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…

Must you run to stay in shape?

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Do you like my grimace, lol! This is about Mile 21 of the 2018 Mankato Marathon.

I like data — I don’t think I’m alone!

If you obsessively track anything related to your fitness, raise your hand!

I’ve tracked my running miles over the years, but most consistently since 2016. No real reason — I guess to simply see how the miles add up. I like to compare month to month, and year to year.

So this year, well really at the end of last year, I decided upon a little experiment: I was going to run less and focus more on my yoga practice.

The dedicated yogis I got to know in the past few years, specifically the dedicated Ashtangis, seemed to do quite well doing only yoga. Because I was averaging about 80 miles a month, I was experiencing tight hamstrings and tight hips, which made it a challenge to achieve certain asanas.

But I’ve been a runner since about 1995, and I had grown accustomed to view running as my primary workout and the “only” way to stay in shape. In the past 8 years I also added cycling and swimming to the mix as I incorporated triathlons into my schedule.

I really do enjoy running. So far I have not experienced anything that delivers such a “quick hit” of endorphins. I can go for a 30-minute run and feel energized and “high.” The dopamine effect is real. After a bad day, a run is a beautiful antidote.

In 2018, I committed to a marathon. I had done five marathons previously and felt done with that, lol. But I was asked to do a charity run for a nonprofit, and I couldn’t say no. Running for something beyond myself gave me extra motivation. But I told myself in 2018 that after the marathon, I’d be done.

I vowed to still work out. My goal was 30 minutes a day for most days, but that consisted of primarily the elliptical and “HIITmill” at the gym. I did very little running throughout the winter. And I added an Ashtanga practice most mornings (though a truncated practice–at least it was something).

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OMG, I love the HIITmill! I told a woman today at the gym to try it out, and she did! 

Now that we’re halfway done with the year, I decided to check on my running stats.

Holy crap, my running mileage is down 70 percent from last year!

The thing I was most nervous about — gaining weight — did not happen. In fact, I’m down one pound over this time last year. I always thought I needed a heart-pumping cardio workout like running to maintain my weight. But lo and behold, this yoga thing seems to be working!!!!

Now yes, I’m still running, but it’s about twice a week. I also am biking more than I did last summer, but anywhere between 7-15 miles at a time, 2-3 times a week. I’ve gone swimming once so far this year, lol.

I do notice a decline in my cardio capacity. My heart rate seems to go higher more quickly than it did when I was running a lot. So I can tell that my heart muscle probably isn’t in as good of shape as it used to be.

I do like a good cardio workout once in a while. I like to get my sweat on. But this experiment tells me that perhaps some day I will transition almost completely to yoga as the way to stay in shape.

 

Giving up what you know and trying something new

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That’s definitely a grimace on my face around Mile 22 during the marathon last October. 

I’m a little more than three months into my experiment of not running regularly. After the marathon in October, I wanted some time away from a strict running schedule.

This is a first for me.

Even when I wasn’t training for a running event, my mindset always was, I should really get out there and run. I saw running as the most efficient workout — even 15 or 20 minutes was enough to get my heart pumping, clear my head and receive a boost in metabolism.

My goal post-marathon was to get away from running but move at least 30 minutes most days of the week. This has included a treadmill or outdoor run, as well as equipment at the gym — the elliptical, the HIITmill, and the stationary bike. If I’m at the gym I also add 10-15 minutes of strength/core work with weights and machines.

I’m enjoying the variety and not being tied to running. As a result, I’m working out more frequently. I usually can fit in 30 minutes five or six days a week. When I was training, I generally only ran four days a week. I feel like 30 minutes a day is pretty low-commitment. When I’m training for a run, I can only get in three miles in 30 minutes so my workouts usually had to be much longer than that, which became a stress when trying to find the time amid everything else.

On top of this, I have my near-daily yoga practice. So with the combination of everything, I’m feeling strong and healthy. The experiment is going well so far!

Have you changed up your routine? Is there something you thought you’d always have to do and were reluctant to give it up?

Yoga can cause injuries — so be mindful!

Yoga is not without its physical risks.

Yes, I want more people to check out yoga classes. But for yogis to promote yoga as a cure-all and as a way to prevent injuries is irresponsible. Of course I believe the benefits outweigh the risks, but new practitioners should be mindful going into it.

I liked an article (posted below) from the Washington Post that was reprinted in the Dec. 23 edition of the Minneapolis StarTribune. I thought it had a lot of good tips.

Yoga injuries are likely going to come from overuse and overstretching. But I believe that listening to your body is going to be the most important way to prevent injuries. I think a lot of yoga injuries result from people looking at others in a class and trying to do what they’re doing. They forget that the person on the mat next to them may have been practicing yoga for many years. Letting go of ego and letting go of competition will go a long way in keeping yourself healthy on the mat.

Starting yoga

 

It’s not called a diet, it’s called eating well

 

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My six-taste bowl: Quinoa, chickpeas, sweet potato, broccoli, kale, red pepper, and avocado, tossed with an almond-ginger sauce. 

I’m only a few days into eating a primarily plant-based diet, but I’m already feeling better and seeing results.

I generally have eaten pretty healthy in the past few years. I like fruits and vegetables and make it a point to eat those every day. I like to eat well because I like to be active, and I can’t fuel my body on garbage. But my main challenges have been:

  • Simply eating too much, especially now that I’m not logging lots of miles like I was prior to the marathon in October.
  • Still lacking willpower to walk away from the sweet treats — totally my weakness! I would never eat chips or fries again in my life if it meant I could still eat cookies.
  • Drinking too much alcohol.

These have been my challenges for about three years. In 2014, I wasn’t happy with my eating habits or my body and made some major changes. I was able to keep this up mostly through 2016. But since then, I’ve struggled.

I’ve made half-hearted attempts to rediscover that good place I was in a few years ago. But nothing ever stuck and I’d quickly be back to my old habits (or more accurately, not even wanting to change).

But a couple of weeks ago, something happened. It was definitely an internal/mind change. I kind of just lost my taste for junk. I craved freshness. That’s what I wanted to put into my body. Whereas I hadn’t cut back on alcohol because I simply liked it, in the past couple of weeks the thought of drinking kind of turned my stomach.

I credit the change to a few things:

  • Making yoga and meditation a daily routine. I wake up and immediately begin my practice. Sometimes it’s only 15 minutes, sometimes it’s an hour. I’ve been sustaining this for about a month.
  • Disliking how my body feels when I’m not kind toward it. A morning practice is difficult and challenging when if the night before I drank and ate garbage. I got tired of feeling that way.
  • Letting go of psychic baggage.

Just in the past few days, I’ve noticed that I’m sleeping better and have lost weight. And the new diet is highly satisfying and filling! This is a HUGE change for me. As a pitta, I’m often ravenous and counting the hours until the next meal. I have never missed and meal and have never forgotten to eat! But something like the six-taste bowl pictured above sustains me for hours. This has been the biggest surprise of this new routine.

This is not a diet or a miracle fix. This is a way of life. I have never participated in any fad diet, because I know the key is being able to sustain the way you eat. I don’t anticipate a problem incorporating more vegetables and less meat and dairy into my diet.

At this moment, I’m not saying that I won’t ever eat meat or dairy or sugar again, or that I’ll never have another sip of alcohol. I resist strict rules. Even if the rules are good for me, my instinct is to break them just because they’re rules! I’m also a slow learner and like to dip my toe in the water before going all in. For example, I did several 5Ks and 10Ks before doing a marathon. I did sprint triathlons before moving on to Olympic-distance triathlons. Unlike someone I know, who signed up for a full Ironman triathlon without knowing how to swim!

So I’m considering this a primarily plant-based diet, with some exceptions. I think the key to making something work for you is to tailor it to your needs and lifestyle. Make it individual for you. What works for someone else may not work for you.

What dietary successes have you encountered?

Love your practice and show up

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Photo Credit: c3lsius_bb Flickr via Compfight cc

From Kino MacGregor’s The Power of Ashtanga Yoga:

“Many people assume that because they cannot easily bend their bodies into the pretzel-like positions of the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series that this method is not for them. The sole qualification for the practice of Ashtanga Yoga is to love your practice and to ‘show up’ on your mat as much as possible. It does not matter what level of asana you perform, because the inner work of yoga is fueled by the authentic search for inner peace.”

Since June 8, I’ve showed up to my mat much more than I ever have in the past 16 years since I was first introduced to Ashtanga. I show up on my mat most mornings. Do I spent a ton of time on the mat? No. Most mornings at least 20 minutes. Only about one morning a week am I showing up for 30-45 minutes. But this is a vast improvement over other years when I didn’t even have a home practice and was doing Ashtanga only when I showed up to a led class 3-4 times a month.

Moving forward, I’d like to increase the time of my home practice to at least 30 minutes most mornings and to get back into doing the full series at least once a week.

My major challenge right now is motivation. I’ve hit the low point of the semester — long days at the office with lots of meetings and advisee appointments. This means that prep work and grading is happening in the evening when I get home and the weekends. It’s been hard to get up in the mornings knowing I have such a full day ahead. But that is exactly the time to bump up my practice.

I have the excuse of teaching yoga two mornings a week, which forces me out of bed. When class is over, I spend 20-30 minutes on the primary series finishing poses plus some cardio work. If I didn’t have to get up to teach, I think I’d probably opt for staying in bed as long as possible. I hope once I get past this busy time at work, I will feel more motivated.

How do you stay motivated for working out or for your yoga practice?

Stop minimizing your accomplishments (and yourself)

 

 

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How often do you minimize your accomplishments?

If you’re a woman, I’d guess the answer is pretty often.

I went through a women’s leadership training a couple of years ago and now my ears are open to how often women put themselves down or minimize themselves.

I’ve seen it crop up over and over the past few weeks in regards to running events.

In Minnesota, we just finished a couple of big running events: The Twin Cities Marathon and the Mankato Marathon. I know several people who took part in both.

As with most marathons, besides the full 26.2 mile run, there are other distances to choose from as well — 10 miles (Twin Cities Marathon) or 13.1, 6.2, or 3.1 (Mankato Marathon).

I have heard several women, when asked what distance they are doing, respond with, “Oh, I’m only doing the 10K” or “I’m only doing the 10-miler” or “I’m only doing the half.” As if doing a distance less than the full is something to minimize.

No matter the distance — 3.1 miles, 6.2 miles, 10 miles, 13.1 miles, 26.2 miles — you are out there running. Own it and be proud of it.

I posted this on Facebook a couple of days ago and it received 19 comments. I think it hit a nerve. Many women said something like “thanks for the reminder.” Many women also said they were guilty of saying something similar.

Your biggest competitor is yourself. Don’t look to others to gauge your self-worth. What you choose to do with your body, and how you move it, is your choice.

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.

When you’re busy, exercise is more important than ever

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Does your life ever feel like a chaotic mess? Photo Credit: ComputerHotline Flickr via Compfight cc

Whew!

I’m tired. This happens at the beginning of every semester. There’s always an adjustment period that comes with being in the office regularly, teaching classes, and meeting with students (at the beginning of the semester this usually means panicked students who haven’t yet registered for class or who are making changes to their schedules before the drop/add deadline passes).

My 5:15 a.m. alarm felt especially early this morning, especially since the craziness of the semester translates into middle-of-the-night wide-awake thoughts about to-do lists and such. But I got up because I have the 6 a.m. yoga class to teach.

I’m glad I have this reason to get to the gym, because I’m pretty sure I would have found it hard this morning to get up and out of bed otherwise. If I had a choice, today would have been a day to say “forget it” to the gym. I could have definitely used that hour or two to sleep, or I could have gotten up and worked on any number of tasks for my job.

If I didn’t have to teach yoga, I would have found many excuses to not go to the gym. “I’m too busy” is a really easy thing to say.

But there has never been a time when I have finished the yoga class or a workout and thought, “I shouldn’t have done that.” I am ALWAYS thankful that I did it and always feel better afterward.

When we’re the busiest is EXACTLY the time to make sure we don’t skip our workouts.

I understand that there are so many other things that can get done during gym or exercise time. But look at all the things that exercise accomplishes:

* Gives us energy.

* Gives us a break from work.

* Keeps us in touch with our physical selves.

* Reduces anxiety.

* Boosts metabolism.

When you’re busy, don’t you need those things more than ever? As you return to school or find yourself under water at work or take on new responsibilities, maybe you have to scale back your gym routine. Maybe you like to work out for an hour, but now maybe it has to be 30 minutes. Or 15 minutes. Or 5 really, really hard and intense minutes.

Point being, any minute is better than 0 minutes.

And when you can fit in a workout amid your busy day, you get an extra sense of accomplishment. You did something that at first didn’t seem feasible — you found the time to work out. Congratulate yourself!