I’m not keen on Christmas, or Hogmanay, or New Year’s resolutions which involve giving up things with a judgmental self-control bordering on self-hatred. We had a very nice old new year get-together on the 11th of January this year, but generally speaking, if I was left to my own devices, I’d probably just celebrate the winter solstice. Perhaps by dancing round a bonfire with a few of my nearest and dearest. Maybe there would be candles and feasting, too.
Anyway, I don’t make new year’s resolutions as such, but I do feel excited at the prospect of longer days returning. And I’m happy to use the dark, wet days of December to take stock of how my life is and think what I want to add to it while I have the energy and optimism of the coming months. I also quite like the yogic tradition of sankalpa – setting an intention, a bit like a resolution, but more positive and present-tense. Here is one short article explaining sankalpa: http://www.yogajournal.com/lifestyle/1526
In yoga terms, my sankalpa over the last few years has been about establishing a daily home practice. It’s moved from something like ‘I do yoga at home most days’ to ‘I do yoga every day’ to ‘I do my yoga home practice when I get up’. The last one is not happening often, but I just keep setting the intention – without beating myself up for not managing it yet – and I know I will get there.
This spell of long dark nights, Drhusband and I decided we’d be more sociable in 2014 and also spend more fun time out and about together (without our giant children). Hence the old new year gathering, which I reckon is only the second party I’ve ever hosted. I was definitely more relaxed about it than the first party I hosted! I like people but I’ve always coped better with small groups, and I like plenty time on my own too. Because Drhusband and I are quite contented in each other’s company, or reading books by the stove (yeah, I know, sounds like we’re 103), months can slip by and we’ve just been hanging out together. So, we’ve been to the cinema a couple of times, visited friends, and arranged a rare night away together in March.
Because it was particularly gruesome weather over Christmas and the whole family were lying about like slugs, I also reached a tipping point where I could feel all the cells in my body screaming BRING BACK WALKING. I used to walk loads: ten years ago when everyone in our school was given a simple pedometer as part of Healthy Highland Week, I discovered I was clocking over 10,000 steps without thinking about it on every standard day. But in the last couple of years I moved out of the village (so instead of walking to work and the shops I have to drive), stopped primary teaching (which involves constant movement), got a new dog who needs much less exercise than my old dog did, started blogging/studying at the computer, and began using most of my daily exercise time for yoga. Result? I hate to think how few steps I took some days last winter – certainly under 3,000 on days I was writing.
10,000 steps a day for health may be to an extent a rather arbitrary figure, but I reckon human beings are meant to be doing more than 6,000 a day. That’s only about an hour of every 24 spent on your feet! I wanted to get moving again, and our routines have been so up in the air we’ve not been making it to the gym or fitness classes, so I clipped on my old pedometer and got going.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been aiming to get over 7,000 steps per day. I’m noting the daily tally in my yoga practice journal, and at a quick glance, I’m averaging 9,000 a day. I’m noticing changes already – I feel a bit fresher and more energetic, and also more physically tired – I’ve been sleeping really well. I never weigh myself, but my trousers seem to be a bit looser round my hips and thighs.
Last week I discovered my mum had independently come to the same conclusions. For years, she walked 25 minutes to work and 25 minutes home, and spent a fair amount of time in between going up and down flights of stairs in the old, lift-less building she taught in. Now that she is retired and lives even further from the village than me, most of her time is spent sitting, driving or gardening and she felt she was seizing up.
I have given her my simple pedometer and bought a slightly fancier one for myself:
Photo credit: www.white-medical.co.uk
It has a few advantages over my old one, including – crucially – that wee guy who pops up, arms waving in cheerleader mode, when you go over 10,000 steps. This is just like the ‘rewards’ you get in maths computer games for 8 year olds and I find it very amusing that it makes me feel chuffed every time I see the wee guy going ‘yaaaay!’ for me.
Because I’ve known for a while that I’m anatomically wonky, I’ve also been doing a bit of
browsing the internet research into walking ‘right’. An osteopath – skilled in his profession, but not blessed with much tact – told me last year “you’d be a great clinical case study for osteopathy students, because you look all tall and slim and fit, but you’re actually all compacted and lopsided”. He also told me that my hips are healthy and my hip function is excellent – but they are squint, which affects my range of movement and might have implications for longer term wear and tear on my joints.
In the course of my research, I came across this book:
Photo credit: http://www.waterstones.com/
I just loaned it to my mum, and had to say ‘ignore the horrifically jolly cover – there’s good stuff inside’.
I’ve been following Hall’s walking technique tips for nearly a fortnight now and I am impressed and also quite surprised by what I’ve learned. As a long-term yoga practitioner, I have better proprioception than many people, yet I was almost oblivious to three important aspects of how I was moving:
- I know my feet and ankles are quite flexible, and I roll through my feet quite well when I walk. I know my right foot is slightly larger than my left. And I’ve felt, with all the yoga over the last couple of years, my toes have been spreading and lengthening. But I hadn’t noticed that my right toes were really squashed up in almost all the shoes I own!
- I knew I sashayed about a bit as I walked but I’d never noticed that was because my poor left hip is shoogling all over the place, so my left leg goes round and round like a porridge spurtle.
- I have a mental image of myself striding along, arms swinging, because that is how I used to walk. The combination of walking a lot less and then for the last 18 months mainly walking with a lead in one or both hands seems to have gradually resulted in the top half of my body becoming almost motionless. A sort of Irish step dancing version of walking.
Photo credit: feisonista.net
So – it has been an education, and I can only say ‘thank you, Ms Hall’ because by paying attention and learning her techniques, I already feel more easy, smooth and energetic as I walk.
While I’m on the subject of thank-yous and sankalpa/resolutions/intentions, this post was partly inspired by chatting to then reading the writing of a friend and fellow blogger. See Hope versus Optimism… Then tell me – do you take stock at this time of year? Are you making any changes just now? Or do you like to mull your life over some other time of year (your birthday?) or on a different cycle (every autumn? Every Tuesday?) – or not at all?!
I am off down south again tomorrow, for nearly a week, including three days’ yoga training. I’m travelling light as I’m going by public transport, which is quite a long slog involving inconvenient changes between buses and trains. Packing my stuff made me realise anew that the great thing about yoga and walking is you need so little specialist space or ‘kit’ – I will be able to fit both yoga and walking in and around my days while I’m away. Though I will need to buy a pair of bigger shoes, I suppose…