Thursday, March 31, 2011

Finding Balance

By M Ryan Taylor

Eat, Pray, Love is a book about finding balance. Liz goes to Italy in the first part of the book to focus solely on things she enjoys: to eat and learn Italian. This tactic is a perhaps necessary overcompensation for her—her exclusive pursuit of pleasure becoming a step toward eventually finding balance in her life.

I can relate to this. When I started hiking with Dixie three days a week last summer, it was because my life was completely out of balance. I felt I had to focus exclusively on the weak area of my life in order to strengthen it enough so that when I added the rest of life back in, it wouldn't be overwhelmed by those other forces.

When our little hiker's paradise came to an abrupt end this fall and I switched to biking and Pilates for my exercise (at least an hour a day, six days a week . . . I'm peddling as I type this), I find I can keep going with the health goals. Health has taken root and is growing in me.

Was then “finding balance” easy? When I started to add back in the other aspects of my life, did it all fall into place? I wish.

In short, finding balance is hard. I've tried a number of things in the past months to juggle all the aspects of my life: family, composition, performing, volunteering at church and with my composer collective, taking on the directorship of a local children's choir, corresponding, art/design/multimedia/webwork, etc.

For a while I was trying to spend an hour on each of these aspects of my life every day and I set up an account on to track my progress. I would just get started on a project when time came for me to work on something else. All right, so that didn't work, it just left me feeling frazzled.

Then, a loved one suggested that I go on the “Creation” program of planning. You know how in Genesis it is accounted that God created the world in seven days? Well, each day had its own focus: light, the waters, the land and plants, the sun and moon, the fish, animals . . . not everything at once.

There are a few things I do need and want to do every day. Exercise, eating well, and performance/practice are three of them. Beyond those things though, I've decided to give each day a focus.

  • Sunday: Playing organ at church
  • Monday: Song and choral music composition and recording
  • Tuesday and Thursday: Opera composition (currently a little over half-composed on The Giant's Heart, an adaptation of the story by George MacDonald)
  • Wednesday: Writing
  • Friday: Art/Multimedia
  • Saturday: Spend time with Dixie

So far, one week in, this feels good. As long as I get something substantial done on each of these themes I can tackle other projects in the day, but giving each day a focus really helps me leave that frazzled feeling behind.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Every Aspect of Your Life will Benefit

By M Ryan Taylor

I left my last post a little open-ended, by saying, "Make your health your first priority and it will benefit every other aspect of your life. It has for me." Then I neglected to give any concrete examples. So here they are, from mundane financial matters to the spiritual.

Financial: I eat less, so my grocery budget doesn't need to be so huge. Yes, I've been trying to buy organic produce which is more expensive generally, but cutting out most pre-packaged food and junk food more than balances it out. Also, we're trying to use our bikes or walk whenever we can, so we negotiated a lower insurance rate on our car and use far less gas than we were.

Relationships: I haven't nearly reached my goal, but my progress (and not keeping it a secret) has allowed me to make new connections with people and strengthen existing connections with others. I think many people don't know what to say about my singing or composition accomplishments (other than "that was beautiful"), but everyone can relate personally to the struggle to maintain a balance in health.

Family: All those hours on the trail with my wife gave us a lot of time to talk on the way down. I feel closer to her than I ever have. Even after her going back to teaching in the fall (and I knuckling down on performance and composition), we find ways to spend more quality time together in our "off" hours. We've been bike riding together on dates. We read to each other. I encourage her in her hobbies, guitar playing, and drawing.

I want to talk more extensively about balance, spirituality, and work, but I'll save that for next time.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Acts of the Desperate

By M Ryan Taylor

As recently as a year ago I had despaired of having the health, energy, and body I wanted. I was tired of the fight, tired of trying diet after diet and looking around for easy solutions to my problems. I was at the rock bottom of a slippery-sided pit and I had given up.
Perhaps despair was a necessary step in my progress. Perhaps hopelessness was needed for me to see that there was no easy way out of my problems, that the only thing that would work was a complete restructuring and reprioritizing of my life and to incorporate the actions of the truly desperate.

Going to the hills was an act of desperation for me. I've never done anything that difficult in my life. Dixie and I hiked for up to 9 hours in a day, three days a week, all summer long. For a long time it was grueling and even though as summer drew to a close I was able to go longer, farther, and higher, it was still difficult.

The weight-loss results were mediocre for such a tremendous effort. But, I felt better than I had in many years . . . I could feel health coming to me. More importantly, I felt something I haven't felt in close to 20 years . . . real hope. I could feel my faith in my ability to change being restored with every foot of elevation gain.

If you find yourself in a desperate place, I hope you will realize that there is a choice and a lifeline before you. Do something positive that might seem desperate. Something grand. Something crazy that you know is going to exhaust you. Choose something tremendous and dive in.

Make your health your first priority and it will benefit every other aspect of your life. It has for me.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Remission or a Fluke? Either Way, I'll Take It!

By Clara Hurtado Lee

Today was a markedly good day for me. I felt well enough to go to Jazzercise again! This is amazing considering the fact that I am no longer taking prednisone. I am hoping that my upswing in energy and lack of pain is due to a pregnancy induced remission. I am in week 14 of my pregnancy and officially into the second trimester. I hope that the way I am feeling today is a signal of how I will feel for the next few months as well.

Jumping back into class felt great. I was able to pick up the steps easily. My body seemed to remember what to do. I listened to my body and modified a few things based on discomfort. I did not use hand weights since the joints on my hands are still quite inflamed. I also chose to march instead of hop a few times to be gentler on my knees. But I was able to do almost everything else comfortably. My center of balance has shifted a bit naturally now that my belly is poking out a little. So there were a few times that I felt wobbly.

It was great to break a sweat and move again! My mental state is more positive and I feel better physically than I have in months. I don't have any residual pain after working out, so I am thinking of getting back in my three days a week routine.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Water Aerobics – Take Two!

By Clara Hurtado Lee

I went to my second Water Aerobics class this morning. After last week's class, I was sore for the rest of the week in muscles I didn't know I had. I was surprised by this fact, considering how low impact the workout felt.

This morning I chatted with the instructor before class. She told me that the reason the first class hadn't felt like a good cardio workout was because when you are exercising in the water, your heart rate automatically slows. She also said that I can burn as many as 400 to 500 calories per hour in Water Aerobics.

With those facts in the back of my mind, I felt more positive during my workout.

The class size was much larger today and the instructor did not indulge in a one-sided conversation with the woman on the front row. We did a lot of interval training and some exercise in the deep end of the pool and I felt more athletic than I had in the first class.

I think I can stick to this for a little while. I am hoping to make it to two more classes this week.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cutting It Out

By M Ryan Taylor

I have had a religious connection with wheat and wheat products almost since my birth. Cereals, bread, pastries, donuts, mmm . . . . Wheat is great. It is versatile, has a pretty nutritious profile (if left in its whole-grain form) and is absolutely wonderful as a high-energy staple for people who have very little to eat. Where I see wheat becoming a problem is in a culture that is overflowing with abundance, where most of the wheat has most of the nutrition processed right out of it.

Like the culture that surrounds me, I am also personally overflowing with abundance. I want to trim that abundance down to a respectable size. In order to do that, I have cut wheat out of my daily regimen (though it did tend to creep in on my holidays). This was one of the decisions I made last summer when I started paying attention to what I was eating and not just trying to “eat less.”

Why wheat, lovely wheat? I am not dealing with Celiac disease or a gluten allergy, but whole wheat bread (my primary source of wheat) is relatively high on the glycemic index (68-85). That means two things to me. First, the bread is easily processed by my body and therefore I will be hungry again that much quicker. Second, with such a high GI, bread has a potential to spike my blood sugar which in turn will tell my body to store fat. Neither of those things is conducive to my goals.

When I reach that “ideal” weight, I may reconsider this as I switch to a maintenance plan, but for the time being, I don't eat wheat.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A New Routine

By Clara Hurtado Lee

This morning I felt the best that I have felt for weeks. My arthritis symptoms were so minimal that I only really noticed stiffness in my feet. I got dressed easily, fed the boys breakfast, dropped off my Kindergartener at school, took my 3 year old to the day care and headed to Water Aerobics.

There were about 10 people in the pool during our class—nine women and one man. I was definitely the youngest of the group. Being the youngest when you are wearing a bathing suit is definitely a plus.

The ambiance in Water Aerobics is much different than other exercise classes I have attended. There was a lot more conversation going on than exercise. I found myself feeling annoyed at this fact. But, if you are looking for that sort of thing, now you know where to find it. The instructor stood on the dry ground and demonstrated the movements while having a conversation with a woman on the front row (let's call her La Mona). The instructor had a head-set microphone and, obviously, La Mona did not. La Mona would say something, "muffle muffle muffle" and the instructor would answer back, "Oh yes, there's a $2 off coupon in the paper for that." Not only did this one-sided conversation annoy me, but the instructor would stop moving while she talked. I found it hard to follow her in these circumstances. But I persevered despite La Mona and her endless "muffle, muffle, muffle."

I am not a Water Aerobics virgin. I attended Water Aerobics (with a different instructor) after my second child was born. I remembered it being a better work out. I can tell that Jazzercise has helped me be more cardiovascularly fit because I was working as hard as I could for the whole hour and I never felt like my heart rate went up very far. But, now that I am sitting here 10 hours later, I can feel that my muscles were worked in new ways.

On a positive note, my joints felt great during and after the class. Water resistance against my arm and hand movements was helpful to me in loosening things up gently. The low impact on my knees and feet was also a gentle way to get myself going. I didn't feel over-tired the rest of the day either.

Because I feel so fantastic today, I wonder if I made the right decision in taking a break from Jazzercise. But I have to remind myself that RA is an unpredictable disease. I would like to think that I will feel this great tomorrow and the next day. Since I don't know, maybe it is best that I stay in the pool for now (with La Mona).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Grappling with the Great Mystery that Is Weight Loss

By M Ryan Taylor

Amazing. Some weeks are like that. For instance, the first week of November. I had no idea why or wherefore, but somehow the pounds just dropped off me. I would step on the scale each morning and find myself a pound lighter. Look at me go! Literally.

Other weeks aren’t like that. The next week it was like my body reared up and said, "Whoa Nellie, you're going a little too fast for my comfort. Let's just plateau for a while." I do have an idea of part of the problem that week—eating freely at an awards dinner—but mostly I was on the same regimen as the week before. Frustrating.

From week to week the results may vary, but one thing I'm learning over the long haul (going on to eight months now) is that consistency over time always results in progress. The message to me: disregard the mystery and keep going.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Eating, and Exercising, for Two

By Clara Hurtado Lee

[Clara first told CS readers about her Jazzercise experiences in the December and January issues. Now, just a few months pregnant and with her rheumatoid arthritis acting up, she was forced to leave Jazzercise behind. Determined not to leave fitness behind, she has enrolled in a water aerobics class. Check back for further updates on her new fitness routine.]

Christmas has just exited with all of its chocolates, parties, and treats left by neighbors on the doorstep. This past week I did not attend a single exercise class. I am ashamed of this fact. Yet, I am happy that I was able to resist many temptations to overindulge. It's hard when relatives are saying things like, “You are eating for two. Have a second helping.” But I would remind myself that my baby is about the size of a lima bean. He or she can scarcely eat a whole piece of prime rib. It helps me to envision the food I am eating being eaten by my baby.

Last week, I went to two Water Aerobics classes. I discovered that the Wednesday morning class is taught by a different teacher. I get the feeling that she may have had some military training in her past. She is rigorous! She stayed in the water with the class and worked out. Most of the hour was spent in the deep end and by the time class was finished, I was spent. At times I felt like a team of synchronized swimmers. We traveled in circles around the pool together and sprinted from one end to the other. This really helped break up the monotony. I hope I can attend more of her classes.

It has been a challenge to motivate myself to attend class regularly and continue in my quest for fitness. The main obstacle is my physical health. On the days when I wake up sore; getting my children ready, getting myself ready and braving the elements so that I can hobble into the pool does not tempt me in any way. In a way, my biggest motivator right now is fear. I fear getting heavy and the effort it will take to lose weight postpartum. I know how exhausting those first few months are and how difficult it is to get out of the house and get moving. So, in a way, I am preparing for that as I battle my current exhaustion and pain.

The joy and wonder I experienced this Christmas through the eyes of my children deepened my feelings that this temporary discomfort will all be worth it when I hold my new baby in my arms in a few short months.