Friday, December 27, 2013

Therapeutic Fitness Challenge 2014 Begins January 5

I don't know about you, but due to the hectic season I got off track with my regular exercise and I ate too many (gluten-free) cookies. I am looking forward to reestablishing my fitness routine in 2014. (Although I'd like to think I would start sooner, I'm still catching up.)

If you are someone who has difficulty exercising because of an injury or illness, I invite you to participate in my free Therapeutic Fitness Challenge. I created this program for clients who I consider "fragile," those who are particularly prone to flare ups from exercise. Based on feedback from the beta test completed in October, I have made improvements and will have the new program ready to go on January 5th.

This is a 18-day program that can be completed in three weeks, one month, or any timeframe that suits you. Each day will include three assignments that together will take from 30 to 60 minutes. The assignments will include a breathing component, a physical component, and a mental component. Like other fitness challenges it is meant to require a commitment, but unlike other programs of this sort it will not test how much you can do, but how well you can discriminate between what is good for you and what is not. The most important part of the challenge is to be consistent, devoting at least a half an hour a day to your health and learning when you need to rest.

Many of the assignments are demonstrated on a YouTube video by yours truly. They can be done in the comfort of your home at your convenience. 
There are several ways for you to participate:

  • Starting January 5th, check back here for the assignments. (Perhaps even add this blog to your website favorites.)
  • Sign up to receive email reminders. Many people in the beta test enjoyed receiving an email with an overview of the assignments and links to keep them motivated and on track. You can sign up to receive the emails daily for three weeks or every other day with the idea to complete the program in a little over a month. If you want to receive email reminders, reply to this message and let me know if you want to be on the daily or every-other-day list. If you'd like the reminders, please sign up before January 4 by sending an email to with a note about whether you'd like to get daily emails or notices every-other day.
  • If you are on Facebook, you can access links to the assignments on the Undulation Exercises page. You can ask questions there that I'll answer, and you'll also receive answers and encouragement from others taking the challenge. A link to the Facebook page is included in the upper right corner of this blog.
  • You can also recommend the program to people who know who could benefit by passing this message along to them.
There will be no charge for the program; it's free! although there will be ads on a few of the YouTube videos. I am happy to coach participants who want or need a little extra encouragement, explanation, or caution via Skype or telephone for a fee of $30 for a 15-minute consultation. I am available for TFC consultations on Mondays. If you have a structural integrator or yoga therapist near you, you could also contact them for private consultation.
I hope you enjoy participating in the TFC and that it helps you become more fit and aware of your body's needs.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Resources for Staying Fit

Stay in the moment. Stay in the game. –Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson is quickly becoming one of my favorite athletes, not just because he is leading my favorite team to a winning season, but because of his equanimity. Whether the Seahawks are winning or losing, he advises teammates and fans to stay present and focus on what’s important. This is great advice for anyone as staying fit requires staying aware of your energetic, physical, and mental states and choosing activities that are appropriate for your situation. I’ve found that traditional exercise doesn’t always fit the bill, but here are some resources that can help.

Many of the links to the Therapeutic Fitness Challenge videos will remain active on my YouTube channel. You can also buy my book, Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young Again with Undulation and CDs, Undulation Exercises, on Amazon or directly through my distributor for a super-saver, half-price discount.

Undulation Break is a computer program that reminds you to move throughout the day. You can program it to fit your schedule and also to include undulations that suit your body’s needs. Find out more at

My yoga teacher, Robin Rothenberg of Essential Yoga Therapy, has a set of yoga practices specifically designed to reduce low back pain and a very enjoyable yoga meditation CD.  
Her website also has some yoga practices, one of my favorites is one from her class for people with MS and PD.

Also, Mary Bond is a Rolfer who has taught me a lot about movement. Her DVD, Heal Your Posture, is a wonderful resource, too.

Stay aware and stay active.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Change it Up

It is raining more often now, no surprise in the Seattle area in October, and I’ve been admiring the many joggers I’ve seen who are undeterred by the fat, wet raindrops that can chase me inside. It reminds me that staying fit is as individualized as the clothes we wear.  Each person chooses what works best for her.  This is even more in my consciousness as I’ve been developing the exercises for the Therapeutic Fitness Challenge.  This program has completed its first week with 80 participants, 44 who have been consistent with the exercises. 

I know that some of the participants have to be careful to avoid neck pain and headaches.  Others can tweak the low back with seemingly innocuous movements like slightly tripping on a curb.  And a few get the unlucky trifecta of neck, low back, and knee troubles. Designing exercises that can be done by everyone is an impossible task since obviously there isn’t a one-size-fits-all exercise program.

Except that exercise can be modified.  Here’s a decision tree for how you can evaluate each exercise and determine if and how it should be changed.

Does thinking about the movement cause any twinge or hesitation? 

If so, does it cause actual pain in your system?  If so, don’t do the exercise.  Skip it and substitute something else that you know does not aggravate you.

If you question the reaction to the exercise and it is caution rather than pure resistance, try it slowly at first for just one repetition and stay aware of whether it is causing harm or not.  If it feels good keep going, but if the hesitation continues, modify the exercise further.

 Modification possibilities
  • Do it slower.  Slow movements actually recruit more core muscles.
  • Do it for less time.  You can easily fast forward the video or simply watch.  Stop when it becomes laborious.
  • Do fewer repetitions.  You don’t need to do multiples of 5 or10.  Why not 4?  Many times just doing it once or twice is the right amount.
  • Do it with less intensity, make it fun.
  • Do smaller movements.
  • Start with the idea of the suggested exercise, but let your body take over into something else that feels better.
If you think about an exercise and you feel yourself going into push mode, be just as cautious as if you hesitated to do it.  Overexertion is as often the cause of injury as is being unconscious while being active.

And, always, always, stop at the first sensation of alarm whether that is pain or just a funny feeling to evaluate how to proceed.  A mind and body that talk to each other often and kindly are better prepared to handle physical challenges than is the pair that ignores each other.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Who is Number One?

People frequently tell me that the number one reason they don’t exercise is that they are too busy. And really, with our wired, media-driven, money-conscious, demanding society, it’s easy to accept that excuse. But if you are taking the Therapeutic Fitness Challenge(TM) with me, you can’t use that excuse for the next 21 days. So where are you going to find the 30 to 60 minutes you need each day for the assignments?

How we spend our time is a reflection of our priorities.  When I chop vegetables to roast them, cook chicken with herbs grown on my deck, and pack my roasted vegetables and leftover chicken for lunch, I am expressing that fresh food is a priority in my life. Otherwise, I would get some soup or sodium-rich chicken from the store or a restaurant. I also work a lot seeing clients, writing reports and articles like this, studying, and communicating with colleagues.  My husband works 40 hours a week, no more and no less. The time spent reflects our different priorities. On the other hand, I watch less than 6 hours a week of TV (unless it is football season).   

I know women who spend over an hour a day curling or straightening their hair or applying foundation, cover-up, eyeliner, mascara, and lipstick. Then there is time we spend, unconsciously mostly, doing things that are bad for our health. For example, almost everyone I know (myself included) uses bad posture for longer than 20 minutes at a time when watching TV on the couch, or glued to the computer (guilty right now), reading, or sitting in a bucket seat during a long commute.  And my daily chocolate habit or my husband’s chip habit could easily be replaced with a healthier behavior.   

It’s ironic, because most of our time allocation does not reflect our true priorities.  My better groomed friends would all agree that their internal health is more important than their looks. And we all know that the time we’d save from eating junk food or slouching would be better spent. I could avoid gossip or spend less time on Facebook. I might need to work less or wake up earlier or, heaven forbid, wear the same clothes two days in a row to get the time I need to take care of myself.

The great thing about a fitness challenge is that it gives us incentive to make changes, some that will be transient and others that will endure.  I hope you can agree that you are number one in your life and your essence is worth some extra time.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Now Comes the Hard Part

Six weeks before my family went to Europe, my husband hurt his back at work by moving a 600-pound hoist. Six weeks after our vacation, he had back surgery. Even though he could barely stand for twelve days after the original injury, even though he limped through Rome, Germany, and England, and even though he was in pain for two solid weeks after surgery, now that he is out of pain and now that he is back to his normal activities, now comes the hard part of his recovery.

Not that pain is easy. But the harder part is changing habits and personality to prevent future injury. If Michael wants to avoid another back surgery, he must moderate his activity level and he must stop lifting very heavy things.

Ever since he was a teenager, when every summer he bucked 65-pound bales of hay high onto the back of his Dad's F-250, Michael has identified himself as strong. About a month before he hurt his back at work, he hoisted two full tanks of welding gases (140 pounds) onto the back of our truck. We had purposefully planned the transfer for when our sons were available to help, but he was impatient and did it himself.

Well, no more. The fact is that his muscles are much stronger than his intervertebral discs, and another disc could easily rupture if pressed past its tolerance.

We are only as strong as our weakest link. It is human nature to identify with our strengths rather than acknowledge perceived weakness, but when we ignore our limitations we often get hurt.

I've seen clients become injured by being too helpful. "But I knew my sister needed help painting her house, and I didn't want her to have to paint the ceiling." Others get injured by having to do it all. It's not that she did the laundry and weeded the garden and made a big dinner and spent an hour on the elliptical machine; it's that she did it all in the same day. And, of course, there are those of us who need to be busy all the time with no time for rest. Others get injured, because they can't commit to regular exercise so their weak and inflexible bodies succumb to slight insults.

We might think the behavior needs to change, but the underlying attitude must shift first. If I can accept my inherent worth without always doing something, then I can take time to rest. If Michael can scale back his personal definition of strength to 70 pounds, then he very well may keep the rest of his discs and avoid spinal fusion surgery.

The ego has little regard for the body. It is more concerned with its self-image than anything else. The hard part of recovery is keeping the ego in check, balancing strength with weakness, and accepting the frailties of being human.