Orienting to stillness, orienting to motion

I started this blog to document meditating every day in 2010. My blog posts got kind of boring and I ended up broadening the topic, but before the year ended, I had made some big decisions, changing my approaches to work and home that resulted in living a more authentic, self-realizing life.

Selling my house and quitting my job with no clear path ahead were not changes I would have undertaken had not my meditation practice compelled me to make them for my own well-being and trust that the Universe and my own capabilities would come through. There was uncertainty along the way, and luck, but I figured I could always rent a room and do temp jobs to support myself, and that gave me courage. (I rented a room and did a few temp jobs on my path!)

However, I really wanted more than that for myself: I wanted to own an affordable, paid-for home in Austin, Texas, and I wanted to do work that I really loved. And I got those things.  Meditation helped me understand that not living authentically was no longer possible for me, and I’m happy with those decisions. Continue reading

Note to self: remember this next time I get sick of myself

There’s nothing like it.

My mind can be going 1,000 miles per hour, worrying life like a dog worries a bone, oh so busy “figuring things out.” Making Plans A and B, sometimes C and D. Analyzing. Focusing on what is wrong: I should be making more money, should spend more time Continue reading

Leaning into 2013: how to make meditation a near-daily pleasure.

I’ve been thinking a lot this December about what changes I’d like to make in 2013.

In the past, I usually didn’t think much about it at all, and when I did, my thoughts on the matter all took place in the last week of the year, after Christmas.

Unfortunately, my New Year resolutions were usually short-lived.

I’d like to change that. I’d like to become more disciplined, and I’d like to be realistic about what that means so I can actually make lasting changes in my life.

The problem is, I like to rebel against “the rules”, so when I set up strict rules for myself, I am setting myself up to break them. It’s counterproductive.

I spent a year meditating for 30 minutes nearly every day, and when that year was up, I rebelled and didn’t meditate every day any more. My sitting practice became sporadic.

I’d like to figure out a way to make meditation a pleasure.

One possibility: Instead of creating a rule to meditate for 30 minutes every day, I can meditate for at least 15 minutes 5 out of 7 days.

I like that flexibility. However, it still sounds like a chore. Why am I making meditation such a joyless task to be done somewhat regularly and checked off a list?

Looking at what keeps me from meditating: I often allow myself to get sucked into reading email and checking Facebook, my online massage booking site, Twitter, Tumblr, blog stats, and so on in the morning, and before I know it, it’s time to get ready for work, and I haven’t meditated.

And…if I don’t meditate in the morning, it usually doesn’t happen.

I don’t know why this is, except perhaps that it takes more effort to do nothing than you’d think, to tear myself away from my laptop and sit myself down on the cushion.

Once I start sitting, I actually love meditation. I love getting really present with myself, breathing, hearing, seeing (if my eyes are open), feeling my body, witnessing my thoughts, noticing my chakras open, experiencing the silent stillness that contains everything, even just feeling the little aches, pains, and tensions as I sit.

To experience this is a joy that keeps on giving throughout the day, somehow connecting me with resources that help me meet life with more equanimity and love, including self-love, than I could otherwise summon.

How can I make this a pleasure? It’s so much more rewarding than being online in terms of enhancing my well-being and the quality of my life, relationships, activities, decisions!

What if…I stay offline until I’ve meditated, and I make it my goal to meditate no longer than an hour, except when I really want to (and have time) to go longer? I can set the timer for an hour, end it then or when it seems complete, and be happy about it all.

Now we’re cooking!

NPR covers the homemade treadmill desk

Just spotted this story on the NPR website: Can You Move It and Work It on a Treadmill Desk?

The author cites an expert who says not to try to walk on the treadmill all day long. Instead, walk for a half-hour on the treadmill, then a half-hour off, and so on, for two to three hours a day. That’s a maximum.

Don’t know if that means two to three total hours maximum of walking, or two to three hours maximum of on-off. The wording implies the latter.

Even just standing the rest of the time might be enough to mitigate “the sitting effect.”  You are using your leg muscles, and that’s what seems to count most, from what I’ve read.

I liked finding out that someone is now an expert and is consulting with companies. There’s a new “walking meeting,” in which participants walk and talk.

Levine is on a mission to get any kind of movement into the workplace and the workday. He’s consulted with a number of companies nationwide to help them do this. The most popular activity by far, he says, is the “walk and talk” meeting. “They’re generally shorter, more productive, and people don’t fall asleep during walk-and-talk meetings.”

Also, during one study in which participants rotated on and off treadmill desks, the company earned its highest revenue ever.

The environment, he says, was simply “more dynamic.”

Yep, moving people are definitely dynamic!

12 ways to improve your health by sitting less (written while pedaling on a FitDesk)

If you commute (usually sitting) to a desk job (mostly sitting) and then go home and watch television (sitting) and/or spend a lot of time on your computer (sitting), even if you manage to work in an hour at the gym, your health is at risk.

You can Google to learn more about the science of this — and they’re just beginning to learn. I’m just here to give free advice on behavioral changes you can make.

To counteract all the sitting, you could consider:

  1. Cutting the car commute and work from home as much as possible. Seriously. Present this option to your manager as a way to cut their costs, improve your health, and therefore make you more productive!
  2. If you can’t avoid car commuting, every time you’re at a red light or stop sign or gridlocked in a traffic jam, stretch your legs, and tense and relax them several times. Really pull the muscles to the bone. (Okay, that’s the yoga teacher in me talking.) Point and flex your feet and rotate your ankles.
  3. Take public transportation and stand during your commute, a la New York City subway riders.
  4. Bicycle to and from work, or combine biking with riding the bus or light rail. Many now have bike racks available. You may want to request that your workplace provide showering facilities.
  5. At work, take frequent breaks (1-2 minutes every 20 minutes) to stand up and walk around. Set a timer and do it. Go get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, stretch, shake the tension out of your body, do a forward bend to stretch the backs of your legs. Walk to the best view from your building and partake of it to refresh your spirit.
  6. Sit on an exercise ball. You have to use your legs to balance. You can also bounce when no one is watching. It will strengthen your core muscles because there’s no back — you have to hold your torso up. This will burn more calories, if you’re interested in doing that.
  7. Instead of emailing, texting, or phoning, walk over to a colleague’s office to communicate with him/her. I know, I know, this is really analog, but it’s also refreshing. Think of how much more information you get from seeing their face and hearing their voice in person. You might even learn something about them from seeing their office decor.FitDesk
  8. Persuade your office to invest in a FitDesk. One FitDesk shared among eight employees sounds like a great start. I imagine 30 minutes in the morning and 30 in the afternoon would make a big difference in the health and longevity of those eight employees, especially if they’re doing some of these other things when not pedaling. Of course, if your office can afford it, get a FitDesk for every employee! If you can’t afford it, you could phase this in over time as finances allow, as employees using it report they’re feeling better, missing less work, being in better moods, and being more productive, improving the company’s bottom line. Hey, maybe this is the key to the economic recovery and the obesity epidemic! FitDesks for every employee!
  9. When you get home, turn off the TV and computer and do something that uses your legs: cook, go for a walk, clean house, garden, do yard work, do yoga, lift weights, kick box, have sex, play with the dog, take a shower, swing your kids around, give them piggy-back rides, roughhouse, dance, put on a show. Also known as “living life” and “being embodied”.
  10. If you can’t eliminate TV or video games or Facebook or whatever is so compelling on your computer (okay, blogging and Facebook for me), limit it to an hour (with a break every 20 minutes; see #5 above) and get up during commercials unless you are on your feet while watching. Or…
  11. Get a FitDesk for your home so you can move your legs while watching TV and being on the computer.
  12. Do this with other people. It will be more fun.

Making the world a healthier place, one blog post at a time…

New alternative for sedentary desk work: the FitDesk

Since I’ve posted before on how prolonged sitting is unhealthy and how to counteract it, and I’ve promoted standing desks, I want to bring this to your attention (and thanks, Shelley Seale, for bringing it to mine).

This is on the heel of news that sitting less could add two years to your life expectancy.

It is a stationary bicycle with a desktop attached to the front of it. You can pedal and keep your leg muscles active, improve circulation, burn calories, circulate lymph, move cerebrospinal fluid, and more, while working or playing video games!

The FitDesk X Compact Pedal Desk is for sale on Amazon for $249.99. Amazon will cross-sell you a comfy bicycle seat and a laptop/iPad holder to go with it.

The seller offers a full refund (plus shipping) within 30 days if you are not satisfied with it. (Hint: Save the carton.)

One thing I really love about Amazon is reading the customer reviews. This product gets an average of 4.5 stars from 111 reviewers (all gave it 3 to 5 stars). Here are what some said:

  • A grad student in an online program lost 10 pounds the first month (30 lbs. over six months) using this product. She raves about the product being sturdy and quiet (quiet enough to use in the same room as a sleeping spouse), and about the customer service. The 2011 model has a timer/calorie counter/speed/distance monitor like stationary bikes at the gym.
  • Another reviewer mentions the great customer service: “Steve, the inventor of FitDesk, will answer your call or email himself. Some day he’ll probably have a huge company because this is such an awesome invention and then he won’t have time to talk to customers himself, but for the moment, he’s the best customer service rep you’ll ever talk to because he believes in his product and is doing everything he can to make it even better.”
  • The critical review rated “most helpful” gave the product 3 stars and said the exercise bike is not that great, that it’s hard to get a consistent pedaling rhythm. This reviewer is also an avid mountain biker who also regularly rides exercise bikes at the Y.

It sounds like it won’t compare to serious exercise bikes, but the whole point of it is not getting a strenuous workout but rather getting a light workout over time while getting computer work accomplished or playing video games.

Okay, okay! I want one! I’m drooling at the thought of cycling while writing blog posts! Would be awesome to have one at my next corporate stint.

The FitDesk weighs 33 lbs., holds users up to 250 pounds, and has a “seat extender” available for tall people. It is easy to fold up and move.

Also, there may (or may not, since the product is being continually improved) be issues with the electronic monitor, and I couldn’t get the straight dope on that.

The company has a video showing the product in use:

You can “like” FitDesk on Facebook (where they offer discount codes and giveaways) and follow @fitdesk on Twitter.

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Follow-up on 7.13.2012: The maker of the FitDesk has offered to send me one to try out! I love it! Will post on the experience, with photos!

 

The simplest way to improve your posture

If you’re at all familiar with this blog, I bet you think I’m going to say meditation. Guess what? Ha ha, I’m not!

It’s way simpler than that:

Whenever you’re doing something that does not require use of your hands, turn them so that they’re palm-side up (see the picture above). You also can do it while standing or walking, leaving your arms down at your sides and turning your palms so that they face outward in the direction you’re facing.

This palms-up position may be familiar to committed meditators and yogis who practice shavasana, but it’s foreign to those of us who spend a lot of time at a computer, behind the wheel of a car, holding babies, making lattes, or doing pretty much anything else that requires constant hand use. Even when we’re not using our hands, it’s just habit to sit, walk or stand with our hands facing down or behind us.

Wait for it — there’s a meridian connection: 

In acupuncture, the meridians that run along the inside of the arm, from the chest/underarm to the palm, are Heart, Pericardium and Lung….

Here is just a smattering of the functions each meridian is involved in (there are many more):

  • Heart: breathing, cardiac function, sleep, emotional balance and heat regulation.
  • Pericardium: breathing, blood circulation and upper digestive function.
  • Lung: breathing, immune function, perspiration, body temperature and urination.

…our lifestyles force our hands and arms into an almost constant downward/backward position, creating a tendency to slouch forward. This causes us to cave our upper bodies inward, crunching the Heart, Pericardium and Lung meridians.

Allowing these meridians to flow more freely optimizes their ability to perform their respective functions.

These three meridians are all yin meridians, flowing from the torso to the fingertips.

This is a mudra (energetic gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism). The palms-up mudra, you might have guessed, has to do with receiving energy from spirit or the universe, with allowing. It has to do with being open and surrendering yourself to the Mystery.

Try it when you think about it. Let one or both palms rest facing up, or outward if you’re on your feet. Notice the subtle but significant changes in posture.

Then make it a habit.

Thanks to Sara Calabro for this article.

More on the power of standing

Stand Up, Walk Around, Even Just For ’20 Minutes’: NPR.

Terry Gross interviews Gretchen Reynolds (see my previous post  The easiest shortcut to health you can make) about her new book, The First 20 Minutes.

Reynolds recommends standing for two minutes every 20 minutes while desk-bound — even if you can’t move around your office. “That sounds so simple,” she tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “But that actually has profound consequences. If you can stand up every 20 minutes — even if you do nothing else — you change how your body responds physiologically.”

Reynolds says prolonged sitting affects diabetes, weight, heart disease, and brain function.

She talks about other new wisdom in regard to health and fitness, including stretching before a workout, warming up, running, walking, hydration, and more.

The easiest shortcut to health you can make

Gretchen Reynolds on ‘The First 20 Minutes’ – NYTimes.com.

Loved this article about Gretchen Reynolds’ (no relation) new book, The First 20 Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer.

Reynolds, a New York Times health and fitness columnist, looks at what you can do to makes the most difference for your health with the least effort. It’s surprisingly easy. Exercise trumps diet, and it only takes 20 minutes a day, and it doesn’t have to be anything more than standing.

This interview reinforces the new knowledge that prolonged sitting is unhealthy. I now use a timer to remind me to stand up and move when I’m doing anything that requires long hours at a computer.

Here are some good bits:

The first 20 minutes of moving around, if someone has been really sedentary, provide most of the health benefits. You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk — all of those things come in in the first 20 minutes of being active.

If someone starts an exercise program and improves his fitness, even if he doesn’t lose an ounce, he will generally have a longer life and a much healthier life. 

But the science shows that if you just do anything, even stand in place 20 minutes, you will be healthier.What would be nice would be for people to identify with the whole idea of moving more as opposed to quote “exercise.”

There is a whole scientific discipline called inactivity physiology that looks at what happens if you just sit still for hours at a time. If the big muscles in your legs don’t contract for hours on end, then you get physiological changes in your body that exercise won’t necessarily undo. Exercise causes one set of changes in your body, and being completely sedentary causes another.

I really do stand up at least every 20 minutes now, because I was spending five or six hours unmoving in my chair. The science is really clear that that is very unhealthy, and that it promotes all sorts of disease. All you have to do to ameliorate that is to stand up. You don’t even have to move. 

The human body is a really excellent coach. If you listen to it, it will tell you if you’re going hard enough, if you’re going too hard. If it starts to hurt, then you back off. It should just feel good, because we really are built to move, and not moving is so unnatural. Just move, because it really can be so easy, and it really can change your life.

“It’s the sitting, stupid.”

Stand Up for Fitness – NYTimes.com.

Exercise only slightly lessened the health risks of sitting. People in the study who exercised for seven hours or more a week but spent at least seven hours a day in front of the television were more likely to die prematurely than the small group who worked out seven hours a week and watched less than an hour of TV a day.

So to paraphrase Bill Clinton on the economy, “It’s the sitting, stupid.” Make that uninterrupted sitting:

In an inspiring study being published next month in Diabetes Care, scientists at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, Australia, had 19 adults sit completely still for seven hours or, on a separate day, rise every 20 minutes and walk leisurely on a treadmill (handily situated next to their chairs) for two minutes. On another day, they had the volunteers jog gently during their two-minute breaks.

When the volunteers remained stationary for the full seven hours, their blood sugar spiked and insulin levels were out of whack. But when they broke up the hours with movement, even that short two-minute stroll, their blood sugar levels remained stable. Interestingly, the jogging didn’t improve blood sugar regulation any more than standing and walking did. What was important, the scientists concluded, was simply breaking up the long, interminable hours of sitting.

Find a way to break up sitting into chunks punctuated by standing and walking. Keep exercising too. You’ll feel better and live longer.

Also, when you do sit, make some of it sitting. That is, seated meditation. Just sit and be.