Six Best Exercises You Never Heard Of

Six Best Exercises You Never Heard Of

by Valerie Garrett

As a young dancer training in ballet and modern dance, I didn’t think much about longevity.  My body was my musical instrument, and I figured if I got it polished and kept it tuned, it would last me a good long time.  Now, at 60, I’m still a performer, dancing with Mountain View’s Academy of Danse Libre, the nation’s leading vintage ballroom dance company and doing a dozen shows a year – some in high heels!

As a movement coach and educator working with the mind-body connection, I study and teach movement to everyone from little children to the fragile elderly.  Along the way I’ve learned some very unique longevity secrets that have helped me and many others to feel great, avoid injuries, relieve pain, and stay active.  Here are some of my favorites – some may surprise you!

Stretch in Bed.  This most basic full-body yawn is the best exercise you can do before you get up in the morning (or even at night).  Babies and animals do it naturally, and so should we.  Just flex and stretch this way and that, slowly and lightly at first.  Reach in front of yourself, over your head.  Fold your knees over your chest and curl up, then stretch your heels away from your fingertips.  Wake up the muscles to support the bones, so those first steps out of bed are secure enough to avoid a stumble or fall.

Go to Hawaii.  Drain tension and improve posture that’s cramped from too much desk our couch time with a free Hawaiian holiday via dynamic imagery. Sit or stand comfortably with bare feet on the ground.  Close your eyes and imagine warm sand beneath your feet.  Wiggle your toes, heels and arches in the delicious warmth. Take a deep breath and notice that right behind you is a warm waterfall, splashing softly on your shoulders and down your back.  Nestle into that water flow and allow your shoulders to drop into the downward streaming flow of the water. Take another breath and observe your tension drain away as you exhale.  Stay there  on the beach as long as you like.  When you are ready to return from your holiday, just gently open your eyes.  You may need to brush some sand from your toes!

Relax your Jaw.  Many of us carry tension in our throat, neck, and jaw that can cause headaches, dental and health problems, and wrinkles.   Finding a neutral posture for your tongue is a surprisingly effective release for your jaw and throat.  Place the top of your tongue lightly up against the roof of your mouth, with the tip of your tongue touching the back of your upper teeth.  As you relax into this posture you will notice an immediate release of your jaw tension. Remind yourself to practice this while you are doing your regular exercise or anytime you might be straining.

Lift your Face.  Ancient wisdom meets modern exercise with facial yoga that eliminates the need for plastic surgery while building tone and expressive mobility to our faces. Here’s a simple fix.  For a sagging throat or jawline, place your tongue in its neutral position, lift the chin, and press upwards with the tongue on the roof of the mouth for several seconds, release, and repeat several times.

Respect your Feet.  Ever hear the expression, “My dogs are barking?”  Keep your pups quiet and happy with daily attention of movement, imagery, and grooming.  My friend, the dancer/choreographer Sybil Shearer (who died at the youthful age of 95!) had a daily practice of circling every bone in her body, slowly, this way and that.  While sitting or standing, extend your leg and very slowly and lightly circle your foot around your ankle a few times.  Change feet, repeat, and reverse.  Try circling just your big toe, or middle toe.  Point and flex your foot.  Take your foot in your hand and give it a little massage at both the arches, under the toes and under the length of the foot.  Make space between the bones with your fingers, then quietly stand. Sensing the connection to the ground through the soles of your feet will help you maintain your balance, posture, and mobility as the years go by.

Dance every day.  Music and movement harmonize the energy fields of the body.  So turn up the music and just move.  You don’t even need a partner. You’ll release those feel-good endorphins, your body will wake up in a new way, and you’ll have renewed energy as well as a boost to your fitness program.  If you can’t dance, who’s to know?  Run with music, walk with music, sing or hum along.  Even if you’re moving to your own drummer, it’s dancing.  So, let’s face the music and dance!

http://danselibre.org

Agile Aging Secret: Dance Every Day!

Agile Aging Secret: Dance Every Day!

Valerie Baadh Garrett, founder of Agile Aging as well as The Movement Academy Project. is a lifelong dancer, still going strong.  Take a look at this photo by Jason Chuang of Valerie dancing with Craig Chen in a performance of “Alle Tanzen” danced with the company of Academy of Danse Libre at a 2012 show in Palo Alto, CA.  “Although it isn’t always easy to keep up the fast pace our directors set in rehearsals, I work hard to train outside the rehearsal studio so I can do my best,” says Garrett.  At age 60, she’s certainly not old, but she is the eldest of the dancers in the young company of 20 – 40 year olds.

Taking advice from her own teachers and mentors, she points to Daniel Nagrin’s book “How To Dance Forever” as inspiration.  “Basically, Nagrin says we must dance every day.  What that means to me is to stay connected to my body’s spaces inside and out, and to how music moves and flows with me.  I do yoga.  I stretch and work out  incognito at my gym, Gold’s Gym in SOMA, where I’m just one forgettable older lady among the eye candy there.  I take special time for the health and strength of my hardworking allies, my feet, which ache for the first time in my life after dancing for hours in heels while in costume with DL (Academy of Danse Libre). I travel a lot nowadays, to China and Taiwan and the east coast, leading workshops in movement for executive leadership, for women’s wellness, for teacher training, for caregivers of the elderly, and for schools and parent groups.  Fortunately, everyone loves to move and to dance with me, so dance is usually a part of my work day too.”

“I’m forever inspired by two special dance teachers in my life, Bella Lewitzky, who was my teacher in my teens and early twenties, and Sybil Shearer, whom I met when she was in her late 80s.  She told me I needed to get back into performing again, at the ripe age of 40 at that time. When I whimpered something about being old, she shook her head at me and shouted, ‘You’re in your baby shoes!”  I’ll never forget that moment.  She was right.”

Here’s a short video of Valerie dancing Etude #1.

Dance every day.  Dance alone. Dance with a pillow.  Dance with your friends and family.  Just shake it loose, and get moving.  Everyone can dance!

More about Valerie here. 

More about Valerie’s upcoming workshop schedule here.

More about Academy of Danse Libre here.

Watch videos of Academy of Danse Libre on YouTube here.

In Hot Water? Reaping the Rewards of Hydrotherapy.

In Hot Water? Reaping the Rewards of Hydrotherapy.

This past weekend I watched a parade of nearly naked bodies at all stages of aging passing, their feet padding across the concrete at my eye-level.  While many jiggled and sagged and hung in strangely fascinating folds, the beauty of the human form shined through each and every person. As I soaked in different hot pools and worked out some kinks I’ve had many insights, new photos, and some new poolside exercises to share. Read more

The Mind’s Eye: Imagery for Wellness

The Mind’s Eye: Imagery for Wellness

You are standing on the warm sands of a beach in Hawaii, looking out over the gentle waves. Underneath your toes you feel the sand, and when you look down, you see that the sand is a beautiful pale green. As you step forward into the small foamy wavelet, your toes leave tiny prints in the wet sand. The water is warm, and the waves are very gentle. You enter the water to your ankles, to your knees, and feel the warmth penetrate your skin, your muscles, to your very bones. The water reaches your waist, and you hover there, enjoying the buoyancy. You take two more steps, and the water softly rises to your breastbone, to your heart. Your arms float gently, effortlessly, across the top of the water. You are poised, balanced, suspended lightly on your feet, sensing the slow ebb and flow of the watery forces around and even through you… Read more

Six Best Exercises You Never Heard Of

Six Best Exercises You Never Heard Of

As a young dancer training in ballet and modern dance, I didn’t think much about longevity.  My body was my musical instrument, and I figured if I got it polished and kept it tuned, it would last me a good long time.  Now, at 58, I’m still a performer, dancing with Mountain View’s Academy of Danse Libre, the nation’s leading vintage ballroom dance company and doing a dozen shows a year – some in high heels!

As a movement coach and educator working with the mind-body connection, I study and teach movement to everyone from little children to the fragile elderly.  Along the way I’ve learned some very unique longevity secrets that have helped me and many others to feel great, avoid injuries, relieve pain, and stay active.  Here are some of my favorites – some may surprise you! Read more

The Home Workout – Safety Tips for Agile Aging

The Home Workout – Safety Tips for Agile Aging

Working out at home, or have a loved one who needs to?  Whether you have your own favorite exercise routines, follow a TV program, or pop in a DVD to follow, here’s some tips to keep you safe, sound, and focused while you keep healthy and fit.

De-clutter 

Clutter is distracting and can be a hazard. Put away as many items as you can, things that will either get in your way as you move or interrupt your concentration.  (When I have a hard time getting started at tidying, I tease myself with, “Just put away 10 things.”  That gets me started, and sometimes, finished!)  Check for pet toys, shoes, dishes, and any newspapers that may be lying about, and get them picked up and put away. Read more

Men’s Sheds: Meaningful Movement and Sensory Activities for Elderly Men

Men’s Sheds: Meaningful Movement and Sensory Activities for Elderly Men

Men are different. A young woman in one of my seminars retorted, “That’s sexist!” when I made that statement.  Well, no.  It’s true.  Men are different than women.  While it’s maybe foolish to make generalizations, that one is true.  We heard it from you, too, at our recent workshops on New Sensory Activities for Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  “Can you help us with meaningful activities, especially for the men?”  Yes.

Men need different activities than women, to engage and interest them, help them feel productive, and to interact with the world.  Men identify themselves with their work, their career – as much or more than women do – and when that stage of life is over and retirement is upon them, hanging around the house doesn’t suit them.  (Just ask their wives!)  Where do they go?  The garage, the pub, the shed.  Why, and what can we, caregivers of the elderly, learn there? Read more

Best Quick Exercises for A Busy Mom (or Dad)

Best Quick Exercises for A Busy Mom (or Dad)

You rush around in the morning, getting kids up and dressed and breakfasted. Maybe you drive a carpool or walk them to the bus, and probably you go off to your own job, if you’re lucky enough to have one. Housekeeping itself is its own job, too, I know. So, how does a busy mom do a few of the best exercises to help keep herself fit? This question just came across my email, so here are some ideas.

Body Yawn (Make some space for YOU in your body.)

Stand with feet wide and strong, and reach your arms up overhead.  Yawn from your mouth, through your fingers and toes.  Relax.  Do it again.  Feel your ribs reach away from your hips.  Listen to the pops and crunches.  Notice your aches and pains or lack of them.  Take a few deep breaths. Read more

Arthritis and the Mind – A Holistic Approach to Healing

Arthritis and the Mind – A Holistic Approach to Healing

The hip ache starts when I’m 52. I’m tossing and turning at night, trying to get comfortable, like a rotisserie chicken. First, on my belly, then my side, then my back, then the other side, and the turning starts again. My husband teases me that I’m cycling all night, but he’s not laughing. Finally, there’s relief with a pillow between my knees, and I fall into a deep sleep.

Arthritis. Who, me?

I managed to keep fit enough to still be a high school PE teacher in my 50s. I first notice the aching hip after an occasional ballet class. My strength seems OK, my flow and balance are still there, but something is weakening in the joints, something I only notice at night. Read more