Things That Get Me Through the Work Week, Part 1: Behold, my standing desk!

In case I haven’t mentioned it, I’m turning into a major alignment nerd. I read multiple biomechanics and alignment blogs. I’m seriously considering taking a course in alignment and Restorative Exercise because the exercises I’ve learned from the DVD series have completely changed the way I stand (not to mention my PMS, my lower back pain, my leg pain, and the overall shape of my lower body).

I mention this now because one of the #1 signs of an alignment nerd (along with calf stretching equipment and barefoot shoes) is the standing desk. Once I was comfortable enough in my job to let my (alignment) freak flag fly, I started out using a stack of boxes and standing up to work.

Standing desk: Before (boxes!)
…not the prettiest desk in the world…

For the record, people thought I was insane. Also for the record, while my feet got sore by the end of the week, the rest of my body felt pretty freaking awesome.

The cardboard boxes worked OK, but I really missed having work space to, you know, do something other than type – like take notes, put papers where I could see them, etc. And then I found the perfect solution (short of a $4000 standing desk, anyway).

Behold, my standing desk!

Desk After

That, my friends, is a corner TV stand from IKEA. It happened to be the precise width and depth of my existing desk and within a half inch of the height of the boxes I was using. Plus, you know, AWESOME and about $100 including shipping.

The day this arrived I was ecstatic. #1, it FIT PERFECTLY. #2, HELLO, workspace! #3, PRETTY!

I’ve even developed a system to help the aching feet! I take my shoes off to work and stand on those cushy interlocking mat tiles wrapped in a yoga mat.

Cushy mat
Just the yoga mat pictured because a kindly professor donated the mat tile thingies after I took this photo, bless her.

Also pictured: my Vivobarefoot work shoes (because high heels are the cigarettes of the future and wearing them undoes all the benefits of the standing desk), my half-dome for calf stretches, and my yoga block for hip lists (both of which I do daily…but I’m going to tell you about that a little later on).

Stay tuned for Part 2: Don’t Just Stand There…Stretch Something!

 

Coming home: a strategy for re-inhabiting the body

One of my core beliefs is that the body and the mind are completely intertwined. We cannot live fully, cannot fully express our creativity and passion, if we live up in our heads all the time. My mission in life, I’ve come to realize, is to help people get back down in their bodies and rediscover the magic of embodied living.

So it helps when I myself am embodied. Funny thing about that…

I’ve been really quiet on the blog lately. There’s been so much stress and worry and house-buying and stress and epiphanies and mental whirls…I’ve been almost entirely up in my head. I basically stopped moving apart from outside time with Xander.

I completely stopped stretching. I started sitting at LOT more, and not in healthy ways. And I started noticing last week that when I get up in the mornings or get up from the sofa, my calves are starting to hurt because they’re so tight. Again. And my back has started hurting. Again. And now I have a nagging issue in one hip. Again.

This is what happens to me when I stop moving expressively, stop taking care of my body, and start living up in my head. I know because it feels all too familiar (although it used to be worse because I used to wear shoes with heels, so my legs were even tighter).

I’m glad I finally noticed what was going on. Because now I can take steps to cut it the heck out. And I can share the process with you.

Here’s my plan (some of it I’ve already implemented, some of it I plan to, and most of it I’ve done in the past and just got away from when things got tough…which is, of course, when it’s most needed):

1. Ditch the chairs.

I’ve done a lot of reading this year about how sitting and chairs are horrible for our bodies. And I know that I feel really tight and awful after a long night of working in a chair or on the sofa. So I’m replacing them. I have two options: Standing up, like I am now (added bonus, I can stretch out my super-tight calves and do all kinds of other fun stretches while I work), or sitting on the floor.

2. Stretch stretch stretch

I already mentioned the calf stretch. I’m also going to add a hamstring stretch, a psoas stretch, and an abdominal release or a spinal twist. Oh, and eventually I want to be able to squat.

3. Get grounded

For someone as air-sign-y as I am, not to mention someone who KNOWS that grounding helps me 99% of the time, I sure spend a lot of my time with my feet several inches above the ground. Clearly, spending significantly more time standing will give me more opportunities to ground myself, but I still wanted to give it its own item on the list because it’s just that important.

4. Breathe consciously

At the worst of this busy period, I found myself getting actual dizzy spells from not-breathing. Seriously. That’s not good, people. I want to move through my day with an awareness of how I’m breathing. I also want to explore different breath-centred meditations (if you have any favourites, I’d love to see them). And I would LOVE to get back into yoga…that always helps me breathe.

5. Be gentle

An embodied life, to me, is a life focused on sensations in the body, accessing the body’s wisdom instead of ruling it with the mind. That means moving when you want to move, eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full, paying attention to the body’s requests for rest and nourishing activities like stretching or baths. It means playing and exploring and feeling things out. It means feeling emotions and expressing things physically.

To me, it’s a life full of more textures, tastes, smells, sights, and sounds than my thinking mind can comprehend. That’s what the body experiences. That’s how I want to live.

(Expect to hear more about this!)

Picture post: my technicolour dreambook

I’ve been playing around with a blank book lately, and I wanted to share. I’m a sucker for blank books, but this one went unused for years because I tend to like my pages lined, and I didn’t really know what to do with an unlined book.

Apparently, it was just waiting for the right time. Like the day I bought Xander some new paints at Staples (side note: Crayola watercolours…BEST PAINTS EVER. I may have to buy my own set, because I’m getting quite protective of these ones when Xander tries to mix colours. Other side note: TARDIS MUG!!! YAY!).

I’ve been doing a page every day or so. Sometimes it’s a message about what I need that day…

Sometimes it’s a reminder of the qualities I want to invite into my life…

Sometimes it’s a message about how I’m feeling…

Sometimes it’s an affirmation…

 

I absolutely love this new project. I love the beautiful colours (I am such a sucker for rainbow colours!). I love the feeling of the paint. I love the thick paper. I love the meditative aspects of putting brush to paper and letting the message come out. A page only takes a few minutes, but every time I make a new one, I come back to my day feeling clearer and lighter. I can’t recommend it enough!

 

Making Big Dreams Real: dancing with unfinished projects

For the past 4 days, I’ve spent 15 minutes a day reading Isadora Duncan’s autobiography. I’ve set my pink piggy timer, grabbed my book, my pen, and my post-it notes, and read until the timer buzzed.

This is very important.

It’s not important because I’ve been reading a non-blog for the first time in ages (I have). It’s not important because Isadora was such an incredible, fascinating person (she was).

It’s so important because this is my first step toward completing a project that has been in the back of my mind (and my laptop) for YEARS.

You know the projects I’m talking about: you get a brilliant idea and you maybe work on it a bit, but then life gets in the way (or someone criticizes your tender beginnings) and you just…stop. And that project sits at the back of your mind (or your closet or your hard drive) collecting dust and making you feel sad (or guilty or angry or whatever) every time you think of it. But you can’t seem to get started on the project, and you decide that it’s too late, you’re too old, or too busy, etc etc.

…but that project stays on your mind anyway And you feel like crap about it.

That’s been my life for a very long time now. And yes, I do suffer from tiny plate syndrome (a tendency to load up on projects and courses and things), but I’m willing to commit 15 minutes a day to making that nagging feeling go away. Hence, Isadora (more on that in a second).

pomodoro timers by psd on Flickr.com
Timers come in all kinds of adorable shapes! (Image by psd on Flickr.com)

A couple of days ago (well, four, actually) I finally got around to listening to a teleclass called “You and Your AMAZING Unfinished Projects” by Samantha Bennett. She made some points that really resonated for me:

1. Our unfinished projects are amazing because they contain energy. And you can tell that they contain energy because you still think about them, and they have an energetic effect on you when you do. (This is SO TRUE. That’s why we feel crappy when we think about the project(s) we’re not working on).

2. Spend 15 minutes a day of working on whatever your unfinished project is, and that energy will be freed up in your life. Things will start moving. And you will eventually get that unfinished project done. (Note: You could do less than this. You could do 10 minutes or 5 minutes or 3 minutes—whatever. All that matters is that you do something every day.)

3. Your work on your projects releases their energy out into the world…and makes room for more in your life.

4. My favourite: It’s not too late, you’re not too old, and yes, you do TOO deserve it. Your talent cannot be destroyed, even if your skills are rusty. (LOVE this one!)

It was a pretty incredible call. I recommend it.

I have two Big Unfinished Projects that have been gathering dust for years (three projects if you count Anthem, but I already wrote about that one). Today, for the first time ever, I am going to share them with the world. Because even though it’s scary, it feels like it’s time. And because I’m a big believer in the power of putting things out into the Universe.

1.  Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan.

My hard drive currently contains drafts of 13 poems based on Isadora Duncan’s life and writings. For the past 5 years, I’ve dreamed of writing more of them and creating an anthology of poetry, but life got in the way and I stopped working on them. Until now. 15 minutes a day with Isadora’s writing, marking promising passages as I go. One step closer to finishing my unfinished project.

2. Emily Carr’s Forest Dances

Seven years ago, I wrote and presented a paper on Emily Carr and Georgia O’Keefe at a Canadian Studies conference at Trent University. And as I selected images to write about, I got the idea of creating a series of dances, each of whose movements would be based on one of Emily Carr’s paintings. Then I discovered the work of Canadian composer R. Murray Schaefer, and his music fit perfectly with my vision. I was beyond excited. I had the music and paintings selected and matched up…

Then I shared my idea with a mentor, and she told me that it would be too difficult to create something like that. And I believed her instead of sticking with my gut. And I stopped working on it. Out of all of the choreography I’ve thought of but haven’t created, this one bugs me the most.

I haven’t spent any 15-minute increments on this one yet, but I am officially declaring my intention to do so. And my first 15 minutes will involve finding my notes about the piece and the paintings and music I intended to use. Even if this one has to stay on the back burner for a while until my tiny plate has cleared a bit, I say to the Universe, “Yes. This. I want to make this dream real!”

15 minutes a day is not very much at all. What kind of magic could you make with that time?

Try this at home: Sing in the bath

Confession: I’m really not a bath person.

I *try* to be, but, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m not very good at being still. Baths are a challenge. I find that I need to add something to the experience if I’m hoping to stay in the water for more than, say, 7 minutes.

Day #5 - I got soap in my eye by Stop Stopping STEVE on Flickr.com
…It’s never been THIS bad, though (Image by Stop Stopping STEVE on Flickr.com)

I’ve read in the bath (but my book gets soggy), I’ve listened to audiobooks or music in the bath (meh), I’ve done Reiki in the bath (FABULOUS if I’m in the mood), I’ve meditated in the bath (more on this soon)…but last night?

Last night I sang.

Yup, I sang in the bath. And it was AWESOME.

We all know that the bathroom has splendid acoustics for shower-singing, but I don’t actually mean singing show tunes or the latest Lady Gaga single (what IS the latest Lady Gaga single, anyway?). This is what I mean:

1. Run a bath. It can be your favourite temperature and featuring your favourite bath stuff —it doesn’t matter. I used my last LUSH bath bomb from Christmas (which only lasted this long because it was in my underwear drawer and…well…this shows you how rarely I sort my socks).

2. Get in the bath. Adjust temperature as needed. Do your usual bath-y things.

3. Lie down so your head is just out of the water (Now that I think about it, this could also be fun with your ears underwater…I just didn’t want my hair to be all bath-bomb-y).

4. Make some noise! Start out humming. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…and then try tones Aaaaaahhhhhh. Om works too. Do whatever feels best. (And no, you don’t have to be able to carry a tune to do this)

Try different notes: higher, lower, right in the middle. Play for a bit. You’ll find a certain tone that feels like it’s vibrating your whole body (or at least your head and shoulders). It will fill the air, and you’ll feel like your head and the air around you are resonating at the same frequency…almost like the boundary where you stop and the air/water begins is getting hazy.

Aah, bathtime by ~jodis eva~ on Flickr.com
…there, that’s better (Image by ~jodis eva~ on Flickr.com)

You’ll know it when you find it. It will feel like your body is dancing at a microscopic level…all those atoms dancing together.

And somehow…when you feel your edges blur like that…your center becomes much clearer.

It’s a unique way to get IN your body, and it’s great for times when you don’t actually FEEL like moving.

Give it a try next time you’re in the bath! I dare you! It’s fun!

Numbing Out, Noticing, and Stopping the Spiral.

Tell me if this rings a bell: You’re humming along in your regular routine. Weeks are passing like days, and while you’re not exactly happy, you’re keeping yourself busy and distracted.

You think you’re ticking all the boxes. You’re filling the void with food and movies and audiobooks (or whatever your particular vices are), and it seems like things are more or less OK (if a little depressing and stressful).

…you kind of feel like this guy. (Number25 by cliff1066 on Flickr.com)

And then…in the blink of an eye…you wake up.

You blink, and it’s like you’re coming back to yourself. The sights and sounds around you suddenly come into sharper focus. You observe things that you’ve been ignoring. When you think back, it’s like you weren’t even there for the past…however long.

Does this ring a bell at all?

I call it Numbing Out. And I haven’t been keeping an exact record, but I think I do it fairly regularly.

Like for the first half of this month, for example.

But hey, at least I’ve started to recognize patterns and symptoms…right?

These will vary slightly from person to person, but here are my top 5 symptoms of Numbing Out:

1. Not-moving. Honestly, not really moving my body in any way at all. Not even going for walks. Period. (Extra-fun bonus: when I don’t move, I get SORE. Lots of aches and pains)

2. Eating more. Medicating myself with food. Like I said, filling the emptiness. (Extra-fun bonus: Combine this with #1, and I end up outgrowing my jeans)

3. Avoiding self-care. A big one for me when I’m numbing out is feeling like I can’t give myself Reiki. It feels like things just aren’t flowing. Probably because Numbing Out entails a whole lot of not-being-centred. But this applies to other self-care-ish things too.

4. Not being Present with people you love.  For me, this is all about Xander. Everything about parenting feels like a chore when I’m in the middle of numbing out. (Extra-fun bonus: I feel terrible about it even while it’s happening, but that doesn’t make me able to snap out of it. It just makes me cranky and sad. Out of all of my symptoms, I regret this one the most).

5. Avoiding stillness and silence. I distract myself constantly. I listen to audiobooks non-stop. During a particularly bad postpartum depression-y period of numbing out, I listened to the Twilight Saga audiobooks on such a regular loop that Matthew half-joked that Xander would recognize the Twilight narrator’s voice before he recognized his own Daddy’s.

comfortably numb by rovingI on Flickr.com

And the verdict is in…Meg’s been numbing out.

Yup, even though we’re over halfway through my absolute favourite month of the year, I can categorically state that I missed a bunch of it. Every symptom was present, but the real clincher was the constant (and I do mean constant) need for audiobooks. It got to the point where I could feel my brain begging for stillness.

Now that I’m awake again and noticing things, I’m compiling a list of things I can do to (hopefully) keep this from happening again. I present:

Meg’s Top Six Things To Stop The Numbing-Out Spiral

1. Seek stillness and silence. Turn off the TV, close the computer, and just…shhh. Try reading a book or sipping some tea without any distractions. Just for a change. Look for ways to add stillness to your day.

2. Choose a better option. If you’re zoning out on audiobooks, try listening to music (music = more dancing!). If you’re noticing a tendency to snack a lot, try eating something your body actually wants…or have some water and see if that’s the real issue. If you really want to watch a movie, pick something that’s going to engage you and watch it with a friend. Making a conscious choice helps stave off the numbing.

3. Move. Walking, dancing, skipping, whatever. Moving is key. Ever notice how going for a walk can clear your head and make a solution to a problem just appear? That’s because moving your body is magic.

4. Take time to notice things. Make mental lists of noteworthy or fun things you encounter during your day. The other day I was on the bus and I saw a woman in a pink PJ set sitting out on the steps of her apartment building with a book and a mug of tea. And it made me grin all the way home.

5. Make real connections. Talking to someone in real life brings everything into focus so much faster than email or Facebook-wall-commenting. And focus is the enemy of Numbing Out. So is self-expression. Let’s bring back phone calls (or Skype calls, if it’s long distance). I miss conversation!

6. Clean something. It’s hard to get the momentum when you’re Numbing Out, but cleaning—really cleaning, not “functional-levels-of-tidy”-ing—can help because it moves the energy around in your home, and it actually feels nice to Be there.

There are definitely more ways out there, but these are the Big Six in my books. At least I think they are…I’m currently testing them out. So far so good, but I’ll keep you posted.

Bonus of not being numb? You notice things like this. (sky 2 by ~BrendaStarr~ on Flickr.com)

Do you ever find yourself Numbing Out? Do you have any good tricks to stop it? I’d love to hear them!

Try this at home: The next step(s)

Happy Friday!

Yesterday I was having a terrible morning. My son was volatile, I was stressed and cranky, and things were bad. It could have spiraled into all-out Suck, but I did three things that fixed it (OK, four…I made hot chocolate, and I did these three things).

First, I wiggled my toes.

Then I grounded myself.

And then I took the next step. Literally. I walked.

A little back story:

The last time I performed onstage I was 24. I had already discovered Reiki. And I knew about how important grounding was. So when I had a truly hideous technical rehearsal for my pieces, I suddenly realized that the problem wasn’t being onstage again, being under-rehearsed, or even being nervous, it was not being grounded.

I was so not-grounded that I wasn’t even in my body at all, and I couldn’t get grounded by doing my usual visualization. So I spent the next few hours (when I wasn’t rehearsing or doing make-up) doing the following thing, and it worked so well that I ended up feeling more comfortable on that stage than I ever had before.

Sound good?

Here’s the magic walking exercise:

Focus on the pressure of your feet on the floor. Actively feel your soles pressing down into the floor as if you were walking on something slightly spongy. Hug the floor with your toes (this is sort of a combination of toe wiggling and grounding). Keep your knees slightly bent, and really feel your weight pressing down.

Now walk around like that.

Seriously, go about whatever you were doing, but keep your feet pressing into the floor. Hug the floor. Pause periodically to actively press your weight down. (You can make this into a dance…but that’s a whole other blog post)

I don’t know why this works so well, but it really does.

This would work even better if you were outside, but it does work, even on the second floor of a concrete building.