Animal Intelligence

Aside

Have you ever noticed how animals keep fit? My cat Max is in great shape. When he gets up from a nap, he automatically stretches. When he needs to get his ya-yas out, he chases dust bunnies. And he’s certainly strong enough to pounce up his cat tree. He gives his body what it needs, when it needs it. No grueling gym workouts necessary . . .

Let Go and Get Long

Aside

Back in the day when I taught “go for the burn” aerobics, some students would leave class before the final stretch. Later I’d ask why they had left and they’d say, “well, I mainly want to burn calories” or “stretching is boring . . .”

Picture ballet dancers and their beautiful bodies. Those long, lean muscles are achieved through both lengthening and strengthening exercises. Dancers spend hours stretching.

One of the great things about stretching is that you can truly do it while you’re doing other things, like watching TV or reading.

Have a seat on the floor. Sit with your legs extended in front of you and lean forward over your legs. Your muscles become more flexible as they warm up. Take time to hold the stretch for at least 30 seconds, breathing deep and easy. Don’t force the stretch. Just let go and get long.

Forced Breathing

Another way to relax and restore natural breathing patterns is to practice forced breathing. Forced breathing involves consciously squeezing more air out of your lungs by using the muscles between your ribs.

Take a deep breath in through your nose — let it out through your mouth — and as you let it out, squeeze out more air, and more air, and more air, and even more air . . . squeeze it all out! Use your whole belly to continue to press out more air. Then, inhale.

Continue several rounds of forced breathing.

Neck Nirvana

I spent last week in NYC walking and carrying a heavy handbag, which made for a tight neck and tense shoulders. So while in Chinatown, I got a fabulous quickie neck massage.  Here’s a fun, easy way to fit in a neck stretch — all you need is a small hand towel.

Stiff neck . . . no more!

Equipment: hand or dish towel

Position: Standing or sitting, hold on both ends of the towel with your hands, placing the middle of the towel behind the back of your head.

Simple exercise: Use the towel to guide your head forward, tucking your chin to your chest and gently tugging forward for a deeper stretch.

Benefits: stretches your neck muscles.

Have fun, get creative, and share your ideas . . .

Wash, Push, Pull

I do this exercise 10-20 times in the morning and night after I wash and dry my face. The bathroom is transformed into the perfect gym complete with mirrors!

Assist with the resist!

Equipment: hand towel

Position: Standing with your feet hip width apart, hold towel tautly over head, gripping hands shoulder-width apart.

Simple Exercise: Slowly pull the towel down to the front, with your arms straight and then push the towel back up, resisting the movement in both directions.

Benefits: Tones the muscles in your arms, chest, shoulders, and back.

Have fun, get creative, and share your ideas . . .

Shower Power

Whether you shower in the a.m. or p.m., use the therapeutic effect of warm water to help you wind up or wind down your day.

Equipment: Shower

Position: Standing in the shower with warm water flow centered on upper back and feet hip width apart.

Simple exercise: Drop your chin to your chest and interlace your hands in front of your body to round and feel a stretch in your upper back and shoulders.

Benefits: Stretches upper back and shoulders; feel stress melt away and energy increase.

Have fun, get creative, and share your ideas . . .

Roll a Pearl

When you get a kink in your back, the first thing you may want to do curl into a little ball with your knees in your chest. Another option is to move yourself in the opposite direction. This is also a great exercise if you frequently find yourself hunched over a computer . . . like me.

Position: Lying, face down with nose to the floor and arms by your sides, extended with palms up.

Find a pearl and polish this one off!

Simple exercise: Pretend to roll a pearl forward with your nose, lift your chin, then your chest with arms bowed behind you. (This is a Pilates move that is a bit like “cobra” pose from yoga.)

Benefits: Strengthens upper and lower back; stretches front of neck and chest; tones the back of your arms.

Have fun, get creative, and share your ideas . . .

Feed Me Sleep!

The body responds to sleep deprivation by craving more fuel. And the fuel it craves tends to be high, empty calorie boosts, like Cheetos, chocolate or Chunky Monkey ice-cream.

Plus, lack of sleep puts undue stress on the body. The stress hormone is cortisol, which causes the release of insulin, which promotes fat storage.

That’s why sometimes the best choice you can make, when connecting with your body, is a nap.

Presenting the Exhale

Sometimes it helps to shake things up. When you want to get a little crazy with your breathing, try focusing on the exhale.

Simple Exercise: Breath and pay attention to the pattern of your breath, consciously focusing on its natural flow – in/out, in/out, in/out. Now reverse, switching your focus to the exhale. Breathe out/breathe in, out/in, out/in. Continue focusing on the out breath for a few minutes.

It’s like changing the accent an a word. For example, look at the word present.

pre-SENT: Allow me to pre-SENT you a new way to focus.

PRES-ent: Give yourself a PRE-sent by breathing.