On movement of a different kind

On movement of a different kind

klewis

Hint: it involves your bowels

My university days were not the greatest years of my life.  I struggled academically and socially as I adapted to being a small fish in a very big pond.  I grew up in a small town, was athletic and academic and felt important.  In university, I quickly became a nobody, a nameless face in the crowd.   I desperately missed home and called my parents a few times a week and share how awful I felt. 


My parents while supportive are also firm believers in “working through your pain” whether it is mental emotional or physical.  During these calls home I would get a few minutes of compassion followed by a logical and practical pep talk about how to keep going.   One question that my Dad asked me every single one of these calls, was did you have a BM today?  At the time I was like why the heck does that matter? I am a 19-year-old woman, not a toddler, how does having a poop impact my terrible life at school? Have you seen the dorm bathrooms here? Put Mom back on the phone!  

Now I get it, it was difficult for my Dad to see me in pain and he wanted to help me in whatever way he could. My Dad knew that he could not help me with my emotional struggles but ensuring his youngest daughter was eliminating daily was an area he felt he could influence.  With a discussion about fibre and water and keeping up with my exercise, my Dad knew that I would feel better if I had a BM.  So much of my life was in transition, everything was new and I was having a hard time adapting, so this basic bodily function was very important to my overall health and spoke to the choices I was making at school. 


I later learned (what my Dad knew all along) through my Naturopathic training just how important healthy bowel function is towards overall health.  I can’t tell you the number of people I see in practice who think multiple loose messy stools per day or going to the bathroom once per week is absolutely normal.   Healthy elimination looks like brown, soft to firm, easy to pass poops that happen 1 to 2 times per day.  Anything other than that is abnormal and although not necessarily a disease certainly an indicator that something is out of balance in the body. The cause being anything from food sensitivities, imbalanced gut bacteria, parasites or suboptimal digestive enzyme function just to name a few.

In my office, I always spend a fair amount of time focusing on elimination and looking for clues to a person’s health through their poops.  Treatments range from shifting away from trigger foods, killing off and repopulating commensal bacteria, increasing digestive enzymes etc…  There is so much here and after 13 years of practice, I am still in awe of the individuality of patients’ symptoms and subsequent treatment plans to bring health back in this area.   

Something that I have seen as a consistent pattern for patients is the deeper meaning of a compromised digestive system.  We often think of our bowel movements as being a purely physical act of elimination but I now realize that there truly is a mental/emotional factor to staying regular.  We have to let go!  When the body is stressed, tense and overwhelmed from mental/emotional triggers are BM can not be healthy.   When we are holding on to stories or situations of the past we are unable to move forward and the body is along for that ride, mimicking our emotional challenges in physical ways. 

So back to my Dad’s question: did you have a BM today? He was not only being practical to my physical needs but also very wise to my emotional state?  It was time for me to let go of the good old high school days to create space for new experiences at University. 

Now that I am a Mom myself, I truly get it.  It is a good morning in our house when my daughter, dog and I have a bowel movement.  I am able to say goodbye to them for the day knowing that they are off to a good start.   And Dad, you will be very happy to know that when your granddaughter is in the midst of a meltdown or is struggling to process something, I will ask her: did you have a poop today?

On movement and aging 

On movement and aging 

klewis

I am closer to 50 than 40! Wow, when did that happen? I have become acutely aware of this as I notice the many changes that happen with age. I was out for dinner with friends.  It was a dark restaurant and I had left my glasses at home. Everything was so blurry, it literally looked like one big smudge of words on the menu. I had to pull out my phone, take a picture of the menu and then enlarge the pic, just to order. 

What’s my game plan for ageing well? Well in addition to a lot of humour, I would have to say it is acceptance. It’s happening regardless of how I feel…the days, weeks, months and years are moving quicker than ever and there is not a darn thing I can do to change that.


I passed the torch along to the beautiful, perky and fresh 20 somethings years ago and
have leaned into the wisdom and freedom that comes with being 40 plus. That being said, I still want to be my best self. Full disclosure… I take collagen to slow down the ageing of my skin, I dye my hair every 4 weeks to hide my more grey than brown hair and I started on bio-identical hormones to help ease my transition into menopause.

My biggest strategy to maintain my health and feel strong and beautiful as the calendar marches on is movement. What this more accurately looks like is a commitment to keeping lean body mass up. I shifted a mostly cardio routine to one that includes almost exclusively weight training and yoga. At first, I was resistant to do this, going to a gym and lifting weights seems so boring compared to the activities I was doing in the past. In the beginning days, I struggled to get the same high that I get from a long run or an intense workout session at the hills. It did not take me long to adjust my mind and body to align with the mental and emotional as well as physical benefits that I get from lifting heavy weights at the gym. The feeling that I get from these workouts is incredible.  

If I have not convinced to add weight training to your lifestyle choices then let me give you are a few more reasons WHY?

Peri-menopause – this is the period of 4-7 years before your body goes into menopause, ironically this biological ageing process is marked with an increase of estrogen (before the ultimate decline that happens post-menopause). The female body recognizes that there are limited egg reserves and increases a hormone to stimulate the ovaries causing an increase in estrogen (very similar to puberty). Having an increased lean body mass during this phase of aging will decrease additional excess estrogen that can come from fat cells further adding to an already abundant flood of this hormone and worsen a whole host of nasty symptoms.

Maintain metabolism – as muscle mass decreases and fat cells increase so does our metabolism. I am a strong believer that ageing does not have to mean uncontrollable weight gain. Do you have to work harder? I actually don’t think so, what you do have to consider is changing the way you move your body in order to preserve this highly valuable resource of muscle mass. Lifting weights, doing pilates and yoga will all support lean body mass results.

Bone health – once post-menopause, we become at risk for osteoporosis. There are a number of ways to reduce this risk and be sure talk to a Naturopathic doctor about the preventative treatment plan that is right for you. One thing that has been show time and time again in the studies around bone health is exercise and especially weight training.  I am not sure about you but I am hoping for awesome posture right up until I am 90 years young.

Adrenal health – I am busy and tired a lot of the time and I don’t always feel like I have a tone of time. That’s why I lift weights. After my daughter was born, I started training for 5 and 10km runs. It was more than just finishing, I had time goals and training schedules that included sprints and hill repeats. Needless to say, my body was not recovered enough from being a new mom to handle this and it did not take too long to crash from these additional physical stresses. I love weight training because you can still set the goals (I can’t begin to tell you how awesome it is to increase your dumbbells from 10 to 15 pounds). You can literally lift for 20 minutes a few times per week and you don’t have that absolute exhaustion feeling that comes with doing intense cardio sessions.  

Strength and power – I have found weight training incredible for my confidence. As someone who has always managed dysmorphic body image, you would think going to the gym and working out besides dozens of Lululemon clothed young women would be a trigger (especially between the 5-9 pm time frame, it’s a major meet market and actually quite entertaining). The opposite is true. Firstly I am 40++ women and that shit does not actually matter to me anymore, cheers to the wise women-years. The other factor is I am strong, really strong and when I pull out 3 unassisted push-ups at the park or hip thrust 150 pounds of weight, I feel like a frigging superhero! 

Do it! Hire a personal trainer, go on youtube, sign up at your local gym, purchase some weights to use at home…whatever you can do to access more resistance training. The benefits are huge and it is surprisingly fun!

On movement: too much of a good thing

On movement: too much of a good thing

klewis

I absolutely need to move and this is something that is non-negotiable for me. My mental health depends on it. I manage anxiety and depression and it went unrecognizable to me for over 25 years. The nervous feeling in my stomach, the tightness in my chest, along with the dark thoughts, insomnia and headaches are just a few ways anxiety and depression show up in my body. In my case, I normalized these feelings and found a way to cope. It looked like exercise and lots and lots of it! 

When I was a young teenager, I am talking 13 to 14 years old, I started to get up early and run around the block a few times before school. I did not really understand why I was doing this but I knew that it made me feel better. Something about this movement changed my perspective, the days I ran were easier, lighter and more manageable. 

Like any good thing, more is not always better but I did not have this awareness yet. My thinking being if going for a 15-minute run makes me feel this good, how amazing will a 45-minute run feel? The worse I felt mentally and emotionally the faster, longer and harder I ran.


So became my addiction to high-intensity exercise as a way to ease my mental and emotional pain. Sounds like a perfect solution with awesome results hey? but this scenario only works when my body (and life) are in line to access this, which of course is not always a possibility. I have learned over the years (the hard way) that having only one remedy to manage those difficult days is not ideal and comes with a few obvious flaws. Let me share:



Flaw #1: Misunderstandings and missed opportunities 
A misunderstanding from loved ones including family and friends as to why I had an insatiable quest for movement. For many finding the motivation, focus and energy for exercise is a struggle. I have zero issues with that. When I am up and out the door before 6:00 am to hit the gym on a Saturday morning or I am going for a run during downtime in our family vacation I know it is difficult to understand. So often I have heard: why don’t you just relax with us?  What I will share is it is not personal. I am not doing anything to make you feel bad or because I am obsessed and can’t let go of my goals. No this is mental health for me. I need to move to feel better and keep my soul centred. That being said, I have and continue to at times, missed out on that sunset or early am morning snuggle session with loved ones. Something I am now trying to lean into and receive is the benefit that those connection choices offer. The wonderful healing that most times is as impactful or possibly more as boot camp class.

Flaw #2 Aggravating the situation
Pushing your body, hard 100% all of the time is not a long term option, especially if you are already feeling tired and burnout. I attended a CE course this weekend and was offered insight from one of the top sport’s medicine doctors in the country. He reframed the idea of overtraining syndrome to actually be about recovery. That all symptoms related to over-exercise actually have more to do with the inability to recover from the activity than overdoing it. So this becomes an issue when your only coping option is high-intensity workouts with little space physically as well as mentally/emotionally to recover. You see when you have been running from a bear or fighting a bear, in your everyday life, then you go to a hardcore boot camp class, you will only further aggravate. Your body does not actually know that you are not still in the woods. Sure you feel amazing post-class with all your worries, darkness and exhaustion pushed to the side until the next morning when you wake up and feel fatigue and those negative feelings come back with a vengeance.  

Flaw #3 Disconnection 
Disconnection from yourself. Running, lifting or jumping away from feelings is a wonderful distraction but if you are not able to sit with the feelings then you will never move through the feelings. I went through a divorce in my late twenties. It was painful.  During this time I got into the best shape of my life.  Makes sense right, I mean if exercise was my medicine for mental and emotional discomfort and divorce causes suffering and lots of it, you can only imagine how much I had to move, in fact, I could not sit still.  Exercise got me through this time or so I thought.  In hindsight, I never sat with the pain and negative emotions. Anytime I felt discomfort like anger, grief or fear I hit the gym. It became a bandaid that only kept the pain at bay while I was doing it and never allowed me to fully process what had happened. It was not until years later that I discovered meditation and I truly stopped and unpacked the emotions, trauma and wounds from that time in my life. 

Flaw #4 Lacks a plan B
Injuries, illness, exhaustion. Because no one in life is immune to these things. Although I am a highly resilient person, the body will ultimately have times of breakdown.  This is the body telling us that we need more recovery and restoration time. Like an addict who can’t get their fix, a person who’s only tool for self-care is exercise will move into a state of panic when you can’t get the feeling.  Injury and illness were no longer about a message to rest, these times became days of extreme darkness and panic as I was unable to deal with the flood of emotions that would hit the surface when I could not access the relief through exercise.  

Flaw #5 Loss of joy and play 
Our bodies are meant to move.  Have you ever danced in your kitchen or skipped through the forest? It feels so good and is fundamental to a healthy body and soul.  When movement becomes rigid, punishing and without flow we lose that joy. For most of my life, I thought activities like yoga and expressive dance was a waste of time. I mean really you want to call lying around on a mat or flowing to the music with eyes closed exercise? Yes, yes and more yes. I was ignorant of the subtle benefits of moving stagnant energy or qi as well as the beautiful lightness that comes with free-flowing movement.  So now I dance in the kitchen or move organically on my yoga mat without attachment, judgement or outcome. It’s so much fun and surprisingly healing. 

So don’t get me wrong my body, mind and soul still absolutely desire movement and my need for exercise still very much a part of my self-care regime. The difference is my ability to pause and become aware of the time, intensity and intention of the activity I am thinking of doing and ensure it is in line with my true needs. Instead of going to the hills and doing repeats perhaps a walk in the woods is more nourishing or enjoying a slow-moving Saturday morning may offer more self-care than a run. On the flip side sometimes I need to go lift heavy weights instead of having tea with a friend. I want to move always, I hope to be 85 first in line at the shuffleboard game but what I also desire is to have the wisdom to choose what is most caring for that moment.

Take your tired for a walk 

Take your tired for a walk 

klewis

Studies show that exercise improves mood and energy.  You can thank me now for that inspiring and motivating fact.  I am sure that makes you want to jump up and go for a run.  Not so much hey?  Well let’s talk about that and what that actually means for you.

Okay, we all get it.  Exercise is good for us.  If we know this then why don’t we access it as part of our self-care routine especially when we are feeling blue?

Well, of course, we don’t because we are tired and down and going for a swim in a cold pool or doing 30 minutes on the stepper is the last thing we want to do.  Hence this vicious cycle, needing to move our body but not being able to jump over these feelings (both mental and physical) to get the job done.  

Let’s be honest grabbing a coffee and a donut is such an easier and quicker choice when it comes to a short term mood improver.  Even though we know from experience that the “good feeling” only lasts for about as long as it takes to eat the donut and down 1/2 a latte whereas the benefits of a 15-minute walk can last a whole day we still choose quick and easy.   There have been so many times that I have felt stressed, tired and down and abandoned my work out for Netflix or mindless scrolling on my phone.  At the moment it feels like the right thing to do but ultimately I always, 100% of the time regret it.

Let me clarify if you come home from a tough day at work and step over your shoes and make your way up to the bathtub for a warm bath or you lie in bed for a 15-minute rest that may absolutely be the better choice for you.  Listening to your body is never, ever wrong and your self-care is always on rotation as far as what you the choice to do.

Typically that is not what happens though, we by-pass our intention and move into something that does not actually offer relief fromthe low mood or the extreme stress.  We move into distraction, avoidance or mindless activities that have zero return on investment.  In fact, it aggravates the very feeling that we are trying to soothe ourselves from. No one wants to feel bad so any distraction is a welcome visitor.  The challenge in these moments is choosing support over sabotage. 


So what’s the answer? I am actually not one 100% sure but you know I have a theory that I am going to share.  I believe the key here is awareness and experience.  

Let’s start with awareness.  This sounds oh so simple yet is so crazy hard.  We spend most of our days in automatic, have you ever had one of those commutes where you get to work and think I don’t even remember turning the car on.  That’s why we all love routines and that’s one of the reasons behaviour modifications aka changing habits is so difficult.  We cling to what we know and feel fearful for what is new.   So what you want to understand is the feeling that is going on in your body.  Awareness does not have to mean meditation and journalling, it can, but there are many ways to become aware in the body.   Understanding what you are feeling physical, mentally and emotionally is key to this learning. We don’t have to analyze or attach too much meaning to the sensation we do however want to be aware of the sensation.  For example, I am feeling tired can be translated to my body feels heavy and my mind overloaded or I am feeling anxious can be translated to my chest feels tight and my thoughts are racing.  Once we become aware of what we are feeling we can identify what may make us feel better and move into that direction.  So the next time you step over your runners and make a b line to the freezer for ice cream ask yourself two simple questions 1) what sensation am I feeling 2) is this behaviour truly self-care.

Now on to experience. It is not going to be easy, it isn’t for anyone.  Even those 6:00 am joggers that you see every morning while you are sitting on your couch drinking coffee (I am the coffee drinker in that scenario) had to talk themselves out of bed when their alarm went off.  The big difference with those people and the ones that hit snooze and turned over in bed is the experience of “just doing it”.  Once your body, mind and soul have the taste of movement it craves more.  It becomes its own positive feedback loop and the more you do it the more you want it.  The mind will always say Nah let’s skip today but if the body is like hey wait I know how this feels and I want to move then you have won the battle here. 


Connecting into your bodies needs is also hugely important in this process.  Through awareness, you will be able to understand your bodies state and with experience choose movement that is reflective of that need.  So often we think long, hard and faster is better.  No this is not 1995 folks, no pain, no gain went out a long time ago. This is where all or nothing syndrome comes in.  If I can’t hit the gym for 60 minutes and do an intense boot camp class, I am going to go home and eat chips.  Hmmm, where is the middle ground in that thinking? Perhaps a kinder and more motivating thought is my body is tired from not sleeping well last night: I am going to go to the gym and walk on the treadmill for 15 minutes, stretch for 10 and then have a warm shower.  Can’t you already connect with how good you would feel from me just saying that? So instead of not at all, think about adjustments.  A little goes a long way and 15 minutes counts. 


Inevitably we don’t want to do it and even when we become aware and understand from experience that movement we will feel better we just still don’t want to.  So a little phrase that I have found incredibly helpful is – take your tired for a walk.  What this means to me is waiting for yourself to feel energized to move your body may never happen so instead of expecting this to be your general state or starting point lean into the fatigue, stress, low mood and move your body.  Ironically, it will be in the act of movement that these stagnant and heavy sensations lift. 

Why do you move (or not?)

Why do you move (or not?)

klewis

For the longest time, I told myself I was that classic Type A person. I prided myself on my ability to set goals and achieve them. Never was this more present than in my fitness. Even as a tween, I remember getting up early to run around the block in preparation for the upcoming school track meet. I was focused and directed when it came to exercise.


This behaviour was celebrated by my coaches, teachers, family and friends everyone thought I was an exceptional athlete except for myself. You see all of these things about my relationship with exercise was true but there was one thing hidden, the motivator behind these lofty goals.

You see, what the truth was, from a very young age, I believed I was fat, stocky -my shape being less desirable than those around me. I internalized every passing comment or comparison as not enough, that I needed to be altered or changed. I was not enough as is! To begin a very long and tortuous journey with exercise. It offered an escape from my body a possibility to alter how I look. With enough drive and force, I could be free. Therefore the backdrop goal for every minute spent in the movement was to lose weight and get that body that would make me feel whole. 



Don’t get me wrong I always loved sport, I was competitive and I lived for being part of a team. This is not one of those throw the baby out with the bathwater (whoever came up with that expression anyway) kind of situations.  At school I played basketball, field hockey, ran on the track team and was always a leader on these teams. I went on to play varsity squash at university and continued with competitive play for most of my 20’s. 


Some of the benefits of an active and sporty life have shaped who I am today and made me into the person I am. I would never want to rewrite my history and the things I did, no I would however love the opportunity to go back and hug that 13 year beautiful, fragile, perfect girl and tell her go play, laugh, run, jump for joy and to stop giving a shit about whether or not this is the thing that will finally make you skinny!

I wish I could tell you that at this point, I saw this wound and wrapped myself in a blanket of compassion that looked like moving my body with love and kindness and setting fitness intentions from a place of heart’s desire not a premeditated motivation. In truth, that journey would take another decade and continues to reveal its ugly head at times when I feel vulnerable. The difference is that I can now see the pattern and stop that demon in its tracks.

I am currently lifting weights, jogging, practicing yoga and taking my pouch for long walks. I am still very active and always will be. It is part of me but what I have healed is my why, no longer is my drive from a place of not enough rather I choose my activities based on the power and strength I feel in my body, the presence and connecting I have with self and the joy I access when I am in movement.


So dear ones, I ask you to take a moment to ask yourself why do you move? What brings you joy and what excites you? Let go of the should and could and set your intentions based on your heart’s desire. You are enough exactly as you are. The true gift of movement with its mental/emotional and physical benefits can only be received when you are in a place of enough.