Thursday, December 5, 2013

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Day 91: Destination - Meditation

The relaxation technique for Day 3 of 
5 Ways in 5 Days to Handle Stress 
is my favorite!

Meditation! True, it may seem like another woo-woo, new-agey thing to do, but I think of it like this. 

Imagine you are at your house, feeling stressed and trying to figure out why you can’t relax, but all the while your tv is on, your phone is ringing, the iPod is playing, the dishwasher is clanging loudly, the microwave and oven are beeping, the dog is barking, the smoke alarm is going off, the bathtub is overflowing, your toddler is flipping the lights on and off, the vacuum is vrooming.. you get the idea.

We are bombarded with stimuli in a similar way every day. Meditation disciples the mind and focuses on relaxing the body. When I ask you to clear your mind, think of the noisy house analogy, as if the house was your mind. We need to shut off the noise and distraction. Take a walk around your mind and shut things off. If the vacuum turns back on, switch it off. Your mind needs a break from the bombardment of too much stimulation and with this technique, you are doing just that.

Relaxation Technique #3: Meditation

The purpose of this relaxation technique is to get out of your head and into your body. Most of us live completely within our mind, in terms of our awareness and can separate ourselves from the rest of our physical body, ignoring signals that it may be sending us. Daily activities tax our bodies, and yet we push through them without taking time to rest and we build up stress tension in our muscles, joints and spine.

We will be activating the Sympathetic Nervous System or Rest & Repose response, which helps increase blood flow & oxygen levels, reduce toxin levels in the bloodstream, aid kidney and liver function, improve digestion and metabolism, and reduce stress tension in the muscles.

What you will need:
-A quiet, warm space, free of distractions (phone, TV, kids, pets, noise)
-A comfortable chair
-A timer
-Anything required for the focus point option of your choice (essential oils, music, etc)
-A glass of water sitting nearby, to be drunk after the session
-Pen & paper (optional)

How to meditate

1. Sit in a quiet place, where you are warm & comfortable, and undisturbed, but don’t lay down. If you want to take a nap that’s fine, but don’t lay down while meditating.

2. Chose one of the other 4 senses to focus on. See the below list;

How to take your pulse while meditating

Focus Point Options
This is the physical focal point for this session
  • Tap your thumb and pointer finger together intermittently, or wiggle your toes rhythmically.
  • Take your pulse. Place both hands in your lap, with one facing up, and the other facing down. With the downward facing hand, straighten the pointer and index finger and feel for the vein just below the base of the thumb on the opposite hand to find your pulse. This is where your hands should rest. Focus on your heart beat throughout the session.
  • Focus on your breath. Lay your hand on your stomach and pay attention to the rise and fall of your torso with each  breath.
  • Use the Deep Diaphramatic Breathing technique from Day 1.
  • Putting a grape in your mouth but do not break the skin or chew on it, simply hold it in your mouth.
Burn an aromatic candle or heat essential oils on a warmer.
  • Rub a tiny drop of Lavender or Tea Tree essential oil* just under your nose.  If you are sick, you can rub some Vicks or Eucalyptus essential oil on your chest. *Note: If you should have a mild allergic reaction, such as sneezing, watery eyes or itching, rinse the area with a washcloth soaked in cold water. Do not use warm or hot water!
  • Turning on a small fountain or nature sounds like running water or rain.
  • Turn on some quiet music. Do NOT use modern music. The only music that will not distract is music without words, that is mellow and relaxing, preferably music without a recognisable tune. Search Pandora or Spotify for “meditation” playlists.

3. Set the timer for 15-20 minutes. You may do more time if you wish.

4. Close your eyes.  I would recommend closing your eyes because visual stimuli is distracting (ooh, look at all the laundry I should be folding).

5. Take a deep breath. Each time you inhale, sit up straight. Each time you exhale, let your shoulders drop, your muscles relax.

6. Try to focus on clearing your mind of all the things you have to do, all the thoughts that may enter it while you are sitting quietly.

  • You may keep a small notepad and pen to jot down important thoughts that you can come back to later. Once it is on the page, clear it from your mind and go back to your focus point.
  • You may also use your focus point as a mental target, to center your focus back to. If your mind starts to wander, take another deep breath and focus on your focus option (the grape in your mouth, the smell of your aromatherapy oils, your pulse, etc.)

6. Breathe and focus on your physical body, your breath, or your focus point. Clear your mind of distractions. Repeat until the timer activates.

7. Once the time is up, drink a large glass of water and go about with your day. You can repeat this technique as often as you chose.
> I hope this relaxation technique is helpful. Try it and let me know what you think!

Breakfast: scrambled eggs on toast
Snack: cinnamon oatmeal
Lunch: turkey chili, mini peppers and a HBE
Dinner: Veggie stir fry with pork loin
Snack: a mini pint of ice cream (5oz)

I tell you what folks, I am STRUGGLING with exercise when it's cold. I need a goal and a plan. I know I've been saying it for a while not, but it's true. I need a pep talk!

Thanks So Much for Reading!!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Day 90: Relax! Go To It!

I am really excited about today's relaxation technique! This is my go-to way to relax when my mind and body are wound up. Sometimes I don't know how wound up and tense I am until I do it, but when I'm done, I feel like a new woman. Or I just fall asleep because I am so relaxed!

The key concept for this technique is called an "Isometric Contraction": it's a fancy term for working the muscle without moving it. Here's a practical example: imagine you are holding up a bucket of sand. This is an isometric contraction.The muscle is working, lifting the bucket, but since it is heavy, your arm does not go up more, it stays static, in one place. If you need to move the body parts in order to understand how to engage it, that's ok.

I take the time to explain this because doing isometric contractions are a key part of today's 5 Ways in 5 Days to Handle Stress.

Coming soon: Watch the Video!

Technique #2: Contract & Relax Muscle Relaxation 
This is a great technique to pair with meditation or to use on it's own. I use it when I can't fall asleep.

Lay down (face up) in an area where you will not be disturbed for at least 30 minutes without being disturbed. It is best to lay with your arms laying relaxed and loose at your sides. **The fingers, hands, feet and toes are the only regular contractions you will be doing. The rest will be isometric (static or not moving, but squeezing then relaxing)**.

  • Starting with your toes, take a deep breath as you flex your toes tightly in toward your foot, and hold both your breath and the muscular contraction for 5 seconds. 
  •  As you are holding the contraction and your breath, notice how tight your toes feel. 
  • Relax the muscles of your toes as you exhale, and let your whole body sink into the floor.

  • Next, with  both feet, take a deep breath as you flex both feet , and hold both your breath and the contraction for 5 seconds (the heel comes down, as if you are pointing your toes, but clench the toes also).
  • As you are holding the contraction and your breath, notice how tight your feet feel. 
  • Relax the muscles of your feet as you exhale, and let your whole body sink into the floor.

Continue these steps with the rest of the muscles on the back of the body. These will be an isometric (static) contraction. Focus on squeezing the muscles this time, as if there were something keeping them from moving.

Back of the Body
Flex toes
Flex foot
Flex calves
Flex hamstrings & Butt - back of upper leg/hip
Flex the back: the torso-arch the back
Back of neck - your chin goes straight up
Back of the Head and face - first open your eyes wide and pull the jaw back

Front of the Body
Front of the head and face - squint or close your eyes and make a pucker face
Front of the neck- drop the chin down to the chest
Flex the abs: torso - crunch forward
Flex  front of hip - raise the pelvis
Flex the front of upper leg - relax the knee and let the upper leg raise
Flex the front of lower leg - quad will engage to let the whole leg raise
Extend top of the foot and point the toes

Again, for each part of the body, the steps are;
1. Inhale and squeeze the muscle of that body part
2. Hold your breath at the top and focus on the squeezed, tightened muscle
3. Exhale and relax, let you body sink into the floor and feel your body relax
4. Hold your breath at the bottom and focus on the way the relaxed muscle feels.
5. Switch to the next area of the body and repeat steps 1-4.

I try to do at least two cycles of this, starting and ending at the toes as 1 cycle.

If you are using this technique to help you fall asleep, you can repeat this as many times as you need to until you fall asleep.

I hope you try this technique and let me know how it goes!

Breakfast: scrambled eggs with WW toast
Snack: a banana and a HBE
Lunch: a leftover Portobello Pizza! and some mini bell peppers
Snack: an apple and a string cheese
Dinner: homemade turkey chili

It's another cold day and a work day, so yeah, call me a lazy bum, but I stayed in bed again. :(

Thanks so much for reading!!

Day 89: Breathe!

I often wonder if I like going on vacation more than most. I would be happy going to Kauai Hawaii twice a year for life! Then again, who wouldn't if we could afford it? Finances aside, believe it or not, we all need to dedicate more time to relaxation and recuperation! It's true. 

I, like almost everyone, may feel like taking time for yourself is selfish, but relaxation is important because it helps us save energy and replenish the energy stores that are depleted throughout the day through activities. It also helps us prevent mini meltdowns, develop chronic conditions**, and deal with stress. Heaven knows the holiday season is laced with it! Amist the hustle and bustle, try to utilize these 5 Ways in 5 Days to Handle Holiday Stress. Permitting your body to relax is hard to do but I believe it is a vital part of your health and is as important as eating a balanced diet and getting adequate exercise.

In managing stress this holiday season, I am focusing on relaxation to help manage stress this holiday season. This week, each of the 5 Ways in 5 Days to Handle Holiday Stress will be relaxation techniques that are essential tools to manage stress.

With not much further ado, I'll share with you this wonderful technique that I learned in massage school and now use while meditating. The key is pay attention to how you breathe. With this technique, you will not only get a good lung workout, maximizing your lung capacity, but also to get more air delivered through the bloodstream to the rest of the body. When air is delivered to the muscles, it helps the nutrients that are also brought by the blood be converted into energy. So breathing is also good for digestion and metabolism!

Method #1/5 to Reduce Stress:

Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing (DDB)
Great for focusing while meditating or praying.

1. Sit down in a relaxed posture. I do not recommend laying down for this technique. You may fall asleep if you're not focused!
2. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. As you inhale, try to let the lowest part of your lungs fill first, then the center and then the top. Also, as you inhale, slowly count up how long the inhale takes. It took me between 6-8 seconds.
3. Hold your breath at the top of the inhale for the same amount of time that the inhalation took
4. Exhale slowly out your mouth for 6-8 seconds. It helps to make a small, pursed "O" with your lips to keep from breathing out too quickly.
5. Hold your breath at the bottom of the exhale for 6-8 seconds.
6. Repeat steps 2-5 approximately 25 times.

DO NOT DO THIS WHILE DRIVING!! You need a quiet room where you won't be interrupted.

This is an excellent technique to help you gain awareness of how your body feels. Try to focus on your body as you do this exercise, on how it feels as the air pours into your lungs. How does it feel as you are holding your breath? As you exhale?

As you get the rhythm down, pay attention to how your bod feels physically? How is your energy? Sluggish? Just ok? How do your muscles feel? Your joints? Is there any areas of pain that you did not notice that may need to be addressed? How do you feel emotionally? You may feel a rush of emotions that you have been putting off. Spiritually? You may find that your soul feels as heavy as your body does.

When the session is over with, take time to notice these things again. How does your body feel after this exercise?

How did DDB work for you?

Breakfast: scrambled eggs on WW toast
Snack: cinnamon oatmeal and 2 HBE
Lunch: split pea soup and mini bell peppers
Dinner: a giant stuffed Portobello mushroom "pizza"
Snack: an apple, a string cheese and a HBE

It is about 30* outside, and my garage is maybe 40* so I did not go for a run today on road or on treadmill. I needed the extra sleep so I stayed cozy in my bed. Hee hee. Guilty!

**Without setting aside adequate time to let your body relax through getting adequate sleep, intentionally stretching and performing breathing techniques, stress can grip your body and affect you mentally, emotionally, and physically. A few of the physical affects are (but are not limited to) chronic hypertension, hypertonicity of muscles which often leads to muscular imbalances and thereby chronic conditions and unexplained pain, chronic headaches, poor posture, scoliosis, lower back pain, as well as just about any reoccurring muscular pain. Sorry for the rant. I am a Massage Therapist after all.

Thank you SO MUCH for reading all!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Day 88: Hitting the Reset Button

After spending time with family this weekend, I made a very important realization.

My sister-in-law and her husband and son stayed with us for a night. Right about the time they were ready to leave, my sister in law plopped down into the chair, looking exhausted and about ready to cry. I had hoped that a long weekend with family would have made her feel fulfilled, loved and rested. I realized that it wasn't physical exhaustion, since it was still mid-morning. It was mental and even emotional exhaustion, and she wisely took that moment to stop and take a breather.

I felt that way too. After all the hustle and bustle of time spent with family, and even sometimes in the midst of the hullabaloo I start feeling like a dark little rain cloud, floating around my house, so weighed down with the cares of the moment or the day that I droop on the floor or start to drip.

This was one such moment. I had been so busy with everyone that when they were gone and the house was quiet again, I just crashed on the couch. I didn't want to workout. I wanted to take a nap, and stay in my jammies, wasting the day away. I watched a few episodes of my favorite show, but then came thoughts of the things I needed to do in order to continue making healthier choices. I knew that my workout wouldn't do itself and reaching for some chunky monkey ice cream wasn't going to get me out of my dark cloud funk.

Later in the day, after I had enjoyed my time meditating, I was thinking about my sister-in-law that morning. I realized that her "breather" and my time spent meditating were good techniques for essentially hitting the reset button and helping us to deal with the emotional or mental overload and start afresh. As a massage therapist, I know that there are more elements to health than diet and exercise. The realization was that hitting the mental/emotional reset button is equally as important for my health as regular physical activity, exercise, and healthy eating behaviors.

Stay tuned!! This week, I will explore "5 Ways to Handle Holiday Stress".

So, how do you identify triggers or moments where you need to hit the reset button?

This Week's Dinner Menu
Homemade Chili
Asian Chopped Salad with Baked Chicken
Pork & Broccoli Stir-Fry
Sausage & Lentil Stew
Portobello "Pizzas"
Thai Chicken Curry
Chicken & Mushroom Wild Rice with Almonds

Tomorrow, I will post my shopping list and pantry items needed for this menu, and stay tuned this week for a few recipes!

Breakfast: 2 HBE and some cinnamon oatmeal
Snack: 2 HBE and a banana
Lunch: Split pea soup and some mini bell peppers
Dinner: special dinner out - a flying chicken burger with crispy onion straws, and a margarita!!

Today was a full day, with work, errand running and then dinner out to watch the Hawks game! I slept in this morning, and took a day of rest.

Thanks for reading all!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Day 87: Finding My Center

Ahhh Sunday! Usually the last day of the week where, mentally at least, we start digging our heels in and bracing ourselves for the long week to come. Instead I find myself breathing a long, deep sigh of relief. It has been a long holiday weekend with family. That has meant lots of time in the kitchen, enjoying the good food of Thanksgiving, outings with the family, having guests come to stay and catering to their needs, and barely having a moment to breathe. Whew! It's no wonder that when the guests have gone and the weekend begins to wind down and I can finally catch my breath, I look forward to the quiet of the evening and the new week ahead. 

Admittedly, I got a little crabby near the end of my family's visit. I was glad to see them go. And even after the house was quiet again, I still felt a bit wound up, and chose to curl up on the couch with a hot cup of tea, a cozy quilt and a few episodes of Downton Abbey. That didn't totally cut the built-up tension I was feeling.

My husband suggested I go and meditate. At first it sounded strange. I knew he wasn't talking about the
woo-woo type meditation, but the purposeful focusing and clearing of the mind in tandem with deep breathing exercises. I have done it in the past (during massage school) so I took his advice, and went and sat in silence for 15 minutes to clear my head.
It was wonderful! The time flew by and before I knew it, my timer had gone off, and I was ready to face the rest of the evening, feeling refocused, refreshed and relaxed! 

I'm off to make my shopping list for the week.

What Am I Doing?

Breakfast: scrambled eggs (2) turkey bacon (2) sliced pineapple and cinnamon french toast
Snack: 1 slice of cinnamon bread with some eggnog icing (oops, not the best choice)
Lunch: Quinoa sushi
Snack: a HBE 
Dinner: leftover Quinoa sushi

I'm spending 30 mins on the treadmill doing interval runs and hills.

How's It Going?
After a major holiday, several weeks off from working out and then several weeks of sporadic exercise, I am up three pounds from the end of the 8 week challenge. Considering the fact that I am not necessarily focused on weight loss and that I've celebrated Thanksgiving, twice, I am actually pretty happy with that. More importantly for me, during the holidays is when my stress level goes up and my healthy eating gets off track, which equals = Crohn's flare! I am not experiencing any Crohn's symptoms currently, which is HUGE! I am very happy with things generally. I know I need to refocus and reset, and a new month means a new plan.

What helps you reset?

Thanks for much for reading all!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Day 86: It's All Happening at the Zoo

Today it was all about family! We spent the morning running around, tidying up and making lunch for some visiting family. Then we spent the afternoon with them, had dinner out and went to Zoolights! 

Here's some fun family photos for you!

Breakfast: three scrambled eggs with cheese and turkey bacon
Snack: pumpkin oatmeal
Lunch: Split pea soup
Dinner: we went out to dinner at a place that does Hibatchi (Japanease open grill - Beni Hana style) and I had a California roll and nibbled off my hubby's plate
Snack: a few leftover meatballs from yesterday, 2/3 of a banana and a cup of light eggnog

I did not do a traditional work out today :( Instead I laid in bed, enjoying the cozy warmth of the blanekts and feeling devious, like I should be somewhere else.. not realizing that I did have something I should have done. I should have gotten up and gone for my run first thing. That's how my brain works. 
I did however spend two hours walking around the Point Defiance Zoo looking at Zoolights! While it's not an intentional workout, I still count it, because something is ALWAYS better than nothing!

Thanks for reading!