30 Years of Health & Fitness – Part 1

Thirty years ago, my journey as a health and fitness professional began with a part-time job at a small women’s gym in south Austin. It was the 80’s and the gym was filled with weight machines upholstered in purple plastic flecked with gold. Outfitted in a leotard and leg warmers, I taught fitness classes, demonstrated the use of the equipment, sold memberships and cleaned the facilities (the first two tasks with more enthusiasm than the last two). I had a lot to learn but I already had a strong conviction that a healthy and active lifestyle was an essential component of feeling vibrant and alive.

The desire to discover the best way to support optimal wellness through fitness and lifestyle propelled me to spend the next decades learning as much as I could. I focused on exercise, therapeutic massage, nutrition, and mind-body disciplines. I studied with master teachers, most notably with movement and bodywork pioneer Judith Aston, Qigong master and world-class martial arts coach Li Junfeng, Yoga teacher Charles Macinerney, and fascia dissection explorer Gil Hedley. I have read countless specialized books and journals, attended many courses, and learned much through trial and error. I have become skilled at sorting the fads from the breakthroughs. I am still learning every day.

I now specialize in helping clients with highly individualized programs to reduce pain and overcome injuries as well as develop healthy exercise habits. Although each person is unique, there are some aspects of a wellness-focused lifestyle that apply to many people. Over the next few blog posts, I would like to share with you some nuggets of information you can use, based on my observations over the past 30 years. I selected ideas that I feel are often left out when these topics are discussed. They will be loosely organized by theme. First “healthy habits,” then “movement and exercise,” “food and nutrition,” and finally “pain free living and aging.”

9 Helpful Concepts to Develop and Maintain Healthy Habits

1. Self-awareness is essential. It is only through self-awareness that a customized, sustainable, and joyful way to live can be discovered. Try various lifestyle choices. Notice the difference. When do you love life? When do you wilt?

2. Self-judgment is a hindrance. It is a form of self-abuse, which is at odds with the goal of thriving in life. Negative self-talk gets in the way of making clear-headed decisions in the moment.

3. Many people find it difficult to notice the messages sent by the body in response to various daily lifestyle choices. Non-verbal cues such as fatigue or energy, pain or ease of movement, hunger or satiety, can be vague if one is not used to paying them any attention. However, this is similar to the skills needed by anyone who has ever cared for pets, plants, or babies. Just like our bodies and psyche, they need nurturing but can’t use words to express their needs.

4. Create the support you need based on who you are, not who you think you should be.

5. When adopting new health and fitness behaviors, such as beginning an exercise program or improving one’s diet, people often expect too much in the beginning and not enough in the long term. In a few months you can begin to learn new skills, introduce new habits, build a little fitness, and lose a little weight. In 10 years, almost anything you set your mind to is possible.

6. Self-care doesn’t prevent all health issues but in times of difficulty, having a care routine will support you. During times of crisis, it is challenging to try new things. Having healthful practices and a support network in place can be enormously helpful.

7. Research indicates that if we want to adopt a desirable habit, such as exercising regularly, we need to focus on reducing any obstacles rather than create incentives. Ask yourself, why am I not doing what I think I should be doing already? What is standing in my way? Identify and remove those obstacles to achieve the desired behavior change.

8. Don’t set goals you don’t care about. It will undermine your sense of competency when you set goals you do care about. When you think about setting a new goal, project yourself in the future and imagine what it would be like to be working toward this goal. Picture it in detail. Is it thrilling? Even the parts that might require hard work? If not, if there is no spark, let it go. Don’t create a history of failure in your life, which sows doubt and keeps you from forging ahead when it really matters in the future.

9. One of the mostly helpful and underappreciated health skills is to learn how to restart a stalled health plan quickly. Everyone experiences interruptions in their nutrition and exercise routine: travel, holiday meals, a cold, a muscle pull, a sick child, overtime work, etc. There are 4 helpful aspects to getting back on track:

• Assume that normal healthy habits should resume the moment it is possible to do so, not at some vague moment in the future when everything is completely under control.

• Be flexible. If one activity is not available because of travel or injury, switch to another form of exercise rather than be completely inactive.

• Don’t be a perfectionist. If you “messed up,” don’t make it a big deal and use it as an excuse to give up completely on healthy habits. Get back on the wagon the moment you can.

• Anticipate and plan for change. In many cases, such as travel, seasonal changes, a new baby, or a move, we get advance warning. Don’t wait. Make arrangements ahead of time to accommodate the new situation.

Please contact me if you would like to know more about how to adapt healthy habits to your individual needs. And stay tuned for part 2, which will focus on exercise and movement.

Movement for Health and Joy

Movement is an essential component of health. Movement supports every function of our body, such as digestion, immunity, and circulation. It supports brain health and cognitive function. It also influences our mood and emotional health for the better.

Yet American culture is firmly rooted in sedentary behavior (other nations are not immune) despite the efforts of public health, medical, and fitness professionals. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention), fewer than 50% of Americans meet the minimal recommended amount of 2.5 hours per week of moderate exercise.  Of adults 65 and older, only 16% get that much exercise.

Being sedentary has become the default way to live. Most people are unaware that this is an ingrained cultural habit. Someone who chooses to be active, for example walking to a destination when they have they option to drive, or using a rake when they can afford a leaf blower, may be seen as unusual. Being sedentary is normal. Movement is seen mostly in limited ways: as a beautification program, to prevent heart disease, or as a competitive hobby, such as running a marathon. Yet it is much more fundamental and necessary.

It hasn’t helped that the health and fitness community has emphasized exercise rather than natural movement, intensity over fun, and fear of disease over joyful enthusiasm. Here are a few suggestions for restoring movement to its rightful place in your life. 

  • Become aware of the bias against movement. Noticing how much being sedentary is the default behavior will give you more control over the options you consider and the decisions you make. You won’t be as likely to go on auto-pilot and make unconscious choices based on the movement-averse cultural model.
  • Start by choosing activities that you enjoy. Is running on a treadmill at the gym really your number one choice? Think outside the box. This is actually a really tough one, because you can’t look this up on the internet or in a book, or ask a fitness guru. What do you like to do? Only you know. It may be tennis or tai chi, tango or tree planting, swimming or soccer, walking meditation or walking with friends. Maybe it is house and garden projects and playing with the kids. Consider what is possible and look inward for guidance. What ideas give you that tingle of possibility? You may have to experiment before you discover what brings you joy and makes you feel alive.
  • Take it easy. Going from a sedentary lifestyle to an epic workout is likely to result in soreness and injury. Swinging from neglect to abuse of the body is not a recipe for health and joy. Do what feels easy. If you stick with it your body will strengthen and you will be able to do more later, if that’s your goal. In my experience, most people who say they don’t like to move actually don’t like to do activities that are too intense for their fitness level, rightfully so. 
  • Include movement that goes beyond formal exercise. Make it fit into your life, not around it. Plan active fun with your loved ones so you combine your social, family, and love life with your active lifestyle. It can be as simple as walking to a café with a friend instead of each person driving to the destination. Or play in the park with the kids and the dog. Walk in instead of taking the drive-through. 
  • Set up your environment so that day to day active choices are easy.Some decisions are big, such as choosing to live in a neighborhood where you have the option to walk or cycle to destinations you frequent. But there are plenty of simple actions you can take right away: Make sure your house has options for movement other than sitting in chairs. Can you keep a space free of clutter so you can get down on a mat and stretch? Wear clothing and shoes that allow you to breathe, walk, and move freely. Keep equipment in good repair, such as bicycles and baby strollers, so you can head out anytime you want. 
  • Help the next generation. Some kids have a lot of energy, which is often seen as excessive rather than healthy from the viewpoint of our movement-averse society. The tendency is to encourage kids to be still for long periods of time, to learn the sedentary norm as early as possible. Yet focus and learning are not synonymous with not moving. Studies even show that cognitive tasks are enhanced if performed while moving versus sitting still. It is much easier to adopt healthy habits early in life than to change your ways later on. So give kids the opportunity to move as much as possible in fun and varied ways, and join them when appropriate so you can reap the benefits too. They will have a chance to adopt a movement-rich lifestyle that will support them their whole life.
  • Get political. Data shows that communities that have access to walking and cycling trails, pedestrian areas, and parks, are much more active than their counterparts that lack such amenities. This increased physical activity influences the citizens’ health as much as if they quit smoking or started eating vegetables. So get involved at the local level so your community will benefit from becoming more movement friendly. 
  • Be kind to yourself. If you have been inactive, your body may not feel wonderful when you start to pay attention to it. There may be fits and starts. Strive toward your values while accepting imperfection. It will be a journey of persistence rather than instant gratification. Take a patient and loving attitude toward yourself. 
  • Get support from experts.  Professionals such as movement coaches, massage therapists, acupuncturists, life coaches, or fitness trainers can be a big help. They can provide information and guidance, help you problem solve, and provide healing modalities to overcome injuries and faulty movement patterns. 

So embrace movement and discover the health and vitality that is your potential as you live your life to the fullest. 

Rest and Recovery: 3 foolproof ways to feel renewed

Work, exercise, learning, travel, family and social connections are elements of a successful and happy life. In order to sustain our ability to thrive in all these areas, we must make room for an often overlooked necessity: Rest! Here are my recommendations for physical, mental, and emotional renewal and recovery.

1. Get a massage: The Aston® massage techniques I use in my sessions are highly suited to promote recovery of the body’s tissues. They avoid compression or bruising even while working very deeply.  Tension is released, inflammation is reduced, while the free flow of blood and lymph is encouraged. It is the perfect way to recover from a strenuous workout or a weekend of gardening. Please email me to schedule your next session.

2. Spend time in nature: Some surprising research points to the fact that we derive great benefits from spending time in a natural setting. The Japanese even have a beautiful word for it: Shinrin-Yoku, or “Forest Bathing.” Our mindset benefits and our immune system can see measurable improvements. Even if you can’t often take a vacation in nature, even a city park will do. For more information, read the article “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning.”

3. Sleep: As the nights get longer here in the Northern Hemisphere, we should take our cue from the natural world and give ourselves the gift of a good night’s sleep.  Recent scientific studies point to the importance of sleep in vital functions:

In this culture, where high productivity is a virtue, people sometimes brag about getting by on very little sleep. This makes as much sense as bragging that we get by without vitamins or that we only breathe half as much as other people. Unfortunately, one of the results of getting too little sleep is that we misjudge how well we are doing cognitively and we are deluded that we are fine. The first step is to recognize the importance of sleep and to prioritize it.

Here are some tips for more and better sleep:

  • The most simple and under-appreciated bit of advice is: Go to bed early!
  • eat lightly in the evening
  • exercise regularly
  • limit caffeine and alcohol consumption
  • keep your bedroom dark and quiet
  • keep a regular sleep schedule

Self-Care with Essential Oils

I invite you to read the article I wrote for the July wellness issue of Edible Austin, “Self-Care With Essential Oils.” You can pick up a free issue at various restaurants, grocery stores and farmers markets around Austin, or you can read the article on-line.

I am studying how to use essential oils and how to make a variety of salves, lotions, body products and home remedies. I think you will love my new home-made anti-inflammatory massage lotion next time you come see me for a bodywork session. It promotes healthy skin and tissues and is completely organic and natural.

Lymph Drainage Therapy: Cleansing the Body’s waterways

Last year I completed my training in Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT). You may have heard that our bodies are 50-70% water. A lot of this water is lymph!

Lymph is part of the circulatory system. Blood leaves the heart and travels through the arterial network to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the interstitial fluid, the fluid space that surrounds the cells.

The return journey to the heart has not just one, but two parallel pathways: the venous and lymphatic systems.

The lymph carries large proteins, foreign bodies, cell debris, and pathogenic substances which can’t be carried by the blood. These substances are broken down in the lymph nodes before the lymph returns to the blood.

Most of us are not aware of the central role that lymph plays in the body, but its action is central to good health, and even our very survival.

Lymph Drainage Therapy stimulates the flow of lymph manually by applying extremely light pressure at specific locations and in a particular sequence. As the lymphatic system increases its output, detoxification of the cellular environment occurs. In addition, the increased flow of lymph through the lymph nodes stimulates the activity of immune cells.

So in addition to being part of the circulatory system, the lymph is also part of the immune system!

Here are a few of the many indications and benefits for LDT:

  • Drain excess fluid from the tissues in the case of trauma or injury, which promotes healing of the injury
  • Prepare the tissues pre-surgery
  • Reduce swelling and pain post-surgery, and promote healing
  • Detoxify the body (fasting, dieting, withdrawal from tobacco and other substances…)
  • Reduce water retention and puffiness due to inflammation or PMS
  • Stimulate the relaxation response and reduce the stress response
  • Reduce muscle spasms
  • Stimulate the immune response
  • Reduce headaches 
  • Improve skin health and appearance
  • Drain lymphedema due to cancer treatment
  • Drain sinus congestion

Some people seek LDT specifically, but most people are not aware of this form of massage and its benefits. I often find myself combining techniques as needed. For example, an injury might be swollen and benefit from clearing the fluid first, which reduces discomfort and allow for better access to do detailed release work on the tissues. Or the tissues can be so restricted that they do not allow the lymph to flow freely, in which case the myofascial work would be done first, then a little LDT to help resume the free-flow of fluids through the area.

Now that you are acquainted with the lymphatic system, you can seek help for this vital system through the gentle techniques of Lymph Drainage Therapy.

You can also take steps in your daily life to keep your lymph healthy:

  • Practice daily movement and exercise, which stimulates lymph flow 
  • Eat a healthy diet, free of additives, artificial ingredients, added hormones and antibiotics
  • Eat in moderation
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Take contrast showers: 2 minutes cold, 2 minutes hot, alternating for a few rounds (The temperature should be slightly shocking but neither freezing nor burning)
  • Self drainage – I can show you some techniques you can apply yourself.