Mile High Pilates and Yoga

Strength, Flexibility and Balance for Every Body

Life-Long Learning

An article that caught my attention this week (called “Lessons of Discovery” by Madisyn Taylor) talks about how “none of us are born with an instruction manual and that learning lessons is a lifelong journey”.  With the recent arrival of two new grandchildren in our yoga/Pilates community, it reminds us also that there is no instruction manual for parenting either.  We all seem to be muddling through our lives yet somehow we have impossibly high expections of ourselves.  The article also points out that whatever stage of life we find ourselves in “we feel like we ought to know more about who we are or how to live”.  In fact,

We may even berate ourselves for making the same mistakes, or for just not ‘getting it’, whatever ‘it’ may be. We wonder how our lives would be now, if only we had ‘known better’.

But the article goes on to remind us that “inherent in our being born is that we are here to observe, learn and grow. . . [which means] there will be mistakes and misadventures along the way.”

As we get older we can sometimes feel like we are more set in our ways.  Change, though constant and always around us, is often greeted with difficulty.  A dear friend of my mother’s used to say “People don’t change as they get older, they only get moreso.”  The ruts we’ve created in our lives run deep.  They can seem impossible to surmount.

Recent brain research, however, shows that the neural pathways we create never stop.  For many years it was thought that the brain would stop finding new ways to work as we age.  But it is now known that this is not true.  We are always capable of learning and it is never to late to learn something new.

As the article cited above points out “it is only natural that we may sometimes become overwhelmed, especially when the lessons keep coming”.  I know in my own life I have experienced many “lessons” that I would have preferred not to know if I had a choice.  Life has a way of handing (sometimes hurtling) experiences at us when we least expect or want them.  We are usually clueless about how to deal with these experiences, but circumstances force us to find a way.  So we begin to create our own instruction manual. Some of you may recall the Joni Mitchell song about Woodstock.  There is a line in it that I’ve never forgotten:  “I don’t know who I am, but life is for learning.”

So next time you think that you are too old to try yoga or Pilates it might help to remember one more quote from Madisyn Taylor:  “It may be overwhelming not knowing the way, but there is no proper [right] way, it is what you do along the way that matters.”  In other words, it is the journey that counts, not the destination.  A recurring concept in this blog.  Sure there are descriptions of various moves in both disciplines (yoga and Pilates), but these “instructions” also describe the benefits of each move.  You can find your own way to derive those benefits.  A way that works for your body as it is right now.  It might not look the same as someone else’s way, but it will be part of your own personal “instruction manual”.  Just give it a try and see if you can create some new neural pathways that work for you.  Learning something like yoga or Pilates may seem like a minor detail compared to some of the lessons life is currently throwing your way, but learning to deal with the small stuff can give you the confidence you need to believe that you can handle the big stuff, too.

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The Art of Reception – Asking for Help in Our Self-Sufficient World

Recently a friend of mine told me an amazing story.  A few years ago she was diagnosed with cancer.  Her treatment called for daily trips to Rapid City, an hour’s drive from her home each way.  My friend and her husband owned a campground at the time and this occurred during the peak of the summer season.  Compounding the stress, my friend’s mother-in-law also became ill and was unable to stay by herself, so she moved in with my friend and her husband for their assistance.  Between the stress of having cancer, daily drives for treatment, tending to the campground business and caring for her mother‑in‑law, my friend quickly became overwhelmed.  She found herself in a position that most of us find untenable:  she needed to ask for help.  Not knowing where to turn she reached out to her mother‑in‑law’s church.  The church ladies went into immediate action.  They organized daily rides for my friend to her treatments and arranged for someone to stay with my friend’s mother‑in‑law so that her husband could be free to tend to the campground business.  Although a certain amount of stress remained inevitable, the load was greatly reduced by all the shoulders who were willing to contribute to its support.

All of these people were out there holding their skills ready, waiting for someone to put them to use.  When any of us hears of someone else’s crisis our first question is usually, “What can I do to help?”  We are so willing to give when someone else needs help. Yet we are often so afraid to display our own vulnerability that we don’t give anyone a chance to put their talents into action and help us.  We’re all really good at giving, but we are lousy receivers.  For whatever reason we deem ourselves unworthy of assistance, or, perhaps worse, we think we can do it all ourselves.  But here is something to think about:  being unable to receive denies the giver a chance to shine.  Do you really want to refuse someone else that opportunity?   Being a poor receiver is disrespectful of the giver.  Thinking of it this way it is hard to believe that I could possibly say “no” when offered help.  Yet I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to trying to do everything myself.  Where does this notion come from?  Why do we think we need to be so self-sufficient?  Wasn’t there a time in human history when we recognized our interdependence?  Didn’t humans originally form tribes for the purpose of helping each other survive?  When did we lose this concept?

Although I’ve certainly been through hard times in the past, I’ve especially been reflecting on these notions through this past year  So many people have been so genuinely willing to provide whatever I might need night or day – sometimes before I even know I need it.  And yet still there have been times when I’m tempted to stoically say, “Thanks, but I’m fine”. It has become a practice opportunity to remind myself that refusing means that I am in some way telling the giver that their gift is unworthy.  Looking at it that way, how can I possibly say “no”?  As Brene Brown has said, vulnerability takes courage.  She says, “Truth and courage are not always comfortable, but they are never weaknesses.”

We South Dakotans (although we are hardly unique) fancy ourselves as independent and self-reliant.  We are quick to point fingers disdainfully at anyone who appears to be irresponsible, unwilling (or so it seems) to take care of themselves, expecting others to do it for them.  Yet there comes a time in everyone’s life – everyone – when we need help.  None of us – no matter how well prepared or independent – can manage all of life without help.

Einstein said: “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe,’ a part limited in time and space.”  As part of a whole, we each have a role to play and we all need each other.

This is not something we should denigrate, but rather something to celebrate.  A chance to express solidarity with our fellow human beings, to recognize that we are all minute creatures “hurtling through deep space on this tiny rock called Earth.”

A recent article in Tricycle by John Tarrant, Director of the Pacific Zen Institute, talks about the concept of generosity and how necessary it is for each of us to do things for others.  He says,

“When someone gives you something precious it means that, beyond the usefulness of the gift, you are precious. The gift marks a moment when you are welcomed into the other person’s heart. . . . Generosity keeps faith with our appreciation of each other, it stems from a natural empathy with everything that, like us, has the courage to take a shape in the world.”

And, finally, a quote from Buddhist monk and author, Matthieu Riccard:

 “The notion of interdependence makes us question our basic perception of the world . . . Thus knowledge of interdependence leads to a process of inner transformation.”

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Getting Back to Full Strength

As many of you know, I have completed chemotherapy and am now working at getting back in shape.  At times it’s like a little dance:  two steps forward and one step back or, worse, one step forward and two steps back.  But this has become an excellent opportunity for me to practice some of the techniques I’ve been preaching throughout this blog.  Examples:  take it slow; start where you’re at and move from there; be patient with yourself; etc.  Someone commented to me recently, “Now you know what your students feel like!”  Yup – it’s been a good reminder.  So it has become clear that even though we are not all recovering from something many of us are still in the same boat rowing uphill and occasionally over rapids – that is, trying to get back into shape after a long hiatus.

There is good news and bad news about warmer weather:  the good news is it gets us outside doing things we haven’t done all winter; the bad news is it gets us outside doing things we haven’t done all winter! This past week I’ve been hearing various complaints about soreness resulting from over-doing long dormant activities – gardening, yard work, exterior painting, even cleaning (yikes!)  Those of you suffering from these ailments might want to take a lesson from our half-marathon training.  That is, we have worked up to it gradually, adding a bit more effort each week.  Our weather here is so unpredictable that it is easy to fall into the trap of wanting to do everything at once.  When you’re tempted to “swallow it whole” it might serve you well to remember the question “How do you eat an elephant?” and the answer, “One spoonful at a time!”

All of this applies to exercise, too.  Temper your expectations.  If you’re just beginning, or just getting back into it, or resuming an activity (like biking) that you haven’t done for a while, don’t expect to be perfect all at once.  You probably will not be able to just pick up exactly where you left off.  Ease back into it.  And be kind to yourself while you’re getting there.  Just getting out there and trying puts you ahead of all the millions of sedentary people out there who aren’t even trying. Give yourself a pat on the back and just keep at it.  In the Tricycle article “The Progress Question”, the author, Ken McLeod states:

We call [it] “practice” for a reason. Any form of practice consists of doing something over and over again and failing at it over and over again. Through this process, we gradually build the capacities that make it possible to do what we are practicing.

And one more thing that might help you as you ease back into classes or any warm weather activity – reacquaint yourself with the pleasures of child’s pose.  You can use it any time in a class but you can also use the concept as a metaphor for taking a break.  Here’s a great article called “Why I Fell in Love with Child’s Pose” that may help you find new meaning and more fully enjoy the little breaks you allow yourself.  Child’s pose is a gift.  You would happily give such a gift to someone else.  Just for today, give this gift to yourself.  You can always push yourself tomorrow!

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The Paradox of Fragility and Resilience

This week I’ve been reflecting on the ironic – maybe even paradoxical – duality of the fragility and resilience of life.  Life in general, but human life in particular.  Here we are:  minute creatures

“all hurtling through deep space on this tiny rock called Earth.  I mean, really, think about it. Protected from the frigid galactic void of the Milky Way but by a blanket of air, held on the surface by gravity, whatever the heck that is, and here we are.”

That quote came from an interview at with Dr. Ira Byock, professor of medicine at Dartmouth and former director of Palliative Medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

It’s nothing short of miraculous that we survive anything.  We are tossed and torn, ravaged by disease, environmental insults, genetic mutations and all manner of plague.  In vain we try to maintain control over our lives – and the lives of others, our children for instance – yet the vast majority of forces in our lives are beyond our control.  This doesn’t even count what we voluntarily do to ourselves and to each other.  Seems like we are constantly inventing new and “better” ways to kill each other.

Still we continue to survive.  We pick ourselves up, find ways to repair or circumvent the damage and on we go.  Not all of us or all of the time.  And not forever.  But the odds we manage to overcome are quite literally amazing.  We all have stories of astounding feats of survival.  Generally, we have no provable (repeatable) explanation for any of them.  Even in the face of known and certain death, we cling to life:  “To life, to life, l’chaim”, sings Tevia in Fiddler on the Roof, even as he and his family and friends are being forcibly and violently ousted from the home they have known all their lives.

The following is a quote from another On Being interview.  This one with Dr. Sherwin Nuland, author of How We Die, referring to the inner workings of human beings:

“Here are these 75 trillion cells, and every cell has hundreds of thousands of protein molecules in it and they are constantly interacting with one another in what would appear to be chaos. And in fact, if you were to be able to lower yourself into a cell, you’d be terrified because it would seem so chaotic. If it had sound, you couldn’t live with it, it would be so noisy. And yet what is actually occurring is that these reactions are all counteracting threats to the survival of that cell. And I think that there is within the human organism. . . . an awareness of the closeness of chaos.”

Closeness to chaos.  Hmmm . . .  Yet Dr. Nuland goes on to say, “we are greater than the sum of our parts . . . our brains [have] developed a capacity for spirit, for seeking lives of integrity and equanimity and moral order.”

Resilience in the face of chaos.  Resilience despite the fact that we keep coming up with new and better ways to kill each other.  Resilience even when there are others all around us with whom we disagree.  All those disagreements seem kind of silly now, don’t they?  If they don’t, they should.

If you read through these blog posts, you may notice an ongoing thread – namely, ways in which we can at least try to maintain that resilience.  Our lives may be mystery, but one thing we do know is we will be here on this planet for a short time only.  We don’t know what’s going to happen during that time, but we can make some choices about how we spend that time.  If we avoid attaching too much significance to outcomes and just focus on process, we might even have a shot at being happy with our choices.  Following is from a recent Yoga Journal post:

“Think about it—you are capable of balancing the weight of your torso on two long supports, while smoothly transferring this weight from one support to the other, and all while maintaining a constant rate of motion and perfect balance. This simple motion requires the perfect coordination of hundreds of muscles large and small across your entire body. And that’s just walking!

The human body has over 600 muscles, many of which are too small, or too deep inside the body, for us to see. Hundreds of tiny muscles across the body work constantly to maintain our balance, stability, and precision of movement—all vital qualities for a healthy yoga practice.

Take a moment today to appreciate the amazing feats of coordination your body accomplishes in even the simplest of acts.”

Having recently had surgery I am intimately re-acquainted with the remarkable abilities of my own body, despite the abuse I’ve subjected it to.  Just think – I was knocked unconscious, cut open, kept alive by machines, had my insides extracted, etc.  Yet here I am writing this blog – alive and well (relatively, anyway).  Then in addition to those assaults on my body, I am having poison injected into my veins in an effort to kill rogue cells and, so far, I’m surviving that, too.  Pretty incredible stuff.  But it happens every day.  Sure, things go wrong.  None of us are perfect and, remember, we are fragile.  But still we take these chances, venturing into the unknown, because we believe that things can also go right.

So as you make those choices about how to spend your limited time here on earth, perhaps you might want to give some thought to focusing on and building your resilience.  Keeping mind and body strong, whatever that might mean for you as an individual, could be one way to do that.  The effort you make probably can’t hurt and it just might help.  If nothing else, it will bolster your confidence in your ability to handle the many challenges that life is going to throw at you, whether or not you’re prepared.


When Illness Happens to Healthy People

As you many of you know, throughout the years I have been a strong advocate of yoga and Pilates for maintaining health and wellness.  Now I find myself once again facing the prospect of dealing with cancer.  My first experience some 12 years ago was relatively mild compared to this one.  So some of you may be thinking “how could a health practitioner and advocate like Peg become so sick??” Or  worse, “why should I bother if illness may come to me whether or not I practice yoga or Pilates or even exercise regularly?”

Here are my responses:  First, illness or accident or anything unexpected can happen to any of us at any time.  If you are reading this and are over the age of, say, 20, it is probably safe to say that not one among us has escaped trauma during our lives.  All trauma is relative.  What may seem trivial to one can mean serious suffering to another.  The way we perceive experience is the way we internalize it.  We have all had difficult experiences.  The older we get, the more these experiences accumulate.  This is life.  These are part of what makes us who we are.

One recurring theme you may recognize in my writing is the constancy of change.  Everything is always changing.  The best predictions are guesses.  No one knows what the future holds – good or bad.  That’s assuming we still want to use those labels:  “good” meaning things we think we want to happen and “bad” meaning things we don’t want to happen.  All of which is, of course, very subjective.  None of this is to say that cancer is a “good” thing.  But it is what it is.  It has no agenda other than survival – just like healthy cells.  It’s not right or wrong or good or bad.  It just is.

During these past 3 weeks as I recover from surgery, I’ve been struck by the number of people who have told me how “good” I look.  This brings me to the second question, “why should I bother . . .etc.”.  The answer is simple:  if you want to survive life’s traumas you need strength, flexibility and balance.  Does that ring a bell?  It should!  These are the main benefits of yoga, Pilates and exercise in general.  And there are so many more.  In response to hearing how good I look I’ve been saying that I am a walking advertisement for the disciplines I advocate and try to maintain.   Something else you’ve all frequently heard me say – it’s never too late to start.  No matter where you are, you can gain in strength, flexibility and balance.  Just like any other experience, these qualities are relative also.  What’s strong for you may be different for someone else, but it is still strength.  All you have to do is start and then keep practicing.  Yet another sentiment I frequently express is how practicing yoga and Pilates will help you with all aspects of your life.  Perhaps my experience will help you to see how true that rea is.

None of us can escape trauma.  But we can learn to roll with the punches.  Or at least we can try.  It’s never easy, but fighting with reality doesn’t make it any easier.  Acceptance doesn’t have to mean giving in or in any way being happy about the state of things as they are.  All it means is that we acknowledge what we cannot change and move on from there.  We may not be very good at this and we certainly will never be perfect, but we can practice.  And each day – maybe each moment – offers a new opportunity to practice.

I am exceedingly grateful to the wonderfully supportive community of which I am privileged to be a part.  You all make my efforts at practice that much more significant and rewarding.  Thanks to all.

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and to endure what cannot be cured.”

BKS Iyengar

“A hundred flowers blossom in spring, the moon shines in autumn, there is a fresh breeze in summer, and there is snow in winter. If your mind isn’t occupied with trivial matters, every time is a good time.”

Wumen Huikai, “Zen Basics”


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Doing Your Best vs. Doing Your Most

A recent Yoga Journal article on backbends (The Compassionate Backbend by Kate Tremblay) talked about the distinction between practicing yoga for the purpose of achieving picture perfect poses vs. practicing for the purpose of attaining freedom of movement.  We’re all familiar with the former, but maybe we should instead be focusing on the latter.

“If you practice backbends intent upon eradicating aspects of yourself that you see as somehow ‘not measuring up,’ such as weak muscles, stiff joints, or protective insulation, you succeed only in beating yourself up. There’s no freedom on that path . .

If the discipline of yoga is to bring greater freedom, you must practice . . . in a way that accepts and accommodates your resistance—even values and honors it—while still letting you receive the intended benefits. The point of this practice is not to become someone else but to become more fully yourself.”

You can substitute any pose or other aspect of practice for “backbends” in that concept.  No matter what discipline you choose to practice there is always a stumbling block – something you wish you could do better but can’t because of some perceived shortcoming.  Perhaps this desire even causes you to envy someone else who is able to do whatever it is the way you wish you could do it.  But, like the quote above makes clear, this is the same as wishing you were someone you’re not rather that celebrating who you are.

Those of you who have attended my classes know that I often try to describe what I hope you will feel when you’re practicing certain poses.  Yoga and Pilates are both disciplines that aim to help you connect mind and body, movement and sensation, awakening body awareness.  If you can feel the movement, you’re achieving the benefit.  Your pose may look different from someone else’s pose, but that doesn’t make it any less beneficial.  And it is the right pose for you.  This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t challenge yourself.  But it does mean that you need to be mindful about how and when you challenge yourself.

The article talks about some of the simple stretches we do in class that feel so good.  You know the ones.  These may seem “especially pleasurable [since] you rarely try to reach beyond your body’s natural comfort level. You’re not trying to achieve anything in particular, just instinctively going for the relief and exhilaration”.  The good news is that you can do that in any pose – that is, go for “relief and exhilaration”.  But it helps to remember

“to accept only what is appropriate. You make a conscious choice not to take all you could, not to move into the fullest [pose] your body can manage, because you see value in holding back; you value the health and integrity of your body more than the [perceived] glory of a deeper pose.

This kind of restraint is so uncommon in our culture that it can feel quite unnatural. To embrace restraint, you might need to acknowledge how strongly it conflicts with the messages we regularly receive about what it means to be accomplished and successful. . . If you move into [your practice] without acknowledging [this] potential [conflict], doing your best can translate into doing your most. Not only can this lead to injury, but it can also sabotage the benefits of the practice altogether. If you want to give your [practice] your best effort . . .you have to remind yourself that success comes with taking only what you need from a pose—only what your body can appropriately use and no more.”

As I’ve said many times, what’s appropriate for your body can vary from day to day.  So doing your best on any given day may be different from what it was the day before, or what it will be the day after.  But if you keep practicing and do your best each day, you will get the benefits.  And I say that with confidence.

An article from Yoga Basics (Yoga During Times of Change by Megan DeMatteo) takes this concept a step further by suggesting that Child’s Pose is actually an “advanced [pose] . . .because it requires that we let go into the necessary gift of self care, something not easy for many of us.”  So next time you feel the need to stop during practice and give yourself a break, you can relax in Child’s Pose by reminding yourself that you are making an important contribution to your practice by executing this “advanced pose”.

A final thought from the song “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen (featured in a recent blog post by Parker Palmer):

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

Let the light shine in on your practice!  It is, after all your practice.  You don’t need to impress anyone.  When you begin to believe that, you will find the freedom that you are looking for.

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Drowning the Demons of Doubt

Some years ago I taught a business planning class to prospective entrepreneurs.  As they progressed in the process, the students would inevitably get discouraged.  The prospect for success would seem impossibly slow and daunting.  At those moments when the demons of doubt clouded all hope and enthusiasm, I would try to remind the disheartened to remember what led them to this path in the first place.  “Dangle that carrot!” was the mantra.  Whatever it was that brought you here, keep it right up front.  It’s still there; it just gets buried periodically and needs to be dusted off and re-illuminated.

This applies to exercise also.  Sometimes the workouts just seem too tough.  You feel like you will never master the moves.  Sleeping in instead of going to class seems really attractive.  Even sensible.  You can come up with a zillion good reasons why exercise just isn’t right for you.  It’s moments like these when you need to “dangle that carrot!”  Remember why you decided to take up exercise in the first place.  What were your goals?  In case you’ve forgotten them here are a few possibilities from Paige Wagner one of the blogs I read regularly.  She wrote about a client she had

“. . . who wore a bracelet with the word “cellulite” written on it. When she felt like stopping, she looked at that bracelet for a reminder that every step brought her closer to her goal of losing weight.

If you’re lacking motivation to finish your workout, use a visual reminder, like she did, or just mentally list your own goals:

  • I want to get stronger
  • I want to lose weight
  • I want to have more energy
  • I want to feel good about myself
  • I want to look good for my wedding/high school reunion/future

You can even turn it into a mantra, repeating silently “I’m getting stronger” or “I’m losing weight” with each step forward.  It may sound a little cheesy but, when you’re in the moment, the right thought can be the difference between quitting and succeeding.

If that list doesn’t resonate with you, here are a few more possibilities:

  • I want to move with less pain
  • I want to do things with my grandchildren
  • I want to improve my balance
  • I want to be healthier

Etc., etc.  I’m sure you can easily add your own goals to this list.  Progress may still feel painfully slow, though.  So instead of focusing on what you think you lack, try instead to see what you’ve accomplished.  Think about what you’ve already learned.  If you have attended even one class, you learned something.  Start there and build on that.  Anything you can do, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem, can be a practice.  So practice it.  Repeat it.  Do the part that you know and before you know it you will be able to add on to that.  According to Alycea Ungaro, another blogger I follow, “with repetition comes freedom. [You don’t] need bells and whistles or fancy tricks – just the freedom that comes with knowing a [few moves] well enough to look for new elements, details and inspiration from each move.”

So rather than demanding specific performance standards from yourself, as Alycea suggests try being “open to what happens when you move through your routines”.  You may be surprised to find that you begin to experience them with greater and greater confidence.  No matter where you are on the path towards your goals you can always go back to what you know and move from there.

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“Good” Workout Vs. “Bad” Workouts

This week I read a post in the Wildmind Newsletter about meditation, but I think the concepts can also apply to our practice of Pilates, yoga or any movement discipline we undertake.  So I’m taking the liberty of paraphrasing:  What is a “good” workout vs. a “bad” workout?  We waste a great deal of time making these judgments and worrying accordingly. The judgment is ultimately not about the workout, but really about ourselves and how we perceive our own efforts and abilities.  Maybe we think a “good” workout is one during which every exercise is performed to whatever specifications we demand of ourselves that day.  So it’s a workout that goes according to some preconceived notion or prescribed plan. But how many things in our lives actually go according to plan?  Or perhaps a better way of looking at it is how often does a well-layed out plan go awry? And what do we do when that happens?  When a workout doesn’t work out, we create stories about how we are not good at ______ (fill in the blank) or this practice isn’t the right one for us, or something similar. But this story is our own invention, so maybe we need to invent a different one:

With a bit more experience (assuming we don’t give up in the face of all those judgments) we may start to think that it’s the effort we put in that defines what is “good” or “bad”. We take into account that the conditions we’re working with change; sometimes they make [our practice] easier and sometimes harder. Imagine you go running. Some days you’re running on flat ground with the wind at your back. Sometimes you’re running uphill against a stiff breeze. The first of these runs is going to feel more pleasant (it’s a “good run”). But which of these runs is going to help you develop more fitness and stamina? The second one, right? So maybe it’s the [workouts] we struggle in that are really the “good” ones . . .

Think about how good you feel when you’ve completed something that you perceive as difficult.  It may take some time and effort to make that happen, but with a little determination you can find a way to your goal that works for you. Try being kind to yourself and have a little patience.  It is rare that anything worth having comes without at least some struggle.  But when you have that “aha!” moment of accomplishment, it is the best feeling!  Dangle that carrot.  You can reach it.

Expanding on the concept of patience with yourself and your goals, here’s something from Yoga Journal’s Daily Insight:

Yoga was originally developed to lead the practitioner to freedom from suffering and to realization of his or her Divine Nature. . .. It can be helpful, though, and even necessary, to set lesser goals along the way. . . These goals can help you to move in the right direction and provide you with valuable mileposts.

On the road to attaining your goals—in yoga and elsewhere in your life—you will inevitably encounter obstacles. Patanjali [recognized author of the Yoga Sutras, considered the guide book to the philosophy of classical yoga) refers to these as vikshepas and enumerates nine of them: illness, listlessness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, cravings, delusion, inability to progress, and instability in maintaining progress. Depending on your nature and the goals you have set, you will run into some of these more readily than others; but sooner or later you will come up against them all. How you meet these obstacles will affect how well you surmount them and what your state of mind will be in the process.

One does not need to understand the Yoga Sutras to recognize these obstacles. We all experience one or more of them on a daily basis.  That’s life!  It’s full of obstacles.  But you don’t have to give in.  Try being as patient with yourself as you would be with a child or a friend or family member that you care about.  We are often so much more willing to give others the benefit of the doubt than we are to allow ourselves the same leeway.

So next time you are tempted to skip your workout because you are worried about how you might perform, my suggestion is to just show up.   To echo a further sentiment in the Wildmind post, I would assert that

any workout “you turn up for is a ‘good’ [workout]. Sure, there are some days it’s easier than others and there are some days you have to put in more effort. But I’d suggest that you regard the [workout] you do as being infinitely better than the [workout] you don’t do.”

If your performance doesn’t meet your expectations that day, chalk it up to experience.  Whether or not you realize it, your body learned something.  Allow your mind to learn something, too.

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More on Exercise and Aging

This week I read an article asking the question “Do We Expect Too Much of Our Bodies as We Age?”  You might read that title and think it gives you a license to get complacent.  “Yup”, you might think, “I’m too old to do ____________ (fill in the blank) anymore.”   But the article presents a different picture.  It is for all of us over-achievers who keep comparing ourselves to each other and to our former selves.  The article discusses our hope that we can reverse (cure?) the aging process by exercising.  This naturally creates frustration with the limitations we continue to encounter as we age.

The fact is, we are all aging.  Every day we get a little older, like or not.  Despite the fantasies of science fiction writers, time only moves in one direction as far as we know.  And with that direction, change happens.  None of us like change. Yet change is inevitable and constant.  One of the few constants in our world – like death and taxes.

So we know we’re getting older and we know we can’t do some of the things we used to do.  Or at least we can’t do them in the same way we used to do them.  So what are our choices?  We can sit and lament the things we wish could still do and beat ourselves up for our own incompetence.  Or we can celebrate the things we can still do.  Some of that inevitable change can be positive.  No matter how much you’ve lost, you can still make gains.  Maybe you won’t get back to where you were when you were 20, but you can improve.  All it takes is a little effort.  The more consistent that effort is, the more gains you will make.

According to the National Institute on Aging, it’s never too late to start and the benefits are numerous and ongoing.  Here are a few:

Being physically active can help you continue to do the things you enjoy and stay independent as you age.  . . In addition, regular exercise and physical activity can reduce the risk of developing some diseases and disabilities that develop as people grow older.  In some cases, exercise is an effective treatment for many chronic conditions. For example, studies show that people with arthritis, heart disease, or diabetes benefit from regular exercise.  Exercise also helps people with high blood pressure, balance problems, or difficulty walking.

In fact, “in most cases, you have more to lose by not doing anything.” (from “Exercise & Physical Activity – Your Everyday Guide from the National Institute on Aging”).  Consistency is the key, though.  Start slow and give yourself time to adapt.  Your muscles make gains from the rest between exercise sessions.  That’s why we sometimes get sore when challenging our muscles.  But that’s how your body gets stronger – by recognizing the need to address the new challenge.  To sustain those gains we need to create that muscle memory.  The best way to do that is like any other memory we want to promote – that is, by providing reminders.  In this case, reminders come in the form of continuing to engage in these activities.  That’s why we call it practice.  The more you do it, the better you get at it.  But getting better doesn’t mean becoming 20 again.  Start where you’re at and move from there.  Fighting with reality will only make you miserable.

Returning to the National Institute on Aging, it’s never too late to start.  Even if you have difficulty, you can still benefit from exercise and movement.  The four types of physical activities recommended include those emphasizing endurance, strength, balance and flexibility.  The good news is both Pilates and yoga incorporate all of the above.  Both disciplines can also be easily modified to accomodate physical limitations.  Also, both will help with whatever other physical activities your life requires – like climbing stairs or gardening or putting the groceries away.

So don’t wait . . . just get moving!  You can do it!  But be kind to yourself.  Compassion begins with yourself.  Idea Fitness Journal recently printed an article on “How to Help Middle-Aged Women Improve Body Satisfaction“.  One reader (Karen Geninatti of Geninatti Gym and Fitness in Carlinville, Illinois) responded to this article by describing her “no negative comments about yourself” rule in her classes.  She also tells participants “never to say anything to themselves or about themselves that they would not say to their son or daughter”.  Amen to that.

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Get Happy – Join a Group!

Recently, I’ve been following a series called “100 Days of Lovingkindness” from Wildmind’s Meditation Newsletter .  Every day for the duration of the series an e-mail is sent out with a description of ideas and practices that the reader can try and, hopefully, incorporate into their lives.  Here is an excerpt from Day 66 – Appreciation is Contagious:

When. . .you become happier, . . . your friends become measurably happier because you’re happy. (This has been scientifically verified).

And your friends’ friends become measurably happier.

And your friends’ friends’ friends become measurably happier.

Happiness spreads outward into the world through your social network like a virus — although a rather beneficial one.

This may all seem rather incredible, but . . .the evidence for this [from a British Medical Journal article wonderfully titled “Dynamic Spread of Happiness”] . . . is based on a huge study carried out by Harvard Medical School and the University of California, San Diego.

Professor of Medical Genetics James H. Fowler and social scientist Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, have been studying social networks for years, using data from the ongoing Framingham Heart Study, which has been tracking the health, behaviors, and attitudes of tens of thousands of people since 1948.

The study measures many aspects of health, including happiness. Participants have been asked how likely they are to agree with questions like “I feel hopeful about the future” and “I feel happy.” And the study also tracks social networks, allowing the researchers to see how attitudes and behaviors spread.

Fowler and Christakis have found that if you have overweight friends, you’re more likely to be overweight yourself. If you have friends who don’t smoke, you’ll find it easier to give up smoking. If your friends are unhappy, you’re more likely to be unhappy yourself. And, crucially, if you’re happy your friends are more likely to be happy, and if your friends are happy you’re more likely to be happy.

In fact, if you’re happy you increase the chances of an immediate social contact becoming happy by 15%. And this effect ripples out into your friend’s friend’s relationships.

So it pays to surround yourself with healthy, happy people.  One way you can do that is by coming to a class!  (Yup – you knew I’d find a way to bring you back to that.)  Classes are full of people striving to improve their health and general outlook on life.  Be a part of that effort!  It’s contagious!  According to this study, just by showing up and being part of the group you have at least a 15% chance of becoming happier and healthier yourself.  And if your own well-being is not enough incentive, your association with healthy people may enable you to spread that health to everyone around you.  The more of us who participate, the more this spreads.  Just think what we can all accomplish!

The study also implies that if you’re not feeling particularly happy or healthy, you’re likely to pass those feelings on as well. So maybe these ideas will help you to just try rubbing elbows with a group that’s trying to improve their lives.  It can’t hurt and it just might help you feel better.  You don’t have to perform in any prescribed or specified way.  Just be there and be a part of the group.  If you keep it up, pretty soon all those you associate with might start feeling better, too.  What a concept!

Hope to see you all in a class soon!


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