The Body as a Gift, not a Tool

I had a disappointing turn of events last Sunday. I was having a totally normal day, normal workout, normal life stuff, when out of nowhere my lower back seized up and really started to hurt. By Monday morning I was in excruciating pain and other than getting older I couldn’t pinpoint a culprit. Not immediately, anyway. It’s now Friday and I haven’t “worked out” aside from gentle yoga specifically to soothe my back. What I have worked out however is the culprit and it wasn’t one dumb thing I did or my age… it was a lot of dumb things.

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As I’ve expressed before, I tend to have tunnel vision. I get really focused, I love a good routine, and I kind of forget to step back and observe my progress or take a break. If something seems to be working I go full steam ahead. This can be great from a productivity standpoint but other times… it really isn’t so great. Like, I have a hard time hanging out if something from work is on my mind.

For months now I had finally gotten a new workout routine that I loved. I was working out 6 days a week, eating pretty well, and seeing some incredible results in my body. I also just felt stronger in general. But what was once a dope ass workout plan quickly became this rote practice. Sure, there were days I took off because I was tired, or I decided to do yoga instead of something intense. But for the most part I worked out everyday, in the same sort of style, because it was easier than assessing any sort of goal or next steps. And my body first got used to it and then got sick of it (stopped seeing results) and then finally gave me the big middle finger with an injury. It’s always an injury that is my wake up call.

I’m sharing this not as a pity party but to make a point to the people following along with me. Sometimes having a solid routine and insane dedication to it, isn’t always what we need. And the what we do need is to listen to that little, tiny, baby voice way back in our heads. It has great ideas. For instance… for a couple of months I considered taking classes again, having someone teach me proper from for a number of things. I thought about taking low impact classes like yoga or pilates but couldn’t find the time. I am also terrified of pilates. I thought about switching up the routine into longer workouts for less days. I thought of it all but I didn’t act on any of it because what I was doing was safe and I was being kind of lazy.

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But now that I’ve had the time off to consider all of this, I am re-dedicating myself to an actual healthy lifestyle. I will take the advice of the inner me; she really knew all along. I need to come up with some new goals, reassess my fitness style, find things that I love to do that push me in new ways, and let myself be led by others. It’s like, I know I have shit form for a lot of stuff, so I really need to get out there and learn from someone better. It’s embarrassing and super scary… but I really don’t want to get hurt again because I was being stubborn.

And stubborn I am. So, I want to know from all of you. What’s something in the back of your head that you know you could be doing better, but don’t? What’s that voice telling you? And I know this is hard because I would read stuff written by other people about this “voice” and I’d be like “I never ignore her!” But I secretly was. That’s how tricky this is!

I also wanted to make it a point to be open about this injury and the fact that I am not always right. I get a lot of messages on my IG stories about my dedication and how motivating it is but also how down people feel on themselves because they aren’t doing it the exact same way as me. Guess what, we’re all different and we all need to listen to what our bodies are telling us. They are gifts, not tools to a destination. What I need to remember is that there is no end to healthy living. It grows and changes with you. Better start adapting!

 

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Why I Like Being “Simple”

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Photo by Khai Sze Ong on Unsplash

It’s been over a month since I’ve last written and I just want to thank you all for giving me that time! My last post went up three days before I started my new job and then it was a whirlwind of travel and learning and bonding and total, absolute exhaustion. But I am happy to report I feel like I am settling in nicely and I am so excited to be challenging myself in new and interesting ways.

A younger version of me would have pushed myself to maintain the blog, the poetry, the novel, the social media presence all at once, even while trying to learn a new job. This time around I said no to overwhelming myself. I said no to setting unrealistic expectations for myself. I said no to torturing myself about “not being enough”. I wrote when I could, I slept when I needed to, and I took a break from obsessing about every little thing. I focused on my new work, I got to know my team instead of hiding away in my room to write (they made that easy) and I am so happy I did.

Maybe it’s because I am older and I’m finally learning a thing or two about life, or maybe I’ve changed for another reason, but I can tell you this: allowing myself to be simple kept me happy, healthy and sane these past six weeks.

I’ve never wanted to be simple. Simple was a sin in my book. If I wasn’t multi-talented, multi-tasking, multi-stressed out, then I was failing. A typical day would have been an intense weight workout, a full day of work, writing all night, responding to piled up texts, walking the dog, cleaning the apartment and then passing out totally exhausted. I got sick a lot. I wasn’t productive. My writing was… well… shitty.

Simple felt wrong, simple felt too easy, simple felt like I wasn’t doing my best.

What I’ve found is that SIMPLE allows me to excel. What I’ve come to realize is that my other talents, my other interests, and loves? They’ll still be there. This blog is still here. My poetry is still waiting for me to edit it and share it with the world. I’ve found other simpler workouts that don’t require me to travel to the gym every day. It’s all there and I will get to it. (When I can!) When I focus my attention to one or two things, I kill it. I sleep. I am not sick all the time. When I am simple I am a better, calmer, version of myself. It took a million and one tries, but I finally saw the pattern.

Now that the travel is done for a bit, now that I am finding my rhythm at work… now is when I can pick up the pen again. Write this blog post for you. Take some new photos for the IG. Make special plans with my friends. And when I do all of these things I will be more engaged because I won’t be tired, or worried, or thinking about the next task. I can simply be present.

I know there will be days when I want to go back to the way I was. When I want to pressure myself and push myself and overwhelm myself. And maybe I’ll need the extra encouragement. But knowing that it’s ok to take a step back and breathe is going to make all the difference. I mean, how often do you let yourself be simple?

Call for Courage Challenge – Share Your Talents

Hey party people!

First, before I do anything I just want to thank everyone that visits my blog on a weekly basis. You guys are really why I am here doing this. Otherwise I’d be talking to space, nothingness, a white wall, the sky, my dog. So thank you! The greatest gift you can give me is your eyeballs! The second greatest and sharing my posts. If you read something and you like it please share it! A little bit goes a long way, you have no idea.


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Last month I announced that I’d be doing a Call for Courage Challenge all year long and we’ve already made it to the next installment! I don’t know where January went but we are just cruising along here toward spring (yes!). Last month I challenged you all to reach out to someone you admired or missed. I wanted you to call, text, DM a person that made you nervous for one reason or another. What I heard from those who tried was mainly how hard it was to do this and how the result was nothing like you imagined. I am so proud of you for taking this scary step!

I am taking this challenge too so I decided that I would reach out to an influencer I admire and tell them as such. I reached out to @jera.bean. I have been following her for quite sometime and so appreciate her honesty about her journey. I sent her a DM explaining the challenge, why I admired her and pressed send with my eyeballs closed. And guess what? She responded and invited me to a Soul Cycle class as her guest. A week later I met her in person and took her class (which was killer btw)!

Honestly I thought I’d get a nice DM back but I never imagined she’d be so open to welcoming me into her space. It was so cool, the class was amazing, and I admire her even more.

 

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Jera Foster-Fell aka @jera.bean

 


On that note, this month’s challenge is to SHARE YOUR TALENTS. What are you working on that you rarely tell people about? (It took me years at my day job to tell anyone I write.) What accomplishments have you been too embarrassed to share? (Did you finally try a spin class?) What’s a super weird secret talent of yours? (Can you yodel? No seriously, if anyone can yodel e-mail me ASAP.) Remember, it can be big, small, long, short, whatever. No talent is too insignificant for the Call for Courage Challenge. Take this month to announce to the world: THIS IS WHAT I CAN DO! And then get back over here and tell me how it goes (or message me on social, or e-mail me, or whatever!) I am dying to hear more stories about you all!

Light, love, red wine–
Amanda

Courage Travels: Japan Trip Story (1 of 2)

I went to Japan.

I have to keep saying it out loud. I have to keep writing it down. Because the memories are already fleeting. Because it all happened so fast.

I want to keep these updates brief, honest, and from the heart. Travel blogs tend to offer either just great photos or weird sales pitches. And I’d like to keep this much closer to me, to my true experience, to the fact that I am a writer.

I am not going to recommend you quit your day job and travel the world on borrowed money. Or share with you (after charging you a couple bucks) the secrets of getting by on a shoestring budget.

I’m just here to remind you of the magic of travel, how it changes you, and how this trip to Japan in particular inspired me to be brave and kind in my daily life.

Disclaimer

I want to mention that I went on this trip as part of a campaign (more to come later!) called #GoTohoku. After a video submission and an interview process I was selected to go. (I pretty much still don’t know why but I guess I must come off as charming.) So the fact that I went with strangers and that I found out a month before that I was going, colors some of this, but not all.

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Me: Day One, No Sleep, In the Rain (Credit: Herb Galang, aka @TheSocialPause)

The Journey

I was totally calm about the trip until the day before I left. Then I got nervous. I was totally nervous the morning of the trip. Then I lost it. I tend to keep my feelings inside but I actually started crying before I left. I was overwhelmed. Was I really going to go to the other side of the earth? Was I really doing this? The answer was yes– of course I was doing this. Earlier in the month me wanted this, so I sucked it up for her, got in the car and headed to JFK to meet the strangers I’d be hanging out with for a week.

Everyone seemed normal, on their best behavior, and then we flew.

The flight to Tokyo is 14 hours. And from there we flew to Aomori in the Tohoku region. In all, I traveled for about 24 hours and didn’t sleep. This is what adrenaline feels like. I couldn’t turn my brain off from the moment at hand. So, aside from not sleeping the flight was pleasant and the attendants on our Japan Air flight started giving me a taste of the hospitality I would encounter in Japan. I watched movies and ate snacks and listened to “Tiny Dancer” by Elton John. Oddly, I listened to this song specifically 10 times a day on this trip. I wish I could tell you why. I was alert, but not panicky. I had calmed myself enough to make it across the globe.

Here’s my point: Just leaving for this trip made me braver, even before anything else happened. I believe that, like grit, bravery is something that gets stronger the more you use it. It was one thing to be brave when agreeing to the trip “Strangers? Sure! Last minute trip across the planet? Sure!” But when it came to actually leaving my house, and getting to the airport alone. That took real bravery. And yes I cried at first, but by the time I made it to the airport I had shifted gears, became the “Amanda” I pretend to be 80% of the time. I was brave. I had ACTUALLY faked it until I made it, and it worked. (Really.) If I had let my fear take hold, if I let that weird voice that was like “Hey, you should cry over this,” take control I would have never left my house. I would have froze.

I know you’re thinking, “You would have never left those people from the campaign hanging.” But I remember when I was younger, when I wasn’t brave, when I hadn’t developed any grit and I know (I KNOW) I absolutely could have done that. And I know people that would have. It can seem easy– beautiful photos and a good attitude can make an trip seem idyllic, but we have to remember that pushing ourselves to see the world, and to risk the comfort of routine, is brave. And often, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

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First Coffee Experience in Japan

Why Tohoku

So did I totally throw you earlier when I mentioned Tohoku? Were you like, “What is she talking about?” Let me clarify: This trip was not about Tokyo. Or Okinawa. Or Kyoto. It was about Tohoku. A little known and little visited region of Japan. Sadly, it is typically recognized as the area that was hit by a tsunami in 2011. Tohoku is a diverse area, from shrines to mountains, to perfect foliage to elegant boat tours. And I’ll get into all of it later. (Don’t act so surprised, I told you this wasn’t a normal travel blog, duh!)

Tohoku reminded me in some ways of being in the Midwest. Of course it has nothing to do with cuisine, I ate fish for just about every meal while I was there, but in the manner of the people there. Being outside of the major metropolitan cities, like Tokyo, the people of Tohoku are slower paced, kind, and thoughtful. They want to know about you when you buy candy from them, they want to make sure you are comfortable when you dine with them, and they acknowledge you.

I remember the first time I went to Iowa, I was freaked out by a cashier who wanted to know all about Massachusetts. I felt similarly in Tohoku. Even though not many of the people there spoke English confidently, they still engaged, asking the questions they could. Imagine being so engaged with others that you don’t let a language barrier stop you from reaching out to another person? I mean, damn!

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“For you,” woman who gave me fish food. 

On our first full day, I went out to explore a nearby shrine with some of my new friends– I’ll explain them later. When we arrived, in light rain without umbrellas, we came across a mother and son feeding the giant Koi in the pond. They gave us their remaining bag of fish food to toss in. When I took a few out of the bag and tried to return it to them, they declined. “For you,” the mother told me. It was the smallest gesture but encompasses the kindness I felt the entire time I was in Japan.

It’s these things I remember the most, the things I try to apply to my daily life in, the often lonely and discouraging, New York City. Kindness changes people and it goes a long way.

Next…

Ok now that I feel I sufficiently painted a picture of HOW this trip made me feel, I’ll follow it up with a slightly more traditional post about some of my favorite spots to visit.

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I know, I’m such a tease.

Seriously, I Don’t Have a Gym Membership

I am well aware that there’s a lot of problems with this statement. Draft after draft of this post butt up against them and I kept trying to counter any argument that could be made and make sure I didn’t leave anyone out. Exhausting.

So… Disclaimers

1. I am not anti-gym. I love the gym! My mom just joined a gym and I am so proud of her! If you love the gym, please, go forth and get swole as hell and then come and tell me all about it. I am proud of you too!

2. I’m not asking people to give up their gym memberships and join me in some at-home workout cult or pyramid scheme. Or making some claim that you don’t need to work out and that eating chips on the couch is the best workout of my life. (But I do wish that was reality.) With this post, I want to share the strange encyclopedia of free and low cost workouts that I use daily to stay in the best shape of my life.

3. I am by no means jacked with a six pack you can rest a giant block of ice on and then break with an ice pick (I saw this once) but I am personally, in the best shape I have ever been–better than when I did have a gym membership.

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So…What happened? 

I let my last gym membership fizzle out. I was transitioning from one phase of life to the next and I was honestly burnt out of the “lift heavy, run sometimes” mindset. I was low on dough and low on motivation. A terrible combo.

I decided the best solution was to give heavy lifting a rest (goodbye squat PRs) and focus on shorter workouts I could do from home. I needed to save time (so I could freelance to make extra income) and money (because again, rough times = broke). It sort of happened naturally and getting sick of the gym didn’t mean I was sick of working out.

To get started, I invested in a few key pieces–couple of dumbbells, a jump rope– and re-purposed others. I use a wooden storage box as a bench. I hang bands from door frames. I actually did box jumps on a couch once… And I did some research.

BTW, an added bonus to working out at home is zero excuses. I am really stubborn with time. I like to be able to do what I want, when I want. Having my home be my gym, instead of traveling to one, has been INCREDIBLE. It’s always open on my schedule and it’s there whenever I want… or don’t want.

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So… Here they are finally…

That was a really roundabout way for me to get where we are going. In the end I just want to give people proper tools to get fit at anytime, anywhere, on any budget. I think it’s so important to get your sweat on, and money is the last thing that should hold you back from being your best self! I am only including programs I have participated in.

There are many more I’ve researched, but these are my favorite resources. The workouts range from TOTALLY, HONEST-TO-GOODNESS FREE to Eh, There’s Some Cost Associated Here. Let’s begin…

FREE

Yoga With Adriene – Adriene goes to the top of my list because her videos aren’t just free, they’re amazing and life changing. (No BS!) I’ve never loved yoga, but went occasionally because I knew I should. Adriene’s funny, calm, sweet, forgiving, wonderful way taught me to have fun with yoga and to also be gentle with myself. I look forward to her videos and find myself doing yoga far more often. She has videos of all lengths and types.

Find Her: https://www.youtube.com/user/yogawithadriene

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DoYogaWithMe – A second free yoga option is DoYogaWithMe because I feel like everyone needs to find their perfect instructor and though Adriene is mine, maybe she isn’t for you. DoYogaWithMe features a whole bunch of different yoga teachers with videos of all different kinds and lengths–all searchable.

Find Them: http://www.doyogawithme.com

Blogilates/Cassey Ho – If you’re a dude you’re probably thinking, “Oh Pilates, how hard can it be?” Freaking hard, dude, freaking HARD! To this day Casey’s videos remain some of the most challenging I’ve done. I even sometimes find myself yelling at her during the videos. But in the end, I love her. Everything on her YouTube page is free to use. If you fall in love she does have full programs you can buy as well. If you sign-up for her e-mail blasts you’ll gain access to her FREE monthly workout calendar that instructs you to use the YouTube videos in a structured and beneficial way. You don’t need to figure it out on your own! Plus, she just has a really good energy.

Find Her: https://www.youtube.com/user/blogilates

Betty Rocker – For a long time Betty was all I did. Morning, noon, night. She has an amazing band of followers whom I’ve bonded with via social media for YEARS. Literally, years! She hosts great challenges and is truly inspiring. Her recipes are amazing. If you like her freebies, she also has more complex routines available for purchase.

Find Her: https://www.youtube.com/user/TheBettyRocker

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Tone It Up – I’ve switched it up and done Tone It Up before as well. They fall lower on the list because some of their challenges are just far too intense for me. They have you working out a lot and doing A LOT of cardio. But, it’s a great way to mix up your routine if you feel stuck and in need of a good push. All of their workouts are FREE if you sign-up for their e-mail blasts. They tend to shill a lot of things to purchase (from meal plans to bikinis to towels) but if you’re just in it for the workouts, it’s well worth signing up. They have a good energy and an INSANE following.

Find Them: http://www.toneitup.com

Not-Free 

These programs aren’t free but in the long run, fairly reasonable to buy.

Hot & Healthy Habits – With a hashtag like #OMGNeverDietAgain, you have to love these ladies. I bought their 8 Week routine for something like… $12. It’s no longer available on their site but they’ve recently launched a FULL e-Course that focuses on not just workouts but healthy eating habits. NOT a diet. They’re workouts are perfect for doing at home and most can be done in 30 minutes (or less!)

Find them: http://www.hothealthyhabits.com/

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Kayla Itsines – Omg omg omg. Where do I even begin with my love affair with the BBG? I love these workouts. They are TOUGH! I mean TOUGH! You have to be ready to sweat your ass off and WORK but they are amazing. Workout guide costs a little more than $50 but it is fully comprehensive and has been one of my go-tos for a couple of years now. (There is also a BBG2.) This routine taught me that yes– you can feel like you’re dying without a gym. I cycle back to Kayla still every few months to shred (and I mean SHRED) body fat. I have to cycle it in though because its so intense, I like to give my body other things to enjoy. Worth every penny.

Find her: https://www.kaylaitsines.com/

ZBody Fitness – No freakin’ joke. If you want to build a booty. Get thee to Zoe. I actually had to stop doing this for a time because I couldn’t fit my butt into my jeans anymore!! This is another one I need to pick back up for a good change of pace. If you follow her instructions exactly you will change your butt. It’s crazy effective. Book costs a little ($20) but it’s well worth it if you want to work on your butt 3x a week.

Find Her: https://www.instagram.com/zoelivelovelift

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WHEW! And that’s it. These women are incredible and offer amazing services at low prices. They’ve managed to keep me in shape, happy, and totally, 100% on my own schedule– which my stubborn ass loves. 🙂

Never think you don’t have the time or money to be your best self. There are always options. You just have to look and work a little.