Thursday, January 29, 2009

I Almost Forgot to Breathe

If I had a New Year's resolution (which I don't) it would be to breathe more consciously. Breathing, I realize, happens whether I think about it or not. But I definitely need more of those intentional breaths, the ones that help you reduce stress, allow you to employ that "3-second rule" when you're about to do something stupid, or prevent you from becoming that mom who "losses it." (she's the mom you notice in various public places who is yelling at her kids and you think: thank goodness I'm not like that, without knowing what circumstances led to her meltdown, and then, in an act of karma, you become that same awful mother the next day or next hour).

Perhaps it was one of those episodes (maybe, maybe not, I refuse to disclose) that led me to believe I need to take time for a few extra deep breaths in my day. I've done my research. I know the benefits. I've even been a student of meditation (before kids, when daily meditating was conceivable). If only I could find more time to be still. But I have what meditators call a "Monkey Mind." It takes an inordinate amount of time to practice this stillness. If taking time for meditation, even time to breathe, were a New Year's resolution I would have failed. 

Carving out time for meditation or deep breathing seems unattainable. So then, would it be an oxymoron to try to multitask conscious breathing into my day? Well, leave it to me to try. Here are the places/times I'm going to try to take three deep breaths:

1) In the shower. Even though I feel I should strive to take shorter, water-conserving showers, I love to linger. If I had a good reason to linger, I can justify the extra time.

2) In the car after leaving preschool drop off. Getting out the door is always hectic for me. Preschoolers have absolutely NO sense of urgency. We are always late. By the time I've signed them into class I feel drained and in need of oxygen.

3) Anytime between 5 pm and 8 pm or when my husband gets home, whichever comes first. This is because "night time" mama, is a decidedly different person from "morning mama" (have you seen "United States of Tara" yet?) I am so fun, and loving and patient in the morning. My kids really like me. By nightfall, I don't even like me. I'm hoping I might literally be able to breathe new life into me.

Can I do it? Can I make deep and conscious breathing a habit? I'm going to multi-task my way toward it. And then I'm going to take the next step to make time for silence, like Miz Fit suggested on Monday.

Do you take time for a few deep breaths everyday? And if you're a meditating mama, let us know your secret for success so I can get around to taming that Monkey Mind of mine.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mama Sweat Mantra

Repeat after me:

The workout you gain by rising early is more valuable than the snatch of sleep you lose.

Sure, getting out of bed after a dastardly alarm jolts you from deep sleep isn't easy. If you're anything like me you start making deals with your sleepy self (and your sleepy self is a horrible negotiator). You automatically hit snooze and start refiguring your day so you can work out later. If you're lucid enough you realize "later" is a mirage--the puddle of water that remains out of reach. Later, as we all know, is vulnerable to exercise hijackers. But the dream was so good, right? You just want to see what happens next, or sort out the strangeness (why, exactly would I be floating on a raft with Workout Partner Pam in San Francisco Bay with all of my children and her children and the dog in search of a bar?) It takes fortitude to leave the dream and the warm covers behind. But the thing is, if you stay, and you get maybe an extra hour of sleep, is it worth it? You may be better off finding time for a Power Nap. Among the things you'll learn by clicking on that link: "studies show that 20 minutes of sleep in the afternoon provides more rest than 20 minutes of more sleep in the morning." So there you have it, scientific research to support a nap. (There is also such a thing as "nap hijackers" so be vigilant.)

One more time with me now:

The workout you gain by rising early is more valuable than the snatch of sleep you lose.

If you still need help following through, may I suggest:

1) Get a workout partner. You have to be a real turd to stand up a friend at 5:30 a.m. This will get you up and moving and then, as a bonus, you have someone available to analyze your weird dreams. Sometimes their physical presence isn't necessary. Commit with a friend to workout at the same time, even if they live 1000 miles away. That's what the Internet is for!

2) Commit to a class. Even if you don't know a soul in the fitness class, you have a time, date and place to "be." This can be sufficient enough to light a fire under your comforter. And, if you become a regular, you can convince yourself that the teacher is expecting you (even if they're not, but sometimes they are and this is even better for your compliance).

3) Plan your workout the night before. If you don't have a friend or a class to keep you accountable, you can be accountable to yourself if you have a plan. I know if I'm laying there in bed and have to start thinking about what kind of workout I plan to do, nothing will sound appealing. But, once my alarm rings if I can start focusing on my workout plan I'm more likely to transition from dream state to sweat state.

4) Have children with an uncanny ability to wake you up 30, 45, or 60 minutes before your scheduled alarm. You're up anyway. Might as well work out.

So one last time:

The workout you gain by rising early is more valuable than the snatch of sleep you lose.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Did your kids exercise today?

Did you know that current exercise guidelines for children recommend one hour of exercise a day? I don't know about you, but as a parent--a parent who makes fitness a priority--this stresses me out just a little. Honestly, my first thought is: Fitting in my own daily exercise is a challenge and now I'm supposed to worry about them, too? 

If this were summer, I wouldn't be stressed about this at all. My children easily get an hour of daily exercise and surely more. But in the winter, in Minnesota, it can be more challenging.

Today, my goal was to ensure my children got their hour.

At preschool today, with temperatures in the upper 20s and abundant sunshine, surely they'd go out, right? Wrong. I'm disappointed that the preschool I otherwise love doesn't place a premium on outdoor playtime. But that is a blog for a different day.

Next we were off to the gym so at least mom could cross exercise off her own list. The childcare center has a great maze of slides and tunnels. A few laps around that thing and they were sure to get their hearts pumping. "Make sure you play in the slides," I said as I kissed them good-bye. When I returned two hours later they were sitting about three feet away from the big screen television watching Dora. "Did you play in the slides?" I asked, hopeful. Sadly, they didn't. For whatever reason, the slides weren't open.

So the hour of exercise fell back on me. Ultimately, like everything you want for your child, it always does. We have to be vigilant. Healthy food, good manners, adequate sleep, education, exercise, you name it. Whatever it is you value for your child, you've got to ensure they live those values.

So, after arriving home from the gym we pulled on our snow suits and went outside to continue construction on the snow fort in our front yard. We've had enough of snowmen this winter. We've definitely moved on to bigger things. The fort includes chairs, a slide down the front, now a path around the perimeter and, according to the girls a "potty." (To be clear, I never saw anyone drop their snowsuit.) More importantly we spent well over an hour outside engaged in physical activity. And you know what? It wasn't stressful at all.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Dwindling Exercise Options

You don't have to be 35 weeks pregnant to experience the frustration of limited mobility. If you've ever had an injury that required you to search for other ways to workout without compromising your ailing body then you can relate.

This morning's 5:30 a.m. cycle class didn't go so well. Despite the enormous gel-padded seat cover (should I just walk in with a sign announcing my butt hurts?), I was still rather uncomfortable. Even when the handlebars are positioned as high as possible, I can hardly breath if I'm holding on to them. My knees bump my belly, or they splay out to the sides and I look like the Wicked Witch of the West riding her bike in Wizard of Oz. 

Over the last few months I've been modifying my workouts as necessary. I've found a great prenatal yoga class to replace fitness yoga. I've suspended running for the elliptical machine and I've moved walking to the pool. I had to give up the rowing machine and kickboxing. I had a good run with modern dance, but I'm no longer light on my feet. So far I can still make it to barbell strength class (although I admit to going to the more "kinder gentler" instructor). I'm truly at peace with all of these changes, despite the fact my options are dwindling.

The only available modification for the cycle class is to switch to riding a recumbent bike. Before leaving the gym this morning I gave it a whirl. Oh yeah, my butt was happy. My stomach was not in the way of my knees. I could pedal and breathe. There's just one small issue: my ego.

I really hate admitting this because I'm the sort who doesn't poo-poo any physical activity. I'm the one who heralds vacuuming as a legitimate workout. I tell moms all the time that a walk to the park with kids, "counts." I never want to discourage anyone from working up a sweat. However people choose to move is "worthy." Can I swallow my own advice? I couldn't help but notice I was the only person on the row of recumbent bikes. I just felt so... lame.

Next week I'm going to ride that recumbent bike anyway. I'm going to walk the talk and take my own fit pregnancy advice (especially point #2--Don't be a martyr: modify). To top it off, I need a reason to get to the gym at 5:30 on Monday mornings. Pregnancies end. Injuries heal. I can hear my mother telling me, "You can do anything for a month." 

Anyone out there care to share your favorite end-of-pregnancy workouts with me? Don't bother with "curl up in a ball under a warm blanket for long periods of deep breathing," I have that one covered.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Beware: Exercise Hijackers on the Loose

Photo curtesy of ChezMichelle's photos.

My workout got hijacked yesterday. 

The first hijacker showed up as I was drinking my coffee and scanning the newspaper and catching up with my favorite bloggers. Because I was moving so slowing the hijacker found it rather easy to overtake me. My children were in no position to rescue me either, ensconced with their new "car city" playing "traffic." They did not need me for hours, therefore, how could they know mom was struggling to escape to the gym for that 9:30 a.m. cycle class?

Could I escape for 11 a.m. yoga?

The second hijacker put me to work on a task I had no intent on tackling that day. This hijacker forced me to clean out the boxes and caddies and other receptacles filled with copious amounts of art supplies. Appealing to my instinct to nest, I was obliged to throw out old paint, broken crayons, dried out markers, used up coloring books. Consolidate, condense, create space. Ahhhh. It was awful and yet I felt grateful to my attacker. It was so good in a bad way.

I could always sneak away to the gym in the afternoon. 

The next hijacker employed stay-at-home-mother tactics, making my children accomplices. With every "project" spread out on the kitchen table before finding its proper place, naturally we had to play with it first: The undried out paint; the modeling clay, the stickers, the paper dolls. Mommy read stories, made lunch and discovered she was weak and delusional from pretending to home school. The hijacker forced me upstairs and tied me down for as long as my children watched a Charlie Brown cartoon.

Hurry! Get up! Run to the basement! Who would notice if I squeezed in a quick hour of yoga?

But the basement had Christmas decorations that needed to be boxed up. Then there was the matter of returning the favor of a "play date" for a neighbor (the one who so graciously took in my kids last week while I was preoccupied with staring at the porcelain in my bathroom). Trash pick up was tomorrow. I needed to collect the trash, put out the recycling. I needed to assemble the girls' lunches for school tomorrow. I needed to find a sitter for next week. I needed to make my next prenatal appointment. And wouldn't it be nice if I cooked dinner? 

The hijackers didn't even let me watch Oprah.

They are so mean.

But wimpy. Apparently it was too cold for the hijackers to stick around. It's -24 degrees here today. That's not the wind chill. That's the real temperature. One more time just in case you missed it: NEGATIVE TWENTY FOUR DEGREES. Preschool was cancelled today. We are free to go to the gym! We will be the family wearing ski masks on a mission to hijack my procrastination.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Clear-cut Competition (When Pregnant)

Photo courtesy of Jof's photostream at Creative Commons
Good thing because I would never think to take this photo myself.

True story. Whenever I go to the doctor and have to pee in a cup I pride myself on having the clearest urine in the lab. I don't consider myself seriously competitive--just slightly--but when I became pregnant the first time, after 10 years of road races and triathlons, I had to find small ways to compete. You can't go from finishing an Ironman Triathlon to becoming pregnant with twins in the same year without, um how shall I put it... filling the void.

And so with my first pregnancy, and the next, and this one, each time I provide a urine sample and place it in the little door for the lab technician to retrieve and scrutinize--for things like bacteria and protein, not clarity I realize--I take a certain amount of pride when there are other samples waiting, that mine is always the clearest of the crop. (And I can't help but get a little self-righteous about it too: Do these people drink water? What kind of sludge makes urine that color?)

Friday ended my streak. First let me explain (this is what athletes do when they've not had the stellar outcome they expected; they start with all the reasons their race could not have ended the way they hoped). 

I came face to porcelain with a stomach bug last week (in the process I discovered that you cannot barf a baby). I spent several days eating nothing to very little, and tried desperately to keep down liquids. By Friday morning, I was onto my second real meal and thought it might be wise to start taking a multi-vitamin again. In the chaos of trying to pack up three kids to join me at my midwife appointment (no sitter, one slammed finger in the bathroom door and a minor battle over appropriate shoes) I forgot to bring a water bottle along for the road. Come to think of it, after walking the dog that morning, a partial yoga tape, making pancakes for the girls (and me, who am I kidding, I was ravenous by then)... I don't recall drinking anything but a cup of hot tea.

But I thought nothing of it. Until my midwife reminded me to leave a "sample" before I left. (Cue music from shower scene in "Psycho.") 

I lifted the clear plastic vial to my face for closer inspection. I was horrified. To make matters worse, I had an audience. Three sets of eyeballs were huddled around me transfixed on the little cup.

"Ewwwww gwoss!" Said my little one.

"Momma, why is yo pee pee ownge?" Asked K. 
(Translation: Mother dear, why is your urine the color of canned pumpkin?)

Then Mc added somewhat haughtily, down-right self-righteous: "Our pee pee is yellow!"

I wanted a do-over. I wanted to find the nearest water fountain and guzzle for 20 minutes. I thought we could hang in the waiting room for another hour and then I could provide a new sample, something that looked more like diluted lemonade.

Instead I had to admit defeat. I capped the vial and attached my sticker, which I could only do after drying off the outside of the cup. I don't know which is more humiliating: my viscous urine or the fact I can't follow the instructions to stop my urine midstream before capturing it in the vial. Can any woman with the equivalent of a pineapple sitting on her bladder stop her urine midstream? 

What can an athlete do but try harder next time? I'll be sure to stay hydrated. And now I have a new contest: not only provide the clearest sample, but to do it without peeing all over the cup. All in the spirit of competition. Humor me. I need a finish line.  

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Real Conversation at My Dinner Table

A Creative Commons photo taken by Mene Tekel.

Kid: "Mom, can we have the gummy bear vitamins?"

Me: "Sure... [is this an opportunity for meal manipulation?] You need to eat your dinner first."

Kid: "OK. Have I had a good dinner?"

Me: "How about you finish your carrots and eat one more bite of chicken."

Kid: "I don't want anymore chicken."

Me: "I guess you don't need those gummy bear vitamins." [Am I seriously bribing my children with vitamins?]

Kid: "Actually, I like this chicken," she says finishing it up.

So I dole out two measly gummy bear vitamins per kid and they are thrilled. No one asked for a "treat" after their meal. 

Feeling brilliant. Just wondering what the maximum intake of gummy bear vitamins is per day.

Monday, January 5, 2009

If the President-elect can find time to exercise, so can you!

Apparently President-elect Obama did three pull ups as Time photog Callie Shell took this photo of him. How many pull ups can you do?

We are five days into 2009 and I'm going to skip the conversation about resolutions. I'm quite certain that you are already making a habit of good health and are continually pondering how to live your best life throughout the year, not just on January 1st. 

But I am going to pause for awhile on the topic of making fitness a priority, even if everyone reading this is in the proverbial choir. Most of us are moms and dads (I know you guys are reading too) juggling work, family and various obligations. Recently a busy professional and empty nester said he didn't have time to exercise. I had a great response: "If the president-elect can find time to exercise, so can you."

If you didn't see this Washington Post article, As Duties Weigh Obama Down His Faith in Fitness Increases, definitely take a minute to read it. One quote from the article says this about our incoming president: "He doesn't think of it as something he has to do -- it's his time for himself, a chance for him to reflect. It's his break. He feels better and more revved up after he gets in his workout."

I relate completely. Don't you? And I think those reasons are valid whether you're chief engineer of your household or commander in chief of the country.

One thing Obama has done very well is set the expectation for those around him that exercise is a priority and will be part of his daily schedule. In this way you never have to explain yourself or feel bad about taking the time to exercise. Your spouse, your children, your extended family, your co-workers and friends all need to know that you will be fitting fitness into your day. It doesn't mean that other obligations in your life are less important. Taking time for a workout doesn't diminish what else you have going on; instead the workout is necessary to elevate yourself to be more productive, competent, perhaps even a nicer person (I heard one mom say she tells her children, "only the nice mommies run").

While I'm delighted our next president is so passionate about fitness I'm equally happy to know First Mama Michelle makes exercise a priority as well. From my cursory web search I discovered she hits the gym for about 90 minutes three times a week. She also strikes me as naturally athletic--someone who could show up at a 5K, crush the field, and walk away with her trophy while shrugging her shoulders looking almost apologetic about it exclaiming, "I had no idea I could run that fast!" You know someone like that, right? 

So, in addition to setting up the expectation for fitness, the other enabling fit quality the First Couple employ is consistency. Fitness doesn't happen only when they "have time" for it. Exercise is part of their routine (and typically their morning routine). We all have plenty of "other" things we could be doing, but when exercise is already factored in, those other things happen before or after that workout. I don't know how it works (endorphins, quantum physics, magic?), but exercise does free up the energy to make time for everything else that must get done in our life. 

I know Barack Obama isn't the first fit president to enter the White House, but I'm glad to see that his wife is living a fit lifestyle, too. As the First Fit Family they make great role models for their daughters as well as the citizens they serve. The Obamas make it more difficult for busy parents to make excuses to skip a workout. 

I don't have the desire to attend an inaugural ball, but wouldn't I love to be in on one of those inaugural workouts! Could you out sprint the incoming president? Could you arm wrestle Michelle Obama and win? Along with the President's weekly address, don't you think the Obamas should post their workouts?