Establishing Habits for a Productive Life

Posts tagged “healthy-living

Change your mindset, improve your running

So much of our ability in running comes from having the correct frame of mind. Oftentimes we fall short of our goal because our mind tells us we can’t do it, we’re tired, we’re sore, we’re bored, etc. Here are some simple tips I’ve found to help me overcome those mental barriers and push through.

Lean into the pain. Avoidance of pain is one of our most instinctive human responses. Although certain types of discomfort do signal potential injury, there are also plenty of aches and pains that are simply signs that you are pushing your body.  “You need to push through discomfort to see performance gains,” says John Raglin, Ph.D, in Runner’s World Magazine. So don’t stop running next time you sense the first hint of pain.  Instead, listen to your body.  Try to recognize if the pain is a sign of growth or a sign of injury. If it’s a sign of growth, push into it.  Let that inspire you. Know your body is trying to reach limits it hasn’t before, and that’s how you’ll become faster and stronger.

Set ambitious goals.  I’ve learned one very simple psychological trick: if I tell myself I’m going to run three miles, I’ll be exhausted after three. If I tell myself I’m going to run seven, I’ll be exhausted after seven.  For a long time I kept thinking that four miles was my limit, and eventually I realized that I wasn’t moving past four simply because I never aimed to run more.

Identify short-term targets. Take it one step at a time.  Focus on making it to the top of the hill, then to the end of the street, down the next block.  Try to push through to the end of the song you’re listening to or try running especially hard for the next 30 seconds.

Look for little victories.  Congratulate yourself after each mile or after each stretch. One small reward system I’ve implemented is allowing myself to sip from my water bottle after each mile.

Refocus your thoughts. It’s okay to tune into your body, but it’s also okay to tune out and let your mind wander.  Do you have a project at work to mull over? A friend you’re excited to see? Or maybe you would prefer to tune into your surroundings, whether that means observing nature or even making up stories about passerby.  Whether running is your time to process things in your everyday life or to ponder more abstract ideas, this kind of mental activity is good in that it distracts you from physical discomfort. When your mind zeros in on the pain, your body actually increases its stress response, thereby aggravating that discomfort.

Visualize goals. If you begin your run by saying “There’s no way I’ll reach my goal today,” chances are you won’t.  Visualize yourself achieving your goal. Imagine yourself telling your friend, partner, or workout partner “I ran ____ today,” and the sense of pride that accompanies it. Recall past experiences where you did accomplish your goal.  How did that feel?

Remind yourself why you do it.  What are your motivations for running? Do you run to lose weight? To train for a marathon? To decrease your stress levels? To impress a friend or partner? Whatever the reason, imagine how much closer you’ll be to that goal if you push through to the end.


Getting Started with Yoga, Part I: Yoga “Mat”ters

There are many benefits to practicing yoga in a studio: the teacher is knowledgeable enough to correct your mistakes and prevent injuries, the atmosphere is focused and distractions are reduced to a minimum, and you are guided in your flow as opposed to having to construct it yourself. At the same time, there are days when we simply don’t have the time to get into a studio for a class, or times when we can’t afford to pay the premium costs of most studios.  Or perhaps you aren’t looking for a terribly strenuous practice, maybe just a few minutes of quick stretches at the beginning or end of your day.

In this series, I’ll offer a few suggestions to boost your home practice – everything from equipment, flow routines, playlists, recommended reading and more.

Let’s start with the essential equipment. If you’re new to yoga, I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of money on equipment up front. You should explore whether yoga is right for you first before committing to all the expensive add-ons.

The only item that is truly necessary is a good yoga mat. They can vary widely in price so it’s important to think about what exactly you’re looking to get out of it. Are you hoping to travel with it? If so, prioritize thinness and weight.  Do you know that your mat will be going through a lot of wear and tear? Invest in durability. Check out the helpful chart from About.com below to compare technical specifications of five very popular mats.

Gaiam Kulae tpECOmat Jade Harmony Lululemon 
The Mat
Manduka PRO
material PVC TPE rubber polyurethane, rubber PVC
thickness 1/8″ 1/8″ 3/16″ 3/16″ 1/4″
weight light (2.2 lbs) light (2 lbs) mid (4 lbs) mid (5.5 lbs) heavy (7 pounds)
length 68″ 72″ 68″ or 74″ 71″ 71″ or 85″
biodegradable no yes yes no no
odor no no yes (rubber) slight (rubber) no
soft yes yes no yes no
traction fair good good good good
durability poor poor good good good
price $22 $39 $65 $68 $94

I first began my practice out with a $10 mat from Target, and it wasn’t long before I grew frustrated with its thin cushion and poor grip.  I ended up buying two more mats until I finally decided to just make the investment and buy a mat I wouldn’t have to keep replacing. Though the Manduka mat is expensive, it is built to last and may be the last mat you buy for many years.

Clothing. I’ve seen people practice in everything from spandex shorts to loose linen clothing. The main objective with your clothing is that you are comfortable and able to move about freely.  In a class, the instructor often prefers that you wear tighter clothing so they can see your form and make corrections if necessary, though if you are simply practicing in your home, this is not essential. And men, when practicing in a studio, please no loose-fitting shorts. No one needs to see your junk during a down-dog…

That’s it for the essentials, but if you’re ready to deepen and enhance your practice, here are some other things to consider:

  • To absorb all that sweat, I recommend buying a yoga towel for your mat.  Especially in Hot Yoga, it can get pretty slippery.  I own the Gaiam Yoga Thirsty Towel and that has worked well for me.  It will protect your mat both from sweat and dirt, thus enabling you to go longer periods without having to wash your mat.
  • To keep your mat smelling clean and fresh, I would recommend Manduka’s Yoga Mat Spray. Nobody likes to smell a week’s worth of practice during their child’s pose. (I’ve also heard that you can also put your mat in the washing machine by itself with a tiny bit of detergent on a low setting.)
  • To deepen your stretches, the Manduka Cotton Yoga Strap is useful, especially for those hard to reach places. If your hands can’t quite lock behind your back, or your fingers can’t yet stretch past your toes, this strap can provide that extra leverage.
  • To facilitate your poses, I would recommend the Iyengar block. The block functions as an extension of your body, allowing you to reach more difficult poses.  In place of, or even in addition to the block, I would recommend a Traditional Mexican blanket.  They can be very affordable and in many instances can take the place of your block in providing support.  They are also commonly folded up and sat on for meditation because they elevate the booty just a couple inches off the floor, allowing blood to flow to your legs so they don’t fall asleep. If you’re practicing Restorative Yoga, you can also the blanket for warmth.

And that’s it. Namaste!


Finding motivation even on the toughest days

When I made the commitment to start training for a half marathon, I knew it was going to be physically difficult. What I didn’t anticipate, however, were the emotional hurdles that would inevitably get in my way. That is, life.

I recently went through a tough break-up. When I woke up the morning after, I was emotionally wiped out. I wanted nothing more than to stay in my pajamas all day, hide in my house, and eat chocolate.  Inevitably, my half marathon training schedule flashed open on my desktop, reminding me I needed to run 4 miles that day. Naturally, I resisted. I was so laden with mental and emotional stress that I felt drained of all energy and motivation. And in a way, I think I told myself I couldn’t run because I was “in mourning”, and continuing with life as normal would insult the magnitude of the situation.

Even though running always cheers me up, I spent the day moping about and as a result, felt even worse. The next day, I acknowledged how counter-intuitive this kind of behavior was. I knew I needed to force myself into action. I started small: I laced up my shoes. I stepped outside, and I told myself that even if I managed a ten-minute jog, I would be proud of myself. Almost within minutes of being outside, however, my spirits lifted. I ended up running far more than I had anticipated (4 miles at 9 mph – a personal best). When I came back home, though I still felt sad, I felt more empowered to deal with and process those feelings.

When we are going through an emotional low period, whether it’s the loss of a relationship, the loss of a job, or simply being in a funk, getting out the door can be the biggest challenge. We might tell ourselves “I’ll take one day off – it won’t make a difference,” or with feelings of futility, ask ourselves, “What does it even matter anymore?”  This kind of thinking is dangerous, however, because exercising not only provides a space for us to process and think through whatever we might be going through, but physically speaking, it releases endorphins. It allows us the freedom to move on with a clearer mind and lighter heart. You don’t have to run that 8K on an especially rough day, but don’t let your emotions keep you inside, as that might simply prolong those negative feelings.

What are your tactics for powering through with tough days?  How do you rally the motivation to get out the door?


Wake Up & Run! The Half Marathon Training Program, Part II: The Schedule

Here’s the 12-week training schedule I’ll be following for the next 11 weeks (I’ve already completed Week 1). In order to hold myself accountable, I’ll post an updated chart at some point in the future of what I actually ran, my pacing for each run, and what activity I did on my cross-training Sundays.  Hopefully the distances will be pretty similar, if not identical!


Banana Chai Smoothie

After a long workout, I always look for something to cool me off without weighing me down.  I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect snack for a while, and I think I’ve finally found it.

This smoothie is packed with potassium to ease your sore muscles, calcium for your bones, carbs to reboost your energy level, and a unique spicy twist to keep your taste buds interested. Mix in some Vanilla Whey powder for an energy boost after an especially tough gym session, or throw in some extra ice cubes to chill out after your afternoon Bikram.  A twist on the traditional Banana Chai Smoothie, this recipe incorporates Trader Joe’s delicious “Spicy Chai Mix,” so you can still get that exotic Indian taste without a kettle!

Banana Chai Smoothie Ingredients

Ingredients:

  • 1 large-sized banana
  • 1 scoop Trader Joe’s Spicy Chai Mix
  • 1 cup (8 oz) Almond Milk, Soymilk, or regular milk
  • 1/4 cup instant oatmeal
  • 2-3 ice cubes
  • 1 scoop Vanilla Whey Powder (optional)

Toss ingredients in a blender and mix until incorporated.  Pour into a glass and if you wish, top off with a dash of cinnamon! Now towel off that sweat, put your feet up, and enjoy!


Wake Up & Run! The Half Marathon Training Program, Part I: Before You Start

Join me on my journey to run a half-marathon.  In this series, I’ll be outlining my training program and loggin my progress along the way in order to (1) hold myself accountable, (2) seek help/advice from any readers who may be more experienced, (3) connect with any readers who are also in training and looking for support/encouragement.

Disclaimer: I don’t claim to be an expert in the slightest degree. I’ve only been running seriously for the past few months, so I’m still new to the whole thing. If you have any advice, I would be more than happy to hear it in the comments below.

I’ll go into the specific training plan I’m using in the next post, but for now, here are some fundamental tips I’ve picked up about training wisely for a half-marathon:

  • The Shoes. Choosing the right gear is important, but the shoes are perhaps the most essential.  I decided to do the barefoot thing all out for this training program so I’ll be alternating between my Vibram FiveFinger Sprints and my New Balance Minimus. Since I feel fairly educated about the risks and adjustments associated with barefoot running, I think I can make these two shoes work for the long distance.
  • Cross-Training.  I will devote every Sunday to cross-training, which for me will probably be swimming, a yoga/pilates combo, or maybe just a visit to the gym where I will rotate between spinning, weights, the erg, etc.
  • Mid-Week Training.  My base distance will be 3 miles.  During my mid-week training, I will stick mainly to this distance while slowly increasing my pace, elevation, etc.
  • Race Pace. Since my ultimate goal is a half-marathon, my race pace will be 9:00/mile. One day a week, I will run the assigned distance at this pace.
  • Rest Days. The rest days are as important as the running days.  When I first started running, I tried to run every day of the week. To my surprise, I ran stronger after my first rest day that I had been running previously. Rest days are essential for our muscles to regenerate and get stronger.
  • Indoor v. Outdoor Training.  I’m conflicted over how much training to do on my treadmill v. outdoors.  While I enjoy running on the treadmill because it tracks my distance, pace, and elevation exactly, I recognize that the treadmill is somewhat easier in that the “conditions” are always perfect: no wind, average temperature, humidity, etc.  In addition, the treadmill provides more “give” and is thus a little gentler on your knees and ankles, you never have to run downhill (which I find very hard on my ankles), and instead of learning how to keep your own pace, the treadmill electronically determines it for you. I’m going to try to strike a balance between the two – maybe three treadmill and two outdoors days each week.
  • Races. A lot of sites recommend running shorter races (5k or 8k, for example) before your half marathon in order to (1) have a concrete goal for the near future, (2) make sure you are comfortable in the race atmosphere and you know the proper protocol, and (3) check your time/progress.  I’ve just signed up for an 8K (“Into the Wild Rockin’ Summer Race”) on September 5th, so I have 15 days to prep for that.

Training begins tomorrow – see you on the track!

Sites I’ve found useful:


The Early Morning Routine

I strongly believe that I could not have made it through my first two years at Stanford without the early morning habit. At the beginning of freshmen year, I was constantly exhausted, underslept, and irritable. It was difficult to focus during the day because of all the activity around me. When I tried working late at night, I produced low-quality work.

I haven’t always been a morning person, but I slowly made the transition using simple tricks, tools and habits. I now wake up around 5 a.m. every morning, and those early hours are the most productive of my day.

A typical morning looks something like this:

5:00 a.m.: The alarm rings.
5:20 a.m.: Work-out clothes already on, I brew my coffee, cook an egg/feta/spinach omelette or whatever else I might be craving.
5:30 a.m.: I sit down with my breakfast and give myself at least five minutes to focus on my food and coffee. This intentional eating, coupled with a clear effort to set my intention for the day, sets a mindful and purposeful tone for the next few hours. I look over my schedule for the day, prioritize my work, and then begin, starting with the most important items first.
Note: I try to refrain from checking email/facebook/texts until around seven. No email needs a reply this early anyway.  These early hours are the time for me to be alone with my work, without distraction. To reduce any kind of temptation, I usually set SelfControl for an hour and a half, having added Facebook, Gmail, etc. to the blacklist.
7:00 a.m.: Having already completed an hour and a half of completely focused work, I open my email and respond to anything pressing.
7:20 a.m.- 8:30 a.m.: This is the time I set aside each day for either yoga, running, or meditation.  This time is essential for me to approach my day with a clear, stress-free mind.
8:30 a.m.: I shower, get ready, and head out the door.

By the time most of my peers are just waking up, I’ve already conquered a significant portion of my work.  Additionally, instead of resenting my 9 a.m. classes for having dragged me out of bed, I am well-prepared.  Rather than being groggy, I am focused and alert.

Of course, the one downside of this schedule is that I get tired earlier in the evening. Because I don’t always want to go to bed at 10 p.m., I usually take an hour-long nap between classes at some point in the afternoon.  This re-energizes me for the rest of the day and enables me to work or socialize late into the evening.


“I don’t have time to work out…” and other excuses we tell ourselves

I don’t have the right equipment, the right shoes, the right shorts, the right sports bra.
I just showered, I don’t want to get sweaty.
I’m so out-of-shape I’ll make a fool out of myself.
The gym is too far, I don’t want to waste time driving.
I need to send emails.
I haven’t eaten yet. I just ate.
It’s too early. It’s too late.
It’s too hot. It’s too cold.
I’m tired.
I’ve had a long day.
I don’t look good in my work out clothes.
I only have a half an hour, it’s not enough time.
My iPod isn’t charged.
It’s a Saturday morning, the gym will be too crowded.

Do any of these sound familiar? Acknowledging that you set up these barriers for yourself is the first-step. Abolishing them is the next. The solution is not to wait for the perfect time, but to understand and deconstruct these mental blocks.

“I wish I could go for a run/to the gym/to yoga class, I just don’t have time.”  Especially at school, this is my go-to excuse.  I’ve found that in a society where “busyness” has become an indicator of drive and ambition, being too busy to squeeze in even the smallest activities (“I have no time to sleep,” “I can’t even sit down for a meal.”) is simultaneously a complaint and a bragging point. Though I may actually be busy, I find that sometimes I consciously or unconsciously add more items to my plate in order to feel less guilty about not being active.

When I tell myself I can’t work out because I have too much to do, I’m hiding under my work.  It reality, it comes down to a matter of prioritization. Can I sacrifice the 30 minutes I spend on Facebook over the course of the day? Can I work with more focus and efficiency to free up time in the evening?

I challenge you to listen to the excuses you tell yourself and question them.  Where are they really coming from? How can we reframe our thinking in order abolish mental roadblocks we set up for ourselves? Will there ever be a day when all conditions are perfect: when we are in-shape enough to not feel embarrassed or in adequate about running, when we will be well-fed, well-rested, have the perfect gear and the perfect weather? Most likely not.


Getting Started with Barefoot Running

I was hesitant to hop on the barefoot running bandwagon. I thought it sounded like the newest marketing campaign, on par with Sketchers Shape-Ups. A couple months after making the transition, however, I can’t help but sing its praises.  It certainly took some getting used to, and I still can’t brag about being a pro, but I do believe that “going barefoot” has revolutionized my approach to not just running, but also hiking, interacting with nature, and in a way, living, in general.

If you’re considering getting started, now is the time. The transition doesn’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) rapid, but if you begin easing into it day by day, I think you’ll find the results to be remarkable.

I’ve been using Vibram FiveFingers Women’s Sprint for the past few months now, and I’ve already noticed a transformation:

  • I enjoy running.  I look forward to it.  It has turned something that used to be a chore into playtime. It feels childlike and free.
  • I run in a different way. I’ve transitioned from heel striking to forefoot striking.  Medically speaking, this is a healthier and more sustainable form of running.
  • Because of this, my stride is smaller and quicker.  Instead of feeling like I am hurtling my body forward, I am in control.
  • I have an increased sense of balance, better posture.
  • I prefer trail-running.  With such little material between your skin and the earth, every rock and crevice is something to explore.  Natural texture is enjoyable, pavement is boring.
  • My feet are stronger. I notice more muscles, more flexibility (my toes spread wider, bend back farther). Incidentally, my skin is also smoother.  The abrasion of the vibrams on my feet seems to have worn away any calluses.

When you think about it, running on top of a few inches of padding seems counterintuitive, and even dangerous.  By overprotecting our feet, we are weakening the muscles and bones inside our feet.  At the same time, the padding provides a false sense of security. We feel safe running with a forceful landing.

On the contrary, barefoot shoes force you to feel the impact of every landing.  We become more conscious of our movement, of what inherently hurts and feels good, and if we listen to bodies, we will be more in tune with what is safe and unsafe.

If the barefoot philosophy is all about reducing equipment in order to connect us more with our surroundings, it seems contrary that it would require another purchase. Unfortunately, unless you are able to run on a beach or on another clean surface, some kind of barrier is necessary to prevent cuts and lacerations (of course, there are some examples of people running extraordinarily long distances completely barefoot).

If you were to invest in one “barefoot shoe,” I would suggest Vibrams.  I’ve been alternating between the Vibram FiveFinger Women’s Sprint and the New Balance Minimus. The alternation between the two has worked well for me, but the Vibrams are definitely more versatile (for example, after my run yesterday, I jumped in the pool, vibrams still on!) and a little more playful (who wouldn’t want to pick things up with their feet?).

Making the transition

The transition was tough for me.  To begin with, I had only been running for a little while before making the switch. I’m not sure if this was a good or bad thing, because while I had very little endurance, I also don’t think I’d done too much damage yet running in the wrong shoes.  Nevertheless, I don’t think it’s ever too late to switch.

My transition schedule fell pretty close to what Vibram recommends.
1st day: wore the Vibrams around the houseoutside for about 20 minutes. Very bizarre feeling. They felt very thick between my toes, very tight on both my heel and the tips of my toes, etc.
2nd day: same thing, just added about 20 minutes.
Continued with this pattern for the first two weeks, while continuing my training for my half-marathon in my old shoes.

After the second week, I slipped my vibrams on for 10% of my 4 mile-run (i.e. .4 miles). It was certainly tough because I tried forefoot striking, and my calves definitely felt the difference.  The next day, I was crippled by the pain in my calves. I had to take the day off.

The day after, I ran 20% of a 4 mile-run in my vibrams (.8 miles). Still very painful. Slow run.

About a week into it, I had to stop running completely for three days.  I was having trouble walking around the house because my calves were so sore and I had horrible blisters on my heels.

I was worried that I might have injured myself, but after doing some research, it seems like this kind of pain is normal.  Our calves get little to no exercise on a daily basis, and running a mile with forefoot striking feels like the equivalent of doing one thousand heel lifts.

After taking some time off to let my calves recover, I got back on the training plan and followed the same pattern: adding 10% more vibram distance every other day.  On days where my calves felt fine but my blisters were still bothering me, I just ran barefoot on my treadmill (pretty fun until the tread gets hot) or wore socks with the NB Minimus.

Don’t have expectations of running faster than your normally do.  If anything, I think my vibrams slow me down. It’s a trade-off.  I have become more in tune with my surroundings, more aware of my body, and that tells me I probably can’t push as hard as I thought I could before.  Though I don’t have any long-term data to back this up, I hypothesize that barefoot running is a more sustainable, more natural, and more enjoyable endeavor than many people realize.