Category Archives: Exercise

Why I Hated Krav Maga and Why I’ll Keep Doing It

I went to my first Krav Maga class today. I’d heard of it over and over again and hadn’t felt any interest. Recently, though, a new friend of mine expressed desire to go and I looked into it. I got a free class and went by myself (she couldn’t make it).

I think if I’d known what was coming, I would not have been able to make myself go. So I’m glad I didn’t know.

You see, ever since leaving D, any type of fighting (whether participating or not, whether play or not) has been super triggering for me. Even just watching people wrestling while they laugh makes me feel like my body is being ripped apart, my heart mushed into a puddle. I want to protect them. I want to scream. I want to curl up in a ball in a corner and cry and not come out until I know it’s “safe.”

D never actually hit me. He did a lot of things not the least which was threaten me multiple times with his raised hand or pin me against things when I did things he didn’t like. So I never really understood why fighting specifically was so negative for me. I think, now, that it was just the idea of violence itself (or potential violence). It got worse after I found out five months after leaving him that he he had taken up shooting at the shooting range and was going to get a gun and conceal carry. I didn’t think he’d specifically come after me, but thought he would threaten people I loved. Mostly, I just saw him as entirely unpredictable and his anger would come out at totally random times and I never knew if it would lead to sulking or a sinister darkness that looked very much homicidal from my perspective.

Throughout this post, I’m going to be flipping between past and present frequently. I will denote the change with the dashes below so it is not as confusing. This is what PTSD looks like. This is what abuse feels like after it’s happened. It doesn’t go away. It lingers, it mutates, it affects everything…

Coming back to the present. When I walked into Krav Maga, the first warm-up exercise we did was trying to hit each other’s shoulder and also trying to block being hit. I’d been part of this kind of exercise before and knew that it triggered me in big ways. Even in it’s semi-playfulness and people bantering, I wanted to run out the door and never come back. I even asked one of the students (who I also found out was a teacher), S, if this was mainly all we did. She laughed and said “No, we’re just warming up.” I sighed with relief.

Oh, but it got worse. We then began actually punching each other (with pads). S mentioned this is not the “feminine flower” class after I apologized for nearly hitting her face. It was surprisingly comforting to not have to live by societal norms of a female. As we continued with the attacking/punching exercise with pads, S told me “Imagine someone just grabbed your butt. It’s not their butt. It’s yours. Tell them it’s fucking yours.”

Immediately, I sank into the anger I felt unleashed after I left D. I remembered searching up and down for a gym with a punching bag. All I wanted to do was punch the living shit out of a D replica.

I was reminded of the times I told him I didn’t want him smacking my ass in public and his response was always “But it’s my ass. I can do with it what I want.”

“That’s fucking right, that is my butt. It is NOT YOURS, you fucker!” I wanted to scream. The pad was suddenly D’s throat as I punched my elbow into it. S seemed to notice the change with a slight smile and was more off balance each time I pounded on the pad in front of her chest.

And then we got to the fake guns. Seriously. S pushed a fake gun into my spine and we were taught how to redirect it’s fire, break some fingers, and remove it from the person (and ya know, hit them with it a few times) until we had control of the gun and the situation.

As I pressed the fake gun into S’s back, I asked her what got her started in this. She got quiet and said she had an abusive ex husband among other things in her life that made her want to do something to defend herself. She said all this while in the middle of an elbow to my throat and removing a gun from my hand. She became a teacher of krav maga. I admitted I also had an abusive ex husband – though not physically abusive as much as physically threatening and emotionally abusive. She nodded. “You can bring someone to court with evidence of physical abuse, but it’s hard to prove PTSD. Emotional scars are just as damaging with less understanding or support.”

I wanted to hug her. But unlike the professional cuddler in front of her, she pointed out during our “attacks” that I shouldn’t “hug” her; I need to want to kill her (or the imaginary attacker).

By the end, my legs and arms were jell-o and my heart was entirely unsettled…and yet…I saw a light at the end of a very long tunnel. Every time something is especially hard for me, I know it’s something to look into and examine. And this gets right at the part of me that believes I am not capable – specifically not capable of defending myself against someone stronger or bigger or angrier than me (aka pretty much everyone).

I’m going to keep trying and facing my demons head on just like I did with climbing. Plus…I made a friend who “gets it.” Even if nothing else, totally worth it.

 

What are you doing to face your demons? What is your limitation from facing them? What motivates you to keep at it?

 

Traveling on the Cheap!

In the last year, D and I have been on 17 overnight trips.  So many people are amazed by this fact and ask how we do it because, ya know, traveling is expensive. Well, unlike the average American, as our (my/D’s) income increases, our vacations continue to get cheaper. Instead of revolving around tourist attractions and fancy food, our vacations now are centered on physical activity and for the most part free events. Whereas D and my first vacation together in 2005 involved at least $600-700 for a few days in Disney, our recent almost week-long trip to New Hampshire cost us $350 total for two people and a dog including gas, food, and “accommodations” (our Subaru Outback). We could have made it another $100 cheaper had we brought dinners to cook on our camp stove and spent an extra hour on the road avoiding tolls (holy cow- NY and MD tolls are expensive!!). Here are the ways we cut corners to go on as many trips as we do.

1) Plan, plan, plan! 

All of the below require planning or you’re liable to spend way more than you originally thought. You will also likely find you are able to accomplish more with less energy during your trip. Studies are also showing that we are happiest when planning a vacation than even during it (Read more here)! My planning technique is extensive, involving a whole write-up with information about cheap but healthy food along the way, climbing gyms in the area (back-up plans), climbing crags, climbing routes, places to stay as plan A and plan B and C, etc. We don’t ever stick strictly to “the plan” and there is no way to accomplish hitting up all the items on the list, but we pick and choose when we get there, play it by ear, and have fun with no planning while we are there.

2) Stay with friends or family, in your car, at a campsite, or rent a cabin with a bunch of people instead of a hotel.

What I’ve found is that the best way to travel cheap is by taking advantage of connections. Staying with friends, family (or even friends of family or friends) provides not only free accommodations, but also often free food, a nice place to stay, and awesome time to socialize. If you don’t know anyone in the area, sleeping in your car is free. We’ve done it with two people and a dog and it’s honestly not that uncomfortable as long as your middle seat can fold down. Advice: bring pads for your hips/back! Campsites are often reasonable, $5-10 per night per person. Some even have wi-fi, game rooms, etc. If you have an RV or trailer (lucky you!), you can even find places that will let you park for free: I hear most Walmart’s allow overnight parking as do some rest stops. You have to check with them first.

3) Bring/cook your own meals. 

This is one of the easiest concepts, but the most difficult to execute (in my opinion). This all of course depends on your accommodations.

If you have access to a fridge and microwave: Your options are endless! Bring sandwiches, salads (like this salad in a jar concept), home-cooked hot meals, etc. Eat leftovers and be merry.

If you have access to a portable stove, but no fridge: You can either buy dehydrated foods that you can boil water for and add to (this can get pricey too) or make easy small meals on the stove like mac and cheese, rice and beans, etc. If you have a dehydrator, you can dehydrate veggies and fruits and sauces and bring those with spices and pasta and quinoa, lentils, etc. and cook those together in the stove. You can also put dehydrated meals into separate freezer bags and add boiled water into these as quick on-the-go meals. (See this video for an example.)

If you have no access to stove, fridge, or cooking supplies: D and I lived on bagels with almond/hazelnut/peanut butter for breakfast and clif bars with apples/oranges for a week. We ate dinners out, but could have easily eaten PB/J sandwiches, canned foods, etc. Another idea is bring a cooler if you won’t be going on a trip more than 4-5 days and bring most food to your heart’s content.

4) Choose cheap (or free) activities. 

Almost any outdoor activities are free or cheap (as in pay for parking and/or gear rental and that is it). Exploring towns and villages and window-shopping is free, but fun. Hooking up some more connections with friends could yield fun things to do without paying. Look online for free or cheap concerts, shows, or festivals in the area you’re visiting. There are countless activities out there that won’t break the bank.

5) Bring friends. 

One of the things that has cut down on expenses the most for us is bringing others along. Instead of splitting gas or accommodations between two people, we split it between four or five and that is two to three times more the trips we can make in the future with that money saved. If you share food supplies, costs get even cheaper. Plus, it provides you with awesome experiences with friends who become closer every trip you take.

6) Find the bargains. 

D and I start planning trips months ahead of time. Why? Because if we’re going to fly or get a hotel, it takes a while to find the best deal. It requires loads of research at numerous websites (I use Kayak, Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, CheapoAir, and Southwest to compare flights and sometimes hotels and rental cars too) and just the right timing to get cheap flights. Also, you have to be flexible. If you have it planned out that you want to go to Denver (for instance) sometime in the next year, wait until those 72-hour travel discounts come up and book then. We got tickets for D and I round-trip to Denver for under $450 total in this way. Tip: The best time to travel is a few days to a week after a holiday or big event. For instance, Jan 4- wow, everything will be empty! Sept 6 (when school starts)- awesome! Also, don’t miss the great websites out there that allow you to have nice accommodations for cheaper like CouchSurfing and AirBnB.

This is the first time Dan and I were in CO. We didn't know what weather to expect, so we decided to keep our options open. We went to RMNP and asked the ranger what they suggested. They told us to get some snowshoes and we'll be able to hike past the crowds. We had never show-shoed before, but went and rented some immediately and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.
This is the first time D and I were in CO. We didn’t know what weather to expect, so we decided to keep our options open. We went to RMNP and asked the ranger what they suggested. They told us to get some snowshoes and we’ll be able to hike past the crowds. We had never show-shoed before, but went and rented some immediately and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly.

7) Be prepared and flexible. (insert picture of us snowshoeing)

How is it possible to be flexible and book a ticket anywhere at any time? By being prepared for anything. We are going to CO very soon and right now it’s looking like a cold trip. We plan on climbing, but we’ll be prepared to snowshoe or backpack if the weather isn’t holding up or worse case scenario go to a climbing gym and hang out inside. Because we go with the flow and especially the weather, we aren’t disappointed with any situation and we don’t end up spending money on redundant items (like sweaters or raincoats) because we didn’t bring warm enough clothes or rain gear.

8) Take pictures and memories back with you, not souvenirs. 

Souvenirs are for the birds. Seriously. Unless you collect specific things from every trip you take (like a sticker or a postcard because those are cheap :-)), do you really think a way-too-expensive ornament you bought in a gift shop on your trip is going to mean anything even a few days after you get home? In my opinion, the most important things about trips are what we experienced when we were there: the beautiful scenery, the sunsets, the challenges, and the people we spent our time with. Those can be remembered by photos and reminiscing with the people we experienced the trip with. So next time you go into a gift shop to buy a souvenir, take a picture of your friend in the crazy hat you saw instead. It will mean so much more years later. 🙂

9) Barter for pet or child care. 

Pet care is expensive. Way too expensive for my liking. I love Winter and want her to be in a safe place enjoying herself while we’re away, but I just don’t think it’s necessary to send her off to doggy daycare. We have plenty of friends who love Winter too and enjoy having a pet for a week. We are immensely appreciative, of course, and offer them gifts in return for taking care of her. Some even stay at our place with her while we’re away. I would much rather know Winter is in safe hands and not be spending a fortune than leave her with people I don’t know and break the bank on pet care instead of saving it for future trips. I don’t have children, but it seems like many family members or other friends with kids wouldn’t mind taking in your kids for a weekend while you have some time alone in exchange for reciprocation or just love and cookies. 🙂

10) Make friends for future trips. 

We’ve almost always met at least one new person during every trip we go on. Sometimes, those people become friends who we continue to meet up with every time we visit their home town. In CO, we have some friends who have been generous enough to open up their home to us almost every time we come into town and even offered us a Thanksgiving meal! It’s so nice to have a “home away from home” and people to visit and connect with during every trip.

This is a picture taken near San Luis Obispo in CA. Going all the way across the country doesn't make sense to do by car in terms of gas or time frame (unless you have time and money for a road trip- which is awesome). Do the math- some things make more sense to travel by car and others by flying.
This is a picture taken near San Luis Obispo in CA. Going all the way across the country doesn’t make sense to do by car in terms of gas or time frame (unless you have time and money for a road trip- which is awesome). Do the math- some things make more sense to travel by car and others by flying.

11) Do the math.

When you actually calculate out the multiple ways of getting to a location, you will find there are a lot of factors that influence the amount spent. Driving is often cheaper than flying, for instance, especially if you have multiple people in one car. However, if you’re spending a whole bunch of gas on just bringing yourself somewhere, it can be as expensive as flying. If you get a flight on a deal (or with mileage), it can even be cheaper than driving. Driving halfway or all the way across the US even with multiple people can still be more costly (and of course less efficient) than traveling by air. Mileage of your car is also a factor in expense. Bundling a hotel or rental car with a flight can make things cheaper as well (but not always!). The point is before your trip (months before if this is not a quick weekend trip), calculate each method of travel and all the deals available and determine which is the best for you on your budget so there aren’t any big surprises after you come back home or worst of all during your trip!

In the end, traveling in more efficient ways makes your wallet happy and your mind too. It makes you creative and forces you to experience novel situations. Moreover, it is good for the soul to vacation without the tourist traps. When you spend time on the “back roads” so to speak, it is possible to experience a location in a new, exciting, and possibly more authentic way.

Guest Post: Life is just a Balancing Act!

This is a guest post by a good friend who manages to have a busy job involving lots of travel, climb all over the world, cook healthy food, keep up a climbing blog, a house, a cat, and a very large group of friends! I always ask her how she does it, so here she is telling us how!

By Doris Sanchez from www.climbingjourney.com

 

I often have folks ask me “How do you do it all?” and I just respond, “I am a trained Project Manager in trade, and I somehow am actually really good at transferring those skills to being a Project Manager at Life.”  It may seem like an Infomercial pitch, but truly that is my approach and I am quite successful so far.

Always on the go means priotitize my time against everything I want to do and must do.  Work during the week in Boston, Friday night drive to New Hampshire.  To get an early morning out, I fixed a nice sleeping system in my car, had my crag pack ready and slept in the clothes I was going to climb in the next day.  Just a way to make things easier for myself.
Always on the go means priotitize my time against everything I want to do and must do. Work during the week in Boston, Friday night drive to New Hampshire. To get an early morning out, I fixed a nice sleeping system in my car, had my crag pack ready and slept in the clothes I was going to climb in the next day. Just a way to make things easier for myself.

As a background, here is my story: I am working on an advanced masters, possibly PhD, rock climb around the world, work to cure cancer, hike, bike, exercise, cook fresh meals, blog, Instagram, Facebook personal, Facebook Climbingjourney, interview folks, see my family, help my mom, and so on. Oh my, now I am thinking “how do I do it all?”

There are many ways to balance one’s life and not one right way. There are many learned skills and not one perfect skill.  And when I stated Project Manger of Life, that is how I view it. This is how I categorize my life to make it happen:

Here I spent time in Belize and wanted to volunteer a bunch but have fun a bunch too.  During the day I volunteered part of the morning on the way to something fun in the middle of the day and then……
Here I spent time in Belize and wanted to volunteer a bunch but have fun a bunch too. During the day I volunteered part of the morning on the way to something fun in the middle of the day and then……

Make it a breathing priority – Without breathing, we die.  Not taking it that drastic, but these are the things that we really need to focus on a daily basis.  I categorize it as the must do, I don’t always want to do, the must do to live, the must do to have fun, and the must do to love myself.  These are not scientifically proven to work, but it is how I categorize my day, how I balance my life.

  1. Must do, I don’t always want to do – go to work everyday
  2. Must do to live – eat everyday
  3. Must do to have fun – social media, talk with friends, text, etc.
  4. Must do to love myself – breast check in the shower for lumps, meditate and do yoga for 10 minutes right out of bed every single morning
I had a siesta, regrouped, and did more volunteering in town on the way to dinner.
I had a siesta, regrouped, and did more volunteering in town on the way to dinner.

Make it a frequent habit – This is not breathing, but maybe filling the gas tank type of level of prioritization.  It does not happen every day, but you need to keep an eye on it several times per month.  Here is where I try to schedule in things like paying bills.  I only do this on the 16th and 1st of every month.  If not those two days, I put it aside and revisit just those two days (unless an unexpected bills comes in that I must address).  I also even schedule my laundry 2x per month (don’t have kids, have that luxury for now!) and if not those laundry washing dates, I just parking lot it until my next routine clothes washing day.

Take time to read while resting in between climbing
Take time to read while resting in between climbing

Make it a less frequent habit – This is not filling the gas tank, but this might be like dusting the house, once per month type stuff.   I have routine tasks that I just don’t do as often but need to make sure I visit them every month or every couple months. This could be changing the oil, washing all the sheets, and so on.

While we vacation, I had my group do something fun and touristy on the way to some fun unique climbing.
While we vacation, I had my group do something fun and touristy on the way to some fun unique climbing.

Annual Clock Work Tasks – This is the routine physical exam.  Like clock work, we need to do it, but it is something we just don’t do very often.  I set up milestones and try to stick to them.  I try to set one milestone per month.  January like clockwork is my PE and teeth cleaning.  May of every year is my neighborhood yard sale, so April is when I schedule spring cleaning.  And so on and so on.  By doing this, I tend to get the most important things done around the house and for myself.

Go into the 70’s and dream about it – There are things that seem so far out of our reach, that we must dream about them first.  And out of 10 things we dream up, we can actually make 1-2 of these things a reality.   Things here can be a house renovation project, a road trip, a ½ day at a spa, and so on.  Anything that you want to dream up, do it freely.  It does not hurt to dream at all because that is how typically I may have that 1 or 2 things unexpectedly amazing things I get accomplished.  But because it is a dream, there are no commitments or disappointments; I shift any over to reality if the stars align.  If not, I just keep dreaming and stay in the 70’s.

Overall, many ask how I do all that I do.  Life is a balancing act and truly I have perfected being a project manager at my life.  It may seem a bit overboard, but this allows me to travel everywhere and climb and explore different places while I still carry on a career and pursue other things in life.  It may seem like too much and yes, I will slow down some day, but in the meantime, while I am trying to juggle many awesome things in life, I also do want to actually cherish and enjoy every moment of it too.

The Cure for Doubt: the Ultimatum

Just because I wrote an article about love and relationships does not mean D and I have been without problems. In fact, we went through a long period of turmoil for a couple of years that seemed to be constant. It can mainly be traced to my self- doubt about our relationship. Having never had a serious relationship before, I didn’t know whether this was the right one or the best one for me. I doubted. I compared him to others. And I played the game of “the grass is always greener” for far too long.

Then, one day, I went down my usual road of trying to get D to argue why he was the one for me (in a roundabout sort of way) and he stopped. He said no. He realized where this was headed once again and he made this statement instead. “I am done arguing you for you. I know that I want you. You have to decide if you want me. That’s your problem, not mine.” And he left the room. It stopped me in my tracks.

Those four sentences changed my perspective on my relationship with D and on my own worldview. Instead of continuing to look for perfection and always putting myself in a mental position akin to having one foot out the door, I realized I I needed to commit fully or I was going to lose a good relationship. I have read articles discussing divorce, how one of the signs you know a relationship is going downhill is when you stop arguing because neither person is fighting for the relationship anymore; they’ve given up. I realized that this was D’s version of throwing his hands in the air, that the confidence I had in him never leaving me was actually more tenuous than I imagined.

Looking back, I realize that this ultimatum of sorts is similar to the mental place I need to go when I am climbing on lead. When I have it in my head that I can give up at any time, I don’t push myself at all. I give myself leeway; I give myself the equivalent of one foot out the door. But when I have convinced myself there is no way out and when I have climbed up to the next bolt and am 10-20 feet above safety, I have no choice but to clip it or take a major fall. I am all in.

You have to be all in- in life and especially in love. Your partner can tell when you aren’t. Moreover, your brain can tell when you aren’t. There is no lying to your brain. Decide to be all in or all out; there is no in-between.

Is there something in your life you realized you needed to be all-in for and weren’t? What was the result?

Accepting Things The Way They Are

I have reached the end of a trip to Red River Gorge in Kentucky with a friend, a very wise friend may I add. She has been climbing longer than I and has dealt with many of the same climbing (and life) struggles as I am/have.

As I’ve mentioned before, lead climbing (where you bring the rope up with you as you climb and clip in to bolted metal in the rock at various intervals for protection) has always been a very mentally engaging and fear-striking event for me, but I’ve been intent on overcoming my fears about it anyway. Why? Because I started climbing to overcome frustrations with rotation in grad school and then realized it had powerful applications in other parts of my life as well (read more at my guest blog article here). I’ve found every time I push my mental limitations in climbing, I also take on more challenges in life in general and push through struggles with ease.

Similarly, every climbing trip I take, I learn more about myself and my own limitations and mental blocks. This time, I learned a lesson straight from my friend’s mouth. As I was struggling with a move that really wasn’t hard but seemed for me a scary move, I continued down my usual path in times of crisis of blaming everything around me except myself. “I don’t like this.” “This doesn’t feel great.” “This route is dumb.”

My friend belaying calmly reminds me about the book we’ve both read (“The Rock Warrior’s Way” by Arno Ilgner- highly recommended, by the way) and how statements like this are energy leechers. “Accept the way things are; don’t wish them to be different. Work with what you have.” she relays. A lightbulb clicks in my head and midway through an energy leecher, my thoughts change direction. “She’s right. Why am I blaming the rock? The rock is just here, continues to be a rock, and though I love climbing, I am wishing it to be something else. It rained last night, so it is wet- but I can’t change that either. It is what it is,” I think.

This leads me to productive thoughts like: “I have this foot hold and this hand hold and if I hold my body into the wall and slowly inch up, I should be able to reach that better hold there and reach the next bolt. It’s not great, but it will have to do- and I’ve climbed on worse.” And in an instant, when I stop trying to make things different, my body does what I’ve asked it to do and I am safely attached to the next bolt.

Even if you are not a climber, I’m sure you can see how a negative “wishful thinking” mentality is one that applies negatively in life in general as well. When you are taking a test and realize the questions are not what you expected, one option is to blame the test maker and the other is to accept that these are the questions that will determine your grade and so you have to do the best with what you know. And perhaps if you have committed to someone and can’t stand a habit they have, one option is to blame them and continually try to get them to stop and the other is to accept that this is how they are and they will only change if they want to (not you) and it isn’t worth injecting more negative energy into the relationship to make them change.

It is not easy to accept things as they are. I had another moment of realization during this trip in this vein about my respiratory issues (from a heart defect called a vascular ring repaired at 8 years old) which has until the last few years limited me a significant amount from physical activity and even now continues to make it extremely difficult for me to hike uphill with large amounts of weight (read: I sound like I have never exercised a day in my life and huff and puff and look like I am dying.). If you care about details, the problem is that my trachea still has a kink in it from being impinged and is weak and when I am breathing hard due to physical exertion, my trachea collapses in on itself making it even harder to acquire oxygen.

I live for these views, but in order to get there, I have to huff and puff my way up some huge hills. I'm accepting this is just part of my MO.
I live for these views, but in order to get there, I have to huff and puff my way up some huge hills. I’m accepting this is just part of my MO.

It may be overcomeable through intense respiratory training…and it may not. I have asked a few respiratory therapists their opinion given my history and their answers bely a complete lack of knowledge regarding people like me actually getting to the physical capacity that I am at. Basically, it is an amazing feat to have gotten where I am with my condition and at this point, the medical community has nothing to offer me. All invasive procedures (like tracheal splinting or even tracheal replacement- the newest medical advance in this area) that may help have been shown to have horrible side effects or not even be beneficial with exercise tolerance. And I don’t know of any doctor that would do such a risky procedure on someone with the quality of life I do anyway.

Despite all of this, I continue to feel awful when I don’t carry an equal amount of weight as others when climbing or backpacking. I continue to try because damn it, I’ve gotten this far- why can’t I just be like everyone else? I feel in my mind like I should be as capable of others, but then when my body proves me wrong and shows my flaws, I am embarrassed and feel ashamed to be me.

From this trip, I realized I am going to have to accept that my friends love me with flaws and all and most will be willing to take more weight uphill just because they are happy to be sharing moments with me. And if they aren’t, I am going to have to accept that struggling uphill is part of my MO. It will have to be enough.

Moreover, I’ve decided I am going to try my last resort (intense respiratory therapy with packs and hills) and if it doesn’t work, I am going to have to accept this is who I am and how far my body is willing to take me- and be appreciative that it has taken me this far.

Is there something you have a hard time accepting in life? Are there energy leechers you utilize in order to continue preventing acceptance?

Balancing Your Health at Work

When I began my new job out of school, I felt like this woman: My body wanted to move, but my job needed me to sit.
When I began my new job out of school, I felt like this woman: My body wanted to move, but my job needed me to sit.

Until a little over a year ago, exercise and movement was a regular part of my day throughout the day. Before, my day was split into intervals of one to three hours of sitting and in between, I would be racing from patient room to patient room or walking between buildings. In between classes, I would head to the gym for a workout. With the completion of graduate school and the acquisition of a shiny new job, though, 10.5 hours of my day four days a week were accounted for sitting in a chair looking at a computer or a phone. I know I’m not alone. Most Americans’ jobs entail a large amount of sitting and doing computer work nowadays. And it’s literally killing us.

Shortly into my new job, I began having back, leg, shoulder, finger, wrist, and arm pain despite exercising for hours every day outside of work. I was going to a PT on a weekly basis because of this pain. I felt like I had aged by at least a decade in a few months. I realized this job was going to shorten my life if something didn’t change. Good health is direly important to me (having not had much of it until I was into college). And so I started fighting a battle to prevent this from being my future. The battle entailed educating myself, my colleagues, and my employer, and then advocating for all of the above. I wanted to make it different for me and for everyone who would be affected by this instilled lifestyle most people passively accept as part of a job and making money.

My first battle: A Sit/Stand Desk

There are all kinds of alternative desks now, even treadmill desks!
There are all kinds of alternative desks now, even treadmill desks!

Education: I learned from arguments with my husband that without evidence as proof, I would never convince him of anything I believed. I take the same attitude with most any time I want to persuade someone of something (especially work-related items). Therefore, the first step to every battle I decide to take up is educating myself to understand the subject as thoroughly as possible. In this case, my main goal was to educate myself on just how good or bad sitting for as long as I was every day actually was for my body. Turns out it’s pretty freaking bad. I also researched the alternative desk situations out there, how much they cost (both individually and in bulk), and other companies that have begun to use these types of desks. I also talked to the owner of my husband’s company, who bought sit/stand desks in bulk for his workers. I asked him if he would be willing to be one of my “professional references” in this battle (he agreed to) and quoted him in my discussions with management.

Make your case: I am much better at writing than I am at confronting someone in person, so I decided this tactic would be best. I contacted the person who is in charge of ergonomics at my job and made him my point person for liaison between myself and upper management making the decision. I wrote a long letter about why sitting all day for our jobs is a problem (to their bottom line and to their employees’ health), verifying that other companies have seen this to be a problem and changed, and how they can change this as well. I also pointed out what efforts I made to solve this problem and why I cannot solve it myself. I asked the ergonomics contact to forward it to whoever would make a decision about this….and then waited. *If you would like a sample letter to use at your workplace, please comment on this post and I will email one to you.

Assertive is the careful balance between being aggressive and passive and the perfect way to go about getting something you want.
Assertive is the careful balance between being aggressive and passive and the perfect way to go about getting something you want.

Be Assertive and Don’t Give Up:

It took me 5+ months to acquire the sit/stand desk, but I finally did! (Of course, no overhauls of desk situations for anyone else has occurred…)

There were plenty of road blocks along the way (namely lack of communication back to me), but I just kept kindly reminding people every few weeks by email, phone, or in person where we were in the process and getting feedback. There is a difference between assertive and being aggressive. Unfortunately, I think I may have crossed that line near the end when I was fed up with the timeline (or lack thereof). If you can, be patient but stern and most likely things will continue moving in the direction you want. However, there may be a time and place to show someone you are serious about accomplishing your goal.

Find Supporters: Because I was so new into my job, I tried to keep the sit/stand desk battle under wraps for a while. I avoided telling my boss, but it ended up getting back around to him anyway. I found out he was supportive of my endeavors and helped to coordinate the efforts. If you have someone rooting for you and with more power than you to accomplish your desires, meeting your goals become much easier.

My second battle: Changing Myself

Even before getting the sit/stand desk, I knew sitting for so long was doing the most amount of damage but that I could also be doing better for myself beyond that as well. Below is what I did to be healthier at work.

Took more breaks- I know there are many jobs that are pretty bad about giving breaks, but I am lucky enough to have one where my boss actually encourages us to take a 10 minute walk when things get overwhelming. I decided to do that more, even though I could really only get away for 10 minutes or so at a time due to the nature of my job (needing to take urgent calls that come in). I take a walk with my friend at work multiple times to get water every day. I made taking breaks part of my routine socializing and “breather” time. That helped with moving more and helped mentally as well.

Stretching every hour or less will help to prevent your muscles from becoming stiff.
Stretching every hour or less will help to prevent your muscles from becoming stiff.

Stretching while working– I am the weird person who brought my exercise ball and theraband to work. It forced me to do my PT exercises when there was a free moment and it allowed me to at the very least stretch my back on the exercise ball. Since then, I’ve added neck and wrist stretches to my repertoire and downloaded an awesome app called Ergonomics (download it here) which not only reminds you of stretching at whatever intervals you want, but also has stretches included in the app and a timer to make sure you are stretching for long enough to be effective.

Better posture- One of the things I worked on the most in PT was actually correct posture. After years of sitting and standing in horribly awkward (NOT ergonomic) positions, I had made my body actually think these bad positions were normal. My proprioception (feelings of how you are in space physically) was all off, and my awesome PT helped to teach my body what “correct” posture really is. I am by far not perfect about my posture, but it is better and at least now I know what should be correct at least. 😉

 

Healthy snacks and meals help to fuel your body and brain with nutrients.
Healthy snacks and meals help to fuel your body and brain with nutrients.

Healthy snacks and meals- I know I am not the only one who eats things they would never eat at home at work simply because you are hungry and food is there and you wouldn’t otherwise have that accessible at home. I am a sweet-holic. I admit it. And therefore if I have no food left and I am hungry and someone has chocolate sitting on their table free for the taking…well, I take it. I don’t like myself for it, but I’m soooo hungry (my brain says) and so I give in. Instead, my friend at work and I trade off bringing in healthy snacks so that when the craving hits, we have healthy food and not chocolate to munch on. Of course, if someone brings homemade berry turnovers in…well, all bets are off. I also bring my own homemade lunches in every day both to eat healthier and to save some money.

Drinking water- I am not good about drinking water. I never have been. I’m okay with the taste of it (or lack thereof), but I just have a hard time remembering to drink until I’m smacking my lips wondering why they are so dry. Water is so vital to health and so beneficial, so it really should be higher on my (and your) list of priorities (Read more about why here.). Additionally, if you are trying to lose weight, drinking more water helps dramatically with feeling more full and causes you to eat less and thus lose weight. The means of forcing myself to drink more water is to get water as soon as I come into work in the morning and finish it by the time lunch rolls around. Once lunch comes, I refill again and aim to finish that before I leave. Honestly, I should be drinking even more water, but for me right now, this is still progress. I know many people who buy a Nalgene and fill it and use permanent marker to mark each liter; they compete with themselves about drinking more than they did the day before and this helps motivate them.

Meditating, deep breathing, and even just taking a calming walk can help to reduce your stress levels at work.
Meditating, deep breathing, and even just taking a calming walk can help to reduce your stress levels at work.

Calm Your Mind- Work can be a stressful place and stress can increase cortisol levels. Cortisol levels increased over a long period of time is extremely harmful to your body. When you feel overwhelmed, it can be helpful to do deep breathing exercises (see below for how), brief meditation, or take a walk in nature. If you can’t take a break, imagine all the times you were able to overcome obstacles at work and in life and consider how you might be able to become more efficient so you aren’t as stressed about all the work piling up (Read more about being efficient here.).

Exercising during lunch- Though it is nice to have a whole lunch break to devote to eating, socializing, and maybe reading a book, I find it extra refreshing to eat lunch at my desk and during my lunch break taking a walk or even heading to the climbing gym and fitting in a quick 30 minute bouldering and traversing session. Yoga would also be great too. Refreshing our bodies also refreshes our mind and takes out all that excess energy we have while we are cooped up in our offices. Additionally, exercising suppresses our urge to eat in general and also makes our body desire healthier, more nutritious foods instead of empty calories. I am also always much more productive after having gone to the gym and out of the office. I’m sure you will be too!

Even Spider Man needs a nap sometimes!
Even Spider Man needs a nap sometimes!

Power Naps- I might get some flak for this one. I am lucky enough to have my own office with my own door that I can close. If I don’t feel like I got enough sleep the night before or just am generally dragging, I take part of my lunch break to have a power nap. I shut the lights and the door, lay down on the floor, and put my sweater behind my head. I make an alarm for 20 minutes on my phone and with some deep breathing exercises, soon enough I am heading off to sleep. Before I know it, I wake up refreshed and rejuvenated. If you need some help getting to sleep for a power nap, see the below deep breathing exercises.

Deep Breathing Exercises: I was introduced to deep breathing at various times in my life but only recently have I perfected it for myself. It has helped dramatically with reducing stress in the short- and long-term as well as relaxing me enough to sleep (being a former insomniac). Here are my tips: Turn off the lights. Lay down on your back with your head on a low pillow and your arms either at your side or on top of your stomach near your belly button. If you want to, you can play one of these soundtracks to help relax as well. Close your eyes and begin to take deep breaths through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. Your stomach should be rising and falling with your breath (NOT your chest, which is how most of us breathe normally). Make sure your teeth are not touching; your jaw should be relaxed (almost feels like you are about to yawn). This, I’ve found, is one of the most important parts to relaxing because I tend to tense my jaw (and the accessory muscles in my neck automatically get activated too) when I am stressed. Focus on your breath. Allow your mind to calm. When a thought comes up, don’t dwell on it; imagine it drifting away. Focus on relaxing each muscle throughout your body. Soon, you will be totally relaxed…and likely asleep.

My third battle: Changing My Work Atmosphere

Changing the Lunch Situation

Before I could implement most of the above changes, I needed to change some basic unspoken rules at work in order to provide time to take a long enough break for a walk or going to the gym. When I first began working, it was expected that one person was manning the phone for urgent calls during lunch, and since everything needed to be “fair,” it had become assumed that everyone would sit in that person’s office and eat lunch together every day. This was great for being social, perhaps, but after being in an office without windows and not moving for hours, I was desperate to get out of the office. After some persuasion, everyone agreed to changing this. Most people were not happy with the situation, but the general attitude was “Oh, that just won’t change. It’s how we’ve been doing things for X many years.” And yet, it only took a few discussions and things were different. So many people complain about things at work, but don’t take action. Don’t be that person- Things can change if you work at it.

Getting others at work to participate in healthy activities will make you more likely to follow-through with healthy activities.
Getting others at work to participate in healthy activities will make you more likely to follow-through with healthy activities.

Ask people to participate with you- It isn’t a secret- the more people you have who participate with you in your healthy endeavors, the more likely you are to continue doing those things. Based on this study, it will even increase the calming benefits of exercise by participating with others and make you work harder than you would otherwise by increasing competitiveness. Additionally, you can feel good about yourself inspiring others to take on healthy ways as well. 🙂

Joining Wellness Organizations at Work

I joined the wellness organization at my work and have been on the committee with endeavors to change the health atmosphere of my company and the health opportunities. Companies have been realizing lately that the health of their employees is important not only to their employees and their employees’ families, but also to productivity and the bottom line. Per this study sponsored by the USDA, health wellness programs have shown effectiveness in helping workers (those participating at least) increase the frequency of exercising in their life, stop smoking, lose weight (10-13 lbs in 5 years of participation), reduce their total cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and consume more fruits and veggies and decrease their fat and energy intake. Companies also saw improvements of 2.5% in the cost of coverage, mainly due to reduction in inpatient costs (contributed 2/3 of that 2.5%) and reduction in outpatient costs and prescription drugs (28 and 10% respectively of that 2.5%). The wellness program effectiveness is only as good as the people organizing it, however. Be part of your work effort and see not only improvements in yourself, but also your coworkers! Be a great role model and reap the rewards.

All three battles have been a great learning experience for me. Of course, the last battle continues to this day and I’m assuming will be an ongoing project of mine throughout my time at this job. I hope this has inspired you to make changes at your work for your health and your coworkers’ as well!

Image Sources:

The Balance of Creating A Great Vacation

I just got back from an amazing vacation. I feel relaxed, rejuvenated, and energized to be productive and throw myself anew into personal and career goals. It’s rare I feel this way after a vacation, so when I do, I ask myself: what made it feel so great? Over the years, the conclusion I’ve drawn is that even though everyone has a different definition of what a “great vacation” is, all great vacations fulfill (and balance) a number of different desires: rest, adventure, productivity/new experiences, nature and intimacy.

I came from a family where a “great” vacation was one where my parents could get away from us kids for an extended amount of time and where my brother and I could also be separately participating in activities we enjoyed (sometimes I think we have entirely different genetic makeup). We were lucky enough to go to Club Med a couple times, where there were supervised sports for my brother and theater/circus performance participation for me (adventure). My parents laid on the beach reading most of the time (nature and rest), but my dad also learned how to hang on the trapeze and we all snorkeled together and rode donkeys through the small villages of Dominican Republic, where my brother and I witnessed what “poor” really meant (productivity/new experiences). We spent evenings eating dinner as a family and were often accompanied by interesting people from all over the world, who were more than happy to tell us their stories (intimacy). We never looked at a clock, as there were no clocks on premises. It is something I’ve kept in mind for future vacations- to enjoy and be in the moment, not think about the future or the past (rest).

 

We warmed up our hands by hiking hard, then beginning climbs while not being able to feel the rock and midway thawing out (adventure). We climbed on new rock with new routes, experienced our first New England fall foliage, ate dinners at local restaurants, and met a whole bunch of people from all over the US and even Canada (productivity/new experiences)! It may not be the ideal vacation for most people, but it was one we will never forget and learned a lot from.

Don't sleep away your vacation, but let your body and mind relax while you have the time!
Don’t sleep away your vacation, but let your body and mind relax while you have the time!

Rest- Like I said before, all “great vacations” look different to everyone. Rest to you may be defined as sleeping in, catching up on some good reads, or getting up early but taking a nap in the middle of the day. Some people may even identify a long walk or yoga as rest. Rest is whatever your mind and body need to replenish its reserves from the more hectic and stressful experiences of your day-to-day life. It is a getaway, a restoration to re-connect you to your family, your friends, nature, and/or yourself. Just make sure not to sleep away all of your vacation, as rest is not the part of a great vacation that makes you feel restored entirely.

Adventure allows us to put everything else in life in perspective.
Adventure allows us to put everything else in life in perspective.

Adventure- Adventure is definitely a matter of degree. For some people, adventure is rolled into new experiences and for others, it’s taking a short hike or backpacking into a desert, climbing hundreds of feet up a rock, or hiking up Everest. Whatever adventure is to you, its significance in vacations is important- it allows your brain to put day-to-day concerns into perspective and it provides you with feelings of accomplishment and energy to face future challenges (related or unrelated to this adventure). So the next time you just want to lounge on the beach on vacation, consider finding something outside your comfort zone to experience as part of the trip too.

It was my first time feeling comfortable on lead outdoors this trip, something I've been working towards for over a year now.
It was my first time feeling comfortable on lead outdoors this trip, something I’ve been working towards for over a year now.

Productivity/New Experiences- The only reason I roll productivity and new experiences together is that sometimes challenging yourself to experience something new is productive on its own. And sometimes it requires productivity like planning in order to have the best new experiences. For instance, before every vacation, I make what I call an “itinerary,” but it’s really not a real itinerary. It’s a list of all the places and things to do (and food to eat) in the area that look interesting with all the key information about them bulleted such as hours of operation, website, price structure, type of food, etc. There are no times or official schedules of events. When we get to the location, we see how we feel and pick things to do as the time at a location progresses. This way, I’ve done all the research “work” before the trip, but there is no stress to get X, Y, or Z done within the specified amount of time. It has worked out well for my husband and I as a couple, since I am type A and tend to schedule too much and my husband is definitely type B and would tend to lay around not doing anything with himself and regret it later. It’s also worked out well on trips where one or both of us get sick and the original general plans are just not working out for us anymore. Since all the needed information is right in front of us, it’s just a matter of a decision and quick preparation so we are “productive”, but not stressed or feeling overly obligated with our time.

My second 5.9 lead! I was super proud to be confronting my fears this trip!
My second 5.9 lead! I was super proud to be confronting my fears this trip!

Nature- To me, this is the most important aspect of a vacation, and it often satisfies all of the other desires too. Within nature, we can feel intimate- with ourselves, with nature, and/or with whoever our partner in crime is. Within nature, we can be at peace while having an adventure, exploring new places or even just exploring ourselves within the quiet. Nature is unpredictable, beautiful, dangerous, and yielding. Accepting that a vacation within nature will be in part what nature wants you to experience and also a large part how flexible you are to the experience it is providing will bring you to a better understanding of yourself and things around you. Bring a raincoat all the time so you don’t miss the beautiful sounds and smells of a fresh rain. Plan to accomplish something, but ditch the plan as soon as plan A isn’t working out as well as you had hoped. You may find a vacation in the rain is the best one you’ve ever had. (I’m talking from experience—a backpacking trip in the rain on the Appalachian trail pulled me out of my sinking depression quicker than months of talk-therapy did. See picture below.)

Intimacy- I’m not just referring to sexual intimacy, though of course that may be on your agenda too. 😉 Intimacy is not even entirely about personal or significant relationships. Intimacy is about “a close association with or deep understanding of a place, subject, etc.” We can feel intimate with people we just met, who happened to be on the same trail as us. We can feel intimate with the squirrels sharing our space. We can feel intimate with ourselves. And in order to gain intimacy, one needs to quiet all the thoughts we typically we have running through our heads like cars in NASCAR. A peaceful, safe, and beautiful moment must be created to yield deepness and clarity within words, within silence, within touch. And these sometimes brief moments allow us reflection into what holds our world together: connection. It is easy to forget connection when we live our lives within our separate cars and houses and cubicles. And it is this lacking connection that continues to make us feel we need vacations at all. It doesn’t seem society is going to change anytime soon, so vacation is where you can embrace this and rejuvenate your feelings of being part of this world- your significance and insignificance within it.

Wherever you are off to on your next vacation, be sure to balance rest, adventure, productivity/ new experiences, nature, and intimacy into it in order to have a *great* trip.