Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Listening to Your Body

It’s Wednesday already, and I’ve been meaning to do a post on wellness, or, specifically, listening to your body. In January, I decided I was going to get back into exercising, as I’d taken several months off—not by choice. I was sailing along, doing my cardio five times a week, but not losing any weight, so I thought I’d extend my exercise time by 20 minutes and bring it up to a full hour a day by simply walking around the track at the Y.

So I started walking. Pretty soon I was having trouble with my feet. They felt like they were on fire. I could barely walk any more. My walking time decreased to less than 15 minutes a day before I could stand it no more, and I had to stop with the elliptical machine too. Something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. I just knew my feet were experiencing some serious pain and walking brought it on.

So I stopped going to the Y. But after a while, the inactivity got to me, so I decided I wanted to start walking again. Something light, with a friend. Just once a week on Sunday afternoon. Baby steps. Our first walk we went one and a half hours. My feet didn’t hurt. The following week we did it again. No problem. The third week we took another route, through a development, and the road angled up at the edges for drainage, instead of down, like a crowned road.

My feet started burning again, and I realized it was because I was walking on a tilted road and it was forcing my foot to bend inward at what is apparently for me an unnatural angle.

What else tilts? The track at my Y. It tilts up at the top and bottom of the oval. And each day the direction we’re supposed to walk or run in changes, alternating between clockwise and counterclockwise. By going regularly, I was alternately tilting one foot, and then the other, at that awkward angle.

Now, I wasn’t supposed to be walking on the track to start with—walkers are supposed to walk around the outside of the track—but it was getting crowded in that walking area and so when the track wasn’t being used, I’d step down onto the track and walk there.

When did I start having burning foot problems? When I added 20 minutes of walking to my exercise regimen and walked on the track.

I went back to the Y and tried it again. Within minutes my feet were burning again. Interesting. I went to my chiropractor and explained what I’d learned. He said absolutely that could happen--radiated nerve pain from walking on an uneven surface--and put everything back in alignment. I went back to the Y and tried walking around the outside of the track. No problem.

So I started slow. 20, 30, then 40 to 50 minutes a day walking around the edge of the track. When it got to be that I was practically speed walking, the wind blowing through my hair like I was roller skating, and this older gentleman was making train whistle noises as I sailed past him, I started up on the elliptical again. Ten minutes to start, then 20 and 30, and now I’m back to where I started (or left off) almost a year ago, before I got the brilliant idea to start walking in addition to my cardio training.

Well, it was a good idea. How did I know the track would do my feet in?

In the meantime, I signed up for this 100 miles in 100 days walking challenge. One mile a day, how hard could it be? But then something strange happened. As the weeks passed, I started picking up speed and going longer and longer, 2-3 miles, then 3-4, and then 4-5. Suddenly I’m racking up five miles a day, and things are shifting around in my body. People are asking me if I’m losing weight. I’m not, the scale hasn’t budged, in fact my weight went up, but my jeans have gotten so loose I could easily wear them with half of my bottom hanging out like some teenage boys do.

So today I will pass the 100 mile mark, and I’m only on my 56th day of walking. But what’s even better is that walking is now a habit and I get irritable if I don’t get my ten miles a week in, between my Sunday walk with my friend and the Y.

I started out with a small goal, one mile a day, and as my body felt better (aka by listening to my body), I slowly increased that to five miles, but have since pulled back to a comfortable four miles a day, easily done between walking and the elliptical within the space of an hour.

If I’m having a bad day, a PMDD day, where my energy level is low, I pull back to two or three miles a day. And some days I don’t go at all. Things happen. Errands need to be run, I get involved in a writing project, or I need to go out of town. But overall, I’m able to put in my ten miles a week without any trouble, and I finally feel good again.

All it took was setting one small goal and taking some baby steps toward that goal. Calling a friend to see if she wanted to walk with me once a week. Now I’m working on doing the same in other areas of my life. Stretching for flexibility, eating well, getting enough rest and relaxation. The added benefit has been that while doing all of that walking around in circles, my mind was free to wander, and I’ve come up with some new creative ideas I’ve been busy putting into motion during my non-walking time.

But when I went back to the Y I started with just 10-20 minutes a day. Now I’m looking at posters for 5K walks and thinking of walking for causes, just to get out, socialize, exercise, and contribute to something positive.

If there’s a goal you have in your life that you’ve been meaning to get around to, there’s no better time than right now to start taking those baby steps toward it. Listen to your heart, and listen to your body. As long as you keep listening, and don’t overdo, neither of them will let you down.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Learning to Listen

I skipped Friday’s FWL post for two reasons…one, I was so busy working on my new PMDD website I didn’t even realize it was Friday until mid-afternoon and two, I already had it in my mind I wanted to continue this theme of listening. Last Sunday I talked about the importance of having one, just one person who will listen to you, your joys and sorrows, hopes and dreams. More than one is always great, if only to give your listener a break (smile), but also to provide different perspectives on whatever it is you are sharing.

But only one will do, if that person is a true friend and a good listener. Still, there are so many people who don’t even one person in their lives they can count on to listen to them, just listen. So if you have one, consider yourself blessed beyond measure. And if you don’t—be the change you want to see in your life. Try listening, really listening, to someone else first. I think you’ll be surprised at the results :).

I find that talking things out with a listener helps to clarify things in my own mind. They don’t even have to do anything but listen, either in person, or on the phone. The same is true of writing. When you journal, your “listener” can be anyone you choose. I like to think of mine as God. I’m sharing my thoughts with God, who has proven to me many times over that He does indeed listen.

Then, on Wednesday, I talked about listening to your body. I think a lot of us forget we even have bodies, unless some part of that body is making life uncomfortable or inconveniencing us. We operate mostly in our heads, and ignore the needs of our bodies for healthy food, rest, relaxation, and exercise. Instead we fill our bodies with whatever food is handy, quick and convenient, load up on caffeine and energy drinks to keep us going, and give lip service to wanting to relax and exercise more.

I don’t exercise because I want to, trust me. I exercise because if I don’t, my body will let me know it with aches and pains and stiffness and creaky knees. Oh, and an overall sluggish feeling that makes me long to lay around and just do nothing. Which, when I give in, gets me nothing but more aches and pains and stiffness and creaky knees.

Just another example of how our bodies speak to us, letting us know what we need to stay strong and healthy. So listening to them is important if we want them to serve us well.

But today I want to talk about another kind of listening. Listening to that voice within. Some call it God, some call it Tao, some call it Mother Wisdom. Whatever you call it, it is vital that you take some time out every day to listen to it. Otherwise you’re nothing more than a hamster on a wheel, running, running, running, with no sense of where you’re going, and getting nowhere. Every moment of your day is filled with doing, not being. And when you fall into bed exhausted at the end of the day, you have no sense of being further ahead than you were the day before…whatever your “ahead” might consist of.

My favorite time for listening is just before and right after I open my eyes after sleeping. I tend to rise to consciousness slowly, and find my best thoughts of the day are the ones that float into my mind before my brain takes over, kicking in with my mental to-do list for the day. Some of my most creative thoughts occur then, but unless I write them down, once my day starts, almost always those thoughts are forgotten within minutes of getting out of bed. Still, I know that’s when I listen best. I also know that if I don’t wake up that way, if the alarm or phone startles me awake, I miss out on that early morning moment of peace and feel grumpy. So I try to go to sleep at the same time each night and wake up naturally.

Another time I listen well is while driving. To do this I need to turn off the CD player and drive in silence. (Talking on the phone while driving, for me, is not an option.) For those of us who can’t seem to make the time to sit still and listen for a few moments each day, listening while driving might work. You bring yourself into the moment and focus on nothing but what you are doing right then—driving. For most of us, driving is automatic, so our minds are free to listen. The same can be done while doing dishes, or folding laundry, gardening, or cleaning.

You don’t have to stop and literally sit still to hear your inner voice. Nor do you have to take up meditation or yoga to hear what’s in your heart. Life gives us many opportunities to listen throughout our days. We just have to learn to relax and accept them.

Silence is a great source of strength. ~ Lao Tzu

P.S. I wrote this post yesterday morning. Imagine my surprise when last night I went to Mass, and the priest who substituted for our regular priest gave his homily on this very subject. He talked about turning off our phones and ipods and all those things that supposedly keep us ‘connected’ and taking time to just listen, instead. I'll take that as a message that I'm on track :)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Ads are Not Health Advice

Just a little something to point out that ads (both then and now) don't always have your best interests at heart--so I wouldn't recommend relying on them for health advice.

This was from an email I received about ads from the 1930s. Amazing. Who knew Lysol could save a marriage?

In case you can't read the words, here they are:

Day after heartbreaking day I was held in an unyielding web...a web spun by my husband's indifference. I couldn't reach him any more. Was the fault mine? (Well of course it is, you're a woman, sweetie. So what are you going to do about it?) Well...thinking you know about feminine hygiene, yet trusting to now and then care, (oh, yes, that nasty now and then care) can make all the difference in happiness, as my doctor pointed out. He said never to run such careless risks...(never mind using something totally toxic to wash away what nature intended for you to have) and prescribed Lysol brand disinfectant, for douching--always.

But I broke through it. Oh, the joy of Tom's love and close companionship once more! Believe me, I follow to the letter my doctor's advice on feminine hygiene...(who, being a man in this case, would never have the opportunity to try this remedy himself) always use Lysol for douching. I wouldn't be satisfied now with salt, soda, or other homemade solutions. Not with Lysol a proved germ killer that cleanses so gently yet so thoroughly. It's easy to use, too, and economical. (Wow, we're even saving the family money while we poison ourselves...)

I'm not usually so snarky, but it gets to me how advertising preys on our deepest fears and insecurities to sell their products. That's the main reason I don't watch television. I don't need somebody out there telling me what I need in my life to be happy. I can decide that for myself. Health ads are the worst. Have you been to a doctor's office lately, and spent your waiting time watching the special health channel programs they offer as a public service? Interspersed between tidbits of genuinely good lifestyle advice are all these ads with happy people dancing around that you could be just like if you can talk your doctor into giving you whatever miracle pill they're promoting.

It seems the companies sponsoring these programs are creating demand for their products by making you think you have problems, diseases, and disorders you might not have, while conveniently leaving out the part that almost always there are other, safer remedies for you to try first. If you do indeed have a problem.

Seems like nothing's changed since the thirties.

Which means we need to become our own best advocates for what we put into our bodies. We need to stop listening to all the hype, and start listening to our inner wisdom. You know when something's wrong in your life or in your body, and deep down, you know that only in the most extreme cases, where genuine disease is present, is anything from an external source going to help.

My last post was on listening, on how important it is to have just one someone in your life who will listen to you and bear witness to your life. But it's equally important to take the time to listen to yourself. Our bodies are amazing and will provide the answers if we but listen to them. Mine, I know, is as sensitive as can be to any new substance (food, drug, supplement) or experience (exercise) that I introduce to it. By listening carefully, I can keep it in balance and avoid having to spend time in my doctor's office watching shows that mess with my mind.

So take time out today to listen to what your body is telling you, and let me know what you find out.

Be well...not duped.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

PMDD and the Water Lily

For once, I don’t know where to begin. Me, at a loss for words, can you believe that? I’ve just been so busy focusing on Lent and Easter and trying to keep up with everything around here, trying to keep my life in balance, mind, body, heart and soul, that I haven’t had time to think about blogging.
One new thing I’m working on is a website for my PMDD book, which is meeting with resistance finding an editor or agent to represent it. Most of the publishing houses I researched won’t accept submissions without an agent, and the agents I queried overwhelmingly said that without a certain set of initials behind my name to lend the book credibility or a co-author with the necessary initials, no publisher will touch it.

Funny, how living with something for forty years doesn’t give you enough credibility to write about it.
Platform is everything these days. When you approach a publisher, you need to come with a ready-made audience. My only audience is you guys, and I’m not willing to turn this into a full-time blog for PMDD, so I have to create a new one.
So I’m walking at the Y, participating in my 100 miles in 100 days challenge, just going around in circles around the track and letting my mind wander, when an image of a water lily comes to me, fully formed, along with the words, Living on a Prayer, Living with PMDD. For that’s what it’s like, living with PMDD, and in the past ten years, I’ve learned nothing short of my faith is going to get me through it.
The problem with coming up with ideas like that out of the blue, is that either have to drop what you’re doing and at least write down the idea, or try to hold onto it until you get home and can do something about it. I managed to finish my walk, then went home and hit the internet, looking for pictures of water lilies. I found the perfect one three pictures in (not the one above), but of course (being slightly OCD), had to keep looking to see if there were any better ones available.
There weren’t any better ones, but there were a ton of options. And so my idea began to expand. I contacted my favorite web designer, who designed this blog and the accompanying website, and she said to send her the pictures I’d chosen and we’ll come up with something.
So that’s where that is right now.
In the meantime, I wanted to know…Why a water lily? I’m not really into flowers, and don’t like the water at all, especially dark, murky water, so I looked up the symbolism of water lilies.
This is what I discovered: Lotus: Water Lily: The Lotus flower is symbolic of rebirth, but in addition to its religious meaning, the lotus is also a symbol of all that is true, good and beautiful, representing good fortune, peace, and enlightenment…In modern times the meaning of a lotus flower links closely with religious symbolism and meaning. A lotus represents life in general. As the lotus flower grows up from the mud into an object of great beauty, people also grow and change into something more beautiful. So the symbol represents the struggle of life at its most basic form. Lotus flower symbols are also popular for people who have gone through a hard time and are now coming out of it. Like the flower they have been at the bottom in the muddy pond but have risen above this to be an object of beauty or represent a life of beauty as the case may be. Thus the lotus flower or blossom can also represent a hard time in life that has been overcome.
I’d say that captures my (or any woman’s) struggle with PMDD perfectly. And since Easter is about rebirth, and the word I received from the women’s program at church during Lent was peace, and I’ve been looking for more ways to share my faith journey with others…the Water Lily is the perfect symbol for my new venture.
All I know is it didn’t come from me, so it must be a sign that this is the next step I need to take on my path.
Stay tuned and we’ll see :)