On Play.

On Play and Me.
Over the past few years of my life, I’ve bumped up against the ideas of creativity, lightheartedness, and imagination. And I say “bumped up against” because they are parts of me that hard to access. For a long time, I assumed I wasn’t creative. It was a combination of the books the Artist’s Way and The War of Art, along with a yearning in my soul and one specific experience a few months ago that made me realize we all have creative power—it’s just a matter of dormancy for some of us. I could no longer use the excuse ‘‘I’m just not creative,” and understood that I had to work to access my creativity. That, in conjunction with learning how important creativity is for us for our psychological development and happiness was, and is, daunting.

Side note on that specific experience. Over the summer, a serendipitous thing happened where I met a woman on the street and was granted a keyboard and piano lessons. This happened weeks after I decided I’d like to try to play again. I played paino ages 6-12. No prodigy here, but decent. All 6 years I played, I read sheet music. I played someone else’s music and it never ever occurred to me to just “play around” on the piano.

During my only two lessons with my new teacher, I was given one of life’s greatest gifts. She gave me permission to create. Well what she actually did was ask me, “Have you ever composed your own music?” to which I scoffed incredulously. And then she proceeded to give me the very very simple tools to create my own music. I’m not talking about performance worthy. Or even worthy of any other human to hear it. But it was never about what I created, it was about following my own tune, aimless, agendaless. I lost track of time, improvised in a way I’d not done before, and felt nourished by the efforts. I didn’t judge the results. It was so powerful at the time that I almost cried. I couldn’t believe it had never occurred to me to play on the piano instead of play the piano.

With lightheartedness . . . well let’s start with the fact that I chose the word lightheartedness as an antonym to being serious. I am serious, pensive. I’m tempted to say there was a culmination of moments that led me to understand this about myself because I remember there being a shift: a before-I-knew-I-was-a-serious-person and an after-I-knew-I-was-a-serious-person. Among my immediate family growing up, I never considered myself serious. It was later in life that friends made comments or I saw my reactions to things more objectively that made me realize humor doesn’t come as easily to me, and I’m deeply absorbed in thought most of the time. There’s a sticky spot for me when it comes to the ability to let go of inhibitions to allow myself to be goofy, to mess up.

Then there’s imagination—to create thoughts that are not limited by the boundaries and limitations of this physical world. Inherent to it’s very nature is that imagination is not real. So then, it’s limitless! Yet, my imagination is so limited by the plaguing if’s and but’s. I didn’t realize this before I met Jerid, my partner. Without this turning into an Ode to Jerid (because he is my world), it will suffice to say that one of his most attractive and eye opening qualities to me is his ability to allow his mind to wander. He comes up with ideas faster than I can come up with yoga sequences because he’s not afraid of all the potential obstacles that may or may never happen were any of it to ever materialize. It’s just a thought! So why not see where it can go?

So, why is this all relevant right now? Because I recently finished reading the book Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown, M.D. He details how play has a crucial role in children’s cognitive and emotional development. But he continues to write that because humans’ brains continue to develop long after childhood, play is actually an essential part of our humanity, something we benefit from engaging in throughout the entire length of our lives. While Brown lists seven qualities that he uses to define play, he writes that ultimately, play is state of mind. It’s because of this that play is not the opposite of work—play and work are actually mutually supportive, and the real opposite of play is depression (whoa). Reading his book made me realize that creativity, lightheartedness, and imagination are all the results of play. It’s as though I can less dauntingly explore the qualities of play and know that within the play state of mind, the rest will follow. (En Vogue anyone??)

On Play and Movement.
Brown writes: “Movement is primal . . . If you don’t understand and appreciate human movement, you won’t really understand yourself or play . . . Movement play lights up the brain and fosters learning, innovation, flexibility, adaptability, and resilience,” the essential qualities for human survival throughout the evolution of our species. Two posts ago, I wrote about the difference between exercise and movement and the importance of making that distinction for our overall health. There are definitely some people for whom exercise is playful which, according to 2 of Brown’s 7 defining properties of play, means that the exercise is done for its own sake (no higher purpose) and done with a desire to continue. I will venture to say that most people don’t feel this way about exercise. Thinking about movement differently from exercise gives us the opportunity to move our bodies in a way that is so desirable that we enjoy it just for the sake of it; in a way that makes us want to keep going; in a way where we have the potential to improvise on the spot (another one of Brown’s play properties).

I think that if all fitness/movement professionals, can, in addition to what we already teach, make movement so approachable that it becomes a catalyst for play and exploration, we’d be contributing an invaluable and lasting tool for a healthy way of living.

This is a great short article from GMB about how to start moving playfully.

keep moving.

xoxo

New Year Shmoo Year

Fooled ya with that blog title. I don’t care what anyone says, I actually LOVE celebrating New Year’s. I love making resolutions. I love thinking about the opportunity to work with a clean slate, the yearly second chance, the reminder to list all the things I want to do in life, all the ways I wish to grow and prosper. It doesn’t have to be January 1 of course, but there’s something refreshing about it and I’m happy to adhere to it. I reassess my goals throughout the year for sure, and not always on the firsts of the month or Mondays 😉. But the beginning of the year lifts me up at the perfect time, the time in the season where I tend to want to hide under the covers, and eat and sleep all day, aka winter.

Most of us who make resolutions don’t keep them . . . that’s not headline news. BUT that doesn’t mean we have to dismiss the whole idea. Just because we’re bad at doing something, it doesn’t always mean we should quit doing it. Maybe we should learn how to do it better. There are countless tricks and proven hacks related to creating new habits and breaking old ones, but I’m going to just get you started with the most important one. MAKE A PLAN. A goal without a plan stands no chance. Period.

So THIS year, if you’re going to make some resolutions, give them a real chance by following these 3 simple steps. Once you get these steps down, then you can fine tune your habit breaking/making skills with unlimited resources out there to help you really solidify these goals.

But for now, START HERE:
1. WRITE THEM DOWN. Write your goals down so you have something concrete to which you can hold yourself accountable. To which you can look back and reflect. Yes, it’s uncomfortable to write something down with the prospect of looking back on it to see what you haven’t accomplished. However, it is SO worth the chance that you’ll look back on it and see that you actually have accomplished what you set out to do. I worked with a life coach in 2013. She kept in my file my three top goals I’d like to accomplish in 5 years. I called her a few months ago since I was feeling a little confused about things and thought I might need a boost. She asked me if I remembered what my 5 year goals were that I wrote down 5 years ago. I said no. She read them out loud to me and I almost burst into tears. I had accomplished all three—made me feel like I should have aimed a lot higher because I DID IT. I completed a yoga training (and so much more additional training), I found the person I’m committing the rest of my life to, and I’m running my own business (teaching movement and yoga full time). Write that shit DOWN.

2. CREATE MICRO GOALS. Remember, a goal without a plan stands no chance. It’s not even worth doing step one if you don’t attempt the following steps. Creating micro goals gets you into the planning stage. Micro goals are the goals within the goal—the stepping stones. If my 2019 goal is to run a marathon, then some micro goals might be intermittent shorter races throughout the year, or to find the perfect running coach. You can create as many micro goals as you need to make the bigger goal start feeling doable.

3. CREATE TASK LISTS: Every micro goal gets a task list—this is an essential part of the plan!!! Making your goals attainable by giving yourself actual, doable daily tasks to get you to each stepping stone will get you closer to your bigger goal. If a micro goal is to find the right running coach, my task list might be:
—Contact so and so friend to ask about their running coaches.
—Research local running coaches online.
—Determine how much money I have to spend on a running coach for the whole year.
If another micro goal is to run shorter races throughout the year, my task list might be:
—Research and sign up for a 5k, 10k and half marathon.
—Join the local running club to help train for shorter races.
—buy some new running shoes.
Just like the micro goals, you can list as many tasks as you need to feel like you can truly accomplish the micro goal. Every micro goal gets a task list!!!

Hope this helps!! In the end, if you’re not into resolutions every New Year, just do yourself a favor and ask yourself WHY. If it’s because you already have goals set and you’re chugging away, awesome! If it’s because you’re afraid you will not reach your goals . . . you know what to do. See you on the other side!

keep moving.

alia

Start Thinking Beyond Exercise

MOVEMENT is a lifestyle choice. Exercise is just a thing you do.

At the foundation of addressing one’s physical health is discovering that there is a difference between movement and exercise and what that difference is. It’s when I started to understand this difference that my entire lifestyle shifted.

Katy Bowman, author of Move Your DNA, (I highly recommend), writes:

“The first step to radically improving your health is to let go of the notion that movement is exercise. To move your health forward with movement, it is essential to mentally rearrange the relationship between movement and exercise in your mind.”

What do you think of when you think of exercise? Maybe thoughts/words like these? cardio, sweat, gym, tennishoes, but my knees hurt, squats, 30-minutes-3-times-a-week, weight loss, heart health, I hate everything related to it, life’s worst necessary evil, elliptical, I already do this everyday . . . next!, exertion, etc. What if I told you that exercise is really just one piece of a pie? That the key to health was to access more of the whole pie and that it might be easier to access more of the pie than just the one slice of exercise???

Exercise is a type of movement. I feel that Katy’s illustrations here really say it all:

Do you see? Movement is everything else other than exercise in your everyday life!

Here’s the thing: exercise has been sold to us as the way to stay healthy but two of the biggest factors that keep exercise from being the solve-all-your-health-problems pill are these two:

  1. Exercise is limited in time. Exercise is an activity that you do while movement is the way that you live. Exercise is done for an hour, maybe two, at a time. More than that, you’re a “gym rat” or a “crazy runner.” It’s finite: you begin and you end, and then on to the next part of the day. Movement is something you should be doing throughout your day every single day. Science is evolving to reflect this way of thinking: that t’s not the lack of exercise that’s the problem with our health, it’s the not moving that’s truly the issue, aka sitting a whole damn lot. It’s so bad that the scientific community refers to the “Sitting Disease” when talking about a sedentary lifestyle. This means that if you exercise an hour a day Monday through Friday, but you’re still sitting from 9am to 4pm those same days . . . well . . . it’s great that you exercise, but it’s not quite enough. Studies have shown that regardless of exercise, hours spent sitting are directly proportional to an increased mortality rate. Think of it like this: If you eat burgers and pizza and breakfast sandwiches all day every day but throw in a kale salad at lunch, your nutrition diet is all set. Ummm, nope. Exercise is not enough.

  2. Exercise is specific. In general, you’re either a runner, a weight lifter, a cyclist, a yogi, marital artist, or maybe a combination of a couple of those things. We gravitate toward a few types of exercise and we do them over and over again. The variety of movement that’s available to our human bodies is infinite yet we’ve selected a very finite few types of movement to call exercise. These finite selections move our joints and muscles and the rest of our tissues in certain ways. This is good. But what about all the other ways??? Even if you exercise every single day, you’re still only moving your body in very specific ways which means your tissues adhere instead of slide (this goes into a deep fascia topic that I won’t get into here—but the long short of it is that you want your layers of tissue to slide along one another smoothly and fluidly. When they don’t experience variance in direction, speed, and load, they begin to adhere, aka “sticky spot” feeling). The more varied we can move, the more various types of load we expose our joints, muscles, and tissues to, the more our brains have to work to accommodate these new movements, the better our brain is at learning even more new movements, the more hydrated and slippery our tissues are, the better we age. Think of it like this: If you say you eat a ton of vegetables, but the only vegetable you ever eat is broccoli, are you really eating healthy? Even if you’re eating 10 servings of broccoli a day? Not quite. Just like food, our bodies and brains NEED as much variety as possible. Exercise is not enough.

Ok, so what can you do?
take the stairs instead of the escalator
leave the house early so you can walk instead of take the train (or walk to the station 2 stops away from you)
try new things (if you only run, try yoga; if you only do yoga, try weight lifting; if you only weight lift, try pilates.)
try non traditional gym disciplines (martial arts, parkour, feldenkrais, gymnastics)
dance!! in your living room and on your bed and skip on your way to your car!
stretch in the morning while making your coffee/tea
try movements with the non-dominant side of your body (put on your coat with your opposite arm first, brush your teeth with the other hand)
sit on the floor when watching TV (notice how it forces you to change positions all the time).

As far as being at the office, I have a whole workshop I give just about that: how to move throughout your workday at the office!

It seems daunting, but once it becomes a way of thinking, you begin to see thousands of opportunities to move, and thousands of different ways to move every single moment of the day that you’re awake. When you’ve taken the first small steps to move more, it’s essential to make sure you’re moving well. If you decide to start walking miles a day but have poor gait mechanics, you can bet something is going to feel wonky. If you start to lift weights with bad form, you will feel it in the joints. If you’ve never taken parkour but you want to try, you want to make sure your knees and feet and wrists are strong enough to accommodate the new activity. So, work with a movement coach or a knowledgeable personal trainer to get the basics down-pat so that movement becomes a lasting lifestyle choice.

How Often Should I Practice Yoga?

A student asked me that question last week. And in typical fashion, I replied with a much longer explanation than he was prepared for. I really need to work on my one-liners.

The answer can, as every answer seems to these days, be boiled down to this one principle: “It depends.” Despite what the health and fitness industry has tried so desperately to sell us, there is no one-size-fits-all . . . for anything. Not for cardio, not for strength training, not for running, not for low back pain, not for diet, not for cholesterol, not for beautiful skin, not even for sleep. The only true one-size-fits-all is that we should all “eat well, sleep well, and move well.” But how we do all those things depends entirely on context. 

I think the following three questions are pretty vital and can be applied to ANYTHING you’re doing. “How often should I _____________ (drink alcohol, run, take calcium, do squats, eat blueberries, etc.)?”
So, how often should you practice yoga? Ask yourself these questions first.
1. WHY do you practice? (For spirituality, meditation, to get stronger, get some movement in,  increase flexibility, get rid of back pain, etc.)
2. HOW do you practice? (Do you do everything the teacher suggests? Are you competitive? Do you make modifications? Do you know what it means to listen to your body? Do you equate spirituality with the poses? What types of yoga classes are you choosing?)
3. What are your current physical goals? Because everyone, regardless of age or profession or hobbies, should have physical goals of some kind.

AND your answers are likely never set in stone! They can morph with every day/week/month/year of your life as your body changes, your priorities change, and your life circumstances change. Re-evaluate your answers regularly and adapt your plan of action accordingly. 

Need help answering these questions and making a plan? That’s part of what I do as a Movement Coach. Learn more here, and/or get in touch here.

keep moving.

xoxo


I Teach Functional Yoga . . . Huh?

There have been countless instances where various students will come up to me after class and ask, “What style of yoga would you call your class?” My answer is a long, rambling jumble that spews out something like: I’m vinyasa trained but vinyasa can be anything these days and I like to move slowly but that doesn’t mean it’s easy since I’m really into strength and conditioning and like to focus on different ways to make the poses accessible for everyone and there’s also a lot of mobility work in there this days and that just means that you have better control over your range of motion. Phew. Not an elevator pitch. But what on earth do I teach???

Finally, I’ve changed the name of my classes, and it’s fantastically liberating. All of a sudden I don’t feel like I’m cheating any of the students who come to my class by not checking all the boxes that come with a traditional yoga flow class. I’m still teaching the same way, but now it’s almost as if I gave myself the permission to do so. The name change may scare some students away from wanting to try my class. That’s okay. It’s almost preferable . . . a simply and effective “filter” to attract the students who are curious. I also believe it’s important that any student can walk into any class with some idea of what to expect by the description of said class, so I believe the name change helps everyone out.

Functional Yoga. That’s the new name. Maybe at first glance, to other movement professionals or mobility-influenced yoga teachers (or me just judging myself), using the word functional seems like a cop-out use of a (misinterpreted) buzzword. But it actually took me quite a while and a lot of brainstorming to settle on this one. I also kept the word “yoga”—largely because I teach at a yoga studio. But here’s some food for thought on that subject.
1. If to you, yoga is contortionist poses and flow, no my class is not yoga.
2. If to you, yoga is preparing for meditation, I would argue that any movement that is done mindfully can prepare the body and mind for meditation, so yes, this can be yoga.
3. If to you, yoga is the Patanjali Sutras, I would argue that no, this would not be a “yoga” class. While many of the sutras are beautiful and offer sound guidance on how to be a good human in this world, the essence of the sutras is based in a dualistic perspective—that one must transcend one’s own body to truly be enlightened. If I’m teaching a class precisely about getting to know your body and use that knowledge and understanding about your body as a vehicle for better living in this world, that sounds like quite the contrary philosophy.
4. If to you, yoga is a personal journey of the self where by exploring your relationship to your body and how you move, you can confront discomfort, seek growth and cultivate compassion, then yes, my class is yoga.

Now to the functional part. So what is functional in relation to movement? In my own understanding and wording:

Functional movement is the ability for one to move her/his body in a coordinated way such that it is effortless and pain-free.  Whether you’re a mother picking up your toddler off the ground, a professional baseball pitcher repetitively throwing baseballs at high speeds, or a CrossFitter doing handstand pushups, your movements can be assessed as functional or not based on the above description. It seems the common idea out there right now is that functional movement means that the movement must be “useful,” but that doesn’t actually have any meaning without context. Whether the movement is useful or not doesn’t determine whether or not someone is performing that movement functionally. And conversely the way someone performs a movement doesn’t determine whether or not it’s useful. What allows someone to move functionally? That’s a whole realm of study!! It involves kinesiology, biomechanics, strength and conditioning, neuroscience, pain science, psychology, nutrition, and probably so many other areas I’m not considering.

Functional movement-S are any movements that are executed or practiced in such a way that enhances an individual’s functional movement patterns. So, I can deadlift all day everyday, but if I’m shrugging my shoulders towards my ears every time I come to stand with the weight, it’s not serving me as a functional movement—it’s not enhancing a healthy movement pattern. On the other hand, if I practice a yoga split everyday, but I practice it in such a way that strengthens my hamstrings while I do it so that I have control over the movement, then it’s a functional movement in my opinion.

The physical yoga practice is full of arbitrary shapes. As someone who needs to understand WHY I do something, I feel the shapes need a real, evidence-based purpose. “Releasing emotions” by opening my hips in pigeon is NOT real. “Detoxing my organs” by doing a deep twist is also NOT real. So how can I practice some of these poses in such a way that actually translates to better living? By practicing them functionally as per the above definition.

So, in my Functional Yoga classes, you can expect yoga poses. But you can expect a whole lot of variations on most of them. You can also expect shapes and movements that are not traditionally found in yoga. You can expect strength work and mobility work, awareness prompts and time for play.

All of my teaching is based on how we can learn to move well . . . or let’s say move functionally.

keep exploring.