SPRING - THE SEASON OF THE BODY
KEY FOCUS: GETTING INTO THE BODY - WORKING ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR PHYSICAL SELF.
SECONDARY FOCUS: STARTING TO THINK ABOUT YOUR LIFE TASKS: INTRODUCING A HEALTHY DIET; STARTING TO EXERCISE; DETOXIFICATION; TONIFYING THE BODY; BOOSTING THE LYMPHATIC SYSTEM; BECOMING MORE FLEXIBLE.
QUESTIONS: HOW MIGHT I LIKE TO LIVE MY LIFE? HOW DO I WANT TO TREAT MY BODY? AM I WILLING TO TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR MY HEALTH?
CHALLENGES: DARE TO PAMPER YOURSELF; USE DANCE TO DISCOVER YOUR EMOTIONS; TRY SEEMINGLY IRRATIONAL EXERCISES!
FESTIVALS AND CELEBRATIONS: SPRING EQUINOX, EASTER, BELTANE
Everything seems possible in Spring. This is the young year, the growing year, the season of buds and blossom, of lambs and all young things. It is, to my mind, the perfect time to turn over a fresh leaf, to start anew. Spring is the season of hope, of fresh life and new beginnings. It's as if each year we get another stab at getting it right or, at least, getting it better.
After the darkness of winter, the days start to get longer and this change in light triggers a deep shift in nature - everything begins to come back to life and vigour. Catkins appear on hazel trees and pussy willow, bluebells cast a hazy sheen through dappled woods, primroses cling to steep mossy banks and larks soar and fall over the ploughed fields. Even within towns and cities, the onrush of spring can be seen in the bright cheery faces of daffodils and other spring bulbs and the frenzied nest-building of sparrows, pigeons and their other city friends. You don't even need to see visible signs of spring: just stop and sniff the air, there's something fresh about it, a new energy has arrived into the year.
Spring is pure physicality - it's the season of the body and the perfect time to start a program to bring you into peak fitness. Take it slowly, one step at a time, and you can alter forever the way you look and feel. Spring is the time when we need to cleanse and detoxify our bodies, to clear out the debris that has accumulated during the relative inactivity of winter. It's a time to start looking closely at how we feed our bodies; a time to decide on changes that will help our bodies serve us better. You can lose weight now but it's not the best time of year to launch into a fully-fledged weight-loss regime. Your body has just come out of its winter hibernation and needs to be cleansed and then fortified, tonified. Far better to spend spring easing yourself into good, honest healthy eating, to cut out toxins and junk food and then launch into weight loss proper (if that is what you truly need) in the summer.
Equally, although spring might seem like the perfect time to change your entire life, it's not a good idea to overturn it right now. Spring is great for deciding upon your focus for the year but it is not necessarily the best moment to kick in your job on whim or to make sweeping life changes. It's the time to start thinking about what you want from life; to consider what you might need to change. But leave the implementation of those changes until that other dynamic season, autumn.
Hopefully you have already filled in the questionnaire in the introductory chapter. If not, do take time to do it now. Look carefully at the section on your body. Are your answers truthful and accurate or are they wishful thinking? How would you like to see your body? How would you like to feel in your body? Really think about it. Do you know, in your heart of hearts, that you eat the wrong food, too much food, too much junk food, too little food, too little fruit and veg and fibre? Think about what you're putting in your body. Think about how all your internal organs, all your bodily systems, pounce on the food you put inside you and try to obtain the nutrients they need to make you function properly. Do you give them a fair chance? Or are they scrabbling around trying to keep you going on a pile of empty calories, a sickly wodge of sugar and a dead weight of salt? This spring the aim is to make friends with your body so the least you can do is give it the bare essentials it needs. Try to follow the healthy eating guidelines.
What about exercise? Think about the muscles of your body - not just your pecs and biceps but your heart and your lungs. Exercise on a regular basis strengthens the whole body. Think about it. In this way, go through the whole questionnaire and really delve deep into your answers. What changes could you make right now? What changes do you want to make over the following year? Make a list of everything you would like to improve or change and give yourself a time scale. Also write down how you would do it. For example if you want to start exercising your list might read:
GOAL: improve physical fitness. Be able to run for the bus without gasping. Be able to play netball and go jogging again.
RIGHT NOW: walk up escalator every day on way to work. Look up gyms and sports centres in yellow pages and check out membership/facilities.
OVER THE NEXT MONTH: join gym and start regular workouts.
WHEN THE WEATHER IMPROVES: fix bike and start cycling to work. Get outside in lunch-hour - maybe start walking or jogging.
IN THREE MONTHS TIME/WHEN FITNESS LEVELS IMPROVE: join team for netball. Again, don't try to do it all at once. But do do it.
THE SEASON OF WOOD AND THE EVIL WIND
In the Chinese system spring is the season of the element wood and it is filled with the expansive, explosive energy of young yang. Young yang is boundless energy but can be reckless, impulsive, impatient. It is like an adolescent, straining at the bit, wanting to race out and make a mark in the world but not quite sure of his or her own limits. Wood makes us feel that we need free expression, to find our own way, to try new things and meet new people. It is open and energetic and can lead to great enthusiasm and new endeavors. However it can also become out of control and can lead to the feeling of "spring fever", obsessive, undisciplined mania. It's unpredictable - think of mad March hares, April showers, sudden heatwaves that vanish equally suddenly in squalls and sleeting rain, the sneaky frost that can devastate your garden overnight. Spring is also, quite naturally, the season of sex and sexuality. It is the season of procreation in the natural world and, just because we can mate at any time of the year does not mean we are not moved by the primal seasonal urges. Lust rises in spring - it is the time for starting relationships or recommitting to old ones.
The colour associated with wood is, unsurprisingly, green. The direction that governs the spring is east which also rules the beginning of the day, the morning. The secondary element the Chinese associate with spring is wind. Wind is the fresh air of spring, that whisks away the old and sweeps in the new. But too much wind can be harmful and the Chinese say that the great danger of spring comes from the wind "evil". If we are balanced and healthy then the wind can do us no harm. However if our energy is low or stagnant then we might not be able to cope with the fluctuation in the external energies of wind and wood - the troublesome wind can invade the body and throw yin and yang into even more imbalance. The result is that we go down with colds and flus, coughs and snuffles, hot sweats or even more serious ailments. Some practitioners of TCM say that the wind evil is allowed free rein in our modern world through central heating and air conditioning because they shock our bodies and don't allow them to adapt to the outside conditions. Microwaves and radiation equally come under attack but then no-one would suggest that radiation is particularly healthy.
Avoiding any of these evils is pretty difficult nowadays, unless you live in a cave up an isolated hill. But there are ways to minimize the damage:
* fortify your body with good clean food. Avoid sweets, soft drinks and snacks made from refined sugar and steer clear of junk food, deep-fried food and over-processed foods.
* take a daily good quality multi-vitamin and mineral supplement.
* as far as possible don't shock your body by plunging from extreme heat to extreme cold. Wear a sweater or a vest rather than turning the heat up high.
* install an ionizer in your home and office - particularly if you live in a large town or city.
* keep a window open, especially at night. If you can avoid sleeping with air conditioners or central heating do so. Try using a fan to generate cool air. Time your heating so it comes on an hour before you get up rather than being on all night.
* practice the techniques of good breathing. The Chinese recommend chi kung breathing exercises be carried out every day and say that twenty minutes of chi kung will re-establish your energy levels, enrich your blood, soothe the nervous system and the endocrine system and put your autonomous nervous system into the calming, restful parasympathetic mode. Practitioners of yoga would say the same for their practice of pranayama, which teaches the art of good breathing. There are exercises for simple breathing exercises in Supertherapies or, for best results, join a yoga or chi kung class and learn how to do it in absolutely the right way.
FOOD GUIDELINES FOR SPRING - EASING YOURSELF INTO HEALTHY NATURAL EATING
We have just come out of winter, season of thick warming, sustaining stews and comforting stodge. Most of us have probably put on a few pounds over the winter season. By now you may well have already tried to diet after Christmas or for your New Year resolutions yet kept finding yourself digging in the biscuit tin or having a second dollop of pudding. Don't beat yourself up over it; you are just doing what virtually every creature does - storing extra fat in case of a lean winter and to keep you warm through the cold. Now spring has come it's time to gently shed the excess and to get the body moving.
Don't leap in with a draconian diet whatever you do. It may be spring but your body needs nourishing, not starving. And anyway, as you should know by now, diets simply don't work. All you're doing on a strict diet is starving your body into a panic in which it sends out alarm signals to the cells screaming "hang on to every bit of fat you can!" Your metabolism naturally slows down to preserve your stores and, after a while, it becomes harder and harder to lose weight.
What I would suggest at this time of year is to commit yourself to introducing healthy eating habits into your life. You may find that a few simple changes alone will bring quite surprising changes: your weight should begin to balance itself anyhow; you should certainly gain in energy and alertness and quite probably you will find your mood improving. The guidelines that follow are sensible eating habits for everyone.
Do remember that food is fuel for your body. If you want a high performance car to run smoothly and speedily you fill it with the right fuel and lubricate its engine with the right oil. Put a low-grade or unsuitable fuel in a car and it will run poorly or not at all. Or think about race-horses - they are fed a carefully balanced diet designed to help them stay in peak condition. In both cases there is an obvious link between what goes in as food and what comes out as performance. So why do we think we can get a super-charged performance out of our bodies when we are shovelling in poor-grade food?
There are any number of "perfect regimes" - some people swear by veganism or macrobiotics, others believe we were born to eat steak; many people swear by food combining - but equally scientists say our stomachs don't care whether we put in protein and carbohydrate at the same time. I don't believe there is any one "perfect" diet for everyone - we are all different and we all need slightly different regimes. This is where most nutritional programmes or diets fall down. Finding the optimum diet for you can take time and effort and if you really want a tailor-made nutritional regime then I would suggest you consult a well-qualified naturopath or nutritionist. Ayurveda and TCM will also give you the ideal diet to balance your type.
However the majority of people can make vast changes for the better in their health and vitality by following these general good health guidelines. I'm not asking you to do it all at once - or even at all. However, if you want to follow some of the suggestions further on in this book, you will really benefit by gently easing your body into a good basic healthfood regime. And, please believe me, I'm not suggesting brown rice and lentils every day of the week. Good food needn't be boring food.
THE GOLDEN RULES
* Buy your food as fresh and "natural" as possible. In other words you are looking for food that has been tampered with as little as possible. The ideal situation is organic vegetables, freshly picked, and free-range organic meat. Unfortunately the ideal can be hard to sustain. Organic produce is still expensive, very expensive - and many supermarkets and stores simply don't stock it. Campaign for cheaper organic produce and a wider range.
If you can't find organic produce buy as fresh as you can and as locally as you can. Much of our food is transported halfway across the world - quite unnecessarily. Most naturopaths would say that the ideal food is that which is grown in your locality.
* Buy food in season when you can. This follows on from eating food grown locally. It's no accident that certain foods grow well at particular times of year. Spring greens and young spring vegetables are perfect spring food - solid turnips and swedes are fine winter fare. Buy food in season and it will be at its peak -full of vitamins and minerals and true food for your body.
* The bedrock of your diet should be complex carbohydrates (solid starchy foods like bread, pasta, potatoes, rice and cereals.) About half your daily intake of calories should come from these prime foodstuffs. This comes as a surprise to many people who think such foods are fattening. The answer is they're not - providing you go for the jacket potato rather than the plate of chips and eat your spaghetti with a roasted vegetable sauce rather than dose it with something involving half a pint of double cream. There are endless delicious options with this kind of food - risottos and pilafs, pasta in all its guises, baked potatoes stuffed with all kinds of interesting fillings, thick wholemeal bread sandwiches. Experiment also with the more unusual grains that are arriving in the shops - wild rice, millet, cous-cous, etc etc.
* Boost it up next with loads of fresh fruit and vegetables. Aim for three pieces of fruit a day plus around 600 grams of vegetables. It may sound like a lot but your body will love it. Fresh vegetables are packed with vitamins and minerals and are generally very low on calories and fat. They will help protect your body from pollution and boost your immune system to deal with infections. They really are your bodyguards so eat them any way you can. If the thought of vegetables sends you to sleep try cooking them in different ways - Delia Smith swears by roasting vegetables - popping them in the oven with just a drizzle of olive oil. She's spot-on - they taste delicious and make a great basis for a pasta or rice sauce. I barbecue vegetables a lot - a small amount of meat boosted with plenty of barbecued onions, peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes makes a substantial and highly nutritious meal - add some pitta bread and you've got almost perfect balance. Other ways with vegetables include stir-frying with plenty of garlic and herbs or experiment with oriental flavorings like ginger, galingale, lemongrass and coriander. And if the vegetables are really fresh just lightly steam them - perhaps adding a little lemongrass to the steaming water - they should be delicious just as they are.
* Protein - whether you eat meat or not is totally up to you. I know plenty of super-healthy meat-eaters and plenty of very unhealthy vegetarians - and vice versa. But if you do choose to eat meat, please try to get hold of organic, free-range meat. I know it's more expensive but not only is it far more ethical but it really is much better for your health. The added bonus is that you really can taste the difference. After that, the key factor with meat is to choose lean cuts with as little fat as possible. It's not meat itself that's bad for you, it's the saturated fat that comes with it. That's why chicken is a good option as it contains less fat than red meat. Fish is an ideal source of protein as well - some of the fats in fish are positively health-giving and many people swear by a fish diet. Perhaps surprisingly game is a relatively healthy option as well - for example venison is very low in cholesterol.
Vegetarianism can be a very healthy way to eat and live but vegetarians often fall into the trap of eating far too much dairy produce - cheese and eggs are fine in moderation but, taken to extremes are not healthy as they are high in fat and cholesterol and also encourage the body to create mucous. Vegetarians (and meat-eaters too) should experiment with the huge range of pulses now available and also try products like tofu (the smoked one is lovely) and quorn which, although utterly tasteless on its own will pick up the flavour of whatever you cook it with or in. We really need to get away from the idea that all meals should be based around protein anyhow. In actual fact we only need around 70-80 grams of protein a day. So take protein off centre-stage and use it to add flavour and interest. If you look at some of the healthiest cuisine in the world it is generally poor peasant food -thick vegetable stews flavored with a little meat, beans or lentils and a handful of herbs and spices.
THINGS TO WATCH OUT FOR:
* Steer clear of additives and preservatives. Sadly most food nowadays comes coated or treated with insecticides, pesticides, fungicides.....etc. Vegetables are sprayed, injected and coated with chemicals to kill anything that might eat them - and then we eat them. Animals are pumped full of antibiotics, steroids and all manner of hormones - and, as we eat the animal, so we ingest their injections in turn.
Always wash fruit and veg very thoroughly, and take especial care if they aren't organic - there are now special washes on the market to help clear pesticide residues (check with your local health shop). There's not much you can do about non-organic meat - except to buy it as fresh as you can and from a reputable butcher - and campaign again for free range organic meat, at reasonable prices.
* Avoid over-processed and junk food. It's so easy to eat out of tins and packets; to stock up the freezer with ready meals; to pop into a burger bar instead of cooking a meal from scratch. Life's often too busy to shop, cook and prepare fresh food. But please try - at least for part of the week. Slowly wean yourself off convenience food and try eating "real" food. It needn't take hours or be haute cuisine: a bowl of pasta with a fresh tomato sauce takes under half an hour; so does lemon grilled chicken and greek salad; so does blackened fish and cous-cous. The list is endless. It might take a little more thought and forward planning than plopping a ready meal in the microwave but your body (and mind) will thank you for it.
* Cut out sweets and snacks as far as possible. A bag of crisps might taste nice but they do nothing for your cells. A chocolate brownie might cheer up the afternoon (at least for the two minutes it takes to eat it) but your mind and mood won't thank you for it. These are empty foods, dead foods, so try to cut them down. I'm not going to say, "try these nice crudities instead of a Mars bar" because there's no way a bunch of carrots has a hope in hell of measuring up to a Mars bar in all its sticky, sickly glory. But just be aware of how reliant you are on snack foods. Do you eat them every day? At particular times of the day? When you hit a particular kind of mood? If they're for comfort, try a warm drink instead. If they're for instant energy you'd be better off with a banana or a cup of hot water with honey.
* Watch out for fat. To listen to some "experts" you'd think fat was a dirty word. It isn't but you need to know your good fats from the bad guys. Some fat is necessary as it provides essential vitamins and fatty acids but you don't need too much. In fact, you don't need that much at all - a few teaspoons of olive oil a day is more than enough given that many of our foods already contain fat. Try alternative ways of cooking to cut down on fat consumption - grilling, steaming, stir-frying rather than frying. Watch out for "hidden" fat in dairy produce, mayonnaise, crisps and snacks, pastry, sausages and burgers.
* Cut down on your salt intake. We almost all eat too much salt and bear in mind that loads of food already contains salt so you need to keep an eye on the contents lists of foods as well as watching what you sprinkle on your plate or add to the pan while you're cooking.
The reason we're advised to keep salt intake low is because high levels of salt can cause high blood pressure which can lead to heart disease and the risk of strokes. High salt intake also increases your risk of osteoporosis as it causes calcium loss from your bones. And it can be a factor in kidney disease. Cut down gradually and avoid adding extra salt where you can. Check labels and choose foods marked "low salt" where possible. If you're buying canned food choose the ones canned in water rather than brine. Adding celery when you cook can help add flavour or try squeezing lemon on meat, fish and vegetables for a tart, tangy taste.
YOUR DAILY PLAN
* Try to eat three meals a day using the foods above as your guide.
- Breakfast really does set you up for the day
- Choose something like cereal or toast with a piece of fruit and perhaps some live yogurt.
- Lunch is important too but in the middle of a busy day it's all too easy to stick a ready-meal in the microwave or grab a sandwich and a doughnut from the trolley at work. Five minutes in the morning could set you up with a superhealthy sandwich of thick wholemeal bread with a little meat and tons of salad or pitta breads with humus (home-made takes five minutes in a blender) and tomato, a salad in a pot and some more fruit. If you have to buy lunch out try to find a sandwich shop that makes sandwiches fresh and get them to boost the salad or veg and go easy on the cheese or meat. Or try the vegetarian options in your local restaurant for a change.
- At night try not to eat too late. The ayurvedic physicians say we should eat no later than 6pm which in my book is pretty unrealistic. However it makes sense to eat as early in the evening as you can so your food has time to digest before you go to bed. Many experts also say that this should be a light meal and that you should have eaten your main meal at lunchtime. Again this can be tricky for most people but be careful not to overload your system at night.
EXTRA HELP FOR YOUR BODY
What else can you do to help your body? Plenty of things.
* If you smoke, please please start thinking about cutting down and, hopefully, stopping altogether. You don't have to do it right now - just become aware of how smoking affects your body and your nerves. Concentrate on how your body actually feels when you smoke and how you feel afterwards. Start to think about whether you want to give up and what emotions and thoughts giving up raise in you. Just be aware of these thoughts as you smoke.
* How much alcohol do you drink? All the evidence shows that a reasonable amount of alcohol is fine - the odd glass of wine might even help your heart. But do you rely too much on alcohol? If you drink too much you will be damaging your health. Think about keeping some days alcohol-free. Add water to white wine to make a spritzer to halve the amount you drink. If you feel you rely on alcohol start to become aware of when and why you drink. Again, you don't have to cut it out right now or even at all; just be aware of how you use alcohol.
* How much water do you drink? Most of us actually spend most of our days dehydrated and often you will find that, if you feel hungry you are in fact thirsty. You should be aiming to drink around two litres of water a day. We used to be able to drink our water straight from the tap but now, sadly, it seems safer not to in many areas. Water filters can be a good idea or stick a bottle or two of mineral water on your desk and drink it through the day. Not only will you feel better in general but your skin will undoubtedly improve as well. An added incentive.
* How much caffeine do you take? If you feel edgy or irritable you might be overdosing on caffeine - not just in coffee but in tea, soft drinks and supplements like guarana. Drinking five cups of espresso in the morning is not the best way to kickstart your day - nor is coffee the best afternoon pick-me-up. A good breakfast with complex carbohydrates like cereal or bread will give you good energy levels for the morning. If you feel dozy around teatime, don't automatically reach for a coffee and a doughnut, try hot water and honey and a banana.
I'm not saying cut out coffee and tea altogether - I'm a complete tea addict myself. But cut down or try interspersing your caffeine fix with a cup of herbal tea or a long drink of water. Peppermint tea is a good pick-me-up; so are some of the citrus fruit blends and rosehip and hibiscus. And one last point, if you do drink tea try to stick to having your cuppa inbetween meals - the tannin in tea reduces the absorption of essential minerals like calcium and iron so you'll be spoiling the nutritional quality of your food.
* Do you need supplements? If you are eating along the guidelines above and, in particular, munching through plenty of fresh, seasonal fruit and vegetables then, in theory, you should be obtaining all the vitamins and minerals you need. However, sadly, many of us are still lacking or low in certain essential micronutrients. The fact is that many of the nutrients have vanished from our foodstuffs by the time they reach our tables - either processed away or leached away by long journeys, long shelf-lives and overcooking. To be on the safe side, I don't think it does any harm to take a precautionary multi-vitamin and mineral a day. A good quality one won't be cheap but you will be sure of getting the optimum amounts of micronutrients in the right balance.
I really wouldn't advise anyone to try to work out their own deficiencies and to treat themselves with a little bit of this and a little bit of that. The way minerals and vitamins work with each other and with your body is very complex and best left to the experts. If you do feel you are seriously deficient in a particular vitamin or mineral then consult your doctor or a fully trained nutritional therapist.
So, try to switch your diet onto the healthy guidelines above over the next few weeks and months. Don't try to do it all at once or you will find you get bored or rebellious. For example cutting out your daily doughnut and all coffee and your glass of wine and crisps and peanuts all at once is just too much. Try cutting down on the coffee first of all - have three cups instead of six. Have wine at the weekend, not every night. Try substituting a banana and a herbal tea with honey for that coffee and doughnut.
EXERCISE - GETTING YOUR BODY INTO GEAR
We weren't meant to be couch potatoes. Evolution hasn't designed us to sit for ten hours a day behind a computer screen and then slump for the rest of the day in front of a television. Our bodies are designed to move, to work, to be fit and active. In the past most of us would have relied on the earth for our livelihood and our daily bread - days would have been spent in the open, working physically very hard. Nowadays our daily bread tends to come from the supermarket and so we need to find other, more artificial ways, to keep active and fit.
Do you really need to exercise? Yes, I'm afraid you do. If you want to live longer and more healthily, the single most important thing you can do is incorporate regular exercise into your life. Exercising regularly reduces your risk of early death by an impressive 70%. It keeps your lungs and heart working at optimum levels and prevents the dangers of heart disease. Stress levels drop when you exercise and your mood naturally elevates. Regular exercise can even help you sleep and perk up your sex life! On a more prosaic note it can control your blood pressure and boost your immune system. Some physiologists even reckon it can increase your creativity. On the other hand, if you don't exercise you are asking for trouble - you will be putting yourself in danger of heart and artery disease; your muscles and bones could develop problems; you could find yourself prone to gastrointestinal problems and you will be more likely to suffer nervous or emotional upsets and illnesses.
The good news is that you don't have to live down the gym or run for hours every day - in fact too much exercise can be bad for you as well. But you do need to do some form of exercise regularly.
So why is exercise such a bugbear? The main problem is that people take up forms of exercise they don't enjoy, they aren't naturally good at or that they feel they should do and get bored, disillusioned and give up.
The key to making exercise work for you is to find something you actually enjoy - not what you feel you should do but what you would really like to do. So you don't have to race out and buy on-line skates because it's trendy when you have absolutely no sense of balance and are terrified of speed. And you don't have to do aerobics because all your friends do or play squash because your husband wants some practice. I know so many people who have forked out a small fortune on gym memberships only to find that they hate pumping iron and they loathe step aerobics. Before you join a club test it out for a while - any club worth its salt will offer trial memberships for a month or so.
Throughout the book there will be ideas on how to incorporate exercise into your life and some suggestions on different things to try. For the time being I simply ask that you start to try out some form of exercise.
Take a look at your local sports centre - pick up a brochure or take a wander round and I'll bet you'll be surprised at the variety of different sports and programmes on offer. My local centre offers everything from trampolining to five-a-side football, from Boxercise to table tennis (and it's only a small rural centre). Think about the sports you enjoyed in school - are there any you'd like to take up again? Netball can be brilliant fun, or volleyball or softball - if you like team games. Or get back into badminton or squash or tennis. Many adults take up gymnastics again and love it - or learn something new like golf. It's worth remembering that the key issue here is fun. You don't have to be brilliant or the best - you just need to do it and enjoy it. A friend of mine has taken up belly-dancing and adores it. She reckons she's the worst belly-dancer ever but doesn't give a toss.
KEEPING MOTIVATION HIGH
In order to keep exercising you have to keep your motivation high. There are several key points worth remembering here:
* Be realistic about your size shape and body shape. Hoards of exercisers lose heart because however hard they work they don't end up looking like Cindy Crawford or Elle McPherson. Dump unrealistic role models - these people spend hours, and a small fortune in personal trainer bills, to look that way.
* Start slowly. You shouldn't try to change your exercise habits overnight or you will become demotivated because you don't see changes happening immediately. Make gradual changes to your lifestyle and they will become a permanent way of life without any special effort.
* Break through the one week barrier. Sports psychologists promise that if you can get past the first week, you've passed the period in which half the dropouts occur. If you manage to work out regularly for six months, you're likely to have created a longlasting habit.
* Try to get a friend involved. Exercising with someone else is the supreme motivator. Sportsmen and women have coaches, most super-fit actresses and models have their own personal trainers and if you've got the funds, a personal trainer will undoubtedly get you moving. However a good mate will often do as well. It is much easier to stick to a regular exercise schedule if you know that someone else is waiting for you in the park, the gym or the pool. Choose someone around your own ability and make a commitment to your health and each other - then stick to it.
USE THE WISDOM OF AYURVEDA TO PICK YOUR IDEAL SPORT
John Douillard, author of Body, Mind and Sport (Bantam) outlines an entire new system for choosing the ideal sport to keep you motivated, year after year. First and foremost, he insists, fitness must be fun. The key, apparently, is to get back to the mindset we had as children, when sport and exercise was above all a game. He's quite right - as a kid I used to climb mountains for the sheer hell of it; now I find myself thinking more how many calories I'm burning. On a recent holiday I staggered up a peak almost chanting - "100 calories, 200 calories......" and not even taking in the scenery.
Rob Parr, wonder-trainer who has toned superbodies like Demi Moore, Christy Turlington and Maria Shriver, agrees. He insists the only way to stick with fitness for life is to make it fun and make it part of your lifestyle. "With each client I try to design a routine that incorporates activities they already enjoy." Hence his plan for Bruce Willis and Demi Moore incorporated the outdoor activities they loved, like kayaking and skiing.
According to ayurveda there are two ways of looking at the exercise equation. You can look at your body type and choose a sport that suits your prakruti or you can pick something that will balance your basic nature. To begin with you will probably be drawn to something that matches your predominant dosha but, as you become more aware of your body throughout the coming year you may find yourself feeling you need something else - a form of exercise that actually balances your mind-body type. Refer back to the previous chapter for a complete run-down on the doshas. What follows is a brief summary of which kinds of exercise suit which people.
* VATA - people with a predominance of vata in their constitution tend to be small-framed with active minds and restless bodies. They talk a lot, ask a lot of questions and can't seem to sit still. Quick, light and agile, they are not very muscular and don't have a lot of endurance.
NATURAL INCLINATIONS: running, sprinting, any kind of track sports.
SPORTS TO BALANCE: anything that will soothe and calm their restless natures. Low-impact jogging or aerobics, walking, hiking, cycling and swimming.
* PITTA - fiery, aggressive, competitive and vocal people who often tend to assume the leadership role. They are usually strong and medium-framed and well-co-ordinated.
NATURAL INCLINATIONS: the more competitive the sport the better.
SPORTS TO BALANCE: anything that isn't so intensely competitive. Cycling, swimming, skiing or golf.
* KAPHA - heavier framed people with strength and high endurance. They are often slower moving and slower speaking, easy-going by nature.
NATURAL INCLINATIONS: sports requiring endurance and power. Any shot-putter is bound to be a kapha. They do well with team sports and thrive under the motivation of others.
SPORTS TO BALANCE: They need speeding up, enlivening so any fast sports that require endurance, like tennis, rowing, running, high intensity aerobics are all excellent for kapha.
WORK WITH YOUR RHYTHMS
Exercise guru Kathy Smith says that many people drop out of fitness programmes because they push themselves too hard at the wrong time. She says the key to successful, long-term fitness is to find your personal rhythms and exercise within them. "Keep a notepad or calendar handy and every morning and night jot down four or five words to describe your energy level, your frame of mind, your physical condition and what you have done workwise," she says, "after a period of time you can review and identify patterns - when certain parts of your body are tired; when exercise makes you feel great; when you're tired; when you're raring to go. Then make adjustments."
Also remember that it is not written in stone that your workout should stay exactly the same, month in, month out. Most good gyms and clubs will alter your programme every few months to keep you interested and will test your fitness levels and assess your progress to keep you motivated. Cross-training will also stop you from getting bored and demoralized and has the added advantage of exercising different parts of the body and toning different muscle groups. If you always do weight-training, try a class for a change. If you have a solid diet of step and low-impact aerobics try something different like slide or Boxercise. Balance high intensity workouts with quieter more precise forms like yoga or chi kung.
WALK YOUR WAY INTO SPRING
I am a great fan of walking and I press people into it whenever I can. It really is a great way to start easing yourself into exercise and, if you are pretty fit already, you can always set yourself new challenges.
Why walking? Because there is absolutely no excuse not to do it. You don't need fancy equipment or expensive gyms - you simply need your legs, a pair of shoes and somewhere to walk. Also, it is pretty well a perfect form of exercise - effective and safe. Performed properly, walking provides all the benefits of running (and more) without any of the dangers. Performed correctly you will raise your heartbeat, helping your cardio-vascular system; you will pump fresh oxygen and nutrients into every cell of your body and you will burn calories quite effectively. Walking tones plenty of muscles too - buttocks, thighs, calves so your legs will soon look firmer and trimmer. And if you swing your arms as you go you will give your upper body a slight workout too.
Slot in a few hills and you will really notice a difference to your whole body shape. Walking briskly for 45 minutes four times a week could lose you 10 - 15 pounds in a year without any changes to your diet. And, even more importantly, you won't be doing yourself any damage while you walk. Running can jar the whole skeleton and puts great pressure on joints. However when you walk you are only putting one or at the most one and a half times your weight on your feet. The action is smooth so there's no danger to your knees or hips. Walking is so safe it can be done by anyone - pregnant women, the very overweight, the elderly - and is ideal for everyone who wants to avoid injury.
I have outlined more of the benefits of walking in Supertherapies but, in case you haven't read it, here are the main points again on how to start up a walking regime.
1. Set a manageable target. Start off gently and gradually build up your pace and distance.
2. The aim is to build up to a regular three times a week with each session lasting a minimum of half an hour.
3. You should be aiming to work at a level at which you perspire and your heart rate is raised. The simplest way of gauging how you're doing is to take the "talk test". You should be able to pass the odd word with a friend as you walk. If you can't even breathe a word you're doing too much; if you can gossip merrily, you're not working hard enough.
1. As with all exercise, avoid eating for around an hour before you set off.
2. Drink plenty of water before, during and after your walk. If you're thirsty it means you're becoming dehydrated.
3. Warm up. Walk gently for the first five minutes to get your muscles warm before hotting up the pace.
4. A few gentle stretches after your warm up will ease your body into the exercise.
1. Keep centred: imagine a straight line stretching from between your feet ahead of you down the road. Keep your legs parallel to this line and your toes pointing directly ahead.
2. Take the longest stride that is comfortable and let your arms swing naturally at the same speed. Relax your shoulders.
3. The heel of your leading foot should touch the ground just before the ball of the foot and toes. As your heel reaches the ground, lock your ankle and shift your weight forwards with the knee bent. Rock onto your toes and use the movement to push you onto the next step.
4. Breathe from your abdomen, not from your chest. Inhale and exhale rhythmically and easily through the nose.
It sounds strange giving instructions for something so mundane as walking but performing it this way turns it into a serious workout. Once you feel happy with walking this way and have built up a fair level of fitness, you might try extending your walk into a whole outdoor workout. Try doing press-ups against the back of a park bench; or triceps dips on the edge of the seat; a branch of a tree would be handy for pull-ups.
If you're walking with a friend, try incorporating some backwards walking - it uses the muscles in a slightly different way and can be slightly harder on your muscles.
Walking may be the safest form of exercise but there are still a couple of points to watch:
* Don't be tempted to add weights to your walk-out. The shoulder is an unstable joint and could be prone to injury if you walked with weights.
* Don't drink coffee just before you work out - any kind of workout - caffeine gets the heart pumping and so it may feel as though you are warmed up for exercise when you're not. Coffee will dilate the arteries in the central part of your body but it won't reach your arms and legs so you could leave yourself prone to strains.
* Watch out for pollution on hot inner city days. When air quality is bad you'd be better off skipping a walk on the streets.
* Be seen and be safe. If you walk at night wear fluorescent strips. And, if you can, walk with a friend for security. If you do walk on your own be sure someone knows when you are expected back and where you are walking.
APPLY A LITTLE PSYCHOLOGY
A few final tips on exercise to keep you motivated:
* Be practical - make sure you choose an activity that fits in with your lifestyle. If you enrol in a gym that's miles away, you simply won't use it enough.
* Put out your exercise kit the night before - the next day there will be no excuses about not having time to pack.
* If you see exercise as a real chore and a hopeless bore then standard aerobics simply won't work. Instead try sports that don't seem like exercise - dancing (ballroom, square, tap, belly?); hiking, trampolining, horse riding, rollerblading.
* It's hard to motivate yourself to go to a gym or join a team if you're feeling overweight and undertoned. Start the process at home (with videos/regular walking, cycling, stair climbing) and, when you've hit your target, then join up.
* Having got past that stage you'll probably do better in a class or gym unless you're highly motivated. Having an instructor egging you on makes you get far more out of your workout and gives you a greater sense of achievement.
* If you like to compete and exercise with other people then join a league or a club for your chosen sport. Then, if you don't turn up, you're letting the other person down.
* Being part of a team can really foster motivation. Take up a sport you used to enjoy at school. You'll have joint goals and, again, if you don't show, the team will miss you.
But above all, remember that exercise (in whatever form) will make a huge difference to how you look and how you feel. If you follow the eating and exercise advice given in this chapter I can promise you that, by the end of the spring, you will be feeling completely differently about your body. There is no doubt that eating sensibly will make your body feel stronger and healthier. Your mind should feel clearer and your moods should be more balanced. Add exercise and your muscles will start to feel toned. Your aerobic fitness will steadily improve and you won't be gasping if you have to walk up an escalator or run for a bus.
It doesn't happen overnight but it can happen quite quickly. Most people notice a distinct difference after six weeks. And, once you start to notice and enjoy the benefits you'll be hooked. Why live life half-heartedly when you can enjoy it all?