Living a simple life: E is for Exercise

E is for… Exercise

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot! 

As a kid, I hated PE. I was the daydreamer in the corner, constantly buried in a book. By the time I was in secondary school, I used to truant from PE to play Dungeons & Dragons.

As a small kid, of course, I used to play – running around participating in some made-up game with rules that made sense back then but wouldn’t now.

These days, exercise is something I do more for my mental health than my physical health (although it is fun to feel yourself getting stronger).

In both periods of depression, it was yoga that got me moving, and that then provided a stepping stone to more energetic form of exercise. That more energetic form of exercise helped boost me – a tiny bit each time – giving me enough energy to start thinking again and then to start living again.

The exercise I enjoy includes:

  • This came up when I searched for ‘yoga drawing’ and I have no idea what it has to do with yoga. But I LOVE IT.

    Yoga. The base of my routine, and something I try and do every day, if only for five minutes. I will write more about this later (spoiler alert: probably for the letter Y).

  • Bodyweight/dumbbell strength-training. I am not a strong person, I tend towards being skinny which is great from a weight point-of-view but makes it hard to build muscle. Still, I am trying to regularly do push-ups, squats, dumbbell rows and the like. It’s hard. My body aches right now from the workout I did yesterday.
  • Pilates. A recent addition, I started doing pilates after work with a colleague. My core strength is pretty terrible.
  • Running. I am not a runner, but I started to use Zombie Run and for a while I enjoyed it. Then my shins started to ache, I realised my shoes were very old and I quit. I keep meaning to buy new shoes, but… see my previous entry about not buying anything in April.
  • Dance workouts aka Zumba and similar. I do these to YouTube videos, and they usually make me happy.
  • Walking. I have a fitbit. I enjoy long hikes in the outside world. My walking buddy and I are training for a ‘someday’ dream of walking to Machu Pichu.

The thing with exercise is I rarely want to do it, but I am always glad to have done it. Pushing through my ‘lazy’ barrier each time is hard… but I am getting better at it. These days I am managing to exercise in the morning, which is a fairly major shift. I have never been a morning person.

They say that exercise is a ‘keystone habit’ – a habit that supports other good habits. When I exercise, I feel inspired to eat more healthily, I feel more energetic, I feel better able to tackle other challenges. I am far, far less likely to spend the day vegging out in front of the TV.

Living a simple life: B is for Breathing

B is for… Breathing

This post is part of the 2017 A-Z Challenge. Woot!

Yesterday I posted about why I am rebooting my blog, and focusing on living a simple/happier life.

One of the ways I clawed my way out of the dark hole that is depression was with a mix of gentle yoga and meditation.

With the meditation, I started with guided meditations. With the yoga, I started with youtube videos – specifically the restful/relaxing/stretching/sleeping ones.

In both cases, there were a lot of times when they asked me to stop and focus on my breathing. To take longer, deeper breaths. To breathe into my belly.

Here’s the kicker: it worked. However agitated, miserable, angry, anxious and exhausted I felt — and trust me, I got pretty miserable — whenever I took the time to breath slowly and focus on my breath I got a tiny little mood boost. At the start that maybe only took me from ‘deeply miserable and angry’ to ‘sad and irritated’ but it was still a boost.

Breathing is a reminder that you are alive. It’s also, to me, a reminder that everything changes. Nothing is static. Even when you try and hold yourself completely still, your lungs and heart and thus your body is in motion.

A few breathing techniques

On a very basic level, slow your breathing down.

Lying on the floor feels nice. Try placing a hand on your belly and feel it rise and fall with your inhale and exhale.

Try inhaling through your nostrils for 3 seconds (count slowly), hold your breath for 2 seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth for 4 seconds.

Alternatively, try some yoga breathing exercises, there’s a great set of Pranayama videos to watch at Yoga with Adriene.

Relax.

Breathe.

You got this.

An ode to walking

I love walking.

Quite often, when you say you’re “going for a walk”, it conjures up images of trails through woodland, blue skies, and probably someone else to walk hand-in-hand with. Or maybe you think of a beach, wandering alone along the shore thinking deep thoughts. And I won’t deny, some of my best walks have been done on a sunny day in some woodland or along a wintery beach.

That’s not the only walking I enjoy though. I enjoy walking along streets, staring at people’s houses and wondering who lives inside. I enjoy walking through car parks, which have a beautiful openness to them. They also, oddly, remind me of zombie movies. I enjoy walking along badly lit back roads at night, when the moon shines down and the shadows jump at you and you get a little frisson of fear.

Walking in the rain? Makes me feel alive, young and full of energy. I love it. I still remember the day I was walking home from school and I got caught in a sudden, epic, thunderstorm. For a moment I thought shit! But then after a few more paces I changed that to holy shit, this is awesome!

Blustery winds? Make me struggle to walk forward, but always blow a massive grin onto my face. A walk on a cold day can make a headache vanish better than any painkiller.

The health benefits of walking are numerous; you burn calories, it improves digestion, it improves mobility, it lowers blood pressure. I like to walk every day. When I skip a walk I get mopey, angry, self-reflective and lazy. All my best ideas have come to when walking… if I’m ever stuck on a story idea, a long walk is usually all it takes to get me back behind the keyboard.

So… I think I’m going for a walk. Care to join me?

 

 

 

V is for… Vikings

The letter VThis post is part of the A-Z Blogging Challenge.

Did you see the movie Thor?

I did, completely by accident. I am a bit of a comic book fan, but never really liked the Spider Man movies and as a result got put off the Marvel Movie franchise. But I was around a friends house one day and he suggested we watch it and I was like “Meh, whatevs.”

Two hours later I was a committed fangirl to the nth degree (I have a bit of a problem with getting OHMYGOD-OBSESSED with certain things).

Anyway, I adored Thor, bought it for myself and quickly dived into the rest of the Marvel movies (loved them all, but Thor and The Avengers are definitely the best.)

The whole experience spring-boarded me into a light flirtation with Vikings in general. The mythology is more interesting than most (alright, I admit it, I find 90% of mythology absolutely tedious; including judeo-Christian) and a short while later I had my own rune kit. (Did I mention the bit where I have a problem with getting obsessed?)

I have this rather unlikely fantasy of putting together a signature steampunk-viking outfit, but to make it work I am first trying to get my strength and fitness levels up. The reason I’m responding to those valkyrie images is, of course, because of the strength on display.

F is for… fitness

The letter FThis post is part of the A-Z Blog Challenge.

First: some history. When I was a foolish teenager I hated sports. PE (physical education) remains the only class I ever truanted from (to go and play Dungeons & Dragons – what can I say, I was your typical rebel). I always walked a lot, so stayed relatively fit by walking to work etc but sport, running, getting fit… these were all things I had no interest in.

Then I went from walking to work to walking to a bus stop a few feet from my house. At the same time, I started getting tired, lethargic and depressed. It wasn’t just the lack of exercise that did it, but that certainly didn’t help.

Over the next couple of years I dabbled with different things, but it wasn’t until two years ago that I discovered how much impact regular exercise really had. I started a weekly yoga class, and found myself so upbeat and energetic after the class that I began to love going. After a couple of months I added a weekly karate class… then a weekly zumba class… then upped my karate to three times a week, and started cycling to get there. I had never felt better, although the cost made me wince a little.

I started looking for things I could do at home, and discovered youtube videos, bodyweight exercises and ‘fitspiration’. All of a sudden I was hooked.

When I moved to Oxford in January last year I left all my classes behind, but I joined a gym and even paid for a personal trainer. I started doing pull-ups, running 5k, and discovered that the rowing machine was actually… kind of fun.

Keeping things varied definitely helps. Having some outside pressure helps too – classes are great because people expect you to turn up, and comment if you don’t! The particular gym I went to was great, because they give you a free workout plan and every time you go in one of the trainers signs the session off. Motivation!

My life has been a bit chaotic recently, but I’m trying to get back on track next week. Now that I’m back in Towcester (long story!) I’m looking forward to getting back into my old routine which looks like this!

  •  Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: Zumba
  • Wednesday: Hatha Yoga
  • Thursday: Zumba
  • Friday: Karate
  • Saturday: Karate
  • Sunday: Walk

I also wanted to share some great workout/fitness websites that I visit regularly:

  • Zuzka Light’s video channel: Zuzanna posts a workout every week (ZWOW), each one a tough 15 minute or so bodyweight/weights challenge. There are loads of backdated ones, or you can work out each week and become part of the community.
  • Nerdfitness: Motivational blog, plus free exercise videos and workouts. I tend to disregard the food advice (I love bread too much to ever go Paleo) but the emphasis on fresh whole foods is definitely better than many alternatives.
  • The Fitnessista: Regular recipes and workout suggestions, monthly challenges, and a friendly attitude that keeps me coming back for more.

What are your favourite exercises? Are you a gym rat or a long distance runner? Do you prefer to work out alone or with people? And what stops you from exercising?