Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Whew, That Was Close...

I ran across something last week that totally burned my britches, and I had a blog post all written up, venting my frustration.  And now, I am so grateful for the "schedule" button that allowed me to delay the publication of that post, and thereby, change my mind about posting it.  How many people out there really want to read someone else's diatribe, after all?  [Although, if you're interested in knowing what product I thought was inappropriately marketed to kids, e-mail me and I'll be happy to share...]

Writing is a great way for me to vent, and it has long been so.  I've written letters that were never sent, journals that became winter fireplace fodder, and diatribes that didn't get posted.  I think I'm basically I pretty good human, emphasis on the human part.  But when I get steamed, that energy has to go somewhere, and rather than take it out on all you fine folks, I turn to paper.   Blah-blah-blahing in ink has probably saved me from eating a lot of crow over the years.

For my husband, it's a stream of language that would shock most people.  In his universe, they're just words - sounds put together by the muscles of your throat - that only convey meaning if you insist on attaching a meaning to them.  Almost without fail those words get launched at every thing around him - the hammer, the cabinet door, the uncooperative 4x4 - but not at people.  There's the difference.  The washing machine doesn't care what he says to it, and he gets it out of his system without hurting anyone's feelings.

I call it a release valve, and it sure does come in handy.  Life throws all sorts of stuff our way, and learning how to handle what we get is infinitely more productive (for me) than hoping we don't get any.

I hope you all know where your release button is, too.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Hundred

Last week I shared about my just-completed January challenge.  Today I thought I'd tell you about my just-begun February challenge.

This month, it's about a simple and effective way to "wake up" the core:  The Hundred.  It's a Pilates mat exercise that is usually part of the warm-up sequence of most Pilates classes, to prepare the core for additional work.  On its own, I find it's like a great game:  takes minutes to learn, but a lifetime to master.

Here are a couple links to instructions for a modified version and the full version.  One or the other should be appropriate for most exercisers.  Just mind the safety precautions for protecting the neck and lower back, and consult the professional overseeing your goals if you're unsure about anything:


I'm doing at least one set every day.  And, interestingly enough, although the January challenge technically ended on the 31st, I'm still doing that activity as well.  Here's to an improved me!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Mission, Pretty Much, Accomplished

During the month of January, I challenged myself to "Get Back to Active."  What?  Me, get more active?  Although it's true that my career is already quite active, it's also important to cross-train.  Doing the same thing over and over without variety is a great way to overwork muscles and get injured, and I felt I needed a little kick in the pants to get me in the habit of doing things outside of, and different from, the classes I teach.

My January challenge ran for 21 consecutive days.  Why 21?  Because, ultimately, I want to do a different challenge each month this year, and my brain can do math, and then it just sounds way long and potentially unattainable.  So I figure approximately a week "off" each month isn't too much to ask in exchange for developing or tweaking 12 new habits this year.  (Number one rule:  know how you tick and plan accordingly!)

My goal in January was to do 30 minutes of physical activity each day.  Classes I teach did NOT count toward that 30.  High intensity was less important to me than high variety and consistency.  That means that I was more interested in doing something gentle and restorative every day than in cranking out a boot camp session three times a week.  I wasn't interested in turning the fitness world on its head; I just wanted to feel better after my teaching day.

So how did I do?  My activities of choice included yoga, swimming, stretching on my barre at home, taking a walk, and sometimes, low-intensity dance rehearsals on my own.  Overall, I was pleased with my success.  Throughout the challenge, I felt improvements in muscle strength, endurance, and flexibility, as well as reduced aches and pains.  Late in the month, I did miss one day.  I decided not to berate myself mentally over losing that one day of consistency, since I paid for it physically with achy muscles waking me up in the middle of the night.     

And that's when I realized that the whole challenge thing, for me, is not about how my ego will rejoice or suffer if I do or don't "make" the goal.  It's about making any improvements, no matter how small, and noticing what I learn along the way.

[If you are intrigued by the challenge notion, but aren't sure where to start, I recommend ChallengeLoop.com.  From the hundreds of open challenges, some of them designed by fitness industry professionals, you can find a challenge that speaks to your health and fitness goals.]

Monday, January 27, 2014

Elastic Waistbands May Not Be Our Friends After All

Surprise, surprise, your pants don't fit!  Don't you hate that?  It's one thing to kind of know that your eating habits have strayed a bit off course of late; it's a whole other experience when your clothing proves it to you (thank you very much, unforgiving waistbands).

I know, I know - I exercise all the time and can probably eat anything I want, right?  Not so much!  Finding that balance between activity level and nutrition has been a beautiful thing, but, man, change one or the other too far or for too long, and you will know it.  Well, eventually you will.  I haven't worn these particular pants in a few weeks, so it has taken a little longer for me to get wise to the change.

See, that's where elastic waistbands, while comfortable, act like double-agents:  you think they're on your side (health and well-being), but they actually seduce you over to the dark side (yes, you can eat red meat and banana pudding practically every day).

So let's all take a moment to stop and appreciate all the clothes in our closets that give us direct feedback about our near past choices, and stand as beacons of hope, encouraging us to do the things we used to do that allowed us to wear the things we, until recently, wore.  She said as she munched her spring mix with tomato, yellow pepper, and avocado...

The uncooperative waistband.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Better Dancing Through Narcissism

When I was so new in the ballroom business that I wasn't yet really in the business, I worked in a studio with a young woman who spent most of her free time dancing with herself in the mirror.  She had a regular dance partner, but anytime I saw her alone, she was in front of the mirror, dancing with and gazing intently at...herself.  She looked completely isolated from the rest of the room and the people in it.  I didn't have the understanding that would have come from a lifelong dance background, and I jumped to the conclusion that she was excessively vain and thoroughly unapproachable, and I felt a little put off by her.

I couldn't have been more wrong, and boy, am I glad to have the excuse of youth to pin it on!  Over time, circumstances threw us together, and as I got to know her and her husband, I came to realize that they were the warmest, least vain people you could know - in day-to-day life.  On the dance floor was another matter. 

They had come from a background of dance training that made it unadvisable for you to be the weak link in your partnership of two - no pressure, right?  As a result, any time you had available outside of rehearsing with your partner was spent rehearsing and improving yourself.  In their world, ten minutes between appointments was not to be wasted on a break, but was better spent improving your line in a crossover break, finding the best hand position, and repeating it over and over until it was ingrained.  Hence the mirror - how else are you supposed to check on your line when you're the only one watching?

What I misinterpreted as unapproachableness was, in the studio, a laser-beam-like focus.  On the competitive dance floor, it was the confidence to win, which might have smacked of arrogance if they hadn't been genuine and well-mannered both on the floor and off.  She always tried to help me find and display that level of confidence for myself, regardless of my level of dance proficiency, but it never worked.  Maybe the ripe old age of 21 was too late - they had been developing it since they were in the single digits.

Although I wasn't ever going to possess the dance floor in the way that they did, I still applied a lot of their lessons.  I certainly learned to appreciate the mirror as a tool to improve my dance performance.  I also think I became a better human just by knowing them.  At the very least, I learned to use more discernment before making judgments. 

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holiday Food 101

I keep hearing from folks who are already resenting the weight they're going to gain during the holidays.  I can tell by the way they talk that they are already resigned to it.  Which, in my mind, is the same as planning for it to happen.  No one is actually saying, "I'm putting into motion a well-laid-out plan to gain 5 pounds over the holidays," but by assuming that it's the inevitable outcome, they might as well be.

I don't ever assume that I'm going to gain, lose, or even maintain a specific weight over the holidays.   I do plan to eat the foods and participate in the activities that make me feel strong, nourished,  and healthy.

I also plan to enjoy myself (hello, Williams-Sonoma Peppermint Bark).  For me, moderation, persnickety-ness, and awareness are key.

Moderation:  Tasty food is ever abundant in our society, and on any given day, I don't like eating so much of it that my tummy has to push uncomfortably against its neighboring organs.  Why would that change because of a calendar date/month?

Persnickety-ness:  Being a picky eater (within reason) can be a good thing!  Offer me a chocolate chip cookie from a brand-name bag off the grocer's shelf, and I'll typically say no; offer me a fresh, homemade cookie from Zoe's Kitchen and I'll love you forever.  Just because the mass-produced cookies are easily snatched from the potluck table doesn't mean the enjoyment factor will outweigh the calories.

What if it's an array of homemade treats ranging from red velvet cake to melt-in-your-mouth brownies?  Step one:  I select the one I think I would most enjoy.  Step two:  I take a bite and pay attention to it!  Does it taste as scrumptious as I thought it would?  Step three:  If yes, I enjoy and skip ahead to the third key, below.  If no, I'd be foolish to cram the rest of it in my mouth anyway.  I get rid of it and try something else if I'm still wanting a sweet, making sure to repeat steps one and two!

Awareness:  Your body will tell you when you're craving something, including treats and sweets.  Most of us listen real well to that sweet impulse, but aren't always super aware of the other signals.  Once I finish that scrumptious brownie (or whatever it was), I owe it to myself to let it "sit" a few moments before diving into the next anything.  Your body will tell you what it wants:  dang, that's a lot of sugar, I feel loopy; boy, sure could use some protein now; wow, I feel so dehydrated; etc.  I stop and listen for those messages.

And I try to remember, listening to our bodies is NOT the same thing as listening to our emotions.   Food is primarily fuel, and often pleasure, but is never love, security, or popularity.  Indulge accordingly and love yourself today, tomorrow, and on January 2nd!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

One Woman's Trash

This past weekend, we attended a costumed event at a friend's house.  My costume called for a pair of evening shoes, which I don't own.  I improvised by digging out an old, old, pair of dance shoes that I remembered having a glittery silver brocade.

As I put them on, I noticed they were in shabbier condition than I had remembered, but hey, it's a costume party at a dining room table - how important are my shoes?

As I tried to buckle the ankle strap, from which the original dye had long since worn off, the synthetic fabric making the strap had sort of melted into a gum-like substance, and couldn't be completely secured.  No matter; it's on well enough to walk from house to car into house.

Anyone else probably would have recognized the signs and selected another pair of shoes.  Not me.

It wasn't until we were seated in the dining room, about forty minutes into the party that I wondered about the breeze I felt on my right foot.  As I shifted around, the right shoe began to feel oddly looser.  And looser.  And a bit flappy.  It was only when I looked down that I realized the extent of the situation:

My shoe had disintegrated (over time in the closet) and had given up at the dinner party.
At this point, if you've made it this far, you're probably wondering why this is a blog post.  See, that wasn't just any pair of dance shoes.  It was my first ever pair of dance shoes.  I probably bought them in 1992 or 1993.  They were 20 years old, had been danced in a lot in their day, and with pretty sweaty feet (oh, the things we share with the world).
I haven't worn them in years, but have been saving them for sentiment.  Finding ballroom dance changed my life.  Finding I could teach it changed it again.  It has made me a little overly attached to what should be trash, but in my heart is treasure.  And that's why I'm keeping them.