Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘exercise’

10 Ways to Make the Most of 10 Minutes

10 Ways to Make the Most of 10 MinutesIt’s a rare but beautiful thing: An unexpected gap opens in your otherwise overbooked day. You realize — with disbelief — that you’re actually “free” for a short window. No one’s hair is on fire and there isn’t anything urgent to take care of right now. Maybe the baby who never sleeps finally closes her eyes or your spouse takes the kids out on an errand or you’re between conference calls. Whatever it is, you realize that the next little bit of time is not yet spoken for. The window is too short to dig into a project, but you do have time for something. What do you do?

For many of us, one thing rises reflexively to the top of the list of possibilities: Facebook. (Or whatever social media you happen to prefer.) We fritter away our 10, 20, or 30 minutes scrolling through the minutia and photographic exploits of people we may or may not a) know, b) like, or c) find interesting. Or maybe we hit our regular news sites or entertainment blogs. So long as we’re online, we’re engaged.

Then our window closes — the baby wakes up, the client calls, it’s time to head out — and those minutes are gone. Are we the better for how we spent them?

Don’t get me wrong: Downtime is important. Ten minutes of doing nothing has its value;  social media and other internet temptations can, at times, serve as recreation. But more often than not, the interwebs become a crutch that we depend on because we’re in a short period of transition. We don’t know what else to do — or we do know what to do, but we’re procrastinating because we’re over- or under-whelmed by whatever we’re supposed to be working on. And just when we might benefit most from a screen-free breather, we’re particularly addicted to the glow.

Whether you’re using up minutes that aren’t otherwise spoken for or you’re avoiding a task you’d rather not do, use those 10 minutes to your advantage. Here are 10 “unplugged” ways to do just that.

  1. Meditate. Whether or not you already meditate regularly, a 10-minute break is a great opportunity to sit. Research demonstrates the substantial health benefits of meditation: it reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, increases focus, and reduces sensitivity to pain. Not sure how to meditate? Here’s an accessible introduction from Zen Habits.
  2. Write a poem. Short-form poetry is a lot of fun, and it only takes a few minutes to pen a haiku, tanka, or cinquain. Even if you’re unfamiliar with writing poetry, it’s deeply satisfying to solve the poetic puzzle of fitting your ideas into a time-honored structure.
  3. “Treat” read. You know that stack of magazines and journals that you never get to? Perhaps the New York Times Book Review that you set aside for “later,” or that tempting collection of One Story issues? Maybe an alumni magazine you want to peruse? That’s what I call “treat” reading — something that meets these three criteria: it’s short, unplugged, and somewhat indulgent.
  4. Exercise. Do 10 minutes of yoga, jump rope, or — if you have them — run up and down a flight of stairs (assuming you’re healthy enough to do so). A 10-minute burst of exercise boosts your concentration, mood, and physical well-being.
  5. Journal. Grab your journal — even if you’re a regular practitioner of Morning Pages — and gift yourself with a brief clearing session. Write out what you’re doing, what you’re not doing, what’s working, what’s not working. Keep your hand moving. Speaking from experience, 10 minutes of intense journaling can be an amazing stress reliever.
  6. Share the love. Dig out one of those blank cards or bits of stationary that are lurking in a drawer somewhere and write a brief note to someone you care about. It might be a thank-you note, a thinking-of-you note, or just a few lines that amount to “I’m so glad to know you.” Address your envelope, put a stamp on it, and mail the card next time you’re out. This act of gratitude has benefits for you as well as your recipient.
  7. Plot creatively. Grab a few index cards. Using one card per idea, outline a handful of important scenes that need to happen in your novel; the concept, colors, or basis for the painting that’s been kicking around in your head; a few possibilities for future blog posts. If you prefer visuals to words, use the blank side of your index cards to sketch or doodle.
  8. Prepare. Use a short interval to do some groundwork for a project: Gesso a canvas, sharpen your colored pencils, clean off your worktable or desk. If you don’t have any tasks in this category, spend your window filing bills or dealing with that “not sure what to do with this” stack of papers. It’s not sexy, but it sure feels good when it’s finished.
  9. Clip. Gather up a few old magazines (I keep a collection in my art room for this purpose) and flip through those glossy pages in search of collage materials. You don’t need to look for anything specific, just pull or clip the words and images that appeal to you. Save these clippings in a box for later collage work — and file anything else that sparks a story or project idea.
  10. Step outside. Use your brief break to get some fresh air. Go stand outside and marvel at whatever you see, feel, and hear. Raining? Enjoy the sound of rain hitting your umbrella. Snowing? Stand outside and be with it. Can’t go out because the kids are sleeping/watching TV/leaving you alone for a few seconds? Go stand by a window and breathe deeply. We all need to connect with nature, even if it’s just a few long-distance minutes with one straggly tree on the other side of a busy street.

What are your favorite ways to make the most of 10 minutes?


If you’re an artist or writer with little ones, The Creative Mother’s Guide: Six Creative Practices for the Early Years is the essential survival guide written just for you. Concrete strategies for becoming more creative without adding stress and guilt. Filled with the wisdom of 13 insightful creative mothers; written by a certified creativity coach and mother of five. “Highly recommended.” ~Eric Maisel. 35 pages/$11.98. Download here.

Brittany: How the Fates Conspire

Here is my situation:

I am a morning person. My energy begins to wane around lunch time, and by dinner time it has completely disappeared. In a perfect world, I would get up at the crack of dawn, write on my laptop until I could no longer ignore my hunger pangs, eat breakfast, and then head to the gym for an hour. But even as I write these words, I know it is a complete and utter impossibility.

I wish I was the sort of person who could sit down in front of a blinking cursor and write, but I need a warm up period first to get my brain in gear. My brain refuses to engage when I have toddlers climbing all over me, demanding waffles and oatmeal and YouTube train videos. And as inspiring as I find The Wiggles, they don’t exactly transport me to 1916 Appalachia when they’re blaring from the TV in the background. So even though I’d like to work on my novel first thing in the morning, motherhood has forced me to readjust my writing schedule. If I get any writing  in at all, most mornings I work on my blog because it  just doesn’t require the same degree of concentration as a book.

This summer, I’ve made a point of going to the gym three mornings a week, to the bright and early 8:15 am deep water aerobics class. The YMCA offers childcare during this time, and I love getting my workout in first thing and having the rest of the day to devote to other things. In a perfect world, I would like to continue taking this class three mornings a week ad infinitum. But again, the fates of motherhood are conspiring against me.

Sam’s preschool starts at 9:00 every morning. Obviously I can’t be in two places at once. But I thought I could easily take a class later on in the morning. Except, the morning exercise classes are scheduled for 9:15 and 10:10. There’s no way I can drop Sam off at his preschool at 9:00 and get to the gym in 15 minutes, even if he leapt from the moving mini-van in the preschool parking lot. I could easily make the 10:10 classes, but my morning would be shot. I’d drop Sam off, have not much more than a half an hour to write/clean/run errands, and then have another 15 minutes to kill after my class before I could pick him up. It’s hardly an ideal situation.

What would be ideal is if there were afternoon classes I could attend at the gym, except there aren’t. And it wouldn’t matter anyway, even if there were, because childcare isn’t available from noon until 5:00 pm. The earliest group classes start up again between 5:30 and 6:00 pm, so in addition to not being morning-person-friendly, it would completely ruin my dinner-cooking-and-eating schedule.

I was complaining about all of this to my husband, Tom, and he told me I was being inflexible. I could write after the boys were asleep (9:00 or 10:00 pm) and I certainly didn’t have to take a group class at the gym. I could hit the cardio machines, or better yet, the weight room.

It was at this point that my brain exploded a little bit.

I can barely construct a coherent sentence at 10:00 at night, much less write novel-worthy prose. And there is no way I’m going to use up 30 minutes of  my precious allotment of me-time to drive to a gym to use cardio equipment when I have an elliptical machine in the basement. I like group exercise classes. That is why I joined a gym. If I wanted to exercise alone, I could do it without the monthly membership fee. And spending my morning lifting weights? I do lift weights. A 30-pound 2-year-old and a 45-pound 4-year-old. All day long. Over and over and over again. I’m not going to volunteer to do it some more.

This is the kind of situation I face as a mother all the time. What I want to do should be simple enough, except that it isn’t once I factor in my children’s needs. My needs (quiet writing time and a group exercise class) get put on the back burner, and instead of sympathy, I’m expected to change my wants and needs on the fly so that my wants and needs become compatible with my children’s.

You can do this for a while, but after a while you realize you’ve hit an impasse. Your wants and needs are your wants and needs for a reason, and you get to a point where you can’t be flexible about them anymore. I should be able to write and go to the gym when it best suits my biorhythms, and hopefully if I just wait it out one more year I will. When John is 3 he’ll be eligible for preschool, and I’m strongly considering enrolling him at the preschool at the Y.  That way I could drop him off at his class, get a workout in, and then head home to a quiet house to write.

But in the meantime, it’s looking like I’ll be doing a lot of exercising at home.

Cathy: Mishap Tai Chi

My apologies if you read Korean, this is my first attempt

My apologies if you read Korean, this is my first attempt

Those of you who have been getting to know me here may have begun to notice a certain tendency toward being a wee-bit cock-eyed or shall we say, taking a lot of left turns off path. I think I read that old Robert Frost poem at a very young age and have taken the path less travelled in virtually everything I do ever since. Like trying to finish my book for instance, and all the various things I can so easily find to distract myself from doing so.

So there I was sitting at the back of S’s Taekwando class when Master Ko offered a sign-up sheet to the students for their parents for a free tai chi class at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning. Master Ko and I have a lot of difficulty in communication. He apologizes for his ‘bad English’ and I apologize for too many rock shows in my youth leaving me relatively deaf at a relatively young age. Rarely do I come away from a conversation having completely understood what has transpired. I’m still not exactly certain the cost of S’s class from month to month, but he just smiles and takes my check, no matter what I make it out for.

Saturday, I arrived at 7:45 a.m. No one there, door locked, and my coffee hit. I really needed to pee. So I darted back home (around the corner, so to speak) and wondered if I should have shown up next week. Darn, when I was signing up with wiggly C on my lap, I didn’t look at the top of the page, either. When 8 a.m. rolled around, I hopped back in the minivan, and darted back around the corner. Four vehicles were in the lot, but still the doors were locked, and aren’t martial artists known for their punctuality? Could it be I am merely one among dingbats, or did Master Ko have an emergency this particular morning?

Well, I made a few cell phone calls, deleted some voicemails. I watched a couple of people start half-hearted and conversant stretching exercises outside the door. 8:30 a.m. rolled around and well, I needed to pee again. OK, I know — tmi — but these things are important considerations in about a year’s time after having a baby, when you’ve already had other kids, too. I got out of the van, practically dancing, to talk with the one guy who had a black belt, and he suggested we could go around the side of the building where he could get us started on some tai chi in the grass while we wait for Master Ko. So I corralled other reluctant participants from their vehicles, and we did just that. I was nervous the whole time that I would pee my pants with the exercises, but I survived by looking at my watch every thirty seconds or so. At 9 a.m. I asked, ‘do you think he’s here yet?’ It had been indicated earlier that he usually arrives by 9 for another tai chi class on Saturdays. Black Belt Guy peeked around the corner, and yes, Master Ko was unlocking the doors.

After my run to the ladies room, and I do mean run, The Four Dingbats and Master Ko straightened out the confusion re: the free class for parents of students business that was to start the following week to last through next month. Of course, I will be out of town for the ‘first’ class. Master Ko kindly merged the Dingbats into his usual 9 a.m. tai chi class, of which only one participant had shown up. He was very informative and really tweaked us into the proper positions. When all was said and done, I ended up with a 90-min intense beginner tai chi work out. It really cleared my head, felt great, and set me up for a day to prepare for that night’s slumber party of half a dozen 13-14 year old young men. I survived the party, too, even with the all-out Nerf gun war occurring at 1am.

Bottom line? I highly recommend tai chi for all of us who have been having difficulty getting that last 10-20 pounds off, or those of us with achy joints, or bad backs, or saggy mommy bellies. It’s a great all-around workout combining stretching, cardio, and strengthening exercise all at once, and works the core most of all. Throw out the dreaded treadmill, it’s collecting dust anyway. The weights and the exercise ball are taking up room in a corner or your gym membership is ignored. The yoga tapes are also collecting dust. And best of all, once you get the hang of it, tai chi is easy enough to do for the rest of your life. I know. I have had elderly Chinese neighbors in most of my condo complexes and even in this single family home neighborhood throughout my adult life. Even on chill winter mornings, they are outside, even up in their nineties, making slow graceful circles with their arms, cutting through their clouds of breath.

I find, if I keep myself moving, it keeps the cobwebs out of my mind, so the muse doesn’t get hung up in them. I can make the connections between where I left off and what needs to occur next in my manuscript. So, for all us sedentary writer types, I really do recommend some kind of movement, and having tried it all, tai chi seems the best option so far.

Cathy: Exalted Warrior – or is it ‘exhausted’?

11-13-2008yogablog-006After Miranda’s blog on “Someday,” I began to rethink things. A big thing I began to rethink is how I’ve gone from my daily walks down to nothing in the concept of exercise or taking care of myself. That was number two on my comment list. I’ve noticed a considerable increase in crankiness because of it, too; as well as less efficiency in writing my manuscript. I won’t go into the aches and pains.

Before my past year-plus spent in bed, I had a regular routine of a 20-minute yoga tape I did for years at least three times per week. Before I was in bed, I walked the dog quickly, and mowed the lawn myself with an ecologically sound, human-powered rotary blade mower. I cut down dead bushes, dug out root balls and hand-tilled my gardens by myself. Mind you, none of this was ever easy for me, as I have back issues going as far back as age 12 and bad knees, shoulder, etc, too. Physical strength was never my strong suit.

After my year in bed, I had taken a while to get back on my feet. This summer I started with walking the dog, pushing Baby C in the stroller, because I literally couldn’t stand on my own. I was determined, though, and daily, no matter how much it hurt, how tired I was, how hot it got here — around 100 degrees most days — at 11:00 in the morning, there I was, dog on a leash, baby, bottle of water, canvas bag hanging from stroller filled with books — reading, writing, Wreck this Journal, and camera inside. Neighbors spotted me and waved on the street loop of my subdivision. I swear it was these walks (along with this website) and my recouping meditative sits on the bench by the fingerlake that got me back to a state where I could consider breaking out my old, not forgotten project.

A couple of weeks back, somehow, by rain, cold or sheer sleep deprivation, I fell out of the habit. Co-incidentally, my writing progress fell off, too. Then I read Miranda’s blog post. Several days were spent considering I may be in enough recovery from my super-relaxin hormone problem to start doing yoga again without coming apart at every joint.

Today, I got Baby C to nap, and cleaned out the video cabinet in the search for my old reliable yoga tape. Among other surprises, I discovered a broken shelf held up by the strategic placement of a Raiders of the Lost Ark videotape — need to have a discussion with certain young male family members. But finally, I did the yoga tape. I’m finding long-forgotten muscles creeping up on me a couple of hours later, but I feel much more relaxed, less impatient than yesterday. Maybe tonight I can get through homework with S without the recent dramas — mine, not his. Those are to be expected. And maybe the gears of fiction will grind back on, squeaky and creaky, matching body during yoga, but on nonetheless.

Jenn: The Finish Line is in Westfield

Miranda wrote to me the other day and asked where I’ve been. I haven’t posted to this blog in several weeks, though I’ve logged on and lurked. I wrote back to her and said that I only write when I have some news and progress, and that though my students were getting their parts done, I hadn’t actually turned in a chapter since the 11 chapter flurry over spring break. Why would I write a post saying “I failed?” I mean, isn’t it obvious by my absence that I didn’t meet my goals?

The truth is, two things have gone on. One: I’ve temporarily exhausted my desire and probably my ability to write. I wrote like crazy, non-stop for months, and now I need a break. *Could* I keep going? Sure. Would it be forced and lackluster? Yes. And the other thing: It’s Spring.

Spring means road races, people! I used to be a good runner about three years ago. I have a line of trophies and medals in my office to attest to this fact. I once ran 8 marathons and an ultramarathon in 9 consecutive weeks. I ran until I was 9 months pregnant. I ran a 10K when my daughter was a few weeks old, my dad driving nearby with her in the car in case she got fussy. Running, like writing, is what I do. But for the past year or so, I’ve slogged along 5 miles to school and 5 miles home most days. Liking the trip, feeling like I’m somehow cheating the system by running AND commuting to work at the same time. But I haven’t raced in a while. I’m not on the EDGE, I’m traversing a distance in a routine.

So this weekend, I signed up for a 5K in Northampton MA, mostly so my daughter could run the kids fun run beforehand. I didn’t feel like racing when the gun went off, I hadn’t warmed up, and I started off fairly slowly. But then by the time the race was nearly over, I was in oxygen deficit, running all out, and loving/hating the feeling. I ended up winning my age group. Then I went out to lunch, went to a dog show, went to an alpaca show, had dinner with my friends Paul and Jeff, drank WAY too many Guiness’s, stayed out WAY too late, getting not one minute of sleep, then toeing the line at a 1/2 marathon in Westfield the next morning. The sky was gray, I was hungover, exhausted, happy, hungry, and bewildered – wondering what the heck I was doing there.

I don’t usually run to music, but I felt I needed my IPod to get through this race; I hadn’t run 13.1 miles in over a year. The race started off well, I got caught up in a pack of guys who were running the 5K and so I went out WAY too fast. The first 1/2 hour or so were up a mountain, and I listened to Eminem, Shannon, Rick James, Beck, Queen, etc. and cranked out some fast miles. Then it started to hurt. As I went up yet another incline, I thought, “Thank GOD I have my Ipod.” Then the Ipod died, leaving me with the sound of my mysery and lack of training for the next 8 excruciating miles. Oh, and this blog.

On the run, I realized that I was wrong to stay away because I haven’t written and turned in more chapters. Isn’t that a rather narrow mindset? Hasn’t a recurring theme recently been about balance? Why do I feel like a failure because (a) it’s finals time and I’m crazed at work, (b) I’ve taken my daughter to some really fun, cool things that she’s enjoyed immensely, (c) I’ve been reconnecting with old friends and having a blast with them, (d) I’ve taken my classes on four weekend field trips these past two months, (e) I’ve given four talks at meetings and conferences in the past two months, and (f) I’m back full force on the running circuit, and I now have a training plan, some goals for running, and tons or renewed love for the sport? Isn’t that called “balance?” Who wants to hear from a blogger only as she checks off the boxes towards the completion of her book?

That race in Westfield kicked my butt. I finished 5 minutes ahead of my goal time, so I’m happy, but I was also berating myself for getting so fat and out of shape. I watched my thighs flop up and down in places that they’ve never flopped before and said, “this is the price for too much writing.” Just as repetitive strain injuries are the price for too much running. SO the goal is, yes, to finish the book and well before the deadline, but also to write, to run, and to live life. I missed a due date from The Monday Page, but I won a trophy while the deadline slipped past.

But Brittany, with respect to your question, I know enough about my writing to know that nothing is EVER finished. I just get tired and say, “good enough.” There could ALWAYS be one more example, one fewer example, a more clear description of this, a shorter definition of that. At some point, I just let it go. I look at things I’ve published and said, “Oh MAN, that’s SO rough! WHY didn’t I spend some more time on it.” But back to the balance theme, I was just *done* mentally with the work. Because it was time to move on to something else.

Miranda: A little cardio, anyone?

exerciseFor those who live in northern climates, this can be the worst time of year for exercising. If you like to run or walk outdoors, snow and ice make those activities difficult–and the jogging stroller may well be gathering dust in the garage. Even getting to the gym is less appealing when it’s 24 degrees outside.

I wonder, considering the season and the usual demands of motherhood and life, are you are able to exercise regularly? Do you feel that there’s a connection between the amount that you exercise and your level of creativity? Is exercise a time for you to work out plot lines–or simply time to turn off your brain?

For many creative women, working out is a vital part of the daily routine. I agree that exercise is an important part of the mind/body connection–and there’s no question that I just feel better when I’m running regularly. Before this pregnancy, I was up to about 6 miles three or four times a week. I was building up my program and getting excited about longer distances. I was also taking a dance class. But that all came to a grinding halt when I got pregnant. Unlike many studly women, including Jenn, I feel the need to curl into a ball during the first trimester. Now that I’m heading into the home stretch, I’ve lost most of my muscle tone and I have back pain for which I see a chiropractor weekly.

I know that if I could just get myself to do the two prenatal yoga and Pilates DVDs I bought several months ago (and have yet to open) my back would benefit, as would the rest of me–notably my creative capacity and general mood. I’m also dreaming of getting into shape relatively quickly after the baby arrives, which I have a better shot at if I start now. Not to mention all the healthy example-setting for the kids. But I still use the “only so many hours in the day” excuse. (Especially when it comes to yoga, which I find difficult to do with audience, i.e., kids staring at me when I’m trying to breathe deeply and meditate, and so tell myself I need solitude). But like most things, including finishing my book, there is no escaping the truth of “where there’s a will there’s a way.”

What happens at your house?

%d bloggers like this: