It’s been an awesome September being back teaching fitness and yoga classes at the Toronto Athletic Club and the Adelaide Club. I really missed teaching classes and it’s so wonderful to be back doing something I love to do. 21 years of being in fitness and I still love it!
From my perspective, leading a group class is delivering an experience in education, having studied physical education. At a cycle class, I’m teaching some exercise physiology while sweating it out with you to some awesome tunes. At yoga, we’re working on breathing, being mindful and attuning to our bodies while moving through postures. At a strength, weights or circuit style class, we are teaching 8 basic human movements: squat, lunge, hinge, plank, push, pull, rotation and reverse plank. Each instructor will have a creative way of putting you through these movements and combining them for varying amounts of effort.
We’re happy to welcome everyone to any class. At the strength, weights, or circuit classes, it is in your own best interest to gain the ability to squat, lunge, hinge, plank, push, pull, rotate and reverse plank, as it will optimize the benefit of the classes and prevent injury. If we see any difficulty in performing these basic movements, we do our best to help you learn them and when that is not possible in the class setting, we recommend that you work with a personal trainer for a few sessions. The purpose of working with a trainer is to learn these foundational movements correctly, so you develop more ideal movement patterns, which is to your benefit for improved posture, ease of movement, and improvement in body composition. Yes, you read that correctly- improvement in body composition. It was only when I doggedly persisted in improving my squat range of motion that I finally developed some abs. It took me 20 years to get an acceptable squat and it sure has been worthwhile!
Think of coming to a class as constantly practicing and improving your squat, lunge, hinge, plank, push, pull, rotation and reverse plank. That is our goal as instructors and trainers to help you work out smarter, not harder. You will naturally work harder with better form!
I was offered an appointment for the SARS COV2 vaccine when I joined the team in March at the Adelaide Health Clinic. I have wanted to write this for some time and meditated on it until now. I know there was a level of frustration at the availability of the vaccines and I didn’t want to flaunt my privilege of receiving one earlier as a health professional. I also feel nervous about needles. I’ve become accustomed to acupuncture needles, but injections or drawing blood still has me squeamish. Without some help at the workplace, it is unlikely I would have been quick to get myself an appointment with a needle!
Like many people I was a bit cautious about the vaccines being developed and available in record time. We do not develop lasting immunity to coronaviruses, which is seen by repeat infections throughout the lifespan of the common cold. Covid 19 is as easily transmissible as a common cold with potential long term or lethal consequences where we don’t know who gets very sick, which makes a vaccine highly useful. Fortunately, I learned that these vaccines are do not offer sterilizing immunity the way the measles vaccine does, which allows us to not get measles. It seems a reasonably miraculous achievement to me, a vaccine that prevents severe illness. Here’s some further info on the immunity these vaccines offer: https://dalewharrison.substack.com/p/covid-vaccines-confer-no-sterilzing
We had a major family disagreement over the Christmas holidays when I did not press my mom to get the vaccine when she was hesitant and refusing. At the time, the vaccine was not yet available and if we weren’t going to be the first in line, I figured we could easily observe the many who wished to be first in line to get more comfortable. I didn’t know when I would get a vaccine, but had been weighing the pros and cons, coming to the decision that is was best to get the shot for the benefit of others and myself. I also felt it is my duty to do so as a health professional. I work with people and I need to take every step possible to prevent passing illness to people I interact with. Plus, I miss teaching cycle classes the most, which is a higher risk activity. See this study from Hawaii where we learn of how the illness is transmitted. https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/70/wr/mm7009e1.htm Getting the vaccine is a personal choice and civic duty at the same time. It is ‘experimental’ and we live in a part of the world that has this privilege.
So what happened with the shots? I had the Pfizer vaccine first and I felt slightly woozy with slight fatigue for a day. My second shot was Moderna due to the supply being allocated for younger people and I chose to go ahead with it to comply with public health efforts. I was ill for a day with a mild fever, lightheadedness, no appetite, fatigue and transient aches- like an illness I have not experienced before, seemed like getting a controlled case of covid. At the time, I was sent some info that the mRna vaccines cause spike proteins to be stored in the uterus and ovaries, which I believe is misinformation after looking at the scientific source material. Here’s some explanation of the pathways: https://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2021/01/21/mrna-vaccines-what-happens In short, the vaccine goes into your arm and circulation- through the lymph system into your armpit, then mainly liver and spleen and circulating throughout the body.
When you are ready to get the vaccine, I advise being as well rested, well slept and well rested as possible to give yourself a better response, as you are asking your immune system to do some work.
We all know that 7-8 hours of quality sleep is ideal for our physical, mental and emotional health. How many of us have struggled with sleep? This is a struggle that most of us will encounter with varying degrees of frequency. Habits are a major component to our sleep along with awareness of stressors, and what we need to do to unwind at the end of the day for restful sleep. I have a flexible work schedule, so I’m not too attached to specific routines, although habits are always a priority. For sleep, I find it is very important to have routines that let your body and mind know you are preparing for rest and sleep. It could be as simple as having some herbal tea, brushing your teeth, washing your face and a little reading. Anything that helps you relax at the end of the day is helpful, since sleep is a letting go process.
Here is a sleep meditation that I have enjoyed and shared (it’s ok if you fall asleep within minutes!):
Modern life comes with electricity, plenty of ‘artificial light’ and screen time. Prior to our ability to have light on demand beyond sunset, humans needed to keep to what sunrise and sunset provided. There seems to be some variance in what times we feel best and this can be looked at with this questionnaire:
Keeping to a schedule where you feel best and rely on an alarm clock minimally will improve your sleep quality, energy level and general well being.
The general advice for good sleep is to stop screen time an hour before bedtime, sleep in a cool, quiet, dark room, have your dinner well digested and stop caffeine intake before 3pm. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, insomnia, is differentiated between inability to fall asleep, waking in the night and being unable to fall back asleep, and general unrestful sleep. Some people tend to feel hot at night, others cold. Some enjoy their dreams and others are disturbed by the types and amount of dreams they have. Some need to urinate more than once in the night. Some wake far too easily and find their sleep restless. Some sleep for 8 hours and wake up foggy and lethargic. Ideal sleep is being able to fall asleep easily and wake 7-8 hours later refreshed and full of energy. This may not happen too often for some, but there is always hope that sleep can be improved. TCM acupuncture is very helpful for improving sleep, as it helps to calm the nervous system and treat the underlying conditions that cause poor sleep quality.
All of us have different perceptions of sleep. Our society values productive work, so sleeping minimally can be a badge of honour. Some people insist they need only a minimal amount of sleep. Others like taking sleep aids sometimes to a fault, since the body becomes less sensitive to any sleep aid over time. Mother’s Little Helper, anyone? Some of us can sleep on planes and through various noises, but no snoring, please! I have observed in myself and have had many clients report their sleep is less sound around the full moon, so there is natural variance in sleep quality. Longer daylight hours in the summer months brings longer waking hours and less sleep for the season. Winter is conducive to hibernation. Anyone raised kids? That’s a phase where sleep is likely deprived!
Sleep quality is also something we perceive differently. I generally sleep well, although I work at this and have tried all sorts of sleep aids to improve sleep. This is not medical advice or endorsement of any product, just sharing of knowledge of remedies tried.
Mother’s Little Helper is a tea available at Davids Tea. It is a blend and contains valerian, which has not worked for me in other formulations, but Mother’s Little Helper works well for me.
SleepyTime Tea by Celestial Seasonings- this is a classic formulation that has a relaxing effect perhaps tied in with the ritual of having a cup of tea, and I prefer this tea over others.
Vitamin D- I started taking vitamin D at night after dinner in March and have found it to be helpful for higher quality sleep
5 HTP- a serotonin and melatonin precursor, it helps with restful sleep
Chinese herbs- I have found various patent herbal formulations to be tremendously helpful in being able to stay asleep more soundly. The herbs work best with some professional guidance, where a TCM practitioner is able to assess your condition and constitution.
Wherever you are in relation with sleep, it is a most important health habit to prioritize, as it is the time your body regenerates itself. Quality, restful sleep makes life good!
This is a question that does not have an easy one size fits all answer. Regular exercise is necessary for health, as it maintains and improves our circulation and breathing while working our musculoskeletal system. All of our joints have an optimal range of motion and the body is very much use it or lose it in function.
Specific exercise was not necessary when we had to hunt and gather our own food. The work in chasing down an animal and gathering plants for food provided plenty of natural physical activity. We still have activities of daily living today, but that is dwindling with time spent sitting in front of a computer screen, the vast variety of prepared food and modern gadgets, as vacuuming can be done with an automated device!
I’ve been asked many times in my career how much do you exercise or you must work out every day? The answer is I make an effort to be active daily. Anywhere between 20-60 minutes of some form of physical activity daily, is my commitment. It could be a walk, weight training, yoga, running, tai chi/qi gong or a spin class. Personally, I like walking to a specific destination or walking to get food, so it is like working for the food at least a little. Find out what motivates you to take that walk, hit the weights or do a few yoga poses- making it easy for yourself to complete the task regularly will build the habit. The key is to complete any amount of activity regularly- 5-10 minutes is better than nothing. It’s important to see yourself as someone who exercises regularly to take care of themselves. For the purposes of health and longevity, light to moderate intensity exercise is enough, which is also the healthy living guidelines of traditional chinese medicine.
Of course, once we get into a regular habit of exercise and have some specific goals, it becomes possible to overdo things. Injuries or lingering pain are usually a sign of overdoing exercise in terms of your current capabilities. Pushing through is generally not a good plan, since it typically makes the injury worse. Speaking from experience, it is best to seek care sooner than later, before the injury worsens. Any activity that you are not accustomed to doing will require a bit of training. It may seem strange, but after a long period of inactivity, you will need a bit of time to adjust to even walking longer distances. The pandemic has likely left many of us myself included a bit less active and it will take some training to get back to our previous fitness levels.
In answer to the question of what is a healthy amount of exercise, I think it is safe to say some physical activity daily is ideal. The type and intensity of the activity is a different story. For health and longevity purposes, a mix of aerobic exercise, strength training and energy cultivating exercise like yoga or tai chi is ideal for optimal health and wellness.
I’ve tried a few different split pea soups in my time, sometimes they are very tasty and other times not great. I’ve tried to make split pea soup myself a few times and have failed miserably with hard peas after a long cooking time. Long cooked, hard split peas are difficult to digest, highlighting the point that food needs to be cooked well to aid digestion. I looked through cookbooks, and various websites to finally learn that it is best to soak and cook the peas before adding them to the soup. In the pre cooking process, it is likely the peas turn into mostly yellow mush, so the soup turns out like it has been pureed.
Having more plant based foods is a healthy choice, so here is a quick and easy recipe for a flavourful yellow split pea soup:
1 cup yellow split peas, soaked overnight
1 onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper (seeds removed), finely diced
1 tomato, finely chopped
1 small piece of ginger peeled
2 tablespoons coconut oil
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp curry powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 lime, juiced
In a small pot, bring soaked and rinsed split peas to a boil in 1.5 cups of water, simmer until the desired tenderness is reached.
In a large pot, heat coconut oil and lightly sauté onions, celery, carrot and jalapeño until tender, then add chopped tomato. Season with a little salt. Add cooked split peas and a bit more salt. Add vegetable broth, curry powder and ginger, bring to a light boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Stir in lime juice and season to taste. Enjoy topped with some chopped cilantro
My family went apple picking and I benefitted from the fruits on their labour. I asked for mutsu/crispin apples since that is the apple chef Doug Penfold uses for the most amazing apple tart ever at Chabrol. With these hand picked apples, I’ve been making some very delicious gluten free apple muffins. I find gluten free baked goods do not keep very well, so this recipe makes only 6-7 muffins. Enough to enjoy warm or kept until the next day.
1/4 cup chickpea flour
1/4 cup millet flour
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp xantham gum
Dash of cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, nutmeg and salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup melted butter
1/2 cup sour cream
2 small apples or 1 large apple diced
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
In a small flour, mix together flours, baking powder, baking soda, xantham gum, spices and salt.
In a medium bowl, whisk together egg with sugar then whisk in melted butter and sour cream until well combined.
Add dry ingredients to the medium bowl with mixed wet ingredients. Stir until just combined. Stir in most of the diced apple.
Spoon batter evenly into 6-7 muffin tins either lined or greased. Press a few of the remaining apple chunks onto the tops of the muffins. Bake for 20-25min or until golden brown
September marks the end of summer and the start of fall, a time of transition. In years past, I’ve seen people get more serious about their fitness at this time. Things seem different this year, so it is a good idea to work on the habit being active any time of the year. It’s not necessary to be serious, just get moving more regularly.
I’ve continued reading for fun and always for learning and last weekend I read an article where Warren Buffet highly endorses this habit as a way of going to bed smarter each day. Here are some books I recommend:
Ready Player One by Ernest Cline-a fantastic read that reminds me of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory set in a not so distant future, which seems quite plausible at this time. Many thanks to my friend K who gave me this book years ago
Doughnut Economics by Kate Raworth-a serious and interesting book that gives insight on the assumptions made in the economic models that drive our society and self interest. We can all do our part to regenerate the earth and care for others.
Chaos Point 2012 and Beyond by Ernest Lazlo-this book was on my list for some time and the themes very much echoed those in Doughnut Economics in how we must consider our impact on the environment and our consciousness.
I’ve recommended the Centre of Humane Technology podcast and this month there was a film that featured Tristan Harris, which shows the impact of technology on our well being, the Social Dilemma is a must watch film:
Last week, a client recommended blue light glasses to use while on the computer. These glasses (available online and at Staples) have made such a difference in making computer work easier on my eyes. It’s kind of amazing to purchase a device that ‘protects’ me from technology, go figure.
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
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.