Fun Fitness: 4 Ways to Workout in Water

Always be like a water. Float in the times of pain or dance like waves along the wind which touches its surface.

― Santosh Kalwar

 

We all know that exercising regularly is good for us — but how many people actually get excited about making their daily trek to the gym, or jogging outside? Perhaps more than we might first think: I know a lot of fitness enthusiasts who crave their workout regime like they crave food, or water. I’m actually one of them! There are few things as freeing as going for a long run outside, surrounded by nature and fresh air.

But one thing I’ve (finally!) learned is that my body simply can’t take the impact of running outside. A recent serious ankle sprain was a warning call that I’m actually choosing to listen to: no more jogging on pavement for this woman. I’ve had so many running-related injuries in the past, and yet every time — like most runners I know — I simply pushed through the pain, giving myself just enough time to heal, and hitting the road again as soon as possible.

Yes! Feeling the love on the open road. Runner’s high is what gets so many joggers pumped about pounding the pavement day in, day out, in search of that fantastic feeling.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

To people who don’t run, jogging can seem like an insane hobby — why would anyone purposely participate in something that causes joint problems, unpleasant foot issues like athlete’s foot, and is incredibly laborious? For example, my dear sister has never been able to understand what has propelled me over the years to go on long jogs. Whereas to me, jogging outdoors felt like one of my saving graces during challenging periods.

Other runners might be able to empathize with how life-changing my choice is. Deciding not to run outside is a massive shift for my personal lifestyle. Similarly, anyone who has had success in kicking a habit knows that we need to find a replacement activity that is equally satisfying. My solution? I just joined a gym — for the first time in five years! I’m already relishing my time on the elliptical, listening to music, and releasing all my excess energy.

Goodbye outdoor running! I feel great about transitioning into fitness routines that work better for my body. When it comes to self-care, listening to my injuries is making me a wiser woman.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

Yet, I know that for many people, the gym feels like the last place they want to be on a regular basis. So, I’m here to propose a fantastic alternative to injurious outdoor jogging and admittedly unadventurous indoor gym time: getting fit with water.

Exercising in water is one of the best forms of fitness for people of all ages, body types, and physical challenges: water is therapeutic, incredibly gentle on our joints, and gives us an instant vacation from our usual status as heavy-footed land-dwellers. As such, I’ve pieced together a list of four forms of water fitness into which we can dive to feel better in our everyday lives on land.

1. Aqua fit

Think aqua fit is only for old ladies? Thank again! Essentially aerobics in water, aqua fit works our bodies from head to toe, without feeling like we’re even breaking a sweat. The water keeps us cool, in addition to providing its own resistance: instead of using weights, water naturally makes us work harder without even realizing it. Add some energizing music, an enthusiastic instructor, and a fun group of people, and aqua fit easily becomes a freeing hour of fitness that we can look forward to. This is a great activity for all ages, which is why so many older people do it — it has a gentle impact, yet is a full-body workout.

Back in my days as a lifeguard, I used to teach aqua fit to a wide range of people. I still have fond memories of looking down at my class in the water, with their bright faces smiling up at me. They seemed to become like kids again, just playing in the water.

This pool is silent, but get a group of people together for aqua fit, and it will turn into a loud hub of energy! Splashing, playing, and releasing stress is what this form of water aerobics is all about.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

2. Swimming laps

I look at swimming laps as the water equivalent to running on pavement. It gives me a similar sense of empowerment, as it builds shoulder muscle, strong legs, and measured breathing techniques. The benefits are numerous:

“As a form of regular aerobic exercise, swimming has lots of benefits. It uses large muscle groups, can be maintained continuously for long periods of time, and is easy on lower-body joints because it doesn’t involve bearing body weight.”

I love swimming laps: what others might find monotonous, I find liberating. A cursory understanding of a few basic strokes is necessary, in addition to increasing our enjoyment. Consider taking a few lessons to bring yourself up to speed and experience the joy of executing a stylish front crawl, or smooth breast-stroke.

3. Surfing and body surfing

If we have the privilege of living near a beach — or some vacation time coming up — surfing lets us enjoy nature while also strengthening both our minds and bodies. It’s not even necessary to rent or own a board! Body surfing has been popular for ages due to its high fun-factor and ease: no equipment required, the only pre-requisite is a positive attitude, a reasonably healthy body, and some good waves close to shore. As a whole, surfing combines spirituality, physical strength, balance, and technique. Becoming one with the sun, sand, and surf can transform exercise into a mindful way of life.

Re-connecting with our natural environment is possible with water-based activities such as surfing and kayaking. Rays of light on leaves, or sun sparkles on water suddenly become more apparent to our eyes as we settle into our natural state of being with nature.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

4. Kayaking and canoeing

Heading out in the early morning to create the first ripples of the day on a still lake is a peaceful way to connect with nature while nurturing our bodies and spirits. Kayaking can give our arms and torsos a fantastic workout, while setting aside some time for a weekend trip out to a lake is a great way to ensure time away from technology, and everyday hustle and bustle. Inexpensive to rent, using a canoe or kayak to get out on the water while exercising our bodies is invigorating.

Relaxing on boat with nothing but paddles and open air is my idea of a relaxing time. To add a fitness component, have some paddle races with friends, or explore a larger area of the lake.

Photo courtesy of S. Ahkdi.

Re-connecting with our water world

There’s also specialized areas like synchronized swimming, or life guarding. I’m really passionate about water activities because I think it’s one of our best chances to connect with our environment. Like scuba diving, participating in water sports allows us to access a part of our world that can easily be forgotten.

This is usually the time of year when people make resolutions about fitness that end up petering out. There’s really no need to dread exercise: it’s important to re-frame our perspective in order to see it as a positive, fun way to energize ourselves, as opposed to a tedious chore. Giving ourselves the gift of spending time with water is something that will pay us back in dividends. There is no substitute for re-connecting with our underwater universe — often, it will give us insight to take back with us into our lives on land.

 

In one drop of water are found all the secrets of all the oceans; in one aspect of You are found all the aspects of existence.

― Kahlil Gibran

Embracing Life and the Art of Subtraction

How lightly can you do what you do? Whatever you do, is there something that can be subtracted so that it is more authentically what it is?

– Ven. Jinmyo Renge Osho

 

What do artists, writers, avant-garde musiciansstart-up entrepreneurs, life-hackers, innovative designers, and zen masters all have in common? They practice the art of subtraction, day in and day out, in search of simplicity.

The two most powerful words in the world? Yes and no. While some people espouse the virtues of saying yes, others preach about the importance of saying no. Finding a happy medium between the two is the best strategy for living our best lives. However, practicing the art of subtraction can be a challenge given our Western society’s “glorification of busy.”

Sometimes it can feel like society is cheering us on to be as busy as possible, complete with Flight of the Bumblebee providing our life’s soundtrack. But what if we stopped to smell the proverbial roses in our daily routines instead?

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

When it comes to saying no, Poorna Bell of Huffington Post recently declared that 2014 will be the year of missing out:

“There’s a new trend forecast for 2014 (and one that will make our lives a lot easier) – this is the year of JOMO, also known as the Joy Of Missing Out. As a backlash against FOMO – aka Fear Of Missing Out – the term is a rebellion against saying yes to everything, and is about giving yourself the space to think and experience things without freaking out about what you ‘should’ be doing instead. Trend forecaster JWT – one of the world’s biggest marketing communications brands – has listed ‘Mindful Living’, reports News.com.au, in its top 10 predictions for 2014.”

I admit that I laughed about mindful living being branded as a trend: mindfulness is not something that goes ‘in’ and ‘out’ like midriff-bearing tops or tilted fedoras; it is not something we haphazardly decide to don one day just because a popular magazine has decided it’s now the cool thing to do, or because, hey man, living in the present moment is so, like, hip.

On the flip side, I’m able to see the broader benefits of this trend if it genuinely inspires more people to get excited about rocking a mindful lifestyle. If it proves to have a long-lasting positive ripple effect, then I’ll stand behind it — tilted fedora and all. (No belly-shirts for me, thanks.)

Have you ever felt like you’re living two different lives — one for yourself, another for other people? Or maybe we feel split because we’re over-extending ourselves. Practicing mindfulness is a great way to re-connect with our authentic selves and eliminate areas that aren’t helping us move forward.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

The simplicity of Zen practice is the practice of things as they actually are. It is not an attitude or a stance or an affectation. It is not something extra. It is actually feeling the cup in your hand when you lift it.

– Ven. Jinmyo Renge Osho

 

Part of living mindfully means being attuned to when it feels right to miss out on stuff, or dive headfirst into the deep end. We begin each day with a limited supply of energy. Depending on what’s going on in our lives, that supply might be overflowing — or already verging on empty. It’s up to us to notice of how we’re feeling — physically, emotionally, and mentally — and find ways to nurture these needs. Saying no to anything that doesn’t add authentic enjoyment of life is one way to achieve this.

What marks do you want to leave on your life’s canvas? Saying no to activities (or people) can be incredibly freeing, allowing us to get closer to our authentic truth.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

3 things to which I’ve recently said no

I do try to practice what I preach; here are some examples:

1. I said no to a dance meditation facilitator training course that I was intending to do. During a late-night phone call last week, I believe my friend’s exact words were: “Kim, I don’t want to have to scrape you off the ground!” Accepting that I simply don’t have time in my schedule to do this right now was really relieving.

2. I said no to a position as assistant to film director Mira Nair on her upcoming film in Uganda. Mira’s current assistant extended this offer to me over the Christmas holidays. Although this is one of my dream jobs, I knew it wasn’t the right time: I already have work I love dearly; I don’t have enough money saved to comfortably make an immediate transition between countries; and I want to stay settled in my current city for a while. I trust that a similar opportunity will come again, in a way that works for me.

3. I said no to multiple dinner dates, parties, and nights out. Why? Because I wanted to sleep, or wander around the city by myself without making conversation, or work on my photo stuff. Giving ourselves permission to chill out is always a viable reason for saying no.

Remember those proverbial roses I was talking about earlier on? By saying to no, I’ve given myself more time with which to dilly dally around my neighborhood and, yes, smell the beautiful flowers! It makes a difference to my daily quality of life.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

Art, in all its forms, is ultimately about subtraction. With limitless ideas to splash on a canvas or words to type out on a keypad, artists must practice ruthless elimination: murder your darlings — or, Kill Your Darlings — is the most moral crime we can commit. (This is something on which I am personally working!) If we look at our lives as art, saying ‘no’ becomes a way to eliminate unnecessary marks on our page, leaving us with something, hopefully, closer to our authentic truth.

 

Open to the fullness and richness of each moment and subtract anything you are adding.

– Ven. Jinmyo Renge Osho

We Heart Latte Art: Exploring Simple Pleasures

Have you ever looked down at your latte and found a beautiful design etched into it? I didn’t used to think about latte art very much, if at all. But as I’ve been looking more into coffee and exploring its many different aspects, I’ve learned that latte art is where coffee’s creative side truly shines. These charming drawings and designs add a bit of sparkle to an otherwise everyday, mundane item.

Latte art can range from simple renderings to sophisticated designs — being surprised is half the fun!

Photo by Kimberly Bryant

 We often talk about ways to make our daily routines more beautiful — not only aesthetically, but spiritually. I used to grapple with how mindfulness and spirituality fit together with aesthetics: how could I combine my desire to enjoy beautiful material items — or, something like the simple, frivolous pleasure of latte art! — with my desire for connecting deeper with my inner essence and surrounding universe. The answer? Happily, I’ve found it’s pretty straightforward: the two can co-exist seamlessly, as long as we’re enjoying ourselves while staying true to our values, principles, and gut feelings.

Patty, a beautiful latte artist, makes a creation that depicts her and her best friend. Totally charming, that.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

I’m learning that part of life’s fun is allowing myself to revel in superficialities, like an awesome nail polish color I just found, or a beautiful mug spotted in the window of a street-side boutique. I think it’s possible to be fulfilled spiritually, while also acknowledging our desires for aesthetic pleasure. Let us also not forget that it’s a great privilege to have the freedom of time to linger over shiny things, or ooh-and-awe at a stellar drawing impeccably rendered on the surface of an espresso.

 

Practice makes perfect: Patty has numerous creative outlets, which help inspire some of her latte art. She’s had years of practice perfecting her own style.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

Even latte art itself has not been free of issues inherent in superficial, surface art: even today, there are many baristas who are apprehensive about latte art’s increasing prominence in coffee culture. Will the emphasis placed on these enticing pictures outshine the actual taste of the drink? Will baristas focus more effort on their artistic skills than on their ability to make an outstanding beverage? Or, to put it in a broader context, will style trump substance as it so frequently does in other industries?

This was made by a different latte artist, using the free pouring method, which we explain further below.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

The answer, of course, depends on the individual barista, the choice of ingredients, and the cafe’s overall commitment (or, lack thereof) to high quality coffee — in regards to both taste and appearance. The ideal, for me, is to have an equally high standard in both realms.

The high-achieving folks behind Soma understood this, too, as they worked tirelessly to create an eco friendly design from which to filter and serve our daily water — a design both pragmatic and beautiful in appearance.

Latte artist Patty has a genuine love of all things visual — it’s easy to get a sense that she really enjoys her work. Coffee always tastes better when made with love!

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

quick survey of latte art shows that there are two main methods of execution: free pouring and etching. The latter consists of drawing figures and shapes in the liquid’s surface using a stick; the former uses a specific pouring method to create designs with microfoam (from steamed milk). Each, understandably, requires patience and practice. Most coffee shops in America make their latte art via free pouring, which demands a steady hand, a slow pour, and well-timed shakes executed close to the drink’s surface.

 

 

While it’s pretty hypnotizing to watch the free pouring latte art being made, I’m a bigger fan of etching, which seems to me a more personalized form, allowing the latte artist to display their own personal style. From drawings of customer’s heads, to flowers and people, there are virtually no limits to what one can create with a stick, microfoam, and proper coffee base — providing it can fit within the canvas of a coffee mug!

 

 

Let me tell you from first-hand experience: there’s nothing more frivolously fun than drinking your face! And if you’re not a coffee drinker, never fear: latte art can be done with different types of drinks, including matcha lattes. As long as the drink can handle a decent amount of microfoam, we’re able to create beautiful designs within it!

This is Patty’s best friend, Mirte. Patty showed off her skills again with this rendering of Mirte’s face in latte form. The resemblance is uncanny. (Latte art humor, anyone?)

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

A cup of coffee can be just a cup of coffee — or, it can be a work of art. Whether we value style, substance, or both, appreciating art in all its myriad forms is a workout for both our spirits and minds. Taking time to enjoy the lighter aspects of life can prove enormously fulfilling: after all, light hearts let deep minds run free.

Beauty in the Mundane: Simon Beck’s Snow Art

“It just seemed a natural thing to do.”

– Simon Beck

 

When images of Simon Beck’s work first appeared on my computer screen, I did a double-take: how was it possible for one person to create giant, geometric patterns in snow simply by walking? What would motivate someone to do this? How are pieces of this scale actually accomplished? Some further researched easily answered all of these questions and more, proving that one man is indeed capable of changing the way we look at snow — and showing the infinite possibility in walking with purpose.

Through mindful walking, Beck is able to achieve feats that astound our eyes. As both an homage to our environment and a feat of human perseverance, Beck’s snow art reveals the beauty we’re all capable of creating when we work in tandem with nature.

Image source: Simon Beck’s Snow Art.

Water in its solid, frozen state frequently inspires artists to create: from stunning ice sculptures of large magnitude to macro photography that reveals water’s microscopic symmetry, the magic inherent in everyday, mundane snow and ice stirs creators across the globe.

When Simon Beck, a professional orienteering map maker, began having foot problems that limited the type of terrain he traversed, his life changed direction. In search of exercise, and comfortable using a compass to guide his way, he naturally began making geometric patterns in the snow on a frozen lake outside his winter home. With the help of snowshoes, some string, and his trusty compass, Beck used his well-honed orienteering technique of counting paces to create epic drawings in the snow.

Because he walks with a clear intention, Beck is able to create beautiful patterns in our natural environment. Art knows no bounds when we intuitively follow our natural instinct.

Image source: www.mymodernmet.com

As Beck explains on his popular Facebook Page, he started this mindful practice almost a decade ago, during Christmas in 2004:

“I made a 5 pointed star then added circles in the spaces between the points. After this had been covered by fresh snow, I made a 10 pointed star and made straight lines linking all the points, and filled in the resulting areas alternately. The result looked so good that I attempted a larger one on a larger lake. This was hard work as the snow was too deep, so I bought snowshoes and that was where the idea really took off.”

He explains that a single piece usually takes about 10 hours to make, though this can vary greatly depending on the pattern, his personal fitness level, and weather conditions. Inspired by geometric patterns and crop circles, he usually draws the pattern first on paper using a protractor and ruler.

What started as a simple, five-point star has emerged into complex designs. Mindfully moving in a direction that feels right can lead to journeys that are otherwise unimaginable.

Image source: Simon Beck’s Snow Art.

The patterns usually last until the next heavy snow fall. When they are naturally covered up, the blanket of snow produces a fresh, blank canvas onto which Beck steps with his next creation. I see Beck’s unique art practice as an exercise in letting go: by giving his work over to the ephemeral nature of life, Beck embraces the beauty of transience. The photographs of these works are special because they are the only remaining documents of his incredible, fleeting creations. Like Robert Smithson’s work with the concept of entropy, Beck’s patterns will forever return from whence they came.

For me, part of the beauty in this piece is that it is no longer with us: the temporal aspect of these creations lends to their sense of magic.

Image source: Simon Beck’s Snow Art.

By combining his desire for physical exercise outdoors, his skill-set in orienteering map-making, and his need to create art with nature, Beck shows us what is attainable when we move forward, one mindful step at a time.

If his snow patterns first seemed impossible to my eyes, they’ve now re-inspired me to believe in the limitless possibilities of human creativity and effort. Knowing that countless hours spent trekking through thick snow will eventually — or, immediately! — be wiped clean with a new snowfall lends to this artwork a Zen-like aspect. Letting go of our need to hold on and control outcomes is part of what meditation teaches us: accepting change enables us to live more gracefully in our eternally liminal state.

While wandering can also be beautiful, Beck’s snow art demonstrates the astounding results of purposeful action. Welcoming life’s liminal flow is easier when we stop trying so hard to hold on to people, work, and things.

Image source: www.mymodernmet.com

And as for Beck’s ultimate goal with these epic creations? The artist thoughtfully shares:

“I hope to spread the message that the mountains and snow are beautiful and worth preserving. And, there are better things in life than spending so much time doing things you don’t want to, so that you can spend money you haven’t got (yet), to buy things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t like.”

A decade’s worth of mindfully walking in snow has given Beck an admirable outlook on life. Taking a page from his book can inspire us all to embrace the ephemeral, let go of what no longer serves us, and illuminate our lives with nature’s beauty.

Shannon O’Donnell on Making Ethical Choices for a Sustainable World

Action is the foundational key to all success.

– Pablo Picasso

 

In the first part of our interview with volunteer expert Shannon O’Donnell, she talked with us about mindful volunteering. In addition to writing a book on the subject, Shannon also runs a website based around this premise called Grassroots Volunteering. But the site covers more than just volunteer-related offerings; it’s equally devoted to promoting ethical businesses and teaching us ways to support sustainable companies and products around the world. By listening to her intuition, Shannon has created a life centered around her passions for giving back and living ethically. Today, she offers us further insight into what it means to be mindful consumers, making ethical choices on a daily basis, and her future aspirations for helping others to live sustainably.


K: I often speak about mindful consumption here. What does that term mean to you?

SO: Mindful consumption means understanding that everything you purchase and use in your daily life can be traced back to another place on earth; a place that is filled with people, communities, and ecosystems. We don’t often think of the impact that purchasing something simple, like our groceries, has on the rest of the world, but mindful consumers think about the chain of industry and business-practices they are supporting by spending their money with specific companies and brands.


K: I’m passionate about taking lessons learned from travel and relating them to our lives at home — I think this is essential, as we need to be able to nurture and give back to our home environment. Do you have any tips for choosing volunteer opportunities or charities mindfully at home?

SO: Bringing a service mindset back into your home communities can often be a slightly different process than volunteering overseas. Whereas you may bring your decade of experience in finance to an NGO in Ethiopia on an international project, back home you have the chance to perhaps support organizations and causes that more immediately impact your life.

Think of an organization that has positively helped you or your family in some way — this could be your local Hospice, an animal shelter, or even the Salvation Army. Look into your current life for the things you value — early childhood education? Skills training for the homeless? Start with the causes and organizations you are already aware of, and by forming that connection you will more likely make the time to regularly volunteer on a weekly or monthly basis to support their cause.

Socially powered enterprises such as Akha Ama thrive on sustainable agriculture. Educating ourselves about where our products come from is beneficial to everyone involved.

Photo courtesy of Shannon O’Donnell.

K: Likewise, what are some ways that we can seek out ethical businesses to support in our own cities?

SO: Caring enough to research your options is the first step. In a world where convenience trumps many things, taking the mindful approach takes a few extra steps and a bit more time. For the US market, I love the work Social Impact App is doing. They use the same concept I have for social enterprises internationally and maps the United States with a range of social enterprises you can support from food to retail, and everything else in between.


K: Can you share with us your future vision for the site — both volunteering and business aspects? What else do you hope to achieve in the future that’s related to ethical business and volunteering?

SO: Down the line I would love to map the world and have a team of GV Ambassadors actively adding more causes and communities to the database. We are also planning to develop a mobile application for the social enterprise database, and are looking for Angel donors on that end so we can expand the site’s reach and usefulness to encourage more people to easily support the places they travel at the grassroots level.

Exploring local, sustainable businesses in our own cities will help connect us to our community at a grassroots level. It can be really fun to find mindful, eco friendly products and companies that we can tell our friends about, and support.

Photo by Kimberly Bryant.

We really appreciate Shannon sharing with us her ideas about ethical living and mindful consumption, and divulging her sustainable plans for the future. Meeting people who inspire us to live bolder and brighter is an invaluable motivator for giving back to our earth. Whether its choosing an eco friendly Soma water filter, or supporting a local sustainable business in our hometown, our choices as consumers can help to create waves of positive change. Seeking out new ways to connect with others through sustainable choices and ethical living is a wonderful way to welcome in the new year.

 

Nothing is unthinkable, nothing impossible to the balanced person, provided it arises out of the needs of life and is dedicated to life’s further developments.

– Lewis Mumford