Day 178

I’ve been hearing a lot about  the benefits of slowing down your exercise routine these days. At the gym this morning I did a fantastic classcalled Willpower & Grace — a perfect combination of calistentics and yoga that requires strenght, endurance, and core power.

Meanwhile, the book, IN PRAISE OF SLOWNESS, by the Canadian journalist Carl Honore,  examines what he calls the cult(ure) of speed and urges us to slow down, lest life whiz by too fast for us to enjoy. Naturally he speaks highly of walking, and  I especially love the reflections from the steampunk environmentalist, Edward Abbey, who wrote,

Walking takes longer, for example, than any other form of locomotion except crawling. Thus, it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed…Walking makes the world much bigger and therefore more interesting. You have time to observe the details.

Honore also gives a pretty funny account of his first encounter with the SuperSlow weightlifting movement, in which (mostly) men lift and hold weights for 30 minutes and leave entire spent but not having broken a sweat.

So I was pretty psyched to find this slow, metabolism-boosting qigong exercise, “Swimming Dragon,”  on Dr. Mao’s wellness blog today. I’m going to try it tomorrow — hope you will, too!

Exercise 1: Swimming Dragon speeds up your metabolism
This simple qigong exercise can help speed up your metabolism and reduce your appetite. Not unlike a belly dance, Swimming Dragon is a wriggling rhythmic dance of the torso, which burns energy and promotes fat burning in the abdomen.

1. In a comfortable, quiet place stand with your feet together and ankles touching, or as close together as you can get them. Bring hands over your head, with palms together and fingers pointing up. Keep your palms together during this entire exercise.

2. Inhaling, push your waist out to the right side while keeping your head and upper torso straight. Simultaneously move your right elbow to the right, so that it rests at shoulder height.

3. Exhaling, push your waist out to the left side while keeping your head and upper torso straight. Simultaneously move your left elbow fully to the left at shoulder height.

4. Repeat this movement several times. Every time you move your waist to the right, bend your knees slightly more, lowering your entire body as you squat. Be sure to keep your upper torso and head straight.

5. With each right movement, move your hands lower, keeping your palms together and fingers pointing up. When your arms reach your chest, turn your fingers toward the ground and continue the movement.

6. When your arms reach your knees, you should be squatting.

7. Continue the movements, now rising with each right movement until you reach the standing position. When your arms reach your chest, switch the direction of your fingers so that they’re pointing up again.

Throughout this exercise, your hands should produce an S-shaped movement and your body should do a rhythmic belly dance. Remember to inhale on the rightward movement and exhale to the left. Only do this exercise on an empty stomach. Begin slowly and increase speed, warming up the whole body, but not to the point of perspiration.


Day 55

I discovered Bikram Yoga about two years ago: 90 minutes of rigidly held yoga poses done in a 102 degree room. With the door locked.

I kept at it. It’s probably what drove me to MyBigWalk — good Lord, anything to get me out of that hot room!  I’d say whenever I left the Bikram studio. It was So.Damn.Hot.In.There.

But I kept going back because that heat made me sweat out all kinds of impurities. Not to mention at least 10 pounds of stress and 5 pounds of water weight.

Yes, Dear Readers. I kept going back to Bikram to battle the midlife bloat. And it worked.

But today I got to the studio 3 minutes before the scheduled class…and the doors were locked. Bikram Choudhury, the creator of Bikram yoga, is a bit of a bully. So are a lot of his protegés. The door was locked, and I was locked out.

So I raced over to a new hot yoga studio about 10 minutes away — their class also started at the same time, but they waited for me! They kept the door open. They put out a mat for me. They welcomed me. They cranked up the heat (but not quite to 102). And they played contemporary music.

Most importantly, Seth the adorable instructor and owner of Garden State Yoga, talked about joy.

“I’m telling you to bend your knee and put your hand on the floor and hold your other arm in the air,” he said (approximately). “But if putting your hand on your hip and the other hand on her knee is what works for you, do that. If laying down in shavasana is what you need today, do that. It’s your practice. Do whatever you need. Find what works for you. It’s your joy.”

It’s your joy.

 It’s really thrilling to have walkers all across the country lacing up their sneakers and joining me. I honor your commitment, and welcome you along the journey.  Today, Lucky Lucy wrote to say she found two friends to join her in a pledge to walk 1,000 miles in 2010. Way to go, girls!

But for all of you walkers and would-be-walkers who’re trying to figure out how the heck you can fit another hour into your day — let alone another 1,000 miles into your year — remember what Seth said: It’s your practice. It’s your joy.  Walk when you can, where you can, with whomever you care to. Make your own rules. Be you. Bring yourself to the walk, and then thank yourself when you’re finished.

Come to think of it, that’s a pretty good way to live each day.

Today, I escaped the locked door yoga studio discovered a new place to be joyful. Tomorrow, I’m going to take my new pedometer out of the box and keep track of my steps for a day or two. But the minute it starts cramping my style it’s going back in the box where it can’t get in the way of my joy.

Day 41

racewalkersProfessionals in the world of walking like to divide walkers into groups and categories pertaining to speed, distance, preferred environment, purpose, race walking stats and even such variables as commuter walkers, recreational walkers, fitness walkers, etc.

With all due respect, I prefer to use my own categories. Here are a few I’ve come up with.  

Women Wearing Baseball Caps who are NOT Jessica Simpson:  Generally jessica_simpson_400x300 women in groups of three or more, these walkers do not believe in sidewalks. And who says they have to? Walking on the sidewalk is like coloring inside the lines: it’s for kindergarteners and sissies! 

Walk-and-Dial Brigade: I admit to driving and talking on the cell phone once or twice, but I prefer to walk unplugged and disconnected.  The few times I talked on the cell phone while walking I found myself practically shouting my intimacies as I ascended the hill above the iris gardens.  If you walk and dial, beware: it’s easy to forget that you’re out in public when you’re on the cell phone! 

 Old Couples Holding Hands: You’ve seen them — couples who’ve been married long enough to look alike, walk in step, and find there’s much to be said about the placement of the neighbor’s garbage cans or what’s on sale at the A&P. Don’t look at those people and snicker — if your marriage lasts that long and you still like going out for a daily pre-amble with your mate, you’ll be lucky. And you’ll be even luckier if you remember to be thankful.

People funny hatIn Funny Hats & Strange Shoes: Every town has one or two. Sometimes these people have bigger I.Q.s that the entire staff at your local tutoring center. Don’t pass judgement until you’ve walked a mile in their combat boots or canvas moccasins.

Wierd People Talking to Themselves: These are not generally crazy people, but artists, writers, actors, musicians, and painters who spend too much time alone indoors talking to themselves. Talking to one’s self outdoors is such a refreshing change of pace (” Isn’t that right, Laurie?”” Yes, I agree.”).

man with cellphoneHarried Commuters: Men and women whose long commute to work requires putting sole to pavement — generally done while in a rush, talking on the cell phone or into their blue tooth. That strange thing in their ear is what separates them from artists, painters, actors, and writers (see above) walking and talking to themselves.

Schoolchildren.  I always get a rush of nostalgia when I see them going to or from the schoolyard with a backpack and maybe a lacrosse or field hockey stick. Reminds me of the days when we used to play outside, ride our bikes, and not go home until our moms called us home for supper.

Canine educationDog Walkers: Of all the dedicated walking regulars, this is the most fanatical, friendly group of all. Once I realized they weren’t asking my name when they purred, now who’s this pretty girl?, I was able to relax and compliment their dogs in return. 

Rain or Shine: This is the category I prefer for myself, and yes, I do prefer to be cheerful about it. I understand this insistence on optimism is an American trait the French (and Barbara Ehrenreich) like to make fun of, but looking up and seeing the sky once a day, rain or shine, helps me stay upbeat.  For fitness, for friendship, for stress-and-fatigue busting benefits, walking is the least expensive, most transportable sport there is.

So…what kind of walker are you?

Day 39

171932Groucho-Marx-Posters“What are those things?” John mutters as we slow down on E________ Road. I’m joining my friend on his regular walking route, and we’ve puased in front of a house that’s been recently renovated.  On the green lawn are bricks and stones, placed in odd pairings.  

Together, we creep across the bright green grass. It’s a pretty comical sight — something out of a Peter Sellers  movie, tiptoeing in plain sight. As if doing the Groucho Marx Crouch would make us any less obvious.

“Must be for Halloween,” John says, scratching his head. I pose forphoto a photo, and we walk on.

John tells me where to turn right, where to turn left.  I don’t think he’d object if I said he’s just a bit (just a wee, tiny bit) anal about his route.  He regularly and faithfully follows the same route through two parks, around a pond, and back through town. He times it on his I-Phone, which keeps a running tally of time elapsed.

This is antithetical to my own walking method. I try to go someplace new, or at least along a slightly modified route, each time I go out — even if it’s just walking on the other side of the street, or crossing at a different intersection as I walk to the drugstore.

But walking this regular route with John, I’m able to appreciate the sensibility of an observant walker as he notes the subtle changes in the houses, trees, parks, and waterways he passes at different times of day and throughout the shifting seasons.

fountain“There’s always the little drama of the fountains,” John says as we pace around the park lake. “Sometimes one fountain is just a little trickle, sometimes both are on, sometimes none.”

It was really quite delightful to see my own town through someone else’s eyes.  I’ve seen the lake a hundred times, but never thought about the fountains having their own little dramas. This opened  my eyes to the merriment of the trees, the plight of the sidewalk cracks, and the outright defiance of roses still blooming in November.  And of course, the puzzle of the oddly-placed pieces of brick and concrete slabs.

Best of all, I’d never have dreamed of creeping around the back of a newly renovated house to look into the family room window if I hadn’t been with John. Truly, I wouldn’t have.

But now, I’ll probably do it again. Groucho Marx style. One big high groucho walkstep at a time, across a lawn, to a window.  Not only because it was fun, but because it’s a semi-proven fact that the Groucho Walk strengthens thigh and butt muscles. Honest to god.

Betcha didn’t know that, did you, John?

Day 30

long-uphill-road-2Answer: Yes.  If you want to start a walking program and can dedicate 30 minutes a day, that’s awesome!  There’s no minimum. Any time or distance you can commit to is the right one for you. I’m a firm believer in beginning where you are at this moment.

Answer:  Absolutely,  you’re allowed to skip a day.  But I’m not allowed to.

Answer:  If I positively have to skip a day — like when I missed the plane from Paris, slept at an airport hotel, woke up at 5 to get on the plane and arrived home exhausted and running a mild fever — then I walk two hours the next day. 

Answer: Yes, the above scenario is one that really happened. Three days ago. I’m just about over the jltdalgk jet lage jet lag.

Answer: If you really must know, we got to the airport 50 minutes ahead of our boarding time, but Continental had already closed their check-in counters. So they put us on the next flight. Standby.

airplane taking offAnswer: Standby was full.

Answer: Can we change the subject, please?

Answer:  Yes, I do believe my walking project is inspiring other people toyoga start their own walking projects. I’ve heard of a few yoga projects, too. 

Answer:  Sigh.  Okay, I’ll say it again.  YES. Walking 30 minutes a day counts. Making any committment to a regular fitness routine is healthy and positive. It’s an opportunity — not a shame game or a blame game. 

Answer: I don’t even have a Wall of Shame — how could I post slow walkers’ pictures there?!

Answer: Since you asked so nicely, yes, I’ll see if I can find a way to work the oyster photo from Paris into tomorrow’s post. 

Answer: Oysters are a what!? Hmmm. That explains a lot. Indeed, it does.

Answer: Sorry, time’s up.  You’ll just have to use your imagination.

Day 24


It ain’t exactly a newsflash that people who walk are healthier.

But it’s worth noting that people who live in places that promote walking  and offer access to healthy foods are less likely to develop diabetes.

This, according to Drexel U public health research study, which appears in a new issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

Even in the Bronx?

Yup — even in the Bronx.fugeddaboudit

So fugeddaboudit if you’re tryin’ to avoid gettin’ healthy. Just livin’ and walkin’ in the city can do it.  And as we saw in last week’s Broadway Project post, the NYC Department of Transportation is doing what it can to make walking safer and more enjoyable in the 5 boroughs.

Let’s support complete cities and safe streets initiatives. Because we’re all pedestrians — if we know what’s good for us.

Ya know what I’m sayin’?


 Day 22


long beach island 035When I was twenty-seven, my future mother-in-law told me the secret to a happy life. I’d been living in the city for several years, and had been in therapy for almost as long. I’d paid a lot of money to a strange woman named Kay, who saw patients in her living room where she kept three cats and a bird. Kay once wore sunglasses through our entire session, because she hadn’t had time to put on her makeup.  Nevertheless, I’d entrusted my future happiness to Kay. 

As I was fairly unhappy when I first consulted her, and fairly anxious and pessimistic about the future of my happiness and the happiness of my future, I was earnest and faithful to Kay’s advice and wisdom. I recounted my dreams, recited my parents’ failings and short-comings, and wrote long, detailed notes to my “higher power,” describing the future I wanted for myself. 

That future looked something like this: Laurie is fifty years old. She lives in a nice older house in a pretty nice town and has a wonderful intelligent, neurotic husband who is an attorney. She’s a published novelist and freelance writer, and she has two smart, lovely children, a boy and a girl. She has good friends who she sees often, and her many interests include reading, writing, travelling, photography, and psychology. She’s happy with her life.

As you know, dear reader, that future did not come to pass. I didn’t marry a lawyer, but a book salesman. And he wasn’t neurotic: he was a jock. And his mother’s secret to happiness?

“Exercise every day.”  It was sometime in the late 80s when Rosemarie shared her wisdom with me.  “The secret to a happy life is to get plenty of exercise every day.”

I almost fell over laughing.

I distinctly recall I had a vacuum in my hand, and my husband-to-be was lying on our couch with fresh stitches from an emergency appendectomy.  Rosemarie had flown in to see her son during his recuperation. I didn’t know her very well, but I knew her well enough to know that she was upbeat, talkative, energetic, optimistic. And, I thought, just a tad naive.

“The secret to a happy life is not exercise,” I told Frank, after his mother had gone home. Then I wrote another check to my therapist, and went to sleep so I could remember my dreams.

Now I walk every day. I play tennis, practice yoga, swim in the summer, kayak, bike, and sometimes run. Just this afternoon I spent an hour outside raking the leaves and acorns off my front lawn. And that was after my hour walk in Mills Reservation.

In the past month, no less than three women have asked the secret to my happiness.

“Exercise,” I told them. “I exercise every day  And I try to be outside as much as possible.”

I don’t know if they believed me. I know I didn’t believe Rosemarie. 

But little by little, with a jock for a husband (and a jocky daughter, too), and my mother-in-law as a model,  I’ve steadily found ways to build fitness into my life.  I’ve made dear friends through exercise. I’ve bonded with my Melissa on the track. And little by little, I’ve become a happy person.

It’s my birthday today. And I have something important to say: thank you, Rosemarie. You were right.

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