This month marks 20 years of being a fitness trainer for me. With a worldwide pandemic, life certainly is very different, which requires adaptation and at the same time maintaining our health and fitness is more important than ever. Traditional chinese medicine acupuncture will soon be an additional service I offer. Fitness remains my first love and I very much hope to get back to teaching classes again soon.
It has been my habit to read every book that inspires me or comes highly recommended for many years now. I started keeping track of what I read over a decade ago when a friend asked how many books I read in a year. My answer was 20 and when I actually checked to be sure I was telling the truth…it was the truth and the number of books has only increased over the years. What is measured, improves-
Here are my book recommendations for this month:
Atomic Habits by James Clear-great book that breaks down how we can make effective small changes that add up to be consistent new habits that vastly improve our live.
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg-I cannot recommend Atomic Habits without also recommending this book, as it was also an excellent perhaps slightly more entertaining book. I very much appreciated learning about the ways our habits are shaped without our knowing.
The Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols-this book came to by attention based on this clip: https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/problem-thinking-know-experts In this current environment of rampant misinformation, I found this book to be helpful in comprehending how we came to this sad state of affairs. I laughed a few times and also realized the gravity of having large groups of people be led by their feelings and bypassing any form of reasoning. One of the recommendations Tom Nichols had for having a more functional democracy is for the American population to be more engaged in civics and understand their political system. Interestingly, just before finishing the book, I learned of A Starting Point platform which Captain America (Chris Evans) launched for the purpose of educating and engaging more of the population https://www.astartingpoint.com
Being in the field of health and fitness, it has been so disheartening to find so much misinformation being shared on social media. This podcast was incredibly informative in understanding the forces behind the phenomenon: https://rebelwisdom.podbean.com/e/can-truth-survive-big-tech-tristan-harris/
This TED talk is shorter: https://www.ted.com/talks/tristan_harris_how_a_handful_of_tech_companies_control_billions_of_minds_every_day?language=en
So we really must be mindful of where we place our attention, plus sanity doesn’t sell
It has been an entire month of staying home for me. Major unexpected life change. Surprisingly, I have been okay, but I wouldn’t call it fun. Seems we’re all searching for a new normal, and the answer is not forthcoming with much uncertainty still on the horizon.
I will use my voice here to encourage cooperation, kindness and peace. In my limited interactions with people this month, I’ve seen plenty of the unpleasant side of humanity. In the age of information, we now have a culture of armchair critics and experts who feel their knowledge gained from social media or the news is enough to warrant their incessant judgement of others. Believing that you know better than everyone else is a sign of ego leading the way. No one has any experience in handling a global pandemic, caused by a virus with some semblance to the common cold with potential lethal effects, so logically, people with education in this field, doctors and scientists need to be the leaders to interpret the situation. Of course there will be differing opinions with the ideal being discussion and collaboration.
I’m about to enter practice in traditional chinese medicine, which is considered as alternative health. I will declare that I believe in integrated medicine that would be the purpose of advancement of human knowledge-to learn and create innovative solutions, with collaboration being most effective. We all have a choice every moment to take a step towards being peaceful.
Our daily in life in Canada changed very suddenly a couple weeks ago with the closing of schools and businesses. Having seen the lockdown that happened in China a couple months ago, it seemed implausible that we would see such restriction of freedom here in North America with our cultural norms being so different. When I saw the news of lockdown for friends in Italy, I learned there is no discrimination for a virus. This is a global issue that will be resolved most effectively with the collective cooperation of humanity as a whole.
The field of health and wellness involves connecting with and being around groups of people. Traditional chinese medicine which I’m about to start practicing involves physical touch for diagnosis. It has been a real adjustment to learn and accept that work I know as essential to being healthy is considered a health risk at the moment. All human contact is viewed as a potential health risk for now. How will this affect our psyche in the long term?
How do we cope with our world being so suddenly disrupted? Surely, we will be distracted on some level and we need to find a way to bring ourselves back to balance. The best way to optimize emotional, mental, physical balance and health is to focus on what is within our control. Top priority being how we utilize our time. Depending on our field of work and family situation, we may be busier than usual, adjusting to working from home or completely out of work with time on our hands. For all situations, we need to own our time and cultivate acceptance for the present moment.
Here are some mindful habits I recommend to feel more at peace at this uncertain time:
- Practice meditation daily, any form for any length of time. I’ve made it a habit to start and end the day with meditation with additional short pieces at sunset and 3 minutes at 9pm daily to join in a collective meditation with friends around the world.
- Prioritize sleep. With a pandemic illness circulating around the world and no treatment available, the defence is to be as strong and healthy as you can. Sleep is crucial to having optimal health and wellness.
- Limit the amount of news or social media you consume as it can affect your emotional/mental well being and focus. I decided to stay away from one form of social media and notice feeling much better.
- Get into a consistent hand washing habit and sanitize your smart phone and computer keyboard with alcohol frequently
- Maintain healthy eating habits-drinking water, eating veggies and fruit daily, minimizing caffeine intake, and moderate alcohol intake
- Get fresh air and physical activity daily. We have limited access to fitness facilities at the moment and we’ll need to be creative with the resources and space we have for now. A yoga mat is sufficient to practice yoga, some weights, gliders, tubing, anything that works in your space for strength training.
- Be creative, try something new! Cook, dance, draw, garden, sing, write, anything that inspires you. Take the opportunity to work on something you’ve always meant to.
- Most importantly connect with family and friends any way we can, practice gratitude together and reflect on how fortunate we are to be Canadian and we are all in this together with the world.
Teaching more group classes I notice January can bring more people into the gym in developing a new habit of exercise. Exercise is a lifelong habit I believe in wholeheartedly. Last week I came to the conclusion I have a passion for exercise and physical education that can be humorously described as belonging to the ‘cult of sweat’.
There seems to be a general trend to ‘high intensity’ exercise which led me to look further at the research and various programs that are widely available. It seems the concept that short, high intensity interval workouts produced more ‘results’ of fat loss has been accepted as a most effective workout to achieve an ideal body composition and overall fitness.
‘High intensity’ exercises require you to utilize most major muscle groups of your body and some of the movements can be complex compound movements. For example, a ‘burpee’ requires a pushup, squat, moving into a plank, jump to a squat and vertical jump. Many new and seasoned exercisers need work to improve any of the above mentioned movements and the emphasis on ‘intensity’ allows for poorly executed movements.
There is no magic bullet to being fit and healthy. It requires commitment and regular practice to have exercise as a part of your lifestyle. Being fit, which I will define as being able to perform a variety of physical activities and movements requires BOTH cardio vascular and strength training. HIIT workouts can only be performed well once you have the fitness to sustain physical activity at a higher heart rate AND have developed the basic strength movement skills of squats, planks, pushups, lunges, etc.
Make it your goal to keep yourself healthy and moving well with a variety of exercise you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy exercise, you still need to move regularly to be healthy and maybe one day you will enjoy it.
Follow your bliss is an often repeated line and for good reason. We all need a compass to guide us and the question is what do we use as the compass?
A couple months ago I shared this quote with a friend:
If one advances confidently in the direction of his own dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours
Thoreau (I found it in a Wayne Dyer book)
My friend referenced a quote with similar meaning by Joseph Campbell, so I read the book the Power of Myth and came across:
Q: Do you ever have this sense when you are following your bliss, as I have at moments, of being helped by hidden hands?
A: All the time. It is miraculous. I even have a superstition that has grown on me as the result of invisible hands coming all the time-namely that if you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. When you can see that, you begin to meet people who are in the field of your bliss, and they open the doors to you. I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.
What is the bliss to follow? It is yours to know. I believe it is your own inspiration that you are guided to by following your inner knowing. It may not seem known to you yet, and it is a constant process in meditation to feel, hear, know, and see your inner compass. Your dreams can be guiding feelings.
This month, it came to mind many times how important it is to monitor and maintain our mental health. How can that be done? The practice of meditation gives us an opportunity to observe ourselves and our thoughts. If our thoughts are habitually negative, repetitive, obsessive or generally stuck on a loop(in the past or future)-it requires change, and the change may require the assistance of a professional should it prove challenging to make the change on our own.
Earlier this month, I heard the song Electric Love by BORNS and right away I thought of Gary Glitter Rock and Roll. I made a playlist with songs that had a similar drum and guitar line for my cycle class. In checking the song credits, I learned that Rock and Roll was featured in the movie Joker (which I had plans to see as soon as I learned I had just missed the premiere in Italy) and there was backlash due to Glitter being in jail for pedophile crimes. Glitter’s crimes were news to me and there is the view that his music should not be played, as that supports a pedophile in earning royalties. I had already made and shared the playlist for my class so I decided to go ahead and use the opportunity to raise awareness of the issues to child abuse and mental health, as we need every one to pitch in to improve the human condition.
I saw Joker last week and felt it was a well done film that provided a view of mental illness. There is a scene where Joaquin Phoenix in his brilliant performance as Arthur Fleck/Joker tells his social worker ‘all I have are negative thoughts’. While it is not possible to have only positive thoughts, it is an important practice for us to watch the nature of our thoughts and thinking:
Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
The above quote is credited to Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu and there are similar versions in the words of others. The practice is the same, we need to monitor our thoughts and thinking to steer in a healthy direction for our mental health.
A couple summers ago I took on the challenge of ‘you need a trainer’ from an awesome trainer J.S. The sessions were at a gym where they measured your body composition as a marker for progress. It was uncomfortable getting on a scale that ‘analyzed’ your fat content with an extremely lean trainer and I am a fit person myself! I was reminded that we are all so much more than a measure of percentages of muscle, fat, and bone. I posed the question to myself, if I were to assign percentages, what kind of a human do I want to be?
I want to be 72% Wonder Woman, 7% ridiculous 7 year old kid and the remaining 21% is always up for development and evolution. Having a concept of what you stand for as a human being is actually very important, as it will clarify your dreams/purpose, which will inspire you on how to lead your life on a daily basis. Once you know who you really are and what you want to become, then all the various challenges you face in life can be seen as various tests of character and strength.
Ps. 7 year olds are among the most enthusiastic humans I’ve seen, so great to keep our inner child alive and well
I love sweet treats and sugar. I may the only fitness and wellness professional to publicly share this feeling. There is a spectrum of healthy sweet treats and indulgences. I have been working with some gluten free banana bread recipes lately and decided to make these coconut flour bites in a silicone mini muffin mold. There is a much higher likelihood of success in gluten free baking if smaller pans are used. I have enjoyed these little treats that are low in sugar and high on taste as a bit of fuel on the go to keep me going between meals.
3 very ripe bananas, mashed
2-3 tablespoons melted coconut oil
1 tablespoon or less honey or to taste
1/2 cup coconut flour
2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together bananas, eggs, coconut oil and honey. Add coconut flour. Stir together with a wooden spoon just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips and walnuts. Spoon batter into mini muffin mold. Bake approximately 20 min or until tops are slightly brown. Cool and enjoy. Keeps in an airtight container for a few days refrigerated.
Recently a client gave me a piece of her favourite banana bread. Her absolute favourite recipe after many years of baking. Truly outstanding. She was kind enough to share the recipe and it comes all the way from Australia! I went to try the recipe and had eaten enough wheat in recent times, so I tried making it gluten free. First it was dry, then I forgot xanthan gum and on the third attempt, replacing the walnuts with chocolate chips, it turned out amazing! Here is the recipe, be sure to use mini loaf pans, the smaller volume increases odds of success, as gluten free baking can be finicky. Also check for doneness sooner than you think, as this banana bread goes dry very quickly while baking.
1 3/4 cups gluten free flour blend (I used millet, chickpea, sorghum, rice, banana and teff flour, more types of flour is better)
1.5-2 teaspoons xanthan gum
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3-4 very ripe bananas
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, stir together dry ingredients. In another medium bowl, mash bananas then whisk together with sugar, eggs and melted butter. Fold dry ingredients into the banana mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just blended. Stir in chocolate chips. Pour batter into 3-4 greased mini loaf pans. Bake for 20-30 minutes, checking for doneness at 15 min. Tops will be cracked, if a fork comes out sticky, the loaves can sit in the oven that is off for a few extra minutes to finish cooking. Enjoy at room temperature and store in an airtight container.
I was at a wonderful all inclusive resort last week in Rose Hall Montego Bay teaching fitness and enjoying some sunshine. I was planning on giving a quick nutrition talk on healthy eating on vacation and at the buffet, however the plans were changed. I still gave the talk plenty of thought and wish to share it here.
All you can eat buffet, does that mean we should eat all we can? The short answer is no it is not a good idea to eat all that you can. Food is for nourishment and enjoyment. Our body is rebuilt on a daily basis, so we need food as fuel. Eating excessive quantities of food essentially causes illness when there is too much food for your system to digest. There is a spectrum of how much food our appetite and bodies can handle. Ever notice how special occasions like Christmas and Thanksgiving can prompt us to eat extra? A buffet is a similar concept with even more choice and more volume of food. At an all inclusive resort, we have the privilege to choose just about anything we want. That’s the first concept to keep in mind, it is a privilege to have access to such a vast quantity of food, so the first rule is to minimize waste.
The most appealing aspect of a buffet is the huge variety and choice there is. I recommend taking a walk around the entire food selection and noting what seems most appealing to you. Often the desserts appeal most to me, which is something I have loved since childhood. A sweet childhood memory is going to look at the desserts right away and plotting out which ones I would try first.
Once you have taken it all in, carefully select the foods the have the most appeal to you. I like trying many different dishes, so I partake in a few bites of many things. I find inspiration in learning new flavours and cooking techniques. In addition, make yourself a proper meal that has a mixture of protein, fat, carbohydrates and most importantly, vegetables with the selection that is available.
There was one day that I tested out the possibility of eating all that I could, so I ate a bit extra. I noticed my appetite decreased the next day and then I continued to stick with the concepts I mention here for the rest of my holiday. I did manage to put on a pound or two even with daily exercise. An all you can eat buffet is a lesson in self mastery with a little self discipline.