Circadian Rhythms

Happy New Year!! I hope you had a wonderful time last night and look forward to posting regularly here at least three times a week … starting … now!

When I lived in El Salvador, I had the world’s best work schedule.

I had just finished grad school at my alma mater (American University) and I didn’t have a job lined up. Luis and I had been dating long-distance international for over a year and wanted to experience living together for a bit, so I moved to El Salvador for eight months and taught English at a private language academy where I made $3/hour and was worked to.the.core.

That said, the schedule — while grueling — was the best because it gave me a ton of freedom and let me capitalize on my own energy levels … something I find myself longing for a lot these days.

As a morning person, I didn’t mind that my first class began at 7 AM.  I would teach all morning til 11, when the school closed for three hours. [El Salvador doesn’t have siesta, but the school closed mid-day and re-opened in the afternoon].

During that break, I would go to a Spinning class at a studio across the street (which I LOVED), shower, walk to Despensa de Don Juan (a fabulous grocery store I love) where I’d pick up a healthy lunch, walk back to the school, eat, and then prep for afternoon/evening classes or shoot the breeze with my ex-pat friends (sometimes playing Scrabble with our advanced students who came early just to hang). I’d teach from 2 – 7 or 8 depending on the day (with a couple breaks built in) and then have dinner with Luis when I got home.

It was not a schedule for the faint of heart… and really something only a young, single person could stomach … but the way the day worked, it followed my body’s natural energy rhythms — and the 3-hour break in the middle of the day recharged and rejuvenated me for the remainder of the day.

It was, truly, the world’s best work schedule.

Of course, at the  time I didn’t always think so. I was working for pennies and barely getting by on my meager salary (in spite of having just acquired a master’s degree, might I add!), plus I also had to work Saturdays (half-day) and being on your feet teaching for 10 hours a day wasn’t easy (teachers, I admire you!). I didn’t realize then how good I had it, til I moved back to the U.S. and began working in the “real world” … which doesn’t give two craps about our natural rhythms; we live to work in the U.S. and that doesn’t really jive with me. Yes, I made much more than $3/hour here in the U.S… but I’d rather work to live — and spend my time enjoying my days a little more. Even taking two kids out of the equation, the biggest difference between my schedule then and now was that easy, natural built-in time in each day for fitness and “me” time.

Lately I’ve been longing for some semblance of a routine (not my El Salvador one, but something more U.S.-acceptable) and have given a lot of thought to how I manage my time … or, rather, how I’ve been sucking at it. I’m realizing I am unable to do everything I want to do in a single day if I’m not willing to compromise and give something else up, because that three-hour window of “freedom” in the middle of the day just doesn’t exist here.

For example, when I used to wake at 5 to work out (which I haven’t done since … May?) evenings were freed up for family and passion projects — like blogging, making Shutterfly albums, and writing. But often I was so tired after waking early, working a full day, family time (dinner/baths/books/bed), then the “third shift” (read as: working mom duties — housework, laundry, etc.) … that  the passions fell to the wayside (hence the blogging drought).

So I opted instead to sleep in … and hit the gym in the evenings after the kids were asleep on nights when Luis had conference calls anyway … but then I lacked the frequency and consistency I needed to make a difference. And then I didn’t blog anyway and my albums still remain undone. Lose-lose.

Or, should I say, gain. Because over the past six months, I’ve put on about five pounds. Now I know five pounds is not a crisis; my clothes still fit (albeit snugger!) and my health is not in jeopardy in any way and I am not freaking over them; just acknowledging them — because I can no longer ignore them. True, they’re five happy pounds, pounds I “enjoyed” gaining, if that makes sense this fall and winter … but I obviously don’t want the upward trend to continue, and so I need to nip it now by being a little more diligent about food choices and carving out time for fitness. It’s shocking what not exercising regularly has done to my shape in just a couple months — I feel like I was leaner and more toned nine months pregnant. Yup … nothing is permanent and physical fitness isn’t something to take lightly.

Anyway …since three hours of “free” time are not going to appear in the middle of my day a la my El Salvador days. the solution seems to be going back to morning workouts since I am — at my core — a morning person (the complete opposite of my husband, I should add!). I’m like my dad: I really don’t need an alarm clock on weekends because I’m naturally going to wake around 7 because that’s when my kids wake. And when I’m in a hard-core AM workout routine, I naturally wake at 5:30 — and then promptly go back to bed.

So since I’m already a morning person and AM workouts don’t interfere with family time (super-important to me to not sacrifice that), it seems like the no-brainer solution for me is to hit the gym before work again. I’ve never been one to hate on the January Joiners (JJs); everyone started out somewhere and I admire their willingness to push “START.” And I know by going to the gym before the sun comes up, I won’t have to fight for a machine since the JJs tend to go after work at my gym. So really there’s no excuse.

It’s not just weight I want to lose — it’s time away, for me, I need to carve out for my sanity. This working mom of two kids business is hard, much harder than I envisioned … fitness simply can’t be my top priority (nor do I ever want it to be again!!), but it does need to find a spot in my day somewhere because it makes me a better mom and wife; when I am fit and healthy I feel better about myself, my life, my work, you name it.

I’ve had tons of excuses over the past few months as to why I couldn’t/shouldn’t work out (including legit ones–like being sick the past month) but I’m better now and need to just do it. Three hours won’t magically appear in my day (we all get the same 24 hours) but I can carve out one hour of the day to get to the gym, work out, get home, and shower before the kids wake.

It might sound selfish … but it’s necessary. I need to do it for me, at least a couple days a week. It might mean I don’t get to stay up and watch the Daily Show … but I can always catch it the next day. 😉

How about you? Do you feel guilty taking time out of your day to exercise?

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