Lowering cortisol levels throughout the day
My partner, Joseph, refers to it as my "Go! Go! Go!" tendency. While I'm not opposed to celebrating quiet time, I definitely have a tendency to over extend myself. This tendency usually comes from a good place: I don't think that life is all that long, and I'm trying to pack it with as many meaningful successes, experiences, relationships, and moments as I can. I take everything I do seriously, because I recognize that I'm exchanging time for it, and time is one resource that can never be recaptured. Sometimes, when I pair this personality trait with my every day schedule, which includes full time employment and two hours of commute time, I can become prone to stress. For me, I know that stress is creeping into my life because my sleep is interrupted and I start to gravitate toward caffeine and sugar. I've incorporated a few actions into my day to day life to help manage stress over time.
1. Knowing the true amount of time mundane tasks require
After a series of particularly busy weeks, I took a break to catch up on housework. In particular, I decided to tackle my laundry end-to-end. During the week, it was driving me absolutely crazy to keep up with clothes - mine, my partner's, my little one's. Everything would get washed and dried, but rarely put away. This created the kind of backlog that Lean Six Sigma consultants the world over could devote hours to resolving.
Still, the true issue didn't really occur to me until I became committing to taking the process from start to finish and timing the entire process: It took approximately three hours to load, wash, load, dry, fold and hang and store a single load of laundry. Three hours!? I had been trying to do this task in fifteen minutes each evening. No wonder I was always falling behind. When you know the true time required by your life's mundane tasks, you can start carving out efficiencies, like batching. For example, once I realized that it took an hour each night to prepare dinner, I started to look at ways to meal prep as a way to reduce that time, or move it to a period when I wasn't tired from a long workday ("Hello Sunday morning!") For laundry, I started to ruthlessly edit the amount of clothing we had in active rotation and better organize each step. Still, the most important thing I learned was not to be so hard on myself! Of course things were getting messy or disorganized - I simply wasn't yet allocating the time that really required to do things properly.
I think this is the heart of that "I can never catch up" feeling that so many women have. We don't give ourselves credit for the five minute diaper change, the thirty minute storybook, the forty minute dinner prep, the ten minute laundry wash, the fifteen minute vacuum, the thirty minute lunchbox prep, the minutes devoted to the minutia of life and child-rearing: every moment you spend chasing down that missing sock, running after your toddler (or teen!) with a toothbrush, checking off activities on the school calendar, planning an outfit for your child's holiday party (or your own!)...these moments all add up to some of the most meaningful of your life. Taking the time to mindfully do any one of these activities and actually crediting the exact time that they take leads to surprising - and liberating - results.
2. Ruthlessly controlling information consumed
First, let's think about how we all define the word "information." If you are like most people, you probably read that line and immediately started to think "Sure, it makes sense to control how much information you receive through the news or social media." This is true for most of us, but for me personally, I focus on expanding information to every single thing that I am forced to take in through any of my senses during the day. When you walk past beeping cars in a busy city you are taking in auditory information. When you accept work that should be performed by a different department, you are taking in verbal or written information. When you wash yourself with soap that you really can't tolerate the smell of, you are taking in olfactory information. When you eat, you are bringing into your body substances that will inform all of your bodily functions - yet another kind of information. Certainly, staying away from unpleasant and upsetting news is helpful, but if done in isolation, without regard to the myriad sounds, tastes, smells, sensations and sights you are exposed to in your daily life, it will make only a nominal improvement to your well being. My favorite culprit for stressful information in need of control? A television or tablet left on although no one is watching it. How many conversations have you had where you are subconsciously competing with a device? I take little steps all day long to control information received through all of my senses, like wearing perfume every day, shutting the door of my office to better concentrate, using the fireplace or natural light instead of overhead lights, and eating unrefined whole foods.
3. Finding twenty minutes for exercise
Stress collects in the body the way algae collects on stagnant water. Movement is the best way to dissipate any tension that collects in your back, shoulders or neck. I try to spend no less than twenty minutes every single day focusing on moving my body constructively through space. Instead of focusing on how my body looks, or how much weight I am gaining or losing, I just focus on moving beautifully through space. Sometimes that might mean lifting weights, other times cardio dance, other times yoga or Pilates. The most important thing for me is that my entire body is involved. While there are absolutely benefits to training a single body part per day, to eradicate stress, I think it is important to move your entire body. It can be tricky for me to fit an entire hour long workout into my schedule on many days, so I prefer an approach that allows me to fit in fifteen minutes to thirty minutes at lunchtime, my afternoon tea break, or upon my return home in the evening. If I can fit in more than one session, I'm thrilled ("there's my hour!") If I can't, at least I know that I did something constructive to keep my joints limber, perfect my posture, promote circulation and loosen fascia.
4. Practicing yoga
The most important part of yoga that I practice daily does not require a single asana (although those are pretty great too). I keep a few books about yoga and spiritual practices at my desk at work, and I like to open up to a random page and focus on that particular lesson for the day. Over time, I think that I can summarize my favorite yogic lessons in two words: "patience" and "acceptance." I'm lucky to work in an environment where my coworkers don't tempt me into losing my patience very often, but even then, customer demands, budget constraints, quarterly pressures and just my own personal goals can levy a decent amount of stress. So far, after almost twenty years of handing stressful corporate legal matters, I have yet to find a problem that can't be solved with a proper dose of patience and acceptance.
Acceptance does not mean, ""don't act," but rather "act when you feel confident that you are truly seeing things for what they are, including your own personal role in the events." Remember when you had a problem growing up and your mother would say "Why don't you just sleep on it?" That works well too, as does a short walk around the building to get fresh air. Instead of rushing right into a massive work related project, I will take five minutes to do alternate nostril breathing. Instead of stewing over a personal frustration, I'll honor my feelings for a few minutes and then practice a mantra or listen to a soothing meditation at lunch. When you feel stress over any continuous length of time, you're only harming yourself, not the object of that stress. Who and what is worth that? It makes little sense to spend time in asanas only to harm yourself in this way, violating the principle of ahimsa that forms the foundation for most yogic practices. In any case, I benefit from keeping reminders of my highest self at hand in the places that I really need it, and not just at the yoga studio or my quiet space at home.
5. One personal call each day
Fitting in at least one personal call per day while at the office is essential to managing stress. There is nothing as soothing as a little check in from someone who loves you no matter what you are doing for a living. On busy days, it can be really nice to take even just five minutes to check in with someone special. Especially when people get busy with family and work obligations, weekends and evenings can book up really fast! This puts a damper on those long, meaningful conversations with friends that used to flow for an hour or more. My friends and I have even made habits of calling each other on our morning commutes sometimes, since it can often be the only uninterrupted time we have to discuss anything at length. Texting absolutely does not count here. There is no replacement for the sound of the human voice.
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This is a great post for anyone who is considering whether to do a deeper-dive into Tone it Up content via the Tone it Up app or just wants to experiment with Tone it Up workouts to mix up their routine a bit (without a big commitment). I have the Tone it Up app and definitely use it to easily access daily content and more robust (read: lengthy) fitness classes. I've used both the paid and free versions, and they've helped me to keep off about 25 lb of post-pregnancy weight gain off for more than three years.
With that said, the amount of Tone it Up workout content out there is so high now that unless you've been following them for a few years, it can be difficult to know where to start, even with the app in hand. They have dozens of "arm" or "booty" workouts on their website and app - which one is the best? What class should you turn to if you just don't like the Tone it Up daily recommendation? What class should you share with your friend who is getting bored of just attending spin class? What if you are more interested in how a class makes you feel over the body part that it focuses on? Hopefully these recommendations point you in the right direction!
Best Overall Tone it Up Routine
I'm sure that someone will chase me down with pitchforks for saying this, but it's NOT "Hiity Bitty Bikini." It's not even a workout led by Karena Dawn or Katrina Scott. It's the LIVE Sculpt & Stretch Total Body Barre Workout with Jillian. I chose this video because: (1) I love barre workouts and find that they offer a lot of burn with low impact and low risk of injury; (2) It's good for our SOULS to see that even the most fit women struggling and having "Oh my GOD! Is our instructor KIDDING ME?!" moments during a workout; (3) The music is killer; (4) it is one of the longer free workouts, clocking at 36 minutes: 52 seconds; (5) The workout addresses all parts of the body and doesn't seem to favor lower or upper body; (6) Jillian is a commonly featured Studio Tone it Up instructor, so this represents a solid intro to the app; and (7) It BURNS...but I can still usually finish it, which to me represents an ideal of intensity and difficulty. When I finish this workout, I know that I am going to be sore the next day, but I still feel invigorated and not like I need to crawl out of the room.
Best Old School Tone it Up Routine
I love the Sweet & Sexy Valentine's Day Workout from 2012. It's a solid routine on the longer side at 18:00 minutes of run time. It's heavily barre and Pilates influenced, which is my jam if you haven't noticed! One of the things I love about this routine is that it's just a little bit campy and cheesy. Fitness is supposed to be fun, after all. Of course, I feel a little silly making heart shapes with my arms, but I also feel graceful and happy to be laughing at myself a little. This is a great one to pull out after a stressful day, when you are in the mood for something lighthearted but challenging enough to release a few endorphins!
Best Tone it Up Routine when you are in the mood to "RAWRR!!!"
The Bikini Kettlebell workout from 2015 is the workout I love to hate or hate to love...in any case, I nicknamed my 12 lb kettlebell the "Kettlebell of Doom" after this workout. It is the longest 20:00 minutes of my entire life, but I have to say that using a kettlebell (safely! correctly! of the correct size and weight!) can whip you into the shape of your life. Katrina is a fantastic instructor for the relatively uninitiated and has an "Intro To Kettlebell" video available on their site. To be blunt, I started with 12 lb because I didn't know any better. If I could go back in time, I would have started with a three ounce kettlebell (the fact that they don't make a three ounce kettlebell would not have deterred me.) This workout definitely requires a bit of cardio endurance. If you have not worked out in six months, please do not make this your first workout after getting off of the couch. If you have never used a kettlebell, please take time to learn how to do so safely before you attempt this workout. Because of the swinging motion involved in many kettlebell moves, they seem a bit more risky to use than your run of the mill dumbbells. When you get the hang of it though? WOAH. I feel this one three days later, all in my thighs.
Best "I only have 10 minutes" Tone it Up Routine
First of all, let's just get this out of the way: Ten minutes is a perfectly adequate amount of time to increase your heart rate, tone up your muscles, burn up to 100 calories, and increase your general health. On the days when I get up late or have a packed schedule, I often take only ten minutes to focus on a single body part - usually arms. Focusing on larger muscle groups (hello, booty) or fitting in cardio bursts can increase the calories that you incinerate, but that often seems like too much trouble on busy days. To be blunt, I'm usually looking for something quick that won't leave me drenched in sweat, because if I only have ten minutes to work out, I probably don't have another twenty to clean up and change clothes. My favorite quickie arm workout is Bikini Arm Tone with Karena from 2018. Frankly, Karena has created a dozen arm workouts that I enjoy, but this one is a recent favorite!
Best Tone it Up Routine when you don't feel like working out
One of my favorite quotes is from Tony Robbins: "Emotion is created by motion." We all know that the way we feel emotionally affects how we feel physically. I'm SO sensitive to that. I get headaches after getting really angry or upset. I feel butterflies before I go on stage. I get insomnia when I'm worried. Especially for women, who tend to have finely tuned antennas, it is so important to remember that the opposite is also true. Sometimes just the act of doing a gentle workout will break me out of a funk. I'll start working out intending to only last ten minutes and then end up keeping it up for an hour! For the days when I'm struggling for motivation, I love to turn to Studio Tone it Up instructor Tori's 5-minute Beginner Dance Cardio Workout. Why? Because humans were MADE to dance! Have you ever seen a group of five year olds turn down the chance to dance? Even the most infirm elderly often respond favorably when they hear a favorite tune. What is all of the workout business about after all if not the celebration of the human body's ability to move! Trust me, no matter how tired or cranky you are, you can fit in 5 minutes of dancing.
1. Physical posture is a reflection of emotional posture.
Our physical postures and positions are largely subconscious. Most of us do not think much about how we arch toward our laptops, tilt our hips sitting in traffic, or stand taller when someone we love walks into the room. Since I am very petite, I was "trained" by my parents to stand very straight, a way to metaphysically take up the space I was incapable of taking up by my stature alone. One of my favorite comments to say about yoga is that "your body cannot lie to you in a yoga class." Whatever we may think of how we physically go through our days, the yoga class reveals both our strengths and weaknesses. Although I may tell myself that I'm "pretty active" though the day, my tight hips, inflexible hamstrings and crackling shoulders remind me of the time I spend at my desk or long commute. More importantly, after I have suffered trauma, although my mouth would say things like "I'm fine," my body's pursuit of protective poses (e.g. child's pose, forward bends) would reveal the truth of my sense of vulnerability (e.g. a primitive desire to protect one's abdomen as though under attack). By tuning into how willing or unwilling my body is to enter into certain positions, I can find a barometer for my emotional and mental well being.
2. The purpose of movement is to quiet the mind.
We live in a modern society that can go to great lengths to try us emotionally and intellectually. Many of us attempt to quiet our minds by harnessing our minds, though everything from commiserating, ruminating, meditating or visualizing, generally to varying degrees of success. We often forget that we do not have to solve problems by walking through the same door through which the problem entered. Although the challenge may be present in our minds, we do not have to greet it there. Instead, rhythmic, intentional or sequenced movement can still the mind quickly where almost all other methods fail to do so. In the same way that an hour of raking leaves, skating on ice or tending a garden clears the mind, so can yoga.
3. All is impermanent, but nothing more so than emotions.
Most of us love to indulge our emotions, almost without regard to whether they are positive or negative. On social media, the strongest responses are reserved for posts regarding the most joyful and the most tragic of events. This seems to be human nature, to indulge our emotions and feed them through our attention and that of others. However, science (and most yogic practices) reaffirm our tendency toward baselines levels of happiness and disregard the importance of circumstances in this equation. We are as happy as we generally ARE, not as happy as circumstances permit us to be. Even in the midst of the saddest of times, we are capable of being immediately lifted into laughter and light by a comment from a loved one. Even in the midst of the happiest of times, we are capable of being immediately plunged into sadness by an errant insult. Our emotions undulate like the sea, and like the sea, we do best to navigate if we do not expect everything to remain still and unchanged.
4. All stems from the concept of ahimsa.
Certainly, there are yogic masters and perhaps even theologians who would have a great deal more insight than I do into what I am about to say, but for me: ahimsa is the heart of everything. When all actions stem from a place of desiring to cause no harm to other people, to animals, to the world itself, we are acting from a place of right intention. There is a non-violent way to accomplish almost everything, and where there is not, there is a less-violent way. This principle keeps kindness and integrity in the middle of the toughest negotiations, the most heated exchanges and the most challenging ethical questions.
5. All living things are sacred, both despite and including you.
The most commonly uttered phrase in any yoga class (well, besides a few that we may say under our breath in plank pose) is "Namaste." It is usually easy to recognize the light, uniqueness and even holiness of another person when they've guided you through a yoga class or other spiritual exercise. It is less easy to recognize it when the other person has been unkind, misplaced your keys, showed up late, passed you up for a promotion or otherwise failed to live up to your expectations for their behavior. It can be hard to see light through the darkness that shrouds others, such as politicians who spout hateful rhetoric. It can be hard to see light through the darkness that shrouds ourselves, when we make a mistake or fail to achieve a worthy goal. Yoga helps to remind us that both our own divine nature and that of others has nothing to do with our perception. It isn't there only when we see it. It doesn't disappear when we do not. Having compassion and empathy as we go through life does not create or destroy our divine nature or others, it only opens our eyes to commonalities and the truth that we exist as a wholly intertwined organism on one single Earth.
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Whenever I read about anyone else's fitness journey, I'm always grateful for a bit of context. This book was my introduction to Tone it Up, and I can honestly say that it revolutionized how I approach my health and fitness. Still, that isn't very helpful unless you have an idea of why my approach needed revolutionizing in the first place! Which brings us back to October 2013, when I fave birth to my son. While it was an amazing, joyous, miraculous event, it was also the culmination of a series of extremely physically taxing events for me.
I had a lifelong yoga practice, having started at around age three on my Mom's 1970s yoga mat (it's two inches thick and made from brown faux leather - as it you would expect anything less for that era!) In high school and early college, I maintained my fitness through yoga, competitive cheer, and weight lifting. One of my earliest jobs was at the front counter of a local fitness center, where I was first acquainted with the dark side of the fitness industry: bodybuilders who would shoot up insulin in preparation for shows; shelves stocked with vitamins and supplements of questionable merit, and people who would drink protein shakes in place of real food. This experience, paired with my background in science and the time I spent focusing on FDA regulation of nutritional supplements in law school, makes me a solid skeptic of most health, fitness and nutrition programs.
In my twenties I adopted a plant based diet (vegetarian) and a relatively benign workout routine centered on long walks by the lake every weekend and an hour of yoga every night. Because of my devotion to a fairly strict yoga practice, I eschewed alcohol (no big loss, I never liked it anyway), cigarettes, and most other vices. Sugar/Carb sensitivity runs in my family, and I started to have symptoms of hypoglycemia in high school, so I also cut out soda and pop. The weight on my five foot tall frame generally hovered somewhere between 95 lb and 105 lb, inching up to about 110 lb to 115 lb as I matured and started working. The extra weight didn't bother me in the least and I still had a healthy BMI. It would take me a long time to realize that making it into my thirties without "body issues," "disordered eating," "food addiction," or even just the ever-present desire to "lose that last 10 pounds" was nothing short of a societal coup.
When I turned thirty, my health took a wildly unexpected turn. I was in a series of car accidents that left me without the ability to feel my lower legs and feet for more than six months. This was followed by three subsequent surgeries. Through this time, I worked with several excellent doctors to manage pain. Under their guidance, however, I went through no less than thirteen prescriptions for pain management, which resulted in a parade of terrifying side effects, allergic reactions and trips to the emergency room. After long term use of ibuprofen landed me in the hospital with internal bleeding, I was finished. I doubled down on accupuncture, heating pads, cold packs, physical therapy, yin yoga, visualization exercises, and healing meditations. By the time I became pregnant with my son at thirty-five, I had gained back the weight lost to this period of difficulty and had a robust yin yoga practice. I had even started to do aerial acrobatics with the Detroit Flyhouse after my doctor warned me away from "high impact" activities.
Still, despite being in relatively good shape, after nineteen hours of difficult labor and delivery, I was completely spent and felt like I had the hips of a nineteen year old German Shepherd. I didn't even think about working out for an entire year after my son was born. I just focused on breast feeding, and eating healthy. A year later, I was still holding 142 lb on my tiny frame. Something wasn't working.
My introduction to Tone it Up
I had just made a commitment to tackle the extra baby weight the nigh before. The next day, I went to the library by myself and perused the new non-fiction. There, I saw the Tone it Up: 28 Days To Fit, Fierce and Fabulous book. I had never heard of Tone it Up, even though it was 2014. I thought Instagram was only for professional photographers. I ignored YouTube completely. It is hard to imagine anyone more uneducated about Tone it Up!
I wasn't a complete fitness rookie, so I immediately skimmed the book, looking for the tell-tale signs of gimmicks or unhealthy suggestions. The first thing that I read was something to this effect: "So, you want to know how long it will take before you see results? The answer is Day One." They went on to explain that you would see results on Day One, because taking care of your health, making yourself a priority, eating healthfully, getting good sleep and working out bear immediate benefits other than weight loss.
This sentence is one of the reasons that I've continued to faithfully follow Tone it Up since 2014. After all that my body had been through, it was so important for me to feel that I was being nurturing and kind to myself, as opposed to strict and punishing. I've consumed countless hours of Tone it Up content since the moment I checked out this book, and I can honestly say, I have never heard Karena Dawn or Katrina Scott change from this core approach toward fitness.
My experience with Tone it Up: 28 Days to Fit, Fierce and Fabulous
I recommend this book to anyone who is just getting started with either a general fitness program or the Tone it Up lifestyle. The book is separated into sections addressing Karena and Katrina's own fitness journeys (which were surprisingly poignant and relatable), the basic dietary approach of the Tone it Up nutrition plan, a twenty-eight day "day by day" program, and multiple (beautifully photographed) workouts. Something that I have seen criticized (but personally loved) is the inclusion of daily mental wellness challenges, such as waking up five minutes early to meditate, wearing an unexpected color, or doing an activity to awaken your latent creativity. While they can seem a bit trite, I can honestly say that when done in earnest (or at least as much earnestness as you can muster!) they have genuine value. Having been through so much physical difficulty, I hadn't realized how much my MIND had become the source of my challenges. Somewhere in the midst of all of my physical challenges, I had completely lost the ability to view myself as physically strong, capable - even, an athlete. My mind had substituted fears of injury and acceptance of weakness where my competitive spirit and zest for physical expression had once been.
I also immediately realized that these fears had kept me from picking up a pair of weights in years! I couldn't even finish the "easy" workouts without setting down two pound weights. No wonder I was so exhausted carrying around a baby and car seat carrier! By the end of the program, I was able to finish all of the workouts with two pound weights. I repeated the program from start to finish the following month, working to incorporate five pound weights. At the end of sixty days, I had done two extraordinary things: (1) learned to incorporate fitness into twenty minutes of my day (often in the early morning, around 5:00 AM; and (2) reduced my weight by ten pounds.
My fitness lifestyle before Tone it Up did not include weights (although yoga could be a bit weight-bearing) and often required hours of investment. Sure, taking two hour walks around the lake every Saturday and Sunday could keep my weight under control, but it also took up precious time. As a new mother, working part time, I struggled to find fifteen minutes to SHOWER. I had no framework for how to fit consistent exercise into my new "busy-mom" schedule before I read this book.
I found this book immensely valuable and continue to keep it on my nightstand to reference whenever I need a fitness or nutrition "reset." I appreciated that I found this book long before signing on to the Tone it Up Nutrition Plan, because I find that many Tone it Up "newbies" get so focused on when-to-eat-what that they miss out on the joy of experimenting with healthy foods.
Before this book, I had been using Hello Fresh but still struggling a LOT with how to feed a family. This book taught me to prepare a few super-quick, easy dishes, which paved the way for more sophisticated meal planning down the road. I think that experienced Tone it Up girls may find the book a little "lite" on substantive content, particularly if they are already following the Tone it Up Nutrition Plan. For those ladies who need a supportive, nurturing, reasonable introduction (or re-introduction) to a healthier lifestyle, this book is hard to beat.
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