"I just dance & do Yoga" says the now 98 years-old Tao Porchon-Lynch.
I never get tired of seeing different posts & clips about this amazing woman; in a world where the word 'inspiring' gets bandied about for so many who do not warrant the term, this woman does truly deserve the description. At 98, Tao not only practices & teaches Yoga but also does ballroom dancing, which she took up at the 'young' age of 85! She sure makes me want to go 'Om' & get on my mat.
There's a lot of conflicting information being shared these days on what is 'best' for us; the best diet, the best exercise, the best way of living. Just the other day I was reading the Irish Times & there was a piece on running & in particular, on running in middle & older age.
It covered the recent massive boom in not only marathons but ultra marathons & other endurance events, the effects of participating in these events on both heart health & the musculoskeletal system. It included inputs from experts in the fields of sports medicine & cardiac health & the main take-aways from it for me were these:
"(a study) which monitored the health of 50,000 subjects over three decades. It concluded that runners had a 19 per cent lower risk of death than non-runners, but those who ran at moderate speeds, distances & frequencies came out with the best health. Notably, the study claimed the ideal running distance was between 5 miles & 20 miles (or 8km to 32km) per week."
"Simply put: running is unquestionably good for us, but running too long or too often is not"
Dr James O’Keefe, a Kansas cardiologist quoted in the piece concluded with this advice:
"don’t forget the value of cross-training, such as resistance training, Yoga, Pilates or high-intensity interval training (or HIIT)".
I like the measured approach, based on rigorous scientific research that basically tells us
'get moving, you don't have to move too much & do move in different ways'
It makes it all seem much more reasonable & achievable, for me at least. My running recently has sadly fallen by the wayside due to an ongoing injury. I'd been torturing myself about the lack of 'mileage'; conveniently forgetting both about all the lovely walks I do now with my dog but also forgetting that a 'wee' slow 3-miler jog a few times a week still has tremendous benefits. Why does it have to be 'all or nothing'?! My 'ego' just needs to basically 'chill' & my heart & body both will literally be all the better for it. Reading the Irish Times article was a timely boost I must admit.
Coincidentally, another recent Irish Times piece emphasised the importance of stretching for our health & longevity; this part of our physical health is much overlooked. We can get very caught up on doing our 'cardio', on logging miles walked, cycled or run, on weights lifted or 'macros' measured; who really stops to think about the health & longevity of their joints, ligaments, tendons & fascia?
Apart from those already devoted to Yoga (and/or Pilates), the tremendous benefits of stretching have not been given the same coverage (well, apart from the glam shots of girls doing handstands in bikinis on Instagram but ummm, we don't really believe that's about Yoga do we now?!).
Former international triathlete & duathlete Phil Mack, now a strength & conditioning coach is quoted thus:
"We live in a sedentary society, which encourages stiffer bodies, poor posture & loss of joint range of movement, all of which can lead to injury or pain. Stretching, which comes in many forms, Yoga poses, Pilates techniques & dynamic or static stretching can all play a role in maintaining or improving joint & muscle range of movement. When combined with light exercise for 30 minutes a day & with a sensible diet, stretching will help promote a healthy lifestyle which is realistic & sustainable.”
Again, I love the balanced approach taken here by Mack; nothing crazy, nothing requiring hours sweating buckets in the gym or grimacing while we pound the streets. It's so doable & will help us reap so many life-enhancing benefits.
It can be very tempting to either jump boots & all into the latest 'craze' diet or faddy exercise regime, try it for a while & then slink away back into our old non-moving habits, that 'all or nothing' I mentioned earlier. We're in late March now - how are those New Year resolutions going eh?! It can be equally tempting to cynically (& self-defeatingly) say, 'ah sure what's the point, all those experts all keep changing their minds, how do I know what to do or not do'?
But the middle way is always there for us; we know we feel better when we eat, sleep & move well so let's try to find some balance - in all things.
Here in the Northern hemisphere, we're moving well into Springtime now; the perfect time (unlike January 1st!) to really get ourselves moving & grooving. That could be ballroom dancing like Tao or running, hiking, CrossFit, rowing or biking, just something you like or love, that you genuinely enjoy & so, will more easily keep on doing. Along with doing your favourite activity with friends or family, finding a form of exercise that resonates with you is one surefire way of ensuring you stick to your 'moving' plan.
Then, once you have got yourself moving again, complement that movement with some stretching; whether a Beginner's Yoga class, some home practice if you already know Yoga very well or sign up for a weekly class. By signing up for a weekly class, not only will you learn with a qualified, experienced Yoga teacher but you'll also meet new people, get friendly with your neighbours & maybe even make new friends. Crucially though, you'll also be committing yourself. That's another surefire way of ensuring your 'moving' plan doesn't fall by the proverbial wayside again.
We really can be our own worst enemies when it comes to maintaining our wellbeing; we are full of great ideas & even sometimes, over-idealistic ambitions. But we also can be sadly prone to falling prey to that by-now clichéd 'so-busy syndrome' & also to plain old lack of planning & procrastination. We defer our long-term wellbeing for short-term, shortsighted & erroneous 'gain' - we say we're too tired, it's too cold, I'll go next week. We forget to schedule something in so guess what? It doesn't happen. 'Fail to plan, plan to fail' as the saying goes. Or as Tao says in the clip
"don't procrastinate, don't say I'll do it tomorrow, tomorrow never comes..."
By making ourselves sign up for something, by that simple yet powerful act of committing to, scheduling in & in particular, by paying for something in advance, we will be much more likely to turn up & practice.
The late Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling (held to be a sadly under-recognised father of behavioral economics) worked on a theory known as 'Egonomics'; he introduced the term 'precommitment'. At its simplest, it holds that we can increase our chances for success by doing things in advance to make it harder, if not impossible, for our future selves to find a way to “back out”.
“Many of us have little tricks we play on ourselves to make us do the things we ought to do or to keep us from the things we out to foreswear. Sometimes we put things out of reach for the moment of temptation, sometimes we promise ourselves small rewards, & sometimes we surrender authority to a trustworthy friend who will police our calories or our cigarettes. We place the alarm clock across the room so we cannot turn it off without getting out of bed. People who are chronically late set their watches a few minutes ahead to deceive themselves.”
– (Thomas Schelling, “Egonomics, or the Art of Self-Management").
So, play a new trick on yourself! Sign up, pay up & turn up for Yoga class.
Whatever it takes to make you go 'Om'... You know Tao would approve.