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How to Host a Holiday Party—or Any Gathering—Without Making Yourself Miserable

This story is part of a 10-part series profiling the “warrior women” behind the Hello Sunshine x Together Live tour, a band of all-female storytellers who traveled to 10 cities across North America in November. On tour, the women shared their stories and songs, and made 10,000 women across though country laugh and cry. Learn more about Hello Sunshine x Together Live here—and get excited to join the party in 2019.

Hosting a holiday party always seems like a good idea, in theory. A cozy night in with friends—nothing fancy!—with some festive sweaters and Santa-themed Champagne cocktails. What could possibly go wrong? But then, day-of, you find yourself simultaneously cooking and cleaning and yelling “Where’s the effing cookie platter?” while cursing Martha Stewart for ever setting an “easy-but-elegant” table. And suddenly all you want to do is bolt the door and drink the Champagne straight from the bottle.

But there’s good news, beleaguered hostesses: It’s possible to host a party without making yourself with miserable. Inspired by Priya Parker, author of The New York Times Bestseller The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, people everywhere are enjoying gatherings more—and worrying less about what direction the knife is supposed to face. Below, find Priya’s advice, in her own words. And then follow it, starting now.

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, $19.04.

I grew up with images of what I thought the perfect dinner party had to look like: a beautifully set table, gorgeous wine glasses, a vase of flowers set just so. I attended cotillion classes as a pre-teen, where an instructor would roll out a white-clothed table and instruct us on how to properly display a napkin, where to set teaspoons, and what to do if you drop a fork on the floor. (Leave it there.) I’d leaf through my stepmother’s hosting diary from the ’70s, where she meticulously captured which recipe she tried, to whom she served it, and the date. I grew up with the implicit message that there was a right way of gathering and that it took a particular form. And, furthermore, that if you got the “things” of a gathering right–the food, the settings, the wine–the night would be a success. And implicitly, to gather well, one had to eventually obtain those specific things and follow a specific inherited form. And, lucky me, there was an entire industry designed to help me on my way.

Years later, I became a group conflict resolution facilitator and found myself designing experiences for Hindus and Muslims after riots in India trying to rebuild their neighborhoods, for the World Economic Forum trying to find its way to a more authentic culture, and for government agencies trying to figure out how to revamp a national poverty program. What all these gatherings had in common was that no one had any idea what they “should” look like. And because of that, we had freedom to invent. In addition to my own work, I set out to study the world’s most remarkable gatherings, and in speaking with over a hundred gatherers around the world, I learned a mantra that has deeply freed me in my own hosting: It doesn’t have to look a certain way. In fact, gatherings are far more interesting, meaningful, and memorable when they don’t. As you get ready for the holidays, and for a new year, here are some tips to help you host meaningfully on your own terms:

Hello Sunshine x Together Live - Minneapolis

PHOTO: Adam Bettcher

Priya Parker at the Hello Sunshine x Together Live presentation in Minneapolis.

Throw a “Worn-Out Mom’s Hootenanny,” Not a Dinner Party

Spending time and energy on our gatherings isn’t what is making us miserable. Rather, spending time and energy on predictable, routine gatherings is. When our gatherings go into autopilot, it’s hard to connect meaningfully. Instead of starting with the supposed form of something (a dinner party, a workshop, a house party), start with a need in your life you could gather around and then design afresh around it. Take for example, a dinner party Jancee Dunn, a writer, wanted to host at her place. She came to me for advice on how to “Art of Gather-ify” her dinner party. Rather than giving her tips on the form of a dinner party, I asked her instead: What is a need in your life right now that by gathering other specific people they could help you fulfill? She said that she, in addition to being a writer, was a worn-out mom. She realized how worn out she was when a friend cut her a PBJ into triangles, and she felt so deeply taken care of. Jancee wanted a night where she wasn’t only in the care-taking role, and thought perhaps she could host something to gather her other worn-out mom friends. She gave it a name: The Worn-Out Mom’s Hootenanny. She gave it a rule: If you talk about your kids, you have to take a shot. She emailed six mom friends the idea and they all RSVP’d yes immediately. She took a general evening and made it specific, disputable, and exciting.

Don’t Assume a Party Has to Look a Certain Way

A friend of mine was leaving a well-paid job to become a metal artist and wanted to host a gathering to mark the transition. But rather than just hosting a party and inviting everyone in her life to it, she invited a subset of people: those who gave her courage. Like many of us, she had a range of people in her life who had various opinions about her decisions. She certainly had a set of peers and colleagues who thought she was nuts to leave a high-paying, prestigious job to explore something that was effectively more of a hobby. And she also had people in her life that thought it was awesome and admired the decision. She invited a subset of us—who didn’t all know each other—for a dinner to help her commit to her choice, mark it, and go through with it. She asked us each to bring a poem or some words to share with the group that have helped us when we took big risks. After some general hanging out, she gathered everyone into the living room and we sat on the floor around a glass coffee table and munched on some carrots and celery sticks and mozzarella balls. There were a few bottles of wine open. She started the evening by talking about why she was going to leave this job, and why she believed so deeply in pursuing metal artistry. She said that she was also scared about her choice, and asked us each there to help keep her on her decision when she felt wobbly. I felt immediately drawn in, and inspired by both her boldness and her vulnerability. She had made up a structure for the evening that fit her needs: To tap a sub-community in her life to help her uphold a decision when it got scary. And, she let us know that we could actually help her with that. We each had a chance to share our reading and any advice we had. And the evening became a night of stories and risk-taking and community. It was her “farewell party,” but there was no sheet cake.

Don’t Over-Include

If you’re anything like me, you grew up with the age-old adage, “The more, the merrier.” That is certainly true for football games and barn-raising, but it is not true for many of the moments we typically gather. When you know why you’re gathering and what for, it’s the more the scarier. Before my husband and I were married, we had gone home for the holidays and were going to get our parents together for an afternoon tea to get to know each other better. My parents happened to have an aunt visiting, and it happened to be her birthday. At the last minute, she wanted to come, too. To her surprise, we asked that she not come because it was such a rare occasion for our two sets of parents to meet before our marriage. And, effectively, she wasn’t a parent. It wasn’t personal, it was purposeful.

If You Think You’re Over-Doing It, You Probably Are

“People are throwing birthday parties for their 1-year-olds with photo booths and a cake-smash portrait session and a sit-down meal, and the parents are miserable and over-spending, and the kid would rather be home with them and an empty box, anyway,” an editor friend said recently. “Amirite?” She is right. When we get stuck to the form of something, we think reciprocity has to be in the same form (and take the same financial value). They had a bouncy house at their birthday party, how can we not? This is a recipe for collective misery. Instead, assuming each family is different, ask: “What is a need in my kids’ life right now, that by gathering people together in a certain way could help fulfill?”

“Maximize your gathering for the people in the room. And if the magic was hard to capture for someone who wasn’t there, you’re probably moving in the right direction.”

Don’t Aim for Instagrammable. Aim For “You Had to Be There”

One danger of Instagram is that, because it is a visual medium, it rewards moments that are visually captivating to people who are not there. A stunning table setting is easier to capture than a memorable conversation. A group selfie is imminently more postable than a conversation about how to deal with sick parents, or how to choose the right partner, or even, what to do about location monitoring services and the tradeoff between privacy and convenience. The danger of the Instagrammable gathering is that you start making trade-offs between two different audiences: the real-life, flesh-and-blood guests in front of you, and those not there. Sometimes these two audiences have the same needs, but more often than not, they don’t. Think ahead of time about your “phone philosophy” and set some norms around when and how (and if) people can take photos of the gathering, and whether and how to share them. As we’ve seen over and over, when we believe we are being watched or will later be seen by some future audience, our behavior changes. Maximize your gathering for the people in the room. And if the magic was hard to capture for someone who wasn’t there, you’re probably moving in the right direction.

Visit Priya online at priyaparker.com, buy The Art of Gathering here, and follow Priya on Instagram at @priyaparker, where you will not find any overwrought “did it for the ‘gram” party selfies.

More from Hello Sunshine x Together Live:

Rian Johnson Thanks Passionate Star Wars Fans One Year After The Last Jedi

It’s officially one year since the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. What was at one point one of the most highly anticipated movies of the year became one of the most divisive films of the Star Wars franchise. People either loved it or hated it, but no matter what end of the spectrum you fell on, director Rian Johnson is proud of the film and thankful for everyone who saw and discussed it.

There are very few blockbusters that had quite the same reaction as Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Some people loved the movie because it went in unpredictable directions and deconstructed tropes of a Star Wars movie.

Some people hated it because certain plotlines resulted in dead ends and it failed to deliver on the mysteries built up by Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Everybody loved the tag team fight between Rey and Kylo Ren against the Praetorian Guard.

Whatever your reaction to The Last Jedi was, Rian Johnson is thankful for your involvement with the movie. The writer-director took to his Twitter to celebrate the 1-year anniversary of the sequel, writing that he was happy to have met so many passionate fans who clearly love the franchise. His movie inspired a lot of discussions, and Johnson seems to take pride in that fact.

The Last Jedi is certainly one of the most fascinating blockbusters over the last few years, both because of its content and the discussion around it. My personal opinion of the movie has cooled a bit over the last year. While I still think that it has some of the best pieces of any Star Wars movie (and I still love that Rey reveal), it falters in a lot of other areas.

We’ll have to wait and see of Star Wars: Episode IX can inspire the same level of discussion. Rian Johnson is busy developing an all-new trilogy of Star Wars movies (not to mention his upcoming film, Knives Out), so J.J. Abrams is back as director. Abrams’ Force Awakens was very much made to emulate nostalgia for Star Wars films, so it’ll be interesting to see what he does with the pieces Johnson put in place for him.

Sadly, we’ll be waiting a long time until to see that play out. Star Wars: Episode IX doesn’t arrive for another YEAR. It releases in theaters on December 20, 2019. Until then, keep yourself pre-occupied with our 2019 movie release guide to help get you through the Star Wars drought.

16 Sex Toys to Gift the Naughty Person on Your Nice List

You can’t give orgasms to everyone on your holiday shopping list. (Sorry, family. Ew.) But you can give them to your partner, by way of some seriously sexy gifts. Picking the right sex toys to surprise someone with can be tricky though: There are a ton of sex-themed gifts to choose from, and a lot of it’s junk—plus, people’s kinks (or lack thereof) vary wildly, so it’s hard to know where to start. Fear not, sexy Santas. We have 16 sexy gift ideas running the gamut from essential to extravagant, all ready to help you say “All I want for Christmas is you” even better than Mariah.

Nebula Star Updates On Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, Previews Endgame ‘Daddy Issues’

Marvel fans were thrown for a loop earlier this year when James Gunn was fired from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. Production on the movie has halted, and since then it’s been a question game to find out what the plan is to release the film. Karen Gillan, who stars as Nebula in the MCU, doesn’t have too much of an update but she did express confidence that the film will happen.

As the search for a new director continues, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 has no release date. There’s a huge question mark surrounding the movie, as James Gunn was obviously a huge creative influence on the franchise and his absence leaves a big hole to be filled.

While Karen Gillan likely doesn’t know much more than anyone else about the progress of Vol. 3, she was able to express to People that she was excited to continue the story of the Guardians and deliver it to the fans.

She was also able to confirm that there is a script in existence. This likely refers to the script that James Gunn wrote before he was fired. The script was the subject of conversation a few months ago, as it was unknown what Gunn’s progress on it had been or how much of it Marvel would be using for Vol. 3. There’s a possibility that whoever they find to direct the film will want to rewrite portions of it.

The character of Nebula recently made the big move from the Guardians franchise to the Avengers, having been in Avengers: Infinity War. As one of the few people to survive that movie, Nebula will also play a role in Avengers: Endgame. Seeing as how her bad dad Thanos killed half the universe (and also TORTURED her), Nebula has got some serious issues that she’ll be working through.

To me, Nebula is one of the most exciting characters in Endgame, if only because I would never have thought that she’d survive in the MCU this long. It’ll be really interesting to see how she will factor into the conflict with Thanos, and how she interacts with the Avengers.

We don’t know when Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is dropping, but you can see Nebula in Avengers: Endgame on April 26, 2019. To learn more about the blockbuster, here’s what we know so far.

Sylvester Stallone Was The Most Googled Actor Of 2018

Yo, Adrian, he did it! The most Google-searched actor of 2018 was 72-year-old Sylvester Stallone.

Would you have guessed him? I probably wouldn’t have guessed most of the people who made the top 10.

Google Trends recently shared the data on its own year, including topics like actors, people, TV shows, athletes, etc. Technically there are still a couple of weeks left to 2018 at this point, but the figures are already in.

Globally, here are the top 10 trending actors (including actresses):

What a crazy lineup! Not all of the stars were trending for positive reasons — as you can see from Logan Paul, Bill Cosby, Roseanne Barr, and Allison Mack, who all made headlines for serious controversies. You could maybe add Pete Davidson onto that list, too, since his 2018 was dominated by his relationship with Ariana Grande and Saturday Night Live insults. Oscar winner Gary Oldman was also trending for good and bad reasons. (No. 9 is Indian dancer/performer Sapna Choudhary, who isn’t as much of a household name in the U.S.)

Sylvester Stallone made No. 1, and it seems to mostly be for his film work — although headlines came out over the summer and fall about an investigation into an alleged attack. Stallone was never charged, due to lack of witnesses to corroborate the allegations.

Sylvester Stallone kept himself trending through 2018 for his Rocky role in Creed II, which came out in November, and filming for Rambo V: Last Blood, which comes out in 2019. He’s also stayed in the spotlight after roles in 2017’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, and a cameo on This Is Us. Sly also filmed Escape Plan 2: Hades for 2018, and has a third movie in that franchise for 2019.

If you change the Google search to just United States, instead of global, the order changes a bit. Here’s the U.S. list of most trending actors in 2018:

Logan Paul was No. 1 for the U.S.? Sigh. You can see that most of the names are similar, but Sylvester Stallone’s Creed co-star Michael B. Jordan joins the list, along with Black Panther‘s Chadwick Boseman. Plus, A Star Is Born director Bradley Cooper made this cut.

It’s kind of fascinating to see what people around the world are searching in any given year. It also makes you think about your own search habits. Did you Google any of the names above this year? We’ll have to see how the list shakes up in 2019. Speaking of, here are the many films we can look forward to in the new year.

5 Last-Minute Holiday Outfits Using Things You Own

Planning the perfect holiday outfit should be easy. Between targeted Instagram ads and an overwhelming amount online sales, there are festive pieces available to anyone at the last minute. Yet with all those options for an impulse buy—and a year’s worth of fashion purchases in your closet—it’s pretty common to end up feeling like you have nothing to wear to the Christmas party that starts in an hour.

Which is why we’re suggesting you give your own wardrobe another chance. All the great stuff you bought this year—that tweed jacket, that pajama suit, that blazer dress—can instantly be made party-ready with a few select accessories. Here, five last-minute holiday outfits using pieces you probably already have.

We bring you the trends. You make them your own. Sign up for our daily newsletter to find the best fashion for YOU.

Keanu Reeves Reveals How He Got His Toy Story 4 Role

He’s Ted. Neo. Constantine. John Wick. And now Keanu Reeves will play … well, we still don’t know his exact Toy Story 4 character, but we know he’ll be small. That’s a departure for Reeves, who has established a big presence on the big screen for decades now. Tim Allen announced Reeves’ role in the 2019 Toy Story movie, and Reeves himself shared a little story on how he got the part:

That “riff” line to Collider seems to echo what Tim Allen noted about Keanu Reeves saying the initial pitch on his character sounded too much like Allen’s own Buzz Lightyear. Apparently Reeves’ toy character does have an edge to him, but Allen said he’s only “that big,” meaning small, and so they “calmed him down a little bit.” Some fans are speculating that Reeves could play a G.I. Joe action figure. We’ll see.

Hopefully we get more details on the character as the May release date gets closer, along with specifics on how much Keanu Reeves contributed as he was riffing. Recording booth extras on the Blu-ray, please.

We know Keanu Reeves is not voicing the new character who debuted in the first teaser trailer. That conflicted spork character, Forky, is being voiced by Tony Hale. Forky does not believe he’s really a toy, and apparently that leads to an existential crisis.

It looks like Toy Story 4 will be set at least in part at a carnival, based both on a poster, and that preview with Keegan Michael-Key and Jordan Peele’s characters, Ducky and Bunny, talking to Buzz and Woody (Tom Hanks) at a carnival booth. Here’s what else we know about Toy Story 4 so far.

Right after it was announced that Keanu Reeves was cast in this movie, an enterprising artist made a mock Toy Story 4 character poster with Reeves’ as John Wick. It was just too tempting.

Keanu Reeves is going to have a busy summer 2019. He’ll be promoting both this movie — with his still rather mysterious toy role — which opens in theaters June 21, 2019, along with John Wick 3: Parabellum, which opens May 17, 2019.

John Wick’s next chapter sounds extremely taxing for John (and Keanu Reeves with so many stunts) but it’s not likely to work your emotions (unless something happens to another dog). But Toy Story 4 may leave you sobbing, based on how Tim Allen and Tom Hanks reacted to the ending. Here’s what else is ahead on the cinema front in 2019.

Eliza Dushku Received A $9.5 Million Settlement From CBS Over Sexual Harassment Complaints Involving Michael Weatherly

CBS has been rocked by serious allegations of misconduct made against its former chief executive Leslie Moonves and former anchor Charlie Rose, and this week, it found itself at the center of yet another sexual harassment scandal, this time involving actress Eliza Dushku.

The New York Times published an article on Thursday that reports that in January 2018, amid a national conversation around MeToo and workplace misconduct, the network paid Dushku $9.5 million to settle complaints for being written off the series Bull—something that happened after she had confronted the show’s star Michael Weatherly for making inappropriate comments to her about rape, a threesome, and her physical appearance, according to documents reviewed by the Times.

According to internal CBS investigation reports](https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/13/business/media/cbs-bull-weatherly-dushku-sexual-harassment.html) obtained and reviewed by the Times, Dushku had signed on to do three episodes of Bull, and there had been plans for her to join the cast as a series regular. However, reports show that she felt uncomfortable after Weatherly made remarks in front of the show’s cast and crew about her appearance, including saying on one occasion that “he would bend her over his leg and spank her.” Dushku also told CBS investigators that he made a crack about having a threesome with her and another male cast member, and at another point joked about taking her into his “rape van.”

Dushku reportedly confronted Weatherly about his behavior and, shortly after, she was written off the show. Believing she’d been forced off in retaliation for complaining about Weatherly, the Times says Dushku entered a mediation process with CBS. The network launched an internal investigation, during which the Times claims that CBS’ chief compliance officer Mark Engstrom submitted footage of Dushku cursing on set, purportedly to undermine her complaints. However, investigators wrote in their report that the outtakes were a “gold mine” since they “actually captured some of the harassment on film.” The network eventually agreed to pay Dushku roughly what she would have earned if she had stayed on the show for four seasons, and the terms of the settlement prohibited her from speaking publicly about her experiences.

In a statement to The Times, CBS confirmed the settlement.

“The allegations in Ms. Dushku’s claims are an example that, while we remain committed to a culture defined by a safe, inclusive and respectful workplace, our work is far from done,” CBS said in a statement. “The settlement of these claims reflects the projected amount that Ms. Dushku would have received for the balance of her contract as a series regular, and was determined in a mutually agreed upon mediation process at the time.”

In another statement, Weatherly admitted that he had made “some jokes mocking some lines in the script” that had made Dushku uncomfortable, and apologized for his behavior.

“When Eliza told me that she wasn’t comfortable with my language and attempt at humor, I was mortified to have offended her and immediately apologized. After reflecting on this further, I better understand that what I said was both not funny and not appropriate and I am sorry and regret the pain this caused Eliza,” he said.

At least one incident on the set left Dushku feeling “disgusting and violated,” according to the investigation notes. Dushku’s settlement came to light as part of a company review conducted by the law firms Covington & Burling and Debevoise & Plimpton, and ordered by CBS, after multiple women came forward to accuse Moonves of misconduct. Moonves stepped down from CBS in September, but the company board still has to decide if he will receive a $120 million severance package that many women have said he does not deserve. CBS also fired “60 Minutes” producer Jeff Fager this year, following complaints that he had harassed women at work and sent a threatening text to a reporter. The incident with Dushku is another that points to a culture of harassment and misconduct at the network.

Miss Universe Is Making History with the Pageant’s First Openly Trans Contestant

When Angela Ponce takes the stage during this year’s Miss Universe pageant—all tan lithe limbs and radiant blowout in a hot pink bikini—it’s easy to see why she’s favored to win the competition, currently underway in Thailand. Tall, blonde, soft-spoken and impeccably glamorous, she’s a walking archetype of what you might imagine one Donald J. Trump envisioning as the perfect pageant queen. (He owned Miss Universe from 1996 to 2015.) But Ponce, who currently holds the title of Miss Spain 2018, is much more representative of the pageant’s future than its past—she’s the first openly transgender woman to ever compete for the crown.

Ponce during the swimwear portion of the preliminary Miss Universe competition in Bangkok.

Amorn Pitayanant

The very fact of Ponce’s candidacy is historic. Being on the world stage as an openly transgender woman in a role that’s traditionally been held up as the the ultimate embodiment of womanhood is damn impressive (and overdue). “It’s important that people can see you to feel that they have a positive reference,” Ponce says. “It’s important that people see women like me to know that the ideas they may have about transgender people aren’t always true.”

But Ponce isn’t interested in simply being a silent symbol. She’s taking advantage of her moment on the global stage to speak out about the issue of gender identity—specifically, the rights of transgender adults and minors to be able to define their correct gender on official forms of ID. “It’s about [fighting for] the right to be,” she says. “It would diminish bullying and prejudice and the pain that society puts on us, unintentionally, for not knowing more about being transgender.”

The thing is, these simple semantics matter. The right to be addressed and identified correctly, would have made a big difference for Ponce growing up, she says, citing the total sense of vulnerability and rejection she felt when her childhood doctor continued to refer to her by her previous (male) name.

That brings us, inevitably, to Donald Trump, whose long history with the Miss Universe pageant, and of making disparaging comments about transgender individuals, loom large over our conversation. Earlier this year, the Trump administration signaled it would attempt to roll back civil rights protections of transgender individuals under federal law—effectively erasing the estimated 1.4 million adults who identify as trans in the U.S. In Trump’s view, gender is an unchangeable fact defined by the genitalia you are born with.

Ponce onstage representing Spain during the National Costume Show.

Amorn Pitayanant

Despite this—or likely, let’s be honest, because of it—Ponce says she’d love the chance to sit down with President Trump. “I really don’t know what might cross his mind…but I would like to have a conversation one human being to another and try to explain to him that the rights I am fighting for are simply the rights of every human being,” she says. “I would try to make him feel in his heart the importance of understanding other people. And I would try to help him understand with the position that he’s in, he could help save lives.”

In a pageant that’s already had a cringe-worthy controversy, Ponce’s platform of understanding and equality might be why some reports have her favored to win the crown. “I’m working very hard to win and I would be very proud to achieve that,” she says, “not only for my country nor for myself but for all the people whose situation in the world could change if they called my name.” With her historic role and fight to be seen, Ponce has already proved that trans people are a minority that can’t be ignored—or erased.

The Miss Universe pageant will air live December 16 at 7:00 P.M. ET on FOX.

A Rare Disease Won’t Keep This Mountain Man Off the Trails

Two decades ago, Ben LeNail’s typical weekend included a mix of cycling, running, backpacking, mountaineering and skiing. A self-described mountain man, he had summited bucket-list peaks, including Mount Rainier in Washington and Monte Rosa in Switzerland, in his 30s. But in his early 40s, he found himself struggling to find his footing on the trails.

At first, he thought the lethargy could be age-related. But at home, leaden legs turned his gait into a shuffle. In 2011, after a three-year diagnostic odyssey, Mr. LeNail was told he had X-linked adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD). The rare neurodegenerative disease, dramatized in the movie “Lorenzo’s Oil,” is similar to progressive multiple sclerosis and is slowly robbing him of his ability to walk.

“Suddenly, I had the body of an 85-year-old,” he says. “Our society has a very traditional vision of masculinity—a man should be able to throw a ball, jump, run. I had to reinvent myself with my disease.”

Refusing to be wheelchair bound, Mr. LeNail, 53 years old, embraced a daily regimen of Pilates, physical therapy, swimming and hiking. He continues to lead as normal a life as possible, entertaining friends with his wife, hiking with his dog and two sons, ages 19 and 24, and working as the director of business development at Alta Devices, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based solar-energy company and an angel investor in health-care startups.

“I may not be able to summit a mountain, but I promised myself I would remain a vigorous human being both mentally and physically,” he says. “Ironically, the disease makes it more important than ever to exercise every day.”

The Workout

Mr. LeNail exercises for an hour daily, sometimes twice a day. Once a week, he works with physical therapist Vicky Ferreira. They focus on core strength, squats and exercises that utilize bands and pulleys. For the last 20 minutes of each session, they slow dance. “My disease makes my feet very lazy,” he says. “Rather than stare down at my feet and be tense, I can find some comfort and balance in her body next to mine. That helps my brain relax so my movements become less stiff and more harmonious,” he says.

He credits his weekly reformer Pilates class with keeping him out of a wheelchair. “My disease causes the muscles to atrophy, so the body becomes very stiff, almost hunched,” he says. “Pilates helps open up my body.” The workout consists of controlled movements using cables and pulleys that build core strength, flexibility and improve balance. “My body can be a bit spastic, but the repetitive, controlled movements help me build stability,” he says. “And there’s no risk of me falling with the cables attached to my wrists and feet.”

Vinyasa yoga is too fast-paced, so he has embraced yin yoga, a slower style. “It’s just the right mix of mindfulness and balance, and many poses are performed on the floor,” he says. Three days a week, he trains at Form Fitness in Palo Alto, Calif. To help his muscles avoid atrophy, he says “constant strengthening is crucial.” He uses a mix of free weights and machines and adds in high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, segments.

Mr. LeNail has a pool at his house and swims three to four days a week, mixing breaststroke and freestyle. “Swimming is the one intense cardio thing I can do,” he says. “It also loosens up my legs, which can feel very heavy at the end of the day.”

At least three days a week, he takes his golden retriever, Hazel, for a hearty walk on the trails of Coal Creek Preserve or Baylands Nature Preserve, both in the Bay Area. “Put me on a trail and the memory of my hiking days comes back,” he says. “I seem to walk, not effortlessly, but with more ease for a few miles.”

Mr. LeNail and Hazel on the trails of Pearson-Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto, Calif.
Mr. LeNail and Hazel on the trails of Pearson-Arastradero Preserve in Palo Alto, Calif. Photo: Angela DeCenzo for The Wall Street Journal
The Diet

Mr. LeNail was born in France and jokes that as a Frenchman, he loves rich foods. He tries to curb his indulgences by fasting from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. “It’s hard,” he admits. “Sometimes at 9 p.m. I really crave a cookie or some cheese. But I allow myself to eat well the rest of the day.” Breakfast is three eggs, and either oatmeal or granola topped with fruit and goat milk. Three days a week, he orders lunch from an Indian restaurant. His go-to is chicken curry with tomatoes and spinach. He refuels after a workout with an Odwalla vanilla protein shake.

He and his wife have a Sun Basket membership. The meal-delivery service ships ingredients and recipes that they prepare for dinner. Frequent meals include rainbow trout with a vegetable stir fry or salmon with sautéed kale. Mr. LeNail also enjoys cooking soups and quiches. His weakness is goat cheese.

The Gear & Cost

He wears Vibram FiveFingers shoes ($80) during Pilates and yoga. “They separate my toes and that gives me more ankle support,” he says. Lifting his feet takes extra effort, so he likes that Asolo Path GVS boots ($125) are lightweight while still delivering ankle and foot stability. He pays $29 per reformer class at Club Pilates in Palo Alto. His gym membership, which includes yoga classes, costs $169 a month and he pays $150 per physical-therapy session.

How Pilates Helps Fight Atrophy

As we grow older, our skeletal muscles tend to wither and weaken, a phenomenon known as sarcopenia. Muscle atrophy also occurs in people who suffer from spinal-cord injuries, stroke and neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, says Kara Flavin, a clinical assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Stanford University.

“When the brain, spinal cord and nerves can’t talk to each other properly, they can’t send messages to our muscles,” she says. “As a result, our muscles can get smaller to the naked eye, weaken and have a tendency to get tighter.” Exercise, she says, can be the best medicine for age-related or disease-related muscle atrophy.

Pilates can be particularly helpful for people with stability and motor-related issues, says Jane Hein, a physical therapist and lead Pilates instructor at the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program in Rochester, Minn. “As our muscles deteriorate, our postural stabilizers that support our spine and trunk become weaker and suddenly, gravity poses a challenge,” she says. “Everyday activities like standing up straight and walking can become difficult. The risk of falls increases.”

She says a Pilates apparatus such as the reformer, which looks like a bed frame with a sliding carriage and adjustable springs, eliminates gravity, allowing people to perform strengthening exercises on their back, stomach and sides. Having your feet and hands attached to the reformer machine’s straps and pulleys while doing exercises provides proprioceptive feedback to the body’s neuromuscular system. “The person feels more safe and supported,” she says. “It opens up the entire body, so much so that people frequently say they feel taller after a session,” she says.

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