I wrote this article on my Forbes Blog.
Like most of you, I have attempted to participate in all sorts of 21 day, 3 month, 8 week-long programs in order to lose my muffin top, build muscles, increase memory, detox…you name it. I have never completed a single challenge. I get about half way through and then just get bored or can’t keep up with the complicated daily routine or it’s tailored to an eating program or workout that doesn’t fit my lifestyle.
In December of last year I got to thinking: why do I have to follow someone else’s program? We are all unique so why are there so many one-size fits all programs? Why don’t I figure out what I WANT to do and customize it to me. Crazy, I know.
My motivation stemmed from last year, 2013 was a really tough year for me and I felt burnt out for most of it. 2014 is my year to focus on mental health and balance. I wanted to figure out how to be more in the present instead of always thinking ahead and all the many things I needed to get done, reduce stress that was causing shoulder and neck pain and be the easy going person that I preferred.
- The mind and body are connected so I wanted to develop a program that combined the two.
- One month seemed to be just enough time to get into a routine, but not too much time to become miserable if the program wasn’t working well for me. Allowing for adjustments seemed critical to success if I planned to continue after the first month.
- I needed a routine that was flexible time-wise, could travel with me and didn’t require a lot of equipment.
- Yoga – at least 15 minutes
- Meditation – at least 10 minutes
- Vitamins – multi-vitamin, B6, B12, Zinc, Biotin, 5-HTP, Flaxseed oil, Vitamin E, Vitamin D, liquid iron, magnesium, calcium.
- Water 8x/day (wake-up, before breakfast, before shower, enroute to work, before lunch, enroute home, before dinner, before bed)
And to top it all off, I went on a sugar detox and didn’t allow myself to eat anything with the following ingredients: refined sugar, maple syrup, agave, honey. Many people asked me about fruit, and the answer is yes, I ate fruit, lots of it. We are a vegan household and eliminating fruit is not an option. Note that I never drank juice.
I relied on a lot of mobile apps or YouTube…basically anything I could access via my iPhone or iPad.
Mindfulness Meditation – There are a variety of apps and classes to support you in pursuing a calm mind. My personal experience dictated that I was most successful and felt the best when I meditated first thing in the morning before checking my phone and the rest of my family was awake.
I finished the free 10 day program. I liked it because it helped train me to always go back to my breath when my mind wandered. They offer subscription to continue on for another 355 days.
If I really want to focus on something for the day, this app has all sorts of great topics including focus, gratitude, reduce stress and more. The free apps comes with a handful of sessions and you can subscribe to download additional sessions.
Mindfulness Meditation App
This is a no fuss app. The free version comes with a timer so if you don’t want any guidance, you can just set your alarm to the amount of time you want to practice.
Walking Meditation by Meditation Oasis
Once a week I walk to the train station at 7am and so I am able to combine walking and meditation. I started listening to Meditation Oasis podcasts years ago and really like how easy going the guide’s voice is so was OK paying 99 cents for the app.
Yoga – I’ve been practicing ashtanga yoga off and on for about 20 years but have never been consistent past a few months. I think part of the reason was having to make my way to a studio and they tend to be on the expensive side. Thankfully now there are tons of YouTube videos and apps to follow along to and so if I don’t have the time or inclination to head to class I can do it at home.
Do You Yoga
There was a 30 day challenge last year and all of the videos are available online. The instructor, Erin Motz, is adorable and easy to follow.
I have had his DVDs for a decade and have always enjoyed his easy going teaching method.
My yoga instructor is also named Tara and she runs 1 and 2 hour classes. This is an affordable option because yoga is included in my monthly membership which is much less than a yoga studio membership.
LA River Walk
There are yoga pose signs along the river and sometimes when I am walking my dog with my young son, we stop at each sign, do the pose and move onto the next one. It’s a fun family activity.
Instead of using an app, I marked on my physical calendar when I finished something for the day. There is something about making an X with a pen on paper that bring a feeling of satisfaction that a finger swipe will never bring.
I tracked my weight using the Fitbit Aria scale which I really like. It can detect me versus my husband and son and the online dashboard is comprehensive. My husband happily took my body measurements with an old fashioned tape measure. I’d like a more accurate way to do this because I’m not sure he wrapped the tape around the exact same spot each time. There are some guides online that can help.
Weight: down 5.9 pounds
Size: 2 inches off my waist (my pants fit much better!)
Jiggle test: when I walk and run my belly no longer feels like a bowl of jelly
Mental Health – I am astounded and thrilled about how good I feel. I am one of those people that boils, boils, boils and then explodes. I also tend to hone in on something that is irritating me and let it eat away at me causing me to get stressed. Mindfulness meditation is teaching me to allow thoughts to come in but to gently let them go. This practice is bleeding into my day and I think that I am just more level-headed and don’t let issues eat away at me. I am learning to be more in the present and focusing on the people I’m with and what they are saying and perhaps even interrupt less during a conversation.
Yoga – has helped me build my core, and along with meditation, I have become a better breather. I have been going to a structural body therapist and recently he focused on my ribs and diaphragm and I can breather deeper now. I learned from him that many women like myself that wear underwire bras have shallow breathing because their rib cages are being constricted. (side note: Can someone please design a bra that allows us to breathe unencumbered??). Breathing is one of the most crucial, healthy and FREE things we can do for our body and mind yet so many of us practice shallow breathing.
Vitamins – I was sick a lot last year and I thought maybe it was because I wasn’t taking my vitamins. I didn’t get sick this month, except for on one of the last days of the month I was feeling a bit rotten, but I think I was more tired than anything. I think perhaps my sugar break wasn’t so difficult because I was taking the right vitamins to eliminate any cravings – B, magnesium and zinc.
Water – I believe that because I was drinking probably closer to the amount of water that I should intake than I ever have before, that my body was functioning more smoothly. I’m sorry for the TMI here, but elimination was a heck of a lot easier and regular. I would guess that also helped with weight loss.
Sugar Break – It’s hard to say how I benefited from a sugar fast this month, but I do know that there is a link between mood and blood sugar balance so if I feel more ‘even’ then it may have had an impact in conjunction with the meditation practice. It wasn’t as hard as I thought to reduce my sugar intake. One night about 2 weeks in I had a really crazy craving for hot chocolate which was resolved by making a vegan, sugar free drink. It was delicious.
As long as I am feeling better, that is good enough for me, but it’s still always nice to see if anyone else noticed a difference. I asked my husband if he noticed any difference in my ‘tude and he said that I seem more positive, happier, I manage my anger better and my sex drive is up. Not too shabby.
If I had to choose one thing to continue with on a daily basis it would be meditation practice. It truly has helped me and I know it’s just the beginning of what I hope becomes a deeper practice. I plan to attend a weekend meditation retreat and look into joining a local mediation center.
I’d like to continue daily yoga but I would like to include bike riding so I may opt to choose either yoga or a bike ride. I continually remind myself that I can’t do it all. Regardless, I am going to ensure I practice good breathing techniques every day. When I’m feeling anxious or stressed, I pause and take 5 to 10 deep breaths and calm my mind. It really works.
I will continue to watch my sugar in-take, but Saturday is going to be the day I can drink a latte, douse my pancakes in syrup and eat a tasty cupcake. I did notice after allowing myself to eat some sugar on Saturday, Feb. 1st that I felt agitated and even irritated and anxious.
I really hate taking vitamins, so I am going to review the ones I have been taking and decide on which ones I’ll continue with. There is a wonderful interactive graph that uses scientific data to display the benefits of supplements (or lack thereof) that I have been studying and highly recommend.
If you learned anything from what I just wrote, you should now go and design your own program that is tailored just for you and what you want to accomplish. I also recommend being kind to yourself. And breathe.