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A NOTE about the Focus Pocus art: I am in the middle of a book project called Octabusy: How To Let Go in a Sea of Doing. I’m excited about it and want to focus my art-making energy on it in the next couple of months. So instead of making more complex art pieces for the Focus Pocus blog, I will make little cartoons like this one that features characters from the book. This week, Octabusy herself plus a couple of hatchet fish and a crab are promoting our focus of Mix It Up.

Body mechanist, Katy Bowman is an avid promoter of natural movement and more movement in general in our lives. She is a prolific writer (I loved her book Whole Body Barefoot and am in the middle of Move Your DNA now and she offers practical and eye-opening information about the impact of our sedentary or often “active-sedentary” culture impacts our bodies.

Her work showed me that even though I am a freaking MOVEMENT TEACHER, I was “active-sendentary” which means that I would move for a bout or two during the day and be mainly sedentary and seated for hours and hours at a time. This realization has utterly changed the way I think about movement and the way I live my life. Here is a great piece about how to get more movement in through the course of even an office-working day. Do read it. It might change your life, too.

When I read this in Move Your DNA, I got out of bed, got my journal and wrote it down:

“A repetitive environment breeds mindlessness. The human is constantly expending a lot of energy up front to learn, only to put the skill in an automatically run file – no energy (or thought) required. You want to kick some serious health-butt? You’ve got to mix it up.” ~ Katy Bowman, Move Your DNA, p 140

YES. THIS is what I’ve been teaching and learning about for years and I love how she articulates it. Mixing it up is essential to the health of our bodies our minds. And not just that, I think it’s a way to make EVERYTHING* healthier.

If I had a really long bumper, this is the sticker I would put on it:
MAKE ANYTHING HEALTHIER: MIX IT UP (within healthy, intentional boundaries)!

Want to make your body healthier? Mix it up: move in different ways, at different speeds, on different surfaces. Go smooth and sharp, big and small, squeezing in and reaching out. And do it with healthy, intentional boundaries: know yourself and your body and make choices from there. I’m not going to start mountain biking or downhill skiing anytime soon. That’s me. You know your boundaries. Respect them.

Want to make your diet healthier? Mix it up: eat a wide variety of whole foods. Eat A Rainbow, yo. Experiment with a new veggie on your salad (ever have jicama? Or bok choy? Or Easter Egg radishes?) and make a new recipe every week (here’s one source of inspiration that I love and there are countless more). I could go on and on (and on and on) about the powerful health benefits of eating whole foods, mostly (dare I say exclusively) plants and avoiding sugar and processed foods. (If you ever WANT me to go on and on about it, just ask.) But whatever you do, give your body a wide range of nourishment. And do it with healthy, intentional boundaries: know yourself and your body and make choices from there. I will never ever eat ribs or bacon or doughnuts. That’s me. You know your boundaries. Respect them.

Want to make your relationships healthier? Mix it up: do different activities together, have new conversations, ask interesting questions. Especially if you’ve been in a relationship for a long time and even if it’s working really well, mix it up and bring life into how you are together. Be willing to step outside your roles and expectations and refresh your connection. And do it with healthy, intentional boundaries: know yourself and your relationship and make choices from there. I won’t have a romantic relationship outside my marriage and there are some questions I will not ask even my closest friends. That’s me. You know your boundaries. Respect them.

Mixing it up, as Katy Bowman points out, goes against our brain’s tendency to want to put anything new into “an automatically run file.” It can also be scary to go outside our habits and maybe even break social norms. At the very least, it can feel awkward. But be brave, friends. Mix it up and make it healthier.

* The one exception that I thought of to the “Mix it Up” motto is sleep. It’s well-documented that consistent bed and waking times lead to healthier sleep. So I don’t recommend intentionally mixing those up. BUT I do recommend sleeping in different positions, with different pillow arrangements and on different surfaces to give the intrinsic muscles of your body different experiences. So it’s an exception, but only partly. Can you think of other exceptions?

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don't just sit there woman slumped at computer
Sunday, I wrote about the article that sent me down a rabbit hole of research about the negative effects of sitting for extended periods. Today, I offer a 4-step strategy for combating the downsides of modern life in a chair that I’ve been playing with for years:

Step 1a & 1b. Move and Move
Step 2. Be aware
Step 3. Move differently
Step 4. Repeat

You may get the idea from that but perhaps it would be helpful to shed more light on my 4-step strategy:

Step 1a. Move

Your body is designed to move. Please. For the love of Pete. Move. Every day. Some way. Move. Get your body mobile in a way that feels good to you. Even 20-30 minutes of movement is better than skipping it altogether. Move Every Day.

Step 1b. Move

When you’re sitting, take breaks. Every 20-25 minutes, get up, stretch, get some water or tea (this helps in two ways: the fluids hydrate you and they’ll make you have to pee which is another way to take a break from sit-sit-sitting). Do everything you can to not sit longer than an hour without a break.

Step 2. Be aware

Knowledge is power and observation can be revelatory. Understand the cycle of tight and weak that surround extended sitting. Observe how you sit and notice what parts of you are overworking (tight) and what parts are underworking (weak). Notice where you feel stiff when you get up from your desk or out of the car. Low back pain may be a result of weak abs and butt with tight hip flexors and hamstrings. Upper back or shoulder pain may stem from overworked chest and neck muscles and underworked rhomboids. Check it out. See what’s happening. Armed with your awareness, go on to step 3.

Step 3. Move differently

Not only is the body designed to move, it’s designed to move in a multitude of ways. Move your body in lots of them. If, in Step 1a, you like to walk or run, play with doing it in different ways: walk on rocky paths as well as paved, run up hills or steps and not just on flat surfaces, swim different strokes, bike off road as well as on. Your body loves variety so experiment with different kinds of yoga, different fitness classes, different sports, and different styles. In Step 2, you may have noticed that your chest needs stretching or your glutes need strengthening to create more balance in your body. Use what you notice about your own body to make informed choices about movements that will strengthen what’s weak and lengthen what’s tight.

Step 4. Repeat

Keep doing it. Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” Replace the word “excellence” with “health” or “ease” or anything else you want to create in your life and you can see that this is not a 3-month plan or something you can check off your list.

Move, Be Aware, Move Differently. Over and over. As long as you possibly can. With a little luck and commitment, that will be longer than if you don’t.

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