You Are Not A Dog

January is a time for goal-setting.  With that in mind, I wanted to talk about the idea of rewards.  Not the reward of doing something good for yourself (though we will touch on that as well), but more about the idea of rewarding yourself with something (think clothes, spa day, food, etc) for reaching one of your goals.  While this seems like a logical way to get yourself motivated, it turns out the truth is as the title states…”You are not a dog” and this particular rewards system does not work for our species.

I know some of you have already started an internal argument with me.  You may have had results increasing a good behavior or decreasing a bad behavior by using a reward as a shiny, gold, dangling carrot.  This could be true, but let me ask you, how long did these changes last?  Was it something short-term?  Were you able to continue this changed behavior over the long-term?  Are you motivated to continue?

While research still continues to pick apart motivation and change, there are some concepts that come up time and time again.  For example, the idea that there are 4 main motivators.  On one side people are extrinsically motivated, meaning they are motivated to do something for a reward or out of fear of a punishment.  Close to this is an external motivator.  These are the things you do because you feel you “should” and feel guilty when you do not complete them.  On the other side of the spectrum we are looking at internal motivators or things that align with our values.  Next to this are the intrinsic motivators or the things you LOVE to do, no real persuasion needed.

So the rewards I am talking about are those in the extrinsic category.  These are the deals you make with yourself (“after I lose 10lbs, I can buy a new dress”) that involve a reward or punishment.  This reward system has shown to increase the wanted behavior immensely in the short-term, but for long-term change, can actually hurt your motivation.

Let’s use exercise as an example.  You hate running, but you made a New Year’s Resolution to “get in shape”.  So you decide that for every day you get up and run, you get to buy yourself a fancy coffee.  So you head out every morning and suffer through your 45 minute jog, distracting yourself with music, and thinking only of your coffee reward.  After about 2 weeks, you decide it is not worth the coffee.  It is too awful.  So you start up your coffee pot at home, have a little session of self-loathing and resentment, and throw the idea “getting in shape” in garbage.

Now, let’s try this a different way.  You decide you want to “get in shape”.  So you decide to experiment with different ways of moving to see what feels best to you.  You decide you love swimming.  You love the silence in the water, the rhythm of the stroke, and the time away from your phone.  You exit the water feeling energetic, calm, and ready to take on the day.  You LOVE it.  You can’t imagine starting your day any other way.  That is the reward.

By taking the material reward away, you were able to focus on the things that were important to you.  The things that aligned with your values.  This was the reward for your changed behavior.  When you added the reward in, that was your main focus.  The reward undermined your intrinsic motivation and undercut the success of accomplishing your long-term goals.

So how do we connect with our internal and intrinsic motivation?  Well, start by asking yourself why you want to accomplish a certain goal.  What would change in your life if you accomplished it?  Why are you making it a priority in your life right now?  These questions will help reveal your values.

Now choose a step in the direction of your goal.  Is there an easy step?  Something that does not even feel like a sacrifice , something you may even enjoy?  For example, say you want to move more, but you don’t really like exercise.  BUT you do love spending time with your friends.  Is there a way to ask a friend to join you on a walk or at the gym so that you can socialize and work toward your goal of being healthy?

If you can’t find a way to easily motivate yourself, take a look at your values.  How do your values align with the next step toward your goals?  For example, you don’t have a friend that can meet before work for a walk, but you value moving better and feeling healthier and those values align with the act of walking.  So now, you are walking for your health, not just because you feel you should.  This also leaves room for variety.  Health could also be represented in a different movement, a mediation, or cooking a healthy meal.  You are not committed to one activity in order to reach your goal.

So when you think about all you want to accomplish, first ask yourself why.  Then get very clear about your values.  Try to find something that you already like to do or is easy to do to start moving towards your goals.  Then, move forward with your values in mind.  Get rid of the material reward and let your accomplishment, discipline, and transformation to becoming who you want to be in this life be your ultimate reward.

 

Additions vs Resolutions

I want to use this very appropriate time in the year to talk about resolutions.  I have noticed that the media surrounding this subject has changed over the last few years.  As a society, we have consistently failed at keeping our New Year’s Resolutions, so the popular message has turned to “stop making them”.  While I agree that resolutions put a lot of pressure on ourselves and I also agree that most people don’t follow thru, I believe this problem to be user error rather than the act of making a resolution.

What I mean is, we  make resolutions quickly, without much thought or reflection, and usually as a reaction to something in our life that we are currently doing or not doing that is making us feel bad about ourselves.  Instead of making “changes”, what if we thought about “adding” to our lives.  Using the New Year as a chance to reflect on what we want in life, what are some things on our bucket list, and what we feel are our top priorities.  Before making any promise of a resolution, make sure you have a clear plan of what it is you want to do with this life.

For example, I make a sort of “resolution” every year.  There are certain things I have always wanted to add to my life, and using the New Year to set up a plan on how to get it into a busy schedule feels motivating and keeps me consistent year-over-year.  Last year I added 3 things in, and in order of priority they were: 1) Learn Spanish, 2) Add Meditation in my routine, 3) Journal. I didn’t just make these resolutions and hope all would fall into place, I made a plan.  Any addition we want to add to our lives will take a sacrifice of time and a solid commitment.  It is important to know where that time will come from and the cost of the commitment.

For my top priority, I started to look at my options, between classes, tutors, and online courses.  Knowing I would needs consistency and accountability in order to commit to learning Spanish, I opted for in-person classes.  After a few months, the times were too hard to make, so I committed to one-on-one tutoring so that I could more easily work it into my schedule.  I am still getting tutored once a week.

For my second 2 priorities, I had to play with what worked.  Was morning or evening better?  Should I do them together or separate?  Should it be daily?  I started with daily and then worked my way to a place where I felt I could have consistency (which turns out is 3x/week).  All 3 of my resolutions are now just part of my life, they do not feel like a sacrifice of time or resources, it is just part of me.

I like resolutions and I like the New Year as a time to reflect and remind ourselves about what we want in this life.  You can do it whenever you want – 4th of July, Summer Solstice, your Birthday – it doesn’t matter, just make sure you take the time to reassess.  Without this time, we tend to get caught up in the day-to-day of our lives and never move onto the things we really want.

Here are a few suggestions on how to make productive additions to your life instead of resolutions that will never manifest.

Ask yourself:

  1. What is on your bucket list?  Is there something on there you could start working towards  or even complete this year?  What will it cost you in time and money?  Do you have those resources available to you or do you need to find them?
  2. When you think of what you want your life to look like, what do you see? Is there something you should add to your life to move closer to this vision?  Do you need help and guidance, or focus and time, or all of the above?  Where can you find what you need?
  3. Is there something you love to do, but have not had the opportunity to do it lately?  How could you add this back into your life?
  4. Do you need support?  What does that support look like and how could you move closer to finding it?

From these answers, start to make your roadmap.  What is the most important?  What can be accomplished easily with just a little effort?  What are your first steps?

Now give yourself “loose” deadlines.  You don’t want to leave everything open-ended or a whole year may go by with little progress.  Take a look at your roadmap and give yourself achievable deadlines.  Sometimes it is easier to give yourself mini-deadlines for all the first steps instead of one massive, end-goal deadline.

Now you have a plan for your additions.  Focus on these additions rather than changes. Make sure you have a clear reason “why” these additions are important to you.  The first thing my Spanish tutor asked me was “Why do you want to learn Spanish?”.  It is important for everyone involved to know the motives.

At the close of 2019, I am no where near fluent in my Spanish, but I practice every week and could easily travel with my “Spanglish”.  I will continue to learn and progress, not just with my Spanish, but with everything is this beautiful life.  And this year, I am focusing on making things (already handmade a few Christmas presents) and mapping out the future of my business (already met with and hired a business coach).

What will you do with you 2020?

“Embrace the Suck”

It happens daily.  I give my client an exercise or movement and they immediately respond with “There is NO WAY I can do that.”.  To which I say “Of Course!”.  I’m a trainer, who gets paid to challenge people and push them beyond their expectations.  Of course I am going to give my clients things they are bad at, that is the only way to grow.

Embracing the “suck” is my way of saying to get your ego out of the way and focus on developing and expanding your movement and mind in new ways.  Our bodies are designed to adapt, they enjoy new challenges and demands.  It is important that we feed the need or we risk the chance of getting bored, unmotivated, weak, and maybe even depressed.

Once, I was at a yoga class with a slightly eccentric teacher (looking at you Full Throttle Yoga), and someone asked the question “What’s the big deal with handstands these days?”.  The response was so honest.  The instructor replied “There isn’t anything special about them.  If you’re an a$$hole, you’ll still just be an a$$hole in a handstand.  The reason we are doing them is to challenge you to do something new.  After you accomplish a handstand, you may go out in your life and accomplish something else.”  Just the act of going upside down can lead a person to gain confidence in themselves and their abilities.

The idea is simple, practice what you suck at more and spend less time practicing what you are good at.  Our fear of failure lurks in every part of our lives, including our workouts.  It is important to start identifying your fears, asking yourself why you don’t like to do this or that and start to slowly put yourself in uncomfortable (but safe) situations.

Reaching outside of your comfort zone and moving in different ways not only expands your physical skill set, you can literally strengthen your brain.  Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to change throughout your life.  Exercise has been shown to increase the grey matter in your brain (actual neurons) and it triggers a reaction that stimulates neuroplasticity.  When you try something new, something you are not quite sure how to do, your brain looks at is as a riddle.  Your brain immediately starts to try to solve the problem, working out the different routes to success.  So the long and the short of it is that you get the brain benefits of not just exercise, but also of problem solving.  So stop thinking about pumping up your biceps, and starting thinking about pumping up your brain.

I know, I bet you are starting to cringe at the very thought of being embarrassed or bad at something, but hear me out.  Moving out of your comfort zone and challenging your mind and body is not only stimulating and fun, it is a sign of maturity and can allow you to grow way beyond your own expectations. I am by no means saying you must go out and do a handstand.  It can be something as small as saying “yes” when you would normally say “no”.  So, pick something attainable, just on the other side of your comfort wall, and bit-by-bit, impression-after-impression, make yourself stronger in every meaning of the word.

Swing Your Arms!!

With the days getting longer and the temperatures getting a bit warmer, Spring has invited to me to start walking more.  I am a person who loves to stack things, so I have started walking to my weekly Yoga class.  I have to leave only about 15 minutes earlier than I usually do, and I get a nice 25 min walk there and back through my local parks.

Last week, I walked to class and it was fairly pleasant outside, but after class, the temps had fallen a bit.  I mention this because this lead me to put my hands in my pockets to keep them warm.  I noticed about 15 minutes into my walk that my mid-back was getting stiff and my neck and shoulders were a little achy.  I tried to think about what we had done in class that would have caused this to happen.  I thought “I just took a Yoga class.  I should feel awesome!” when I realized my hands had been in my pockets this whole time.

With my hands tucked into my coat pockets, my arms were unable to swing in their natural movement.

No swinging = no natural rotation of the spine = pain in my mid-back and shoulders.

When we don’t swing our arms when walking, we lose the subtle rotation of the spine that needs to happen for proper movement.  That rotational force needs to go somewhere, meaning we rotate too much at other places, including the low-back.  In my case, not only was I putting extra force through my low-back, but my mid-back and neck were also bracing against the rotational force that should have been happening.  Hence, the tight back and shoulders.

So the quick lesson of the day is Swing Your Arms!  And make sure you are swinging them with a whole-body movement.  None of this moving from the elbow BS (more on this later).

Play Day-to-Day

The world is a heavy place with a lot of responsibilities.  You have responsibilities to your family, to yourself, to your work, not to mention simple responsibilities like taking out the trash and washing the car.  It seems everyone right now is weighted down with this sense of responsibility.  I normally add to those responsibilities with solutions of how to take better care of your body, but today, lets take a breather.

Today, I want you to approach your day with a little more play.  This doesn’t mean you have to skip the office for the playground (but you should skip instead of walk), just add a sense of joy and lightness to your day.  I will even make this post brief so you don’t have to be so adult and READ, you can just DO!

Here are just few easy ways to bring some play to your day-to-day:

  • Play games – Busy at the supermarket?  See if you can duck and dodge your way through the crowd without bumping into anyone!
  • Notice what you like – The sky, the color of the car next to you, some ladies hat, the wagging tail of a dog.  It doesn’t have to be a lot.
  • Engage with strangers – When you lose the game in #1 and you bump a stranger, smile, laugh, make eye contact, or give them a compliment.  You can do this with people you don’t bump into (and probably get better results) as well.
  • Enjoy music – Sing or dance or just carry the tune in your head as you go about your daily errands.  When you notice someone belting out Whitney Houston in the car next to you, don’t you smile and think that person is having the BEST time!
  • Smile – Just cause.
  • Move – Exercise is great, but as adults, we have even taken the fun out of that.  Challenge yourself to skip, hop, crawl, chase (children and dogs are excellent playmates), instead of just going for a jog.
  • Laugh – At how much we take ourselves seriously when we have absolutely no control over anything.

Have a happy day my friends!  If you feel like it, let me know how you found play in the comments below!  Also, let your friends know so they can start playing too!

Injured? Resting Helps, But It Does Not Heal

How many times have you said or heard this sentence?

“I tweaked my (back, knee, shoulder, wrist, etc), but I’ll just give it a few days rest and it should be fine.”

I am here to be the bearer of bad news, it will not be fine.

Yes, in your twenties and maybe even early thirties, rest was a good go-to move.  You really did feel like you would rebound from an injury with a few (sometimes just 24 hours) days of rest.  Unfortunately, that is not the whole picture.  Without proper care, that injury from your twenties will come back to bite you in your forties.  I am not saying you should go out for a 5 mile run on your newly sprained ankle, I am just saying you need more than a binge watch on Netflix to help your body heal properly and to prevent future injury and pain from occurring.

When the body experiences trauma, whether it is a torn ligament like an ACL in the knee or maybe just a bad bruise from a hard fall, there is a repair process that immediately turns on and gets down to business.  Swelling occurs to help bring nutrients to the area to help speed up recovery of the tissue, bruising may occur as the blood starts to pool in the area, muscles and nerves may start to slightly shut down to help protect the area, and scar tissue starts to build to help make the area tough and resilient against future injury.  This is a fantastic auto response to injury.  We do absolutely nothing and our bodies just start healing.

Now there is much debate out there right now about the best way to “manage” our response system.  R.I.C.E. and Ibuprofen are now being replaced by a more “hands-off” method of letting the body swell and heal itself.  I don’t want to dive too deep into this discussion, but it is worth noting that there is some good research coming out that says we need to put the ice pack down and let our bodies do what they do.

What I want to focus on, is after the first 48 hours.  When your joint starts moving a little more, the pain has decreased a bit, and the swelling is starting to go down.  During this time, it is easy to “take time off” and give your joint a rest, but that will eventually lead you down a path of more injury.

Let’s use the ankle and the following scenario as an example.  Let’s say I was out hiking and I rolled my right ankle.  It hurts, but not so bad that I can’t get myself back to my car.  As I drive home, I can feel it throbbing a little, but I think a day on the couch will cost me less than a few hours at the ER.  I head home, prop it up, and let it “rest”.  As I am resting, my body is starting the repair process, supplying the injured area with nutrients and building my joint back up.  After a few days, I can walk pretty well, I still “feel it a little”, but I am going to work and probably go for another hike within the next few days.

First let’s talk about the joint itself.  My body’s repair system is going to try to “toughen up” the ankle joint.  While strength is great and can help that specific area from being re-injured, it is also going to inhibit the range of motion I have in my ankle.  I may not be able to flex or point my toes to the same degree I could before.  Some of my skeletal structure may have shifted when I injured the joint and is now being held in an inaccurate place by this new strength.  The rocking motion, side-to-side that my heel normally has is now limited, adding stress to the other soft tissue within the ankle joint and making the muscles, ligaments, and tendons more susceptible to injury.

Now, let’s move away from the joint and look at the impact this is having above and below the ankle.  Without proper range of motion in the heel, we will not have proper motion in the foot.  That’s 33 joints and over 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons that now have to change their “normal” to something that compensates for the new ankle range.  As we go above the ankle, we find that the knee, a hinge joint, now has a rotational force on it that was normally absorbed by the ankle, but can’t be any longer.  This new stress on the knee, puts new stress on the hip, which affects the back, and on, and on, and on.

Due to the “ankle bone is connected to the knee bone” feature of our bodies, it is important to not only rest our injuries, but rehab them to gain range of motion, proper alignment, and level strength.  We can start doing this pretty soon after injury, using pain as our guide.  Gentle movement or isometrics of the muscles surrounding the joint can help us start activating our nervous system and wake up our muscles.  It can also encourage blood flow to the area which will aide in healing.

So going back to the example of my sprained ankle, after the initial rest period of 24-48 hours, I could start moving it by just gently pointing and flexing my foot.  Then maybe I cautiously wander into some ankle circles.  I could use a band or even a wall to start turning on the muscles by moving my ankle in different motions.  This early intervention will not only speed up my healing, but also gives me the best chance of getting my joint back to “normal” and decreasing my chances of pain or injury in another part of the body due to compensation.

The point of the story is that if you have an injury, not acknowledging it or just leaving it alone, will not heal it.  You must be proactive in your care and start moving and activating the injured area as soon as you are able.  If you are not sure how to begin, find a physical therapist in your area that can help guide you.

Exercises For a Tight Neck and Shoulders

Do me a quick favor.  If you are reading this on your computer or your phone, take a quick second and press the top of your head towards to sky, make yourself as tall as possible, and level your chin.  Ok, now keep reading.  I would hate for my blog post about sore, cranky necks actually cause sore necks.  Nobody needs more pains in the neck.  Ok, I’ll stop…

In all seriousness, chronic stiff and sore necks and shoulders seems to be a thing people are just “putting up with” these days.  That feeling that you want to “pop” your neck or stretch it, or move it to release some tension.  We have all had it at one time.  If jobs and responsibilities allowed us to move more, allowed us to turn our heads to look at different things, allowed us to view things both up close and at a distance, allowed us to MOVE more, we could probably avoid it, but most of us don’t have that luxury.

So first, let’s understand your neck and shoulder pain.  For most people, the issue may not even start at the neck.  So all that pulling and popping and stretching you are doing up there, stop for a minute.  Most people’s necks are already hyper-mobile, the problem is not that they don’t move, but that they move too much.  You have probably heard of “Forward Head Posture”.  If you have it, your neck has moved a lot!  It is suppose to be sitting right on top of your shoulders, but you are able to move it way out in front!  Yes, that is sarcasm.

The position of your head sitting out in front of your shoulders acts as a big ol’ ball and chain on the muscles of the neck, the shoulders, and the upper back.  If you would like to understand it more, pick up something that weighs about 20lbs (kids, dogs, and bowling balls all work).  Now hold the weight close to your belly and feel the strain on your shoulder and back.  Not bad right?  Now straighten your arms and press it out in front of you about chest level.  Now we are talking.  Feel that pull on your shoulders, maybe a little twinge in your low back?  You neck pain is a product of the same mechanism.

There is a network of muscles that equally pull your neck forward, backward, and side-to-side.  When your head is forward, those muscles become off-balanced.  The muscles normally used to pull your head forward and down tend to get short and tight.  The muscles that normally pull your head back and up become long and stiff.  The side-to-side muscles don’t even know what to do, they are like children watching their parents argue.

The stiffness you normally feel in your neck and shoulders come from those muscles in the back that would normally pull your head back and up.  The most common response to these long, stiff muscles is to stretch them.  Here is the thing, they are already LONG.  They have been stretched day-in and day-out since your forward head posture started.  Stretching them will give you temporary relief, but it will not bring you any long-term benefits.  What we need to do is lengthen the deep muscles in the front of the neck as we strengthen the posterior muscles.

Ok, but why is your cervical spine moving so much?  Well, it is most likely because your thoracic spine is not moving at all.  Lack of fluidity in this mid-area of your back tends to make the segments above (neck) and below (low back pain anyone?) move too much.  This area tends to get stuck for a few reasons – excessive sitting, lack of core strength, tightness through the chest and diaphragm  – all of these can lead to stiffness in the thoracic spine.

So, when you start to address your neck pain, it is important for you to address the stiffness in your thoracic spine first.  If you only address your neck pain at the neck, it will come back time and time again.  The spine must move fluidly together, that is the basis of all good movement.

Below is a short exercise and stretching routine that will help you relieve your achy neck and shoulders.

*Please note – The exercises above are not medically prescribed.  Please check with your physician to check if the exercises are appropriate for you.

 

 

Class Review – September 2018

This year, one of the things I wanted to do is try new things in the fitness world.  I am always reading and researching and learning from the other therapists and trainers at my studio.  I also try to soak up as much knowledge as I can when talking to the great practitioners in my network, but I haven’t actually been out there to try what the other guys are doing in a while.

So I have committed to trying something new each month and to write a review about it.  By no means do I pretend that these are objective reviews.  Think of this as more my opinion as a fitness expert (it does say opinionated fitness guru in the title).  Also, there may be things I don’t like that you do.  I am not here to debate, just stating my thoughts because my name is in the url.

Outlaw Yoga

Last month I reviewed the Avita yoga class offered by Yoga Loft.  Now to the opposite end of the yoga spectrum, we find Outlaw Yoga.  This class is bold, fun, and moves quickly.  It is challenging and engaging, but really the hidden secret lies within Mark Stefanowski, Chief Outlaw.

Mark’s style is  a little “in-your-face”, mixed with a little “let’s play”, and a splash of “there is good in all of us” (and a heavy dose of profanity).  His yoga playlist contains everything from Johnny Cash to AC DC, and at one point in his class I think I could have twerked to some hip hop.  This mix of fun and challenge keeps you engaged and connects you to both the practice and your body.

Mark with the Bride and friends

I had taken Mark’s class a few years ago at one of the brewery classes he does to raise money and support the Give Back Yoga Foundation.  So I was excited when a friend of mine invited me to join her for a class with Mark on the morning of her wedding.  The atmosphere could not be beat as we met on a sunny, Colorado morning on a patio facing southwest with a view of the flatirons.

Mark started us off slowly, with an emphasis on our breath.  This lasted about 2 minutes before he turned up the volume, pumped up the music, and had us moving.  We warmed up quickly as he took us through a series of core movements from bicycles to planks.  All while listening to some sweet rock n’ roll.

The neat thing about Mark is, he is fun and exciting and gets you laughing, but he is also very good at teaching yoga.  I have never taken a yoga class before where I was moving so well with my breath.  I know every teacher talks about this, but because you are going to the beat of the music, it is easier to find a rhythm with your movement and your breath.  It is genius.

Outlaw Yoga is based on four principles :

1. Power – Work hard and be strong both on and off the mat.
2. Presence – Cultivate mindfulness in your practice and in life.
3. Boldness –  Be bold in everything you do.
4. Fun – Truly connect to yourself and the world around you to find joy.

The Bride learning to do a handstand with assistance from Mark.

Our class definitely hit all 4.  There were periods in the class where I was laughing hysterically, parts where I was very focused on my body and my position, and parts where I was pushed outside of my comfort zone (handstands are not my strong suite).   When class was over, I felt happy, inspired, and my body felt good.  It was a fantastic way to start the day.

Summary:
Pros:  Fun, challenging, and unexpected.  Gets you outside of your head and your comfort zone.
Cons: For some, this class could be too much.  It moves quickly and there are some very challenging poses.

Daily Health Checklist

In times of high stress, it is easy to get out of our daily routines.  It is easy for us to feel overwhelmed and defeated, to lose our way, and just feel a sense of “making it through”.  We seem to only have the energy and the focus to get the day-to-day tasks done and our ability to care for ourselves starts to fall to the wayside.  However, it is during these time of high stress that we most desperately need our good habits.  We need sleep and good food to help us regain our strength and energy.  We need a plan we can blindly follow till we right the ship and feel like ourselves again.

I have been there, folks.

Last week, I was reading an article on the importance of a checklist.  The reporter had interviewed a doctor about a recent surgery that had gone bad.  The doctor was able to save the patient’s life, pumping the patient’s heart with his own hands.

“But skill and brainpower were not the reason Mr. Hagerman survived.  (Dr.) Gawande says what actually saved his patient’s life was a plan the surgical team had made before they began the surgery. This plan wasn’t grand or complicated. In fact, it was a humble checklist.”

Pilots, doctors, fireman and other high-stress occupations use (humble) checklists all the time so they can follow a plan even under the most difficult situations.  If these work when something goes wrong while fighting a fire, I am sure I can get one to work for me when my life is crazy.

So, I created my own checklist.  A daily list of reminders that is not too demanding, easy to follow, and allows me to keep my health and self-care a priority as life gets crazy.  Download the following checklist for the next time your life gets overwhelming and be prepared.  Health doesn’t have to be “grand or complicated”.  In our busy lives, simple and easy is the way to go.

Download Your Daily Health Checklist Here