The Secret to Finding Happiness In Your Workout

The Secret to Finding Happiness In Your Workout

How do I know when it has been a good training session? When I tell a client it is time for the foam roller and a look of surprise comes over her face.

That’s it? We’re done already?

It’s not that the workout was easy. Instead I like to think they have achieved a state of FLOW.

Perhaps you call it being “in the zone” or being focused. I like the term Flow better. Based on the research of psychologist and author, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the definition of a flow experience is this:

…the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.

Flow appears to be something missing in many people’s lives. The modern workplace is lacking, being mostly a source of stress not contentment. We get lost in the minutiae of daily life outside of work, moving too fast to find the joy. Physical activity, however, can be the ONE place we can easily have a flow experience. Not only can we experience flow as part of a workout, it can help us achieve flow in other parts of our life as well. Csikzentmihalyi says in the book:

Everything the body can do is potentially enjoyable…If the functions of the body are left to atrophy, the quality of life becomes merely adequate, and for some even dismal. But if one takes control of what the body can do, and learn to impose order on physical sensations, entropy yields to a sense of enjoyable harmony in consciousness. (Flow, p 95)

The flow experience does not happen by accident. While there are some common traits among those who seem to live in a state of flow, the autotelic personality, the experience is open to anyone. Your workout, no matter if it’s running, lifting or boxing, can provide a great space to learn how to create flow in your life. Whether you are starting out on your journey or if you need to renew your motivation, finding FLOW can be extremely helpful. Here are the things, according to Csikzentmihalyi, that are needed for a flow experience.

  • A challenging activity that requires skills.
    If we are honest with ourselves we will admit a challenging workout is always a more rewarding one. Pick activities or an intensity that pushes you out of your comfort zone but has a high chance of success as well. Working to a place of complete failure or sickness is NOT the way to FLOW.
  • The merging of action and awareness.
    This can be a big benefit of hiring a personal trainer. You, the client, just have to focus on the exercise. You let me, the trainer, think and tell you what to do next. Your work is focused but decisions about what to do next are left to someone else. You can do the same for yourself by making sure your workout is completely planned out before you start. All you have to do is follow the instructions you’ve written out for yourself.
  • Clear goals and feedback.
    What is the goal of the workout? Having both a big picture goal (running a half marathon) and a smaller goal (I will run three miles) for each workout helps to create an important feeling of purpose.
  • Concentration on the aspect at hand.
    You need a workout space were you can focus on the task and the goal of the workout. If you chat too much when you workout with a friend think about doing a solo workout or two each week. Wear your headphones in the gym to block out the “noise”. Try taking your workout outside if your home or the gym brings too many distractions.
  • The paradox of control.
    You control the workout. The pace and effort are your own. This is a sense of control we often lack in jobs and relationships. Relish the time to be in charge. Connect with the muscle as you move it, being aware of the fact that YOU are initiating contraction.
  • The loss of self-consciousness.
    Meaning you are not self-conscious about your actions. For a beginner this can be hard but you can make it easier by choosing a small and less crowded gym. Find out when the off peak times are and you might find you have the place to yourself. Participating in a group activity can also be helpful. Finding a class with people of a similar skill level and goals can make you more confident. Just remember most people are so involved in their own workout that they have little time to pay attention to anyone else.
  • The transformation of times.
    Unless you’re doing interval training put away the timer. When you schedule time for workout, be realistic about how much you can spare so you don’t feel rushed. Try not to constantly watch the clock.

When we have success in one aspect of our life, we can often carry it over to other areas. By finding flow in your workouts not only are you more likely to stick with them but you are also more likely to experience flow in other areas of your life. For more tips and suggestions, check out FLOW: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Farmers Market Finds for October

Fall vegetables may be the ones I have the least experience with. Zucchini, berries, asparagus, sweet corn and peppers are easy to cook and add to various dishes. Beets, turnips and delicata squash are like a foreign language to me. Yet they looked so beautiful at the farmers market this month I just couldn’t say no.

Ever since getting my Ninja I want to try juicing everything. When I saw the garnet red beets at the market I had a vision of a brilliant red post run smoothie. Sometimes the vision is better than the reality. I made a slight variation of this Cranberry Beet Smoothie from Runner’s World, twice. It was not entirely unpleasant, still drinkable, but I wouldn’t call it a win. Failure is how we learn, right? I think beets will be more pleasing to me if I roast them instead of drink them next time. The trick will be how to do it without making my kitchen look like a murder scene. Anyone have tips on how to peel and slice a beet without getting the red everywhere?

The next kitchen experiment was the delicata squash. Squash is more familiar territory but I’ve never tried this particular variety. For over a year I’ve been making a chickpeas salad recipe from Vegetarian Times that shares a page with a recipe for Red Curry Delicata Squash and Tofu. Every time I make the chickpea salad, I tell myself that I am going to try the curry recipe “someday”. No more some day! I thought it was delicious and it passed my husband’s test for flavor (a little spicy, but not curry overload).

The last experiment was with the turnips. I was inspired by another recipe, this one from Health magazine. I’ve been trying to be a good steward of our grocery budget, planning meals around my overstock of pantry staples. I always have most of the ingredients for the Moroccan and Turnip Chickpea Braise on hand. I used quinoa instead of couscous to boost the protein power.  It turned out to be a “maybe”. I tasted okay but it was missing something. I may try it again but add a couple of extras to see if I can bring out the flavor a bit. If you give it a try tell me if you liked it “as is” or if you added a little something.

It wasn’t long ago that the coming of fall meant the end of the farmers market. I am so glad that the Farmers Market of the Ozarks will continue to have a winter market. Several vendors have told me I might be surprised what the market has to offer during the colder months. I’m looking forward to being inspired all winter long.

What about you? How do you feel about beets and turnips? Does your local market stay open year round?

Quick Guide to Nutrition During Breast Cancer Treatment

Quick Guide to Nutrition During Breast Cancer Treatment

Breast cancer is a battle. Not only are you fighting the disease but also the effects of the treatment. During this time food can feel like the enemy too. Eating can feel like torture, trying to find foods that sound appetizing and that the body can tolerate. In reality, food should be your ally.

Nutrition should be an important part of any treatment plan. It is time to think about food as medicine not just critically needed fuel. While every woman experiences different things during breast cancer treatment and recovery, there are some tips that can be beneficial to most who are undergoing chemotherapy.

  1. Chose organic whole foods when possible.
    Your body is fighting hard enough, why make it more challenging by giving it chemical and hormone-laden foods? Now is the time to embrace clean eating. If you can’t buy everything organic, start with the Dirty Dozen. This is a list iof produce that is the known to have high levels of pesticides and chemicals. Read labels to make sure you are buying hormone free dairy products. Visit your local farmers market to find a source of hormone free, antibiotic free and grass feed meats if you include meat in your diet.
  1. Increase your protein intake.
    The amino acids in protein are the building blocks to the immune system, critical for healing the body and preserving lean muscle mass (which is easily lost when you aren’t eating a lot or able to exercise). The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute recommends a quarter of your plate should be filled with protein at each meal. Plant based proteins are often highly recommended, like lentils and beans, along with organic dairy, eggs and fish.
  1. Pay attention to your fiber and water intake.
    Some people experience diarrhea while others experience constipation during treatment. Make sure you’re taking in at least 64 oz of water per day and 25-35 grams of fiber to help manage both. If you’re experiencing diarrhea, you may also need added electrolytes. Coconut water can help with electrolyte balance as does a natural sports drink like Recharge.
  1. Keep natural nausea fighters on hand.
    Ginger and peppermint can both help ease the nausea that often comes with treatment. Having a piece of crystallized ginger or a cup of peppermint tea can be a helpful part of your morning ritual.
  1. Limit the consumption of green and white tea.
    While green tea has been shown to have positive effects with breast cancer prevention it may need to be avoided during treatment. The polyphenols may block the effects of certain cancer treatment drugs. Instead, enjoy herbal teas like peppermint, ginger or chamomile.
  1. Eat small and nutrition packed meals frequently.
    Eating a large meal can compound the already unpleasant side effects you may be experiencing during chemotherapy. Eating smaller meals through out the day can help keep your energy up and be kinder on your stomach. Try nutrition packed smoothies like my Iron Woman Smoothie or this Green Goddess Smoothie from SkinnyTaste can help.

Just like every woman is unique, so is her experience and treatment of breast cancer. Always have a conversation with your doctor or a registered dietitian about your specific nutritional needs during treatment. If your doctor clears it, also try to add exercise to your treatment plan. According to a recent study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, adding exercise to your treatment plan increases survival rates by 7-8%. Use every weapon you have in this fight!

Top Fitness Favorites Oct 2014

Top Fitness Favorites Oct 2014

Unlike the rest of the world, fall is not my favorite season. I am not looking forward to shorter days, sweaters and falling leaves. Pumpkin spice ANYTHING is not making me happy this month. I don’t hate fall, it’s just not bringing me the same joy it seems to be sparking in everyone else.

So if I’m not all about fall, then what am I enjoying this month? I have three things that are making me happier than any latte or fall festival ever could.

  1. Ninja Ultima Blender

    Top Fitness Favorites Oct 2014

    I am leading off my list with the thing that literally makes me squeal with delight right now – my Ninja Ultima Blender! I got extremely lucky at the IDEA World Fitness expo and won my choice of Ninja products. It is AMAZING. I have made everything from my first beet juice smoothie to vegan cream of broccoli soup in it. I am almost convinced that there isn’t anything this blender can’t do. The dual stage blending even made quick work of the dried dates in the Date Balls of Energy I love to make. I was impressed with how well it handled them versus my food processor (which is a pretty mean machine in it’s own right). Clean up is a snap since most of the parts are dishwasher safe. I basically want to juice everything now. I even contemplated juicing a lone zucchini leftover from another recipe just to see what happened. (No, I didn’t do it. I spiralized it instead.). I have been cured of my Vitamix envy!

  2. Oxygen Magazine

    Top Fitness Favorites Oct 2014

    Oxygen Magazine is back! I hate to say this but even before Robert Kennedy Publishing went bankrupt 2 years ago Oxygen had been on a bit of decline. In my opinion they seemed to be chasing fads, recycling a LOT of old material and adding filler that had little to do with fitness. I missed the balanced strength training plans and solid science based nutrition advice that made me subscribe in the first place. Even after coming back from the bankruptcy hiatus, the magazine still felt it was lacking something, but when I sat down to read the October issue it was like being reunited with an old friend. I can say for the first time in a long I read EVERY article. I found the articles on BCAA and hiking very helpful. Even Jamie Eason was back! My fingers are crossed for a new beginning for what was once my favorite magazine.

  3. Lumosity

    Top Fitness Favorites Oct 2014

    I’ve added brain training to my workout routine. Exercising your body also is great for your brain but your mind needs some workouts just for it. I got a free month of the Premium subscription to Lumosity from Starbucks and I am hooked! Each training session only lasts about 15-20 minutes and can be done from your phone, tablet or laptop. They’ve confirmed something I’ve always known: I am an excellent problem solver. I also learned that my brain performs much better after a workout than it does after an evening of training others. Sadly, my free month of premium is up but I plan to continue taking advantage of the free version. Although the workouts are shorter something is always better than nothing, right?

Falling leaves aren’t making me happy but maybe you really do LOVE fall? Are you all about chili in the crockpot and football games on the weekends? What do you love (or at least like) about fall?