A few days ago, an article appeared in our local newspaper on stretching which stated – quite correctly – that the recommendations now are to stretch at the end of a workout. What had me just about jump out of my skin was that the pictures for the article were taken in my MELT class but no further reference was made to MELT.
After both blood pressure and heart rate had returned back to normal, I went ahead and wrote a letter to the editor explaining the difference between stretching and MELT.
I started off by saying that writing an article on stretching while showing a picture from a MELT class is like writing an article about apples and showing oranges.
One of MELT’s goals is to bring the body into better alignment using various decompression techniques (for example for the neck and lower back) after self-evaluations by the participants. The MELT techniques rehydrate the connective tissue (aka fascia) system of the body. Many participants comment after a class that they feel as if they had a massage.
MELT can be done at any time; the recommendations are to MELT after cardiovascular exercises but BEFORE strength training. The last part is particularly important. Strength training is more effective and a lot safer if the exerciser is first aware of the body’s alignment and has taken steps to improve it. The best comparison is to car maintenance. If you notice uneven tire wear, you get it balanced and aligned. Surely, the body deserves no less.
After the workout stretch all you want.
I had not intended that this blog would go beyond things relating to fitness but it is a deep desire on my part to be on record about a subject that is currently hotly discussed in North Carolina.
Amendment One is a proposed constitutional amendment which, if passed, would codify into the constitution of North Carolina that the only legally recognized relationship between two people is a marriage between a man and a woman.
While obviously aimed to enshrine a ban on same-sex marriages (which are not allowed in North Carolina under current law already), the wording of the amendment could possibly exclude any other forms of domestic partnerships and thus even complicate opposite-sex relationships outside of marriages.
There is something about this proposed amendment that is deeply troubling to me. If I turned the clock back just 42 years to the year 1970, my marriage would not have been possible under the laws of North Carolina at that time. My husband is black, and I am white. The first legal interracial marriage did not happen here until October 6, 1971.
If anybody would have proposed then a constitutional amendment to ban interracial marriage, it may have passed with flying colors, supported by the same arguments that are now used to vilify another segment of the population.
I realize that my opinion may be offending to some, and I am sorry for them.
Today is April 15, the day dreaded by many, if only on principle. That date was established in 1955, and it is hard to imagine that there would be anybody who does not know of it. This brings me to my subject of this blog: time management and its sibling stress management.
Stress is an interesting thing as it is always internal and manifests itself in our response to external circumstances. That’s why I find it strange that people even create the stress-inducing external circumstances by procrastination. This can be tax day or any other deadline which is well known in advance. Yet, there are those who claim that they work the best under pressure.
It is true: stress hormones prepare the body for action and can heighten awareness. But those hormones prepare for PHYSICAL action; the movement of fingers on a keyboard does not count.
Long-term effects of stress impact the entire body: the cardiovascular, digestive and immune system. Sleep becomes an issue thus compromising the body repair and restore function.
People who are chronically late have probably already been told of any time management known to man.
What I want to suggest here is to take a MELT class. MELT quiets the stress reflex and brings the body to a more aligned and natural state. My regular MELTers have been telling me that they also see an improvement in sleep which is the body’s way of restoring health.
I love this time of year in Raleigh, North Carolina. The dogwoods and azaleas are blooming, and the trees have this freshness of new green.
And then there is the YELLOW! It turns all cars into a uniform color of yellowish-green and covers the entire city. I drove down the highway at dusk and suspected that there must be a fire somewhere. And then I realized that the haze was created by pollen.
Personally, I am fortunate. I sneeze a few times and am done with it. My poor dog Mr. Darcy has a more intimate relationship with the pollen because he does what dogs do – sniff. I am sure he’ll be glad when it’s over.
For those suffering from allergies, the beauty is lost when you try to view it through watery eyes.
I know that there are enough medications available but I want to talk about a device that I have personally used for years: a Neti Pot. It is a little porcelain pot, looking like a mini watering can, and it is used for nasal irrigation. I started using it upon the recommendation of a friend. I had had a very bad cold and was completely stuffed up. Well, that cleared it out like nothing ever did.
Neti Pots are not new inventions. They come from ayurvedic medicine and are centuries old. If you google ‘Neti Pot’, you’ll easily find recommendations from WebMD to the Mayo Clinic. You can also find Youtube videos that show you how to use one.
I want to add my own endorsement as a regular user: ever since I began using one, I rarely had a cold, and I always have the great sensation of freedom of breathing because my nasal passages are clear. It may seem a little strange at first, but I believe it is worth giving it a try.
It happened again: daylight savings struck; somebody stole an hour of sleep from me and I have only now adjusted to it. I love daylight savings time with the extra hour of daylight in the evening but I need a week to get used to it.
That prompted me to reflect on the importance of a good night’s sleep. It’s not that easy to come by, it seems, judging by the amount of sleep medication that is prescribed nowadays.
While there are disorders that interfere with sleep and need medical intervention, there are habits you can develop, and here is what the Mayo Clinic suggests as a first line of help:
No. 1: Stick to a sleep schedule
Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, even on weekends, holidays and days off. Being consistent reinforces your body's sleep-wake cycle and helps promote better sleep at night. There's a caveat, though. If you don't fall asleep within about 15 minutes, get up and do something relaxing. Go back to bed when you're tired. If you agonize over falling asleep, you might find it even tougher to nod off.
No. 2: Pay attention to what you eat and drink
Don't go to bed either hungry or stuffed. Your discomfort might keep you up. Also limit how much you drink before bed, to prevent disruptive middle-of-the-night trips to the toilet.
Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol deserve caution, too. The stimulating effects of nicotine and caffeine which take hours to wear off can wreak havoc with quality sleep. And even though alcohol might make you feel sleepy at first, it can disrupt sleep later in the night.
No. 3: Create a bedtime ritual
Do the same things each night to tell your body it's time to wind down. This might include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book (personally, I suggest Henry David Thoreau), or listening to soothing music — preferably with the lights dimmed. Relaxing activities can promote better sleep by easing the transition between wakefulness and drowsiness.
Be wary of using the TV or other electronic devices as part of your bedtime ritual. Some research suggests that screen time or other media use before bedtime interferes with sleep.
No. 4: Get comfortable
Create a room that's ideal for sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet. Consider using room-darkening shades, earplugs, a fan or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.
Your mattress and pillow can contribute to better sleep, too. Since the features of good bedding are subjective, choose what feels most comfortable to you. If you share your bed, make sure there's enough room for two. If you have children or pets, set limits on how often they sleep with you — or insist on separate sleeping quarters.
No. 5: Limit daytime naps
Long daytime naps can interfere with nighttime sleep — especially if you're struggling with insomnia or poor sleep quality at night. If you choose to nap during the day, limit yourself to about 10 to 30 minutes and make it during the midafternoon.
If you work nights, you'll need to make an exception to the rules about daytime sleeping. In this case, keep your window coverings closed so that sunlight — which adjusts your internal clock — doesn't interrupt your daytime sleep.
No. 6: Include physical activity in your daily routine
Regular physical activity can promote better sleep, helping you to fall asleep faster and to enjoy deeper sleep. Timing is important, though. If you exercise too close to bedtime, you might be too energized to fall asleep. If this seems to be an issue for you, exercise earlier in the day.
No. 7: Manage stress
When you have too much to do — and too much to think about — your sleep is likely to suffer. To help restore peace to your life, consider healthy ways to manage stress. Start with the basics, such as getting organized, setting priorities and delegating tasks. Give yourself permission to take a break when you need one. Share a good laugh with an old friend. Before bed, jot down what's on your mind and then set it aside for tomorrow.
Know when to contact your doctor
Nearly everyone has an occasional sleepless night — but if you often have trouble sleeping, contact your doctor. Identifying and treating any underlying causes can help you get the better sleep you deserve.
I just came back from listening to a wonderful concert by the North Carolina Symphony.
As I was ambling around in the lobby before the concert and during intermission, then watching my fellow concert-goers in the concert hall itself and looking at the musicians on stage, I began the think about good posture of the human body.
While there is a concept of ideal posture as shown in anatomy books, each person has the capacity to have the best posture possible within the framework of his/her body. As those thoughts crossed my mind, I looked around.
There are the seats on the concert hall which make it almost impossible to sit upright. Just about everybody I watched was in a posterior pelvic tilt, forward rounded shoulders and a head that was jotted forward. In this position, you can’t take a full and deep breath. I remembered reading that shallow breathing can alter blood chemistry because of the relative lack of oxygen. This can lead to many problems, including depression. When we see somebody who is really upset and we try to calm the person down, we usually suggest to relax and to take a deep breath.
I also thought how much of this position I was watching in the concert hall was the normal position for many people for the greater part of the day. So it was little wonder that standing postures were not much better. There was still the pelvic tilt, the forward rounded shoulders and the head-forward position.
So: what can you do about it? It is my firm belief that bad posture starts as a bad habit and that much ban be corrected through awareness alone.
So stand up straight and take a deep breath.
Just came back from the IDEA Personal Trainer Institute in Alexandria, Virginia. As with the many IDEA conferences I attended before, this one provided interesting sessions by world class presenters. I returned home with food for thought, 12 foam rollers, 1 Bosu (already spoken for) and 2 Lebert Equalizer bars.
As is always the case at IDEA conferences, it is an opportunity to renew acquaintances, to network and to exchange ideas with other trainers. It was fun to contrast this conference to IDEA World Fitness which is larger in scope and attendance and also focuses on group exercise. The dynamic of the (mostly) younger instructors makes IDEA World Fitness noisier, and the large international attendance has always been fun for me. But I also appreciated the lower key of the Personal Trainer Institute. It felt like a conference for the grown-ups :-)
The thing that struck me this time was the increased focus on stress reduction strategies which were discussed in several sessions I took. Of course, there is MELT with its application to quiet the stress reflex. But I also learned about the correlation of breathing and potential weight loss and nutrition consideration to reduce inflammation. The nervous system is beginning to be a more prominent player in the fitness consciousness, and the central role of the enteric nervous system (of the gut) is included in the discussion. Funny that I just finished reading an entire book about the enteric nervous system! It made comprehension of those concepts so much easier.
Now I need to digest the information without letting myself get stressed about it :-)
Reading is a great pastime for me, and right now I am learning about the enteric nervous system which is that part of the nervous system that regulates the entire digestive tract. The book is called ‘The Second Brain’; it is by Michael D. Gershon, MD.
What caught my attention was the fact that our digestive system, particularly the colon, is host to a myriad of bacteria, all in perfect balance so the good guys are controlled by the bad ones. I had been reading about the concern about the extensive use of antibiotics but I had not understood to consequences as well as I do now. We all know that it takes quite some time to create a new antibiotic; but a bacterium can reproduce after about 20 minutes! No wonder that they can be resistant so quickly! You may think that this is not a problem if you rarely, if ever take antibiotics. However, it you eat meat and chicken, chances are that you are ingesting antibiotics after all because many farm animals get that added to their feed because of the farming conditions in which they are kept.
I do not mean to spoil anybody’s appetite, and I am also not suggesting that you become a vegetarian (which I am) but it may be wise to look for meat and chicken that has been raised without the use of antibiotics. It may cost a little more but this could be a small price to pay in the long haul.
On my forays into the audiobook section at my local library, I recently stumbled into the book “Counter Clockwise: Mindful Health and the power of Possibility” by Ellen J. Langer. As I listened, I was more and more intrigued by the findings.
The Romans already declared that there is a healthy mind in a healthy body (mens sana in corpore sano), some believe in “Mind over Matter”, and the researchers are looking into the relationship between mind and body.
The subject of Ellen Langer’s book explores this relationship, and she does so from an interesting angle. Henry Ford observed quite correctly: "Whether you believe you can, or you can't, you are right", and it appears that this statement extends well beyond academic accomplishment.
Ellen Langer demonstrates in an experiment that it is possible to turn back the clock. She took nursing home residents and placed them into an environment reminiscent of a time many years earlier, and – in a way – people were told to role play for the duration of the study. And – guess what – at the end of the study, the participants had many significant improvements on a vast array of measurable parameters.
Ellen Langer also looks at language and how it can empower or disempower. This struck a chord for me because – as a trainer – I always like to challenge my clients to do new and different things even though I am careful to only pick things that are within their reach. I sometimes encounter clients who initially will state that they do not believe that they can do it. Usually they then proceed to do the ‘impossible’, and this budding believe into their own abilities then feeds on itself.
It is not possible to do this book justice in just a few paragraphs. I want to encourage you to read it for yourself. You may just end up being several years younger at the end of it.
Are you planning to make any New Year’s Resolutions? Do you feel that you may as well get the list from last year because you have not made any progress on any of those good intentions?
Personally, I believe in New Year’s Resolutions. It feels to me that there is an opportunity for a new start. But how can you make sure that, this year, you will really accomplish your goals?
Here are a few recommendations. I have used weight loss as an example, as this is probably the # 1 goal for most people.
- Keep a food diary. This is a proven tool in those who are successful at losing weight.
- Define small steps and be specific. For example: “I will replace caloric drinks with non-caloric drinks.”
- Increase your activity level. No matter how you slice it: you need to expend more calories than you consume to lose weight. But if you are inactive now, start with small goals that you actually can achieve. Those small steps add up. I like pedometer that do nothing but counting steps. The ‘magic’ number is 10,000 steps a day. But if you are today at 2,000, aim for 2,500 first and then see whether you can increase the number gradually.
- I believe that virtue is usually lack of opportunity. Do not expose yourself to temptation. If you have a hard time to eat only one piece of chocolate, don’t buy a box and take it home. If you must, buy yourself ONE piece.
- Find out who your friends are and who the accomplices are. Friends will help you stay the course and will not tell you that ‘you have deserved a break’.
- Plan for setbacks. So: you’ve blown it yesterday. Big deal. There is no reason to kiss your entire plan good-bye. Get back on track immediately.
So what’s keeping you now? Sit down and commit your goals to paper. And then do the best you can to achieve them. Good luck, and a happy 2012!