New Year Reset – Bliss in a Blender

So, the New Year has found us, and as mindful as I like to be when it comes to consumption, I do give myself the latitude to indulge in some of the holiday goodness. (Not to excess, of course!) But I can tell when it’s time to ratchet it back a few notches. Or when I’ve had more acidic food/drink than usual and need to alkalize. This smoothie is so delicious and soothing–hydrating (which is much needed in this dry, cold weather), and is great for combating inflammation, stabilizing blood sugar, and delivering a punch of antioxidants and minerals that our bodies need.

Give it a whirl–let me know what you think!

Smoothie!

4 celery stalks
1 cucumber
1 c kale leaves
1/2 green apple
1/2 lime (or juice of 1/2 a lime)
1 T coconut oil
1/2 c almond milk
1 c pineapple

Chop up, throw in blender (a VitaMix works beautifully, but any good blender will do), and power up! ūüôā

I use frozen fruit because I like a thicker drink, but fresh is great, too!

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The time has come…

The time has come...

Haha! I saw this on a friend’s facebook wall and had to nick it. Seems like this is the time of year when people swear that once Christmas (or Hanukkah) pass… and the New Year’s Eve indulgences fade to memory, they’ll get it together and make their goals/resolutions happen. Seriously. This time I mean it. It won’t be like last time. *yada*yada*yada*

Well, take this as a healthy reminder. Make your goals. Decide what you want 2013 to look like–it’s nearly here, after all. And for God’s sake… Get your shit together.

ūüôā

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Great Stretches for Runners and Cyclists…in under 10 Minutes!

Okay, these are great stretches for ANY active person!

As a yoga teacher who is also a distance runner and cyclist, I’m often asked for the most effective (and efficient–let’s face it, we’re all busy!) stretches that can be done post-workout. ¬†This article will focus on a handful of lower body stretches, so if you are a triathlete, stay tuned. ¬†I’ll post some upper body goodies for you soon. ¬†ūüôā My massage therapist recommends two minutes of stretching per muscle group after a solid run–are you catching that, marathoners? ¬†Half Mary fans, that means you, too. ¬†Hell, if you are cranking it out there whatever your workout is, you should spend some time stretching! For runners and cyclists, the hips, hamstrings, glutes/piriformis, calves and quads get beaten up the most. ¬†Tight hip flexors and psoas muscles along with tight hamstrings can sometimes present as low back pain, too. ¬†It’s important to stretch right after activity, while the muscles are warm and pliable. ¬†Otherwise, you run the risk of them remaining contracted and tight. ¬†Here’s my routine after a run or ride.

Calves:  I usually stretch outside on my deck, so my calf stretch is done on the first step, one side at a time.  Let one heel hang off the end of a step, bending into the opposite knee.  As you continue to let the heel drop off the edge of the step, you should feel a stretch in the achilles as well as the calf.  You can adjust the stretch into the gastroc/soleus muscles by bending/straightening into the knee.

Hamstrings: ¬†I go with a good, old fashioned leg-up-on-the-deck-railing stretch. ¬†It’s important to feel the stretch in the belly of the hamstring and NOT in the attachment near the glutes. ¬†Creating a slight bend in the knee can help. You can fold as far forward as your body lets you. ¬†(My rule of thumb is feeling a stretch sensation of 6 out of 10–with 10 being screaming pain, flashing red lights. ¬†A six will be more of a fuzzy orange light.) You should feel the stretch happen, but it shouldn’t be painful. ¬†If you are very tight, stretching will probably be uncomfortable at first. ¬†Breathe deeply and relax into your stretches as much as you can. If you are inside, this stretch can also be done on the floor. ¬†Sit down with legs extended in front of you. ¬†Bend into the left knee and let your left foot touch the inside of your right thigh, knee dropping toward the floor. ¬†Fold over your right leg. ¬†If you can’t reach your toes, reach for the calf or ankle or use a strap–a hand towel is a good strap substitute! ¬†Remember to stretch both sides.

Hips: ¬†You can’t beat a simple lunge when it comes to hitting the hip flexors! ¬†You can either keep your hands on the floor with your back leg long and straight with the knee on or off the floor OR come upright. ¬†

While in your high or upright lunge, tuck your tailbone a little to feel a deeper stretch in the front of the hip.  Depending how tight you are, your knees may be in obtuse angles.  Just settle in and breathe. 

If you are more flexible, your knees will be at 90* angles and will allow you to get a little deeper.  Continue to breathe, drawing the belly button toward the spine and tucking the tailbone down.

If your hands are on the floor (first photo), the movement of drawing the tailbone toward your back foot is more subtle, but still effective. ¬†Try not to let the front leg take the brunt of the work. ¬†You’ll know that it is when you feel a sensation at the top of the hamstring near the inner thigh/glutes. ¬†If this is the case, draw that hip back a little to focus the stretch more on the front of your opposite hip.

Quads:  You can do this stretch standing or kneeling.  If you are standing, keep knees moving toward each other even as you draw the foot toward your bum.  It will protect your knees.  If you are kneeling, bring the front foot out to the side a little to create a wider base for stability.  Bend into the back knee and bring the foot toward the bum.  If your knee is bothered being on the floor, adjust your position so you are on the fleshy part above the knee or put something soft under it to add some cushioning.

Adductors/groin: ¬†When it comes to lower body stretches, everything is connected. ¬†If you want a complete, 360 stretch in the hips, you’re gonna have to get up in there and hit the groin as well. ¬†This particular stretch can be done in stages, depending on your flexibility. 1) From the low lunge position, keep your hands on the mat on the inside of your front foot–the back knee can be down or up.

2) If that feels okay, you can come down onto your forearms. ¬†3) Turn your front foot out 45* and either drop in lower OR walk your hands to the opposite side. ¬†Let your head hang like fruit on a tree. ¬†Don’t strain to support the weight of your head.

4)  The bonus stretch comes if you bring your hand to your knee and give the stretch an assisted boost.

Glutes/piriformis: ¬†So, while we might work hard to get a high-and-tight ass, we should also ensure that it is stretched properly. ¬†There are a few ways to do that. ¬†1) If I’m still on the deck stretching, I hold onto the railing, cross one ankle over the opposite thigh just above the knee (to make a figure 4 with my legs) and then sit back as I bend into the standing leg. ¬†The top foot is flexed and I’m continually drawing that knee down toward the floor. ¬†If you hold on to that rail, you’ll get a bonus stretch in the low back. ¬†2) Pigeon pose (see photos below) offers a great stretch and can be adjusted to meet your body’s needs. ¬†If you are in down dog, which looks like an upside-down V on your mat/floor,¬†simply bring one knee forward, landing between your hands, and lower the rest of your body down. ¬†

Checkpoints: If your front knee bothers you, try adjusting the angle of the knee. ¬†If your hips are off the mat/floor, you can either rock off to the side so you land on your hip or prop yourself up with a pillow or a yoga block. ¬†Check the back foot to ensure you are on the top of the foot and the ankle isn’t sickling. ¬†If everything feels good, you can start to fold forward over your front knee. ¬†The more you can square your hips (think about LED lights on your pelvis–shine them straight ahead!), the more you will feel this stretch.

Two poses that are great for hitting the piriformis are cow-face pose and double-pigeon/firelog pose. ¬†(I’ll spare you the sanskrit names this time!) ¬†They are especially awesome if you suffer from sciatica. ¬†3) From pigeon, lift your chest if you folded, rock onto the front hip, and swing your back leg around. ¬†If your hips/glutes are tight, go for double-pigeon/firelog. ¬†Stack one ankle above the opposite knee, and the knee above the opposite ankle:¬†

You can either stay here, supporting your knee OR you can begin to fold forward.  Remember to breathe deeply, relaxing into the stretch with every exhale.  You can fold as deeply as your body will let you, the weight of your torso adding to the stretch.

4) ¬†Cow-face pose takes this stretch a little further. ¬†From pigeon, rock onto your front hip, swing the back leg around and stack your knees. ¬†Move your feet to the side so you aren’t sitting on your heels. ¬†Hands can remain on your feet if this is enough of a stretch for you.

If you are ready to go deeper, start to fold forward.  This will really hit the glutes/outer hips/piriformis!  Again, going as deeply as your body allows, breathing fully.

If you can stay in these stretches for at least 30 seconds each–remembering to do BOTH sides–and do them regularly, you will definitely notice a difference in your flexibility. ¬†AND you’ll be able to knock them out in under ten minutes! ¬†If you want to hold them longer and you have a smart phone, set your timer, check your email, update your Facebook status, or check your new favorite blog ¬†*ahem* and then switch sides. ¬†Happy stretching!

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Happy September! (Maybe?)

I’ve been trying to figure out why the beginning of September makes me feel a little bluesy… ¬†Not sad, per se. ¬†But a wee bit of melancholia creeps up as I notice the light shifting and shadows growing longer. ¬†The mornings are cooler, as are the evenings, but in between, the sun’s rays cause layers to be shed as the days heat up. Technically, it’s pretty terrific weather. ¬†So, what gives? ¬†(And shouldn’t I be good at living in the moment by now?)

As a kid, the shift in mood was due to summer drawing to a close and the uncertainty that comes with a new school year–new teachers, new subjects, new routines. (The silver lining? ¬†School supply shopping!) But now that I’m an adult living life more or less by my own design, there’s no logical reason to feel like I have to hang up the carefree attitude that summer brings just because I may have to put on a sweater every now and then.

If you examine this on a social level, it’s kind of fascinating to think that this long-lasting effect came from educational reformers like Horace Mann, who wanted to merge the agrarian school calendar with the urban school calendar back in the 1840s. ¬†At the time, farm kids were out of school for stretches of time to help with spring planting and fall harvest. ¬†City kids, however, endured 48 weeks of learning in cities that sweltered without the benefit of electric fans or air conditioning¬†in summer months. ¬†According to¬†Time¬†magazine, the prevailing medical belief was that living in such conditions could spread disease and lead to nervous disorders or insanity. ¬†It began as a way to provide a respite from the heat and,¬†and continues to leave us with a desire to get away. ¬†But what if it had never happened? ¬†Or if it were during a different season?

Think about it. ¬†By the time we are adults, we’ve been so conditioned by our school routines and experiences that many of us still get a pang of remorse as August ticks away–even if our careers are not dictated by season. ¬†When I worked in education, admittedly, I liked having the holidays off. ¬†Summer vacation? ¬†Yes, please! ¬†So, what’s my problem now? ¬†It is just that I live in New England where there are actually seasons that make the change even more obvious? ¬†Would it be different if I lived in Southern California where every day is pretty much gorgeous and sunny? (Could be a grand research project, me thinks!) ¬†Is there a way to make peace with the changing of the seasons?

I don’t really have an answer to the question. ¬†But I’d love to hear yours!

 

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Stay Calm and Barbie Om

Look out, world! ¬†The Barbie backlash has returned! ¬†Apparently, Mattel has released a new Barbie in their “I Can Be” series of dolls which features the icon dressed as different professions including a fashion designer, teacher, chef, SeaWorld trainer, President, track champion and veterinarian. ¬†The doll that is causing the newest flurry of blog post rants is a yoga teacher. ¬†Among the myriad entries online, one blogger asks, “Would You Take Yoga from Barbie?” as if to imply that because Barbie is pretty, blonde, and thin that she might not be as good a teacher as someone who isn’t those things. ¬†There are others who still bring up the argument that if Barbie were a real person she couldn’t stand up without falling over because her proportions are not humanly accurate, and that letting girls play with Barbie dolls can somehow skew their self-concepts and perceptions of beauty. ¬†Remarkably, the same energy doesn’t seem to go into arguments against toys for boys that have bulging muscles or super powers. ¬†I’m sure that there are folks out there who argue against those toys as well, but their voices tend to be a little less aggressive than those of the Barbie-haters.

To answer the question about who wants to take class from Barbie, it would seem a lot of people do. ¬†Some fitness centers audition teachers, claiming to look for a “spark” that sets them apart from other candidates. ¬†I’ve heard from someone who works at one such place that every one of the instructors–group fitness and yoga alike–are beautiful. ¬†And why wouldn’t they be? ¬†Let’s face it, as much as it ruffles feathers and gets feminist hackles up, studies have shown that there¬†are¬†perks to being attractive: being picked for teams in elementary school, receiving job offers, and getting help when stranded on the side of the road are just a few. ¬†From a business perspective, it isn’t a surprise that managers would hire good looking employees–especially if it means more people will be coming through the doors. ¬†Do you really think Hooters would sell as many wings if their waitstaff were plain-looking or overweight? ¬†It’s unlikely. ¬†I can’t imagine the food is that great. ¬†ūüėČ ¬†Now Lululemon is taking it on the chin for an ad that makes light of the situation. ¬†Really?

Given that these heated discussions are about a doll, it seems that there is a deeper psychological meaning underlying this displaced aggression toward Barbie and all things “too pretty.” ¬†Perhaps it reflects in the way many women treat other women. ¬†(Need an example? ¬†Check out the Real Housewives franchise!) ¬†The cattiness, the lack of trust, and the criticisms that often fly are really the things we should worry about our collective daughters being exposed to; not whether Barbie’s boobs are too big or if she is too pretty to be an achiever. ¬†Why not teach them to be kind and compassionate? ¬†To me, that is one of the greatest ways to exude beauty. ¬†And I think we can begin with the way we treat each other. ¬†Be the example.

But I digress.  (Which is known to happen from time to time!)

My mother had Barbie dolls. ¬†I had Barbie dolls. ¬†I also had other toys that encouraged imaginative play, including Holly Hobbie, a rag-dress-wearing plain Jane who got just as much love as the other dolls I owned. ¬†If you are of a certain generation, you’ll remember Miss Hobbie, but you might not recognize her 21st century incarnation. ¬†She’s a little more stylish and doesn’t look as meek or self-conscious as her predecessor. ¬†Check it out:

  

I’m not upset about yoga teacher Barbie. ¬†I think it’s great. ¬†If I ever have a daughter, I’d hope that she’d be interested in yoga because of my career as a teacher, but if Barbie and her high pony and bright capris capture her attention and interest in getting on the mat? ¬†Awesome. ¬†But one thing is for sure: I won’t let her self-esteem be dictated by society, mean girls or self-proclaimed “goddesses” who may who take things too seriously. ¬†And if she wants a Barbie doll, damn it, she’ll have a Barbie doll.

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Dig Deep

At this exact moment, 530am HST/1130am EST, ten years ago today, I ran my first race ever–the Kona marathon on the Big Island of Hawaii. ¬† I’d never really run any distance prior to training for this event. ¬†Not more than a mile or so with my dog, anyway. ¬†ūüėČ ¬†The short story of why I chose to train and run the marathon is this: ¬†I was looking to do something significant for my birthday and I was too indecisive about getting a tattoo to mark the occasion.

About six-weeks later, I heard someone on the radio talking about joining a group of folks who were training for a marathon while raising funds for a good cause. ¬†(Ten years ago, there weren’t as many charitable organizations training for races as there are today.) ¬†They mentioned an information session that was coming up. ¬†I attended. ¬†And while this was a huge undertaking, training for the rigors of a 26.2 mile event that would test my mettle with every step, when I met the group from Boston that was going to run it, a little voice inside of me was screaming, “I’m in!!” ¬†¬†I signed up on the spot. ¬†There was no logic involved. ¬†It was heart. ¬†It was intuition telling me that this was it. ¬†This was the significant thing with which to mark my birthday.

I learned a lot about myself over the ~4 months between sign-up day and the race.  Especially since I chose not to attend the group runs due to my schedule at the time and trained exclusively, 100%, alone.  I had a training plan and a coach who was available to answer my questions, but as far as the motivation that comes from being amongst a group, well, I had to dig deep and find that in myself.

No one else was there when I hit the wall… ¬†When my body ached and rain pelted my face… ¬†“I am a machine… ¬†My body was built for this…” was my mantra. ¬†And I repeated it that day. ¬†With each. ¬†And every. ¬†Painful. ¬†Step. ¬†I remember so clearly getting home, feeling defeated by the achiness in my muscles and dialing up my coach. ¬†*voicemail* ¬†I took a hot bath. ¬†He called back and asked me just a few questions about my run, an 11-miler that day–the longest one so far. ¬†What seemed to be a monumental physical fail to me was brushed off with cool nonchalance as he said, “you have to drink more water.” ¬†And as simple as a parent kissing a boo-boo, I was relieved.

I continued with my training, listening to a mix of music and a motivational speaker as my mileage grew. ¬†By the time we got to Kona, I was ready. ¬†The night before, Coach John’s words of wisdom would again be called upon. ¬†Many questions were asked by the team, each answered with short, to-the-point replies that seemed to be his signature. ¬†My favorite was, “Coach, how do we know what to wear tomorrow? ¬†Do we wear long sleeves? ¬†Shorts?” We hung on his words as¬†he said in his deadpan style, “Step out on your lanai when you wake up. ¬†If it’s cool, wear long sleeves. ¬†If it’s hot, don’t.” ¬†Brilliant, right?

The race was very warm. ¬†Hot, in fact. ¬†It was Kona in June, after all, and we were surrounded by black lava fields while running the Queen K Highway. ¬†I’m glad I didn’t hear until after the fact that the heat index reached a high of 115*. ¬†I started out a little nervous but mostly excited because I knew that I made all necessary course-corrections while preparing–I was well-trained and ready. ¬†I had my music and my favorite motivational talk with me–a mountaineer named Jamie Clarke telling his story about climbing Mt. Everest. ¬†Timing being everything, as I rounded the bend and headed toward downtown Kona, I saw Coach John and our fearless leader, Zach. ¬†They ran along with me for a few yards asking, “How do you feel? ¬†Doing okay? ¬†Feel like throwing up?” ¬†I felt good. ¬†Tired, but good. ¬†No nausea. ¬†Just a little hot. ¬†As they stepped to the side to greet the next runner on our team, I hit the highest mileage I’d ever run, and Jamie Clarke reached the summit. ¬†I just got a little emotional typing and (sort of) reliving that moment! ¬†I was ready to finish strong when I saw one of the girls on my team struggling. ¬†She and her husband decided not to stick together, opting to run for their own individual times, and she was sick. ¬†Her belief in herself was waning. ¬†She kept repeating, “I’m gonna throw up. ¬†I’m gonna die. ¬†I’m gonna throw up…” ¬†Quite different from my mantra! ¬†Since I wasn’t concerned about my finishing time–only that I finish strong–I walked with her as we both poured ice water over our heads and made our way to the end of the race. ¬†When the gauntlet was in site, we poured it on one last time and hit the finish line together.

This is in no way meant to be a “glory days” post. ¬†I’ve run a marathon and/or half marathon every year since then with little 5Ks peppered in between. ¬†But as I was on the road yesterday with the heat wave we’ve been experiencing in New England, it made me think about this event in my life, that happened to be almost exactly ten years ago at that moment. ¬†Yeah, it was hot yesterday as temperatures flirted with the upper-90s. ¬†I laughed to myself as I thought, “Did I really run a marathon in this heat?! ¬†What a wimp I’ve become!” ¬†But it was a good reminder for me and when it got tough, all I had to do was dig deep and keep going.

It’s all any of us has to do. ¬†You have all the magic and strength that you need right there inside of you.

Dig deep, friends.

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Be Who You Are. Not What You Do.

Recently, one of the places where I teach announced that they were closing the doors on December 1st of this year. ¬†They will be overhauling the building for fourteen months before reopening as a more medically-based fitness facility complete with specialized doctor’s offices to be located on the newly added third floor. ¬†The news came as a shock to employees and members alike. ¬†The club not only provides a beautiful place to workout, practice yoga, swim, and receive massages and acupuncture, but has also created a social network for its members. ¬†They’ve received support at each¬†stage of their lives–whether it was¬†the birth of a new baby, the death of a loved one, or any point in between–from other members as well as instructors and employees.

While this change is going to force members to find (what we hope is) a temporary solution to their health club needs, it’s also leaving the employees to sort out where they will work in the interim. ¬†Some folks have “real jobs” and simply teach as a supplement to their income or for the sheer joy they get from instructing and sharing their passion. ¬†Others teach and/or work at the club full-time, and are very unsettled about what comes next. ¬†Aside from the obvious reasons–Where will they go? ¬†Can other local clubs absorb this many employees/instructors?–there are also more subtle reasons that many of them may not see, and it isn’t something that is relegated only to those in the fitness/wellness industry. ¬† It can happen to anyone who has chosen to allow their careers to define them, no matter if they are a doctor, attorney, mother/father, business owner, teacher, etc. ¬†What happens when that role is suddenly taken away or altered? ¬†Whether you are relocated, fired, choosing to start a new job, opening a new business, sending the kids off to college or to be married, etc., being faced with your own self-perception can be staggering.

Many of the people who I work with at this particular club have been there for years. ¬†They’re the proverbial big fish in a small pond. ¬†They know their jobs well, have established relationships with members and each other, and often feed off the adulation that is bestowed upon them as so-and-so’s “favorite instructor.” ¬†Aside from needing a new source of income, there is also the insecurity of moving from rockstar status to the new kid on the block. ¬†For some, the ego will probably take a bigger hit than the bank account.

I know that some people revel in being known by their profession, but I’ve never liked the question, “what do you do?” ¬†It feels claustrophobic to me, like there is no room for anything else because I’m a ____________. ¬†I’m not trying to take away any professional achievements or say that folks shouldn’t be proud of what they’ve accomplished in their careers. ¬†But consider this: ¬†If you work a job that requires 40 hours a week, and you sleep 7 hours a night, technically, you spend more time sleeping than you do working. ¬†Would you answer the question, “what do you do?” with “I sleep?” ¬†Of course not! ¬†But I digress…

So, what’s my point? ¬†ūüėõ ¬†I suppose it’s that life is dynamic. ¬†People are dynamic. ¬†Nothing will always remain the same, no matter how hard we wish it would. ¬†So, if you find yourself in a situation like I’ve described, don’t mourn the passing of the routine or familiar. ¬†Be thankful for the opportunities and lessons that it has provided you and move on with your head held high. ¬†You are not that job, that role, or that title. ¬†You are YOU. ¬†And it’s my bet that you’re a pretty awesome you, too…

 

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