One of my favorite English teacher’s in high school once shared that her grandmother was a voodoo witch doctor who apprenticed her in the art but she walked away from it. When we asked her why, my teacher said she couldn’t stand to watch people get sick and die because of a voodoo curse. “Do voodoo curses really work?” we asked and she said that they did through the power of suggestion.
There are many documented cases of people dying of curses from all over the world and a few more studies to back them, which I will site below. These studies have been used to explain the nacebo effect which happens when people are told about the harmful effects of a drug or disease, and this causes them to experience those effects. We know that if we believe that something will make us better, even if it is only water or a sugar pill, there is a much greater chance that it will. This is known as the placebo effect. The nacebo effect is the belief that something that is harmless will harm you and that placebo effect is the belief that something that has no healing properties will help you. Nacebo creates negative consequences and placebo positive ones. Basically, our beliefs are a huge indicator of how well we heal or how ill we become.
Another example of the nacebo effect was an incident at a ball game where someone got horribly ill and everyone believed it was the food. The whole audience started feeling nausea and even vomited, believing that the food had poisoned them. When the news spread that the cause of illness was not the food, everyone felt better.
Clifton Meador, a doctor at Vanerbilt School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, documented many cases of the nacebo effect including the one of Sam Shoeman who was diagnosed with end stage liver cancer in the 1970s and was given only months to live. When he died exactly at his allotted time, an autopsy showed that the tumor never spread. “He didn’t die from cancer, but from believing he was dying of cancer,” Meador stated. “If everyone treats you as if you are dying, you buy into it. Everything in your whole being becomes about dying.”
There was a study published in 2007 in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine by Irving Kirsch and Giuliana Mazzoni of the University of Hull in the UK. They asked a group of students to inhale some air that they were told contained a “suspected environmental toxin,” linked to headache, nausea, itchy skin and drowsiness. Half the students watched a woman inhale the air and supposedly develop the symptoms. The results showed that the students who inhaled the normal air and were told that it was a toxin were more likely to get symptoms. The ones who watched the woman get symptoms were even more likely to get symptoms themselves. This result has been compared to many mass psychogenic illnesses in which word of a virus gets out and people get sick without being exposed to it.
Many studies involving control groups where people are told about the side effects of a particular drug resulted in them getting side effects whether they took the drug or a control.
These studies and many more posed some ethical questions in the medical community. “On the one hand people have the right to be informed about what to expect, but this makes it more likely they will experience side effects,” stated Mazzoni.
Reading about the nacebo effect resonates with me because I see it often in my profession. After personal training and teaching fitness/yoga for over a decade, I’ve observed many patterns of belief. Some people have the strong and unwavering belief that the body is adaptable and that it can heal and get stronger. Others let the fear of exercise lead them to believe that it will hurt them which keeps them from sticking to an effective regimen. Fear of illness or injury can be a self fulfilling prophecy. I’ve also seen people overcome great obstacles and perform skills that were once deemed impossible due to their belief in themselves.
To read my article on beliefs and learn examples on how empowering beliefs can help us accomplish what others deem impossible, you can click here:
I’m tackling this issue again because, at this point in my career, I have been using what I have learned about programming and changing people’s habits to help me change my own beliefs and habits. I’m realizing, it is my job to prop up the people who don’t believe in themselves and so their new belief in success will lead to just that.
Often, people have thanked me for being the only one who believed that they can change. It helps me to look back at my own life and remember the teachers, friends and family members who put me down or destroyed my drive by telling me that what I wanted to accomplish was impossible. Then I think of all the people who believed in me and how they changed my life.
I asked myself, who do I want to be? Do I want to be the teacher who once told one of my students that her belly fat was a part of age and that she couldn’t get rid of it? Yet, after taking my class for a month, the belly fat came right off. Do I want to be like the trainer who told me that a woman can’t do pull ups especially one who only has two fingers? Yet, I just did 30 pull ups unassisted the other day. Do I want to be like the physical therapist who told a few of my clients that it would take them months and months to heal? Yet, after a few weeks of training with me, they regained their range of motion in a much shorter amount of time.
The truth is there are doctors who won’t perform surgery on people because they can sense that the person’s belief in death will make him less likely to survive. There are teachers who have given up on trying because they think that the children just don’t care. There are trainers who turn down clients just because they feel they don’t have the right mind set. Many of us are taught to do this. But one day, I asked myself, “If I only train people who already have the mindset for it, what good am I? What about the people who really need it?”
There have been times when I have had to be honest with someone and tell them that they can change even if they didn’t believe it. I could tell that what I said hurt them greatly. Then, weeks or months later, they came to me and thanked me for changing their mindset and being the catalyst for them to find the path to health.
What touches me most is seeing new comers come to my class, struggling with the learning curve that often comes with starting up a new fitness regimen. Instead of complaining that they are taking up more space in the class or assuming that they are part of the wave of people who only come for the new year and leave after a month, I have seen my students tell them that they have gone through the same learning curves. I’ve seen my students offer support and encouragement to newcomers overcome with fear and apprehension.
This gives me hope that no one is hopeless. A society’s culture is simply a shared system of beliefs. We are fighting a war against obesity and chronic diseases, fueled by a fast food, inactive and stressful culture. Many of us have won the battle and have created new habits of health and well being. It is up to us to create a new culture, one that embraces positive change, healing and support.
So I ask you, do you want to be a voodoo witch doctor and curse people with your doubt? Or do you want to be the healer that motivates them with hope? What can we do to help change the beliefs of a generation?
For a more studies on how our subconscious fuels our beliefs and habits and how we can change that with awareness, click here:
For a list of my blogs in the category of motivation, click here:
The Kinetic chain
The human body and mind is an amazing machine that can move in many directions and achieve amazing tasks. It can climb, run, walk, crawl, swing bats, perform complex martial arts and dance moves, lift heavy loads and perform acrobatic feats. In order to move in this way, our body is like a machine, linked with complex joints, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and fascia. It is moved by bones and muscles and a complex network of nerves. The many tissues have to support, counter, contract and extend in order to perform these tasks successfully and without injury or strain. We call this beautiful harmony of movement that includes all the tissues responsible for it, the kinetic chain. Like a chain in a machine that requires spokes, wheels, breaks, pulleys, belts, wires and energy; our body requires a cooperative link of many types of fibers.
RELEASE NECK AND SHOULDER TENSION
Today, I would like to address the hips because dysfunction in this area can create pain and tension in the lower back and knees. The many muscles, ligaments, tendons, fascia and joint tissues in the hips also connect to bones in the spine and legs. When these muscles are out of balance, they can create tension in the knees, back and even the shoulders, neck and feet. Not to mention hip pain. In this blog, I will address some of the more common hip dysfunctions. Many people suffer from these issues without even knowing it.
At some point in history, someone invented the chair and this has been the cause of many muscle imbalances. It stopped people from squatting and using the floor. Our sedentary lifestyle based on mostly chair sitting has put us in a posture that compresses our spine and keeps our hip flexors in a constantly flexed position. Because the hip flexors attach the lower back to the upper thigh bone, a tight network of hip flexors (the illiopsoas group) can compress the lower back and limit movement responsible for walking properly. If it hurts to lie on your back with your legs straight, you mostly likely have tight hip flexors. Stretches where you have one foot behind you such as lunging or warrior I can help lengthen tight hip flexors.
The sciatica nerve is the HUGEST nerve in the body. It travels from the spine and through the back of the leg. When the deep muscles in the hips, particularly the piriformis muscle (a deep muscle under the gluteus group) is tight, this nerve can become compressed. The pain can run through the lower back and down the back of the leg. Massage or myofascial release with a massage ball or roller can plus, outer hip stretches such as pigeon pose or any variation of lotus can help release sciatica pain that stems from tight hips.
The Illiotibial tract or “IT band” is attached to a muscle that sounds like a favorite barista’s drink, Tensor Fasciae Latae. This attaches to tendon and fascae that runs down the side of the leg, from the hip to the knee which is responsible for stabilizing the hip. It gets tight from overuse and causes a pulling in the knee. This pulling can cause the knee to track incorrectly which can wear the cartilage in the knee the wrong way, causing arthritis. Relieving, massaging, resting and releasing the IT band helps release knee pain and imbalances. This imbalance is common in athletes who over exert themselves.
Internal rectus obliquiest
This thin muscle runs from the hip to the knee on the inner side. This muscle stabilizes the knee. If it is weak, it can cause the knees to track incorrectly creating degeneration and arthritis. Lack of strength in this area also stems from our sedentary lifestyle and too much chair sitting. It can be strengthened by performing deep squats or squeezing a ball between the thighs while extending the knee
The mind body connection
Adept yoga practitioners would say that our problems are not physical but spiritual and mental. The energy and impulses that run through our body can be blocked by karma. A real world example of this is to look at what happens when a dog is afraid. It tucks its tail between its legs. We do the same thing. When we sense fear or stress, we tense our hips.
Sigmund Freud coined the term “anal retention” when he described people who’s parent’s were too controlling. My yoga teacher has told me that the tighter a person’s butt, the more they try to control their life.
The hip area represents the first and second chakras. The first chakra represents where we hold our fear, stress and issues regarding survival. The second chakra deals with creativity, sex, shame and guilt. These are the darker areas of our life, the parts of us we hide away. When we finally release blockages in our hips, we are sometimes filled with great emotional waves. As I went deeper into my yoga practice, I started to experience this but it took me a while to finally let go of what I was holding in my hips. Often, we hold our own mental stress in our body and learning to relax the mind can also alleviate and heal pain in the body. This is why yoga and meditation has become so popular.
For more information about the chakras, click this link:
Hip Balancing Workshop
I will be holding a hip balancing workshop in Chatsworth CA, if you are interested, click here:
If you have no idea what to ponder for the New Year, I suggest meditating on these three characteristics of success and happiness. They are:
Responsibility: It is only when we stop blaming everyone else for out troubles and realize that only we have the power to change our own lives that we can embrace success and happiness. This attitude opens us up to solutions because we only see what we want to see. If we are looking for problems and people to blame, that is what we will find. If we look for solutions and strength to change our lives, that is what we will find. I’ve seen people come from the most impoverished circumstances turn their lives around just by shifting their perspectives from one of blame to personal responsibility. Realizing that we have free will also brings happiness and a sense of power and control over our lives. A sense of responsibly gives us power.
Values: When we know what we value in life, we can align our actions to what is truly important to us. We will no longer allow the things we don’t want in our lives. We will choose jobs, people and hobbies that fulfill us. However, if we don’t know what we want, we will allow life to dictate what we do, who we see and what ultimately happens to us. Our values motivate us by always having something fulfilling or positive to strive towards or focus on.
Goals: this is the key to making our values reflect our reality. It is as simple as knowing what you want (values), knowing you have the power to get and keep what you want (responsibility) and finally taking the steps to get it. This also means setting deadlines. Reflect on your values to help motivate you to keep your goals. If you are afraid of failing (something that often gets in the way of goal setting) think of it this way: Even if you don’t make that deadline, you would still have done more than you would have had you not made the goal in the first place. Even if you change your mind and decide that you didn’t want this goal in the first place, taking the actions to get that goal will give you the experience and life lessons you need realize this. In the end, there is nothing to lose and everything to gain from making that goal.
I find that if I constantly re-evaluate these things, my life continues to grow in a positive way and I do not take it for granted or allow my circumstances or general well being to deteriorate.
To learn more, check out my first vlog: I made this youtube video because people have been requesting one. Hope you enjoy it as my holiday gift to you:
If you’ve ever dieted properly through the education of a dietitian, a support group such as weight watchers or through an online app that calculates your calories for you such as myfitnesspal.com, you may already understand that there is a certain amount of calories you need to eat everyday in order to maintain your weight. There is also a certain amount of calories you need in order to fuel basic functions other than exercising such as digestion, hormonal activities, brain and neurological activity, blood circulation etc. For the average person, about 70% of the calories we burn goes to just keeping us alive and healthy. The rest we burn by doing everyday activities or exercise. We refer to this base caloric number as the resting metabolic rate (RMR)
You can calculate your RMR by going to this link below and entering your height and weight:
This calculates the amount of calories you need in order to maintain weight. If you cut out 300 to 500 of these calories per day or burn this amount through exercise, you can burn one to two lbs. a week. However, if you eat less than about 1200 calories a day for the average person, you may be taking away calories needed to keep you healthy. Of course, everyone is different and your doctor or dietitian should be able to determine what is best for you.
It’s important to note that the math used to calculate the average RMR for your height and weight is for most healthy people. It is not all together accurate. There are many people who’s RMRs are lower than this which means they have to eat even less and burn more calories in order to lose and maintain weight. These people will say they have “low metabolisms” and will say things like, “why is it some people can eat a sandwich and stay slim but if I so much as eat a slice of bread, I will gain weight?” This phenomenon usually happens to people who have dieted too often or incorrectly. They have restricted their caloric intake so much that their body slows down its use of energy. In order for them to maintain body weight, they have to eat even less than the average person.
A famous study done in 1994 by Donelly and colleagues illustrates this. Sedentary women were given only 520 kcal/day for a 12 week period. They were divided into a control group and different exercise groups. While they all lost weight, all of their RMR went down. The ones who exercised the most had the greatest decrease of RMR (down to 240 kcal/day, which represented a 13.5% decrease) This means that this group of women will now have to eat 240 less calories a day or burn 240 calories more with exercise just to maintain their weight than they did before this extreme diet.
This is the yo-yo dieter’s problem and why some people lose a lot of weight only to gain back more in the long run. This is also why most educated professionals will recommend reducing only 300-500 calories a day and no more than that. This is why we say that one to two pounds a week of weight loss is reasonable and why ethically minded professionals will not ask you to lose more weight or reduce more calories than this. But there is more.
After being starved for so long, the body will hold on to fat as a means of storage so when the starved subject does lose weight, much of it will be in the form of bone and muscle. This can lead to osteoporosis which is common in anorexic women. This also leads to more sports injuries and poor sports and exercise performance. So even though a person might lift weights, lack of enough protein and other nutrients fails to build the kind of muscle that raises our metabolism.
Furthermore, stress caused by over exercise and starvation can lead to amenorrhea or menstrual disorders which is a big problem in teenage athletic females. Without the proper hormonal balance needed from getting adequate nutritional intake, muscle and bone health weakens even more because the hormones are very important in regulating the functions that keep our bones and muscles strong.
Again, there are exceptions. If a person is severely obese, they may be able to lose more weight faster. But there comes a time when a person may keep losing fat, long after they have reached the state of having a healthy BMI. I have been in this situation. When I lost weight as a teen, I continued to do so and suffered from lowered metabolism and amenorrhea. This was partly due to incorrect education and body image. I made up for this later on in life, by getting educated and raising my metabolism by eating more healthy foods at the right times.
You can read more about my personal experiences with this in my blog:
As I study for my sports nutrition certification, I’m a saddened by the statistics of young female athletes who sabotage themselves with self starvation and it makes me wonder what we value as a society when our youth values deprivation over health. Realizing that I was once one of those unreported, malnourished kids makes me realize that these statistics are under reported and that there are more self starved people than that. I just want to say that if you are not menstruating properly, if you are not eating enough and wondering why you aren’t losing weight, if you are getting dizzy and nauseous during your workouts due to lack of nutrition, please get professional help. Beauty is more than just being skinny. Beauty comes from confidence, health and values that go beyond what we think we should look like. For this upcoming New Year, my wish is for people to aim for being stronger, more capable individuals who aren’t malnourished due to lack of education and poor body image.
Sports science has taught us that we become faster, stronger, lose weight and basically get more results when we mix up our workouts. Unfortunately, we are creatures of habit and unless someone steps in to stir things up, we tend to fall into our regular routines.
Today, I want to give you tips on how to add spice to your cardio workout. Also, these tips will help you get faster, increase your endurance, lose weight quicker, increase your metabolism, and help you improve your race times if you like to compete in 5ks, marathons, triathlons, mud runs or other similar events.
I will describe five cardio workouts. Then I will explain a typical week of training so you understand how to mix up your cardio routine to facilitate results and prevent injuries.
Aerobic or endurance workout: This workout strengthens the heart, creates stamina, and burns fat. It consists of moving at a steady pace that is intense enough to increase heart rate, but not so intense that you are breathing hard through the mouth or have to stop. This workout can continue for a long period of time. It’s great for conditioning, increasing stamina and endurance, pacing, tempo and controlling your breath.
Examples of an endurance workout include a nonstop aerobics class, a long, nonstop bike ride, long distance walk, run, swim, or session on any cardio machine. While this workout is great for the reasons mentioned above, it is not as successful in building speed or power.
If you are a beginner at this type of workout, I suggest you start learning how to pace yourself. See if you can go for fifteen minutes without stopping. Then try going for twenty minutes. Build up your endurance until you can go for a half hour or more. The key is not to push too hard that you burn out after a few seconds or minutes. Learn to slow down so you will last the full workout. You’re body will start creating more blood vessels in your body and mitochondria in the cells so, over time, you will be able to do more without running out of gas.
Fartleg: This workout also builds endurance but it helps you add some speed and it challenges your heart a bit more. It’s great if you are trying to increase your marathon or 5K time or if you just want to train your body to go harder for a long distance. In this workout, you will go at an aerobic pace (a pace you can keep for a long distance at a tempo that is challenging but doesn’t wear you out) for a timed interval, ie. 1 to 5 minutes. Then, pick up your pace and bring your heart rate up for another timed interval ie., 1 to 2 minutes. Then go back to the endurance pace.
This workout is great for increasing your pace. It is NOT the same as anaerobic or interval training because you DO NOT STOP. You simply change the rhythm and pacing of your workout. It still works your stamina.
Examples of a fartleg might be that you go on an elliptical machine for 5 minutes at a pace you are comfortable in. Then you pick up your RPMs and go faster for 1 minute. Then you go back to the original pace for 5 minutes. This can be done while running, walking, dancing, cycling, swimming or any other cardio workout. You can mix up the times. For example, on another day, you can go at the slower rhythm for only 3 minutes and do the faster rhythm for 2 minutes. You can do the slower rhythm for 1 minute and the faster rhythm for 30 seconds. Once you get used to one way of timing it, mix it up.
Beginners will find that the hardest part of this workout is to keep the timing. After a surge of harder work, you will want to stop. Learning to slow down without stopping is part of increasing endurance and teaching the body to be more efficient so you can go harder for longer periods of time and even improve your long distance race times.
VO2 max: This workout consists of going as hard as you can for a long period of time. You still have to pace yourself, but you are breathing hard and at some point, you will burn out. Think of this workout as going at a competitive race speed. It burns a ton of calories but you don’t want to do this every day because you want to avoid burn out or overuse injuries.
At first, you may only be able to do a couple of minutes at this maximum pace but as your body adapts, you can add more and more time. A champion marathon runner is going at his or her VO2 max when they are racing. At the end of the race, they are done for. Some collapse to the ground. It is very intense.
Examples of a VO2 max workout would be running a race, swimming a race or just going your all for a certain amount of time, non-stop.
Some beginners will have a hard time finding a pace that they can keep that is challenging but that will not make them burn out after a few seconds. Others may just have a hard time getting their heart rates up to a max capacity. I do not recommend this workout for beginners. I recommend they spend the first few weeks starting a cardiovascular program with just endurance and fartlegs before they attempt this. I do not recommend this to people who have heart problems. But if you have been doing the same aerobic workout for a while and you are ready to go to the next level, try this as a test, to see where you are or as an intense workout once or twice a week. I do not recommend you do it every day. Think of this workout as a test run to see how much you have improved.
Intervals: Interval training has become very popular lately because of its proof of effectiveness due to many studies purporting that only a few minutes of interval training a week leads to massive results in all realms of fitness. This workout consists of short bursts of highly intense intervals, followed by a timed rest period. This workout burns the most calories so it doesn’t have to be done for a long period of time. A ten to twenty minute interval workout burns as much or more than an endurance workout that is an hour long.
Examples of an interval workout would be doing a 100 yard sprint at max capacity, then taking a thirty second break and repeating that eight times. Another example would be to do burpees for thirty seconds and take a twenty second break. Another example would be to run 200 or 400 or 800 meters at max capacity and take a two minute break and repeat that six times. Another example would be to go at a faster or harder level on your cardio machine for one minute, then rest for thirty seconds and repeat. You can mix up the intervals and rest periods as your body adapts to this method.
The biggest challenge for beginners will be repeating the intervals. You might find that after going all out for the first or second interval, you’ll have nothing left for the third or fourth. I suggest you start with only a few intervals or make the rest periods longer. Then add more intervals and shorten the rest periods as you get better. If you eat and recover properly, your body will adapt by building more muscle and power. Over time, you will be able to recover from the initial bursts quicker.
Hills: Hills add resistance to a cardiovascular workout. It is harder to go up a hill due to gravity pushing on our body. This workout challenges our heart and makes our workout more intense. You can run a course on hills non-stop or you can do intervals up a hill. You can simulate hills on a treadmill, bike, elliptical and other cardio machine. You can simulate hills in a studio class by using steps or inclines. Going up a hill can burn a lot more calories and work your heart and muscles harder without you having to increase speed.
The greatest challenge to doing hills is the fact that it engages more muscles and requires more strength. Do not do hills several days in a row. You want to let your muscles recover between days of hills. There is also a greater risk of knee pain. Listen to your body. If your joints are not sore, you are probably fine but if your knees, hips or ankles start to warn you by sending you pain signals, ease off on your training. Hills are comparable to weight training. Do not do a steep hill if you can barely run a flat. Simulate hills slowly, adding a greater incline after you get used to the level below that.
A simulated workout: If you plan to run four days a week, your workouts might look like this:
Monday: endurance workout, 4 miles at aerobic pace
Tuesday: Intervals, three 400 yard runs with 1 minute rest between each interval followed by five 100 meter sprints with 30 second rest between each of them
Wednesday: rest day
Thursday: fartleg, jog at aerobic pace for 5 minutes. Pick up tempo for 1 minute. Keep doing that for 30 minutes
Friday: VO2Max, time trial. Run a 5k course as fast as you can.
You might want to mix up two different types of workouts in one day. Here’s an example of a program where you do cardio three times a week:
Monday: 20 minute endurance workout, non-stop. Followed by eight 100 meter sprints with 20 second rest between them (a mix of intervals and endurance)
Wednesday: fartleg, jog at aerobic pace for 3 minutes. Pick up tempo for 2 minutes. Keep doing that for 30 minutes
Friday: VO2Max, time trial. Run a 5k course as fast as you can. Then run at endurance pace for 10 minutes
You can mix up all four workouts in one workout. I often do this when I teach cycle. Here’s an example of this on a treadmill:
15 minutes at an aerobic tempo, followed by a five minute hill hard as you can (VO2Max) followed by high intensity intervals of adding speed and hills for 30 seconds, then rest for 20 seconds. Repeat intervals five times. End with 10 minutes at aerobic tempo.
All of these workouts will help you break your plateaus, create more speed, power, stamina, and will burn more calories. It will also break you out of your rut and make endurance less boring. All of these workouts can be simulated on a cardio machine or in an aerobics class, can be done running or walking and can be done swimming (with the exception of hills.)
If you would like to know how many calories these workouts burn, check out this post:
There is a part of my website that I’ve been neglecting for a while and that is my “Local Heroes” section. The reason why I started that page is because of a fortune cookie I got a long time ago that really affected me. It read, “The greatest sin is to do nothing because you can only do a little.”
This phrase stayed with me and often repeats itself to me in my mind. I think of all the times I didn’t do something just because I couldn’t do it all and I think about people who totally give up on life and love because they can’t “have it all” or because the world is already such a harsh place, and they don’t think that they could ever make a difference.
But after reading that fortune cookie and having some very unusual dreams, I realized that if we all just did one thing to help someone else, that it would make a huge difference. If we just did one thing, once a day to make ourselves better, it would make a huge difference. Too often, we look to one person to be the great hero and savior of us all. We often forget that if we all did a little something, it would equal the all that only one person could do. I hope that makes sense.
Every time I ask someone I know if they want to be a local hero, they always tell me that they don’t understand what they did to be a hero. They look at my local heroes page and think that the people on that page are amazing and that they don’t deserve to be a part of it. But after I do a write up on them, and make them aware of all the great things they’ve done, they realize that they are important after all. Some of these people are professionals, some volunteers. Some are people who succeeded in losing weight or overcoming obstacles which can inspire others who are going through the same struggles. Whether they are doing a lot or a little, they are still doing something and that’s all that matters. I started the local heroes page because I wanted to showcase some amazing people who have really inspired me and thank them. I also wanted to tell their stories to see if it would inspire others. While I may not be ending world hunger by doing this, it’s something.
When we take just ten minutes out of our day to do something healthy, that’s something awesome. We may not know how one kind word we say to someone might inspire them to totally change their outlook of life. All these things seem so small, but they matter. There are so many people in my life who have inspired me just by saying one thing or doing their job well. They didn’t have to be multi millionaires or the president of the world to do it. They were just being true to their hearts. So, today I’m reminding myself to just do something to remind the world that we are all important.
This month’s local hero is Sue Press, fellow Parkinson’s chair instructor and cancer survivor. You can read about her by clicking here:
What is pilates? Pilates is modern form of exercise that has been used by athletes, dancers and every day people in order to maintain strength and flexibility. It has also been used as physical rehabilitation for numerous injuries.
Pilates is named after its founder, Joseph Pilates who was born in Germany and lived from December 9, 1883 to October 9, 1967
It is said that Pilates was a sickly child who suffered from asthma, rickets and rheumatic fever. He devoted his life to physical fitness and grew up to be a champion gymnast and martial artist. He also studied yoga and many other modalities of fitness. He was a professional boxer who taught self defense and wrestling to law enforcement. He called his system of fitness “contrology” and published a book called “Return to Life Through Contrology” in 1945. This book showcased simple exercises to develop core strength and posture so the mainstream population could fight the debilitating effects of modern sedentary living. I teach many of these exercises in my mat pilates class.
During WWI, Pilates was interned by the British where he continued training his fellow soldiers. Rumor has it that he even made the soldiers work out when they were injured and couldn’t walk by turning their beds into exercise machines by using the coils of the beds for resistance, inventing a modern pilates reformer. Some people say that Pilates would not allow anyone to skimp out on exercising. Others say that Pilates was rehabilitating the soldiers on these beds and that he successfully healed many soldiers this way. It is said that his inmates survived the 1918 flu pandemic due to their great shape and he boasted that they would be stronger than they were before internment.
After the war, Pilates returned to Germany and collaborated with many other fitness and dance experts. He also trained law enforcement but was ordered by the government to train the German army. Disappointed by the political and social conditions, he immigrated to the United States where he met his wife, Clara.
He opened his studio in New York which gained quick attention from the performing arts community. His studio attracted many dancers who suffered from aches and pains and provided a foundation of spinal strengthening, mobility and stamina. Performers were often sent to his studio to rehabilitate their injuries and soon, contrology was part of a regular dance regimen that helped prevent injuries.
Today, Pilates’s students have branched out to teach his method all over the world. It has been adopted by athletic trainers and occupational physical therapists. His method is taught in studios and gyms all over the world and has helped people from all walks of life overcome the aches and pains of athletics, performing arts and sedentary modern living.
“Contrology develops the body uniformly, corrects wrong postures, restores physical vitality, invigorates the mind, and elevates the spirit. In childhood, with rare exceptions, we all enjoy the benefits of natural and normal physical development. However, as we mature, we find ourselves living in bodies not always complimentary to our ego. Our bodies are slumped, our shoulders are stooped, our eyes are hollow, our muscles are flabby and our vitality extremely lowered, if not vanished. This is but the natural result of not having uniformly developed all the muscles of our spine, trunk, arms, and legs in the course of pursuing our daily labors and office activities.” –Joseph Pilates
Every once and a while, my students will ask me questions such as, “What is better Pilates or yoga?” I have a very hard time answering these types of questions because Yoga is a practice that has layers and depths to it. It takes lifetimes to master and it has a rich history, spanning thousands of years of philosophy, tradition, culture and eras. All yoga schools take different approaches and many people will go to one yoga class, only to find that it is nothing like another yoga class because it might focus on a different aspect of the extremely large world of yoga.
The word “yoga” means to “yolk”. It means union. It is a holistic practice that helps us become whole with ourselves and our environment. Another traditional definition of yoga is any practice that helps us become a better person. Therefore, yoga consists of practices such as healthy living, exercise, meditation, study, prayer, and doing good deeds so we can stay connected to our higher selves. It helps us determine truth from illusion and live in the highest state of happiness.
Today I will attempt to explain what traditional yoga is. I will break traditional yoga down to four main styles. These styles are:
Hatha yoga: Yoga of posture and physical health.
Jnana yoga: Yoga of knowledge and truth.
Karma yoga: Yoga of right and selfless action.
Bhakti yoga: Devotional yoga that brings us closer to a higher power.
Each style of yoga helps us become better in each very important aspect of our lives. Hatha yoga helps us with our physical health. Jnana yoga strengthens our mind and mental will. Karma yoga helps us build healthy social connections. Bhahkti yoga helps us cultivate our reverence for God if we are religious; or our deep love for our higher selves or for the grandeur of the universe, if we are secular. This holistic practice helps develop a healthy mind, body, spirit and community. It creates a balanced lifestyle.
Examples of Hatha Yoga is “pranayama” or breathing exercises that help us understand our posture or “asana”. Asanas consist of postures such as, “Adho Mukha Svanasana” or “Downward Facing Dog.” This posture is an inverted V. We do this pose to master our posture and alignment which helps us create more strength, flexibility, deeper awareness of our body and more energy. Most yoga that is taught in gyms teaches asana or posture. Posture is very important for our health and well being because it helps unblock places where we are holding tension which creates a better flow in energy. Many studies have showed that our posture affects our hormones and our psychological well being. When a person is standing straight, they automatically become happier. If a person is slouching or cowering, they tend to feel more depressed. Yogis understand how our postures relate to our emotions and use posture to help us control and understand our internal selves, psychologically and physically.
Jnana yoga consists of study, awareness and meditation. It is taught in many yoga studios, ashrams, self actualization institutions and meditation retreats. Sometimes it is taught in conjunction with hatha yoga. For example, when I first started practicing yoga, it was in a studio where we spent the first fifteen minutes of each class studying yoga texts and meditating. Some hatha yoga teachers teach from the yoga texts while you are practicing a posture.
Learning to control our mind helps us become more focused, happier and content. Jnana yoga consists of silencing the mind so the voices in our head do not make us crazy and so we can differentiate what is important from what is not important. It also consists of stepping outside of our selfish ego so we get the bigger picture. It consists of contemplating and reflecting on life or dissecting our problems. It consists of reading, learning, science and even chanting mantras in order to create positive patterns in our subconscious. At its highest level, jnana yoga helps us understand and accept our place in the universe. It helps us overcome our fear of life and death, master our emotions and have a greater perspective of the ups and downs of life.
Karma yoga is all about action and social responsibility. It consists of being a good teacher, parent, grandparent, daughter, son, friend, etc. When we give or volunteer at a local charity or community, we are practicing karma yoga. When we realize that healthy living goes beyond ourselves and that we all need to do our part to make the world a better place, we start practicing karma yoga.
Great examples of karma yoga gurus are: Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and Nelson Mandela. These were people who put social responsibility above their own needs. Karma yoga creates happiness by practicing the act of making others happy. It fosters love, gratitude and a more harmonious society.
Bahkti Yoga or the yoga of faith or devotion consists of chants, prayers and singing. It is a cultivation of a deep love and reverence of God or a divine power. When you go to church, a mosque or a temple, you are practicing bahkti yoga. Anytime you are praying, praising or connecting with a divine power, you are practicing bhakti yoga. Although this is a religious or spiritual aspect of yoga, secular people can still practice yoga because of its many other aspects.
In conclusion, I have described the main traditional styles of yoga. This is the foundation of yoga. You might ask about many other styles you have heard of such as Iyengar, Anusara, Bikram, etc. These are usually derived from or are named after a particular guru (teacher) or lineage. Since yoga has evolved for thousands of years, there are some philosophies that have branched off. However, it is still yoga if it incorporates the ideals stated above.
For more information about this many thousands of year old practice, check out these links:
Yoga and The Eightfold path…. http://heroestraining.com/?p=17
Meditation, A Running Into Reality…. http://heroestraining.com/?p=206
Meditation, The Illuminated Perceiver vs. The Afflictive Mind…. http://heroestraining.com/?p=653
Demystifying the Chakras (From a Hormonal Perspective)…. http://heroestraining.com/?p=50
A popular study done by David Libet showed that when we make a decision to move, unconscious parts of the brain are activated before we even make a decision. This tells us that most of our actions are not determined by our rational conscious mind, but by our subconscious. Does this mean that we don’t have a choice over our actions? Is everything predetermined? This study brought back the age old question, do we have free will?
I wouldn’t jump on the determinism band wagon right away. As a personal trainer, I have learned that if a person doesn’t believe in their ability to change, they have nothing to motivate them. A large study in New Zealand showed that people who believed in their own free will were much more likely to be successful in any undertaking.
The truth is, much of what we do is determined by our subconscious, but if we force ourselves to be aware, it becomes conscious. For example, some clients come to me with incorrect muscle movements. For any number of reasons, they move in ways that can be harmful to their bodies. While they may not be aware of this, something in their subconscious makes them think it is okay to let’s say, hunch their shoulders while doing a deltoid lift. When I try to correct them, their first reaction is to say, “This is the way I am. I can’t change.” Unfortunately, being content with this line of thinking will lead to shoulder impingements later on in life. I know many older adults who have shoulder issues because they have been doing exercises wrong for so many years.
When a person trains with me for a few more weeks and I make them concentrate on ways to use the correct muscles so they can change their incorrect and dangerous movements, they succeed in moving a different way. With practice, they start subconsciously moving the correct way. This proves that even subconscious movements can be changed to conscious movements if we apply awareness. Once we do this, we change our subconscious habits. This is good because we can change negative habits that sabotage our health into positive ones that feed our health. We can change our habits.
Even the act of breathing, once thought of as an involuntary movement can be made into a conscious movement. The yogis have proven that control of the breath can even give them the power to change their own heart rate and blood pressure.
More on breathing here:
The other day, I was listening to a lecture by Bruce Lipton on epigenetics. This is a new science that explores how our genes react to our environment. For example, if we feed our cells certain foods, they either become healthy or intoxicated. How we breathe, move and think greatly affects our health and our genes. Many times, it is our attitudes and perceptions that make us healthy or unhealthy and we can see this when we look at how stress affects our body.
Stress is caused by perceived fear. When we are afraid, our body secretes hormones that cause us to fight or run from the danger. All the blood in the body is rushed to our arms and legs for survival purposes. The body takes blood away from digestive organs and the organs that are used to fight disease. While this helps us survive a dangerous environment where predators lurk in every corner, our body was never meant to be stressed on an ongoing basis. Taking blood away from other functions makes our immune system weak and more susceptible to all diseases. It also takes blood away from rational parts of the brain and puts it into more primitive parts of the brain, lowering our I.Q. Stress seems to be a catch term in our modern day society and people are constantly complaining about it.
People perceive dangers in every corner. Is there someone at your job who rubs you the wrong way? Does she bring you stress? If we think of her as an evil witch who can take away our personal power just by looking at us, then yes, she will. She will make our stress hormones release every time we see her, markedly lowering our immune system. But if we realize that she is just human and has no power to hurt us just by saying the wrong things, then we won’t be stressed. We can brush off her attitude and move on with our lives. So, our perceptions have a great influence on our health.
We may not be consciously aware of the reasoning behind our perception. Perhaps we were abused by a family member who looked like her or said the same things that the person who rubs us the wrong way does. Maybe we were bullied by a kid that said the same things she did and whenever we hear her words, we want to run or fight. Subconsciously we see her as a threat and become stressed by her even if we don’t want to. Unfortunately, many people can’t help the way they react in life because of how they were conditioned growing up. People ask themselves, why can’t I change my situation? Why can’t I stop the negative thoughts in my mind? Why can’t I end my addiction to food, drugs, television or video games? The reason is because they are subconscious reactions to how we were taught to perceive the world. We never made a conscious choice to be stressed, overweight, addicted or weak in the wrong muscles. We are just reacting to our environment.
This is where awareness comes in. If we can end the chatter in our minds that is nothing but a subconscious recording of how we were conditioned to act in life, we can start to consciously make changes. Yoga teaches us to still the mind and bring awareness to what we are doing right here and now. Even doing physical yoga poses, and teaching ourselves to bring awareness to how we feel in the poses teaches us to use our conscious thinking to guide us. When I teach my regular yoga classes, I try not to preach. What I have to say doesn’t matter. My main goal is to help the students still their minds, be aware of their breath and bring awareness to how the poses affect their bodies, so they can be aware of their own habits and tendencies. Only then will they be able to change anything.
Taking the time to practice awareness can literally change a person’s life. It teaches us to stop reacting to what is going on in the outside and pay attention to who we are on the inside. What do we want? How do we want to live our lives? What makes us happy? What feels good? What doesn’t? Why?
So in the end, yes, much of what we do are just subconscious reactions, and if we were ever raised on any negative ideas, that isn’t very good news. However, through awareness, we can change those patterns in our muscles, our brains and in our cells. There are many resources out there to help us do it. Guided meditations help because they help us tap into that subconscious state so we change our unconscious patterns of thinking. In fact this is the idea behind hypnosis and this is why it is often used to help people lose weight and end addiction. We can take yoga or pilates class that emphasizes awareness of the body. We can find a personal trainer who will make us aware of how we move our bodies and help us change our habits. We can also learn to meditate or try neurolingquistic programming techniques. These are coaching and psychological techniques that teach us to ask specific questions and replace old perceptions and habits with new ones.
For more information on relieving stress, check out these posts:
For more information on using meditation to help change our habits check out these posts:
Over the years of being a trainer, I have noticed a marked difference between people who achieve the results they want and the ones who have a much harder time. Much of it has to do with how people eat and sleep on top of how they train.
Today I am bringing up the subject of sleep because I heard a motivational speaker say that you should sacrifice sleep in order to get the things you want. As a health professional, I do not agree with this statement due to the evidence I have collected over the years. You can sacrifice mindless television watching, video games, negative thinking and junk food, but one thing you should not sacrifice is sleep. A large number of studies have linked lack of sleep with obesity.
Proof of How Lack of Sleep Can Make you Fat
According to a study from the University of Chicago, people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to indulge in candy, cake and other sweets than they are in eating fruits and whole grains. Another study that appeared in “The Annals of internal Medicine” measured hormonal levels in people who do not get enough sleep with those who do. They found that sleep deprivation decreases levels of leptin, a hormone that tells you that you are full. It increases levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry and makes you crave sweets. Additional studies followed how many snacks people who aren’t getting enough sleep eat. The conclusion was that people who are sleep deprived are twice as likely to eat unhealthy snacks.
Lack of sleep also causes stress, releasing the hormone cortisol which also causes us to crave high-fat foods. Cortisol also triggers survival mechanisms in the body that causes us to store fat in our abdominal area.
For more information on how stress leads to belly fat, check out this post: http://heroestraining.com/?p=417
A study from Case Western University tracked the weight fluctuations and sleep habits of 680,138 women for sixteen years. They found that the women who slept five hours or less per night were more likely to become obese and the women who only got six hours of sleep a night were more likely to be overweight than women who got seven hours of sleep.
Researchers from the University of Warrick, England followed thousands of children and adults and found that sleep deprivation almost doubles the risk of obesity for adults and children. Another study from Stanford University found that people who sleep less have higher BMI (Body Mass Index) levels. In conclusion, there are a huge number of studies that show that lack of sleep can make you fat.
What is just as remarkable is a study conducted by Glamour Magazine to see if sleeping more will help you lose weight. They enlisted seven female readers and asked them to sleep at least seven and a half hours each night for ten weeks. They were not allowed to change their dietary habits for those ten weeks. All of these women lost weight.
It is very difficult to train clients who are sleep deprived. They have absolutely no energy. I usually train them as a lesson and tell them that they need to get more sleep if they want to get results. When they experience how poorly they perform and how much they struggle, they realize how important sleep really is.
Sleep is Nature’s Steroid
Some recent studies are being done on HGH (human growth hormone) and how this helps people recover, stay young and gain muscle. When we sleep, human growth hormone is released. This is when injuries are healed, when children grow, when cells in the body are restored and when muscles are repaired to gain strength. If athletic performance or strength gains are your goal, then sleep should be on the top of your priority list. Sleep has also been called “nature’s steroid” by many health professionals for this reason. Before you start your intake of experimental HGH, see if you’re getting enough sleep first.
Sleep Increases Athletic Performance
Mah, Mah and Dement studied college swimmers. They tested their athletic performance for two weeks during their usual sleep-wake cycles. Then they tested them after they extended their sleep to 10 hours a day for 6-7 weeks. The results showed that the swimmers swam the 15-meter sprint 0.51 seconds faster, reacted 0.15 seconds sooner off the start blocks, improved turn time by 0.10 seconds and increased kick strokes by 5 kicks.
They also did a study on 11 male college basketball players. After extending their sleep for as much per night as they could, their timed agility sprint improved by 0.07 seconds; their free-throw percentage increased by 9%; and their 3-point field goal percentage improved by 9.2%.
They also studied seven Stanford University football players. They were tested before and after the sleep extension and their 20-yard shuttle run times decreased by 0.10 seconds. Forty-yard dash times also decreased by 0.10 seconds and daytime sleepiness and fatigue scores fell significantly.
Sleep also helps with memory, strengthening the immune system and alertness. This increases athletic performance, work performance, school performance, and wellness. It also makes you less cranky which should help with your relationships.
How Can I Get More Sleep?
–One of my favorite cures for insomnia is exercise or yoga. This helps release stress and burns energy that can lead to a better night’s sleep. Excess exercise can lead to burn out and insomnia so make sure you are getting just the right amount
–Get your life organized. Set aside time for checking emails, spending time with the family, eating dinner etc. so that everyone can get to bed on time.
–Take a warm bath or shower
–Try chamomile tea, which is known for its ability to calm the body, before going to bed
–The smell of lavender is known to calm the senses and release stress, making it easier to go to sleep.
–Instead of sacrificing things that are good for you, such as sleep, how about cutting out things that are bad for you such as excessive alcohol. Though it can make you feel tired, too much alcohol can mess with your sleep cycles.
–Tobacco is a stimulant that can make it hard to sleep
–Too much caffeine is a stimulant that messes with your sleep-wake cycles.
–Overeating can make it hard to sleep so give your digestive system a break. Also, don’t eat too much processed carbs or sugar right before bed
–Sometimes it is hard to sleep while hungry so a healthy snack like a fruit might help. Just don’t overeat.
–Too much television or video games can also lead to inability to sleep. Try reading a book before going to bed, meditating or listening to soft music. Even cuddle with a loved one.
–Take power naps if sleeping at night is not possible. If you have a hard time sleeping at night, limit nap times.
–Make sure your bed and pillows are comfortable
–Turn out the lights. Bright lights can fool the hormonal system into thinking it is still day time so avoid the television and other lit screens. Let your body know that it is time for bed.
–If you feel your inability to sleep might be a medical issue, check out AASM (the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.) Here is their website:
How Much Sleep Should I Get?
These are the sleep guidelines according to the National Sleep Foundation:
|AGE||DAILY SLEEP NEEDS|
|NEW BORNS (0-2 months)||12-18 HOURS|
|INFANTS (3 to 11 months)||14-15 HOURS|
|TODDLERS (1-3 years)||12-14 HOURS|
|PRESCHOOLERS (3-5 years)||11-13 HOURS|
|SCHOOL –AGE CHILDREN (5-10 years)||10-11 HOURS|
|TEENS (10-17 years)||8.5-9.25 HOURS|