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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Experience Life Magazine

Midwest Muscles

Woman with kettlebells.jpg
(Photo courtesy of Flickr)

Since I moved to Minneapolis six months ago, I’ve been continually amazed by the women here. Damn, they’re strong! I’m not talking about women in their 20s, 30s or 40s. I’m talking 50 plus, “une femme d’une certain age,” as the French say. Take my kettlebell class, for instance. There are no men in it. Just women who are my age, or close to it. I’m 62. Whether they’re doing jerks, snatches, lawnmower pulls or planks, I can barely keep up with them. I don’t think it’s just me, either. I’d like to see how many of those pumped guys in the free weight room could get through one of our hour-long circuit training classes. What are Minneapolis women made of?

I don’t just mean the ones swinging iron cannonballs through their legs and over their heads either. For my first three months in Minneapolis, before I rented my own house, I stayed with a friend’s mother named Mary Ellen who lives in Bloomington. She’s 83. By the time I’d get up at 7, she had already been up for hours cleaning, doing laundry and cooking. Even when it was 15 below zero, she’d be outside walking my dog and scraping the ice off my car windows. When I went to visit her the other weekend, she was gardening. No kneeling stool for her. She was on her knees, on cement — jeez, what I’d give to have her synovial fluid! I wish I could say Mary Ellen’s amazing strength comes from nutritious food choices. But her pantry staples include M&Ms, Cool Whip and margarine.

There’s a grandmother in my Pilates class who told me that her daughter is a germophobe and makes her kids continually wash their hands. I told her that children need to be exposed to germs in order to develop immunities. Paraphrasing an article I’d once read, I told her, “Studies show that people who grow up on farms don’t develop allergies because they’re exposed to everything.” “I grew up on a farm,” she told me, “and you know what, I’ve never been sick a day in my life.” Mary Ellen grew up on a farm too, with eight brothers and sisters who are either still alive or lived to a ripe old age. Her mother just died at 100.

I don’t know if the women in my kettlebell class grew up on farms. I’ll have to ask them. Better do it before class, though, while I still have some breath left. I’ll also have to ask my next door neighbor where she grew up. I just met her over the weekend. She had a hoe in her hand and was ripping out weeds in her backyard. Turns out she’s in her 90s and still teaches English at a Catholic high school.

Wonder if she does kettlebells?

Experience Life Magazine

What Is Yoga For?

Many great things happened when I attended the Yoga Journal Conference last weekend in Lake Geneva, Wis. I learned to chant the Gayatri mantra from memory. Senior Anusara teacher Desiree Rumbaugh taught me to expand my backbend by about a thousand degrees. And the beatific founder of Purna Yoga, Aadil Palkhivala asked me a really good question: “Why do you practice yoga?”

He didn’t want an answer, which was nice, because after 12 years of practice I didn’t have one immediately. My reasons for practicing seem to change all the time, and they’re not always so spiritual. Sometimes I practice because it feels good to stand on my head or open my shoulders or go into backbend. Other times I practice because if I don’t I will never kick up into arm balance without help, and I’ve been trying too long to quit now.

So that question lingered with me throughout the week, and a more satisfying answer did finally come to me yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t during a headstand, though. I was visiting a beloved wheelchair-bound relative and helping off her commode toilet. While struggling to dislodge the full bucket to empty it in the flush toilet, I spilled its entire contents on the carpet of her room. Dropped it like a hot rock. Oh yes, dear reader, I did. I will leave that mess to your imagination.

Meanwhile (and here’s where events become notable), panic did not take over. Not completely, anyway. What happened was: I got some rubber gloves and disinfectant and paper towels and start scrubbing with what I hope was a minimum of fanfare. My extremely gracious relative cracked jokes while I cleaned. Exactly nobody drowned in shame or discomfort, though the seeming worst had happened. The mess got removed and we got on with our day together.

It was while scrubbing that the answer to Mr. Palkhivala’s question popped into my head. This is what yoga is for. It’s for when, incidentally, s&#T happens onto the carpet. The physical benefits of yoga are so obvious and appreciable that it’s easy to forget that yoga is training for the mind; physical practice (asana) is only one of the eight “limbs.” The rest address the practice of ethical behavior and compassion toward others (yama), self-restraint (pratyahara), and the like. What we do on the mat, then, is only about 1/8 of yoga. The other 7/8 is all about the carpet.

Experience Life Magazine

Better Posture, Less Pain

A while back I had to have an IV put in but the nurse couldn’t find a vein. She started in the crook of my arm. When that failed she moved to my hand. When that failed she called in another nurse who assured me, “I’m the best at this.” When she couldn’t find a vein, they called in the nearest MD and made him hunt around for it. Finally another nurse was called in from some other wing. She was a short, older woman with a warm smile but determined eyes. I imagine that, internally, they refer to this nurse as “The Closer” for her ability to find veins in anything — arms, hands, pillow pets, the bookshelf.
Let me set the scene:
Our mild-mannered protagonist, Laine, is curled in a ball of pain. Laine is wearing a dull purple hospital gown trying to crawl under the bed. Our needle-wielding villain, The Closer, wears hospitals whites and grips a tired-looking IV. 
Laine: Um, er, can I get a minute here?
The Closer: No, we have to get this in. It’s been 45 minutes.
Laine: I don’t have any skin left on my arm!
The Closer: Okay, I’m going to try now.
Laine: NO!
The Closer: YES!
Laine: NO!
The Closer: YES! It will help if you stretch out. It will hurt less.
Laine: What? NO!
The Closer: YES! It doesn’t help that you’re in a ball!
The Closer: Calm down! Stretch out!
Laine: NOOOOOOOO!!!!
End Scene. 
The Closer finally found a vein, and all was fine. But this story came rushing back to me this week when I read about a study that, it galls me to admit, proves The Closer right! It turns out that the more dominant, non-curled-up-in-a-ball-like posture you adopt, the less pain you feel. 
A study by Scott Wiltermuth, assistant professor of management organization at the USC Marshall School of Business, and Vanessa K. Bohns, postdoctoral fellow at the J.L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, found that by adopting a more dominant posture — a person is able to tolerate more physical distress. A dominant posture is the opposite of being curled up in the fetal position — sitting or standing up straight, pushing your chest out, widening your stance and expanding your body. The researchers speculate that these postures help generate a sense of power and control over your environment that lessens your nervous anticipation and makes the procedure/painful event more tolerable. Previous research has also suggested that expansive postures may increase levels of testosterone in the body. Higher levels of testosterone are associated with better pain tolerance and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol.Best of all, say the researchers, you can fake it until you make it. When you’re feeling nervous or you’re anticipating pain or faced with your own version of The Closer, take a wide Superman pose and the pain will be more tolerable.
Experience Life Magazine

Deep Wells of Concern

One of my editorial tasks at Experience Life is to find and review links to share on the RevolutionaryAct.com social media outlets. Most of the stuff I find is pretty dull, poorly written, we’ve already covered it or it’s not quite the right fit for our informed healthy revolutionaries.

Often I find things that make me laugh, shake my head in disgust or elicit a shoulder shrug. Every once in a while I find a story that keeps me pondering for days or even weeks. An example of this would be an article from Grist that came across my Twitter feed. The article discusses the release of a coloring book about natural gas directed toward children.

Having lived out West for many years, I am very familiar with the debate over the safety of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” for natural gas and have seen and smelled drill sites. Vast tracts of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Texas have been mined for natural gas. More recently, gas companies are mining in Pennsylvania.

While the coloring book’s hero, “Terry the Fracosaurus,” may look friendly, the process of fracking is certainly not. “Terry” explains to kids that the drilled area “is reclaimed and returned to the way it was” before the well was drilled. Back in reality, the situation is different and there are many people deeply concerned about the environmental and economic impacts of natural gas drilling.

One concern is habitat and species disturbance, runoff and erosion, which occur from building roads, and the presence of drill rigs, water tanks and large trucks needed to create and run a drill site. A recent case study showed that wastewater that was legally spread over an area of West Virginia forest killed ground vegetation and trees.

Another concern is water, soil and air safety. Since water and chemical agents are used in the fracking process, the water becomes contaminated. Keep in mind that only the gas companies know what’s really in their chemical cocktail thanks to what’s known as the “Halliburton Loophole.” This loophole to the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act exempts gas companies from disclosing the exact chemical mixture used in the fracking process. Some chemicals that are known to be included are diesel fuel, biocides, benzene and hydrochloric acid. Benzene has been classified as a known carcinogen.

The contaminated water must be cleaned and disposed. Often, the wastewater is trucked to water treatment facilities after all of the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) are evaporated off into the air. VOCs can create ground level ozone when mixed with diesel fuel from trucks, generators and other equipment used in fracking. Ozone plumes can travel great distances thereby creating air pollution.

Some companies elect to store water in pits. These open pits provide potential for further soil and water contamination. These chemicals cannot be completely eradicated from the drilled well, thus the possibility for leeching into drinking water supplies is high. Water contamination has happened in multiple places including Dimock, PA. Water has turned brown, is reported to be combustable and has made humans and animals sick.

As with other types of energy production, people that live near drilling sites are divided over fracking and its impacts. They are forced into potentially trading environmental safety for job security. Jobs that dry up once the well does.

At the end of the coloring book, “Terry” tells the kids to “have a safe day.” We might be able to get a little closer to safety if the gas industry dropped the secrecy and answered the serious questions posed by citizens, drill site communities and environmentalists instead of attempting to educate through the lines of a coloring book.

Experience Life Magazine

Travel Fit With Joe Dowdell (and Jen)


I feel like I’ve been traveling for weeks. Mainly because I have been traveling for weeks: In a quest to greedily gather up all the best article ideas to share with readers of Experience Life, I’ve been hitting a number of fitness symposiums around the country.

Happily, I can say that my workout routine hasn’t fallen by the wayside during this time, but that wasn’t always the case — I used to write off great swaths of time as impossible. Gathering enough motivation to get to the gym while I was on the go was far tougher than the workout itself.

But then I remembered: Being healthy isn’t a part-time job to be fit in around the edges of the rest of the time, when chances are I was talking or writing or posting about being being healthy. It’s the main gig.

One of the perks of being a fitness editor is that even the lectures at these events are pretty active — someone is always making you stand up to demonstrate something, and group workouts are the norm. But I’ve also started considering my trips opportunities to explore the local gym culture, dropping in on a different one each evening. I end up doing activities that range from Olympic weightlifting to kettlebells to yoga to CrossFit, to sampling the many amenities at EL‘s very own publisher, Life Time Fitness.

Below, Joe Dowdell, owner of hot-hot-hot gym Peak Performance in New York City and author of Ultimate You, offers up his top 10 tips for staying in shape when you’re on the move. My faves: 7, 8, and 10. (Click on it to enlarge the document.)


What do you do to stay in shape when you’re traveling?
[photo cred: http://enriquesantos.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/delta_new_livery.jpg]
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Experience Life Magazine

Post-Baby: A New Kind of Body Confidence

A couple weeks ago, Jen Sinkler, Experience Life‘s senior fitness editor, asked me if I’d be the fitness model for an upcoming “The Workout” article. My immediate external response was a confident, “Yes, of course, that would be SO fun!” After all, I had a great time when I did an impromptu shoot back in 2009 (for a Fitness Fixes article on the Feldenkrais Method):

Nov09_FitFix_JamieComp.jpgInternally, though, I began a running list all of the areas of my body I would need to tone up in the weeks leading up to the photo shoot. It included just about every major muscle group in the body.

Sadly, working for a health and wellness magazine has not made me immune to negative self-talk about my body. It has, however, helped me be more aware of when I’m being body critical. Case in point: In the midst of my internal “my body’s not good enough” rant, I caught myself and remembered the body-image revelation I had a few weeks after my daughter was born last October.

Before I get to that, I have to be honest and admit that I have always been body conscious (in my late teens and early 20s, I was probably more obsessive). That didn’t change when I was pregnant. I was tough on myself. While I loved the experience — nothing beats the feeling of those little baby kicks — I didn’t enjoy the physical changes that came along with pregnancy. I didn’t think my baby belly was cute, and I didn’t like looking in mirrors. More often than I care to admit, I found myself nitpicking my expanding body rather than reveling in the miracle taking place inside of it.  

So you can bet that I was eager to get back into a normal workout routine once MK was born. I started slowly with walks and light strength training; about five weeks postpartum, I went for my first run. As I hit my stride, I felt happy, light and surprisingly strong. That’s when it struck me: Who cares if my stomach isn’t as flat as it was pre-baby? Who cares if my thighs aren’t as toned? My body had carried and birthed a human being — how cool is that?!?

In that moment, I was so proud of myself and what I looked like. I decided then and there that I would be kinder to my body. It was time to start appreciating it for all of its amazing capabilities, and treating it like a friend rather than an enemy.

I’ve fallen into negative thought patterns several times since that cool November day. Each time, though, I catch myself a little quicker as I’m FINALLY committed to embracing a healthier body image. It’s not easy, and is going to take practice and vigilance, but I’m going to do my best. After all, I now have a little someone who will learn from my actions and words — and I want them to be on the positive end of the spectrum.

I think I’ll start (again) by accepting and celebrating where I am, even with a photo shoot on the horizon.   

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Experience Life Magazine

Between a Rock Wall and a Hard Place

Jocelyn first climb.jpgAfter almost a month of the rain denying me the experience of my first outdoor climb, our group finally got out this past Saturday. It was a sparkly, sunny day, mid-80s, not a chance of rain. We drove with the top down on the car and basked in the beauty that is a Minnesota summer day. After the exhilarating hike up to the bluff, my first climb was. . . anticlimactic.

After all the build-up and talk of how fun this was going to be, a real outdoor climb was drastically different than I had anticipated. You mean the holds really aren’t conveniently marked in red and white so that I can plot where I’m going before I even get started? And what about those big handles that are so easy to grasp onto — where’d they go? Needless to say, not only did I not make it to the top of any of my climbs, I didn’t even get close.

Although I enjoyed the day, I have to admit that I was pretty sullen about my performance. My friends tried to console me with the reminder that this was my first time out. To which it took every ounce of restraint I had (and a couple of ounces that I didn’t) to stop myself from saying, “But it’s (my climbing partner) Ryan’s first time, too, and he’s doing really well.” That would have been just downright whiny. Not to mention that Ryan (the triathloner) is younger, stronger and healthier than I am.

They say that each new experience is a learning opportunity, and I definitely took away something from the outing this weekend: Finally seeing what real, natural rock is like has given me an idea of holds and techniques that I want to practice, ones that I never would have guessed before being out there.

But I’ve also learned that my determination has really grown over the years. There used to be a time that if I didn’t excel at something the first time I did it, there wouldn’t be a second time, and I’ve probably missed out on some really fun experiences. Today, I’m saying that not only will there be another climbing adventure, but when it comes I’ll be ready to kick some butt on that bluff!