Plan Ahead For Healthy Holidays

I love the holidays, especially the food, the parties, and the fun. But, unfortunately it can wreak havoc on our health and fitness. Many of us strive to get back into shape, lose weight, get fit, healthy and back on track with (ack!) New Year’s Resolutions.

However, once the holidays are over, the New Year’s Resolutions that sounded like such a good idea during the whirlwind of the holidays are now staring us right in the face. And the high goals we set for ourselves seem unattainable. Usually because they are. So we give up after two weeks, feeling guilty and frustrated. What a way to start the new year!

But I have another thought–since we plan for the holidays, why not plan ahead for healthy holidays at the same time? That way, you can practice a bit of moderation while still having a good time. Then you can sail through the holiday season with your health and fitness intact as well as your self-respect. Here are a few ideas to help you get started, but feel free to tweak it a bit, or create your own plan. Use your imagination, turn it into a game or a challenge. Recruit a friend or family member to help you stay on track, and turn it into a fun challenge to see who can come up with the most ideas. Here are just a few of my own.

Create a calendar

Create a calendar for November and December. I prefer a print calendar rather than one on your phone or computer. Write down every event or party that you will be attending so you know ahead of time what’s coming up. It also helps you not to become overwhelmed with holiday activities.

Guard your schedule like a jealous lover

Now that you have a calendar, keep a close eye on your schedule to make sure you aren’t over-extending yourself. You don’t have to accept every invitation, or attend every party or event. Prioritize the events that are the most important to you, and skip the rest. It will be so much better for your health and well-being in the long run, which brings me to another point.

Schedule time for yourself

While you are planning your calendar and your schedule, remember to schedule time for yourself, and write it down. Whether it’s going to your favorite exercise class, taking a walk around your neighborhood, sitting down with a good book, listening to music, meditating, playing with the dog….you get the idea. It will keep you balanced, grounded, and energized.

Be mindful of your movements

It’s important to keep moving, especially when we’re busy entertaining or preparing feasts for our friends and family. Even just a few minutes of sitting and bouncing on an exercise ball, taking a quick walk around the block, or even putting on music and dancing in your kitchen as you work will do wonders for your circulation, your metabolism, your immune system, and your body, mind, and spirit.

Snack before going out

As a final suggestion, have a light, healthy snack before going out to a party or a big dinner. It will keep you from over-indulging and help keep you on track as you enjoy all of the wonderful treats that the season has to offer.

Most of all, be gentle with yourself. If you do over-indulge, don’t beat yourself up. This is such a lovely time of year, and we want to enjoy all of the many blessings that it brings. So, plan ahead, have a wonderful time, and look forward to starting 2020 with your health, fitness, and sanity intact. Here’s to your health!

My Fixation With Feet

My fixation and fascination with feet started with several years ago when I began studying ballet from an incredible woman, Jayne Persch. She is a teacher with an impressive background and a passion for life-long learning. However, I didn’t get her fixation with feet. And toes.

At the beginning of every class, not only did she have us exercise our toes, she had us play with them! Ewe! I didn’t want to touch my feet, or my toes. What did that have to do with ballet class?

Pretty much everything, as well as general health and well-being. When your feet hurt, everything hurts. But not only that, it interferes with your ability to feel the floor, stand your ground (so to speak),and messes with your balance, posture, and overall health as well.

Here are a few fun facts about feet.

1). Nearly a quarter of all the bones in our body are in our feet, which allows for the remarkable range of movement and flexibility of our feet. (Then why do they sometimes feel like blocks of wood?)

2). Feet function best when the heel and the front of the foot are at the same level. The toes have to be able to freely flex, extend, and spread. I guess that explains the following fun fact. Which is…

3). Women are 4 times more likely than men to experience foot problems in their lifetime. High heels, anyone?

4). There are a myriad of foot deformities and conditions that can cause pain, dysfunction, and make you miserable. Often times, painful injections or surgery are the only options offered. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and I have proof.

Because after my initial resistance, working my feet began to make sense. I did the exercises. I massaged my feet. I even (ack!) massaged my toes and between my toes. I used tea tree oil to help break up the calcium deposits that were interfering with my circulation.

My feet became softer, more supple, and more flexible. They contacted the ground more like cat paws rather than blocks of wood. My bunions got smaller, my toes re-aligned, my crossover toe magically self-corrected, my Morton’s neuroma disappeared. All without surgery.

Although it creeps me out a little to post my feet for all the world to see, here are the results. It took time and dedication, but it was well worth it.

 

I know everyone doesn’t have access to someone as brilliant as my teacher, so I would like to share some resources that I have found to help you change your feet and rock your world if you choose to do so.

The first is a book titled “Whole Body Barefoot” by Katy Bowman. She describes the biomechanics of the feet, toes, ankles and lower legs in a very clear way that’s easy to understand. And she’s funny. Who knew feet could be funny? She also includes techniques for stretching, exercising, and massaging your feet.

Here’s a great article I found that has video to support the information. Click here.

However, the model demonstrates the exercises too fast. They need to be done slowly, meticulously, and with thoughtful awareness to allow for the changes to occur. In the second video, she rolls to the outside surface of her feet as she splays her toes. That actually weakens the ankle joint as well as the inner thigh muscles which are crucial to stabilizing your knee, hip, and pelvic floor muscles.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. Yes, it’s that important. Everybody deserves (and can have) healthy, flexible feet. Here’s to your health!

Restoring Human Dignity, One Person at a Time

Human dignity is such an important part of our overall health and well-being physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Unfortunately, life experiences can chip away at our human dignity, and in some cases even brutally rip it apart. However, I discovered an almost magical method that literally helps restore human dignity, one person at a time.

It was in February of 2000 when I found Feldenkrais. That statement sounds like it has an almost poetic and biblical sound to it, and I mean no disrespect. I do mean that it changed my life forever and helped me see the light.

After I took my first Feldenkrais class, I knew I had to become a practitioner of this remarkable movement therapy and share it with everyone who was looking to move better, feel better, look better, and generally improve their activity level and quality of life. To restore their human dignity.

Then I found out that the training was a grueling four-year-long program to become a Feldenkrais Practitioner. Yikes! I was still paying off my student loan from my physical therapy program! But, I just had to do it, and I graduated from my program and became a Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner in November of 2009.

The Feldenkrais philosophy is to restore human dignity through the process of exploring primitive movement, finding ways to move effortlessly and easily in your body and your mind, and challenge your belief system in a gentle and non-judgmental approach.

The founder of the method, Moshe Feldenkrais, was a genius, a survivalist, and martial artist. He was the first European ever to earn a black belt in Judo. The principles of martial arts are deeply embedded in his method.

In a weird twist of fate (or was it destiny?) I began training in Ninpo Tai Jutsu, and ancient Japanese martial art, in September of 2003. The combined teachings of Feldenkrais and martial arts had a profound and powerful impact on every aspect of my life. Through these harmoniously connected movement arts, I found my true self and regained my own human dignity.

I continue to promote and share the principles of both Feldenkrais and martial arts to my hundreds of clients, colleagues, friends, my many speaking audiences, workshop attendees, and pretty much anyone who will listen. Because I am dedicated to restoring human dignity, one person at a time. And I refuse to quit until I do.

“Be careful what you tell yourself, and do not belittle yourself, even in jest. Negative, deprecating self-talk can do significant harm to your self-image.”

–Cheryl L Ilov, Forever Fit and Flexible: Feeling Fabulous at Fifty and Beyond. 

Vitality at EVERY Stage of Life

There are many misconceptions regarding getting older, as well as a lot of confusing and misleading information. This includes the belief system that aches and pains, lack of mobility, and various diseases are a part of the “normal” aging process to be both expected and accepted. It’s simply not true.

But, when we hear these messages often enough we believe and adopt them. Because what we believe is what we become, even if it goes against our inherent belief system. However, with the right mindset, it is possible to enjoy vibrant health and vitality at every stage of life. A writer friend of mine often refers to what he calls “life’s most brutal truth–we are what we think about. This is never more true than when we face becoming card carrying members of the older generation.”  I couldn’t have said it better myself. Oh, wait–I just did.

               “Getting older is inevitable–being old is a choice.”

–Cheryl Ilov, Forever Fit and Flexible: Feeling Fabulous at Fifty and Beyond

My own personal experience of recovery from severe chronic pain syndromes, as well as my professional journey to becoming a physical therapist, led me to discover a path to reclaim my health and fitness.

This process included a slow, meticulous and systematic method of self-observation, self-awareness, and movement exploration. I also stopped listening to the naysayers and began listening to myself instead. The results were short of miraculous.

During my 20 years in my private physical therapy practice, I have shared my unique techniques and philosophy with hundreds of clients to help them recover from pain, reclaim their health, and discover their own path to health and vitality.

I have now shared these same methods with thousands of readers in my award-winning book, Forever Fit and Flexible: Feeling Fabulous at Fifty and Beyond, as well as with the many audiences that have attended my speaking engagements. I would love to share them with you!

Sleep Your Way to Better Health

Ahhh, sleep. Nothing rejuvenates your body, mind, and spirit like a good night’s sleep. But for many of us, sleep can be an elusive dream, so to speak. Even worse, a lot of people wake up in the morning with pain because they “slept wrong.” Yikes!

Because I truly appreciate the value of a good night’s sleep, I don’t believe that there is a “wrong” way to sleep. However, here are a few tips that can help you wake up to a pain-free morning. After all, I want you to be able to face the day feeling fit, fabulous, and ready for anything.

1) If you sleep on your back.

Use a pillow under your knees to support your low back in a neutral position. Play with different sizes until you find the one that is the most comfortable for you. Be sure that the pillow you use under your head is the correct size to support your head in a comfortable position.

  2) If you sleep on your side.

Place a large pillow between your knees. This eliminates the strain on your low back and hips by putting your lumbar spine (low back) and pelvis in a neutral position. You may want to support your legs all the way to your ankles. Put another pillow in front of your chest and let your arm rest on top of it. This takes stress off of your shoulders and puts your cervical spine (neck) in a neutral position. Again, make sure that the pillow for your head is properly supporting you in a comfortable position.

3) If you sleep on your stomach.

Body pillows are great for stomach sleepers. Place the pillow in front of you so you can position yourself over the pillow as if you were lying completely on your front. You have the sense of being on your stomach, but your spine is being supported in a more neutral position. This eliminates the strain and pressure to your low back caused by excessive extension as well as neck strain from lying on your stomach for prolonged periods of time.

I recommend using traditional pillows that you already have in your home. You can spend a lot of money on special therapeutic pillows and be disappointed in the results. Since you already have pillows, put them to good use and save your money.

Don’t worry if you position your pillows and wake up to find them on the floor or thrown across the room. It takes a while to get used to the pillows, and we all move around and re-position ourselves a lot during the night. Your body will become accustomed to the pillows and you will subconsciously readjust them in your sleep as you move.

Wishing you good nights, good sleep, and good health!

A tale of two neurons….

I have always had a passion for the biological sciences, but when I experienced my first course in neuroscience, I knew I found my niche. My brain almost squealed with delight. I guess you could say I’m nuts about neurons. I even considered pursuing an advanced degree in neuroscience, but I just couldn’t wrap my brain around it, so to speak.

I couldn’t see myself working in a lab all day. I’m more of a people person. But I sure did love the subject. I still do; it’s like candy for my brain. But you don’t have to be a nerd about neurons to appreciate how our nervous system works. It’s a fascinating subject and it’s really not that complicated, so I decided to share some of the basics with you. After all, why should the neuroscientists have all the fun?

Neurons are nerve fibers that receive information from our environment and transmits it to our brain. These are sensory neurons. Our brain processes this information and responds by completing a specific action or movement. These are motor neurons. Sensory and motor neurons communicate to each other and to the neurons in our brain through a series of electrical impulses and chemical reactions, which is really pretty cool when you think about it.

This reaction is a result from a stimulus in our environment. However, the stimulus must be strong enough to excite the sensory neurons to get the ball rolling. Once the sensory neurons start firing, a specific sensory and motor pathway is activated. Once this pathway has been established, stimulating the same chain of neurons over and over again strengthens and reinforces the pathway. A strong feedback loop is created, and less of a stimulus is required for the same neuronal pathway to be activated.

This is a type of self education through experience, and explains why we can move through our environment without having to stop and figure out how we are going to move from sitting to standing, standing to walking, walking to running, jumping, playing, dancing….you get the idea. However, neuronal pathways and specific responses doesn’t only apply to movement. It also applies in the context of feeling, sensing and thinking as well.

We have to challenge our neurons and our nervous system to keep it fit and healthy. Engaging in a new physical activity, studying a foreign language, learning to play a musical instrument, reading a variety of literature, or writing yourself are just a few examples how to keep our neurons firing. Like I said, it is a fascinating subject, isn’t it?

 

Be healthy!
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP

 

Stormy weather, cucumbers, and neuroplasticity.

    I love storms. I love the way the sky darkens and the wind starts to build. I even love the clap of thunder and the lightening strikes (as long as they aren’t too close). I love to sit outside and watch them, but of course I go inside when things get a little too intense. Why am I not afraid?

    When my sisters and I were small, a particularly violent thunderstorm started developing. Terrified, we cuddled together in the kitchen with my mother, who kept trying to distract us and keep us calm. Suddenly, my mother opened the refrigerator and pulled out several cucumbers. She started slicing them, and we all sat around the kitchen table eating cucumbers and playing games. Although we still jumped at the closest lightening strikes and the loudest thunder, we kept talking, playing and eating cucumbers even after the power went out.

    Later, my mother told us that she didn’t want us to be afraid of storms. You see, her mother was terrified of storms and would cower in the kitchen, tremble with each bolt of lightening, and cover her ears against the sound of thunder. Her father, on the other hand, would sit on the front porch, watch the storms and happily bellow out songs in Serbian. So, my mother had a choice. She could cower in the kitchen with my grandmother and reinforce the pattern of fear, or, she could face her own fear and sit on the porch with my grandfather and witness the storm. She chose my grandfather. The result? She lost her fear of storms.

    What my mother did for us and my grandfather did for her was a simple but brilliant example of neuroplasticity. They both created an environment where we could learn new patterns of behavior in how we respond to the experience of a thunderstorm. Each one of us were able to process our own individual learning experience, not in a cognitive (thinking) way, but in a visceral, organic way. Even though we were frightened, a safe, comfortable environment was provided. The natural flexibility of our nervous systems (which is present in all of us during our entire life time) took over and showed us new and different ways to respond to the scary situation.

    Life is full of unexpected storms. Sometimes the lightening can be blinding, and the thunder deafening. The sky can become so dark we feel that we may never see the sun again. But, now we know we have choices.We can cower and try to hide from them until they’re over, and live in fear of the next one. We can find someone to sit next to, and listen as they sing through them, and learn from their courage. We can have someone guide us through with grace and dignity, allowing us to learn our own strategy for weathering the storm.  Trust the intelligence of your nervous system to figure out the right strategy for you, and realize that you have many options rather than being stuck in a pattern or habit that may not be serving you well.

     I remember that day every time a storm comes up or I make a cucumber salad. It’s also another opportunity for me to silently thank my mother for the many gifts she gave us. Here’s the funny part: years ago I asked her, “Mummy, why cucumbers?” She replied, “It was the only thing I could find in the refrigerator!”

                                      
Be healthy! And look for the cucumbers in the storm.
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP