Yoga as Part of a Wellness Program

If you are thinking about starting a wellness program in  2013,  chances are pretty good that you are considering some sort of exercise as a part of that program.   Once you make that decision, the next step is deciding which type of exercise is right for you.  What will you enjoy doing so it doesn’t seem so much like work?  If you don’t enjoy the exercise you do, it will be pretty hard to keep the effort up in the long run.

yogaclassI have to admit that I’ve had an exercise program for years.  Since I was never very athletic as a child, I was never comfortable in team sport situations.  In fact, I avoided physical activity as much as possible.  It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I discovered the benefits of cardio, and from then I was hooked.  Now I practice a daily cardio workout along with weekly strength training.  Although I felt I was covering all the bases, I still felt a piece was missing from my program.

About two years ago I rediscovered yoga.  I had toyed with it as a child when I would see the programs on PBS (no longer a part of the lineup!), but never stuck with it.  Let’s face it, it can be really hard to keep any momentum going when you are the only one practicing in your living room, especially when you are nine years old.   So I let it slide until a particularly stressful time in my corporate life.

We all know that exercise is a great stress buster, but my program didn’t seem to be doing much good to keep me calm.  I had heard about the benefits of yoga, so I decided to revisit the possibilities.  Now, I have to say that I was a little skeptical.  My idea of a good workout involves an increased heart rate and a lot of sweat.  How hard could a yoga class be?   After one class I had my answer, and yoga has been a part of my wellness program ever since.

There are many reasons to practice yoga.  One of the first to come to mind is flexibility.  As we age, it is vital that we maintain a supple body.  Obviously yoga involves a variety of stretching postures that can target all parts of the body.   Greater flexibility also means greater mobility and balance–two more things most of us hope to maintain as we age.

Practicing yoga improves endurance.  It may not look like much (okay certain poses-or asanas–look pretty impressive), but staying in warrior pose for any length of time can really push up the heart rate.  I have long since given up the idea that I shouldn’t sweat in a yoga class.  After ten minutes on the mat I am  reaching for my towel so I can personally attest to the fact that yoga is one heck of a work out.

There are a couple of other reasons you may want to explore yoga as an exercise and wellness choice.  Perhaps one of the most important is the calming effect yoga has on the mind.  The practice is designed to help the mind find stillness–blocking out extraneous thoughts and focusing on the postures along with what the body and breath are doing.  Many people find it to be the ultimate mindfulness exercise.  At its core, yoga is about the integration of mind, body, and spirit.  Once you are in the flow of a practice, you can actually concentrate on what the body needs. The worries of the day fade away and you are truly in the moment.  It is a deeply peaceful yet exhilarating  feeling.

Another reason to consider a yoga class is the sense of community it provides.  As I mentioned earlier, I am in no way comfortable with team sports.  Originally I was apprehensive about actually going to a class.  It’s hard not to compare yourself to others in class, or so I thought.  But in fact, I found that just the opposite was true.  The yoga community is a very supportive and caring network.  No matter how competitive you may be,  comparison during class is just not part of the picture.  The focus is on what your body can do in the moment–not how you did a posture yesterday,how you will do it tomorrow,  or feel it should be done today.  And certainly not what the person on the next mat is doing.  A yoga class is one of the few places where you are accepted for who you are–without judgement.   That doesn’t happen very often in this society.

Of course, the yoga studio you chose will have a lot to do with the experience you have.  I find that I enjoy local studios rather than  classes in a franchise or health club.  Local studios usually have smaller classes, and there is more personal attention during class.  With smaller groups  a stronger bond develops over time, which strengthens the yogic support network.   For instance, when I am in Napa I attend Ubuntu Yoga, a small organic studio in downtown Napa.  The staff and the fellow yogis provide a sense of community and support that is so vital to overall wellness.

It may sound odd, but the type of exercise a person choses is a very personal thing.  Yoga provides both physical and mental benefits that are so necessary to function well in today’s fast-paced world.   There is really nothing like the sense of tranquility that comes after a practice, and that tranquility spills over into my daily life.  My partner sometimes even wonders what happened to the high-strung stress puppy he met sixteen years ago.

So if you are thinking about improving your health and wellness in 2013, consider yoga as a part of your wellness program. You may find that your time on the mat is one of  the highlights of your week.  And enjoyment will play a big part in establishing and maintaining a consistent and healthy  long-term exercise program.

Check out my new group coaching program beginning  January 15, 2013.   Transform your life  From Surviving to Thriving in Six Weeks or Less!   Participation is limited so don’t be disappointed.   Reserve your space today.

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Five Ways to Manage Stress

It is  no surprise that when asked to name the one thing they would most like to change in their workplace, employees almost always put stress levels at the top of the list.  What with downsizing, rightsizing, and endless budget cuts,  the mantra for so many companies these days is “do more with less”.   One of the phrases I often heard in management meetings during my corporate time was “suck it up and get over it.”   Unfortunately, this places an added burden on employees that remain after  layoffs which only increases individual stress levels.  With so much economic uncertainty, not only in the workplace but at home as well, it is no small wonder that most employees are looking for ways to minimize the effects of stress from their jobs.

The interesting thing is that everyone has a different idea of what stress is.  What bothers one person may not affect another at all.  Staff members at the Mayo Clinic define stress as a situation”when the demands placed upon a person exceed his or her capabilities.”   It is actually a good definition of stress since it place the responsibility on both the situation and the individual, not just the individual as do so many other definitions.   Reactions to stress are connected to a myriad of factors.  What bothers someone one day may not be an issue the next.   Lack of sleep, hunger,  the amount of exercise in a day–these are just a few things that  can play a part in a person’s reaction to stress.

The effects of stress are a problem not only for the employee, but the organization as well.   It is estimated that 75 to 90 percent of  all doctor visits are for stress-related conditions.  If stress levels are not addressed, chronic health conditions can develop such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.  Frequent colds are not uncommon for people suffering from chronic stress.  This all plays into a person’s productivity at work, increasing absenteeism and decreasing productivity.   These chronic health conditions have a direct impact on the healthcare costs of an organization and thus the overall profitability of that organization is reduced.  Therefore it seems like it would be in everyone’s best interest to address the stress levels in the workplace and explore ways to minimize the harmful effects of those conditions.

One of the most important things we can do is to set healthy personal boundaries.   With all the technology  flooding the market, we can no longer leave the office at the office.   People are now expected to be available  24/7, especially when the boss seems to live and breathe for their blackberry or iPhone.   Instead of making life easier,  the information age has actually had the opposite effect.  We expect results more quickly and judge ourselves and others if there is a lag time in response to an email or voice mail, even during the weekend.  The new term for this is  cerebral burnout, and is a very real condition.

Personal boundaries are one way to combat the possibility of cerebral burnout.   In today’s world it may not be realistic to think that not responding to emails or texts after the traditional end of the workday is acceptable.  But you can set a boundary as to when you will stop responding.  Let colleagues know that you put your phone away at 8:00 pm and don’t look at again until you start work the next day.  Starting work may be at the breakfast table and not when you hit the office, but  at least your coworkers or bosses will have a clear idea of when they will hear from you.   Not only does this allow you to have downtime without guilt, but  you can also begin to ween yourself off electronic devices in the evenings which will have a positive impact on the quality of sleep. Better sleep patterns contributes to a stronger ability to combat stress, so this is really a two-for-one  win.

Another great way to combat stress is to begin a program of mental training.  Used by athletes to focus on performance, mental training is a type of meditation.  Before you start each day, give yourself five or ten minutes and turn your attention to your breathing.  Think only of your breath as you inhale and exhale.   This will calm the mind, and slow down all that information zinging back and forth in your brain.  When your brain is quieter, it becomes easier to focus during the day, and the result is greater productivity.  Greater productivity naturally means less stress.

My favorite stress release is exercise.  Thirty minutes of cardio on a daily basis will have an unbelievable impact on the ability to cope in stressful situations. Other types of exercise such as yoga or tai chi show equally impressive results.   The benefits of exercise include improved brain function, neuron growth, the release of beta-endorphins, and  lower muscle tension.  It can also increase weight loss, a fact that most people would look at as the number one health benefit.

Speaking of lowering muscle tension–regularly scheduled massages can play a huge role in stress management.  Although many people still consider massage to be a luxury, muscle tension is perhaps the number one symptom of stress.  In addition to being painful, it can even compromise organ function over time.  Regular massage counteracts the effects of stress by decreasing muscle tension and increasing lymphatic drainage.  This helps to remove toxins from the body and allows better functionality.  Aside from that, a massage just feels good.  One note of caution–do not order a deep tissue massage if you are going for your first experience.   Although it may sound great, your muscles may not appreciate that much manipulation.  Try a swedish massage or a Hawaiian Lomi Lomi massage for your first few treatments.

Make time to socialize–in person.   Social support is crucial in stressful situations, but not if the only support you receive is virtual. Face time ( and not on an iPhone) can help to put things in perspective and give the support you need to get through rough times.  It is so easy to let social connections slide when you are feeling overwhelmed, but that is precisely when real friendship matters the most.  So make it a point to get together with friends on a regular basis.  Schedule lunches, potlucks, or just a coffee date.  Better yet, make it a celebration and visit a spa with friends for an afternoon of bonding and massage.  Stress levels won’t stand a chance!

These are just five ways to combat stress.  When we think of stress, most of us focus on the workplace, but it is important to remember that stress can occur anywhere.  I know retirees with no financial worries who are more stressed-out than my executive friends.  It really is a matter of how you perceive situations and how your body reacts to them.  Of course, you can’t reduce stress levels without trying to increase levels of overall well being, but focusing on stress reduction is a good step in the right direction.

So what do you do to fight stress in the workplace or home front? I would love to hear the unique ways people have found to help them cope with our increasingly demanding world.

Are you ready to discover how the power of one-on-one coaching can help you focus on your health and reduce your own stress levels?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.


Just Thirty Minutes…Really?

A new study has been released that shows thirty minutes of daily exercise can be more beneficial than spending an hour a day working at that same exercise.  Results of the study revealed that those who exercised at a moderate pace for thirty minutes each day lost more weight than those who exercised for an hour.   The thirty-minute crowd worked out on a treadmill at a moderate pace, with increased intensity three days a week.  The key is to break a sweat during the workout.

The importance of exercise is nothing new, but the timing of this report coincides with my own personal experiment over the last couple of months.

One of my goals for this year was to reach a certain weight by my birthday. I wanted to weigh the same or less than I did ten years ago on that day.   I chose that goal because it was realistic, and meant that I would have to lose over ten percent of my body weight in about nine months or so.

I have always had a regular exercise routine, but over the last ten years the pounds slowly started adding up.  When it became clear in December that I would have to make some changes or give in and accept yet another waist size, I set my intention to be about twenty pounds lighter by September.

Along with changing my diet,  I increased my daily workout to fifty minutes six days a week, on the elliptical trainer or –my favorite—the Nordic Track Skier.  All went well for several months. I started to lose weight at a steady pace and was feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

And then the scale refused to budge.  Nothing, no difference, no matter what I did.  So I increased my time to an hour a day.  Still nothing happened.

Now, I have a tendency to be a bit OCD from time to time.  My first inclination was to exercise more, but I could see that would lead to hours-long workouts, and quite frankly I didn’t have the time for that everyday and couldn’t sustain that pace long-term.   So I decided to try a different approach.

I cut my cardio work back to thirty minutes daily, keeping my heart rate at about sixty percent, which is the recommended rate for weight loss.

And the scale started to move again—in the right direction.  It has been a couple of months now of this new schedule, and for me it is working.  I have reached my goal earlier than planned and feel great.

In wellness coaching, weight-loss is a major focus for clients.  The great news about this study is that thirty minutes a day is an achievable goal.  It doesn’t have to be time spent at a gym or a boot camp, either.  The key is deciding how to fit the time into your own schedule, and to make it something you enjoy doing.  Some people can get up earlier in the morning and work it into a morning routine.  For others that would be deadly. And it doesn’t have to be time on a treadmill or stair master.  Housework, walking the dog, or gardening–it all counts.  Exercise isn’t just for the gym anymore.  All you have to do is break a light sweat.

One of my clients recently was concerned about his weight.  Although not obese, he spends much more time behind a desk than he used to, and his weight has been increasing correspondingly.  The problem is that he has a very hectic schedule, a demanding job, and a long commute.  That kind of stacks the deck against him and makes exercise much more difficult.

We looked at the thirty-minute goal, and he decided it was achievable—on his terms.  Now he walks at lunch for fifteen minutes.   When he gets home, regardless of time, he climbs on a portable stair-master for ten to fifteen minutes.  Playing with his dog rounds out the daily requirement.   The goal was not to exercise for a thirty-minute stretch, since    that would be a set up for failure.  Instead, he worked it into his schedule on his terms and by doing so, he is much more likely to make the change a long-term habit.  Success at turning changes into long-term habits is one of the benefits of working with a wellness coach.

Already he has seen a drop in his weight, and as a bonus, is less bothered by stressful situations during the day.  Improved ability to cope with stress is one of my favorite side benefits to exercise, and it goes a long way to helping with overall wellness.

This is why I was so pleased to see this study the other day.  We all know that exercise is a key to health, but with all the infomercials about weight loss and exercise programs, it can be hard to know which is the best way to go.  Very often, the common-sense approach is the best approach.  It may not always be the most glamorous, but the results can be priceless.

No one would say that weight loss is easy.  Especially as we age it seems to become more and more difficult to lose those pounds.  But now we have another study that shows more effort is not always better.  Sometimes it really is a case of working smarter, not harder.

And for those of us who struggle with our weight, that is a very good thing.

Are you ready to see how the power of one-to-one coaching can help you break down barriers and reach your Personal Best?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.


Tender Times

I don’t think anyone would disagree that we are in the midst of some very difficult times.   I know every generation has said that, and I’m sure that every time it was true.  But with our technological advances, and the flattening of the global playing field, it is more difficult for us to escape, even for a moment, than past generations.  In this information age,  we know immediately when a crisis across the globe erupts, and more importantly, we are told how it could adversely affect our daily lives.  These days it is even tough to take a break and browse Facebook without the latest political headlines jumping off our home pages.

Mix that all up with our own personal dramas, and I think you have the setting for the perfect storm.

We are all trying to work through issues.  Maybe it’s a job loss, or the fear of a job loss.  Possibly it’s a divorce, or the stress of kids starting school.  Maybe it’s teenagers spiraling out of control and turning your life into a Movie of the Week you never wanted to see.  Perhaps you have even gotten to where you wanted to be–only to find out it isn’t what you expected.  Whatever it may be, one thing is certain.  If you keep plugging away 24/7 without a break, you are going to cave in at some point.

I like to think we all want to live the best life possible.  That definition is different for each person, but certainly underlying concepts remain constant.  One of those is self-care.  As a wellness coach, I find it to be one of the most important tools in the toolbox.   Without it, there is no way we can stay at the top of our game for any extended period of time.

Here is a coaching tip, along with a bit of common sense.  If you want to be able to give to those around you, you have to be able to give to yourself.  That goes for work life as well as personal life.  Many of us have been raised to be persistent, keep up the fight.  We can rest when everything is over.  I know a lot of people who say they will reward themselves after they have reached a goal.   Here’s the deal–it’s a lot easier to reach that goal when you reward yourself along the way.

A lot of people are afraid to take time for themselves for the very simple reason they feel they don’t deserve it.  It goes back to the ingrained concept of not getting a reward until the task is completed.   But we all deserve to take care of ourselves.  And there are lots of ways to do it.  My mother used to say she loved ironing.  It gave her the time to stay in one place (no easy feat with four kids), and think without being disturbed.  It was a win/win situation for her.  She got something off her list, and didn’t have to feel guilty about snatching a half an hour or so to allow her mind to wander.  Ironing wasn’t really a chore for her, it was her time to reflect on her day and renew herself for the rest of the day ahead.

There are lots of ways to practice self-care.  The important thing is to use it as a time to relax and renew.  Sometimes it can be indulgent, like massages and spa treatments.  That sounds hedonistic, but there is a wealth of information on the benefits of massage.  One of the best things you can do to increase overall well-being is to schedule regular massages.

Some people find gardening to be therapeutic.  For some it isn’t time in a garden, but a hike in nature that is the perfect self-care prescription.  Maybe it’s a good run, or a daily cardio workout.   The key is that whatever method you chose, it needs to work for you, and it needs to take you outside of yourself for a while.  I find that  my morning stint on the elliptical trainer is a great time to reflect  and set intentions for the day ahead.  Plus I burn calories and lower cholesterol, so it’s a winning situation all around.

The important thing is to take the time for yourself.  It doesn’t have to be anything expensive–sometimes that would cause more harm than good.  But it does need to be something that you do for you–not anyone else.   When was the last time you read a book on a Sunday afternoon, even if the laundry still needed to be done or the car needed to be washed?  Sometimes there is a bigger task at hand–giving yourself permission to take a break.

When the world around us becomes more challenging, the commitment to care for ourselves becomes even more important.  Give yourself the time to relax and renew both mentally and physically.  Treat yourself tenderly, and you will be surprised at how much more you can put into– and get out of– your daily life.

 

Are you ready to feel how the power of one-to-one coaching can help you create the life of your dreams?  Click  here to schedule a complimentary strategic coaching session and see if wellness coaching is right for you.

 

 

 


This job is killin’ me

In today’s economy, a lot of us have had to learn to do more with less.  We’ve had to make a dollar stretch farther when someone loses a job.  We’ve had to learn to make the hours mean more at work when we are the ones remaining after the job loss.  No way around it, it is not an easy time.

A lot of people don’t like their jobs, but stay because they are afraid to make a change.  But there are a lot of people who love their jobs.  They enjoy them, and savor the challenges they present.  You could even say they live to work.  Only one small problem.  Their jobs are killing them.

There is a myth out there about something called work/life balance.  That at some point we are supposed to give equal time to both personal and professional aspects of our lives as well as everything in between. As a wellness coach, I am all for that—if that is something that you strive for.   Sometimes that is just not a realistic goal.

Over the years the workday has shifted from 9:00 to 5:00, to 8:00 to 5:00.  Then the start of the day blurred a bit to 7:00 as the end started to push out toward 6:00.  Now it is not unusual for a workday to run twelve hours or longer. Depending on your career, keeping these types of hours can be a choice or an expectation.  Either way, it leaves people little time to devote to anything other than the job.

There are by-products that come with keeping this type of schedule.  One is a higher burnout rate.  It’s very difficult to maintain a sprinter’s pace if you are in it for the marathon. Stress levels skyrocket, and health can’t help but suffer.  So literally, your work can be killing you.  There are certain professions  where the average life span extends only six years past retirement.  It’s not a lot of time  to enjoy the golden years.

Relief is possible, however.  When I was hunting in the corporate jungle, I would walk at lunch.  It’s a simple thing, and doesn’t really fit into the corporate expectation, but I did it anyway.  I walked almost everyday, usually for about 30 minutes.  I used it as a time to decompress.  My colleagues thought it odd that I took this time rather than just grabbing a bite at my desk and working through lunch. I even earned the title of exercise freak—just for walking for thirty minutes.

But I had a secret.  This time was vital in preparation  for the rest of the day.  I could clear my mind of the morning’s events and move on to the afternoon’s agenda feeling much more refreshed.  An added benefit was the fact that although I didn’t set out to find solutions to problems during my walks, I often returned to the office with new ideas on ways to tackle the thorny issues of the day.  In a sense, for me it served almost as a walking meditation.

A man on my staff used his breaks in a similar way.  He would meditate during his morning and afternoon fifteen minutes breaks.  Now, at the time, meditation was not as widely practiced so he did have a bit of a reputation as an odd duck, but it worked for him.  He remained calm during the daily tsunamis when everyone else was running for higher ground.  His co-worker’s opinions of his meditation practices didn’t bother him at all.  He was practicing self-care.

Unfortunately, as we rise in the food chain, it often feels like we have less control of our time, not more.  I know several people who don’t even take the time to eat during the day because they don’t have time to take a break.  They grab something on the run, or snack on nuts during meetings.  By the time they do get home, they are starving   They raid the pantry for anything they can find before dinner. Obviously, they can make great professional decisions, but they don’t give themselves the same consideration as their latest projects at work.

This lack of self-care is a catalyst for a myriad of other health problems.  Friends of mine complain that they can’t lose weight, no matter what diet they try.  When we review their daily routines, they realize they spend hours at a time sitting before the computer screen, forgetting to get up and even stretch.  They end up eating dinner an hour before bed.  Not a real good prescription for weight loss.  Interestingly, when they make conscious decisions to change this behavior, not only do they lose the weight, they gain energy and focus.  This additional energy capital can be shared at work as well at home, so it becomes a win-win situation for all involved.

Corporations and businesses of all types are beginning to understand the benefits to  be had when individuals take a proactive role in their own well-being.  It can lower healthcare costs and increase productivity due to reduced absenteeism, to name just a couple.  Many corporations are introducing wellness programs that encourage employees to take an active role in their own preventative healthcare.

Like any change, this will take time.  But again, as with any change, it starts with the smallest steps.  It’s a great thing to have a job you love.  It gives you a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.  But if you really love it, or even just like it a lot, don’t forget yourself.  The examples above are just a couple of ideas.  There isThan endless number of ways you can take care of yourself during the day. It’s up to you.

Engage in a little self-care during the day–without any guilt.  You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel, and how much more you can contribute, both personally and professionally.  It’s truly a win-win situation for all, and hopefully the wave of the future.

 


Wellness–It’s Not Just For Doctors Anymore

When you think of wellness, what comes to mind?

Many people immediately think of physical health.  I am well if I am in good physical shape and suffer no debilitating illnesses.   That is true, but that  would make you physically fit, not necessarily well.

Webster’s dictionary defines wellness as ” The quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal.”  That definition is a bit ambiguous.  It reflects the influence of Western medicine on the current widely held belief that wellness is only about physical health.  After all, that is what our health care system has been telling us for years, so it has to be true, right?

The truth is that wellness is a surprisingly simple state of being.  It is one that combines the most important aspects of human existence–the physical, the mental, and the spiritual.   When each of these aspects is given adequate consideration,  a  state of wellness can be achieved and maintained.   It sounds very simple,  but as we all know, maintaining any kind of balance in life for any extended period of time can be a very daunting task.

This concept of wellness as a blend of human elements is nothing new.  It dates back to Greek and Roman times not to mention most other ancient civilizations as well.   The Roman spa was not just a place to bathe.  It was also a center for social interaction,  physical exercise,  and relaxation of both body and mind.   The ancient concept of the spa addressed all aspects of human well-being.  In  essence,  you could say that these spas were actually some of the first wellness centers.

With our population living longer, we are seeing a shift in the concept of personal healthcare.  People no longer accept reactive health management as the only option.  More and more, individuals are looking to have a hand in their own health choices.   Boomers are no longer content to pop a pill at the first sign of an ache or pain.  They are more interested in how to prevent those aches and pains so they can participate fully in an active and  meaningful existence without downtime.

The interest in overall wellness is supported by the growing number of people exploring activities such as yoga and tai chi—activities that benefit both the body and the mind.   Boot camps now include yoga postures that help members achieve a more robust sense of health and well-being.   Articles on meditation practices are finding their way in to mainstream media.  These are just a few examples of how people are finding ways to take responsibility for their own well-being.

With the mind and the body are working in harmony,  wellness becomes a  much more achievable goal.   Acting mindfully with compassion and gratitude increases the body’s ability to function at an optimal level.   This can trigger a cascade of beneficial side effects such as reduced stress levels and increased energy levels, to name just a few.

When people hear I am a wellness coach, one of the first  reactions I get is, “Oh, so you are a fitness trainer!”    That seems to be a much more familiar and comfortable concept for people to grasp.  It is always easier to associate wellness with physical fitness and not muddy the waters with more esoteric notions such as emotional and spiritual well-being.   However,  when you pay attention to these three aspects and nurture each one as needed, you will find a much deeper sense of vitality and satisfaction.  Overall wellness becomes much more than just how long your cardio sessions are or how much you can press.

Wellness is really about how vibrant your life is.  About how much you enjoy it.  It’s about nurturing all the elements that make us who we are.  We all have issues to work through—that is a given in this world.  But we also have the benefit of living longer than any other generation in history.   It’s up to each of us to  take advantage of that longevity and create a life that is the most joyful and satisfying existence that we can envision.   To me, that is  the ultimate meaning of wellness.

So how do you define wellness?   Do you take an active role in your physical and mental well-being?   I would love to hear what idea of being well means to you.