Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanks for the Body

I hope you enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving! We have so much to be grateful for, it’s wonderful to have a day devoted to appreciation for our abundance.

This good fortune extends to our bodies, even though we tend to notice the wrinkles and aches more than the miraculous, coordinated functioning of multiple systems. Here’s a little meditation I try to incorporate into my life once a week. I try to connect with each part of my body as I offer it gratitude.

Breathe in. Thank-you, lungs for processing oxygen every minute, every day. I couldn’t live without you. And, heart, you beat consistently giving blood and oxygen to every cell. Arteries and veins, the highways of the body, you connect every cell to my life force. Kidneys, you purify my blood. Blood, colorful cells and plasma, giving and receiving continuously. Thank-you.

Organs. The liver, you keep me safe from toxins in a complicated process beyond my understanding. Pancreas and spleen, I don’t even know what you do, but I know it’s important and am thankful nonetheless. Stomach, intestines, gall bladder, I thank you for helping me digest nutrition from the world and eliminate what I don’t need. Skin, you protect me from the elements, keep me safe inside.

My glands: pituitary, pineal, thymus, thyroid, adrenal. You are beyond my comprehension, regulating systems without requiring my knowledge. My reproductive organs have given me my precious boys and remind me of my gender and need to slow down once a month.

My brain, a coordinator and multi-tasker. The spinal cord and nerves that run the relay to take in and disperse information. Thank-you.

Bones, strong bones, that keep me standing. I’m glad I’m not an amoeba. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and connective tissue that give me the ability to move and do.

I’m in awe of everything that makes me ME. How effortlessly all the parts work in harmony to create life. I’ll try not to take you for granted, to give you what you need, and show my appreciation.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Favorite Story

As noted in a previous article, I’ve been reading Harriet Vine’s Smart Aging and enjoying the mental fitness exercises. Just like the body, the mind can fall into a rut; exercise helps maintain top form.

Some of Dr. Vine’s assignments involve recalling pleasant memories. Not only does this access neural pathways, it sparks contentment, which is a major factor in well-being. So here’s one of my favorite stories—just for the fun of telling it. Feel free to respond with one of your fond memories by using the comments button. We can all use some heart-warming tales.

My boys were about five the last time the Mariners made a real play off run (1995?). The night the Ms lost the final game, I was teaching a class. When I came home, the boys were still awake, agitated by the events and wanting to kiss me goodnight.

“Mama, did you know that the Mariners lost?

“Yes; I heard it on the radio. Isn’t it sad?”

“Oh yes! Very sad. Even one of the Mariners was crying!” This surprised my very young men.

“Who?” I asked, incredulous.

“The bald one.”

I couldn’t believe it! “Jay Buhner was crying?!?!?!”

“No, M-o-o-o-o-m,” said with the tone of voice that conveyed I, who had been intelligent just a moment before, could be so dumb. “Not the peach-colored guy. The one with light brown skin.”

Five years old and skin was still peach, beige, light brown, and darker brown, the colors of crayons, I suppose.

People get tired of politically correct. I don’t. I wish we could all keep the open mindedness of a five-year-old, where everything hasn’t been divided into black and white yet.

P.S. Aren’t my kids cute?
P.P.S. Joey Cora was crying.
P.P.S. Please share one of your good stories.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Mind-Body Connection

Do your shoulders reach for your ears when you’re under a deadline? When you’re stuck in traffic, does your breath get shallow? Do you clamp your arms to your sides when you’re frustrated?

These are all examples of the mind-body connection in action, but you can use the connection to ease your stress, not just add to it.

Let’s take the example of being stuck in bad traffic—and late, too—a situation that always winds me up tight. Why does the breath get shallow? In stressful situations, it’s common to tighten the pelvic floor.

Try this experiment. Notice your normal, resting breath. Now tighten your pelvic floor, also called the pelvic diaphragm, by doing a Kegel. (The previous article on breathing exercises, which is just below this one, gave some good examples of how to tighten your pelvic floor.) Keep it tight and notice how each breath gets smaller. That’s because your lower diaphragm and the diaphragm that powers your lungs are functionally linked.

You can give yourself some relief by relaxing your pelvic floor when stress strikes. For me, the easiest way to do that is to use the breathing exercise noted in my previous article, where I contract the lower diaphragm to start each exhale and then let each inhale soften my belly and pelvic floor.

Emotions don’t just affect the mind. Each feeling creates a pattern in the body. Try this exercise. Think of something mildly disappointing, perhaps when a friend couldn’t meet you for lunch. Re-live the experience in your mind and let yourself feel like you did.

Notice that your body changes. Your face, throat, chest, abdomen, and limbs all respond to your feelings. Notice what happens.

Now—without changing your breathing or moving at all—try to think yourself out of disappointment. You’ll notice that you really can’t change your emotional state without also allowing your body to move out of its associated pattern. So, get up and move around to release the disappointment and move into a neutral or, better yet, a happy state.

If you stay still after unpleasant experiences, those feelings can get stuck in the body. When those experiences are repeated without counterbalancing movement, the effect on the body is dramatic. Going to the gym or yoga class after work is effective, because you shake off the emotional baggage you accumulated during the day.

Think encouraging thoughts—that certainly has been shown to improve health—but also use movement to achieve a positive mind-body connection.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Life cannot exist without breath. As our lungs inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, every cell in the body must inhale nutrients and exhale wastes. The quality of our respiratory breath affects every process in the body, down to the cellular level.

Inhale is energizing part of breath, so if you are feeling sluggish, draw in a bit more breath.

Conversely, the exhale promotes relaxation. When you're feeling stressed emphasize your out breath. Be careful not to extend the exhale too long as that can prompt anxiety, particularly if you are high strung like me.

The breath can create a wave inside the body that massages muscles from the inside out, and that's very effective. Without exaggerating, take a slightly bigger inhale and see if you can get all of your ribs to participate. First put your hands under your armpits. Can you feel the ribs move into your hands? Now feel your upper back and get your breath to move there. Take some time to work the breath between your shoulder blades and ribs, where most of us feel a lot of tension.

See if you can direct the wave to all parts of your chest, front, back, sides, top, and bottom. Then relax to let the wave travel further. Can you feel a subtle sensation inch into your pelvis and down your legs, or even down your arms and up your neck?

Here’s another valuable breathing lesson. As you inhale, let the breath gently fill your chest first then move down to soften your belly. Start each exhale with a slight contraction of your pelvic floor. (This is like a Kegel exercise. Then continue the slight contraction from your pubic bone to the navel as you exhale. With the next inhale, let your belly soften again. Continue the cycle of small contraction from the bottom up on exhale and expanding and softening from the top down on inhale.

Just five minutes a day of conscious breathing exercises will improve the baseline for your wellbeing. Here are other exercises you can try:

This site has more information about the breath process and 10 exercises:

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Age Smart

The following article was written by Harriet Vines, Ph.D., the author of Age Smart. You can view her blog at

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported September 12, 2007 that life expectancy rates in the US have reached an all-time high. According to the CDC, Americans are now living longer than ever, with those born in 2005 expected to live for nearly 78 years.

However, as Jonathan Swift observed 300 years ago, "every one desires to live long, but no one would be old." How is that possible? How do you live longer and not 'grow old'? The answer is to take control and age pro-actively. Mental fitness, coupled with a healthy lifestyle, gives you the power to shape the way you age and enjoy your retirement living.

Just as you exercise to strengthen your body's muscles to keep physically fit, you should exercise the muscles of your mind to stay mentally fit. Try this now. Look around you, and see how many red objects small enough to fit in your pocket and blue objects that are too large you can find in two minutes. There, you just strengthened your powers of observation, an important mental muscle.

Here's another fun, effective way to increase circulation to your brain. Name as many objects as you can for each of your initials, or for family members' initials, or for U.S. presidents' initials in two minutes. Next time, name countries. Do simple exercises like these whenever you have a few free minutes – waiting on a line, for the game to start or the light to change….

Your brain's job is to mind your body; your job, mind your brain. Evidence is growing that physical and mental fitness can reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. That's worth a few minutes of your time.

You can age the way you want to if you put your mind to it.

Dr. Harriet Vines is the author of Age Smart – How to Age Well, Stay Fit and Be Happy, available at book stores, online and at

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The Dangers of Flexibility

Everyone wants us to be flexible.

“It’s good for you,” they say. “You don’t want to be rigid, which can cause you to break, collapse under pressure, or get injured.”

It is better to be flexible than stiff, but stretching comes with its own set of dangers. I’ve seen plenty of people hurt by stretching incorrectly, or too much, or at the expense of other activity.

Many people are flexible to the breaking point, stretched too thin. Even though we were all taught to “go for the burn” and “to stretch until you can’t stretch any more,” all health professionals now agree that pushing that hard creates injury. You want to feel a slight pull and, with just the right amount of tension, you will feel the muscle relax. Here’s a great article:

By the way, I think the best book on this subject is Bob Anderson’s Stretching ( I also learned a lot about stretching from Sharon Butler’s Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, (

Remember, at some point a pulled rubber band will break. You don’t want that to happen to your muscles or tendons, becuase not only will it hurt, but the tear will be repaired with inflexible scar tissue.

When flexibility is put first in fitness priority, it can be counterproductive. The old adage of stretching as warm up isn’t as effective as stretching after the tissues are warmed up. Not only is the possibility of a muscle pull lower, putting tension on the muscles after activity helps the muscle and connective fibers line up so the next time you exercise, you’ll be ready sooner and have less chance of a connective tissue micro-tear.

Strength and flexibility go hand and hand. Tissues need to be strong to lengthen and in order to add strength, they need to be elastic. I’ve always had difficulty stretching my hamstrings and deep hip flexors. I started making progress with my hamstrings when my quadriceps (the opposing mucles) became stronger, and realized that my deep hip flexors, that’s the psoas and iliacus, couldn’t stretch until the opposing deep hip extensors were strong enough to put my pelvis in the correct position.

While warming up with aerobics, lifting weights, and then stretching is a well-rounded workout, it’s also possible to include activities where all three components of fitness are combined. Martial arts, dancing, volleyball, yoga, Nia, and undulation all come to mind.

It’s good to be adaptable, equally strong and flexible; to be able to bend when necessary—and, at other times, stand firm so others have the chance to be flexible, too.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Less Than Ideal Circumstances

After a week without a formal yoga practice, I sat down this morning to collect myself.

(Aside: that’s because I exercised heavily at the Nightmare at Beaver Lake where I acted 7 nights to scare 10,686 people. It was a great show sponsored by the Rotary Club of Sammamish,! All net proceeds will go toward humanitarian projects in Sammamish and worldwide.)

Two weeks ago, I had a private yoga lesson with Robin Rothenberg of The Yoga Barn ( In addition to a great set of poses that she developed just for me, she reminded me that the beginning of a good practice starts with checking in. How do I feel: physically, energetically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?

It’s clear that acting had taken its toll. Energetically I was drained. Mentally I was wired. Physically I felt good in places and was exhausted in others. As I sat and observed my state, I let my body undulate to soothe my sore spots, awaken my sleepy spots, and relax my agitated spots, which brought me even greater awareness.

I had been working in less than ideal circumstances—as had the other hundred volunteers who put on the haunted “house.” We do this a lot in life: run ourselves to the brink for a good cause. Now it’s time to regenerate.

Even though I felt I “should” do the practice that Robin created for me, I took the poses that warmed me up and added some restorative ones as well. (Check out these links on restorative poses: and

Afterwards, I felt more even physically, mentally and energetically. I also felt more centered emotionally and spiritually. I made a commitment to myself to check in often and put myself in more ideal circumstances before the runaway holiday free-for-all that will start in a few weeks.

Stay tuned for a future article about my favorite place to rejuvenate, the Olympus Spa ( I hope I can get there before Thanksgiving.