Using the Polar H10 and A360/370 for Recovery Training

Yesterday, I reviewed the Morpheus Recovery Band. Today, I’ll talk about a suite of Polar devices/apps.

I’ve been using the Polar H10 chest strap the longest, both for morning heart rate variability (HRV) readings and for tracking exercise. I started using the Polar A360 in October for wrist-based heart rate tracking. The A360 isn’t made anymore, but the A370 is very similar and has nice new features like all-day heart rate monitoring and GPS. Then I also need two free apps: Polar Beat (for the H10) and Polar Flow (for the A360 and bringing all the data together). I know it sounds kinda clunky, but in practice, it’s pretty simple. Here’s how I use this.

Goals

My current goal is to recondition after a long illness. One of the problems with adrenal fatigue is that if you overdo physical or emotional stress, you can knock your recovery back days or weeks. It took me a year to figure out that 20 minutes of gardening, sweeping the deck, or moderate exercises like a few pushups and situps constituted “entirely too much exercise.” I would wake up feeling good, overdo it, and get knocked back to the couch for several days. It was incredibly frustrating because I rarely felt good two days in a row. For, like, two years.

So I wanted a way to quantify how much work I was doing and have some data to help me understand how much was too much. The key data I needed were my morning heart rate variability (HRV) scores, and some way to measure how much energy I was actually expending not just during workouts, but during daily activities, chores, walking to meetings, etc.

Polar H10

For HRV

I’ve already talked about measuring my HRV. I largely did that with the H10, though Welltory also let me measure it with my finger on my phone. (I ended up abandoning Welltory – it seemed less accurate over time and didn’t give me much uniquely useful info.)

For exercise tracking

  • Use with the Polar Beats app. Start the app, tell it what kind of exercise you are doing, and press “Start.”
  • If you leave the app open, you can see your heart rate moment-to-moment.
  • Five “zones” are color-coded from 1-5 based on your maximum recommended heart rate (220 minus your age).
    • For me, Zone 1 (50-60% of max HR) is 88-105 bpm because my max HR should be 176.
    • Zone 5 is 90-100% of your max (158+ for me), and I avoid it like the plague at this stage of my reconditioning.
  • Building on what I learned from the Morpheus band, Polar Zones 1-3 are recovery, Zone 4 is conditioning, and Zone 5 is overreaching. In practice, I am a little lower – I think my conditioning zone probably starts around 130 bmp, which is 75% max or “Zone 2.5” and I don’t like to go above 150/Zone 3.5/85% max right now.

Polar A360/370

polar-a370-white-600x600The 360 and 370 work basically the same way. You can use them as a wrist-based HR tracker for exercise, though it is not sensitive enough to track HRV (use the H10 for that). It is supposedly very accurate for walking and jogging, but less good for weightlifting and cycling. It also has an all-day activity monitor, and a sleep monitoring feature I’ve not used much at all.

The reason I got it is because I wanted to see my HR during exercise on my wrist, not my phone – I often use my phone to play workout videos and can’t see both apps at once. I also wanted to be able to track exercise on the fly during the day – e.g., walking to a meeting, or giving a presentation – because I suspected that many of my daily activities were more strenuous than I’d realized. It works great for this – I can see the same fitness zones on my wrist that I had been getting from the H10, and I regularly set it to record my activity while I’m at work.

You track day-long activity on the Polar Flow app. This will also take in info from Polar Beats, so if you do use the H10 for certain exercises, all the data gets collected into one place and count toward your daily activity. What’s slightly confusing is that “activity” is broken into different “zones” than training. Here’s a table…

Polar Training Zone

Morpheus Recovery Zone

HR range (BPM are for age 44)

Polar Flow Activity Level

0

Total rest

<88bpm

·        Resting + sitting

1

Recovery

50-60% max

88-104bpm

·        Low

2

Recovery

60-70% max
105-122

·      Low-Medium intensity (breakpoint around 65%)

3

Recovery

70-80% max
123-139

·      Medium-High intensity (breakpoint around 75%)

4

Conditioning

80-90% max
140-157

·    High intensity

5

Overreaching

90-100% max
158-176

·     High intensity

Danger

Galloping heart

177+


 

Polar_Flow_Analyze-1_0_0To keep things simple, I mostly just look at the Polar Activity chart during the day. On “good” days, when my morning HRV reading is 8-10 on Elite HRV and 7.5 or above on HRV4Training, I go for 15 minutes of “high intensity” activity (HR above about 130). On days my HRV reading is around 6.5-7.5, I avoid high-intensity activity entirely but generally try to get in some low-medium intensity activity around Zone 2/HR 105-120. On days when my HRV says I’m overtaxed, I really try to rest as much as possible, including having my husband drop me off in front of my building at work, always taking the elevator, and going to bed an hour early.

I can’t say for certain that my rate of improvement has increased through 2018, but I can say that I am MUCH better able to handle physical activity now! in Feb. 2018, I was pleased that that my edge was to do 20 minutes of gardening on Saturday AND Sunday. In September, my edge was 3.5 hours a day of vigorous t’ai chi, on a Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. I don’t think I’ve come close to pushing past my physical boundaries since then (3 months), though I am learning the toll stress takes on my HRV scores. But that’s another post. 🙂

 

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Using Morpheus for Recovery Training

In a previous post, I talked about basic concepts of recovery activities. I wanted to update you with a couple new months of data gleaned from two additional tools: the Morpheus Recovery Band and the Polar A360/370 fitness monitor.  I’ll review the Polar tomorrow.

About Morpheus

The Morpheus band and system are the only gizmos I know of that actually calculate how much a particular workout helps you recover, or knocks you back. Joel Jamieson, the creator, has done a ton of work around active recovery and avoiding overtraining. Probably 95% of what I know about recovery training came from his info. So I was very excited to try this tool.

You take a morning reading with the Morpheus band (on arm or leg) and get a baseline score and your set of target heart rates. There are three zones: recovery, conditioning, and overtraining, each with a heart rate range based on your age and your current state of fitness.  Then you exercise – using the Morpheus band, or another HRV monitor such as the Polar 10 chest strap – and at the end of the workout, it calculates your recovery points. For me, I was always trying to maximize recovery points, and generally avoid negative recovery point (a sign that you worked really hard – which is great for hardcore athletes but not good for people desperately trying to avoid overexertion as they recover from a long illness).

What’s awesome

  • Recovery scores were super-helpful! I learned that my body is “recovering” at much higher heart rates than I’d imagined.
    • My max recommended heart rate is about 176 (220-age), so I’d thought a good “recovery” heart rate maxed out at 110. But no – I was reliably seeing high recovery scores up to about 125-130bpm. And critically, I was seeing higher recovery scores at 125 than at 110.
    • I did take with a grain of salt Morpheus’s recommendation that on good days, I would be recovering up to 143bpm – that felt like way too much exertion for me at this point in time.
    • What I thought were good “recovery” activities (seated yoga, light t’ai chi) actually were calculated as “rest” and had little or no impact on my recovery scores.
  • The upshot is that I dramatically increased the intensity of activity I was doing, and continued to feel better.

What’s OK

  • Morning baseline readings were also helpful, but I was already getting very similar information from my chest strap and Elite HRV/HRV4Training apps. All of them seemed to agree pretty well.
  • The daily suggestion of HR zones was less useful than I’d expected, because they were nearly always the same. On a good day, the breakpoint between recovery and conditioning was about 143. On a bad day, it was about 135, which was not a very meaningful difference to me. In addition, this corresponds pretty well to the Polar zones 1-3 for recovery, 4 for conditioning, and 5 for overload.

Frustrations

  • The app doesn’t let me easily track HRV changes over time. It’s very much a “what should I do today” sort of device.
  • The app gives no information on LF/HF readings, which are useful for understanding how my parasympathetic system is/is not engaging. I don’t want to give up that info, so every morning, I was taking 3 simultaneous readings with two different devices.
  • The band is impossible to use during exercise. It was constantly slipping off my arm, and I don’t even sweat heavily. So I had to use my Polar chest strap during all exercise, but the Morpheus strap for the initial morning reading.
  • You can’t just take a reading to see how you are doing “right now,” except for once a day in the morning. There were many times when I’d come home from work, and want to get info on how much my day had taken out of me, but it’s not set up to do that. That info was somewhat reflected in my next morning’s reading, but it didn’t help me narrow down non-exercise stressors.
  • The app and community were definitely focused on high-performing athletes and avid gymgoers. No one could really answer questions I had from the perspective of someone in deep recovery mode.

The Verdict

I ended up returning the Morpheus during its 60-day no-questions-asked return period. I do still occasionally miss the recovery score readings, but I wasn’t willing to pay $150 to keep having them – especially since I seemed to be able to track that data solely with my Polar chest strap.

Recovery Activities

See Part 1.

My exercise goals for the last couple months have been:

  • Prioritize recovery and stress reduction over building strength
  • Continue improving resilience (i.e., recover faster)
  • Learn what each workout zone and especially recovery feel like
  • If energy is good (judge by feel and HRV numbers), THEN alternate “long slow” and “strength/cardio” workouts. NO set frequency or schedule, to avoid overdoing it/guilt.
  • Work on posture and breathing to increase available energy

I take an HRV reading every morning and compare that with how I feel. I use a Polar 10 chest strap gadget and the Welltory, Elite HRV, and HRV4Training apps simultaneously (I know, I know…I’m comparing them…gimme a break) to determine my morning HRV.  If most signs point toward needing to take it easy, I rest or do a recovery activity in zone 1 (or low zone 2 since it’s often hard to stay in zone 1). If both are good, then I do exercise in zones 2-3. If I feel great, I aim for zones 3-4, but no more than 2x/week at this point.

I wear the Polar chest strap during my workouts (and sometimes just during regular activities, like canning or giving a presentation at work). Its app shows my heart rate AND the zone I’m in from moment to moment, then tallies up my time in each zone per workout and day/week/month. Here are some sample activities:

Zone

Function

HR range

Activities Aug. ’18

0

Total rest –

Feels stretchy

<88bpm

·        Sitting, sleeping

·        Seated yoga

1

Active Recovery –

Easy motion; often hard to stay this low

88-104

·        Gentle sun salutations; seated active yoga

·        Tai chi warm-up

·        Walk to meeting

2

Light – base fitness – feels like “I’m actually doing
exercise”

105-122

·      Flowy tai chi

·     1 flight stairs

·     “Taking a walk”

·     Giving Reflex

·     Weeding

·     Slowest elliptical

3

Steady state – improve aerobic – feels like I’m working hard

123-139

·     Brisk walk

·     Moderate elliptical

·     2 flights stairs

4

Tempo – speed/stamina – breathing very hard

140-157

·    Mowing flat

·    Cardio workout

5

Max – increase max performance – starting to worry

158-176

·     Mowing slope

Danger

Galloping heart

177+


 

 

If you want to try this at home, there are tons of gadgets and apps out there. You absolutely need something that can measure heart rate variability – most FitBits and whatnot don’t do this, even if they can track your heart rate. Welltory and I think HRV4Training can actually measure HRV using your phone – so that can be a good way to get started. I use the Welltory phone measurement about 15% of the time. It sometimes chokes for no apparent reason, but when it works, it seems to be pretty accurate. I have also wanted something on my wrist that would show HR zones, so I can use my phone to play my workout and let me see my HR zone on my wrist. However, I haven’t found a wrist tracker I like (I have tiiiiiiny wrists) and after a couple months, I’m pretty good at knowing by HR zone by feel. So I just watch the workout video and check my HR zone once in a while, or after I’m done.

I’m also going to give Morpheus a try. It seems to be geared exactly for what I’m trying to do. Might be overkill – but there’s a 60 day trial, so why not? It varies your zones day-to-day based on your current recovery state, which sounds more precise than just saying “zone 1 is always 88-105bpm.” I have days when chopping kale in the kitchen puts me in Zone 2 and days when I can’t get into Zone 2 by speed walking, so it would be nice to have something that knows what “recovery” should look like today. I’ll let you know how it goes when I’ve had it for a couple weeks.

Active Recovery

The last three months or so, I’ve been reading about and doing a lot of “active recovery” activities. Between reconditioning after my long illness and just dealing with the day-to-day stress of the current administration’s assaults, I realized I really needed to develop my ability to bounce back without overdoing it and just making myself more tired. The two concepts I’ve found to be fruitful as I look into this are Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and Active Recovery .

I wanted to share some things I’ve found helpful. Maybe you will, too.

Background Concepts

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) refers to the amount of time between your heartbeats. If your resting heart rate is 60 beats per minute, that doesn’t mean your heart beats exactly one time per second. The time between the first two beats may be 1.00002 second, then .99998 second, then 1 second, etc. The amount of difference the time between your heart beats is your HRV. There are actually a bunch of different measurements that go into an HRV number, but that’s the basic idea.

Generally speaking, the higher your HRV is, the healthier you are. There are apps and devices that let you measure this easily at home. The apps also often have some indication of a “stress score,” based on other measurements taken at the same time. I’ve found looking at my HRV and stress scores to be very helpful in showing me how my body is doing, including:

  • What activities help me recover faster, and what activities wear me out
  • What type of activity I should pursue on a given day: rest, gentle exercise, or vigorous exercise
  • How to better tell how I’m doing from how I feel (it’s not always clear!)

I’ll go into more detail on these later.

Once I was able to get a handle on what I needed (rest/recovery/training), I needed to figure out activities for each of those needs. Rest is pretty easy – read soothing books and sleep a lot. The other two are harder, because they can overlap.

Enter “active recovery.” This is the idea that very gentle exercise can be more beneficial than straight rest in certain circumstances. I found a lot of work on active recovery coming from athletic trainers.  They are generally working with healthy people who are trying to take their performance from “very good” to “exceptional,” so I take their specific training regimens with a huge grain of salt. But their guidelines have been working well. The super-short version is, when you do active recovery, you want to keep your heart rate between 50-60% of your maximum heart rate (or “Zone 1”). For me, that’s between 88 and 105 beats per minute. (HR zone info here.) For other kinds of training, you aim for other zones. I use a heart rate tracker and app while I’m exercising so I can target the right zone. It’s actually pretty hard to stay in the recovery zone, because when I’m tired, sitting at my desk and going to meetings can put me in or above the recovery threshold! No wonder I was having trouble overdoing it…

The other piece of recovery training is that breathing is incredibly important. I’ve come to appreciate yogic breathing and meditation in a whole new way. Likewise, body alignment and energy flow activities have also been super helpful.

Tune in for tomorrow’s installment where I’ll go into agonizing detail about those. 🙂

Adrenal Fatigue Recovery Menu

For background, see Adrenal Recovery, Pt. 1

For the week, prepare:

Breakfasts

  • Meaty:
    • 2 meatballs
    • On a sprouted bun: 2-3 oz of burger, pork tenderloin, baked turkey breast, or chicken thigh
    • Grass-fed, no-nitrate beef hot dogs (Applegate natural)
    • Salt-n-garlic beans or steamed carrot sticks as a side
  • Veggie:
    • Calabaza queso on corn tortillas
    • Raw carrot
    • Eggs are great, if you can have them
  • Avocado toast + protein

Dinners

Soup, stew, etc.

Pan dinners

Baked/Pressure/Big Batch

Super Quick

To have on hand

  • Calabaza queso, Zucchini butter, or Baba ganouj
  • Triscuits
  • Nuts/Kind bars
  • Meatballs, Grilled chicken thighs, and/or hot dogs
  • Coconut bars (omit honey but keep choc chips – 1 g sugar per serving)
  • Sweet potato wedges
  • Praeger’s veg patties (check varieties)
    • Cali burger
    • Greens burger has some potato flakes mid-way down the list; lowest carb option
    • Asian burger has some potato flakes way down the list
    • Bibimbop burger has some potato flakes way down the list; higher carb
    • Others have too much white stuff and/or egg

Freezer-stocking meals

Dining Out

  • Japanese
    • Agedashi Tofu
    • Miso
    • Edamame
    • Yakitori (sauce on side)
    • Hand rolls and brown rice on rolls
    • Chicken Terriyaki w/o sauce
  • Chinese
    • Get brown rice or don’t eat rice at restaurant
    • Moo goo gai pan
    • Hunan chicken
    • Chicken and vegetables
  • Session Room
    • Sub corn tortilla for slider bun
    • Chicken tacos
  • Qdoba
    • Burrito with brown rice
    • Tacos
  • Great Plains
    • Burger, 1/2 wheat bun, sweet potato fries
  • Noodles & Co
    • Chicken Veracruz salad
    • They don’t have ww noodles anymore, and most stuff has a lot of sugar.

Adrenal Recovery, Pt. 1

tl;dr: link to recipes here

In 2016-17, I was pretty sick. It started with pneumonia and got worse from there. At some point, my doctor diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue – basically, I’d been stressed out for so long my adrenal glands couldn’t keep up their usual endocrine dance. Some people debate whether adrenal fatigue is  “real” diagnosis, and I’m not interested in arguing. I do know that by following these suggestions, I did feel better, and when I didn’t, I felt much, much worse. It took me about 2 years of alternating small improvements and plateaus to feel mostly healthy.

There’s a lot of material out there about the condition, and if you think you have it, I hope you’re working with a health care provider. What I want to do here is share the guidelines I followed and the recipes I relied on so if you are going through the same thing, you don’t have to expend your limited energy finding recipes.

My Guidelines

As always: your mileage may vary. Listen to your body and your health care provider. The guidelines my doc gave me were:

  • Reduce or eliminate the source of the stress.
  • Find something to smile about, laugh at, and enjoy every day.
  • In bed before 10pm and nap as much as you want (without disturbing nighttime sleep). 2x reclined rests during work day.
  • Gentle exercise only – don’t tire yourself.
  • Drink 2 liters salted water (a big pinch of real sea salt and maybe a squeeze of lime in a glass of water), rehydration solution, and/or broth daily
  • Don’t eat allergens (for me, dairy, eggs, and beans – luckily, soy and wheat are OK)
  • Don’t let blood sugar crash

That last one is where the recipes come in. For me, this is what it means to not let my blood sugar crash:

  • Have protein, fat, and complex carbs at every meal.
    • Aim for 20+g protein at breakfast.
    • Don’t go hog wild, but don’t fear carbs, either. You need that easy blood sugar.
  • Eat snacks as needed – including getting up in the night to eat if I wake up hungry.

I also figured out two years into this that I had a gut full of candida, which was making it very hard to keep my blood sugar steady and to sleep through the night. So, when treating that, I also added the usual anti-candida rules:

  • No white rice, white flour, white pasta, white potatoes, fruit, or sweeteners of any kind
  • …except a 5g sugar treat each day to keep me sane, e.g. 8 dark chocolate chips.

Method

Of course, it takes energy to feed yourself well, and that’s just what you don’t have. So having a plan help. When possible, I’d prep this stuff once a week:

  • A vegetable-heavy soup in good broth (usually eaten as mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack)
  • A big batch of turkey-beef meatballs or grilled chicken thighs (usually eaten at breakfast or middle of the night)
  • And if possible, a big batch of cooked vegetables or freezing some pre-made meals to have for lunches

And then dinners were from this list, which I keep adding to under the tag “good_carb”. I’m going to sort/link some specific recipes in my next post.

Homemade electrolyte powder

I’ve been finding lately that plain water is not doing it when I’ve been working in the sun or exercising.  I tried half a dozen electrolyte powders out there, and settled on DripDrop as one that seems to do the job and tastes good enough  that I’ll actually drink it (though I use a packet in about 3/4 liter of water, not 1 cup as recommended). Nuun is not too bad, either.

The problem is, this stuff is like drinking dollar bills – $1.25 per serving.

So after a bunch of research and calculations, here’s my homemade equivalent.  It tastes vaguely lemony and feels like its doing its job.  It’s so cheap, I almost can’t calculate the price per serving maybe 5-10 cents?  You may have most of the ingredients in your kitchen already.  If not, home brewing stores are your friend.

Makes enough to enrich 6 liters of water.  Use 1/2 tsp. of this powder in a 12-oz glass of water, or 3/4-1 tsp. in a liter bottle.

  • 2 Tbl sugar (carbohydrates)
  • 3/4 tsp salt (sodium chloride)
  • 1/4 tsp NuSalt (potassium chloride)
  • 1/2 tsp Epsom salts* (magnesium sulfate)
  • 1/2 tsp brewer’s gypsum (calcium sulfate) – optional; available at homebrew store. Bonus: you can use it to make tofu from soy milk.
  • 1 tsp citric acid or Fruit Fresh (available where they sell canning supplies).  This is for flavor and balances the high pH of the gypsum; Fruit Fresh also adds some vitamin C

I haven’t tried it yet, but I was thinking of adding some pulverized freeze-dried fruit for flavor.

Shake everything up in a jar – or better yet, whir it in a perfectly dry blender for a few pulses to distribute everything evenly and to grind some of the larger particles finer.  Store in a jar with a tight lid.  Use 1/2 tsp. per 12 oz glass of water – stir to dissolve well.

Nutritional information:

Homemade

DripDrop

Nuun

Sodium

288mg

305

350

Potassium

110mg

175mg

101mg

Sugar

4g

9g

0g

Magnesium

39mg

40mg

25mg

Calcium

82mg

13mg

Zinc

2mg

Vit C

117mg (if made with FruitFresh)

38mg

I also figured out that if I were out and about, a glass of water with a scant 1/8tsp (just a pinch or two) of salt, a packet of sugar (1tsp), and 2 oz of orange juice gets you the first three nutrients on the list.

* Yes, Epsom salts can have a laxative effect. However, the laxative dose is 2-4 tsp in 1 cup of water; this recipe calls for 1/2 tsp in six LITERS of water. Unless you are unusually sensitive, you should be fine.

Staying changed

So, in my last post, I talked about how I’ve made some changes in my life, and how resuming my old routine didn’t quite “fit” anymore.

I have been waiting for this for the better part of a year. Heck, maybe two.  I’ve known that I needed to rest, to move houses, to recuperate, and at some point, I’d feel like I’d rested enough.  Well, I think I’ve turned that corner. Here are some of the signs I’m noticing:

  • I concede that there may actually be things outside of my own house that are worth my time and attention.
  • I’m wanting to see people.
  • I’m wanting to create things, try new things, learn things, build things.
  • I’m fretting about things that aren’t actually a problem and probably won’t become a problem. For example, money. We have plenty right now, and relatively good job security. We have several very large expenses coming up (residing the house this spring, a new car in a couple years) but given how far inside our means we live, we should be able to save for those things and we might not even need to take out loans for them.  And if we do need to take out loans, we should have no problem getting approved, and we’ll probably pay them off well ahead of schedule. There is nothing here to worry about, but I find myself poking at the numbers repeatedly to see if I can make them more firm or for the savings to happen faster. This tendency to make mountains out of molehills is one I see in myself a lot, and in smart, bored beings in general. SAHM’s with a now-empty nest, people of extraordinary privilege, and zoo animals all show this tendency – they’re problem-solvers with no problems to solve. So we create problems.
  • A friend recently announced a huge life shake-up. It reminded me that things that seem like they’ll always be the same can still change. It also helped me see that I’ve been focusing on smaller and smaller things lately. Instead of “I need to turn my brain off tonight, or I’m going to have a nervous breakdown,” I’m at the “I’m not feeling completely centered at the end of every single day” point. This, my friends, is pretty much the definition of “being well.” It is time for me to move forward again.

Ok, so, clearly, time to move on. But on to what?

That has been surprisingly hard to answer, and I can see that I am reflexively trying to fill that space with whatever’s at hand, or whatever filled that space before. Work. Chores. Concern for my own well-being. Fears related to any number of old bugaboos. Busy-ness. One dog I’m  not letting back on the bed right now is the desire to save/fix/help the world at large. Not sure if that one is going to come back, but it sure needs a lot more energy than I’m willing to give it at the moment. Maybe ever, because I’m more and more thinking it’s too late, anyway. Coping, not fixing are more the order of the days ahead. So – I don’t want to just refill the spaces with the same old junk. At least I can see that I’m trying to do that, and able to say, “Um, no, I don’t think so.”

But what do I want to fill that space with? The answers – and I’m sure there are more than one – are coming slowly.  One thing I did this weekend was to cook some Indian food.  After years of flirting with Ayurveda, occasionally fascinated and occasionally repulsed, I finally bought an Ayurvedic cookbook over break and I’ve been reading through it and dog-earing recipes. Since mindful, nutritious cooking is one of the things I’d like to have more of in my life, when I found myself with a Sunday mostly free for whatever I wanted to do, I decided that instead of stripping the shower tile in prep to re-seal it, I would go ahead and take the time to choose a couple recipes and make a complete meal from this cookbook.  I’ve not done much Indian cooking, and it doesn’t come easily to me.  Add to that the seeming fussiness of Ayurvedic cooking: the actual measurements of seasonings and sometimes over-involved cooking methods – and this adds up to a pot of beans and rice that took almost two hours for me to complete.

But it felt good to take that time: to give a task my attention, to learn, to have the cooking be the activity, to tie food actively to my body and soul. And it was tasty, too. 🙂

So I think I need to make myself a list of specific things I can do when I feel like I have time on my hands, to make it easier to move forward toward my list of “things I want in my life” instead of just bringing the old crap back in.  The specificity helps: instead of just saying “Yoga,” I list “Try a new yoga routine from my Christmas DVDs.” Instead of “make some lunches for the freezer” (an old chore), I list “try a new vata-soothing recipe” (which could also result in leftovers for lunch).

I still don’t know where this path is going, but I do feel like there is now a path, and I am starting to move down it.

What I did on my winter vacation

I had a marvelous holiday break. We went to see family the first few days, and after a “stressful but could have been worse” return home (I wasn’t feeling well and we were flying into a big snowstorm), we had twelve blissful days of being home with no real agenda. We took one day trip (musical instrument store and zoo), went to one gathering (New Year’s Eve – came home at 11pm) and that was pretty much it. I slept a lot, did a fair amount of yoga (but nothing crazy), and worked on some sort of project almost every day. Except the days I didn’t feel like it, in which case I read most of the day.

It was heavenly. The projects were things I’d been wanting to do for quite a while. Some were fun (spend my Christmas money on yoga DVDs and a 6′ square mat), and some were tedious (finish hanging smoke detectors). I actually did a fair bit of canning – I’d received a big box of grapefruit from a colleague, and I had a bunch of chicken and beef I wanted to turn into stock and beef tips. (Twenty-four quarts of stock/meat plus half a dozen jars of citrus – the pantry is groaning!)

I actually had goals for this stay-at-home break. Without some idea of what I want by the end of the break, I tend to fritter away time, become a couch potato, and I generally feel like a slug after four or five days. So, each day, I tried to:

  1. Rest – sleep enough, but don’t lay slugabed past 8:30 or 9.
  2. Feel tranquility and appreciation. Serenity is a presence, not just an absence of stress. I now live in a place that oozes tranquility from the earth, the trees, the very air. And I realized that I’d not been noticing that nearly so much now that it’s gotten colder and I’m in moderately high gear at work again. So: take time and notice the peacefulness each day.
  3. Go outside. I didn’t actually do so well on this one – several days, I was only outside to get wood from the garage.
  4. Do some slow, deliberate movement. Yoga or qigong fit that bill.
  5. Do some project work. This ended up not being the same amount each day, and some days I didn’t do much at all.
  6. Vigorous exercise 5 times over the break. This was things like running on the elliptical, taking long hikes, or more vigorous vinyasa yoga at the gym or home.

This worked really well, and it was one of the best vacations I’ve ever had. I went back to work on the 7th and found I not only had energy to do the work (and wow, it was a “hit the ground running” return to work…), I wasn’t fried by the end of the day. And that continued through the whole week. Now it’s Sunday, and I didn’t really feel like I *needed* the down time of the weekend. Which should mean I’m not depleting myself, and going to wind up in exactly the same spot a few weeks down the road.

I feel like I’m actively changing the shape of my life right now. I’ve had a fair few thoughts on this process…more on those later.

Grateful for water

If you’re in the mood for gratitude today, go appreciate a nice drink of clean water.

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