Going the Distance? These Three Plant Foods Will Get You There

Lately, “The Distance” by Cake has been T’s favorite song.  It seems rather fitting as he continues to test his own endurance daily (along with ours….)

Looked at objectively, life itself is an endurance sport.  And while our own individual marathons may look very different, I think we can all agree that things tend to go smoother when our bodies are properly fueled for the trek.

It’s no wonder that many extreme athletes swear by the power of plants.  Athlete or no, plants seem to be tailor made for increasing our ability to do just about everything.  Why not use them to our advantage in the arena of everyday life?

The following are a few plants that can help you soldier on, whatever the day may bring:

Bring On the Beets: This intensely pigmented veggie is not just for Dwight on “The Office” anymore (bears, beets, battlestar galactica….).  Many athletes now supplement with beet root juice to raise nitric oxide levels, which may enhance cardiorespiratory endurance.  As a bonus, nitric oxide stimulates the release of other feel good chemicals within the body (warning: you may be smiling with red-stained teeth…).

Gather Up the Greens:  Similarly to beets, leafy greens have the ability to raise nitric oxide levels.  They are also rich in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and provide powerful defense against inflammation.

Have Some Hemp: Packed with protein, hemp seeds contain BCAAs (branched chain amino acids) which may promote muscle growth and prevent the loss of muscle tissue.  The hemp plant is synonymous with feeling giddy and its seeds are no exception: they too boost nitric oxide levels.

For more tips, tricks, and musings on health, head over to the Joyful Gym Rat page on Facebook!

There may have been some hemp seeds in those waffles…..



It’s Not Failure, It’s Feedback

The title above may sound a little like pop psychology, but it also applies to the areas of health and fitness.  In regards to muscle building, I’ve been known to tell my clients “Failure is success!”(insert generous eye roll here, if you are anything like my clients….)

Working a muscle to fatigue (or failure) encourages new muscle fibers to grow.   It also requires a certain amount of focus and curiosity.  Mindlessly pick up a heavy iron barbell and bad things can happen.  It’s not simply the struggle that promotes growth, it’s the integration and comprehension of new movement patterns.  It’s through mindful repetition that familiarity grows and creates a new norm in the body.  Trial and error is not optional, it’s required.

Working with balance is tricky because losing balance is essential to improving it (and let me tell you my clients love this fact…).  The only way to train muscles to support the joints (as in standing on one leg) is to use those muscles to support your joints (by standing on one leg).  Wobbling (safely) is a great opportunity to notice how we can engage our muscles in different ways to remain upright.  Unfortunately this can only be achieved through wobbling (insert more eye rolls, and a few expletives here too…).

Have I ever mentioned I’m into meditation? (insert more eye rolls, and maybe a shutting of your laptop…).  Anyhow, this same theory can be applied to meditation.  What I failed to understand before I began a practice is what a practice actually was (not a constant state of blissed-out inner peace like I was hoping….).

It’s watching your thoughts and coming back to a single point of focus, like the breath.  Like teaching a dog to walk on leash, in the beginning the mind gets distracted by every passing squirrel thought.  The work is in noticing the mind has wandered and coming back to the breath.  Over and over again.

Eventually, the dog may learn to leash walk well and only get distracted for a hot second by a squirrel running up a tree.  Similarly, after practicing meditation for a bit, your mind may only get distracted by a few thoughts rather than running through all the lyrics to “Ice Ice Baby” (I don’t know, I grew up in the 90’s when music was fun but unfortunate….).

In all of the above examples, there are some times when you should get curious only after you stop right away.  While possible feelings of embarrassment over looking like a weak, wobbling, mind wandering fool (silence that inner critic, will you?) should never stop you, the following should:

-No Pain, No Pain: There is nothing to gain from pain except injury.  Productive and temporary discomfort (like “feeling the burn”) is normal.  Sharp, shooting, or intense pain is not.

-Notice Your Nerves:  While holding a balance or stretch for a period of time (like in yoga) tingling in the limbs is usually an indication that a nerve may be compressed.  Should you feel tingling, stop, readjust, or switch to a different pose altogether.

-Take Time With Trauma: When meditating, realize that traumatic life circumstances my require professional help before you are able to sit with them in practice.  While meditation naturally brings up a variety of emotions, you should never feel retraumatized by your practice.

For more tips, tricks, and musings on health, head over to the Joyful Gym Rat page on Facebook!

T says keep it up, you are doing great!



Enjoy Some Instant Gratification

Lately I’ve been reading and writing about exercise for healthy aging and longevity.  Though the carrot at the end of the stick approach may work for some, most of us prefer gratification of the immediate kind.  Luckily this post is for you.

Aging gracefully (and gratefully) is a respectable goal, but the truth is there are many variables we can’t control.  For example, last Saturday while driving back from yoga class with my mind on my produce and my produce on my mind (seriously, my salad making skills have gotten really good lately…) my breaks cut out and I crashed into the car in front of me.   Luckily I was only going about 25 miles an hour (I swear I was not speeding to get to that salad…) and no one was hurt.

I am grateful that T was not in the car, that the driver of the other car was extremely kind and understanding, and that this did not occur as I was driving Mario Andretti-like on my way to teach a yoga class the previous morning (no matter how early we all rise the morning is never quite long enough….).

The great thing about healthy habits, like getting plenty of movement, is they not only benefit in the long term but also in the short term.

I truly hope that everyone reading this post lives a full, rich, and centenarian life.  However, if you just can’t wait that long to see results, lift yourself up (off the couch?) with these immediate benefits in mind:

-Prompt Peppiness:  Thanks to endorphins , even short bouts of exercise can boost mood.  Next time you’re feeling low try 20 minutes (or more!) of heart pumping movement for a natural pleasure fix.

-Instant IQ Boost: Exercise helps boost cognitive function, both over the short and long term.  Next time you are stumped by a problem, take a walk (or run!) around the block to gain some mental clarity.

-Current Confidence:  Channel your inner bad ass to conquer a workout and you just might carry that sense of badassery into the rest of your day.

For more tips, tricks, and musings on health, head over to the Joyful Gym Rat page on Facebook!

T doesn’t think much about longevity, he has his mama for that….(picture taken by J.  Cute now but had I known he was doing this I would have been yelling for him to get down….)

Birthdays, Breakdowns, and Buddhist Monks

As I mentioned back in this post, I have a strange tendency to get real introspective in May.  Last weekend, as Mother’s Day approached, a familiar happysad feeling descended.  It’s happened for the past 5 years but continues to take me by surprise (there is still some part of me that won’t let go of believing I should always feel like the “after” photo in an add for antidepressants….).

In typical control freak fashion, I decided to cut these feelings off at the chase: super early morning run (for the endorphins) followed by yoga (increases GABA) followed by some pretty strong ceremonial cacao on an empty stomach (anandamide, theobromine, more socially acceptable than cocaine…).

T has this book called “When Sadness is at Your Door” in which a little girl nurtures a cute blue character (the embodiment of sadness) for a day by doing nice things with him until he gradually disappears….I took another approach and attempted to kick sadness’s cute blue ass.  Needless to say it didn’t work.  (Side note: those with sensitive stomachs might not want to start the day with a boatload of ceremonial strength cacao….just sayin’….).

I spent most of Saturday analyzing what I could have done better and ruminating over every wrong turn I’ve made from birth until present.  I decided my life lacked meaning and needed more depth.  I proceeded to express this to J ad infinitum.

Enter Sunday: Another early morning run, another yoga session, a more reasonable green juice followed by an adaptogenic latte.  Feeling better, I decided on a whim that we should hit up Mother’s Day service at a local church.

The reverend relayed a story about a tree with white ribbons tied around its branches to represent babies whose lives were cut short.  J and I looked at each other perplexed.  We knew that tree.

As we thanked her on the way out she recognized me from participating in a hospital’s grief training during which I told my story.  For the rest of the day and into the next I felt connected to something greater, though I can’t exactly say what.

Enter Tuesday: T lost his s$%^.  Hating on me from morning until night, with a few moments of epic cuteness in between (are random moments of cuteness the reason for human survival?).

At my lowest point, near tears on the phone with my sister while a screaming nude T pelted me with underwear (at least they were clean?) I felt connected to exactly nothing.  Purpose be damned.  Today was about trying to survive.

Survive we did, and once the (undies) storm passed, things became a bit clearer.  On my podcast feed the following day an interview with Zen Buddhist monk Haemin Sunim popped up.  With a title like “How to Accept Yourself in a World Striving for Perfection” I knew it was my jam.

Listening to the podcast while walking Dee in the perfect spring weather, a deer emerged from the woods.  A beautiful sight from afar but upon closer inspection his entire face was covered with cutaneous fibromas (I am not a vet and did not know this at the time…thanks Google…).

He seemed to stare at us though I can’t say for sure since his eyes were completely covered over.  He did not move an inch as we walked past.  Something about this juxtaposition made me feel connected again, though I still can’t say to what.

If you’ve read this far and you are wondering what the heck any of this has to do with health and fitness I will leave you with this quote from Zen Buddhist Monk Haemin Sunim:

“Only when we move our body and get engaged can we actually change our life.  So for example people who are depressed or having difficulty with relationships, rather than constantly thinking about these things, just take a walk around and just move your body.  You can do yoga or you can run or you can do swimming.  Anything that is going to help you.  When we have a nimble and very soft body that’s when we begin to think very flexibly.  When our body is stiff and tense then our mind also becomes tense.”

I could probably just write the sentence “Move your body.” and hit post 52 weeks a year, but isn’t saying it in 764 words so much more fun?

For more tips, tricks, and musings on health, head over to the Joyful Gym Rat page on Facebook!

T teaching me his latest yoga move last Saturday, a random moment of cuteness on an otherwise imperfect day….