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.

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!

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.

Attitude is Everything: In Fitness and In Health

Attitude is everything, in everything we do. When I was a little girl, I remember watching the incredible story of Peter Pan on TV. Parts of it was magical, and parts of it was downright terrifying. But, the one scene that really impressed me was when Peter taught John, Wendy, and Michael how to fly.

Peter certainly had a point when he was teaching the children how to fly. To reach their goal, all they had to do was to think lovely thoughts. Without the right mindset, they were grounded. But with the right mental attitude, the sky was the limit, so to speak.

Even after all these years, I can still recall that scene in my mind. The memory of that scene and Peter Pan’s advice has helped me get through a lot of challenging times and difficult situations over the years. After all, the only thing you need to achieve your goals is the right attitude, and to think lovely thoughts.

Many years ago, when my parents were visiting me and my husband, we were flipping through the television channels looking for something to watch. Something we could all agree on. Good luck with that. As my husband was channel surfing, he came across a station that had just started airing Peter Pan, the same one with Mary Martin that I had fallen in love with when I was a very small child.

My mother and I involuntarily squealed with delight. My father and husband groaned in disappointment. The negotiations began, but in the end, my mom and I won out. Peter Pan it was.

For the first time in almost 25 years, I got to watch Peter Pan teach John, Wendy, and Michael how to fly. And I was reminded to think lovely thoughts, no matter what life happens to throw at you. It’s so much better for your health, fitness, and well-being. When you think lovely thoughts, just imagine what you can accomplish in every aspect of your life–in your fitness, your health, relationships, business, etc. The sky’s the limit. You might even learn how to fly.

A Unique Form of Movement Therapy: Feldenkrais!

There is a unique form of movement therapy that is the best kept secret known to mankind. This movement method can help you move better, feel better, get rid of pain, stress, anxiety, etc. It can even help you reverse the aging process and engage in activities you never thought you could do before. You can even learn how to stand on your head. The list goes on and on. This unique method is called Feldenkrais, and here  are a few reasons why Feldenkrais is unique from other methods.

Move from your skeleton.

In Feldenkrais, we focus on moving from our skeleton rather than pushing from our muscles. Because, our skeleton is what supports us, and our bones and joints are what propel us through space. Our brain and our nervous system is the command center that puts it all together for us. Our muscles simply shorten (contract) or lengthen (relax) according to what the system requires it to do.

Quality rather than quantity.

We are more interested in the quality of our movement rather than the quantity, velocity, or repetitions. When we change the way we approach movement, our nervous system is more able to interrupt movement patterns that are interfering with our ability to thrive.

Slow is better, and less is more.

We move slowly–very, very slowly. It allows for a way of “listening” to the movement pattern as well as the effect it is having on our body, and the feelings and sensations we experience as we move.

No pain, much gain.

We make ourselves comfortable. I know, it sounds self-indulgent and contradictory to the common mantra of “no pain, no gain.” However, if we are experiencing any kind of discomfort, our nervous system isn’t able to work it’s magic and integrate the many wonderful new changes it is experiencing.

It’s all about awareness.

In a nutshell, we are training our awareness. Our awareness of our selves, our movement patterns, our environment, and our relationships. Here is a lovely quote by Moshe Feldenkrais himself, the master of movement which summarizes it quite well.

“Through awareness we can learn to move with a surprising lightness and freedom at any age, and improve our quality of life. Not only physically, but emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.”        -Moshe Feldenkrais

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a beautiful thing. Thank you, Moshe, for restoring to each of us our human dignity, and providing us with the path to live up to our full potential.

Unlock Your Jaw and Heal Your Pain

A lot of people develop jaw pain, tooth pain, headaches and TMJ dysfunction. However, often times our aches and pains are a result of unnecessary tension in our muscles, or from faulty movement patterns. After a period of time, these habitual patterns can cause excruciating pain, joint dysfunction and joint destruction. Yikes!

However, we can interrupt these harmful patterns by simply improving our attention and awareness. Try this simple but highly effective movement lesson based on the magic of The Feldenkrais Method®.

1) Lie on the floor on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. You may need to support your head with a folded towel. Don’t use a pillow–a pillow is too soft to provide your nervous system with the appropriate feedback (proprioception).

Take a few minutes to relax, take a few deep breaths, and feel your weight gently sink into the floor.
Bring your attention to your face, neck and jaw. Does your neck feel tight? Does your mouth or the muscles of your face feel tense? Are your teeth touching?
Don’t try to change or “fix” anything, and don’t place any judgement on what you are sensing. Instead, be aware of what you are feeling and sensing in your face, jaw and neck.
Stop and rest your attention for a few moments.
It may sound strange to “rest” when you might feel like you haven’t really done anything,  but it’s important to rest your attention, and to slow yourself down.

2) Once again bring your attention to your face, neck and jaw.

Slowly begin to open and close your mouth in a very small and easy range of motion. Do not open your mouth all the way, and do not let your teeth touch as you close it. Stop and rest.
Continue to open and close your mouth by making the movement even smaller and slower. Make it small, smooth, soft and easy. Stop and rest with your mouth gently closed without your teeth touching.
Continue the gentle movement of opening and closing your mouth in a smooth, continuous, rhythmical way. Stop and rest.

3) Gently open your mouth in an easy range of motion, and in a position where you feel no sense of stress, strain, or discomfort.

Gently take your lower jaw a little to the left in a comfortable position. Again, slowly and rhythmically  open and close your mouth while leaving your jaw to the left. Do not allow your teeth to come together. Pay attention to the joint of your jaw, which is located just in front of the opening of your ear. If you hear a clicking of your jaw, or you experience and pain or discomfort, make smaller and smaller movements until you find a range of movement that is comfortable for you.  Stop and rest.

4)  Again, open your mouth in an easy and comfortable range of motion and gently take your lower jaw a little to the right.

Open and close your mouth in a comfortable range of motion while leaving your jaw to the right. You may want to take a moment to compare the 2 sides of your jaw and how they move. Often times, one side moves easier than the other. If you hear a clicking of your jaw, or you experience and pain or discomfort, make smaller and smaller movements until you find a range of movement that is comfortable for you. Stop and rest.

5) One last time, return to just opening and closing your jaw as you did at the beginning of this movement exploration.

Notice the sensations in your face, neck and jaw now. Notice the quality of the movement as compared to when you first began this movement exploration? Stop and rest. Give yourself a few moments before you slowly bring yourself to sitting and eventually to standing. Take a brief walk around the room before you continue with your day.

This simple movement lesson will help you identify when you are holding excess tension in your face and jaw, allowing you to interrupt these patterns and heal your pain. Feldenkrais….you simply have to try it to believe it!

Great Fit Tips to Help You Keep Moving

Don’t wait to feel great. It’s already the end of January, and those New Year’s resolutions might be a distant memory. The resolve to exercise more may have sounded like a great idea during the over-indulgence of the holidays, but now reality has set in.

The cold weather and short, dark days make it hard to stay motivated, and the let down from the holidays makes it even more challenging. Who feels like leaving the house to work out? Here’s the good news–you don’t have to leave the house to stay on track with an exercise program. Here are a few great fit tips that you can easily do at home to help keep you fit and healthy.

1). Get on the ball.

If you don’t have one yet, get a large exercise ball. If you do have one, start using it. Just sitting and bouncing on the ball is a great way to improve your posture, balance, stimulate circulation and strengthen your low back and abdominal muscles. Just a few minutes a day on the ball can make a huge improvement in your strength and flexibility.

2).  Why weight? 

A resistance program will shape and tone your muscles. Invest in a set of light weights to use while sitting on your ball to strengthen the muscles of your arms, chest, upper back, and shoulders. You can use your weights in sitting and/or standing, but sitting on the ball challenges your balance, posture, and strengthens your core muscles even more.

3). Clean up your act.

While doing household chores, slow down and really focus on the quality of your movements as you work. The simple act of cleaning the house then turns into an opportunity to improve your gait, balance, strength, flexibility, posture, body awareness and body mechanics. It’s almost like a moving meditation practice.

4). Shake it up.

Nothing kills your enthusiasm for exercise like boredom. Now is the time to try that dance, yoga, Pilates, or Tai Chi class you have been always meaning to try. Any of those will help balance your energy as well as your body. As an added benefit, you will learn movement patterns that you can easily practice at home to keep you fit and healthy.

5). The more the merrier.

Recruit a friend so you can encourage and support each other to stay focused on your goals to get fit and stay fit. It also helps to stick with a program if you have someone to be accountable to, and it makes working out a social experience as well as a physical one.

These are just a few suggestions. Just a few minutes of exercise each and every day can have a huge, positive impact on your strength, flexibility, overall health and fitness. Small, simple changes that you can implement at home can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. Use your imagination to see if you can find a way to design a program for yourself that is fun, playful, and interesting. That is the key to success, not just during the dark days of winter, but all year long as well. The possibilities are endless!

 

More Fit Tips For a Healthy New Year

Here we are, already in the second week of the New Year. Hopefully, you’re still on track with your resolution to get fit and healthy, exercise more, or eat healthier. However, it’s easy to lose our motivation once we return to our daily routine after the holidays. The pressure of work and family obligations, combined with the cold, dark days sometimes get in the way of our good intentions. You might even be tempted to give up. But before you get discouraged or throw in the towel, keep these tips in mind to help you stay on track.

1). Visualize success.

Imagine yourself achieving your goals. Close your eyes and see yourself as the fit and healthy person you want to be. If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. The practice of visualization is a powerful tool to help you accomplish your goals, and even go beyond what you thought was possible. Professional athletes and performing artists have used the power of visualization for years to improve their performance on the field and on the stage. They continue to practice it, because it works for them. Just imagine (so to speak), what it can do for you!

2). Stay positive.

Remember to give yourself positive messages. What we tell ourselves is what we believe, and what we believe is what we achieve. Our brain and our nervous system is always receiving and processing the messages it hears. Words are incredibly powerful; use them for the power of good. All of us fall on our face every now and then. Remember, there is no such thing as failure, just opportunities to learn and grow.

It is also important to surround yourself with positive people. Negative people can bring you down and even sabotage your efforts.

3). Recruit a friend.

Partner up with a friend with the same goals that you have. By doing so, you can help and encourage each other, as well as share your progress. You can also buoy each other up when the going gets tough. You can hold each other accountable in accomplishing your goals. Besides, it’s a lot more fun to travel the path of health and fitness with someone else.

Wishing you all the best in health and fitness!

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