Gardening Picture

Since I moved to Southern California, I have been astounded by the small amount of time people spend outside. This is especially puzzling given that we have one of the most perfect climates on earth. It is a gardener’s dream.

Why not enjoy this marvelous weather and the beautiful vegetation it allows? I want to appreciate it every time I step out of my house. Having grown up in Minneapolis, the prospect of sipping morning coffee out on the patio amid blooming flowers year round makes this place seem like paradise. I want a yard that invites this. And now I have one. But this wasn’t the case last spring.

Since we got a dog a few years before, our yard had become a bit of an embarrassment.

I didn’t expect the Gardens of Versailles. But I needed something more than this dry dirt wasteland … whose only signs of life were random patches of grass, weeds and dog poop, decorated by naked wicker furniture whose cushions were long before devoured by Winston, our big yellow dog.

Even Winston went out there as little as possible. When the poor pooch doesn’t want to go out in the yard it’s time to take some action. So step-by-step, my husband and I started the dreaded project of rehabilitating the yard.

First came the removal of several trees that were so misplaced and overgrown that they threatened to uproot not only the patio, but the house’s actual foundation. Then came the laying of sod. After some tiring weeks of watering by hose, we fixed the built-in sprinklers. Yeah! I knew my time was worth more than functioning as a human irrigation system. The grass was taking root and staying green. Before long it was looking almost respectable.

That’s when I got invested in creating beauty.

I began pulling out the weeds in the many overgrown flowerbeds lining the periphery of the entire property. What an amazing workout – I decided an afternoon of gardening was no easier than a five mile run. The results were immediate and visible – a parcel of earth ready to be cultivated. I found muscles I didn’t know I had; it was such satisfying labor.

I went to sleep visualizing my budding oasis. I imagined the glory of an array of plants and flowers. I daydreamed about transforming the existing but long neglected citrus trees, and considered even putting in a vegetable garden. Oh the possibilities! My dinner table would be adorned with freshly cut day lillies. I could cook delicious meals from tender fruits, savory herbs, and heart healthy vegetables harvested from my own backyard. This was part of the California dream I anticipated when we moved here years ago.

The momentum of getting started, combined with the dramatic results of making the most basic changes, fueled my energy to create something wonderful. That’s when the fun started.

I found myself researching the best options for our climate, soil, and light conditions. I discovered the wonder of Pinterest. The Internet served as my endless source of botanical brilliance. Visiting garden stores became play. (And I won’t lie, a bit expensive). Digging my hands deep into the cool soil felt soul nourishing. I was as happy as a barefoot child in summer. Even pulling out the clumps of weeds provided a grueling satisfaction.

Then came the planting.

The tender placing of each little life in the ground and watching it grow was captivating. I included flowers for big showy color like bougainvillea, mandevilla, impatiens, geraniums, and petunias. Between the perennials and the bulbs like daffodils, calla lilly, and tulips I could expect year-round splendor. The borders would become lush with sweet white alyssum and green ivy. Even the shady spaces below the lemon, orange, peach, and lime trees would eventually be covered in periwinkle. I went wild with succulents and put mixed varieties in various pots.

I was proud to greet every visitor to my fertile sanctuary. I found myself asking a friend, “Won’t you come and have tea in my garden?” Making unexpected spots pretty through use of contrasting and complimentary form, color, and texture made me feel like an artist.

The hours flew by – I was in “flow”.

Each day’s pleasure was only softened by bits of grief I felt when one of my little ones didn’t make it. Yet, even this loss was overcome by learning what change I must make in my method. I also discovered the process of propagation. Now I was generating my own plants rather than merely buying them. This suited my thrifty nature.

My husband built an impressive raised vegetable garden producing a bounty of tomatoes, lettuce, carrots, spinach, kale and peppers. I watched him oversee his miniature crop with the commitment and concern of a Midwest farmer.

Every morning I woke up eager to go out and weed, water, and tend. I sprung out of bed on a mission. At the end of the day I strolled around it and let myself pause for a while – simply to be present and appreciate. With nothing short of love, I watched it flourish. Sitting in my garden I felt fulfilled and connected.

Carefully observing any signs of too much water, not enough light, or the threat of a weed satisfied my need to take care of something. I wasn’t just a gardener, I was a caretaker and protector – a giver of life. Not unlike being a mom. How surprising that tending and toiling in my humble little yard taught me how essential it is for me to invest in reproducing and sustaining life. It is primal.

Gardening made me realize my powerful need for an outlet for my nurturing instinct at this “empty nest” time in my life. Since the children went off to college and became busy with their own lives, supporting the development of other living things satisfies a deep desire. Cultivating my garden provided that. This is grace.

 

 

 

Yesterday I ran the Fontana Half-Marathon …

Lisa finishing Fontana Half-Marathon

… and I’m feeling a wonderful post-race confidence and well being that running always brings me. Back in March, I wrote the below article to be published in the Chino Hills Life Magazine. But before it went to print, they went out of business! Since running is my favorite wellness activity, what better place to post it than on beingwellstayingwell.com ? This story is dedicated to my amazing running friends at the Inland Empire Running Club.

 

Nobody Walks in LA -They RUN! 

IERC Members Conquer the LA Marathon

March 8 was a big day for running in Los Angeles. Twenty-five thousand people ran the 29th Annual Los Angeles Marathon. The Inland Empire Running Club (IERC) had a strong showing with 190 members finishing. The following Saturday the club met at Butterfield Ranch Park in Chino Hills for a short “victory run” and post race celebration. They ate, laughed, showed off their medals, and shared some astounding stories.

Jim, an experienced runner, describes how he stood at the starting line filled with adrenaline and determination. He was boxed in among 25,000 runners – each psyching themselves up to accomplish one of the great challenges of life: running a 26.2 mile marathon.

The song “I love LA” boomed from gargantuan speakers as the announcer began the countdown. The crowd emitted an unquenchable energy to conquer the goal for which they had each spent long months preparing.

Like every other runner, Jim would fight battles of both body and mind. Like every successful runner, he would rely on his inner resources to overcome them.

That day, every runner contended with fatigue, muscle soreness, cramps, and lactic acid build-up, not to mention the effects of the temperature soaring to 85 degrees. The mental battlefield was equally grueling: self-doubt, negative thoughts, and what-ifs.

Perhaps the most heinous obstacle of all is what the marathon is famous for: “the wall.” Runners hit the wall, (or “bonk”) when around mile 20, the mind and body challenges converge … all the body’s reserves have been used up, and the runner continues by sheer force of will.

For Jim, mile 9 started to feel like the wall as he forged up the hill near Veteran’s Hospital under the blazing sun.

Suddenly he saw a giant screen flashing a larger-than-life photo of him with the words, “Run like Jim!” He laughed, recognizing it as a pre-planned loving gesture by his sister-in-law and fellow runner, Angela.

Jim and Angela pic

Angela and Jim

“Going up that hill, I was struggling and in pain; that sign kept me going. It motivated me.”

Michelle, another IERC member, beams with a mother’s pride as she tells her story of running the LA Marathon with her entire family. For six months, Michelle, her husband Scott, their 21 year-old son Zac, and their 20 year-old daughter Amanda trained for this event. She explains – with a spunky joy – what running together has meant to her family.

Applegate pic

The Applegate family

Parents often find it hard to get kids to commit to anything for more than a day. But my kids showed up every week to complete the long training run. They did the weekday sessions too. We’ve always been a close family. Now we have so many great running stories to share.”

Jackie, another IERC member, relates how running has been a means of transforming her life and health. She posts pictures of her three LA Marathons on Facebook to illustrate the emergence of her healthiest self.

Sometimes you get so busy thinking about how far you have to go, that you forget about how far you have come. It was not until I compared my photos and race times that I recognized my success.”

For this race, her third LA Marathon, she was 20 pounds lighter and one hour faster than she was for her first.

Jacky pic

Jacky as IERC pace leader

“The most I did in high school was marching band. I weighed 210 pounds. Then I heard I could run through Disneyland and get a medal! I decided at that point to run a half-marathon. My mom brought me to IERC three years ago, and I’m still making progress.”

Jackie looks fit and fantastic, and more importantly, she feels unstoppable. She now volunteers as a pace leader in the club, assisting other runners in accomplishing their goals.

With plucky conviction, Jackie shares what she has learned along her running journey. “Losing weight makes me go faster … and going faster makes me lose weight. Running helps me eat healthy because food is my fuel, and I want to feel good on my runs. Food is not the reward – the finish line is the reward.” Lowering her voice, she confesses, “But after the LA Marathon, I let myself have a burger and fries.”

“One more thing,” she says, eager to be an effective role model, “If you don’t change your habits you will never see changes in your body.”

Perhaps IERC member Victoria’s comments best sum it up: “This was my first marathon. It was so hard and it hurt. But my confidence was through the roof this week. I plan to do it again.”

Julesha, another IERC member adds, “Pain is temporary … pride is forever.”

Standing before the diverse and invigorated group – who have become like family to each other – IERC President David concludes the storytelling session with a probing question, “So … what’s next?”

IERC LA Marathon Logo

Symbiosis

After the worst drought Southern California has had on record, our elusive wet friend has finally arrived. The precious rain came with a stormy ferocity – thrilling the farmers, confounding the commuters, and inciting the news teams.

I personally welcomed it by taking a four-mile run in the morning downpour with my yellow Lab Winston. Even though I was getting soaked to the bone I felt exhilarated … strengthened … refreshed. Judging by Winston’s jaunty gait and wagging tail, he also found it heavenly. For me, running has always been a source of replenishment; the rain was not going to stop me. And Winston? He was born for the water.

But, regardless of whether we take pleasure in the precipitation or consider it a nuisance, there is no denying one fact: rain is essential for renewing life.

As spring arrives, we think not only of April showers, we think of growth, rebirth, and restoration. As the rains enriched our parched land, I encourage you to ask yourself a few key questions: Has my life become a little dry? Could I use a fresh source of nourishment? What might I do this season to promote personal renewal?

Parched

There is no better time than Spring for growth. Consider the many aspects of yourself that may need recharging: the social, physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual. Try focusing on one key domain that could use some revitalization. (To explore further see my October, 2013 post Keeping Your Balance with a Wellness Wheel). Write down a few steps you can take to bolster that area. Start today. 

One area that most of us would benefit from stimulating is our physical health. How about focusing on getting more exercise, or even just incorporating more movement into your day? This will also have a reviving impact on other life areas.

In his new book Eat, Move, Sleep, author Tom Rath suggests, with research to back it up, that increasing the amount you move each day will have a powerful effect on your mood, risk of disease, cognitive functioning, and energy level. It will even make you live longer.

He describes how our ancestors had a physical way of life that supported greater health. Daily survival required them to expend a body-enriching amount of energy. They spent most of every day moving about on foot, without the “benefit” of state-of-the-art conveniences and technology. But us moderns spend more time sitting down than sleeping. This is terribly damaging to the human body. Obesity, heart disease, and diabetes are but a few of the consequences. Isn’t it a sad paradox that our “advancements” have inadvertently set us back?

You can make changes today to counteract this problem of a dangerously sedentary lifestyle. Start moving more. Expend more energy to have more energy.

Rath offers a number of helpful ideas. During your workday – about every 30 minutes – get up and stretch, walk around, and perhaps step outside. If you find it helpful, set your smart phone timer to prompt you. This movement will enhance your productivity, brighten your mood, and help your body deal with the demands of hours of sitting in an office.

I have incorporated Rath’s advice into my workday in the last few weeks. Getting up from my desk and walking around the office, as well as taking a few minutes in the morning and the afternoon to do some stretches has made me more relaxed and efficient. I have felt less fatigued and more energetic when I leave work. This new habit, among others, has been like a delightful spring shower – just the kind of renewal I needed.

Tulips

“I want to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”  (John O’Donahue, Irish Poet)

 

 

Jeannine and Reggie

Jeannine and Reggie

Starting at the Finish Line:

One woman’s triumphant journey from disabling illness to half-marathon runner

If you met my friend Jeannine, you would like her. She is one of those gracious people that seems naturally friendly, naturally smart, naturally kind, naturally strong. If you met her at the Inland Empire Running Club (IERC), you would also guess that she was a natural born runner. During the workweek, she fastidiously follows the training plan set forth by Reggie, her Boston Marathon runner-husband. This is after teaching science to junior high students all day.

In the last two years she has run seven half-marathons and has achieved a “PR” (personal record) every time. You may be starting to think, “Well, it’s easy for people like that.” Well, let me tell you something about Jeannine you would never guess if you met her. Just three years ago, she suffered from an illness that nearly destroyed her life.

What started as sore muscles and joint pain soon turned into an illness that left her bedridden, burning with fever, unable to eat, frightfully thin, dehydrated, with barely the energy to speak. In her words, “I was literally molting; my hair fell out and my skin fell off!”

She had to take a leave from her teaching job, let her husband take care of the kids and the house, and allow her mother to move in to care for her. At one point, her daughter asked, “Is Mama going to die?” Day after day, leaning on her husband’s arm, she hobbled into dozens of doctor’s appointments seeking a diagnosis for her ailment. It took months for the team of specialists to determine that it was “Stills Disease,” an autoimmune disorder that is often life-long and permanently disabling.

When the mysterious malady was finally labeled, the proper treatment could be administered.  This led to slow but steady progress. Before long Jeannine could leave the house and do short errands. Mustering up her strength, she pushed herself toward a small goal: to greet Reggie at the finish line when he ran the San Diego Marathon.

She explains, “I was in so much pain that day – as I approached him, I nearly stumbled. I had only left the hospital two weeks prior.”

Then she saw something that changed her life: the San Diego sun beaming on a throng of people: black, brown, yellow, white; they were young and old, thick and thin, male and female, perfect form and pitiable form – every one of them finishing the race. As she moved through the dizzying mob of fatigued but ebullient runners, each drenched in sweat and smiles as they approached the finish … Jeannine had an epiphany:

“In one year I will complete the half-marathon race – running, walking, or crawling … I will cross this finish line.”

Preparing for that half-marathon became the cornerstone of her recovery. It took five months for her to be able to walk even a mile. But, one step at a time, she worked her way up to several miles. It hurt and she was tired, but she kept on going. She was determined to get healthy enough to accomplish her goal. Over a period of months she strengthened, eventually able to walk 5, then 7, and finally 9 miles through her Chino Hills community.

Jeannine explains, “Pretty soon walking 9 miles got boring, so I started jogging – just a little bit.” It was February – the race was only four months away. She had never entered races before, and certainly never considered herself “a runner.” Her husband asked her repeatedly to come join him at IERC. When he explained that they have walkers who complete races, Jeannine reluctantly agreed.

Reggie reports, “I knew she would finish the race. And I also knew she would not walk; she would run.”

Jeannine showed up at IERC the next Saturday morning and found herself amongst kind and helpful people, all eager to support her success. She was embraced by her walk/run pace leader, Lizette, now a dear friend. With her new group of allies, Jeannine painstakingly prepared for victory – over the wretched illness and over the 13.1 mile race.

On race day there was no surprise. Jeannine completed the distance, finishing strong. She not only ran it, she crossed the finish line hand-in-hand with Reggie.

Two years later Jeannine and I are sipping coffee at Starbucks. We discuss the pain and the pleasure of running and what it has done to enhance our lives. Her smile is wide and she radiates health. Looking gorgeously fit, she may be in the best shape of her life (certainly the best shape of anyone in that Starbucks). Grasping for the right words to describe her process, she makes a teacherly gesture with her thumb and forefinger. Thoughtfully, she tells me,

“When I first start each run, I don’t want to move – my muscles are tight and my knees ache. Eventually my legs warm up, the pain is gone, and I can pick up my speed. What keeps me going? Knowing the pain is temporary. It won’t keep feeling like this. Even though it is intense and you don’t think you can endure, if you keep going, you get through it. And then somehow, it’s an important and meaningful part of you.  I guess now, I can call myself a runner. That’s how life is.”

If you like the support of a group, you can visit IERC on a Saturday morning in Chino Hills at Butterfield Ranch Elementary School at 7:00 am. For more information regarding IERC, check out our website at ierunningclub.com , visit our Facebook page, or write to us at info@ierunningclub.com .

*This article was first published in Chino Hills Life Magazine (Hibu company).

Lisa & Jeannine

Jeannine and Lisa after the Surf-City Half-Marathon

Reggie, Jeannine, Lisa

Lisa, Reggie, and Jeannine after running the Surf City Half-Marathon

 

Now that I have been blogging for nearly a year, I guess I can be honest with you about one more thing: I have serious food issues. This will be no surprise to my colleagues who witness me foraging through their desktop candy dishes for late afternoon chocolate fixes. It’s probably obvious to anyone who knows me: food and body image have been core struggles of mine since puberty. My deepest fear is not flying, earthquakes, abandonment, disfigurement, death, or even damnation. My biggest fear is getting fat.

A rational person could point out, that since I am so obsessed and hyper-vigilant about my food intake and exercise output, serious weight gain seems highly unlikely. But in this one area, I admit, I am not rational.

The strange part is, I have always been pretty close to what the medical charts say is my “ideal weight.” But, paradoxically, I have usually lived far outside of my “ideal body image.” My concept of my body size is a pretty good barometer for my mood. If I feel crummy, it typically means “I feel fat.” If I feel great, you guessed it, “I feel thin.” But I am actually usually at the same weight, despite these divergent feelings and discordant self-concepts. I know it sounds completely crazy … can anyone identify with this?

I can’t stop evaluating my size, weight, and fat content. I am on a constant and vigilant search to determine whether I have gotten fatter or thinner since yesterday. And trying to account for salt intake? That takes it to an impossible level of analysis. Each angle, article of clothing, or change of lighting brings the prospect of revealing whether indeed I am fatter or thinner. This is a never-ending source of self-satisfaction or misery.

I find myself assessing the quality of any day by the number of calories I consumed (e.g. less calories = better day). And, believe me, it is usually too many. Thank goodness I am so diligent with exercise or I would be as big as a house. It is absurd, I know. It’s self-defeating, irrational, unhealthy, perhaps misogynistic, and certainly vain. But I can’t seem to stop!

My desperate goal is always this: to lose 10 pounds. That’s it. That is the source of my unhappiness. Ten fricking pounds! Why can’t I let this go?

I am hesitant to continue on this subject. It’s grueling to write about something that I don’t feel any mastery over. I find myself in a daily battle with my weight and body image – seriously, right now I can quote to you the caloric content of every morsel I have eaten today.

The topic of women and weight is so emotionally charged, so politicized, so fraught with potential for misunderstanding. Will overweight women hate me for being so self-obsessed and neurotic when I am actually NOT FAT? Will goal-oriented fitness buffs discount me as a low-self-esteem wreck? Will Birkenstock-clad make-up free therapists shake their heads in dismay? At age 48 and out of the dating pool for almost three decades, shouldn’t I be, well, over this? Perhaps the malevolent face of Madison Avenue notions of feminine beauty smiles at my distress.

I learned years ago to adopt a mindset of “What other people think of me is none of my business.” But this weight issue is more about what I think of myself, and that’s where I get stuck. It seems to me there are two choices: accept how I am, embrace it, and be happy. Or, decide to make a change, apply my best effort, and achieve it, like I would any other life goal. Why is this so hard?

The weight fixation actually gets more intense and obsessive when my stress level is up. But that is precisely when my desire to eat everything in sight ratchets up as well. It creates a ridiculous kind of push-me-pull-you sort of double-bind; my competing drives declare war on each other. Sure, it’s obviously a control issue. I’ve taken enough psychology classes to get that much. One could argue that, because so much of life seems arbitrary and uncontrollable, I zero in on some matter like weight, body size, and calorie consumption to offer an alternative method of feeling in charge of my life. Sounds like a recipe for an eating disorder. That’s not what I want for myself. There must be a better way.

I just finished reading Women, Food, and God and am attempting to apply some of the principles that author Geneen Roth suggests. She talks about how we use food to numb ourselves and to avoid experiencing our feelings.  She tells attendees at her seminars, “Compulsive eating is a way we leave ourselves when life gets hard. When we don’t want to notice what is going on. Compulsive eating is a way we distance ourselves from the way things are when they are not how we want them to be. Ending the obsession with food is all about the capacity to stay in the present moment.” She suggests that “Staying where you are with what you are feeling or seeing or sensing is the first step in ending the obsession with food.”

This is the question I keep trying to answer: Do I need to try harder, or stop trying so hard? Perhaps I just need to approach it differently. What may be most needed is an attitude of acceptance and surrender. Acceptance of who I am, what I am feeling, and how things are, NOW. Surrendering to what life has brought today. And acknowledging the choices I bring along the way. Accept what is, and embrace my capacity to make choices. Be aware of, and willing to change poor habits. Don’t numb out, don’t turn on “automatic pilot”. Really feel. Really choose. Fully experience the feelings and fully experience the food. The weight will take care of itself.

Being more gentle and flexible with myself helps with the control issues. I like the 80/20 rule. If I eat well 80% of the time, the other 20% of “not so great” eating will be okay. Disaster will not ensue. This helps rid me of an “all or nothing” mindset – which is a set up for disordered thinking and disordered eating. I also am working on living by Ms. Roth’s Eating Guidelines:

1. Eat when you are hungry.

2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment. (This does not include the car).

3. Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing  conversations or music.

4. Eat what your body wants

5. Eat until you are satisfied.

6. Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.

7. Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.

 

A few books on the subject of diet, health, and exercise that have provided some wisdom and guidance to me are:

Fat is a Feminist Issue (by Susie Orbach)

-Feed Your Body, Feed Your Brain (by Daniel Aman)

-Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy (by Walter Willett)

-Secrets of Skinny Chicks (by Karen Bridson)

-Eating Mindfully (by Susan Albers)

-Women, Food, and God (by Geneen Roth)

 

 

“Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.”

-poet Galway Kinnell

 

 

 

 

My Life as a Dog

As I was walking Winston today, happily wandering the rugged trails of Chino Hills, a vexing question came to mind. Is it possible that I am unconsciously projecting my own worries, fears, and anxieties on my Dog?

I hold the general belief that I am well-adjusted, healthy, hopeful, and even filled with a cheerful holiday spirit.  And I can find reliable evidence to back up these assertions.

But for some reason, I seem to be worrying a lot about my dog. It happens in many ways: in my private thoughts, in my one-on-one “conversations” with Winston, and even as I discuss him with others.

I have been alone with him for the last week. I find myself  thinking …  poor Winston, he’s so lonely. He misses his Daddy (Steve). He misses Johnny and Grace – they need to hurry home for Christmas, because he gets so sad without them. He doesn’t like the house so quiet. I turn on some Christmas carols to soothe him.

I cuddle and caress his coarse curly back. “Poor Winston. Don’t worry, we-re gonna have a great Christmas. You wait and see.” I brush him head to toe – his favorite form of massage. “Don’t you worry at all poor baby, cuz it will be special – we’ll watch It’s a Wonderful Life” I stroke his golden velvet ears. “Good doggie. Such a good doggie. Your mommy loves you … you’re the best doggie in the whole world.”

When people inquire about me, I assure them, “Oh, I don’t mind Steve traveling. I love time to myself. And as far as the ‘empty nest’? Now it’s actually clean, and I have so much time to do what I want. I read more, I write more, I see friends and have fun! This may be one of the best times of life.”

But poor, poor Winston. That doggie; he just gets so sad. He nuzzles up to me, and nearly breaks my heart with his old soul brown eyes.

Here’s where I need to rely on my psychologist friends. Tell me truly, is this some form of neurosis? Denial? Repression? Is it serious, or even pathological? What is your professional opinion?

I admit – there’s more. You see … I also worry about Winston’s health. I want him to have a long life, free of knee problems or heart disease. That’s why I worry about how much he weighs.  But me? No, I am strong and fit. My diet and weight? Now that’s nothing to be concerned about. (Except for the sad fact that avoiding weight gain is my second religion, sometimes my first).

Yet, Winnie, now he is entirely too focused on food – its his obsession! He’s looking rather thick around the middle lately. He can’t seem to curtail his ferocious appetite, and love for all types of food that cross his path. It’s not his fault though. He runs and walks everyday. Getting fat is in his genes. I explain this to people, wanting to be sure they understand. “Labs have a genetic risk of obesity. They are quite naturally, a stout breed. And their instinct to continually eat dates back to the old days, when they lived in cold climates, and worked all day. They just can’t help it.”

So, Labs tend to get a little on the chubby side. As a responsible owner, I must be vigilant so he doesn’t become overweight. Poor, Poor Doggie!

Winston’s so hungry all the time. So I put him on the “weight control” food. We have to be disciplined about this – no cheating! He gets a full bowl every morning and night, but I guess because its lower fat, he is never satiated. He always wants more! It’s so hard when you’re always wanting more. Poor doggie.

And then, I admit, I have some concerns about his overall lifestyle. Does he have enough time for play? Maybe he has too much time alone at home. Could he even be getting too sedentary, or even, God forbid, lazy? Lately he would rather scarf down a treat, than chase rabbits through the field– that’s a bad sign.  Poor Doggie!

What about his social life? Is he too isolated? Maybe he is spending excessive time sitting around the house, when he should be out romping with the other dogs and making new friends! What about play dates and the doggie park? He would probably be happier if he got off the porch, and ran with the big dogs. But here he sits. Poor, tired doggie.

As his owner, I’m simply concerned for his well-being. A dog is a big responsibility. MY responsibility! He is one of God’s precious creatures. He deserves a good life. He deserves to be happy, healthy, and loved. His life could pass him by, and what would he have to show for it?  Was each day lived to its fullest? Did he give and receive every possible ounce of joy? You never know how many dog years you will have – and then suddenly, bam, its all over.

That’s it.  For New Years, I will have to make some resolutions for Winston. Poor doggie!
Winston

Winston

 

Going Wild: A Remedy for Nature Deficit Disorder

American culture has moved indoors. There is such comfort and entertainment available within the finely accorded walls of our homes and offices that time spent in nature is becoming increasingly rare.

With the advent of the computer, video games, and television, children have more and more enticements to stay inside. The average American child spends 44 hours a week with electronic media. The numbers are even worse for adults, who spend more of their lives than ever indoors.1 Adults report spending an average of 87% of their time in enclosed buildings plus about 6% of their time in enclosed vehicles.2 That means a minuscule 7% of time is spent outdoors!

The results of this phenomena have been described as “nature deficit disorder.”What is the solution for this disturbing over-domestication of our species?

Going wild.

By this I don’t mean approaching life with a hedonistic devil may care, remove the shackles of morality, “girls gone wild,” YOLO abandon.

I am talking about getting into nature. Simply. Deeply. Truly. Real nature … in any of its forms. Wilderness, community parks, groomed suburban trails, or even a vacant urban lot. Anywhere that natural life exists. You probably don’t have to go very far. Certainly, a National Park can provide a climactic nature experience, but that level of intensity is not needed to obtain the benefits of what lies in the created order.

A substantial body of research indicates that direct contact with nature leads to increased mental health and psychological development. A wide range of encounters with nature have been shown to produce such benefits, including extended wilderness excursions, hiking in open space, strolling through a city park, gardening, or tending a small plot of urban grass.

Dr. John Davis4 compiled a summary of extensive research indicating a broad array of physical, social, and psychological benefits of nature experiences. His findings are cross-cultural and universal. He cites the following: Nature experiences reduce burnout and increase a sense of relaxation. It helps people recover from surgery and improves their performance on many tasks. It increases one’s sense of fascination, intrinsic interest, and enjoyment. Nature experiences strengthen “hardiness,” which is a combination of an internal locus of control, an appreciation of challenge as opportunity, and a commitment to self. Additionally, it provides a sense of connectedness, wholeness, meaningfulness and is related to better mental health and less stress. In nature, people typically experience a sense of “flow” (absorption into the activity, present-centeredness, healthy loss of ego, and self-transcendence). Natural surroundings provide an enhanced opportunity for transpersonal and peak experiences.

On this subject, my stories are too numerous to tell … but here are a few:

◊ Kevin, my high school church youth director in Minnesota, had a side business as a BWCA (Boundary Water’s Canoe Area) wilderness guide. He took our youth group on an annual outdoor adventure in BWCA. Every year he transported thirty of us in vans, carrying trailers with 15 canoes, up to the Canadian border to this million acres of pristine wilderness – teeming with thousands of lakes connected by trails or “portages.” There were no bathrooms, no showers, no electricity, no roads, no cars, and no motorized vehicles. Diet Coke existed only in my fantasies.

Going wild in BWCA was a blessed adventure for me as a teen. The trip was grueling, beautiful, and spiritually uplifting. I went three times. We paddled all day every day, portaging from lake to lake, carrying our supplies on our backs: our food, tents, first aid equipment, sleeping bags, and canoes. Yes. I carried a canoe on my back. This was surely a “hardiness” building experience. Because it required grit and perseverance, I gained strength and confidence. In the midst of the vast outdoors I felt entirely enchanted and connected with nature – as loons made haunting calls across the water, the campfire crackled, and the warm morning sun woke us to another day of rugged exploration. We shared stories, prayed, perfected our paddling technique, gave backrubs, caught fish, and slapped mosquitoes. I came home with a heightened awareness of my place in the larger world, the mystery therein, and a feeling of connectedness with nature and my peer group.

◊ My dad loves motorcycles. He has collected, built, restored, swapped, and tended them for his entire adult life: BMW’s, Motoguzzies, Hondas, Yamahas, Indians, Suzuki’s, Kowasaki’s, and Harley Davidson’s. At any time he had twelve motorcycles in varying states of repair in our 3-car garage. Taking a sidecar ride along backwoods roads with him was a childhood delight of mine. Exploring remote country on his motorcycle has been a lifelong fascination, the wind in his hair – at one with his aromatic surroundings. One of his great pleasures has been traveling by motorcycle 500 miles from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Sturgis, North Dakota for the annual motorcycle convention. He has attended this event for 40 years, and camps outdoors every time. Sturgis provides him with a natural adventure, even as he turned 79 years old.

I said to my brother Bob, “Don’t you think Dad is getting too old to bike to Sturgis? He’s having a hard time walking.” My brother quipped, “Well, he seems to ride better than he walks these days.” It was his last year at Sturgis. Being out in the wild, sleeping in the open air, free as a bird … he was still having the time of his life. As he sold his last motorcycle and moved into the retirement home on Lake Johanna with my mom, this was an important peak experience. His wild-hearted hobby has afforded him a lifetime of restoration, affiliation, and enjoyment.

◊ My husband and our two children traveled 6 years ago to Zion National Park for a four-day, back-country hiking trip. We carried everything in backpacks high into the jagged mountains. It was intensely physical due to steep elevation gain and harsh weather conditions. On the challenging hike down, I was exhausted and singularly focused on getting to our car. However, my then 15 year-old son, Johnny wanted to hike a particularly difficult side-trip out on an elevated precipice called “Angels Landing”. Having done it previously, my husband encouraged me to accompany him. I agreed, unknowingly.

Only while out on the steep rock face did I discover what a death defying feat it was. I could not look down, as the towering height was mind-boggling and anxiety provoking. I had to look ahead and focus intently to cast out the rising fear of the long descent to earth. Johnny plodded on with the casual confidence of a billy-goat. Reaching our destination on the outermost “landing”, we marveled at the astonishing view, and the feeling of being part of something vast and larger than ourselves. We shared a mysterious flow … something sacred. When we finally returned to the trail I collapsed in relief for having safely finished. I only realized the magnitude of what this meant to Johnny when he later said proudly to his friends, “I knew I had a baad-ass mom when she hiked Angel’s Landing with me.” It seems this trek was a rite of passage and a compatibility experience for us both.

I could share dozens of wilderness experiences, and I imagine you have many of your own to tell. The question is, why don’t we get out there more? Sure, I enjoy running my dog Winston almost daily on nearby neighborhood trails. But, exploring nature more deeply and more regularly would further nourish my body, mind, and soul. It is largely a matter of determination and planning. What about you?

Although our homes may be safe and comfortable, by retreating into them we risk contracting nature deficit disorder. The evidence is clear: Partaking of nature will make us happier, healthier, and more in touch with ourselves and our world. Let’s go wild.

 

1The New York Times, “Who Americans Are and What They Do,” in Census Data, by Sam Roberts, December 15, 2006.

2“National Human Pattern Activity Survey,” Neil Klepeis, University of California Berkeley and Wayne Ott, Stanford University

3Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder and The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder.

4John Davis, “Psychological Benefits of Nature Experiences: An Outline of Research and Theory,” Naropa University and School of Lost Borders, July 2004.*

*Davis compiled research on the psychological benefits of nature experiences and summarized the following benefits:

Relaxation, stress reduction, and mindfulness

-Environmental Preference: coherence, complexity, legibility, and mystery

-Recovery from surgery, physical health and healing improved performance

-Increased sensory awareness and felt-sense

-Hardiness, locus of control, challenge, flow, and compatibility

-Challenge of wilderness experiences leading to self-confidence and improved self-esteem

-Coherence (defined as perceptions of connectedness, wholeness and meaningfulness) is related to better mental health and reduced negative stress

-Flow – involving high-stakes outcomes, high intensity, intrinsic motivations, absorption into the activity, and self-transcendence

-Compatibility – a fit between one’s need, one’s capacities, and what the environment offers.

-Extensive benefits for child development

-Social gains through nature experiences

-Exercise and physical fitness, leading to improved mental health

 

 

 

 

The Mind and Body Benefits of Yoga

For years I have heard about the benefits of yoga and have intended to give it a try. But I never seemed to get around to it. About a year ago that changed. I attended a yoga class and was astounded at how great I felt – both during the class and afterward. The results were immediate and powerful. Now I am committed to doing yoga 1-3 times per week. How did I move from contemplating to taking action?

At the time, I was reading a terrific book called The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg. It gave me a better understanding of how habits shape our lives and how we can shape our habits. Specifically, it helped me look at the habit loop of “cues”, “routines”, and “rewards.” Soon I was making a number of changes to enhance my quality of life. I initiated new routines to produce different rewards. Starting yoga was one of them.

My lifelong habit of running daily had produced many good mind and body results. But I suspected yoga would be a great counter-balance to my somewhat stale workout routine. Armed with some new ways of thinking from Duhigg, I was ready to move forward on my goal of trying yoga.

Soon I went to a yoga class. I found it both calming and energizing. It was a fine physical workout, but it also helped me feel centered and attuned to my breathing. The focus on balance and core strength was terrific. Over the course of a few sessions, I felt longer, leaner, and less tense. Over time, I seemed more connected with my body and regulated in my emotions.

In yoga class we do a combination of stretching, relaxation, strength exercises (especially abdominals), and balance work through holding poses. Gentle music plays in the background while the instructor guides us to breath slowly, concentrate intently, progress at our own pace, and challenge ourselves with the poses.

At the end of the class during the final meditation, I was surprised by the emotional release. It was cathartic. Despite the concern of some conservative Christians, there was no Buddhist spiritual agenda. I lifted up my own simple prayers befitting my personal religious beliefs. I must have expelled whatever negative energy my body had been holding. I felt light and limber – simultaneously free and connected.

I was brimming with physical strength, mental clarity, and spiritual vibrancy. It was so gratifying and restorative that I have stuck with it. Now yoga is one of my favorite personal wellness practices. I love what it does for me.

The benefits of Yoga have been well substantiated for a wide range of health issues including anxiety, depression, trauma, chronic pain, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and many others. Consider the following articles:

1)   http://psychcentral.com/news/2010/01/12/scientific-basis-for-yoga-benefits/10693.html

2)   http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/yoga/CM00004

3)  Jan 1, 2013 – Evidence Based Medical Benefits of Yoga,. Indian Journal of Science, 2013, 2(3), 1-4,                                        www.discovery.org.in http://www.discovery.org.in/ijs.htm 

I encourage you to try yoga. Take a class at your local gym or look up “Yoga Classes” on YouTube and practice it at home. If you are like me, your mind, body, and spirit will soar. That’s what I call wellness.

Run For It

Today I ran the Orange County ½ Marathon and I am on top of the world. I ran with my friend Jeannine and we reduced our time by 8 minutes since our last race. We both felt an exhilarating sense of accomplishment. We have been training for months, had to register and pay in advance, battle SoCal traffic, and wake up at 4:00 am to negotiate a crowd of 15,000 other runners at the start line. Are we crazy? No, we are runners. But … why do we bother?

I have been a runner most of my life – never a champion, but steadfast. I had a poster on my dorm room wall in college stating, “The race is not to the swift, but to the one who keeps on running.” I have kept on running, and it has benefitted me immensely. I never gave it up for anything other than pregnancy or prolonged insomnia. I joined a running club as I recovered from depression 11 years ago, and it has produced profound blessings. With the support of the group, I have run two marathons and six ½ marathons. I run most days of the week, in the morning before work (but after coffee). Most importantly, I finish every run happier than when I began. It jump starts my day and ratchets up my endorphins. In my opinion, it is better than any antidepressant; it is not only free, the side effects are actually positive!

Someone recently asked me when I started running and why. I pondered for a minute and remembered: it was the summer after I turned 6 years old in Minnesota. Pam, my best friend from kindergarten, had moved into a newly built home ¾ of a mile from my house, down a long dirt road. My purple bicycle with the banana seat couldn’t forge through the thick sand. I had to walk. But, it took too long! I soon learned that I could get there faster if I ran. This left us more precious time to build forts, play monopoly, or roughhouse with her English Springer Spaniel “Jingles”. When I ran home (to meet my 6 pm dinner curfew) I noticed something else important: I gained a sense of wellbeing and a pleasant mood after running. I loved that feeling.

It has been 42 years now, and I have kept on running. Sometimes it’s a solitary and interior experience; other times it’s about camaraderie and community. Yet, in all its forms, running has helped me recover from pregnancy and childbirth, manage the strain of parenting young children, prevent and overcome depression and anxiety, face the daily stress of full time work, and adjust to the changes of the empty nest phase of life. Maintaining a comfortable weight has been another advantage – and no small miracle.

Being in a running club has enhanced my motivation and provided connections to other goal-oriented people who want to be healthy. My fellow running club members each have a unique story about what this sport has done to improve their quality of life and to overcome some kind of adversity. Their stories are varied and truly inspirational. For me, it is both a habit and a discipline which supports my balance and overall wellness. I plan to keep on running.

Clear it with your doctor first. Then, I encourage you to try it too – whether you walk, walk-run, or run. Regardless, you are getting outside, breathing fresh air, and moving. This all contributes to holistic health. If you like the support of a group, you can find a local running club on “meetup.com”. Get going now … run for it! You will be happy you did.