It’s that time of year when the air gets a chill (hopefully), the aroma of pumpkin spice is omnipresent and life gets really big. This wonderful season brings much to appreciate, but can also lead us to lose sight of health goals and end up depleted. It’s a time I rely heavily on tools I’ve learned keep me grounded and still, because I’ve come to realize that the best gift I can give to my loved ones, my clients and my team, is to be fully present and focused in my moments with them. Here are the five practices that keep me engaged, patient and grateful through this time:
1. Best Yes: A wise women once told me that if you can’t give it your best yes – a real F-YES! – then decline. With all the festivities over the next few months, I use this barometer often to keep from overcommitting. Rather than showing up to every possible activity tired, half-there and already thinking about what’s next on the agenda, I only go to the events that make me think “F-yes!” Then when I am there – I am 100 percent in.
2. Breath Competency: One of the best things we can do for our central nervous system is improve the efficiency of breathing mechanics. Inefficient breathing adds undue stress onto the body and deprives the brain of the oxygen it needs for fuel. In a time when there is so much stimulus – from sugar, to caffeine, to social anxiety – the CNS gets a little fried, resulting in negative outputs like fatigue, nausea and pain. Spending just a few minutes a day focusing on the breath goes a long way to mitigate added stress. A simple practice is to slow down your exhale, breathing in for a four-count, pausing, breathing out for an eight-count. If you’d like more information on improving breath mechanics, check out this video by Z-Health founder Dr. Cobb. Practicing this in the morning has dramatically changed the way I show up for the rest of my day.
3. Gray Zone Food Consumption: If you know me well, you know moderation is my greatest, least enjoyed, life challenge. But during this time of treats and sweets, nothing sets me up for failure more than black and white thinking. One (gluten-free) cookie can send me into a spiral of carelessness that makes January 1 a tough pill to swallow. What has helped me immensely in the past few years is to track my calories. I use a MyFitnessPal (see our recent blog post about that.) Bringing mindfulness to my consumption has taught me that if I eat the cookie, all is not lost. I can easily make up for the overage at dinner or even the next day. Seeing this truth gives me a much wider beam, and as a result, I stay on track with greater regularity. After all, food is an amazing part of this season that connects us to the people we love. You don’t have to feel deprived to stay vital.
4. Practice Gratitude: Nothing takes me out of gratitude faster than the “busy spiral.” I am guilty of getting so hyper-focused on the to-dos that I forget to be still and allow appreciation for all that I have to wash over me. I have found that when I am diligent about staying rooted in gratitude, life gets amazing and I am right there in it, on a moment-to-moment basis. For me, being diligent means a written gratitude list each day of five things I am grateful for. I am specific, dialing in on the nuances of people, things and experiences that enrich my life, rather than listing broad, general topics that don’t connect me to the details of my day (such as my health, family, etc.).
Example: Thank you for the sound of Lee’s laugh and that moment today where we howled ’til our sides hurt at some of the mistakes we’ve made along the way. Thank you for the feel of Jimma’s (my pup) breath on the back of my neck driving home from our morning run. Thank you for the new Lizzo song, especially the first line “I am free…” that moves through my whole body – and the epic three-minute, one-person dance party that it brought on this morning, etc.
5. Daily Practice: I’ve learned over the past 12 years of training others (and observing myself) that it is possible to overdose on exercise to the point of negative returns. Dr. Cobb talks about finding the Minimum Effective Dosage of exercise as a way to see optimal results from a training program. That means working out only as hard and as long as you can sustain executing movements with precision and not moving into pain. Finding this movement sweet spot is especially important during a time of year when stress is heightened, sleep is reduced and nutrition intake may not be optimal. Research increasingly shows, it is more beneficial to do frequent, smaller amounts of exercise daily, than to sit still all week and crush it for hours on the weekend (Sorry weekend warriors. See our blog post on sedentary behavior.) Having a manageable, sustainable, daily movement practice helps me to be my best each day and reduces my pain. If you’re looking for bite-sized workouts – check out Daily Dose, our online course of 18 different 20 min long workouts that can be done anywhere.
This is what works for me. I’d love to hear more about how you stay present and enjoy this time of year in the comments below.
P.S. If you are reading this – you made the gratitude list. XO
This post brought to you by RedBird Co-Owner Elisabeth Kristof, PMA-CPT, AFFA certified personal trainer, AFPA certified pre and postnatal specialist, lover of sunrises, dogs and all things movement, hater of moderation and flat water. Elisabeth designs, develops and oversees RedBird’s online fitness platform, RB360online.com, RedBird social media, client communications and blog. Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org