Finding Nia and The Joy of Movement

Before I move on from exercise and movement, I want to share my experience with Nia. What is Nia, you ask? I’ll get to that in a minute, but I want to start by letting you in on a little secret – I don’t really like to exercise. I know –  shocking, right?! Many people have the false belief that health coaches and other wellness professionals work out for hours on end, eat only healthy foods and never struggle with the temptations that others battle every day. WRONG. We’re human too and are faced with making the same choices as everyone else regarding food, exercise and other lifestyle behaviors.

Exercise as “work”

As I mentioned in a previous post, I struggled with being overweight as a young adult. Becoming active in school sports helped me shed the excess pounds, but from that point on, I believed that I had to exercise to stay thin. In college, I took advantage of the campus fitness center and found a walking buddy. After college, I joined the local gym and spent many hours in aerobics classes, or on the treadmill. Occasionally, I worked up the nerve to use the weight machines or lightweight dumbbells to add some strength training. After my daughter was born, I bought a treadmill and some hand weights so I could exercise at home. I also found a series of walk at home DVDs and dabbled in some yoga and Pilates. But the whole time, from college forward, there was always this underlying sense of dread – that exercise was a chore, one more thing to check off on my daily to do list. Until I found Nia – and (re)discovered the joy of movement.

The Nia Technique®

The Nia Technique® is a holistic fitness practice addressing body, mind and soul. Nia combines movements and philosophies from martial arts, dance arts and healing arts, such as yoga, to help tone your body while transforming your mind. The classes are non-impact, practiced barefoot, and adaptable to individual needs and abilities.

I first learned about Nia through my wonderful massage therapist (and Nia teacher), Laura Ghantous. I must have complained enough about how much I disliked exercising but felt the need to do so to maintain a healthy weight. I recall she mentioned Nia at least a few times before I finally took the plunge and decided to give it a try. I won’t lie and say I loved it from the get go. I found it hard to let go of feeling self-conscious during the free dance portion and seeing a bunch of grown women roll around the floor at the end was a little…odd to say the least. But I did find myself connecting to my lifelong love of music and dance – it had been so long since I had danced! I forgot how much I loved it.

So, I stuck with it. I signed up for a class on Saturday mornings and with each class, I grew more comfortable – with myself, with my body, with the freedom to move MY body’s way. Unlike all those years I spent at the gym, in group fitness classes or on the treadmill, I never find myself watching the clock during a Nia class, wondering how long until it’s over and I can move on to do the things I really want to do. Now, I find myself disappointed when an hour passes too quickly and I realize class is over. What an amazing shift in perspective for me.

From student to teacher

After taking Nia classes for about six years, something clicked for me last year and I knew I was ready to take things to the next level. Nia training mirrors the colored belt system used in martial arts, and you can also choose to become a licensed teacher. In March, I successfully completed the first level of training, the White Belt Intensive, which focuses on physical sensation, body awareness, and self-knowledge – and is the minimum training required to teach Nia. There are 13 principles in the White Belt training. Principle One is the Joy of Movement – Sensing Life Force. The Joy of Movement is sensed as the “vibratory aliveness of being.” Now, that’s what I want to feel when I exercise. And I hope to inspire that in others as I begin teaching Nia classes this fall.

To learn more about Nia and to find classes in your area, visit www.nianow.com. If you live in the Triangle area of NC, visit www.TriangleNia.com to find classes near you.

Nia: Through movement we find health.

 

 

Movement, Exercise and Rest – Part 1

This dimension of the wheel is quite comprehensive so I am going to split it into two posts. The first will focus on Exercise and Movement; then, I’ll follow up with a post on Sleep/Rest.

By now, you’ve probably heard that “sitting is the new smoking.” That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but research does show that prolonged sitting may be harmful, even if you exercise regularly. The more time we spend sitting — whether at a desk, on the couch or in the car — the greater the risk of premature death, cardiovascular disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. And unfortunately, even an hour at the gym every day, huffing and puffing on the treadmill, might not be enough to counteract the effects if you spend most of the rest of your time sitting.

One of my favorite fitness experts, Leslie Sansone, said it best on one of her walk at home DVDs: Our bodies are meant to move. Humans were not designed to be sedentary! We wouldn’t have all these wonderful bones, muscles and joints that allow the body to move in all directions. Unfortunately, as our world has evolved and society has developed more modern conveniences, the unintended consequence has been less overall movement for most of us. It’s not really anyone’s fault – it’s just what happened. The good news is we can do something about it. It just may take a little extra effort to make it happen.

Exercise

Let’s talk about exercise first – and by exercise, I mean physical activity that you engage in on a regular basis for more than a few minutes at a time. It can be as simple as walking in your neighborhood or completing the CrossFit Workout of the Day.  So, what is the best exercise? The one that you will do! Yes, it may sound cheesy and cliché, but it is true. Finding something that is fun and enjoyable for you is the most important thing. Why? You’ll stick with it. You don’t get stronger or fitter or leaner from exercising one time. You get stronger or fitter or leaner by exercising on a consistent basis. And it’s human nature to engage in activities that we enjoy doing. So maybe start by thinking about what activities or sports you enjoy – perhaps you like the challenge of training for a road race or maybe you prefer playing tennis with your spouse. Have fun experimenting until you find the activity (or activities) that work best for you.

Some of you may be looking for guidance on how long or how often to exercise. In general, most adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, for general health and to maintain your current weight. This typically translates to about 30 minutes five days/week. To lose weight, the recommendation is 200-300 minutes of moderate intensity activity (with the greater amount typically leading to faster weight loss). This would mean closer to 45 minutes every day or 60 minutes five days/week. Moderate intensity is defined as activity that increases your heart rate and makes you break a sweat, such as brisk walking, cycling at lower speeds, water aerobics, etc. Everybody is different so it is a good idea to talk to your doctor if it’s been a while since you’ve exercised or if you have health issues that could limit your ability to participate in certain activities.

Movement

Perhaps more important than exercise though is the need to build regular movement into your day – particularly if your work or home life finds you sitting most of the time. There are some simple steps you can take to reduce sitting time, including:

  • If you work at a desk or on a computer most of the day, stand up and/or walk around for a few minutes every hour (or even half-hour if possible).
  • Consider a desk that lets you work both standing and sitting down. You could also explore a treadmill desk that allows you to walk slowly while you work.
  • Park your car further away from the building so you’ll be able to walk more. Stand rather than sit if you ride the bus or subway.
  • Try standing or doing chores while watching TV. Build in brief fitness breaks during commercials.
  • Become less efficient – consider not multitasking to get more movement into your day. For example, pick up and put away one item in the house at a time instead of doing it all in one trip.

Adding short bursts of standing and movement like this will keep you from becoming an “active couch potato,” someone who exercises regularly and then remains largely sedentary the rest of the time. Think of fitness as something that entails what you do the entire day, not just during your workout.

The Wheel of Health and Your Optimal Health Journey

wheel2-878x1024Today I’d like to share an overview of the Duke Integrative Medicine Wheel of Health (WOH). This wheel provides a framework for creating your personalized health plan – and a map of your optimal health journey. We will explore the various parts of the wheel in-depth in subsequent posts, but for now, let’s look at the big picture.

The WOH represents the whole picture of your health and wellbeing. It is a multidimensional, whole person approach that considers body, mind and spirit. As you can see, it does not focus on just physical health. It goes beyond managing disease and instead emphasizes optimizing health.

Dimensions of the Wheel

You

At the center of the wheel is YOU, because health coaching is a person-centered process. Your health journey is driven by your values, goals and desires. As a coach, I won’t tell you what to do or not to do – you get to decide based on your priorities and what works for you.

Mindful Awareness

Surrounding the center of the wheel is Mindful Awareness. The concept of mindfulness – paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally – is a powerful tool and resource for behavior change.  Being more present and aware of what is happening to you and in you can help you respond to changes in your life in a more proactive, engaged way.

Self-Care

The green ring in the wheel represents the seven areas of self-care. People often focus their efforts here when making changes to their health behaviors. Evaluating your current and desired states in each of these areas can help you create a healthier life. These include:

Movement, Exercise and Rest – This area addresses physical activity, whether it be formal exercise (for example, running 30 minutes a day) or general activities of daily living (such as cleaning the house or grocery shopping). Just as important, it also incorporates the need for adequate rest (good sleep is vital!) and relaxation or “down time”.

Nutrition – In a nutshell, eating a balanced, healthy diet that fuels and nourishes your body and mind. There is no specific diet that is recommended. There are some key healthy eating strategies that we’ll discuss in a future post, but it is also based on what works for your body.

Personal and Professional Development –  It is helpful to assess where you are with personal, career or life goals, particularly at times of transition or milestones. These may include work-life balance, financial goals, and personal growth that will support optimal wellbeing. Regular assessment of your goals can reinforce healthy behavior choices.

Physical Environment – Studies have suggested that your surroundings at work and home can impact your health, either positively or negatively. Exposure to light, noise or toxins in your home or work space can have a major impact on how you feel physically and emotionally. On the other hand, a supportive, nurturing physical environment can enhance your sense of peace and wellness.

Relationships and Communication – Research demonstrates that positive relationships built on open, respectful communication with family, friends and colleagues can have a beneficial impact on your health. Identify those relationships in your life that fuel you and those that drain you. In doing so, you can invest in your positive connections and minimize or re-evaluate those relationships that don’t serve you.

Spirituality – This area is about finding purpose and meaning in something larger than oneself. For some people, it may include a religious affiliation. For others, it may be a connection to nature or the arts. Although the definition of spirituality is very personal in nature, the role that it plays in your life can transform your health.

Mind-Body Connection – This area relates back to the inner ring of Mindful Awareness. It focuses on mind-body practices that can help you be more present. Techniques include things that activate the body’s relaxation and healing response, like breathing practices, meditation, yoga, or guided imagery.

Professional Care

It is important to seek routine preventive medical care such as an annual physical exam, recommended cancer screenings (e.g., mammogram, colonoscopy) and vaccinations. In addition, you can supplement your usual medical care with complementary approaches such as acupuncture, massage, hypnosis or energy work. A primary goal of Integrative Medicine is to remove the distinction between conventional and complementary approaches and create one integrated approach to health care. In this model, patients and their providers work together to determine the most effective, evidence-based personalized health plan to achieve life-long wellbeing.

A little bit about me

It all started with being a fat kid. I know that’s not PC in today’s world, but it’s the truth. From a pretty young age, I used food for comfort – to deal with stress at home or in school, to celebrate happy events and to block out sadness and avoid other “icky” emotions. I was a classic emotional eater (and it was oh-so-easy with an Italian grandmother who loved to cook). I also wasn’t very active and so naturally, the pounds started piling on. As you can imagine, being overweight as an adolescent is NOT fun. I was teased and nagged about my weight, struggled to find clothes that fit, and judged myself for how I looked and felt, inside and out. Good times!

Fast forward a couple years to junior high. I made a friend who accepted me for who I was and helped me learn to love myself. She encouraged me to try out for school sports, and not surprisingly, once I became more active, the weight gradually started coming off. This was about the same time that Oprah had her first public victory with weight loss. Remember the episode where she pulled out the wagon loaded with fat equivalent to the pounds she had lost? I was glued to the set and wrote in my journal that day that if Oprah could do it, so could I. I did succeed at losing weight and getting fit – and that experience sparked a lifelong interest in wanting to help others be healthy too. Hence, my current role as a health coach.

Unfortunately, like Oprah, I have struggled most of my life to maintain a healthy weight – mostly because I love to eat! In college, I gained and lost the “freshmen 15” at least once or twice (those Ben and Jerry’s® pints were my kryptonite). When I finally entered the working world after finishing grad school, I had the time, money and energy to eat healthy, join a gym and get back in shape.  I lost weight for my wedding, then gained more than I needed to with my pregnancy a few years later. I turned to a weight loss support group to lose the baby weight and for the most part, kept it off as I entered my forties. For the past few years I have gained and lost the same 5-10 lbs, so I finally decided to break this vicious cycle by adopting a mindful approach to weight management. I’ll be writing about that in some future posts, but more and more evidence is showing that traditional “dieting” does not work. In fact, it works against you.  Weight management is as much about how you eat as what you eat.

Weight management has probably been my biggest challenge health-wise, but I have also struggled with anxiety and stress management (which definitely contributed to that emotional eating habit I mentioned previously). I have read self-help books and pursued counseling in the past, but the best thing I have done for myself in this arena is adopt a daily mindfulness meditation practice. I’ll be blogging about that too! I was first exposed to the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program in 2010. For the first several years, my practice was a bit erratic – I’d keep at it for months at a time and then fall off the wagon, so to speak. It is in the last year really, that I found the right tools and resources for me that have helped solidify my practice. If I could give only one piece of health advice to anyone who asks, it would be to adopt a daily meditation practice. To me, it is the closest thing we have to a “magic pill” as it can have a beneficial impact on so many areas of your health and life.

The reason I share my story is twofold – it gives you a little insight into my own journey toward optimal health and demonstrates that we all have the power to own our health and make choices every day that lead us to a healthy, happy life.

Hello World

Hey there.  I know what you’re thinking…not another “healthy lifestyle blogger”?!  I know, I know, it seems like we are a dime a dozen these days – BUT I encourage you to keep reading. You’re here already so you might as well stick around to see what I have to say, right?

Yes, there are many, many people in the “blogosphere” who write about health. Some are professionals or experts. Others are individuals who are passionate about health and wellness. They learn as much as they can about topics of interest and then share that knowledge with others. Where do I fall on the spectrum? I combine the best of both worlds – I took my passion for wellness and turned it into a professional career. The path was not straight and narrow, but I am incredibly excited that it led me here today.

So…why include me as a “go to” source for health-related information? Three reasons:

Credentials. I have a Master’s degree in Public Health with a focus on Health Behavior/Health Education from the UNC School of Public Health. I am a Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES®), a Certified Professional in Health Quality (CPHQ) and a Certified Integrative Health Coach (through Duke Integrative Medicine). I am also sitting for the brand new, national health and wellness coach certification exam in September so I hope to add one more credential as a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach. I realize that’s a lot of letters behind my name, but my degrees and certifications are all from accredited universities and reputable professional associations.

Experience. Throughout my career in healthcare, I have worked in and/or with most of the major types of facilities in our system including a rural health department, skilled nursing facilities, a large hospital system and a primary care physician practice. Even when my primary “paid” role did not include a focus on wellness, I found a way to get involved with prevention and promoting a healthy lifestyle. I am so grateful that my career path has led me to my current role of health and wellness coach, where I am privileged to partner with individuals on their journey to optimal health.

My personal health journey*. I’m a real person who deals with many of the same health issues and concerns as you. I have struggled with weight management, emotional eating, work-life balance, stress and anxiety, to name a few.  Have I nailed all of my healthy living habits? Heck no, but my point is that I can relate to many of the challenges you may face in taking care of your physical and emotional health.

Just one last thing – my promise to you is that I will be a trusted, credible resource for you on your journey. I will strive to share information that comes from reputable sources based on sound scientific research. If I do share anything that is more anecdotal in nature, I will state that upfront. No fake news – Girl Scout promise.

*For those of you who are interested, I have included details about my health journey in my next post.