I’ll admit it. I’m a Pilates snob. I’m picky about my instructors, the equipment I use, and the studio I go to.
It all traces back to how I started my Pilates journey in the bottom of an old Houston Firehouse at a time when you couldn’t use the word Pilates.
It wasn’t fancy but everyone in the studio was focused and dedicated to their workouts on these archaic looking machines. It was just before the trademark dispute settled in 2000.
Studios all over the country were teaching Pilates but couldn’t call it that from 1992-2000 because of a lawsuit over the name.
Once “Pilates” was freed up, it exploded. It was everywhere.
You know what that means. Overtime, the exercises start to get watered down or adapted. The Pilates Method wasn’t immune to this phenomenon.
With the craze of group fitness classes, it’s easy to miss out on the full benefits of Pilates if you didn’t learn it through private lessons in a fully equipped studio with an experienced instructor.
Done right, you’ll walk out of your Pilates session a different person than going in. You’ll feel taller, calmer, centered... EMPOWERED.
Pilates is an art form like martial arts or dance so knowing the history and purpose behind the exercises will help you experience the full benefits of it.
Just like dance, the more you practice Pilates, the more you perfect it.
The first step is learning the movement pattern for each exercise then you progress to focusing on your form from head to toe while executing each exercise.
The goal is to eventually become your own coach. You can’t do that without having a good instructor to help you learn how each exercise should feel on your body.
"Pilates is designed to give you suppleness, natural grace & skill that will unmistakably be reflected in the way you walk, in the way you play, and in the way you work" - Joseph Pilates
Pilates is defined as a movement system that uses spring-driven machines as well as a series of floor exercises to increase strength, flexibility, stamina and concentration. Joseph H. Pilates was the German inventor of the Pilates exercise method that he originally called “Contrology.”
Joseph Pilates was a sickly child and he believed exercise could heal and keep us healthy. He created his exercise method by combining the mental focus and breath of Yoga with physicality of gymnastics and other sports as growing up he was a diver, skier, boxer and gymnast.
He perfected his method and designed his equipment working with injured German soldiers and eventually the NYC ballet. His wife Clara continued his training method at their NYC studio after he died in 1967.
“Be in control of your body and not at its mercy”- Joseph Pilates
BENEFITS OF PILATES
We all have muscle imbalances from being right or left handed, swinging a tennis racket, carrying a baby on one hip, or holding the phone to one ear that effect our posture, strength, flexibility and make us prone to injury as we age.
Pilate’s exercises are full body movements designed to improve posture, build a strong core, and improve balance and coordination without stressing our joints.
The more balanced your body, the more efficient your movement can be.
Pilates is not only a fun way to exercise but it can change your body overtime and can be adapted for injuries or sports training.
It will improve your performance for fitness, sports or life.
How is this possible? Most people think of Pilates as just a good core workout but it’s more complicated than that.
Pilates is mindful movement and each exercise involves 6 key principles: breath, concentration, control, centering, precision and flow.
1. Breath- you never want to hold your breath during Pilate’s exercises. Keep it flowing. Typically you inhale to prepare and exhale during the movement.
2. Concentration- As you master the exercises, you’ll become better at performing a mental checklist head to toe for your form noting what is correct and incorrect and fixing it as you move. A Pilates instructor’s cueing is critical when you’re first learning to help you become more aware of the feel for the correct positions and movements.
3. Control- you’re learning how to control your body with your mind which trains you for life or sports and decreases your risk for injury.
4. Centering- in Pilates, all movements flow from a strong center. Basically, you turn on your core first and then move arms and legs with each exercise.
This is probably the easiest principle for people to grasp but takes a lot of mental power to do it properly during the entire exercise or workout.
You’ll hear the cue “scoop your belly” (or something similar) in your Pilates class but do you really know what you are supposed to feel or do?
Let’s break this down since it’s so important.
Your core involves a complex series of muscles from arm pits to hips and helps keep the spine aligned during movement.
In Pilates, you’re targeting the stabilizer muscles of your core- Pelvic Floor, Transverse Abdominus, hip rotators, and low back (Multifidus).
The Transverse Abdominus muscles, your deepest abdominals, run across your lower abdomen from hip to hip and coordinates closely with your pelvic floor muscles.
During each Pilates exercise, you want to turn on your core by focusing first on contracting your pelvic floor muscles or doing the Kegel exercise. It’s an up, back and in motion.
The Kegel should help the rest of your core muscles fire properly. If I’ve lost you, refer to my blog post on how to do a Kegel. It’s key to building a strong foundation with Pilates exercises.
5. Precision- you’re focusing on perfecting each movement by being precise in your focus and form.
6. Flow- you concentrate on moving with ease and grace during each individual exercise as well as connecting each exercise together like a dance to improve balance and coordination. You avoid jerky motions, holding a position or stopping between exercises. Just like your breath should keep flowing so should your movement.
In order to master these 6 Pilates Principles and transform your body, you’ll need to find a good Pilates studio. I’ll share my tips for that in my next blog post.
Subscribe so you don’t miss out on my “Finding your Pilates Studio Checklist” then go practice your Kegel!
Never underestimate the power of the human spirit. It’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned throughout the years of working in brain injury rehab.
My motto while working on the brain injury unit at TIRR Hospital in Houston Medical Center was “you never know” what someone’s full recovery will look like. I always tried not to focus on the damage but instead on the strengths the patient had at the time I was meeting them and how to build on that.
The brain is able to rewire due to neuroplasticity with the right stimulation, rest, challenge and attitude.
When you go through something traumatic like a brain injury, it’s the things we take for granted that become important goals: walking, talking, eating, or spending time with your loved ones. In order to stay motivated to achieve those goals, it’s your attitude that plays a huge role in staying the course.
Working with and helping people is a two way street. I always learn a lesson or two (or three) from those I have the privilege to guide through their recovery as a Physical Therapist.
From Steve Lawton, I learned the power of positivity in the healing process. I was thrilled to hear in January that Steve was sharing his story of recovery from a ski accident through his new book, “Head First- a crash course in positivity”.
You CAN build your capacity to be positive just like you can build strength in a muscle.
Steve’s new book is a great way to learn how to strengthen your positivity muscle. His book launch at Book People happened to be the week prior to my dad’s colon cancer surgery.
Hearing Steve share his story reminded me to take one day at a time and focus on what I can control. My thoughts and attitude were really all I could control.
I’ve been through two cancer journeys with my mom and brother that showed me the difference between catching it early versus catching it late. Deep down I felt that we had found my dad’s cancer early but it’s so easy to get worked up about the what if’s when your waiting for a diagnosis. I didn’t want dad to spend the next several years battling this disease into his late 70’s.
I needed to trust the physician and nurses to do their best and that we could handle whatever they found during the surgery. I also chose to focus on all the things that had led up to us finding this tumor and the timing of it.
There is never a good time to go through a cancer diagnosis/treatment but if it had been a year ago, my dad wouldn’t have been a surgical candidate. And we wouldn’t have found it if he hadn’t been on blood thinners to decrease his risk for another stroke.
Ironically, I heard Steve speak again two weeks after my dad’s colon surgery. We’d gotten excellent news. We’d found the cancer early and no further treatment was needed.
That was a huge relief but due to my dad’s age he was recovering slowly from the anesthesia which meant a week in the hospital plus 10 days in inpatient rehab.
My goal after his surgery was to get him out of the hospital environment as fast as possible. The longer you’re in the medical system, the more medications you can end up on and the higher your risk for infection. It’s also stressful and disruptive to not only the patient but the family to be in that world.
It just wasn’t safe to bring dad home yet. He needed more time to heal.
This second time I heard Steve speak, I was struggling with balancing all the demands from my dad’s medical needs, the delay home and trying to get myself out of survival mode.
Steve’s message was perfectly timed as he shared with us how he shifted from survival to recovery mode during his amazing journey back to life. He emphasized the importance of making the shift from “why me” to “what now” to get out of overwhelm and victim mode after a traumatic event.
To make the shift, you can begin by looking at what went right, finding the gratitude for those things and refocusing on your next goal.
Even though I was very grateful for the good news from the surgeon and all the things that caused us to find my dad’s cancer early, the delay in getting my dad home was making it difficult to calm myself and my life back down.
I recognized I needed to take advantage and get myself back on track with my daily routines to be ready for the next phase in dad’s recovery.
I didn’t have total control of my time yet but I could focus on the small moments I did have available to do breathing exercises, make healthier food choices, do some type of exercise, spend time with my dogs and get outside as much as possible. I also made an acupuncture appointment to help reset my nervous system.
All of these choices added up to help me get out of feeling overwhelmed and refueled me just in time to help my dad transition home.
Another way to build your positivity muscle and ability to reset your attitude throughout the day is to have a daily practice from 10 minutes to an hour where you focus on things that calm, center and refocus you.
You have to find what works for you but doing some form of meditation, journaling, and/or exercise is usually a good place to start. Steve’s book has some practical tips on how to begin a morning routine as well.
I had been doing this kind of a practice most mornings prior to my dad’s surgery so I was able to tap back into the routines to help me get out of survival mode much faster than if I hadn't developed one.
Steve’s story of recovery is powerful- fighting for his life after hitting a tree head first while skiing at Breckenridge, CO in 2014 to writing and launching a book about it in 2017!
I encourage you to check out his book that covers 8 steps to increase your positivity, watch his Ted Talk and/or take the Positivity Quiz on his website: stevehlawton.com to learn more about building your positivity muscle. It’s been a great resource for me.
Remember -Anything is Possible!
Besides being hard to pronounce, do you really know what a Kegel is? It’s a strengthening exercise for your pelvic floor (PF) muscles which run from the basin between your pubic bone and tailbone.
If you think of the pelvis like a bowl, the muscles would cover the inside of the bowl (with some holes in the bottom depending on your gender). During a Kegel, you contract and relax those muscles. Even men can do them.
A lot of women believe it’s normal to leak as you get older when laughing, jumping, coughing, or running. That’s actually a sign of a weak pelvic floor.
And doing a 1000 crunches isn’t going to strengthen them!
Most likely your physician has told you to remember to do your Kegel’s at your annual visit. It’s common to have NO clue what you're supposed to feel. I've found that most of my clients are doing the Kegel wrong because they are pushing out during the exercise.
What does the PF do?
These important muscles form the base of your "core” and help with sphincter control, supporting the pelvic organs and are involved in sexual sensation.
What’s the big deal?
When they’re weak, you can have incontinence (leaking of urine or bowel), organ prolapse (bladder, uterus or rectum) and diminished sexual response. Again they form the base of a strong core.
Your core is your center from lower ribs to below your bottom. All movement begins here in the stabilizer muscles- Pelvic Floor, Transverse Abdominus, hip rotators, low back (Multifidus). The Transverse Abdominus (TA) muscles, your deepest abdominals that are so hard to workout, run across your lower abdomen from hip to hip and coordinates closely with your PF. When strengthening your core, you want to focus on PF first by doing the Kegel exercise.
Still not convinced it’s worth the effort?
Well how about if you knew it would help you have better sex (i.e. stronger orgasms) or to help flatten your belly? Besides those benefits, a strong core has been shown to decrease risk for injury in athletes.
Before I share how to do a proper Kegel and turn on your core, you need to know that:
Also ladies- you’ll notice that it’s easier to do them during the middle of your cycle and more difficult at the beginning of it due to hormone changes. Just keep at it!
How do you find your PF?
This exercise will help you feel the contraction of the PF muscles so you know when they are working:
What’s the proper way to strengthen your PF?
Most likely you were not breathing while you did the movement above. It would be embarrassing to pass out from a Kegel. So now we have to learn how to breathe while you do the contraction of the PF:
You can practice this exercise anytime- while driving, doing chores, lifting children, standing in line. You can do it while lifting weights or running. The more complicated the activity you are doing, the more challenging it will be to hold the Kegel and breathe. The more you do a few reps throughout the day, the stronger the PF and TA will become to help flatten your belly and increase your pelvic support as well as strengthen sensations during sex (i.e. stronger orgasms).
7 bonus resources for having or maintaining a healthy PF:
4. Unlock your hip muscles prior to doing Core exercises. Target the Psoas (hip flexors) and glut muscles with trigger point massage tools and stretching for example Pigeon Pose.
5. Want to challenge your core (and your injury free)? Find a Pilates or Pure Barre studio near you to strengthen your body at least 2 times a week.
6. Check out the Squatty Potty™- a toilet stool that puts your body in the best posture for pooping which will take pressure off your PF especially if you struggle with constipation.
7. Lastly, most women could use more pleasure and fun in their life. Right? Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts is a great resource for helping you get back in touch with your feminine (pleasure) side.
The biggest mistake in power training is not focusing on a creating a strong foundation first. Power on an unstable base will lead to inefficient movement and injuries.
You wouldn’t build your house on sand so why would you try to increase power without a strong, balanced foundation?
A strong foundation or “core” helps decrease risk for injury, promotes good posture, and improves coordination and power during sports. You’ll walk, run, bike, row, and move better.
Simply stated- if you didn’t have your core muscles, you would fall flat on your face. They play an important role in balance, posture and fighting the effects of gravity.
If you’re paralyzed from neck down and your core muscles aren’t working, you can’t hold your body upright without external support. A weak core makes it difficult to move your arms and legs efficiently and puts you more at risk for injury.
WHAT'S YOUR CORE? It’s much more than just your abdominals. Your core involves a complex series of muscles from arm pits to hips and helps keep the spine aligned during movement. It’s involved in almost every movement the body makes.
Your core muscles protect your spine from forces like when walking on ice or the impact of running.
They also stabilize/support your spine during dynamic activities so that you can reach for a cup in the cabinet, pick up the laundry off the floor, carry the groceries, walk, run, kick a soccer ball or hit a golf ball. They help you balance on grass or unstable objects like a stand up paddle board or bike.
You get the idea. You need them for all functional daily activities and definitely for sports.
Don't be fooled by someone with a 6 pack! Those chiseled abs don't mean they have a strong core. They've most likely overdeveloped the outer most abdominals (i.e. rectus abdominis) only.
For a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to focus on being functionally strong versus only having strong abdominals.
Developing the deeper core muscles with full body movements will help build strength, efficient movement, and prevent injury during all your daily and sports activities. The core muscles also need to be turned on and challenged as it's very easy for the body to start compensating with other muscle groups.
We’ve got 3 key fundamental core exercises to add to your fitness plan that will give you the best bang for your buck and can be done anywhere at any time.
THE PLANK, PUSHUP AND SQUAT!
These are full body exercises that target the core’s ability to stabilize and will help you build strength, power and good posture.
The plank will turn on all the core muscles while you hold the position.
The pushup will put weight on your arms while the squat will put weight on your legs as you move them on a stable core.
Working against gravity in all positions will help build your strength. The longer you hold them, the more you build your core endurance.
Ender shows you the sequence in the video below.
First a few tips:
1. HOW TO MODIFY
Modify these exercises if you're new to these movements or haven’t done them in a while.
To modify the plank and pushup, start with your hands on the wall or counter and work your way to the floor. Or you can start them on the floor with your knees down and progress to knees off.
To modify the squat, you can do it with some support like against the wall or while holding onto the kitchen sink. Progress to no support and work your way to squatting fully to the floor.
You’ll want to modify if you have had a back or neck injury or are post-partum. Consult your health care provider if you need more help with modifications. You shouldn’t begin these exercises if you are pregnant and new to them or have a recent injury.
2. FOCUS ON FORM
During all movements, you want to:
3. THE GOAL
Add these 3 core exercises to your cardio routine 3 days a week. Start by holding the plank 10 seconds and do 10 reps of the pushup/squats. Do 1-3 sets of each exercise. Overtime build your endurance to holding planks 60-90 seconds and 15-20 reps of pushup/squats (1-3 sets).
Now it’s time for you to build a strong core. Click on the video below to get started:
Got a running or workout buddy you think would enjoy these exercises? Please share this blog post with them.
Mollie & Ender
Want to be more calm, focused, and creative? Try some mindful walking with your dog.
Why? It’s the perfect trifecta to get all the health benefits of walking, mindfulness, and being in nature.
Walking is not only good for your cardiovascular system but can increase your creativity by 60%. Just 20 minutes of walking can build healthy neurons and produce those happy hormones we all crave.
Practicing mindfulness can bring clarity, improve attention, lower your blood pressure, strengthen your immune system, and boost your mood.
Spending time in nature and/or with your pet can promote a healthy heart, decrease anxiety and also get rid of the blues.
Plus, it’s easier to create a habit when you tie it to something you already do such as walking your dog.
How? Take your dog on a walk for 5-20 minutes. Let your dog guide you on the walk and be your focal point. Your dog is your cue to stay present. When you are walking, go with the flow. If your dog starts to chew wood like ours did in this video, well you go with it.
Watch this video on how easy it is to bring mindfulness into your dog walking:
Try this technique on your next walk with your pooch. And if you happen to be a cat parent, feel free to give it a try. Seriously, some folks walk their cat on a leash (don't force it though). We want to see you and your dog/s picture after your walk. Share them with us in the comments below or using the #mindfulpetwalk.
Peace & Love,
Mollie & Ender
P.S.- really stressed out, try meditating with your pet.
Cooler temps. Tailgaters out. The beer is flowing.
Welcome to concussion season, I mean football (or futbol) season. It’s in full swing!
Hopefully you saw the movie Concussion that shed light on the story of how the NFL finally acknowledged that their players are at risk for some serious brain damage (chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE) from the repetitive hits to the head they endure throughout their careers. The movie told the story well but glossed over how you can decrease the risk for CTE by actually managing concussions in a different way.
The brain is not a muscle but it bruises somewhat like a muscle does when injured. Sprain your ankle and it bruises, swells, hurts. You can’t put weight on it so you don’t walk. You slowly put more weight on it as it heals. What bruising looks like in the brain is headache, dizziness, nausea, difficulty reading, irritability in noisy environments, light sensitivity, memory issues, confusion etc. While it’s healing, the brain needs to avoid taking another hit. It needs time to recover. Rest is key. Unlike a sprained ankle, you can’t see it so it’s hard to decide when it’s safe to go back to normal activities.
Ender and I get calls this time of year from our friend’s with kids in sports. A lot of soccer and football parents. The kids seem younger and younger. It’s the same scenario. Their kid got a concussion and was told not to play until they felt better. The parents aren’t sure when to let them go back to practice. Their kid is still having headaches when they try to read or in class, they feel funny when they run and/or they don’t have much energy. Although we don’t offer medical advice, here is some information and resources that we share with them (besides reminding them to always consult their physician).
First, they need to advocate for their kid and put aside their concerns about their sports career. They are parents first, coach or manager second. This is a big deal. It’s their kid’s future with or without sports. They don’t want their kid to get another concussion while the other one is healing. It’s not like 1+1= 2. It’s 1 + another one (concussion) = 5. Brain damage is exponential. And keep in mind the brain isn’t fully developed until the mid 20’s (around age 26 for girls).
What's a concussion really?
A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury. It’s caused by a jolt or blow to the head causing the brain to bounce around inside the skull. This stretches and damages brain cells and is sometimes referred to as shearing.
It’s not going to necessarily show up on scans/MRI’s because it can be microscopic tears. 90% won’t lose consciousness. It can take 3-5 days to show signs. 50-70% go unreported. More than a third happen in practice. That means you’ve really got to be on the lookout for the symptoms of a concussion.
Common symptoms include dizziness, double vision, confusion, nausea and sensitivity to light or noise. Also feeling sluggish, foggy, or down. You may notice they’re more emotional (angry, irritable, or crying), have changes in behavior or personality (an outgoing kid becomes more isolated), moving clumsily, and/or forgetful (in the game, they may forget their position or the score).
There are 3.8 million sports related concussions a year. 1 in 5 school athletes will sustain one this year.
Cycling is higher risk (25%) for concussion than football and baseball (14%). Did you see Annemiek Van Vleuten, the Dutch cyclist, crash in Women’s Road Race 2016 Rio Olympics? Yikes- please wear your helmet when cycling! Basketball’s (11%) next. There is less than a 10% risk for water sports, power RV, soccer, skateboards, fitness, or winter sports.
Athletes with a recent concussion are approximately 2.5 times more likely to suffer a leg injury within 90 days after return to play compared to athletes without a concussion. Why? One reason might be because the brain controls our ability to move properly and whatever side of the brain was injured, the other side of the body could be more at risk for injury while it’s healing.
Playing with a concussion also doubles recovery time. A recent study of 12 to 19 year olds playing contact sports found it took 22 vs 44 days to recover if they didn’t rest 24 to 48 hours after a concussion.
Bottom line: proper rest after concussion will help you return to sport more quickly.
Listen, I get it. The pressure to get back in the game is real. Even though I’ve been in brain injury rehab for over 20 years, I love football and we are UFC fanatics. I grew up in Texas with two younger brothers that were groomed to be the high school quarterback stars from the age 10. My brothers had pressure their whole childhood from our dad and coaches for all the sports they played. Our dad made dance moms look sane.
My youngest brother hadn’t even woken up from anesthesia after a surgery to repair a compound fracture to his left leg from a freaky tackle his senior year and my dad was asking the trauma surgeon when he could play baseball. You see my dad was obsessed with him getting a baseball scholarship that he couldn’t even process that my brother might not be able to walk normal much less run.
My brothers tell stories now of coaches pulling them out of class to talk about the games or pressure them to choose one sport (in high school). And they were healthy. If you’re an ill or injured athlete, there’s much more pressure to get back in the game or lose your spot. Even on the drill team we had that issue. If we didn’t practice, we couldn’t perform and you might not ever get back in the lineup.
In reality, the worst pressure is probably coming from your kid because all they want to do is please their coach and you. They’re going to want to play so it’s your job to know what to look for. You know your kid best. You’re looking for changes in their personality, behaviors, mood, and routines. Until that gets back to normal, they probably shouldn’t practice much less play.
Although schools and universities are more aware of the concussion issue, it really depends on what kind of economic resources your school has for how they handle return to play. It’s really up to the athlete and their parents to be on top of their “brain” game. It’s really no different than any other medical or health concern, the more you advocate for yourself, the better.
You might need to seek medical help outside of the school. Elite athletes put together a team outside of their agent, manager, or league to take care of their body (and mind). It’s never too early to take this approach to sports. Even if your kid isn’t going pro, they’re going to want to have a healthy brain as they pursue college, work or a relationship.
If your kid is playing a sport, figure out if your school has a protocol for concussions and what the return to play guidelines are. Find out if your area has a Concussion Clinic and tuck that into your back pocket.
After a concussion, the typical recommendation is to slowly return to normal activities under the supervision of a physician. But honestly what does that mean?
THE KEY IS TO GIVE THE BRAIN TIME TO HEAL!
Here’s what you can do to assist the recovery if your kid does get a concussion in practice or a game:
SIGNS OF OVERDOING IT: onset of headache, fatigue, irritability, eye fatigue-blurred vision, dizziness, anxiety/worry, insomnia, difficulty focusing and remembering things either during or after activities.
THE SOLUTION: If your activities bring on symptoms, the answer is rest and taking breaks. Also keep your physician informed and follow his advice. Notice how you feel the next day after trying new activities. If your symptoms have flared up, you may have overdone it the day before. It’s helpful to keep a calendar with your activities to refer to so you can adjust your pace as needed.
SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP SOONER RATHER THAN LATER: get professional help if symptoms last more than a month such as ongoing dizziness, headaches, vision issues, sensitivity to light and noise or mood issues. Also reach out if your kid had a concussion in the past and never really bounced back or something just seems off (maybe they are now struggling in school and hadn’t in the past). The sooner you get help, the better. Here are some resources:
THE GOOD NEWS: The brain can repair and heal because of neuroplasticity (ability to create new neurons/connections and compensate for injury or damage) if it’s given the right amount of rest balanced with just enough stimulation. It’s a dance but if you listen to the symptoms, they will guide you on how to pace your activities as the brain recovers.
If you need some brain Injury resources for Texas, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
PLEASE NOTE: CORE POWER HEALTH & FITNESS, INC. (“WE,” “US” OR “OUR”) DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. YOU SHOULD CONSULT A LICENSED PHYSICIAN PRIOR TO BEGINNING OR MODIFYING ANY EXERCISE, FITNESS, DIET OR NUTRITION PROGRAM THAT YOU UNDERTAKE. YOU ACKNOWLEDGE THAT EXERCISE ACTIVITIES INVOLVE RISKS WHICH MAY INVOLVE RISK OF BODILY INJURY OR DEATH, AND THAT YOU ASSUME THOSE RISKS. IN NO EVENT SHALL WE BE LIABLE FOR ANY INJURY THAT YOU SUFFER, OR THAT YOU CAUSE TO ANY PERSON OR ENTITY, IN CONNECTION WITH YOUR USE OF THE SITE.
It’s no secret that exercise is good for your heart. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s also healthy for your brain.
It’s all about good blood flow. Exercise gets the blood pumping head to toe but moving your body is only the first step.
Your blood has to be full of the right cocktail to fuel your brain. You can get your groove on all day but if you are stuffing your face with greasy burgers and cake then don't expect to be thinking like Einstein at work.
Paying attention to a few key areas daily- Movement, Meditation, and Nutrition- is all it takes to be on your A-game and boost your brain power. Seems to simple but it’s true. The best part, you have total control.
We’ve already shared in previous blog posts how much Physical Activity and Meditation you need daily to improve your mood, attention, memory, and energy levels along with the low down on how to get started.
So let’s talk about food. Specifically, clean eating, and the nutrients your brain needs to work like a finely tuned machine.
CLEAN EATING involves:
You may be wondering how in the world you are going to fit
this clean eating business into your day...
First, you have to plan ahead so you grab the right foods when you get busy.
Next try one of these 5 simple suggestions for going clean without the overwhelm:
*The Smoothie Solution:
Start your day with a Protein Shake. Tips to Build a Balanced Shake:
GREEN SHAKE RECIPES:
Take 1 handful of kale (stems and all)
8 ounces of water
1 handful of frozen fruit or blueberries
1 banana (optional)
Blend all ingredients until smooth.
Green Protein Smoothie
1 serving Vanilla Protein Powder
9 ounces Almond Milk
1 handful Baby Spinach
½ cup Honeydew Melon
Blend all ingredients until smooth.
*The Mediterranean Diet Plan:
Research has shown that the traditional Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease. What’s that? Better BLOOD FLOW? That’s perfect for your brain!
It’s also associated with reduced risk of cancer, Parkinson’s (brain disease) and Alzheimer’s disease (brain disease). Ding ding ding!!! We have a winner.
This eating plan is basically full of the top 12 Super Foods. You would eat primarily plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. Plus limit your red meat to no more than a few times a month while eating fish and poultry at least twice a week.
Replace that creamy, yummy butter (you can do it) with healthy fats such as olive oil and canola oil and use herbs and spices instead of salt to flavor foods.
Add some red wine (in moderation- of course), eat your meals with family or friends, and get daily exercise. Pretty much covers all the bases for having a sharp, healthy brain. You can Google recipes if this plan floats your boat- they are everywhere. Better yet, take a trip to the Mediterranean for some taste testing!
*Bullet Proofing your Coffee:
No you don’t need a special coffee cup. Bullet Proof Coffee™ die hards believe adding grass-fed, unsalted butter and “brain octane” oil (or coconut oil) to their coffee boosts cognition and triggers weight loss. Moderate amounts of caffeine CAN boost brain power by enhancing memory, focus and mood. So who knows... Decide for yourself, check out Bullet Proof Coffee ™.
*Grab Green on the Go:
Green juice is everywhere now. You can drink your veggies if you are low on time. You can also add green super food powders to your smoothie or water. One scoop of powder will give you probiotics for your gut, chlorella, blue green algae, digestive enzymes, spirulina, wheat grass, flax seed and all kinds of veggies for decreasing inflammation and improving gut health. It’s great for when you are traveling. No excuses not to eat your veggies.
Worried about the cost of going organic? Try shopping at your local Farmer’s Market. The prices are usually more affordable. Even though they don’t say organic, they are typically the same quality. It’s just expensive for small farms to get that fancy organic label. A lot of cities now have home delivery services to get local fruits, veggies and meat directly from the farm to your table.
Hopefully these ideas help you feel like it’s more doable to start eating clean today!
Go ahead and give your brain it’s daily dose of movement, meditation, and clean eating (with Super Foods) so you can tap into your full potential!
And say goodbye to brain fog forever.
Pick one suggestion and test it out. Let us know how much better you feel, think and perform in the comments below.
Happy Clean Eating!
Mollie & Ender
P.S. Fit Dawg Boot Camp launches soon- our healthy living + cardio workout for you & your dog! Click here to be the 1st to know about it + get access to our FREE Fit Quiz!
It seems like everyone is doing it. You keep hearing it's the #1 success tip shared by the most famous athletes, business leaders, and entertainers. Kobe, Oprah, Madonna all do it. They use it to help their focus, creativity, and resilience. It improves their ability to be proactive vs. reactive, have a positive mindset, and get in the flow. It's free, so what do you have to lose?
You finally find time to sit still and close your eyes. You take a deep breath. You are going to get in the Z O N E.
Instead of feeling relaxed though, you start to feel anxious. You notice you need to scratch your nose. You remind yourself need to fold the laundry. You hear the neighbor next door. O-M-G goes off in your head. How long do you have to do this?
You open your eyes and tell yourself that must have been like 15 minutes. You look at the clock. 3 minutes has passed.
What the h...? You decide this must not be for you. It’s too painful. It takes too much discipline. You don’t have what it takes after all.
Honestly, if you can watch a movie, you can meditate. It’s a form of mindfulness. Mindfulness is being present, aware, and learning to appreciate everything around you.
Meditation is exercise for your mind. You are training your attention muscle. There are many ways to do it. We want to show you how painless it can be to start a daily practice.
The research on meditation is vast and the health benefits are numerous. It's been researched extensively.
Just 10 minutes a day can sharpen your thinking and decrease your blood pressure! It’s so worth giving it another shot.
Additional benefits of having a daily meditation practice:
That list is pretty awesome for one form of mind exercise. It can be confusing to get started because there are many ways to meditate and we tend to try too much when we start a new exercise or activity.
To create a new habit, it’s best to connect it to something you already do and if possible, enjoy. That’s why we’ve made a video for you on how you can start your meditation practice with your pet since you’re cuddling with them daily anyway (hopefully).
Here are some basics to know followed by the video to help you get going today:
How do you do it? Find a comfortable position to sit or lay down. Eyes open or closed. Choose something to focus on (your focal point). Your breath is one of the simplest ways to start as a focal point. When you mind wanders, you return your focus to the breath. There are many types of meditation such as laughing meditation, walking meditation, or meditating with mantras (positive words or affirmations you say over and over). You can even meditate with your pet.
What should you feel? Calm, centered, relaxed.
What should you do? Watch and enjoy the show going on in your mind. Meditation is sometimes described like the state you are in when you are watching a movie. When you are at the movie you just enjoy the show without effort. If your mind wanders, come back to the show (in your mind).
When to do it? Anytime, although it’s easy for the day to get away from you so most people recommend meditating in the morning. Set an alarm and do it anytime it fits in your day.
How long? 10 to 30 minutes. Start small even for 1-2 minutes and build your tolerance. Remember, it’s exercise. You wouldn’t expect to run a marathon on your first day of training, especially if you’ve never run before. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself to sit still for an hour on your first attempt. Take baby steps.
How often? Daily is best for a healthy brain and all the benefits it can provide you.
Where? Anywhere. When you are starting out, it will be easier in a comfortable, calm environment with fewer distractions. Check out the apps recommended below that you can use anywhere.
Meditating is a simple exercise for a healthy brain but the tricky part is that your mind will always wander. The more you practice, the less it wanders, and the easier it is for you to return to your focal point. Your goal is to not judge yourself when it wanders.
Dr. Ron Siegel likens this skill to potty training a puppy. When you’re cute, sweet, cuddly puppy is in training, you don’t scold or shame it when it poops or pees in places it shouldn’t. When you are learning to meditate, your brain will poop and pee when it’s not supposed to by losing focus from time to time. When this happens, don’t get stuck on it, just let it roll by, accept it’s going to happen and refocus when you notice it happening. Don’t tell yourself stories that you suck at this or can’t do it. It’s totally NORMAL.
THE GOOD NEWS:
Just the intention to meditate lights up the areas of the brain that we are targeting with this exercise, i.e. there is no perfect way of doing it!
GETTING STARTED VIDEO:
In this video, Ender teaches you how to start your meditation practice with your pet. Your focal point will be on your breath and your pet. Your pet will receive all the health benefits along with you.
Take a few minutes and join Ender and one of our dogs, Teddie, doing a simple meditation:
It's time to turn on your brain with daily meditation. It’s like a muscle- you've gotta use it or lose it.
We'd love to know if you tried the pet meditation in the video or if you have your own favorite way to meditate. Please share with us in the comments below.
Mollie & Ender (& Teddie)
P.S. Fit Dawg Boot Camp launches soon- our healthy living + cardio workout for you & your dog! Click here to be the 1st to know about it + get access to our FREE Fit Quiz!
Let’s pretend for a moment you are a detective. How would you behave?
You would most likely be calm, present, and observant. You wouldn’t be thinking about your past or future. You would be so focused that things would slow down as you are aware of everything going on in your surroundings. You are looking for clues and totally in the moment.
That’s a lot like practicing mindfulness.
Mindfulness is moment to moment awareness without judgment. You are intentionally training your mind to be present with your experiences. You can start with something as simple as your breathing, a particular emotion you are feeling or during an activity you are involved in such as eating.
The practice of mindfulness helps us get into alignment, calmness, clarity and improves our emotional regulation so we can be productive, focused and ready to work/learn/communicate better. It improves optimism, a healthy stress response and a positive attitude by increasing activity in our left prefrontal cortex of our brain.
You don't need any work out equipment or a gym membership to do it. You were born with everything you need. You just need to practice being intentional about bringing it into your daily activities. The key is consistency.
Do you make regular visits to yourself? Rumi
One of the easiest ways to start your mindfulness practice is to sit with your eyes closed and breathe for 3-5 minutes. Stay focused on your breath and when you get distracted just return your focus to your breathing. This simple activity will improve your happy hormones and produce chemicals to help you relax.
Not sure you can sit still? You can practice being mindful when you are moving or doing activities you already do each day.
How? Become aware of what you are hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling during any activity- exercising, driving, cleaning, cooking, or drinking your coffee or tea each morning.
You can do mindful walking by noticing each step or become aware of the nature around you as you walk. Look at the blue sky, listen to the birds chirping, feel the wind on your skin.
Mindful eating is simple to do as well. Pay attention to the colors and smells of your food and to the crunchiness, creaminess and flavor of what you are eating. Put your fork down between bites and take 3 breaths. Pause to check in with your belly. Are you full? Are you thirsty? Is this food satisfying to you? How does the food affect your mood and energy?
Enjoying what you are doing while you are doing it is also a form of mindfulness. Are you enjoying what you are eating? Where you are exercising? Who you are talking to?
If you are still struggling to get calm and present, find a green space to start your mindfulness practice as it has been proven to help you focus and relax. Keep your eyes open and take deep belly breaths. Try some mindful walking as mentioned before.
Fortunately, it doesn’t take long to see results. You can start with as little as 10 minutes a day and will notice your ability to focus, make decisions and control your emotions has improved.
So what are you waiting for? It’s time to make regular visits to yourself.
I challenge you to make it a daily practice to be a Joy Detective. How much joy can you find around you each day?
Lot’s of Joy,
P.S. Want more fitness tips for your mind & body? Click here to take a FREE Fit Quiz + get bonus tips to boost your score!
Oops, you did it again! You said YES too many times. You took on too much.
You are completely overwhelmed and don’t know what to start first on your massive to-do list. You feel that panic coming on as you realize it’s happened again… You’ve got Monkey Mind!
We’ve all been there. It happens a lot during the holiday season in the fall. It’s common in the summer when you are juggling your daily responsibilities with family and travel.
It might be related to a new work project that is taking over your life making it difficult to fit in your personal responsibilities. It’s gonna happen from time to time.
Do you know how to get control of it?
Here is my favorite remedy for Monkey Mind: Eliminate the NUTS in your life.
NUTS are those “Nagging Unfinished Tasks” that you constantly think about and make you feel overwhelmed.
They not only clutter your space but your mind. Here is a simple way to get rid of them:
1. Make a list of anything that bothers you, worries you or that you are simply tolerating.
What is nagging at you and on your mind all the time?
It can be a task on your to do list or something in your life that you know is constantly sucking your energy.
Write it ALL down on paper:
-the messy laundry room that is driving you crazy every time you walk into it
-your desire to start a new exercise program
-your craving for a moment alone to take a bath
-those boundaries that you know you need to set with that needy friend who calls you daily
-the pile of mail you need to sort through
It can be something very simple or a bigger goal/desire or something you have wanted to do or stop doing for a long time.
2. Next, it’s time to start to eliminating the NUTS in your life. Choose the NUT that bothers you the most and work on it until completed.
If it is a huge NUT then break it down into 20 minute pieces and prioritize doing the most time consuming one first to completion.
3. Once you have knocked out one of your NUTS, move on to the next most bothersome one.
Notice how much better you feel. When you mark tasks off of your to do list, you actually release dopamine- one of the 4 feel good hormones!
4. Continue to eliminate your NUTS until you have worked through your list.
Although be aware – the list might keep growing. It’s normal for that to happen but you now have a strategy on how to deal with these tasks so they don’t overwhelm you.
Anytime you start to feel “Monkey Mind” creeping in, take a time out and purge the NUTS onto the list so you can get them out of your head and start cracking away at them, one at a time.
Years ago, when I first did this exercise, I made a long list. By getting it all on paper, I realized I was spending time on smaller tasks and ignoring the bigger, more stressful ones. My biggest NUT was that I couldn’t walk my dogs without my arm getting pulled off.
This was an everyday frustration that was stressing me out but I was ignoring it. I was hurting my body as one of my dogs was almost 80 pounds and beginning to show fear around other dogs.
The more stressed I got, the worse the issue was getting as the dogs fed off my energy.
Making the list, gave me clarity that I needed to make this a priority and I found it very freeing to just focus on one thing.
I took the time to find a dog trainer that would come to our home and we had 3 lessons that changed our lives.
Ultimately, I learned how to be the leader in a way that worked for the 80 pounder.
Learning these new skills decreased a daily stressor for all of us and improved the quality of my life and my relationship with my dogs.
I'm pretty sure I would have kept ignoring this issue if I hadn't done this exercise because it recommends you address the most bothersome not the most important task on your list. That was a different way for me to prioritize things but it worked.
Decreasing the NUTS in your life, will also refuel your battery. Think of your body and mind as a battery. We only have so much energy for all the things we have to do every day.
By focusing on this one issue with my dogs, I actually got a lot more done on my to-do list and NUTS started falling off the list without much effort. I started taking action without even realizing it because I had more energy and my mind was free from overwhelm.
Another bonus of this stress busting exercise:
If you focus on eliminating NUTS for just 20 minutes a day, you will eventually be doing more of what you love each day.
So here’s to taking back control of your mind (and life)! Give it a try- tackle one of those NUTS on your list and let me know how it made you feel.
Get to crackin'!
Mollie Miller, PT