When I was pregnant with my firstborn daughter Joy, my days were occupied with a great deal of physical activity: I was running from the decorating studio 100 yards each way to the pouring shed where I’d be making small pours of cups and bowls for Mana Pottery, then hiking another 100 yards each way in the opposite direction to the location of the house Matthew and handy man Richard Carpenter were building, which we called Priory One.
Pouring and pulling pottery in the plastic state of earthenware as it goes from slip into a shaped mug or pot, called “greenware,” is intense physical labor not office work, and so when Matthew would worry that I might not be getting enough exercise, I felt he was surely mistaken. I always felt I was getting enough exercise just in my busy and very physical daily activities, including keeping a large weedy garden.
It was the same for subsequent pregnancies. Matthew would encourage me to get more exercise. Certainly weeding, walking two miles a day, and lifting and hoisting heavy plaster of Paris molds is good exercise, but all this time I was missing the special healing and strengthening virtues of regular focused exercise. Targeted exercise that focuses on abdominal muscles or upper body strength are essential to keeping strong and healthy bones and posture as well as creating endorphins that provide inner peace. As I get older, I also realize how important it is to strengthen our core – Core strength also means better balance and a strength that increases grace. Core and upper body strength is essential to physical health.
I broached this subject with my daughter who is already years ahead of me in this regard, and she immediately responded that she worked on her “abs” and “bum” and that was all she cared about!! Righteous! I agree. As a mother of three, I have had a baby belly for many years. Tightening those abdominal muscles was a personal imperative, but just sucking in my gut was never going to be enough. Abdominal exercises are about more than vanity, as they improve balance and strength. Strong abdominal muscles are attractive, but they also provide the proper support internal organs need. Leg muscles are strengthened as well as made shapelier by regular focused exercise, and Upper body exercises with or without weights is vital to keep spinal health. I experienced an accident when I was 47 that gave me scoliosis. Had I been doing regular Upper body exercises, I would have had much stronger spinal support and would not have been injured.
But what really got me working out daily was a comment made by Matthew three years ago, that my posture was getting worse. He would gently pull my shoulders back. After a confrontation I decided I had to get proactive. It really wasn’t enough to be physical every day. I had to get some professional help. I started with exercise DVD’s. Shiva Rea’s yoga upper body workout came first followed by one rejected exercise DVD after another. What an expensive adventure!! They were all good, but some instructors did a lot of high impact exercises that I worried would hurt my already tender knees. Others had me holding my head up for long periods while on my back working my abs. Others were just boring—tough but not fun. Finally I came upon Leah Sarago’s DVD’s and began doing her exercises every day. The workout was (is) very challenging but the music and visual was enjoyable. I kept her DVD’s, and pull them out once in a while, but her DVD routines are about 40 minutes and a little long for one focus element.Even her total body workout DVD takes about 20 minutes each for upper body, lower body and ABs.
It was daughter Joy who told me about an on-line exercise coach who I fell in love with, Rebecca Louise and her little Chihuahua Alfie (RLFitness). I began downloading her exercises and continue to do five or six 10-minute sessions daily. I love that she always has a different workout outfit on, and that she is funny and encouraging. I also like that the exercise routines are short, usually just ten minutes, so I can pick several different ones every day. Rebecca is always cheerful, and her ten-minute routines go from 60 seconds per exercise move to three or four repetitions that make them challenging but also fun to do. Rebecca Louise is an awesome instructor and has a video library of hundreds of 10-minute exercise routines. But Rebecca doesn’t just encourage her audience to “come on” and “keep it up” she also provides words of encouragement, i.e. “20% is exercise 80% is nutrition,” “Smile because when you smile you create endorphins that make you feel better,” “When you exercise you create endorphins that make you feel better.” Endorphins make us happier and help us heal energetically and internally. She’s doing well too, as others have discovered her charm and talent for keeping her audience exercising and healthy.
Some days when I start an exercise routine I wonder if I can complete it, especially the Leah Sarago Ballet Body Series. Leg and butt exercises are vital, strengthening the muscles surrounding the fragile, and in my case, damaged knee tendons. But some squats and lunges seem too intense for my tender knee joints. I especially like Sarago’s leg exercises as she puts subtle challenges to the muscles that are not likely to cause an injury and are designed so that we can let them be as tough as we want. A brief tour of You tube will show that there are a lot of on-line exercise coaches and options. Popsugar with Anna Renderer and her Class Fitsugar is also good for a more group and class feel. She looks so sweet and unassuming, but she is strong!
Like my daughter and many young women today, abdominal and butt exercises are top priority, as we women want to look good in a swimsuit. But these exercises are actually very important because they enhance grace, flexibility and strength. Other forms of exercise that are very powerful for inner strength are Yoga, Tai Chi and Chi Gong.
I tend to think Upper Body exercises are still the most important especially with our tendency in this society towards sedentary jobs. We can avoid a lot of back pain if we create a strong back by regular exercise and yoga. I also think lifting weights Rebecca Louise style in short ten minute bursts, is a lot of fun. I usually pick out three 10 minute abdominal exercises, two upper body exercises with or without weights, and then I put on a couple Barre routines and one yoga routines.
While adventuring with the exercise DVD’s I diverted briefly to many dance exercise DVD’s. Lady Morrighan’s exotic dance “exercise” DVD’s joined my library as well as a plethora of Belly dance DVD’s. After some experience I have to say belly dancing is not a great path if you have bad knees, but usually there are some beautiful dance performances on them to make me want to keep them, and strengthening arm moves. I still love the “Luscious” and “Love Potion” DVD’s as they are very colorful and fun. Neon’s “Goddess” DVD has also been a favorite as Neon demonstrates some lovely hand gestures that I like to use when dancing for Matthew. Alternatively Lady Morrighan demonstrates how to dance for your partner and is really fun. But, if you are looking for a way to gain confidence, lose weight, gain muscle strength, or get that beach body Rebecca Louise is the way to go.
Exercise can improve mood, self-confidence and poise. With a diet oriented towards Michael Pollan’s Food Rules, an individual can gain health and lose weight, with little or no attention to calories as the quality of the food ingested becomes the focus. Gradual changes toward dietary and physical health lead to mental health and happiness. Individuals who take on a regular exercise routine will observe gradual balancing of weight – loss of weight for the overweight and gain of weight to the overly thin. Body “sculpting” has other benefits as well. It creates more and better sex as exercise makes us feel better and stronger.
As Rebecca says, “Is it better to be fit or thin? It’s better to be fit.”
Tools: 3#, 5#, 8# and possibly 10# weights–The 3 # is great for beginners and Leah uses them in her routines. 5 # weight is the one I use most.
One or two yoga mats
For those who like me do not have streaming internet on demand, a camera can be used to video a ten minute exercise which is then imported into photos for reformatting, exported from photos, and then imported into itunes. With a special wire purchased from Amazon and an old iphone purchased from Powermax I exercise at home in the comfort of my living room in front of our video monitor.