SMARTer bodies

Category: Everyday Life

Blog: How to Not Fail Your Resolutions Part One

Blog: How to Not Fail Your Resolutions Part One

It’s that time of year again: make 10 resolutions, start 3 of them seriously and then fail at meeting any of them by the end of February (March if you are lucky). According to statistics, only 8% of Americans are actually successful in achieving their intentions…womp womp. Why the annual ritual? If it were simply a matter of willpower and determination, more people would be able to make significant changes each January. As it turns out, you actually need a plan, one that works!

We can help you plan to stick to those fitness and health resolutions- like for real.

1) Know yourself

Know your limits (time, physical, emotional, etc), your likes, your dislikes and your preferences. Don’t pick workouts that you won’t enjoy, or are too difficult or too easy for you. Don’t try to commit to an hour of gym time a day if you know your job and your commute doesn’t allow for that. If you like challenges, pick something challenging. If you don’t, that’s ok too. It doesn’t matter what your preferences are. Just be honest with yourself, and you raise the likelihood of sticking with something.

Practice honesty in evaluating your starting point. If you haven’t worked out since last February, maybe signing up for advanced level boot camp isn’t the best idea. If you are shy working out in front of others, maybe you should steer clear of commercial gyms and try something smaller. If you know that you suck at basketball, and you’d rather not feel embarrassed than actually learn how to play, then don’t agree to play with your friends who have similar resolutions. Find what you are good at and do that. If you do like learning new things, try something you have never done before. If you are not the type to motivate yourself, workout with a buddy or sign up for a class. If you work better at your own pace, hire a personal trainer. Whatever plan you make, just make sure it starts where you do.

Finally, be aware of your patterns in the past. What made you give up last time? How can you make sure that you don’t run into the same issue? Don’t sign up for sessions 3 times a week if you know historically you can only handle one or two. Do you tend to go into things full throttle and then lose your steam quickly? Pace yourself. Do you tend to take it too easy on yourself? Ask someone else to kick your butt!

2) Make small goals and move one step at a time

Is one of your resolutions to lose weight? Great! Now what…Plan! OK, so you want to lose weight. What are you going to do about that this month? What are you going to do about it this week? What are you going to do about it today? WHAT ARE YOU DOING ABOUT IT RIGHT NOW?! Ah, now you see…Don’t reach for one ambiguous goal; split it up into manageable and specific steps! Not sure how to do that? Do some research or hire someone who does know. It IS worth the investment, because if you are unable to plan, failure is imminent! Construct a realistic timeline. Have an overall goal in mind, then break down that goal into monthly or weekly increments. Create an action plan for each day. This way you won’t bite off more than you can chew.

3) Be realistic

Make sure your goals are actually attainable and sustainable. Don’t sacrifice more than you are comfortable with. Don’t give up anything that you know you might regret (perhaps that absolutely-no-carbs diet is a bit extreme considering how much you love bread?), or make plans that involve things you hate (not a morning person? Yea those 6am workouts aren’t going to last). Health and fitness require constant commitment. You need to be able to sustain your efforts. Remember, if the goal is health related, make sure your workout plan isn’t making you more unhealthy by stressing you out ( i.e. making you lose sleep, making you adopt poor eating habits or sacrificing too much time from your family).

If you are working 80+ hours a week, perhaps training for a marathon is not the greatest idea; you might not get the sleep you need. If you want to bench over 300lbs by the end of the month and have a hard time getting up 85lbs today, you might be in for some disappointment. If having a six pack means that you have to eat food that you hate, then that six pack is probably not going to last for long. You either need to change your goal, or change your plan. Again, the outside perspective of a professional could be very valuable to help you understand this distinction.

4) Celebrate baby steps

So you did some investigation and created a realistic plan with micro goals that works for your personality. Now it’s important that you recognize the achievement of your smaller goals. If your goal is something that will take a lot of time and effort, and you do not acknowledge the smaller steps you have taken to get where you are, it can be hard to see progress and you may be discouraged. Plus, once you see the results, and you know the effort it took to get there, it can help you get back on track if you happen to slip. It’s ok to mess up every once in a while, in fact, unavoidable. A plan will orient you back to the right path.

In the next 2 blogs, part 2 and 3, we will talk more specifically about fitness resolutions and what contributes to success and failure. Good luck!

The Pain of Changing Negative Patterns and Experiences

Doing good for yourself hurts.  We’re talking specifically about the discomfort involved with undoing bad habits and changing patterns of behavior for the better.  This kind of pain is familiar to those of us with a conscious movement practice like yoga, pilates or dance.  When the goal is to have focus, be aware of the processes of what’s going on in the body and change “bad” habits for better ones (Note: What is “bad” and what is “good” changes depending on the situation and individual.  That’s another post) one is bound to confront feelings of frustrations and a myriad of unpleasant physical sensations.

Sounds like it sucks, right? This is one reason why we lose motivation so easily to continue to make good changes, live better/more conscious lives, stick to New Year’s resolutions….
So why do something that hurts or feels bad?  If you’re clear on your intentions and what your goals are then you can learn to use these sensations as indicators for how the process is going.  A great example is avoidance behavior.  Sometimes our instinct to avoid pain can keep us stuck in a rut.  We can only change for the better if we are willing to look at and sit with whatever it is we need to change and move past.  This process is the same for the emotional over-eater, the alcoholic driven to numb emotional pain, the one who is okay with limping and favoring one leg in hopes that an injury will eventually sort itself out, one who doesn’t like the way “certain movements” feel and will instead accept other physical limitations, and so on…

Mel (and many others) can easily relate to this difficult process when she battles depression.  Mel has a history of clinical depression throughout college. It was during that time that she learned how to mitigate much of the physical and emotional ramifications of coping with the sense of inertia and anxiety that can characterize depression for some.  (We will not be discussing the chemical imbalances in the brain often responsible for the biochemical causes of Depression.  It’s too complicated a subject for this post, although, much of what is discussed here can be applied to the neuroscience.  For the sake of keeping this not novel-length we’re skipping it).  The physical sense of heaviness and the emotional feeling of hopelessness was often so overwhelming. But Mel noticed that physical activity was often helpful and in fact could even prevent an oncoming cycle. Much of this awareness has come from a deep yoga practice (see, yoga CAN help you!). She noticed when an episode, which can last many weeks, started to rear its ugly head and forced herself into activity.  Depression, once it has its sticky, dark grip on a person can feel impossible to shake and if nothing is done can get progressively worse as time passes.  Winter was always a particularly hard time, but Mel realized that once the gloomy feelings began to creep up that she had to act fast if there was any hope of mitigating the negative experience and maybe even shake it off completely.

Mel shares: “It took a lot of discipline.  The second I could identify what was going as something beyond the normal stress we all experience in college I knew I had to act fast.  I didn’t want to.  I didn’t always like it.  But I had seen the other side of letting the depression take over and knew how much worse it could get.  I spoke to therapists and had other coping methods in place, but physical activity was key FOR ME.  So I would force myself to run, walk or crawl.  Sometimes it really felt like all I could do was crawl!  But I did it.  It felt fighting for my life; it was so painful.  Despite that, I knew in those moments that I was taking control while I still had it in me to do.  I knew I was changing my chemistry, my outlook and my entire sense of feeling victimized.  Through movement, of any kind, I found power.  Even now, although my depression is nowhere near as bad, I can feel when emotions are starting to overwhelm me.  One of the things I force myself to do is workout as hard as I can.”

This pretty looking shit takes hard work.

As you know, we believe that there are (at least) 3 bodies:  the physical, the emotional and the mental.  They are inextricably connected; in fact are 1.  Whatever is going on in one will affect the others.  Mel continues, “Sometimes it’s weights, it’s plyo or it’s yoga.  But I get moving and it’s in those moments when emotionally I don’t want to move that I know I HAVE TO.”  That’s a moment when one uses the sensations as indicators for change.  “As long as I know I’m not damaging my physical body, the more I don’t want to do it the harder I work myself.  There have been moments when one more burpee makes me feel like crying.  Not because of the physical demand.  I could be working well below my endurance level.  But it’s the fight to shift my energies that hurts so much.  Trust me; I’ve cried through the burpees.  It’s at the apex of that pain that I’m aware that in this moment I make a change for the better.  Often, after pushing past the discomfort there is a sense of relief, accomplishment and the black cloud starts to lift.  It’s an incredibly difficult, but worthy undertaking.  There are many who will know what I’m talking about.”

The above process shows what it is to use awareness of all 3 bodies and gather valuable information.  Taking the signals out of the “good” or “bad” categories can be helfpul.  For instance, one may feel the sensations of despair in the body as pain and think, “Oh no.  I can’t move.  It’ll hurt too much and maybe damage myself.”  This is an example of the emotional body dominating the physical and mental bodies in an unhealthy imbalance (this language may not sound familiar compared to previous posts, but this is the same thing as saying that this is an example of the limbic system overriding the pre-frontal cortex in regards to choices for body movement).  It’s precisely in that moment when an individual can shift energies and strike a balance again.  One can take the opportunity to change how the physical body responds to difficult emotions.  We’ve discussed this before in other posts about confronting fear or difficult relationships.  The more control and awareness you have over the complex system of the human experience as expressed on these 3 levels the better the chances you have at making good choices…even when it hurts.

The concept of using physical movement or exercise is not new, particularly in this therapeutic context.  There are many teachers, therapists and scientific studies that speak about the benefits.  Take a look at Movement Efficiency Training, which incorporates emotional states to optimize movement ability.  You can take a look at this line of studies about exercise and depression along with several studies from Harvard, which try to be as exhaustive with variables, causation and validity as possible.

Sadie Nardini and Leslie Kaminoff Talk Boosting the Immune

What a refreshing conversation about immune support in this short clip. Now is definitely the season in which everyone wants to stay strong and avoid colds/flu/general ickiness. But it’s also an emotionally and financially stressful (concentrated STRESS) time for many of us. How does that kind of stress challenge the immune system?  Leslie explains to Sadie -and us- that it’s important to know how we handle stress.  Also, can you say, “No!”  Leslie says you’ve gotta say, “no,” in order to say, “yes,” to what’s going on inside of you.  Genius!  Immune support (in this conversation) is about getting smarter about what we allow to be present in our lives and trying to reduce that amount of stress, so that we can better handle what is there to challenge us (which is not always a bad thing).

Enough of us pontificating.  Watch and see!

Here’s Why You Should Ride a Bike in New York City

Commuting around NYC can be hectic, to say the least.  Although, apprehensive at first, Kim has found that riding her bicycle to commute around the city has relieved a lot of transportation tension. Some of the benefits include:

-saving money
-getting to work faster than public transit
-keeping you fit
-not dealing with angry commuters
-more environmentally friendly

Despite these benefits, many people are afraid of riding in the city. If more people were biking on the roads, however, New York City would become a more bike-friendly city. Because of the storm Sandy, public transportation has been overcrowded and hectic. In addition to this, Metrocard fares are estimated to go up significantly in January. Now is a great time to take up biking. Here to help you dispel your fears of riding in the City is Ed Hall, co-founder of the Marie Georges Foundation, NYSC spin instructor, former BMX competitor  and NYC bike messenger/commuter for the past 15 years. Ed discusses how to ride safely through NYC traffic, how to ride during the winter months and gives some tips on where to find good bikes.

*video shot by Reggie Millionz

Brain Health: More Reasons to Pay Attention

It’s Monday, which can suck, but here’s a great video to provide some fun distraction.  It explains the benefits of a mindfulness practice, giving yourself down time, giving children your full attention and respect, and how the internet measures up to your brain.  Whew!  Who would have known all this could be covered in 10 mins?  Our take away:  Attention is your brain’s most valuable resource. 

Music to Move You: Tina Turner’s Proud Mary…Keep on Rollin’

How do you find the will to persevere in the face of intense challenge?    The way in which you handle difficulties on your yoga mat or in ANY movement practice can be telling of how you handle challenges in life.  Sometimes it’s a good choice to know when to back off and take a time-out to change the strategy of how to approach a difficulty (an asana, a fight, feelings…).  But then there are those times when you have to find the strength, focus and willpower to sustain meeting a challenge with a long-term duration.  So when you got to run that marathon, literally and figuratively, what inspires you to keep going?

If you need a little inspiration this should work.  Tina Turner’s triumph over years of domestic abuse and emotional/mental terror can give most of us a reality check and moment of, “If she can do it, then I can do it!”  But to watch her perform a song that talks about dealing with hardships and strife with such exuberant energy can be downright transformative.  Tina and her dancers ecstatically move caught up in a rhythm that rivals any team of whirling Dervishes.  These ladies have clearly plugged into something that can sustain them without flagging excitement throughout this song…which is challenging enough.  YOU try singing and dancing like that!

And can we pay homage to Tina’s legs?  No seriously, I want to move, dance and have legs like that when I’m 72 years old.  More inspiration to keep on Rollin’.  (BTW, I prefer this performance, but for some reason was not allowed to embed it,)

Turn on Your Heart Light, er…Brain?!

Have you heard of the “cardiac brain?” You might be familiar with the concept of the stomach/gut/enteric nervous system as the “second brain.” There is now a body of growing research that supports the theory that the heart functions as its own “brain” and exhibits its own consciousness, “Far more than a simple pump, as was once believed, the heart is now recognized by scientists as a highly complex system with its own functional “brain.”

Let’s just dive right in:

Research in the new discipline of neurocardiology shows that the heart is a sensory organ and a sophisticated center for receiving and processing information. The nervous system within the heart (or “heart brain”) enables it to learn, remember, and make functional decisions independent of the brain’s cerebral cortex. Moreover, numerous experiments have demonstrated that the signals the heart continuously sends to the brain influence the function of higher brain centers involved in perception, cognition, and emotional processing.

The heart generates the body’s most powerful and most extensive rhythmic electromagnetic field. Compared to the electromagnetic field produced by the brain, the electrical component of the heart’s field is about 60 times greater in amplitude, and permeates every cell in the body. The magnetic component is approximately 5000 times stronger than the brain’s magnetic field and can be detected several feet away from the body with sensitive magnetometers.

We have demonstrated, for example, that brain rhythms naturally synchronize to the heart’s rhythmic activity, and also that during sustained feelings of love or appreciation, the blood pressure and respiratory rhythms, among other oscillatory systems, entrain to the heart’s rhythm.

This may sound pretty far out right here. Obviously, there are many implications involved if the theories presented continue to prove positive (which they do). We take certain terms for granted like, “emotional intelligence,” but in the context of these findings emotional intellect takes on a much more serious meaning. What about the implications of emotional health and wellbeing on the physical body? On this blog we often refer to the “physical,” “emotional,” and “mental” bodies and their interconnectedness.  That being said, if we take the third bullet point above to be indicative of how emotional states effect our physiology than everything we have said before about the importance of working with emotions when rehabilitating the physical (and obviously the mental) body is much more true and important than previously understood. (By the way, here’s a good place to mention a book, Molecules of Emotion. If you haven’t read it yet…Just Read It!).

There is an institute that, gratefully, dedicates its funds and time to studying the phenomenon of the heart-brain. It is called HeartMath and its study of the intelligent heart has shaken (“vibrated” if you will) previously held scientific beliefs about the human body to their core. HeartMath believes in and uses scientific research that proves that the heart can independently send messages to the brain, effectively doing away with the one-way only brain dominant brain-to-heart communication model:

The Laceys noticed that this simple model only partially matched actual physiological behavior. As their research evolved, they found that the heart seemed to have its own peculiar logic that frequently diverged from the direction of the autonomic nervous system. The heart appeared to be sending meaningful messages to the brain that it not only understood, but obeyed. Even more intriguing was that it looked as though these messages could affect a person’s behavior. Shortly after this, neurophysiologists discovered a neural pathway and mechanism whereby input from the heart to the brain could “inhibit” or “facilitate” the brain’s electrical activity.

Wow, Wow, Wow…Awesome. A piece written in 2007, by Professor Mohamed Omar Salem sums up nicely that there is now room in the scientific field, where there wasn’t previously, for the exploration of what we have always called the “spirit” within the physical body. No longer must we believe that conscious awareness originates only in the brain. (This article my seem a little “woo woo” for some people. If it is go back to HeartMath where “Neurocardiology” is grounded in hard science.).

The main point of this post is to share new research, to stay true to our belief that one should question everything, and to whet your appetites into exploring new ways in which our perceptions of and interactions with the world may be redefined. The video below, from HeartMath, demonstrates how exploring this new scientific field can illuminate how we effect one another in our daily interactions. The implication is that the better we behave and feel towards other people and ourselves, the better the physical bodies do. We’ve said that for a long time, but now we are closer to having “legitimate” proof.”

When it Feels Impossible Dance Anyways

So many times we are disappointed with how our physical bodies perform or look.  Discouragement and frustration can ruin a great work out.  Defeat can be the poison one suffers from in a yoga practice.  We’re human and these moments are normal.  So it can be helpful to draw inspiration from seeing others triumph over their physical challenges.  It’s in that spirit that we present this video.  The final production is quite stunning and beautiful to see.  But what you should really take away from this piece is that these are performers who suffer from extreme phyiscial handicaps. Yet, they have found a way to overcome them, form new and innovative relationships with their bodies to express through dance despite incredible challenges.  You’ll see the blind stepping in time and unison driven by the sound of their canes.  Deaf dancers standing near speakers to feel the vibrations of the music they must interpret.  The truly inspiring way one boy is able to work and dance with no arms.

This isn’t to belittle whatever challenge you are facing.  Even if it is not as extreme as blindness or a missing limb watching this can help you to find hope in the face of difficulties.  And if your challenge is as difficult as being deaf or missing a part of your body than the lesson is the same:

If you live in the mindset of possibilities then what seems insurmountable in one moment can become manageable the next.  We had a blog post recently all about that.  Read about how your brain and attitude can really dictate how well you do in any situation, but especially when working with the body.  Stop being your own worst enemy.  What you do and how well you do it is up to you!

Chocolate Will Save Your Life!

Well, that may be a little bit of a reach, but more and more scientific evidence is revealing that raw cacao beans are a boon of nutrition!  We’ve posted before about the healthier chocolate bars there are to eat that still taste really yummy while providing their goodness.  But if you’re ready to get serious about getting the most you can that’s when you turn to raw cacao.  Cacao beans are the source of all chocolatey goodness, but if you consume them without processing or added sugars then you are tapping into major physical benefits (plus they still taste good).  To mention a few of the reasons to start adding these little brown wonders to your diet, they contain:

  • Magnesium, and other essential minerals including calcium, sulfur, zinc, iron, copper, potassium, and manganese
  • Polyphenols called flavonoids, with antioxidant properties
  • Vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5, B9, E
  • Essential heart-healthy fat: oleic acid a monounsaturated fat
  • Protein
  • Fiber

To get the full story go to this article, Raw Chocolate: The Superfood You Never Had!  If you’re not keen on just snacking on them by the handful we can attest that they go well in smoothies, yogurt, hot cereals, etc.  The best immediate benefit Melissa noticed was that sugar cravings were better managed, which is huge for her and anyone else who struggles with wanting to eat sweets on the regular.   The picture of the cacao nibs above is the one we’ve chosen to buy; they seem to accessible in almost every health food store and vitamin/supplement store.  If you prefer another brand let us know!  Also, feel free to share your experiences with this “superfood.”