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PostHeaderIcon The Greatest Sin is to do Nothing Because You Can Only do a Little

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:

PostHeaderIcon JOSEPH PILATES, a Hardcore Man with a Hard Core

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

PostHeaderIcon What is Traditional Yoga? (The Original Styles of Yoga)

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….

Meditation, A Running Into Reality….

Meditation, The Illuminated Perceiver vs. The Afflictive Mind….

Demystifying the Chakras (From a Hormonal Perspective)….

PostHeaderIcon Science, Yoga, and Free Will

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:

PostHeaderIcon Should I Sacrifice Sleep for Training?

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:

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:

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

PostHeaderIcon How do I Get Smaller or Bigger?

Imagine a big pile of dirt. You take some dirt off and the pile becomes smaller, then you put more dirt on and it becomes bigger. This dirt is your caloric intake and your body mass. When you exercise, you are burning calories and body mass. You are taking dirt off the pile and the pile gets smaller. When you eat, you are putting calories and body mass back on the dirt.

You are this pile of dirt. If you want to make yourself stay the same size, you will take off as much dirt as you put on. If you want to get  bigger, you will pile on more dirt than you take off. This sounds like an easy concept to understand but I get a lot of questions about this, so I want to clear up a few things.

Many people mindlessly pile on more dirt than they take off. In fact, a recent study has shown that the average person eats about fifty to a hundred more calories than they should per day and we wonder why we gradually gain weight as we get older. If we exercise moderately, most of those calories will get burned and we will maintain our size. If we exercise more or eat less, we will get smaller, much like that pile of dirt. What a lot of people don’t realize is that a small piece of cheese has more calories in it than it seems and they might be packing more dirt on that pile than they think. A salad that contains bacon, avocado and caramelized walnuts may have a lot more fat and calories (dirt) than what they anticipated. In order to know if you are really doing what it takes to make yourself smaller, you have to educate yourself on the calorie content of foods you eat. According to studies, most people don’t even know what broccoli looks like, thus the obesity epidemic.

Similarly, I sometimes get clients who want to gain muscle. When they tell me that they aren’t getting results, I make them write down what they are eating and it becomes apparent that they aren’t eating enough. The truth is we often don’t plan what we eat. Most people eat what is available to them at the time which makes it very hard to proactively control our body size. I can’t emphasize enough how important awareness and planning is if you want to change your size.

Clients who want to get bigger often ask, “How can I make sure that the food I am eating is going to building muscle and not gaining fat?”

This all has to do with what you eat, when you eat and how you exercise. To get bigger muscles, you must break them down. You must lift weights until your muscles are sore and a bit torn up (not pulled or injured.) When the muscles heal, they heal a little bigger and stronger. You must give your muscles recovery time. You must eat the right portions of protein, carbs and nutrients and you should do it immediately after you exercise so those calories contribute to repairing muscle and not to storing fat. Body builders plan their workouts, what they eat and when they eat very precisely. The average professional body builder spends 40,000 dollars on food a year.

One misunderstanding clients who want to get bigger have is that only lifting weights will make their muscles bigger. You have to eat more too. Remember that exercise alone will make your pile of dirt smaller. If you don’t have energy to fuel those muscles, they won’t get bigger. If you want bulk you HAVE to eat more too.

One question I get a lot from clients who want to get smaller is, “will lifting heavy weights make me get bigger or bulkier?” Again, you won’t get bigger unless you eat more than what you normally do. Lifting heavy weights takes more energy and burns more calories than lifting light weights. Therefore, lifting heavy weights will take more dirt off your pile, making it smaller. The pile can only get bigger if you eat more.

For example, I once had a client who wanted to get lean and cut. She wanted her abs to have definition for a trip she was planning. I advised her to lift heavier weights but she told me she didn’t want to bulk up. I told her that she would only bulk up if she started eating more. I put her on my program and within a couple of months; she did get much smaller and toned.

Lifting heavier weights helped her build muscle that raised her metabolism. Because she didn’t eat more, her body used the energy stored in the fat she had to help her tone her muscles. Because her fat was being burned to build muscle, she became smaller and leaner.  In general, women don’t bulk up as easily as men because they lack the male hormones that make them bigger. As I stated above, it is a lot of work to get big. Women who are afraid to bulk up don’t challenge themselves when they exercise. Because they aren’t working as hard, they don’t burn as many calories and also don’t get the results they want.

Therefore, if you want to get smaller you have to eat less and exercise more. The harder you work out, the smaller you will get. Exercise will only make you bigger if you eat more calories than you need to fuel that work out.

More on awareness: Sometimes we think we are burning more calories than we really are. Some fitness modalities insist that their workouts burn a thousand calories an hour. This may not be the case. How many calories you burn depends on your metabolism, size or level of fitness. I go into this with more detail in my post about calories here:

Sometimes we think that we can eat a pizza and ice cream and just work out harder the next day. Well, a pizza and ice cream can add up to over 1000 calories and it’s really hard to burn that off. The average person burns about 300 calories during a one hour cardio session. That person would have to work out for an extra two and half hours to burn off an extra pizza and ice cream. This is fine if you have the time but if you don’t have the level of fitness to do this, you risk injuring your body.

Also, if you are binge eating foods with no nutritional value such as ice cream or pizza, you will feel too lethargic to work out hard. Junk food can add to more fat and ruin your workouts. Therefore, we have to be aware of how we approach our lifestyle. If you have a tendency to overeat, this is usually due to psychological attitudes towards food. I’ve had to change many of my attitudes. I used to think I could just go to extremes and work out like crazy so I could support my binge eating. Now I’m learning to eat moderately and exercise moderately.

This doesn’t mean that you should starve yourself if you want to get smaller. Starving yourself will make your metabolism slow down and your body will store fat, making it harder to lose weight. To read about metabolism, check out this blog post:

Also, I will give more resources below, so you know how many calories you should be consuming and burning.

All in all, how we eat and how we exercise is intricately related in determining the size of our body. If you wish to change your size, you have to really think about how much you are putting into your body and how well you are burning it. We personal trainers are very good at tracking these kinds of things so if you need help, just ask. We usually notice things that most people overlook.

I highly recommend you write down your diet and workouts. Websites such as lose it or fitpal have been very successful in helping people change their size and become aware of their lifestyles. If you go to those websites, it will calculate how many calories you should be eating and burning a day based on your current size. Here are some links to wesbites and apps that will help you track how much dirt you are taking off and putting on:

If you don’t like computers, write down what you eat on a food diary. Studies have shown that people who write down what they eat are 50% more likely to reach their goals.

As you can see, changing the size of your body can be a lot of hard work. If this is what you really want, ask yourself what you are willing to change to reach this goal. Ask yourself why you want to change. Is it for health reasons or for cosmetic reasons? What are you willing to change about your body and what are you willing to accept?

For more information on how to know how many calories you are burning, check out this post:

For more information on how to plan out a fitness regimen, check out this post:

PostHeaderIcon How Many Calories Did I Just Burn?

When the porter Ranch YMCA introduced the new Life Cycle bikes, fully equipped with computer technology, we were all excited! The bike can track RPMS (revolutions per minute), WATTS (energy or power used), duration, mileage and how many calories a person is burning. If you wear a heart rate monitor, the bike synchs with it and shows you your heart rate. It also has a USB plug in case you want to record your workout.

One would think that the members would be super excited and most of them were. However, many were very disappointed when they realized that they weren’t burning 1000 calories an hour. Some of the members who struggled to lose weight was also enrolled on a computer online service that helped track her workouts. According to the service, one hour of indoor cycling burns 1000 calories an hour. They were devastated when the consol on her new bike told her she was only burning 250 calories an hour.

Then again, when I was trained on the bike, I was told that there was a good chance that the members were burning more calories than indicated on the consol. She said that the bike was designed so there was no way the members were burning “less” than the number on the machine. The numbers were based on the lowest estimate. This was an ethical decision on the part of Life Cycle. They didn’t want to falsely claim that you are burning 1000 calories so you can eat a ton of junk after your workout, then wonder why you aren’t losing weight.

Some people also found that they burned more calories on one machine than they did on the other, even though they felt like they sweat more and worked harder on the machine that they were burning less calories on. This is due to nothing but inaccuracy of the machines and how they estimated caloric burn. Some machines ask for your weight and others don’t. Without knowledge of your weight, or resting heart rate, the machines can only be so accurate. Many people found that what their heart rate monitors said didn’t always match what the bike said. In fact, the numbers could be more than 100 calories off depending on the day and which bike was used.

These leads me to one of the most common questions people ask me at the end of a class or session, “How many calories did I burn? (How much energy or fat did I burn?)”

This is a difficult question to answer because that magic number is based on many factors such as the current weight of the individual, their metabolism and their fitness level. There are many ways to record calories, from reading one’s pulse to using heart rate monitors or cardio machines such as the Life Cycle bike. All of these machines vary in accuracy and quality

If you are on any blood pressure medication or beta blockers, reading your pulse or using a heart rate monitor does not apply to you. If you are on blood pressure medication, do not bother using heart rate to measure caloric burn. Your medication changes how your heart beats and renders measuring your heart rate as a way to determine energy expenditure useless.

Then what is the best way to measure how many calories I am burning?

Most experts agree that the most accurate way to measure caloric expenditure is by using the Rate of perceived Exertion (RPE) method. This method is not based on a machine or heart rate but on how you feel. It is based on a scale of 1-10.

A RPE score of 4-6 moving but not struggling. 4-6 means that you are exercising comfortably, sweating and pushing but not to the point of great suffering. You can still talk.

A RPE score of 6-8 means that you are breathing hard. You are working so hard that you can’t talk. You might manage a curse word at your personal trainer but that’s all the talking you can do. You can still continue for over a few minutes but you’ll probably be completely exhausted at the end.

A RPE score of 8-10 means that you are pushing so hard that you can barely keep up. You will have to stop after a few seconds because your body won’t be able to take this type of exertion for very long. I often tell my students that the more you suffer the more calories you are burning and this is the truth. I’ll go into more details on this later.

You may ask, “With all the latest technology, isn’t there an accurate, measurable way to calculate caloric expenditure besides using the RPE method?”

Yes, there is. The most accurate way to measure caloric expenditure is to keep you in a metabolic chamber that tracks your heart rate, repository signals and metabolic reactions and also tracking how much oxygen in the room has been consumed.

There are two mathematical formulas used to track heart rate and caloric burn. The easiest way to determine your maximum heart rate (the fastest your heart can pump in one minute when exercising hard) is to take the magic number 220 and subtract it by your age. However, in a laboratory setting, this method has proven to be as much as 20 heart beats off! This is probably due to the fact that it only uses age as a method for determining metabolism.

The other, more accurate formula is to take the result of subtracting your age from 220. Then take you resting heart rate (the amount of beats your heart can beat in a minute while in complete rest. This is best measured when you first wakeup in the morning) and subtract it from that number. Now determine how many calories you want to burn. If you want to burn a ton of calories, estimate 50 to 80% of your max heart rate, divide that remaining number by 50% or 80%. This will show how many beats per minute you need your heart to beat in order to be working out at this intensity. This formula (the Karvonen) formula is more accurate but still can be up to 10 beats off measurements done in a laboratory.

Websites such as this one can calculate this for you:

Again, these methods should not be used if you are on blood pressure medication and the RPE method is much more accurate.

Okay, back to the magic question, “how many calories did I just burn?”

I will divide workouts into four catagories:

Fidgeting – 50- 150 calories per hour. RPE of 1-4. Heart rate is at rest to up to 40% of max heart rate.

Light aerobics—150-350 calories per hour. RPE of 4-6. Heart rate is 30-55% of max heart rate.

VO2 max—350-600 calories per hour. RPE of 6-8. Heart rate is 55-70% of max heart rate.

Anaerobic – 600-1000 calories per hour. RPE of 8-10. Heart rate is 70-90% of max heart rate.

How to understand the differences:

How do I know if I’m fidgeting? Studies have shown that people who fidget burn up to 150 calories more a day than people who don’t fidget and move around. This is the same amount of calories an average person burns by using a cardio machine for a half hour. So everyday tasks burn calories. Examples are: Climbing stairs, walking a dog, taking a stroll, housework, twitching or any other restless movements.

How do I know if I’m doing light aerobics? You are hot and sweaty but you can still talk. You are exerting yourself but not to the point of having to stop. The average fitness enthusiast works out at this pace. Examples of light aerobics are:  Walking or light jogging, dancing, light cycling, circuit training with lighter weights or movements that aren’t extremely difficult, any movement that is at a pace that you can keep for a long time without having to stop and take a break.

How do I know if I’m doing my VO2 Max? You are struggling and breathing hard but you can keep going. You might be able to say a quick phrase or word but you can’t continue talking. This is a more advanced workout. Examples of VO2 max are: Running a long distance race as hard as you can without stopping, high impact aerobics, hitting or kicking a bag as hard as you can for a long time, cycling up a hill, kettle bell workouts, a hard circuit with difficult moves and heavier weights.

How do I know if I am doing anaerobic training? You are pushing to failure. You are expending yourself to such a high intensity that you have to stop, take a timed break or a few breaths of rest. It is not anaerobic if you are not pushing to failure. You rest between bursts of energy because you have to. This workout is for elite athletes or people who are very fit and not prone to injury or heart attack. Examples of anaerobic training are: Interval training, high intensity boot camp, tabata workouts, speed intervals such as sprinting for a timed interval with timed rest intervals in between, plyometrics (explosive power moves), heavy weight lifting that incorporates many muscles (including the legs) such as Olympic lifting with timed rest periods.

Keep in mind that if you are not fit, you don’t have to do much to burn a lot of calories. For example, I always teach mixed levels and give options in my bootcamp classes. Sometimes I will see someone who is advanced and can do the harder moves without suffering too much. Next to that person will be someone else who is new or not as fit. That person will be doing beginner moves but they are huffing and puffing and I can tell they are really exerting themselves. So, I can safely say that the latter person, the one who is huffing and puffing is burning more calories. This is why RPE is so important. After the latter person loses twenty pounds it will become easy to do the beginning moves because he/she no longer has to carry so much weight. They aren’t huffing and puffing as much so they probably aren’t burning the same amount of calories they used too. This is when it is time to move on to harder moves if one wants to continue losing weight.

For more information on plateauing and how to break a plateau, check out this link:

For more information on plateauing and how to break a plateau, check out this link:

For more information, also check out this link on eating, burning calories and how to get bigger or smaller:

PostHeaderIcon Memoirs of a Chubby Kid Who Wanted to be an Athlete

Some people may look at me and think, “She doesn’t know what it’s like to struggle like I do. She’s already in such good shape.” This wasn’t always the case. When I was a chubby kid, I had all kinds of self image issues. I injured my back three times in my life. I’ve also dealt with a knee injury, a hamstring injury, and a groin injury. Like many moms, I dealt with an awful laceration when giving birth to my large son, while the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck. I know what it’s like to have never been fit. I also know what it’s like to lose the ability to move and have to start over from scratch.

The hardest part of my job is teaching group fitness classes that cater to mixed levels. I give many options and modifications in my classes. It’s still difficult for a beginner, who has never taken a fitness class before, to do the easier modifications while those who have been doing it for years are doing harder moves. “Just do the beginning move,” they hear the perky instructor say, as if it were no big deal, as if it’s not a blow to the ego to realize that one is not as fit as everyone else.

I know how you feel. Actually, most of us do. Some of the greatest athletes were beginners once, eating everyone’s dust as they struggled in the back of the herd. It’s okay to be a beginner. To be a beginner is exciting. It means you are doing something you haven’t done before and there is nowhere else to go but up.

I still recall my first week of high school. I spent the summer working out at a gym for the first time in my life. I wanted to take the next step and lose more weight so I joined the cross country team. Everyone else on the team was so fit. I struggled, barely being able to run. I wanted to be able to run like them, but I couldn’t. They could run for miles and miles. I barely jogged and walked the warm up.

On Friday of that first week of school, a boy who knew my older brother teased me and said that my brother told him that I joined the team to lose weight. That day, after practice, I cried. The stress of my first week of high school had built up inside me and I let it all out.

The main thing that gets me, when I look back at this memory is the horrible feeling of embarrassment I had for wanting to lose weight. It was true. I didn’t want to be the chubby one anymore. I was tired of the fat jokes. I was tired of being slow. I wanted to be thin. What was wrong with that? First I was ridiculed for being overweight. Now I was being ridiculed for wanting to do something about it.

I’m sharing this memory with you now because I want you to know that you are not alone. There were times when I felt overwhelmed and wanted to give up. It’s a perfectly normal feeling, especially if you are new to something. Think of the first time you started a new job. In a way, the physical part is easy. The psychological part, the part that is dealing with the stress of change and the reactions of those around us is the hard part.

By the end of my first week of school, I had blisters all over my feet. My coach told me to purchase running shoes but I told him the sneakers I already wore were brand new and that my parents couldn’t afford new running shoes.  I guess my coach got tired of seeing me kick those shoes off because of my blisters, preferring to run on the football field grass. One day, he pulled me aside. He said that he liked my spunk and that if I kept trying, even though I could hardly jog, I would get better. He gave me a check for 100 dollars to spend on running shoes. He told me that it was scholarship money.

I couldn’t believe it! It seemed like so much money and I never spent that much on shoes before. I bought my first pair of Nike running shoes with that money and they felt amazing. It made me feel like a real athlete.

I probably would have quit if people like Coach Martin hadn’t supported me, letting me know that not giving up is better than winning right away. On my first cross country meet, I almost finished last. There might have been one or two girls behind me. I learned what it was like to literally eat someone’s dust. A whole herd of girls ran ahead of me, kicking dust into my face, mouth and eyes. Before I knew it, they were out in the distance and I was alone in the back with a few of the stragglers. At some point of the 5k course on hills, a new group of girls passed me. Yes, another race started and I hadn’t even finished the first one. Struggling up “pukes peak,” a steep hill at the end of the race, was shear torture. Still, I didn’t give up. My goal was to finish the race and I did.

I ran cross country throughout high school and discovered martial arts in the meantime, something I could get really good at. Over the years, I discovered more movement modalities such as yoga and pilates. I learned that exercise isn’t just about weight loss and muscle gain. Exercise can be used to achieve relaxation, rehabilitation, energy and healing. Over the years I have helped athletes, seniors, kids, beginners and elite practitioners, all with their own unique strengths and weaknesses.

I want everyone to know that there are so many fitness modalities that can help you in your journey to being healthy and strong. You just have to start looking. Try walking, running, dancing, martial arts, yoga, weight lifting, aqua classes, chair classes or many more. We are all on our own journey, a journey that will make us explore our bodies and minds. It will make us come to terms with what we can and can’t do, and what it means for us to be healthy.  I hope to offer to my support, no matter what your set backs and accomplishments might be.

For more personal stories and struggles check out:

Be Kind For Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle:


Often we will be told to find “awareness,” but what does this mean? Yoga teaches that we can separate the parts of the mind. When we meditate, we find ways to observe our own reactions, subconscious impressions and emotions.

Some translations of the Yoga Sutras call the part of our mind that is able to observe itself, “the perceiver.” To me, the perceiver is the part of us that has common sense, a knowledge and acceptance of how things truly are. When we meditate, the perceiver is the accepting friend and counselor in our head. Someone once told me that common sense is not so common, but I think we call it “common” because deep down inside, we know the truth. The hard part is accepting it. Only when we are in touch with the perceiver, or our illuminated mind, will we react with common sense. If we are confused or overwhelmed with “afflictive emotions,” we will react in a destructive manner.

In this post, I will attempt to describe the difference between the perceiver and the afflictive mind in a way that we can relate to in our modern lives. I will also offer suggestions on how to tap into the perceiver while meditating or dealing with life’s problems.

The difference between the perceiver and the afflictive mind:

The perceiver is our true self. It is our higher state of awareness. The perceiver is enlightened and when we tap into it, we are in touch with what religious people call God. Non-religious people call it a higher power that can see and accept the way of nature.

The afflictive mind is not our true selves. It is simply the toxins that confuse us into being someone that we are not. The Dali Lama described it in a wonderful way. He said that our true selves are like pure water. The negative emotions such as pride, anger, hatred, jealousy etc. are toxins that cloud the water. However, pure water is still there. We simply need to rid ourselves of toxic emotions and we will find peace and knowledge.

If you are having difficulty tapping into the perceiver during meditation, simply tell yourself that you are not your anger and you are not your jealousy, etc. If you were not emotional, how would you act and how would you feel?

Pretend that you are talking to an objective friend, mentor, adviser, family member, or spiritual leader. What would that person say if you came to them for advice? If you were God or an omniscient being, how would you look at the situation?

The perceiver is detached from prejudice emotions such as greed, lust or hatred. Yet, detachment doesn’t mean that the perceiver is a sociopath or doesn’t care. It is the perceiver’s supreme love and compassion that makes it understand that all life is important and that we are all interconnected. Knowing this makes it want to help all living things and refrain from harming ourselves or others.

The afflictive mind identifies and clings to its emotions. When it is enraged, jealous, confused, or violent, it may say “this is who I am.” It may hang on to hatred for another country or person. It will unfairly side only with people who are like him/her. It cannot see how we are all connected. It grasps on to identities such as race, religion, politics and pride.

During meditation, focus on how we are all alike. We all live. We all suffer. We all feel pleasure. We all have bad days. We all get angry or frustrated. If you are having a hard time understanding someone who is being ignorant or rude, think of a time that you made a mistake and acted ignorant or rude and try to see yourself in that person.

The perceiver seeks peace.

The afflictive mind seeks trouble and drama.

When meditating, ask yourself if your thoughts and actions are bringing you to a state of peace, or if your actions and thoughts are creating more drama, confusion or trouble.

The perceiver spreads good karma. The definition of “karma” is actions and the result of what we do. Always seeking to do kindness and to spread peace, the perceiver creates success for him/herself. On a small scale, the ability to stay calm and make wise decisions brings the perceiver success in business and relationships. On a higher scale, people may gravitate to the perceiver and his/her wisdom helps people beyond him/herself. These actions also help future generations

The afflictive mind spreads bad karma. The confused mind attaches itself to emotions and reacts with violence, or trouble. This creates drama that could lead to altercations with friends, relatives, co-workers and the law. This bad karma will lead to lack of success and a sad life. On a grand scale, this suffering can spread to others, perpetuating the cycle of war and violence. These actions can be passed on to children and future generations.

Meditating on karma is a very serious matter. Look at how the actions of others have affected you. For example, someone might have insulted you and this has made you angry. In turn, you insult another. If this cycle goes on, it could escalate to more people. Make a choice to become aware and end this cycle.

Choose to smile instead. Say something kind to another. This kindness will spread and will lead to a better environment for you and everyone else.

The perceiver takes responsibility for his/her actions and seeks to find solutions to life’s problems.

The afflictive mind blames everyone and everything else for his/her problems. Passing blame onto others, he/she  relinquishes self responsibility and free will, never finding solutions.

When faced with a problem, take the blame off of others. Instead, take full responsibility. Start brain storming solutions. Ask yourself what you can do and search your mind for solutions. Maybe even research the internet. Write down as many solutions you can.

If we focus on the solution, the universe will reward us with solutions. If we focus on the problem, the universe will react by bringing more problems.

The perceiver is accepting and forgiving of the self and of others. The perceiver knows that the self and others have afflictive emotions. It knows that problems are temporary. It knows that these emotions do not represent who we truly are and it forgives itself and others, choosing unconditional love over judgment and self loathing. By not holding grudges and hanging on to afflictive emotions, peace is easier to find.

The afflictive mind gets angry and frustrated at itself. This makes failures and life’s problems bigger than they really are. It is also hard on others and gets easily insulted when other people have afflictive emotions. The afflictive mind just can’t let go and find peace.

When faced with the ups and downs of life, feeling guilty and beating yourself up will only worsen the problem.

Also, passing judgment on others only feeds the afflictive mind which is obsessed with anger.

Forgive yourself and others.  When you forgive another person, you do it for yourself, so that anger and loathing does not ruin our own life. You’ll be amazed at how much ending a grudge will allow you to focus on bigger and better things.

Ask yourself how the person who has wronged you has made you stronger and thank them for the lesson.

The perceiver understands when there is too much or too little of a good thing. It practices discipline and moderation. It treats the body and mind with compassion.

The afflictive mind may over indulge in pleasurable activities until they become destructive. It might seek to escape in drugs, eating disorders, alcoholism, gambling and other vices out of frustration and self loathing.

Practice awareness in everything you do. Pay attention to how you feel. Take a moment to breathe while you are eating. When exercising, take a moment to see how you feel in order to avoid injuries.

When escaping into drugs or overindulging in any act, ask yourself if this is helping your situation.

If you still can’t stop overindulging, seek outside help.

Because the perceiver has a higher view of the universe, it is stronger in character and principle. It is less easily swayed by suggestion, peer pressure or manipulation.

The afflictive mind is easily swayed by commercials, subliminal messages, insults and psychological conditioning. Some people seek therapy and yoga to find their perceiver because their lives have been controlled by negative conditioning in the past.  The perceiver can stand outside of the mind and see when it has been manipulated.

When you feel strong feelings arise in you, think before you react. Look at your past and ask yourself how your past experiences could have positively or negatively lead to how you react to events today.

When you find yourself wanting to own something just because of commercial advertising, ask yourself you truly need that item and if it is worth the cost.

Turn off the TV and computer now and then to clear your mind of clutter. With the rise of social networking, websites such a facebook can lead to addiction.

The perceiver is the angel on your shoulder. The perceiver is the sensible part of yourself that tells you when you are getting into trouble. It is your higher intuition.

The afflictive mind is the devil on your shoulder. The afflictive mind doesn’t listen to its higher intuition and chooses the lower path which often leads to trouble and regret.

There is an old Native American parable that goes: There is a fight going on inside me between two wolves. One is angry, and full of destructive emotions. The other is happy, calm and full of love.

Which one wins?

The one we feed.

When you feel afflictive emotions rising in you, try not to feed them by seeking council with people who patronize them by perpetuating malicious gossip and hate. Tell yourself that you don’t want these emotions inside of you. Find friends that are objective. Surround yourself with positive influences. Keep practicing awareness. It will come in handy during challenging times. Keep books, poems, essays, mantras, letters or songs of wisdom handy and turn to them when you find yourself feeling negative. Over time, the positive and more intelligent and intuitive part of your mind will win over the negative and destructive part of your mind because you choose to feed it more.

For more insight on how I asked a family member to be “the angel on my shoulder,” check out this link:

For more insight on  meditation, check out this link:

For more information of the wisdom of the yoga sutras, check out this link:

For more insight on the act of compassion, check out this link:

PostHeaderIcon General Tips For Proper Lifting

I will be teaching a seminar for the Kaiser Permanente Theatre Department on proper lifting technique. I have put together a very concise list of tips to remember when you lift something heavy. These tips important to keep in mind whether you are lifting weights in the gym, lifting a box on moving day or picking up a child.

As my gift to you, I am posting this list of lifting tips on my website. It is a very quick read but also a great reminder to help prevent injuries.


Lift objects as close to the body as possible

Keep shoulders in socket. No slumping of shoulders, slouching or shrugging shoulders into ears. Keep the shoulders down and back.

Engage core muscles. Tighten glutes and abs. No slouching or slumping.

Bend from the hips not from the spine

Bend the knees

Keep head in alignment with spine. Dropping the head can throw off balance and ‘cause falls. It also causes the shoulders to slouch.

Make sure your back is warm and that you are not stiff or tight from sitting or lack of movement when you are about to lift something. If you need to warm up, do so.

Always assume you are lifting a thousand pounds and engage your core. You may not be aware of the weight of the object so don’t relax and assume it is light.


Lock the joints.

Lift more weight than muscles and frame is capable of handling. Even with good form, lifting more than you are conditioned to lift can lead to injuries. Ask for help if you think something might be too heavy for you.

Twist body while lifting. Try to turn by using your legs.

Stop and think:

Think about how you are going to lift and where you are going before you start to lift. What is your best position? What is the best way to lift this object?

Be aware of your space and make sure your path is clear before you start lifting.

When lifting with a partner, communicate effectively. Talk about where and how you will lift the object first. Lift on a “one two three” count. Communicate as you lift, and tell each other if you see anything in the path in front of them. “There is a step coming up.”