Hindsight Is 2020

Hindsight certainly is 2020. There is nothing that gives us more clarity than looking back in the rearview mirror to see hoe far we’ve come. Or not. Looking back on 2020, I don’t think anyone is sorry to say farewell to a very challenging year. Instead, most of us are more than happy to say good riddance. However, it is interesting to reflect back on it and recognize some of the good things that came out of the Year of the Rat. Yep, according to the Chinese Zodiac calendar, 2020 was the Year of the Rat.

I remember sitting in a networking meeting last January. You remember networking meetings, don’t you? Of course you do–we all do. That’s where we met in person, gave each other hugs, We all remember those. You know, where we gave each other hugs, love, handshakes, high fives, and sat close together in groups to establish good personal and professional relationships. Now we network by sitting in front of a screen on a zoom call wondering who is wearing pants. Or not.

During that particular networking meeting, after we greeted each other and shared the love, the facilitator went around the room and share what our word for the year was going to be. Immediately the word ‘clarity’ popped into my mind. After all, my personal and professional life were on a roll, and I was already gaining insights to what I wanted to accomplish in the new year, and all I needed was a little bit of clarity.

It was interesting that a lot of the other attendees chose the word ‘vision’ as their word of the year. Everyone was so full of optimism, enthusiasm, and hope for a fantastic new year. And then it all fell apart. However, in retrospect we all learned a lot during the past 12 months. We learned how to adapt, and there has been a lot of growth in many ways. And I think we’ve all learned not to take things for granted, set better boundaries, and decide what our priorities should be. And how to stock up on toilet paper.

It’s easier to analyze and evaluate situations when we’re looking back on them in the past, than when we’re in the present moment. And we can all gain some clarity from this past year. It all depends on how you look at it. After all, hindsight is 2020.

Healthy Posture, Healthy Body

Healthy posture is essential to our health, wellness, fitness, and flexibility. Not only does good posture make you look better, it makes you feel better. Besides, there are a multitude of health benefits that you can reap from practicing good posture. Consequently, there are a myriad of detrimental effects that can result from poor posture. Let’s start with the bad news so we can end on a high note.

“Poor posture” is typically associated with a slumped spine, rounded shoulders, and a forward head position. This posture makes us appear timid, tired, aged, and like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders. I guess that’s something we can all relate to after the year we’ve just had, as well as the fact that we have literally been glued to our computers for work, school, social interaction, and even exercise classes.

But, the laundry list of potential health problems if we maintain this posture is even more frightening than 2020 was. They include loss of bone density which can lead to osteopenia and osteoporosis, impaired balance, falls, and bone fractures. Additional musculoskeletal problems include hip, knee, shoulder and neck pain, as well as joint dysfunction caused by the abnormal forces of gravity going through our skeleton. Heart problems, respiratory, and digestive disorders can occur from the increased pressure put on our internal organs. Yikes!

Now here’s the good news. Our spine and our skeleton are beautifully designed to direct the forces of gravity through our body in an easy and effortless manner. Contrary to popular belief, it isn’t our muscles that hold us up and carry us through space–it is our skeleton. “Good posture” is typically associated with a straight spine, shoulders down and back, and a lifted head. This posture makes us appear strong, confident, energetic, and youthful, no matter how old we might be.

But here’s even better news. When you have good posture, you stand and walk more comfortably, and you have better balance, energy, and endurance. You stand taller, look longer and leaner (and who doesn’t want that?), and you breathe better. But here is the best news ever. When you have good posture, your core muscles automatically engage, making your abdominal muscles stronger, giving you a pathway or a roadmap to a flatter tummy and smaller waistline. But I’ll save that topic at another time.

So, think about your posture, and take steps to work on it, because healthy posture is a healthy body.

Excerpt from “Forever Fit and Flexible: Feeling Fabulous at Fifty and Beyond.” 

Effortless posture……finding your spine.

Good posture is effortless. No, this isn’t a typo; it’s the truth. And the key to effortless posture is to find a way to let your spine support you. Our spines are designed with natural curves that support us during all weight bearing activities. Unfortunately, sometimes our ideas about finding “good posture” causes us to try and change the natural curves of our spines. The result? Abnormal alignment, muscle imbalances, joint pain, and joint dysfunction.

So, how can we find the natural curves of our spine? By learning how to find the natural curves of our spines so that the force of gravity goes through our spine and our bones in a way that supports our skeleton and doesn’t strain our neck, back, hips, knees, ankles, and feet. This simple movement exploration is an example of the movement lessons from my book, “Forever Fit and Flexible: Feeling Fabulous at Fifty and Beyond.” It’s important to move slowly, carefully, and with a spirit of interest and curiosity. In the “Forever Fit and Flexible Program,” there is no right or wrong, good or bad; just opportunities to learn.

1). Sit on the edge of a firm chair with your feet flat on the floor. Bring your attention to your sit bones (located under each buttock and called the ischials). Notice how your sit bones contact the chair. Notice the shape of your spine. Don’t change it, fix it, or make a judgment about it. Simply take a moment to sense the shape of your spine from the base of your pelvis to the top of your head.

2). Very, very slowly and gently begin to rock your pelvis forward and backward on the chair. You are moving from your pelvis, not your chest. Notice how you rock more forward on your sit bones, and then more backward on your sit bones. Do this several times, slowly, carefully, and with a sense of curiosity. Notice how the pressure of your sit bones change against your chair. Pause and rest.

3). Once again begin rocking your pelvis forward and backward. Slowly. Gently. Notice how you get shorter on the front of yourself and longer on the back of yourself as you rock backward on your sit bones. Notice how that changes when you go forward on your sit bones. Several times, slowly, gently. Notice how you breathe as you do this. Pause and rest.

4). Once again begin rocking your pelvis and notice when your sit bones pass through a spot where you feel like you can sit easily and comfortably. If you can sit without any effort your spine is supporting you. You have found effortless posture in sitting.

5). Slowly come to standing, and notice what it feels like to be in a standing position. Notice the shape of your spine. Walk around and notice the carriage of your head, the movement of your shoulders and the movement of your pelvis as you walk.

This simple but powerful movement exploration can help you find a renewed sense of ease, grace, youthfulness and elegance in your posture as well as all of your functional and recreational activities. Keep moving, be healthy!

Declaration of Celebration

Have you ever made a Declaration of Celebration? If you haven’t, I highly recommend trying it. It gives you the chance to focus on the positive things in your life, helping them get bigger and more powerful until they run the negative thoughts into the ground. Trust me, I know.

When I turned 50, I was determined to turn my life around. I must confess, my 30s were a nightmare. My 40s were even worse. I wasn’t even sure I would make it to 50, and neither did many of my friends.

But I kept thinking to myself, “If I can only make it to 50, maybe things will get better.” So, as I found myself crawling toward 50, I started planning my life after fifty and what it would look like.

I started by making a Declaration of Celebration. I promised myself that my gift to myself would be to celebrate my birthday every single day for 50 days in a row instead of just one day. I called it “Fifty Days of Cheryl.” Every single day, I would honor myself in some small way, give myself positive affirmations, and treat myself with the same respect and consideration that I treated other people.

I was so excited about my idea that I shared it with all of my friends and even my husband, because even just saying it out loud made me feel empowered and optimistic. I didn’t start the Fifty Days of Cheryl on my birthday, but 2 days before, because that was the day that my girlfriends gave me a big party, complete with a red tiara.

It was the best party I ever had. Even a bunch of fireman showed up. I thought they were the entertainment, and so did a lot of the other women, as we looked around trying to figure out who hired them. It’s not my thing, but I was deeply touched that my friends thought of everything, until the firemen started to usher us out of the building. Apparently they really were firemen, and we had to vacate the premises.

Fortunately, the fire was a false alarm, and we sent the guys on their way with slices of birthday cake to take with them. And it gave us even more to celebrate, since the restaurant didn’t burn down and no one got hurt.

On the 10th Day of Cheryl, I got the stomach flu. Still staying positive and optimistic, I decided to drop the day and start the count again the following day when I felt better. Unfortunately the little stomach bug was also celebrating Fifty Days of Cheryl, and it hung on for a week. The good news was that it didn’t hang on for the entire fifty days. Boom! Another reason to celebrate.

It’s important to stay positive and look for the good things that life has to offer, no matter how big or how small. And, I celebrate every birthday with the Days of Cheryl, adding another day every year. It’s hard to believe how many years have passed since I turned fifty. But then, that’s just one more thing to celebrate, don’t you think?

Fit Tips to Help You Keep Moving

During the past six months we have all been stuck at home during the worst pandemic the world had experienced in over 100 years. But, while we were sheltering in place to stay safe, most of us got little to no exercise. And even though the restrictions are being lifted, a lot of us are squeamish about going back to the gym or the yoga studio just yet.

But here’s the good news–you don’t have to leave the house to stay on track with an exercise program. All you have to do is keep moving! Here are a few  fit tips that you can easily do at home to help keep you fit, healthy, and back on track.

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!

 

Mask On….Mask Off

When the pandemic hit, we were told to wear masks anytime we were in public. Unfortunately, weren’t instructed in the proper use of them. It’s not as simple as “cover your face.”

As a respiratory therapist and physical therapist, I spent over 30 years wearing masks in a variety of clinical settings. I do not consider myself an expert, but there were certain precautions we were required to follow to help keep ourselves and our patients safe.

1). Once you have your mask in place, you never touch it again, for any reason. If do touch your face or your mask, you must remove your mask, dispose of it, and replace it with a new one. Under no circumstance would you ever reuse a mask.

2). Your mask must completely cover your mouth and nose. Any exposure of either one, no matter how briefly, can contaminate the mask as well as expose the very people you are trying to protect. Including yourself.

3). Again, you would never reuse a mask, but a lot of us are using cloth masks that are reusable, which is fine. But, only if you wash your mask after each and every use. No exceptions. I know, it’s a real pain, but not when you consider what the consequences are if you don’t.

Every time we exhale, our exhaled air contains bacteria and even (ack) viruses that are already in our body, which is necessary for normal body function. It’s called normal flora and helps keep our bodies in balance. When the balance is disrupted, the bacteria and viruses have the opportunity to grow, multiply, and spread.

Exhaling into a mask for an extended period of time increases the number of pathogens (fancy name for germs) into the mask. Then we inhale them, exhaling an even higher concentration of pathogens. And just think….we all spit a little every time we speak. I know, kind of gross, but that’s another normal bodily function. So, not only are you exhaling re-breathed air into your mask, you are spitting in it as well. Again, disrupting the balance of normal flora, which can cause serious sinus and upper respiratory infections, pulmonary complications, digestive issues and a compromised immune system. And make us susceptible to a host of other health issues.

It pains me that our medical “experts” haven’t shared this information with the general public. You see it’s not as simple as “cover your face.” It’s important to follow proper mask protocol, as well as good mask hygiene, regardless of the type of mask you choose to use. Be mindful of your mask, every time you put your mask on, and mask off. Your health depends on it.

 

Reality Check and Taking Action

We all need a reality check sometimes, and that can result in taking action. I got one of those reality checks last week when I went to the doctor. After having my temperature checked twice (just in case it spiked from my brief walk down the hallway), I was asked to step on the scale. Everyone’s favorite step.

I wasn’t worried. Even with all the talk about the “Covid-15,” which is another unexpected consequence of the pandemic and a reference to the significant weight gain many of us experienced, I felt pretty safe. After all, even though I was stuck at home for over 3 months I felt like I was still getting enough exercise and watching my diet. More or less.

Before I stepped on the scale I asked the nurse if I should take my shoes off. She replied, “It’s totally up to you.” I shrugged and stood on the scale and watched the numbers come up. Uh-oh. Maybe I should have taken my shoes off after all.

Oh, it wasn’t that bad, but that number made me realize that I wasn’t paying attention to myself as much as I thought I was. Maybe that’s why I’ve been so tired lately and feeling sluggish and out of sorts. Which is a nice way of saying I was cranky. But it was time to face the reality that if I didn’t take action now, I could have a much bigger problem later on. Been there before, and didn’t want to go there again.

The next day I wrote out an action plan. Nothing drastic, just a few small, simple changes that I could make to help get back on track. I set a few goals that wouldn’t overwhelm me and I felt were easily achievable with a little bit of focus. My plan was to add a few changes every week for the next 6 weeks and see what happens. Here’s what I came up with for the first week.

Week One:
1). Drink more water.
2). Eat more veggies.
3). Give up chocolate.

I told you I was keeping it simple. The point is, if we try to make too many changes all at once or set goals that are too difficult to achieve, we run the risk of going over the cliff. Our nervous system is wired to embrace small changes and make them lifelong patterns. It’s something to keep in mind, just in case you have to deal with the “Covid-15.” Or any other lifestyle change you’d like to make.

Let me know if you need any help or advice. After all, I’ve been there, done that. And taking action is so much better than burying your head in the sand. Besides, we can all use a reality check every so often.

Patience, Perseverance, and Incomparable Stubbornness

Patience and perseverance are two traits of the Ninja that I was taught in my martial arts training. Notice I said that I was taught, not necessarily that I learned it. Patience may be a virtue, but it was something I was never very good at. However, I killed it when it came to perseverance. I attribute it to my incomparable stubbornness, which I am incredibly proud of, especially since it usually seems to pay off. Usually.

I am thrilled to say that it has certainly payed off when it applies to my book, which was published exactly 4 years ago this month. As a newly published author, I was naive enough to think that everyone would want my book and it would fly off the shelves. I scoffed at the marketing experts who claimed that the “real” work in writing a book came after it was published.

I thought, “How could that possibly be? I spent 2 1/2 very stressful and grueling years writing the darn thing. Nothing can be more work than that?” As I mentioned already, I was naive. And I was wrong. It was incredibly hard work, and devastatingly discouraging. But I never gave up.

After spending the past 4 years promoting my award-winning book, attending numerous conferences, multiple book fairs, delivering dozens of speeches, teaching free classes, and hundreds of post on social media, my efforts finally paid off and magic happened. Because I never gave up. I persevered.

In February of 2020 my book hit the Kindle Amazon Best Seller list in 8 categories, and remains on the Best Seller list to this day. I put a press release out a few weeks ago and was  picked up by over 250 multiple media outlets, but I am not boasting.

Instead, I am incredibly humbled, honored, and grateful for the accolades, but even more grateful for my patience, perseverance, and incomparable stubbornness. No matter what it is that you are working on or trying to accomplish, it’s important to remember the Ninja trait of patience and perseverance, because it really does pay off. Don’t give up. Never give up! And if you ever need a pep talk, give me a call or shoot me an email. I got your back. I’ll share some more Ninja secrets with you besides patience and perseverance. I might even give you a healthy dose of my incomparable stubbornness. After all, I have more than enough to share!

Born On the Fourth of July

I love the Fourth of July. As a kid, it was always all about the fun, the games, the cook-outs, the swimming pool, and the fireworks. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized the Fourth of July was more than just a holiday. It is a way of life, and something to be celebrated every day of the year, not just on July 4th. I want to tell you a story about why I love the 4th of July. And the story begins with a little boy.

The little boy was born on a small farm in Czechoslovakia in 1927. One year later, he and his parents left their farm and traveled across the Atlantic to begin a new life in a small steel town in Western Pennsylvania and pursue the American Dream. That dream turned into a nightmare one year later when the little boy pulled a pot of scalding chicken soup over him, severely burning himself over 90% of his body.

He spent the next six months in the hospital, with his mother constantly by his side. His father worked in the steel mill, taking on as many extra shifts as he could handle in order to pay the mounting doctor and hospital bills. Every day, when his shift ended, the father walked 12 miles to the hospital to visit his wife and son. His wife would cry and complain because she didn’t understand what the doctors and nurses were trying to tell her, nor could she ask any questions. She spoke no English, and no one on the medical staff spoke Slovak.

The father did his best to comfort his wife before starting the long, lonely 12 mile walk home, crying hopelessly the entire way, overwhelmed with the burden of grief, guilt, concern over the mounting medical bills, and the horrible reality that his son might not survive. Every night, when he crossed the bridge over the Ohio River, he would stop and stare into the dark, murky water. And every night, he considered throwing himself off of the bridge and ending it all.

It was the thought of what would happen to his wife and son if he killed himself that stopped him. How would they survive? Besides, what kind of a man would abandon his wife and son in such a cold and brutal way? He was taught that a real man took care of his family. And every night, he would tear himself away from the railing of that bridge, not even bothering to wipe the tears that streamed down his face as he made his way home to the dark, cramped apartment which seemed so empty without his family. This was his daily routine for six interminable months.

Against all odds, the boy survived. But the doctors warned the parents that the boy still needed a lot of care to continue to heal, as well as a clean environment, instead of the dirty, sooty, smokey environment of the steel mills. (By this time the parents were able to understand quite a bit of English). The doctors recommended going back to Europe where the boy could recover in the clean, fresh air on the farm as well as have family support.

The boy’s parents finally decided that the woman and the boy would go back, but the man would remain in America. He would continue to work, taking extra shifts and additional odd jobs to start paying off the exorbitant medical bills and send money back to support his wife and son. In the meantime, he would pay his living expenses and try to save money to send for them when his son recovered. The father bought passage to send his family back to Europe. As he and his wife kissed goodbye, they assured each other it would only be for a short time. It took ten years.

The boy and his mother lived a good life on the farm, and the boy continued to thrive and eventually made a complete recovery from his injuries. He loved the farm, his grandparents, his cousins, and his village. He and his two best friends spent hours exploring the forests surrounding their village as well as fishing in the canals in the summer and ice skating on the lake in the winter. There was always plenty of food, and he and his mother had a very close relationship.

However, times were changing and getting extremely dangerous, especially after Germany annexed Sudetenland in 1938. When Hitler invaded Prague, it was time to get out while they still could. The boy and his mother managed to leave Czechoslovakia in late December, 1939 to be reunited with his father. The reunion was a rocky one for the boy. After spending his entire life on the farm, it was a shock to be in a highly industrialized area, be surrounded by strangers, unable to speak the language, and to live in a cramped apartment with a strange man that he didn’t really like very much but who his mother seemed to adore.

To make the situation even worse, when he started school in January of 1940, he was put in the first grade class because he didn’t speak English. There he was, a 12 year old boy who was tall for his age surrounded by a bunch of first graders. It was humiliating. The other kids made fun of him, calling him “stupid” and laughed at his clothes, which were so different from their own. The boy tried to ignore them, even though he wanted to beat the crap out of them. However, instead of using his fists, he used his head.

He took English lessons in the evenings and on weekends, and he learned very quickly. One day, when he went to school, he “accidentally” walked into the wrong classroom, the one with the kids his own age. And size. The teacher was going to send him back until she made an interesting discovery. The boy was bright. Very, very bright. She kept him in her class.

The boy thrived. Oh, he had a few mishaps along the way, including a spectacular bike wreck that almost killed him. And then there was that incident when he stole a carving knife from the kitchen to use on one of his father’s friends at a bar. But, I’ll save those stories for another day. At the age of 17, just 5 years after immigrating to America, the boy left high school to join the Navy. The boy was now a man, and he served his country proudly, and with honor.

When the man returned home, he completed high school and went to night school to better himself. He learned welding, masonry, and other useful skills while he also made time to hunt in the woods and fish in the river and lakes. He became a highly skilled welder, stonemason, and master builder. He eventually met the love of his life, got married, and built his wife a beautiful stone house to raise a family in. He raised five girls, built them a community swimming pool to grow up in, taught them how to swim, ski, become good citizens, and sent them to college. He became a pillar of his church and his community, volunteering his skills as a builder and a leader at every opportunity.

When the man turned 40, he returned to his beloved Navy and joined the US Navy Reserves as a Seabee, much to his wife’s chagrin. His wife felt it would take too much time away from the family. But the man wanted to serve his country again, to repay it for the wonderful opportunities she had given him. The man served for 25 years, retiring only because it was mandatory at age 65. When he died in November of 2010, just 19 days after losing his wife, his daughters buried him in his dress blues, because he loved his Navy and his country so much.

The man had a life well lived in a country he loved. And it could have been a much different story if he and his mother had not managed to escape Czechoslovakia on that cold December night, leaving on the last ship out of Calais before the start of the war.

That boy was my father. And that is why I celebrate the Fourth of July. That’s why I get choked up when I hear the Star Spangled Banner and God Bless America. And I always will. It’s a lesson I learned from that little boy, the one that became my dad.

Swimming With Sharks and Taking a Risk

When the movie Jaws was released in June of 1975, everyone was terrified to go in the water. It wasn’t safe. So, instead of going for a refreshing swim in the ocean, beach goers sat immobilized in the sand and sweltered in the hot sun, dreaming of the day when it would be safe to go in the water. If ever.

The following summer, people began to dip their toes in the water. After all, you can only be immobilized for so long before the desire to return to normal becomes overwhelming, and you’re willing to take a risk. Eventually, swimmers went deeper into the water, and they survived. The water was filled with happy swimmers, bobbing in the surf.

But, just when we finally forgot the horrors that lurked just below the water’s surface and began swimming again, Jaws 2 was released. Damn! It was like getting a booster shot of a syringe filled with fear, anxiety and a not so healthy dose of panic as well. Because you just never knew what was hiding in the ocean, waiting to kill you. It was safer to sit on the beach and sweat. Nothing was worth the risk of stepping into the water, not even to get your toes wet.

Fast forward to the present day. We have been through a terrible pandemic. And we have all been locked in our own homes, unable to go to school, work, the hair salon, the gym, bars, restaurants, the dentist and the eye doctor. And this was just a week or two after we were told that we had nothing to worry about. You remember, “Go out just like you normally do…..go to restaurants, bars, socialize, shop, party, and have a good time. There’s nothing to see here.” The people listened.

Then the “experts” told us that we had to stay home and were only permitted to go out for groceries and medication, or to the pot shops and liquor stores. And make sure you wash your hands. A lot. But, don’t wear a mask. Masks don’t work. The people listened, and they complied.

Two weeks later we were told to shelter in place. Just for 2 weeks. Then it would be safe to go out. Like responsible citizens, we did. Two weeks turned into 2 months. Restrictions are slowly being lifted, businesses are opening back up again (at least the ones that didn’t go under during the lock down), and we can now get our hair cut and our teeth cleaned. As long as we wear a mask. Because the “experts” have now determined that masks are mandatory. For everyone. Everywhere. Even when you go to the beach, and in the water, but they’re still not sure it’s safe to go to the beach and play in the sun. So, we should stay inside instead, just to be sure.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s time to get our feet wet. People aren’t stupid (for the most part), and staying inside isn’t healthy. Neither is isolation, especially when it’s forced. Besides, there is always something lurking beneath the surface, ready to kill you, even in the privacy and safety of our own homes. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to go back in the water. And out in the sun. Because I refuse to have the “experts” tell me that I have to live my life in fear, or that they know best. It’s time to go swimming and take a chance with the sharks.