Friday, January 27, 2017

Meditation and Stress Relieft - Part 2 of 4

Last week was part one of my four-part series on managing stress through meditation, mindfulness and yoga.

This week let’s tackle meditation. Many people hear the word meditation and envision sitting cross legged, straight backed, arms lightly on knees and chanting. And it can be that; if you'd like. But it doesn't have to be.
Reaching a meditative state is different for everyone, and it is important to find a method that works for you.

Studies show that people who meditate for 20 minutes, three times a week:
  • exhibit improved attention,
  • can sort things out better,
  • stay on task, and 
  • are more present in the moment.  

Meditation is simply engaging in mental exercise (as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of refocusing your thoughts and letting the background noise and distractions melt away 

Last week I suggested starting with the Relaxing Breath Exercise, or 4-7-8 breath. As someone who has been meditating for years, I still practice this breath. Most often it is in line at the grocery store, while driving or while in the starting corral of a distance race. .
Repeat the following sequence 3-4 times (or more), until you start to feel your body enter a relaxation state.
*Exhale completely out of your mouth.
*Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
*Hold your breath for a mental count of seven.
*Exhale completely through your mouth, to a count of eight.

Guided Meditation
When I meditate, this is often what I turn to. Following the soothing voice of someone else helps the outside noises and inside thoughts fall away. I am able to turn my focus inward and truly concentrate on the mind-body connection.  

You can find many apps to lead you through guided meditation; some of the apps I have found helpful in reaching a meditative state are Simply Being, Calm, Headspace, and Buddhify. 

If you subscribe to iTunes radio simply doing a search for guided meditation will bring up a library of songs, albums and even radio stations.

Hint: I also use meditation when I need an energy boost mid-afternoon. Instead of a 20-minute cat nap I will follow a 20-minute guided meditation and normally end refocused and refreshed - give it a try!

Meditation isn’t a one size fits all approach and it takes practice. Start with a few minutes a day, using the breathing or muscle relaxation techniques I have already shared.

Keep trying – you’ll find your peace soon enough!

Addendum on coloring:
Following a recent presentation I got a few questions about adult coloring books and their use as a form of meditation. After some research, here’s what I found:

Coloring is not considered to be meditation, but it does have some similar characteristics like switching our brains off and focusing only on the moment. My guess would be this is why coloring is good for sleeping.  It can be a great first step to meditation. A few articles I found used the term “adult relaxation trends” (similar journaling or activity books).

Even though coloring is considered meditation, some links have been found between coloring and health benefits like reduced anxiety, increased focus and increased mindfulness. Doodling, consequently, does not have the same effect.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Rewards for Running

It's funny how things work out sometimes, isn't it?

Last night was my first official training run for the Pittsburgh Marathon. It almost didn't happen.

After a crushing Steelers loss on Sunday night that kept me up too late I almost skipped it - "I'll do it tomorrow" I told myself.

And then I thought about the greyhounds and all of the people behind me and the Steel City Greyhounds. 

I chose to run, negotiating that a 3 mile run would be sufficient. As I settled into my pace I pushed for 5 - and was rewarded this morning with another $50 in donations!

I can't say "Thank You!" enough to all of those who continue to support this organization through me.

To date I have raised $400 as an individual team member. That's 40% of my $1,000 goal - and we still have 3 months to make a significant impact in the quality of life of the greyhounds rescued by SCG.

If you are interested in donating, my fundraising page is:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Manage Your Stress - Part 1 of 4

Simply put, stress is our emotional, mental and physical reaction to an event that causes bodily or mental tension. 

Much of the time we can't control the external event itself; but what we can control is our reaction to it.There is personal, social and job related stress; some good, most bad. 

Regardless of the type of stress, however, the health implications are real and include:
  • Inability to sleep 
  • Excessive sleep
  • Binge eating 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Irrational behaviors
  • Bouts with depression
  • Mood disorders
For the past 6 weeks I've been visiting various groups to discuss managing stress using meditation, mindfulness and yoga.The purpose of the workshop is not to help distract you from the stress but to help you manage your body’s response to it. 
I got such a good response from the attendees that I wanted to share the information here. Because there is SO MUCH, this is the first post in a series of 4.
The key difference between the methods I’ll be sharing over the next few weeks and traditional stress relief methods (reading, watching TV, or cocktails with a good friend) is that meditation, yoga and mindfulness encourage the mind-body connection.
Instead of focusing on someone else’s story these methods shift your focus inward, eliciting a relaxation response and teaching your body what it feels like to release built up stress-triggered tension. 
Ready to start NOW? 
If you’re ready to start now, why not try a simple breathing meditation. We’ll talk about meditation more in detail next week. Repeat the following sequence 3-4 times (or more), until you start to feel your body enter a relaxation state.
  • Exhale completely out of your mouth.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a mental count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, to a count of eight.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

How I Carb-Load and Stay Dairy, Soy and Gluten Free

Yesterday was a big day. My first marathon since May 2014 (when I set a PR) and the first of two marathons I have on the schedule for 2017.

It was a 26.2 mile tour around Disney World - including Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, ESPN World of Sports and all the characters! It was so much fun. If a half or full marathon is on your bucket list I suggest you bite the bullet and splurge on this one. Whether you walk or run, stop for photos or cruise on through, you will not be disappointed.

And I'm still here today to talk about it. As a matter of fact I am headed to the gym this evening to stretch a little and hit the sauna. Tomorrow morning I am teaching Body Pump.  I jumped right back into my normal routine with relative ease, and I have to admit I am surprised by it. I expected a day of stiff non-movement with a little exhaustion thrown in.

I went into this marathon with low expectations, and was pleasantly surprised with my finish. It was about 40 minutes faster than I predicted. In fact, it wasn't even my slowest run. Not bad for my lack of training. My longest run was 15 miles. I did it once. My other long distances were 8, 9 and 12. Once each. I threw a couple 5 and 6 milers in there when I remembered to. It was everything I'd tell someone not to do.

It also wasn't all easy. I walked more than I've ever walked during a marathon. I hit the wall around mile 18 and never got over it. I choked back tears at mile 24. I shed layers of clothing, only to put most of them back on again. But when I finished I felt strong, and today I feel even stronger. And I'm not battling the inflammation of past races.

You see, this was only my 2nd race since going diary-free and mostly clean. The first was a half coming off of the Whole30. My body felt great, especially in the hours and days following, but my energy was lacking during the race. I was determined to get my nutrition right this time. I was searching for a balance to achieve the energy and stamina I needed to run, but I also wanted to avoid the inflammation that used to haunt me after races.

Even if you don't have inflammation, the following plan is a great way to "carb load" in the days before a distance race (13.1 or longer) while staying soy, gluten and dairy free.

Starting Wednesday I went 97% clean; the exceptions were Swedish Fish and brown sugar in my oatmeal. I upped my calorie intake to 2200 calories, 50%+ carbs in the form of fruit, veggies and whole grains.

Pre-Race (Wednesday-Saturday)
Breakfast (600 calories): 2 hard boiled eggs plus one of the following: a baked sweet potato topped with a sliced banana, 2TB of natural peanut butter and cinnamon OR 1 cup old fashioned GF oats, 1 TB brown sugar and 1/4 cup unsweetened raisins

Morning Snack (210 calories): RX Bar

Lunch (635 calories): Chicken Burrito Bowl (brown rice, tomato salsa, green chili salsa and guac only)

Dinner (500 calories):  varied *4 oz protein, potato or brown rice and green vegetable

Snacks (275 calories): 16 Swedish Fish, Rice cake with 1 TB natural peanut butter

Total: 2,220 calories
Normally, I am not a huge fan of tracking calories but I had to be sure I was on target. I made an exception for the days leading up to the marathon and downloaded MyFitnessPal. I'll keep it for a few days after to get myself back on track.

Race Day 

Pre-Race 450 calories ~2.5 hours before start): baked sweet potato topped with a sliced banana, 2TB of natural peanut butter

During the race, being sure to eat about every 45 minutes: 1 peanut butter sandwich on white bread (eaten 1/2 at a time), 2 bananas and 1 packet of Annie's Bunny Fruit Snacks.

Immediate Post-Race: Powerade, M&Ms (my splurge) and pretzel flats.

Returning to normal eating for a late lunch and dinner should be fine for recovery, but if you'd like to splurge a little and have some things you enjoy, too, that's fine! You earned it!

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