We NEED. More. Yoga.

Yesterday I practiced yoga for the first time in months. It was a basic practice – relatively speaking. Very different from the forms of power yoga that I prefer. But this practice was a gentle reminder of what I have been missing in my training regimen. Yoga. Stretching. Lengthening.

What we often miss photo (33)

Stretching. Lengthening. Decompressing – both physiological and psychological.

I am guilty of not stretching as much as I should. I diligently stretch after running – other than that, rarely.

Our muscles need stretching – especially if we are putting in the work. Weight lifting involves continually contracting muscles. While proper form also includes lengthening, this is not always enough to allow the muscles to reach full length. I will not pretend to be a yogi – I am far from being a yoga expert. But I have done my research! (Don’t I always?)

Injury prevention – Research has shown that yoga has injury prevention properties. I would attribute this to the lengthening of muscles. The National Academy of Sports Medicine’s Corrective Exercise protocols incorporate lengthening into the four step program design. Unfortunately, corrective exercise is often only incorporated into training regimen after an injury has occurred. Why not use yoga as a tool for injury prevention?

Yoga & mental health – Yoga is known to be a ‘mind-body’ fitness practice. Some view this as getting in touch with your soft, gooey insides. I argue that ALL exercise requires mind-body awareness (Markula, 2004). Yoga has been shown to improve self efficacy and confidence and reduce depression and anxiety symptoms (Junkin, Kowalski, & Fleming, 2007; Markula, 2004; Rahimi & Bavaqar, 2010).

Relaxation – At the core of any yoga  practice is centered breathing. This necessitates focus on breathing. This allows our minds to relax and be free of the thoughts and worries that bog us down. Further, focusing on lengthening muscles allows those and other muscles to relax. Tension melts away.

Pain management – The benefits of pain management are well known and widely accepted. Time and time again, research has shown that yoga reduces back pain and other chronic aches and pains.

The bottomline

We could all use a little more stretching. I like the structure of incorporating a consistent yoga practice – and now realize I need to add that focus back into my program. As with all fitness professionals, not all yoga instructors are created equal. I would strongly urge you to read the American College of Sport Medicine’s resource on Selecting and Effectively Using a Yoga Program. Further, it is my personal opinion that instructors with 500+ hours of training are leaps and bounds ahead of their counterparts.

Looking for yoga that you can do at home? Debbie Williamson is your woman, with both DVDs (kids too!) and downloads. After traveling the country and experiencing many different styles of yoga and instruction – she is by far my favorite!

References

Junkin, S. E., Kowalski, K., & Fleming, T. (2007). Yoga and self-esteem: Exploring change in middle-aged women. Journal Of Sport & Exercise Psychology29S174-S175.

Markula, P. (2004). “Tuning into One’s Self:” Foucault’s Technologies of the Self and Mindful Fitness. Sociology Of Sport Journal21(3), 302-321.

O’Donovan, G., Blazevich, A. J., Boreham, C., Cooper, A. R., Crank, H., Ekelund, U., & … Stamatakis, E. (2010). The ABC of Physical Activity for Health: A consensus statement from the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. Journal Of Sports Sciences28(6), 573-591.

Rahimi, E., & Bavaqar, S. (2010). Effects of yoga on anxiety and depression in women. British Journal Of Sports Medicine44i68-i69.

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Finding more on a weight loss journey

A dear friend shares her journey and her heart.

To love yourself right now, just as you are, is to give yourself heaven. Don’t wait until you die. 
If you wait, you die now. If you love, you live now. – Alan Cohen

Often times, when we discuss love, it is in relation to our connections with others.  We give love anthropomorphic tendencies, describing its ability to create harmony, whether through our own personal connections or a universal exchange (that links all persons in a global community).  Discussions regarding self-love are relegated to conversations relating its pertinence in the face of limited self-worth.  The implicit necessity of loving one’s self is paramount in establishing worthwhile connections with others. 

Since this blog is about health & fitness, I will tailor this entry, relating self-love to my weight loss journey.   

Last summer I began a journey towards health & fitness, though my immediate goal revolved around losing a tremendous amount of excess weight, my exigent goal was to learn to love myself.  My excess weight was a reflection of my inner turmoil, my struggle to find acceptance (a struggle I presumed to be externally founded…. thereby, extrinsically resolved).  I assumed that loving myself would be a natural effect of changing the way I looked physically.  By changing my appearance, I would become more acceptable to others, allowing me to become more acceptable to myself.  This change would provide an avenue for me to establish connections with others (at that point I was socially isolated, spending tremendous amounts of time alone with limited social interactions) and increase my self-efficacy (believing I could accomplish the many goals I had set for myself).  To a degree these presumptions were accurate.  I have changed the way I look, I am more appealing to others and have a greater sense of comfort in my physique, but that has not translated itself into increased self-worth. 

There is still a sense of lacking and deficiency.  As I strive towards attaining what I believe to be the “perfect body” (for myself), I constantly have to face the impact of my limited self-worth. I am faced with the unhealthy habits I’ve developed, as I strive to love myself . . .. having formerly “loved” myself with food.  I developed a reliance on food to cope.  In the absence of self-acceptance and social relationships, food became an ally.  In losing weight, the foods I formerly relied on for comfort have become an enemy.  They no longer provide me with the same semblance of peace or “happiness”.  I have come to realize that my perception of myself is highly correlated to all of my struggles, I have to resolve my intrinsic feelings of worth, so that I may find the acceptance I long for.  The lack of connectedness I feel with others is greatly attributed to the lack of connection I feel with myself.  Changing my physiognomy has not changed the pertinence of answering these issues. 

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I have to learn to love myself, to be comfortable in my own skin, to appreciate who I am.  I have to become whole.  I have to learn to live, because I’m tired of feeling dead to myself . . .. not knowing or appreciating the characteristics that make me a worthwhile individual.  It’s exciting, this concept of self-discovery.  But this undertaking is by no means easy.  This process has been laden with valleys and peaks.  It requires changing my mind, literally.  Reframing thoughts, addressing hurts, and examining fears.  Exchanging unhealthy behaviors that were once associated with loving myself for behaviors that truly reflect love for myself.  In doing so, I am hoping to experience the tranquility that comes with loving one’s self.  Partaking in the ubiquity of love, as it connects me to those I care for. 

I am grateful for those who are willing to love me along the way, as I learn to love myself.

What has your journey shown you that you did not expect?

How to push yourself in a workout

Working out is hard. In fact, I honestly cannot think of anything that is easy about it. If you think that it is easy for anyone – then the only one you are fooling is yourself. Personally, because I experience a varying degree of pain on any and all days, I need to talk myself into each and every workout. You think I am superhuman? Think again! What I have is mental toughness.

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I miss having a trainer. I miss being told what to do. I miss the accountability and the need not to think. Even after becoming a trainer myself, I continued working with my trainer – and I believe that made me an even better trainer for my clients.

I miss having someone screaming at me not to quit. I am the kind of person who does not get much benefit of the supportive cheerleading, “you can do it” feedback. I need the, “get your ____ of the floor!” and “why are you stopping?” feedback. And we all require different feedback – in different tones, intensities, delivery methods, and frequencies – and believe me, I do not scream at my clients (I am NOT Jillian).

After my national travels, I have landed in a small town where I know no one. I workout alone. I observe, looking for equally driven individuals to workout by my side, but I am coming up empty. I watch the trainers – nah, I am not impressed (I know, it does take a lot. I have thus far only been markedly impressed with two trainers I have worked with – David Brown and Aaron Feldman). So, without a trainer and without a workout partner – I must push myself.

Is this so bad?

I am actually learning a lot about myself. I have increased my self-efficacy because I am learning that I do not need to be dependent on someone else. The best part is that I have been making significant progress towards my 2013 goals. The primary means by which I am improving my self-efficacy – setting, tracking, and achieving these goals.

Further, I am increasing my mind-body awareness. This is incredibly important for me, considering my physical limitations and increased risks for injury – I MUST be body smart (we all should!). Over the years, I have gotten good at thought control, ‘ignoring’ the pain and pushing through. And because adrenaline is a natural pain killer – any pain I may have felt often subsides. With that said, I can be known to push myself too far to compete with others around me. By working alone, I am more aware of my bodily cues and working within my safe zones. Working within MY zones and ranges is likely correlated with my significant progress towards my goals!

The downfall

There is a lot to be said about having a great trainer or workout partner. Healthy competition will push you to limits you never knew. The biggest thing that I miss is having a trustworthy spotter. I feel like I have lost some strength because I often lift alone and there is no one there to spot me up – I do not take as many risks. Accountability, reinforcement – the benefits of working out with others are endless and worthy of their own post.

How to push yourself

It is helpful to keep in mind the purpose of your workout. WHY are you here? That motivator is powerful. But there are many ways to push yourself if you find yourself working out alone.

  1. Focus on the now. Do not worry about anything else. Focus on the movements, feel your muscles, feel the ground, and bring your mind to the moment.
  2. Track your progress. Keep a notebook and track your workouts. If you are running or biking, track your distance, speed, duration, incline/resistance. With strength training, track your repetitions, sets, tempo, and weight. Use these numbers to challenge yourself to do just a little more the next time you perform the workout.
  3. Music. Select music that makes you want to move. There are times I use no music at all, but more often than not I find that beat and I get lost in it.
  4. Use progressions. Start with simple and familiar exercises. Setting yourself up for success up front builds confidence and will allow you to take more risks down the road.
  5. Plan your workouts. If you have your plan, you are more likely to work harder. You will spend less time roaming the weight room. Having confidence and knowing what you are doing make the world of a difference.
  6. Ask an expert. I know these are tips to help you push yourself, but I believe that everyone should have at least a few sessions with a qualified fitness professional. This will familiarize yourself with the equipment and exercises – leaving less room for hesitation and uncertainty! And you may have guessed it – this build confidence.
  7. Reward yourself. It is important to reward yourself for all work well done. Every step forward is progress towards your goal. I will work for coffee!

The bottomline

This list is endless and these are just a few tips to get you thinking. We are not always lucky enough to always have a workout partner accessible. Nor can we all afford personal trainers for all our lives! Life is such a personal matter – and working out is a part of this life! I can give you hundreds of ideas, but if they are not meaningful to you are they really going to help? Yes, it requires some thought and preparation, but are you not worth it?

How do YOU push yourself?

References

Martin Ginis, K. A., & Bray, S. R. (2010). Application of the limited strength model of self-regulation to understanding exercise effort, planning and adherence. Psychology & Health 25(10), 1147-1160.

White, S. M., Mailey, E. L., & McAuley, E. (2010) Leading a physically active lifestyle: Effective individual behavior change strategies. ACSM’S Health & Fitness Journal, 14(1), 8-15.

We all need somebody to lean on

As a fitness professional and ‘personal trainer’, I find it difficult to train myself. It is difficult to push myself to the point necessary to be uncomfortable. That inability to breathe forces me to stop – when I could likely complete another repetition or two. The burning sensation encourages me to speed up to finish more quickly (more often than not I am training a specific tempo and I through that to the gutter). I frequently want to stop. Often, I do stop.

The funny thing is, I LOVE working out. I love sweating. I love feeling like I accomplished something. I love the physical exhaustion the day of an intense workout. More than anything….I love being the strongest woman in the gym!!! So why is it such a struggle to push myself?

I haven’t always loved all these things. When I began working out, I started with water aerobics and swimming because I could not feel my sweat. It wasn’t until years later that I truly became passionate about exercise. All following my lengthy, frustrating process of recovering from injury. During this time, I leaned on MY personal trainer and mentor to see me through. He provided the human support I needed. Sometimes that meant screaming in my face, but mostly it involved leading me through exercises that I was able to complete – despite my multitude of limitations – allowing me to claim confidence and self-efficacy. I found something that I was good at doing!! I mean, really good!!! For those who have worked with him, he has an ability to help others see in themselves what they may not otherwise see. While primarily in a physical and exercise capacity, there were times conversation would wander to self-worth and purpose. Through leaning on somebody else, I learned to love and appreciate myself in ways I had never known imaginable.

As a result of my upbringing, I am an EXTREMELY independent woman. “If I cannot do it myself, then the chances are it doesn’t need to be done and I can get by without it.” I will meet my own basic, physical, mental, and emotional needs. I have learned in recent years how unrealistic this mentality is. We ALL need somebody to lean on. And one person at a time, I have been able to allow myself to lean on others.

Leaning on another individual requires you to embrace vulnerability. Yes, that ‘V” word. It may mean letting go of insecurities. Releasing pride. Opening your heart. I spent years reading and learning about vulnerability and such – believing it was not for me. You cannot read a self-help book without seeing reference to your need to lean on others to see you through – whether you are suffering or simply desiring to be the best you. I held resistance to this for so long! It wasn’t until I first ‘needed’ someone to help me physically that I learned the true necessity of leaning on somebody else. And slowly but surely, that resistance has been weakening and I can generalize that concrete need to what I view to be more abstract areas (e.g., emotions) of life.

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.… Each one should test his own actions.… each one should carry his own load.” Galatians 6:2-5

How do you lean on others? What do you need to let go of, grasp onto?