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Promoting Wellness at Smith College

What does “wellness” mean to you? Chances are it means different things to different people. Here at Smith College, we are trying to promote “wellness” in its variety of forms to all of our libraries’ staff. Our collective journey began in the spring of 2005 when our Wellness Group formed at the suggestion of our Library Staff Council as a measure to improve staff morale.

by Betsy Barone

What does “wellness” mean to you? Chances are it means different things to different people. Here at Smith College, we are trying to promote “wellness” in its variety of forms to all of our libraries’ staff.

Our collective journey began in the spring of 2005 when our Wellness Group formed at the suggestion of our Library Staff Council as a measure to improve staff morale. Recent budget cuts and staff reductions, along with the impending implementation of a new library integrated system, had taken their toll on morale, and something was needed to improve the staff’s sense of well-being.

With no budget for outside programs, we focused on making resources already available to us at Smith more easily accessible to libraries’ staff by instituting a Wellness Release-Time Policy. With the support of our Library Director, Chris Loring, and other members of library management, staff members were allowed to use up to one hour per week of work time to attend approved wellness activities. We are very fortunate here at Smith in that the College offers several classes (including aerobics, yoga, and aqua-aerobics) at a reduced rate to faculty and staff through the Exercise and Sports Studies Department. Additionally, there are free workshops through the College’s Get Fit Smith program on a drop-in, first-come basis, including yoga, pilates, awesome abs, strength and conditioning training, personal training, and aerobics.

Some of our other early initiatives included creating a website for staff, Wellness in the Libraries, with links to the release-time policy, wellness activities at Smith, ideas for taking breaks, local hiking spots, staff’s favorite healthy recipes, and links to websites on health, fitness and exercise, nutrition, stress reduction, and health-risk calculators. We also began submitting a “Healthy Tip of the Week” to our libraries’ weekly newsletter, highlighting events around campus as well as health-related information in the news.

That first summer we offered a Fitness Group that worked out together at the College’s new Olin Fitness Center, a state-of-the-art facility with a wide variety of weight machines, treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes. We also had a Walking Group that took walks around campus and used pedometers to track their progress. Later, we organized longer group walks after work or on weekends to some of our favorite local hiking areas and brought in speakers on topics including ergonomics and stress reduction. During the summer of 2006, we urged staff to get away from their workstations and “Take a Break!” with their colleagues to enjoy a healthy snack on Thursday mornings. In the spring of 2007, we held our first Healthy Potluck lunch for staff, using the recipes gathered on our website.

While most of our early efforts focused on traditional health and fitness, in the spring of 2008, we expanded our view of “wellness” to include many more types of activities. With the support of our Library Director and a small budget, we organized Wellness Week, which we hope will be an annual event in the Libraries. Scheduled to coincide with “no-meetings week,” events included chair massage, line dancing, games, chocolate and wine tasting, hand crafts, guided visualization and meditation, and Qigong, in addition to the established yoga, aerobics, and walking programs, and our second annual healthy potluck lunch. Staff members were encouraged by library management to attend as many events that week as they could with the approval of their supervisor while maintaining public service coverage. The event was a huge success with about 62% of staff attending at least one event, and comments from staff were effusive!

Building on that momentum, this summer we have organized a program of Wellness Wed nesdays. Every Wednesday between noon and 1 pm, we have arranged for a variety of fun activities, including walking tours of our famous Smith College Art Museum, botanical gardens, costume collection, and historic campus, interspersed with fun and stress-reducing craft workshops led by our own staff members. This program requires no budget and takes advantage of resources we have right here on our own campus, along with the knowledge and expertise of library staff members.

By offering a variety of activities, and with the support of our Library Director and Library Leadership Team, we are hoping to address all aspects of “wellness” and increase staff participation. We’re trying to involve staff by showing that just because it’s good for you, it doesn’t mean it can’t be fun!

To learn more, visit their website, Wellness in the the Libraries.

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Submitted by the Smith College Libraries’ Wellness Group (Betsy Barone, Joe Bialek, Judy Biardi, Esther Boyer, Mia Brazill, Chris Hannon, Mimi Lempart, Trish Mailler, Barbara Polowy, and Marlene Znoy)

Improving Your Health and Well-Being Through Yoga

jgmarshallgardenAbout 12 years ago my life seemed to be getting increasingly difficult to manage. I had a full time job as a professor of library and information science at the University of Toronto and a myriad of other involvements in professional library associations. Then there was my family and the responsibilities of running a home. I could not figure out why my energy level was so low – I had always seemed to be able to keep up before. Eventually the problem was diagnosed and I had corrective surgery, but I was still left exhausted and anemic.

As I began to recover I had the urge to move more and get back in shape. My daughter and her girlfriend took me over to the local health club and signed me up and I dutifully went to work out on the exercise machines, even though I disliked them. The whole setting seemed very impersonal and oriented towards people who were much more athletic and competitive than me. One day I noticed a yoga class at the health club and decided to try it. I wasn’t very good at all. I could tell that my muscles and my back were very weak, but I could also tell that there something about the supportive environment in the class and the combination of focusing on the breath and exploring the tight places in my body that I really liked. It also relieved a lot of stress and made me feel refreshed afterwards. Could something that felt this good really be the exercise that I needed?

Eventually I went from doing one class a week at the Health Club to two. Then a Sivananda Yoga House opened near my office and I decided to do summer program which involved classes several days a week after work. I started to read more about yoga, about its ancient roots in India, and about the original purpose of yoga – to increase inner awareness and our connection with the universe. My teachers would talk about linking body, mind and spirit and, even though I was not a religious person, this idea was very appealing. Much as I loved my professional work, I had always thought there must be other ways to enrich my life experience in a more holistic way. The eight limbs of yoga, as they are called, offered a complete system of not only exercising and moving well, but also eating well and living well.

Gradually I became stronger and my flexibility increased. I looked forward to the classes as a way to center and calm myself and of developing a sense of being grounded, connected and at ease with myself, my family and my friends. The yoga practice never became boring because each time I became more aware of my body and how the poses changed in every moment. I was also developing more focus and concentration. Over the years I have developed some wonderful friendships through yoga – people of all ages and fitness levels who share many of my own values and interests.

After moving to Chapel Hill and a new job, my yoga practice slowed for a time, but I always knew it would be there for me when I needed it. In 2001, the opportunity to teach a class came up by accident when our instructor at the university had an injury. This was a class for faculty and staff. To my surprise, I was offered the teaching position after our yoga teacher left to return to graduate school. Since then I have completed two teaching trainings with Donna Farhi, a renowned yoga teacher and author from New Zealand. I also took a teacher training in Chapel Hill on weekends that was based on the Body-Mind Centering work of Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. This summer I will be a teaching assistant for Donna’s yoga intensives in Montreal and Pittsburgh. In Chapel Hill I continue to teach the class at UNC, but have added another class at the YMCA and in the Asian Gallery of the Ackland Art Museum. Yoga teaching provides a wonderful way for me to connect with the community in a different way and to enrich my own experience with yoga.

Sometimes people are reluctant to try yoga because they think you have to be super flexible to start with or that everyone has to go into these impossible looking pretzel poses. This is not really true — yoga practice can be adapted to any fitness and flexibility level. Even people with serious illnesses and disabilities have benefited from the various aspects of yoga. I think that library and information professionals are likely to appreciate the historical and cultural aspects of the practice as well as its calming effects. The instruction offered is particularly beneficial for people who do the kind of desk and computer work that we do.

While yoga does not completely eliminate the physical or emotional problems that arise for all of us during our lifetime, it can change our internal view by giving us a greater sense of being supported and connected. When we view our circumstances from this peaceful and secure place, we are more likely to generate the physical and mental resources we need to handle difficult situations with ease. I look forward to sharing my yoga experience with you at the Wellness Fair at the 2008 ALA Annual Meeting in Anaheim. Hope to see you there.

Namaste!

Overcoming Fear in My Wellness Journey

I used to be afraid. I was afraid to try almost anything that involved physical activity – hiking, skiing, playing softball, anything. I was afraid because I knew how hard physically it would be for me to do the activity. It may seem strange to think about an emotion like fear and the notion of wellness, or not being well. However, my path to wellness hinged on overcoming my fears.

Let me start at the beginning to explain.

I grew up in a household full of smokers. Both parents and every adult I knew was a smoker. Even my older siblings started smoking by the time they started high school. I never did take up smoking myself, but I was definitely a chain second-hand smoker.

My school participated in the physical fitness assessments each year, when children were tested on the number of sit-ups and chin-ups they could do, or if you were a girl, how long you could hang from the bar. I have distinct memories of the dread that would build before the day of testing. The worst test for me was the 600-yard dash. Dashing is not what I did. I ran at my fastest pace, which was the slowest pace of all the other kids. Before long, my lungs would feel like they were on fire. Even though I had a normal weight, I was always the slowest kid. Even the overweight kids came in ahead of me. I also remember having a raspy voice and the burning feeling in my chest for a few days afterwards.

Other attempts at fitness had poor outcomes also. I took swimming lessons, but could never learn how to keep water out of my nasal passages. I was terrified of the water. In the 6th grade, I went on an organized ten-mile bicycle ride for kids, and had to be given a ride home because my lungs and legs gave out. These and other incidents created huge anxiety about sports and exercise which followed me through my adult years.

In my early twenties, I met my future husband, an outdoorsy type who loved rock climbing, mountain biking, windsurfing and other crazy sports. What was I thinking?!! For many years, I tried to do some of the sports, usually failing, and other times refusing to participate altogether. My husband started running, and one day he received an ad for a marathon training program. By then I was about 40 years old and unhealthy. I decided to join the training program, just to start walking and jogging as a way to get in better shape. I had zero intentions of running a marathon. Long story short, the training program was geared to absolute beginner couch potatoes like me, and before I knew it I was able to run a marathon! Okay, it took me a year and a half, but I eventually walked/ran my first marathon. What an amazing feeling to accomplish something that in my own mind had previously been an impossibility.

As an aside, some friends had been inviting us to join them on their Caribbean vacations – scuba diving – for several years. Me? Forget about it. I couldn’t even put my face in the water without hyperventilating. But an amazing thing happened to me after that first marathon. The pain of training all those miles, and how bad I hurt during the marathon… compared to learning to swim? How hard could it be? So, I joined an adult swim group with a sympathetic and patient instructor, and I learned to swim! We accepted the next invitation to the Caribbean, and I took scuba diving lessons and became a certified diver. Another friend who knew me well asked incredulously, “With your fear of the water, how did you ever get certified for scuba”? I replied “because I ran a marathon”.

My real answer should have been “because I conquered my fear of failing, because I now believe I can accomplish nearly impossible things, and because I am physically and mentally stronger”. I’m not afraid anymore. I’ve had a blast trying new things. My journey to wellness is ongoing, and I’m looking forward to many future adventures.

Never Say Never

by Jennifer Turner

jturner_smRunning a marathon was something I never thought I would want to do, much less actually accomplish. I was raised as a dancer, not a runner, and figured I’d never love running enough to train for 26.2 miles of continuous pavement pounding. I’ve since learned: never say never.

I began running during my freshman year of college in an attempt to ward off the infamous “Freshman 15.” I can still remember my first attempt to “go on a run.” Despite being in good shape from years of dancing, I was out for a maximum of 15 minutes and came back to the dorm feeling rather discouraged, especially when a floor mate snipped, “you’re back already!?!” For the next two and a half years, I stuck to the machines at the gym, supplemented with a few laps of running around the track for a change in scenery.

Then I went to Greece for a semester abroad and realized running was a much more convenient and portable form of exercise than gym workouts – no special equipment required! Plus, it was a great way to explore new locations – a sightseeing tour and a workout all in one! By the time I left Greece, I had discovered the “runner’s high” and fallen in love with the sport. While running remained a challenge, it provided me an escape from stress and a chance to reflect on my thoughts in peace. Alternatively, it also gave me the chance to connect with other running classmates and develop friendships during group runs. My endurance was still limited to a few miles at a time, but I was motivated to give running another try.

I continued running throughout college and grad school and completed a few 5K and 10K races. Upon finding a position as a professional librarian, I decided it was time for a new challenge: marathon running. Although my job as an academic librarian is demanding, I am fortunate to work in an environment that allows me the flexibility to train for such a serious event. I was able to work with my colleagues to develop a schedule allowing me to put in the mileage I needed to run each week, and arrange for time off to travel to and participate in the event. In October 2007, I completed my first marathon, the Twin Cities Marathon, in record high temperatures. After surviving that intensely rewarding, yet insanely challenging experience, I vowed to never run 26.2 consecutive miles ever again. Never say never. This summer I’ll be training for the 2008 Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco.

Wellness Journey to Weight Management

by William Crowe

billcrowe_sm-196x300My journey has been lifelong—to reach a “normal” level of body weight and maintain that weight and so good health.

I can recall the whispers and snickering. There was the fourth grade physical examination (to be allowed to participate in sports) when I was found to weigh 100 lbs., and my summary dismissal from the pre-induction military draft physical screening, at age 21, when I came in at 314 lbs.

There have been ups and downs in my weight over the years, but mostly I trended up. When I reached 300 lbs. the last time, in mid- 2000, and began to see the effects on my and my family’s life, I knew that I had to take some decisive action.

To my good fortune, that year that the University of Kansas, where I have been a librarian since 1990, began a team-based research project on weight management.

I was accepted as a subject, signed the protocols (promising to follow the rules and submit all kinds of information about my behavior), and set off on the journey. I was supported by my wife and daughter (both librarians!), friends across campus and around the country, colleagues at the KU Libraries, and by the other “morbidly obese” folks who were in the study cohort to which I had been assigned.

Losing weight was the easier (not easy) part—we simply had to follow the prescribed diet. Within 18 months, I was at “target,” coming in at 180 lbs. The hard part, as always, is staying on that path—without remaining in the protective enclosure of the research group.

This quest has not been easy, and I have lost my way from time to time over the years. But I have learned—finally!—that none of the journeys we take in life is without some stumble or setback. Today, I weigh 179 lbs., and know that within a month I could add ten lbs. . . . and what I need to do to stave off that weight gain: stay on the path.

The encouragement of the people around me, not least from other library people, has been vitally important. Library people’s shared interest in helping others has never been so clear to me. We do value connecting people with information—from traditional sources (See this link for a running account of what scientists are working to achieve) to the everyday quiet interactions we have with others—all to encourage the seeker after knowledge to persist in the journey.

That journey, I joke (a sense of humor is essential), will end for me only when I expire, but I am told that my “due date” has been extended by at least 10 years.

On the Booklist: Defusing the Angry Patron

Does your library have a plan for dealing with angry patrons both in-person and in the online environment? Think: angry comments on websites, blogs, social networks, or even chat?

Read the book: Defusing the Angry Patron: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians, 2nd ed. by Rhea Joyce Rubin (2011).