“Autumn is a second spring where every leaf is a flower.” -Albert Camus
Did you know that it’s National Stress Awareness Month? Sometimes I feel like every month is National Stress Awareness Month as I am totally aware of the stress I’ve been feeling lately. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the usual stressors like paying taxes, thinking about what steps to take in my career, lack of sleep, and over-analyzing all of my life choices. No big deal!
There are countless books, blogs, talk shows, periodicals, and know-it-alls out there that provide a lifetime of information on the best ways to deal with stress. I’m sure your friendly health care professional has some great tips, too. However, when it comes to unwinding, I’m a huge proponent for doing whatever works for you. There’s no one cure-all way to de-stress!
One of my favorite ways to unwind and alleviate stress is by partaking in water sports. I recently returned to the swimming pool after a long hiatus and it’s been life-changing. I spent 14 years as a competitive swimmer and I’ve missed that kind of intense exercise. You know how I feel about endorphins. I’ve also gotten into aquacycling and it’s quickly become another favorite way to really get those endorphins going. I’m addicted to the unique and intense workout, not to mention being in the water!
Strolling through Central Park is another way I love to unwind. It’s so easy to get to and once I’m in the park, I don’t feel like I’m on a crowded island with 8.4 million other people. Instead, I feel like I’m on a solitary hike through the north woods of Wisconsin.
Of course, who can turn down a good giggle with friends? It’s free and it’s a great way to unwind. Laughter is the best medicine, after all. You get me on a good laughing roll and I can skip my abs workout for the day.
A good dance party is also another one of my favorite ways to unwind. Especially since a dance party can happen anywhere, at any time. Just the other day I had an impromptu dance party while scrubbing my kitchen floors. Never felt better! All you need is music and the moves.
Then again, what better way to unwind than by taking a vacation? I’ve never felt more relaxed than I did this last summer up north in Wisconsin. I love the vacation life. For my next trip, I’m thinking Europe. Or Vegas. Vegas, baby! I’d love to spend a weekend in my swimsuit laying poolside with a frozen drink at the Venetian working on my tan, then hitting the slots at night and maybe a party at the top of the Palms. You only live once, right? I’ve never been to Vegas and it’s a place everyone should experience at least once. Am I right?!
Tell me, what are your favorite ways to unwind?
I’ve never been one for workout fads. You won’t find me sweating in my living room to a Jane Fonda tape, rollerblading through Central Park accompanied by Sparky, doing whatever it is you do with a Thighmaster, or defending my opinion on Soul Cycle vs. Flywheel. I attribute my lackadaisical attitude toward exercise trends to the fact that I spent 14 years of my life as a swimmer, putting in roughly 7000 yards a day in the pool. I was too busy staring at the bottom of the pool perfecting my butterfly to try to consider any other type of workout. While I focused on setting personal records, I ate whatever I wanted (think Michael Phelps diet), found myself in the best shape and not worrying about burning calories or how toned my shoulders were. To me, that defined “working out.”
Aside from swimming laps, I’ve yet to find another workout regime that rivals my swimming training. Until last Wednesday when I had the pleasure of attending my first aquacycling class at Aqua Studio NY in Tribeca. Yes, that’s cycling in a pool! Called “aquabiking” in Europe, the trend started in Italy as a way to treat knee injuries for athletes. The water helps build endurance and recovery and also provides great cross training opportunities for athletes. Aqua Studio NY founder and Paris-native Esther Gauthier took an aquabiking class while her hometown 3 years ago and fell in love with it. It was then she decided to bring this trend to the United States and open her own studio.
I’ve never been a big fan of plain old spinning classes because I get bored easily and I’ve never found the spinning environment to be that welcoming. We all know working out in New York is serious and competitive, but Aqua Studio NY was a nice break from that. The aquacycling class was taught by one of my former swim team mates, Anne, and it was probably the most physically rewarding class I’ve taken to date. From the moment I set foot in the Tribeca studio, I was hooked. The studio itself has a very intimate feel. With its dim lighting, exposed wood floors, and candles offering most of the light in the locker room, I felt like I had walked into a friend’s apartment. According to Esther, that’s exactly the point. The space was designed to give you the feeling that you’re walking into a friend’s house to cycle with some friends. Contributing to this feeling of intimacy is the fact that there are only about 15 stationary bikes in the pool. That meant more personal attention from our teacher and we weren’t biking on top of one another.
As soon as Anne put on the first song and we started our first few cycles, I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy workout. Since the water is your only form of resistance, there’s no way to give yourself a break by adjusting your bike to a lower setting. Anne certainly pushed us to our limits and she reminded us to focus on what we can take from the water and also what the water can give to you.
Another one of my favorite aspects of the class was the ability to get a great arm workout while also focusing on legs. Because the water can hold your body weight, we were able to do some cool moves where we leaned off the back of the bike and treaded water while cycling with our feet. I’ve definitely felt that sort of resistance in an arms workout since my swimming days!
This workout was a treat for the whole body. As Esther mentioned when I sat down with her after class, “you don’t have to suffer to get a good work out.” She couldn’t be more spot on. I felt rejuvenated after class, but I also could tell that I’d worked hard. My muscles tingled and I immediately chugged a bottle of water.
As someone who loves the water, I like that aquacycling gives access to the water to a wider audience. For those of you who don’t know how to swim, have no fear! The pool is only 4 feet deep and your head is above the water the entire time. I highly recommend aquacycling to anyone who’s looking for a new challenge or wants to switch up their workout routine.
If you decide to go take a class at Aqua Studio NY, definitely take one of Anne’s! Let me know what you think!
Last week in the New York Times–or maybe it was the week before, I don’t know, I’m too busy to remember–there was a great op-ed about “the busy trap.” This piece highlighted what I’m sure all of you experience either personally or vicariously through chatty co-workers which is “self-imposed busyness.” These are the people who are always soo busy and can’t seem to find the time to do anything except work or take special classes or work some more. They’re the type of people you have to book months in advance just to have a cup of coffee with. They are addicted to being busy because they’re afraid of what might happen if they were not busy.
I am completely guilty of falling into “the busy trap.” When I’m not at work or working on something, I feel guilty. On days off of work, I constantly feel like I should be doing something to better myself–reading, writing, exercising, exploring the city, attending “events” (which are more of an abstract concept), spending time with dear friends, writing letters to penpals, reading periodicals cover to cover, networking, learning new things, cooking a recipe from Julia Child’s The Art of French Cooking. I never quite feel that it’s okay for me to kick up my heels and enjoy a good movie or spend the entire day at the beach. There’s so much else I should be doing!
Recently, I caught myself giving my friend the “I’m so busy” excuse for not being able to hang out more often. We’ve lived apart for so long and now that we’re both finally in Manhattan, it should be so easy for us to get together for coffee or a glass of champagne, or a walk through Central Park, a centrally located park between our respective Upper West Side and Upper East Side residences. She even pointed out that she walks by my apartment almost every day to get to her gym. However, I haven’t seen her in months. Why? Because I’m working and when I’m not working I’m resting and when I’m not resting I’m blogging and when I’m not blogging I’m eating and then I’m working late and I’m catching a drink with co-workers and blah blah blah and suddenly five months have gone by and—this is just ridiculous.
However, there are days when I don’t let “the busy trap” get the best of me and I indulge in my guilty pleasure of doing nothing and when I do, it feels so good. Laying in bed until noon, eating a late brunch, watching movies, laughing. Why can’t this be the norm? There has got to be a way to find a happy medium between “the busy trap” and “the do-nothing trap.”
The good news is that there is a happy medium between the two extremes and that is finding work-life balance. The bad news is that I haven’t found that happy medium just yet, but I am working on it. Maybe if I wasn’t so busy I could just find this balance.
Where do your best ideas come from? I always get my ideas for my next blog post or piece of fiction while in the middle of doing something else. As of late, the shower, the treadmill, and my bed have been my greatest sources for finding inspiration for writing. It’s in these places that the part of my brain that generates ideas can finally relax and spew out ideas as it pleases. If I sit down at a blank computer screen and say, “Write! Write! Write!” there’s too much pressure to produce. But, if I’m standing in the shower focusing on getting the perfect shampoo lather for my hair, the pressure’s off and ideas are born!
Do you have a specific writing ritual that is conducive to coming up with great ideas? I’ve always been interested by the unique writing rituals of famous authors. My writing rituals aren’t too quirky (yet)–I like to write while sitting cross-legged on my bed, on the floor of my living room, or while sipping a glass of Sauvignon blanc. Here’s a look at some of my favorite writing rituals of famous authors:
- Truman Capote wrote lying down while “puffing and sipping.”
- Ernest Hemingway wrote standing up. He always wrote in the morning to avoid the heat and limited himself to 500 words a day.
- William Faulkner drank a lot of whiskey while writing.
- Vladimir Nabokov wrote most of his novels on 3×5 index cards and was very particular about the writing utensils he used: note cards and well-sharpened pencils capped with erasers.
- Eudora Welty physically pinned her stories together across the room.
- Maya Angelou checks into a hotel and does her writing there.
- Junot Diaz sometimes writes in the bathroom.
- Richard Powers lies in bed and speaks his stories to his laptop which has voice recognition software.
- Hilary Mantel hops into the shower whenever she needs inspiration.
- Colum McCann writes in 8 point Times New Roman. He also would print out sections of his book in large font and read it in Central Park, pretending that he was reading someone else’s story.
- John Irving always starts his writing with the last sentence.
- Orhan Pamuk will rewrite the first line of his story 50-100 times.
Perhaps it’s time to adopt a quirkier writing ritual. I used to be very particular about the kinds of pens that I used when writing, but that habit has dissolved now that most of my writing is done on the computer. Maybe I should create some sort elaborate writing den in my apartment. Or incorporate sitting in Central Park or maybe a long stroll down Park Avenue into my daily writing routine.