The Secret Of The Sauce: Building The Person You Want To Be, Bit By Bit

The start of a new year always seems like a great time to make some changes in our life. A fresh, unmarked calendar awaits, and for many of us, January 1st brings the intention to fill it with good stuff. Whether we’re eating healthier, exercising more, swearing less, or generally communicating better, we’ve got every intention of doing The Thing, whatever it is. 

But after a certain amount of time, it seems like The Thing, whatever it was, didn’t stick. 

It turns out there’s a lot more to forming a new habit than just doing it. But wait… it’s actually nothing more than just doing it. Because the change that sticks, where the change is really cemented into habit, happens in your brain… in your physiology. 

It’s pretty much up to you to just hang on while it happens.

Your Own Signature Cocktail

Your secret sauce is found in the things you do every day, quite literally.

You may have heard it said that your body will take the shape of whatever you do to it most often. So if you exercise a lot, you probably look fit. If you skip leg day all the time, that too is probably apparent. Smokers look like smokers. Sun worshipers, they look exactly like that. Michael Phelps has a swimmer’s body, and Christiano Ronaldo has the signature body of a footballer, because these are the things their bodies do most often.

Your brain is exactly the same way, and though your body may be doing the things, it’s your brain that actually generates the secret sauce. Your body runs the mile, but your brain releases the endorphins. And a body that runs, versus one that doesn’t, will have different levels of endorphins running through it. Different chemical levels entirely, across the board. It literally feels different to be me versus you. None of us are having the same experience as another person, ever. 

Many different ingredients go into this secret sauce… the chemical cocktail that your brain creates, that makes your experience uniquely yours: the quality (and quantity) of food you eat, the health of your relationships, the satisfaction level that you experience with your work, etc. All of these things, and plenty more, contribute to your brain’s chemical response to your body’s lived experience. 

What does this have to do with forming new habits, and making changes? 

When you upset the brain’s chemical response by doing something different, there will be blowback. It will feel wrong to you, because your secret sauce levels are being messed with. The recipe is changing. 

An accessible way for many people to look at this is with alcohol. It is a fact that when you consume alcohol you are changing the chemical cocktail flowing through your brain. I mean, that’s precisely why we do it. If you go out for Happy Hour at 5pm every day after work, your brain is going to start craving that cocktail at 5. If you don’t go out one day, it’s going to feel weird to you. At 6pm, your secret sauce is not going to be what it usually is, and you are definitely going to register that. It will make an impact. 

If you have ever had a hangover, this is your brain literally experiencing withdrawals, because the secret sauce recipe you used last night was sooooooo strong that your brain is having a tough time reaching equilibrium again.

So, if you want to make a meaningful change in your life, one that’s going to actually stick, you have to let your brain create a new sauce for it. Give it time. You have to let yourself be uncomfortable while the change takes place.

“You” Are In There With Your Brain

Who are you? 

You may have heard the phrase “you are not your thoughts”. Perhaps you even thought it was kind of cheesy (it is), but what if you knew that it was true? 

I’m here to tell you that you are not your thoughts. You are the observer of your thoughts. 

Think about it: who is hearing you read these words right now? It’s you. Your brain is processing the information, and broadcasting it, to you. So, you aren’t your thoughts. You are the observer of your thoughts, and this is where literally all of your power resides: the ability to decide who and what you are going to be. The understanding that you’re watching the change happen; it is not happening to you.

By understanding that your brain mixes up the cocktail that your body experiences, and that none of this has a thing in the world to do with “you”, there is leverage. At any point in time, you can choose to be someone and do something different. Literally right now, you can make a change. The sooner you do it, the sooner your brain can get started on the new formula, and the sooner that change is integrated into your physiology.

Step 1: Just Do It

Am I basically telling you that fake it til you make it is a thing? I am.

Thoughts become things, very real things in all kinds of different ways, but first the thought has to move to action. You just have to do it. Decide you’re going to get in shape, and then start taking steps to get there. Resolve to go back to school, and then take the first step. 

Decide the thing, then do the thing. 

Of course I am simplifying this a lot. There are all kinds of things you must do to help ensure your success when making changes in your life, not the least of which is assess all the potential roadblocks you’ll come across on the way. It’s a fact that we can boost our happiness and satisfaction with our performance where attaining goals is concerned, if we can be aware of and plan for all the things that will try to hamstring us. 

For purposes of this conversation, the one big roadblock to your success is the time it will take, and the discomfort involved, in the reformulation of your sauce. Understanding that changes are made on an outward level first… I go running now, or I follow a vegetarian diet now… but it takes a bit for your biology to catch up with you. It takes a little while for your body to take the shape of whatever you’re doing to it, and for the new sauce to begin flowing. 

When making changes and forming new habits, it takes a little while for it to stop feeling wrong. You have to resist the urge to make the discomfort of change go away. The way out of the discomfort, is straight through it.

Step 2: Just Keep Doing It

When you look at it this way, making any change in your life is basically just about getting really good at doing the same thing, a new something, over and over again. This is how you make the new secret sauce. The recipe is in the repetition.

Your body takes the shape of whatever you do to it most often, and so does your brain. When making changes in your life, you are literally building the brain of the person you want to be, but are not yet. 

To make a good change in your life is to make a tastier sauce, but first you must get in the kitchen and start putting the new ingredients together.

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8 Ways Walking Works Wonders

In early 2020, you may have noticed that the entire world went off its axis. Words like “social distancing”, “self-quarantine”, and “novel coronavirus” became things we say now, and it’s probably going to be a long time before things ever return to some semblance of normal. Whatever that was.

We need to constantly be vigilant about our health, and experts agree that one easy way to do that is to wear a mask in public. Another thing that has become part of everyday life, the face mask, has become something of a bone of contention among people. Wear one, don’t wear one… I don’t know what the right answer is, but I do wear one in public. Not just for me but those around me. Unfortunately, that means I can’t run as well. In fact, I’m not a very claustrophobic person, but I experience a very real sense of panic when I can’t catch my breath with a face mask on. 

That made running stressful, and counterproductive, so I started walking instead. And you know something? It gets me to where I want to go, literally and figuratively. It may even be better for me at this point than running since I’ve been a runner for about 25 years. 

It’s been more than 6 months now since I started walking 4-5 miles daily, and I’m experiencing a ton of benefits from it. Not the least of which is that I almost never need a rest day, so there’s no stopping and starting my routine. It has become a constant in my life, a sweet morning treat, and that’s just one of its many gifts. Here are several more.

Better Sleep

They say that a tired dog is a happy dog, and that’s true for us too. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, you’re just not using your body to its potential. You may experience poor sleep because of too much unspent energy, because of sore muscles and joints from lack of use, or any number of other reasons. People who exercise regularly sleep better, this is almost universally true. A daily fitness walk helps to support healthy hormone levels, and one of those hormones is melatonin… the sleep hormone. 

Happier Joints

Unlike running, walking is very low impact. And while your joints don’t love to be pounded, they do love to be taken through their full range of motion and gently challenged. Your joints don’t have any way of cleaning themselves. The way to get the gunk out of your joints and keep them running smoothly is simply by moving them. Synovial fluid lubricates them and keeps them happy. 

Improved Digestion

Walking utilizes the abdominal muscles and deep core muscles in healthy ways that support proper digestion. In other words… a morning walk doesn’t just get you moving, it gets lots of things moving. If you feel me.

Burns Calories

Regular walking has been shown to improve the body’s response to insulin, so one of the first things you may notice is that you lose belly fat quickly. When things start to come into balance for you, your body is going to start releasing what is no longer served by the imbalance. So, bye belly. 

Walking prevents muscle loss, which becomes increasingly important as we age. Couple that with its low impact nature and ability to increase metabolism, and you can begin to see why walking for fitness can really change your body composition for the better. And keep it that way as you get older.

With walking, as with any exercise, you’ll notice that eventually you reach plateaus. You can switch things up and keep the internal incinerator on “high” by adding hills, alternating the pace of your walk, and sprinkling exercises like planks and lunges throughout.

Better Mood

Fitness walking will definitely turn that frown upside down. Not only will you get a quick blast of feel-good endorphins starting from day 1, behind the scenes you’ll actually be changing your nervous system in some key ways. Bye-bye anger and hostility, hello hakuna matata. 

As a very solitary person, it’s hard for me to be social. But I often walk with a buddy, and this hour of “forced” interaction every morning helps me to feel more connected to the outside world. I feel more social, even if I am not being that much more social. I feel like I could hang out, a lot more of the time, and that’s saying a lot.

Great For A Creative Boost

As a writer, when I’m not in a good creative flow, it can be tough. And because I depend on my creativity to feed me and pay my bills, I need meaningful hacks for accessing my creative side when she’s hiding from me. The surefire trick every time? A walk with doggo. Just 10 minutes at any time of day is helpful, but I have noticed that my daily morning walk seems to result in a pretty constant creative flow these days. This pleases me. 

Good Habits Make For More Good Habits

It’s true for any workout routine or self-care habit: self-love begets self-love. The more you walk, the more you’ll want to fuel your body with the best foods, the more you’ll want to sleep 8 hours, the less TV you’ll want to watch because the more you’ll want to stretch (OK maybe), and so on. 

As a yoga teacher, I have been known to tell people that so much of my teaching focuses on physical practices like asana and breathing because I don’t feel I should be responsible for your spiritual development. As your body becomes happier, the mind falls in line, and the questions (your questions) come naturally. The ways you continue on your own path of personal and spiritual development are your own… the ways you create more of what you want… are whatever you want them to be. It can start with walking.

Improved Function Of Systems

As I mentioned, walking helps create a happy balance in your life and body in a number of ways. It sharpens your response to insulin and promotes better melatonin production to help you sleep. Walking gives you that endorphin boost that all exercise does, and it improves digestion too. 

Thanks to its ability to lower blood sugar levels, walking can lower your risk for type 2 diabetes. In addition to that, lowered stress means better blood pressure, and a 30% lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.

How will walking change you? Find out for yourself in as little as 30 minutes, 3 times per week. It’s so easy a toddler can do it, and I can all but guarantee you’ll be impressed with what results!

*****

Sponsor my work for just $4.99! Your monthly sponsorship allows The Changing Room to be a resource for people who are making big changes in their lives. With your donation I can make more inspiring videos, write more meaningful blogs, and learn more about self-care so I can share with you in kind. Together we can do great things, and your presence here matters. Thank you. Become a Patron! 

Knee-Friendly Ways To Strengthen Your Glutes

I’m in my mid-forties, and so are my knees. And lately, I have really started to notice all of that information.

I have been physically active, and a runner no less, for the better part of my life. So, I know I am lucky to have healthy knees. I am 100% sure that my longstanding yoga practice has a lot to do with the fact that my knees are still in pretty good condition, but, they’re definitely in their mid-forties. And being that I am exactly the same age, the years have bestowed upon me some wisdom. One important nugget that I will share with you now: if it feels wrong, it probably is. 

I can feel my knees sometimes. Sometimes they feel a little weak, sometimes achy. Every once in a while, one knee will lock up, or give out, just for a split second. Nothing perceptible to anyone else, but I know it. And I will not deny it. My knees have worked hard for me, my whole life. I love them and appreciate them. In recent months it has become crystal clear that I need to take care with my knees, from here on out. So that’s what we’re doing now.

I walk a lot more than I run these days, and Pilates and yoga are both absolutely part of my workout plan. Pilates gives me a strong core, and yoga brings the balance in so many different ways.

If you need to look out for your knees too, you’re in good company. But that doesn’t mean we need to make sacrifices where workouts are concerned. In fact, it behooves us to build the most balanced and strong body that we can, especially throughout the legs. So the trick is to find exercises that do things like build strong glutes and hamstrings, which support knee alignment, without killing your knees in the process of trying to save them.

Build A Bettah Booty 6 Different Ways

Here are 6 moves I put together to challenge your glutes but not your knees. Check out the video for a quick preview of what’s to come, and find more comprehensive instructions below.

Do each move as many times as it feels good, and remember: if it feels wrong, it probably is.

Booty Building Bridge

If you’re familiar with bridge pose in yoga, it’s the same move with a different intention behind it. 

  • Begin on your back, knees bent, feet on the floor, hip-width apart. Arms at your sides, palms down. 
  • Push the feet straight down into the ground and lift the hips while keeping the knees stable. (A block between the thighs can be a brilliant thing here, as can a strap around the thighs for a different kind of stability)
  • As you push up through the hips, create one long line through the body from knees to armpits, and at the top, squeeze your buns for a second or two before returning to start.

Frog Mouth Bridge

This is the exact same move as above, except the feet are together and knees wide.

  • The soles of the feet do not need to be perfectly together. Press the balls of the feet together and the pinky toe sides straight down, to thrust your hips upward.
  • Squeeze at the top here too, and you’ll feel that the work has moved to the outer edges of your buns with the change in rotation of the legs.

Whole-Body Booty-Building Bridge

Say that five times fast! This too is another move adapted from yoga. It’s a modified upward plank.

  • Come to sit with knees bent and feet on the floor. Lean back and place your hands on the floor behind you, fingers facing toward your seat.
  • Press the hands and feet into the ground and lift up through the hips.
  • Press your hip bones up toward the ceiling and also your heart too. Draw the shoulder blades together behind you to allow for more push up through the chest.

Namaste And Build My Booty

This one is all about building up the hamstrings to support stronger glutes.

  • Stand tall with feet slightly apart. Place the hands gently at the small of your back.
  • Lean the body forward like you are bowing to greet someone, keeping your gaze forward and back long, front core tight.
  • Move toward a 90-degree angle through the hips, looking for the hamstrings to engage, and when that happens, return to standing. 

Standing Kickback

Hamstrings and glutes work together alongside a strong core to maintain balance.

  • Stand with feet together and a slight bend to the knees. 
  • Take the weight into one leg and lean forward slightly. 
  • Send the other leg straight out behind you and use the back of the leg to lift. Remember to give the old glutes a squeeze at the top.

Single-Leg Deadlift

This multi-tasker combines all of the above into one big booty blaster.

  • Stand with feet together and take the weight over into one leg.
  • Like a teeter-totter, keep your body and the other leg in a long line as you send the body forward and the leg out back behind.
  • Look for the hamstrings to engage as they did in Namaste, and come up when you feel that grab. 

*****

Sponsor my work for just $4.99! Your monthly sponsorship allows The Changing Room to be a resource for people who are making big changes in their lives. With your donation I can make more inspiring videos, write more meaningful blogs, and learn more about self-care so I can share with you in kind. Together we can do great things, and your presence here matters. Thank you. Become a Patron! 

The 5 Types of Brainwaves

A number of years back, a friend gave me a book called “The Brain That Changes Itself”. Written in 2007, it’s all about the science of neuroplasticity. It was back when this science around our brain‘s ability to change was still somewhat new… still vibrating with that almost sci-fi feel. There is so much we have learned in recent years about our brains and their ability to adapt:

We don’t actually have a finite number of brain cells, and though alcohol definitely kills them, one weekend of heavy drinking won’t leave you any dumber. At least not in the way we thought.

It happens that our brains can build up and tear down neural pathways within hours, and though our grey matter can bend and change, it’s also definitely a “use it or lose it” proposition. In other words, if you’re learning a language, don’t stop. You can’t stop, or your brain will start dismantling your work. Within hours. Seriously! It’s amazing.

Turns out these incredible microprocessors that sit on our shoulders and broadcast messages to our bodies, like a Starfleet commander, even emit waves. Brainwaves… actual electrical pulses… from huge masses of neurons communicating with each other.

What Are Brainwaves?

Brainwaves are at the root of pretty much every single thing you do and every emotion you feel. They are the “noise” from communication between great masses of neurons in our brains. 

Brainwaves can be detected with sensors affixed to the scalp, and are organized into bandwidths to describe their function. All day long, 24/7, even (and especially) while sleeping, our brains are active. Neurons are holding various conventions among community members, and these are perceived and understood by us as thoughts, feelings, and actions. Plot one’s brainwaves on paper and what you end up with is long waves and arcs, the visual representation of a continuous spectrum of consciousness. Slow, fast, loud, subtle, functional, complex, they all make an appearance at various times of the day.

Our brainwaves can and do change, depending on what we’re doing and feeling. When slower brainwaves dominate the scene we can feel sluggish or spacey. Conversely, the higher frequencies make us feel wired, or hyper-alert.

How Do Brainwaves Work? 

Brainwave speed is measured in Hertz, or cycles per second, and are divided into bands highlighting slow, moderate, and fast waves. 

Infra-Low (<.5 Hz)

Infra-Low brainwaves are known (right now, anyway) as the basic rhythms that underlie our higher brain functions. Very little is understood about them right now, but I’m sure there’s plenty we’ll eventually find out. They are so slow that they are difficult to measure and detect, so they are hard to study with the tools currently available. What researchers do see is that infra-low brainwaves appear to play a major role in the function of the brain’s whole network. Like the back of house at a restaurant.

Delta (.5-3 Hz)

Delta waves are the slowest but loudest of all the brainwaves. Think of a deep baseline or a drumbeat. They are a low frequency and resonate strongly. They are generated in dreamless sleep and very deep meditation. This is where healing and regeneration in the body are stimulated… this is partly why you feel so incredible after a long sleep. Because your body had a chance to really do its thing.

Theta (3-8 Hz)

Theta brainwaves are just a little higher in frequency than Delta, and also occur in sleep and deep meditation. These brainwaves are also where both learning and intuition occur, and the recall of memories. Think of the few moments just after you wake up, or just before you sleep. That “drifting” kind of feeling is likely to be your brainwaves in theta. The dreaminess, the space between awake and asleep, where we’re a little more receptive and open.

Alpha (8-12 Hz)

If you’re feeling like you’re in a state of “flow”, you may be grooving to an Alpha frequency. Alpha brainwaves are marked by flowing thoughts, and some meditative states. Alpha is you, here, present and accounted for. You’re calm, alert, coordinated, and “firing on all cylinders” as they say. This is a great frequency to be at for learning.

Beta (12-38 Hz)

Beta brainwaves are our normal waking state of consciousness. You might have noticed that Beta has a huge frequency range compared to the others, and that’s because there are a few different “bands” of Beta frequencies that your brain can be flowing in.

Our brains may be in Beta when attention is directed outwardly, toward a task or a person. Like the Alpha state, Beta is “fast”… we’re alert, engaged, and making good choices.

The three bands of Beta brainwaves are:

  • Beta1 (12-15Hz) think of easy mental activities, musings. 
  • Beta2 (15-22Hz) is when you’re actively puzzling something out. 
  • Beta3 (22-38Hz) involves highly complex thought, anxiety or excitement. You may be in high Beta when having a new experience. High Beta is marked by that “buzzy” feeling. Because of the amount of stress in many people’s lives, they spend way too much time at this frequency. It takes a large amount of energy to run at this frequency, and the burnout is real. 

Gamma (38-42 Hz)

Gamma brainwaves are the fastest of them all. They used to be the ones we knew little about, like the Infra-low brain waves now. Gamma involves the simultaneous integration of information from different areas of the brain, rapidly and quietly too. Gamma is the most subtle of all the frequencies… you’ve got to be really chilled out for your brain to access this frequency.

At one time it was Gamma brainwaves that were not very well studied, and even dismissed as “spare brain noise”. Then researchers discovered that when we’re in a state of love and caring for another, performing an altruistic act, or basically just being a do-gooder, the Gamma frequency was present. 

But there’s still a lot to learn, for example how the frequency is generated in the first place. As I mentioned, brainwaves are basically the chatter of neurons firing, communicating and working together. But the Gamma frequency is actually higher than the frequency that neurons fire at. Mysterious!

It is believed that Gamma rhythms inform our perception and consciousness, and that the presence of more Gamma points to expanded spiritual understanding and capacity.

Your Brainwaves And You

What does all of this mean? For me, it’s another tool. I recently wrote about making a change, and really making it stick. Understanding that the chemicals in your brain will have a say about this change, and, armed with that knowledge, better preparing yourself for what’s coming. 

I think of our brainwaves in much the same way. Plot one day of my brainwaves out on paper, and yours too, and those will render completely differently. But they will mirror each of our experiences, exactly. Our brainwave profile and our experience of the world, for purposes of this discussion, are one and the same. If your mental health is suffering, that will be reflected in your brainwaves. If you’re stressed out all the time, now that you know a little about brainwaves, you may be able to recognize that it’s an unhealthy place for your brain to be. 

Over (or under) stimulation in certain brain areas is linked with a whole laundry list of conditions, here are just a few:

  • Anxiety disorders and hypervigilance
  • Impulsive behavior and poor decision making
  • Anger, aggression, and depression
  • ADHD
  • Chronic nerve pain and spasms

Instability in brain rhythms, as opposed to a stimulation issue, correlate with:

  • Obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Panic attacks
  • Narcolepsy
  • Migraines
  • Tics
  • Bipolar disorder

Change Your Brainwaves, Change Your Vibe

Brainwaves can be changed by drugs… you might notice that pretty much everything on those lists above is treatable with pharmaceutical and/or recreational drugs. But as you might expect, just as changing your behavior alters the chemical cocktail your brain creates, anything that changes your perception will change your brainwaves too.

Yoga and meditation have been shown to train your brainwaves into balance, and while I am 100% not suggesting that you stop taking your meds and go on a yoga retreat in Bali, I am definitely suggesting that these things can (and do) help. Particularly the meditation part. 

You can change your experience in this world by simply getting quiet inside. Not once or twice, but daily. Within you is the power to fine tune your mind and really make it yours. Arrange it the way you want it, and watch the domino effect of stability and balance permeate every nook and cranny of your existence.

*****

Sponsor my work for just $4.99! Your monthly sponsorship allows The Changing Room to be a resource for people who are making big changes in their lives. With your donation I can make more inspiring videos, write more meaningful blogs, and learn more about self-care so I can share with you in kind. Together we can do great things, and your presence here matters. Thank you. Become a Patron!

Get Strong Fast With These 5 Whole-Body Exercises

Do you hate burpees too? I’ll never forget my first ones. I was seeing a personal trainer for the first time… and the last time… 

The burpees definitely had something to do with it being the last time. 

He asked me if I knew what burpees were, and I asked if they were something like a Sun Salutation but a lot faster and with more pep? He laughed.

An extreeeeeeemely loose interpretation of a Sun Salutation, a burpee involves squatting, jumping back to a high push-up, doing a push-up to the ground, jumping back to the squat, and then just for fun, jumping straight up in the air after that. 

F– that.

He then led me through a whole-body workout that I will never forget, for all the wrong reasons, and to this day I’m hard-pressed to do even one burpee. I hate burpees. Hate is a strong word, as I’m sure you are aware. 

Not only do I hate them, with a passion, I don’t even think they’re necessary. There are a lot of different ways to achieve the same effect. What it comes down to is firing up a lot of big muscles all at once. This requires a lot of energy, and builds heat fast, so you really get a lot accomplished in a short amount of time. 

We do like getting a lot accomplished in a short amount of time, true enough, so here are 5 ways to get it done and say “bye-bye” to burpees forevah too.

As one of my favorite t-shirts says, “buck furpees”. Seriously. Buck them.

5 Body Weight Exercises That Work Everything You’ve Got

Check out this video for a quick demo of these moves:

1. Squat to Overhead Press

  • Begin standing with the feet about hip-width apart, and your arms resting at your sides.
  • Sit back like there is an imaginary chair behind you, mindful of keeping your shoulders back and chest broad.
  • Squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground, or less if it is better for the knees.
  • Exhale and return to standing, raising the arms up overhead as you do.
  • Return to start and repeat several times.

Modify: This move can be made more challenging by adding hand weights to the mix. 

2. Reverse Lunge + Knee Kick

  • Begin standing with the feet about hip-width apart, and your arms resting at your sides.
  • Step one leg about 3 feet back, and raise the arms overhead.
  • Bend the back knee and lower it toward the ground, bending elbows and bringing fists to waistline.
  • Inhale and straighten the arms up again.
  • With an exhale kick the back knee forward, coming to balance on the front foot. At the same time, draw fists once again to waistline.
  • Return to start and repeat on the opposite side, repeating several rounds.

3. Whole-body Push-up

  • Begin standing with the feet about hip-width apart, and your arms resting at your sides.
  • Bring chin toward chest and round your spine forward to plant your palms on the ground.
  • Keeping your legs as straight as possible (bend knees no more than needed), walk your hands forward to a high push-up position.
  • Keep your body straight as a plank of wood, and elbows tucked in by your ribs. Bend your elbows to a 90-degree angle (or less), lowering your body toward the ground.
  • When you are as low as you can go, straighten your arms back to high push-up.
  • Keeping your legs as straight as possible, walk your hands back to your feet and return to standing. Repeat several times.

4. Ultimate Pelvic Stabilizer

  • Lay on your back with your feet hip-width on the floor, knees toward the ceiling.
  • With your arms at your sides, lift your hips up. Try to make it so you can’t see the tops of your knees. You’ll form a diagonal line from your knees to chest.
  • Keep the hips elevated by pressing the feet down and gently, energetically, pulling back to activate the backs of the legs. 
  • Raise your right leg and left arm, keeping your hips and torso as stable as possible, then return to start.
  • Repeat on the other side; keep going for several rounds.

5. Standing Bicycles

  • Begin standing with the feet about hip-width apart, and hands clasped behind your head with elbows out to either side.
  • Exhale and raise your right knee up as you take your left elbow to (maybe) touch it. Go slowly to build more heat, pausing for a moment in the crunch, then repeat the other side and for several rounds. 

Congratulations! With these 5 whole-body moves, you have effectively eradicated burpees, and the threat of burpees, forever. Enjoy your new burpee-free life!

*****

Sponsor my work for just $4.99! Your monthly sponsorship allows The Changing Room to be a resource for people who are making big changes in their lives. With your donation I can make more inspiring videos, write more meaningful blogs, and learn more about self-care so I can share with you in kind. Together we can do great things, and your presence here matters. Thank you. Become a Patron! 

Effort and Ease

Recently I noticed there’s an interesting relationship, a certain tension, between the concepts of effort and ease. Just as one can’t understand darkness without experiencing light, as they say, you can’t know true ease in your life or your body without applying a bit of effort to get there. 

We have all felt at one time or another that certain things in life should just be easy. But the more I look at it, the more I see that’s pretty much never true. 

Ease doesn’t just show up… you put it there. Even something like groceries; they don’t simply materialize in your fridge, offering a sense of security about being fed. You make the effort to get them.

Having the experience of ease, in most any case, requires effort. 

Rest isn’t rest if you did nothing.

Thoughts become things – choose the good ones. – Mike Dooley

I believe completely that our thoughts drive nearly everything about our being. If your thoughts are of poor quality, people can see it on your face. Everything about your life carries the same vibe, that same poor quality. Did you know you have an electromagnetic field? People can literally feel you. Everything around you resonates at whatever vibe you’re pushing from inside. 

So to my mind, our experience of the world always begins with the thoughts that roll around in our head all day every day. The quality of those.

When I started seeing the connection between the inner world that I thought only I could hear, only I was privy to, and the world at large, I started cleaning things up. I started paying attention to the connection also between the constant commentary in my head, and the way I always felt, and subsequently acted. 

When I caught a negative or unproductive thought starting to spin in my mind, I would say something else, create another thought to replace it. That’s the short story of why mantras are such a big deal to me. They are how I replace the awful, or mean, sad, or desperate, defeated thoughts that sometimes come so easily. 

One of my favorite mantras is:

I make the rules, and I choose to let it be easy.”

I use this when I feel like I don’t have enough time, or I don’t know if I can handle something, or I don’t want to see someone, or even if I don’t want to perform a task. It’s got a badass kinda gangster feel to it, don’t you think? There’s power behind it. 

I make the rules. I choose to let it be easy. So back off. 

This mantra is great for a lot of things. It has really become a friend over the years. The other day I was pondering it a little more, and thinking about how often we actually need to apply some effort in order to experience the “ease” part. There is no light without the dark, and there is no ease without some measure of effort to find it.

Applying effort to experience ease in our bodies

We can observe this physically, in our own bodies. If we lay around all day on the couch watching TV, it’s likely to affect our back or shoulder or even our trick knee. All that “ease” will create a definite experience of not-ease. 

If we don’t ever move or stretch, things start to atrophy and feel generally terrible. Think of the old rubber band you have in your junk drawer, or in the pencil jar on your desk. At one time that rubber band was new, springy and stretchy. But you haven’t needed it so it’s sitting around waiting to be needed, and as it does, it’s growing ever more brittle, dry, and old. 

That’s the nature of elastic but it’s also the nature of our bodies, muscles, and brains. Use it or lose it. There is no ease in laying around waiting to be used. There is ease that comes when our tools… our bodies and our brains… are used to benefit us.

You are what you eat. Make it quality.

It’s there in our diet, too, the idea that ease is the result of effort. You literally are what you eat. What you put into your body is used as fuel, to keep you running. If your body doesn’t actually recognize it as food, something it can use for fuel, your efficiency as a human begins to break down. 

Your brain is not fed correctly, and your body doesn’t receive the vitamins and nutrients it needs to survive, if you’re always eating potato chips and processed meat. If you’ve ever eaten a meal that “didn’t agree with you”, I don’t need to tell you that what you put in your body can create a definite lack of ease. And if you continue to do it, that lack of ease doesn’t eventually go away. You don’t start experiencing better digestion or clarity of thought. You don’t adapt… not favorably anyway. The lack of ease eventually becomes dis-ease.

Can’t live with them, or can’t live with YOU?

The concept of effort to promote ease is absolutely there in all our relationships with other people, and even more importantly, with ourselves. It takes a lot of effort for me to keep tabs on my thoughts, my self-talk. To remind myself to talk to me like I’m my own best friend… to emulate the friendships I want, starting with the one with me… involves a great degree of self-study and effort. 

But indeed, the result of that effort is ease. Knowing the why and how of my actions, allows me to let go of whatever I can’t change right now, and to move toward what I can… which happens to be where my ease can be found. 

LOL – The Life Of Leisure

We can apply effort in order to appreciate the sweet fruit of ease, just about anywhere in life. 

We really can make the rules, choose to let it be easy, and we can really mean it too. How? By doing the work it takes to be strong enough to withstand the unknown. 

By letting whatever is before us, be as scary or inconvenient as it wants to be, because we know our own strength. We know it intimately because we test it regularly. Effort goes into it. We lean into that strength, heat it up, feed it well, love it sincerely. 

We work hard for the ease that comes with giving the rest up… letting go of what’s not us, and what doesn’t serve us, so we can put more effort into the things that do serve us, and that are the very essence of us. 

It’s from this place that we find our ease. From the fire in here.

“I make the rules, and I choose to let it be easy.”

True, many things in life are not automatically sweet and easy. Life is tough. It’s a test. We don’t just get to float through it because we’re “spiritual” or something…

But we can find ease, experience true rest, because we are in fact so strong, so sure in ourselves and what we’re doing, that we turn right around and end up softer than ever. We’re so prepared, so rested, so nourished, so present, that we’re easy like Sunday morning, all the time.

Softer than ever, and more badass than ever too. So gangster.

*****

Sponsor my work for just $4.99! Your monthly sponsorship allows The Changing Room to be a resource for people who are making big changes in their lives. With your donation I can make more inspiring videos, write more meaningful blogs, and learn more about self-care so I can share with you in kind. Together we can do great things, and your presence here matters. Thank you. Become a Patron! 

Use The Force

”Your breath is the bridge between your body and your mind.”

I believe that this is one of the most important lessons that any physical discipline can teach us, not just yoga.

What does this mean exactly? Well, many of us can see pretty easily that our state of mind informs the quality of our breath. That is to say, if your life is suddenly in danger or you are taken by surprise, one of the immediate physical reactions is a quick and shallow breath or a gasp. 

This is known as the fight or flight response and it is an incredible natural ability we have. All of your body’s resources become laser-focused on one thing: getting you out of harm’s way.

The shallow breath has the immediate effect of removing your thinking brain from the equation. Oxygen that was bound for your brain by way of the breath train, is re-routed to your muscles which now need all the explosive strength they can get to run from the tiger or jump out of the path of the boulder. The shallow breath keeps you in reaction and panic mode until the threat has passed. This is all by Mama Nature’s brilliant design.

Feed Your Brain

But the big problem with a shallow breath is that it doesn’t feed your brain the oxygen it needs to function properly. Shallow breathing is supposed to be reserved for “special occasions” if you will… the fight or flight response. Shallow breathing does not allow you to think clearly or make good decisions. But many people don’t breathe well. Due to stress from one thing or another, they are constantly in fight or flight mode.

It’s not healthy or sustainable.

You can’t always be in fight or flight mode, though many of us are. The shallow breath, the lack of nourishment to your brain, is the net effect of constant stress at work or in home life. In this world, it is imperative that you learn to tap into your relaxation response. A deep breath does that. 

Once you understand the mechanics behind the breath, how it works, you can begin to utilize your breath to inform your state of mind. Which is a pretty neat trick.

Pranayama is a component of yoga, 

… specifically Patanjali’s 8-limbed path of yoga. 

In yogic philosophy, the right side of the body is thought of as male-dominant and the left is female. The right is the sun, the left is the moon. The right is hot energy, the left is cool.

And throughout the day, just like your various other body parts, the musculature in your nose and sinuses functions at various levels. 

The right and left nostrils are connected directly to the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Because the muscles in each side of your nose and sinuses fluctuate, it may be part of the reason you feel sharper (or duller) at different parts of the day. So pranayama can be used for regulating the function of each side, smoothing things out so you’re not too fiery nor too sluggish. 

Asana is what most of us know as the poses, the exercise portion of what is thought of as a “yogic lifestyle”. Pranayama is like yoga poses for your breath… it’s the ancient practice of breath manipulation. 

“Prana” is a Sanskrit word that means “life force”. A “yama” is an action.

So pranayama is the practice of moving your life force… Manipulating it, working with it. Regulating it. That’s what giving yourself some breathing room, expanding the breadth and depth to that life force of yours, is all about.

Pranayama is also great for:

  • Strengthening the diaphragm for more muscle behind your breath
  • Bringing a calm, centered feeling with long, even exhales
  • Adding Nitric Oxide for less anxiety and better lung health too

Among so many other things. If you never do any other kind of yoga or bodywork, learn a few breathing exercises. You will thank yourself, I promise!

Your diaphragm is actually a muscle… 

… and that makes it capable of becoming stronger through training, just like your biceps, glutes, or your quads. 

Thus, your life force can be made stronger by way of the breath too. Learning how to direct the breath, and how to work out the muscle, will have a profound effect on your ability to change your state of mind by improving the quality of your breath. 

Samavrtti is a breath exercise also known as Square Breath. It’s great for observing how the breath and the diaphragm moves. It’s also perfect for training the diaphragm by way of lengthening the inhale and exhale.

The vagus nerve interfaces with the relaxation responses in the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. 

In other words, a happy vagus nerve means your most basic functions are happy too. Blood is pumping easily, breath is breathing smoothly, and energy is moving freely. How do you get a happy vagus nerve? It’s pretty easy actually. An exhale that is longer than the inhale is all you need.

The opposite of fight or flight, “rest and digest” mode is governed by the vagus nerve which is a part of the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing the heart rate and increasing glandular activity. One thing we know for sure is that you need a strong vagus nerve. ”Low vagal tone” is a medical term and it means that the vagus nerve is impaired in its functioning. This causes very real stress in the body and can lead to conditions such as anxiety, depression, gut problems. So it bears repeating:

You need a strong vagus nerve. 

It is so important to your well-being that there is electrotherapy specifically for vagal nerve stimulation. This non-pharmaceutical option can help people with treatment-resistant depression. 

But you can stimulate your vagus nerve with your breath too. Just a nice, long, deep exhale will get you there. 

If you’re familiar with COVID-19 and its effects, you know that one of the more deadly is known as a cytokine storm. Vagus nerve stimulation has been demonstrated to block the production of cytokines and was recently studied in a COVID context with very promising results.

Nitric oxide helps blood vessels relax. So it’s kind of a big deal.

This is a powerful neurotransmitter that improves circulation, influences immunity, weight, mood, and even sexual function. Nitric oxide is extremely important for lung health.

It turns out that you can boost nitric oxide in your body by certain nasal breathing techniques, and the fathers of Pranayama seemed to somehow have a lead on its positive effects. There is now a lot of science to prove that humming when you exhale, as in the case of the ancient Pranayama technique known as Bee Breath, gives a blast of nitric oxide right to the upper respiratory tract where it can do the most good. 

Inhaled nitric oxide is now being studied as a therapy to help restore lung function and boost immune response in patients with severe COVID-19 symptoms. Lab tests have shown that nitric oxide increases the survival rate of mammalian cells that have been infected with coronavirus. 

Let’s breathe.

I created a special breath flow that brings together all the intentions of building a stronger diaphragm, inciting a relaxation response, and adding that healing nitric oxide to our upper airways. Ready to give it a try?

Square Breath For Strengthening – 

Begin by inhaling for 4 counts, and exhaling for 4 counts.

Notice there is space at the top of the inhale, and the bottom of the exhale. Draw those spaces out to a count of 4, so you have created a square out of your breath.

Inhale 2,3,4

Hold 2,3,4

Exhale 2,3,4

Hold 2,3,4

Return to normal breath as needed.

Let It All Gooooo – 

Next, take your square breath and give it a longer exhale. Build up your 4 count square again, then give it a really long exhale, like 8-10 counts. 

Every other side of the breath remains 4 counts.

Return to normal breath as needed.

Get Your Buzz On

Now for the last piece of our special flow… the buzz buzz!

Build your 4 count breath, add your superlong exhale, but instead of just exhaling, hum. That’s right, keep your mouth closed, and hum a tune if you like. The ancients called this Bee Breath, and I can’t help but notice that “OM” ming is the exact same thing. So do whatever you like with your extralong buzzy exhale… keeping your mouth closed and the humming going are the two main points to cultivating that sweet sweet nitric oxide.

Big Breath Is A Big Deal!

But seriously… if you never set foot on a yoga mat, or develop a taste for kale, or even try to try to stretch your muscles, knowing how to direct your breath can make all your days easier. Every encounter you have, every single day, even with yourself, can be made better with a strong, purposeful, conscious breath. 

Give it a shot!

*****

Sponsor my work for just $4.99! Your monthly sponsorship allows The Changing Room to be a resource for people who are making big changes in their lives. With your donation I can make more inspiring videos, write more meaningful blogs, and learn more about self-care so I can share with you in kind. Together we can do great things, and your presence here matters. Thank you. Become a Patron!

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Love,

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How To Make A Meaningful Change In Your Life And Actually Make It Stick

In a recent post I wrote about how we are a reflection of our thoughts and habits. We think our thoughts, and we take actions based on those thoughts, which become the habits that shape our personality, which attracts the people who influence our lives, and informs how we interact with the world at large.

So, how to change our patterns? If it were as easy as “changing”, we would just do so. But of course, it’s not that easy. Our thoughts and behaviors are deeply ingrained, so much so that they literally are our experience of the world.

So, how?

Just Do It

Well, you just start. “Dress for the job you want” as the saying goes. “Fake it ‘til you make it”. If you want to change something about yourself, the bottom line is that you just have to go on and do it. Make the change. But here is the key: you then have to endure a certain existential discomfort that follows. This is extremely difficult, for it is a process of literally rebuilding the basic parts of you. I don’t think many of us can “just do it” without first knowing (and acknowledging) that it’s going to be uncomfortable. And that’s where most of us fail.

The Blowback

Often, the “just do it” brand of change is short-lived, as evidenced by every failed attempt at a New Years resolution involving the gym. Why does this happen? Why is it so predictable that it has practically become a holiday joke? 

Because physiology. We’re just built that way. 

The big trick to making meaningful change is to simply know this one thing, and ride it out. 

Whether it’s a feature or a bug is open to interpretation, but for better or worse we are programmed to always maintain a baseline. A baseline for what? Pretty much anything and everything… all the stuff that goes into the ultra-unique experience of feeling the way it feels to be us. Maybe we are always the clown in the room, or we carry unbearable guilt. Perhaps we believe, deep down, that we are a horrible driver, so we become really accident-prone in all parts of life, and oh the drama! Some of us love that drama. On a physiological level, we are actually addicted to it. Others of us are addicted to a spotless home or being the black sheep of the family. Whatever it is, we are all “addicted” to the chemical composition of “us”. 

So when we make a change in our behavior, we upset the delicate balance of things. Our chemical composition literally changes, and we can feel it. We want to go back to the old way, the familiar way, and often we do. But if we stick with it, we develop a new chemical composition. We literally concoct a new “us”. 

Change Is Just Like Detox

When an addict is detoxing from a drug, the chemical composition in their body is changing. 

Over time, as their addiction gained a stronger and stronger foothold in their world, it didn’t just change the person’s outward behavior, it changed almost every single thing about that person’s insides too. 

Just like the proverbial frog that boils and doesn’t even realize it, the addict gets used to feeling the way they feel, unhealthy though it may be. This is what they know, this is what feels familiar. And everything that goes along with it: the very high highs, and the crashes too. The desperation and inconvenience of buying more drugs, the disappointment that comes with perpetually letting themselves and everyone they love down. 

In spite of all these negatives, the addict stays the course, because the thought of upsetting that delicate chemical balance is too much. Even if they can’t articulate it as such, that’s what it is. Otherwise, in much the same way as we would just change if we wanted to, they would just quit if they wanted to. 

Change is uncomfortable because it is literally changing the chemical composition we experience in our bodies, the chemicals our brain releases. If you resolve to make a significant change, you must recognize that it’s going to be uncomfortable on the most basic, physiological level. You are not just changing the way you live your life… you’re changing the way your brain lives in you living your life.

Consider The Roadblocks To Change

When it comes to evolving ourselves, the specifics as to what we change are as unique as that personal chemical cocktail each of us knows so well. What it feels like to be us, walk a mile in our shoes, make the decisions we each make, and behave the way we do, is as unique as each of our fingerprints. 

The changes that you want to make in your own behavior will likely be completely different from the changes I want to make in mine. 

But one thing that’s universal, no matter what behavior we are changing, is that we all run into roadblocks. There will be blowback from the decision we make to change. And we need to acknowledge that. It’s in the awareness of what’s coming down the pike, that we can stay the course in whatever change we are trying to make.

The Road To Happiness

Interestingly, this very same concept can be utilized to achieve a measurably higher level of happiness and satisfaction in life as a whole. Making a serious note of potential roadblocks you will encounter, and how you intend to handle them, means that you’re way more likely to actually handle them when they come up. This gives you satisfaction with yourself, your choices, and your achievements. Which amounts to a noticeable boost in happiness.

Let’s go back to the gym example, and why it’s such a cliche that folks are doomed to fail. If you’re a couch potato and have suddenly decided you’re going to get fit, great! But you need a plan that’s more comprehensive than buying a membership and making a little pact with yourself. You need to look closely at the potential roadblocks out there. Your chemical composition looks one way and you want it to look a different way, so that’s going to take some will.

Universal Roadblocks To Change

Start with your basic motivation for going to the gym. Are you doing it because it’s the start of a new year and that’s just what people do? Trying to score a date with that ultra-fit hottie in your office? Just looking to make an ex jealous? Every one of those reasons has a whole set of potential roadblocks built right in. 

  • The start of January brings an annoying and loud gym. Believe me, I have checked. It’s a pain to go so you will want to stop. 
  • Turns out the amount of work it takes to be that ultra-fit hottie makes them no fun to be around at all, so *poof* your motivation is gone after you don’t want to hang out with them anymore.
  • Your ex is not worth the effort, you know this deep down. This realization comes to you at the exact moment your alarm has gone off at 6 am for one too many days in a row.

Personal Roadblocks To Change

Then there are the ways that your specific personality can sabotage your own best efforts. 

  • Are you inherently an unprepared person? Pack your gym bag the night before. 
  • Do you have to take the bus to get there in the morning? Look at the schedule and set your alarm. 
  • Do you know you need a friend to motivate you? Then equip yourself with one. 

Assemble any and all tools that you need to get over your own hurdles, to stay on the new path that you have chosen for yourself. Knowing your tendencies, not only as a human but as you, is how to get there.

Prepare For Withdrawals

Just as the addict experiences a very real physical response to the cessation of drug use, the same thing happens when we make any meaningful change within ourselves. Obviously, there is a reason we want to make this change. It is creating some negative effect within us that we wish to release. 

But, there is also a reason that we have thus far clung to that behavior or habit. We get some kind of rush out of it. It does serve us in some way, otherwise we wouldn’t do it. If we could simply make the change, we would. But we don’t, for the same reason the addict says they can quit anytime but they don’t. The answer is in our physiology, and we know it even if we don’t know it. 

Stop And Consider

So in that way, just like the addict has to just stop, you have to stop and then sit with the discomfort that comes afterward. In time your body will reprogram and recalibrate. There will be a new “how I always feel”, the one you built on purpose, but you have to hang on while your body catches up with the decisions your brain is making. You have to behave as a different person until you truly are a different person. You have to dress for the job you want. Fake it ‘til you make it.

We don’t often want to make a change, because change is uncomfortable. But everything we want is on the other side of the change we need to make. Knowing what you’re up against makes you better equipped to handle the potential discomfort. You’ll be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, even as you’re entering it, and I think this can really empower you if you let it. 

*****

Sponsor my work for just $4.99! Your monthly sponsorship allows The Changing Room to be a resource for people who are making big changes in their lives. With your donation I can make more inspiring videos, write more meaningful blogs, and learn more about self-care so I can share with you in kind. Together we can do great things, and your presence here matters. Thank you. Become a Patron!

A Reflection Of You

You are a reflection of you.

You are the sum total of the choices that you make. The physical manifestation of the thoughts in your head that become the choices that you make that turn into the body you live in and the mind that drives it.

About a year ago I was going through a depression, or more accurately I was on my way out of one, but I still had a ways to go. This happened to coincide with a dog sitting gig that I had, which meant I would not be living in my own home, and my “depressed person routine” would be shaken up. This would turn out to be exactly what I needed. I had let so many things fall by the wayside at home that I was just barely getting on. So many small choices that, when totaled up, did not equal a healthy, thriving existence. Dishes were done (ish) but the drainer was piled high because I could never be bothered to put them away. Dust everywhere. No more TP, so the paper towels could be found in the bathroom. 

I’ll get some later.” 

Listen. Depression aside, anyone who has lived alone and been broke knows that you’re not truly out of toilet paper until all the coffee filters are gone. But I digress.

A Window In Your Heart

When I arrived at the new house, which had just received a visit from the housekeeper and actually had people to care for (and about) it, the difference between this life and my own was so stark. I knew I was in the right place, that this would accelerate my healing, and I was right. I needed to see how other people lived… review things a little… and realize that my life had drooped. It really needed sprucing up. My life needed me to care about it (and me) so that I could be the reflection of me that I wanted to be.

When we’re depressed or in a rut it can be hard to see that our homes and our lives and habits so obviously become a reflection of us. Paul Simon’s wonderful song “Graceland” has a lyric that goes “… Losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you’re blown apart. Everybody feels the wind blow…” 

I think that’s how depression, and many ruts, can look and feel too. Healing from depression is not a matter of a simple change of scenery, I do know that. But “fake it til you make it” is a thing too. So is “dressing for the job you want.” By shaking up the routines that are keeping us in a rut, we have the opportunity to see and feel what leaving our comfort zone feels like. That’s where so much information lies. That’s where all our power is… feeling our feels but doing the thing anyway. Having the courage to live like the person we want to be, embody that vision. In time we will be that person.

Because you are the sum total of the choices that you make, a reflection of you.

Grow + Stretch With Emily

Ready for some yoga? Register here for Tuesday morning class. It’s more than just a stretch, it’s community. https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZIsf-GtpjkiEtyvqRgp1KaIX-iPIQ5t8pV8

*****

Sponsor my work for just $4.99! Your monthly sponsorship allows The Changing Room to be a resource for people who are making big changes in their lives. With your donation I can make more inspiring videos, write more meaningful blogs, and learn more about self-care so I can share with you in kind. Together we can do great things, and your presence here matters. Thank you. Become a Patron!

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