exercise

The Downfalls of a Disciplined Lifestyle

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I have a lot of different kinds of friends. I have friends who work out lots and friends who never hit the gym. I have friends who read books like some people breathe air, and I have friends who never read. I have friends who love TV, others who hate it. I have friends who love the outdoors and friends who don’t. Some are easy-going and some are very motivated.

Among my “very motivated” friends, I have seen some extreme behaviour — they exercise a LOT, for example. It’s neat to see them change — they are really toned, fit and healthy. I have also noticed some of them changing the way they think.

Could it be all the endorphins? Does less body fat make you think clearer?

No, it’s not like that. While you will never hear anyone say it’s a bad thing to be motivated, I have noticed that those who choose a more disciplined lifestyle are in danger of being much more judgemental, closed-minded and even “extremist.” They can fall into the trap of believing that their more-controlled behaviour — not giving in to laziness, cravings, or sleeping in, for example — makes them a better person. They have their schtuff together. They are the master of themselves.

And this can make them want to be the master of others. It is a great distraction to worry about what someone — or everyone — else is doing. It’s a frigin’ amazing hobby to try to influence others into doing things your way — they should be like you and give up their loose-living, relaxed way of being. But, it can be a frustrating hobby, too, because lackadaisical people are notorious for not wanting to be reformed.

And I’m one of those lackadaisical people. I enjoy being mostly undisciplined. I like sleeping in sometimes, and eat what I want. I know certain foods don’t agree with me, so I stay away from them, and I know that exercise makes me feel more energetic, so I try to get some every day. But I’ll never, ever be the person who gets up at 5 am so she has time to do yoga before work — partly because I detest mornings so much and partly because some days I’d rather skip yoga and go for a walk instead.

As a bit of slacker, but also a bit of a philosopher, I can see that there isn’t a very big difference between a self-disciplined person who has allowed him or herself to become closed-minded and a militant extremist. Both believe their way is the best or only way, and both want everyone to be like them — or get out of their way. They believe that the world belongs to motivated people, to a certain kind of people, and the rest have no place on it. It’s not a very far leap from controlling everything you eat, to wanting to control what everyone eats (for their own good, of course), to controlling all food production, to dictating what foods are illegal. Substitute other obsessions for “food,” in my example, and a militant, extremist or dictator is born.

I’m not saying self-discipline is a bad thing, but I am saying it’s an individual thing. If you are a very motivated person, great. But that’s YOUR thing. It’s not how the whole world should be. There is more than enough room for everyone! So, when you’re out for your morning jog, go around the person reading a book at the bus stop, and smile. Raise a pint, now and then, to a lighthearted life!

4 a.m. Yoga

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I love 4 a.m. yoga. I am not a major yogi, and I have enjoyed doing yoga at more normal times of day, but my latest pastime is 4 a.m. yoga.

To clarify, I am not getting up, out of my warm, comfy bed, at 4 a.m. to do yoga. For those of you who know me, you know how I detest mornings. I will never be one to get up early for yoga, or much of anything else. For one, my muscles are way too tight to do any yoga poses, and for two, in my grumpy state I might accidentally kill someone. So, for these and other reasons too pedantic to go into, I only do 4 a.m. yoga when I am working night shifts.

4 a.m. is sort of a witching hour, don’t you think? It’s that time when the night can go either way — get better or get worse, get crazier or get saner. By doing yoga, I can stave off the crazier for a little longer and I get to stretch and do something that is fun but that, honestly, I don’t usually make time for in a regular day. I mean, I could take a break at 4 p.m. any old day and do some yoga, but I’m usually busy doing something else, or I would rather go for a walk (and get ice cream or cheezies, but that’s got nothing to do with yoga).

Well, enough preamble. Let me get to the core of the issue: the real reason I enjoy yoga at 4 a.m. is because it is humbling. I am no yoga perfectionist, but when I do it at other times of the day, I can usually pretzelate myself pretty well and I pride myself on being able to do the poses fairly well. But at 4 a.m.? I am just grateful to be awake. I allow myself to be completely horrible at it. I am humbled by the demands it makes on me, and that I am actually pretty awful at it. My sense of balance is almost non-existent, which makes some of the standing poses hilarious. So, I am humbled and chagrined — I have to laugh at myself a little — by this strange 4 a.m. practice.

Now, I know this isn’t likely to catch on for yoga classes or whatever, but I do my yoga alone. I have never been to a yoga studio, and I’ve never taken any lessons. I’ve learned the poses I know from a couple of videos. Despite this sheltered yoga-life, even I have noticed there’s quite a bit of ego involved in this spiritual-practice-turned-exercise-routine. I mean, if you’re self-effacing, you don’t buy hundred-dollar pants to do yoga in. I just think it might be getting a little crazy, and my 4 a.m. yoga is a nice change to that. It’s humbling. Grounding. And it helps me get through the longest part of the night in a pleasant, positive way. Plus, I can wear fleece long johns, which are far more sane than hundred-dollar pants.

So, if you’re interested, join me in some 4 a.m. yoga! Just don’t actually join me — I don’t want you to see me wobbling around on one leg in ill-fitting fuzzy long johns. :)

Moving with Joy

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I love to watch birds fly and flit through the air. Sometimes, I get the very strong impression that they are flying purely for the joy of it! It’s something they just love to do, so they do it as fast and skillfully as they can, purely for fun!

Barn swallow flying

The other day, I found a video I had downloaded of Fred Astaire and Eleanor Powell dancing. As I watched them, I again got the feeling that they did it for pure joy! They are having the time of their lives, dancing with each other, spinning around the stage, tapping away in time to the band playing. When the music stops and they do their final step, Eleanor’s dress takes another full second to come to a stop! Cool!

This made me think: what do I do with my body, purely for the joy of it? I used to do some swing dancing, but not really any more… I enjoy exercising, but it isn’t the same. It isn’t joyful. What do I do just for the joy of it?

I have to admit, the answer is nothing. And this is something I think I need to change! I need to take up a hobby that moves my body, purely for joy. The only time I can think of doing this recently is when I was dance-working out in Wrigley. I had no equipment whatsoever, but still wanted to train for the York boat trip, so each day after work, I would put on my exercise clothes and some hoppin’ music and just bop around the living room, doing whatever movements came to mind. It was fun — I did the twist, I made up dance moves, I did some kick-boxing stuff, I did some swing moves (like the Charleston and the Lindy Hop) and generally got my heart rate up and broke a sweat. Then, I would do some weights — lifting my various back packs in various ways, and it worked quite well! :) I would sometimes finish off with some Pilates. And although I enjoyed it and felt physically good during and after the exercise, the most joy was in the dancing.

It is so important that we do something joyful every day! And not just in our heads — something physical, moving our bodies without limitation, in free-form fun. I am going to try incorporate this into my everyday life and tell you how it goes! Anybody want to join me?

Top 10 Modern Products I Can Live Without

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Time for another top-ten!

Top 10 Modern Products I Can — and Do — Live Without!

Some of these things I consider scams, and others are just things I have left out of my life for simplicity’s sake.

10. A Coffee Maker. Yup, don’t have one. We have a one-cup-at-a-time funnel brewer thingy, and we have a bodum if we are making for more than one person at a time. Lots of people have those Keurig machines — I use the one at the fire hall and it’s great — but I can live without it! Our main reason for no coffee maker is to save on counter space.

9. Workout machines. You know, the Bowflex, the Ab Circle, Leg Magic, Vibraslim, Stairmaster, treadmills, ellipticals, etc… I’ve been doing crossfit workouts, and most of it is basic weights, using your own body weight (like in push-ups or pull-ups), or doing things from sports. Getting out and doing real things with your body is the best!

8. Fancy fabrics. I’m talking about some of these ultra-thin wool undergarments that cost $80 for a shirt. Or sweat-wicking workout clothes… an old T-shirt works just fine. Unless you are climbing Mt. Everest, I think most of these fabrics and clothes are a scam (and some don’t even look like they are made all that well).

7. Make-up. Although I own a little bit of make-up, I only use it a few times a year. Last time I wore mascara, I regretted it — I got a paint-covered eyelash in my eye and it wouldn’t come out for 3 days! And do I look ugly? No. My skin is as nice as ever, mostly due to what I eat.

6. Video Games (like Wii, Nintendo, whatever). I know, by now you think I am a total freak, but hey! I have never owned one of these, and somehow I have lived. I play games on my computer or online sometimes, but I just never got into these plugged-into-my-TV games.

5. Microwave. While we actually do own one, we only use it to warm up our wheat bags when we need a little heat on our feet (or wherever). We don’t use it to irradiate our food. Not that that’s bad exactly… we’re just keeping it real! And you can re-heat and cook everything better using other methods, like the oven, stove and barbeque.

4. Satellite dish. I don’t like TV, so I don’t have any. Don’t have cable either, so if we want to watch something, we use DVDs or stream it over the internet. So it’s not that I’m a techno-phobe, I just have no interest in TV, and especially dislike commercials.

3. iPhone. I don’t have one, and you know what? My life is not terrible! :) I might get one, someday, but for now, my simple cell phone does the trick just fine.

2. Orthotics. I used to have them, then I didn’t. I massaged the arches of my feet with a tennis ball and switched to Vibram 5-Fingers (basically, the opposite of orthotics) and I couldn’t be happier. NO foot pain, more foot stability, and no problems (granted, I don’t wear high heels anymore). :)

1. Tooth paste. You can get tooth paste with baking soda, or… you could just use baking soda!! Baking soda really works every bit as well as tooth paste, and you can skip the nasty chemicals in most tooth pastes!

So, this post is not intended to make you feel guilty or make me look weird. It’s just the way I feel about some modern devices, and maybe it will make you think differently about them too! :)

P.S. Can you believe this is my 300th post on this blog!?! And I started over 6 years ago? Crazy! If you’re new to my blog, welcome! Feel free to browse the archives or use the tag cloud at right for topics you are interested in! :)

How I Kicked Fibromyalgia

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Back in high school, during grade 11, I developed fibromyalgia. It took a while before it was diagnosed — primarily by process of eliminating other illnesses — and by the summer before grade 12, I was diagnosed and in a fair bit of pain. In university, I managed to get an appointment with a specialist who had studied it extensively, which was rare; at that time, family doctors barely knew what it was and there weren’t very many doctors who even really understood fibromyalgia. The specialist told me it was chronic. I’d have it for the rest of my life. The best thing I could do was exercise. Exercise! I could barely move some days! Did he have any idea how much my muscles hurt?!? He replied saying “Be as active as you can. The only person I know who was cured of fibromyalgia became an exercise fanatic.”

Exercise fanatic? I thought he was nuts. There was no way I could exercise, I was in so much pain from my tight muscles.

But, stay active I did, mostly out of necessity. I was a starving student, and couldn’t afford a bus pass, so I walked about 40 blocks per day to university and back. One term, I was able to fit the free skate into my schedule 3 times a week, so I did that. I liked getting my blood pumping, and it really helped me burn stress. Yup, I was sore afterwards, but the stress-burning was worth it.

I took extra courses in my second year of university, which didn’t help matters. With classes and labs and the extra course — a choir I was in for credit — I was a very busy gal. The fibromyalgia got worse, and by the end of that year, I was quite a wreck. Third year, I made a change of pace. I took on the job of Production Editor of The Gateway, which meant only 2 classes but a lot of other work and very late nights. I enjoyed it immensely and didn’t feel quite a bad physically. The specialist had warned me that the first 5 years would be the worst. I was only into year 4. I also got a work term in Ottawa for 6 months, so that gave me a needed break from classes.

The last two years of university are a bit of a blur. Then one day, while walking home from my job in Sudbury, I realized: I don’t hurt anymore. I feel great! I made it past those 5 years and I’m not living in constant pain anymore! Looking back, I realize there were a few things I did that helped reduce my pain, and if you’ve been diagnosed with this muscle-fibre disorder, there’s hope! In addition to treatments your doctor may recommend, try these tips and see if they help:

1. Remove extra electrical influences. The first 2 years or so in University, I had a waterbed. I loved it — it was always warm, and with the fibromyalgia, the heat felt wonderful. I kept it cranked pretty much year-round, max heat. I don’t think the electrical field from the heating unit was good for me. Later, I moved on to an electric blanket, which I would sleep on top of, or under. I loved it too, but it wasn’t until I ditched it — I think I was afraid of a bed-fire — that I started to feel much better. I don’t know if the heat helped or hindered, but I think it was the electrical fields that were really harming me.

2. Eat less-processed foods. When I was a starving student, I thought about food differently. I ate whatever I had. I got eggs from my parents, and my typical breakfast was 2 eggs, scrambled, cooked in my microwave with a slice of processed cheese on top. Lunch was whatever I had, supper the same, or nothing, and rarely any produce. A few times, I got groceries from a food bank to get me through, for which I’m very grateful. But it was all canned or otherwise processed — SPAM is nasty! Only when I got a good job after graduating and was able to stop adding-as-I-went while grocery shopping did I start to really improve.

3. Stay active. Yes, there were times I hurt so hard I could barely get out of bed. Lots of times. But I still went to classes, walked a lot, went up and down stairs, and even did a little actual exercise. Since I was consistently active, when I felt better, I just naturally did more, until I realized one day that I was doing lots and not hurting. I even joined a dragonboat team in Sudbury (and later, in Edmonton), and if you want to feel the burn and work so hard you feel like throwing up, dragonboating is the way to go! Doesn’t that sound like a blast!?! Well, it really was! I am well beyond the tentative movements of a fibromyalgia sufferer. I am cured!

These days, I canoe and kayak a lot (over 800 km this summer!), walk a lot to do errands around town, cross-country ski and skate in winter (although I’m usually pretty sore after the first time of the season, but I consider that normal!), and even occasionally swim. I did a 10-km run a couple of years ago, but decided I don’t like running that much, so I don’t. :) I do what I enjoy! I’ve done a bit of t’ai chi, yoga, and pilates. Find something you think is fun — belly dancing, curling, jumping on a trampoline,* even simply stretching — and do that! Get rid of extra stress in your life. Be very careful about how you talk to yourself. Be positive and treat yourself well!

One last point: Do not doubt the power of the mind. That doctor told me that someone had been cured. At the time, I didn’t think it was possible, but he planted the seed. That seed grew and I took his advice to stay active and I consciously decided I wouldn’t let it stop me from doing anything I wanted to. I did a 3-day hike around the back of Mount Robson. I could have said “oh, I’d better not, I can’t. I’ll hurt too much.” Nope, I did it anyway, and yes, it hurt a bit, but I don’t even remember the pain now. I just remember the feeling of accomplishment and fun with friends.

So try this to harness the power of your mind: Once a day for at least 5 minutes, think about the cells in your body as smiling. Just beaming from ear to ear! Each cell is completely happy and getting exactly what it needs. Bask in this feeling and try to remember it throughout your day.

I’d love to hear how you feel after trying the other 3 tips as well! Even if you just have ordinary aches and pains, give them a try and let me know in the comments! Removing extra electrical fields and changing the food you eat will give almost-instant results. Getting more active may take a couple of weeks to start showing the benefits.

*In my experience, if you decide to start rebounding, start slow! Adult bodies aren’t as flexible and resilient as children’s, so take it easy at first! Of course, corporations always say to “talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program,” but you can also just start slow and give yourself days off in between exercise and increase from there.

Surviving Cabin Fever

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It’s been a while since I did a Top Ten, so here you go! :) Perhaps others don’t have such a hard time with this, but I think it’s relevant for the season!

Teresa’s Top Ten ways to combat cabin fever when it’s been too cold for too long:

10. Get smashed. Go to your liquor cabinet, with a tall glass in hand, and pour one shot of each liquor — whatever you’ve got — into the glass. Add ice, if you like, and a splash of orange juice, coke, or grenadine, depending on your tastes. Drink one of these every hour until you can’t walk, talk or think. JUST KIDDING! Don’t do this! If you do, you’ll have the worst hangover ever! But I guess you wouldn’t be bored any more! :) Seriously, it can be fun to invent a new drink, with just one or two types of liquor and have one or two with a friend.

9. Clean something. Ya, I know, it’s not a very fun one, but it’s a productive way of spending some time at home… tackle that messy hall closet or scary corner of the basement. Keep reading, I have better, funner ideas coming up!

8. Eat something. But not just anything… Scour your cookbooks or go online and make something wild and fantastic you’ve never made before. Like this chocolate cake (it took me three days to make last year!), these brownies (so strange yet soooo yummy!), or a spicy curry dish (one of my favourite meals). Maybe you’ll have to make a trip to the grocery store, but you probably have a lot of crazy ingredients at home that you could use. Check out the “leftover wizard” at bigoven.com. Don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients if you don’t have what you need and you don’t feel like leaving the house. Then savour your creation!

7. Make something. If you’ve got a project half-done, finish it! If you don’t, check out the Make webpage and see if you’ve got something around the house that you can transform into, say, a guitar!

6. Grab a book. You probably have a few books (or 20) that you’ve bought or been given, that you just haven’t quite started yet. Grab one, and a nice warm beverage, cozy up in your favourite spot and read the afternoon away.

5. Play a game. If you’re home alone, I guess it’ll be solitaire or something computer-based. But if you have family or friends over, convince them it’s time for Twister, Wii, or get out the cards. Aggravation is one of my favourites, or Blokus. No doubt you’ve got something you can play… strip poker anyone? (Not to be played with granny.)

4. Learn a new hobby. Got something you’ve thought about trying? Why not do it now? You can find videos for almost anything online, so as long as your internet (and your furnace) work, you can do anything! You could learn to knit or crochet, do yoga, do tai’chi, make fishing lures, build something out of wood, learn photography, start a blog or podcast… your imagination is the limit!

3. Play music. Get out that guitar you haven’t played in months (or the one you just made) and learn some new chords. Or, if you find your house strangely lacking in musical instruments, go through your music collection, listen to something you haven’t heard in ages (your fav’s from the 80’s!) and just enjoy the tunes! Dance your heart out. Air-drum along, or use pots. :)

2. Get off your duff. Step away from the TV, or computer (not right now, as soon as you finish reading this), and get some exercise. Most of us have some form of exercise equipment around the house, and most of it is rarely used! Blow the dust off, get out the track pants, and burn a few calories. Don’t do it because you have to, do it because you’re bored silly — do it for your sanity! (I promise it will help.)

1. Do something fun outside. This is perhaps the hardest cure for cabin fever, but it’s also the most effective. Bundle up, wear double scarves, toques, mitts, whatever it takes, and go outside. If you’ve got equipment like cross-country skis, snowshoes, ice skates, or a ski-doo use it! If not, simply take a walk, go tobogganing (cardboard will work on a packed hill), make snow angels, or stomp out patterns in fresh snow. When you get back, you’ll be glad to be inside, cozy and warm!

The overall strategy for curing cabin fever is distraction. Distract yourself from the fact that it’s freezing and you’re stuck inside… that you’re bored or lonely… that it’s cold and only getting colder… :) I hope this blog will help you distract yourself with something that’s mildly productive or fun (more fun than TV)!  :)

I think I’ll do my next blog on how to dress for cold weather. It’ll be practical and fun, yet serious life-saving stuff! Check back in a couple of days!