To awaken the faith, courage, insight, and creativity in me and those around me.

open copywtmk

Oops, I’ve been absent from the blogging world for a little while, and I’m blaming a bad case of spring fever. My garden’s been calling me. But during my absence, I’ve also been busy learning more about some of the latest trends in fitness. One wonderful opportunity that presented itself to me was to attended a four hour class explaining Ageless Grace.

Ageless Grace is a fitness strategy aimed at restoring neuroplasticity. In other words, waking up old neuropathways and creating new ones to the muscles and within the brain itself. This is not entirely new, though. I’ve been doing what I call proprioceptive work with clients for 12 years now, consisting of PNF exercises (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) that I’ve learned from attending the physical therapy sessions of some of my clients. Ageless Grace, however, takes it to another level, and makes it fun. It’s no longer work, but play time involving creativity and imagination. It takes you back to your childhood, when most of your neuropathways were first developed. And, any trend that makes exercise fun is a good trend.

When we were kids, we made faces, hung upside down, shook, and moved our bodies in every way imaginable. In doing this, we developed coordination, balance, reflexes, and recovery, as well as imagination, memory recall, and problem solving skills. As we got older, some of these skills weren’t used as often. Like a path in the woods that doesn’t get traveled much, these neuropathways became “overgrown” or sluggish. The ability is still there; it just needs a little “path clearing” through use.

One of the exercises that I really struggled with was one that involved clapping and tapping on different counts as the numbers were called out to us.  This uses our respond, react, and recover abilities, that as kids were quicker, because everything was new to us, and they got used more frequently. As adults though, we’ve learned to avoid and/or anticipate surprising situations, so they’re not used as often and our neural processing speed slows down. I was amazed at how difficult it was for me.

Adding to the problem of slowing neuropathways, is the fact that now as adults our brains have to sift through more information in order to recall or respond. According to the New York Times article The Older Mind May Just Be a Fuller Mind, researches are now thinking that a slow memory is not necessarily a product of getting old, but one of having more experience. Since most of us don’t want to get dumber (although there are a few memories I wouldn’t mind forgetting), I think speeding up neural processing through exercise is preferable.

The “tools”, as they’re called, in Ageless Grace are functional exercises in that they improve strength in every day skills as opposed to isolating specific muscle groups. They are never performed the same way twice, so the body doesn’t adapt. You have to imagine different scenarios each time you do them, and this is where the fun and creativity comes in.

Another benefit from these tools is myofascial release. Much of the stiffness and joint pain we feel as we get older is actually the stiffening of the fascia, a thin layer of tissue that encapsulates muscles and joints. Rolling with tennis balls and foam rollers, called self massage, is another new trend in the fitness industry, and facilitates myofascial release. Ageless Grace does it through shaking. The theory is that the friction created between the layer of skin and the muscles when we shake massages the fascia.

It reminds me of all those housewives in the 1950’s, who stood in machines that shook them hoping to lose weight. Even though they probably didn’t lose much weight from it, it turns out there were some other benefits. Along with myofascial release, it also helped produce collagen and reduced cortisol.

Did you know that most adults over 40 are oxygen deprived? We all hold our breaths several times a day. The Ageless Grace tools are very vocal, improving respiratory function. My clients laugh, because I’m constantly reminding them to breathe. We joke about having to pay someone to remind us to breathe and drink water. Well, if you’re counting, humming, singing, whistling, or just making silly noises while exercising, you’re forced to take deeper breaths, because the diaphragm contacts when we exhale.

There are many other benefits to this program, that you can read about if you click on the link above. These are a few of the ones that interested me most. PFP Magazine, a professional fitness magazine, recently published an article stating that the industry is shifting toward medically supervised fitness facilities. I think we will start to see more programs like this one, designed to improve both mind and body, which is exciting news to me. I’m looking forward to it.

Morning Pages

Errol

I awoke this morning to Errol Flynn making fun of me for being melodramatic. How ironic! The next half hour was spent arguing with him in my morning pages. This poor misguided drama king has not been properly trained for his role and has been given the wrong script. He’s supposed to keep me real, yes, but not to the point of blocking my writing. After three pages, I believe I have won round one. – Day 15

I’ve been reading a book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron that was written to help people unblock their creative side. The author refers to the block as a little voice in your head that tells you there are more important things to do, and you’re not good enough to be wasting your time on these creative endeavors. She calls it the “Censor”, and says that it’s part of the “Logic” brain. Some people may be more familiar with the term “left brain”.

One of the exercises she recommends is the “morning pages”. You’re supposed to write three pages of whatever comes to mind when you first wake up. It’s not supposed to be good. It’s supposed to be a release or vent of all the whiny anxieties that “stand in the way of your creativity”. I call it getting-all-the-crap-out-so-I-can-focus-better.

It’s interesting to note that writing requires the use of both sides of the brain. The left brain or logical side is needed to put words into a logical order of structured sentences, and the right brain or creative side is needed to find the right words to convey the thoughts. The act of writing helps unite the two sides for a common purpose, creating more of a balance between the two.

I am not a morning person. My mind is anything but peaceful when I first wake up. Sometimes, there’s an entire army of negative thoughts marching around in my head. I usually try not to pay attention to them; try to force myself to focus on positive things. When that gets too difficult, I daydream; dream up happier places to go to. All of this is done without realizing it. The morning pages have made me more aware of my thought patterns and habits first thing in the morning.

On some days, I write 3 pages of rants, on others, it’s a 3 page pity party. On my better days, it becomes a list of things I need to do that day or hope to accomplish sometime in the near future. I find that I am able to think more clearly throughout the day, and remember things better, since I’ve started this.

Not long after I first started writing morning pages, I had a weird dream with Errol Flynn over-acting a scene where he was supposed to be relating a sad childhood story. He was dressed as one of the Three Musketeers with a sword in his hand. The acting was so bad it was funny. While I was writing about the dream in my morning pages, I realized he was making fun of me, especially the sword-pen connection. At that time, I was still putting this blog together, and still writing my personal weight loss story. My “Censor” was trying to tell me that all of this was a waste of time.

Those 3 pages became a lecture to my censor, which I have named Errol. I spoke as a boss to an employee, or a director to an actor. I said things like: “Your role is a necessary role, but you have become confused about your job description. You are overstepping your boundaries. Stop blocking my writing!”

Therapists call this self talk. Affirmations are a form of self talk. There are some rules to remember with self talk. For example, the subconscious doesn’t recognize negative words like “don’t”, “not”, “no”, and “never”. If you say, “Don’t block my writing.” It hears, “Do block my writing.”

Another is that you can’t deny a part of yourself, because you don’t like what it’s telling you, which is essentially what I had been doing by ignoring the negative thoughts. If your finger was broken, you wouldn’t cut it off. Likewise, the negative voice or censor shouldn’t be cut off (or told to get lost), but redirected to function in a healing capacity. If I say that it has become confused about it’s job description, then I need to redefine what I want it’s job description to be, which is what I tried to do that morning.

It was a struggle first thing in the morning to find the right words to tell Errol what I thought he shouldn’t be doing. I kept wanting to use negative words. And then, I had to figure out what I thought he should be doing. It took a couple of mornings to get it right, and may take a few more. Hopefully by putting it in writing, I’m forcing both sides of my brain to work together on this. I think it’s paying off.

At the end of each day, I write a random paragraph about anything that comes to mind as an exercise for a writing group that I belong to. The paragraph in italics above was that day’s paragraph.

Victory

"taking a bow"

“taking a bow”

The humiliation of Dahlia’s awkward ascent from the floor had been caused by muscles too weak to lift her and joints too inflamed to hold her weight. But, not today. Today, dignity lunges forward to take a bow on confident and empowered legs.

chia seed drink

Chia seeds are a nutritious little seed from Mexico, that are gaining popularity because they’re rich in fiber, minerals, and essential fatty acids. Their protein content is about 4 to 6 grams per 2 tablespoons, (depending on which report you read) and are a source of complete protein (meaning they contain all the essential amino acids). It’s also said that they have a lubricative effect on the lining of the colon, improving waste elimination, which is good news for any one suffering from bowel problems or autoimmune diseases.

Chia seeds don’t have a flavor of their own, but take on the flavor of anything they’re mixed with. They will absorb the moisture of the other ingredients and swell to form a gelatinous membrane, creating a pudding or jello like consistency. Once moisture is absorbed, they’re no longer crunchy, which makes them great for flavored drinks, smoothies, or juices. When you mix these little guys in, you can get your serving of fruit without worrying about sugar levels spiking. The fibers, fats, and proteins of the chia seeds will prevent it.

Here’s my recipe for chia drink:

1 16 oz bag of frozen berries and cherries (or your favorite fruit), defrosted and pureed in a blender

pour 4 oz or ½ cup of the pureed fruit into 4 glasses

add 1 ½ cups water to each glass

add 2 tbsp chia seed to each glass and stir well *

sweeten with stevia

refrigerate 20 minutes before serving

optional: sometimes I add chlorophyll drops or fresh spinach to the blender to get a serving of greens.

*Note: you’ll need to stir for about a minute or two to prevent clumping.

I use the 16 oz plastic cups you see in the picture above, because they have lids and measurement lines on the side to make measuring ½ cup easier.

Recipe for chia pudding:

1 cup unsweetened almond milk (or your favorite milk)

3 to 4 tbsp chia seed

1 tsp vanilla extract ( or your favorite flavor)*

sweeten with stevia and stir well

refrigerate over night

*Note: some extracts are stronger than others. Peppermint and anise only need ¼ tsp. Almond extract only needs ½ tsp.

This makes a great desert for those times you want to treat yourself and not feel guilty. The only sugars are from the milk, and if you use unsweetened almond milk, there is no sugar.

me 12-18-94

me 12-18-94

The picture above is of me when I weighed 200 lbs. It’s been almost 20 years, so I don’t think about it much anymore. It’s as if somebody else’s was living my life back then. These days, the only time I talk about it is when I start a new client who comes to me for weight loss. I specialize in working with people who have medical issues, so I don’t usually get clients who come to me strictly for weight loss. In January, though, when everybody was thinking about losing weight, I took on one of these clients, and was telling her my history when she said, “Wow, what an interesting story!” Her amazement made me wonder why I had never written about it. I’m sure other clients had said that before, but apparently I wasn’t ready until now.

I started gaining weight when I was 19, about a year after quitting a methamphetamine habit. (that’s another story I might get around to writing some day) By the time I was 30, I was borderline hypertensive and borderline diabetic. I had a bone spur that pinched nerves to my right arm and compressed discs in my lower back. The doctors gave me a list of other diagnoses as well, including chronic fatigue, IBS, severe depression, adrenal fatigue, hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, hormonal imbalance, etc. They convinced me that all these problems were due to my weight, but offered little help in that area.

In the 1980’s, I had tried counting calories and low fat diets, only to steadily gain more weight. I started to believe that I would probably be fat the rest of my life, and couldn’t picture myself as ever being thin again. If it wasn’t for all the health problems, I would have given up then.

To complicate things, the doctors put me on several medications – antidepressants, muscle relaxers, pain medications, anti-inflamatories, etc. – that interfered with my metabolism as well. By the mid 1990’s I was only eating one meal a day and still gaining. One doctor recommended the Fen-phen diet in spite of my history with amphetamines, and another wanted to try shock therapy, which, fortunately, I had the good sense to reject. In disgust, I turned to alternative medicine.

One day, a naturopath recommended a low carb diet like the Atkins diet, so I tried it. After 15 years of struggling, the pounds finally came off, but not the health problems. I was still fatigued, still hypoglycemic, still borderline hypertensive, my periods completely stopped, and I gained some new problems. Because of stomach aches and nausea, I lost my appetite and had to force myself to eat. Now, I was unable to stop the weight from coming off, and family started accusing me of being anorexic. Yes, cutting the carbs caused me to lose 70 lbs in six months, but the high protein, high fat intake had caused my body to become too acidic.

me Dec. '01

me Dec. ’01

(It was hard to find a picture of how skinny I was during this time. I didn’t take many pictures and usually wore loose fitting clothes to hide it.)

There were several things that I didn’t understand about low carb or ketogenic diets. By depriving myself of carbs, my body turned to its fat stores and then muscle tissue for fuel and produced ketones. This is usually a normal function of metabolism that happens on a small scale throughout the day in a normal diet, but with low carb diets, it creates a condition called acidosis, high acidic levels in the blood stream. This too is considered safe for short periods of time and when the levels are only mildly high, but anything more than that wreaks havoc on the organs. Acidosis leaches minerals from the bones and muscles that then have to be flushed through the kidneys. Since the body doesn’t store protein (it either uses it as fuel or sometimes converts it to glucose), the unused protein creates an excess of protein waste by-products that strain the kidneys and liver. The large consumption of fats strains the liver and gall bladder.

My kidneys, liver, and gall bladder were all affected, but I was able to avoid surgery through alternative treatments. These treatments were not fun. Ask anyone who’s passed 20 or 30 gall stones through a gall bladder cleanse.

Another problem with ketosis (condition of high levels of ketones) is muscle atrophy (muscle loss). It’s normal for everyone who loses weight to lose a little muscle mass, because the body is lighter and the load it has to carry is less. But, sometimes when it’s fat stores are getting low, the metabolism turns to muscles that aren’t used as often for fuel, usually stabilizing muscles used for balance or supporting organs. Many of my organs prolapsed (dropped) after the sudden loss of muscle and surrounding fat that was holding them in place. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to avoid surgery for my bladder.

Also with the muscle atrophy, came more back pain. This was the part that frustrated me the most. I thought for sure that when I lost the weight, my back would get better. Not so. It actually got worse. I was told that the only way to fix the numbness in my right hand was neck surgery. Instead, I went to a chiropractor, who explained to me that he could align my spine for me, but unless I stretched and exercised the muscles supporting it, those weak, tight, and knotted muscles would only pull it out of alignment again.

I had never been interested in lifting weights or working out at a gym. I always preferred playing sports like volley ball or soccer, but with back pain, those sports were out of the question. Then one day, I ran into an old friend from high school, who happened to own a personal training facility. She mentioned, very tactfully, that I looked thin, so I told her my story, and that’s when she admitted that she thought I looked too thin. I agreed. She said she could show me some rehabilitative exercises for my back. This piqued my interest in weight training.

I was a sign painter at the time, and she needed some signs, so I worked out a deal with her. At first the deal was for personal training for my husband, but she said no. It had to be for both me and my husband. Reluctantly, I agreed.

That was a turning point in life for me. It took a few years to rebuild my muscle, because I still wasn’t eating enough carbs to lower my acidity levels and stop the degeneration of muscle tissue. But through research, trial, and error, I learned that I could eat complex carbs and whole grain foods without gaining weight. My new way of eating became a part of my lifestyle. Eventually, I gained about 20 lbs of muscle back, and have been that weight ever since. My weight will only fluctuate between 140 and 145 lbs, but my diet has not stayed static. I’m constantly trying new recipes and different foods, so I don’t get bored. Over the years, my diet and tastes have continued to evolve, and gotten healthier. No more depriving myself, I’ve come to really enjoy the way I eat now. I plan to share more about that in future posts on this blog.

me 2-19-14

me 2-19-14

This is a picture of me today. I’ll be 49 this year. I was 29 in that first photo, and 36 in the second. The second picture was taken a year or two after I first started working out.

With diet, exercise, and natural therapies, I have overcome almost all of my health problems. I have all the feeling back in my right hand without surgery, and have come to the conclusion that there are many people out there suffering pain needlessly, because the effectiveness of rehabilitative exercise is so underestimated.

Ultimately, that dear friend of mine convinced me (after much prodding) to work for her as a personal trainer at her gym. Like weight training, it wasn’t something I could see myself doing at first and was reluctant. I don’t have that high energetic, drill sergeant personality that you would imagine a personal trainer would need. I don’t like to push people into doing things they don’t want to do. But because of my firm belief in the benefits of exercise, my personal experience, and my desire to help others see they do have choices and don’t have to suffer, I found my niche, and absolutely love what I do.

avocado dressing

A client gave me this recipe, even though neither she nor her husband liked it. It looked interesting, so I decided to change it up a bit.

Here’s the original:

1 lg avocado

½ cup Greek yogurt

1 tbsp hot sauce

¼ cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic

¾ tsp salt

mix together in a blender

Here’s my version:

1 lg avocado

½ cup almond milk

½ small tomato

1 jalapeño (I removed the seeds, but it wasn’t spicy enough)

¼ cup onion (approx.)

¼ cup coconut oil

2 cloves garlic

¾ tsp salt

mix in blender

I loved the unique flavor that the coconut oil gave it, subtly sweet with a hint of the onion coming through. My jalapeño wasn’t very hot, so next time I think I’ll only remove half the seeds. There isn’t any vinegar in this dressing, so it needs to be spicy.

It will get thicker in the refrigerator, because coconut oil, like olive oil, solidifies at cold temperatures. In the picture above, it looks like guacamole, because I had just taken out of the refrigerator.

Why these ingredients?

My client couldn’t really tell me why she didn’t like it, and I know she loves avocados, so I guessed that the Greek yogurt was too tangy for her taste and overpowered the avocado. Since I can’t have dairy anyway, I switched to almond milk. Either way is healthy.

Raw vs. Cooked

I used fresh veggies rather than hot sauce for two reasons. One is because almond milk is blander than yogurt, and fresh tomato, onion, and jalapeño would have stronger flavors.

The other is because raw vegetables offer more nutrients than cooked. When these same ingredients are cooked to make hot sauce, the enzymes they contain are destroyed. The body uses enzymes to help break down and absorb food. As we get older, our bodies aren’t as effective at producing its own enzymes, so raw fruits and vegetables are needed to help the body get the nutrients it needs.

For those trying to lose weight, it becomes a matter of making every calorie count. If you can get more nutrients for the same amount of calories, you will be less hungry later. The hunger mechanism is not only triggered when deprived of calories, but can also be triggered when deprived of nutrients. So it’s possible to eat enough calories and still be hungry, because the calories we’re consuming have very little nutritional value. Put another way, the more nutritional the food, the less we need to eat.

Coconut Oil

Both olive oil and coconut oil are good for you in different ways. Many people think coconut oil is bad, because it’s a saturated fat, but what they don’t know is that it’s a medium chained fatty acid, and can be converted to fuel by the body as fast as carbs without raising sugar levels. Most fats are long chained, and take longer for the body to digest. What this means for people who are trying to lose weight is that it speeds up the metabolism. Here’s interesting article about how it was used in the 1940’s as a cheap way to fatten cattle, only to find that it made the cattle leaner.

I use coconut oil, because of reports that it helps Alzheimer’s, and since I have a family history of it, I’m hoping to prevent it. There are no studies yet that substantiate these claims, but I have a client who feels that it’s helped with what his doctors call pre-Parkinson’s tremors. So far, it hasn’t hurt, and I do feel more energetic. I even lost a couple of pounds. I don’t eat it everyday, just in recipes that I think it would taste good in. And to me, this is one of them. Olive oil and avocado didn’t sound good to me. I use olive oil in so many other things. A change is good. It’s not good to eat the same things day after day.

Superfoods

This is a popular buzz word lately in the health and fitness industry, because, as I was saying before, being healthy is about making every calorie count, not counting calories. Superfoods are foods that are nutrient dense for the amount of calories they contain proportionately. In other words, an avocado might have as many calories as an order of fries at Jack in the Box, but it’s nutritional value is much higher. The internet is full of superfood lists, and you’ll probably find avocados on every one of them. I love them.

My friend, Joe, likes them in his smoothies. I decided I had to try that. Wow, it’s like drinking a malted milk shake: so creamy you could eat it with a spoon.

Here’s an Avocado Berry Smoothie recipe:

½ avocado

½ berries (I usually use blueberry, but recently discovered that strawberries are good, too)

3 tbsp hemp seed (equals 10 grams of protein)

1½ cups almond milk (more or less depending on how thick you like it)

dash of cinnamon (to taste)

stevia (to taste)

Enjoy!

avocado berry smoothie

logo copy

Faith, courage, insight, and creativity, like a muscle, need to be exercised. As a personal trainer, I can appreciate the importance of exercise. There is a group of muscles referred to as core muscles that act as stabilizers for the skeletal frame. They’re usually smaller in size and atrophy faster than the larger muscles, like hamstrings or quads. Most injuries occur when these muscles get weak and fail during physical stress. Faith, courage, insight, and creativity are part of our emotional core. We need them to endure during mental stress to keep our emotional frame work healthy. Anyone that is wanting to be successful at making life style changes in diet and exercise to improve their physical health, will need to have a healthy emotional core.

What does emotional health have to do with whether or not we’re successful at loosing weight? Well, let’s start with faith. Obviously, you need to have faith in yourself to succeed, but you also need to believe that this endeavor is worthy of your best effort, a worthwhile cause. Next you need to have courage to overcome the doubts and set backs. “But, I’ve failed so many times before.” is one example. Insight is needed to be able to see what your potential shortcomings will be, like “I crave sweets and hate doing cardio.” And creativity is how you will find ways to get past these hurdles, like “I love dancing and will try new desert recipes that use fruit rather than sugar.” This formula can be applied to anything you want to be successful at, not just exercise and weight loss.

There are more important areas of life that will require the flexing of these mental muscles, – relationships, family, spirituality – so exercising them is vital. The more successful accomplishments you have, the stronger they become, but first you have to start with the easier exercises and build them up, just like your workouts.

A client said to me the other day after finally being able to do a certain exercise she couldn’t do before because of weak core muscles, “I really like how you say we’re waking the muscles up.” There are neuro-pathways to muscles that get “sleepy” and sluggish when not used regularly, and my job is to find ways to wake them up.

As I was thinking about what to name this blog, I remembered what my client had said earlier that day. I thought about how we have to wake up the mental core sometimes, too. It prompted me to go back to a series of life coaching exercises that I worked back in 2008, and found this “mission statement”: My mission is to awaken the courage, insight, and creative abilities that have always been in me, and use them to communicate the things I’ve been learning along my journey. Six years ago when I wrote this statement, I knew that these abilities were weak and needed to be exercised, but I feel like my client who was finally able to “find” her muscles, that I’m just now starting to “awaken the sleeper.”

This blog is a continuation of my exercises and mission statement. The drawing of the emerging butterfly was created at the same time as my mission statement, and has now become my business logo.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26 other followers