The Brain in my Pocket

I was listening to a chat on the radio this morning, about how dependent we have become on our devices. We no longer have to remember phone numbers or addresses. Facebook reminds us of birthdays and our trusty phones have reminders set for everything from the morning alarm to the hair appointment. It’s like keeping my brain in my pocket.
Our lives are so different to when I was a child. I had a telephone directory in my head. It was so easy to remember telephone numbers. There was no need to write them down, I just committed them to memory and there they were when I needed them. Snail mail meant everyone had an address with a postal code. I wrote many letters and always knew the addresses and postal codes. My head was a sponge that soaked up information and my filing system was efficient, so recall was quick and easy.
Today, listening to the radio it dawned on me how lazy I have become with my brain. I could justify this by saying that I am older, it’s natural to be more forgetful. After all, this is what we are told by society. It’s our go-to for all ailments… remember dear, you are older now. What a lovely excuse for being less than we used to be. I don’t want to be less, at least not yet. I work hard to maintain a level of physical fitness and I eat a clean diet of whole foods. I drink water and try to get outside regularly for a dose of vitamin D and some fresh air.
Everyone knows that to be fit takes constant training. What we don’t use, we lose and physical fitness really shows us this. If I get a cold and stop training for just two weeks and it feels like I am back to square one. Perhaps we should be seeing our brain as a muscle which needs constant training. So here is a controversial question… is “dementia” always a thing or can it be that we are forgetting things because we stop using our brains so they get “unfit” and don’t work as well as before? What we don’t use, we lose.
As a Pilates instructor, I see the effect of Pilates on the body and the brain. The brain’s primary job is to run the body. It controls everything from breath and heartbeat to how we move and what we do. Mostly we do all of this sub-consciously. Pilates is what I call prescribed movement. I am asking you to move in a specific way with specific muscles. In the beginning people really struggle with this, there is a war between what I am asking and what the brain wants to do. It’s a long way from the brain to the feet and I notice people lose their connection with their feet first, as though the brain’s field of influence is “shrinking back” towards the head. This improves with time but the minute you go off shoe shopping in your head, stop being there in the room, inside your body with your thoughts, that is when you end up using your back or doing the wrong exercise.
I believe that conscious movement, moving with conscious intent and staying conscious of my thoughts, is the best way to keep my brain and my body connected, healthy and alive. When I allow myself to run on autopilot, I am keeping myself small, staying on old neural pathways. Staying conscious and adding variety to my day by doing things differently means I am building new neural pathways. I like to think of it as brain training. So here is a challenge to do things differently… Let’s work harder to remember the date and what our schedule is for the day, so that when that reminder pings in our pocket we know what it is for and we are way ahead of it.

Until next time, be conscious, and keep moving…

Lessons from a Bicycle

How often do we use the saying, “It’s like riding a bicycle”? It is usually used when we need to do something which we haven’t done in ages and it’s meant to portray the idea that once we have learnt something, we never forget how to do it. There is a gentle smugness that comes with this, a confidence born of experience, the evidence of which provides safe, secure feelings. This side of a lesson learnt is so easy and comfortable that we often forget how it felt on the other side, the before side, when we didn’t know how.

Not many of us remember those first attempts at riding a bicycle. We may, if conscious enough, realize the skill it takes when teaching our children to ride. Training wheels have made it easier but before training wheels… We froze with fear, fell, tumbled, wobbled, crashed, kissed the dirt, and landed in rose bushes. Physically we got cut, scraped, bruised, bumped, grazed and sometimes even broke. Emotionally we laughed with nerves, cried with pain, yelled with frustration, giggled with embarrassment and eventually crowed with delight. Throughout this process we were drawn forward by the thrill of what life would be like if we could ride that bicycle. Nothing could distract us from our mission. Our imagination kept us focused on the goal, the rush of wind in our face from our daring speed, the power of being able to drive and control this glorious machine and the freedom it symbolized. It didn’t take long to realize that if we wanted to stay on top of this sensational ride, we had to keep moving. The minute you stopped moving forwards, you fell off, the ride ended and so did the rush.

As we grow older we hang up the bicycle and forget the lessons it teaches us. We get so caught up in our fear of learning new things that we deny ourselves the dream. We see the cuts and bruises, the grazes and the breaks. We imagine the frustration, humiliation, pain and embarrassment we will feel if we fail or don’t “get it” quickly enough.  We convince ourselves that it is not worth the effort to change because we have forgotten that the other side of learning, the “I did it” side, holds the reward of the rush, the power, the control. So we stay where we are, sitting on a wall, feet dangling while we watch others on their “bicycle of life”. We envy them, what they have, how much fun they are having and we wallow in our misery. We see only their rush, not their tumbles, and we grumble that they have it so easy. We convince ourselves we can’t do it, give ourselves really good reasons why it won’t work, satisfying ourselves that it is beyond our control, so not our responsibility even to try. We stay stuck.

Habits are patterns of behaviour which keep us feeling safe. But habits also keep us living the same day over and over again. If you want a better more fulfilling life you need to do things differently. You need to learn new ways of doing things. We can only grow through change, because let’s face it, you cannot grow and stay the same, they are flip sides of the coin, like light and dark, speeding and standing still. Make each day different by doing small things differently. Walk a different route, drink from a different cup, sit in a different chair. Your quest doesn’t have to be as huge as learning to ride a bicycle. You can start with small steps, one small change every day.

Decide what it is you want and keep focused on the ride, the rush of achievement.  When you tumble or land in a rosebush, get up and keep trying. Remember that if you want to reach your goal, if you want to feel the wind in your face as you ride down new roads, you will have to learn, change, grow and always keep moving…

How Big is your Character?

When last did you hear someone say “It’s character building”? Growing up, this was the standard response to any tale of hardship. It frustrated me no end. How big was my character supposed to be? When was it big enough to stop building, stop suffering? What is character anyway and why is it so important that it has to grow so big?

Character is who you are on the inside and how you present yourself to the world on the outside, your unique qualities. Years ago people spoke of virtues but now we hear about values,  habits of behaviour. Many of these are developed at a young age, without our choosing them. They are thrust upon us by parents, teachers, TV and the behaviour of others. Someone with a strong character displayed values of integrity, commitment, loyalty, ambition and perseverance. While someone who lied, cheated, was dishonest or unreliable may have been described as having weak character.

Today, I don’t hear much about character. Now we talk about rights. Bad behaviour is justified by your right to free expression or overlooked due to your sad, neglected or difficult upbringing. We use an abused past to condone our abusive behaviour, poverty gives us the right to steal and laziness is blamed on our genetics. Our younger generations are growing up without the boundaries offered by values and character. We are so concerned about adding to their stressful lives that we are stunting their characters and in so doing, we are slowly losing our own.  We excuse our physical laziness with the belief that life has become too busy for exercise. We don’t have time to cook our own nutritious food or get enough rest. “Fear Of Missing Out” has destroyed our commitment and social status has corrupted our integrity.

The world has changed so much over the last thirty years. As I have grown older, I have become more confused about who I am. I have been told I am over sensitive, up tight, prissy, a goody two shoes, too serious, old fashioned, insecure and a perfectionist. Personal development has brought my attention back to values and character. Now I realize that I value integrity, commitment, self-discipline, self-responsibility, courage and kindness. These are the character traits that are important to me. Looking back, the people who hurt me so deeply, who shamed me for these values and confused me, those people have different values.

I feel a weight lifted, unburdened. I can be me and be proud of who I am, proud of the character that I built through difficulty, endurance and perseverance. I feel huge gratitude for the lessons I learnt and the people who offered those lessons. Understanding has brought the realization that a character is never big enough. A character needs guarding and constant work. It is so easy for bad habits to creep in; little things which break down your character and diminish you. I always have the choice of who I want to be. If I find myself lacking, it is up to me to consciously fill that gap with a new value and to practice that value until it becomes habit, thereby building and strengthening my character, becoming a better human being.

Humanity is made up of characters, you and me. If I want to help the world, to better humanity, then it is up to me to stay conscious, keep learning, keep improving myself and keep moving…

New Beginnings

At the beginning of each New Year, I like to set up a plan for the year. What do I want to learn? Where do I want to go and how can I make this year better than the last?

Before we know it, the year sweeps us off our feet and we are thrown into the frenzy of life, treading the same familiar path as before, unless we plan otherwise. We call these plans Resolutions, and we all know how those good intentions dissolve in the hot summer sun.  We start out really well but then the Peanut Gallery of your mind gets involved and everything unravels.

Your mind is part of you, but it’s not you. That Peanut Gallery of conversation which you hold with yourself is there to keep you safe but it rarely is supportive. On the second day of your new fitness routine, the Peanuts start to discuss the merits of starting slowly. Perhaps I should take tomorrow off so that I don’t get too stiff. Next Monday would be a good day to start again. But on Monday you are still a tiny bit stiff so the Peanuts suggest starting tomorrow. The days go by and the resolution is starting to fade. This is when the Peanuts suggest starting in February…

Being aware of what you are thinking is key to maintaining momentum with the changes you want to make in your life. The thoughts are just bubbles of information and you do not have to listen to them. When an unsupportive thought happens, consider it and then decide if you are going to follow the Peanut Gallery or take back your power with a more supportive thought. You always have the choice. The Peanuts will try to convince you that you must eat that piece of cake because it will be the last one for a long time. Really? When it comes to curbing food temptations, I find that telling myself “Not this time” really helps.  I am not giving anything up forever, just in this moment. Next time I get to choose again. Practice makes perfect and practicing making good choices makes it easier to choose well in future.

So my wish for you for this year is that you may be aware of what you are thinking, that you have the power to make good choices and that your resolutions bring about the changes you desire.

Happy 2019. Until next time, Keep Moving…

Healthy Hips, Healthy Life

Many things affect the health of our hips and today, more and more people are living with hip pain and hip replacements. Are we destined to crumble at the hips or is there something we can do to keep these joints healthy? Can we really take our health into our own hands and have a say in how we age. I believe we can.

It is easy to fear what we don’t understand and fear stops us from thinking clearly. We are led to believe that we have no control over what happens to our body. We grow old, we get sick or break and then we die. We don’t understand how the body works.  So, let’s make it simple, less scary… I like to think of the body as a bag of skin filled with sticks (our bones) and elastics (our muscles). Our body works on a supply and demand principle. What we need, we will absorb and what we don’t need gets flushed from the system. One of the first places where osteoporosis develops is in the hips and pelvis. The more we sit and drive, the less we use our muscles. And the less we use the muscles the less they pull on the bones to which they are attached. If the bones aren’t pulled on, then they don’t need to be strong so the body won’t absorb calcium that it doesn’t need, even if you are taking calcium supplements regularly. Walking is a fantastic way to keep the bones strong and healthy. The gentle impact and weight bearing both serve to stimulate the need for strong bones. But walking doesn’t use all the hip muscles and getting to some of them requires internal and external rotations which are not part of our daily movements. In my Conscious Movement classes we focus a lot on hips; rotating the bones of the hips in their sockets, moving the pelvis in all ranges and weight bearing on one or both legs. We stimulate the proprioceptors in the hips (which tell your brain where you are in space) to help with balance and we do Rhythmic Movement Training exercises to address reflex integration. I find that my regular clients are strong and healthy. Even when things go wrong, because life happens and gravity sucks, most of the time my clients have returned to class with bruises and a tale to tell rather than pins and plates and screws. When you work your joints regularly and move your bones in unusual ways, you find that you have more bounce and less snap.

Age is not a number; it’s a state of being. And you always have a choice. If you want to have less snap and more bounce, you have to Keep Moving…