Monday, 28 December 2015

2015 Wrap Up

One of my favourite things between Christmas and New Year's is the quiet that happens (sometimes) and the chance to reflect on the past year before looking ahead.  2015 was a year of teaching and growth for me.  There were as expected in life some low points but more importantly, many more highs.

Here are a few....

New Year's Resolutions.... we'll see how the year I planned out went...The official start to my business...

Winter camping in Killarney... not sure if I'll do this again...  The hiking was great..... camping conditions.... not so much.

Montreal - This is the only picture I could find from my trip... but it was a lot of fun.

 Camping at Point Pelee 

My amazing niece!! 

My attempts at painting

Stand up paddle boarding + yoga!

Last but not least my trip outside of Vegas.

There were plenty of other accomplishments.... my writing course, jumping off a bridge, numerous trips to the beach all mixed in with a lot of hard work.

2015 has been full of surprises and wonderful times.  This has probably been my biggest year for personal growth and I really am excited for what is coming up next in my life.  The greatest lesson I've learned this year is to lessen the expectations I have for myself and just be open to opportunities and experiences around me.  And perhaps most importantly to just......

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Workout Wednesday - TRX Tricep Presses

Number Eight of my favourite TRX exercises in the TRX tricep press.  Triceps are my favourite muscle group - regardless of whether you are male or female, toned triceps give your arm definition and shape not to mention strength.  

When doing this exercise, sometimes it is difficult to truly isolate the tricep and not 'cheat' in the move by using the shoulders has you work through the tricep extension.  The tendency to have the shoulders help out is often due to a lack of upper body strength.  So to avoid extra work being done by the shoulders, I find it is easier if you double up the straps and hold the top part of the triangle while working through the press.

Here are the steps to completing a perfect TRX tricep extension:

  1. Adjust your straps to the mid-way point.
  2. Turn facing away from the anchor point and walk out so the straps have tension.  Remember, the closer your feet are to the anchor point, the more weight you will be lifting.
  3. Stand on the balls of your feet.
  4. Engage the core and upper back.
  5. Begin with straight arms, with a natural bend in the elbows.
  6. Bend the arms at the elbows bringing the hands toward the head.
  7. Press the arms straight, focusing on the triceps controlling the move.
  8. To get the most out of this exercise, set the shoulders.  The only flexion in the body that should happen is in the elbows and the toes as you complete this movement.
  9. To use your breath, inhale as you bring the hands toward your head and exhale as you extend the arms.
  10. Complete 8-12 reps doing 1-3 set.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

New Thing December - Vegas!!

Sooooo........ my new thing for the month of December - as promised was huge for me.  I went somewhere completely new.  

My husband and I decided that we would try travelling somewhere new to do some exploring.  I have never been to Las Vegas before and wasn't really sure how I felt about going to this city.  I don't gamble and frankly the glitz and glamour didn't really appeal to me.  But we decided to do both the Vegas trip and explore Nevada and a bit into California.  

We planned a four night, five day trip and tried to squeeze as much into our time away as possible.  I enjoy the vibe of different cities and like to explore off the beaten path.  But what I love the most about travelling is exploring and hiking in different areas.  I knew that Vegas was in the desert and I had a fairly one dimensional view of what a desert looked like. 

This trip outside of Vegas blew my mind as to how much life is in the desert.

We spent two nights in Vegas and stayed on the strip.  We took in a Cirque de Soleil show and had way too much food.  Then we rented a car and took off into the desert.  This is where the real fun started....

We stayed at a place we found on Airbnb in Pahurmp.  On the way to we stopped at Red Rock Canyon park and did some hiking.  We had time for one trail.  This is Ice Box Canyon.

The first morning in the desert we experienced the most beautiful sunrise.  Both my husband and I were on East coast time waking up at 6am so catching the sunrise was effortless.  

We then took off to Death Valley National Park for the day.  Our first stop was one of the highest peaks in the park -Dante's View - just under 6,000 ft above sea level overlooking a dry salt bed.  It was pretty chilly at the peak.  At this spot, you drive up through several switchbacks to a parking area and an overlook.  There is the option to trek about 1/2 a mile, just a little higher, to the peak where you can see the view below. 

We headed to the Mesquite Flat Sand dunes and drove past the lowest point in the park on our way 280 ft below sea level.  The sand dunes were my typical idea of what a desert looked like.

This sand went on for quite a distance and it was easy to lose sight of our car.  But the ripples were worth the extra effort to find.  We drove to Stovepipe Wells and had lunch at a saloon which was surprisingly good.  

After lunch, we headed to Artist's Pallet.  You can stay in your car and complete the Artist's drive circuit or get out at various spots and hike around a bit. These rocks were the most interesting colours - turquoise, pink, purple all in one area.  The pictures don't show the variation or vibrancy that I saw while I was standing on them but if you look closely you can see some of the variation.

Following that stop we headed to Zabriskie Point to view the sunset.  We waited for a while looking for the perfect reflection off of the clouds.

On the way back from home, we stopped to watch the stars.  The night sky away from all of the light pollution was amazing.  We saw the beginning of the milky way pop out one star at a time.

The following day we were schedule to return home but our flight home wasn't until 11:30 pm so we had the entire last day to explore.  Originally we had planned to hike Mount Charleston, the mountain in the sunrise from our first day.  But the trail was closed for the season - they had already had snow!  Here is a view from an outlook partway up Mt. Charleston.

We decided to head to the Valley of Fire State park in Nevada.  This last minute change of plans turned out to be the gem of our trip.  This park was breathtaking.

With easily viewed petroglyphs.  The geology and history that was so readily viewed in this park was amazing.

So that was my trip in a nutshell.  Of course the few pictures and brief descriptions of the parks don't begin to describe what I experienced.  My concept of what a desert is was turned on its head.  The desert is full of life and beauty as well as a hardiness and sense of survival.

Early December was a perfect time to go exploring the desert.  The temperatures aren't too high so there isn't much of a chance of heat affecting your ability to hike.  Also we didn't see any scorpions, rattlesnakes or spiders - although I was on the look out for them.  The trails were all easily accessible and quiet which is perfect if you're looking to escape from the chaos of the city.

When I think of a trip to Vegas, I visualize slot machines, bright lights and over indulgence.  But within a one hour drive you can access unbelievable geology and history.  We could have easily spent an entire day at both Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire parks, both of these are child friendly as well.  In Death Valley, I would have like to have stayed in the park and again spent more time.  

If I were to go to Vegas again, I would skip the city and explore the desert around.  Even two weeks after coming home, I feel the pull of the desert.  Something about the landscape made an imprint and I have found myself dreaming about the rocks and rugged plants.  I will be returning.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Fun Food Friday - Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Protein Balls

Christmas is one week away and although right now it doesn't look to Christmasy outside - (We're going to get a green Christmas.) All of our holiday preparations and parties are underway.  This is such a tricky time of year to keep eating healthy.  I've just finished teaching my last Friday class and two of my students very thoughtfully brought in cookies.  

So how do we find that balance, especially related to food.  There are so many traditions and foods we only have at Christmas that our calorie consumption can easily jump to 500-1000 extra unplanned calories in a day simply by indulging. It gets tricky especially if your office has treats brought in and you indulge a few times a day.

When Christmas comes around, I try to not get too worried about extras but I do try to plan or decide in the moment what I really want to eat.  I have my favourite cookies that I make every year and will eat more than one. But I've also tried to make them healthier.  

These peanut butter balls are a perfect example.  The original recipe called for peanut butter with hydrogenated oil so I've swapped that for real peanut butter.  The recipe also included icing sugar which I've replaced with protein powder.  I also added hemp hearts and replaced the butter with coconut oil.

The protein powder and hemp hearts boost the amount of protein in the recipe offsetting the glycemic load.  And although these treats are still exactly that - treats, they are a little healthier.  Modifying our choices over the holidays and making sure we schedule exercise let's us indulge and enjoy the holidays without the guilt!

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Protein Balls

by Denise Boyd Dunlop
Prep Time: 15 minutes plus chilling time
Ingredients (serves 12)
  • 1 1/2 cups natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup vanilla protein powder
  • 1/4 cup hemp hearts
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
Place peanut butter and 1/4 cup coconut oil in sauce pan over medium heat stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and add maple syrup, hemp hearts and protein powder. The mixture should become thick. Roll teaspoon sized amounts into balls and place on parchment lined cookie sheet. Chill in freezer for 30 minutes.
Melt chocolate chips with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil over a double boiler stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Coat frozen peanut butter balls in chocolate. Place chocolate covered peanut butter balls back onto the cookie sheet chilling until the chocolate has set. Store in refrigerator.
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Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Workout Wednesday- TRX Oblique Crunch

Number 7 of my favourite TRX exercises is the TRX Oblique crunch or the TRX cork screw. What is fantastic about this move is that you work your entire core throughout the move and target the obliques - hence the name.  In addition to working the core, your shoulders and quads work as you transition from start to finish and to provide support.

To effectively complete this more it is important as always that the core be engaged (navel pulling toward the spine and the shoulders be set.

So to do a TRX oblique crunch:

  1. Set straps to mid calf length and place both feet in the foot cradles.
  2. Begin an a plank position.  Engage your core.
  3. Pull both knees together toward your left elbow keeping your hips as level as possible.
  4. Extend legs back to the starting position.
  5. Repeat on the right side.
  6. To tie your breathing into this move, exhale as you pull your legs in and inhale as you extend.  
  7. The slower you move through this exercise the more you are engaging your abdominal muscles and the less you rely on the momentum of the straps to move you through the rep.
  8. Complete 8-12 sets doing1-3 reps.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

The Power of Saying No

No - that is a powerful word.  When you watch a toddler begin to communicate and interact with the external world no is a pretty common word for them to say.  Often in my head in many situations I feel like a toddler screaming "No NO NO!" But externally I hear myself say "Ok, sure.  I'll help out" or "I'm not busy.  I can come to that event."

But really I want to stay home or I can't really add another commitment to my list of things to do.  One of the biggest times where I say yes to something that I really don't want to do is when I'm shopping and the cashier asks if I'd like to donate to a charity.  I always feel obligated to say yes even though I don't want to.  

Before I go on about the donations at the cash register I want to be clear that I think it is very important to donate time and money to all sorts of charities.  And the work that is done by volunteer groups is very important and often a necessity for those who have few options for support.  I regularly donate both my time and money to charities and organizations that I feel are important and think that practicing generosity is a very important thing for everyone to take part in.  I am referring only to the collection of money at a large store when you are checking out.

This collection process is a pretty smart way to collect money for charities.  There is minimal overhead.  The donation amount is small and I'm in a situation where I am already paying for groceries or something else so I can't use the "I don't have cash" excuse.  And if I do say no, I feel as though I'm being cheap or selfish for not giving to others.

Here's the thing though, I chose charities to  donate to throughout the year.  Every year as a family we pick one cause to raise money and give to in addition to the charities I regularly donate to.  So this is an extra bit of cash I haven't planned on doling out.  For the most part, I'm not going to need to file for bankruptcy because I've been asked to donate $2 to a children's hospital but when you look at the overall contributions over a series of shopping trips these little donations add up.  

This week alone, I have donated over $20 to charities.  This is all money that I hadn't intended on spending.  So I have decided that I'm going to take my spending power back. The next time I'm asked if I'd like to donate to a charity I am going to say "No thanks.  I already have."  Because that is the truth.  I decide on the amount of money I chose to donate over the year and I don't need to feel pressured to give more.

The best statement to help me remember that it is ok to say no is...

"No one can make me feel guilty without my consent."

Any emotion can be substituted for guilty but in this case guilty works.  Beyond feeling pressured to give, there are so many things we feel pressured to do especially this time of year.  We can take back a bit of the control we feel like we're giving over to others by simply saying no.  And if that guilty emotion begins to tug at our resistance remember those words.

This is a busy and expensive time of year.  The sense of obligation to buy gifts for others and attend concerts and parties is almost overwhelming.  What we need to focus on is what is driving our intention to attend parties or buy gifts.  Are we doing so from a place of generosity or sharing? If that answer is no, then maybe we need to reassess our response when asked to attend.

I always feel that work parties should be entirely optional.  Technically I am paid to spend the time with my co-workers so attending a Christmas party shouldn't feel like work.  If I want to be generous and buy a gift for someone if should be done from a place of sharing. Once you examine your motives for your behaviour, saying No should become a little easier.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't be generous or spend time celebrating with others but if the decision to give time or money doesn't come from a place of sharing within you then does the act of giving really have the same meaning?  Guilt is a powerful emotion, but only if we give into it.  Our needs should come first and once they have been addressed there will be room for so much more.

Friday, 11 December 2015

Fun Food Friday - Cranberry Orange Smoothie

One of the most overlooked fruit for a smoothie is cranberries.  Not the sweetened juice but straight up cranberries.  I buy bags of cranberries during the fall when they are in season and add them to my smoothies.  One of my favourite combinations is with oranges.  The citrus balances the tartness of the cranberries and if you add vanilla, it helps sweeten the smoothie.

Cranberries are amazing little berries.  They are full of antioxidants and help support the kidneys and urinary tract.   They also contain phytonutrients that help support the immune system and help reduce inflammation.

Here is one of my favourite ways to enjoy cranberries.

Cranberry Orange Smoothie

by Denise Boyd Dunlop
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Ingredients (Serves 2)
  • 1/4 cup fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 4 tangerines or 2 oranges peeled
  • 1 frozen banana
  • 1/4 cup greek yogurt
  • 1 cup almond milk (more if you like a thinner smoothie)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Place ingredients in blender. Blend until smooth adding more milk if needed. Divide into 2 glasses.
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Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Workout Wednesday - TRX Y-Deltoid Raises

Back to TRX workouts!  On my top ten countdown, number 6 is the TRX deltoid raise.  The  benefits of this move is the ability to target both the upper back and the shoulders.  The main focus of this exercise is on the shoulders and the lift action.  You work the shoulder muscles through their entire range of motion while executing this exercise.  But the other added benefit is the work and strengthening that happens in the upper back, specifically the lower traps and the rhomboids.

Most of the activities that we do throughout our days are in a hunched position resulting in tight chest muscles and over stretched, under developed upper back muscles.  This exercise reverses the effects of poor posture and helps strengthen our back muscles.  As usual with the TRX exercises, core engagement is key to ensuring the lower back is protected and the receive the most benefit from the exercise.

How to Complete a TRX Y-detoid raise:

  1. Stand facing you anchor point with straps a the mid-way level.
  2. With core and upper back engaged, lean back into straps remembering that the closer your feet are to the anchor point, the more challenging the exercise.
  3. Raise your arms overhead  with a natural bend in the arms (elbows not locked) forming the letter Y with your arms.
  4. Slowly lower yourself back to your staring position.
  5. To include your breath with the movement, inhale as you raise up and exhale as you lower.
  6. Complete 8-12 reps doing 1-3 sets.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

The Importance of Sleep

Over the past few months I've been writing about meditation, gratitude, being present and all sorts of other habits we can incorporate into our lives to make our days a bit lighter and happier.  It is pretty obvious if you stop and think about little habits that you have or the food you eat and the effects these have on your overall feelings of wellness.

I have learned the hard way that as much as I love coffee, if I drink as many cups as I feel I should some days I will not feel well.  The caffeine affects my heart rate and ability to fall asleep.  I will feel dehydrated.  Just overall I will feel off.  Sometimes though when things get busy, I will reach for the third or fourth cup during the day to give me that extra boost.  It doesn't take long though before I start to feel the affects of too much coffee and adjust my behaviour.

But one of the habits that affect all of us and the one single thing most people can change in their days to make having a more balanced approach to our outlook is getting enough sleep.  Anyone who has experienced broken sleep for a night or two whether from too much on our agendas, children or a busy mind know that the next day or days following the missed sleep are difficult.

Various studies have been released discussing the amount of sleep we need.  Basically the average is 7-9 hours a night for adults.  I'm not sure how many people actually get that amount of sleep each night consistently, but I know there are many nights I don't.

Many of us have become accustomed to functioning on minimal sleep.  Most people don't even realize how the lack of sleep is affecting them and how poorly they feel.

Poor sleeping habits creep up on people without even realizing is.  For a lot of people, the end of the night is a chance to unwind from the day.  Once we finish everything we need to accomplish or feel we need to accomplish we look for a way to turn off.  Often turning off is finding a TV show or zoning out in on a tablet, computer or phone.  Sometimes you might enjoy this downtime with a glass or wine or beer just to chill out from the day.

I'm not saying that these are necessary habits to avoid.  Everything in moderation.  Difficulties with this behaviour start to occur when you end up getting sucked into endless episodes on Netflix or one link after another and you've spent hours in front of your device. Or you need that alcohol to make you sleepy in order to drift off.

The problem with having that drink is once your body has metabolized the alcohol it is converted to sugar.  The extra sugar in your body causes a spike in your insulin and glucose levels.  Even if you have already fallen asleep, your body is now working hard to process the rise in blood glucose levels. 

So instead of working to repair cellular damage and detoxify through the night when you are resting, your body is having to clean up from your night cap.  If you have a snack with your drink, your body needs to work to digest that food as well.

Combine the work being done with digestion of food and drink with the images and artificial lighting you have exposed yourself to on your screen and you are creating even more of a challenge for your brain. During the day, you are exposed to millions of pieces of information taken in mostly through the subconscious.  When we turn your conscious mind off through sleep, our subconscious mind has the opportunity to clear out.  

I learned the hard way that watching Game of Thrones before bed was not conducive to providing a sound night's sleep for me.  If I didn't want disturbing dreams, I needed to make sure I wasn't exposing my mind to disturbing images.  The same is true for the information we are watching or reading on our screens and especially if they are showing up on a screen that is back lit.

So what can be done to ensure that we have a pleasant night's sleep?  Well a few easy suggestions....
  1. Set a bedtime and make it a priority.  No TV show is worth a painful start to the next day especially with Netflix or PVRs. 
  2. Limit alcohol before bed.  This also means fewer calories consumed and less dehydration the next day. 
  3. Do not eat 2 hours before going to sleep.  Again you'll be less likely to consume extra and often unnecessary calories and you'll allow your body the chance to repair damaged cells and tissues.  
  4. Avoid screens of any type 1 hour before bedtime.  Read or journal before sleeping.

Having a properly rested mind and body will provide the framework for starting your day with the energy and outlook we need to live our lives in the manner we want.  The ability to sleep is a precious gift for anyone who has struggled with sleeping disorders but by changing our approach to sleep we may be able to instil basis for a solid night's sleep.