Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting

Calm: The Meditation App

I absolutely love the Calm app, and I am not getting paid to write about it — the makers have no idea that I’m writing this! I have recommended it to my students at Indiana Wesleyan University, and basically anyone who will listen to me. Haha! I love it.

As I have blogged before, I try to practice meditation / mindfulness several times per week. Not only do I find it relaxing, it gives me a chance to change my thought patterns, put some space between my mind and the outside world, and allows my body to reset. I find it easier to maintain some inner peace, to relax and soften my muscles at will, and to fall sleep. I can recharge and continue on with my busy day.

I love several things about the Calm app. The app uses meditation to help with several aspects of life that can cause anxiety and stress. There is really something for everyone. In each of the different sections within the app, the speaker helps to deconstruct what causes each specific source of anxiety, from performance anxiety, to reactivity and even flight anxiety. There is even an entire section devoted to kids! There are stress management tools and self care, all using meditation. The best part about this, for me, is that the speaker is in control of walking you through your 15 minutes of meditation. This relieves the burden of doing it yourself, freeing your mind to fully relax, thus deepening the meditation experience. As a result of working through this app over the course of the last several weeks, I have improved my meditation experience — I almost feel as if I am in a trance in most cases. It has really has improved most aspects of my life.

The only downside to the app is the cost. The Premium edition is $70 every year (I would consider a one-time fee, but $70/year feels like a lot for me right now). You can get a lot out of just using the free version, and I still absolutely recommend it. I have gotten so much out of it! I’m definitely going to keep using it. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Posted in Health and Fitness

Why I Finally Got a Mammogram Today

I don’t usually open up like this. In fact, I am seriously considering backing out of writing about it right now. These things are usually quite private for me, but this is important. I’m talking about women’s health. I’m talking specifically about mammograms.

I am sure that a lot of women are scared to get a mammogram. I certainly was today, even though it was my second one! In my case, I knew about how horribly uncomfortable it is. What if something is indeed wrong? What if they find something? What if I have to go back and get more imaging? These are absolutely valid questions and fears among women, and for some, like me, it stopped me right there. I’m not getting another one until I’m much older, I decided. 50 at least. Maybe 55. (I’m not even near 50, by the way.)

11 years ago, I had to get a mammogram because of a painful lump near my armpit. I was nursing my first newborn at the time. I was told to get imaging done right away. “Great.” I thought. I didn’t want to do it, but there wasn’t much of a choice. My other concern: I’m nursing my daughter. How is that supposed to work?? I was so worried about lactating on their machine that I warned the assistant that I was nursing, and she seemed not too concerned about it. I was. I apologized ahead of time, even. I was sure I would make a mess all over their equipment and completely embarrass myself. I was right. Yep. Milk went everywhere. I was so embarrassed. But, you know what? They have seen everything. Was it super uncomfortable? Yes (for me). Did I regret doing it? No. It turned out that the lump was a milk duct that formed in an unusual place. Nothing to worry about.

Fast-forward 11 years to today, and I was faced with the prospect of another exam. I kind of knew it was coming. And, indeed, my doctor was gently but strongly encouraging me to get one. “They do walk-ins downstairs. Just go downstairs and get one.” Remembering what felt like a fiasco last time, I didn’t want to. In fact, I didn’t do it last year when he had asked me again. I just left. I couldn’t make myself do it. This year was the same. I wanted to just walk out after my appointment was over and not worry about it for another year, but I didn’t. I decided that maintaining my health and catching anything early was best for me and my family. What good does it do save 30 minutes of my Friday if there is something hiding? What good does it do to save myself from 5-10 minutes of discomfort? It’s never a bad decision to make sure everything is OK.

I was definitely nervous this time. I can’t even tell you why, because I had done it before. Yes, it was quite uncomfortable, but it wasn’t painful. I think that’s the key to remember. Honestly, what made it easier for me was putting aside my nerves and just getting it done. (Holding on to the machine helped, too, for whatever reason!) I will admit that there is a part of me that wants to wait and not do it again next year, but, for the reasons above, I will do it. Remember, it’s only temporary. 10 minutes or fewer on the machine. That’s it. 10 minutes for an “all clear” or 10 minutes for “we caught it early.” Ladies, take care of your health, so you can take care of your children. Go get your mammogram.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Parenting

No Soda Zone

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2019/09/04/it-doesnt-matter-if-its-sugary-or-diet-new-study-links-all-soda-an-early-death/

This can be controversial, but I’m going to take it straight on. We have always had a soda-free house since we were married. I kicked soda out of my life in 2001, and I have never, ever looked back. I’m in my best shape, I have a great amount of energy, I look younger, I drink a lot of water, and I feel terrific about my health and outlook! I knew early on that there was no way a drink loaded in corn syrup and trade secret mystery ingredients (?? hmmm….) could possibly do no harm, and I wanted it out of my life. More importantly, I didn’t want my children getting hooked either. So, the solution was simple: don’t ever buy it. Yes, my children drink only water, milk, and a small amount of juice, mornings only, while at home, and they are surviving just fine.

Of course, there are a few things that get in the way of our no soda policy: birthday parties outside the home, hanging out with friends, school functions. Yes, kids are surrounded by it. It’s everywhere. Do they partake when mom’s not around to say no? Of course they do! They’re children! Here’s the thing they are starting to understand: they don’t like how it makes them feel, and for good reason. So, when they invariably come home complaining of a stomach ache or slight nausea, and they’ve fessed up to drinking a bunch of soda, I don’t give them an “I told you so.” I tell them I’m sorry that they feel this way, and ask them to think if they feel like they had “too much” or if something they ate or drank could have caused them to feel this way. By asking them to think about what their actions were and how it is causing their bodies to react, they can make the connection themselves, which is far more effective than me telling them what NOT to do.

We are a soda-free house because I want my children to learn to drink healthier alternatives. This is made a lot easier by never purchasing it or bringing it into the house. I do the same thing with other “junk foods.” I don’t have them in the house, so my kids don’t learn to eat them. They grab fruit, natural popcorn, or whole-grain options after school or when they need a snack on the weekends. When they are thirsty, they go for water. I am so proud that they practice making these healthy choices now, so when they get older, it’s just natural for them.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Working Parent

How I Have Beaten the Insomnia Demon

I have suffered from poor sleep for years. Long gone are the days of a blissful 8-9 hours of sleep. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Ever. Prolonged insomnia can lead to so many health issues down the road, and it absolutely wrecks you mentally in the short-term. If you’ve ever gone even a few days of not having good sleep, you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s horrible.

My sleep problems started just before I moved to the UK for grad school. Yep, stress. Stress of getting my visa approved, stress of moving internationally, stress of being surrounded by some of the best flute students anywhere. Then, of course, there was the pressure once school started. So. Much. Stress. I think I averaged 1-3 hours of sleep total each night my first term, and I was able to up it to about 5-6 hours by my third term. I was so grateful! By the time I graduated and moved back to the States, I was sleeping better until I started having children. The cycle began again. Now, with changing hormones, it’s only getting worse! Enter another bad cycle of poor sleep. Over time, and working with my doctor, I learned some tricks to help. It’s still not perfect every single night, but I am sleeping so much better than I have in years. I’ve even managed to sleep through storms. That’s new! Now, even when I go to bed with my mind racing, I can still get to sleep. I want to share these with you, because, like I said, I wouldn’t want anyone to have to go through this, ever. (Sorry, fellow mommas, but these methods work best when you’ve not had that glass of wine.)

1. Melatonin. First of all, ask your doctor or health care provider before starting any supplements, but I use 5mg of melatonin to help me reset my circadian rhythm. We think between grad school and waking babies, it just got out of whack. I only used it once I was finished with my pregnancies and breastfeeding. Start small, like a 3mg dose if you’ve never used it before. Again, see your health care provider first!

2. Use a weighted blanket, a heavy, large DIY rice pack that you can heat up, or anything with weight. The extra weight that you put on your body helps you to feel more secure. I absolutely cannot sleep without something extra across my chest. When it is the summer, and it’s hot out, maybe I’ll just use a pillow to hug, but having the extra weight has worked very well for me. My sister-in-law let me borrow her heated rice pack when we were staying the night at her house, and it worked brilliantly!

3. Write down your worries. If you are laying down for the night and you find yourself starting to worry about anything and everything, get right back up and write them out immediately. Usually you’ll find that either the problems don’t seem so huge when you look at them on paper, or you’ll realize that you can’t actually deal with them that second, but you can easily get to them the next day. I have found that this helps me to relax because I know I have a list of tasks to tackle, and I won’t forget about them.

4. White noise. I know that they say to have a completely silent room, but that actually doesn’t work well for me. It unnerves me to have complete silence, allowing you to hear every creak and pop your house or apartment makes. Maybe I’m odd? I think what happened was learning to fall asleep with my baby’s sleep sheep over the years, and now I have to have some noise. In any case, we have a small fan that we turn on every evening. It helps to keep the air moving, which is so nice, and it gives me the white noise I feel like I need. The other advantage to white noise is that it can give you something else to focus on as you fall asleep, instead of your racing thoughts.

5. Mindfulness and imagery. I use a few techniques here. One is to breathe in slowly while thinking of the word “in” and breathe out slowly while thinking of the word “out”. This worked for me for a long time. When I begin meditating, I’ll often use this to help me get fully relaxed. Another technique that I learned from a friend is to start at your toes and imagine that you are slowly filling up your body with sand. This has been working extremely well lately. I don’t even get past my ankles before I’m out! I imagine that my feet are hollow, and the sparkling sand is very slowly falling from my toes to my heels, filling up my feet. Once your feet are full, move up your leg, allowing your leg to feel quite heavy. I love this trick!

If you are suffering from poor sleep or full-blown insomnia, please know that you are not alone. Not by a long shot! So many of us have been there, and we all wish you the best sleep. There are loads of ideas that might work for you. I also highly recommend seeing your health care provider, too. Sleep is crucial to a healthy life and for being at your best when you are caring for your children or at your job. Do try the above methods and see which work best for you. I use all of them every night, because I absolutely have to. Sweet dreams!

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity

Making Me the Best Me

Why do I workout? Why do I excitedly or begrudgingly take off my comfy pajamas to squeeze into my tight workout clothes? (I do love my fabletics gear, but let’s be honest… ) Why do I turn on my HIIT workout and force my body into doing these crazy, super hard moves for nearly 30 minutes?! Well, I’ll tell you: I love it, and it improves me.

I love the feeling I get when I’m finally finished. That I’m-going-to-die, I-can’t-catch-my-breath, kinda-ouchy I’m-going-to-feel-this-in-the-morning feeling. I love it! If nothing else gets me through my workout, focusing on the positive feelings I’m going to get later, definitely gets me there. I love that it’s improving my phrasing and endurance with practicing and performing. I love that it takes me to my limit, so I know how hard I can push myself. Maybe I can push myself even harder the next day. I love that I have energy to play with my children at the end of the day. I love that little bit of time I can focus on ME and improving myself. (And let’s be honest here, I like to wear little sundresses, so I had better workout!)

Whatever pushes you or encourages you, find it! Use what you learn about your body and your endurance while you workout or run, for example, and apply it to other parts of your life. What I’ve learned from working out is to focus on the end and those endorphins you get when you’re finished, that “runner’s high,” right? It gets me through my 3-mile runs, and it gets me through my crazy-hard HIIT workouts, and I apply this to other tasks that have to be done but that I would rather not do. Focus on the end game and what you are trying to achieve, and allow it to push you to your goal. This is what makes me a better “me” and doing what I want to do. Try it.

Posted in Health and Fitness, Keeping your sanity, Parenting, Practicing, Working Parent

Mindfulness – It’s not just the latest buzzword!

pexels-photo-588561

A few months ago, I was introduced to the idea of mindfulness: focusing on the present moment. I did some quick searches online to get a feel for what it entails. I even stumbled upon an article in a Women’s Health magazine written by a woman who spent an entire week at a facility doing nothing but practicing mindfulness for 10-11 hours each day: no talking, no phones, no outside communication, and a few light vegetarian meals per day. Enlightening! So, I thought I would try it out for myself, and in the process I have discovered a wonderful new awareness of my body, thoughts, and my outlook. I love it!

My approach is simple. I lay down on the floor in a semi-supine position (flat on your back with your knees bent up and feet on the floor). I begin by closing my eyes and taking slow breaths in through my nose and out through my nose, feeling the air rush in and out the whole time. I feel how it makes the inside of my nose feel. I feel how it rushes into my lungs and fills my chest, and I feel how it exits my body and back through my nose. These sensations are the only sensations I focus on for several breaths. When I feel my head start to clear and almost soften (i.e. muscles have relaxed!), I then start to feel for my pulse internally and how it rushes the blood throughout my body, continuing to take in my slow, deep breaths. Next, I focus on how my skin feels flush against the floor and take in all of these sensations. If at any time my head starts to fill with chatter, I bring it back to any one of these sensations and continue my focus. My only goal during this time to be completely aware of all of my senses at that moment.

After about a week or two of devoting 10-15 minutes of my afternoon to practicing mindfulness, I noticed a positive change in my concentration level and outlook on the day. My favorite part is that I have found it easier to clear my head of needless chatter, especially while I’m practicing or performing. I can much more easily chase away negative thoughts or feelings and regain focus. Relaxing and bringing a more positive spirit to the day has become easier, as well. I also like how much more aware and tuned-in to my body I’ve become as a result of mindfulness. My ability to fall asleep has greatly improved, too! Overall, it has made such a powerful impact on my life.

As parents and musicians, it can be so difficult to find the time to squeeze this in. Honestly, I started out just trying to get even 5 minutes worth every day, and that was tough. However, once I started to feel the positive impact it was having on several areas of my life, I felt more encouraged to try to go longer each day. I definitely encourage you to work up to 10-15 minutes every day, even if you have to just start with 5 minutes like me. After one or two weeks, you’ll begin to take notice of some positive changes. Enjoy it, and let it continue to influence more aspects of your life in an encouraging and positive way!

Posted in Health and Fitness

Working Out and Body Awareness

Working Out and Body Awareness

I know what you might be thinking: Work Out? How am I supposed to fit yet another *thing* into my already crazy schedule?? Trust me. I get it. I now have two jobs – Second Flute with an orchestra and university teaching – along with my 3 growing children, commitment to whole foods (read: slow-food) cooking, and everything that goes along with being a committed wife, mother, and owning a house. It’s insane. But it’s important. Healthy living impacts everything from how you feel to how you play and how you live.

Working out, either at a gym or at home with free weights (which is what I do), and maintaining a healthy body has a whole host of benefits to musicians. I doubt I even get close to listing everything. There’s, of course, the benefit of increasing stamina, lung power, improving and maintaining body structure, and balance, thus helping reduce injury and prolong productivity. Working out also maintains and can improve overall mental function (super important!). You also increase cardiovascular health, reduce stress, and help your bones stay strong all by working your body and your heart.

Another exciting benefit that I have personally found is that my workouts have helped increase my own body awareness. By focusing on certain areas of my body during workouts I have found areas of tension that I can release, and I have applied this to my flute playing, as well. For example, while holding a plank I notice that my neck, specifically the back of my neck where the vertebrae are located, likes to become very tense. By feeling like I am elongating my neck throughout the 2-4 minutes of my plank, I can keep it much more relaxed and hold the plank for longer periods of time. My shoulders are another area that hold a lot of tension. Being more aware of what extreme muscle tension feels like while working out, I have found that while practicing I more easily notice areas of tension and can release them.

Yes, taking 20-40 minutes five days a week can seem like a lot, and maybe even impossible, but with a little creative schedule flexibility, it can be attainable. One positive thing to remember is that the time you work-out adds up over the day. So, say you just have 10 minutes in the morning, then you can maybe find another 10-20 minutes later in the day. It all counts. Maybe just getting up 10 minutes earlier for some early morning yoga would make the difference, then it’s just a matter of finding another 10 minutes later for some stair running/walking or walking/jogging with the dog, a bike ride through your favorite part of town, etc. Just keep in mind to get lots of protein, some healthy fats, and load up on colorful vegetables. You’ll love how you feel and how much you’ll impact your performing in a very positive way!

Honestly, I started working out just so I could keep up with my children! I no longer struggle to pick them up, chase after them, and otherwise be the mother that I want to be to them. I have the mental and physical capacity to do what I need to for them and for my playing. It all ties together.