Tag Archives: yoga

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Stay Fit

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s list is inspired – yet again – by my move.

My new house is located considerably further than my old house to either of my children’s schools. And so, for someone who was already walking quite a bit (we don’t own a car), I’m now walking even more. Which got me thinking about fitness.

Let me preface this by saying that I’m not a fitness freak. I’m not naturally athletic. (My best sports are billiards and ping-pong). Nor am I neurotic about food (it may be one of the *only* things I’m not neurotic about.) And yet, I lead what most people would term a fairly health lifestyle.

Here’s how I do it and how you can too:

1. Only eat sweets at night. I’m a fairly rule-bound person, which means that when I want to commit to some course of action – be it blogging, exercising or reading the New Yorker – I tend to set rules for myself. Not rigid, you-must-do-this-or-you’ll-die sorts of rules. More like guidelines. With sweets, my rule is “Only eat them at night.” I don’t know when I came up with this rule. But somewhere along the way I decided that as someone with the dietary preferences of an 11-year-old boy, I’d be better off setting some kind of arbitrary limitation on my sugar intake. And saving sweets for the evening works really well. Because that daily dose of Ben and Jerry’s is something I can look forward to all day long.

2. Pretend you have food allergies. OK, I don’t really do this because I don’t need to pretend. My son has a host of food allergies which means that there are all sorts of things that are off-limit in our house. But if I were trying to attain a healthier diet, I might pretend that I was similarly constrained. Because you end up eating much more healthily when you start paying attention to food labels. Take junk food. Most processed food – potato chips (crisps), cookies (biscuits) or pretty much any form of cake – has eggs and butter (not to mention a host of other items.) I have nothing against eggs or butter. But my son is allergic to both. Which means that almost all of the dessert items we stock on a regular basis (save my precious Ben and Jerry’s) are “vegan,” because only vegan items are free of eggs, milk and butter. So we tend to stock a lot of pareve cookies in addition to things like sorbet and dark chocolate. While your first instinct might be to say “gross,” go ahead and try it. Some are, indeed, gross. But some are plenty tasty, like these organic chocolate rice bars. Yum!

3. Build your work-out into another weekly routine and commit to it. Yes, yes. I know what you’re going to say: “But I’m not self-disciplined enough to do this!” I hear you. I don’t like working out either. So the way I “trick” myself into working out regularly is to build my work-out into a different routine in my life that isn’t optional:  taking my son to school. Two or three times a week – when it’s my turn to take my son to school – I make sure that I wear my work-out gear. (Hidden Fitness Rule Number One: getting dressed to work out is half the battle.) That way, after I’ve dropped him off, all I need to do is pop on the walk-man and off I go. After all, I still need to get home, right? Might as well run. Obviously, this particular strategy won’t work for all parents. Some may need to get on a bus or train to go to work. (To them I’d suggest: try cycling to work.) Or maybe your child’s school is right around the corner. (Pretend it isn’t. See #2.) But you get my drift:  figure out some non-moveable piece in your weekly schedule and make that anchor your work-out regime.

4. Sell your car or get an eco-friendly one. Ok, now we’re moving into more radical territory. I’ve come out before in favor of abandoning the automobile in favor of biking. It’s smart for your body and smart for the environment. It’s also really terrific for your kids, who – without the habit of getting strapped into a car seat – will learn how to walk long distances (and have the calf muscles to show for it!) I do realize that this isn’t going to be realistic for everybody, especially Americans. If you can’t quite manage doing without a car, then at the very least please try to have an eco-friendly car. Someone in our new neighborhood has an electric car and just the other day we walked by while they were charging it. So cool!!

5. Partner with someone who values fitness. I’m genetically predisposed to be on the thin side of things. But I’m quite certain that I’d be a good 10 pounds heavier than I am (and a good deal less healthy) if I weren’t with my husband, who really values being healthy as an intrinsic good. Before I met him, I never even considered combining different grains in my breakfast cereal. (Hidden Fitness Rule Number Two.) He’s also the person who got me into yoga. But one of the many great things about a long-term relationship is that you continually learn from your partner and grow. So choose wisely, in health as in so many things!


Image: Cereal with walnuts and cranberries by .imelda via flickr under a creative commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Confront Pain

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I went to see a neurologist last week. I suffer from migraines. And while they aren’t nearly as bad as those endured by some of my friends – i.e. I don’t vomit, I’m not light-sensitive, etc. – they aren’t pleasant.

I really should have done this awhile ago. My migraines have been steadily increasing in frequency and intensity for several years now. But you know how it is:  you need to go see your G.P./primary care doctor, get a referral, and then block out the time to actually deal with the problem, rather than just suffering through.

But because I really didn’t want to overdose on Ibuprofen, I finally took the plunge and went to see a specialist. (I also finally broke down and went to see the dentist about a different but equally persistent problem I’ve been having with my teeth.)

If – like me – you’re avoidance-prone where pain is concerned, here are five reasons not to ignore the problem any longer:

1. It won’t go away on its own. Rather, it will just get worse. In the case of my teeth, it turns out that I wasn’t just clenching – as I’d long believed – but grinding. The dentist could actually show me where I’d worn down my front right canine tooth so that it was no longer pointy, but flattened out from grinding so much over time. That’s not good, especially since we all know that smiles are key to a happy marriage.

2. The fix is often quite simple. I think one reason that many of us put off going to the doctor to address an ongoing problem is that we fear that the fix will either not exist (why bother?) or be too complicated (requiring many more time-consuming doctor’s office visits.) And sometimes that’s true. But a lot of times, you just need a new medication (or mouth guard). That proved true for me in both cases. So it’s actually more efficient to go early to the doctor, rather than spending all that money on painkillers that don’t actually do the trick.

3. Pain feeds on itself. I have a pretty high threshold for pain. Which is why I tend to wait until a limb falls off before I go and see a doctor. (Even as I write this, I have a pain I’m ignoring in my upper left shoulder – a reminder that I ought to be stretching!) But even if it’s manageable, pain tends to feed on itself. It makes you tense. You become irritable. It’s distracting. You sleep less well. (The National Sleep Foundation reports that 2/3 of chronic pain sufferers experience sleep problems). So it’s better just to take the plunge and eliminate the pain effectively once and for all.

4. It can lead to other positive changes in your life. As you know, I’m a big believer in yoga for all sorts of reasons. But in addition to the fact that my life coach told me to do it, another reason that I do yoga is that physical therapist I saw for my Piriformis Syndrome told me that he thought it would help. I’d already done yoga when I saw him, but had stopped because of the pain in my, um…ass. He reminded me that yoga would actually help control that pain, not aggravate it. So I resumed yoga, and it turns out he was right.

5. You get ideas for blog posts. When I was in the neurologist’s office last week, we talked about what I do for a living. I actually joked with him that he should “Stay tuned for a post on visiting the Neurologist.” Et voilà!

Image: Headache by ehaver via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Sabbath Saturday: Five Things I Gained From Taking Saturdays Off

A month ago, I committed myself to testing out a new personal resolution: I would no longer work on Saturdays.

I defined work quite broadly for this purpose. It encompassed anything electronic (e.g. email, Facebook, Twitter, RSS feeds) as well as conducting interviews and, of course, writing. And because I’m more of an abstainer than a moderator, I gave these things up for the entire day, not just for a few hours.

I promised that after one month, I’d touch base to let you know how my attempt to celebrate a secular sabbath was going and whether I thought it was really doable. And I’m pleased to report that it was not only doable, it also gave me a huge happiness boost, in ways that I both did and did not expect.

That’s not to say it was easy. There was not a Saturday that I wasn’t tempted to do at least a bit of work. But there also wasn’t a Saturday that I wasn’t glad that I had decided not to.

So here are five things I gained from taking Saturdays off:

1. I relaxed. My main goal in taking Saturdays off was to bring a few of my favorite things (cue Julie Andrews) back into my life: specifically, reading The New Yorker and going to yoga. Of those two – and somewhat surprisingly – yoga ended up getting relatively more air time than did The New Yorker (which is only surprising because I don’t need to leave the house to read The New Yorker.) But I think something about assigning myself Saturday as “yoga day” motivated me to go down to the yoga studio and sign up for a 10-class pass. And once I did that, going to yoga was not just pleasurable…but automatic. And now it’s part of my (new and improved!) Saturday routine.

2. I was more focused with my children. If you’ve ever attended a parenting seminar, one of the first things they’ll tell you is that if you really want to have quality time with your kids, you need to stop multi-tasking. Back when I worked full-time – in an office – I was actually pretty good about switching off work when I was with the kids. Once I became a part-time, work-from-home parent, however, all that went right out the window. But in the last month or so, I’ve actually sat down and focused on my kids for hours at a clip without feeling the need to simultaneously (fill in the blank): do dishes/check my email/scan the newspaper/etc. One day, my son and I actually took out the chemistry set that he’d gotten for Hanukkah – (which, to be honest, I’d sort of filed away mentally under “great educational gift that will probably never see the light of day” ) – and – gasp – used it. And the more I focused on the kids and didn’t try to get 12 other things done simultaneously – the more relaxed I was with them.

3. I re-connected with old friends. One of the big changes that has come with taking Saturdays off is that I’m now back in touch with old friends. Close female friendships are a big predictor of long-term survival and success. Back when I was still living in the States, I used to call my friends during my daily 45 minute commute home from work in the car. (I know, I know. I could probably be arrested for this now.) But it was a reliable, daily interval when I knew that I could make those calls. Now that I don’t commute, I’ve lost that window. Compound that with a time change that’s anywhere from five to eight hours, and over time, I just started calling my friends less and less. Until now. Now that I’ve given myself leave not to use spare time on Saturdays to jump on the computer, I can usually find 30 minutes somewhere in the day to call a friend back in America. And it’s been really great to re-connect.

4. I went shopping. For myself. Yes, I realize that this isn’t such a great admission for most people, but I am not a natural shopper. And so – even when I desperately need something, a pair of new boots, perhaps…a bra…heck, even some new socks – I will always opt to get some work done, rather than go out and shop. No more. Because I’ve now given myself permission to shop on Saturdays. In the past month, I’ve purchased some running shoes, a new jacket, some earrings…even a colorful scarf to brighten up this dreary London winter.

5. I’m more productive. Finally, taking Saturdays off has also helped my productivity. I would often drag myself to the computer on Saturday – not really wanting to wade through my inbox but feeling like I ought to “because I had the time.” Now, in contrast, I think about Saturdays as “my time” – a chance to re-charge those proverbial batteries. And then, when I do sit down on Sunday morning to tackle that cluttered in-box, I actually have more energy.

*****

Here’s a piece I wrote on Friday for PoliticsDaily.com about Tony Blair’s testimony before the Chilcot Inquiry on his role in the War in Iraq.


Image: Chemistry Outfit, No. 1, 1947 by Chemical Heritage Foundation via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Celebrating the Sabbath: Making Saturdays *Me* Time

I have an announcement to make:  I’m going to start celebrating the Sabbath.

No, I’m not getting in touch with my inner Jew. (For the moment, I think I’ll continue to remain Jew-ish rather than Jewish.)

I’m afraid it’s a much less lofty goal than that. I’ve decided not to work on Saturdays anymore (read: no blogging, no email, no Facebook, no Twitter) so that I can focus more on myself. Or – to put it more accurately – I’d like to designate Saturdays as a day for doing things outside of work that also make me happy.

Yes, I know it’s a radical concept. But as Colleen of Communicatrix fame points out with characteristic wit and insight, it’s really hard to find time for the things we wish to prioritize in our lives unless we make room for them. She’s turning all of January into December so that she can take stock, clear the decks and plunge in with some new projects. Back in November, I took a self-imposed vacation so that I could send out my novel to agents.

The break I have in mind for Saturdays is somewhat different. The above projects are all about carving out space to move forward on the work front. What I have in mind is moving forward on the life front. For as I sat in a Viennese coffee house over the holidays and reflected on my life, I realized that in my never-ending quest to get on top of my to-do list, two things that  bring me true happiness had both fallen by the wayside:   doing yoga and reading The New Yorker.

You see, this is how my mind works. If something gets deemed a necessity in my life, it gets done. If it’s deemed a luxury, it may or may not get done. But if it does get done, that likely only happens around 11:59 p.m. on a Thursday evening with half an eyelid open and the corresponding amount of energy. And because I had begun labeling both yoga and The New Yorker “luxuries,” they just weren’t happening anymore, at least with the regularity that’d like.

So I’m making a change. For the next month – and I’m telling you this because one way you signal a commitment is to give yourself a time-line and say it out loud – I’m going to experiment with assigning myself only two jobs on Saturday – going to yoga and reading The New Yorker. My hope is that if I can do just those two things (with anything else a bonus), I’ll not only be happier, I’ll actually be more productive when I do return to the computer. If this strategy goes well and proves realistic, I’ll commit for the year.

Of course, I’m hoping that this new routine will incur other benefits as well. To wit:

*more face-to-face parenting, rather than shouting commands over my shoulder as I hurtle through my RSS feed

*making a dinner that does not involve something out of a jar from Tesco

*quality time with my husband so that we can watch more DVD commentaries and listen to Garrison Keillor together

*actually playing all those board games that I bought for Hanukkah (BTW: Settlers of Catan? Totally worth it…)

And who knows? Maybe we’ll even make it to synagogue one of these days…

*****

On a much more somber note, here’s a piece I did for PoliticsDaily.com about the ongoing drama surrounding the theft of a sign from Auschwitz.


Image: The New Yorker Fugitive by Rakka via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Alumni Magazines: Why Do We Read Them?

Hi, there.

Yes, it’s me. I’m  back from my self-imposed vacation. Not nearly as relaxing as I hoped. But yes, I did the deed (and have a killer tan to show for it!) Just kidding.

I’ll be posting on Wednesday about what I learned while I was away. But today, I’d like to turn my attention to an entirely different matter:  alumni magazines and why we read them.

You see, while I was “on vacation,” I went to yoga one day. And because I arrived early, I began reading a magazine, as I often do. But I got so engrossed in what I was reading that the instructor actually had to “instruct” me to put the magazine down. (Yeah, I’m also the sort who fails to notice all the “silent zone” signs posted around the building. The first time I ever did yoga I walked blithely into class blathering away into my cellphone…what can I say? I’m a yoga convert, not a natural.)

As it happens, I was reading my college alumni magazine, the Brown Alumni Monthly. There was this fascinating story about a woman named Wendy Walker who ran away from home the summer before college because she’d had a falling out with her parents over getting engaged to her high school sweetheart. The story was all about how she very nearly never made it to Brown. And I got so caught up in trying to imagine not having gone to college at 17 in order to get married, that I failed to notice the hush that had settled in over the yoga studio as people quietly assumed their lotus positions.

Then, after class, a complete stranger walked up to me and said: “Are you reading your alumni magazine?”

“Yes.”

“I hate those things,” she said.

“Why?” I asked, intrigued by her over-share. (As an American, I frequently strike up conversations with complete strangers in London, but rarely find the favor returned.)

“I think they’re so phony. You read them and everyone sounds so great, but then you talk to your friends from college and everyone’s depressed and miserable.”

“They are?” I thought, but kept it to myself.

But her comment got me thinking. Why *do* some people love reading alumni magazines and others hate it?

I read them for stories like the one I just mentioned, because I find it exciting to live vicariously through other people’s lives. (Needless to say, they also motivate me to try on alternate careers…i.e., what would it have been like if I’d moved to LA to become a television writer?)

But I could easily imagine reading them to derive a sense of shadenfreude (e.g., “Ha! I knew he was a loser!”) or to satisfy an erstwhile curiosity (“Wow! Did that couple who hooked up on Hawaiian night really end up getting married?”)

Or perhaps it has something to do with school spirit. I remember back in High School we were asked to design a poll about our school, and a classmate of mine asked the question “Would you attend a reunion in 10 years?” as a way to measure “school spirit.” So perhaps avid reading of alumni magazines is yet another indicator of high school spirit. (Yeah, I know. I went to Brown. Everyone has a lot of school spirit there…)

But the truth is, in my case at least, I love reading alumni magazines even for schools I didn’t attend. I used to teach at the University of Chicago and so I still get their alumni magazine. And even though – true to that school’s spirit – the magazine reads more like The Economist than your average alumni magazine, I still pore over it every month.

So today I’m trying to figure out what committed reading of alumni magazines is a sign of:  Middle-age? Nostalgia? Displaced cheerleader syndrome?

And I’d be curious to know:  Do you read your alumni magazine and, if so, does it fill you with fascination…disappointment…or dread?

 

*****

For those who are interested, here’s my piece in PoliticsDaily on the latest round of immigration reform in the UK.

 

Image: Fall 2008 Catalogue by Lower Columbia College via Flickr under a Creative Commons License

 

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Feel Beautiful

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

This week’s topic is drawn from a recent spread in RealSimple magazine’s August issue, which featured six famous women writers talking about what makes them feel beautiful. I’m not usually much of one for women’s magazines (probably that inner-14 year old who still feels woefully un-stylish), but a friend describes RealSimple as “a women’s magazine for grown ups.” And she’s right:  it’s a bit more serious, a bit more thoughtful and a bit less girl-y.

This article is a case in point. When asked about what makes them feel beautiful, all six writers responded in non-appearance related ways. Here is my summary of their answers (You can read the original here):

1. Feel loved. Anne Roiphe‘s answer boiled down to her late husband telling her – 10 days before he unexpectedly died-  that she’d made him a very happy man. Now, whenever she wants to feel beautiful, she reminds herself of the joy that comes from “the union with another being.” Not all of us are in happy partnerships, of course. But most of us know that someone – a sibling, a parent, a friend, a child – loves us unconditionally. Remind yourself of that.

2. Be active. OK, this sounds like a body-is-beautiful sort of tip. But the way that Winifred Gallagher frames it is all about the way in which staying active as we age makes us feel lively on the inside. That could come from the calm induced by yoga or the way in which Michelle-like biceps become a symbol of endurance and vitality. Either way, liveliness=internal beauty.

3. Invest in your work and your kids. No, this is not a cheesy throw-away line about work/life balance. Rather, I’m combining the thoughts of Asha Bandele and Kathryn Harrison. Bandele notes that work – especially writing – can be a way to simultaneously touch other people and discover more about yourself. Children do the same. They also, as Harrison puts it, enable you to “redeem an unhappy past.” Of course, some of us only focus on one or the other of these two goals, whether by choice, life-stage or circumstance. But both offer a deep satisfaction, especially – as these writers argue – for women.

4. Drink A Glass Of Wine. I can’t say enough about Lori Leibovich‘s post. Her own personal anecdote to her “scheduled-by-the-minute existence” is to drink some wine (just a glass!) each night after her kids go to bed. For her, it’s the equivalent of taking a long, deep inhalation at the end of a hectic day. Wine also allows her to connect – with strangers if she’s at a cocktail party, with her husband if she’s at home – and reflect on where she’s been and where she’s going. In short, wine=freedom.

5. Embrace Your Quirks. This is probably my favorite post of all. It’s written by Jennifer 8. Lee, who talks about her ugly feet. While she used to feel embarrassed by them, she now sees them as a source of individuality, character and…yes, imperfection. Love it.

*****

If you’re interested, head on over to PoliticsDaily.com where I posted yesterday on Gordon Brown’s painkiller “problem.”

Image: Friday feet 1 by JiJi via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

My Michael Phelps Moment: Why I'm a Yoga Convert

I got a compliment the other day that still has my head spinning. It wasn’t about my appearance or my kids or my blog. It was about my yoga.

All my instructor said was: “Your practice is looking so much better. Your feet, your legs…it’s a big jump up from where you were.”

Not exactly: “Wow! You’re the yoga equivalent of Michael Phelps! We’d like to feature you in London 2012!”

But boy was I in seventh heaven.

Let’s start with the fact that I have a crush on my yoga instructor. (Because, really, what’s the point of taking an exercise class if you don’t develop a crush on your instructor?) She’s warm and encouraging and has this lovely, mellifluous English accent. It’s like taking a class from a giant bottle of jojoba bath oil.

She’s also great at giving you step by step instructions. She’s positively obsessed with making sure that your three middle toes are lifted during all postures, something which turns out to be surprisingly difficult.

I was a reluctant convert to yoga, even though my husband and several close friends had been doing it for years.

Part of it was that the whole yoga gestalt seemed too groovy for the likes of me. You know – the chanting, the incense, the earnestness of it all. I felt like Lucille Ball every time I showed up for class.

I also had a hard time wrapping myself around the idea of slowing down, the idea that you would go somewhere just to stretch when you could be, I don’t know…running, jumping, or scaling high buildings in a single bound. It didn’t really resonate with me at first. It took me awhile to catch on that slowing down was the whole point.

It wasn’t until my life coach – yes, I have one – suggested that I do yoga that I finally gave it a whirl.

And now, like all converts, I’m a shameless proselytizer. Because yoga has been a life-altering experience for me.

It really does chill you out. I go only once a week – first thing in the morning every Thursday – but it clears my head, and body, for the rest of the day. And let’s face it: As we grow older, who needs to be more stressed out?

Yoga also helps with all of those niggling, aching, here-to-fore unnamed muscles that begin to plague us as we age (piriformis, anyone?) If you do yoga regularly, it helps you to avoid – or at least minimize – the costlier, more time-consuming path of physical therapy.

Finally, I love the feeling of trying something new – particularly something I’ve been skeptical about – only to discover that I really enjoy it.

So I guess the moral of the story is to stretch yourself (so to speak). And chill.

Oh yes, and get a life coach.

*****

In keeping with yesterday’s post about nostalgia for my first job, I recently rented The Wackness, a cinematic paean to the early 1990s and to high school romance more generally. It’s not a great film. And it was criticized in the press for over-doing its re-enactment of that particular era. But as someone who likes to take the odd trip down memory lane, I must say that I enjoyed it.

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Image: Girl Relax by Federico Stevanin via FreeDigitalPhotos.net.