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Get On Track!
with Jennifer Dillon

Over the course of the past year, because I have dropped a decent amount of weight and made noticeable gains in my level of fitness, people I've known for a while now tend to ask me what I'm doing, and from there, what kind of exercise do I think would be "the best" for them. Of course, I am not a kinesiologist or a fitness coach, so I really can't answer about what is objectively the best form of exercise, piece of equipment or fitness program to achieve and maintain a healthy physique. But subjectively? That's easy. The best kind of exercise for you is the one you will do consistently. Find something you like to do which challenges you out of your comfort zone and do it often. It is really that simple.

The first part of the equation is finding "the thing" (or things) you want to do. One size does not fit all! If you don't already know what your thing is, I encourage you to take the time up front to experiment and find something you love to do. From my observations, many people, especially those without a lot of experience with sports or exercise modalities, may join the gym and try the treadmill, the elliptical machine, and some weight machines, be totally bored, and quit within a few weeks or months. They might then start the cycle of negative thinking "I can't get motivated to exercise" "I'm just not sporty" "Exercise is for other people, but I can't do it" "I'm lazy" etc. If this is you, consider the possibility that you just haven't yet tapped into your motivation style. When choosing an exercise program, it is so important to"Know thyself!" and what I mean by this is determine how you are motivated. People generally fall somewhere on the spectrum of being goal oriented or being more process oriented. Process-oriented people are motivated to participate in a certain kind of exercise because the activity itself is enjoyable, they might really enjoy swimming, belly dancing, playing soccer or ultimate frisbee. Goal-oriented people are motivated by results: they might want to be/appear stronger, be able to complete a 10k or a triathalon, or lose weight. This is kind of an important distinction; yes we may all want to look thinner or be stronger, but only some of us will be motivated to exercise consistently based on desire alone. For others that is not enough to keep us coming back to whatever-it-is over the long term. There are certain types of exercise which are more suited to goal oriented people. Running is a perfect example. Most people who enjoy running enjoy the results—it keeps them in shape, they take pride in being able to run x miles in x minutes, they enjoy competing in 10ks or marathons, etc.—and don't mind the discomfort which accompanies it. I'm pretty confident a personality test of most avid runners would find them clustered toward the goal-oriented end of the spectrum. If you are a very process oriented person and you pick a goal-oriented form of exercise, rest assured you will abandon it in short order!

The time you invest up front in finding something which holds your interest, fits into your life, and keeps you coming back for more will pay you big dividends in the long run. Approach it like a grand research project; try lots and lots of different things. It doesn't have to be expensive to do so! Many gyms and fitness centres offer a free day, a free week or even a free introductory personal training session… take advantage of any and all in your area just to gain some exposure to a range of possibilities. Many yoga, martial arts, or dance studios will offer a free introductory class if you just call and ask them. In an urban area the possibilities are especially rich. When I went to Denver to visit my parents last year, in two weeks I took advantage of no less than 5 personal training sessions, 2 yoga classes, 1 dance class, 1 jujitsu class, and 1 tai chi class… and it didn't cost me a thing. Boy did I learn a lot about what I enjoyed and what I did not! Buying used workout videos online, in thrift stores or garage sales is another great way to check something out before investing too much money into it. And speaking of online, there are so many resources available on the internet. Some of my favorites: www.yogatoday.com has excellent free online yoga classes which are regularly switched out. There are lots of terrific free workouts with video instruction at www.freeworkoutsguide.com and www.sparkpeople.com. The various Crossfit organizations around the country are kind enough to post their daily workouts online, and the national Crossfit outfit www.crossfit.com is a goldmine of information about strength training, bodyweight exercises, and workout development. And of course, YouTube.com has a plethora of examples of people doing all sorts of interesting things… not just seeing what happens when you add Mentos to Diet Coke, but actually working out and stuff!

Surfing You Tube for workout ideas was how I discovered kettlebells, which are old school Russian strength training objects you swing around, juggle, and lift. They give you an amazing full body strength and cardio workout. As soon as I saw my first video clip of someone using them, I got so excited, and I thought to myself "That is for ME!" and it turned out to be a very accurate prediction. I got my first kettlebell about 6 months ago and I am so passionate about doing my kettlebell workouts all I have to do is look at my kettlebell, and I have this overwhelming urge to toss it around. I throw it in my car to take to the beach, I keep one on my desk at work, and I wouldn't dream of going on vacation without it. While I enjoyed strength training in general in the past, I've never experienced the degree of passion for pumping iron as I do playing with kettlebells. Similarly, I have a friend who absolutely loves her Hoopnotica hula hoop (this is NOT your child's hula hoop!), and another friend who traded in her gym membership for a rebounder and couldn't be happier. Both of these women went from workout drudgery to being passionate about their exercise program. As a result, they are exercising more frequently, and getting great results. And this to me is crucial: it's something they can see themselves doing over the long term, not just until they reach their short-term weight loss goals. They have made exercise part of their lifestyle, and just like with food, it is a critical leap which must be made in order to escape the yo-yo trap and experience health over the long term (the rest of your life).

While I encourage you to "play the field" when it comes to exercise modalities, it is important to remember you may not really enjoy something until you gain a certain amount of proficiency with it. The good news is this does not have to be at a high level. If you've ever done something as simple and commonplace as taken a step aerobics class, maybe you remember that first class—being frustrated at your inability to follow along, feeling clumsy and awkward in comparison to those who had been doing it for awhile, cursing your feet and your instructor with equal vehemence under your breath. If you managed to drag yourself to the second class, you might find it gets slightly easier, but is still difficult and rather frustrating. If by some miracle you made it back to the third class, you might find to your surprise it has become, while not easy, exponentially EASIER, and possibly a little bit fun. In my experience there seems to be something magical about the number 3—usually the first two times I try something brand new I struggle with it, but the third time I get into a little bit of a groove. As a result of this I always wait and suspend judgment on a new activity or exercise regime until after I have tried it three times.

The second part of the magic equation? Consistency. Consistency in your exercise program is so crucial, in my experience it is better to work out for 15 minutes a day 6 days a week (that's one and a half hours a week folks) than it is to work out for 2 hours a day twice a week, even though your twice a week regime is more than twice as much in terms of time invested! If planned well, you can get a decent workout in 15 minutes, and there is a special power in things that we do (nearly) daily, the power of momentum, the power of habit. It's almost as if your body realizes "Hey, she's probably going to do this tomorrow, too!" and gets on board with helping you do it better, more efficiently. And a missed workout or two is far less likely to throw you entirely off track if its something you are doing every day.

One key reason why many people can't make exercise a habit? They are too idealistic. They figure if they don't have an hour+ to spend at the gym (and a half an hour each way getting to and from the gym!) they might as well not do it at all. Life does not wait for us, the sea of laundry doesn't part, we get tired, we get discouraged, we are overworked, our kids get sick, we undersleep and we get stressed out. So yes, have a "perfect world" plan, but always have a "real world" contingency. For me, that contingency plan is the popular "8 minute" series (8 Minute Abs, 8 Minute Buns, 8 Minute Arms, 8 Minute Stretch), and when the real world interferes with me getting my ideal workout in, I can always dial up 8 Minute Abs on You Tube. I don't care how dead dog tired I am before bed, I always have 8 minutes of something in me. And you know what? Instead of feeling like a failure ("Dangit! I didn't even work out today!") I go to bed with a sense of accomplishment and success where my workouts are concerned. And nothing feeds success like more success.

It is a universal truth: our bodies are always striving for optimum health under the circumstances, and as part of this our bodies want to move. And the more we move our bodies, the more our bodies help us by craving movement. So if you find you are not wanting to move your body for some reason, consider it a call to action. After a long cycle of inactivity for whatever reason, you may need to jump start this natural process. You may need to fake it until you make it, that is, put extra effort into making sure you get your workouts in consistently for a few weeks until your body starts to help you out by asking for activity.

Another thing to keep in mind… if spirituality is a core value of yours and consciousness expansion is one of your interests, your exercise program can and should fall under that category! Many spiritually-minded folks will find time to meditate, to journal, to go to church/temple/kirtan/satsang, but look at something like "jogging" as being superficial or lesser. Your body is the temple of your Spirit. You demonstrate respect for Spirit when you put effort into keeping your personal temple clean, strong and healthy. Include your fitness program as part of your spiritual practice. Some examples of how to do this include (1) taking a few moments before or after your workout to offer up the fruits of your practice to your Higher Power, or to all sentient beings; (2) expressing gratitude—to your body for the effort, your Self for doing your work, and the universe for thoughtfully providing you with this amazing machine which, sometimes in spite of us, works tirelessly to keep you functioning at the very best level it can; or (3) simply practicing being very aware (you might have to drop the iPod for this one) of your body during your workout by following the breath, really concentrating on your form and feeling into the muscles, joints, limbs, lungs as you move and exert yourself, bringing your mind back to focus on what you are doing when you notice it has wandered into the past or the imagined future. Staying present to your body and your actions while you exercise not only improves your performance and brings you better results, but is a another grand opportunity to practice mindfulness which is so important to our spiritual wellbeing, the wellbeing of our society, and the wellbeing of our planet.

Jennifer Dillon is a raw vegan who tapped back in to her inner athlete after "going raw" in 2007. A single mother and small business owner, in her spare time she administrates a forum offering peer support to other raw vegans interested in achieving their health and fitness goals. She describes herself as a fitness enthusiast who has personally found a very much heightened state of well-being through the combination of natural nutrition and physical exercise. Jennifer lives in Maui, Hawaii with her five-year-old daughter Mali Akilah.

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