Raleigh has its major snow storm of two inches with some ice following, and we all did what one does under those circumstances: stay home and hope that the power does not go out and that it gets warmer soon.
Our hopes were realized, and we are now gingerly walking around the icy patches left in neighborhood streets while all major roads are clear. Bright sunshine and temperatures around 55⁰ are working away on the rest of the ice and snow.
Since I had an entire day off yesterday AND I also recently got a new computer. This was the perfect day to re-install, modify and generally get acquainted with the new operating system. It also meant that I did what most of my clients do all day long: sit at a computer.
I use an exercise ball as a chair, and that is the way for me. I have a hard time sitting still, and a ball clearly accommodates that need to move. So as I bounced and shifted, it meant that my pelvis and lower back were never locked in any one position. Slouching is also rather difficult on a ball which means that I was sitting pretty much in good posture. I prefer a desktop over a laptop so that my screen and the keyboard are the right height for me.
With all that good setup, I still felt a need to get up and walk around, do something else for a while and went to my studio to MELT a few times in the course of the day. So by the end of the day, I was no worse for wear. Today, I will return to my normal use of a computer.
It gave me an appreciation, though, of the challenges of many people who have to stay at their desk all day long and can only take short breaks. Here is a link to a very interesting illustration to the long-term health hazards of sitting all day long http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/national/the-health-hazards-of-sitting/750/.
Sitting is the new smoking.
Yesterday afternoon marked the first occurrence of a MELT Length and Strength small group class which was dedicated from the onset as such.
I had been wrestling with the question on how to implement such a format into a group setting. One-on-one is easy, and I had done that long enough. There are a few MELT Strength moves which I had interspersed into my regular class, and then there were those very few occasions when the number of participants was not too great, and they were all pro-MELTers so that I could introduce the greater challenges of MELT Strength.
But this haphazard way did not feel right. Particularly after coming back from a MELT Refresh course in New York last month, I was determined to make it work.
From here on out, I will teach this in a small group of four participants at my studio every Sunday at 4 PM. Being at my studio allows me to advise whether the prospective participant has the base knowledge to make it a good fit. It also allows me to get to everybody and make sure that they are doing it right.
Since MELT Strength is not about barbell pumping, muscle building hypertrophy of pecs and biceps but instead about the re-integration of intrinsic stabilizers of the hip, shoulder girdle and core, it is important not to allow compensatory patterns to take over the small desired movements of the targeted muscles. That’s the reason for the small group.
When I was young, I wore high heels – a lot. Fortunately, because of many recreational interests, I also wore regular shoes or tennis shoes (that’s what we called it then) very often and have not suffered the foot deformities that I see quite often and which are usually the result of fashion footwear. At this point, let’s not go into all the resulting misalignments of the rest of the body.
Even today, I can be seen in heels. Let’s face it: there are some outfits where a nice set of heels really completes the look. And as long as the function does not include a lot of walking or standing – why not?
With the latest re-emergence (note the closeness to “emergency”) of high heels and plateaus, it’s déjà vu all over again. Apparently with the clear goal of securing the income of future podiatrists, here she comes ……
Recently I was asked to assess the walking style in those heels. Well, it looked rather clunky, and I thought how to communicate a better way of navigate in those stilettos.
So, if you must, try it this way: because heels force the pelvic into an anterior tilt, imagine pushing the tailbone down towards the floor, thus normalizing the excessive arch in the lower back. At the same time, lift your ribcage up a little, and the gait looks a lot better.
One more thing: carry a pair of comfy shoes as back-up.
It’s that time of the year again when the question arises whether or not to make New Year’s resolutions. I always do (and I won’t tell you what they are), and some I manage to keep, and others may need to be transferred to this year’s list.
To me, a new year always feels like a new notebook. The first page so pristine, the entire book not yet marked with stains. My best hand-writing was on that first page, and it (pretty much) stayed that way until I made the first mistake. After that, all bets were off, and I continued writing in my (now) old notebook until it was time to get a new one, and the process started all over again.
And this is what happens with resolutions all too often. We are able to stick with them pretty well until we mess up. Rather than acknowledging the lapse, we throw our hands up in the air, give up, and never get back on track.
Changing behaviors in particular is very difficult. But we will never get really good at it unless we continue to practice, practice, practice. There are tons of self-help books out there trying to assist with behavior change. They all work – of we use the advice in them and do what they suggest. Whether is it about losing weight, stopping smoking, starting an exercise program or any other thing that requires us to do things differently from the way we have grown accustomed to.
Some may say that they don’t even bother to make resolutions. That’s okay.
I do. I like to reflect on myself and my outlook on life. The more quiet time during the holidays gives me a great opportunity to do that. Then I make my list and put it in a place where I see it often. And now it’s time to open the new page.
I spent three days in New York last week. The occasion was an opportunity to take a refresher course with Sue Hitzmann on the MELT Length and Strength techniques.
I have been a MELT instructor for four years and have seen how this method can transform people’s wellbeing. I have also made every effort to educate myself on the underlying science of MELT. MELT is a funny kind of technique. It’s really simple in appearance but the reasoning beneath the simple veneer is profound. Even though I took every course Sue offered and also did not miss any opportunity of catching her at the conferences, I often lamented the fact that I never had a chance to take her classes and see her in action. Her refresh course in New York offered a marvelous opportunity.
MELT is still an evolving technique even as the foundation remained the same. Spending three days to review and re-learn enabled me to catch up on latest methods of teaching, deepen my understanding of some techniques, and even revise some errors in comprehension that I recognized. I came away feeling very well-grounded in the theory and practice of MELT and eager to apply what I have learned so that my clients and students can benefit.
I also walked away with an even greater appreciation of the depth of knowledge that Sue Hitzmann, the creator of MELT, has of the human body and its functioning. Her ability to translate her understanding of the body and the techniques she uses as a neuromuscular therapist into a comprehensive method which can even be taught in a class setting is nothing short of astounding. She is one of the smartest people I have ever known and I feel truly privileged to be one of her instructors. By creating MELT and teaching others to use it, she has touched already thousands of people and has made their lives better. What an accomplishment!
This week I started a new project. I am now a Walking Instructor and have partnered up with the company Humana by reaching out to the inactive and promoting better health by starting a walking program.
What has attracted me to this opportunity is that Humana offers this to everybody, member of their company or not. The participants receive really nice step counters that can be uploaded to a computer program and allows tracking of walking activities as well as other forms of exercise.
I am a great proponent of walking as exercise. It is one of my personal favorites, and I cannot think of many things I’d rather do than go for a walk with my dog.
Having the opportunity to reach out to people who would not contact a personal trainer and may not be members of a health club is a unique opportunity to interact with the great majority of inactive people.
Walking is something everybody can (and usually has to) do, and there are studies after studies confirming the benefits of it. But is has bedeviled the fitness industry for long on how to reach the inactive. You can lasso them and make them do things, no matter how beneficial it may be. And even with this program, they still have to take a bit of initiative and go to Humana and pick up a step counter.
On the day of the program launch, a fair number of people showed up and listened to me as I talked … and talked … and talked ….. I must have said something right because many of them showed up for the first day of the actual walking program and completed the first round of walks with me.
In order to keep things a little more interesting, I add some exercises to the walk which may be balance and flexibility, agility and interval training. I am often called ‘posture police’ by my clients, and I consider this a batch of honor as I pontificate about the importance of good posture as much as I can. And now I have another group of unsuspecting victims with my groups of walkers.
Will all of them stay with the program? It would be nice but probably not. However, I remind myself of the famous story with the starfish: I know that I made a difference to that one.
As a personal trainer, it is my job to assist clients to achieve their goals. Those goals are usually body-related, be it weight loss, gaining strength, improving stamina or bettering the handicap. They can also be mind-related; finding a way to deal with stress or learning how to focus on the connection between mind and body. But in any case, the goal is to improve, to make better and stronger.
And then came Parkinson ’s disease. A few months after I had starting training a new client, he received this diagnosis. What followed was a 16 year battle against the gradual deterioration of the body, dealing with the side effects of medications, adjusting to a new normal and constantly holding on to the status quo until Parkinson’s took another bite.
Over the years, I have learned to hate this disease which renders its victim ultimately helpless and completely dependent on the assistance of others. I have also seen the super-human effort required of the care-taker. The physical and emotional stress takes an enormous toll and makes the care-taker a second victim of the disease.
I have trained my client up until the end of July of this year even though he was hardly able to walk, and it took a great deal of effort on his part.
This week, I attended his memorial service.
I am usually heard saying that I live a very stress-free life, and it is true that very little fazes me.
It helps that I have complete control over my schedule, and if I pack too much on my plate it is my own doing. I also limit my exposure to the news and do not watch on TV scenes of catastrophes that I can do nothing about.
But this week I got stressed – in a major way. The reason? My dog Mr. Darcy. All of a sudden not doing well and giving conflicting messages. Eating and drinking okay but being lethargic, and once being barely able to walk, and the next moment walking just fine.
It was interesting for me to observe my own stress response to a powerful trigger. It was a situation from which I could not remove myself but had no means of changing. I could literally feel the stress hormones circulating in my body. The punch in the stomach! Sleep – forget it! Food – don’t even think about it! Off to the emergency vet we went, at least one action I could do. My favorite vet was on call, and my stress was down by half immediately.
Having an absolutely phenomenal veterinary specialty hospital nearby, he has been checked out inside and out, and I am optimistic that the reason will be found and that Mr. Darcy will soon be his usual self.
This experience made me think about stress in general. The perception of helplessness is for most people the greatest cause of the ‘stress response’, not the cause itself. I still maintain that all stress is an ‘inside job’, even if it is in situations that most people would characterize as stressful.
One of my standard pieces of advice is to say that – in a stressful situation – you may only be able to control the way you think about it if otherwise you do not have control. I still believe that it is sound advice even though I was not exactly a paragon of self-control when Mr. Darcy was not feeling well.
But I trust that he will soon be his own tail-wagging self again, and that I can return to my serene unstressed advice-giving persona.
I was in Germany a little while ago and spent four days in an area that used to be East Germany. I am so fortunate as to have a friend there who loves the region and shows it off to visitors. So I was a tourist with an excellent guide and want to share some of the beauties and wonders I got to see.
The city of Magdeburg (the capitol of the state of Saxony-Anhalt) is interesting so see. Located at the river Elbe, it has many pretty parks and landmarks. My favorite is the ‘”Hundertwasserhaus”, Check out this website http://www.gruene-zitadelle.de/englisch/ and marvel how funky straight-laced Germans can be.
Further on the tracks of architects, I also visited the Bauhaus (which is more than just a font style) in Dessau, designed by Gropius just after the First World War. His architecture influenced much of modern design, and while I am not a personal fan of the austere functionalism, it is amazing to see it emerge at an era so long ago. Here is another link for more information http://www.bauhaus-dessau.de/english/home.html.
Also in Dessau is the location of an unrivaled landscape of parks, waterways and little chalets. It is even possible to rent historical structures as weekend vacation homes. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and I also have a link for you to check this out http://www.woerlitz-information.de/woerlitz-en/ho/ho_lp.php?&PHPSESSID=760e0f8d3e1195700e01566235bf15c3.
Just the next day, I saw another UNESCO Word Heritage site, the city of Quedlinburg, a medieval village near a low mountain range called ‘Harz’ with the largest collection of half-timbered houses. It has everything a tourist needs: a castle on one side, an abbey on the other, plenty of shops and restaurants in between on cobblestone streets. Here is a short youtube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRs2Po4kAL4 and more information http://www.germany.travel/en/towns-cities-culture/unesco-world-heritage/quedlinburg-old-town.html.
Other places in close range are the towns of Wittenberg and Eisleben, known for their relationship to Martin Luther who was born and died in the latter and posted his famous proclamations at the church in Wittenberg. There are interesting museums where he was born, lived and died. Some rooms are still there, and I liked the way the museums provided context for his life and work. Here are links to Wittenberg http://www.sacred-destinations.com/germany/wittenberg-luther-house and to Eisleben http://www.sacred-destinations.com/germany/eisleben-luthers-geburtshaus-birth-house and http://www.sacred-destinations.com/germany/eisleben-luthers-sterbehaus-death-house.
And if you are into domes and cathedrals, there is none like the dome of Halberstadt which houses one of the most significant treasures in the world. It has priceless tapestries which date from 1150 AD and are beautifully preserved. You may have seen the beautiful tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn in Paris. Those were woven around 1500. It appears, however, that the people of Halberstadt want to keep this treasure a secret. I could not find an English web link! So here is one in German only http://www.die-domschaetze.de/de/dom-und-domschatz-halberstadt/domschatz.html.
And while I was there, I heard about the Sky Disk of Nebra (which really lent itself to be made into jewelry and thus returned with me to the US). This disk is about 1 foot in diameter and shows different moon phases and stars. It was found about 15 years ago in that area. It is made of bronze and it quite beautiful. What makes this find absolutely astounding is the fact that it has been dated to about 1600 BCE !!!!!! That was a time well before the glory days of Greek and Roman civilizations, while the pharaohs in Egypt started on the Valley of the Kings with King Thutmose I, and we have the first traces of the Mayas. Stonehenge, however, had already been built. Here is a link with images to this extraordinary disk which is now at a museum in the city of Halle http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebra_sky_disk.
After having seen all that and more, I want to share this with as many people as possible. Tourism to Germany is often reduced to a trip up and down the river Rhine with a side swipe to Berlin, Munich, Neuschwanstein, Heidelberg and Rothenburg where the tourist is catered to with a production of “Germany for the American” with Lederhosen and all.
I hope I was able to demonstrate that there is more to Germany than that.
I am packing my bags again, this time to go to Germany for a week. Since I have been complaining about the direct flights from Raleigh to Los Angeles a few weeks ago, I am looking forward to travel part of my vacation with mixed emotions.
I got plenty of advice on how not to get sick, and this time I am hedging my bets with a combination of Airborne and tea tree oil. The agenda on the other side of the Atlantic will not be as hectic as going to a conference. I will spend three days with a dear friend who has three dogs, and I am anticipating long walks and even longer talks.
After that, I will go to the city of Hannover where I grew up and lived until the age of 26. UP to my mother’s death two years ago, I went often. This visit will probably be my last, and I hope to see a good number of friends.
Another much anticipated event is my 40th High School Reunion. I had little contact with old class mates except for one person, and while I look forward to meet them again, I dearly hope that I will see some of my teachers. It’s such a shame that one has to be at least 25 years out of school to truly value what they have done and how they have influenced one’s life. I could never have imagined 40 years ago that I would be sitting here in Raleigh, NC, writing a blog, having had an 18 year career with IBM, and now being in my 18th year as a fitness trainer.
Time flies ……..