Fit & Flexible Feet for Life

Health and vitality starts from the ground up. But, unfortunately, many of us don’t think about our feet as part of the equation. After all, they’re so far away from the rest of us, and often they are out of sight, out of mind. Until they start rebelling from lack of neglect. And nothing can drain our energy and zest for life like the agony of da feet. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few tips to keep you on your toes and your feet fit and flexible for life.

Massage your feet and play with your toes.

Get re-acquainted with your own feet. Take off your shoes and socks and feel the shape of your feet and toes. I know, the first time I was asked to do this I was a little freaked out. Most dancers are very intimate with their feet, but I took ignoring mine to a fine art. Until I was plagued with foot pain, huge bunions, a hammer toe, and a Morton’s neuroma. That got my attention.

Start by gently massaging the sole of your foot, using gentle pressure where you feel discomfort or tightness. Spend extra time on these areas, gently working the sore spots until they begin to release. It helps to use lotion or foot cream. Continue by working your way up to the toes, massaging each individual toe. Then, interlace your fingers between your toes so you are spreading them your toes apart with your fingers. I know–it’s supremely uncomfortable at first but eventually it feels really good, and your feet will love you for it. This is to make up for all of the time (and the years) your toes have been squished together in shoes.

 

Strengthen your toes and stretch your feet.

Next, it’s time to build some strength while you stretch your feet at the same time. Sit on the edge of a firm chair with your feet flat on the floor. Keeping your heels and the balls of your feet firmly on the floor, lift all 5 of your toes. Keep your toes lifted and then try to spread them apart. Not all of your toes will cooperate, and you may have to give them a little bit of encouragement with your hands to show them the way. This isn’t cheating. Instead, it is sending signals to your brain to activate the motor pathways responsible for mobilizing your toes.

Practice lifting and lowering your toes multiple times, and notice the stretch in the soles of your feet. You are actually stretching the plantar fascia at the same time you are strengthening the small muscles of the feet and your toes at the same time. Pretty cool, huh?

Stretch your calves….a lot.

Tight calf muscles can wreak havoc on your feet, as well as your knees, hips, low back, neck and shoulders. Everything is interconnected and goes up and down the kinetic chain. Which is simply a fancy way of saying if one thing is off, it impacts affects every part of your body.

Stretch your calves by doing the classic “runner’s stretch.” Stand facing a wall with one foot in front of the other and your hands against the wall. Gently press your back foot into the floor. Keep your head up and your pelvis pressing forward. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Switch legs. Repeat.

Repeat the stretch again, but this time keep the back knee slightly bent as you press your heel into the floor. You won’t go nearly as far in this position, but that’s okay. This stretch targets the deeper calf muscle and the Achilles’s tendon. it’s all good.

NOTE: You’ll get far more benefit from doing these exercises for short time intervals several times a day rather than for long periods a few times a week. Not only will your feet feel better, your ankles will get stronger and your lower legs will get more toned.

I have a lot more to say regarding my new-found fascination with feet and the role it plays in our health and well-being. But, I think I’ll save some of those pearls for another day.

Where’s Your Tipping Point?

I heard the most fascinating story a few weeks ago. A friend of mine was leaving work early to rush off to an afternoon ballet class. It had just begun to snow, even though it was late spring. That happens a lot in Colorado.

When she put her key in the ignition, a snowflake gracefully floated down from the sky and landed squarely in a chip on her windshield. As soon as that snowflake touched down, the entire windshield shattered. From one harmless little snowflake!

She sat there in shock, trying to figure out what just happened. How could one delicate little frozen drop of water shatter an entire windshield? In her own words, she said, “If I hadn’t seen it for myself, I never would have believed it.” At least she wasn’t driving at the time. So, instead of going to ballet class, she (carefully) drove off to get her windshield replaced.

Two days later, she shared her story with us. We all marveled at the power of one tiny little snowflake. We speculated what conditions must have existed for that to happen. Was it temperature related? Did the snowflake have the identical size, shape, and dimensions of the chip which caused it to shatter? Are the properties of glass not as solid as we think? Or, was it merely a bizarre coincidence? What was the tipping point?

The truth is, we all have a tipping point. Everything in nature does. And, as I learned in my martial arts training, water can take down a mountain. So it makes perfect sense that it can also shatter a windshield.

Like everyone else, I’ve hit a tipping point multiple times in my life. Sometimes we feel like we’re out on a ledge, ready to go off a cliff. Other times it takes us completely by surprise. But how we react to these life changing events is what counts. The important thing is to stay positive, resilient, and learn from the experience.

So….where’s your tipping point?

 

 

 

 

 

Self-Indulgence Is Not A Dirty Word

My ballet master was incredibly demanding, which is one of the things I loved about him. After all, I don’t want to become complacent. Complacency breeds mediocrity, and in my opinion, that is a waste of human potential.

He would often chastise us if we weren’t working hard enough to satisfy him and his high standards. During the middle of brutal and complicated movement patterns he would frequently scream, “Don’t be so self-indulgent!” Not only was it distracting, it was demoralizing to be called self-indulgent when you were dancing your heart out and working your butt off.

Besides, the way he said it made it sound like a dirty word. In his mind, it was a dirty word. I always wondered why, and I never understood what he meant. I would have asked him, but he terrified me. He terrified all of us, even though we loved him, and we were adults.

Here it is, many years later, and I think I finally understand what he meant. To achieve the goals we set for ourselves, we have to fully engage all of our effort and focus to that goal. We have to pour our heart, soul, body, mind, and spirit into it. That leaves no room for self-indulgence.

But I disagree. There is an incredible amount of untapped potential in each and every one of us. However, we can’t reach this potential if we don’t allow ourselves a bit of pampering. A chance to rest, relax, and hit the refresh button. Some people may call it self-indulgence. I call it common sense. And it really isn’t a dirty word. At least, not in my mind it isn’t.

So, don’t be afraid to take some time off, hang out, and get some rest. Indulge yourself. It’s so good for your health!

Spring Into Fun Fit Tips

Spring has sprung. However, with the crazy weather we have all been experiencing across the country, it sure doesn’t seem like it. The relentless wind, rain, and snow can keep us locked indoors instead of getting out and enjoying our favorite activities. But, no worries–here are a few quick tips to keep you fit, healthy, and moving so you can be at your best when the sun comes out for good.

 

Bounce around for your health.

Having an exercise ball is a great tool to have at home no matter what the weather is like. Just sitting on the ball for a few minutes every day does wonders for your posture, balance, core strength, and flexibility. Adding gentle bouncing while sitting on the ball also adds the benefit of stimulating your nervous system, cardio-pulmonary system, and lymphatic system. It’s also great for your mental and emotional health, and it makes you feel like a kid again.

Why weight to feel great? 

For strengthening, sculpting, and toning, I recommend using light weights. Even 2 pound weights will give you the results you want as long as you are moving slowly and fully engaging your attention and awareness while using them. For example, when doing bicep curls, imagine the line and the shape of the muscle fibers. Concentrate on the movement of the muscle as you slowly bend and straighten your elbows. You can do an entire series of arm exercises in just a few minutes. To get more bang for your buck, do them while sitting on the ball.

Chairs aren’t just for sitting. 

Sit on the edge of a firm chair with armrests. Slowly push against the armrests with your hands, bringing yourself toward a standing position. You do not have to go all the way up. As a matter of fact, you don’t have to go very far before you feel your arms working. Very slowly, lower yourself back down. And I do mean slowly–no plopping back down. Make sure that you pull your shoulder blades down and together  as you move. This will strengthen and tone your upper back muscles as well as your arms at the same time.

Remember, it’s not about going to the gym 3 times/week. It’s about what you do each and every day that has a cumulative effect to keep you vibrant, fit, and healthy. Keep moving–be healthy!

Should, Could, Would: Life’s Lessons From a Little Girl

Should, could, would. I was in first grade when I learned those words. My teacher was terrifying, and I believed she became a teacher to torture helpless children. She wore a perpetual scowl on her craggy face, and the only time she smiled was when she was berating one of her hapless students until they cried so hard their teeth rattled or they wet their pants. Many (like myself), were known to do both.

One cold winter afternoon, our teacher handed out sheets of paper with the words “should, could, and would” printed on them. She explained what the words meant. She also told us that they were advanced for us, but she didn’t care. She expected us to keep those papers, look at them every day, and learn how to spell them as well as how to use them in a sentence. With one final scowl, she dismissed us for the day.

Clutching my papers in my mitten-covered hand, I walked through the snow, anxious to get home. Suddenly, a gust of wind yanked the papers out of my hand. I watched in horror as my important papers danced in the wind for a moment before they were carried across a neighbor’s yard. I tried to run after them, but the snow was too deep and my legs were no match for the speed of the wind. Holy crap, my teacher was going to kill me! I began to cry as I slowly continued up the hill to my house.

A truck pulled up beside me. It was my father. He grinned at me and opened the passenger door to give me a lift the rest of the way home. “Oh my God,” I thought to myself, “Things just went from bad to worse.” When he saw my tears he asked what was wrong. I cried harder.

Choking back sobs, I told him what happened. “Well,” he said, “Let’s go look for them.” I couldn’t believe it. My father was going to save me from the wrath and imminent public humiliation of a caliber only my teacher could accomplish. For what seemed like hours my father and I trudged through the deep snow looking for the lost papers. I had stopped crying, because at least now I had help.

Finally, my dad asked me how important these papers really were. I shrugged and wiped my nose with the back of my mitten. Then I told him what Miss You-Know-Who had said. My father said nothing for a long moment as we stood on that hill with the snow and the wind whipping around us, but his face got very red. It must have been the wind. He knelt in the snow and put his face close to mine. “If Miss You-Know-Who says anything to you at all, you tell her to come talk to me.”

I smiled and nodded my head. My father was a large man, and could be quite formidable. He also knew my teacher quite well, since she went to our church. Yep–I even got to see her on the weekend. Lucky me. Then my dad carried me through the snow, put me in the truck, and drove up the hill to our home. Nothing more was ever said.

I learned a lot about those three words since that day in the snow all those years ago. I learned how to change my “shoulds” to “coulds”, my “woulds” to “will,” and my coulds to “of course I can!” I learned that we all could use a little help sometimes. I also learned that anyone can be a bully, as long as they can get away with it. And anyone can be a hero, as long as they have the courage to speak up.

 

The Power of Grace….

Grace. It’s such a beautiful word. Just the sound of it brings forth a sense of ease, elegance, and peace. Who wouldn’t want to experience grace? Maybe we felt like we had it at some point but lost it along the way. (I don’t know what happened to it….I know I left it around here somewhere). Perhaps we feel like we have been looking for it all of our lives. It’s possible that we don’t even know what we’re looking for, but intuitively know that something is missing. What is grace, anyway?

In my mind, grace is a feeling. It is a sense of confidence and well-being. It is about having a strong sense of self-awareness, and being comfortable in your own skin. You know how to set personal boundaries and how to cultivate healthy relationships. You respect yourself. You have the flexibility to move through life with an effortless flow, even when the going gets tough.

One of my favorite quotes is from a remarkable man named Moshe Feldenkrais. He said, “What I am after is not flexible bodies, but flexible brains. What I am after is to return each person to their human dignity.” Ahh, grace. It is a lovely word, and a powerful one as well. It’s also a wonderful feeling–one that returns you to your strength, power, and human dignity.

It was through life’s trial and tribulations and the most difficult chapters in my life that I discovered the power of grace. I will admit that it hadn’t always been easy. But I did find it, and I sure like the way it feels. And I hope I don’t lose it like I lose my car keys. Because, there is incredible power and grace in each and every one of us. As well as human dignity.

Age Is a Beautiful Thing

Age is a beautiful thing. Or, at least it can be, as long as you have the right attitude. I recently saw an advertisement for a clinic specializing in “Age Management Medicine.” Yikes! As if getting older is a disease state that needs to be managed. That certainly puts a negative spin on getting older. It’s also ridiculous, and it simply isn’t true.

What we believe is what we become. What we tell ourselves and what we hear from other people is what we eventually believe, even if it conflicts with our inherent belief system. I personally believe that we can all be fit, healthy, and vibrant, in every stage of life. Because what we believe is what we become.

It all begins with the right mindset. Staying positive, and blocking out some of the negative messages we hear from society, the media, even our friends and family is a great place to start. And pay attention to the people around you who are fabulous examples and role models that age isn’t something to be “managed.” It’s a beautiful process to be celebrated and enjoyed.

My favorite ballet teacher and mentor is still going strong and teaching six days a week at 71. Her energy and enthusiasm is boundless. I have a long time friend who bellies up to the barre with me at least four days a week for a professional level ballet class. She is 81, and she is amazing! My vibrant, energetic, and beautiful Aunt Stella was recently featured in her local newspaper for her remarkable accomplishments in bowling. She is 89 years young. Her youthful vitality is delightful to see, and she is an incredible role model. Not just for me, but for everyone who meets her.

Age is a number, not a disease. Getting older is inevitable. Getting old is a choice. At least, that’s what I believe. And, what we believe is what we become.

Love Yourself With All Your Heart

Love is in the air. It’s February, and Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. It’s the season of love. It’s also the time of year when it’s really difficult to keep up with our health and fitness goals.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but the short days, cold weather, and lack of serious holidays to look forward to kind of wears me down. I would rather hunker down on the couch with a box of chocolates and wait for the spring thaw. However, that will certainly put me far behind the eight ball when swim suit season kicks in.

So, instead of hiding under the covers or throwing in the towel, here are a few simple tips to keep yourself motivated, moving, and at the top of your game:

1). Love yourself with all your heart. 

Be kind to yourself. Speak softly and gently, and give yourself positive messages. Don’t beat yourself up–we are all works in progress.

2). Get on the ball.

Seriously, get on the ball. If you don’t already have a large exercise ball rolling around your house or garage, get one. Just sitting on a ball does wonders for your posture, core strength, balance, and flexibility. It also improves your circulation, lymphatic flow, and wakes up your nervous system improving your attention and concentration. Best of all, it’s a lot of fun and makes you feel like a kid again.

3). Roll around on the floor.

Most adults hate getting on the floor, which is all the more reason to do it, at least once each and every day. Roll around on the floor, crawl, creep, or simply lie on the floor and make yourself comfortable. Feel your weight relax into the floor. Getting up and down from the floor helps keep you fit, flexible, and mobile.

4). Get out of the house.

I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but some days it’s just really hard to get out of the house if I don’t have to, especially if the weather is less than perfect. Which it often is this time of year. Look in the mirror and convince yourself that getting out to your yoga, dance, or Pilates class really is a good idea. You’ll be glad you did.

5). Grab a friend.

Recruit a friend. Not only to keep you accountable, but for encouragement and companionship. Everything is sweeter with a friend or family member to enjoy it with.

Above all, love yourself with all your heart. You are a beautiful human being in every aspect– body, mind, spirit, and soul. After all, it’s the season of love.

Believe In Yourself, and All Things Are Possible….

What we believe is what we become. What we tell ourselves, and what we hear from others, is what we eventually believe. Even if it goes against our inherent belief system. Unfortunately, not everything we hear is positive. Nor is it always in the best interest of our health and well-being.

Some messages we receive are so subtle that we might not even be aware of them. Others are blatantly shoved in our face like a cheese grater peeling away at our self-confidence.  Okay, the cheese grater analogy might be a bit extreme, but I’m sure you get the point. And, quite honestly, those are easier to deal with, because we can see them coming a mile away. And we can chose to ignore them.

It’s the insidious messages that are far more dangerous to our belief system and our self-image. That’s because our nervous system is always “listening,” and always processing information that it receives. Our brain doesn’t necessarily determine if the information is correct or not. It doesn’t categorize what it takes in as good, bad, true, or false. It simply takes it in and processes it for future reference.

When we hear negative messages over, and over again, we will believe it, and we will become it. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yikes! On the other hand, when we receive positive messages, those are the ones that become part of our belief system, and that is what we become. I sure do like the sound of that!

So, as we move into a New Year, remember to be kind to yourself. Speak softly, and gently, sending yourself positive messages that you will surely live up to. Do not belittle yourself, not even in jest. After all, your nervous system is always listening.

If you believe in yourself, all things are possible. And, I believe in you! Wishing you all the best in health and wellness!

Wishes Are Like Snowflakes

Wishes are like snowflakes. Every one is different, and every one is special. Wishes are dreams that we hope will come true, especially during this special time of year.

I love the holidays. There is a magic in the air that seems like anything is possible, and that dreams really can come true. At least, it seems that way as long as you’re not fighting traffic or the crowds at the mall. Or after you discover that some Grinch stole a package from your front porch. Grrrrrrrr.

Maybe that’s why it’s harder to believe in the magic as an adult. We didn’t have to concern ourselves with such mundane issues when we were children. Our job was simply to live in the moment, and let our imagination run wild. Especially around the holidays.

If we were lucky enough, we would even have some snow to enjoy as well. I grew up in Western Pennsylvania, where the winters were long, and cold. Sometimes, they were downright brutal. But, we loved it, especially when school was canceled and we got a snow day.

Once the snow began to fall, the flakes began to multiply at an incredible rate. Snow exponentially fell and piled up, while we kids pressed our noses to the window, hoping for more snow. For some reason, our parents weren’t nearly as enthusiastic.

There was nothing more exciting than going outside to play in the snow. The possibilities were endless. We could make snow angels, build snowmen, build snow forts, go sled riding, and even ice skating on the pond behind our house. Our imaginations knew no limits, and the only thing that made us stop playing outside were frozen feet and hands. Or the need to go to the bathroom.

Over the years, our child-like enthusiasm began to fade as we transitioned into the (ack) world of adulthood. The holidays became stressful, and the snow became a nuisance. We forgot how to dream, and we forgot how to play. That hurts my heart. So, here is my special wish this holiday season.

No matter what holiday you celebrate–be it Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Solstice, or Festivus for the rest of us, I am wishing you peace, love, joy, and laughter. May you experience a bit of child-like wonder and enthusiasm. Most of all, may you enjoy some time to play in the snow. It will do wonders for your health and well-being. Wishing you all the best!