One of the things I love about Pilates, Yoga, and Qi Gong is the emphasis on the breath work.
They all teach you how the breath is where it all starts. It controls everything. How you heal. How you feel. How you move.
And there are so many breathing exercises out there that can give you different results.
You can change the way you breathe so that it calms your nervous system, to turn on your nervous system before or during activity, to boost your energy, to loosen muscle tension, and/or to decrease anxiety and overwhelm.
It’s fascinating how something so simple can make such a difference in your body and mind.
Put your hand over your heart and close your eyes. Take a deep breath in through your nose and out through your mouth. Repeat a few more deep breaths.
Did that release some tension in your neck? Do you feel a less overwhelmed? How about more grounded or centered?
You can use this breathing exercise anytime you feel like life is spiraling out of control. It reminds you that you DO have control.
One breath can change everything. Your mood. Your energy level.
And as they say you've gotta feel it to heal it. Breath work will help you do that.
Having a variety of breathing exercises in your self-care tool box will help you manage stress, fatigue, and pain to perform and feel your best each day.
Here is another breathing exercise for you to try that will help you release STRONG emotions.
Some of us were taught that it's not OK to express strong or negative emotions (i.e. anger, sadness) and they get trapped in our body. This technique will help you release them.
Not to get too woo woo on you, but it'll also help you center yourself by combining both your masculine and feminine energy so you’re in a more peaceful place.
The Ha Breath
Remember…baby steps, my friend. All is well.
P.S. Want to feel more energy, ease, & flow each day? Download this free daily planner that'll help you pick out a few self-care mini moves so you can find your groove.
If you’re worn out, burned out or in need of a time out, here’s my favorite tool to help you get re-energized.
I've used it daily for the past 2 years. It's been my #1 self-care practice as I continue to ride the emotional roller coaster of providing elder care for my dad.
I learned about it on a podcast that led me to a book that started me on a 40 day challenge with a simple rest tool called Yoga Nidra.
I was completely worn out from helping my dad through his 3rd cancer surgery in a year when the podcast caught my attention.
I'd heard the name many times from my Yoga Therapist colleagues, but didn’t really "hear" it until my body needed it the most.
My body was like “Yes, THAT is what you need to do when you get home.” Deep rest was exactly what my body was craving and I was the perfect candidate to test out the power of it.
I'll never forget my first yoga nidra nap and the way it refreshed and energized my worn-out body (and soul).
It’s the most relaxed I’ve gotten on my own without going to acupuncture or massage. I would even say it’s a deeper relaxation experience that energizes you versus having that post bodywork fog where you can barely drive home.
What is Yoga Nidra?
It’s basically meditation while you rest.
You lie down, listen to a guided meditation, and rest. It’s called “yogic sleep” and involves intense relaxation.
Doesn’t it sound fascinating and fun?
It’s my favorite rest tool for managing fatigue and stress.
If you’re a caregiver for little ones, old ones, even furry ones... it'll help you re-charge each day.
If you're in a healing profession... it's your burnout prevention tool.
If you’ve got a job that requires you to perform (athlete, speaker)… it’s your pre-game “find your flow” mindset tool.
A 15 minute yoga nidra nap will help you calm your nervous system so your body can repair and heal itself.
It has been such a powerful healing & recovery tool in my life. I know it can be in yours as well.
Getting Started With Yoga Nidra
BOOK AND CHALLENGE:
P.S. Check out your brain on Yoga Nidra. The research on brain scans during Yoga Nidra is remarkable. Your brain is asleep and awake at the same time. After you wake up, you're primed and ready to act: Brain scans
Did you know you have a superpower? Yep, it's true. We all have it no matter our age or ability. It’s neuroplasticity! Your brains ability to rewire and grow when challenged.
It’s the reason I can confidently say it’s never too late and anything is possible. You can grow, learn new skills, be active & agile at any age.
But, there's a catch. It only happens when you challenge yourself outside your comfort zone and do lots (and lots) of repetition to cement in that new healthy habit or skill.
As a physical therapist working in brain injury rehab these past 20+ years, this was my job. Provide tons and tons of opportunities that challenged the patient who had injured their brain to use their weak side so they could walk and function better.
It's called a "forced use approach" to regaining muscle function (motor control). You're trying to turn on the weak muscles and create new pathways in the brain to help the body move better.
My patients all learned the easy way to move on their own using their strong side. Sometimes on day 1 of their injury. It wasn’t efficient and it limited their ability to reach their full potential functionally, but it was easy for them to pick up on their own.
That’s what your brain will do if you don’t challenge it. It’ll find the easiest way for you to function but most likely will keep you small and limited. And if you don't use it, you LOSE it. This is true whether it's a goal to improve your physical, mental, or emotional health.
Typically, every new habit or goal you want to achieve is outside your comfort zone. It's not something you are used to doing. You've got to learn some new skills to accomplish it. Turn on some new brain cells (neurons) and make new pathways.
And as soon as you decide you’ve got a new goal, whether it’s from fitness to finances, you brain is going to resist with fear and sabotaging behaviors. We all experience this. We always will no matter how healthy, successful or happy we are.
The research shows not even a life-threatening diagnosis of say cancer or heart disease will encourage most people to change their diet or behaviors like smoking. I can’t tell you how many patient’s I saw pushing their IV pole outside of MD Anderson Cancer Center for a cigarette during a chemo break when I worked in the Houston Medical Center.
Your brain is just trying to protect you. Keep you safe (in your comfort zone.)
That’s why I love a good brain hack. It might be from the support of a coach or therapist, a shift in mindset, or adding a new mantra to your bag of tricks. The more tools you have to deal with resistance and limiting beliefs, the better.
It takes practice and repetition, but the good news is that IT IS POSSIBLE to rewire your brain to accomplish any skill, goal or healthy habit you desire.
I've got 3 brain hacks to help you snap out of it when you start sabotaging. #3 is brand new so be sure to test it out.
3 BRAIN HACKS TO HELP YOU PLAY BIG & TAP INTO YOUR SUPERPOWER
I had the most fascinating thing happen last month. I got a 12-minute treatment for dry eyes that my optometrist recommended and without changing my glasses prescription I was able to see SOOOOO much better.
Driving home, I felt like a kid at Disney World looking around in awe at all the details. Everything was so sharp and clear. Kind of like you feel after getting a new pair of glasses or contacts. Or it feels watching a 3-D movie.
And walking the dogs in the dark that night was dramatically better. The difference before and after treatment really blew me away!
Being in the brain injury rehab world, I had heard some info on dry eyes but now I really get it.
Besides going to the eye doctor each year and eating your carrots, people don’t talk much about what you can do for your eye health.
It’s more important than ever because we all have so much screen time.
Anytime you’re focusing on a screen (any screen), you’re blinking less among other things.
We’ve got some tiny oil glands in our eyelids that help keep the eye lubricated and love it when we blink. Apparently, they also love heat and massage.
The treatment I got a week ago was a heat and massage for my eyelids called LipiFlow. It helps unblock those tiny oil glands that get backed up for various reasons.
I didn’t realize all the things I could do to help them function better. Honestly, I didn’t really know they existed until this past month.
Here’s what I’ve learned you can do to counter screen time and help support the function of these tiny oil glands:
Not sure if you’ve got dry eyes? Here are some symptoms to look out for:
Burning, dryness, irritation, light sensitivity, vision fluctuations, contact lens intolerance, eye fatigue.
MINI MOVEMENT BREAKS
Just like our eyes need breaks when we spend too much time focusing, the body needs to MOVE to feel good and work well.
We preach & teach about mini movement breaks throughout the day because the research shows it all adds up to support your brain and body health whether it’s 3 breaths, 3 reps, or 3 minutes of movement.
Mini Moves, as we call them, done throughout the day can help your body feel more energy, ease and flow each day.
Your brain likes to move especially after long periods of sitting or focusing on a task.
When your brain slows down, or brain fog sets in, it’s time to MOVE.
Ignore these signals and you’ll likely get more easily frustrated, be less focused, and less productive.
Want to feel, move, and perform better?
We’ve got 16 mini moves for you to experiment with and see which ones work best for your body (including another eye massage exercise you can do). They take anywhere from 3 reps to 3 minutes to do.
Download the MINI MOVES Daily Planner & Cheat Sheet to help your body feel more energy, ease and flow each day.
Enjoy & don’t forget to blink!
P.S. Download this free daily planner to help you pick out a few self-care & mini moves each morning. Your body will love them!
Whenever you set a new fitness goal, its completely normal to get off track while it’s becoming a habit. You’ll most likely go too hard, too fast and burn yourself out. It’s human nature.
The research tells us this will happen to ALL of us. 80% of New Year’s Resolutions are abandoned in the first two weeks of January!
What’s more important is how fast you bounce back. How resilient you are. Not that you got off track.
You can build your resilience muscle. It just takes practice picking yourself up. In order to do that you have to become mindful of when you get off track. The faster you realize it, the faster you can start up again.
You’ve also got to learn to let go of the guilt of eating that cookie or not going to the gym. Before you go beating yourself up, focus on the fact you caught yourself or noticed that sneaky habit of procrastination and commit to starting over.
It’s OK if you over complicate it, overwhelm yourself, or get distracted by the new shiny object. We want it all NOW. New things excite us. They turn on our brain’s happy hormones. How many books have you started that you haven’t finished?
Whether it’s the holidays, a vacation, or a busy schedule that throws you off track, having the mindset of expecting to get distracted will make it much easier to get focused again on your goal.
Besides working on your mindset around goals, you can try these tips to help you stay and get back on track with them. Take 5-10 minute to reflect on the following when setting a new goal:
Download your Mindful Athlete Goal Setting Worksheet to help you avoid burning yourself out with your new fitness goal.
Keep in mind that fitness goals are really the steps that make up a larger lifestyle journey. It's about deep breaths and baby steps. It’s about progress not perfection. You're training for a marathon not a sprint. Building your resilience muscle will help you stay on course.
You’ve got this!
Mollie & Ender
P.S. Avoid burnout & overwhelm with the Mindful Athlete Goal Setting Worksheet - it's free! Download here.
Want to knock out some of those projects piling up on your to do list? You’ve got to try this time management tool/brain hack.
Your feel-good neurotransmitters, Serotonin and Dopamine, will be flowing to help you push past procrastination and avoid the burnout of trying to do too much at once.
I used it to go through our garage (in 100 degree summer heat) and 2 closets quickly without ending up exhausted or overwhelmed.
It’s called the Pomodoro Technique™. It’ll help you better estimate the time and energy it takes to do a task.
You can use it to:
Focusing your attention on ONE thing, breaking it down, and building in breaks allows you to keep going without getting over fatigued and to finish the task quickly.
The next time you look at your to do list with dread or feel the weight of an unfinished project, train yourself to say, “I’ve got this. I’m gonna do just one Pomodoro Round.”
You won’t believe how much you get done and how great you’ll feel. Want to dive deeper, go to www.pomodorotechnique.com to learn more.
Let me know what you got done using this technique in the comments.
P.S. Not sure what to do after a run or on your recovery day? Download and test out this 3 minute Active Recovery Yoga Routine for Runners.
The mind-body connection is powerful. Studies show our movements and thoughts impact our health significantly.
Did you know you can shift your mood or boost your immune system with something as simple as sitting up straight in a chair?
A study found that those who had good posture during a mock job interview reported less stress, more confidence and better moods versus those that slumped. Better posture equals better blood flow and less stress on the heart.
Most of us exercise regularly because of the known health benefits and for stress relief. When we can’t get to the gym, any guilt we feel over missing a workout can put extra stress on us.
It’s time to stop those self-sabotaging thoughts. There are many activities you do daily that give you the same health benefits of exercise that you may not be aware of.
Here are 4 ways to experience less stress and the benefits of a workout without breaking a sweat.
Research shows standing in a Power Pose for 2 minutes boosts your confidence and mood.
A Power Pose is when you have your arms and chest open such as in Wonder Woman pose (hands on hips and feet apart) or arms open in a Victory position like you just won a race.
Start doing power poses before you try something new, before your next big meeting, or just as a pick me up when you are feeling low energy.
You’ll feel more confident, focused, and energized similar to what you experience after a strength training workout.
POWER OF BELIEF
Do you believe you exercise enough? Studies show that if you believe you are exercising enough, your body will show the health benefits and vice versa.
A 4 week study found that when participants were told their work of cleaning hotel rooms was good exercise and met the requirement of an active lifestyle, they all showed a decrease in weight, blood pressure, body fat, waist-to-hip ratio and body mass index compared to the control group.
It’s the placebo effect in action as nothing else had changed except their belief that their work was a form of exercise.
If you believe you aren't exercising enough compared to others, then it creates mental stress which can impact your health and body mass index. The key is to think positively daily that you are and have done enough in terms of exercise and taking care of your body.
It helps to re-frame how you see exercise and realize your daily activities and work tasks do count as part of your daily exercise requirements. All movement counts. Shoot, I guess that means dusting counts as a workout.
POWER OF LAUGHTER
Laughing boosts your mood and your immune system but it also gives you some of the same health benefits of exercise. It increases blood flow to your tissue as well as increases your heart rate.
Everyone knows how a good belly laugh is a great abdominal workout. It can also help with pain.
Norman Cousins shared in his book, Anatomy of an Illness, that 10 minutes of watching a comedy gave him 2 hours of pain free sleep.
If you can’t get to the gym, watch a comedy or hang out with that friend who makes you laugh. You can also try a Laughter Yoga class. Yes, it exists.
POWER OF A SMILE
Smile more even if you have to fake it because the act of smiling improves your mood by producing endorphins like exercise.
You’re going for a smile that makes your eyes crinkle to get the most benefits. Smiling in the mirror is an even more powerful exercise.
Which one of these techniques are you going to try the next time you don’t have time for a traditional workout?
Shifting how you think about exercise can play a huge role in your overall health and how long you live.
You’re worth it!
P.S. Grab your FREE Download of the Head to Toe Posture Checklist to help you strike your best Power Pose!
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!
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.
Mollie Miller, PT