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Health, Simplify

The Year of No Thank You

Do you ever overcommit? Do you then promise yourself that you will stop?

Do you?

You do?

Me too.

And I’ve been racking my brain to figure out why.

I want to be a person who naturally takes on less. I want to know my limits. Even when I tell myself to cut back on commitments to create more space in my day, somehow I manage to add more to my schedule. It’s classic commitment creep.

So this school year I’m trying something different.

It’s the year of letting go of what is not necessary in order to take back my time. It’s the Year of No Thank You.

Last year we had a baby. And my husband’s business doubled its number of clients. I returned to a full-time job after maternity leave. And I was teaching a baby wearing dance class. All of a sudden we were really busy.

I’m sure you understand.

But see what I mean about commitment creep?

Something had to give.

Earlier this year I took a personal inventory to figure out how we got to our overwhelmed lives. And then I took action.

First, I gave up teaching the baby wearing dance class. It was taking up 3-4 hours of my Saturday mornings. My little one was outgrowing our baby carrier and it was an easy transition to give the class to another instructor. I decided to limit my fitness teaching to subbing cycling and yoga classes for the year to keep a toe in the fitness world.

Next, after much discussion with my husband, I decided to leave my full-time job at the nonprofit where I had worked for over a decade. It was a very hard decision. I believe in the mission of the organization, but out of necessity I was also working in our family business. It was too much. After doing the math, we realized that the transition to teaching more and working in the family business would only mean a small pay cut.

So now my schedule has much more flexibility. I still teach part-time and help out with the family business. Some weeks I work a lot in the business, but other weeks I can focus more on our family. So far, so good.

And now I’m saying “No Thank You” to other commitment opportunities that come my way. In fact, “no thank you” has become my mantra. Because by saying no to additional responsibilities, even if they are amazing, I am saying yes to unstructured time with my family. And that is what the Year of No Thank You is All About.

Let’s see if I can keep this up. 🙂

Have you been able to say no thank you to commitment creep?

 

 

Fitness, Health

Walking meditation for folks who can’t sit still

Who needs meditation the most? Busy people. Those of us who are not naturally calm. People who have a lot on their mind.

We know that we can benefit from time to quiet our mind, but finding the space for quiet can be hard.

I’ve had both family and friends tell me that they can’t find time to meditate. They don’t feel that they have enough hours in the day or they aren’t the type of people who can sit still easily. So they ask how they can incorporate meditation into their lives if they can’t sit still.

No judgment if people aren’t ready or don’t want to sit in a traditional meditation posture. There are other ways to get the benefits of a meditative mindset even if you don’t want to sit in one spot.

Through my yoga studies and personal experience, I have learned that we can calm our mind even when we are moving. Whether we are flowing through yoga postures, hiking in the mountains or strolling our neighborhood, we can move mindfully and create head space.

The goal of meditation is not to clear your mind completely or to think about nothing, rather meditation is designed to help you become aware of your thoughts as they appear so you don’t become consumed by them. If your mind jumps all over the place from thought to unrelated thought, you are experiencing a phenomenon known as “monkey mind.” And you are not alone.

Many of us wrestle with thoughts that jump all over the place. Thoughts like, “I’m hungry. How far is it from San Francisco to Tokyo? I should Google that. I can’t forget to pick up the dry cleaning. I wonder what they are thinking about me. Do I have lettuce stuck in my teeth?” Our minds bounce all over the place, even when we are trying to focus on a project, a task or the present moment.

Meditation is an avenue that allows you to acknowledge your random thoughts and let them go.

We all can begin to tame our monkey mind simply by acknowledging our thoughts and emotions without letting them consume us. This consciousness can be attained through a walking meditation if you don’t have the time or inclination to literally sit with your thoughts.

How to Engage in a Walking Meditation

This is not your typical city walk. You want to reduce outside distractions as much as possible, including traffic, pot holes and other dangers. You will be turning your focus inward, so find a space with even trails or sidewalks that will allow you to do so. Also, leave the technology behind. A walking meditation is a time to be alone with your thoughts.

As you begin your walk, be mindful of the world around you. Notice the noises nearby. Are birds singing? Do you hear traffic?

Then, as you walk, tune in to sounds farther away. Can you make out specific sounds from the overall din of the soundscape?

Then turn the focus inward. Keeping your eyes gazed on the path ahead, become mindful of your breathing. What is the quality of your breath? Is it shallow? Are you breathing into your back? Just notice.

Then see if you can maintain a rhythm with the breath. Most of us will need to slow down our breathing. Focus on making the inhalation and exhalation approximately the same length. Keep this focus for a minute or two.

And all this time, you are still moving. You may notice that your walking pace has slowed. That is ok.

Breathe.

Now it is time to turn your focus to your thoughts.

Notice what thought bubbles up in your mind, acknowledge it, thank the thought, and let it go. Bring your awareness back to the breath.

Don’t become discouraged if your mind drifts away to another time and place. Find the breath and begin again.

Each time a random thought pops into your mind, notice it, thank it and let it go. Bring your focus back to the breath. See if you can stay in the present a little bit longer this time.

Keep walking, breathing, and noticing.

It’s a journey. Noticing our thought patterns and quieting our minds isn’t easy. But it’s worth it every step of the way.

Family, Health

My Cerclage Experience – High Risk Pregnancy

This post shares my cerclage experience (a women’s reproductive issue) with the hopes that it will help someone experiencing a similar situation. 

My Cerclage Story–Take One

When I was 15 weeks pregnant with my first baby I went to a prenatal appointment with my perinatologist (I had been referred to a specialist due to previous health issues). She checked on the baby using her ultrasound equipment and then moved on to check my cervical length. After a long moment she frowned and told me that my cervix was funneling from the inside. She then said, “You have to come back tomorrow for a procedure to get a cerclage.”

What??? I didn’t even know what a cerclage was. She kept talking, but all I heard was bedrest…could lose the baby…lie down…no more teaching exercise.

Slowly I explained, “I’m scheduled to sub a yoga class tonight.” Then I asked, “Can I sit and talk the class through the workout?”

She looked at me as if I had completely lost it, took a breath and then calmly replied, “No. You are going to go home and lie down. No more teaching fitness even if you are sitting down. You are done.”

Oh, ok. It was barely starting to sink in. In a haze I walked back to the car.

Still processing the news I went home and started researching everything about cerclage to ease my mind. I learned that a cerclage stitches the cervix closed with the hopes of keeping the baby inside. No matter how much I read, my head was still spinning. Losing my baby was a real possibility. I spent the night trying to talk myself out of completely freaking out. Believe it or not, researching and reading eased my mind somewhat.

The next day I was in the hospital and ready for the procedure. The anesthesiologist gave me the choice between spinal or general anesthesia. He assured me that choosing to sleep through the procedure would not harm the baby because the dose would be very small. I had read that the spinal would keep you in recovery a lot longer so I chose to sleep through the procedure.

After the procedure I woke up in recovery and was able to go home within 90 minutes. The procedure went well, but my physician said that positioning the cerclage was difficult because my cervix was abnormally short and she wasn’t sure how it would hold.

I was on bed rest at home for the next 2 weeks, only getting up to go to the bathroom, and after a few days, I was allowed a quick daily shower.

When I returned for my next perinatologist appointment, she said that my cerclage was holding, the funneling wasn’t getting worse, but my cervix was still very short—just a little over a centimeter (which is considered very short for 16-17 weeks). I learned that I would be on bed rest/restricted activities until 36 weeks, when my cerclage would be removed if baby didn’t come sooner.

So began my life on bed rest. I was lucky that I was able to work from home using my computer and an Internet connection. It kept my mind occupied, and I was able to really focus on writing a couple of big grant proposals. Having something to focus on other than my health really helped. In the beginning my days moved by very s-l-o-w-l-y, but after about 4 weeks I started to adapt to my new schedule. And my new schedule included a lot of naps (the upside to bed rest).

I alternated between three positions: lying down fully; propping myself up in a lying down position; or sitting up. I tried to limit sitting up to eating and performing activities that I couldn’t do in other positions. Most of my day was spent in the lying propped position so I could work on my computer. And I rested periodically throughout the day so I could lie flat.

Every two weeks I had my cervical length checked and every time I held my breath. At each appointment my perinatologist performed an ultrasound to check the health of my baby and to measure my cervical length. It held steady between 1-1.5cm. I dreaded the idea of preterm labor or my cervix dilating before the baby was ready. I met many women in chat rooms who went through preterm labor, and their strength inspired me.

At 32 weeks I remember becoming more relaxed. Only 8 weeks to go and I would make it full term. And if the baby came early, I knew she would be ok. And a friend bought me books about bedrest like this one and this one that helped me keep things in perspective and even laugh about my situation.

When 36 weeks finally rolled around, my perinatologist removed my cerclage in her office examination room, feet in the stirrups. It was quick and only somewhat painful. I didn’t have to worry about anesthesia or going to the hospital.

After the cerclage was removed, I was free. My doctor told me that my pregnancy was no longer considered high risk and that I could go about my activities as normal. At about 37 weeks I started shopping and organizing the house to get ready for baby’s arrival. This made my hubby nervous because he wanted to make sure she was cooking as long as possible.

And she was a breech baby. Although I tried non-intrusive ways to turn her in the last 4 weeks, she just didn’t want to go in the head down position. In the end, my cervix never dilated, and we scheduled a c-section due to the baby’s breech position at 39 weeks, 4 days.

My Cerclage Experience lo res

My Cerclage Story–Take Two

When I learned that I was pregnant with my second daughter in 2015, I needed another cerclage. My perinatologist placed a McDonald cerclage when I was 13 weeks. Although the hospital procedure was almost identical in both instances, I was never on official bedrest the second time. I was told to relax at home for about three days (mostly in a horizontal position). After that I was back at my desk job where I worked for the duration of my pregnancy.

There were still restrictions–I was not allowed to pick up anything over 5 pounds, including my 3-year-old, which was incredibly difficult to avoid. I also was not allowed to exercise. However, at 5 months pregnant, my doctor cleared me to take prenatal yoga classes with modifications (and absolutely no core work).

Just like the first pregnancy, I went to my doctor every two weeks and got my cervical length checked. It held up at over 2cm throughout. At 36 weeks, she removed my cerclage in her office just like the first time. The procedure was much less painful than the first time.

Takeaways from my Experience

Having a preventive cerclage placed is a very different experience than having one placed after your cervix starts to funnel or dilate.

I have a short cervix, which I knew when I first became pregnant. I was fortunate that I didn’t have issues with preterm labor, which many Mamas do. My cerclage was placed because of mechanics rather than hormones. But I didn’t know that during my first pregnancy. It’s easy to look back and say “it was just mechanics” after the fact. It is scary as you go through your first and subsequent high-risk pregnancy experiences because you just don’t know if your cerclage will hold or if and when preterm labor will start.

Finding Community

Especially during my first pregnancy, I needed to find a community of women who understood what I was going through. The community forums on the Keep em Cookin website were invaluable. The ladies there totally understood what it was like to have a tough pregnancy, and many of the Mamas were enduring hospital bedrest. My heroes! I learned a lot from these Mamas. My pregnancy would have been so much more lonely and scary without them.

We are so lucky to live with the Internet a few keystrokes away. I keep thinking that my experience would have been so much different if I wasn’t able to access other Mamas through my computer. I am so grateful for their guidance and support throughout my pregnancy.

Please feel free to reach out to me via comments or privately via email if you would like support.

Update September 2017: This month I launched a new website, Surviving Bedrest, as a place for women with high-risk pregnancies to share their journeys and help other women who come after them. The site also include resources curated by mamas for mamas. The site is still in development, but if you would like to share your experience with others, please let me know (and you don’t even have to be a writer, we can help you with that).

Woman sleeping
Health

We don’t get enough sleep. 3 ways to change that.

So many of us talk about how much we love sleep. In the same breath we also lament the fact that we simply don’t get enough.

Usually our stories are told with a yearning for shut eye so we can feel refreshed, rested and have the proper energy to start our day.

And then we sigh and share the reason why we didn’t sleep. Kids. Work. Commitments. Insomnia. The list goes on.

But how many of the reasons above are why we don’t get enough sleep on a regular basis? I can use lots of excuses, but if I am going to be honest with myself, I usually don’t get enough sleep because I treasure the evening hours. I love when the house is quiet and I can read, relax or write. It’s my time. And most nights I simply lose track. When I finally look at the clock it is so much later than I thought it would be.

And I wonder, “how did that happen?”

Because I was going to go to bed early tonight.

But I didn’t. And I didn’t last night either.

The sleep deprivation cycle continues.

The thing is, most of us still need to get up and face the day at the same time each morning. If you have young children, you know they will make sure that you get up at the same time every day. Or maybe you have a dog that needs to be walked regardless of your need for rest. Or you have to make an early meeting. For many of us the days of sleeping in are gone, gone, gone.

We have commitments; we have lives.

Our modern world requires that we never really get enough sleep.

Or does it?

Actually, it is possible for most of us to wake up refreshed each day. The key is to log enough hours of quality sleep.

Not Getting Enough Sleep is a Public Health Issue

According to the Centers for Disease Control, insufficient sleep is a public health problem.

“Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, depression, and obesity, as well as from cancer, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity. Sleep insufficiency may be caused by broad scale societal factors such as round-the-clock access to technology and work schedules, but sleep disorders such as insomnia or obstructive sleep apnea also play an important role.”

If you think you may have a sleep disorder like sleep apnea, definitely talk to your doctor. And if you have prolonged insomnia, let your physician know because it might be a symptom of another health issue.

When possible, focus on what you can change. Here are some sleep tips that I’ve slowly been incorporating with success.

3 Tips to Increase Your Quality of Sleep  3 ways to get more sleep

  • Turn off all electronic devices AT LEAST one hour before bed. We hear this advice all of the time, but how many of us take it seriously? There have been many nights when I have worked on my computer until drifting off to sleep. It’s not a good habit. To help your brain wind down, turn off the screens.
  • No sugar or caffeine in the evenings. That’s right. This means skipping dessert and foregoing that cup of coffee after 4pm. If you are extra sensitive to caffeine, keep your consumption to the mornings or work to eliminate caffeine completely. Both sugar and caffeine perk you up before you come crashing down. If you want something sweet to eat, see if you can fit it into the middle of your day, before the evening hours. You do not want to stimulate your body and then try to convince it to go to sleep.
  • Create a bedtime ritual. Do you like to fall asleep while reading a good book? Do you like to drink a glass of herbal tea (non-caffeinated, of course) or warm milk before bed? Create a routine that signals to your body that it is time to drift off to sleep.

We may not be able to follow these recommendations every night, but the more consistently we follow the tips above, the easier it will be to get the rest we need.

What tips do you have for getting a good night’s sleep? Please share in the comments section below.

Family, Fitness, Health

Can I Exercise with a High Risk Pregnancy? How to deal when bed rest puts the brakes on your life

When high risk pregnancy puts the brakes on your life as you know it, including your workout routine, it can be a time of mixed emotions. So much changes so fast.

Fortunately, you are not alone and you may be able to still move your body. Here’s my story.

My Story

In 2012 at 15 weeks pregnant with my daughter, I learned that I needed an emergency procedure called a cerclage to keep my cervix from continuing to funnel open. If it wasn’t corrected quickly, I was going to lose my baby.

At the time I was teaching several fitness classes a week. I honestly didn’t understand the severity of my predicament. “Can I still sub my yoga class tonight if I just sit and talk my class through it?” I asked.

My perinatologist replied, “No, you are done. You are going to go home and lie down and come back tomorrow for the procedure. You are done teaching fitness until after your pregnancy.”

Whoa! Reality check.

Of course, my number one priority was my baby, so I called up all of the places where I taught fitness and let them know that I was on medical leave effective immediately.

I am extremely thankful to have had a perinatologist who discovered the issue in time to save my baby. I was on strict or modified bed rest for most of my pregnancy and my daughter was born at full-term.

You Are Not Alone

But I’m not going to lie. Going from being super active to bed rest was a rough transition. And if you are going through this right now, know that you are not alone. It is OK to mourn your active life even while you are thankful for modern medicine and the chance to save your baby. I was a wreck because I felt guilty for missing my workouts. It also felt so selfish. But being put on bed rest or being told to severely modify your activities means a loss in independence. I realize now that we don’t have to feel guilty for our mixed emotions. It is pregnancy after all. You are allowed to be emotional. 🙂

Can I exercise with a high risk pregnancy? How to deal when bed rest puts the brakes on your life

Now I am 29 weeks pregnant with our second daughter and have a cerclage again. But this time, rather than an emergency cerclage, I received a preventive cerclage at 13 weeks, which means that I can walk around, work at my desk and engage in most of my normal routine. I still can’t walk up and down stairs very often and am prohibited from cardio exercise. I am also not supposed to lift anything over about 10 pounds, including my 3-year-old daughter. It’s a very different experience, but what is the same is that I am no longer allowed to workout.

Workout Possibilities

For most women with high risk pregnancies, especially those of us with a cerclage or preeclampsia, any movement that will tighten our core or put excess stress on our uterus or cervix is a problem and a big no-no.

In 2012 I was itching to move because I went from being highly active to not active at all. I asked my doctor if I could try a video I found online called Bedrest Fitness. After I described its use of resistance bands to strengthen arms and legs when you are in a reclined or lying down position, she agreed. Of course, if you are on bed rest or told not to exercise during pregnancy, it is important to ask your doctor if any exercise, including bedrest fitness, is right for you.

Most of all, I have learned patience through this process. Right now, at 29 weeks pregnant, I can still engage in my daily activities, but I have no idea for how much longer. At any Dr. appointment I may learn that the stress on my cervix is too much, and back on bed rest I go. I’ve accepted this fact and have learned that I need to go with the flow. I also just finished this inspiring book, which is a great read for any Mama on bed rest.

Through my 2 pregnancy experiences so far, I have let go of my workout expectations for the good of my baby’s health. And with some research, I was eventually able to find a very modified form of exercise that was approved in my particular case.

I also continue to meditate in a modified position. It helps relieve my pregnancy anxiety. I recently started meditating again after a long hiatus, and every time I come back to it, I wonder why I ever stopped in the first place.

And so I continue to use resistance bands to workout, but rather than tightening the core, I breathe so I relax the core as I work my arms, legs and upper back. It’s the opposite of everything I learned as a fitness instructor, and it works beautifully in my particular situation.

So for all of you Mamas out there with high risk pregnancies, know that your restrictions may feel like forever now, but keep learning what you can do to stay fit. Even if your physician says all you can do is roll from one side to another, meditation and positive visualization will get you through.

Update September 2017: This month I launched a new website, Surviving Bedrest, as a place for women with high-risk pregnancies to share their journeys and help other women who come after them. It also includes resources curated by mamas for mamas. The site is still in development, but if you would like to share your experience with others, please let me know (and you don’t even have to be a writer, we can help you with that).

 

Just sitting on a porch swing
Health, Simplify

The Joy of Just sitting

When was the last time you found yourself just sitting?

Not sitting watching TV or surfing the web. Just sitting.

No cell phone checking. No listening to music or podcasts. All devices turned off.

No distractions.

Tuning into your surroundings with no particular conversation to be had. It doesn’t matter if you are inside or outside, sitting on the couch or lounging in the grass. The key is to just sit and be.

Sitting while  listening to the sounds of your environment, alone with your thoughts.

Just being.

Try it today.

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