30 Good Things Before 30: #8 – #RunAtCan Community

I’ve had a Twitter account since January 2010, but signing up was really just a “keeping up with the Joneses” kinda situation. Same reason I signed up for Google+. (Anybody actually hang out on Google+ these days? Or ever?)

When I first joined, I used Twitter mostly just to duplicate my Facebook statuses, talk about my love for Ugly Betty (as per my first Tweet above) and occasionally tweet at celebrities I hoped would be charmed enough by my wit to whisk me away via private jet to their Beverly Hills mansions (still waiting).30-good-things-before-30

Honestly, I didn’t really get the appeal until this year.

And a big part of the reason that I now get it is #8 on my list of 30 Good Things Before 30:


#RunAtCan Community

Most Sunday nights, runners from across Atlantic Canada curl up with their smartphones, tablets and laptops for the hour-long #RunAtCan Twitter chat.

It’s facilitated by the @RunAtCan Twitter account, which in turn is moderated by super-awesome creator @BTBogtrotters (whose blog you can find over here) and amazing co-moderator @epileptrik (whose badass backstory was featured in a Canadian Running profile here).

If you’ve never been part of a Twitter chat before, here’s how it generally works: the moderators throw out questions and everyone submits their answers using a hashtag to group them all together. Participants are free to respond to other people’s replies, asking questions or adding their own takes.

There’s lot of favouriting, retweeting and mentions. Your Twitter notifications will light up like a Christmas tree. Guaranteed.

While #RunAtCan isn’t the only Twitter chat I’ve been part of (I’ve done some mental health ones, some other running-related chats, and have even dropped in on one dedicated entirely to coffee), it’s the one I most hate to miss.

And that’s because of the people. The conversations are always upbeat. Everyone is encouraging, supportive, no matter your experience or ability.

It also doesn’t hurt that the group offers a pretty impressive collective knowledge of all things running–a wealth you really get to experience during the occasional open chats when the moderators send out questions from the community.

(You have questions? The #RunAtCan community has answers!)

Running is so often a solitary sport. We spend a lot of hours out there, alone with the sound of sneakers on pavement, our own heartbeat in our ears. Weekly #RunAtCan chats are a reminder of all the amazing, empowering benefits of running and a chance to talk about them with people who get it. (Let’s face it, your non-running friends don’t care about your fartlek workout and can’t suppress their giggles if you mention it.)

The next #RunAtCan chat is Sunday, June 21 at 8 p.m. In the meantime, check out the #RunAtCan hashtag for a taste of the community’s camaraderie and silliness.//

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Week 3 (a.k.a. the week I lost my mind)

Here’s an interesting tidbit you might not know. My weeks are longer than yours.

That’s why my Week 3 of Dr. Andrew Weil’s 8 Weeks to Optimal Health starts today despite the fact that I embarked on Week 1 on Jan. 9. That’s 21 days ago — officially making my weeks about 10 days long.

It’s called the Ali-Cat Calendar. I expect it will replace the Gregorian calendar any day now. Just wait.

In the mean time, let me entertain you with a new array of Mini-Resolutions as I embark on Week 3. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even get them all done in a regular-person week.

Probably not . There’s a lot of them.

Mini-Resolution #18: Retire Old Red

With the possible exception of trading my second cup of morning coffee for green tea, this is the biggest sacrifice Dr. Weil has asked me to make.

In Week 3, he talks about electromagnetic toxicity. Household appliances like electric blankets, heating pads, plug-in clock radios and blow dryers generate electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and some research suggests these can negatively impact our body’s internal systems, increasing incidence of cancer and decreasing immune system functioning.

From DrWeil.com:

..a study in rats at the University of Washington… found DNA damage in animals exposed to a 60 hertz field for 24 hours; more damage was found after 48 hours. … the study leader said that data from this and a previous study suggest that the effects of exposure are cumulative and may build up in humans over time as a result of repeated brief use of common plug-in appliances. He suggests limiting exposure to as little time as possible, particularly with devices used close to the body.

A quick look around the Internet shows that most people think this is load of crap.

But in for a penny, in for a pound, right? I said I’d do this eight-week program to best of my ability and I intend to follow through.

This week, I will banish my electric throw blanket — a long-time staple in my lounging activities. Luckily, I got a Snuggie for Christmas. I will survive.

Mini-Resolution #19: Say Goodbye to the Dirty Dozen

Sigh.

Dr. Weil and I may be on the rocks. First he took away my second cup of coffee, then my electric blanket. Now he’s taking away some of my favourite fruits and vegetables.

Well ok, not really taking away but giving me the ultimatum to buy organic or say goodbye.

I’ll give him credit for one thing: he doesn’t ask for a full switch to organic produce. Rather, he suggests we  avoid or eat only organic versions of a few particularly dangerous products. Specifically, the Dirty Dozen.

The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organization which aims to disseminate knowledge to protect public health and the environment, compiles the Dirty Dozen — a list of the 12 most contaminated foods. They also list the 15 cleanest (the Clean 15) and claim that people who eat only from the latter ingest just two types of pesticides daily versus 10 daily for those who eat the Dirty Dozen.

This is important, Dr. Weil says, because regulations on acceptable levels of pesticide contamination only consider short-term exposure (i.e. if it has an immediate toxic effect) and not the accumulation of long-term exposure. They also consider each pesticide in isolation and not the possible interactions between them.

So this week, I am going to try to either avoid the Dirty Dozen or — in the unlikely event that prices aren’t too exorbitant — buy them organic. Which is going to be a challenge because I regularly consume a lot of the Dirty Dozen including apples, bell peppers, celery and carrots.

This will require some creativity in order to not break the bank.

Mini-Resolution #20: Me and Miso

Once again, Dr. Weil suggests we substitute one serving of meat for a soy product this week and, because I’m up for a challenge, I’m going to opt for one I’ve never tried before: miso.

I have absolutely no idea what this is. I’ve heard murmurings about miso soup in my day, but have never tried it. And I certainly didn’t know it was soy-based. Not until Dr. Weil mentioned something to that effect. I can’t quite recall the exact details as I was still reeling from his brutal electric blanket embargo.

Anyway, I will find out what it is, I will cook it (you have to cook miso, right?) eat it and report back.

Mini-Resolution #21: Don’t Stock Believing

Groan. That’s supposed to be a pun. A little Journey reference? No? Anyone?

Anyway, in Week 3 Dr. Weil again recommends that we up our veggie intake. To facilitate this, he provides some recipes for vegetable stock which is, apparently, incredibly handy for cooking vegetables with. Who knew?

Not me, but I’m about to get educated when I make my first-ever homemade veggie stock this week.

Mini-Resolution #22: Stretch it Out

Stretching: my nemesis.

Well, not so much. Mostly, it’s just like a really boring acquaintance who if you saw at the mall, you would duck into the nearest store just to avoid contact. And you’d stay in that store as long as you needed to, even if it too was something really boring like that wicker store (you know the one), because it’s undoubtedly the less painful choice. But then your boring acquaintance comes into the boring wicker store (you should have known that would be her taste!) and starts talking to you about all the boring wicker baskets and it’s like boredom overload and your brain explodes.

Yeah. Stretching. It’s like that.

Nonetheless, I will be doing it five minutes a day because Dr. Weil says it’s good for me. It increases flexibility, reducing chance of injury and brings about a “welcome alteration of consciousness.”

Or perhaps it, like the breathing exercises, is just another way to lull me to sleep. Like I needed the help.

Mini-Resolution #23: Let Myself Be Breathed

No, that’s not a typo. That’s an actual Dr. Weil-ism.

Letting Yourself Be Breathed is a new breathing exercise that consists of the following:

  • Lie on your back, with arms relaxed at your sides
  • Focus attention on your breath without trying to influence it
  • Imagine that with each inhalation the universe is blowing breath into you and with each exhalation drawing it from you. Let yourself feel the breath penetrating every part of your body, to your fingers and toes.
  • Repeat for 10 cycles of inhalation and exhalation.

Dr. Weil doesn’t go into much detail about why this particular exercise is so important. He just says that, if done properly, we should find it “unusually refreshing.”

My issue is that it requires imagination. I’m not so good with that. If I told you to close your eyes and picture a purple lamp, I bet you could do it, right? I can’t. I just don’t seem to have those  neurons.

I’ll work on it.

Mini-Resolution #24: Get Provoked by Prose

This is my favourite this week. Dr. Weil would like us to make a list of  inspirational books that we’d like to read. These could be books of poetry, biographies, books on self-help, spirituality or anything else that moves us. We are to select one and begin it this week.

To which I say “Yay!” I’ll be heading to the library this afternoon, no doubt.

Mini-Resolution #25: Become an Amateur Agriculturalist

This is optional but I’m taking it on because it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. Dr. Weil would like us to look into growing some of our own food.

That is, of course, easy for him to say. He lives in Arizona. Assumedly in a big house with a giant backyard. I live in Victoria, BC. In a third-floor apartment with a balcony.

Nonetheless, I know it’s possible to grow stuff here. The previous tenant, my best friend, succeeded in growing tomatoes, basil and a bunch of other herbs. It can be done.

Maybe not by me, but I plan to enlist the help of my dear fiance — whose green thumb can hopefully mitigate my thumb of death — and see if we can get ourselves a little garden started.

And that is all. Thank God because that’s a lot.

On top of that, however, are a few other activities from previous week t0 round out Week 3:

  • Another one-day news/Twitter/Facebook fast
  • 20 minute walks five days a week
  • Continue the supplement plan
  • Continue the old breathing exercises in addition to the new one
  • Continue swapping that coffee for green tea
  • Eat two servings of fish
  • Eat broccoli twice
  • Make some more time to just hang out in nature

Wait… do you hear that?

I think it’s the sound of my week growing even longer.

The Spiritual Stuff

One of my favourite things about Dr. Andrew Weil is that in his philosophy how we feed our minds and souls is as important as how we feed our bodies. Far too often, every aspect of our health is siloed and handled independently from the others, ignoring the wide array of evidence (not to mention common sense) that suggests they are all interrelated.

In Week 2 of his 8 Weeks to Optimal Health, Dr. Weil assigned three tasks related to mental/emotional/spiritual well-being.

The Tree Bowl

The "Tree Bowl" in Finnerty Gardens, one of many weird and wonderful things to check out there.

First, Mini-Resolution #15: Be one with Nature. This one required — well, not much really. Simply to go to a favourite place in nature, hang out there and feel the “energy of the place.”

I opted for Finnerty Gardens on the University of Victoria campus. This was, in part. out of convenience (the building I work in is a quick five-minute jaunt from the gardens so I went on my lunch break) but also because I can’t think of any other places in the city that have the same wow factor with so few people enjoying it.

Finnerty Gardens is UVic’s best-kept secret. It boasts more than 4,000 different trees and shrubs  on 2.6 hectares of land. Plentiful trails run through the gardens, bordered with dozens of benches on which to sit, relax and take in the splendour. And it’s easy to enjoy because there’s hardly ever anyone there.

It’s the kind of place you just can’t be pissed off in. The moment you step inside the gates you’re in a place that seems totally removed from the stampeding students and speeding cyclists that make up the university campus.

I spent a half-hour there, just wandering around, touching and smelling the greenery, listening to birds and being slightly annoyed that as idyllic as the gardens are they still can’t shield you from the traffic noises beyond their gates.

It’s so rare that I spend time outside doing nothing in particular. I’m usually walking to get somewhere, walking for exercise or running. This was a nice, new relaxed pace and I definitely returned to work with a much brighter attitude than I had left with.

I also took a few minutes of my time in the gardens to work on Mini-Resolution #17: Breath Observation V.2.0.

When I started on this program I was really excited about the idea of incorporating breathing exercises into my life. Dr. Weil touted them as the simplest form of meditation and I eagerly hopped on board since learning how to meditate has long been one of my desires.

Not long into Week 1, I realized that if this was the simplest form of meditation, I was in trouble. I struggled to do just five minutes of breath observation a day. It was boring, so I generally put it off until I went to sleep and then — more often than not — just fell asleep doing it.

In Week 2, Dr. Weil tacked on another breathing exercise: following the five minutes of breath observation, we were to spend one minute focusing on the breath cycle itself, beginning with exhalation as Phase 1.

I wish I could say this week of breath observation went better. I can’t, really.

I did make an effort to do my breathing exercises during the day instead of at the end of it, but I’m still having issues with just quieting my mind. It doesn’t want to focus on breathing. It would rather remind me of what I need for groceries, what wedding stuff I should have done by now, what emails I need to send when I get into the office and how I’m wasting time sitting around doing nothing.

When I can quiet my mind enough , there’s usually a pay-off in the form of slower, deeper breathing, a lowered heart rate and a general sense of lowered tension at the end of my six minutes.

On one particularly awful day in the office, I actually stopped everything, pushed my desk chair away from the computer and did my breathing exercises right there in the hopes of calming me down. It actually worked. A little.

Maybe this is just one of those things where practice makes perfect?

The last spiritual/emotional/mental task Dr. Weil set out was a one-day newsfast. Recognizing that what we see and hear in the news can solicit emotions of rage, anxiety and sadness, Dr. Weil proposed the fast as a reminder that we must be mindful not only of what we put into our bodies but also what we put into our minds.

In my own twist on this, I made Mini-Resolution #16: The Twitter/Facebook Fast. On Sunday, I did not tweet or Facebook creep. I didn’t post pictures or comment on other people’s statuses. I spent the day in the world of the three-dimensional people, mostly lounging around with my fiancé watching movies and being lazy.

And it was fine. I didn’t miss it. It was nothing extraordinary. I guess it’s fortunate that I’m not a chronic social media user. I can do without. For one day at least.

I didn’t notice an impact on my mood, but then I think perhaps I’ve spent so much time tweeting and Facebooking (and MySpacing and MSN Messengering and ICQing, etc.)  in my life that very little I see there has much of an impact on me anymore.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe a week without Facebook or Twitter would make a brand new person.

Doubtful. Probably a slightly more productive person, at best.

Nonetheless, I think it’s probably a good thing to spend at least a day a week detached from social media. If for no other reason than to fully enjoy the company of those real-life, touchable, tangible loved ones.

And with that, it’s tally time:

Days to go: 337

Mini-resolutions to go: 244

My first aha! moment (and a slew of new Mini-Resolutions)

I’m back. Bet you thought I blew this popsicle stand, huh? So did I — temporarily.

I didn’t post again on Saturday like I said I would. Then I didn’t post on Sunday. Or Monday. And by Tuesday, I was thinking “who the hell am I kidding? I’m never going to follow through on this!”

Then I gave myself a metaphorical smack upside the head because you know what I don’t need? Me putting unnecessary stress on myself about my New Year’s Manifesto to work toward better holistic health and well-being. You know why? Because that kind of stress is not at all conducive to achieving holistic health and well-being.

In fact, that kind of stress is actually much more appropriate for the all-or-nothing Alison of New Years past. You know, the one who resolved on Jan. 1 to lose 10 pounds, ate a chocolate bar on Jan. 2 and then decided she’d blown it and might as well give up?

I’m not having any of that Alison this year.

And that realization was my first aha! moment of this whole process. Amazing what a little procrastination can bring about. Here’s to many more aha! moments to come *raises water bottle in a toast*

Now I must admit, that while I was being negligent on my blogging I was being equally negligent on my 8 Weeks to Optimum Health plan. I’m supposed to be about half-way through Week 2. I’m not. I’m just kind of hanging out in limbo between Weeks 1 and 2.

But you know what’s great about this? I make the rules and I say a little limbo never hurt anyone. So tomorrow I end my hiatus and embark on Week 2.

Which means a whole slew of new Mini-Resolutions. Now I should mention for any of you Dr. Weil purists out there — and I assume there are a few — that I’m not doing absolutely everything the good doctor recommends.

In Week 1, for instance, he suggested I make a list of injuries, illnesses or other health issues that I have recovered from in the past year, along with a list of anything I did to speed the healing. I didn’t do this. The only thing I seem to have recovered from in the past two years is asthma *knocks on wood* And that just disappeared, seemingly of its own will. I can’t really claim that as my own.

In Week 2, Dr. Weil suggests something else I’m just not gonna do. He wants me to set up a water filtration system in my home. The ones he suggests ring in at about $2,000. Ba-ha? Unless, Dr. Weil personally donates and installs said water filtration system, it’s not gonna happen.

No worries though because Dr. Weil has a contingency plan whilst I scrounge together money for a water filtration system. In the mean time, he says, just drink bottled water. Ba-ha, again!

Hey, Dr. Weil: Ever hear of that NRDC study that tested 1,000 bottles and 103 brands of water and found one-third of them contained levels of contamination? Or the fact that bottled water is subject to less rigorous testing than city tap water? Not to mention the lovely thought of Mother Earth crying while all those plastic water bottles are being churned out.

So no. I will not partake in the water-related foolishness of Week 2. I will, however, jump on board with the rest of Dr. Weil’s recommendations so here’s the next batch of Mini-Resolutions.

Mini-Resolution #11: Get Cooking with Quinoa and Mini-Resolution #12: Get Cooking with Kasha

This week Dr. Weil says I should be focusing on increasing my consumption of whole grains. And that’s probably true. Aside from whole wheat pitas in my fridge and long grain brown rice in my cupboard that I never cook because it takes 45 minutes and I’m always too hungry to bother (can you say spoiled by Minute Rice?), I’m just not much of a grain-eater.

So I’m doing double time this week and resolving to try out two new whole grains suggested by Dr. Weil: Quinoa and Kasha. I don’t really know what they are, I don’t know where to buy them and I sure as hell don’t know how to cook them, but that’s the adventure, right?

Mini-Resolution #13: Get Acquainted with Soy

I’m no stranger to tofu. I’ve even cooked some edamame. But I know there’s a whole world of soy out there that I know nothing about. This week, as part of Dr. Weil’s quest to get the world to cut back on animal protein and opt for the vegetable variety, I am committed to investigating the soy section of my grocery store and trying one new soy-based product. Maybe tempeh, soy grits or TVP? Who knows? Again, I don’t even know what those are. But I will find out and consume at least one of them or their brethren.

Mini-Resolution #14: Do the green tea swap

I don’t think this has come up yet in this blog, but I’m a coffee lover/addict. I refuse to start my day without it. I also refuse to drink it out of anything but my giant Tim Hortons mug; however, this isn’t about my OCD right now.

This week, Dr. Weil is asking me to do the impossible and swap out at least one of my daily cups of joe for a cup of Japanese or Chinese green tea. I don’t know what the caffeine content is in this stuff, but I’m just not convinced it will give me the same pick-me-up as my Salt Spring Island coffee <— product endorsement. Free coffee, please?

Mini-Resolution #15: Be one with nature

I don’t know if it quite makes up for the brutal green tea swap, but I dig this Mini-Resolution.  Dr. Weil wants me to visit a park or some other favourite nature-filled place and just hang out there, doing nothing in particular but “feeling the energy of the place.” Connecting with natures is healing, Dr. Weil says. It’s an antidote to the modern human’s epic problem of being too much in one’s head. I dig very much.

Mini-Resolution #16: The Twitter/Facebook Fast

I’m putting my own spin on this. Dr. Weil asks that in Week 2, I engage in a one-day news fast. His reasoning is that paying attention to the news commonly results in anxiety, rage and other states that aren’t conducive to well-being. He ask that we “broaden our concept of nutrition” to take into account not only what we put in our bodies but also what we put in our minds.

Now, I’m not a voracious news consumer. I think I’m pretty well-informed but it’s not unusual for me to go a day without paying attention to the news. What would be unusual is for me to go a day without logging on to Facebook or, my more recent obsession, Twitter. And I’m pretty sure both of these mediums can induce the same anxiety, rage and other negative states Dr. Weil’s talking about.

So one day this week, in addition to ignoring the news, I will not Facebook and I will not Tweet.  Sigh. How ever will I  procrastinate then?

Mini-Resolution #17: Breath Observation V.2.0

As you’ll recall, I sucked at breath observation in Week 1. Week 2 gives me another chance and also tacks on a second breathing exercise. In addition to my five minutes of breath observation, I am to spend one minute focused on the breath cycle itself. But instead of our natural tendency to think of inhalation as the first stage of the breath cycle, Dr. Weil says we should reverse it and begin with exhalation. The reasoning? Potentially, we are better able to control our exhalation because our muscles allow us to push more air out. So if we start with exhalation and focus on pushing more air out, we automatically breathe deeper and take more air in during our inhalation. And deep breathing is good for the soul.

In addition to these, Dr. Weil asks that I round out my Week 2 activities by continuing my supplement regimen, eating fish at least once and broccoli at least twice and walking 15 minutes a day, five days a week (i.e. my walk to work in the morning).

Oh, and I haven’t forgot about hot yoga. I’m going to go. Promise. Eventually the shame of consistently having to write about how I still haven’t gone will force my butt into that hotter-than-hell torture chamber.

I’ll keep you posted.