EXERCISE AIN’T FOR SISSIES! Choose a form of exercise that feels right for you. Not everyone can run, ski, or climb mountains, yet everyone can at least go outside for a short walk after dinner. One of my previous yoga teachers once told me she walks at least “1000 steps” after dinner, and that practice has stuck with me ever since. Running also has physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Since I started running in the mid-seventies, I am better able to maintain a healthy weight, and it helps clear my mind of needless worries, fears, and anxieties.
As a part of my series about “5 Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Donna F. Brown. Donna is an author, musician, certified yoga teacher and yoga therapist, and former RN with over 35 years of nursing experience. She is also an avid runner, hiker, cross country skier, and has climbed Mount Rainier in Washington, Mount Hood in Oregon, and 22 of 54 14,000 ft. peaks in Colorado.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Donna! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the story about how you first got involved in fitness and wellness?
Inmy childhood I had severe asthma, and in those days the general consensus was that exercise, in any form, would be detrimental to any person with this health problem. My mother was fearful that if I exerted myself I would surely pass on to the next world, and she had me believing the same. Ironically, she passed away shortly thereafter, when I was just 19. Sometime after her untimely death at the age of 49, my dad gave me a brochure about a running club that met near where we lived at the time in Chicago. Dad ran track in his younger years and assured me that I could also run if I “put my best foot forward” and give it a try. His suggestion gave me my start in pursuing fitness and wellness. After giving running a try, I loved it and ran weekly with the running club. I have been running ever since! Running improved my fitness, self-esteem and wellbeing, and combined with breathing exercises, strengthened my respiratory capacity. Running also instilled a renewed self-confidence and passion to pursue even more challenging athletic events such as marathons, triathlons, and climbing mountains.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
This story is about struggling with and overcoming adversity, and finding hope amidst despair. I am dealing with a very challenging health problem, tinnitus, (aka: ringing in the ears) and here is my story:
A few months after undergoing surgery in the mid-nineties, I noticed a whooshing noise in my ears. At first, I thought it was due to the effects of anesthesia and that it would subside after the anesthesia wore off. It unfortunately turned into a shrill, high pitch ringing that has persisted. Distraught and depressed, I sought help from several ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctors, yet they were not very helpful and told me to “learn to live with it.” They didn’t tell me how! In the nineties, even less was known about tinnitus than today, and there weren’t many treatment options, other than something called TRT, (aka: Tinnitus Retraining Therapy) that was created by a scientist in Baltimore, MD. This treatment involved wearing white noise generators similar to hearing aids in my ears. After two years of wearing them 8–10 hours a day, I started noticing the tinnitus was reduced to a more tolerable level.
In the lengthy research I did to gather more information on this life-changing health problem, I discovered some interesting facts:
- Over 50 million people in the USA alone have tinnitus (including military servicemen and women)
- Some 10 million are severely disabled by tinnitus (unable to work or have normal relationships with friends and family, unable to sleep or concentrate)
- Only 4% of funding available from the US government goes toward research for a cure for tinnitus
Finally finding relief from the TRT, I was able to resume my active lifestyle that had fallen by the wayside. After reading an amazing story about a group of women who climbed a 22,000 ft. mountain in Argentina for continued cancer research, I was inspired to do my own climb. (More about this book later in this interview.) I contacted American Tinnitus Association in Portland, OR, who offered to support me in my endeavor to do two fundraising climbs on Mount Rainier and the third on Mount Hood. Thanks to the efforts of ATA and thousands of members, I was able to raise close to $500,000 in total donations to support ATA in their continued research for an eventual cure.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
Pursuing nursing as a career was a real learning experience from day one! While still a student, I was trying to transfer a rather obese patient from her wheelchair to her bed. I was so intent on the transfer that I forgot to lock the wheelchair and as I lifted her from the chair, her legs suddenly gave out and she pitched forward, knocking me backwards to the floor with her falling right on top of me. Luckily, neither one of us was injured in the process. Of course, my nursing instructor entered the room at that exact point in time, and after ensuring that the patient was safely tucked into her bed with side rails in place, she escorted me outside into the hall. She asked me about what influenced my decision to ever become a nurse? Since that “mistake,” I became quite obsessive/compulsive about locking wheelchairs during transfers for the rest of my nursing career. Ironically, my instructor’s question influenced me to eventually pursue a teaching career.
Can you share with our readers a bit about why you are an authority in the fitness and wellness field? In your opinion, what is your unique contribution to the world of wellness?
As a Certified Yoga Teacher and Therapist and former RN, I am able to work with my clients, combining Western and Eastern medicine techniques. For example, in working with clients as a yoga therapist, I use my astute nursing skills in understanding each client’s unique health challenges, and implement individualized yoga, meditation, and breathing techniques to address their specific health issues. As an athlete, I also can offer clients and students my sports medicine proficiency, so the benefits they derive are based on three levels of health and wellness expertise.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people who helped me along the way, including, yet not limited to, my dear husband Gary, my parents, numerous friends, therapists, teachers, students, and clients. So, I would have to say all of the above deserve honorable mention.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. We all know that it’s important to eat more vegetables, eat less sugar, exercise more, and get better sleep etc. But while we know it intellectually, it’s often difficult to put it into practice and make it a part of our daily habits. In your opinion what are the 3 main blockages that prevent us from taking the information that we all know, and integrating it into our lives?
Despite knowing intellectually what is beneficial for our health and wellbeing, the greatest obstacles we are faced with are the following:
- Resistance to change — Everyone knows change is inevitable, yet many people view change as overwhelming. Perhaps, rather than viewing lifestyle changes as a category 5 hurricane heading in your direction, working with, rather than fighting, the “winds of change,” might encourage you to make healthier choices in your life.
- Lack of motivation — If there is no incentive to change, either financially or otherwise, why change your lifestyle? Where’s the motivation to change my lifestyle, you might ask? After all, I’m sitting here in front of the TV watching my favorite SOAP, and eating pizza, my favorite food. So, why give up the things I love, in favor of eating that healthy broccoli stuff, and hoisting my body off the couch to go to the gym? That’s TOO MUCH WORK! Perhaps getting together with friends to do workouts will change your definition of exercise to FUN rather than MUNDANE.
- Fear of the unknown — (aka: fear of leaving comfort zones) For many people, just stepping off the recliner is scary! The recliner represents both safety and comfort, and taking that first step will lead you into uncharted territory. Perhaps working on improving your self-esteem will give you more confidence that in making lifestyle changes, you will be on the right road rather than fall off the face of the earth.
Can you please share your “5 Non-Intuitive Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Dramatically Improve One’s Wellbeing”? (Please share a story or an example for each, and feel free to share ideas for mental, emotional and physical health.)
Throughout my years of practicing and teaching yoga, I have discovered the following ingredients are requisite for improving wellness and wellbeing:
1. RECOGNITION that something needs to change and WILLINGNESS to make those changes. Working with clients individually on the health challenges they present to me, I have discovered a definite resistance to change. One example: A lady came to me to help her lose weight and reduce stress in her life as a busy supervisor of a company. During our first meeting, she carried her cellphone and refused to turn it off, stating she was continually “On Call.” She wasn’t pleased when I requested she turn it off just for the hour session. I wondered if she would even return for another session, yet there she was, in her car, on my driveway. She called me on her cell to cancel her appointment! The recognition for change was there, yet the willingness was a bit amiss!
2. BELIEF IN YOURSELF! YOU ARE WORTHY TO BE WELL! Wellness is a choice we make in our lives. Often, some folks make the choice to NOT BE WELL, and for these people, their illness serves them in some fashion. Making the choice to BE WELL is life changing. Some consider that major changes need to occur when it could be as simple as getting up from your recliner and taking the dog for a walk around the block, instead of opening the doggie door!
3. REDUCING SUGAR INTAKE! Yes, that slice of chocolate cake looks sinfully delicious, and of course, you can indulge in moderation, yet be aware that moderation doesn’t mean stuffing your face with chocolate cake every night before bedtime. Paying attention to portions and eating times are crucial for maintaining a healthy weight, and as important as choosing healthy foods to eat! (i.e. consuming more fruits and vegetables, and foods rich in Omega 3 Fatty Acids such as salmon and tuna, and antioxidants to reduce the risk of Cancer). Excessive sugar intake can also cause mood changes (i.e. anger, irritability, and depression).
4. EXERCISE AIN’T FOR SISSIES! Choose a form of exercise that feels right for you. Not everyone can run, ski, or climb mountains, yet everyone can at least go outside for a short walk after dinner. One of my previous yoga teachers once told me she walks at least “1000 steps” after dinner, and that practice has stuck with me ever since. Running also has physical, mental, and emotional benefits. Since I started running in the mid-seventies, I am better able to maintain a healthy weight, and it helps clear my mind of needless worries, fears, and anxieties.
5. PURSUING YOUR PASSIONS AND PAYING IT FORWARD! Engaging in activities that you enjoy keeps your mind active and LEADS TO A HAPPIER, HEALTHIER YOU! Also, when you encourage and help others to find whatever gives them joy and purpose in their lives, this adds WELLBEING to your own life.
As an expert, this might be obvious to you, but I think it would be instructive to articulate this for the public. Aside from weight loss, what are 3 benefits of daily exercise? Can you explain?
Daily exercise has numerous benefits that can best be described in the following categories:
Since I started running in the mid-seventies, I am better able to maintain a healthy weight, have a slower pulse and resting heart rate in the forties, which means that my heart doesn’t have to work as hard as someone who is not as active. In regards to mental and emotional health, running helps to clear my mind of needless worries, fears and anxieties. Yoga also has the same health benefits in that it improves your flexibility, strengthens your bones and muscles, and helps you to relax, especially through meditation, breathing exercises, and deep relaxation practices (i.e savasana, or corpse pose, done at the end of yoga class).
For someone who is looking to add exercise to their daily routine, which 3 exercises would you recommend that are absolutely critical?
In my yoga classes, I tell my students, especially those who are new to practicing yoga, that the series of combined poses known as Salute To The Sun, (aka: Surya Namaskar), tones and works every muscle in the body and is a great way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. This series can be effectively done in as little as 15–20 minutes per day, and can be practiced as vigorously, or moderately, as you prefer. Other exercises I would highly recommend are aerobic exercises that increase your heart rate, such as walking, or hiking. These exercises are great for improving your overall fitness. It is recommended that you exercise 2–3 times per week and at least 15–20 minutes per day. Anything of lengthier duration conditions and trains the heart to work more efficiently with fewer beats per minute (i.e. running, biking).
In my experience, many people begin an exercise regimen but stop because they get too sore afterwards. What ideas would you recommend to someone who plays sports or does heavy exercise to shorten the recovery time, and to prevent short term or long term injury?
We, as humans, tend to be DOERS in today’s lightning fast, technology driven society! We hardly have time or the desire to listen to and respect our bodies, except when we get injured. When we have pain, WE LISTEN! Pain is the body’s signal to stop whatever activity or sport you are doing at the moment to prevent or lessen the impact of imminent injury. Our bodies are constantly sending us signals that we need to pay more attention to, preferably BEFORE injuries occur. Another example is feeling tired. Fatigue is either physical or mental, or a combination of both. When I feel tired, I review my day and let that determine if I need a nap or a run. Often, if I’ve skipped my morning run, I’ll run after work and feel more energized. If during a run, I still feel low energy, I’ll usually run back to my recliner, or better yet, bed.
There are so many different diets today. Can you share what kind of diet you follow? Which diet do you recommend to most of your clients?
My diet is predominately vegetarian, although I do eat some chicken and fish when I feel the need to eat more protein. I avoid eating red meat as a personal preference. I don’t normally recommend dieting, unless a client asks for my recommendation for losing weight. In that situation, I advise my clients to limit their simple sugar intake, and increase their complex carbohydrates, as they give you more sustained energy and are healthier than consuming simple sugars. In general, I believe that eating a well-balanced diet containing foods from the four basic food groups, meats, vegetables, fruits, and dairy, help maintain wellness and increase longevity.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
There are several books that really made an impact, including The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka, and The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Earlier in this interview, I mentioned reading a book that inspired me to do three fundraising climbs for the American Tinnitus Association to raise awareness of, and continued research for, a cure for tinnitus. This incredible book, No Mountain Too High, by Andrea Gabbard, recounts the story of 17 courageous women, all breast cancer survivors, who despite having undergone mastectomies, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, climbed Aconcagua, a 22,000 ft. mountain in Argentina. As a person who has struggled with tinnitus since 1996, I was truly inspired by this story, and thought if these brave women with cancer could climb Aconcagua, I could surely do my own climbs! What I learned from this endeavor, was that I was stronger than I ever thought possible, raised a tidy sum of money that was donated to ATA, had incredible adventures, made new friends and contacts, and best of all, came away from the experience with a tremendous sense of accomplishment!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The movement would be twofold: SHARING SMILES WITH EVERYONE YOU MEET, AND PAYING IT FORWARD WITHOUT EXPECTATIONS OF BEING PAID IN RETURN!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“The mountains are calling, and I must go.” — John Muir
I love hiking and climbing mountains, and just being in the mountains makes me feel truly ALIVE AND AT PEACE WITH THE WORLD! My mother always sent my sister and I to Day Camp. I’ve loved being outside and participating in outdoor sports ever since.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I have always been a HUGE BEATLES FAN! Paul is my favorite and of course, if he could take time out of his busy touring schedule, I would LOVE some private time with him to tell him how much his music CHANGED MY LIFE and INSPIRED me to become a musician (guitarist and keyboards), and write and play music! At least, I can dream…
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I have two pages on FB, one is an author page, and the other is a book reviews page that I also host. Here are the links:
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!