For the third year in a row, a friend and I went to a yoga festival. It's always a great opportunity to try out new yoga styles and revisit poses I haven't done for a while. This year, I had a chance to do three of my favorite poses. The opportunity to stretch and reinvigorate through these poses reminded me of why yoga is such an important component of my overall health and well-being.
A few years ago, I developed what I affectionately refer to as "old lady hip." In short, sometimes, one of my hips decides that me being able to stand upright and walk like an able-bodied human being is highly overrated. Fortunately, I discovered pigeon pose. Pigeon pose is a hip opener that stretches out the hip flexors and the hip rotators, meaning that it helps strengthen both aspects of my hips. Doing this pose on a regular basis has eliminated this problem.
I find twisting moves energizing. The supine twist, where one leg is straight and the other is bent, not only stretches my back, but stretches everything along the side, too. This pose, which is easy to hold for an extended period of time, minimizes back pain and promotes a general feeling of calm. As an extra added bonus, I can also stretch my neck and arms during this pose.
Upward Facing Dog
While downward facing dog gets all the attention, I'm a fan of upward facing dog. As someone with a desk job, upward facing dog stretches and strengthens all the muscles that sitting at computer doesn't. This pose activates the abdomen, chest, shoulders and back.
What Do You Think?
What are your favorite yoga poses? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Why Gluten Free?
I've been gluten free for a couple of years now. While it was a struggle at first (hello, donuts), I feel significantly better. Since I have Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, which sounds awful, but is totally manageable, eliminating gluten is one strategy that can help immensely. I also find that when I have to make special effort to eat things like bread, pasta and baked goods, I make way better food choices consistently since fruits, vegetables and lean protein are all naturally gluten free. Ordering at restaurants is also significantly easier since "salad with chicken" is now my go-to meal.
As a side note, I know people who shudder at the though of being gluten-free--and I get that. I'm not one to foist my diet on others (my daughter and coworkers often call dibs on my gluten, which is all good.) For many, the though of giving up bread is unthinkable. Personally, I also hate being the person who has to pipe up and announce that I have dietary needs. (Can I please call extra attention to myself while also being perceived as difficult? Ugh.) While initially I was also in that camp of both loving cake and not wanting to rock the boat, I now realize that I'm willing to do a great many things if the benefit is that I don't feel terrible all the time.
Sources of Gluten
So what is gluten? In short, "Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, spelt, rye and barley." (See "Learn More" for additional details.) Here are the typical sources of gluten that are commonly present in the grocery store and on restaurant menus everywhere:
Some people suggest that "just this once" I should be able to eat gluten. That seems completely reasonable, but is not so much how it work. Upon the accidental ingestion of cookies and cream ice cream or a wayward crouton, bloating and a general feeling of yuckiness result. In cases where I have eaten something over the course of a few days that I later learned contained gluten, the condition intensifies to what I would ever-so-politely call "severe intestinal distress." It is not pleasant to say the least.
Sneaky Sources of Gluten
I now read labels like crazy. Fortunately, most labels have "contains wheat" at the bottom of the ingredients list. Other items will be labeled as "gluten-free"--sometimes even things like carrots. (Really, carrots? You're bragging about being gluten-free? By that logic, shouldn't you also be bragging about not being made of meat? I'm dissappointed in you, carrots.)
However, there are a few things I would have never have thought to check to see if they contained gluten. News flash: some of these are not even food.
Food You'd Never Suspect
Vitamins, Medications and Pills
I would have never expected to have to look for gluten in medications. (I'm not sure what I thought "pills" were made of, but it never occurred to me that it might be something I need to check.) Now, when I shop for vitamins or supplements, I make sure that they are listed as gluten-free. At one point, I bought melatonin in chewable form--which I now know not to take since "chewable" often equals "gluten." It's also worth asking your pharmacist to clarify that medications are gluten-free. Who knew?
Makeup and Personal Care Items
Now I feel like the glutens are just out to get me. After doing a bit more reading, even though personal care products (like shampoo, makeup, and lotions) sometimes contain gluten, they probably aren't going to have much of an impact (see "Learn More" for additional details). The main concern is ingestion gluten, not having it absorbed through the skin. Since gluten-free has become a buzz word, I'm sure that putting "Gluten Free" on items enables companies to charge more for them and promote that they are possibly better. Regardless of whether this is a legitimate concern, personal care items like cosmetics, hair care products and lotions may contain gluten. There are also companies, like Jason, who promote their products as Gluten Free.
Personally, I tend to use products that contain less (for lack of a better term) crap, many of which also do not contain gluten. See "learn more" for additional details on what to avoid in cosmetics.
What Do You Think?
Were you surprised by any of the items possibly containing gluten? What other gluten-containing products are available? Include your thoughts in the comments?
Adulting is Hard
One of my goals as a parent is to help prepare my now teenage daughter to be a functional adult who makes good decisions and is happy and healthy. Here are my top 5 focus areas to position her for adulting success.
Tip 1: Plan ahead to avoid creating emergencies.
Tip 2: Take control of your personal safety and security.
Tip 3: Have positive interactions and build healthy relationships.
Tip 4: Attend to your overall health and well-being.
Tip 5: Commit to personal growth and positive change.
What do you think?
What are your top pieces of adulting-related advice? Include your thoughts in the comments.
I Am Sooooooo Tired!
In adult life, “I’m so tired” is a common complaint, second only to “I am so busy.” Of course, we are so tired and busy because of how important and in-demand we are, therefore we don’t have time to take on one more thing because, for goodness sake, we don’t even have time to sleep!
#Humblebrags aside, there are certainly many life habits adults have that can mess up the ability to sleep—including our 24/7 culture, using our smart phones late in the evening and that cursed show we’re watching on Netflix that somehow tricks us into watching the next episode. Once you do call it a night, here are three tactics for getting yourself from being physically in bed to actually asleep.
I read way more non-fiction than fiction. I read books on time management, making better business decisions and promoting positive behavior change. While I love these books because they help me improve my work skills and excel in life, reading non-fiction activates me. I usually take notes, make observations and think of all of the things I should DO. While this a helpful mindset for overall life success, it’s not going to do my sleep any favors.
Now, I read non-fiction during the day, and fiction at night. I read stories that are entertaining and engaging, but help my mind wind down. So far, my teenage daughter (a voracious reader) has gotten me hooked on dystopian young adult fiction trilogies including Hunger Games, Divergent, Matched, Uglies and more. They are quick reads that are well paced with interesting plots. They also serve as entertainment that helps me transition from awake, functioning adult to ready to go lights-out adult.
Not sure what to read? Grab something from an area little free library, grab a book at the local coffee shop’s free shelf or get thee to the library. Check out what friends and family are reading and get recommendations. Pick something and start. If it’s not your thing, pick something else.
Write It Down
Admittedly, the world “journaling” makes me throw up a little bit in my mouth. These days, journaling is often the go-to remedy for everything from being more grateful for what we have to figuring out why we do the crazy things we do. Do you know why journaling is recommended so much? Because it works. Getting information out of your head and on paper has huge value. It helps you not only process your ideas, thoughts and feelings, but it enables you to take part in the process of taking a thought your mind is stuck on and physically put it somewhere else. Offloading that thought—at least until morning—frees up our minds to get some damn sleep.
When I’m supposed to try to sleep, my brain liked to occupy itself by rehashing every dumb thing I’ve ever said, revisiting movie trivia I can’t quite remember and stewing on problems I can’t quite solve. Keeping those thoughts inside my head (or trying to will them away) only results in more tossing and turning and less actual sleep.
The answer? Write it down. Next to your bed, keep a pen and a writing surface—no matter if it’s a proper journal, half used notebook or the back of an envelope. Trying to pinpoint why that project failed? Write it down. Finally remember the name of your coworker three jobs ago? Write it down. Finally figure out the right way to word that paragraph? Write it down. Instead of either stewing on a topic (and not sleeping) or trying to hold on to that thought until morning (which I never manage to do), you guessed it—WRITE IT DOWN! It also frees up your mind to wander and dream and sleep instead of turning a problem over and over in your head until morning, when you’re thinking even less clearly due to lack of sleep.
If I’m having a tough time sleeping, or even dealing with a stressful situation, I will often take deep breaths. Recently, I attended a training session about resilience. The presenter referenced 4-4-8 breathing and mentioned this technique helped soldiers in the special forces handle stressful situations. As an extra added bonus, it also works as a way to get your mind to calm down and get to sleep.
Here’s how it works:
Variations on this idea abound—including 4-4-8 breathing, 4-4-4 breathing or Circle 7 Breathing (7-7-7). Regardless of the numbers you use, the whole point is to help your mind focus, pay attention to your breathing and calm yourself down. If you’re in a stressful situation, using this exercise can help clear your head so you can deal with the task at hand. If it’s bedtime, tactical breathing can push you from pre-bedtime routine to sound asleep.
What Do You Think?
What are your tried and true tips for getting to sleep? Include your thoughts in the comments.
You Can Do The Thing!
Adulting is hard. I think we all know that we need to make an effort to do things that will help our future selves to be successful. We all know that eating better, exercising more, not procrastinating and getting some sleep will make us better in the long run. Unfortunately, laziness pays off now. Who can bother to get motivated and actually do stuff when there are 10+ seasons of Doctor Who available for the watching at any time, day or night?
So how do you motivate to do all of that pesky adulting you need to do? Here are three videos that may serve as the kick in the tail you need to get up and do something that doesn't involve guarding the living room couch.
If you just need a general affirmation of how awesome you are and how you need to just go do the thing, skip to video 3 because YOU ARE MAGNIFICENT! Otherwise, check out these videos and the articles at the end for even more motivation. I also realized that what I find motivating often includes some straight talk and a bit of adult language. Proceed with appropriate caution.
9 Life Lessons from Comedian Tim Minchin
Comedian Tim Minchin shares his comedic insights and 9 valuable life lessons. This is motivating on a greater level to live a good, meaningful life while also not taking yourself too seriously. It's also witty and amazing. (NSFW because adult themes and a wee bit of language.)
Daily Inspiration - David Goggins Find Your Drive
This video is inspiring on many levels from Navy Seal and overall badass human David Goggins. He talks about his upbringing and his firm belief that motivation is fleeting, but being driven gets you where you need to be. (FYI--he uses some offensive language, partly because he talks about being called the N word every day when he was in school.)
You Are Magnificent!
Are you lacking confidence? Feeling bad about yourself? Worried that you're not good enough? Let this woman set you straight. The core message of this video is that you need to just get up and do the thing. If you need a pep talk, here it is in it's intermittently foul-mouthed glory. You are magnificent! (NSFW because, swearing.)
What Do You Think?
What motivates you? Include your thoughts in the comments.
My Lazy Thyroid
Like many women, I found out that I had thyroid issue, specifically hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, when I was having a hard time losing weight. At that time, in spite of a more-healthy-than-not diet and increased exercise, I was tired and the scale wasn’t moving. It took me a couple of years to get from feeling generally awful, to feeling more like myself again. Here’s a once over on hypothyroidism, causes and basic treatment options.
In my mom’s day, people whispered about their plump aunt who couldn’t help being overweight because she had a “glandular problem.” Now, we call that hypothyroidism. In short, the thyroid (a butterfly-shaped gland around the throat) isn’t doing its job of creating sufficient thyroid hormone to keep the body running smoothly. Thyroid hormone impacts most of the body’s systems, including metabolic rate.
Ergo, the aforementioned heavy aunt had a body that was out of whack and made it difficult (or nigh impossible) for her to burn off those nagging extra pounds.
Commonality and Causes of Hypothyroidism
According to the American Thyroid Association, in the United States, as many as 20 million people have a thyroid related disease, and of those 60% may have no clue there is an issue. As an extra added bonus, women are way more likely to develop a thyroid condition (like 5 to 8 times more likely) and 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid disease at some point in their lives. Thyroid conditions can include hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland), hypothyroidism (an under active thyroid gland) or thyroid cancer. Yay womanhood!
As for causes, no one really knows for sure. (That’s not particularly comforting.) Like with most illnesses, stress is certainly a factor, as is genetics—and being a woman makes it more likely, too. Some will say that toxins in our environment—including our personal care products and cleaning supplies--put us at higher risk. Increased gluten in our food isn’t doing us any favors either.
How Hypothyroidism Feels
The quick answer is--not good.
For me, I was just generally tired and run down. (Which, unfortunately, can just be caused by adulthood and the pressures of raising a family, going to work and trying to carve out time to do something for yourself that doesn’t involve the other two.) In addition to having issues losing weight, I started gaining more weight around the middle.
Since I was in my early 40s, I originally assumed that my symptoms were menopause related. To my surprise, as I researched, I discovered that there are 300+ possibly symptoms of hypothyroidism including hot flashes, excessive sweating, having issues concentrating and trouble sleeping. I also realized that depression, like the days when it was all I could do to force myself to complete routine tasks, were hypothyroidism related. On the weirder end, excessive crying (which made work an absolute joy for my poor, mostly male coworkers), sensitivity to light, being easily startled and having a hard time breathing deeply, were all due to my under active thyroid. Again, yay womanhood!
The Trick That Is Diagnosing Hypothyroidism
Getting diagnosed with hypothyroidism is often difficult. For one, many doctors are resistant to testing for it—partly due to what seems to be a general bias against women saying that they don’t feel well and writing that off as invalid. Having a family history of hypothyroidism (which I have, but didn’t realize I had until after I was diagnosed) can help persuade doctors to run tests. Fortunately, I have a supportive doctor who was willing to give me a TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) test during more than one annual physical exam. In the end, it was nice to at have a for-real diagnosis and the validation that something was actually medically wrong. I was happy to have a specific problem to solve.
As for treatment, prescription medication replacing your missing thyroid is diagnosed, and is a must to get your body working properly. For most people, taking medication for the rest of your life is the treatment plan.
The current go-to drug is Levothyroxine (often as the name brand, Synthroid), which is a synthetic hormone. Another treatment option, which was standard prior to synthetic thyroid, is natural desiccated thyroid (often as name brand Armor Thyroid or Nature-Throid). Natural desiccated thyroid is derived from pigs, and has shown to have more favorable results for many women. On an ongoing basis, the TSH test, and additional tests, are completed on a regular basis to make sure that levels are in line with the reference levels.
In some underdeveloped nations, hypothyroidism may be caused by an iodine deficiency. In the United States, given our sodium laden diet, most people who exhibit symptoms of hypothyroidism actually have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease where your body’s immune system decides that your thyroid is the enemy and must be destroyed. Hashimoto's is the underlying cause of hypothyroidism.
Advocating for Your Own Health
A family friend of mine battled cancer successfully for several years--much longer that her health care providers through possible. From her struggles, I learned the importance of being my own health care advocate. While I'm sure my doctors care about my health, I am also certain that I care about my own well-being more than anyone else can. Fortunately, my pre-disposition to researching and learning helped me to seek out a specialist, change medications and take additional steps to make my life better above and beyond just the medication.
What Do You Think?
Have you been diagnosed with hypothyroidism? What was your experience like? Share your thoughts, opinions and experiences in the comments section below.
Figuring out how to stay healthy is a bijillion dollar business. On a daily basis, we see ads trying to sell us products and services to help us eat less, move more or cure what else ails me. A big part of adulting is figuring out how to take care of your health so you have the energy and wherewithall to do all of the other adulting that needs to be done.
A lot of the issues that we have as adults are not problems we had as children. Children eat when they are hungry, play when they are antsy and sleep when they are tired. As we grow up, we're told taught that those thing we do naturally are all wrong, and we learn to adapt. Unfortunately, when we become the adults, we try to relearn ways of being that actually work.
Fortunately, through sheer luck, I have managed not to parent every good instinct out of my child, so she has less to unlearn and relearn. Here are my top three pieces of advice for my daughter on the topic of physical health. It's also a good reminder for those of us who are grown adults who need to remind ourselves of some key habits that can help us course-correct our current unhealthy path.
Eat When You're Hungry; Stop When You're Full
Like many adults, I've had a lifelong battle with my weight, which is sometimes more successful than others. One issue that I have is emotional eating. In short, I have a terrible habit of eating for reasons that are not being hungry. As children, we all get this. We eat when we're hungry, and stop when we're full--and it infuriates the adults in their lives to no end. I think of the speeches I received as a child about not wasting food, cleaning my plate, finishing what I ordered at a restaurant and more. I've personally seen adults eat food I have left on my plate instead of having to watch it "go to waste." The irony is that we're' treating ourselves as a garbage can by eating when we not hungry for out of some misplaced sense of financial prudence.
Fortunately, you get the whole "eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full" thing way more than I ever have. Keep having those healthy boundaries when it comes to food. Don't listen to people who tell you that you have to eat the special cookies/cake/jam made specially for you, , that you're too skinny, or that stuffing food in your face when you're not hungry is any kind of a good idea. Be polite and thank people for whatever they offer, and turn them down. This one habit will save you the frustration of unnecessary weight gain more than any other habit.
As a small child, you were all about playing. There was recess at school, hitting the playground on weekends and a neverending barrage of birthday parties featuring laser tag, jumpy castles and swimming. Over time, that slowed down. Now recess is a thing of the past, but there is jui jitsu, roller skating, roller derby, trips to the waterpark, walking around the neighborhood with friends and circus classes. The older you get, there will be less opportunities for physical activity, and more times when you'll be watching videos, working on a computer or just generally being stationary. You will most likely end up with an office job that involves more sitting than not.
As you get older, and more "grown up," keep on playing and being physically active. Go canoeing, skating and hiking. When hanging out with friends, walk and talk, don't just go to a coffee shop or restaurant. Find something that you love and keep doing it--whether it's biking, or martial arts, or climbing or something totally else. Just keep moving.
Sometimes people think that exercise has to be awful and unpleasant. Don't try to make yourself to something you hate. Find something active you like and do that. You don't have to run, do cross fit or do yoga flow if that isn't your thing. Just do something to stay active, and keep trying new things to keep moving your body. Build movement into your life so it's just a natural thing that you WANT to do, not something you HAVE to do.
Get Enough Sleep
You know what else most adults are terrible at? Getting enough sleep. Most adults skimp on sleep under the guise of getting more done--and we typically are less efficient and effective when we don't sleep enough.
So what should you do? Go to bed when you are tired. If you'll be out late, take a disco nap to help make up for the sleep you won't get that night. If you have a "slumber party", get some sleep the day after. Go to bed at a decent time on school nights so that getting up isn't any more unpleasant that it needs to be. Get 8 or more hours of sleep a night. Everything is better when you're not overtired.
So why get sleep? As if the beauty of taking naps isn't enough, here are just a few reasons why getting enough sleep is important. It helps you continue to grow in your ongoing quest to be a head taller than me. It also helps you think more clearly and enjoy things more. It helps you be in a better mood and not cranky. You make better decisions when you're well rested. It also helps keep your weight in check and regulates your mood. Sleep is the most underrated thing you can do to maintain your overall well-being.
What Do You Think?
What are your top pieces of health advice?
After my first roller derby class, I took my daughter and a friend roller skating on a Saturday. I was overwhelmed by how hectic it was, and I was ecstatic when they had an adults only skate.--so ecstatic, in fact, that I skated way to aggressively & rolled my ankle spectacularly. I had to skip practice the next day because I had a noticeable limp.
I spent the following week doing everything I could to heal as quickly as possible including elevating, wrapping, icing, bathing in Epsom Salt and even a turmeric poultice. I ended up skating a week later (when I probably shouldn't have) with an ankle brace. Sheer determination, and my awful habit of playing hurt, kept me going.
Why Pre-Hab Exercises
Through this process, I realized that that the best way to heal from this kind of injury was to make efforts to prevent it from happening again. After much researching, I found several recommendations for exercises to strengthen my ankles. These are pre-hab exercises, meaning they are intended to prevent injuries, as opposed to re-hab exercises, meant to help recover from an injury.
They aren't sexy, exciting, or even particularly challenging. However, it's easy to take a few minutes daily to prevent a world of hurt later on. Here are the exercises I do, how many repetitions, and how I fit them in.
Ankle Circles & Ankle Alphabets
I do ankle circles, 10-20 circles, each direction, each ankle. I also do the alphabet with each ankle.
These can be done standing up, or seated. I can do these while I'm sitting at my desk at work, standing on the train platform, or just waiting. Standing up gives an added component of balance above and beyond just the ankle work--and who couldn't use more balance?
Heal Raises & Toe Raises
When it comes to heal raises and toe raises, I either do them for a set period of time, like 30 seconds, or for a set number, like 20. Either way, these are a great way to exercise ankles and calves.
These exercises can also be done whenever you have 30-60 seconds to spare. These can be done while in line (and not even looking very ridiculous), waiting for the microwave to finish or just anytime when you have a few moments with no onlookers.
Single Leg Balances
Single leg balances are helpful for ankle stability, and for overall balance.For roller derby and roller skating in general, in order to do several skills, you need to be able to balance (and skate) on one foot. When I first started roller derby, I lacked the balance and coordination to skate on one foot--much less do crossovers.
You can do these in whatever style you want. sometimes I do them standing up, other times, I do the while squatting. If you want to up your game further, close your eyes, too. (It's amazing how much harder closing your eyes makes it.)
I usually do 30 seconds per leg 1-2 times per day. Typically, I do this in front of the microwave (where I have a timer), while waiting for the train and counting to 30, or while making a latte using the fancy coffee machine at work (which conveniently takes 30 seconds for foam and 30 seconds for espresso).
I learn for a living. I distill my research into useful blog entries. Geek, parent, knitter, yogi, writer, educator, businessperson, gluten intolerant & roller derby nerd.