Go ahead. Be lured by the clean slate.

This is the time of year when you should feel motivated and energized, pumped up by the promise of a fresh start and all the sweet wonderfulness that your resolution successes will bring. If you don’t feel that, you might want to take a look at why.

I know resolutions aren’t for everyone—and actually I think that’s a good thing. I always say that resolutions can be made any day of the year. But you can’t deny that clean slate that January 1 offers. There’s just something about starting a new year that makes even the non-resolution-makers feel like making a fresh start.

If you aren’t moved by that feeling, aren’t remotely inclined to try a little harder, then ask yourself what’s going on inside. What’s dragging you down and allowing you to live the Groundhog Day kind of life?

If it’s the drudgery of your job, maybe it’s time to start looking for a new one, or maybe take a class to learn a new (and hopefully marketable) skill. If it’s the morning routine of getting your kids up and out the door (I don’t choose that one randomly), do some research or have a family pow-wow and come up with ways the morning can be made more enjoyable (or least less horrible!).

And wait for it: Try adding exercise to your life. The hamster wheel you feel like you’re on might release you if you have the bounce in your step, the extra burst of confidence and energy that can only come from 30 minutes of exercise every day. I am so confident that you will be a happier—more resolute—person, I’d be willing to bet you on it. You will never, not ever, regret exercising. And it truly might be that one thing that will make aiming higher in a new year seem like a great idea.

The key to a longer life? You may be standing on it.

You know what’s scary? Not being able to rise from the sofa without pushing off with your hands. Did you know that strong quadriceps can equal longer life?

Your quadriceps—or quads—are the large muscles on the front of your thighs. You use them whenever you move, but especially for climbing stairs, walking, and pushing yourself up out of that chair or sofa. When your quads are strong, you will more easily climb stairs without losing your balance, but when you do slip on a pebble and falter, they’ll likely be the muscles that save you from falling. So when the quads are weak, you are more at risk for falls. You’re also more likely to spend too much time sitting. And of course too much sitting leads to weight gain… and we all know the downward spiral that can lead to in the body.

People who are more mobile tend to live longer, and with weak quadriceps muscles you’ll be less mobile. It’s tremendously important to work the muscles in your legs so you can stay active. Try sitting on a bench and coming to an upright standing position without moving your feet—do it 10 times or so until you feel a burn in your thighs. (Make sure to keep your knees over your ankles, never over your toes!) Squats and leg presses are excellent exercises for your quads, but be sure you ask a professional or friend who knows proper form to show you how to perform the exercises before you try them. It takes some work to stay healthy, but it’s worth it!

Back to School Time, Back to YOU Time

With the kids back in school, you can finally think a complete thought start to finish again. And maybe one of your thoughts involves getting back into an exercise routine. That’s a good thought, and you should act on it, because as we tell our kids, when we exercise, it makes us better parents.

Search for something new if you need more motivation than a gym membership. Look for an activity that you’ve always thought you might like to try, and see if it fits into your schedule. “Date around” and try a few different classes or activities without commitment. Eventually you’ll land on one that might stick!

If you’re nervous about getting back to the gym because it’s been a while and equipment (or your body) has changed, do a few private sessions with a trainer, who can get you up to speed, so you’ll be better prepared to go solo.

Hopefully you’ve been looking forward to this time—this little bit of YOU time. You deserve it, you need it, and you owe it to yourself and your family to stay in shape. So get out there and find a new workout routine…and then stick to it!

For a Tighter Body, Open Your Mind

Funny how often I talk and write about headspace when my work revolves around the body. The more I work on bodies, though, the more I learn just how symbiotic the relationship is between the head and the heart.

Whether you’re a metaphysical thinker or not, there are few who will deny that a positive attitude helps the body behave the way you want it to behave. Thinking about getting well helps your body overcome a cold much faster than dwelling on the sickness; imagining your body as light and fast makes a run fly by with some enjoyment, whereas focusing on being heavy and sluggish makes each step a burden.

Peel it back another layer. Are there barriers to your physical health that a deeper dive into your mind might help bring down? One thing I didn’t expect as a trainer was how much of my job would be acting as a therapist. I’ve come to cherish this aspect of my work. Not every trainer will go there, of course. And not every client wants to go there. To me, though, talking through a workout can mean chatting to keep your mind off the hard work you’re doing, or—and often—having epiphanies every now and again about why you can’t stop eating the chips, or why you don’t like to run, or even why you got overweight in the first place. Sometimes figuring some of these things out leads to spillover epiphanies, like “My friend’s strange behavior might be a reaction to my successful loss of weight. It’s her problem! It’s not me!” This happens a lot, because changing your lifestyle by adding more exercise can equate to a more positive overall attitude—and the people who were attracted to your old, woe-is-me personality won’t always be the same people you’ll attract to your new and improved, happier personality. There’s a lot of psychology going on there… and it’s important to talk about it.

Sometimes I even recommend that people who embark on a particularly huge lifestyle-changing exercise routine see a true therapist at the same time. Your head and your heart depend on each other, so it’s important to keep them in simultaneous working order. Don’t take the head stuff lightly—taking a closer look at what’s going on in there could be just the thing to get you to the next level in your physical fitness.

Down, but SO Not Out

It’s not easy to admit that my body is getting older. I subscribe fully to the truth that age is only a number, otherwise meaningless. I put my body through workouts now that are possibly tougher than some of the ones I did 20 years ago. And yet, I am learning I am not invincible. To be fair, I wasn’t invincible 20 years ago either. But at least back then I wasn’t expected to realize that.

Last week I strained my back—that’s where this is stemming from. It wasn’t too terrible—I could still walk and drive, I wasn’t confined to the sofa—but I was debilitated. I couldn’t pick up my son, or the cat fur I saw on the floor. Worse, I couldn’t work out. It was highly frustrating. I felt like I could see my body changing before my eyes, and then realized it had only been 2 days since I’d last exercised.

The very first thing I did when it happened was some light but consistent (hourly) stretching so my back wouldn’t just stiffen up. Getting into the stretches hurt a bit, but the stretches themselves felt wonderful. I used a cold pack and tried to lie still a while. Then I went to see an RN who’s also a personal trainer. She said, “You know why they sent you to me? Because I’m going to tell you to take the advice you give your clients every single day!” I really don’t know why I paid for the visit. I dish it out all the time:
1. Rest and ice. Just for a couple of days! Come on!
2. Ibuprofen for the inflammation—regular doses, don’t be afraid to take the meds.
3. Stretch, stretch, stretch! One yoga class a week will not suffice!
4. Vary your workouts. Too much of any one thing will almost certainly result in injury of some variety.

Just days before my strain I had been noting to myself that I had been doing almost exclusively high-impact exercise of late. My schedule has been keeping me from my usual lower-impact choices, like spinning, and we’ve been doing lots and lots of extra walking with this beautiful weather—to the point that my feet have been hurting a little. So I actually rode the bike at the gym one day—something I never do because I think it’s boring, and used the elliptical-style machine—ditto about the boring—and then, bang! The next day I bent over and my muscle spasmed and my body said, “too little too late.”

I am so grateful that my injury wasn’t as bad as I know some back injuries can be. Three days after it happened I ran in a neighborhood race. I attribute my quick recovery to all the work I do to stay strong in my legs and my core—they came to my rescue! And I took this surprise pain as a clear sign that I need to start treating my body with even more care. I don’t plan to ease up on my workouts, but I absolutely need to balance the running with the spinning and swimming and strength work, laying off from all the pounding of running to challenge my body in other ways to give my back a break. I think I’ll also take this as a sign that it’s time to start getting regular massages!

I’m an active person, always have been, and sharing the passion is what I live for. But that doesn’t mean I’m above routine aches and pains. It’s time to admit that I’m only human, and that while exercise fixes most body issues, it can also cause some—if we’re not careful.

Are You Brave Enough to Be a B Student?

My right quad is a little trembly but I’m holding my triangle pose patiently as my yoga teacher takes a moment to adjust a new person in class. I take my eyes off myself in the mirror for just a second, glance around the room at some other nearby triangle poses. It’s funny—I’m impressed, but it’s not the poses of the seasoned yogis that catch my eye. What I like to see is someone who knows when to hold back.

It is in our nature to want to please the teacher, or at least follow the herd, and by this I am referring to all those times when the instructor says, “Don’t continue to the next part of the exercise until your body is ready for it,” yet five people who are clearly not ready for it continue on anyway because everyone else is doing it. The person who impresses me, who I want to send a secret smile, is the one who doesn’t move on past her current level—who is working very hard at the level she is now, and knows that when she is ready, she’ll know it, and will try to move forward then.

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This is a digression but I promise it will make sense in a minute: I am so into Neil deGrasse Tyson right now—the brilliant and multitalented astrophysicist who is hosting the new series “Cosmos.” I like him because he’s smart and passionate about his interests, but I really like his insights into how to be a better person. For example, he says to teachers: Don’t take credit for your straight-A students—straight-A students were going to get all As with or without you. But if you have a B student and lifted him up to an A student, then you can be proud of that accomplishment. In other words, pay closer attention to those B and C students, because they need encouragement where the A kids already have it.

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If you’re a “B student” in your weight-lifting class, hold your teacher’s attention by trying your hardest as the B student you are. Let those heavy-lifting, perfect-form A students do their thing—admire only long enough to know that it’s in your power to get there, too, with hard work and consistent progress. But a good teacher will see your efforts, and encourage with gentle tips, or nudges to push harder when you might otherwise be nervous. Be proud to be a B student, determined and working at the level appropriate for you. It’s safer, it’s likely to pay off, and it’s impressive.

I Am My Body

Dr. Seuss’ birthday is March 2nd. So here, a tribute:

 

I am my body, my body is me.

I’m living inside it, you get what you see.

 

Treat it with care and the world seems so vast,

Strength and agility make youthfulness last.

 

Energy leaps from my fingers and toes—

I follow that spirit wherever it goes.

 

To yoga! To spinning! To run on the ‘Line!

Of course to lift weights, too—(you’ve got to make time…)

 

Water, I must say, is my drink of choice,

To recharge and hydrate, and here we rejoice—

 

Because also that water can help keep me slim!

It’s not like your Cokes that you sip on a whim.

 

One sip, then two sips, then three sips, then four—

Now you are looking but can’t find your core.

 

It’s missing! It’s buried, it’s in there somewhere—

Your abs were so tight once, you know they’re in there!

 

Come back to the bright side. Take shelter, get clean.

Bad habits are just that—and from those you can wean.

 

Remember your body is your living space.

Be tidy, sweep often, live large and EMBRACE!

Homemade-so-you-know-what-you’re-eating Energy Bars (that happen to be vegan)

Ever wonder if your “energy bar” is really more like a candy bar with a good marketing firm? If not, you should. Make a batch of these and they’ll last you for weeks (and won’t clean out your wallet like those bars).

Super-Scrumptious Homemade-so-you-know-what-you’re-eating Energy Bars
(Thanks to New Jersey restaurant Wildflower for this recipe, published in a book we love, Virgin Vegan)

3 c quick oats
6 oz chocolate chips (dairy-free if possible)
½ c shredded coconut
½ c sunflower seeds
½ c chopped walnuts
½ c sliced almonds
½ c dried cranberries or raisins
1 c nut butter of your choice
½ c agave syrup
½ c brown rice syrup
½ T vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl and liquid ingredients in a small bowl. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry; mix well. Pour batter into an 8” x 8” (or similar) baking pan and press evenly with spatula until mixture is well distributed. Bake for 18 – 20 minutes until top is light brown. Remove from oven and cool.

What's in YOUR energy bar?

What’s in YOUR energy bar?

Can be cut into bars once cooled. Keeps at room temperature for weeks! (But can be frozen for extended time.)

Clear Your Clutter

I say it at the start of every year: Clear your clutter. It’s not healthy to live in a cluttered house or with a cluttered mind. You’ve got to make room. Out with the old, in with the new. Create some space. That’s the way to move forward.

Even if you don’t have new resolutions this year—even if you don’t believe in making resolutions, it’s a great time to make way for new opportunities. Be open to the idea and interesting things might just start to happen. You absolutely never know what’s going to happen when you wake up in the morning. You might have your routine, but what if the doorbell rings and a package is delivered that changes the course of your day? Your life? It could happen. But do you have room for that opportunity? You’ve got to clear your clutter.

Getting rid of the baby toys now that your kids are 7 and 10 years old is an obvious one. But what about the nagging voice in your head telling you you really should get a physical this year? What about the exhausting ongoing argument you’re having with your sister that keeps you from spending holidays together? That’s all clutter, too. You can continue to live with a closet full of baby toys and Christmases spent with your husband’s family, but is that how you want to start another year? This is the time. Clean your slate and make way for the new.