Maggie Downie

About Maggie Downie

Thank you for giving your time to stop and read my blog. I hope it encourages you to keep moving. Move and the body will be happier. And when you're moving you can hike, run, swim in Jell-O, race over non-Newtonian fluids, travel the world or build igloos--if that's your thing. If not, you can watch me do it. This is just a spot to try and feel good about life.

Menstrual cramps or gas

This is my mom. The woman who created the chicken walk.

If you ever asked me if I knew the difference between menstrual cramps or gas, I would have definitively said, “Yes.”  With that opening line, you probably realize that this blog may come with a little TMI.  I’m going to talk about my bowels more than you may care to know about.  I’ll try to make the process at least mildly entertaining.  But if you don’t have any menstrual or bowel trouble you’ve been trying to sort out, you can feel free to skip this one.

I’m familiar with gas pain.  As a kid if you had gas pain in our house my mom would make you get up and move.  She called it the chicken walk.  You would make big, exaggerated movements and get your knees up really high, practically pulling one knee up toward one shoulder and then repeating on the other side as you strutted around the room. If you weren’t doubled over in pain from gas cramps it would have been hilarious.  And it was always hilarious to the observer.  It was also almost always effective.  (Movement makes everything better.)

The first time Matt ever saw me do the chicken walk, he guffawed.  “What is happening?” he wanted to know.  He didn’t understand.  He had never experienced gas pain.  He couldn’t comprehend my motivator and willingness to make myself look like such a fool.  He also has never had a bug bite last more than 24-hours, and he’s not temperature sensitive.  Sometimes I wonder if he’s actually human.

In addition to gas, I’ve also had debilitating menstrual cramps.  Not every month, thankfully, but when they were bad they could bring me to my knees.  I’m just lucky that way.   But based on having had gas pains and having had menstrual cramps I would have told you that I could definitely tell the difference between my bowels and my uterus.  I was wrong.

My OBGYN’s Da Bomb:

While, I don’t know the timeline exactly (because I don’t keep Jeffersonian notes on my days), over a year ago at my last OBGYN appointment I mentioned that I was getting mild menstrual cramps all month long, not just right before my period.  I was worried something might be wrong.  I would never have described what I was feeling as gas.  What I was feeling was always the sensation I get right before my period.  Different from terrible cramping.  Just mild discomfort that makes you remember your period is on its way.  A roll-you-eyes kind of cramp.

To be thorough, my OBGYN did an internal ultrasound.  That’s never fun, but now I know my ovaries and uterus are beautiful—her words, not mine.  However, she told me that while all my lady parts were doing just fine, my colon was spasming. I don’t care who give you the news, you don’t want to hear you have a spasming colon.  She suggested I go to a gastrointestinal doctor because lots of women confuse abdominal pain for menstrual cramps when it’s actually intestinal.  In fact when I did a Google search for  “menstrual cramps no…” period is the first thing to come pop up, followed shortly behind uterus and ovaries.  So even when women no longer have all their original parts they still assume they are having menstrual cramps or they are trying to figure out why they might have cramps when they have nothing left to cramp.

Turns out what feels like cramping can actually be intestinal.  Sometimes I’m shocked at how little I know my own body for someone whose career is, at least in part, about feeling and sensing her own body.

I’d spent months altering my diet, cutting out various foods that could be aggravating, searching for a possible food allergy all with minimal to no noticeable benefit.  That’s when my GI doctor ran a hydrogen breathe test for SIBO. I wish she ran it first.  It’s a three hour exam.  After fasting, you drink a sugary beverage at the doctor’s office and then every 15-minutes for three hours you blow in a tube and they look for hydrogen or other gasses in your breath that shouldn’t be there in excessive quantities.  You can’t sleep or exercise while testing.  My test came back positive for SIBO.

What is SIBO?

SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) means that the bacteria that normally live in your colon creep up into your small intestine.  Since they don’t belong there, they can wreak havoc.

Symptoms:

These were my symptoms.  They aren’t all the symptoms associated with SIBO and they aren’t always caused by SIBO.

Abdominal Pain

Bloating after eating

Diarrhea (I was in denial about this one in some ways)

Urgency to Use the Bathroom—like I couldn’t hold it and didn’t get much warning

Malabsorption

Getting Full Fast

Heartburn

Fatigue

Treatment

Treatment for SIBO is with antibiotics, which according to google, the tome of all knowledge, isn’t always effective.  Meaning it can take a few treatments to finally work.  But figuring out if you have something that even needs to be treated is the first step.

I think there were a variety of reasons it may have taken me a long time to get diagnosed with SIBO.  First of all, my symptoms didn’t all come at once. A couple started and then a few others trickled in.  I didn’t necessarily link all of them together.  Also, SIBO may be more common than people once thought.  So I’m not sure it’s every doctors ‘go-to’ problem.

In addition, I could explain all my symptoms away, or so I thought.  Fatigue could be lack of sleep.  Heartburn seemed like normal aging.  Bloating must mean I’d developed a food allergy.  That’s why I was willing to try all these different experiments with my diet.  I’d developed a chicken aversion.  The idea of eating most poultry was nauseating.  And, in all my experiments with food, the only one that seemed to make a difference was cutting out raw veggies.  I presume this is because SIBO can make it harder to digest food and raw veggies are hard to digest anyway.  As I mentioned before, I thought my abdominal pain was actually menstrual cramps.  Urgency to go was my last symptom to crop up, but it bothered me most of all because it literally put a cramp in my style.  I detest using public restrooms, and I started to get nervous about when the urgency would arise. Could I be in the middle of teaching a class and need to excuse myself to go to the bathroom?  Luckily, it never came to that.

I often joke that I’m an 80-year-old in a 36-year-old’s body.  I like to be in bed by nine.  I get up early.  I’d happily eat dinner at early bird special time.  Some of these symptoms just confirmed for me that I’m secretly an old lady at heart and now, apparently, I was one gastrointestinally too.  I’m glad I have my mom because she always confirms for me that all my issues are not part of “normal aging.”

If I’m honest, time got in the way too.  How many doctors can you go see?  I wasn’t making time for any of those issues.  Mostly, I just dealt with them.  I was so hesitant to delve deeper into what was happening that when my OBGYN started scheduling an internal ultra sound, I almost said, “You know what, forget it.  I’m okay.”  When I went to the gastroc I downplayed all my symptoms. “I don’t have diarrhea,” I insisted.  “I have soft stool”—a difference I still stand by.  Then she reminded me that I’m not 80. I’m 36 and that’s abnormal and a change in my body.

I desperately didn’t want to have to do another personal stool collection at home and then drive it to the lab. I’d done so many of these.  It never gets easier or more fun.  It’s always mortifying.  And the last time I’d delivered my sample at the lab, the guy collecting said, “Has anyone ever told you that you have beautiful eyes?” Then I handed him a bag of my own poo.  You just don’t feel pretty when feces are around.

How do you get SIBO?

What sets SIBO off in the first place is not fully understood.  It could be an issue with the nervous system or a muscular issue.  Our bowels normally work without us thinking about it.  So, if you’ve kept reading even though your bowels work fine, give them a little nod and some gratitude.  Take a minute to appreciate all they do without skipping a beat.  Around the time I got diagnosed with SIBO I was also diagnosed with Lyme disease, which can lead to SIBO.  So for me, maybe my SIBO started when I got Lyme.   Lyme affects the nervous system.  It’s all related.  But like most of our gut health, we still have a lot to learn.

Results:

I treated with antibiotics and my SIBO seemed to clear up entirely.  It’s funny, you can kind of get used to discomfort or an abnormality that just becomes normal for you.  It was so nice to feel better.  I’d forgotten how good it feels to feel good.

I’m currently still being treated for Lyme Disease.  It’s a long treatment of antibiotics, but as of now I’m quite happy to share that my gut feels pretty good.  And I no longer have to make a mad dash to the throne.

Menstrual cramps or gas 2017-09-12T19:30:57+00:00

Handstand Helper

I’m actually working on my handstand, but this was the picture that had the most of me in it!

For two years I’ve been trying to do a handstand and the planche also known as the Peacock.  Two years is a long time to work on something and still not be there.  It can be frustrating.  My failure at the planche is lack of strength.  I’m just not strong enough in my shoulders, back or glutes to support myself in that position.  And I can’t find my balance point.  The handstand, on the other hand, has nothing to do with strength.  I’m strong enough. I just can’t figure it out.  If anything I’m not sure my shoulders are flexible enough for me to get in the right position.

I’m not giving up though and that’s the point.  So far my experimentation with these exercise has been pretty regimented.  Must have strength.  Must follow this prescribed format.  That has been helpful, but it’s only gotten me so far.  My current mode of operation is to be more playful when I’m working on these exercises.

That’s helpful in a couple of ways.  I’m less stressed and frustrated when I try. I’d gotten to the point that when I went to work on them, I started irritated and with a negative mindset as if I knew I wouldn’t be successful.  I tend get really focused on strength in my own body, but that can make me rigid.  I need to be a little more relaxed without losing the strength—a hard balance to find.  But trying to have fun and be playful helps with that a bit.

Yesterday I watched a kid try to do a handstand.  She was fearless.  She went too far and flipped herself into a backbend which is exactly the concern that holds me back.  I’m pretty sure if I did an unanticipated backflip I might snap in two.  But she wasn’t worried or scared going into the movement.  She wasn’t disappointed when she didn’t get it because she knows she is still learning.

My new line of thinking got me out of the box I was in.  I’ve searched a lot online for how to do a handstand, no one I found recommended up against the bed.  Falling onto the bed made me feel a lot better about a potential backflip, making me a little fearless.  But it also gave me feedback in a whole new place in my body.  And I’ve had the most success with my handstand so far.  Sometimes we have to come at a difficult movement  or situation with a new perspective.  We can get stuck in our body and our mind.

I’m not there yet, but I have a new outlook and approach and that makes me a little bit closer.

The two steps I took that are helping me improve the most:

Using the bed instead of the wall (although I think the wall is still a good place to play).

https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=M63MjlinBPA

And taking a video of myself.  A client actually suggested this.  When I watch the video I can see my form and make adjustments accordingly.  I now have a lot of grainy videos on my phone of my wall or half my body.  Getting the camera lined up right is perhaps more challenging than the handstand.   In this rough shot, Matt gets home from work just in time to pass in front of the camera.

https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=IiTa5apL9jo

 

Handstand Helper 2017-09-12T19:30:58+00:00

Happy Birthday: Personal Euphoria Turns Ten

Some of the PE team standing outside the studio.

Twelve years ago, I started teaching an evening Pilates class at Healthtrax in Newington.  After two years of teaching at the gym and completing my STOTT certification program, I left my job as Assistant Director of Education at the Mark Twain House & Museum to start my own Pilates company.

This was not an easy decision.  Working at the Twain House was mostly great.  The staff was fun and supportive.  I had the opportunity to meet some interesting people like Henry Rollins, Spike Lee, Hal Holbrook, and Ken Burns to name a few.  I still kick myself for not meeting Kurt Vonnegut when I had the chance.  And, perhaps best of all, I had a key to enter Mark Twain’s house pretty much any time I wanted.  I got to help decorate for Christmas.  I got paid to read.  I got to meet tourists and teachers from all over the world.  I gave all that up to teach Pilates and start my own business.  It was risky and scary.

When I left the Twain House I had one Pilates class.  Now my schedule is packed. While I typically still only teach Pilates, our team at Personal Euphoria now offers a variety of fitness classes like yoga, barre and strength.  Less than a year after leaping all in, the recession hit.  I pulled my business through a recession, which meant no opportunities for loans. One day my bank cancelled my company credit card because banks were doing things like that.  It’s hard to run a business in the 21st century without credit.  To my ultimate benefit, the financial crisis forced me to run my company without ever taking on debt.

Technically Personal Euphoria is turning ten this month.  That’s when I officially registered the business.  While I loved the Twain House and sometimes miss it, I have never regretted my decision to leave.  That’s because I’ve been lucky to work with a great team of people and have clients that I look forward to seeing every day.

If you have had Jeannine as one of your instructors she deserves a lot of the credit for our success.  We had worked together at the Twain House, and when I was considering expanding and adding instructors besides myself, I approached her.  If she hadn’t said, “yes” and taken a gamble on me, I’m not sure I would have ever trusted anyone else enough to attempt bringing other people onto our team.  But she’s Jeannine, so she did a fantastic job.  And her successes made me realize I could continue expanding Personal Euphoria.  She gave me confidence.

Then there is the incredible Cate Vallone of Evolution Pilates in South Windsor.  When I got certified I felt lucky that there was a certification center 20-minutes away from me.  I wasn’t going to have to drive to New York or Boston.  Cate’s by far the best.  Hands down, no question.  If you think I’m a good instructor, Cate gets some of the credit.

But I’m not sure I’d still be teaching if it weren’t for all our clients.  By showing up to class each week, you literally keep me employed.  Every time you attend one of our classes, you are supporting a local, small business, in case you haven’t thought of it that way.  You are getting healthier and shopping local at the same time.

Helping guide you through movement is truly a privilege, and while I don’t take any of the credit for the gains you make, I do relish in seeing the benefits to your health and body.  I can’t take the credit because I can’t do my job if you don’t show up.  You do all the hard work.  And there are lots of people who choose not to show up to move.  When you show up, I get to see that a back surgery is being pushed back potentially forever, that pain in reduced, that you improved at a goal, or that you found tools to combat scoliosis.  When I get excited because you did a good back bend or really initiated movement from your pelvis, I’m sincerely excited.  I understand how hard that is.  When I see quality movement I’m still thrilled.  When I see someone figure something out that they have been trying to get I’m truly happy.

Learning about the body and watching your body move is endlessly fascinating to me.  Your questions help me learn to do my job better.  Your struggles help me become a better teacher.  Your successes encourage me.  Your conversation and stories fill me.  When I show up to group classes and you are all chit chatting, it makes me happy to see you are bonded in some way through movement.  When my car is not in the parking lot and you walk in surprised and happy to see me, you make me smile.  When you laugh at my plank stories instead of revolting against plank I’m grateful.  When the hip flexor stretch comes at the end of your private class and you express that you are sad the hour is over, I feel good that you enjoyed your time moving with me so much.  When you let me prattle on about fascia I’m pleasantly surprised.

I believe that encouraging people to move is important.  That enables me to believe my job, my livelihood, is important.  But without you none of it matters.

I get the luxury of enjoying my job because of our solid, incredible team of our instructors and because of each individual that walks into one of our classes.  So thank you for ten years of making movement with Personal Euphoria matter.  You bring me joy, and I am lucky.

Happy Birthday: Personal Euphoria Turns Ten 2017-09-12T19:30:58+00:00

Month of Mindful Eating

Every once in a while I get a hankering to do a food challenge.  Typically every February I challenge myself not to consume sugar.  I pick February because it’s the shortest month of the year.  But after the amount of ice cream I consumed this summer, I’d rather not wait until February for a challenge.  For most of the month of September, starting on Tuesday, September 5th (after Labor Day Weekend), I’ll be doing a Month of Mindful Eating.  Anyone want to join me?

This challenge is a little open ended.  You can pick what Mindful Eating means for you.  Maybe you grab chips or chocolate without even noticing and after you regret it and you want to cut those trigger foods out.  Maybe you need to be accountable for what you eat so it would help to snap a picture and share each meal with a friend. Perhaps you could reduce alcohol or soda intake. For me, I’m going to try portion control and moderation because that is what I struggle with the most.  To keep me honest, I’m going to record my foods in my Fitbit App so I can see my calories in and out.

Taking time to be mindful about our food can help us notice when, where or why we make less than healthy food choices.  Noticing is the first step and can help us make adjustments to make choices we feel better about.

My ultimate goal is to get me back on track because I have not been eating well or healthfully this summer.  As the school year starts, I’m ready to hit the reset button.  Every challenge is more fun with friends.  Well, maybe fun isn’t the right word, but it’s certainly easier to stick to when you know you have a group to help keep you accountable.

Interested in joining in the challenge?  Let me know and shoot me an email (Maggie@personaleuphoria.com) to tell me your goal or how you are structuring your Mindful Eating Challenge.  Feel free to invite friends if having a bestie involved will encourage you.

Also, if you are a Facebook user, I’m not the savviest, but I created a group where we can all support each other.

Month of Mindful Eating 2017-09-12T19:30:58+00:00

Need Motivation? Add A Plus One to Your Workout

The PE team often tries new classes together. This was when we tried ballroom dancing. No matter what we try, it’s always fun being together.

We have a guest blogger for this post: Travis White enjoys showing LearnFit.org visitors how to cook restaurant-quality meals at home.

Everything’s better with friends, and this includes your workout. While it may seem silly to ask a friend to join you, it is actually a wonderful way to stay motivated to keep up the same routine. A recent study showed that those who work out with a friend are more likely to stick with their routine instead of giving up. Here are some ways to include friends to mix up your workout routine and stick out your fitness goals.

Challenge yourself by working out with a friend who is a gym pro

Do you have a friend or colleague who is a fitness fanatic? They are the runner who can go for miles without breaking a sweat, or who knows which machines at the gym will get your body summer-ready. Call on your friend to kick your workout up a notch with some hints and company. Chances are they will enjoy the chance to help out, and it will drive you to keep up.

Make a game out of the gym

Who says the gym can’t be used for more than one purpose? With a few close friends along, the gym suddenly turns into a place to socialize and catch up with friends. As long as you still work out, chatting with your besties can help make the time go faster and will certainly make you want to go to the gym again.

Share your goals and share the accountability

Taking a friend or two along for a workout not only makes the trip more fun, but it also helps to keep you honest about your goals. A true friend will be there for the celebration when you reach your objectives, and also there to keep you accountable when you fall off the routine. It is a lot harder to ditch out on a cardio class when you are meeting your buddies there too!

Maybe you want to lose weight, or maybe your friend really wants to work on her strength.  Maybe you just want to feel good in your body and you know moving always makes us feel better.

Whatever your motivation, talk to each other and help one another with meeting your goals. Look for new ways to incorporate more physical activity together whenever you can. Share an online calendar together so you can both check off your workouts as you go when you can’t do them together.

Mix up your workout with partner exercises

There are just some things at the gym you need a friend  to help out with. Branch out and try new activities that involve both of you, like lifting free weights with a spotter, a game of squash, throwing a medicine ball back and forth, and cooling down with partner stretches. The added bit of variety can be enough to keep things changing, and keep you motivated to stay with it.

Take on a new class you just couldn’t face alone

Chances are there is a class you have always wanted to try but just haven’t gotten up the nerve to do so. A friend or two can give you the extra push you need to try a pilates or a barre class without feeling like you are going to make a fool out of yourself. The point of having friends close by is to have fun and to push each other, even if you look silly doing it. A friendly face can make all the difference in a new fitness class. Even better, you may find a new class you both enjoy and that you can attend regularly.

Mix up the old idea of a Happy Hour

Instead of just ditching Happy Hour all together, link up with friends for a workout first. Imagine the stories you can share about the funny stuff that happens at the gym or how much better you will feel about that small cheat dessert if you all worked out before. Not only will you have earned that glass of wine, but you’ll be able to share it with good company. Now that’s a Happy Hour!

Hitting the gym — or even working out at home! — is better with a friend or two. Whether you run, lift weights or shoot hoops together, the support of a good friend can make all the difference between sticking with a big goal and forgetting it.

Need Motivation? Add A Plus One to Your Workout 2017-09-12T19:30:58+00:00