Tuesday, April 27, 2010

You can teach a dog new tricks

As some of you might remember I recently wrote an article about how to act like a dog. It had tips for being a little more like our canine best friends and in turn being a much healthier human. Last week I met with a dog trainer to help me learn how to speak dog and I realized that there is so much more I can learn from little Coco. Hopefully he will learn something from me too as the BF and I are running out of shoes.

The trainer went through the usual tips and tricks about how to teach Coco by using a food lure. Say the command, lead with the food, reward. Eventually he won’t need the food or the hand signal and I will have learned to speak dog. Apparently it takes about 25,000 times of doing this little trick for Coco to really know it. That’s a lot of times and a lot of treats. You know a human can learn a new behavior in just 14-21 days. That means that you would only have to do the behavior for two-three weeks in order to stop needing the reward. I am not suggesting you try to get up five minutes earlier for three weeks and every time you do, give yourself a snickers bar but I do think the reward idea is a good one. When doing something produces a reward we are more likely to do it again. Think about slot machines. How often have you ever won? And yet we keep putting our quarters in.

I am not a huge fan of using a food reward. Our society already places too much emphasis on “treats and sweet rewards” and I don’t think it’s helpful to perpetuate that idea. What about another reward you could give yourself? Each time I give Coco a treat, I am giving him a treat the size of my pinkie nail. We are not talking about a T-bone every time he sits down on cue. That means I want you to come up with a reward that’s tiny but still awesome. Here are some ideas:

Are you in need of extra sleep? Well, then every time you go to bed 15 minutes early you get to check your horoscope/favorite website on the MUNI on the way to work.

Are you trying to drink more water? For every glass of aqua you imbibe you get 15 minutes more of your favorite TV show.

Trying to get to the gym? For every 20 minutes of exercise you do, you get 20 minutes of guilt free stare off into space-time.

Watching your diet? Every time you eat a meal that makes you feel good, you get to call a friend to chat or play a game of solitaire on your computer.

Flossing your teethe? Every time you remember you get to listen to 5 minutes of a comedy pod cast.

The list could go on and on and I am pretty sure you get the idea.

We learn, just like dogs, from positive feedback. If we learned from negative feedback I would have stopped biting my nails the 14th time someone smacked my hand out of my mouth. Instead I am going to give myself a reward every time I put lotion on my hands. Soon I will learn that taking care of my hands is something that promotes goodness and by then it will have become a healthier habit.

This week I want you to think about the things you want to change in your life. Don’t think about the things you want to stop doing, think about the habits you want to do more often, drink more water, get more sleep, exercise etc. Write down a reward to go with each behavior. (It really does help if you write it down). Then begin. Try to do each behavior every day for two weeks and each time you do it, give yourself a reward. It’s that simple.

If you are thinking, “but Sarah, I already watch my favorite shows and surf the internet and call whomever I want, whenever I want, what should my reward be?” If you are already giving yourself all of these rewards then you need to resign yourself to only getting them when you have done the positive behavior. Before the dog trainer came into my life, Coco got love whenever he wanted (or I wanted). Now he has to sit before I give him anything. When he sits, he gets a cuddle. Maybe you need to stop giving yourself all that online shopping time and dole out the minutes as you perform the positive behavior. Or you may need to think a little deeper about what your reward will be. Instead of spending all day berating ourselves for not doing the things we wish we were, let’s reward ourselves for the things we do.

Now on your mark, get set… sit, lie down and gimme five!

Be Good to your Body, it’s where you Live.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Functional Fitness

Functional Fitness is something of a buzzword in gyms across the country these days. And for good reason too. Functional fitness refers to fitness that helps us live our lives better. Take for example a person in the gym doing seated rows. Seated rows work the muscles of the back and arms. That person may have incredibly strong back muscles…while performing seated rows. Just because someone is strong on a machine in the gym doesn’t mean they aren’t going to hurt themselves when forced into a different position. Like picking up groceries while bent over and slightly twisted. That is why it is important to work your muscles in a way that mimics the things you do in every day life.

So the first thing to think about is what you do. Are you picking up children all day long? Do you sit in a chair all day long? Do you hunch over a microscope or computer? Do you carry groceries, suitcases, book-bags, jinormous jugs of water or cases of wine? Do you kneel in your garden or drive for 45 minutes? Do you put luggage in the overhead compartment? Do you run for the bus or play with your grandchildren? All of these things require exercise but when you do them you aren’t thinking about the fact that you are, indeed exercising. Ok, you might not be getting very much cardio while sitting in you car, but you are certainly tightening your hip flexors, lower back and chest. A functional exercise for someone who spends massive amounts of time in the car might be to stretch out your legs and chest, strengthen your rotator cuff (for all that reaching in the back of the car) and strengthen the left hip (your right hip spends a lot of time in stop and go).

There are certain things that we all do: carry things, sit down, lie down, get up, reach, put away and bend. It is just part of our lives that we do these things, and yet these are the things we are doing when we get injured. Yes, sometimes people get hurt exercising, but mostly people get hurt doing something unbelievably mundane. I hear stories all the time of people hurting themselves picking up groceries, reaching in the back seat of the car, walking down the stairs, staring at the computer for countless hours…the list goes on.

I have decided to create a little collection of videos to help teach everyone about functional fitness exercises and stretches they can start adding into their life today…right now! The videos are pretty low fi, and unfortunately I have been unable to get the make-up and hair people round yet so you will have to excuse. I do hope that as the weeks go on (and I post more videos) you will be able to build up a little functional routine you can do in your home or office or anywhere. I will advise however that all bodies are different and if you have any injuries such as knee, hip or back injuries or if you are just new to exercise then please consult with your doctor before doing anything you see on this site. Nothing here is meant to take the place of your doctor’s advice.

Now that we have the liability issues out of the way, watch on my friends!

Be Good to your Body, it’s where you Live

Monday, April 12, 2010

Body Awareness

Something terrible happened yesterday.

A client came in, lifted up their shirt and pinched the skin on their belly begging me for help.

“Please Sarah, I am disgusting. This is horrible. I have to get rid of this fat. It makes me sick. I am so ugly.”

This makes me sad.

Would you ever say this to someone else? You are disgusting. You are so fat. No body loves you. I hate you. I wouldn’t even say that to my worst enemy. I can barely write it without feeling bad.

And this is the way we speak to ourselves. This is how we choose to treat our bodies and our hearts.

Now this is just an opinion but I honestly believe that this bad body talk is far worse for us than nutra-sweet, nicotine and cholesterol.

The worse we feel about ourselves the worse we treat ourselves because hey, we don’t deserve any better right? We are fat lazy losers who aren’t perfect and don’t deserve love.

What in the hell is perfect anyway? Who made up this ideal? This ideal is different for everyone but it’s damage is the same. It makes us feel like we are supposed to be something we aren’t instead of helping us embrace who we are. It is a picture we have created that tells us when we are allowed to let go, smile and feel good. Except we will never get there because the more we tell ourselves how horrid we are the less likely we are to obtain any kind of goodness in any area of our lives.

I know a girl called Amy.

She is beautiful. She is healthy. She has fantastic skin. She is fit. She does not have a six-pack but sometimes you can see the definition in her arms when she works out. Her heart beats strong every day. She has an unbelievable amount of love to give. She is really good at Trivial Pursuit and makes one hell of an apple pie.

Sometimes Amy wakes up and stares at herself in the mirror for 15 minutes dissecting how ugly she is. She will sometimes cry because she feels so bad about her body.

When this happens, Amy loses all her fire. She becomes listless. She can’t work out and all she wants to eat are Cheetos. She craves a cigarette and will live in a pretend world where she smiles to everyone and on the inside she is screaming out hate. Imagine the kind of stress that a behavior like that comes with.

That stress is what is keeping Amy from finding happiness. This is the stress that makes her stomach hurt and gives her the flu. This is the stress that is eating her up, and all because she never tells her body how beautiful and capable it is. The more she tells herself she isn’t worth it, the more she will spiral downward.

I would like everyone reading this who can relate in any way at all to complete the following exercise from “The Body Whisperer”, by Martha Beck.

For a day, consciously observe the stream of thoughts you direct toward your body ("I need Botox. Why am I so dense? I hate, hate, hate my nose."). Once you've noticed your own abusive mantras, begin countering each one with some sort of genuine praise, no matter how lame it may seem. If you loathe your upper-arm flab, make yourself think about the fact that your arm, flab and all, can participate in procedures as delicate as threading a needle or as powerful as shifting a car into gear. Praise it for its abilities, as you would praise a horse you wanted to train: Good arm! You're so coordinated! Wow, look at you go!

This may feel absurd at first, but if you pay attention, you'll find that countering abuse with praise has a powerful effect on your body. I learned this at a seminar for chronic-pain management. The instructor asked us to focus on a part of our body that was continuously in pain (I chose my back) and then offer those body parts the affection we would give the person we loved most. To my embarrassment, I found I couldn't do this without crying—but as I did, the muscle spasms in my back loosened perceptibly. My body had been hurting because of illness, but also because I hated it. Offering it affection tangibly changed the momentum that was taking me further into disease, and began the process of healing.

The same strategy can take you from decent health to splendiferous well-being, make you so satisfied you forget to smoke, drink, or binge, and allow your birthright of self-confidence to replace any body shame that may darken your life. If praising your body feels awkward and artificial, too bad. Do it anyway. Gradually, as you feel the beneficial effects, this exercise will come naturally and automatically.”

I propose that we all try to be a little more aware. This does not mean that we become more anal about the perceived negative, it means we pay attention to what our bodies need. What does your body need?

Mine needs love, and vegetables, and long walks in Golden Gate Park and lots of sleep. Most of all my body needs to be reminded how perfect it is, to me.

Be good to your body, it’s where you live.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Clean Up Your Detox

I got an email this morning all about a special three-day cleanse that will flatten my tummy, put a spring in my step and guarantee I find everlasting peace and happiness.

I am sure you have received some kind of an email like this before. Or maybe you have seen it written in a magazine: “cleanse your colon, clean your system, flush your liver and detox your kidneys”. Or maybe you have actually done a cleanse yourself. I have. When I lived in LA and detoxes were all the rage, I drank nothing but lemon juice with cayenne pepper and honey for 10 days. It’s true; my tummy did flatten… because it was eating itself! I was starving. Do you know what happened on day 11? I ate. And do you know what happened on day 12? My tummy un-flattened.

I have done the cleanses that require you to ingest supplements to “clean” out your system thus requiring you to have access to a toilet for most of the day. I have even tried out those strange footpads that are supposed to suck the toxins from the bottoms of your feet. I have given up coffee, drank nothing but juice for a week, tried bikram yoga and stopped eating carbs. I have tried cleanses that are supposed to make me younger, fitter, stronger, smarter, more present and every single one on them wasn’t as perfect as good old fashioned sleep, exercise and a balanced diet.

Let me break it down for y’all. Detox refers to the process of eliminating toxins from your body. We all have some toxins in our bodies at all times. Every time our cells make energy, they produce some waste (toxins) and then our body gets rid of it. Every time we go to the bathroom, exhale, sneeze, cough or sweat we are getting rid of toxins. Our bodies are really good at this. Basically what this means is that our body is experiencing a full body cleanse at all times. We are constantly cleansing and most bodies do a pretty fine job of it. The best thing to do if you want to help accelerate the already detoxifying ability of your body is to get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy balanced diet containing lots of plants, stay away from the triggers (caffeine/alcohol/sugar/salt), and drink lots of water and exercise. Isn’t it funny how it seems so much harder to do all of that than it does to just not eat for three days?

If you are thinking about doing some kind of a detox try mine first: the patented Sarah cleanse. For one day I want you to exercise for at least 30 minutes, drink 8 glasses of water, eat a plant at every meal and go to bed early. If you want to try the super deluxe Sarah detox then do all of the above plus don’t eat or drink anything with caffeine, alcohol, sugar or salt. Feel free to eat as much as you want of anything else.

That’s it. Do it for one day and then see how you feel. Your body will have all the extra help it needs to do its job. If you like the way it feels then please feel free to try it for another day free of charge. Whenever you are feeling icky and bloated and tired and blocked, make a pact to try the Sarah cleanse for one day. Even if you’re not feeling icky, it’s sure to make you feel better.

Your body has the best detox system available; all you have to do is be good to it. And why wouldn’t you be, it’s where you live.