, and so forth.  You might get a whole body workout by the day’s end!
  • Set realistic expectations and plan accordingly.  Consider reducing time/numbers of days per week, and then make a commitment to those.
  • Make movement part of the family/friend traditions if possible.  A family walk or dance session after a big holiday meal can not only improve digestion, but take the edge of any accumulated stress.
  • Make a holiday playlist.  It doesn’t have to be holiday music.  Instead, create a special playlist that motivates you when your energy is low.
  • Make sleep a priority too.  A well rested body moves with greater ease.
  • Hydrate consistently.  (Think of all the added sodium in those holiday treats.)

The holidays do not have to derail your exercise/movement routine.  There’s only one you and one body in which you live.  Therefore, think of physical activity during the holidays as the one gift you can give to yourself.  With a bit of flexibility, creative thinking, and determined mindset, you can continue to unwrap better health, one step, or choice of movement, at a time. 

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Fall for The uniqueness of your own heartbeat

“There are days I drop words of comfort on myself like falling leaves and remember that it is enough to be taken care of by myself.”–Brian Andreas

Several years ago, I had the privilege of taking classes in order to become a certified yoga teacher. YTT, as it is often referred, was a year-long process that involved much reading, studying, and, of course, yoga practice. One of the more fascinating facts that I learned during this process was that each person has a unique heartbeat. It is a point of awe for which I find myself contemplating at times when I am in need of self-comfort/reassurance.

Driving home recently on a golden fall lit afternoon with gilded leaves swirling and whirling in a dance down to Mother Earth, I thought of our Creator and the unique gifts of creation all around. Ahead of me were the rolling hills of southern Ohio and beneath my road was a ribbon of river, sunlight glinting off its glassy flow.  Cracking the window and turning off the radio, I inhaled the crisp fall air as it glided through the car’s interior embracing me like an old friend.  Instinctively, one hand went to the heartspace of my chest, and in the moment, I felt the pulse of gratitude and sighed with peace.

Now, to be honest, it was also a sigh of relief.  I was more than happy to have the challenging work week behind me! However, that simple moment of gratitude and relief served as a reminder of the uniqueness of my heartbeat, and hence, the uniqueness of my own life.  Which led to my mind’s meanderings of the singularity of each individual life.

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It turns out that national agencies, such as NASA and The Pentagon (at the request of US Special Forces) , as well as private technology companies, such as Bionym, a Toronto based company, recently acquired by Inominds out of San Jose, have been researching and harnessing the technology around the unique heartbeats of individuals. According to Andrew D’Souza, the one time president of Bionym, the original maker of Nymi, a wearable device that the uses an ECG to identify the wearer, each one of us has a unique heartbeat that is based upon the size and shape of our hearts as well as the orientation of our heart valves and our unique physiology.  This individualized rhythm can slightly change with age, about every five years, and can also be altered if a person suffers a major cardiac event, such as a heart attack. Nonetheless, even with age or a cardiac event, our heartbeat remains unique to each person. Even when our heart rate is elevated from exercise, stress, or anxiety, D’Souza explains that electrically speaking, our heart waves still look the same. 

Without going into further scientific depth my rabbit-hole deep dive produced, an overall message kept emerging, each person’s heartbeat is definitively different and unquestionably unique to each individual.  The power of this knowledge brought me back to that sense of awe and wonder that I felt on the autumnal afternoon drive home.  Even after an exhausting week in which I felt like one lone worker ant in a colony of ants, each with our own humble roles, knowing that my heartbeat was not like that of anyone else was a comforting reminder that I am, indeed, a uniquely Divine creation. And so are you Dear Reader!

In a world where divisiveness and partisan language seeks to divide, separate, and categorize us into opposing factions, it is worth remembering that each one of us is a unique creation, a child of our Creator.  Our individual heartbeats can serve as a reminder that we are here to, as the saying goes, march to the beat of a different drummer and not necessarily to conform to any one group or one way of being. We were not created to be the same.  Indeed, each one of us is unparalleled, designed to offer our special gifts and talents to the world.  No one else can be me, and no one else can be you!

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Therefore, on days when you’re feeling out of sorts, overlooked, or overwhelmed, place your hand on your heart center.  Feel the one-of-a-kind rhythm of your own heart.  Allow its individualized cadence to serve as a reminder that you do matter.  No one else can be you.  You, and you alone, were created to follow your own beat, and offer your own rhythms to the world.  

Your heartbeat demonstrates that you are special, and YOU ARE.  Know it.  Believe it.  Act on it in a positive way by caring for yourself and your heart, so in turn, you can walk to the beat of your own drumming heart, blessing the world in the unique ways in which only can do. 

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