Exercise and health

exercise-and-healthThis might surprise you, but I don’t see moving meditation as exercise. It ends up having the same results as exercise; but, first and foremost, moving meditation is a free, physical art form.

When you start practicing moving meditation, you quickly become aware of the current limits of your body. You feel where you’ve become tight or misaligned through years of suppression and gravity. This gives you direction.

The way you choose to exercise should largely depend on the way your body wants to move. I encourage you to find a routine that suits your body and its goals (or, “that suits your goals for it…” however you want to look at it).

In this section, I’ll share how I exercise each day. I don’t suggest you copy my routine unless you’re built just like me, move very similarly to the way I move, have the same developed limitations and weaknesses, are at the same fitness level, and have the same fitness goals.

These days, you can easily find a vast amount of free exercise programs online to suit any goal or body type. I’ll share some options here, but always be in the process of compiling your own knowledge, research, and experience.

Some of what I incorporate when I exercise dates back to my martial arts days, and some to high school PE classes. I’ve been a member of a number of gyms, and I’ve read at least a few decent books, articles, and other bits and pieces about how to get in shape.

I also have my own history of trial and error, having discovered over time what seems to work best for me and my lifestyle in terms of the direction I want to go.

In general, I think adults these days are all an eclectic mix of information, principles, cultures, and experiences. It’s true when it comes to learning how to exercise; but, really, it’s true for how we gain almost all knowledge in an age when information is fast becoming free.

There are millions of exercise books and programs written and sold each year; yet who will realistically stick with any single one forever?

I don’t think you should try to stick with one.

Always be refining your knowledge about how to prepare your body to move the way it wants to based on your unique and changing composition and goals.

Forgive the repetition. I just really want to make sure you get the idea: I think it’s important that we shift our focus from trying to arrive at some perfect external program to watching an ever-evolving methodology build itself out from where we are.

Let’s take a quick look at three key components of fitness that might be valuable to you as you prepare to move as well as possible:

  • Muscular strength and/or muscular endurance
  • Cardiovascular fitness
  • Flexibility 

Muscular strength/muscular endurance

Muscular strength is the ability to lift, move, or hold heavy things for short bursts of time.

Muscular endurance is the ability to repeat an action against resistance for longer periods of time.

With my unique body and the way it seems to want to move, my goal is not to increase muscular strength (or size).

I do want to increase muscular endurance.

My muscular endurance program began as this: I’d select resistance exercises for each muscle group (listed below), and use a weight that would allow me to perform between 20 and 60 repetitions before I couldn’t continue.

When I could get to about 65 reps without stopping, I’d increase the weight.

If it was an exercise that didn’t use weights, like pushups or crunches, I’d just do as many reps as I could—even if that was more than 65.

Trust me: Doing more than 65 pushups might not seem like something you’ll have to worry about anytime soon; but follow a muscular endurance program like this one for a few months, and you’ll see your rep capacity skyrocket.

Go slow as you lift and release. Concentrate on proper form.

Breathe out as you flex or contract the muscle. The contraction—the lifting portion of the exercise—should take 1-2 seconds.

Breathe in as you release or lower the weight; stretch this portion to 2-4 seconds.

Regularly change which exercises you perform for each muscle group. Muscles respond best when you confuse them, incorporating new exercises that work the same muscles in slightly different ways.

Though I began by performing only 1 set of each exercise, these days I do 2-4 sets with about 1 minute’s rest between sets.

If muscular strength were my goal, I’d choose exercises for each muscle group and a weight that would allow me to perform between 8 and 14 repetitions before I couldn’t continue. I’d perform 4-6 sets of each exercise, and I’d increase the weight once I could perform more than 18 reps in a set.

Train each muscle group 2-3 times per week with at least 1 day’s rest in-between.

I go back and forth each day between the muscle groups of my upper body (the first 7 muscles on the list below) and those of my lower body (the last 5 on the list below).

Record your progress (how many reps you completed, and with how much weight).

I used to record my progress on my phone. For each exercise, I’d respond to an email to myself with the number of reps completed. The subject of the email was the name of the exercise and the weight I was currently using. This slightly embarrassing, not-quite-Millennial method of recording made it easy for me to keep adding reps, and also to see my own progress as time went by.

Always push yourself. You should be able to perform more reps with increasing resistance as you make progress and your body adjusts.

My rule is simply to never complete fewer reps than I did in my last session or set.

Here is a list of the major muscle groups to exercise:

  • Chest
  • Back
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Forearms
  • Shoulders
  • Traps
  • Abs (upper, lower, and obliques)
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Hip flexors

Specific exercises for each muscle group should be easy to find online. 

Cardiovascular fitness/stamina

When you think cardio, you might think boring and repetitive. But when it comes to cardio training for moving meditation, I have an idea that I’ve found can actually make cardio fun.

When you practice moving meditation, you’ll probably find that there are certain actions or motions your body tends to repeat reflexively without conscious thought or choice on your part.

Take note of some of your most common movements.

Try to capture a mix of different movements that together use as many muscle groups and body parts as possible.

At first, I’d recommend going through the movements you’ve captured for about 15 minutes total. So, if you have 3 common movements, that would mean spending about 5 minutes on each (or vice versa).

You can add more 15-minute sets as your fitness improves and exercise becomes more of an ingrained habit in your life. For example, you could eventually complete a 15-minute set in the morning (performing each movement at speed), and then another at night (performing all the same movements slowly . . . even almost as slowly as possible).

Again, I don’t listen to music when I practice moving meditation. I do, however, listen to music during my 15-minute cardio sets. If possible, I switch to another common movement with each new song.

Here are the 5 movements I noted that I tend to always come back to when I move; for each 15-minute set, I spend about 3 minutes (or 1 song) on each of these movements:

  1. I stand as big, tall, and open as I can, usually with my arms above my head or wide at my sides. The key word here is “open.” This movement was motivated by Amy Cuddy, a Social Psychologist who speaks about the amazing effects of posture and body positioning when it comes to communication, confidence, and how we come across to others. Cuddy shares her thought-provoking ideas and research on body language in her TED talk, which you can watch here (or just search for her on YouTube).
  2. I balance on one leg, shifting my weight through my hips and torso in different directions (forward, backwards, sideways, in a circle, etc.). I rise up onto the ball of my supporting foot, or bend my supporting leg to crouch as low as possible, while continuously shifting my weight around. I tend to switch legs whenever I lose my balance, but the goal is to keep my balance on each leg for as long as I can as my weight shifts at different speeds.
  3. As I continue to shift my weight around at random through my hips and torso, I straighten and bend my arms, pulling one back as I reach out with the other. You could say I’m constantly punching and retracting in every direction without making fists or snapping my arms straight. On that note, it’s important not to overextend your joints. I only almost straighten my arms with this movement to avoid injuring my elbows. By the end of this movement, I’m about 9 minutes into my set, warmed up, and ready to extend myself by maximizing my range of motion.
  4. Still shifting my weight in different directions through my hips and torso, I let my hands and arms move in flowing, circular patterns in any direction (in front, above, to the side…). It seems as though the supposedly random motions of each of my arms are somehow connected when I do this—both hands usually circle in similar or complimentary waves. Of the movements in my 15-minute set, this seems to be the closest to what my body does most when I practice moving meditation.
  5. I keep my arms at my sides (or hardly move them at all), and just continue to shift my weight around through my feet, hips, and torso. This feels like a good cool-down exercise for me at the end of my 15-minute set.

Again, these are my 5 common movements. Find your own. See how you move when you practice moving meditation, and note your most common movements.

Honestly, I’ve found that these 15-minute sets can be some of the best high points of my day. They’re not boring. I’m never watching the clock. Rather, it feels like I’m developing my own, unique art form . . . practicing something to later completely forget so I can allow myself total freedom.

Actually, in the months since I started writing this book, I stopped doing my 15-minute sets every day. I didn’t want the movements from my 15-minute sets to influence how I was moving when I practiced moving meditation. 

Now, along with various other cardio activities (running, rowing, etc.), I tend to practice moving meditation at different times throughout the day without timing myself—usually whenever I take a break from work, whenever I use the restroom, after my muscular endurance workout, after dinner, before bed…

Practicing moving meditation throughout the day might be a good goal to work toward since it’s totally free and not governed by anything external at all.

But try different cardio options and see what works for you. 

Flexibility

We’re born with perfect flexibility.

Toddlers can do the splits.

Flexibility is something that naturally starts to slide as we age, locking us in ever-shrinking cages of stiffening muscles and joints.

Flexibility is actually the most important component of fitness for everyday life, though we tend not to focus on it that much outside of dance or Yoga.

Digressing again to martial arts: Back in the ’80s and ’90s, Jean Claude Van Damme became an international icon with spectacular moves like his jump-spin kick.

In fact, whenever I saw a Van Damme movie that didn’t feature his signature kicks, I felt a little cheated.

During my years of martial arts fixation, I spent most nights trying to mimic the brutal training montages I’d seen in movies like Van Damme’s—such as the one where he’s forced into a full split on some cruel pulley device by a cool old trainer.

It was painful.

My flexibility philosophy has since completely changed. I now believe that stretching should be one of the most calming, relaxing activities a person can enjoy.

Usually after I finish working out with weights, I spend some time stretching while watching TV or listening to a podcast or something. I do this almost every day, but in a very informal way.

I stretch each muscle very slowly, holding each stretch close to its capacity for several minutes while paying attention to whatever else.

Though I tend not to be that structured when I stretch, I do make it a point to especially stretch the muscles I’ve exercised that day.

Here is the same list I shared earlier of all the major muscle groups:

  • Chest
  • Back
  • Triceps
  • Biceps
  • Forearms
  • Shoulders
  • Traps
  • Abs (upper, lower, and obliques)
  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Calves
  • Hip flexors

It should be easy to find stretches for each muscle group online. Or, just search for something like “leg stretches” or “full body stretches” and see what comes up.

Then take it easy, have fun, and see about gradually regaining some of the flexibility your body was once so accustomed to. 

Food

My advice: There’s no point going on an all-cottage-cheese diet if you hate cottage cheese.

I’ve sought out, designed, compiled, and spent money on so many would-be perfect diet plans. My biggest problem is always how unnatural it feels when I’m supposed to eat a specific amount of some new food I really don’t much care for.

You can probably guess where I’m going with this considering what’s been covered so far: We’ve talked about how your unique body wants to move in specific ways; I’ve shared how I think your exercise regime should be an ever-evolving mix of what you know, what you can learn, and what you want to achieve, physically…

Yes, I’d say the same holds true for diet: How you eat should fit your tastes and daily routine to give you energy at all the right times for whatever you need to do without ever draining or slowing you down.

As with exercise, always be moving toward the best combination of healthy foods (including vitamins and supplements).

Focus on foods you either already like, or at least could see yourself trying.

Try new things.

Keep learning all you can about the nourishment your body needs, as well as which foods can potentially keep you from performing as well as possible, physically or mentally.

Never stop learning.

Once I quit trying to force foods into my diet I’d simply never like, my challenge became to organize my eating throughout the day to maximize my energy at all the right times for what I knew I’d need to be doing.

For example, it turns out I love three things: juicing vegetables, a certain soy-based meal-replacement shake, and this vitamin supplement that mixes into water. When I incorporated each into my diet, I was happy to no longer be forcing myself to conform to someone else’s tastes.

The problem then became one of timing…

At first, I was drinking the meal-replacement shake when I got to work (at about eight in the morning), juicing at noon, and then drinking the vitamin supplement in the early afternoon.

After that continuous series of blasts, my energy levels had spiked and crashed by mid-afternoon. I felt gritty and moody by evening when I was supposed to start working on projects.

Considering and experimenting with my schedule, I tried working on projects early in the morning. That meant the meal-replacement shake worked well (being fast and easy) when I first woke up. The vitamins worked best around mid-afternoon when I was naturally at my sleepiest. Juicing worked best in the early evening when I was getting ready to have family time.

My schedule has since changed again, and I’ve found new ways to optimize my diet so my energy levels will be at their highest at all the most important times.

As with exercise, with moving meditation, and with so many other things, I wouldn’t recommend searching for a prescription when it comes to diet—some perfect eating plan that you can hold yourself to forever.

Where are you at in life right now?

What healthy foods do you enjoy?

When do you need the most energy in your day?

What are your goals?

I hope these building blocks are helpful as you learn to best fuel and prepare your body to be all it needs to be.

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