Mindfulness 101: Breathe (Yeah, Like It’s So Easy?)

I’m kicking Taoist butt with the “leaving no trace.” I can’t believe how much I’ve been getting into this “leaving a room at least as clean as when you go in.” Only took me 58 years and three husbands to get there. CH keeps walking into the kitchen and saying “what’s wrong with you?”, even though he was the first one to try keeping it clean. I’m such a natural-born clutterer that he thinks I’ve been replaced by an impostor–a pod person left by aliens ready to suck his spirit out when he’s asleep. Nah, did that to the first two hubbies.

That’s getting to be so natural that I’m tempted to just go with it for another week before trying another mindfulness exercise but that seems like cheating.

This week, then: Take 3 breaths.

Yup, that’s it. Whenever during the day you think of it, sit back, try to let your shoulders relax and take three deep breaths, inhaling into your abdomen, exhaling so your abdomen relaxes back toward your spine. Consider each 3 breath break as a mini-meditation, so much more doable than trying to set


 aside a half hour in a quiet space, pretending your mind is clear when you’re really totting up the chores you need to accomplish in your whirling, never empty, never settled brain.

3 breaths. Deep, slow. Let that Buddha-belly hang out. Let your mind wander–or not. No goals, no wrong or right. Just 3 breaths.

Mindfulness 101: Like a Turtle Moving Across Sand

First, an update on how I did with the “use non-dominant hand.”

Not that great!! I actually could figure out eating pretty
well–which I’m sure says more about my love of food than being mindful. But
other tasks were nigh unto impossible, especially brushing my teeth. Despite
using an electric toothbrush. Now, that’s pitiful. But I’m still doing one
activity a day left-handed, even if it’s just holding the steering wheel with
that hand instead of the right (cheating because I always used to do that when I
drove stick).

This week, my mindfulness activity is to pick a room in the
house–bedroom or bathroom, kitchen or study, whatever–and follow the mantra
“leave no trace.” To do this, pick your room (you could challenge yourself and
pick more than one) and leave it looking as it did when you entered it or
better. Now, don’t choose your teenage daughter’s bedroom, figuring that it’s
such a mess, you couldn’t possibly leave it looking messier.

When you
finish a meal, if the kitchen is your choice, be sure the dishes are either put
in the washer or that they’ve been washed, dried and put away.
The counter wiped down. The salt and pepper shaker put back. The stray edamame
pods picked up off the floor–ok, maybe that’s just me.

In Buddhist
teachings, this “leaving no trace” is associated with the turtle which swishes
its tail back and forth across the sand as it moves, wiping away its footprints.
While you may not be worried about being tracked by predators, the action of
“leaving no trace” still brings your mind to the present and to the moment of
“here and now” in this room, making you appreciate the space you are in, rather
than treating it like a quick stop on a metro platform.

Jan Chozen Bays,
whose book these exercises come from, says that a good reminder to yourself is,
for this week, to tape a little drawing or photo of a turtle to something in the
room. Since I’m choosing the kitchen for my room, my little wooden turtle will
be moved from the living room to the kitchen counter as my reminder.

your “leaving no trace” might spread. I made the bed this morning without even
realizing that I was doing a small “turtle swishing sand” that I don’t usually
bother to do. My “inner smile” was pleased.

Mindfulness 101: “Left, Right, Left, Right, Left, Left”

Week 1 Exercise:

Every day for one
week, use your non-dominant hand to do at least one thing. We have such great
dexterity with the hand we usually use that we stop having to think about what
we’re doing. Using the other hand forces us to think more about the task of the

Try brushing your teeth with the non-dominant hand. Eating. Using
the computer mouse. Don’t pick something too easy like turning a page; make it
something that will really throw your brain out of whack, and wake it up. And
while you might want to repeat the same activity each day, try adding a new one
in as well.

I played computer Solitaire the other day using my left hand
for the mouse. I not only couldn’t maneuver well, my brain stopped working. I
couldn’t see the cards I needed to move, no matter how much I tried to
concentrate. When I switched back to my right hand and played the same game,
same combination of cards, I whipped right through it.

Don’t think you’ll remember to do this? Try posting a note on the bathroom mirror ‘Brush Left’ (or right). Wear a ring on an unusual finger or just go with the old standby: tie a string around one of the fingers of your non-dominant hand.

Mindfulness 101: “Can You Here And Now?”

The TigerI’ll start with a story from the old Taoist
masters. They have a million of them: you think the Bible is full of parables,
dip into the Tao Te Ching.

A man is walking through the forest, enjoying
his day. He hears a noise behind him, turns, and sees a tiger running at him,
drooling from its rapacious jaws. The man runs as fast as he can to escape the
tiger and comes to a cliffside with vines growing down it. So he grabs two of
the vines, one in his left, one in his right, hand and begins climbing down,
thinking “Whew, that was close, just barely got away from him.” He can see the
tiger pacing around the top of the cliff but knows it can’t climb down. Then,
when he has gotten about halfway down the cliff, he hears a sound from below. He
looks down, only to see a second tiger, pacing beneath him at the bottom of the
cliff. So now, he can’t climb back up or the first tiger will eat him; and he
can’t keep climbing down, or he’ll be eaten by the tiger below. “That’s ok,” the
man thinks. At least I’m safe here and maybe they’ll get tired and go away.” But
next thing he knows, there’s a little noise right on the vine above him to his
right. The man looks up and there’s a little black mouse, gnawing on the vine in
his right hand. “Now,” the man thinks,”what can I do? I can’t go up or down and
this vine is probably going to snap. Oh well, I still have this other vine.” But
no sooner does he think that, then he hears noise above his left hand. Looking
up, he sees a tiny white mouse nibbling away at that vine. He is truly without
options, it seems: a tiger above; a tiger below; a white mouse destroying one
vine; a black mouse, the other. In that moment of despair, he looks to one side
and sees a plum branch growing out of the cliff with one perfect plum on it. He
reaches out, plucks the plum from the branch and takes a bite of the beautiful
juicy fruit. . .

That’s where the story ends. Wow, that’s like watching
an episode of Kung Fu, huh, grasshopper?

The story is about the
importance of living in the present moment. At one end of our life is birth–the
first tiger–and at the other end is death–the tiger at the bottom of the
cliff. The black and white mice represent day and night, the movement of time.
We can’t go back, we can’t escape, and eventually, the vines will be chewed
through. But in the meantime, there is the plum–the “now.” And that is all we
really can live for.

In a world of work and worry and rush and rampage
(and alliterative fun all around), how can we ever experience the “now.”
Although I’m supposed to be an exercise guru, over the next weeks, I’m going to
make those exercises a little different: exercises in mindfulness. Each week,
I’ll present a new one. Try them, share your experiences with what they did–or
didn’t–do for you. Some have food related components, others don’t. But in one
way or another, they will all be about the plum.

The Easily Distracted Blogger

Yes, I have been pretty quiet on the updates to my search for the best app for tracking food and exercise. Part of it comes from the pure frustration I keep running into with these apps. I almost hit my limit when I searched for “cottage cheese” on SparkPeople and it gave me a Steak ‘n’ Shake burger meal before it gave me regular old cottage cheese–I still haven’t figured that one out.

Part is, of course, my horrendously short attention span. Since I have some clients that do Weight Watcher’s, either the “go-to-meeting” or online kind, I thought I’d briefly take a look to see what it was about. Well, now I’m deep into my exploration of the pros and cons of that–new obsessions always trump old ones for me.

The worst part about this is that Weight Watcher’s online community has brought out my competitive side. Not that I’m trying to beat anyone at weight loss. Seven pounds off and I’ll be good to go; I almost feel like a spy in the camp. But I joined one of the online groups–planning to just eavesdrop, maybe throw in an occasional comment so I wouldn’t be so obviously a fly on their wall–and discovered that WW posts who the most active participants of a group are.

You can see where this is going. I didn’t think I was adding more than my two cents, but apparently, I was adding more like a Benjamin. One day I popped up on the “most active” list. Now, I have to see myself there or I think, “OMG, just like high school; I’m not one of the cool kids.” I’ve never been most active at anything, so being on the “wall of fame” is just too tempting.

I swear, I’m going to break the habit. Stop checking the group wall when I should be working out or planning workouts for clients. Not weigh in (ooh, pun intended?) on everyone’s day. Read a damn book, anything.

Right after I see whether anyone answered my last post.

Exercise du Jour–or Door–or Wall

Wall Squat w/ Bicep Curl   What a great day to just hang out against a wall.  Well, we can’t make it quite that easy. But this Squat with Bicep Curl is a dandy for hitting lots of muscles at once. And it’s not hard to learn.  Although getting the ball behind your back if you’re by yourself can be quite a trick. Ah, that’s why you should have a personal trainer!

OK, So stand with a stability ball wedged between your back and the wall. Grab a couple of dumbbells. No, wait, grab the dumbbells first–see how tricky this is getting. Once you’re wedged up there with the dumbbells in the “up” position of a bicep curl, you can start the actual exercise. Slowly go into a squat, pressing your back against the ball, feet a little in front of you to keep pressure off the knees. As you squat, lower the dumbbells, again slowly, using that eccentric power to control them.

Now, stand back up, curling the weights as you stand. Remember that as with any bicep curl, you keep your elbows tucked to your sides.  With your back leaning against the ball, you won’t have to worry about the “hip hinge” and knee position as you would a regular squat but if you do feel it in your knees, just move your feet forward a little more.

And, man, doesn’t it look like she has incredibly long legs! Not a picture of me, I’m afraid!

(And no, there really isn’t a video with this. But I’m going to do one. Promise. But you’ve all heard that one before.)

An App For Fat: Day 1

Step one at the four apps I’ve picked to check out is to see how much help they’ll give me in setting goals. If I don’t have a clue how many calories I should be downing or how much fat is too much (or too little), then what do I learn from listing my foods (ok, the four pints of Ben & Jerry’s might be obvious)? And how consistent are the numbers from app to app. So I went in to set up my personal information on each one. I chose to say I wanted to “maintain” weight (smirk) to avoid getting “diet” numbers.

Calorie Counter, which is allied with FatSecret and is one of the more popular apps on the iPhone and iPad, didn’t give me any recommendations. I was able to put in my height, weight, and age but I had to come up with goals on my own. It’s possible that syncing with the web site,  http://www.fatsecret.com, would have done more for me but I’m trying to stick strictly to the app versions.

I went to SparkPeople next. I’ve been to their web site before and found it massively confusing, with ads galore, and lots of flashing widgets and links. The app is much more cleanly laid out, although I could do without the inspirational “quote of the day.”  After putting in my stats, it recommended a broad calorie range for me, 1500-1850, calories. Rather mysteriously, it made comments about what kind of exercise was scheduled for the day, telling me that “No cardio is scheduled for today.” Too bad I hadn’t seen that before I did cardio, huh! And on the daily food page, it did give recommended–again in broad strokes–ranges for carbs, fat, and protein but didn’t explain that those numbers were for grams of each, not calories, which could be confusing: darn hard to eat only 33 calories of fat, no matter how “good” I’m being.

Next stop was Calorie 1.  I had to reset this once because it didn’t save my info from the first time I put it in.  When I did get the right stats in, I got a very specific calorie recommendation, 1687, but it took me some time to find the goals for other nutrients and somewhat strangely, I thought, it gave numbers for fat but not for carbohydrates or protein although there was room to enter that myself.

Livestrong and Calorie 1 must be using the same calorie formula (and I suspect Calorie 1 might have been an earlier version of Livestrong–too many similarities of style) because I was again, at Livestrong, given a very specific number: 1686. Somebody’s rounding down and somebody up, no doubt. And while this number is lower than what I get when I figure my own based on the Mifflin-St. Jeor equation, both sites figure the difference between calories and net calories in their math, subtracting calories expended in exercise (but not in “activities of daily living”). I find this a bit dangerous, since computing calories burned is a tricky science. Nowhere does the Livestrong app mention fat, carbs, and protein but maybe once I start entering foods, that will pop up.

Not much to conclude from this, except that on first look, Calorie Smart doesn’t seem to give as much guidance as the other three, SparkPeople stays comfily vague, and Calorie 1 and Livestrong are perhaps too paternalistically prescriptive. Round one: no clear winner but I’m dumping Calorie 1 as being too much like Livestrong.