The Amazing Body Clock

Let's just take a moment to marvel at the human body. Jet lag may be a big pain for travellers, but it is also a testament to how well our bodies actually operate. It is also why I'm wide awake before 8 a.m. US Pacific time and writing from our San Francisco hotel room.

Two days into the holiday, and I'm still exhausted. Last night instead of focusing on enjoying my beautifully crafted dirty martini at the Orbit Room as we toasted the bride-to-be, I was concentrating on keeping my eyes open.

But this nauseating tiredness also gave me pause to think about how amazing it is that our bodies are so in in sync with our home time zones. How do our bladders know that we want to sleep for eight hours uninterrupted during the night? It's clear they have very good timekeeping because not only does jet lag affect your sleep cycle but also your urge to pee in the middle of the night (yesterday after midnight every three hours like clockwork).

The stomach is also guided by our body clocks. I am never very hungry in the morning, but this morning at 7.30 a.m., was absolutely famished. Thank goodness for parmesan-flavored Pepperidge Farm Goldfish (not real goldfish - biscuity type things) I had the good sense to buy yesterday while I was at Walgreens (chemist). They're not really doing it for me though -- I am going to have to go find some proper breakfast soon.

But maybe I'll take a nap first.

San Francisco has been unusually hot the past two days, and it reminds me a little of London (especially the un-air conditioned bus ride I took yesterday). People look a little wilted, just like when Londoners are hit with an ususually hot summer heat wave.

But of course it's still a really beautiful city. And the streetcars whizz by packed with photo snapping tourists despite the extra heat. It's good to be here and good to see our friends. But not much else to report as brain feels muddled and sleepy. And nothing in my body feels quite joined up, so I hope this post makes some sense.

So, it's good to have some healthy respect for our mighty circadian rhythms. It does take quite some time to adjust because our body clocks are just that good. Also, it's a good idea to have snacks handy in the hotel room (although I think I'm getting over the novelty of eating Goldfish).

Just A Freak Out

I've decided to write a short update on my back because I ran into one of my friends who reads the blog and she said she was really worried about me since Monday's post about my painful weekend.

But everything has turned out OK. True to form, with my history of debilitating pain, something going wrong often does send me into freak out mode. I saw Super Physio on Monday, however, and when I told her about skipping my back exercises on Friday night she said that at this stage in my recovery from the acute back injury, skipping one day would have been enough to cause pain. Because my hips are still tight, when I don't stretch everything out at regular intervals I get too stiff and then walking around is enough to cause a spasm (because the hip flexor muscles aren't long enough, your legs won't move back far enough when you walk, so your lower back moves instead).

So simple, yet so complicated.

I'm generally pretty good at doing my exercises because I don't dig pain, but I'm bound to slip up every once in a while -- these things happen. And the really good news is that by the time I actually saw SP I had hit the pain with enough anti-inflammatories and stretching exercises that I was alright again.

It was also great to have a physio visit before the SF trip because we discussed how I was going to keep everything loose and pain free while battling the long flight and the extra jet lag tiredness. I'll be doing hip stretches in the aisle on the plane and then hitting the hotel floor upon arrival for an abbreviated exercise set before I collapse. I'll tell this body who's boss.

California And Coffee Shops

We're off to San Francisco next week for our friends' wedding. So I may not be posting on my usual Monday to Thursday schedule (um, I've also slipped a bit this week, so posting today instead of yesterday). But I am planning to post when I can next week. San Francisco is one of the loveliest cities in the world so I'm sure it may inspire some thoughts.

But before I head off, I'd like to tell you a little story about last time I was there. As our friends (the ones who are getting married) led us around SF, we were shocked to see how low Starbucks seems to have fallen in the coffee league tables. We were told by our friends that everyone is drinking Peet's coffee now.

It's strong stuff. Good for jet lag, definitely.

But my experience there was alarming. First, I was totally flabbergasted when at the till (Cash register? What is it called in America?) I was asked my name. Now, if you're American, let me fill you in on something about England. Asking a stranger's name is considered a very personal question.

I know this sounds strange, but it kind of makes sense. It's OK to chat to someone on the train platform when there's a serious delay, but you don't step over that threshold from stranger to friend. The fact that I'm defending this policy may mean I have been in England too long (8.5 years now). So that was the second alarming fact.

The reason that they ask your name is so that when your coffee/sandwich/etc. is ready they don't have to call out your order for you to retrieve it. Instead they can just shout your name.

So the third alarming thing that crossed my mind has to do with my pretty unusual name. When the nice Peet's Coffee lady asked me for it, I nearly stammered. I knew I would have to spell it and then it might – no, definitely would – result in a discussion of how my parents came to name me Taron. I just couldn't stomach the whole palaver. Again, very English.

Instead of my name, I answered, "Karen" and then felt a little bit like a liar. Which I was. But still, it made the whole thing a lot easier. If we ever happen to move to San Francisco I'm going to have to definitely use this strategy at every food establishment. Or else I might stop going out of the house.

I think the conclusion here is that I need a good injection of American culture. It's not like I'm a shy retiring person or anything. But since we're not moving back anytime soon, a week (or a little over it) is going to have to do for now.

I'll hopefully speak to you next week when I've got over the 11-hour flight and am emerging from the jet lag haze.

Have a good weekend.

Email: Channeling Josephine

I excel at checking my email. Responding is another matter.

Back when I was about 14 or so (I can't remember exactly, although I'm sure the technology should place it if you're curious), my oldest and dearest friend and I sat in my parents' basement typing messages back and forth on separate computers that my techie folks had hooked up via a LAN (local area network).

We thought this was amazing. In fact, we couldn't believe it – we could type messages back and forth to each other on computers, without having to pass notes back and forth like in class at school. I should note, we were sitting right next to each other. Who we were afraid of hearing us talk while we sat in my parents' basement, I had no idea.

I think if you had told us that someday we would type messages back and forth on our computers (and eventually phones) – instantaneously – while I was living in London and she was living in New York, we would have fainted dead away. Not to mention the fact that I would someday live in another country!

(It's good I had no idea – I'm sure I would have thought that my life would be much more exciting than it actually is.)

Email has changed our lives in ways we never could have imagined. Good ways. As an ex-pat living far away from my friends and family in the US (and elsewhere in the world) it is much easier knowing I have an easy way to chat with them. If I really need to speak to my Mom, although she's a very busy lady who runs an IT department (did the early implementation of the LAN give anything away?), I know she's got her blackberry with her at all times and I can email her and she'll get it straight away. It's nice having that lifeline.

But the instantaneous nature of email can be stressful. You fire off a bunch and feel caught-up and efficient, with time to put on some lip gloss. And then, nearly two seconds later, your inbox is suddenly populated with bolded items again! Like weeds, or stray hairs, getting rid of them is never done.

I particularly like Leo Babauta's take on email. He recently posted some of his greatest hits on simple living and I think his email one (Email Sanity: How to Clear Your Inbox When You're Drowning) is definitely worth a read.

The problem with email, in my case, is I'm very good at checking it – responding promptly and doing it without feeling stressed is the hard part. I think Babauta hits the nail on the head – you have to actually check it less often to make it more manageable. If every time you click on that program or check your phone, your goal is to actually empty and deal with the items in your inbox, it's much more manageable.

When we check and check and check, we are waiting for something to entertain us and provide a break from whatever it is that we're doing (and often don't want to be doing). We are seeking distraction. And really, we are not actually dealing with our email correspondence. I think it might be fair to say it's an addiction? Or at least a bad habit.

I like to think of the Empress Josephine, Napoleon's wife. Every morning she dealt with her correspondence. It was just the way things were done – you read what came in that day and wrote responses. You didn't run out to look for the postman every 10 minutes.

I'm going to try to channel her as I attempt to get my inbox under control.

Success Is Fun, But Work Should Be Too

My Dad once gave me an Ann Landers newspaper column about the idea that success is fun, but work is work. I'm not taking too much of an issue with that. Success is fun, and work sometimes is not. There are days when I have tasks to do I – at work or at home or anywhere really – and I gnash my teeth and wail (usually quietly inside my head) and do everything to avoid doing what needs to get done.

I think this is pretty typical. How many times do you read tips in magazines, newspapers and on blogs about how to avoid procrastination? And that's because there are (I believe) psychological reasons involved with procrastination. In my case, mainly fear of failure or an exaggerated sense of how big the task at hand really is.

But I also blame the attitude that work can't be enjoyable. Look, everything in this world can't be fun, but then again, when I actually do take the bull by the horns and get to that task I may have been dreading, whether it's putting away the laundry or writing a report, I always enjoy it more than I think, once I get stuck in and start concentrating.

I think generally that we would be better off if we focused less on success and more on enjoying the actual work. I think that it's a fallacy that success is what makes us happy. In the book Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott (a book on writing that I can't recommend highly enough), she quotes from the film Cool Runnings, about the Jamaican bobsled team and their Olympic dream. The men are desperate to win the gold medal, and the coach says to them, "If you're not enough before the gold medal, you won't be enough with it."

Nothing could ring more true. How many times have you achieved your goal and after sipping some champagne you realize that nothing has really changed? I'm not advocating abolishing goals, but at the end of the day, your life is still your life. And that's why it's important to be satisfied with not only your successes but your work. I do think that in my case, the less I focus on where I'm headed and the more I am present in the here or now, doing what needs to get done and enjoying it, the faster I actually get to my goals.

We live at the top of a hill. It's a good 10 minute walk from the closest train station up to our house. And by 'good' I mean, it's definitely 10 minutes down the hill, but at least 12 minutes up. And 12 minutes is longer than you think when you're tired at the end of a long day.

But there's a bus. It goes straight up the hill and drops us off right smack in front of the house. But it only drives by about every 10 minutes, so if you're not lucky and arrive when the bus has just been there, you'll have to wait 10 minutes to get to the top of the hill on the bus – nearly the same amount of time that it takes to walk up.

So what to do? I have found that if I stand around waiting for the bus I get really irritated and antsy. If I choose to walk up the hill but keep stopping at each bus stop and looking to see if the bus is coming, again, I feel pretty unsatisfied. But if I make the commitment to just walk up the hill I also end up enjoying it (along with getting a little extra exercise), get lost in my thoughts and get there in what seems like no time at all.

When you make the choice to commit – really commit – to whatever it is that you're doing, or even dreading, sometimes you discover that the work just seems to melt away. And (gasp!) you may even enjoy it.

Fear And Pain

Chronic pain can be a terrible thing. It follows you around everywhere and there is no relief. But the fear of pain can be debilitating as well. And so, I had a pretty crappy time of it this weekend.

If you aren't already aware, I hurt my back in May moving house (click here for the background story) but recently it has been well on the mend. In the past week or so I was even cleared by my physio to start introducing some exercise (other than walking) back in. On Monday night I swam at the pool for 15 minutes pain free.

But on Saturday I seemed to regress. I was walking around quite a bit and I started really feeling twinges in my back. It got worse and worse on Saturday as the day wore on. By evening it still wasn't any better and in the middle of the night it must have woken me up (I was actually dreaming about it as well). I laid there awake, willing it to go away and just hoping that it would. I am usually quite good at taking pain relief medication when I need it, but it was as if I couldn't stomach it, like taking the ibuprofen would mean admitting that my back was actually that sore.

I realize I'm being dramatic, but when you've had an experience with chronic pain (which entailed four years of hard work in physiotherapy), there's no underestimating the fear factor. I just don't want to be back where I was before and any little twinges can often send my mind reeling onto the 'what if' roller coaster.

But lying awake in the darkness, I eventually came to my senses and took some anti-inflammatory pills.

Yesterday things didn't get much better. I ran the week over and over in my head searching for what might have caused the hiccup. I think it was something stupid I did on Friday night. I got home from work, and although I had the house to myself and sole control over the remote, I just couldn't physically make myself get off the couch to do my physio exercises (I usually watch TV while I do them - it's my 'treat'). It was a stupid thing to do. I've made a lot of progress with my back. My hips are looser, due to numerous bouts of hip stretches (see Hips Don't Lie). And Super Physio did say on Monday when I saw her that now was not the time to skip a day of the exercises.

In penance and pain, I did my exercises three times on Sunday. I took a steady stream of ibuprofen. I can only hope that things improve – particularly before we take the 11-hour flight to San Francisco in a week.

I'm just tired of it. I want to stop feeling like an invalid. It was really amazing over the past year when things were improving and I was able to get back into a wider variety of exercise. I miss that feeling of freedom. I feel a little sick to my stomach with fear when I feel the twinges in my back.

But I know things could be worse. Generally I'm healthy and alive, employed, with food to eat and surrounded by lots of lovely people. And the chronic pain from years ago hasn't returned. It's easy to get hysterical about things, but it doesn't help much. So I will try to stay calm and just keep doing my exercises.

Four Meals A Day – And Why Not?

When I first started experimenting with intuitive eating, the process was totally confusing and really difficult. And it still can be some days. Eating when you're hungry and stopping when you're full can be foreign concepts when you're constantly surrounded by messages from the media and other 'helpful' people about serving sizes, the importance of a good breakfast and don't forget about healthy snacks, especially nuts! For some reason nuts are a big thing in women's magazines. (If you're not familiar with intuitive eating, there's a more thorough discussion of the concepts in my post on Food Is The New Religion.)

For over a year I've been using intuitive eating to get in touch with what my body needs and when and it's finally starting to make more sense to me. One of the things I've discovered is that three meals a day just doesn't work in my life. I tend to be hungry for lunch quite early and then we also tend to eat dinner very late (8 or 9 p.m.) by the time necessary work is done and trips to the gym (or just the sauna) are over and dinner actually gets made. It's just the way it is for us (I've tried to eat dinner on my own first, but there are some other obstacles with that as well).

Now I know what everyone is thinking – what about snacks? Snacking works well for many people. But snacks annoy me, they take me away from whatever it is I am doing (this is revelatory in fact, food used to be much more central to my thoughts throughout the day). Snacks never seem to be enough. I'm always having one, and then another, and then maybe another? The hunger and constant searching for – or packing – snacks can be very distracting. Because a big part of that long stretch from 1 p.m. until 9 p.m. occurs at work, well, it just doesn't work for me.

So, I recently had the brilliant idea, being so mindful of what was going on, of eating a small meal at about 4 or 5 p.m. It's perfect because if I do go to the gym after work or even walk home from the further train station, I am not ravishingly hungry.

I also don't act like a raving lunatic. Future Hub no longer has to be baffled at why I am so angry that he has stayed an extra 30 seconds at work. I am no longer stuffing my 'imported' Triscuits into my mouth with wild abandon in our kitchen like Cookie Monster after the clock strikes six. (Triscuits are the one thing they don't sell in England that I miss greatly. If you are coming to London, please be kind and bring me a box.)

And I don't need a massive dinner anymore. It's more of a well, supper, true to its old-fashioned name. I really don't think that just because I eat four meals a day that I'll eat anymore than with three. If anything, I won't feel as desperately hungry and overeat.

The thing about intuitive eating is that it has taken me a while to find what works for me. That's the rub when you are trying to be your own expert – there's no quick fix. No one can just tell you what to do, what to eat and when to eat it, despite the shiny promises that diets make.

Now I just have to sort out breakfast.

I used to always eat breakfast at work, but I've been getting up earlier and it's messed up my morning schedule. Who know, my next post on this may be: Five Meals A Day – And Why Not? I'll keep you posted.    

Good Addictions?

A friend of mine recently suggested that I write a blog post about the therapeutic effect book buying can have on some people along with the irony that it only increases stress due to the ever-increasing number of unread books.

She said, and I quote:

"I was determined I wouldn't buy any more books for a while, thinking that I would read the books I already have on my 'to read' list, but alas, I walked past a book shop, had to pop in, and obviously bought two… I'm hopeless … And you know I have special book cases for the ones I've read, and another book case (or two) for the ones I intend to read, or want to read, or why not, wish I had read already."

I think this sort of thing is a common problem (at least among my friends, the little bookworms). Which got me thinking, is it a problem? Or is there such a thing as a good addiction?

Obviously everyone needs hobbies, interests – things that bring them joy or meaning and distract them from everyday problems or even huge problems – or let's face it, the bigger existential issues. Not to get too heavy. But I suppose being devil's advocate, one could argue that having a strong interest in something to a compelling degree, whether it's TV, books or trainspotting, could actually be labeled an addiction.

I would definitely say that I and the Future Hub are addicted to the movies. We really depend on seeing them to cope with the Sunday Night Blues. Even movies about piranhas and last exorcisms (and that's only in the last month).

If it's good for you, like reading, or writing, or painting or exercising, then how can it be bad? I guess it comes down to awareness. Is the 'addiction' something you truly enjoy or is it just an escape from something else you should be focusing on? Even if it is something you love, are there other things you truly want to be doing but you've stopped because you've formed a habit? (This would apply to my TV watching at times, I'm pretty sure.) Also, would it be a good idea to take a break from it once in a while to get out of a rut or just see a different perspective? (Like me with music recently, click here to read more).

My friend also raises another point, that of guilt:

"I long for the day when I've read all my "to read books" and can choose a book because I want to read it, perhaps even for the sixteenth time, but it doesn't matter because I don't have any other books lined up."

Hm. Life is tough enough without this kind of pressure. Sometimes I find it really helpful to do something – not because it's on my to-do list – but because it's really important to me and I'm excited about it. I would say to my bookworm here, every few books, go ahead and choose a book just because you want to read it and not because it's on your 'to read' list. There's nothing to feel guilty about here – it was your choice to set up these 'to read' bookshelves in the first place and you have total control over ignoring them! Also, in life, there will always be to-do lists of things you want to be doing, things you need to be doing, dishes piling up in the sink and interruptions from demanding people. But how else to actually live if you can't every so often just do something for the joy of it and lose yourself in it, without worrying about all that other noise?

If you have a topic or a question that you'd like me to address, please email me at

What's Your RPR?

This morning my resting pulse rate (RPR) was 63. I take it every morning. Sometimes I forget in my mental haze, but usually it's a welcome excuse to lie in bed for another minute while I time the beating of my little heart.

People usually give me the hairy eyeball when I mention that I'm feeling a bit under the weather and that my pulse spiked this week. What, they ask, am I talking about? Well, elite athletes do it, to keep track on their health and know when not to push themselves too hard. And who says I'm not an elite athlete?

Most people don't know this, but when you are fighting off a virus or a bacterial infection, or are exhausted from a long week at work, your heart will beat faster. Taking your pulse every day – at the same time and in the same position, i.e. sitting or lying down – is a good way to assess if it's the kind of day for climbing a mountain or for watching a movie on the couch while eating takeout.

I first started taking my pulse daily during my physiotherapy treatment because Super Physio had become acutely aware that I tended to get ill quite a bit and wanted me to take it easy when I needed to. When I first started measuring my daily pulse rate, it was usually in the high 70s if not the low 80s (and sometimes shockingly in the high 80s).

It was a little bit of a mystery why it was so high all the time, especially after I became mechanically better (meaning I had built up all the necessary strength in the right muscles). I was doing quite a bit of new exercise and still it was, well, alarmingly high.

It wasn't until the autumn of 2007 that the haze began to clear. I had a great/miserable weekend trip to Bologna with some friends (my friends and Bologna were amazing, my body was not). For 48 hours I found myself in devastatingly severe neck and shoulder pain and was quickly back on heavy anti-inflammatories again.

Super Physio decided something else was up. As before, she correctly noted that I was ill quite a bit, particularly with tonsil infections and sore throats and suspected that might be playing a role in the sudden relapse. When there's an infection anywhere in the body the surrounding muscles tend to go into spasm to keep the injury still (for healing's sake), but these relentless spasms were causing me a lot of pain and aggravation.

She gently suggested that I see an ear, nose and throat specialist about my tonsils and the chronic sore throats, and sure enough, my tonsils were acting like infection magnets. I had them out the following February. It's made a world of difference. Very painful at the age of 31, but completely worth it. Not only did my pulse drop like a rock, but I don't have a sore throat every month anymore!

Now my pulse is in the low 60s most of the time. If it gets to 65 or above I know something is up. Even if I feel fine that day, usually a day or two later something happens. Either I find I've got a cold or my glands feel swollen or I just need a night of lots of sleep. I don't get sick as much anymore, in fact I find that I sometimes feel extra tired or run down, but it never turns into anything big. Without my icky tonsils my immune system actually fights things off (shocker!). But still my pulse spikes and I give myself a bit of a break.

Try it, you might actually find that it saves you from getting flat out ill if you take it easy on days when your pulse spikes. A good rule of thumb is to rest up if you find it climbing 5-10 beats above the resting rate.

Life Lessons

There are a few things that I wish were taught in school. But alas, I guess they will always really be best taught by experience. Here are the few that I have found most difficult to learn but also the most helpful to eventually discover.

No one can make you happy. It's not like the Disney movies. There is no happily ever after in relationships. There's no Snow White - The Sequel when she argues with Prince Charming over whose turn it is to do the dishes (although I guess they could just employ one of the seven dwarves?). I'm not saying being in a relationship isn't great, but I think my romantic relationships became much higher in quality when I realized that the purpose of having a partner isn't just to make me happy. That's no one's job but my own. How many times have you had a conversation with a friend (or seen one on TV) where they say something like, "I'm just not happy anymore," or "He just doesn't make me happy." It depends on the circumstances of course, but I think that this feeling of not being fulfilled by someone else is a red herring. It took a lot of growing up for me to realize that until I was ready to face my own shortcomings, being in a good relationship was nearly impossible.

It takes at least a year to get used to anything new. I used to think a year was such a long time (ha!). My first year in England was incredibly hard. But it might have had less turmoil if I had been easier on myself and just tried to enjoy it. I was a mess, and I really wanted to find a man to make me happier (see life lesson one again). As my aunt used to say, you need to be somewhere for all four seasons before you know if you really like something. This can apply to places, jobs, even people. And it doesn't work to look for someone or something else to make you happy. Relax a bit and try to enjoy the ride when something is new – even if it's a little bumpy.

It takes at least three years to get good at a job. I really really wish someone had told me this a long time ago. When I was a journalist it was so easy to hop around to different beats every year or two years, and so that's exactly what I did. And when things got frustrating, I always wanted to jump ship. I'm not saying there isn't a time to leave a job. Tough is OK, crying in the bathrooms on a very frequent basis is not. That's when it's time to look for another job (important life lesson as well). In those cases, it is also a good time to examine why it might not the right job for you and realize that no amount of difficulty is worth it.

But generally, sticking things out can be a good thing. At most jobs, it takes time to prove your worth and win responsibility. Everyone knows the expression 'Rome wasn't built in a day' but no one really believes it. Our society is geared towards instant gratification, but the truth is that you have to work at something to get good at it. Staying with a job for a while also gives you time to sort out what you like to do and are good at within an organization and the direction you want to take when you're ready for your next position (either within the company or somewhere else).

People are different. I know this sounds like, yeah, duh, people are different. But one could be forgiven for thinking otherwise with the way our society often dictates how people conduct their lives. "Why aren't you married, why don't you have kids?" are questions that plague those who make other choices. From the clothes we wear to the jobs we do, those who try to be different are often stigmatized. But all you have to do is look at your own friends to see how different people are. Even within groups that you'd expect to be somewhat homogeneous not everyone likes to do the same social activities, watch the same movies or get up at the same time in the morning. But we're always comparing ourselves with others. Maybe admitting that we're all a little different to begin with would give us the freedom to be OK with the choices we'd like to make.

Does anyone else have important life lessons they learned 'on the job', so to speak?

Hips Don't Lie

As Shakira once so wisely said, my hips don't lie. Why everything in the body needs to be connected is beyond me, but apparently the children's song about the knee bone connected to the thigh bone is true, and it's even more complicated than that. Most of the the muscles are also connected.

Which is why although my back is improving, my hips are much too tight for my body to move well right now. For those who haven't been reading this blog from the beginning, my recent back trouble isn't part of my whole RSI/posture problem history. I hurt it when we moved house earlier this year in May. To read the background story, click here.

It's rapidly improving and I was even cleared by Super Physio to start swimming again last week, but I went to see her yesterday and although the back itself is much better (and my abdominal muscles have regained their lost strength) my hips are too tight, which is a problem.

Basically, our large hip flexor muscles are connected to our lower backs (I know, right?). If your back gets stiff it can affect how you move and your hips can tighten up as a result. Unless you stretch out those muscles and get the necessary length back into them, ironically, your back is likely to stay stiff. That's because everything in your body is connected and you compensate for muscle weaknesses and tightness in other parts of your body when you walk, sit or stand.

So I'm doing hip stretches every two hours for two minutes (one minute on each side). At least it's a really good excuse to get up from my desk (sitting at your desk does not help to loosen your hip flexors).

Next time you don't want to exercise, or feel like it's just another chore to get done, think of me and my hip stretches. Appreciate the fact that your body is well enough that you can throw any old exercise at it. Hopefully soon I will be able to go back to yoga class or Zumba or whatever it is I fancy, but for now I've got to stretch out those hip flexors -- and they don't lie.

(I know that doesn't really mean anything, but I really like the way it sounds.)

Wanted: Body Vacation

When I was a little girl in Catholic school, I remember explaining to one of the nuns that as a protestant I didn't go to church in the summer time. I mean, that was when they closed the Bronx River Parkway to cars and you could ride your bike on a highway, so why would we go to church?

She curtly explained to me that God doesn't take a vacation from us, so we don't take a vacation from him.

This isn't some sort of revelatory posting. In fact, this vignette has little to do with what I'm going to talk about other than the fact that when I was thinking about what I wanted to say in this post the good Sister's phrasing popped into my head. I have realized that one of the things you can't take a vacation from is your body – after all, it never takes a vacation from you (See? Just like God in my story!).

Although I'm generally better from my RSI/posture problems/muscle imbalance – I am still struggling with what exactly to call this – I do have to take extra care when I am on holiday. Usually vacations involve long plane rides, strange beds and jet lag, so typically even if I'm at a stage at home where I'm not doing my physio exercise routine everyday (I am starting to decrease the frequency), I have to hit the floor in foreign hotel rooms and do the whole range of exercises even more often than when I'm at home.

And this kind of stinks. But I've become used to it, as is alarmingly possible with most things. My physio exercises are just a part of my routine now, even when we're on holiday. Future Hub even knows they need to be done like clockwork – he is often perplexed and maybe a big thrown when I say, "actually I don't need to do them today."

Thing is, even when there comes a day where I don't have to do my trio of three core exercises on a daily basis, being on holiday will probably always require them, as even normal people can get stiff from sitting on a plane for eleven hours.

If only someone offered a holiday where you could leave your body behind (I am sure there are already companies that are starting to offer such things in a scary matrix-like way, but I'd have to wait for something more mainstream). Think of the time you'd save not having to pack, or not worrying about getting a spray tan. Although then I guess you wouldn't be able to sample the tasty local fare. But it would certainly save arguments over where to eat. This was a really big problem for my family when we did a big trip to Israel for a week a few summers ago. It was really the only thing we couldn't agree on – especially when my Dad insisted on wanted to eat at the bus station (this is definitely a topic for another post).

I guess for now we're forced to bring our bodies with us on vacation. Which brings me to my point – I think sometimes we forget that our bodies are always there for us and we need to be there for them. We are not just little thought bubbles bobbing around in the air, we need our bodies to enjoy and experience life. Feed it well, keep it moving a bit, and if you're in pain do something about it (in my case, lots of physio exercises) – even when you'd rather be sunning yourself or reading a good book.

Guilt And Marshmallows

I have a new found respect for the French since last week. Their radio stations may be crap, but when it comes to a healthy respect for food and pleasure, they seem to have all the answers.

On our first night in France (before we arrived at the farmhouse) we stayed in a hotel that was quite plush. There was a bar area on which two very colorful jars of candy were situated – one with pastel green, pink and white marshmallows and the other with jelly bean-type sweets.

Here are the lovely fluffy marshmallows:

Not so strange. But, notice how next to the jar there was a little sign. This explained how marshmallows are actually good for digestion and can help to prevent inflammation of the mouth and throat. I kid you not. I felt another photo snap might be necessary as evidence.

I think this sheds some light on why the French seems to have fewer food issues than people living in Anglo-Saxon countries. Essentially, from what I can tell, the French don't really do guilt. And the marshmallow sign was a clear manifestation of this. They know that everyone feels like having something sweet every once in a while (even a marshmallow!), but they don't gnash their teeth over how 'bad' they've been and feel guilty. No, instead they justify it by creating some pseudo-scientific reason why it was actually good for them. Brilliant. (Not that I generally agree with pseudo science, but I'll make an exception here.)

Everywhere we went in France people were sitting around together eating and drinking. Although food is clearly very important and treasured it seemed secondary to whatever else they were talking about. They weren't sitting there mulling over what they should eat, should they be 'good' or 'bad' (this kind of food moralizing drives me nuts, click here to read my posting about food being the new religion). They just seemed to eat really naturally and moderately, without shying away from very high-fat food (just the opposite in fact).

It's not like they are all stick insects. They looked pretty normal – a variety of different body types – and more importantly, in my opinion, they seemed comfortable in their own skin. They were also very well-groomed no matter their size or shape, clearly taking much pride in their appearance.

As Lucy Wadham in her memoir The Secret Life of France writes, "Because there is no sin attached either to the pleasure of sex or the pleasure of food, overeating tends not to be a manifestation of self-loathing. Put simply, if your body is a temple for the pursuit of guilt-free sexual pleasures, you're less likely to want to trash it."

I couldn't have said it better myself. We Anglo-Saxons could learn something from the French. Marshmallow anyone?

Good For The Soul

As daunting as it may sometimes seem, getting out of your comfort zone can be a good thing. I was reminded of this a few times during our recent holiday in France. I think people (particularly me) can put a lot of pressure on themselves to absolutely adore their vacations, but really, is your life that much different just because you're somewhere else physically?

OK, maybe you're not working and maybe you're doing really fun things, but still, as Richard Carlson (author of Don't Sweat the Small Stuff and various other amazing books) would often say: wherever you go, there you are. You can't have fun every second of every day on a holiday and sometimes those little demons that haunt you in your everyday life show up even when you're sitting by the pool drinking a piña colada (unless you've had two or three).

So that's why, for me, going on a holiday that pushed me a bit was probably a really good thing – a real break from everyday life – good for the soul, I like to think.

The first little challenge was a lack of running water. We stayed in an old farmhouse where although there is a bathroom (including shower), for various reasons, the plumbing is currently broken. Yes, I agreed to go on this trip (!!) and actually I had done this pseudo camping there before, about five years ago, when the summer was particularly hot. So we showered at the pool every day.

I did have a bit of a wobble when it seemed a little too chilly for a cold shower at the pool and I hadn't had one for two days. Alright, I admit it, it was more of a strop. I even threatened to not come back to the house until the plumbing got fixed (imagine threatening that!). But I was able to pull myself back from the edge, from the place where annoyance turns to that anger and you have to make a choice: you can keep being angry or you can just stop. It's hard to do because sometimes it just feels so good to just wallow, but really, where does it get you in the end? You're only making yourself miserable.

The other big out-of-my-comfort zone thing that happened was a whole evening spent with the French neighbors at an impromptu party. Now my French is sort-of decent, but no where near fluent and it was very hard to spend the whole night feeling as though my one superpower – the ability to make small talk in any situation – was robbed from me. Especially as Future Hub is really good at conversing in French and I kept looking over at him green with envy, while I popped delicious pieces of ham and cheese and bread into my mouth to console myself.

I made due, however, and it reminded me to remain extremely respectful of those people I know who not only speak but even work in languages other than their native tongue. It inspired to me to get back to practicing my French, although in a few weeks time I'm sure I'll have forgotten about this new resolution.

Despite these small challenges, the house is located in a beautiful part of southern France, which made it all worthwhile. When you drive around there are so many wonderful things to see and good food to eat (very heavy on all sorts of meat – patés, confits and the like, which I wouldn't think of eating in England but were absolutely delicious). And at night the vast silence and number of mighty stars that fill the inky sky keeps you from worrying about all the silly nonsense that typically rumbles around in the head.

Here, have a gander at Peyrusse-le-Roc, which we climbed up (much easier than it looks). Perhaps worth putting up with lack of indoor plumbing for a while – and good for the soul.


The Whole Story

I'm back in town. And although I said I wouldn't post until my usually scheduled time of Monday (thru Thursday), I just couldn't help myself!

The trip to France was interesting and fun and I have so many compelling goodies to share with you, including anecdotes about marshmallows, wild boars and a genuine lack of indoor plumbing. It will be so much fun next week! I must admit, I did miss blogging (hence my unusually hefty use of exclamation points).

But in the meantime, I have tinkered around with the site and added some new features, including some new pages. "About This Blog" and "Contact" probably speak for themselves, but just to let you know that "The Whole Story" is an article I've written about how the whole RSI/muscle pain drama began and how in the end I got sorted out. It's rather long, so don't think of it as a blog post, but as something you can read through when you've got time and a glass of wine/cup of tea in hand and can maybe put your feet up on a footstool (aren't footstools grand?).

I've also signed up for a twitter account, just in case you're into that sort of thing - you can follow me at @mindbodyscroll. And, if you haven't noticed, there's also a relatively new feature where you can sign up to get my posts via email, without even having to check the site (my Mom, who is a very busy lady, is a big fan of this spangly feature).

Looking forward to chatting with you Monday.
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