Balanced Living for Creatives

Balanced Living for Creatives

December 20, 2013

Feeling Chilled? Warm Your Core

Are you warm-blooded or cold-blooded? My friend asked me that question and I had to stop and think a minute. For, aren’t humans all the same inside? We all tend to run about the same temperature of 98.6, right. So it must be just a matter of perception, perhaps better asked, Do you tend to feel warm or cold in most situations?
     There’s no doubt about it, I feel cold. Not all the time, but I have noticed that when my friends and family are in shirtsleeves, I have at least three layers on. When they have to double up on shirt and sweater, I’m up to about five layers! Before I begin to look like the muffin doughboy, I thought, maybe I should find another solution.
     I don’t want to reach for the thermostat or throw a bunch more logs in the woodstove. Number one, it would make the house too warm for others. Number two that would be energy intensive and thus wasteful. Recently, I have been trying out a new solution.
     My work as an artist and writer means that I either sit or stand for long periods of time. That’s usually when I get cold—call it cold blooded, if you will. I noticed that my friend J is a speedy, high-energy person. When she moves, she moves quickly--fast paced, always on the go. She might call herself warm blooded. So here’s the solution that I have discovered.
     Whenever I start to feel cold, I stand up and exercise for about 15 minutes. Sometimes its a brisk walk around the office, sometimes I just go through pacing or dancing in place, standing behind my chair. After about 10 minutes, I am warm through. The funny thing is, that once I get to the 10-minute mark, I find it easy to go on to 15 or 20 minutes. This is great because for good aerobic benefits 20 minutes is ideal. To be kind to myself on those “down” days, I’ll let it slide at 10 minutes.
     Warming up by moving is fantastic on many levels. First off, the warmth that I feel is lasting. I won’t feel cold again quickly after my 10-15 minutes of movement. The warmth radiates from the core, not from the outside. Simply putting on another sweater doesn’t do the same thing. Second, it brings health benefits. Exercise is good for you; we all know that. Even short periods of exercise are much better than sitting or standing motionless for hours. Another thing I’ve found is that it builds my energy levels. Although I may never run around and move as quickly as J, I know that I have more energy after the brief exercises. Also, there is definitely a boost to my concentration and focus, as well as my creativity. These are all good things, simply accomplished, and this winter—I am sooo much more comfortable.
Please stop by my website to see some of my tips about fitness and exercise in a balanced life.

December 8, 2013

Stress and Joy

Stress and joy are opposite sides of the same coin. We all have moments when we feel stress. And, hopefully, we all have moments when we feel great joy. When asked, most of my friends have said that they believe the opposite of joy to be sadness. But I believe it is stress. My reasoning is this: Both stress and joy are internally driven conditions.
The looming deadline or the overbearing boss may be part of your work experience. But stress is something you create inside you. You could potentially face all those same conditions without a feeling of stress. We use stress as a way of getting through rough or threatening conditions. It's possible to find numerous ways to Reduce Your Stress. But just imagine for a moment, what it would take to deal with that deadline without stress being a part of the equation. Perhaps you could face it by laying out step-by-step actions, or even by ignoring the "deadline" and just taking the project at your own pace, quick but not stressful.
Joy, on the other hand, should bring you happiness. People often ask, How do you find happiness? Often their answers involve something akin to winning the lottery so that they have money for everything they might want. However, studies of lottery winners show that they are no more happy after they win the lottery than before, and often it is the opposite. Winning makes them less happy, and lottery winners have a higher rate of suicide than non-winners.
Joy and happiness are internally created emotions. They are not based on things that happen around us. They can be created inside you at any moment, even in bad times. We see that time and time again in people who have faced disasters or personal destruction. The happy factor returns quickly to some people, while others dwell on the negative. I truly believe that joy is something you can build inside yourself and keep with you most of the time, if not always. It has taken me a lifetime, but I feel that joy and happiness are mine to own and create at will.

November 14, 2013

Tilting Windmills in Iowa

Driving through Iowa, I have always loved the rolling hills of corn in long rows through the fields. It's been a few years since I've driven through on I-80, but this year as I was appreciating the beauty of small farms and their trees nestled in between the hills of corn, I came upon a new sight. As I dipped down and then up, I saw something strange poking up off in the distance. It was rotating windmill blades. First one, then another,  then a whole cornfield full of them extending off into the distance. Wow! As I rolled up and down the hills, the turbines would rise into and out of sight. I found they had a unique kind of beauty to them. 
     I asked a resident Iowan about how much wind they get. He said, "It never stops blowing here." The wind energy turbines are a great way to put that wind to use! The farmers benefit from leasing small parts of their land. The energy consumers pay less for power. Wind energy is cleaner than fossil fuel energy and emits much less greenhouse gases. Iowa is only one of several states that are building up their grid with clean wind power. And it is the first state to get over 25 percent of its energy from wind. There are many more benefits to making and using wind energy. It's still a big experiment as to how much wind energy will serve to cut down reliance on foreign energy sources. It will be interesting to watch how wind power develops over the years as an alternative energy source.

November 3, 2013

Healthy Life Actions

A healthy life is a choice and an ongoing activity. I used to think a healthy body was a benefit of nature and a good genes. I've since come to the conclusion that pursuing a healthy life is something that one must seek out and actively participate. When I go online to look at health and medicine information, I've noticed that many of you are there looking up multitudes of small symptoms. It seems that many of us have lots of small health issues, aches, and pains that are part of our daily lives.
       For so many major health conditions and smaller health issues, I've noticed that the primary natural approach is to eat right, exercise, and rest. Does that sound familiar? It's the best approach to everything from losing weight, to protect against cancer, to having smooth glowing skin. I like to look at it as a three-pronged approach.

     Eat Right, mostly organic, with whole grains, lots of vegetables and fruit, and simple high-quality proteins.
     Exercise with aerobic activities like running or biking, stretching with yoga or pilates, with posture corrections and breathing.
     Rest is a very important part of the mix and something we often overlook—plenty of good sleep, physical relaxation of muscles, and mental relaxation with meditation.

     These are all steps that must be actively employed. We learn how to do them and then we practice them. Sometimes we are better at following, sometimes we backslide, always to come back to these three main elements of creating a healthy, vibrant life.

October 20, 2013

Pass Me By

Rocky Mountains Backdrop
I was on the dirt trail doing my small run along the reservoir when two young women runners jogged past me. They were chatting as they went, passed me easily. I run soooo slow. When I was younger I would probably have picked up my pace. Or I would have felt competitive and tried to catch them. But now, that's not my goal. I'm in it for Posture, Breathe, and Relax. My spine straight like a needle in a ball of cotton. My deep breaths expanding my belly for diaphragmatic breathing. And frequent check-ins to find the tension and relax muscles over all. I ran slow, but I ran almost three miles. And felt great afterwards knowing the biggest health benefits are by doing that long, slow mileage. Almost ALL runners are faster than me, so I won't say "Don't Pass Me By." I will say, "Go ahead, pass me by." I'm just inordinately pleased that it wasn't two women walking that passed me. 

October 17, 2013

Tai Chi Travel Adventures

Tai Chi, on a Beach
When I took my first tai chi classes, almost 25 years ago, I immediately discovered the joy in practicing out of doors, in nature. At first, I just went to my local woodsy hiking place, Middlesex Fells in Massachusetts. I would walk the trail into the woods and then cut in off the trail, some place where no one would see. I'd find a flat clearing or sometimes a large flat boulder. Only need about 4 square feet to do the short form.  Face the north and begin.
I loved doing it outdoors! I have done tai chi on the beach at Wingaersheek (sp?) much like what you see in this photo by By Mike H from Seattle, USA (Tai chi) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons. And so whenever I traveled to a new and interesting place, I started doing a bit of tai chi at exotic spots. On Cape Cod, I went out to the end of a rock jetty on Nantucket sound and did it on a flat rock while the waves crashed in. I practiced it somewhere near San Diego on a wooden pier out over the Pacific, again with the lovely sound of waves. I did it in Japan, though inside, in my Riokan traditional Japanese inn room, bare with only tatami mats and a lovely nook with scroll and blossoms. I tried to do it in India, on the balcony overlooking the Dalai Lama's residence and monastery in Dharmsala, but I found it hard to concentrate (!!) and then the monkeys came. I practiced it early one morning in Burma in a lovely garden outside our room. And I did a few movements on a balcony over the MeKong River looking into Laos on the other side, with a full shiny moon above. I am NOT an expert in Tai Chi and I can't even say that I study it. I just do it. With joy.

October 14, 2013

Follow Your Joy Into Balance

Living a good life is very much about health. It’s about eating right and about exercise and fitness. And yet, there is really so much more to a healthy life; it’s about our activities, what we do with our lives on a daily basis, and about the people we have in our lives. Paying attention to all these things is what allows a balance in life. Some of the daily activities that make up the bulk of our lives are some kind of engaging work, family and social connections, active entertainment, healthy eating and exercise, spirituality, the arts, and travel. We need all these elements in our lives and for the best quality in life we need them in balance. That doesn’t mean that we spend the same amount of time in each area, but that we don’t allow any one area to be overwhelmingly dominant of our time and efforts.
     I struggle, like all of us, to find that balance. Whenever I focus too much on any one area, I begin to feel the unbalance. Whenever I neglect any one area, I feel unbalanced. For many years, as I wanted to be a professional artist, I focused almost all of my time solely on art: making art, looking at art, studying art and artists. I learned a lot about art, yes, but also about myself since art is a foray into self. I did many other things, such as travel through various areas of Asia. I studied lots of interesting topics, such as history of plants and world religions.
     But art by necessity is a solitary occupation, and I focused on art to the exclusion of allowing people into my life. And any activities I did, I only wanted them to be connected to art. I did travel paintings. I would hike, but only far enough in to paint a scene. I neglected exercise to better spend my time on studying art. “Unbalanced” rang high.
     Now I’m spending more time at tai chi and meditation. I’m running again and exercising. I’m connecting more with family and rejuvenating old friendships. While studying art, I learned the importance of following my joy. And this is something I can recommend for everyone. Follow your joy into a balanced life.

October 12, 2013

A Bad Run is Better than No Run

There always comes that time when you just don't FEEL like doing it. I had no desire to push myself, to either run hard or fast, I did believe it important to get out there and make the attempt. Strong runners would say to just push right through it. But I feel that my goal right now is to just be consistent and regular in making the time to run an important part of my life. And so I went. I ran slow, sooo slow. I felt no desire to make it a long run either. While I didn't actually walk during any of it, my pace through the running steps was probably slower than a walk at some points. No matter. I did it, and I'm glad. The title of this post, A bad run is better than no run, is one of the quotes in this article, The 10 Best Motivational Quotes for Fitness and Exercise. 

October 11, 2013

Nature into Balance

Nice View of the Rockies
It’s easier to get a sense of the balance in your life when you pay attention to the balance of the natural world around you. Nature is balanced, almost by definition. Spending time out in nature is a good way to feel that sense both in you and around you. When I get out into nature, such as a hike in the Rocky Mountains I feel a sense of wonder and connectedness. Nature is both beautiful and magnificent. My cares and concerns seem so small and insignificant when I look out over a tremendous valley and know the mountain range continues on, and on. I feel creative, I feel inspired, and I also feel a sense of fulfillment from being in nature that I cannot or do not get from anywhere else. I like to make that feeling part of my balanced life.

October 3, 2013

Running, Over Age 50

Jimmy Carter Jogging
I used to run when I was in my 20s, 30s, and 40s. Then as the aches of getting older kicked in I slacked off. I always used to say to myself, "Use it or lose it." Because I have slacked off for so many years in a row, I have lost that easy conditioning. Now I want to get it back. 
     If you are like me and taking up running after age 50, the first thing to consider (besides asking your doctor, if you have health issues) is that you need to take it slow. Running slow is a good thing. Building up mileage or time slowly is a good thing. It will allow your heart and lung conditioning to keep pace with your muscle conditioning of legs and body. Slow is good. And running every other day allows time between runs to recover.
     I find it best to keep a comfortable easy pace. For me that is very slow, even slower than someone who is walking at a good clip. It's healthy to take it that slow, but it also has the added benefit of being easy on my motivation--I don't mind getting out there to run when I know it is easy and feels good.
     The important part of early training is to do the running regularly and make it a habit. Remember the saying 21 days to a habit? If you can keep up your runs for three weeks straight, it becomes a habit and that means you are less likely to lose motivation because its always harder to break a habit than to build one. Run slow, run easy, keep it fun and pleasant for those first three weeks.
     If you are training for a race or a fund-raising run, like a 5k, it would be easier to begin that training after those first three weeks. You will have a level of cardio-fitness built up. And the habit you've set is a good framework for beginning to build up the length or time of your runs.
     If you are like me, you are running to stay healthy and moving. I am not training for high mileage and and race speeds. I approach my running like I would do walking meditation. My big goals are to work towards good posture, breathing deeply, and relaxing my body. I count breaths or find markers that remind me to relax, just like I describe in the article I wrote for my website, SimpleTens, Muscle Relaxation of the Head and Back. I check in, scan my body, and relax everything. It feels good, I finish with good posture, and I want to keep running regularly.

September 30, 2013

Walking Meditation

Two things I do regularly can easily get my blood flowing, increase my concentration, and give me a boost to good feelings. One is simple— I take a nice walk. The other, meditation, takes time and needs practice but has great effects every time. I’ve discovered it’s easy to put the two together. It’s different than just plain walking, and it’s different than seated meditation. Walking meditation is controlled, thoughtful, and focused. It’s easy to learn, and likely takes a lifetime to master. However, “master” is not the right term for meditation since its really about process or practice and not  about mastery. If you’d like to learn how to do walking meditation, go to this article Walking Meditation Basic Techniques I wrote for the website
I use the walks to practice my posture corrections, get my breathing going good, and for getting clear in the head. It helps me to relax all my tight back, neck, and head muscles. And it feels so good.

September 22, 2013

O, Sweet Nature in Balance

The topic of this blog has always been about nature. I feel strong connections to nature and seek out ways to bring it into my life. I do botanical illustration, as well as other art. For the last couple of years, the art has been the biggest focus, if not sole focus of my life. Well, that kind of singular focus leads to an unbalanced way of living. So now I am trying to get back to a balanced life. One which involves many different kinds of activities and people. Work, travel, the arts (music, poetry, art, dance), relationships, exercise, eating well, and nature. Those are all the things that will help to create a sense of balance and fullness of life. Joy, friendship, love, play, accomplishments of many kinds are all a part of it. To all my faithful followers who have been reading O, Sweet Nature for the art tips, this blog will expand out to other topics that I hope you will enjoy as well. I like things small, compact, organized (and natural) and so I will be writing about how to live simply. A simple, balanced, life. That's the goal.

September 14, 2013

Save Your Local Turtle

Save Your Local Turtle

Found a box turtle strolling along the street while I was out walking the dog. At first, I didn't want to move it, just to look at it and enjoy it. But despite the intelligence of turtles, I don't think it would understand how to avoid the wheels of cars. It was just outside the solid wood fence around the pond, so I'm sure it came from there. With all the rain we've been having I bet it came out to try to find a dry spot to sun itself. Unfortunately, there weren't any gaps in the fence that it could have crawled back easily. I hope it didn't have a place it meant to go to, because I picked up and carried it back inside. The only gate was not too far away, and I walked it a ways off the common trail so that it could rest undisturbed. Are you happy now, Mr. Turtle?

September 1, 2013

I'm back in the saddle, again. O, Sweet Nature is on a roll! Look for future posts about ways to link nature with simple, balanced living.