Adjusting to a new routine

Me (right) biking with my pals on the Sakatah Trail!

How has summer been treating you?

If prior to the pandemic you had a fitness/wellness routine, how have you adapted? For the most part, from what I hear and read, creating a new routine has been a challenge. It certainly has been for me. But remember, be kind to yourself. With all the stressors of this year, you don’t need to add negative self-talk to the mix.

Since March, I have been able for the most part to get outside and enjoy activities that I’ve always done, like cycling and running. In April, I did the 30-day cycling challenge (where you bike at least 2 miles every day). I’ve always wanted to do that but my work schedule usually made it difficult. Since I was home all day sheltering-in-place, it was not hard to bike every day (even though some days brought brutal wind/rain/snow).

I also created a routine of going to my favorite park at least once a week to hit the trails. I go there one morning during the week and if I’m around on the weekend, I go for a longer run.

At first, doing these things felt like a struggle. Not necessarily physically, but mentally. Being at home so much created a type of inertia — a body at rest wants to stay at rest. But I know, after years of practice, that if I get outside and exercise, I will feel 100 percent better. It always works.

At different times in the past six months, eating well and not overindulging in alcohol has also been a struggle. Early on, like in April, I’d say I was definitely eating comfort foods. I had a drink or two most evenings to momentarily deal with the stress. But I’d just end up feeling like crap, and as some pounds got added I knew I wasn’t being the best version of myself that I could be. I struggled off and on with that all summer. I’d be good for a week or two, then slip back into bad habits. Only in the past couple of weeks have I felt a shift, a real desire to eat better and drink less.

I started to go back to the gym, just once a week for only about 30 minutes. This helps my motivation to be healthier in general. I generally don’t go to the gym in the summer anyway, since it’s easy to exercise outside. But the week that school started, especially since I’m on sabbatical and not at school, I was craving a routine. I’ve been doing some weight machines, ab work, and a short cardio workout when I go. The gym opened in June and there have been no reports of COVID outbreaks there. I figured the staff and everyone who has been going has been taking the right precautions.

One aspect of my routine that I’ve struggled with has been my morning yoga practice. Prior to COVID I’d say I was getting to my mat 5 days a week — a couple of shorter practices and 1-2 full primary series. In the first couple of months at home, I didn’t even want to go to my mat. I couldn’t figure it out — this was a time, more than ever, to engage with meditative practices. Getting out of bed was a struggle and seemed to eat up so much energy.

But I’m happy to say that my desire to practice is coming back, too. A teacher that I’ve worked with in Minneapolis has been having a virtual “self-practice” once a week via Zoom. It’s kind of like Mysore in that we all show up, but we do our own practice. It sounds kind of weird, like what’s the point of being online if no one is leading or no one is talking to each other? But just to see physical proof that others are out there doing their own practices is motivating and comforting. I’m able to do a full series this way — I probably wouldn’t do it on my own. I try to do a YouTube video another day of the week for another full series practice. But still, my home Ashtanga practice is down to about 3 days a week. I always got a little extra motivation from going to classes at OneYoga or various workshops. I did commit to a few sessions of one-on-one instruction with my teacher, Ellie, coming up this month and into October, and already that has inspired me even though we haven’t started yet.

I taught Ashtanga all summer virtually, which was fun. Our Ashtanga community hung on by a threat, but it was there! I’m looking forward to teaching two Ashtanga classes this fall — one virtual, one in-person.

How have you adapted to a new routine? Are you settling in, or still struggle?

How zero minutes turned into 51

The Light Head. Power of mind concept.

Photo Credit: atercorv Flickr via Compfight cc

Our minds are funny things.

I did the full primary series today — that felt awesome as always. Since that took over an hour, and I had several things to finish today, that was going to be my sole activity.

But I thought, well, I’ll at least take the dogs out. It was a nice day, and I usually like some type of outdoor break around lunch when I’m working at home.

When we got to the trail, I thought, well, I’ll take them on a slow jog —  it’ll be good for them! I hadn’t run for a few days so it would be good for me, too. I figured we’d go 20 minutes, and my Apple Watch will count 20 minutes which is good, since earlier in the day I had planned for zero minutes.

But I do like to close that exercise ring, so after I took the dogs out I thought about doing another 10 minutes of jogging on my own. Actually, I’ve been trying to get 40-45 minutes of exercise at a time this summer. So I thought, well, I’ll hop on my bike and go 20 minutes.

So I put on my bike shorts and headed out. When I got out 10 minutes, I thought I could turn around, but also, I could keep going and just do this 7-mile loop I had been doing all summer as a little time trial. The wind would be at my back going toward home, so that was a plus.

A day that started out with a plan to exercise for zero minutes ended up as a 51-minute day. Perhaps this makes up for all the days where I plan to exercise and end up doing nothing…

Run away? Or confront?

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My favorite place of tranquility: Artists’ Point, Grand Marais, Minnesota. Photo by author.

At the end of the Ashtanga prep class I’ve been teaching at SunMoon Yoga Studios, I like to read a short passage while students are in savasana. I usually read from Kino MacGregor’s The Power of Ashtanga Yoga.

Last Thursday I read this:

“The asanas work first on a practice level to burn through the toxins in the physical, emotional, and energetic bodies The poses also work to change the basic hardwiring of the mind. Normally, when we confront difficult situations, we want to run away. If we encounter a scary memory, we often want to bury it. The pattern, while totally natural, is not effective at creating a truly happy, healthy life. Yoga trains the mind to stay in places of difficulty instead of running away and developing protective measures. In yoga, there is no room for defense mechanisms. In fact, the yoga poses are designed to strip away every protective layer you may have developed to reveal the inner purity at the heart of your being.”

Ashtanga, like most physical endeavors, is a challenging practice. I have never been on a run or a bike ride or done an Ashtanga practice and said, “Wow, that was easy today!” Part of the reward upon completing physical exertion is the satisfaction in knowing that you pushed yourself in a difficult situation.

What do we find challenging on an emotional or mental level? There’s a tendency to push it away and not want to go there, just like there’s a tendency to stay on the couch or stay in bed rather than move your body.

Because Ashtanga yoga is done in silence, with the focus on the audible breath, it creates a meditative state as you challenge your body in the asanas. Running and cycling for me also have a mind-clearing quality, but not as much as Ashtanga does.

We often turn toward more destructive habits when we don’t want to confront difficult thoughts and emotions. I have been guilty of this, but I find that since I’ve been practicing Ashtanga regularly I’m not running away from myself and I’m treating myself better. It’s a slow process — I’ve only been practicing regularly for about four months — but I am hopeful for continued growth and strength. For me, and for all of you, be patient and kind to yourselves and trust the process, whatever that may be.

My friend, the 24-Hour Bicycle Challenge champion!

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Becky Fjelland Brooks. Photo by Jackson Forderer, Mankato Free Pres. 

Do you want to be inspired? Read on! Otherwise, just skip this.

I’ve known Becky Fjelland (Davis) Brooks for I don’t know…13, 14 years? She’s that type of friend who you don’t even remember first meeting…you just feel like you’ve been friends from birth. I DO know that I started biking with her in 2007 and in that year, she invited me to join her writing group, which had already been meeting for about three years.

This is a woman a generation older than me (she technically could be my mom, though she would have been a very young mom, lol!). However, she could always kick my butt on the bike! Which from Day 1 earned my respect and admiration. Even though she could kick my butt, she didn’t act like it. Becky is a woman that wants ALL women to bike and be active and is the hugest supporter of women and fitness — ZERO competition! I can’t tell you how many times she’s ridden with me WAY more slowly than she could have — but she just wanted to be supportive and have social time!

On Sunday, June 17, this woman won her age group at the National 24-Hour Challenge bike race in Caledonia, Michigan! Did I mention that her age group is 60-64?! Becky rode her bike for 24 hours, only stopping briefly for bathroom breaks and snacks. She completed 349.5 miles during that time to set the age-group record.

Less than three years ago, Becky suffered a brain aneurysm as she was preparing to go out for a December ride. This 24-hour challenge was her goal as she recovered.

“My son and I were kind of joking, ‘In two years, we’ll go back to the 24-hour race.’ It was a joke — but also a carrot,” she told the Mankato Free Press in the June 15 edition.

The one and only time I could keep up with Becky was when I went out with her on her first rides after her aneurysm, in the summer of 2016. I told her, “The only time I can keep up with you is when you’re recovering from a brain explosion!” LOL!

Becky is the ultimate role model. This is precisely what I love about her:

“People write things off when they get to 50, 60 years old and think they’re not going to get back,” she said. “But we can. We can do more than we give ourselves credit for. I made training a priority. I made getting in shape a priority. And it worked.”

I’m training for a fall marathon and Becky is a major inspiration. If she can get on her bike for 24 hours at the age of 61, surely I can run for 5 hours at the age of 43. If she trained hard during a harsh Minnesota winter, I can get out there for training runs during a Minnesota summer.

No excuses. We all have the power to change our lives, to change our level of fitness.

Let Becky lead the way!

Becky is also a super impressive middle-grade/young-adult/essay writer. Read more of her writing here.