Just Breathe

Life is full of stress. It is an unavoidable fact of modern living.

There are a number of negative effects to your body that are caused by stress. Since you cannot avoid it entirely, the only option is to get better at dealing with it.

One method is meditation, of which there are several types. The simplest of these is to close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Take a deep breath using your abdomen, and slowly exhale. Repeat. Add a mental reinforcement by imagining that each inhalation brings a calming sensation in and down – all the way to your heels; and that each exhalation sends stressful thoughts out of your body. Take at least five purposeful breaths before opening your eyes.

Try to practice daily, and make it easy at first by practicing when you are not particularly stressed out. That is all there is to it.

Control What You Can

There are things in life that are beyond our control. The feeling of powerlessness that grips at those times can be overwhelming, all-encompassing. It can make all action seem pointless.

In those moments, it is important to remember that despair is just a feeling. We still have the power to enact change in other ways. Do not let a feeling suck the positive energy out of life.

Circumstances being whatever they are; all is not lost. There are steps that can be taken to right the ship. If those fail, there is an S.O.S. signal and a life-preserver. Not everything is out of our hands. Do what you can, when you can; and let the rest be what it will.

Food for Thought 2: Toxins and Organics

We do not live in a pristine world. Our air, land, and water is polluted. It is an unavoidable fact of life that some pollutants will find their way from our environment into our bodies.

But we do have control over what we eat and drink. The more whole foods that we consume, the fewer additives and preservatives that we ingest. Remember that preservatives stop the breakdown of food, which is exactly what our digestive systems need to do to receive energy and nutrients from the food.

Food is even better for us if it is organic and/or freshly grown without the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers. The toxins in pesticides attack the nervous and reproductive systems. Synthetic fertilizes are produced from petrochemicals (oil), which our bodies cannot break down. Aside from being healthier, our bodies convert less reduced-toxin foods into fat!

So if you would like to be thinner and healthier with as little change to your diet as possible, switch to organic ingredients and use whole foods in your preparation as often as possible.

Positive Change

We are constantly changing. Experiences today make us different tomorrow. Our cells are changing, and so is the world around us.

Will I change? is actually: How will I change?

Since everyone has a different definition of what a beneficial change is, the first step is to decide what to improve.

The second step is to work on it. The more efficient practice that is put in, the faster the positive change happens.

That’s all. While obvious, it never ceases to amaze how many people expect changes to occur without any effort.

Words Matter

The words we use make a huge difference in how we think. This is due to the other attachments that individual words acquire over the course of a lifetime.

Some examples:

I have to quit vs I want to quit

I love it vs I enjoy it

Work vs Practice

Cognitive Behavior Theory teaches us that how we frame our thoughts will lead to different emotional responses from those thoughts. The emotional component of the thought may lead to different reactions or even the inability to act.

So when you want to accomplish something, keep it positive! Write the goal down, visualize achieving it, and keep the thoughts that surround it from becoming negative.

While the plan seems simple enough, it is not always easy. Negative thoughts tend to steamroll, but you can battle against them. Write any negative thoughts down and attach a positive response to them.

It often helps to think in terms of giving the advice to a close friend. We are often harsher to ourselves than we would be to others.

Own the Information

We all hear things. See things. Read things.

In this case, the things I am referring to are pieces of information and advice. They are readily available, especially when we surf the web. And we tend to trust them, not necessarily because of the qualifications of the source (although that definitely plays a part in it), but more so because of what we are hoping to find; what the knowledge promises to do.

We all know that reading something does not make it true. The same goes for internet video, or hearing a piece of advice from an unqualified non-professional. But it is not automatically false, either.

Any new information or advice should be listened to with a healthy amount of skepticism, regardless of what it promises to give you. In short, you have to own the information.

With the vast sea of information that is readily available at our fingertips, it is not hard to do. Google it. Or ask a trained professional from the field; many offer free consultations in the hope of gaining new business and answering questions is a good way for them to establish credibility and trust. (Just make sure you approach them in an appropriate setting; I will never give workout advice if I am out with my friends at a bar – that is my personal time.)

If qualified experts reinforce the information that you encountered, it is worthy of your trust. But if you start to hear conflicting opinions, take the advice with a grain of salt.

For When It’s Another One of those Days

Uh oh. It’s another one of those days…

We’ve all experienced them. Things just aren’t quite clicking how you’d like. Everything seems more difficult; it’s harder to keep focus. You know what you need to do, but it just feels impossible.

First, remember that your body is constantly changing. Hormone, nutrient and energy levels fluctuate regularly; so there is a good chance that the perception of increased difficulty is at least partially based on reality. In other words, sometimes it feels harder because it is harder.

On those days, you have two options. You can always just work on your stoicism and follow the patterns that you are used to. Consistent pressure will gradually mold a lump of coal into a diamond. Of course, that lump of coal probably does not feel like it has a lot of good days!

But there is another option. You can change up your routine. Try things that are out of the ordinary. Call it a working vacation, if you will. The reality is that there is more than one method to achieve your goals.

Move on to a different focus (We all want more than one thing out of life!); or adjust the order and emphasis of your efforts on your current focus. Either way, it removes the psychological comparison to days that felt easier while still allowing you to move forward.

Food for Thought #1

Most of us are familiar with the phrase – You are what you eat. In the modern world, the preparation of food has been elevated to an art form. Having watched a decent amount of cooking shows and visited a few very nice restaurants, I have to agree. But culinary achievements aside, I return to the subject at hand. You are what you eat.

But with animal factories, genetically-modified organisms, and industrial agriculture; should we not take this one step further? It would go like this:

You are what your food eats.

Many of us do not like to think much about our food beyond how it tastes, and that there are policies and procedures in place to ensure that it does not make us sick. We pay premiums for convenience, variety, the perception of quality, and above all, taste. Those pillars of selection dictate the goals of successful companies in the global economy. Until we, as consumers, raise our expectation of quality, we should continue to ask; what does my food eat? And then we should make informed decisions about our eating choices.

This is when it all changed for me

I was five weeks into my final semester of undergraduate studies when I underwent a major surgery. I had thought that I was in shape and healthy.. I exercised religiously and ate well. I just couldn’t understand why my body had failed. I had been following the conventional wisdom of the gym mentality; exercise for strength and endurance, eat to give my body the fuel and nutrients that it needed to rebuild stronger and better. Even when I didn’t feel like it or had better things to do, I went to the gym to grind out another workout. It took me a while to figure out, but in the end I wasn’t listening to my body, and what I considered organ failure at the time of the illness was actually a natural reaction to all of the things that I had been doing to myself. In my ignorance, I was asking for problems. And I got one.

But sometimes things happen for a reason. During the first few bed-ridden months of recovery, I began to read about health and nutrition to give myself a break from my scholastic pursuits (my teachers were very understanding and allowed my final exams to be the grades for their courses). I learned a great amount about myself during that recovery period, both from research and personal experience. As soon as my body was able, I began to rebuild. I slowly learned what I needed to do to rehabilitate myself, and more importantly I learned to have the patience to only do what I was capable of. Capabilities, of course, change over time. But learning to listen to your body’s internal dialogue is vitally important

Two very important things happened at end of that process. One was that I began to study martial art under a very capable teacher. I had always wanted to learn self-defense, but this was so much more. What I had thought to be the very end of my road to recovery became the first insight into how much further I could go; how training could stay fresh and exciting instead of falling into a tedious pattern of effort and boredom that it had been. The other thing that happened was that people started to ask me about exercise and nutrition. I realized that my obsession with the hows and whys of my body; the processes that led to my surgery and the methods that I had learned to speed my rehabilitation, had all culminated in a first hand knowledge of how to train others.

So I became a personal trainer. I now help people to become more capable and confident in themselves. The focus is often on reshaping their bodies, other times it is on being healthier, or accomplishing a goal that seems to be out of reach. Many of my former clients come back for a refresher course after a layoff, or when they want to conquer a new challenge. So whatever the goals, and however difficult things seem to be; I’m here to help. Remember; it’s only impossible if you refuse to try.


The Paralyzing Fear of Doubt

I have recently been devouring information from Tim Ferris, author of The Four-Hour Workweek and its accompanying blog. (If you have not read his book or listened to a podcast, I highly recommend it.)

While I cannot pinpoint which post it came from (I hope that one day I will remember to take notes..), he brought up a valuable point regarding action versus inaction. To paraphrase; when he is considering a new endeavor, he uses a simple question to get beyond the doubts that inevitably creep in.

“What is the worst thing that can happen?”

I mention this because I often have conversations with both friends and prospective clients about exercises and activities that they have wanted to do; but, for one reason or another, have not even tried.

That simple question that Tim asks himself helps to bring fears and doubts into the open. Once exposed, some of them can seem downright silly. Others that are more valid can be battled with an internal argument. Sometimes, particularly nagging points can be written down and argued against (I like using notepad on my desktop for it).

For instance, it has taken me more than a month to begin blogging again. (I will be sure to rework the best posts of my old blog for the readers here.) The reason that I had not started in January, was that I feared that it would not be any good. I’m sure that I will make a punctuation error, fail to convey my thoughts clearly; that it will not resonate with my intended audience.

Furthermore, I will make other mistakes in the future. I know it now, but I will not let it get in my way anymore. I can edit posts later if I make a mistake. Even if I couldn’t, while I value the opinions of any that may read this or future posts; I accept that not everyone will agree with me, and I would like to think that I can take a bit of criticism.

So if you have wanted to go jogging or play basketball again, head to the health club for a yoga or zumba class, or make a healthier eating choice at lunch when you are out with your friends; don’t let doubt stop you. It won’t be easy in the beginning, but so what? It will be an experience that you can learn from. And the only thing that I can guarantee is that you have no chance if you do not try.