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Posts Tagged ‘exercise’

trail morning summer green trees neponset

I get up when the alarm goes off, or, if it’s Saturday, when the sunlight glowing through the living-room windows reaches me in our bedroom, across the house. I roll out of bed and start to wake up: opening the window blind to check on the weather, heading to the kitchen for a drink of water.

When I started running last fall, it was almost always evening: after the workday was done, stepping out on the trail toward the edge of the dark. I love the trail at dusk and even when it’s “proper dark,” as my English housemates used to say. And I love it too in the long golden glorious lengthening evenings of spring and summer.

But on some Saturdays, and on a few weekday mornings this summer, I’ve started getting out there early.

No matter what my plans are, it takes me a while to wake up: putting in my contacts, slathering on sunscreen. I change into running clothes: an ancient pair of Old Navy running shorts, a tank top or T-shirt, one of the two black sports bras that are creating funky tan lines on my back. My shoulders are freckling, for the first time in years.

trail morning selfie sea water

I brew a cup of ginger peach tea, this most essential morning fuel. I grab a handful of cherries, pop a piece of bread in the toaster, or eat a few spoonfuls of Greek yogurt with granola and dried cranberries. If I remember to, I do a few calf raises while I’m drinking my tea, moving around the kitchen. Sometimes I stretch or do a few lunges. I almost always do some jumping jacks and a minute’s worth of push-ups, a habit I’ve picked up from Monday night boot camp.

I grab my phone and headphones and sunglasses, hook a house key onto my sports bra, slip on the stretchy headband that keeps my hair out of my face. I head out the door, down three flights of stairs, down the block and around the corner. I walk until I hit the trail proper, and then I crank up the music and run.

The Neponset is lush with green shade in the early morning, scarlet sumac and spreading trees and climbing nets of wild roses, past their bloom now. There’s a mural and a trolley overpass and then a long stretch edged with tall reeds, which is all sunshine in the early morning. It contains the chalk heart I love, the water to my right, boats bobbing and glinting in the morning sun.

blue flowers sea sky neponset

I turn on the music that helps me rev up or wake up: Walk the Moon or the Cranberries, or a few folk songs written and sung by an old professor of mine. It’s an unusual running playlist, but it works for me. I take my time, letting my legs hit their stride, stopping to walk in between stretches of running. I look up and breathe in deep.

My loop is the same, or similar, on most of my runs: down the straightaway near my house, waiting for the traffic signal to change at the busy road nearby. A couple of semicircle loops on the next stretch, past municipally approved daylilies and tall elderflower bushes. Past the first wooden pier, the boxy apartment complex, through the park entrance and over a bridge. The music moves on, through folk and rock, Broadway soundtracks and sometimes hip-hop. (No one is more surprised than I am about my newfound love for a few Macklemore tracks.)

Out there I can let my thoughts unwind, sometimes mulling over a problem, sometimes humming along with the music and letting it all go. There are dog walkers, other runners, some of whom I’m starting to recognize. Sometimes the thick humidity holds the promise of shimmering heat later. Other times it’s crisp and blue, and I luxuriate in the feel of the air against my skin. Always, I am so glad to be out there, to be moving, to be alive.

We’ve lived in this neighborhood almost a year, and the trail has become as much home as the house we inhabit. I return to it at all times of day, watching the seasons change, its contours by now both familiar and a new delight. The particular joy of the morning run is embracing all this beauty early in the day. Sometimes the pace is slower than on my evening runs, but the glory makes me think of an old hymn line I love: new every morning.

By the time I make the turn and come home, I’m sweaty and starving and sometimes a little sore. But I often feel new, too. Along with the muscle fatigue, there’s another thrumming in my bones: a sense of accomplishment, quiet joy. And gratitude.

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waves neponset summer

Jen posted recently on Instagram that some seasons feel like this: being knocked to the ground and having all your pieces scattered, like a puzzle.

When this happens, the pieces often will not come together again in the same way. You can know this, and still not have any idea what the new picture will look like.

I am standing on the edge of such a season: the open space of summer, the still more open space of the job hunt, the aftereffects of so many changes over the past couple of years still settling in.

Some days, I can admit this to you quite calmly, and on other days, I am trying not to slide into blind panic about what’s next.

I know – since I have been here before – that this is the human condition. We all get our lives rearranged, or decide to rearrange them ourselves, every now and then. And we walk through, and survive. But meanwhile it’s the small things that save our lives, over and over.

So here, because I need to make the list every so often, are the latest things that are saving me:

  • This line from The Last Jedi: “Hope is like the sun. If you only believe in it when you can see it, you’ll never make it through the night.”
  • Getting out on the river trail: summer breezes, so much lush green, thickets of wildflowers, and the light.
  • My neighbor’s dog, Riley, who knows I’ll always stop to pet her and will happily plonk herself down on my feet while I do so.
  • The guy at the phone repair shop, who fixed my cracked screen twice in one week (!) and gave me a case he had lying around.
  • Peonies and good cheer from my beloved florist.

peony close up table

  • Every single kind email from a colleague, friend or acquaintance, with job leads or encouragement. There have been many of these, and I’m grateful.
  • Being in the middle of several good books at once, which is the best kind of middle.
  • Lauren Winner’s words from Still about being in the middle of one’s spiritual life, which resonate deeply these days. And this line from later in the book: “This is the story you will wrestle with forever.”
  • Texts from friends near and far, checking in.
  • Granola bars and peanut butter crackers. I am an inveterate snacker.
  • Every single drop of chai, Earl Grey and compassion from the folks at Darwin’s. That last is, not surprisingly, the most important.
  • Ginger peach tea, when it’s too hot for chai or just because it’s my summer drink.
  • Tamales and fresh salsa from Amanda every Tuesday at the farmers’ market.
  • Kicking butt with Erin and other strong women at Monday night boot camp. And following it up with yoga.

What’s saving your life these days? Please share, if you want.

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not afraid shirt ocean brave

It’s been a year, hasn’t it, friends?

These past months have been crowded and stressful, both in the world and in my own life. But they’ve also held beauty and laughter and joy. Here’s my annual (long but non-comprehensive) list of what has happened this year.

In 2017, I have:

darwins d2 start arrow

  • spent a long October weekend introducing my parents to New York City.
  • returned to PEI with the hubs for our third blissful stretch of days there.
  • spent a week wandering Oxford, city of my heart.
  • tried my first boot camp workout – a six-week series taught by my favorite yoga instructor – and loved it.
  • surprised myself by taking up running.
  • run my first 5K (in the snow!).
  • moved (again) and settled into our new apartment, a lovely third-floor eyrie in Dorchester.
  • fallen in love with the river trail near our house.

river trail asters

midtown nyc skyscrapers blue sky

  • gone on a few weekend escapes with the hubs: a Florida beach, a wee Connecticut town, the Maine woods.
  • spoken (once) and listened (on many days) at Morning Prayers at Memorial Church.
  • done a lot of church work, as ever: sending emails, organizing events, reading Scripture, washing dishes.
  • learned a thing or two about protesting.
  • marked nine years of marriage.
  • helped my best friends pack up their apartment, and sent them on their way to Idaho with many tears.
  • finished paying off our little silver car (we call her Adele).
  • celebrated my eighth (!) Turkeypalooza with church friends.
  • filled up half a dozen journals.

I’m looking forward to turning the calendar on 2018: I love the idea of a fresh start, but there’s also some good stuff I want to carry over from 2017. Wishing you a peaceful, hopeful start to the New Year.

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sumac river trail

December has arrived – suddenly, it seems. My neighbors are putting up twinkle lights, and the church sanctuary is full of pine garland, poinsettias and cyclamen. We began Advent on Sunday with the aching melody of “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” and I’m slowly setting out the Christmas decorations and turning back to the words of hope in my Advent book.

Alongside all of that, it is dark. So dark.

Not only does the sun slip below the horizon as I’m finishing my workdays, but the news out of Washington and elsewhere is (still) so disheartening. I have friends who are grieving, weary, afraid. I am struggling with heartbreak, change, loss, fear. I know so many people who are waiting: for test results or resolution or even the tiniest scrap of good news.

In the midst of the darkness (literal and metaphorical), I know there are pinpricks of light, even when I can’t see them. In an effort to remind myself of this fact, I thought it was time for another list of what’s saving my life now:

  • Laurie Sheck’s poem “The Annunciation,” where I found the phrase “honest grace.” Kathleen Norris mentions it in her essay “Annunciation,” and I finally looked it up after meaning to do so for years.
  • Seeing birds’ nests in the bare trees and thinking of Lindsey.
  • Tulips for my desk and the weekly chat with my florist, who is the dearest man.
  • Bracing, practical, sarcastic advice from a writer colleague.
  • I say this every single day: Darwin’s. The ritual of walking down there; the delicious drinks and nourishing food; the familiar rhythm of the place; and most of all, the warmth from my café people.

chai darwins red bracelets

  • Laughter with my coworkers, whenever and however it comes.
  • Morning Prayers at Mem Church, which is wrapping up for the fall: thoughtful words, lovely music, the ritual of repeating the Lord’s Prayer and singing (often sight-reading) the daily hymns.
  • Texts from a few friends who are my lifelines.
  • The return of my winter uniform: striped dress + black leggings (fleece-lined when I need them) + ankle boots + scarf + magic green coat.
  • Weekly phone calls with my parents and looking forward to Christmas together.
  • Twinkle lights wrapped around anything.
  • Susannah Conway’s lovely December Reflections project on Instagram.
  • Walking and sometimes running on the river trail: on bold blue weekend afternoons or under dark weeknight skies after work.
  • In my ears on those walks and at other times: the Wailin’ Jennys and Hamilton. An odd mix, but it’s working for me.

sunrise early winter blue gold

  • Sunrises seen from the kitchen window: fiery orange over the treetops, or blue with silver-streaked clouds.
  • Yoga on my green mat at home (even 10 minutes can help) or at Healing Tree.
  • The boot camp I’m doing on Monday nights, taught by my favorite yoga instructor. So fun and empowering.
  • Slapdash huevos rancheros after said workout, every Monday night.
  • My morning routine: snooze button + hot shower + sunrise gazing + tea in a purple travel mug + scone eaten en route to the trolley stop.
  • Takeout from our favorite Indian place and a few hilarious episodes of Modern Family with the hubs.
  • Putting the world to rights over paella and wine with a girlfriend.
  • The words that have carried me over many months.

What is saving your life these days? Please share, if you like.

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bare feet green yoga mat

I mentioned last week that this is the summer of yoga in the morning – a short (15- or 30-minute) session with my Yoga Studio app almost every day. I get up (after hitting snooze a time or two), put in my contacts, get a drink of water, and unroll my green yoga mat in my dining room, often stepping onto it still in my pajamas.

I am about the farthest thing from a gym rat. I don’t love to sweat and I don’t care for most exercise classes, the exception being the yoga class I attend at a local studio almost every Monday night. But I’ve long thought that I should cultivate a habit of exercising more often than once a week. As Gretchen Rubin says, “What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.”

Yoga (at least the way I do it) is a gentle form of exercise that still gives me a chance to push myself. I like trying new poses, and I’m not as terrified of them as I once was. (This is largely due to my instructor, Meredith, and her gentle, no-nonsense encouragement as we bend and stretch and attempt new poses together.) I nearly killed myself attempting a quad stretch during pigeon pose last month – but I can now hold a crow pose (!) for a few seconds without falling. Progress.

I also like the way yoga makes me feel: stretchy, like a rubber band; strong, when I’m able to hold a lunge or a squat or a push-up (also known as warrior, chair and chaturanga poses). I like the way it helps to clear my head, the way it gently nudges me to focus on my body, here in the moment, and breathe. And when Ali Edwards mentioned this app on her blog back in January, I thought I’d give it a go.

The key for me with morning yoga (as in so many areas of my life) is progress, not perfection. Or, alternatively, it’s simply showing up, and doing the work. I tend to beat myself up for not doing “enough” or not doing things “the right way,” but the wise words of my first yoga instructor, McKay, still reverberate in my head: There is no judgment or competition in yoga. It is difficult, but vital, to remember for a perfectionist like me.

This daily yoga isn’t magic: there are some mornings I don’t want to get on the mat, and some mornings I skip altogether. It doesn’t always defuse my tension or calm my racing brain. But it frequently does. And that pocket of peace in the early morning – as the sunshine slants in across the wood floor, amid the crowded bookshelves in the center of our apartment – is enough.

Do you practice yoga, or another form of exercise? How do you find it benefits you?

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Back in early January, I posted my Winter Manifesto – a list of (mostly) fun things to help me through my fourth New England winter. Here, an update (with photos):

figure skating championships gracie gold

  • Go to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. We watched the ladies’ free skate, above. It was gorgeous, heartbreaking and so much fun.
  • Get a massage, and go to the dentist. I had to get several fillings, but I’m glad I finally went. And the massage was very relaxing.
  • Continue with the yoga routine I’ve established. Holding steady on this one.

celtics td garden k&j basketball

  • Go see the Celtics play at TD Garden, courtesy of a friend. We sat in the 12th row behind one of the baskets (see above). I am not a huge basketball fan, but watching the action up close was so fun.
  • Watch the Olympics. We’ve cheered at the figure skating, gasped at the skeleton and the ski jumping, and gotten a crash course in slopestyle. Most of all I love the stories.
  • Knit something cozy. I’ve knitted several cozy things (for myself and others), mostly in red.

red cowl

  • Tackle another hefty classic. (I’ve been working on a big library stack. Still taking recommendations!)
  • Indulge in a bit of color therapy. I’ve knitted myself a bright pink hat and a jade green cowl, and ordered a couple of fun items from Boden.
  • Plan some springtime travel. The hubs and I are headed to San Diego next month to see our friends Allison and Duncan, former New Yorkers who’ve moved back to their home state. And I’m heading to Texas in April, first for a work conference and then to see my family.

I find it a bit ironic that the reading goal above is the only one I haven’t tackled – but I’m proud of myself for accomplishing the other ones. Now, if only spring would hurry up a bit…

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(Editor’s Note: My husband, Jeremiah, offered to guest post for me about a recent eye-opening experience, which dovetails nicely with yesterday’s post on being seen. Enjoy!)

I have one of the best jobs in the world. Because I’m a family therapist, people invite me into their homes to dream with them, listen to them, help empower them to change their lives. I witness forgiveness, empathy and healing with couples of all ages and situations. I identify the strengths of teenage guys and participate in their passions; I have one teenage client I dance with, another who’s teaching me to draw, and another who plays basketball with me.

My job is also incredibly humbling. Why anyone would trust their secrets, pasts and traumas to a 20-something is beyond me. And I ask many things of my clients that I wouldn’t do myself.

For example, I’m working with a recovering alcoholic who decided last week to write down his guilt and fears each night, put them in a balloon, and send them heavenward. One of my new clients this week blamed her boyfriend for refusing to come to therapy; by the end of the hour, she was encountering questions like “What happens when you’re not in a relationship?” and staring down loneliness. If anyone, professional or otherwise, intruded that deeply into my life after knowing me for an hour, I’d be furious.

I joined a gym this week, and as a new client, I consulted with a fitness specialist about my health goals. We began by discussing my previous experience with gyms, then building a workout plan to motivate me to hit the gym consistently.

The specialist then asked about my diet. I admitted to eating one too many McDonalds/Wendy’s cheeseburgers recently, and made excuses for eating only two meals a day. Sometimes I see eight clients back to back with breaks only for driving, which means I skip lunch regularly, but I’ve always been insecure about eating too much because I’m afraid of becoming overweight. Not that I told the specialist that —after all, he’d only known me for 20 minutes.

The specialist then measured my body fat percentage (embarrassing) and had me do several exercises. I completed the first one, which involved staying in an upright pushup position for 90 seconds, but my core started burning about halfway through. I didn’t give up, but he wasn’t fooled, saying, “I saw you struggle with that.” Few people ever see me struggle, and even fewer get to call me out on it.

Finally, he asked about my posture: a back injury from a car wreck and sitting in a chair for eight hours a day have done no favors to my spinal column.

After learning about my physical faults, the secrets I’m unwilling to share and the emotional scars I cover up with excuses and fake smiles, he still wanted to work with me. He was honest, explaining that change wouldn’t happen overnight—in fact, I think his estimate of cutting my body fat percentage in half, losing 10 pounds and adding muscle tone in just five months of consistent healthy eating and gym usage, was a bit generous.

As I listened to him talk, I realized: This is my therapy. This is me putting myself in the other chair, letting someone listen to and take care of me for an hour each week. And it’s something I need. When my trainer asks, “What kept you from meeting your diet goals this week?” I’ll either have to avoid the question, deflect it with a simple, universal answer like “laziness,” or confront my deep insecurities. I hope to be encouraged, challenged and empowered to make my life better.

What are some traditional and non-traditional therapy experiences you’ve had? How did you overcome the initial fear of releasing your secrets and insecurities to your therapist/trainer/guide?

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Prior to the Integrate Retreat in April, my experience with yoga was limited. I’d had a few sessions as part of an aerobics class in college, and a couple of disastrous DVD rentals from the library. (It is JUST impossible for me to take seriously a woman named Rainbeau Mars who keeps exhorting you to “enjoy your breath.”) I had pretty much given up on yoga. I thought it wasn’t for me.

During our time together in New York, we had a private yoga session with Jennifer Brilliant – just the 10 of us, in her beautiful coral-walled studio, with a sun on one wall and a moon on the other. (It, like our B&B, is a converted brownstone on a lovely street.) And I enjoyed it so much more than I expected to. I was a bit clueless, and it was a workout, but it felt gentle and purposeful, more about listening to your body than trying to force it into unnatural positions.

Two days after I got back from the retreat, Amanda emailed me about a local yoga class – taught at the Center for Contemporary Arts, downtown, by the lovely McKay Moore. I decided to try it out (for $6 a class, well worth the risk), and oh my. I LOVE it. I’ve been going every week (and I think I’ve even converted Jeremiah – he’s been with me twice now).

“There is no judgment or competition in yoga,” McKay said last week, and I’ve been coming back to that sentence over and over in my head. No judgment or competition. No pressure to be better, stronger, faster (in yoga, speed has very little value) than anyone else. This isn’t gym class or a race or a contest to see who can do the best pose. It’s all about engaging your muscles, letting go of your tension and stress, working your body while treating it gently. And of course, the soothing music and the sweet, encouraging instructor are a big plus.

So is the setting. Who wouldn’t want to do yoga here?

This is our “studio” – the upper gallery of the Center for Contemporary Arts. And it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite places and times of the week. It’s becoming a way for me to check in with my body, to become aware of tension and let some of it go, to exercise and relax at the same time. I don’t have to look at the clock or push myself too hard or figure out what comes next. I can just listen to McKay, follow her lead as we go through the poses, relax onto my green mat, and breathe.

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