Sunday, December 4, 2016
In meditation, a number of techniques can be used to slow down our brains and find a sense of calm. In any of these methods, the idea is to allow your thoughts to pass across your consciousness without judging them or letting them distract you. Acknowledge the things that bubble up out of your mind and let them pass by without judging yourself. You aren't going to levitate off the ground and you probably won't transcend this world and graduate to a higher form of existence, but who knows? Here are a few ways to try.
1) Seated - Find a comfortable seated position, preferably away from screens, people or other distractions. It helps to set an alarm to go off after a preset amount of time, say 15 minutes. This way you don't have to worry about the clock while you practice. Close your eyes and begin to notice your breath. Let your breath slow down and elongate. Begin to count each breath, starting on the inhale. See if you can keep your mind focused on counting your breaths for a count of ten. Most likely, your thoughts will wander well before you reach ten (mine usually do). Pay attention to what thoughts come into your head. Are you stressed about work? Relationship? What errands you have to do later? A mistake you made earlier in the day? Acknowledge any of these as legitimate and let them drift away on the tide of your breath, to be dealt with at a later time. In this block of time, you are free to relax.
2) Walking - This method can be practiced during normal walks (ie; to school, work, the store) or you can walk specifically to meditate. Either way, decide to practice walking meditation before you start. In this method, I like to count every step with my left foot instead of my breaths. Similar to seated breathing, focus on the count of your steps and notice what thoughts enter your head. If you lose count, smile and start back at one. Don't close your eyes for this variation.
With either of these methods, you will gradually get better at allowing your thoughts to drift away. Don't worry if you aren't getting to ten breaths or X number of steps. That is not the point. We often get so wrapped up in our daily lives that we forget that we are in control, not our thoughts. Taking as little as five minutes a day to sit or walk quietly and with intention will serve as a reminder to slow down, breath and hopefully enjoy life a little bit more.
Sunday, October 16, 2016
Making time to exercise in the P.M. is hard. Our previous approach had been to try and sandwich a quick workout in between cleaning the house, putting our daughter to bed and making dinner. Plus, by this time of day, we were both usually pretty worn out. This meant that many nights passed without a workout happening.
Our solution? We moved our workout to the A.M. We had been sleeping until the baby woke up, usually between 7 and 8 am. We added an alarm at 6 am and, Monday through Saturday, we get out of bed and get our workout done for the day. We plan the workout and lay out our clothes and gear the night prior to give as much help to our bleary eyed future selves as possible. The mornings are usually cool and quiet, the perfect setting for a short, intense workout. We now face the rest of the day with a sense of already having accomplished something (and not thinking about when we are going to exercise).
If you own a smart phone, you have probably found yourself picking it up and mindlessly thumbing through apps, not knowing what you are looking for until you find something that catches your attention. You have probably also channel surfed a time or two. The glow of the device and its unlimited access to information are known to activate the brain's reward system, much like chocolate or heroin. Our brains have not evolved to handle this technological onslaught and we, adults and children alike, are left mindlessly staring down in all situations, public or private. I see other people doing this and I am disgusted, yet I am 100% guilty of doing it myself.
To combat this deeply entrenched issue, we instituted a "no-fly zone" for devices and screens between the hours of 9 pm and 8 am. The reasons for these hours are two-fold: Starting the day with 2 hours of no screen time helps set the tone for the rest of the day. I used to check my phone upon waking, feeding my habit. Now, I exercise, write, make breakfast and prepare for the day, all before touching my device. The second reason is that the blue spectrum of light emitted by screens affects our brains' ability to shut down and go to sleep. Turning off all screens 1 hour prior to bed time allows us to wind down and get a full night's sleep.
Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!
After 6 days of morning workouts, Sunday deserves a change of pace. We still wake up at 6, only we spend our morning writing instead of sweating. She writes poetry and prose, I write a blog. It is a great time to sit quietly and gain clarity on thoughts that have built over the course of the week.
By making these changes, we are actively choosing how we want to live our lives. It is too easy to sit passively back and let life happen, wondering why things are the way they are. Identifying the activities we want to add and those we want to limit is key in living the happy, productive life for which we all strive. We will try this schedule for a month and reassess to see what effects we have seen.
Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Do you travel for work? Me, too. I spend a good chunk of my time in hotels and airports and this can wreak havoc on my exercise routine. Fortunately, I have an arsenal of road workouts and habits that help to stay active on the go.
Let's start in the airport.
- If there are stairs, take them. You will be spending most of your day sitting, so it won't hurt to skip the escalator.
-I like to get to the airport early. Once I'm at the gate, I'll use my carry-on bag for a terminal farmer's carry. Walk to one end of the terminal with your bag in one hand and then switch hands and walk to the other end. Repeat until you board your flight. If you have kids, they provide extra weight for this one. If you don't have kids, just borrow someone else's. (Do not borrow a stranger's child for farmer's carry).
-For the truly dedicated, you can do plank, wall sit, lunges, pushups and any other bodyweight exercises. Find a quiet, sparsely populated corner and perform these moves slowly to avoid sweating. Nobody wants to sit next to a sweaty guy on a flight.
Now for the hotel.
-Most hotel gyms are pretty thin on equipment. Treadmill, eliptical machine, bike and dumbells up to 50lbs. My staple hotel workout is an incline walk with weight. I put the treadmill on speed 2 and max incline and carry 2 x 25lb dumbbells. It helps to alternate carrying the weight low (like two suitcases) and high, on your shoulders (like the straps of a backpack). Shoot for 30 minutes without stopping or putting the weights down. Feel the burn.
-If the hotel has a pool, chances are it's short and shallow, not great for lap swimming. Instead try sprinting the length of the pool. A sample pool workout might look like this: on the side of the pool, do 20 pushups and 20 arm haulers (*see description below*). Then hop on the water and run to the other end and run backward to the start point. Repeat this cycle 5 times.
-Finally, get outside and run. There is no better way to learn the area than by running around and seeing the sights. Just don't forget your room key
*Arm haulers - Lie face down with your hands by your side. Lift your head and chest off the ground. Raise your hands over your head and then being them back to your side without touching the ground. This is one rep. These work rear shoulders and back. Enjoy.
Sunday, October 2, 2016
Life is busy. We keep track of dozens of different ideas, projects and responsibilities. Work, family, hobbies, taxes, politics, sports, health and planning for the future all compete for our attention. Couple those things with a 24 hour news cycle and social media and sometimes it can be a challenge to really focus on one thing. So how do we make the noise fade away and make serious progress? We need to find a way to achieve clarity.
This can be done in a number of ways. Every person will have their own way to get into the zone. I do some of my best thinking when I'm on a trail run. Each and every trail is different and focus is required to avoid rocks, cliffs and other trail goers. The attention to the details of the trail, along with the physical discomfort of running hard combine to dissolve the constant churn of thoughts running through my brain. Anxieties fade. Worries evaporate. I often find the answer to questions I've been stewing on for months. Clarity through focus and discomfort.
After a run, I like to immediately write down any ideas or thoughts while they are fresh. This helps them solidify in my head and makes it more likely that I will act. This routine of gaining clarity through toil and getting results on paper can lead to progress on goals, improved decision making and a great degree of satisfaction.
So find your zen arena, the place where your world comes into focus and breakthroughs are made. Go there regularly and write down the results while they're still fresh. You might be surprised how far you can go with a little clarity.
Friday, August 19, 2016
Why do we want to control our dial?
Most of the things that happen in the world happen outside our sphere of control. Another driver cuts us off in traffic. A coworker doesn't pull their weight on a project. Your two year old creates a modern art masterpiece on the sofa using chocolate and macaroni and cheese. These things happen. Our response is the only thing we control. Yet it seems most of us respond unconsciously, like a phantom hand is moving our dial for us. We curse out the rude driver, we bad mouth the slacker coworker and we sit down and sob as our two year old finger paints on the furniture. What I advise is a different approach: if we recognize that we can only control our response, we are one step closer to controlling our own dial.
People that regularly perform complex, high risk jobs have either consciously or unconsciously learned to control their emotional dial to perfection. Watch an Olympian nail a routine or run a race with a straight, determined face, only to let their joy or pain show after the event is over. They know how to control their emotions and get the job done.
How do we train our dial?
The first step is becoming aware of the range of our dials. I think of my dial as a scale from one to ten, one being very relaxed and ten being on high alert. Every individual spends their time at different levels of emotional arousal, raging from incredibly laid back and carefree (bohemian in a hammock on a beach) to amped (about to jump out a plane) to life and death situations (police or military in a gunfight). Where do you spend most of your time? Are you a laid back person that gets highly agitated behind the wheel? Are you a stay at home parent that keeps your emotions in check all day, only to let loose on your spouse when they get home? Are you an athlete who lets your opponents get into your head with trash talk, affecting your performance?
Once you take stock of your normal emotional state, you can begin to apply the idea of the dial to your training. Learn what triggers your emotional arousal and have a rehearsed plan for how you will respond. When I get cut off in traffic, I smile and breath. If I have to perform in a high risk environment, I take some deep breaths and focus on the task at hand. When my daughter makes a mess, I laugh. The key is tuning your dial to the appropriate emotional level.
Whatever arena you choose, be it the classroom, the home, the office, the gym, the gridiron or the battlefield, identify what your emotional dial is doing. Then determine what you want it to do. If I am about to give a big presentation, do I want to be so nervous that I stumble over my words? No. But I also don't want to be so laid back that it looks like I don't care. There is the perfect level of emotional arousal for each scenario you might face. Find that zone and practice getting there.
I use a combination of mental visualization and rehearsal to prepare for high stress situations. I think through every detail of the event (ie; giving a speech in front of a crowd) and get the emotional response of becoming nervous. Then I practice smiling and breathing to get my nervousness under control.
Another way you can control your dial is by using a mantra. A mantra is a word or short phrase that you can repeat either aloud or in your head to keep you mind in an even emotional state. Endurance athletes use this technique to grind out long training sessions.
-We all have an emotional dial that controls our emotional state.
-Like a ship's rudder, if we don't control it, something else will
-Evaluate your emotional states as you go about your life. What are your triggers?
-Determine where you want your emotional dial to be in challenging situations.
-Practice controlling your dial on a regular basis.
Friday, January 8, 2016
It's the beginning of a new year and the Internet is flush with ideas for resolutions. Diets, workout plans, productivity tips abound. I'm always on the lookout for ways to improve my routine, be it taking out head trash, working on a weakness or revisiting old or lost habits. Today I want to talk about an easy habit I'm trying to add; the 2 minute rule.
How many times throughout your day does a little task come your way? Respond to an email, clean a spill, fix a problem: these usually get put off until later and they either pile up or get forgotten. The rule that I am trying to implement is if I can check something off of my to-do list in under 2 minutes, I do it right away. If not, I shelve it until later. Simple as that
The idea is that I don't want a bunch of little tasks to tackle at the end of the day. I will knock out quick items immediately, leaving myself with more time to focus on larger, usually more important tasks.
Sometimes, these little tasks can turn into larger, more time consuming projects; a lengthy email response or a trickier problem to solve. If you find a task taking more than 2 minutes, decide if it needs doing right now. If not, save it for later.
I hope this helps you navigate your world more efficiently. It is working well for me.
Have a great day,
Thursday, December 3, 2015
Step One: Breath. Breath 4 seconds in, hold 4 seconds, breath our 4 seconds, repeat until you feel better.
Step Two: Get organized. Having a plan written down can make a chaotic series of tasks and problems seem manageable. Break your day/week/month/year down and smaller tasks and start checking them off the list.
Step Three: Be grateful. Gratitude is not just for Thanksgiving anymore. We live in an amazing time and our problems often pale in comparison. If you have a home and family and food, you are doing pretty well. Smile and take stock of good things in your life.
Step Four: Take time for you. Schedule time to do things that you enjoy. Read, exercise, play an instrument, play with your kids, fly a kite. Whatever makes you happy, do that regularly and forget about the bad day you had or the big project looming on the horizon.
Step Five: Relate. We often think of ourselves and our problems as unique. We might be but our problems are not. Everyone alive has problems and most of them are similar.
Only you can choose how you respond to things when they pop up. Stress is your bodies' response to external stimulus; you get to choose whether or not you smile or frown.
Choose to smile.