Knitting and other handcrafts are more popular than ever. And it’s thanks in no part to the health benefits you derive from it. The Craft Yarn Council reports that a third of women 25 to 35 now knit or crochet. And now men are starting to join in!
Dr. Herbert Benson, a pioneer in mind-body medicine and author of The Relaxation Response, says that the repetitive action of needlework can induce a relaxed state similar to that associated with meditation and yoga. Once you get beyond the initial learning curve, knitting and crocheting can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol.
But unlike meditation, craft activities result in tangible and often useful products that can enhance self-esteem. A good idea is to take pictures of your end products on your phone – look at them to boost your spirits.
Another benefit is that when you’re knitting or doing other hand work, you can’t mindlessly eat – this cuts down on snacking. And if you’re knitting, you can’t smoke! Another health benefit.
I recently knitted a pair of fingerless mitts to keep my hands warm this winter. It felt really good to do something productive in the evening rather than just watch TV!
Many years ago I dislocated my shoulder. I have never experienced pain like that! Think of an ice pick going through your shoulder and then twisting. And then grinding. And then pulling it out a little at a time. And then someone is bashing your shoulder over and over again. That’s the kind of pain. So severe I passed out from it. And then a few days later when I thought it was better, I dislocated it again in my sleep. The doctor said to cut out the aerobics for a while and do other strengthening exercises.
Over time the shoulder got stronger, and I could forget about the dislocations. I lift weights – probably baby weights to many people’s way of thinking, but they’re good for me.
And then a few days ago my shoulder started hurting again. I didn’t think anything of it, but it went on for several days. My mind started to worry at it – what if my shoulder dislocates again. Should I stop working out? Should I stop using weights?
But my brain kicked in and said, “Go easy. It’s not that kind of pain. Yes, it hurts, but the shoulder is not going to dislocate!” And my intelligent brain was right, rather than my panicked brain. I went a little easier, assessed what was going on and moved on. And now my shoulder is fine.
So, the take-away here is to know your body. Know the different kinds of pain that you experience. If something is new and scary, get it seen to. Get to know what muscle soreness is like. You’ll recognize it and move on.
Ordinarily, I advocate following an exercise program for the duration. If it’s a 21 Day program, do it for those 21 days, no excuses! 30 days – ditto! But some days you’re angry at the world and need an outlet before you punch your kids, spouse, dog, mailman… A good kickboxing workout is perfect for those days. If you’re feeling lethargic and almost under the weather, then maybe a yoga practice or Pilates session is the best bet. One day a while ago I felt what seemed like a cold coming on and I did an intense yoga practice. I forgot about how my nose and throat felt and focused on my brain! I felt totally fine at the end of the final pose, Shavasana. Some days I feel flighty and want a super-intense workout to bring me down to earth.
Today I was in a bad mood, so I popped in one of my favorites, Turbo Jam’s Kickin’ Core. There was kicking, punching, work on the stability ball – it had everything I needed! Even some Capoeira for an intense push. All that in 45 minutes! Needless to say, my mood turned around and I was able to face the rest of the day with equanimity. After my shower…
We’re surrounded by our electronics and our devices. There is no escaping the fact that to live successfully in 2016, we need to be plugged into the world around us. It’s how we stay in touch with our friends, how we keep tabs on our kids, know if our flight is on time, how late the bus is going to be, how we get our news.
But once in a while we just need to unplug. Stop the noise. Get some peace back into our lives. Turn off the computer. Turn the phone off. Turn the TV off.
And then we can go about regaining our peace and sanity. Just sit for a few minutes with your eyes closed. Let the thoughts zoom through your mind. Acknowledge them but don’t take any action at all. Then open your eyes and read a book for 15 minutes. Cook your favorite meal without the TV blaring. Play with the dog for a while, or go for a walk with him. Or by yourself. Look at the trees, at the bushes, at the houses. Or just think about the things and people that make you happy.
It’s easy to become immersed in our technological world, but once in a while it’s important to live in our own head and figure out who we are inside.
Are you bored with your routine? Then it might be time to switch it up! I was doing one kind of workout for months. I enjoyed it, but I kept resisting going downstairs to push “play.” I found one excuse after another until there just wasn’t time to work out. And that led to bad eating habits, too. My portions got bigger, the foods were not as healthy. It was a downward spiral.
So I decided, “I’m an accountability coach. I should be able to figure this out!” I switched to a different workout program. And I started following the nutritional guidelines for that program. And 3 weeks later, I’ve lost 4 pounds and am not bored. I need more carbohydrates than this meal program allows, to be happy, so I’ll add more from time to time. I don’t snack, as a rule, so that’s a plus.
I don’t like this workout program as much as the one that I had been doing, and that could be a problem. It’s harder on my knees, and that’s another problem. But I’ll modify the moves that I feel are bad, and just keep pushing “play.” And then when I get bored, perhaps I’ll rediscover that first workout and stay motivated!
When I was growing up, there was a lady who taught a yoga class on what is now our local PBS station (back then it was Channel 11). She wore a long-sleeved leotard and tights every day. My mom and I tried to follow along, and we did pretty well, except for the really hard arm balances. Lilias spent 27 years on PBS and is still practicing and teaching yoga online. And she’s the norm for yogis. People who regularly practice yoga just seem to not age. They seem healthier and happier than the population as a whole. Why is that?
For starters, yoga is great exercise. The physical benefits include increased strength, endurance, flexibility and balance. And some flow classes can really get your heart rate up too! And now studies have shown that yoga provides mental benefits as well.
Real Simple’s “Getting Fit For Life” blog 1/19/16 (http://www.realsimple.com/health/fitness-exercise/stretching-yoga/yoga-brain?xid=soc_socialflow_facebook_realsimple) cites new research published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice that suggests that yoga can help people manage bipolar disorder.
And it makes sense that yoga can help everyone de-stress. “The Mayo Clinic boasts yoga’s power to fight stress and improve moods for all. And the practice can offer a moment to escape from our busy lives. Research shows that mindfulness-based stress reduction, like that at yoga’s core, can help lower anxiety and stress. In a study at the University of California, Los Angeles, participants who practiced yoga for just 12 minutes every day for eight weeks showed a decrease in their immune systems’ inflammation response. When we’re overstressed, our bodies lose the ability to regulate our inflammatory response, which can lead to a long list of health problems, including a greater risk of depression. By lowering our stress levels, we can also lower the risk of depression.”
A study from the University of Illinois has shown that even brief (20 minute) sessions of hatha yoga can improve focus and information retention.
And yoga helps us live in the present moment, which tends to make us happier. So – let’s keep practicing yoga!
The wind chill is sub-zero, actually! How do you stay warm when it’s so cold outside? We’re told to keep our thermostats below 68 degrees. So we pile on the layers, so that we look like abominable snowmen! And then we can’t move, much less think! The answer is exercise! Start moving and start sweating! You’ll feel warmer. The more you move the warmer you’ll feel. And even when your workout is finished, you’ll feel the warming effects for a while.
But then what do you do? You can’t work out all day! Tone it down! I hop in place. Ten on each leg does it for me. That has the same effect as working out, plus I can do it at work. Once an hour or so I’ll stand up and start hopping. People may look at me like I’m crazy, but I don’t have to chug the hot chocolate! Nice hot soup is good at mealtime, and I love hot chocolate but can’t afford the calories.
One thing that hopping doesn’t do, though, is warm my hands. My hands freeze! (My feet are cold, too, but hopping helps them.) So I knitted myself a pair of fingerless mitts. My fingers are exposed, but it’s hard to type with full mittens. The mitts keep my wrists and most of my hands warmer, and that does help.
I don’t make resolutions. They don’t work. Kind of like diets. They’ll work for a while and then you don’t feel like sticking with the program and they fail. You might think it’s a great idea to start going to the gym on January 1st or cut out all chocolate on that day, but it’s not going to last. It takes 30 days for something to become a habit, and before that it takes a lot of commitment to stick with something that you may not have done before.
If I feel like I should change something about myself, I have to really believe it. REALLY believe it! Because changing a behavior is hard work. You have to think about it pretty much all the time.
For example, to reduce your junk food intake, you have to ask yourself every time you start to eat, “Is this good for me? Do I need it? Is there a better alternative?” So instead of a bag of potato chips, have a few carrots available. Once in a while I do have potato chips. I decide on the serving I want, put the chips on my plate and SEAL THE BAG so that the chips are not easy to get at. Eating chips requires scissors and a dish. Not something you can do without thought. It’s a conscious decision. “I’m going to eat 10 potato chips today.” I get out the bag, cut it open, count out my chips, and seal up the bag again. It’s much easier if I have a big bag of cleaned, cut-up carrots handy in the refrigerator for when I want a snack.
So, in order for a resolution to be sustained, you have to really want the result. Don’t make a New Year’s resolution. Just do it.
Oh, and Happy 2016!
No doubt about it – some days are easier than others. One day you’ll do a workout and it’s a piece of cake. A couple of weeks later, I’ll do the same workout – same time of day, same conditions – and it’s really, really hard! I don’t know why, that’s just the way it is. It’s always been that way for me.
And some days I can balance on one foot really well and can hold the position for quite a while. And the next day I can hardly hold it for 2 seconds! I don’t know why – that’s just the way it is. I get the same amount of sleep. My diet is about the same. I usually practice my balance at about the same time every day. The weather is about the same. No reason! And some days after a particular workout my knees are fine. And after I do that workout again, my knees are killing me! Nothing is different – everything is the same and yet my result is totally different. I’m still getting the same fitness benefit, I’m sure, but the immediate physical effect is different. If I ever figure out the reason for this, I’ll pass it along!
Does anyone “help” you exercise? Is it your dog, or your cat, or your kids? It can be a challenge! Of course, we’d all like to be able to exercise without distractions or interruptions, but that doesn’t always happen in real life. With dogs, at least, it’s possible to train them so that they find a cozy bed and take a nap until it’s time for something fun for them. Cats – I’m not so sure. (We had a cat for 17 years and I’m still not sure that he even knew his name! We loved Merlyn and spoiled him rotten, but we figured out pretty quickly that we’re dog people. We just couldn’t figure him out. ) And with kids, I guess they’re trainable too after a certain age. And before that, parents take advantage of nap time. And when they understand the benefits of exercise, maybe they’ll join you in your work out!
But dogs will leave you alone. You just have to make sure that they see more value in lying in that bed than in licking your face when you’re doing exercises on the floor. It takes a while. (Interrupted workouts and lots of dog treats!) But Booker sometimes still has an uncontrollable urge to get in on the action!