Top 5 Fitness Tips for Office Workers

A decade ago, I worked in IT. At first I loved my job, travelled a lot, and had great managers, who taught me so much. By my third year in however, I had gained 2 stone, was suffering from low back pain, low energy, insomnia, and spending a huge chunk of my wages on various healing remedies, including phsyio, chiropractic, counselling, alcohol, cigarettes and anti-depressants. After working all day, and not eating properly, I would get home after 7pm, and veg out on the sofa in front of the TV with a takeaway and a bottle of wine. I resented the long hours that work demanded, and found I had little time at the weekend to get chores done and be ready again for Monday. My energy was zapped. I lived for holidays, rarely investing my weekday time in my health or in doing things I loved like developing talents and hobbies.

It goes without saying I was becoming less fun to be around!

Luckily, I had great support from my managers, who encouraged me to go for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and get back to myself. So, what did that mean? Mostly it meant a better diet and a lot more movement day to day. I took up aqua-aerobics in the evening, swimming and Pilates during my lunch-break, joined a gym, tried Gymnastics, and remembering how much I used to enjoy practicing yoga, joined a weekly class. Then, a friend showed me the GI Diet book. (Thanks Caitriona!) Being illiterate in home-economics, the whole idea of cooking from scratch and balancing calorie intake with expenditure was completely novel to me! At the grand old age of 25 I made my first quiche, curry, bread, pasta sauce….all the ready-meals I’d been living off now prepared in my own kitchen. The weight fell off.

Over ten years has gone by since I decided to daily invest in my health and fitness. The changes I’ve gone through are incredible. I said goodbye to anti-depressants and smoking, and so long to double rum and coke. (Thanks to two kids and sleep deprivation, these days one glass of wine is plenty!) I no longer crave highs because I no longer have the lows. Daily diet and exercise have a HUGE part to play in maintaining my weight and fitness levels. No matter what your day job, there is always a way to improve your wellbeing status from couch potato to 5k a day. And the healthier and fitter you become, the more life opens up for you. You just need to find your motivation. Better quality of life? Better sleep? Better looking?!…happy body, happy mind, happy heart.

Looking after my health gave me the confidence to try new sports like surfing, windsurfing, and fun fitness classes such as Adult Ballet, Zumba, Tango and Salsa dancing to name a few. Investing in my hobbies and love of learning has helped to keep me young at heart and improved my fitness. I’ve expressed my creativity in photography and art classes, painting, glass-blowing, stained glass, ceramics, and realised that I also love to cook. Celebrating my gifts and talents, while daily exercising my right to move, is the key to happiness and helping others. It’s hard to be depressed when preparing a vegan meal for your mates, learning some awesome yoga arm balances, or exhausted and elated after your first 20k!

Life isn’t perfect. Things happen outside of your control. And some nights bring less than 2 hours sleep. Regardless of life’s curveballs, you can always control the types of food and movement you opt for on a daily basis. The way you move and eat matters. Moving your body throughout the day is my top tip for improving your fitness at work.

“If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” It’s true we overestimate what we can do in a day and underestimate what we can achieve in a year. You are responsible for your energy, your behaviour, your thoughts, words and deeds. If you think it you can be it. Manage your energy everyday throughout the day. Is the food you are choosing to eat contributing to your overall energy and fitness levels or is it taking from them? Manage your time outside work to maximise your food options at work. Bake some healthy bars on a Sunday, get up earlier to make lunch, pack a salad and fruit. Meditating for 3 minutes before you eat, or eating mindfully for the first 3 minutes, will improve your mood, and over time, your food choices.

When standing or sitting, check your alignment. How we hold ourselves affects our energy levels. Stack your joints so that your feet are aligned with the outer edges straight, take your hips back so the weight is over your heels and the toes can lift. Take your shoulders back over your hips, and ears back over your shoulders. Slide the front bottom ribs down towards your hips. Feel your lower tummy drawing back towards your spine and lengthen up through the crown of your head. Once you realise you’re in charge of your energy and your time, it’s easier to make positive choices. Follow my tips below and you will see your fitness levels soar!

5 Top Tips for office workers to up their fitness:

1. “Move your body!”

Cycle or walk part, if not all, of your journey to work. Get off one Bus or Luas stop before your final destination. Walk a different route to work twice a week, to give your brain visual and mental stimulation. Walk on the textured surfaces that you find, not just on the smooth pavement. This will keep you more alert, and will give your eyes a break from staring at your iPhone or computer screen. If you need to drive, park further away from your office and walk the rest of the way. Keep your trainers to hand or go barefoot in summer. WALK everyday. No excuses!

2. “Walking is wonderful”

If you have lower body ability, find reasons to walk at work. Discuss project ideas with a colleague at work while taking a walk. Outside. A walking meeting is a great way to squeeze exercise into your busy workday. Take the stairs instead of the lift. Walk over to someone’s desk at work rather than calling them on the phone. Walk up escalators rather than standing still. Fill your water bottle from the cooler two floors below. We need to walk 3-5 miles per day to keep our joints healthy and our bones strong. Maximise your lunch-break with a 15-20 minute brisk walk. Wear a pedometer to track your mileage. If you have more creative walking ideas, I’d love to hear them!

A walking meeting, great way to squeeze exercise into your workday

3. “Stand, Stretch, Squat”

Stand while talking on the telephone. Perform head, neck and shoulder rolls: Chin to chest, chin to ceiling. Right ear to right shoulder, back to centre, left ear to left shoulder. Roll your arms and shoulders forward and back. Stretch your arms overhead, and side to side. Swap your chair for Chair Pose: http://youtu.be/zFWIGX0xYJU Put the “OUU” into Utkatasana as you sit back (bum out!) and down. There’s a reason why they call it “Powerful” Pose…raise your arms up if you love to Chair!

Try Katy Bowman’s #4 pose while sitting on the edge of your chair. KB #4 Piriformis StretchThen try it freestanding. Start in Tadasana, Mountain pose. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh. Bend your left knee, hips back and down. Palms together in front of your heart. Think happy thoughts…

If  squatting is not an option, begin with lower leg stretches. Stand with your feet hip-distance apart, outer edges aligned in parallel, facing your chair, 1-2 feet in front of you. Place your hands on the seat and draw your hips back over your heels, so you’re making an L-shape over your chair. Lift your tailbone up to the ceiling. Lift up your toes or rest them on a rolled-up mat/suit/foam roller/cable cover and feel the stretch along your calves. See Katy Bowman’s brilliant blogpost ‘You Don’t Know Squat’ for excellent prep stretches, proper alignment and truly professional squatting technique 😉

Double calf stretch

Double Calf Stretch – prep for squat

Squat for 10 seconds, sit, twist your torso from side to side, then stand again. See if you can get the person on the phone to squat too. Build up to 1 minute squats. Set an alarm on your laptop to remind you to stand,stretch,squat every 45 minutes. Set up a squatting time challenge with your desk neighbours and reward the monthly winner. 20 hours squatting in 30 days deserves at least a free ticket to the cinema!

Squat

Katy Bowman’s Beginner’s Squat. Work towards heels on the floor and knees back over your heels.

4. “Align for Life”

5-exercises-at-work-wrist stretches

To avoid RSI, stretch your wrists

Check your alignment. Again. How far forward of your neck did your head travel when reading that last email?! Stack your joints so that your feet are aligned with the outer edges straight, take your hips back so the weight is over your heels and the toes can lift. Then take your shoulders back over your hips, and ears back over your shoulders. Slide the front bottom ribs down towards your hips. Arms by your sides, draw your triceps towards your waist, and allow your shoulders to travel down away from your ears. When typing keep your lower arms and wrists straight, bending from your fingers rather than your wrists. See my blog posts on wrist stretches for some easy examples you can do at your desk.

When your body is properly aligned, your muscles will tone naturally. Lower leg stretches and squats are two of the best things you can do at work to improve your pelvic floor alignment and core strength, both of which are affected by prolonged sitting on your tailbone. Sit forward on your sit bones and keep a small curve in your lower back while drawing your lower tummy towards the back of your chair. Check out my posts yoga for pelvic floor health.

5. “Move more!”

Exercise before or after work, or during your lunch break. Your office may have a gym, or you may have access to a nearby swimming pool or tennis courts. Ask HR for the name of your Employee Health and Wellness programme officer. Nicole Crawford from Breaking Muscle.com has a good article on why keeping mobile is so important for desk workers:http://breakingmuscle.com/mobility-recovery/working-out-isnt-enough-advice-for-desk-workers Show it to your HR H&W Programme Officer. Make them jump out of their seat with the scary info-graphic below. Then lobby for FREE lunch-time fitness classes. Like pilates. And yoga! Give HR my number to book a demo 😉

Regular movement classes that teach correct alignment, balance & weight-bearing exercises, will help you to maintain a healthy body, and up your fitness at work.

Bad chair. Good chair pose squat!

Image 1:Hemera/Thinkstock

Image 2: Esther Ekhart ‘Utkatasana’ Chair Pose, www.ekhartyoga.com

Image 3: Katy Bowman #4 Stretch Piriformis Holiday www.katysays.com

Image 4: Katy Bowman Double Calf Stretch www.katysays.com

Image 5: Katy Bowman Beginner’s Squat www.katysays.com

Image 6: Jupiterimages/Goodshoot/Think stock

Image 7: http://lifehacker.com/5800720/the-sitting-is-killing-you-infographic-illustrates-the-stress-of-prolonged-sitting-importance-of-getting-up

How Do You Reverse Hip Pain?

somaticsfeatured-770x403Why is releasing muscle the solution to healing hip, shoulder or pelvic girdle pain? Surely when you’re trying to keep yourself from falling over, or it all from falling out, it makes more sense to pull everything in, suck it up, rather than let it all hang out and go south?!

Here’s why. Lifting weights onto an already imbalanced frame, will only compound your pain. Running or walking on an imbalanced gait will only cause more pain to your misaligned posture. Before you book another exercise class, remember that it’s only once the muscle is fully relaxed and reset to it’s optimum length, can we then work to repair and build strength in the body.

Have a weak pelvic floor or chronic pelvic girdle pain? Stop doing Kegels and learn how to release your Pelvic Floor.

Chronic Hip pain? How tightly-held are all the muscles around your hip joint, in your waist, torso, and low back?

Somatics or surgery? Find out if the root cause of your pain is actually a functional issue, rather than a structural one, and give yourself the gift of a regular Somatics practice for at least 3 months before you decide.

hanna_quote_ocean_clouded

All muscles have tone, or tonus. Tone is a natural ability to stretch and contract in response to stimuli. Muscles work to contract or shorten. When a muscle is at rest, it is relaxed, returned to it’s optimal length; it’s tone is zero. So, if we have complete control of a muscle, we can contract, and then completely relax it, achieving a muscle tonicity of zero.

Sensory Motor Amnesia, is loss of voluntary control of the muscle. The brain does not recognise, or  ‘see’ that the muscles are held in a prolonged contracted state. Chronic muscular tension can mean a resting muscle tone of 10, 20 or even 40 percent. (Remember, we want a resting muscle tone of zero!)

Muscles in this state of high tone, often feel weak because they cannot move freely to fulfil the function for which they are designed. Actually the muscle is quite strong, but is tired and overworked from contracting all the time. Muscles with high tone are aways sore and painful to touch.

The good news is that, if your body learned to hold your muscles in a prolonged contracted state, it can also learn to release them and allow them to return to their optimum length, back to a resting tone of zero. Muscular reactions to stress can be overcome. It is possible to enjoy muscular tone that is low in contraction and energy expenditure, and very high in comfort and control.

Essential Somatics

With carefully guided movement, Somatics teaches your brain how to recognise tightly-held muscle, and more importantly, how to release it. The movements are pain-free and always within your own range of comfort.

By consciously contracting into the tightly-held muscle, the brain’s voluntary ability to contract overrides the involuntarily held contraction, switching off this chronic response and giving you back control over your muscles.

This is why Somatics works.

For more info on how Somatics can reverse Hip Pain, read this article by Martha Peterson from Essential Somatics.

See a video ‘how to’ with Tanya Fitzpatrick from Align Somatics here.

If you have any questions or wish to attend a class, please send me an email: info@rutheburke.com.

Sources & Credits Thomas Hanna, ‘Somatics – Reawakening the mind’s control of Movement, Flexibility, and Health’ ISBN 0-7382-0957-0 ISBN-13 978-0-7382-0957-9. http://www.alignsomatics.com http://www.essentialsomatics.com

Pain Relief Through Movement

Here is an old blog post, recycled and updated with free videos. It has stood the test of time.

Strengthening hip muscles doesn’t always relieve hip joint pain.

In this post about hip pain and labral tears I questioned the commonly held belief that strengthening the muscles of the hip will somehow relieve general hip joint pain when you’ve had an injury (like a labral tear).  Here’s a recap:

  1. Labral tears are generally the result of athletic injury or wear and tear over the years due to accidents. Labral tears cause instability in the hip.
  2. Instability in a joint causes muscles to contract to try and create stability.
  3. This kind of reflexive contraction to save yourself from further pain or injury or to compensate because because of an injury changes the way in which you would normally move.
  4. The muscles involved in this “Trauma Reflex” pattern must be…

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I like big butts and I cannot lie…

Ladies! (and gentlemen who sit a lot) The key to a strong pelvic floor, is not Kegels! Ever been told by your physio that you have hypertone in your pelvis, yet when you sneeze you pee? (Nevermind going for a run or trying a jumping jack?!) Overly tight muscle is WEAK muscle.

To avoid a future filled with adult nappies, relax your pelvic floor, give it some length, and fire up your glutes! http://youtu.be/IOoTC9DpB3k

The best thing about strong glutes, not only will they support your Pelvic Floor, they also protect your SI Joints and Lower Back.From office yogis to postnatal mums, the key to longterm pelvic floor health is not your chair, it’s your Chair Pose Squat! Try this today, every time the phone rings, settle back into your chair pose for a good long chat.Esther Ekhart shows how: http://youtu.be/zFWIGX0xYJU

Got low back pain? Get a better squat. The right squat will see your overactive thighs turned off while you switch on your glutes. Here’s how: sit back into your squat, feet hip distance apart, outer feet edges in parallel, knees over heels, send those shins BACK! You need your knees over your heels to activate the correct muscles to support your back and Pelvic Floor.

Prepare for your squat with Katy Bowman’s Double Calf Stretch: Double calf stretch

For how to do squats safely, or if you have a gym ball in your office, see Physio Michelle Henway’s guide to squats, though I would put emphasis on the glutes, rather than the thighs. Anyone care to comment? http://youtu.be/fAHp-A2EN_w

So, you’re on the phone, you’ve remembered to smile, align your feet, breathe out annnnd…lower down into it. Smile and squat. Your butt needs to be out behind you, not tucked underneath. Feels easy? Sit lower, and lower and lower…enjoy!

Squat

Not saying background music helps to hold a squat but:

SirMixALothttp://youtu.be/_JphDdGV2TU

Follow your squat with this easy hip-releasing stretch: http://youtu.be/hpQtvPyvpw4

Maybe KatyB & Sir Mix A Lot could make a remix, that would be heaven!

Love your body (even the pee-sneeze parts). Love squats 😉

Cherry-Passion Fruit Smoothie Recipe

Met the amazing Beckasana aka Veganbarbie aka supersmart-stunning-ray-of-sunshine that is Becky on Sibylle Dallman’s Soulfire yoga retreat in Morocco this week, and was blown away by her knowledge of, well, everything, and especially veganism. She also has tons of delicious recipes. So today I hopped off to the Hopsack, gettit?! in Rathmines and purchased some Acai Powder. Now all I need is Becky to visit me and bring some samples of her amazing culinary skills! She also told us about a great website for vegan recipes, check it out: www.ohsheglows.com. Thanks to her, I’m looking forward to vegan & sugar-free Lent again this year, we might even do a colab on the recipes, watch this space!

The Vegan Barbie

photo-4 It’s official. I’m in love…with a machine: The Vitamix Blender! This thing really is as good as all you healthy-food blogger types say it is. I am addicted to using it. I’ve also got a new obsession: freezing bananas. I don’t even like bananas but if they’re frozen and then blended into a smoothie then I’m all in. Since I got the Vitamix for a graduation/Christmas present I’ve been making lots of weird shit.

Firstly, I’ve been making green smoothies. In the Vitamix they come out sooo smooth and throwing a frozen banana in with the greens gives the smoothie a really nice texture & sweetness.

Secondly, Ive been making acai bowls with frozen bananas, acai powder & frozen berries with a splash of soy/almond/coconut/rice/oat milk & then topping them with granola.

Thirdly, I’ve been making “nana ice-cream” otherwise known as “nice cream”. I’ve seen this strange “ice-cream” on instagram…

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